Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: High Deryni, Chapters 13-15

Welcome to the weekly reread of High Deryni!

Last time, Derry got captured, and a rite to locate him ended in Arilan accusing Morgan of breaking his promise not to use magic. This week, Arilan reads Morgan and Duncan the riot act, Warin performs a miracle, and Morgan has a Plan.

 

High DeryniChapters 13-15

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 13 opens with a continuation of Arilan’s reprimand of Morgan and Duncan for breaking their promise not to use magic during the ritual of penitence. Morgan is extremely haughty and unrepentant, and Duncan goes right along with the line that “We did what had to be done.” Morgan caps it with, “If you were Deryni, you would understand!”

That does it. Cardiel is visibly horrified. Arilan marches up to Morgan and tells him what’s what. That shuts Morgan up. He’s flabbergasted. Duncan is a little more in control of himself, enough to rebuke Arilan for doing nothing about the human-Deryni conflict. Arilan responds that he’s been playing the long game, and things won’t always be as they are now.

Morgan perks up at this point and starts in on how he can’t trust Arilan, he has no assurance Arilan won’t betray them, Arilan deceived them, yadda yadda.

Arilan doesn’t flinch in the slightest. He invites Morgan to read his mind. Morgan is suitably humbled and impressed by what he sees. Then it’s a group hug and goodwill all around, and Arilan invites Morgan to tell him what happened during the ritual. In the morning, they’ll set off to meet Kelson.

That meeting duly happens, two days later. Kelson isn’t surprised about Arilan. He’s very observant, he’s seen how Morgan’s attitude toward the bishop has changed, and he’s put most of it together by the time he’s told. Inside of a day, “the four Deryni were a team.”

And it’s time to take back Coroth. We get a lengthy description of the royal army (I had a moment’s doubletake when I read “Cardiel’s Joshuic Foot” as the “Jurassic foot”), unit by unit, with battle plans attached. Finally we move in on Kelson asking for Morgan’s input (Kelson’s hair is raven, we’re reminded yet again).

Morgan is slouchy and too cool for school, and doesn’t have much to offer except he’d like to get his city back undamaged. Arilan points out that it’s too late to do anything today. Kelson hopes they can reach a settlement without a battle. Duncan doesn’t think Warin’s anti-Deryni bigotry will allow any such thing. Kelson still wants to try for a diplomatic solution. With that, he gives the order to camp for the night. And up on the walls, Warin is watching.

Warin comes in for a detailed description, including some High Style and some borderline yea-verily. He’s all in grey, with penetrating eyes. He believes he’s been “appointed by God” to rid the world of Deryni.

Two of Warin’s henchmen come along, and naturally the conversation turns to Morgan. It’s always about Morgan. It also turns to Archbishop Loris, who is firmly on Warin’s side. And there’s the man himself, with lengthy description, wondering what the royal army is going to do. Warin speculates that the king is getting ready to parley, then proceeds to tell the bishop (who knows the whole royal camp personally) who they all are, including the rebel bishops.

Loris is not amused about the bishops. At all.

The parley party comes riding up, led by a boy who looks like Kelson (raven hair included). He’s Kelson’s cousin, and he asks for a truce and a parley. Warin makes it clear there are things he won’t budge on, and he doesn’t think a parley will accomplish much. Loris is extremely suspicious. He doesn’t trust the king. There follows some detailed arranging of the principals. Kelson is working hard on the optics of the meeting. When everyone is in place and all the symbolism is clearly established, Kelson and Loris have a conversation. Cardiel joins in, informing Loris that the rebel bishops have lifted the excommunication.

Loris, of course, doesn’t accept the validity of this. Kelson carries on with an indictment of Warin’s depredations in Corwyn. Warin says those aren’t about Kelson, they’re about Deryni. Kelson reminds him that Kelson himself is half Deryni. Warin allows that because Kelson is king, then rebukes him for consorting with “true Deryni,” i.e., Morgan, i.e., people who aren’t king and who are open about who they are. Kelson isn’t having it. He points out that Wencit, who really is an evil Deryni, is breathing down all their necks.

