Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Saint Camber, Chapters 22-23

Welcome to the weekly reread of Saint Camber! Last time we got an exhaustive summary of political and military arrangements, and Guaire testified before the archbisop to the “miracle” after Camber’s supposed death.

This week the movement to canonize Camber gains momentum, Cinhil has a confession to make, and Camber finds a new and somewhat unexpected ally.


Saint Camber: Chapters 22-23

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 22 follows directly from the previous chapter, with Queron setting up for the magical mystery demonstration. Camber is “both intrigued and apprehensive,” because he’s going to see what he looked like from inside someone else’s mind. Queron is playing the drama right in front of Camber, too, which adds to the stress: Camber realizes Queron is not to be underestimated.

Joram is fascinated. Camber takes a while to congratulate himself on how his son just loves to admire Camber’s talents. Even when he doesn’t approve of what Camber is doing.

The demonstration proceeds, step by step. Guaire recaps his encounter with the “apparition” of Camber. Camber is awed by his own loveliness. Why, he looks so much younger. Guaire “idolizes” him, clearly.

And so on the scene goes, word for word as before—these were the days before computers made verbatim copies easy, but a little literal cut and paste could do the job just fine.

Camber is actually enjoying himself, and appreciating Queron’s dramatic and magical skills. The scene wends its leisurely way to the end we’ve seen (almost word for word) before, and Queron seems, dramatically, to falter. But he recovers and releases Guaire from the trance, then delivers a nice little speech about how this demonstration was the real thing and not a magical fake.

He has an analysis to offer, too, with a little dig at “Cullen” for drugging Guaire and muddling the memory. Camber was really, physically there, though he can’t explain how. This wasn’t a “magical projection.” It was real. Queron swears to it in front of the bishops and says he’s willing to be Truth-Read as proof.

The Deryni are just fine with taking his word for it, but a human bishop isn’t so sure. He wants a Deryni bishop to do the reading. Jaffray does it himself, and affirms the truth. (Though why a human would believe a Deryni doing nothing visible but laying on his hands and looking soulful and backing up another Deryni’s story, I can’t easily see.)

Jaffray has a bomb to drop as a result of the reading. Queron and company have been investigating Camber’s tomb, and there’s been another miracle. While Joram deflates dramatically, Jaffray proclaims that the tomb is empty. Queron believes that Camber’s body was taken up whole to heaven.

Joram is absolutely appalled. After some backing and forthing and some hard questioning, he confesses that he moved the body. Queron is skeptical, and Joram does some fast tapdancing about how it was Camber’s wish, he foresaw “difficulties,” Joram was just following orders.

Jaffray calls him on it. He can produce the body, yes?

Joram says he cannot. Jaffray tries to pin him down, then Queron takes over, pushing him to either produce the body or admit he’s lying. Jaffray further backs him into a corner by demanding that Joram allow himself to be Truth-Read.

This is bad. But! Camber comes to the rescue! He blasts Joram’s mind with a solution: that he’s under compulsion not to reveal his father’s final resting place.

Everybody is staring at Joram, who was nearly knocked off his feet by Camber’s mind-blast. Camber has a plan, of course. Camber always has a plan, even when he has to make it up on the fly.

Joram plays his part to the hilt. He can’t be read! His mind will break! He’s—he’s under compulsion!

“Cullen” then speaks up. Jaffray isn’t buying Joram’s story. All right, Camber says ever so smoothly. Why don’t I read him? I know him so very well, you see. I’m sure I won’t fry him. Camber knew me, too, you know.

Queron isn’t playing. He points out that “Cullen” knows Joram just a little too well, and he alludes to the second witness who has been hinted at since Guaire’s little demonstration. Camber figures it has to be Cinhil, and also figures Queron is reluctant to out the king.

“Cullen” was involved, too, though he was allegedly unconscious at the time. He plays on this for a while, and the discussion segues into the fact he tried to discourage Guaire from presenting the petition for sainthood. He’s still trying to cast doubt on Guaire’s story, and he’s throwing up a nice cloud of words around the whole situation.

