The Assassin’s Prayer by Ariana Franklin
published 2010, set in 1178
[Adelia and some of her friends are spending some time in a mountain stronghold in the Languedoc area of France]
On Christmas Eve morning, the women were preparing for the next day’s feast in a kitchen festooned with the hanging corpses of hens, ducks and geese waiting to be put on their spits, when Mansur appeared in the doorway. ‘There is trouble in the village.’
Adelia dropped the handmill with which she’d been grinding chestnuts for the torche aux marrons, Caronne’s version of Christmas pudding. Her eyes met Boggart’s in the same terror. They’ve come for us. Then, with Thomassia, Fabrisse, her baby son tied to her back, and Ward [the dog] at their heels, they pelted outside and heard the screaming coming from down the mountain…
It was Na Roqua standing on the flat roof of her house, yelling at Na Lizier, who was standing on hers and shrieking back insults across the narrow alley that divided their two houses.
Just two women quarrelling. Thank you, Lord, thank you.
[Adelia solves the problem between the two women]
At the Christmas feast she was the heroine.
Grateful Roqua and Lizier men presented her and the others with beautifully wrought sheepskin coats; she had to raise her beaker in reply to the dozens of toasts that were made to her; and a wreath of bay leaves was put on her head. Finally, after three hours of eating…. She was put on a chair on a platform in the bailey to watch the village dance around the enormous bonfire that Ulf and Rankin had built for the purpose.
It wasn’t possible for the visitors to join in; the tapping leaping steps of the dancers – men revolving around the fire, women and children forming little, prancing rings of their one on the edges – were too complicated for the uninitiated to join in.
commentary: This is the fourth and (most sadly) the last of the Adelia series of books: Ariana Franklin (the pen-name of Diana Norman) died in 2011.
In this one, Adelia and her friends are caught up in travelling to her original home of Sicily, accompanying the Princess Joanna, who is going there to marry. The Assassin of the title is leftover from the previous book – Relics of the Dead – and is out for revenge. The journey is long and troubled, with many an adventure along the way, and here Adelia and a small sub-group of the original party are holed up in a small town in the Pyranees for several months. They become part of the community there, and this part of the book is fascinating. Franklin also looks at the Cathars in some detail.
This was a cult/heresy of the time and place, and one that was not going to end well. The descriptions of their beliefs, and of the life in the small town, were fascinating. The murder plot in this one was really just a way of providing jeopardy, and when the identity of the assassin is revealed at the end, even the author pays no attention to it. I could have read it as a historical novel just for the part set in the small town, with this lovely Christmas scene.
For previous books in the series, click on the author label below.
It was Bernadette at Reactions to Reading who led me to start on this series (which I have raced through in double-quick time): you can read her review of this one here .