Loris gets all posey and dramatic. It’s not about Wencit! It’s about domestic terrorism! God wills it! He doesn’t care what the king wills!

Kelson plays the royal card good and hard, and commands Loris and company, royally, to surrender. Loris refuses. He hints that Kelson might get out of range in case someone on the walls is minded to assassinate the king. Not that Loris wants that, but…

Kelson finally loses his temper and stomps off. When he’s back on his own line, Morgan calms him down, gives orders to continue making camp, and pulls Arilan, Cardiel, and Duncan aside to confer with Kelson. Kelson resents being treated like a child. Morgan continues to be both conciliatory and firm. He herds Kelson away to the royal tent. Kelson finally calms down and apologizes. Morgan smiles and says he has a plan. As he starts to detail it, the chapter ends.

Chapter 14, for once, doesn’t pick up immediately from the previous chapter, but it opens pretty quickly. Morgan, Kelson, Duncan, Nigel’s son Connall (to take care of the horses) and, it turns out, Cardiel are getting ready to ride out of camp. Nigel gets literal marching orders in case the plan fails, and Arilan blesses them all.

Arilan is not going with them. He’s needed with Nigel. Cardiel is deeply nervous but determined. Arilan points out that Cardiel is the only full human (Connall aside). He’s there because of his authority as Bishop of Dhassa, but also as a teaching moment. Arilan wants him to see “some very fine Deryni practitioners” being Deryni without being evil. Cardiel agrees to keep an open mind and heart. That’s all Arilan wants.

Scene shift. Ravine south of the castle. Connall takes charge of the horses. The others follow Morgan to a hidden entrance by the ocean. It’s underground and partially underwater, and requires a fair degree of athleticism to negotiate.

Once they’re in, Cardiel is treated to his first experience of Deryni magic, Transfer Portal aside: Morgan conjures a light. Cardiel is nervous but steadfast. They go on, and (of course) find a rockfall. This requires Morgan to do some underwater exploring, and everyone to dive down an underwater passage.

Cardiel slows things down considerably. He’s scared. He’s no athlete. But he has courage. Eventually he makes the effort, with Morgan’s extensive help—then he passes out on the way, and almost drowns. It takes all three of the others to perform what amounts to CPR before he finally comes to. He’s plucky, Morgan thinks. Morgan is impressed.

They finally continue, and find another too-convenient cave-in. Morgan hoped to get to his quarters, but they’ll have to go to the tower instead. Once there, they scrounge up dry clothes—too big for Kelson and rather direly snug for Cardiel—and discover that there’s a guard outside the door. They’ll have to “control” him or, Morgan points out with cold practicality, kill him.

The daring duo gets to work trying to magic-whammy the man through the door, while Cardiel and Kelson watch raptly. It doesn’t work. Stiletto to the lower back it is. (How that succeeds in doing anything but paralyzing the man’s legs, we’re not told.) Sorry, bishop, Morgan says. Necessary. Cardiel obediently goes along.

Morgan leads them through a maze of secret passages. He’s totally in charge. Finally they find a wall of curtains and peepholes, and sure enough, there’s Warin with his rustic-brogue-speaking henchmen, talking about—who else?—Morgan. The henchmen are worried about Morgan destroying the castle. Warin thinks Morgan is too “rational” to do such a thing.

Suddenly a messenger arrives at the door of the “soundproofed” room, desperate for help. A man named Owen has been badly injured in a rockfall. (It’s rockfall season in Coroth, apparently.) Four more men bring the injured man into the room (because moving him is such a good idea, rather than having Warin go to him—but that wouldn’t work so well for the watchers behind the arras). And then of course we get The Big Mystical Healing Scene.

It’s very religious. Much prayer. Aura surrounding the healer. And lo, the wounded man is completely healed. It’s a miracle! And it’s perfect for Morgan’s purposes. He rallies his troops and they make their entrance.

