Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Deryni Rising, Chapters 7-10

Welcome to the weekly reread of Deryni Rising!

Last week we met Father Duncan and got our first example of full Deryni ritual magic. Short chapters this week, so we’ll read four in a row, then go back to three at a time as we finish the book. Our heroes discover a terrible deception in the royal crypt, untangle the riddle of Kelson’s power ritual, and land in the middle of a deadly sword fight. All in a night’s work for two Deryni and a boy king.

Deryni Rising: Chapters 7-10

Here’s What Happens: As Chapter 7 opens, Morgan heads back to Kelson’s room, fretting about Charissa. What if she can get through the wards?

Kelson is unharmed. Morgan takes the wards down, in detail; Kelson wakes for the last part, and lets Morgan know he knows Morgan put him to sleep. Morgan is evasive.

Once they’re both dressed, Morgan introduces Kelson to the castle’s secret passageways. Kelson had no idea.

They make their stealthy way to the basilica and meet Duncan, who takes them to his study—and Kelson learns another new thing: that the study contains a Transfer Portal, which is basically a Deryni transporter. Morgan explains, and also explains, briefly, how Duncan reconciles being Deryni and being a priest.

Duncan meanwhile materializes in the cathedral’s sacristy, and discovers to his alarm that he’s not alone. Brother Jerome, the ancient sacristan, is puttering around the room. Duncan does some fast talking. Jerome relays, in broad Scots-esque dialect, the latest rumors about Evil Deryni, including Charissa and Morgan.

Duncan does his best to set the old man straight about Morgan, then practices a little Deryni magic himself, to cause him to forget that Duncan was ever there.

Duncan pops back to his study, fills Morgan and Kelson in on why he was gone so long, then they all transfer to the cathedral. Kelson goes basically as “potatoes in a sack,” since he doesn’t have his magic yet. Kelson allows it, as king—which takes Duncan slightly aback.

Once they’ve returned to the sacristy, Morgan takes care of a guard: spelling him into a trance, which Kelson admires. Duncan is doing the same thing elsewhere.

They enter the royal crypt via Morgan’s Deryni lock-picking skills, and find it occupied by the volubly outraged Rogier. Morgan does the talking. Duncan does the magical cold-cocking. None of them will remember a thing, Morgan assures Kelson.

Kelson leads Morgan and Duncan to his father’s tomb. Morgan pauses for grief, and to make sure it’s safe. They open the tomb, and discover to their horror that the body inside is not Brion.

On that note, we break to Chapter 8, with a shaken Morgan examining the old man in the tomb. Morgan tries to reason his away around it. They conclude that the body must be elsewhere in the crypt. Morgan is also fairly certain that Charissa didn’t do this, as she would have no reason to think the body would be important to anyone, but Jehana might have, out of distrust for Morgan.

They start going through the niches and tombs, which is quite a horrible job, until it dawns on Morgan that Brion is right where they started. Duncan magically examines the body in the king’s tomb and agrees. That’s Brion, and the spell on him has “a definite impression of evil.” I.e., it’s Charissa’s.

Since that’s the case, Duncan the priest breaks the spell. It’s not easy, and Duncan is severely shaken. Their worst suspicions have been confirmed. Brion’s soul was bound; he couldn’t die. Breaking the spell finally set him free.

As Duncan recovers, Morgan retrieves the Eye of Rom from Brion’s ear. Kelson, grieving, asks if they can leave something in return. Duncan contributes a small crucifix.

They close the tomb. Duncan sends the still entranced Rogier out, and they leave the crypt.

Back in Duncan’s study once more, Duncan retrieves the Ring of Fire. Morgan has Duncan go over the ritual verse, and pierces Kelson’s ear for the Eye of Rom (using an anesthetic), then applies the blood from that to the Ring of Fire. Earring and ring both start to glow. Duncan puts the ring back in its vault.

Now they have to figure out the verse about the Crimson Lion, which is a huge brooch in a locked box. Touching the box to the earring unlocks it. But there’s still the question of what the Lion’s Tooth is, and the very real possibility that if they can’t complete the ritual, Kelson will die.

On that chilling note, we move on to Chapter 9. Suddenly Duncan catches on. The “tooth” is the brooch’s three-inch clasp.

