Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: High Deryni, Chapters 22-24

Welcome to the weekly reread of High Deryni!

Last time, Warin executed his McLain prisoners—including Duncan’s father—and Kelson must invoke a hugely dramatic spell to keep his troops in order. This week Kelson and Wencit finally come face to face, Wencit gets out-maneuvered, and Derry does a very bad thing.


High Deryni: Chapters 22-24

Here’s What Happens: As Chapter 22 opens, the rival kings meet at last. Wencit is full of snark and slither, as always. Kelson makes sure to examine him minutely, with yet another detailed description of Wencit’s over-the-top but strangely intimidating fashion sense.

Their conversation is openly hostile on Kelson’s side and viciously urbane on Wencit’s. Wencit is terribly concerned about dear Derry. The arrow in his back was completely accidental.

Then he shifts to the real point of the meeting. He challenges Kelson and company to a duel arcane, to the death. Wencit will bring Rhydon, Lionel, and Bran.

No fair, says Kelson. Wencit and company are all trained Deryni, and Kelson has nothing to compare. He demands to know what Wencit is really up to.

Wencit insists he’s all about saving lives and kingdoms. No big battle. No big casualty count. Four against four, winner take all.

Kelson worries about what happens if he wins—how long will Wencit stay down before he comes after Gwynedd again? He isn’t quite getting the part about “to the death.” Wencit makes sure to enlighten him.

Kelson isn’t entirely sure Wencit will stay dead. While he ponders, Wencit loses patience and informs him that he still has nearly a thousand prisoners from Duke Jared’s army—and hanging is not the worst way to die. If Kelson takes too much time deciding, he’ll draw and quarter them, two hundred a time.

Evil Wencit really is evil. Morgan steps in to warn Kelson that Wencit is trying to force him into a hasty decision. He also wants to know what Wencit really has going on.

Wencit is haughty and scornful. There are rules, he says, set by the Camberian Council, and they will send arbitrators to make sure those rules are observed.

This is startling news for Kelson and Morgan. Arilan steps in smoothly and points out that Kelson needs time to talk to his advisors.

Wencit is more scornful than ever. Until nightfall, he says. Then two hundred prisoners will die. At moonrise, two hundred more will be impaled. And it will get worse from there.

Wencit and company gallop off. Kelson is furious with everybody. He gallops off, too, arranges his troops for the night, and adjourns to his tent.

Warin has just finished healing Derry, who keeps calling for Morgan. Derry is in bad shape. He’s terrified to fall asleep. He goes on and on about how horrible Wencit is. He’s the Devil. The very Devil. And so on and on.

Morgan finally puts a whammy on him. Once he’s safely unconscious, they all speculate as to what happened to him. Then Kelson confronts Arilan about the Council.

Arilan spins things out for some time, while Kelson dismisses outsiders and summons Cardiel and Nigel. Warin also gets to stay.

Finally Arilan fills everyone in on the results of the meeting, and reveals that he’ll be combatant number four. Warin is startled. Nigel is not. Then Arilan explains how a duel arcane works, and what the Camberian Council is.

Morgan calls Arilan on the question of his and Duncan’s half-blood status. He also informs Arilan of their several meetings with an apparent member of the Council, who warned them about the possibility of a duel.

Arilan is shocked. He can’t imagine who might have done such a thing. He reveals that he is on the Council, which shocks the others. Except Kelson, who is in cold and royal mode.

Arilan pulls himself together. He hasn’t heard anything about Council approval for this duel, and he intends to find out what’s going on. He asks Morgan to fetch his Wards Major, and the others to help set up a space for what turns out to be a Transfer Portal. Then, at length and in detail, he delivers a lecture on how to construct a Portal, after which, in further and lengthy detail, Morgan sets the wards and Arilan constructs the Portal using Warin, Nigel, and Cardiel as energy sources.

This takes quite a few pages and is quite an involved process. Very eventually, Arilan, with the daring duo and Kelson, activates the Portal, which is even more involved and requires massive amounts of energy. Then he leaves an exhausted Morgan to extend the wards to the king’s whole tent, and beams out.

Chapter 23 opens with Arilan standing in the dark outside the Council chamber. He makes a dramatic entrance and starts summoning the Council.

They all arrive in various states of disarray. Arilan wastes no time once they’re all there. He demands to know who agreed to mediate Wencit’s duel.

The answer is nobody. It’s a hoax. Arilan realizes Wencit is planning to bring extra sorcerers disguised as Council members.

The actual Council is not amused by either Wencit’s deception or the daring duo’s half-blood status. Arilan loses his temper and stomps out. He’s going to force them to meet his “Deryni allies.”

He comes back “within seconds,” with Kelson, Morgan, and Duncan. He introduces them with showy flair, by their full titles. Then Morgan wants to ask questions, but gets cut off by Lady Vivienne, who is quite unamused by his half-breed status.

