Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Saint Camber, Chapters 14-15

Welcome to the weekly reread of Saint Camber! Last time, Camber kept digging himself deeper—officiating his own funeral, faking a ghostly appearance, and picking up a curious sidekick in the process…

This week Camber doubles down on being Alister Cullen. He starts to realize just how many mistakes he’s made, and what the consequences may be. Then, because he has to keep being Cullen or it’s all for nothing, he shares his secret with an old friend.

 

Saint Camber: Chapters 14-15

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 14 begins with a transitional sequence. Camber is settling in to being Cullen, and his seven-year-old grandson is about to be confirmed as Earl of Culdi. There don’t seem to be any repercussions from Camber’s mind-whammying of Guaire, but while he’s not paying attention, something is happening: there’s an unusual number of people praying at Camber’s tomb. Our historian-narrator tells us all about it, and tells us how Camber lives in “blissful ignorance.”

Camber is busy vetting candidates for Cullen’s successor as vicar general. He can’t do much whammying of the Deryni, but he goes to town on the humans, who don’t have any way to either detect or stop him. He rationalizes his mind-rape in classic Machiavellian fashion: “the end justified the means.”

Finally he settles on a human, Crevan Allyn. We get his full resume, and the most important item on it: Cinhil likes him. Camber has a learned a lesson on that score.

The analysis of Crevan continues. He’s human, in an increasingly anti-Deryni political climate, and that’s likely to save the order. And best of all from Camber’s point of view, because Crevan is human, Camber can mess with Crevan’s mind to his wicked little heart’s content.

Once Camber has Crevan locked and loaded and confirmed in his new office, we get a grand set-piece as young Davin is confirmed by the king as Earl of Culdi. He’s adorable and brave and we hear all about it, including his outfit and his conduct during the ceremony.

Camber has a little trouble afterwards. He can’t tell Cathan’s wife who he is, which means he can’t attend the celebration dinner. He has a vigil ahead, in any case, to prepare for his consecration as Bishop of Grecotha.

Joram does a little manipulation of his own, arranging for “Cullen” to have dinner the following night with his physician and the physician’s wife, namely Rhys and Evaine. It’s a nice little performance. Camber is rather pleased with it, and with Joram’s development as Camber-lite.

Amid his self-satisfaction, he’s coping with a canonical dilemma. He’s been evading his lack of priestly qualifications, but once he’s consecrated bishop, he has to start celebrating Mass.

He doesn’t get a chance to obsess over this. Cinhil summons him for a horseback ride. Cinhil has become rather a decent horseman, and likes it.

Out on the trail, Cinhil quickly gets to the reason for the summons. After a ramble of small talk, he asks “Cullen” why he chose a human for his successor. Camber goes on about how Crevyn is Just Right. And Cinhil says, “You begin to sound like Camber.” Then he adds, “Perhaps he did touch you that night.”

Camber has no idea what Cinhil means by that. It pulls him up short, and leaves him scrambling. He has to put on a fast show of what, what? and get Cinhil to tell him what happened. He’s so perturbed he breaks character, but Cinhil the utterly self-absorbed doesn’t even notice. He’s been obsessing over what happened that night, but he isn’t clear enough for Camber. Camber has to extract the story from him piece by piece.

It’s a recap of the scene from Chapter 11. Camber has some fast tapdancing to do, to get all the details while keeping Cinhil from getting suspicious. Cinhil is highly emo and full of fist-pounding and tears because he will never, ever be rid of that troublesome Earl.

Camber is quite, quite pleased however, because he’s dodged a bullet, and Cinhil seems to have got over his “tantrums and sulks” and started acting like the king Camber taught him to be. He also seems to be much less stubborn.

That doesn’t mean Camber is completely comfortable. He’s still not absolutely sure what happened that night, and he chews it over and over while he carries on with being Cullen.

At dinner with his family that night, which is a long synopsis with much passive voice, he discusses the situation at length. It’s clear he made a serious mistake when he messed with Guaire’s head. He can’t undo it without undoing Guaire.

Nobody had a clue. Nobody thought through what could happen. Then Joram ups the stress factor to 11 by pointing out that if Cinhil, Guaire, and Dualta swap stories, and start telling other people, it can go viral. Then there will be no stopping the cult of Camber.

