Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Saint Camber, Chapters 5-6

Welcome to the weekly reread of Saint Camber! Last time, Camber and company went on a magical spying mission, and the Haldane faction prepared for war.

This week, multiple conflicts come to a head. Cinhil clashes with his Deryni allies, and the battle between the Haldane army and Ariella’s rebels ends in blood and magical fire.


Saint Camber: Chapters 5-6

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 5 opens as so many Kurtzian chapters (and scenes) do: with a long ride in the rain. Gwynedd is a very wet country, and of course Ariella’s magic has been making it even wetter.

When the royal army finally stops for a break, Cinhil is severely saddle-sore. Guaire and Rhys fuss over him. He’s mildly paranoid about Rhys and being drugged, but he doesn’t think about that until after he’s drunk the wine Rhys gives him. He’s generally paranoid about Deryni, and not exactly sure what they can do, or will do.

He doesn’t object however to Rhys helping him a bit with his fatigue and soreness. Nor does he have much to say when Camber and Cullen and Joram start talking about strategy. He does wonder about the weather improving. Camber allows as how “a number of people” have been involved in that, with a mini-lecture on how much effort they’ve put into it.

Cinhil mutters about Deryni and magic, gets verbally smacked by Cullen, but doesn’t back down. He’s not comfortable with this whole magic thing. Joram wrestles him to a mental standstill, aided by Camber, who can’t promise there won’t be any magic in the battle, but it’s more likely to be a straight military operation—potential duel arcane with Ariella aside.

Guaire interrupts the discussion by bringing Cinhil’s favorite and smoothest-gaited horse, Moonwind, whom Cinhil is half glad, half rueful to see. It’s time to ride on. Guaire takes time to explain the logistics of Cinhil’s various choices of mount, then Cinhil delays actually mounting. He’s hurting a lot.

When he’s finally on the horse and dealing with the pain, he goes back to overthinking the magic thing. He’s deliberately suppressed his own powers for fear of losing control—which we know he’s capable of doing.

Eventually Cullen brings him back to earth. They’ve found the enemy. Cinhil has occasion to regret his failure to study the arts of war, and has to let his commanders make the decisions. Amid this, he’s rather appalled to learn that Ariella could mess with men’s minds while they sleep, which means that night’s camp has to be warded.

Once Cinhil makes his way to his pavilion, Cullen and Joram explain the nature of those wards. Cinhil is sharp about use of magic, but he makes a production out of not forbidding it. Joram is equally sharp about stomping off to get the job done.

Cullen stays to smooth matters over. They discuss Cinhil’s young, capable but inexperienced confessor. Cullen plays the “we’re really quite alike” card. He wants to be friends.

Cinhil can’t. Cullen’s Deryni. He could—why, he could be a servant of the Devil. Cinhil just can’t bring himself to trust a Deryni.

Cullen doesn’t argue. He lets himself be dismissed.

Cinhil is in a taking. He can’t sleep. He goes for a long walk around the camp.

Quite a few pages later, he stops by Cullen’s pavilion. Something’s going on in there.

All the commanders, including Camber, Joram, and even Guaire, are attending a Mass celebrated by Cullen. It’s a Michaeline rite with some highly technical departures from canon. Cinhil starts to duck out—and Cullen catches him.

Cinhil is mortified. Cullen is kind, and invites him to join in. There follows more highly technical ritual including Cullen’s affirmation of Cinhil’s perpetual priesthood, and the taking of Communion in the Michaeline style.

It’s quite fraught for Cinhil, especially when it’s over and he tries to explain himself. Camber points out that if they’d known he wanted to be involved, he’d have been invited. They all figured he wanted his own chaplain.

Cullen calls Cinhil on his curiosity about a Deryni Mass. Then he calls Cinhil on his anti-Deryni bias.

This blows up into the fight that’s been brewing since Cinhil was kidnapped and tricked into becoming king. Cinhil throws it all out in the open, right down to Evaine’s betrayal. Cullen and company fire back that Cinhil could perfectly well have kept on resisting and made himself a real martyr. Since he didn’t, that’s on him.

Cinhil runs away, sobbing with rage. Cullen apologizes for losing it. So does Joram. Camber is optimistic. Maybe this has cleared the air, he says with remarkable good cheer. Cullen is nowhere near as sure about that.

Chapter 6 sees the Deryni too busy with battle preparations—including Rhys and the hospital—to think too hard about the royal blowup. Once Cinhil finally puts in an appearance, everyone is walking on eggshells. Cinhil is rigid with anger.

Camber and Joram discuss the situation. The blowup on their side, including Cullen’s, was not in Camber’s calculations. Camber is disappointed in them both. Truth or not, Cinhil was obviously not ready to hear it.

Joram tells Camber about Cullen’s earlier offer of friendship, which Cinhil refused, as well as Joram’s attempt to explain the wards. That clarifies a few things for Camber. They both hope Cullen can (or will) mend matters, because Cinhil needs someone to trust.

Just as they’re wrapping up their discussion, Cullen himself appears, observing that Ariella seems to be setting up for a “classic” battle. After expressing the hope that Cinhil will get over his snit, he says his goodbyes and heads off to get the battle started.

The battle itself gets a page of bloodless exposition. Cinhil does a little fighting. The good guys win. Cullen and his Michaelines corner Ariella.

Cullen calls for her surrender. Ariella’s response is pure Deryni: her escort raises magical shields. Cullen’s Michaelines respond in kind.

This battle is much more immediate and much less dry and history-like. The carnage is complete. Finally only Ariella and Cullen are still able to function. Cullen is on foot. Ariella is mounted on a spirited and obstreperous stallion.

Ariella offers to pardon Cullen if he’ll swear to serve her. Not bloody likely, he says: she’s his prisoner. She points out that she’s mounted and unharmed, and he’s unhorsed and wounded. She demands his sword in return for his life.

He refuses. She charges him. He guts her horse. She comes up with magic blazing.

He knows he’s dying, lengthily and in considerable detail. He puts everything he has left into both physical and magical resistance, and hurls his sword at her. Then he falls.

And I’m Thinking: Well, that was bracing. And what a royal mess it all is. Cinhil finally says what I’ve been thinking all along, and the Deryni face the consequences. Camber is still too full of his own wonderfulness to realize how badly he’s miscalculated, but everyone else, Joram included, has a much better grasp of reality. This isn’t going to be any kind of easy fix.

Meanwhile, the big battle with Ariella’s forces gets a quick and perfunctory treatment. It’s not the point of the exercise, clearly. Even Ariella’s downfall—that’s poignant and Cullen gets killed off most heroically, but defeating her isn’t what it’s really about. The real conflict is between Cinhil and the kingmakers.

And now Cullen is gone. He was the one Deryni Cinhil might have connected with, however cynically Camber might have set him up to play the role. With him out of the picture, we know matters are going to go from bad to worse.

I had not remembered how truly grimdark this book was—probably because at the time, we didn’t use the term, and also because I was still seeing Camber as the wise and noble savior of the kingdom. There was still all the pageantry, and all those meticulously described rituals, to keep me turning the pages.

It’s a different world now, and a different take on the events of the book. Cinhil is right, he’s been used and abused beyond any moral or ethical limits. He’s selfish, yes, and he’s awful to everyone, but it’s hard to totally blame him. He’s been handled badly in every way.

So now the Festils are dealt with, and the “good” Deryni are about to reap what they’ve sown. It’s not going to be pretty.

Points here for graphic realism in the matter of saddle sores and horse selection for inexperienced riders. Kurtz is a horsewoman, and it’s clear she knows whereof she writes. That’s worth a kudo or two.

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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