Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Camber the Heretic, Chapters 12-13

Welcome to the weekly reread of Camber the Heretic!

Last time, Camber and Rhys attended a vital meeting in a setting familiar to readers of the Morgan and Kelson books. This week Rhys experiments extensively with his Deryni power-suppression technique, with disappointing results. The regents cement the human takeover of the royal court, King Alroy is crowned and celebrated, and an undercover faction of Deryni strike back.

 

Camber the Heretic: Chapters 12-13

Here’s What Happens: As Chapter 12 begins, the conspiracy to protect Deryni by removing their powers continues apace. Camber, in St. Neot’s, spies on a liturgy of Gabrilite Healer-priests—complete with elaborate and exotic setting and lengthy hymns—while flashing back to Rhys and Evaine’s second son’s consecration to the Healer’s calling.

After several pages and many verses, we’re treated to a lengthy and detailed description of the entire monastery (which loyal readers will remember as a ruin frequently visited by Morgan and Duncan in King Kelson’s future). There’s a hint of a pre-Christian past, even, but the whole is heavily and dominantly Christian-medieval.

Camber has to exert himself not to be too scholarly, or he’ll blow his cover. He ramps himself down to Alister levels, which are much less fascinated and much safer to maintain while surrounded by highly trained intuitives.

The tour continues. And continues. Camber almost slips again as he passes by a power nexus in the form of a bluestone cube; fast verbal tapdancing saves him once more. And they go on. And on. Through the school, with glimpses of the training.

Till finally they reach Emrys’ personal sanctum. Emrys wards the place with a complete lack of drama and elaborate ritual, which actually impresses the usually unimpressable Camber. Then Emrys calls the meeting to order.

But Queron has objections. Rhys has no standing to arrange this meeting, and what is Bishop Cullen doing here?

Rhys responds by asking to put this meeting under the seal of the confessional. Once Queron agrees, Rhys tells him about the Camberian Council, of which he’s heard rumors. Queron is thrilled, but he’s not cutting anyone any slack. He’s aggravated that Emrys never told him, and he really wants to know where Bishop Cullen comes in.

Before Camber can get going on further smoke and mirrors, Rhys cuts in with a conclusive distraction: he’s discovered a new procedure. He stretches it out for a while, refusing to specify what the procedure is, but insists he has to demonstrate—on Queron, which gives rise to further objections and delay.

It’s revenge, of a sort. Rhys leans on the sound-and-light show Queron put on with Guaire at Camber’s canonization hearing. Queron is still by no means on board with this, but Rhys isn’t letting up.

Queron keeps objecting. Rhys keeps pushing. Rhys proceeds in very leisurely fashion, calling in “Alister” as an “objective outsider” to monitor.

After all that, the actual trigger is so quick it even catches Rhys by surprise. Queron is absolutely horrified, and Emrys isn’t exactly happy, either. He snaps at Rhys to turn Queron’s power back on immediately. Rhys, with Emrys monitoring, shows Queron what he did, and what he can do to remove the knowledge of having had power at all. Then he flips the switch back on.

Queron is very shaken. He’s also impressed by “Alister’s” powers, and asks if his well-known reluctance to use them is a front for his participation in the Council. Camber is quite chuffed and thoroughly enjoying the irony—if the man only knew!

Now the meeting can really get started. The Council wants Queron and Emrys to join the plot to hide Deryni in plain sight. Queron keeps on pushing back, though he agrees that as long they’re going to keep experimenting here, he should be the subject. They have to find out if anyone other than Rhys can do this.

Emrys can see what Rhys does but can’t figure out exactly what the switch is. It’s all very fraught. Emrys can’t figure it out. Nor can other Healers, brought in to help. Rhys is the only one. And that’s a problem if they’re going to be “baptizing” Deryni to remove their powers.

The chapter ends with the meeting at somewhat of an impasse, and Camber, as so often before, saying, “We’ll have to see what can be done.”

Chapter 13 gives us Droning Narrator once more. The Deryni accomplish relatively little. The kingdom prepares for Alroy’s coronation. The regents turn the army into an all-human force.

Jebediah struggles to find jobs for all his displaced troops. The Michaelines withdraw and regroup. The rest leave Gwynedd and disappear—in a way doing what Camber and company want to do, but without the power removal.

Civilian Deryni are also excised from high places, beginning with Rhys and Evaine. They stay in Valoret, and Evaine gets pregnant again, with a daughter.

The only Deryni left around the princes is Tavis, because Javan pitches a roaring fit if he leaves. Jaffray also stays, isolated in a mass of human subordinates but refusing to become ill or die, and he keeps reporting to the Council.

Blah blah passive voice more blah. Humans have taken over and taxes are going up and the roving reaving Deryni are getting worse and no one has the authority to stop them.