It’s suitably dramatic. A huge door opens beside the fireplace. Kelson is in the lead, then Morgan, then Cardiel. Warin and company are shocked and terrified. When they try to run, there’s Duncan in the green-flaming exit with a drawn sword. And so we end the chapter, with Warin facing “his nemesis and his king.”

Chapter 15 moves us right along. Kelson demands surrender. Warin refuses and commands his minion to call the guards. Kelson warns him not to try. Duncan backs up the warning with doorglow and steel.

Warin makes a high-minded speech about how they’ll all die, but they’re on God’s side. Meanwhile Duncan rounds up the four henchmen’s weapons, and Kelson seats himself with the air of taking a throne. The others arrange themselves around him, and voilá. Instant royal audience. Kelson piles it on with the royal “we” and a command that Warin be loyal and listen. Warin is defiant. Kelson reminds him that he did even worse to Morgan, stripping him not only of his magic but of his ability to function. Warin persists in refusing to associate with magic.

That’s Morgan’s opening. Healing is magic, he says. No, it’s not, Warin declares. It’s of the Lord. Morgan is an evil heretic. Warin is holy.

Morgan settles in for a nice semi-scholastic debate on the divine origins of the healing gift. Gradually he closes in for the kill: that he, a Deryni, can also heal. Which means it might be a Deryni power.

Warin reels dramatically and of course is all about the denial. Morgan says he healed Derry, therefore…

This goes on for a while. Duncan backs Morgan up and offers to prove it. More: He’ll be the test subject. Everybody erupts at that. Duncan can’t! It might be suicide! He’s a priest!

Eventually Duncan proposes that Warin wound him himself, to be sure there’s no trickery. Warin finally, very finally, agrees, and Duncan makes him promise he won’t wound Duncan any worse than he himself can heal. Duncan sets himself up. Warin takes aim at his left shoulder. And—

Chapter break.

 

And I’m Thinking: This whole sequence reads like the script for a Fifties costume epic. Long, long, loooooong descriptions. Classic, indeed standard, situations. Not one but three conveniently plot-ratcheting rockfalls, an underwater adventure that nearly kills the weakest link, secret passages galore, and of course the utterly convenient wall full of peepholes behind an arras. Dramatic entrance of our doughty heroes, and not one but two magical healing scenes, the second of which features special bonus self-sacrifice.

It really is cinematic. We won’t even talk about how totally crazy it is to risk the king on a mission this dangerous, and while it makes a decent amount of sense to send Cardiel instead of Arilan—must reserve one Deryni on the outside just in case—he’s certainly a liability when it comes to derring-do. But he’s plucky, and he’s apparently so conditioned to being Arilan’s sidekick that he doesn’t even blink at doing what Morgan tells him. Even if it involves killing a guard in a rather improbable way.

What caught me up short was the ordinary human way Cardiel was brought back to life. No magical healing there? But there’s an actual manufactured case in the next chapter?

Naturally the Duncan episode serves an Important Plot Purpose, and Cardiel isn’t exactly expendable but he is a lot less plot-crucial. So, Cardiel has to make it through the hard way.

It’s fine, stirring stuff. Warin isn’t nearly the sneering villain he’s been so far, though he’s quite a bigoted as ever. Clearly we’re supposed to see him in a less negative light, and understand that he believes in his own divine destiny, though he’s not terribly arrogant about it.

Kurtz is trying hard to be epic here. Lots and lots of lush descriptions and some subject-object inversions and drama to the hilt. But there’s still that rock-hard political underpinning. It’s all about the human-Deryni conflict, but it’s also about the politics.

Morgan, meanwhile, is his usual obnoxious self—until it’s time to buckle the swashes. Then suddenly he’s all cool and collected and busy being the grownup in the room, Kelson having finally cracked enough to show thirty seconds’ worth of adolescent temper. (And really, he’s been provoked to levels that would drive many full-grown men to murder.) Swashes are Morgan’s natural habitat, and buckling them is what he does best.

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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