Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: High Deryni, Chapters 7-9

Welcome to the weekly reread of High Deryni!

Last time, Bran Coris was corrupted by the offer of power both worldly and magical, Bishop Arilan ripped off his glasses and reveals his SuperDeryni cape, and we witnessed the Camberian Council in its full and cranky glory. This week Duncan and Morgan buckle their swashes to good effect, the mysterious redheaded beauty appears again, and Bishops Arilan and Cardiel have some decisions to make.

 

High Deryni: Chapters 7-9

Here’s What Happens: As Chapter 7 opens, Duncan and Morgan are back at St. Neot’s, watching Derry ride away on a mission of his own. Duncan wants to show Morgan the broken Transfer Portal with its magical warning klaxon. Which we get to see in detail and pretty much verbatim from the last book. After some considerable time and a little lamenting on Duncan’s part about the fallen glory of the Deryni, the daring duo turn to leave.

And! Suddenly! There is a visitation! It’s the apparition of (not!)Camber again, and it’s solid enough for its magical wards to sting.

The stranger brings a warning. The duo have enemies—Deryni enemies. They ask questions. The stranger is evasive. They try to draw him out. He isn’t playing. He tells them basically what the Council discussed and decided, though he doesn’t tell them it’s the Council as such. He does make it clear that he’s not Saint Camber. He is, of course, a Deryni.

He walks past the horses, stroking one on the way back, and disappears without a trace. The daring duo discuss the new revelations—that there are far more Deryni in the world than they imagined, and those Deryni are fully aware of their heritage and their powers. This is a profound shock.

They ride to Dhassa, and we get a full summary of their previous adventures in St. Torin’s. They discover that the way is blocked by a sizable episcopal army, which is rebuilding the shrine. They discuss what to do.

Finally Duncan pulls out his Torin badge from the last visit and accosts a passing cleric, asking him what’s going on. Morgan takes over and whammies him with magic. This is all very funny-ha-ha. The clerk verifies that the army is Cardiel’s, with special bonus anti-Deryni and anti-Morgan bigotry.

After some extensive hypnotic interrogation, the clerk reveals that there may be a secret way into Dhassa via a washed-out pass. They interrogate him further, add a few further jokes, and lift his Torin badge. So so funny! Ha ha!

Scene change. They’re high up in the pass, and yes, it really is washed out. There’s a waterfall. With a shallow cave.

And they’re not alone. Duncan tells Morgan to look behind him—and the chapter ends.

Chapter 8 picks right up where we left off. Four ragged children are in the process of stealing the horses the daring duo left behind to investigate the cave. Morgan stops Duncan from stopping them—he thinks they know a way across.

Sure enough. They lead the first horse through the falls to the other side. When they come back for the second, the duo pounce.

There is chaos and screeching. Also, magic. Can’t have the humans blabbing, now, can we?

It takes a while. They leave one boy conscious, and (with ripe irony) read him a lecture about stealing. (I wish the Torin badge was burning a hole in Morgan’s pocket, but no such luck. It’s not really stealing when you’re the Good Guys.)

Then they interrogate him about the rest of the track, and discover that horses can’t navigate it. They decide, oh so generously, to leave the horses with the kids “and a few false memories to cover their time.”

Then it’s yuks and grins as they contemplate the next phase of the expedition. Which turns out to be quite dangerous, in fact downright death-defying, but they intrepidly defy death and make it through to the gate.

Now they have to figure out how to sneak into the bishop’s palace. Which they manage to do by the time-honored method of disguising themselves as monks.

Just as they’re about to approach Cardiel and Arilan, Morgan has…A Moment. The woman from the last book, the gorgeous redhead, is here. With the child again. Driving Morgan right out of his tiny little mind.

He manages to recover. He and Duncan stalk the two bishops—and run into a troop of soldiers. They try to talk themselves out of it, but Morgan (of course) can’t hide the sword under the robe, and gets pulled down and disarmed in sharp order. He refuses to say who he is, until one of the soldiers finds his two very obvious signet rings and ends the chapter with the utterance of his name.

Fast shift to Chapter 9. Our heroes are spread-eagled on the floor. Cardiel comes out of his chambers to have a look. He’s quite cool and collected. So is Arilan, who comes out next and wants to know what the duo have come to Dhassa for: “our blessings or our deaths?”

Duncan happens to notice that Arilan is actually not displeased. Duncan starts talking, fast.

It works. Arilan orders the soldiers to bring the duo inside, and he and Cardiel will take it from there. The guards are not happy about this, but Arilan’s authority holds.

Inside, Duncan is dismayed to see his old friend Father Hugh. The bishops finally persuade the guards to leave, and the interrogation begins. Arilan wants to know exactly what is going on. He calls for separate questioning of each of them. He’s taking Morgan. Duncan will stay with Cardiel.

Morgan wonders if this is to be a “formal confession.” Arilan is a little bit coy. He wants to be free to discuss what they say with Cardiel. Morgan can’t exactly argue with that.

He tells Arilan his perspective on what happened at St. Torin’s in the last book. In detail. Pretty much verbatim, up to the point when Duncan burst through the ceiling.

The scene shifts. Duncan, confessing to Cardiel, continues the story. Cardiel hears him out.

Shift again. Morgan finishes his story. He notices that Arilan seems amused. He confesses that two monks are sleeping off a Deryni spell, and that’s how he and Duncan got in.

Arilan says he can’t give Morgan absolution—yet. He and Cardiel go off to confer. Morgan and Duncan stay under guard, with a bit of telepathic fretting. They have no idea what’s going to happen next.

And that’s the chapter.

 

And I’m Thinking: Most of what’s here is recap from the previous book. Word for word and at about the same length, which helps explain why this volume is as long as both of the previous volumes put together. In 1973, when there was no surety that any volume in a series would be available if a reader found one of the others, I guess this makes sense. It’s a daring and adventurous story, that much can be said for it.

Unlike the spying mission earlier, this one actually makes a kind of sense. Morgan and Duncan have to get out of the Interdict somehow, and sneaking in and talking to the rebel bishops is probably a quicker way to do it than a proper diplomatic mission under the king’s flag. With negotiations and procedures and all that boring stuff that isn’t half as much fun to read as a daring expedition through a waterfall.

There’s a distinct ethical double standard going on. It comes down to anything goes when you’re a good guy, including mind control and petty theft, but oh my goodness, how dare those impoverished kids steal those horses! Bad kids! Bad!

Even if they do get the horses in the end. And their minds messed with in the process.

I’m actually appreciating the nastiness of the Council declaring nonlethal open season on the daring duo. Serves them right for throwing magic around indiscriminately and messing with humans’ heads. They’ve been acting as if the world is just about empty of Deryni—Wencit and company don’t seem to factor in—and reinventing quite a number of wheels in the process.

So now we know more than Morgan and Duncan do. We know quite a bit about the Council. We know Bran Coris has turned traitor, via magic. And we know what Arilan really is.

The world is getting bigger by the chapter, and the daring duo’s derring-do is looking smaller. I can still see this as a Fifties costume epic, or even Forties—Flynn and Rathbone and let’s see, who plays Duncan? Who, indeed?

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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