Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: High Deryni, Chapters 10-12

Welcome to the weekly reread of High Deryni!

Last time, Morgan gave a stern lecture about the wrongness of stealing to some thieving kids, and the mysterious redhead showed made another appearance. This week Morgan and Duncan finally sort out their little problem with excommunication, Arilan shares a dangerous secret with Cardiel, and Derry gets into terrible trouble.


High Deryni: Chapters 10-12

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 10 opens with more discussion between Arilan and Cardiel, going over (once again with feeling) all the ins and outs of the vexed case of Morgan and Duncan. This time they go into more depth about the Deryni question—should a person be treated differently because of what he is? Are Deryni born evil? And what about the humans, who do not understand?

Clearly this is what I call a Cherished Theme—a theme near and dear to the author’s heart, which she explores repeatedly and from multiple angles. Here the discussion ends with Arilan dropping a bombshell: he lures Cardiel over to the Transfer Portal and activates it.

Cardiel is suitably shocked and appalled. Arilan calms him down, confirms that he’s Deryni and that the daring duo don’t know, justifies his years of standing by through ongoing and escalating Deryni persecutions, and explains where they are and how they got here. He begs Cardiel to trust him. Cardiel, his bestie to the last, sucks it up and does so. Then Arilan tells him it’s time to get busy rehabilitating the duo and winning over the rest of the bishops, and Cardiel braves the Portal a second time.

There follows some fast plot-progression. The duo, unaware of what just happened, meet again with the two bishops. Cardiel is acting strangely, and Arilan is amazingly at ease. Morgan doesn’t like it.

They all face the remaining rebel bishops, with lots of passive voice and synopsis (trying to be High Style, I think), which adds up to an agreement—hard won—to lift the excommunication and give absolution in the face of true repentance.

This is not going to be an easy process. It has to be public, dramatic, and convincing. It also has to happen in two days, before the bishops’ army rides to join Kelson.

While this is going on, the scene shifts to Derry. Dear Derry! He’s made it to Cardosa, having discovered on the way that Duke Jared McLain’s army isn’t where it’s supposed to be. It’s gone, the bulk of it slaughtered on the plains of Eastmarch. It met another, initially friendly army, which Derry discovers belonged to Bran Coris, and was betrayed.

Derry scouted and confirmed that Bran Coris has gone over to Wencit. Bran’s men aren’t all happy about this. Duke Jared seems to have escaped, but Derry doesn’t know where is.

So now it’s two days after the daring duo reached Dhassa, and Derry is mulling over tonight’s magical meeting with Morgan. When he makes his way back to his horse from his reconnoiter, he has company: soldiers demanding to know who he is. He tries to bluff it out, but that doesn’t work. He has to resort to violence. That doesn’t work, either: he’s outnumbered and out-weaponed. The chapter ends with his capture. (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!)

In Chapter 11, Derry is a captive, and he’s wounded. A surgeon patches him up, and his captors dump him in an officer’s tent. This quickly turns out to belong to a man in plaid with a brogue, Baron Campbell of Eastmarch. Derry claims to be a royal messenger (he does not specify which king). The Baron begs to differ. Derry, he says, is a spy.

The confrontation ends with Derry being taken to “his Lordship.” This is not good news. Bran Coris knows Derry. Nor is it good news that Campbell has referred to “the lord’s Deryni friends.”

Bran Coris does indeed recognize Derry. He says so to his friend: the very exotic and lovingly described Lionel. He and Derry are not friends. At all. And he and Morgan are definitely not friends. Bran explains all of this, in arch detail, to Lionel. Then he sends Lionel to ask Wencit what he wants done with the spy, whom he refers to as “this offal.”

Lionel does so in the tent, by magic. The news for Derry is worse than ever. He’s to be sent to Wencit in Cardosa. Bran Coris is quite snidely pleased about this. He really hates Derry. A lot.

Meanwhile Morgan is bored. Very very bored. He’s waiting to be called in for the ritual he and Duncan have agreed to. He does not wait well. Unlike Duncan, who as a priest has learned how to wait.

He’s also starving, because pampered nobleman is not used to not eating several times a day. There is some badinage about how bad Dhassa wine is, and about fainting away in the middle of the rite. Then Cardiel sweeps in with a message from Kelson, who expects to see them all the day after tomorrow. Cardiel wants to know if this will be a problem.

He takes a while but finally works around to his point. He wants them to swear that there will be no magic during the ritual. Both of them agree to it, but Morgan is a little slow.

Once Cardiel is gone, Duncan wants to know what the problem is. It’s contact time for Derry, Morgan says, which means he may have to break his promise. Duncan is not happy about this. Morgan insists that he has to do it. He’s worried about Derry. “We’ll just have to take the chance and hope we won’t be caught.”

Duncan, as usual, gives in and goes along. Morgan starts to work out a plan, but Cardiel and Arilan interrupt. It’s time.

Meanwhile Derry is—according to the first edition—just arriving in Dhassa. Which must of course mean Cardosa. (Oops. Had that happen to me during proofreads, too.)

It takes a long, painful, explicitly described while to get him into the gloomy, dark, and foreboding fortress and tie him up in a dungeon. Derry tries to figure a way out, but there doesn’t appear to be any.

