Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Saint Camber, Chapters 12-13

Welcome to the weekly reread of Saint Camber! Last time, Camber and company were working Deryni magic to integrate Cullen’s memories with his own before being rudely interrupted by Cinhil.

This week Camber attends his own funeral, Evaine shows hidden depths, and the legend of Saint Camber gets a boost from the man himself. With bonus lengthy Michaeline chapter meeting.


Saint Camber: Chapters 12-13

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 12 picks up directly from the end of Chapter 11. Cinhil demands that the random monk (who is actually Evaine) look at him when he talks.

So of course we know what Evaine does. She shape-changes. Then she doubles down. She manipulates Cinhil into believing that not only is she a very pretty, very male monk, she saw the spirit of Camber healing Cullen. She leads Cinhil on and on until he falls full-on into her trap. Then he goes off to think it over, with an admonition that no one talk about what just apparently happened.

That leaves Dualta to be duly and properly scammed in his turn. Joram takes the lead on that, and convinces him not to tell anybody, either—using the seal of the confessional to make sure it sticks. And if that’s not enough, he adds a Deryni mind-whammy. Rhys reinforces it. And that gets rid of Dualta.

Alone at last! Evaine, having been proactive and daring and totally in charge, is back to her submissive little female self—for values of submission that include steel-magnolia belles and Fifties master man-manipulators. She’s pleased with herself, and Joram being all disapproving barely makes a dent.

While Rhys follows her like a good dog, she explains that they studied more than the basics of memory assimilation. Joram is barely listening. She shape-changed.

Rhys doesn’t see the problem. Joram has to spell it out. They now have witnesses to a holy miracle—and the Church has rules about such things.

The layfolk still don’t see why it’s an issue. It only happened once. What could possibly go wrong?

Joram can’t exactly answer that, but he’s definitely concerned. He’s especially worried about what Cinhil will remember.

Sure enough, Cinhil is on the prowl, and he’s headed for Camber’s alleged body. He takes a good long time to take it all in, inch by glittering inch. Then he mentally upbraids the dead man for not leaving him alone. He shifts from that to railing at God for letting Camber rip him out of his monastery etc. etc. etc. all per usual with extra added “Why can’t he just stay dead?”

God isn’t answering. Cinhil, desolate, trudges back to his rooms.

Camber has slept the sleep of the utterly smug and self-assured. When he wakes, he’s in fine condition, though he can’t remember much from the previous night. He’s quite pleased with himself, and is pleased with the body he’s in, and is altogether pleased to discover how well Cullen’s memories have integrated.

Having congratulated himself on the excellence of everything to do with himself, he takes a nice long time to evaluate Rhys before whammying him into deeper sleep and putting him to bed. Then he gets to work on being vicar general. Quite conveniently, he has Cullen’s handwriting as well as the rest of the physical attributes.

He’s quite full of himself when he finishes his bits of admin—notably his recommendations for the next vicar general—and opens the door. He expects Johannes the aide, but not Dualta, who should be off duty by now, though Camber is foggy on the details.

He plays Cullen to the hilt, discovers that Dualta did go off duty but just can’t stay away and wants something to do. Camber sends Dualta off to the grand master with the letter about his successor, and Johannes to take the second letter to Jebediah. He also puts Johannes to work tending Rhys.

Johannes is dubious about the latter, but obedient. Camber congratulates himself on being so very good at convincing both of them that he’s just fine. This gives him time and brain space to convince himself that assisting in his own funeral Mass is canonically allowable, seeing as to how he’s a deacon. He’s not as pleased with himself about that as he is about the rest.

Meanwhile Cinhil is demonstrating his mile-wide stubborn streak. He’s obsessing over Camber, and how he won’t stay dead, and what it means: that Camber is working miracles from beyond the grave. Which in Church terms means he must be a saint. Cinhil cannot accept this at all.

Cinhil being Cinhil, this means he pivots right back around to himself, and freaks out. What if dead Camber knows all about his secret stash of priestly paraphernalia? This drives him into a full-on panic attack.

He manages to get himself under control, put his crown on and join the funeral procession. The procession includes his queen, who as usual has been crying. Cinhil can’t cope with both her and Camber.

Shift to the historian-voice for a fast synopsis of the funeral, followed by a reaction shot: Camber diving for cover and having his own freakout. He has, after all, just officiated at his own funeral.

He is, however, Camber, and like Cinhil he is completely true to himself. He works through the freakout, compartmentalizes it, and lets the Alister-personality take over while he goes through the aftermath of the funeral Mass. This includes a great deal of description of the outfits, and a carefully modulated talk with Joram. There’s a Grand Chapter this afternoon, and Camber/Cullen wants Joram to attend. Camber makes sure to do this in front of witnesses, thereby backing Joram into a corner. Joram can hardly refuse.

Camber takes his time getting to the meeting. Once he gets there, Cullen’s memory ambushes him with grief for one of the casualties of the last fight. Camber notes with interest that Cullen’s memories have taken on a life of their own.

