Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz, High Deryni, Chapters 4-6

Welcome to the weekly reread of High Deryni!

This week we finally meet the evil King Wencit of Torenth, one of Gwynedd’s trusted generals turns traitor (and is bribed with magic), and one of Gwynedd’s highest prelates turns out to be not only Deryni but—High Deryni.


High Deryni: Chapters 4-6

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 4 opens with a classic example of Omniscient Landscape Description, specifically, the city and surrounds of Cardosa. The camera pans in on nervous Bran Coris riding to his meeting with Wencit of Torenth.

And finally, for the first time in the original version of the series, we meet the man himself. He scowls. He’s annoyed. His eyes are “ice-blue.” He looks like a fox, we’re told at length. He’s nervous, he paces. He’s working hard on his visuals, because he wants to charm the human visitor.

Bran Coris is drenched and frowning. Wencit is, as advertised, charming. Bran Coris does not understand why he’s been singled out for this, ahem, honor. Wencit offers him a cup of tea. He declines suspiciously, then explains, at length, what he did to Lionel and company. Wencit professes to be impressed.

Bran still doesn’t get why he’s there. After considerable backing and forthing and round-about-ing, Wencit closes in. He wants Bran Coris as an ally against Morgan. Bran is vehemently anti-Morgan, notes the Deryni king, but is he anti-Deryni? And how does he feel about magic?

Bran Coris is not a religious man. He doesn’t believe in Hell. Then Wencit offers to test him for Deryni blood, and offers him magic. He’s human, says Wencit’s shiral crystal, but that’s just fine. Humans get powers whole, as Kelson did at his coronation, instead of having to learn them.

Wencit orders, ahem invites, him to stay the night, and tells him Lionel is human and has been given Deryni powers. With much more backing and forthing about trust, Wencit puts Bran Coris in a trance and starts the power process—but doesn’t complete it. He sends his guest to bed.

Then he confers with someone named Rhydon, who has been hiding behind a wall panel, about what he’s been up to. Rhydon mentions the Camberian Council and goes on about Morgan and Duncan and their unpredictable powers and exploits.

Rhydon is quite the dastardly villain, complete with facial scar. This is made very clear. Very, very clear. Quite clear.

They discuss Kelson, and more Morgan and Duncan. They have plans. Dastardly plans. Wencit wants to pull a technical stunt on our daring duo: remove their immunity from arcane challenge, as they’re only half Deryni. Rhydon and the Council are Not friends. But Rhydon can have one of its members, Thorne Hagen, push for the variance under Wencit’s orders.

Rhydon is all arch and wicked and just casually messing with his powers. He sweeps off “in a swirl of indigo leather” (oooo) and Wencit is left to stew over his ambitions. He wants one king over all—“And it shall not the boy-king who sits on the throne at Rhemuth!”

Meanwhile, back in Dhassa, Chapter 5 opens with Bishops Cardiel and Arilan (after lengthy exposition and backstory) discussing the battle of Jennan Vale. Cardiel is much agitated. How could Corwyn have turned against good Prince Nigel? Arilan is visibly calmer but equally concerned.

Like everyone else in the world, they discuss Morgan and Duncan, guilty or innocent, and what to do about them. Cardiel is very much against the Interdict. He’s also not sure at all what to do now.

Arilan feeds him nice ego-cookies about his courage and encourages him to sit on his large army for a little longer, to see if the renegades will come for penance. Cardiel admits that he’s really impressed with Duncan, Deryni or no.

That’s a profound paradigm shift, Arilan points out. Cardiel tells him about a rumor he’s heard about a vast secret Deryni conspiracy, a secret Council, and what if Morgan and Duncan and Kelson are part of it?

Arilan says there’s no evidence of any such thing and the rumors probably come from Wencit. Cardiel observes that Arilan has a talent for both reassuring him and “frightening me to death.” After further friendly back and forth, Cardiel leaves.

As soon as he’s gone, Arilan heads for a certain spot in the floor, triggers a transfer portal, and disappears. A few seconds later, Cardiel pops back in and finds him gone. And quickly rationalizes the disappearance.

Chapter 6 introduces us to the very sybaritic, lushly hedonistic “Thorne Hagen, Deryni,” who has a thing for young teenaged girls and a certain inability to master a spell he’s been trying to learn from someone named Laran. Just as he thinks he’s got it, Rhydon appears, and the spell falls apart spectacularly. Also wetly.

Rhydon delivers Wencit’s message/orders while Hagen fusses and pouts. Rhydon, it turns out, has sworn never to darken the Council chamber again, “or…any room where Stefan Coram was.” He jokes about Lucifer, which makes Hagen terribly uncomfortable.

Rhydon does not believe in the Devil. The real devils are Morgan and McLain, he says. Hagen is perfectly willing to trust him on that. Rhydon gives Hagen his marching orders/arguments about the daring duo, and Hagen points out that he’s endangering his own status on the Council by doing this. But he doesn’t protest seriously, or object to being told what to do.

Hagen disappears from his room and reappears in the elaborate and lushly described Council chamber among the elaborately dressed and lushly described Council. Of whom Bishop Arilan is one.

Arilan notes that Thorne seems terribly agitated, and speculates at length as to why that may be. Then the co-leaders appear: Barret de Laney and Stefan Coram (Coram is elegant and silver-haired, de Laney is totally bald and green-eyed, also, blind).

After the opening ritual, the eight members of the Council are called to order. Laran ap Pardyce begins by citing a rumor that Morgan can heal. This is impossible, nobody can heal any more, but there it is.

Everyone is getting sick of Morgan this and Morgan that. They discuss his alleged healing powers in further and extensive detail, with extensive reference to events of the past two books. Finally Hagen reveals that Morgan and Duncan are on their way to Dhassa. This leads very eventually to his presenting Wencit’s proposition, and very, very eventually to a decision that the daring duo can be challenged, non-lethally, as if they were full Deryni.

Arilan does not vote in favor. He’s in the middle of the mess and he thinks it would be a really bad idea to have Deryni running around challenging the duo in the middle of two wars and a split in the Church.

Arilan is voted down. He’s also held to confidentiality: he can’t tell them they’re open to challenge. Which does not make him happy At All.


And I’m Thinking: This is a whole lot of wordage and a whole lot of proceedings and a whole lot of backing and forthing, upping and downing, all of which adds to up to some fairly basic plot movement. Bran Coris gets corrupted by the offer of power both worldly and magical, Bishop Arilan rips off his glasses and reveals his SuperDeryni cape, and we finally get to see the Camberian Council in its full and cranky glory.

There’s clearly a whole world of Deryni outside of human knowledge. Where they’re all living or how they’re escaping persecution isn’t made clear. Obviously Torenth is safe territory for Deryni, but its king is Eeeeevil and all these lords and ladies don’t seem for the most part to be his vassals. It’s not really clear whose vassals they technically are. Not Kelson’s, that’s for sure.

Gwynedd is starting to look very small and very self-absorbed and very unaware of the Deryni all around it. Like a little human zoo in a big Deryni world. And our daring duo are so very full of themselves, thinking they’re such mighty magical masters, making up magic as they go along, but now the Council is about to make it all too painfully real. Without telling them. Just suddenly, you know, wham.

Interesting to look at this from the perspective of worldbuilding experience, to see how much bigger this world has suddenly become, and how much smaller Gwynedd is than any of the people in it understand. It seems to be just about the only really safe space for humans, thanks to the Haldane power ritual. Makes me seriously wonder what the rest of the world is like for those who aren’t Deryni—and why would any Deryni want to be anywhere near Gwynedd unless they absolutely, under Council orders, had to?

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 most recent 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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