It dawns on him that he can send a magical message to Morgan. Just as he’s getting going with the spell, he’s interrupted. Derry realizes from what the voices outside are saying that Wencit has arrived. The chapter ends with footsteps behind the deeply alarmed captive.

And so to Chapter 12, in the cathedral at the real and actual Dhassa, the ritual is extremely long, extremely complex, and requires frequent responses from the penitents. When finally there is a lull, Morgan promptly goes ahead and breaks his promise, and begins the spell to contact Derry.

Derry finally gets to see his first visitor, and it’s not Wencit. It’s a stranger with a horrific facial scar and very pale eyes. Wencit is behind him: a fox-faced redhead who is too, too amiable. He introduces Derry to his “colleague,” Rhydon of Eastmarch. Who is very, very sinister. But nice, amiable Wencit is very, very dangerous, Derry realizes.

Wencit starts toying with Derry, armed with a dagger and a sadistic turn of mind. He soon finds the magical communication medallion. There is chuckling that turns to full-on glaring as he recognizes the Camber medallion. “Art thou Deryni, then, little one?

Then, at considerable length and with considerable fury, Wencit snaps the chain and takes the medallion. Derry is now without his lifeline to Morgan. He is suitably terrified.

Morgan meanwhile hasn’t been able to contact Derry. The rite continues. He decides to keep trying. When there’s another convenient break, and he’s kneeling beside Duncan, he asks his cousin to cover him and goes under again. “I’ll even arrange to faint, if necessary.” Duncan goes along, again.

Scene shift. Wencit is silkily nasty, threatening to feed Derry to the caradots. Rhydon, Wencit’s loyal sidekick as Duncan is Morgan’s, obligingly shows him a magical image of the monster. Wencit closes that off with “a patronizing little smirk,” then leans on the question of feeding to the caradots until Derry (and the reader) is ready to scream.

Wencit doesn’t manage to get anything out of Derry, but he’s only just begun. He tries a Truth-Read and is shocked when he fails. Then he brings out a drug—none other than the notorious merasha, which laid Morgan low in St. Torin’s—and with Rhydon’s assistance, force-feeds it to Derry. Derry, slowly and spectacularly, passes out.

Meanwhile, back in the cathedral, Morgan gets a glimpse of Derry passing out, then does so himself, at considerably greater length than Derry managed to. He’s not faking it, thanks to fatigue, fasting, and overall overdoing it. Not assisted by Cardiel stopping the Mass and coming to see what’s going on.

Duncan covers for him, and at the same time, applies a Deryni fatigue-banishing spell. This brings Morgan around, very publicly, and Morgan plays for sympathy. Arilan is clearly not buying it.

Once the rite is over, the two bishops and the daring duo are left alone in the cathedral. Then Arilan calls Morgan out on his deception, and accuses him point-blank of breaking his promise not to use magic. “I trust that you can produce a justification which seemed valid at the time!”


And I’m Thinking: Just when I’ve had more than enough of Morgan’s overly flexible moral compass, Arilan says exactly what I’ve been thinking. Yay Arilan!

In the first read, of course, I thought Morgan was terribly dashing and heroic and of course he had to break his promise because Derry. And of course Duncan went along because, again, Derry. Means justify the ends, etc.

Now I’m much less inclined to laugh indulgently and let him get away with it. I’m with Arilan. He lied through his teeth, he broke a damned near sacred vow, and he did it strictly for expediency. He’s not really any better than Wencit, who at least is honestly evil, and he’s definitely not much better than Bran Coris, who does what he does for his own personal gain.

There’s the whole “nobleman who’s never gone hungry thing,” too, which is partly ironic but I don’t see how he would expect it to stick. There must be no Lent in this Church, no fast days, and no rituals of penitence that Morgan’s ever bothered with. Nor apparently has he ever gone hungry on the hunt or in war. That isn’t really credible.

And it points up something that has happened with at least my awareness over the past few decades. In the Seventies, the general culture didn’t talk about privilege, didn’t pay a lot of attention to the poor or the non-white or even the non-male, and it was just kind of amusing that Morgan would be a spoiled rich kid who’s never gone a day without food.

The inherent classism of the book wasn’t anything I noticed at the time. The rustics with their thick fake-Scots dialect just seemed, well, rustic. Highborn Morgan was handsome and dashing and worthy. Women were furniture when they weren’t flighty annoyances. And “exotic” was black-haired Lionel with his long sexy hair, described in breathless detail every time he shows up onstage.

Now I’m intensely annoyed at the lack of realistic, fully functioning female human beings, and the extreme whiteness of the culture, and the idea that our handsome young rich guy can do whatever he wants because Hero.

It’s good to see him pulled up short by a Deryni bishop who’s had about enough. It’s satisfying in a way I couldn’t have appreciated when I first read the book.

But poor Derry! He’s in awful trouble, and it’s only going to get worse.

As for the villains, they’re quite villainous. They’re classic costume-drama nasties, with smirks and sneers and ever so arch insults and threats that range from outrageous to “can you possibly be serious?” They’re campy and overdone and still, after all this time, kind of fun.

And yes, Lionel is kind of sexy. I could even see him played by Hiddleston in his Loki costume, with darker hair. Though at the time of course, he had to be played by Rathbone.

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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