Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Saint Camber, Chapters 10-11

Welcome to the weekly reread of Saint Camber! Last time, Camber devised a plan to fake his own death—in the guise of Cullen, he bluffs his way through an important conversation with Cinhil, and gets the singular experience of witnessing his own extended funeral.

This week Camber and his family get together to work a powerful spell, Cinhil is a persistent and dangerous nuisance, and a myth is about to be born…

 

Saint Camber: Chapters 10-11

Here’s What Happens: And lo, in Chapter 10, we get some actual viewpoint from Evaine, who resents being sidelined. Point for author catching on, though an immediate double-point deduction for Evaine’s rationalizing that Rhys told her she’d be in the middle of things soon, so everything’s all right after all. Because the husband tells the little wife what to do, even if it’s her father orchestrating everything, and even if she was his able assistant long before dear hubby showed up.

Time for a flashback. Poor Evaine, stuck on the sidelines, having to live for days in grief for her father. Then dear hubby comes and gives her the good news, and happy yay, but then off he goes to be a good soldier again, while she sits and waits and backflashes and ponders and speculates and is all about daddy. Everybody is all about daddy.

But Evaine is not entirely a pushover. The upshot of her ruminations is the deduction that Camber is going to need certain scrolls, which she just happens to have in a handy hiding place in this very room. She digs them out and starts studying.

Rhys comes back and wants to know what she’s doing. Nothing useful, she says; she doesn’t think she has the right scrolls.

Rhys is all cute and nose-boppy and full of secret-smugness. He knows where the right ones are. Because little girl can’t do anything unless she’s set right by a man.

Camber told Rhys where they were, of course, but told him to only look at one. The other three are off limits. Evaine is wistful. There’s great forbidden knowledge in there. But she’s a good little girl and does what she’s told.

There’s cuteness and teasing and Evaine gets to open the scroll. Rhys is more than a little nervous about anything Camber is involved in. So girl does the dirty scary work.

She isn’t sure he’s much of a palaeographer, anyway. But of course she can read and translate with ease, because she’s the Brainy Kid. She reads a lengthy intro full of stern warning, then off to Part One, which is about taking a dead man’s shape—Camber checked that one off his bucket list—and on to Part Two, which he also did: reading a dead man’s memories. Part Three is the money part here, having to do with integrating the memories.

Evaine starts reading aloud. It’s deep, scary stuff, packed with warnings and cautions. There’s no time to waste if Camber is to come out of this sane.

They stay up all night reading and cross-referencing, then they sleep in. By the time they get up, Joram is seriously antsing. Evaine, good girl that she is, makes him eat something while she fills him in. She leans on how time-critical it is. While they sleep in and eat and talk and talk and talk things over.

They’re all terribly busy and their schedules are full, but late tonight it will have to be. Camber isn’t just on the verge of cracking from the inside out; he’s dealing with further logistical nightmares including the problem of his lack of priestly credentials.

They discuss logistics. Joram has thought ahead: he has a Michaeline habit for Evaine to wear as a disguise. They discuss this at length and in further detail.

Once, after some considerable time and discussion, everything is settled, there’s the day to get through. Camber has to watch Evaine pay respects to his supposed corpse, till he can’t take it any more; he gets a headache and heads for his room.

He’s just congratulating himself on avoiding any difficult encounters when he runs into Jebediah. Who is worried. And wants to know what’s wrong.

This is Camber’s worst nightmare. Jeb has settled in and he’s not leaving till he gets answers. Camber has to tapdance as fast as he possibly can and hope he doesn’t blow his cover completely.

It takes some doing. Jeb is offended and puzzled and but has not, as far as Camber can tell, figured out that the man he thinks is Cullen is actually someone else. Camber manages to hint that all is not as it seems, that more went on than Jeb can know—he’s trying to cover for discrepancies, but it does read a little bit as if he’s unable to resist a hint of neener-neener.

Jeb leaves at long last, drooping and dejected. Camber, ever convinced of his own superiority, goes complacently to sleep.

Rhys wakes him, playing servant. Camber is in excellent spirits, positive that he’s about to solve all his problems. He is relieved to learn that Jeb is not hanging about; he tells Rhys there’s an issue there. Jeb apparently was much closer to Cullen than Camber knew. He’s also Deryni, which means he has mind powers.

Camber fills Rhys in and expresses the hope that Cullen’s memories hold the answer, or things won’t be as easy as he expected. Otherwise he’ll have to fake it.