The meeting is an emotional and political minefield. Camber is getting it over with as fast as he can, but that doesn’t prevent him from making a lengthy speech about the rebellion and the aftermath. He calls on Jebediah to reckon up the losses to the Michaeline order, which have been significant. After Jebediah reckons the human cost, Nathan goes on at length about the financial and physical costs. Both sets of losses are huge.

Nathan hints but does not state outright that this is not just overtly bad. It’s a bad situation if Cinhil turns against the Deryni.

The Commanderie, Jeb adds, is completely gone. But Camber has one ray of light to offer. Before the last battle, Cinhil granted the order two parcels of land, to be handed over when a new vicar general is chosen. And that is the main reason for the meeting.

Chapter break. Chapter 13 opens after the end of the meeting, which went on for hours. Camber has narrowed the field of Cullen’s successors to three candidates.

He mulls this over while he makes his way to his rooms, but he takes a detour. He can’t resist one last visit to his alleged body. It’s in a coffin in the cathedral, and there’s a mourner.

It’s Guaire, and he’s inconsolable. Camber, ever confident in his manipulative skills, sets out to console him.

It takes doing. Camber has to extricate him from the chapel and hand him over to Johannes with instructions to put him up for the night–along with Rhys, one may presume. He’s sobbing through this. Camber leaves Johannes with him (and Rhys?) and goes off to be nonplussed. (One wonders when Johannes is going to inform his employer that there’s no more room in the inn.)

Camber had no idea Guaire loved Camber that much. He was Cathan’s friend. Camber never even met him till after Cathan died. Now it seems Guaire has developed a fixation on Cathan’s father.

This is a problem. Camber ponders it at length, finally deciding to dose Guaire with drugged wine, which will soften him up for some Deryni mind-whammy. The drug should keep Guaire from recognizing Camber’s personal touch. Then “Camber MacRorie would see that all was made right.”

Couldn’t ask for a clearer insight into Camber’s take on the world and the people in it.

Next scene, Guaire is half drugged and half conscious. He’s half aware of the drug. Eventually he comes to enough to witness the show Camber has prepared for him. It’s a ghostly apparition, with bonus heavenly light, intoning that he’s at peace.

But Guaire isn’t satisfied. Camber left too much undone.

Camber falls right into it. Why, he says, others can do those things. Guaire can do them. Everybody can do them. They can keep Cinhil from going off the deep end. Cullen especially. He needs Guaire.

Guaire isn’t sure about that. Cullen is “so gruff.”

Oh, no, says Camber. Cullen is really a softie underneath. “Will you help him, Guaire? Will you serve him as you served me?”

Guaire takes a little persuading, mostly of the “am I really worthy?” variety, but of course he gives in. Camber gets him to promise to help Cullen, and makes sure Guaire knows this is the one and only time he’ll see this apparition.

Then Camber tries to leave, but Guaire won’t let him. He wants Camber’s blessing. Camber gives it, with added whammy. Then he’s gone.

Guaire is completely off his head. He’s crazy-happy. He wants to fling out his arms and sing out the news. Camber came back! He made Guaire his deputy in the world!

But he can’t tell anyone. He promised.

But he has to. He comes to the conclusion that there’s one person he can tell: Father Cullen. He scampers off to do just that.

Camber has ducked hastily under the covers. When Guaire comes tippytoeing in, he pretends he just woke up. Then he gets to hear the whole thing in a stammery, breathless rush.

Camber manages to keep a straight face while Guaire promises to serve him. He’s stern about how different this service will have to be. Even as a bishop, “Cullen” won’t be keeping the kind of state the Earl of Culdi did.

Guaire doesn’t care. He’s all in with whatever he’s in for. He weeps tears of joy, kisses Camber’s hand, and exits, leaving a bemused Camber behind.


And I’m Thinking: Camber keeps digging himself in deeper. Now he’s got an eager sidekick who can’t ever know the truth, and he’s set up a situation that’s only going to escalate. We all know where it’s headed, even if we either haven’t read the book or don’t remember the details.

Evaine is the most amazingly amoral character. She happily plays with magic, dark or light, and everything she does is for Daddy. She’s terrifying in an adorable-little-girl way.

Rhys is looking more clueless with each passing chapter. He bumbles around, does what Camber or one of Camber’s offspring tells him, and only actually gets a clue when it’s applied upside the head.

The whole thing is a study in cult thinking, and Camber is as smug as any revivalist preacher. But even he has some dim inkling that the situation with Cinhil is getting progressively worse.

Cinhil is not holding up well, either. He has two modes: sobbing and dead stubborn. If he’s not whining or fetishizing his priest stash, he’s hating on Camber with the kind of frenzy usually seen in adolescents.

It’s really kind of repellent all around, but Kurtz’s characters are so vivid and her settings so detailed that it’s impossible to look away. We can’t stop reading, even while the train wreck happens all around us. Even when it’s a long, dull, detailed meeting that goes a long way toward explaining why later fantasy writers were strongly discouraged from writing meeting scenes. Because we know there’s action coming–in a Kurtz book, that’s always a sure thing–and if there won’t be explosions, there will definitely be Deryni mind tricks and shiny light shows.

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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