This circles back to whether Joram’s “compulsion” will allow “Cullen” to read him. Joram hems and haws, but allows as how he’s willing to try. Eventually—very eventually—Camber puts on his show, with mental instructions to Joram to “Make this look good, son.” Finishing off with the ever-ominous, “Just trust me.”

The show goes on, at length. Camber (of course) is out-magicking Queron, because he’s Camber. He even has some of the others in trance, as well as Joram. Mighty Camber is mighty.

While he’s showing off, he’s also conspiring with Joram, down deep, as to how to keep the long con going. Joram puts on a show of writhing and suffering, while he’s actually helping his father make him Truth-Read-proof about who, and where, Camber really is. This involves locking away those memories, and making sure only Camber has the key.

Then Camber puts on a lovely performance of telling the literal and utterly misleading truth, affirming the story Joram’s already told and saying Joram’s memory of Camber’s resting place has been erased.

Jaffray has questions, which Camber nimbly answers. The upshot is that there’s no proof or disproof of Camber’s bodily assumption into heaven, and Joram won’t be able to tell anyone what he knows.

The council adjourns for the day, with Queron’s other witnesses to be called tomorrow. Camber is queasily sure he and Joram will be included, though they should be safe now. Also Rhys and Dualta. He can’t do anything about Dualta, but he can make sure Rhys won’t give anything away.

Cinhil is going to be the wild card, and Camber can’t do much of anything about that. So will the apocryphal Brother John—but no one will ever find him, Camber assures himself. He doesn’t exist: he’s a figment of Evaine’s magic.

Camber decides he needs a breather, but as usual when he just wants to be alone, Cinhil gets in the way. Cinhil wants to talk about the sainting of Camber—of course. Camber has some fast talking to do, and he isn’t hiding the fact that he’s not a fan of the movement. Cinhil is unhappy about the calling of witnesses, and wants to discuss the ramifications. Camber is pleased enough to oblige, and to offer opinions about Queron’s plans and intentions.

Cinhil informs “Cullen” that Jaffray has asked for a larger venue for tomorrow’s meeting. And he’s invited Cinhil, and Cinhil can hardly refuse.

This is an opening for Camber to get Cinhil talking about Camber and the “miracle” and the rest of the mess they’re all in. Camber coaches him in what to say if he’s called. Then, all stammery and nervous, he asks to confess.

His confession is a physical action: he shows Camber his stash of priestly paraphernalia.

Chapter 23 picks up immediately with Camber all confused about whose vestments these are. Cinhil’s next confession gives Camber a headache: he admits he’s been saying Mass in the vestments every day since Camber/Alister was consecrated bishop.

Camber can’t bring himself to reprimand the poor fool. He’s been through so much, why not let him have what he wants? It’s such a little thing. What could possibly go wrong?

(Pause as we consider how well this kind of thinking has worked for Camber in previous judgment calls.)

Cinhil is all guilt and self-flagellation. Camber is all comfort and there-there I understand. God understands. It’s all right. You can keep doing it.

Cinhil is surprisingly rational at this point. What about the bishops? What will they say?

Will they find out? Camber inquires.

He assures Cinhil that this conversation lies under the seal of the confessional. Then they pray together and say Mass together—Camber isn’t comfortable about that, and more so when he sees how Cinhil’s mysticism achieves magical heights, but he’s trapped himself and that’s nothing he can do.

By then he really needs a breather. He goes to a small subterranean chapel in the archbishop’s palace, lies down on his face, and meditates on the predicament he’s got himself into.

He’s well on his way to his usual self-justification, if not exactly congratulation, when another Deryni comes into the chapel. It’s Jebediah.

This is even more uncomfortable than the meeting with Cinhil. Jebediah wants to know why they’re not close friends any more. And he’s jealous of Joram.

Camber does his best to duck and cover, but Jeb isn’t letting up. Finally he says the thing Camber has been most afraid of: “Sometimes it’s almost as if you had died instead of Camber.”

Oh, dear.

Camber is thinking as fast as he can. If he can’t keep Jeb quiet, he’s going to have to make it permanent. Either magically or physically.

