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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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Print Excerpt

I could have hung on that cliff all day, if they hadn't broken my fingers. My hands have always been strong, but when bones crack, there is no true anchor, not even for an ocean of rage. Yet I clung on for a time even so. Near the end, as I glared at them without pleading or begging, all their laughter and mockery died away, which gave me some small satisfaction. That little crowd of men and women stood around the edge, just waiting for me to fall. They watched me hold on to crumbling earth with torn and swollen hands and yet remain to spite them.

I saw Encarius abashed then, he who had become my friend. I tried to form the words to tell him I forgave him, because I had no other way to take revenge and I wanted him to wince when he recalled me ever after. Vengeance is a fine thing, but forgiveness can be just as cruel.

I did not fear death. In my youth, I do not think I could imagine it. I ground my teeth as my fingernails tore on the stone, and I remember trying to look down between my out-stretched arms as I felt my grip fail. Bones splintered and I was still there, thinking of all the things I would do to them if I survived. I was fifteen years old, but I had broad shoulders and black hair on my arms and I looked more of a man than some of those twice that age who stood and wound their priestly fingers together like beggars. Oh, their pious faces! I can see them still.

When I knew I could hold on no longer, I called to Encarius, asking him to make the sign of the cross on my forehead so that I would more swiftly pass through purgatory and on to heaven. He came forward at that, of course, willing to do so little when it meant so much. I watched him bend and our eyes met, though he did not want to look at me. He was the architect of my destruction, my accuser, yet he shook his head at me as if I were at fault.

"I would change your fate if I could, Dunstan," he said. He touched his tongue and took up a smear of dust, rubbing it in spit before he pressed his cold hand to my skin.

"You are a good fellow, Encarius," I whispered to him. "Will you allow me to confess to you?"

He saw how my arms trembled and yet he still looked askance at me, as one who did not trust me even then. I said nothing more until he leaned in, just pleaded with my eyes. As he bent to me, his wife or some other drab called in warning, but it was too late. I reached up and gripped his robe, pulling him over the edge and falling, oh, falling, like Lucifer before me.

My father took me first to old Glastonbury, my beloved isle, sailing through the mists. It was where King Arthur had his end, where Excalibur was thrown into the salt marshes that surround it. My father sought a miracle for his son, possessed or eaten up by devils as I was. I was given fits and rages then.

I sometimes think the old man was as much a pagan as he was a strict follower of Christ. He kept some old charms sewn into his robes and mail, I know that. Glastonbury is far older than the true faith's arrival on these shores. Thousands of years of witchcraft and worship have seeped into that damp ground. So they say. I went out on midsummer a few times, all a-fevered and looking for the naked women. I never found them, nor caught even a glimpse of breast or leg. It was ever thus, with me.

The boat had slopping black water in its bilges, I recall. I was thirteen years in the world and I kept tugging my father's sleeve and trying to draw his attention to it. I could not understand how a vessel could float and yet take on water, and I was afraid it would rise up and swallow us along with the poleman, who was red-faced and seemed somewhat addled in his wits.

My father pulled his sleeve from my grasp and I left him alone. I'm told Heorstan had been a great barrel-chested fellow thirty years before, when he was made thane to King Edward of Wessex. In his own youth, to me then as far off as the days of King Arthur, my father Heorstan had known Alfred Magnus, the Great, the man who made Wessex the kingdom that would one day rule all of England. Reigns were longer then. Nowadays, it seems a man cannot turn round without finding a new face wearing the crown.

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

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