Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Camber the Heretic, Chapters 14-15

Welcome to the weekly reread of Camber the Heretic!

Last time, the regents cemented the human takeover of the royal court, and King Alroy was crowned and celebrated. This week Tavis suffers a terrible injury at the hands of his own people, Javan comes to some dangerous conclusions, and the Camber family struggles to do damage control.

 

Camber the Heretic: Chapters 14-15

Here’s What Happens: As Chapter 14 opens, we pick up directly from the previous chapter, with a stunned but conscious Tavis being hauled off by what turn out to be Deryni with violent objections to Deryni who serve humans. Their punishment is ferocious: they cut off his hand.

The royal guards arrive too late to catch the attackers. Javan does his utmost to stop the bleeding, until the guards take over. Rhys Michael completely loses it after tripping over the severed hand.

Javan, who is coldly composed, rescues the hand and takes it with him. He hopes it can be reattached by a Healer.

But they can’t find one. Rhys is unavailable. Some of the guards go looking for him while others deal with Tavis and the princes. The royal physicians, who are human, cauterize Tavis’ arm, which eliminates any chance of reattaching the hand.

Rhys Michael is put to bed, but Javan refuses. Meanwhile Alroy and the regents come back from the tournament. The regents immediately double down on the Deryni-hate and decide the attack was a plot against the king.

The chaos continues. Alroy is put to bed, but Javan still refuses. He actually prevails on the regents to let him stay outside Tavis’ door.

The Healer who arrives is young, and can’t do much besides try to make Tavis comfortable. Rhys finally arrives with the whole Camber family, and gets to work with the young Healer, while Father Alfred, the boys’ longtime confessor, gets Javan under control.

We’re treated to a detailed description of Rhys’ Healing process. Droning Narrator is in attendance. There’s science. Also, surgery.

When it’s over, Javan comes in and wants to know if Rhys attached the hand. Rhys confesses he couldn’t, and asks what happened. Javan gives him the Javan’s-eye view of Tavis’ abduction and its aftermath.

Javan feels terribly guilty. Camber reassures him that he saved Tavis’ life. He’s not receptive. Evaine comforts him, building up his confidence while she moves to put a mind-whammy on him.

But she can’t get in.

The Camber family discuss this mentally. Cinhil must have given Javan his mental shields. It’s terribly inconvenient.

Camber tries a different way to get Javan to sleep: the contagious yawn and the ostentatious “falling asleep Right Now” maneuver. Everybody else joins in, and so, fairly quickly, does Javan.

Hours later, Tavis starts to come to. Camber notes that he’s terribly traumatized, and wants them to “just force him back down for a while yet.”

Mind-rape, it’s the Deryni way.

Rhys demurs. Tavis is a Healer. The sooner he realizes what’s happened, the better.

Rhys wakes him up and fills him in. Tavis is deeply depressed. “What good is a Healer with only one hand?”

Rhys doesn’t get it. Tavis quotes on Scripture about Healers with plural hands. Rhys fires back with different Scriptures about one hand. Tavis starts to melt down. Rhys metaphorically slaps a modicum of sense into him.

Then he asks Tavis who did this. Tavis shocks them all by saying the attackers were after him, not the princes. And that they were Deryni.

Tavis blasts them with the memory of the attack. Evaine has to exit, at speed. Her unborn daughter will be a Healer (extremely rare in females), Rhys says, and the child must have picked up on the pain. Rhys is proud. Also, he makes sure we all know Healing is harder on females than on males. (pause for reader snarl)

Rhys kvells for a while longer, then has to get back to Tavis. Camber helps Rhys force him into sleep. It’s rough—and Camber is flattened. Tavis is unbelievably bitter that his own kind did this to him.

Rhys can’t help, either, after what he did to Tavis the night of Cinhil’s death. They have to find someone else. Rhys suggests Queron, or better yet Emrys. They’ll send for both.

They make sure Tavis and Javan are both asleep. Rhys fusses a bit more over Javan’s shields. Then he and Camber leave.

At the end of the chapter, Javan reveals that he’s not asleep.

Chapter 15 moves on directly to Javan pondering what he overheard. Especially the part about Deryni. And about Tavis resenting Rhys.

This is bad. This is really bad. Javan mines his memory of the night his father died, and comes to conclusions that will not serve the Deryni, or Rhys and the Camber family, well at all.

Javan manages to call Tavis back to consciousness, mentally no less, and asks him what Rhys did to him the night Cinhil died. They compare notes. Javan tells Tavis about the shields Rhys couldn’t pass.

Tavis does some testing—in and around a roaring headache. He confirms that Javan has shields, and “Damned if I know what you are.”

Javan goes on to tell him about Queron and Emrys. That’s a lot of Healer power for one minor royal servant. Javan is afraid they’ll add to whatever Rhys did.