Kelson has to nerve himself up for this. It’s a test of bravery, and he has to pass it or the ritual can’t continue.

Duncan and Morgan leave him to himself for a bit. Morgan tells Duncan about the vision he had in the library, that he thinks was Saint Camber. Suddenly he remembers the bit of parchment that he stuck in his pocket, which is an invocation: “Saint Camber of Culdi, defend us from evil!”

Duncan has to process this, at some length, with reflections on Camber’s place in history and the Church. He’s highly ambivalent, but he also realizes that Brion must have revered Camber as a saint. Therefore, Camber cannot have been evil.

He and Morgan continue discussing the ritual and its dangers, to Kelson himself and to the kingdom if the ritual fails. Duncan is wry about all the contradictions of his status and what he’s doing.

Kelson meanwhile is preparing himself for the next step in the ritual. He thinks that neither Morgan nor Duncan would be afraid, and he should emulate them. Nor would his father have had him do anything that would really hurt him. (Rationalization, it’s what’s for dinner.)

Duncan and Morgan come back, and they withdraw to a secret chapel behind the study. There they make a religious rite of the next step, with prayers and invocations in Latin. All of which are clearly intended to give Kelson the strength to stab three inches of gold into his hand. In anatomical detail.

The result is a psychedelic experience, during which neither of the Deryni dare touch Kelson. Finally he collapses, and Duncan blesses him and discusses with Morgan whether the ritual worked.

Duncan thinks it did. “He’s showing all the proper signs.” He doesn’t explain how he knows this. Morgan picks up Kelson and carries him out, while Duncan puts the chapel to rights.

Meanwhile someone is speaking Scots in Kelson’s room, discussing with two others where Kelson can have disappeared to. They’re Morgan’s men, but they’re clearly struggling with the concept.

Suddenly Morgan appears out of the secret passage. The men challenge him, calling him “demon” and “monster” and demanding to know what he’s done with the young king.

Chapter break. Chapter 10 turns quickly into a melee, with Duncan and Morgan in a sword fight with the three guards. Kelson is unconscious on the floor.

Duncan nails his man in the heart, then sneaks up behind one of Morgan’s two opponents and knocks him out with magic. Morgan disarms the third and backs him off, just in time for guards to arrive outside and discover Kelson’s guards “overpowered by the three intruders.”

Duncan hits the surviving intruder with a “forget me” whammy and retreats to the balcony. Morgan lets the guards in just as Kelson starts to come to.

The guards surround Morgan but don’t prevent him from checking on Kelson, who rapidly assesses the situation and takes charge. The guard captain tells him there are three dead and four wounded outside. Morgan identifies the surviving intruder as one of his own men.

The intruder, Edgar, is confused. He’s “just following orders.” He accuses Morgan in lurid terms.

Kelson stands up for Morgan and accuses Edgar of lying. To prove it, he “Mind-Sees” Edgar and extracts the truth. Morgan is startled and thinks Duncan must have taught Kelson to do this.

Edgar confesses that he came to assassinate Morgan, not Kelson, and declares that Morgan murdered a guard in a dark passage. That’s the one Ian killed, of course; we were set up for this several chapters ago.

Kelson interrogates Edgar, but before Edgar can tell him who gave the orders that led to the dead man’s discovery, Edgar kills himself. Kelson orders the bodies to be removed. The guards are “awed.”

While the guards search the room, Morgan withdraws to check on the casualties. He’s worried about Derry.

There’s a surgeon outside, just giving up on one of the wounded. It’s Derry. Morgan reflects on what Charissa said about destroying everyone he loves, and suddenly remembers reading about Deryni healing powers.

He’s only half Deryni, he doesn’t think he can do this, but he has to try. He has to save his friend.

So of course, with some effort and a sensation of someone else laying hands on his, he does–just in time for someone to chill him with deeply sarcastic praise. And that’s a wrap for this chapter.

 

And I’m Thinking: We’re racing along here. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, pulling us headlong into the next.

It works, too. I have a confession to make. By the time I finished reading as far as Chapter 6, I couldn’t help myself any more.

