Excerpt from The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Serpent's Tale

by Ariana Franklin

The Serpent's Tale
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2008, 384 pages
    Feb 2009, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kathy Pierson

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Print Excerpt

The daughter was shouting, "That's out, Dadda." Master Reed appeared at the head of the ladder in a smell of cow dung. "Gor dang, what is it?"

Stupid with relief, Adelia said, "It's a baby." Ugly, bloodied, soapy, froglike, with its feet tending toward its head as they had in the womb, but undamaged, breathing, and, when tapped on its back, objecting to life in general and its emergence into it in particular—to Adelia, as beautiful a sight and sound as the world was capable of producing.

"That's as may be, but what is it?"

"Oh." Adelia put down the knife and turned the miracle over. It was male, quite definitely male. She gathered herself. "I believe the scrotum swelling to be caused by bruising and will subside."

"He's a'going to be popular if it don't, ain't he?" Master Reed said.

The cord was severed, Mistress Reed was stitched and made decent for visitors, and the baby was wrapped in a fleece and put into his mother's arms.

"Here, missis, you got a name as we can call him after?" her husband wanted to know.

"Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar," Adelia said apologetically.

There was silence.

"What about him?" Master Reed pointed at the tall figure of Mansur, who had come up with the siblings to view the miracle.

"Mansur bin Fay"" bin Nasab Al-Masaari Khayoun of Al Amarah."

More silence.

Mansur, whose alliance with Gyltha was enabling him to understand English even if it gave him little chance to speak it, said in Arabic, "The prior comes, I saw his boat. Let them call the boy Geoffrey."

"Prior Geoffrey's here?" Adelia was down the ladder in a trice and running to the tiny wooden platform that served as a quay— all homes in the fenland had access to one of its innumerable rivers, its children learning to maneuver a coracle as soon as they could walk.

Clambering out of his barge with the help of a liveried oarsman was one of Adelia's favorite people. "How are you here?" she said, hugging him. "Why are you here? How is Ulf?"

"A handful, but a clever handful. He thrives." Gyltha's grandson, and, so it was said, the prior's as well, had been set to serious study at the priory school and would not be allowed to leave it until the spring sowing.

"I am so pleased to see you." "And I you. They told me at Waterbeach where you were gone. It appears that the mountain must come to Mohammed."

"It's still too mountainous," Adelia said, standing back to look at him. The prior of Saint Augustine's great canonry in Cambridge had been her first patient and, subsequently, her first friend in England; she worried about him. "You have not been keeping to my diet."

"Dum vivimus, vivamus," he said. "Let us live while we live. I subscribe to the Epicureans."

"Do you know the mortality rate among Epicureans?"

They spoke in fast and classical Latin because it was natural to them, though it caused the men in the prior's barge to wonder why their lord was concealing from them what he was saying to a woman and, even more wondrous, how a woman could understand it.

"Oh, but you are well come," Adelia said, "just in time to baptize my first delivery. It will comfort his parents, though he is a healthy, glorious child."

Adelia did not subscribe to the theory of Christian infant baptism, just as she didn't subscribe to any of what she regarded as barbarous tenets held by the world's three major faiths. A god who would not allow that baby upstairs into the Kingdom of Heaven if it died before being sprinkled with certain words and water was not a god she wanted anything to do with.

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.

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