Alroy’s coronation day comes. Droning Narrator finally shuts up, and we see a very subdued young king-to-be, surrounded by humans. Most of the ranking Deryni have not come.

This worries Camber. It’s a slight, and he fears the regents will notice. In fairly short order, he’s sure of it. Fat Bishop Hubert is taking down names.

Camber and Joram mentally discuss what to do. Camber sends Joram to Emrys to let him know what’s going on.

Meanwhile Alroy arrives on a white stallion (psst, Katherine: there are no albino horses; the ones born white are genetically a couple of other things), led by a sneering Rhun the Ruthless, and the coronation ritual begins—in detail, of course. Camber notes that Jaffray works in Deryni ritual as well as human, by presenting the new king to the lords of the elements; the humans don’t notice, but the Deryni certainly do. (With an aside about religion as magic, and how humans don’t get the connection.)

The rest of the ritual is equally entwined with magic. Everyone hails the king, the king swears great oaths to the kingdom and the people, and the regents are sworn in, signed and sealed by the young, shaky, but brave Alroy.

Then the coronation proceeds, point for point and word for word, followed by the swearing of fealty (with the regents smirking and gloating) and the celebration of the Mass. And then poor little Alroy has to sit through the coronation feast, with only an hour for a nap and some Healing from Tavis.

Droning Narrator returns to describe (in extensive passive voice) the festivities. The children are asleep on their feet. Finally Tavis rescues all three, king included, and sees them carried off to bed, while the carousing continues and Jaffray frets about the future of the kingdom.

The drone goes on, day by day of the multi-day celebration. This includes gifts, performances, a fair, and a tournament (Javan wins second place in one of the junior events).

By day three Alroy is still required to preside over the tournament, but his brothers get to go to the fair with Tavis. In detail. With a poignant vignette as Rhys Michael buys a dagger, and Javan quietly purchases a strip of leather that he means to turn into a knight’s belt. Tavis hasn’t the heart to tell him his clubfoot disqualifies him from any such thing. Tavis grieves, because Javan is so wonderful but. Disability.

The boys move on, buying gifts for friends and family. In detail. With bonus Incident when Tavis is Healing Javan’s sore foot: he’s jostled by heavily shielded, suspiciously hostile Deryni. He frets for a bit, worries about Deryni who oppose service to humans, then dismisses his misgivings.

Hours later, on the way back to the castle, Tavis is separated from the rest and hauled off into an alley. The last thing he hears before he’s cold-cocked and the chapter ends is, “Deryni should not aid the enemy!”

 

And I’m Thinking: Lots going on here. We learn a great deal about St. Neot’s facilities and personnel, which reads like clear fan-service; it answers a lot of questions about Deryni training and history. My editor-self itches for the red pen and “where’s the story, dammit?” My fan-self is fascinated by the bits and pieces of history and background and worldbuilding. Lots of worldbuilding here and in the next chapter.

Chapter 13 is written in my very least favorite Kurtzian style, the presumed historian summarizing broad swaths of events and political developments in a flat narrative drone. We get a little relief here and there, when we sort of get into a character’s head, then back to passive voice we go.

Even so, we get to see how pathetic little Alroy is, and how completely he’s dominated by his wickedly smirking regents (they don’t even rise to the level of a sneer). We’re also supposed to feel for Javan, who has an unhealthy attachment to Tavis, and who is DISABLED DO YOU HEAR ME DISABLED.

Though of course he’s not really; on horseback he does well, and he’s mentally sharp. BUT HIS FOOT OMG.

This is supposed to make us feel compassion for him and feel the tragedy of his condition, that he just can’t be all he wants to be. At the time the book was written, maybe readers did react this way, and in some places they still do, but I grew up with a disability myself, and have connections with disability activists, and reading it now, I want to stab things. What was tragic and dramatic and affecting in 1981 is massively ableist now.

To be sure, this is a pretty carefully constructed medieval world, and Javan is trying to be a knight, which requires extreme physical aptitude, but I’m not buying the level of drama his clubfoot is creating. Various medieval knights and kings had all sorts of disabilities, from Richard III’s extreme scoliosis to Baldwin of Jerusalem’s leprosy (which, in the end, left him blind and unable to walk, but he still led armies to war and they loved him for it). None of them seems to have been treated the way Javan is, as if he’s completely disqualified and can never ever ever be a knight.

I’m more worried about how he depends on Tavis, who seems to be enabling him in subtle and damaging ways. Inadvertently, of course. With the best intentions in the world. It’s obvious that’s going to end badly.

But then that can be said of the whole book, and the trilogy. The footsteps of doom are approaching closer, ever closer. Camber sees it, and he’s trying to stop it, but with all his powers and his sublime self-confidence, he’s just one man. It’s not going to happen.

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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