At that point, it sudddenly dawns on Joram that he’s seen an awful lot of people around his father’s tomb. Rhys and Evaine have, too.

This is A Problem. They can’t tell the truth. They can’t close off the chapel.

Joram speaks for them all. “How could we have been so stupid?”

Indeed.

They have to do something. Somebody might try to steal the body, which leads Joram to propose that they do it first. The shape-changing spell won’t last, and a Deryni can easily figure out what happened. Rhys suggests they move the body to the hidden chapel where Humphrey and Cinhil’s firstborn are buried.

But then there’s the problem of what to say if it gets out that the tomb is empty. Camber has an answer for that: tell the truth, that the body was moved to keep it from being desecrated.

That takes care of that. Now there’s the other issue to consider: what to do about Camber being consecrated as bishop. Evaine and Rhys go off to bed, with lots of high-signing significant glancing.

Once they’re gone, Joram takes the long way around to the point. Very long. Leisurely. Detailed. But essentially simple, if neither easy nor without danger. They have to tell Anscom. He’s the Primate of Gwynedd. He can ordain Camber.

The chapter ends with Camber pondering at length all the ins and outs of this. Then straight on to Chapter 15, with Camber rather seriously rattled, and not sure how Anscom will take it. Joram is sure he can handle it.

Camber keeps talking around and around the issue, but he really can’t see any other way out. He sends Joram off to put Rhys and Evaine on notice, while he goes into a Deryni trance. Basically he’s running algorithms to be sure he’s making the right decision.

Of course (with a little perhaps illusory help from a helpful Christ on the cross) he decides to approach Anscom. Which he immediately does, though not without another near-meltdown as he knocks on Anscom’s door.

Anscom is bleary and confused, especially when “Cullen” asks to make his confession. Doesn’t he have his own confessor? Not one who’s a bishop, “Cullen” replies.

Camber is in quite a state, very unusual for him. Once they’re alone, he gets right to it: he shows Anscom his true face.

Anscom is suitably shocked. That restores Camber’s native smugness, complete with shining halo, though he still has a hard road to travel. More so as Anscom puts the pieces together and realizes what Camber did. He goes even further: he thinks Camber killed off Cullen to make things easier with Cinhil.

Camber is quick to deny it, but Anscom needs convincing. The fact Joram was there to witness what really happened is key. But then Anscom is horrified about Camber performing priestly duties—which Camber is equally quick to deny.

Which brings him, rather eventually, to the point. He needs to be ordained. It’s all about Gwynedd, he says. He does it for his country.

Once it’s done, Anscom points out, it’s permanent. Camber knows. He always wanted to be a priest.

Anscom is softening. “You would have made one hell of a bishop,” he says.

“I hope I will,” Camber replies.

Anscom will do it. Tonight. With just the Camber family for witnesses.

Camber wants to be ordained as Kyriell. He also wants that name added to Alister’s at his consecration as a bishop. Not that he’s worried about someone catching on or anything. No one will. Nope nope. Of course not.

Anscom isn’t so sure, but nobody ever stops Camber once he gets going. There’s one last thing Anscom needs to know: where to do this thing.

In the secret chapel where Cinhil was consecrated, of course, Camber replies.

 

And I’m Thinking: Camber just keeps getting in deeper and deeper. Here we see that Joram is his father’s son—sometimes he even has better (or at least twistier) ideas than Camber does.

We also see that there’s an awful lot of wing-and-a-prayer going on. Camber keeps staggering along, making fixes on the fly, and he’s much too full of himself to keep up with all the possible consequences. The situation isn’t quite out of control, yet, but it’s clear he’s veering closer to the edge with every duck and swerve.

It’s ironic that he’s so fixated on doing the priest thing absolutely right according to Church law, but he has minimal trouble mind-raping humans. It’s for their own good! He knows best!

Right there is the trouble with the Deryni as a species. They are incapable of seeing humans as equals. That’s their biggest problem, and we know from all the foreshadowings plus the entire Morgan-and-Kelson trilogy that it’s going to hurt them badly. To the point of extermination.

The Camber cult is a bit inside out. He’s venerated as “Defensor hominum,” defender of humans, but in the Morgan-and-Kelson books his cult is always associated with Deryni. I’ll be interested to see how that plays out in the rest of this trilogy.

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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