Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Deryni Rising, Chapters 11-13

Welcome to the weekly reread of Deryni Rising!

Last week our heroes landed themselves in the middle of a deadly sword fight and Morgan discovered his Deryni healing powers. This week is all about pomp, circumstance, and beautiful men in gorgeous outfits. Evil plotting is truly evil, and Kelson’s power ritual hits a potentially fatal snag.

 

Deryni Rising: Chapters 11-13

Here’s What Happens: We begin Chapter 11 exactly where Chapter 10 left off, and learn that the voice that addresses Morgan is that of Bran Coris. Bran Coris is Not a Morgan fan. He leads a crowd of royalty and courtiers including Nigel and Jehana, and he accuses Morgan of having finished off Derry to keep him from betraying what really happened on the road from Cardosa.

Morgan isn’t playing. Derry is just fine, he says. He isn’t about to confess that that’s because Morgan healed him.

Jehana is all set to pick up where Bran Coris left off, but Kelson appears suddenly and shuts her down in right royal fashion. Jehana tries to argue, but he slaps her down again and dismisses everyone. They all leave, including Ian, who slinks off with a lone guard.

Safe in his own room again, Kelson collapses into Morgan’s arms. A thoroughly chilled Duncan comes in from the balcony and helps Morgan take care of him.

Kelson half-wakes and tells them about the vision he had during his power ritual. He passes out again.

Duncan and Morgan discuss events, and wonder if they’ve had visitations from Saint Camber. Then Morgan tells Duncan how he healed Derry. Morgan is incredulous, but there it is.

Duncan is skeptical. Morgan changes the subject to another anomaly of the night: that Kelson can Truth-Read. They don’t know who taught him—couldn’t have been Brion; only a Deryni could have done it. Which leads Morgan to wonder if Kelson is part Deryni.

That couldn’t have been Brion, either. The only other possibility is Jehana.

That sheds whole new light on the Queen. They suspect she doesn’t know. They also think that if Kelson is part Deryni, that will give him an edge in completing the power ritual.

Morgan frets over the increasingly complicated situation—which includes not only Jehana as Deryni, but a possible traitor in the palace. (Not a word about Charissa or how she got in or what she might be doing.) Someone had to have tried to frame Morgan.

Meanwhile Duncan frets about Charissa challenging Kelson during the coronation. What if she wins? Duncan is in further trouble because he may be about to out himself as part of the power ritual, and Deryni are barred from the priesthood.

After some banter and teasing, Duncan heads back home. Morgan stays to watch over the sleeping Kelson.

Ian meanwhile is working yet another evil spell on a guard. He reports to Charissa, confirms that Kelson’s power ritual is mostly complete but has to be finished during the coronation, and goes over some of their own plans for the event. They discuss the Council’s meddling, and mention someone named Coram: “Who does he think he is?”

The conversation ends. This time Ian lets the guard live, releases him from his trance and sends him on his way.

But Ian has more to do. “A simple assassination,” he reflects. Nothing major. He incants a spell and transports himself elsewhere.

Ian had to ride most of the way, thanks to his depleted powers. Now he’s in Charissa’s camp, making his way through the guards and musing on the details of his alliance with the Marluk’s daughter. His payoff will be Morgan’s Duchy of Corwyn—and maybe just a little bit more.

He finds Charissa guarded by “two tall Moors.” After a little tête-à-tête, which includes a repeat of the main elements of his report through the guard (which causes one to wonder why that needed to happen at all), the curtain discreetly comes down on the tent, and on the chapter.

Chapter 12 opens with Kelson’s wake-up call. It’s time to get ready for the coronation. Rhodri, the Lord Chamberlain, is a longtime friend of Morgan, which makes it a pleasant meeting.

Morgan sends for Duncan and wakes up Kelson, whose punctured hand is healed. Kelson is not delighted to learn he won’t be dressing himself today. Morgan teases him about it.

Derry shows up, also completely healed and full of questions, which Morgan evades. Morgan goes off to his own bath and preparation for the day.

Meanwhile, via a brief descent into high diction, Ian is lying in wait. “From the arms of a beautiful and evil woman he had come, borne on the wings of a Deryni spell….”

After somewhat of a wait, he waylays the squires who pass by with a cloak and a jewel case, and arranges an “accident” and a fast switch: something he’s been carrying in return for the badge of the King’s Champion.