Camber may have to tell Jeb what’s happened, but that could be a bad idea. Rhys agrees: bad, bad idea. Then he fills Camber in on what he and Evaine got out of the scroll.

Rhys is worried. It’s a major working, and Camber is not at his best.

Camber distracts him with a magical mind-meld, sucking up everything Rhys knows. When that’s done, he confesses that he has a bad headache.

Joram shows up with the disguised Evaine. They put on a show for the guard: the short “monk” is in for discipline. That works. They duck into the room and bar the door.

Evaine immediately leaps on her father. It’s a glad reunion, milked for as much as time and pacing allow, but there’s a spell to work and time is short. Joram sums up the plan, Camber allows as how he’s going downhill fast and might not be able to help, Evaine waxes prayerful. Then Camber gives the go-ahead. It’s showtime.

Chapter 11 is classic Kurtz: meticulously described, elaborate magical ritual. Evaine has brought a shiral crystal—she gave the original one to Cinhil but Rhys replaced it. Camber has to resume his original form in order to use it.

Once he’s comfortable, Rhys and Evaine begin the spell, which returns us to the bad-poetry contests of the first Morgan-and-Kelson trilogy. This time we get an explanation: it’s “mnemonics” to access deep parts of the mind.

It works. Camber starts processing Cullen’s memories. They’re varied, complex, and range through decades, and include a psychically talented human who wants to be a monk, some scenes with Jebediah, and various action and battle scenes.

Suddenly he’s wrenched out of the spell. Cinhil is at the door.

There is no getting rid of him. Camber has to think fast. He sends Rhys with a story about how “Cullen” is exhausted and still affected by the fight with Ariella, while he tries to change his shape again.

Sure enough, Cinhil knows Cullen is busy, but he doesn’t care. He has to have a talk. Rhys plays the “he’s tired” card. Cinhil pushes in.

Camber’s shape is safely changed, but he looks unconscious. Rhys guilt-trips Cinhil: Cullen is in this condition because he was defending Cinhil against Ariella.

Joram joins the act, making a big show of pouring strength into “Cullen.” Cinhil picks up on the power if not the details.

Meanwhile Camber is struggling to process the memories while retaining his shape. He tries them one at a time, and almost immediately finds himself reliving the fight with Ariella. Everyone including the guard and Cinhil gets pulled into the psychic backwash.

It’s Evaine, in her monk’s disguise, who takes control and feeds him the litany of the spell again. This lets Camber maintain his disguise while processing memories, but the last memory takes over and he relives Cullen’s last battle and his death.

Rhys and Evaine resuscitate him. He hears the guard calling on Camber to save “Cullen.”

Camber’s disguise starts to fail. Rhys takes control, with Evaine for backup. The disguise restores itself. The rest of the memories finish processing, including the fact that Cullen and Jeb were really, really close.

Camber falls asleep. Everybody else falls apart in various ways. The guard, Dualta, is acclaiming a miracle. Cinhil is stonewalling.

Time for Rhys to do some tapdancing. He manages to get Cinhil to convince himself that the late Camber interceded to save Cullen.

Then Cinhil lays eyes on the disguised Evaine. Rhys tries to derail him, but Cinhil is on a mission. He’s going to interrogate the witness, and the witness better “look at me when I’m speaking to you!”

Chapter break.

 

And I’m Thinking: Camber’s brilliant plan just keeps getting better and better. He’s put himself in an impossible position, in every possible way. He’s damn near destroyed himself mentally, and physically he’s not in great shape, either.

Serves him right.

Cinhil is the pesky little brother who will not stop bugging the grownups. He has absolutely no consideration for anyone else. He wants what he wants and he wants it when he wants it. He’s making Camber and company pay through the nose (and the whole rest of the collective body) for what they did to him.

Nobody is having a good time here. Evaine and Rhys get to have some happy giggle time in the middle of it all, but by the end of the section, she’s in serious danger of blowing everybody’s cover.

Cullen’s memories are surprisingly refreshing amid all this. They’re also extremely painful, because this was a good man and he’s worse than dead. He was a better person than Camber by orders of magnitude.

The relationship with Jeb is a bit ahead of its time. It’s very discreet and tactful and subtle, but, well. Now we know what it means. We also know why Camber can’t replicate it. He’s straight, point one, and point two, he’s not Jeb’s soulmate.

Interesting that in these chapters we get to see a healthy (for the time) young heterosexual relationship, and a deep same-sex bond as well. They play a very subtle counterpoint, and are really rather subversive.

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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