Excerpt of The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
(Page 9 of 10)
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Lord, I fear for her. Her enemies will damn her for it. Use her illegitimate
child as proof that she is immoral, take her before the Archdeaconal Court to
condemn her as a sinner. And what can I do?
Prior Geoffrey groaned at his own guilt. What friend have I been to her? Or to
her Arab? Or Gyltha?
Until he had himself teetered on the edge of death and been dragged back by
Adelia, he had followed the Church's teaching on science that only the soul
mattered, not the body. Physical pain? It is God's purpose, put up with it.
Investigation? Dissection? Experiments? Sic vos ardebitis in Gehenna. So will ye
burn in hell.
But Adelia's ethos was Salerno's, where Arab, Jewish, and even Christian minds
refused to set barriers on their search for knowledge. She had lectured him:
"How can it be God's purpose to watch a man drowning when to stretch out one's
hand would save him? You were drowning in your own urine. Was I to fold my arms
rather than relieve the bladder? No, I knew how to do it and I did it. And I
knew because I had studied the offending gland in men who'd died from it."
An oddly prim little thing she'd been then, unsophisticated, curiously nunlike
except for her almost savage honesty, her intelligence, and her hatred of
superstition. She had at least gained something from her time in England, he
thoughtmore womanliness, a softening, and, of course, the babythe result of a
love affair as passionate and as unsuitable as that of Hlose and Abelard.
Prior Geoffrey sighed and waited for her to ask why, busy and important man that
he was, he had sailed forth to look for her.
The advent of winter had stripped the fens of leaves, allowing the sun unusual
access to the river so that its water reflected back exactly the wild shapes of
naked willow and alder along the banks. Adelia, voluble with relief and triumph,
pointed out the names of the birds flying up from under the barge's prow to the
stolid baby on her lap, repeating their names in English, Latin, and French, and
appealing to Mansur across the water when she forgot the Arabic.
How old is my godchild now? the prior wondered, amused. Eight months? Nine?
"Somewhat early to be a polyglot," he said.
"You can't start too soon."
She looked up at last. "Where are we going? I presume you did not come so far on
the chance of baptizing a baby."
"A privilege, medica," Prior Geoffrey said. "I was taken back to a blessed
stable in Bethlehem. But no, I did not come for that. This messenger"he
beckoned forward a figure that had been standing, cloaked and transfixed, at the
barge prow"arrived for you at the priory with a summons, and since he would
have had difficulty finding you in these waters, I volunteered to bring him."
Anyway, he'd known he must be at hand when the summons was delivered; she
wouldn't want to obey it.
"Dang bugger," Adelia said in pure East Anglianlike Mansur's, her English
vocabulary was being enlarged by Gyltha. "What?"
The messenger was a skinny young fellow, and Adelia's glare almost teetered him
backward. Also, he was looking, open-mouthed, to the prior for confirmation.
"This is the lady Adelia, my lord?" It was, after all, a name that suggested
nobility; he'd expected dignitybeauty, eventhe sweep of a skirt on marble, not
this dowdy thing with a dog and a baby.
Prior Geoffrey smiled. "The lady Adelia, indeed."
Oh, well. The young man bowed, flinging back a cloak to show the arms
embroidered on his tabard, two harts rampant and a golden saltire. "From my most
reverend master, the lord Bishop of Saint Albans."
A scroll was extended.
Adelia didn't take it. The animation had leeched out of her. "What does he
want?" It was said with a frigidity the messenger was unused to. He looked
helplessly at the prior.
Reproduced with permission of Putnam Publishing. Copyright © 2008 by Ariana Franklin All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.