Morgan is nearly dressed. Duncan slips in and plays the valet, and nearly gets himself spitted. They discuss, in lighthearted fashion, the lack of further excitement during the night, and a surprise: Kelson has asked Morgan, through Duncan, to be his Champion.

Morgan is duly surprised and thrilled. He admires the Champion’s ring in loving detail and marvels at how Kelson sidestepped the hereditary holder of the office. (We don’t hear any more about him, whoever he is.)

They discuss Kelson’s objection to his army of dressers, and we learn that Duncan loves pomp and circumstance and elaborate outfits. Meanwhile he helps Morgan, in great detail, finish dressing, and admires him in further and loving, if bantering, detail. It’s all very light and silly and totally brotherly.

Kelson sweeps in at the end of this, giving us more pages of sartorial glory and bringing another item of the Champion’s regalia: a set of silver spurs. He puts them on Morgan, ceremonially. Then his squires arrive with the rest of the outfit—and Kelson’s revenge, as Morgan is subjected to the attentions of multiple dressers.

Kelson and Duncan withdraw to the balcony, leaving Morgan to his fate. Kelson is looking for some priestly reassurance, as he contemplates the fact that today he will formally be crowned king. Duncan duly assures him that he’ll be “an extraordinary king.” Kelson is doubtful, and asks for Duncan’s blessing.

Morgan fumes, in great detail, as his dressers dress him, also in great detail. “He was simply ill at ease when surrounded by so many attendants.”

Still, he’s pleased with the result. Morgan knows how pretty he is.

Nigel bursts in, in great distress. Brion’s tomb has been broken into, the body robbed and thrown on the floor.

Kelson is horrified. Morgan and Duncan admit that they were in the crypt, but they definitely did not desecrate the tomb. Nigel reveals that Alaric isn’t on the hook this time, it’s Duncan. They found the crucifix he gave Kelson to place with the body.

Dramatic chapter ending here. Chapter 13 opens with a dramatically italicized repeat of the final line. Duncan is appalled, his mind spinning as he reflects on how ill he can afford to out himself as a Deryni. (He seems to have forgotten that he probably will do it anyway during the completion of the power ritual.)

He confesses to Nigel that they were at the tomb, that they were fetching something for the power ritual, and that Brion’s body had been magically tampered with. Morgan adds the bit about the Eye of Rom and the crucifix.

Nigel is shocked and worried—and in sweeps Jehana, raging as she comes. After she’s reamed Duncan and Morgan, she spots the Eye of Rom and turns on Kelson.

It starts ugly and gets uglier, until Jehana bursts into tears. Morgan hits her with some serious toughlove: he tells her she’s Deryni. She reacts with a suitable combination of bluster and denial. As they suspected, she didn’t know.

Morgan threatens to Mind-See her to prove his assertion. When she, horrified, refuses, he makes a deal with her: she’ll put up, shut up, and not interfere with the coronation.

She gives in. She is childlike and submissive. Morgan is patronizing. She leaves with what dignity she can muster.

Now there’s nothing more to be done but get to the coronation, though there’s a bit more to be said. Kelson wants to know how Morgan figures he’s part Deryni. Morgan doesn’t have time to Mind-See for proof, and advises Kelson to trust to Brion’s powers today. With that, they set off for the procession.

Charissa, it turns out, has been spying through the Champion’s badge. Ian is with her. They discuss what they’ve seen and heard, until Ian announces that he has to get to the coronation.

She makes him promise not to reveal himself until the last possible instant. Once he’s on his way, she gets ready to leave as well.

In front of the cathedral, Morgan takes stock of the procession, notes that the archbishops look sour but Bishop Arilan is smiling, and observes that Duncan is staying close to Kelson and far from his superiors.

Morgan checks in with Derry and gets a sense of the crowd. He sends Derry to the bell tower as a lookout, with orders to watch for Charissa. He expects her to show up about an hour in. “She knows what we know she’s coming.” And we know you know she knows we all know they know. (Sorry. Brief Lion in Winter flashback.)

Morgan and Duncan confer. Archbishop Corrigan actually tried to cancel the coronation because of the incident in the tomb, and Loris even tried to accuse Kelson of heresy. Kelson pulled serious rank (as he’s developed a habit of doing) and reeled them in.

This is going to be an ongoing problem, they both agree, but the coronation at least should manage to happen first. Everybody lines up, with the archbishops glaring at Morgan again, Arilan smiling again, and Kelson too nervous to notice. Morgan is quite annoyed with the archbishops.