Morgan debates her. Kelson is all right, she says, because he’s half Deryni and half Haldane. Haldanes aren’t really human, you know. Versus Morgan and Duncan, whose fathers were human, and therefore the offspring are “outcast.”

Tiercel steps in to ask about Morgan’s healing powers. Morgan isn’t going to answer until they all admit that they’re not allowing him their protection but they have subjected him to the danger of a duel to the death. That’s not fair or just.

For that, he and the other two are dismissed while the Council, including Arilan, discuss the situation in private. As soon as they’re gone, the discussion heats up. Some of the Council want to call Wencit and Rhydon in and demand to know what they’re up to. Stefan Coram won’t stay if so: he hates Rhydon with a long-standing passion. Arilan isn’t into it, either, since Rhydon doesn’t know he’s Deryni—he wants to keep the element of surprise for the duel.

The debate goes on. They consider that Lionel and Bran aren’t even half Deryni. The real Council needs to show up, they decide. Besides, they need to preserve Morgan’s healing power. It’s new, apparently (though somewhere it’s said that it used to exist but has disappeared, but whatever).

The decision having been made, the Council calls the three outsiders back in and formally declares that an arbitration team will attend the duel. They are all sworn to secrecy.

Mission accomplished. Arilan and company beam back to the king’s tent, and Arilan advises Kelson to accept the challenge, taking a “slightly apprehensive but resigned” tone. Arilan is looking forward to Wencit’s reaction when he sees the real Council in place of his impostors.

Chapter 24 is taking its time getting to the duel. Arilan and Kelson have a talk about how Wencit wasn’t too happy to get the acceptance, and then Morgan and Duncan show up. Kelson wants to go for a walk. Morgan wants to check on Derry first.

Derry is still in poor shape, and he shouldn’t be. Morgan is worried. He leaves his friend under extra guard and finds himself visiting Richenda. She’s singing a lullaby (two full verses) to her son. Brandon sees Morgan and is adorable, calling him “Papa.” When corrected, he’s even more adorable, with adorably adorable lisp. He wants a story about his wonderfully wonderful daddy.

Morgan, being adorable himself, tells a story about Kelson and a pony instead. When Brendan finally (very finally) falls asleep, Morgan observes that he’s Deryni. Of course his mother knows, and they talk about the complications of Deryni heritage and a traitor father.

Sister Luke interrupts, serving wine. When she leaves, Richenda assures Morgan the Sister is discreet and Richenda’s honor hasn’t been damaged. Morgan then points out that Bran has to die. Richenda knows. “It was foretold,” she says, and wonders “What will become of all of us?”

Derry meanwhile is awake, and he’s doing very bad things. He cold-cocks the guard and drags him to the Portal, where the guard is possessed by someone else. That other person orders Derry to find Richenda and her son and deliver them to the Portal. Bran wants them back.

Suddenly Warin shows up. Derry knocks him out, too, ties him up, and leaves the tent.

Morgan is still with Richenda, angsting over his feelings for her. They kiss. They part.

Richenda, left behind, waxes romantic over “this tall, golden stranger not her husband,” and angsts over him and over her marriage vows. Then she sees Derry. Warin is ill, he says, and Morgan can’t be there, but thinks Richenda can help.

Richenda falls for it. She also falls for the line that the king wants Brendan to come, too, though that’s a little harder. Somebody might kidnap him while she’s gone, Derry points out.

In the king’s tent, Richenda bends over Warin. Derry stands back, smug. She sees the gag and finally catches on.

The Portal triggers, with Brendan in it. Derry hauls Richenda off. She’s screaming, of course. But she’s also trying to fire Deryni force beams from her fingers, which is futile because Derry keeps spoiling her aim. Shadowy figures sweep Brendan away.

And I’m Thinking: If there’s one thing that distinguishes this volume from the first two, it’s that everything takes a very long time to happen. There is much much description and much much exposition and much much discussion. Still, the plot moves. We’re headed for what looks like an inevitable magical blowout, with bonus treachery, deception, and a touch of high (and somewhat questionably honorable, and accordingly fraught) romance.

It’s fun to watch Arilan shoot big flaming holes in Wencit’s clever plan. The long, long, loooooonnnnng process of building a Transfer Portal, with verbatim repetitions of Morgan’s ward-setting procedure, is classic Kurtzian ritual: lengthy, detailed, and intricate. It’s the sort of thing that either one savors or one skims past to get to the action, depending on one’s predilections as a reader.

And speaking of big flaming holes in things and people, Richenda is as ineffectual as one might expect, since she’s a female and a Love Interest, but at least she tries to blast her son’s kidnappers. She doesn’t just stand and scream. I give her points for that.

Now that things are all terribly complicated and the stakes are terribly high, we’re ready for the denouement. And we’ll be getting it—with big shiny magical bells on.

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, and she’s currently completing a sequel. 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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