Welcome to the weekly reread of Saint Camber! Last time, the battle between the Haldane army and Ariella’s rebels ended with a showdown between Cullen and Ariella, with Deryni magic prevailing.
With Cullen dead, Camber implements a daring and possibly deadly Plan B. Then things get complicated…
Saint Camber: Chapters 7-9
Here’s What Happens: Chapter 7 opens in gloom and blood, as the commanders survey the field and count the casualties. Camber and Joram discuss Cinhil’s condition—he’s functional—and whether Ariella got away.
Rhys rides up, looking for Cullen. Nobody knows where he is. Camber and Joram go looking.
Finally they find him in the woods, mortally wounded and beyond resuscitation but not dead. It’s a Deryni spell. Joram breaks down in grief, but keeps moving. He finds Ariella and deduces that she was the one who bound Cullen’s soul in the body.
Camber runs to her and sees what she did. He draws Cullen’s sword out of her, which neutralizes the magic in it.
Then he has to revise a whole lot of plans. Ariella is out, but her son is somewhere safe. He’ll mature just in time to be a Problem for Gwynedd, considering Cinhil’s age and his sons’ poor health. (No thoughts about more sons, and daughters aren’t even in the equation.)
Plus Cinhil is a mess, and that’s Camber’s fault. He actually owns up to it. He also realizes that Cinhil’s animosity has turned general, against all Deryni.
While Camber loads Cullen’s body on a horse, he ponders possibilities. Then he has…an Idea!
But to make it work, he has to get Joram’s support. This takes a while. He has to explain in detail what he’s been thinking, how bad he believes the anti-Deryni backlash will be, and how he thinks he’s lost his ability to manipulate Cinhil. But! There’s something he can do!
Joram knows what it is. So do we, if we’ve been paying attention. Camber is going to work the face-changing spell he used on Joram and Rhys in the last book. He has to keep Cullen alive, which means faking his own death.
Joram objects, of course, but nobody ever succeeds in changing Camber’s mind once it’s made up, and it certainly doesn’t happen now. He’s going to do it and he’s figured out how, and that’s that.
Once Joram capitulates, Camber sucks up the residual memories from Cullen’s undead mind and locks them away where he thinks they’ll be safe, then undoes Ariella’s bindings and sets the soul free. He follows up by changing clothes with the corpse, sorting out the story with Joram, and, at several pages’ length, joining magically with Joram to work the shape-exchange spell.
Chapter 8 brings Joram and the now-changed Camber back to camp. The deception begins: people recognize “Cullen” and exclaim over the supposedly dead Camber. Cinhil shows up, and Joram can’t speak, so not!Cullen has to tell the story he made up. Cinhil reacts briefly and stiffly, then turns and runs for his tent.
Once he’s gone, Camber has to a run a gauntlet. Jebediah senses something; Camber manages to get rid of him by sending him to fetch Rhys.
That takes an hour. Rhys is running out of strength to heal. Jeb tells him, in increments, that Camber is dead. Rhys can’t believe it.
Jeb escorts him back to Camber’s tent. Rhys views the body, then not!Cullen allows as how he’s wounded. In the process of playing up an attack of weakness, he mentally alerts Rhys to the truth. Rhys has to do some fast acting, with a good deal of doublespeak since Guaire doesn’t know what everybody else does.
Rhys gets Camber out and heads for Cullen’s tent, where Jeb is being summoned elsewhere by his commanders. Once they’ve got rid of him, Camber can take a breath and ask Rhys to help him make the deception work. Rhys is all on board, of course. Like Evaine, he’s a good little soldier.
Speaking of Evaine, Rhys not only remembers she exists, he asks what to do about her. She’ll need to know, says Camber.
Things continue to be complicated. Rhys calls Camber on a serious wound, but discovers that it’s more deception—servants are coming in and out, and have to be successfully deceived. Cullen’s body-servant needs a particularly lengthy and potentially dicey bit of playacting which involves Rhys seeming to heal a false wound, and Camber adding his magic to Rhys’ because Rhys is so tired already.
Camber keeps on playing at being Cullen, not wanting to rest because he has to look after his men, and so on and on at length. Rhys plays the part of Stern Healer. Finally they get rid of the servant, and Rhys goes with him.
That leaves Camber alone to ponder, lengthily, how to keep playing the role without being caught. He’s got it all figured out. He even knows how to keep Deryni from detecting the change.
He’s feeling fairly good about himself, even for Camber levels of smug, and thinking about getting some sleep when Cinhil shows up and demands to see him. He really is not happy about this.
