Excerpt from The Abbot's Tale by Conn Iggulden, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Abbot's Tale

by Conn Iggulden

The Abbot's Tale by Conn Iggulden X
The Abbot's Tale by Conn Iggulden
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 480 pages

    Oct 2019, 480 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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My younger brother Wulfric stood up in the prow as the boatman poled us along.

"Be careful, boy!" my father snapped.

Wulfric tried to look abashed, but he was too full of wonder at the strangeness of the island and the mist that lay all around. Creeping things dropped into the still waters as we passed through the reeds. Those dark marshes stretched all the way to where the sea had broken its banks, some dozen miles away. They rose and fell with the tides, so thick with salt that not much grew.

Once or twice, some sleeping bird would be startled and rise in a mad flurry. The waterways lay like veins around us, unseen, so that the sounds echoed oddly and were changed.

As I watched, Wulfric reached out to the wisps of white fog, unable to understand how it could seem so thick and yet vanish before his eyes. I will say I loved him, but his head might have been a block of polished bone for all the good it was. Wulfric seemed sharp enough in speech, but he could not master his letters. As his older brother, I tormented him for it.

In so many ways I am not the boy I was, with my spites and quick judgements. I was so sure then that I was surrounded by enemies! It has taken generations for me to understand I made them come at me. Yet when I think back to my own cruelty and torment of Wulfric, well, it still makes me laugh.

Wulfric tried to jump from the prow to the dock and I saw my father snatch him back, more concerned with him falling to drown than he had ever been with me. The old man must have been seventy then, just about, his two boys born to a women forty years younger. Heorstan gave my mother a fine home on twelve hides of land, good coin in exchange for her youth. Perhaps he needed a nurse and I was the happy result. Or perhaps she plucked and stroked him back to life.

The isle of Glastonbury did not get so many visitors in those days, nothing like it does now. We were greeted on the docks by two boys to carry bags and two Irish monks who spoke only Gaelic, which I did not know. In the mists, that liquid stream of sounds seemed strange to me, almost magical, as if I only had to listen hard enough and it would no longer sound like someone choking to death.

My father bowed his head to give them honour, he a thane who had known kings. I kept my silence, though Wulfric bounded amongst them, exclaiming on everything while I winced and wished he would just keep his peace.

I could see the other porter boys were amused. The two lads nudged each other and grinned, and of course, poor Wulfric smiled back at them as if they were his equal.

I pulled him roughly to me and was bending down to whisper that they were no friends of ours when I caught a sickly odour wafting up from him. I shoved him away then with a sound of disgust. It had been a long time in the boat and Wulfric had soiled himself. Yet there he was, skipping along as we took to the path and headed to the little abbey they had there then, where miracles were an almost daily occurrence.

The rest of our party trudged on and the mists thinned as we climbed onto a higher path. No one was listening and the only noise was from our steps.

I whispered, "You have shat yourself, Wulfric."

I said it in a furious hiss, because he was so cheerful, but I felt even then that he was a reflection on me and especially my father. Heorstan seemed oblivious to such things in his later years, but I could protect his dignity even so.

Wulfric looked wounded, as if I was the one in the wrong rather than him. He flushed deeply and glanced at the two boys carrying out bags. They seemed to have noticed nothing, but they surely would.

"Go ahead, Wulfric," I said. "The wind is behind us. Go on ahead of the rest so that we cannot smell you."

He looked close to tears as he did as I told him. I think I hated him then, for his weakness. One of the Irish monks called out to him, but no one spoke their strange tongue and my father barely looked up from his travails. It was enough of a struggle for the old man just to keep up with the rest of us, his furs and mails weighing him down like a millstone around his neck.

Excerpted from The Abbot's Tale by Conn Iggulden, published by Pegasus Books. Reprinted with permission. All other rights reserved.

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