Normally when I do a formal reread, I stick to the plan, and read a few chapters at a time. Not this time. Guess what I did over the weekend? All weekend?

So now I’ve read the entire trilogy. Inhaled it, more like. And it felt gooooood.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be spotting the plotholes or noting the issues I found as I read. A few scenes were pure “Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, Over?” à la the Morgan-Charissa scene in Chapter 6.

And yet. And yet. I could not stop myself.

Now it’s time to take a deep breath and read more analytically. I can see how the chapters hook from one to the next, and how, no matter how melodramatic some of those hooks may be, they’re just irresistible. Kurtz has a real gift that way.

So here we are, two-thirds of the way into the first book. We’ve had one seriously earwormy riddle to solve, and it’s mostly done, all but the last bit about “Defender’s Sign.” That’s coming.

In the meantime, look at what we’ve discovered. Secret passages. Transfer Portals: what they are and how they work. Magical lock-picking. Arcane and mildly bloody rituals to confer Deryni powers on humans of certain bloodlines. A mysterious vision, and an old, apparently forgotten power rediscovered: miraculous healing, which first happens to Derry, because, you know. Derry.

I’m starting to wonder how Morgan and Duncan learned so much about their powers. They must have done a lot of reading, but they seem to be self-taught. Makes me think there must have been some bad missteps back along, but it didn’t even slow them down.

They do seem to have missed the finer points of Camber’s role in Deryni magic as well as in the Church, which is a bit odd, and Brion clearly had secrets he didn’t tell anyone, even Morgan. He must have been terribly lonely—but then again…he had to have had someone to help him through his own power ritual. Morgan’s aunt? Someone else?

I suppose that’s in the Childe Morgan trilogy. Which I haven’t read, and had not read when I read these books, so these are the kinds of questions we all had along about 1973.

Morgan and Duncan being self-taught is not too unbelievable, supposing they had access to books that gave them clues. I’m sincerely believing that humans might have a real horror of Deryni magic, seeing our good guys mess with humans’ heads early, often, and at will. It’s not just the villains who are wiping memories and instilling compulsions. They’re all using humans like either pets or domestic animals.

Kelson for his part is an interesting combination of teenaged boy and natural-born king. He has his entitlement set on remarkably straight. He’s also quite the hero-worshipper—thinking his mentors couldn’t possibly be afraid. We of course know they’re just as scared as the next person of whatever species.

Plothole time: In the crypt scene, Morgan figures that if Brion’s body was moved, Charissa couldn’t have done it because she’d have no reason to think anyone would care about the body (and in fact she’d bank on it because she’d want Brion’s soul to be trapped in its decaying shell for eternity), whereas Jehana would naturally think the worst of Morgan. But then, two pages later, Morgan has his brainstorm and yes! Charissa did do it!

But why? There’s no reason, by his own logic, for Charissa to put a shapeshifting spell on the corpse. They already suspected earlier that Brion’s soul might be trapped, and it is, but that doesn’t explain why he has to look like someone else. So, eh, what?

There’s another, milder “Whut?” in Morgan fussing about Charissa breaking the wards on Kelson. Has nobody, I mean nobody, made any effort whatsoever to keep her out of the palace, let alone the city?

The guards are totally useless. One Deryni or another is slapping spells on them wholesale, knocking them out or mindwiping them or outright killing them. You’d think Morgan the general would have at least a few thoughts about this.

I’m interested to see how there are no women around at all except Charissa. No maids, servants, ladies in waiting, nothing. It’s all men, all the way down.

Somebody should have checked the Latin, too. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, guys, versus Fils in the version I’ve got. Did it get corrected in later editions? (There’s going to be more of that later on.)

Still. I can quibble, I can snark, but this is grand roaring good stuff. The world feels fully realized, even while I know it’s missing key elements (like believable female characters, or more than a handful of females at all). The characters are doing it for me, and the loving descriptions of the settings, along with the deft pacing. This is an eminently readable book, and a remarkably livable world. (If you’re male. Yes. I know. I’ll be saying more about that as we go on.)

Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, a medieval fantasy that owed a great deal to Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books, appeared in 1985. Her new novel, Forgotten Suns, a space opera, was published by Book View Café in 2015. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, a blue-eyed spirit dog, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

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