Chapter 9 picks up immediately with Camber pretending to be asleep and hoping Cinhil won’t stay and bug him, and Cinhil shaking him awake. Cinhil looks awful, and he has to have a talk.
Camber is even less happy, and not doing much to hide it, with the rationalization that Cullen was a crusty old thing, so it’s right in character. He does manage to be polite.
Cinhil does not believe Camber is dead. Camber throws him off balance by asking him if this isn’t what he wanted. Cinhil is seriously upset. Camber keeps pushing. “Now there is no one to hold you to your duty.”
Cinhil amps up the waterworks about wanting to be a priest, understanding why he was the only option for Camber’s grand plan, and allllllmost being sort of pro-Camber if you look at it and squint.
Camber tightens the screws by talking about how his supposedly late self thought of nothing but Cinhil (and God, he adds hastily when Cinhil raises the issue). He has Cinhil more or less eating out of his hand, until Cinhil asks if he can accept Cullen’s offer from last night. Camber has to tapdance through that, since he has no idea what Cinhil means. The conversation ends with Cinhil’s observation about learning to accept the consequences of one’s choices, and Camber’s agreement after Cinhil is out of earshot.
Of course as readers we know Cinhil is accepting Cullen’s friendship, so as far as Camber is concerned, it’s a good thing.
From the personal we switch to the historical, with a flat and impersonal high style that sums up events after the battle. Cinhil has to make an actual royal decision, which is to decimate the rebel captives—correctly, choosing one in ten by lot and hanging each along the road to Valoret. The other ninety percent will be stripped of their lands and titles and marched along in bondage but then pardoned.
Ariella gets a classic medieval/Renaissance sentence: head on a spear, the rest of her put on display across the kingdom. Henry VIII would approve.
Camber’s body gets to ride in state, with actual Camber riding along miserably and avoiding personal contact as much as possible. He gets the singular experience of witnessing his own extended funeral, and watching himself be turned into “a new folk hero.”
When they all reach Valoret, he faces a new ordeal: the bereaved and adorably fragile Evaine. He has to high-sign Rhys to take care of her while he goes through the motions of greeting Archbishop Anscom and keeps a wary and increasingly unhappy eye on Cinhil.
Anscom pulls Joram and “Cullen” aside for a quick round of condolences, which just make things more uncomfortable for both. Then he cranks Camber’s discomfort to 11 by asking Joram and “Cullen” to assist with Camber’s funeral Mass.
This is a canonical dilemma for Camber. He can’t legally celebrate the Mass, but as a deacon he can assist. He leaves it up to Joram, who has no objection.
Joram has a request of his own. He wants “Camber” to be buried in a Michaeline habit for mumblemumble reasons. Anscom throws that to “Cullen,” who is hardly going to refuse.
That’s taken care of, but there’s one more hurdle. Anscom wants to know who will be Cullen’s successor as vicar general, since he’s been tapped to become a bishop. Camber has to dance around that.
Finally Anscom leaves, which gives Camber and Joram time to regroup. Joram has no clue about the successor, and it’s not going to be easy to find out. Joram also continues to be unhappy about this whole masquerade, and Camber continues to shut him down.
It’s time to integrate Cullen’s memories, which means figuring out how to get together with Rhys and Evaine. Joram takes the lead with the logistics, since he knows Cullen’s schedule. He and Camber settle on the when and where and how.
Joram remains extremely unhappy, and says so. But he’s a good little son and he promises to figure out how to get Evaine into Cullen’s quarters without question or scandal. Then he goes away to get things started.
And I’m Thinking: I had totally forgotten about the big honking twist in the book. I vaguely remembered that Camber faked his death, but how he did it was a big blank until it actually happened in the reread.
Strange because it is a twist and it’s huge, and the logistics of it are wonderfully, evilly complicated. Camber has got himself into a massive pickle. Now he has to watch his supposedly dead self become a saint, while his disguised self has to navigate a minefield of personal connections and canon law.
Joram is on board because he’s a good son, but he’s not giving his support away for free. He’s making his father work for it.
Evaine here is a standard Kurtzian female: shunted way off to the edge of things, where she looks little and lost and cute, but that’s all right. Her man will pet her and soothe her and make her feel better. Then she’ll be put to work being Daddy’s bestest little helper again.
At that, she gets considerably more screen time than poor Queen Megan, who is barely visible and suffering through a cold and distracted greeting from her husband. Since she has nothing else in the world to do but drip and weep and hope in vain for a scrap of his attention, that’s tragic.
Nope, not feeling the love for the female characters in these chapters. But definitely enjoying Camber’s predicament. He’s richly earned it.
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.