The procession starts to move, in exacting detail. Kelson is waiting for Charissa to show up, while the procession ends and the ritual continues, point by point.

After he’s sworn and signed the royal oath, he notices that Derry has slipped in to talk to Morgan. He knows what that means. The ritual continues, and Kelson braces himself for Charissa’s arrival.

Inch by inch, point by point, the ritual continues. We start to hear horses approaching. Morgan has one more thing to do for Kelson’s power ritual: to seal it with the “Defender’s Sign,” which he has concluded is Morgan’s seal ring. He touches it.

Nothing happens. Kelson is frantic. The doors fly open with a crash, and there, with all due drama, is Charissa.

 

And I’m Thinking: Kurtz sure does love her rituals. She loves her some pretty men in gorgeous outfits, too. We get massive doses of both here, along with the two aspects of the female personality in this book: the evil sex goddess and the queen who doth protest too much (with spitting and tears) and has to be mansplained to, ever so patronizingly, by one of our heroes.

Morgan is such a patriarchal asshole. But that’s how they were back in 1972. Morgan grew in the same vat as Captain James T. Kirk and any number of fictional heroes of similar vintage.

But he sure is pretty. So is Kelson, who tends toward King Mary Sue, but he has just enough self-doubt to keep him from going totally over the top.

As for plotholes…

We might pass over the fact that a king, born during the reign of his father and raised as a royal heir, has never been dressed by attendants before. And that a duke, whose rank is not far below that of king, and who grew up in a royal court, has no experience of being surrounded by attendants. I mean, um, actually, no.

And of course I’ve noted that Ian has no need or reason to do the channeling with a guard thing if he’s going to trip blithely off to spend the night with Charissa. Who was actually in the palace anyway, so why don’t they just…? I mean? I mean really, all they need to do is cold-cock Morgan, dispose of Kelson, and show up in the morning, with Charissa in a halo of magic, and announce that the coronation will proceed as scheduled, but with a brand-new series star.

There’s no reason why that can’t happen. There appears to be no royal army whatsoever. We see a bunch of noblemen and a collection of guards, all of whom are completely helpless before Deryni magic, either good or bad. There is no attempt made at any point to either find or stop Charissa’s evidently sizable army from marching right into the heart of Gwynedd and crashing Kelson’s coronation. The only attempt to even find out where she is, is Morgan sending good old Derry up the bell tower.

That’s it. No guards, no defenses, no attempt to shut the city gates. Nothing. Morgan doesn’t even appear to remember running into Charissa inside the freaking palace last night.

Now we might suppose that it could be a trap. Get Charissa in, get Kelson’s powers installed, set up a challenge and have the king destroy her publicly, which can only help his popular image.

But that’s not discussed at all. It’s just, oh yeah, she’s coming, she’ll challenge you, better be ready. Nothing along the lines of, let’s do what we can to delay, stop, derail, weaken her. Nope. She’s just, you know, coming. Because she’s coming.

The whole point of course is big fancy drama with dramatic magical climax. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’d think there might be an attempt to make things difficult for her. It’s all on Kelson, and that’s an awfully risky gamble considering he’s fourteen years old and his power ritual is a riddle and they’re not even sure what most of it means.

It’s not just the immediate lack of thinking through, either. If humans are that vulnerable to Deryni powers, and if evil Deryni can move around that easily and crash human rituals with that little trouble, why haven’t they taken over long since? Is the Haldane king the only thing in the world that prevents another Interregnum?

What I’m not seeing here is any justification for the role of the Deryni as persecuted minority. If they’re able to mess with humans’ heads as easily as both sides are doing here, and to move around with as much impunity as Charissa manages to, why haven’t they just gone ahead and done it?

This is a basic worldbuilding problem. Deryni are enormously powerful and humans seem to have no defense against them at all—but the plot needs humans to be in charge and Deryni to be persecuted. So they are. There’s no actual evidence that humans can do anything to help themselves, except rely on a king with manufactured magical powers.

My head hurts. I’m loving the story, the characters, the drama, even the outfits. My writer/editor module is spinning in circles and bleeping and blooping and threatening to overload.

All I can do is partition the wetware and quarantine the editor bits, and settle in for the denouement. Where, oh where, and what, oh, what, is the Defender’s Sign?

That’s next—we hope, as we eagerly turn the page on the next chapter. Or the human world is in serious trouble.

Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, a medieval fantasy that owes 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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