Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Saint Camber, Chapters 16-17

Welcome to the weekly reread of Saint Camber! Last time, Camber-as-Cullen was due to become Bishop of Grecotha, causing a bit of an ethical quandary for the not-actually-ordained Camber. He then revealed the truth of his identity to his old friend Archbishop Anscom, and Anscom agreed to perform the ceremony.

This week Camber undergoes his clandestine and canonically essential ordination, then his public investiture as bishop, with a very special and elaborate gift from Cinhil, and Major Bonding Time with Joram.


Saint Camber Chapters 16-17

Here’s What Happens: As Chapter 16 opens, Camber is unusually restless and anxious. He’s feeling terribly human, and his Deryni side isn’t feeling as superior as usual. He goes on about this at some length, with bonus ritual outfit, until Joram comes to fetch him.

They have a Deep Bonding Moment. “Brother!” they cry. And of course, Camber is about to become Father in more ways than one.

Now comes a classic Kurtzian set piece: exquisitely detailed, lovingly described ritual that goes on for pages and pages.

And pages.

And more pages. Camber has an extended and self-aware out-of-body experience, which he knows the other ordained men share.

The ritual goes on. And on. And further on. Camber and Joram share another Bonding Moment, with a long conversation about the nature of the priesthood, as they “do the dishes” as we used to say in my Catholic childhood—tidying up after the Mass.

Camber has been ordained as himself. He and Joram discuss Joram’s disapproval of the Alister masquerade, but Joram has resigned himself to that and is on his way to acceptance. Joram wants to remember Camber one last time as Camber, so he leaves. Camber goes back to his room for several pages of reflection in front of the mirror, until he finally resumes Alister’s appearance. Then he Portals off to his bed in the archbishop’s palace.

In Chapter 17, Guaire has trouble waking “Cullen,” who is pretending to need Guaire really, really badly, to make Guaire feel important. (Humans as pets: a Deryni way of life.) Guaire, he notices when he finally gets up, is wearing a monk’s robe. He wonders if this means something. It takes a while, but he manages to pin Guaire down: it’s just to blend in, he’s thinking maaaayyyyybe he might go into orders but he’s “tired of fighting,” so he doesn’t want to be a Michaeline. Mostly he just wants to serve “Cullen” better.

Camber makes him promise not to make any choices he’ll regret. He has to do it for “the right reasons.” Guaire is good with this.

Then Camber has to sit down and try to learn his lines. He’s been too distracted prior to this, and now people keep interrupting. Including, somewhat to his surprise, Cinhil.

Cinhil has a gift for him: over-the-top elaborate vestments, complete with blinged-out miter. It’s too much, Camber says, but Cinhil brushes him off and brings in “some more usual sets” for daily use.

Camber actually feels guilty about taking gifts meant for Cullen, but then rationalizes that he is Cullen now, so there. Meanwhile Cinhil allows him to go to Grecotha to get the see organized, but makes him promise to come back and help Cinhil through “difficult times,” which basically is a lot of whining about how he hates his job and he wants to go back home to the monastery.

Camber calls him on that, and gets him to admit that he really wouldn’t go back if he could. He’s made his choice, however unwillingly. There’s no unmaking it.

So that’s that. All that’s left is for “Cullen” to be consecrated (in the blinged-out vestments, at Cinhil’s request) along with Robert Oriss, who won’t be overshadowed, Cinhil assures him. He gave Oriss a similar set of vestments, though they’re not the same. He departs with a comment about how he couldn’t handle two Alisters. Camber reflects that in fact there are two.

Scene shift. An hour later, Camber is sweltering in the excessively heavy vestments, and feeling sorry for Oriss, who is human and can’t use Deryni magic to deal with the heat.

And here we got into another lengthy and detailed ritual, complete with full roster of the procession. There’s a short excursus into Cinhil’s head—he’s sulky and jealous. Then back to the ritual, step by step, until it’s done and all the men adjourn to a royal reception. Thank goodness, Cinhil thinks; his queen has disappeared herself and he can be comfortable with “his male friends.”

(sound of teeth grinding to powder)

Now that’s over, Camber heads off to Grecotha for some fast summary of his acitvities there. The diocese needs much sorting out, and the archives are in dire state. Camber is in his element, inveterate scholar that he is. He even finds some rare scrolls that tie in with the rarities he and Evaine unearthed in their day—and their contents are extremely dangerous. “No human should ever see these scrolls.”

Through all this, in further summary, we learn that he keeps in touch with Joram and Evaine, who are passing on highly classified information without Cinhil’s knowledge. We also learn that Camber is lonely, and that Guaire is getting deep into “Deryni attachments.”

Eventually he catches Guaire meeting with a Deryni Healer, a Gabrilite priest whom Camber once knew, named Queron. This is suspicious, but Camber talks himself out of worrying about it. Camber can’t mind-rape Guaire with a Deryni present, so he has to just let it go. And that’s the chapter.


And I’m Thinking: These chapters are very, very slow as far as action and plot movement go, but they’re clearly very near and dear to Kurtz’s heart. She was herself ordained in a small Catholic sect that allowed women priests; Camber’s experiences during the rituals of ordination and consecration as bishop have a sense of deep personal resonance. Every word and gesture matters, and so do the reflections and conversations about priesthood and vocation.

Somewhat ironic considering how very clear it is that this world categorically excludes women from this realm of experience. It’s explicit in Cinhil’s reflections at the reception: no pesky women. It’s a male world as far as the eye can see.

It’s also a Deryni world. Humans are so demonstrably inferior, and Deryni so very superior. And yet Camber has moments of feeling human—i.e., weak and confused. Lucky for him he’s really Deryni and can come back around to being a Superior Being.

There are rumblings however. Guaire and Queron—that’s going to mean something alarming, we just know it, because Camber is so careful to tell himself there’s nothing to see here, move along, move along. And we know those two sets of wildly overwrought vestments must have actually been three—and Cinhil’s stash of priest things has just increased exponentially.

It’s all rather twisty, with some distinct kinks. And it’s going to hit the fan soon, we know from the Morgan-and-Kelson books.

Am I alone in wanting to fist-pump and say, “Bring it on”?

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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