Camber hopes magic will do it. He manipulates Jeb into a more or less receptive state, leads him on with hope for a renewal of friendship, then sets the whammy in hard.

Jeb fights back. It’s a ferocious physical and psychic wrestling match, and the truth comes out. Camber drives home everything he’s done, all his reasons, and why it has to keep going. He gives Jeb a choice. Accept or die.

Then he lets go. Jeb could kill him, in his own form, not Cullen’s. Jeb breaks down in shattering grief.

Now he’s got what he wanted, Camber is all apologetic and explanatory and we had to do it, we couldn’t back off, sorry we didn’t tell you, we were just too paranoid.

Jeb totally falls for it. He’s all weepy and sniffly but he really only wants to know what Camber would have done if Jeb hadn’t given in. Camber allows as how he would have killed Jeb.

Jeb is fine with that. The Cause is too important. Of course Camber has to be ruthless. And poor Camber! How he’s suffered! It must have been awful!

Camber keeps on apologizing. Jeb keeps on being all understanding and all about the Cause. He wants to help. He begs “Camber-Alister” to let him help.

Camber is all verklempt. He reaches out—and the Alister part of him reaches, too. It’s a three-way bonding moment, and everybody is awed and wonderstruck and it’s lovely. Then Camber turns back into Alister and Jeb is suitably awed and they both realize Alister “was not totally lost after all.”


And I’m Thinking: …and they all sang Kumbaya.

One thing I was really happy about in these chapters was—no synopsis. This isn’t the very best of Kurtz, but it shows her strengths: strong characterization, dramatic scenes, and wonderfully rich descriptions and settings. We’re right there and it’s all happening in front of us, even when it’s deep in Camber’s head.

The book is coming to a close, and the plot is wrapping up. Cinhil’s sad and creepy priest fetish traps Camber neatly in a moral and canonical dilemma, and he actually understands that he brought it on himself. Points for that.

His long con is getting harder by the day, and his magical fixes are getting darker. Joram’s mind-wipe is more or less voluntary, for his own self-preservation if not because he agrees with anything his father is up to. Jebediah’s is outright rape and almost becomes murder—and Camber is totally convinced that he’s justified.

That scene, my goodness. Holy homoerotica, Batman. It’s got everything: full-body contact, mental gyrations, edged weapons, willing submission…

Ultimately this scene doesn’t have the Whiskey Tango factor of Warin’s conversion in High Deryni, but it definitely skips past a whole spectrum of logical reactions to mind-rape, lengthy deception, and the loss of a close friend who might, however subliminally, have been a lover. There is shock and wild weeping, but then Jeb rolls over on his back and wags his tail and begs the new master to love him, please.

It’s touching, and I might have found it affecting on the first read—I don’t remember—but my cynical elder self just wanted to know why Jeb doesn’t hate Camber’s living guts.

But the plot needs loyal, devoted Jeb, and loyal and devoted it gets. Never mind the profound moral awfulness of Camber’s calculations, or the mental slammage, or the physical brawl, or the way he uses magic to cheat—er, win.

Deryni are horrible people. When they’re using and abusing humans, there’s seldom a qualm to be seen. When they’re going after each other, they’re just as coldly ruthless, but they apologize all over the place for having to be that way. Camber would never apologize to a human the way he goes all sorry-sorry-sorry at Jebediah.

We’re supposed to believe he’s the tragic hero. He’s so blondly, palely pretty. Supernaturally so, and not only when he’s faking a major miracle in front of a gullible human.

It’s gratifying that Cinhil keeps putting Camber on the spot. I feel more sympathy for Joram, who tries to be ethical, tries to record objections, but just cannot overcome his lifelong conditioning as Camber’s offspring. Poor thing just can’t catch a break.

Next week we’ll finish this volume of the trilogy, and we’ll see how the immediate crisis resolves—or gets worse. I’m rooting for Camber to get in even more serious trouble than he already is. He certainly deserves 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 new short novel, Dragons in the Earth, a contemporary fantasy set in Arizona, has just been published by Book View Cafe. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies and space operas, some of which have been published 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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