Tavis has an idea. Javan can help him “be progressed to the point that I don’t need any more Healers.” Javan trusts him even if he’s Deryni.

Tavis gets to work, in detail. Javan has a flash of what happened at his power ritual, before his mind goes dark.

By the time Camber and Rhys come back, they’re both honestly asleep. Camber isn’t concerned.

When Tavis wakes, he is in surprisingly good shape, and he is not cooperative. Rhys is startled to discover that the arm is healed.

Tavis continues not to cooperate. Rhys realizes Tavis tried something with Javan. Tavis plays innocent. “Javan is human.” Rhys is dubious, but lets it go.

Rhys leaves him for a while. Tavis, with much drama and a whole sequence of phantom-limb syndrome, studies his injury, then has a colossal weeping meltdown and eventually falls asleep. Rhys finds him that way, and leaves him to it.

When Emrys and Queron arrive, they note that Tavis looks incredibly good considering what he’s been through. Tavis is cool and evasive. Emrys and Queron lean on him until he lets them see how completely he’s healed.

It’s amazing. It’s as if he was born that way. Emrys wants to go deep, but Tavis’ shields are up and rigid, and he goes nuclear about how Deryni did this to him.

The Camber family and the Healers beat a strategic retreat. Rhys doesn’t like what he’s picking up from Tavis. Nor does Emrys, whose last experience of such shielding in a Healer resulted in a psychotic break that nearly destroyed St. Neot’s.

Queron wonders if Rhys should shut off Tavis’ powers. Rhys (for once) worries about ethics, and also about how unstable Tavis’ shields (and for that matter his mind) are. “Something very strange is going on in that man’s head.”

Camber keeps pushing. If Tavis goes over to the regents, that will be a bad thing. Tavis could hunt Deryni for them.

Rhys keeps hoping he can teach someone else to block Deryni powers. Camber pushes him hard about what if he can’t, what if it’s only him, can he get together with Revan and do what has to be done? It can’t even be the best Deryni he shuts off. The best ones have to be able to teach the children.

The Healers are shocked that “Alister” is so upset. Camber actually is having a crisis of confidence—and in front of Queron and Emrys no less, as Rhys rather frantically, and mentally, reminds him. Does he want to tell them the truth?

He does not. He does some fast tapdancing, as he’s wont to do, and carefully refrains from thinking about whether Javan was involved in Tavis’ healing—because Queron and Emrys don’t know about the power ritual, either.

Javan meanwhile continues to ponder what happened. He gets together with his brothers, but they’re not terribly interested in remembering the night their father died. Javan pushes Alroy to do something about the Deryni who attacked Tavis. Alroy resists, until Javan points out that Tavis would recognize them—and he wouldn’t hesitate to hand them over, either. Tavis presses him to ask the regents, who hate Deryni.

Alroy grudgingly agrees. Javan promises to raise hell if they don’t do something. “They must learn that no one trifles with the servants of the royal House of Haldane!”

 

And I’m Thinking: Hoo boy. Not only are the Deryni in for it now, Rhys and the rest of the Camber family are pretty directly responsible. Rhys’ ham-handed handling of Tavis made an enemy of him even without the attack by Deryni insurgents, and that’s now extended to Javan and Alroy. Classic example of what happens when people try to stop something from happening: they’re all too likely to make it worse.

I admit to feeling as if the Camber family is a little too sure of what’s going to happen. They’re constantly bustling about trying to stop things that not only haven’t happened yet, they’re not actually, in terms of events as written, completely inevitable.

At the same time they’re not effectual in what they do. The power shutoff thing is a continuous nonstarter, as they themselves frequently lament, but they keep right on pushing it rather than trying to find other, less dicey ways to save the Deryni. Like, setting up evacuation plans. They have Portals, for goodness’ sake. Why aren’t they using them? Get in touch with Deryni elsewhere (they’ve had over a decade to do this, come on), set up a chain of Portals, make sure everybody has one to get to in case of emergency. Gradually funnel people out in the meantime. Step it up once the regents take control. Hello. Captain Obvious?

And why aren’t they actually working to calm the humans down and resist the ongoing campaign to remove Deryni from the government? With all their mind-whammying powers and their frequently demonstrated willingness to use them, wouldn’t you think they’d at least make a try at changing the regents’ minds? Or the humans’ in general? Couldn’t they find a way to get together and defuse the whole situation?

But no. The timeline says bad things happen. So nobody makes a serious effort to stop them. It’s all got to be terribly complicated and terribly fraught and totally useless. Because timeline.

Or else Deryni just aren’t capable of that level of planning. Camber seems to be the smartest Deryni that ever was, and his plots and plans tend to be either crazily off the cuff or so baroquely elaborate there’s no way they can’t go wrong. He outsmarts himself.

As he’s done here, along with Rhys and Evaine (who is just as willing as ever to mind-rape for Daddy). They really are not nice people. Or particularly intelligent.

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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