Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Camber the Heretic, Chapters 20-21

Welcome to the weekly reread of Camber the Heretic!

Last time, Rhys and Evaine visited Revan, now a holy hermit, and a Deryni attack on the princes ended in tragedy. This week the regents deal summarily with the princes’ attackers, both living and dead; a Healer turns collaborator; and the Camberian Council does its best to control the damage.


Camber the Heretic: Chapters 20-21

Here’s What Happens: With Chapter 20 we’re two-thirds of the way through the book. Having discovered that Eidiard was really the Earl of Culdi, the regents call a council. There is rage. There is yelling.

Jaffray is trying to figure out what happened, while the regents spin up the crazy meter over the Deryni attackers and the Deryni casualty. Javan tries to defend Davin, who saved Rhys Michael’s life, but the regents are on a full tear.

Likewise Alroy tries to calm things down by interrogating the prisoners, but that doesn’t stop the roaring, either. He asks Tavis, obliquely, to Truth-Read them.

Tavis doesn’t want to. Murdoch threatens him. He does as he’s told, but finds nothing much. The attackers were just disgruntled young noblemen. Davin was not one of them.

They circle around this, with the regents imputing the worst possible motivations, and Tavis insisting that it wasn’t a Deryni plot. The attackers were merely aggrieved about the political situation.

They do have a pact to resist deep probing. If Tavis tries that, they’ll die.

Murdoch puts Jaffray on the spot but doesn’t force him to kill the prisoners. They send for Lord Oriel instead, while Tavis gives the prisoners’ names. They’re from influential families. Meanwhile Murdoch twists the knife about Oriel, who obviously is a collaborator.

Oriel is the Healer who couldn’t save Tavis’ hand. There’s bad blood there.

Oriel is clinically detached. He determines from Tavis what the drugs are which are keeping the prisoners under control. Tavis, Jaffray notices, does not tell him about the death-trigger.

Oriel Reads the prisoners, finds out the same names and families Tavis did, and also confirms that none of them knew about Davin or the shape-changing spell. Murdoch doesn’t want to hear this at all. He demands a deeper reading. Oriel finds the trigger and demurs. Murdoch doubles down. Oriel does as he’s told.

He is not happy not to have been warned about the trigger. It was a test, Murdoch says. Oriel confirms the rest of Tavis’ findings, that there’s no overriding conspiracy, just a small personal one.

Murdoch asks Alroy what he wants to do about this. Alroy punts to Tammaron, who goes for the nuclear option: execution of the prisoners and some of their fathers, outlawing of their heirs, and attainder (forfeit) of their lands and titles. They’ll be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Alroy is appalled, but too weak to resist. He includes the dead in the sentence, including the Earl of Culdi.

Javan protests, but Murdoch shuts him down. When everyone has left, he asks Tavis if there really was no conspiracy. Tavis says neither he nor Oriel could find one. Nor was Davin a traitor, though Tavis doesn’t know what he was.

Tavis then tells Javan about his vision of “Saint Camber.” They discuss what this means. Javan wants to ask Ansel, Davin’s younger brother, about Saint Camber. Tavis snaps back that Ansel and the rest of the family will be long gone. They’re Deryni. They have powers. They know what happened. They’ll have got out while they still could.

Joram, then, Javan says. Or Evaine or Rhys. But Tavis isn’t playing. They all did something to Javan and Tavis. Tavis doesn’t trust them.

But Joram is fierce. He needs to know the truth.

He doesn’t get any further. It’s time for the executions. Javan’s presence is required.

Tavis promises to find out what he can. He’s a Healer like Rhys. “I may be able to use some of his own craft against him.”

End chapter. Chapter 21 shifts to the deep passages under Caerrorie. Rhys has gone to fetch Ansel. The rest of the family are waiting in the Council chamber. (They’ve finally remembered to, you know, use Portals.)

Ansel is devastated. Rhys does his best to comfort him. Ansel wants to know what happened; Rhys tells him. Everything. Ansel gets himself under control, and Rhys invites him to the Council.

The family are sharing what they know, and grieving. They’re somewhat encouraged by Javan’s reactions, but otherwise are prostrate with grief—except Joram, who has not wept and who is too quiet.

Gregory is clueless about the undertones. He’s outraged.

They bicker over the status and motivations of the attackers. Camber is uncharacteristically angry. Evaine is sharply practical. Joram is bitter. Camber invites Gregory to do a Reading, to fill him in on the details. Gregory does so and is appropriately grieved.

Rhys and Ansel arrive. Ansel, in his turn, Reads “Alister.” What he finds both devastates and comforts him.

Jaffray finally arrives. He is severely shaken. He needs to “talk this out” while Alister, at his request, performs an experiment with a set of Wards Major and the structure of the hidden chamber.

Jaffray fills the Council in on what happened with the regents. Rhys is horrified about Oriel. So is Joram.

They keep talking while Camber/Alister, at a remove, works the expanded and enhanced Warding spell. Then Camber checks back into the meeting. The others are horrified by what’s happened, and by the fact the young Haldanes have had to witness it.

Then they find out what was done to Davin’s body. It’s grief on top of grief.

Camber steps in then to show Ansel and Jesse a newly rediscovered, higher form of Warding, with lots of special effects: floating stones, magical pillars, and an altar of power.

Jaffray has brought instruments for a mass. Camber thinks that’s an excellent way to calm and focus everyone.

But Jaffray isn’t sure. He didn’t bring vestments. Is it a good idea? And what’s this altar really?

Camber and Evaine reassure him. This is exactly the right way to memorialize Davin.

Jaffray can’t say the mass. He’s too full of anger and hate after what he saw the regents do to Davin’s body. Camber has to do it—with much Latin and liturgical detail. Then he feels a little peace, and is determined to make Davin’s death mean something.

Ansel goes back to Grecotha with Camber, disguised as a Michaeline cleric. Then there’s Droning Narration. Everybody goes back to their places. Jaffray meets with high-ranking Gabrilites including Dom Emrys. The Gabrilites are seriously worried that they’ll be the next targets of persecution.

Camber and Jaffray do what they can to protect the various Deryni religious houses. Then violence erupts, and Jaffray and Jebediah (in gorgeous armor) ride out to deal with it—and discover that pitchforks and billhooks are dangerous weapons, even against armored knights.

A billhook kills Jaffray, and the mob goes wild. Jebediah can’t use his magic at all, he’s too taken aback. He manages to get out unharmed with Jaffray’s body. And that’s it for the last ranking Deryni in Valoret. The chapter ends with Jebediah wondering how long any place in Gwynedd will remain safe for Deryni.

And I’m Thinking: These chapters hit hard. Finally we see some genuine anti-Deryni persecution. The stupidity of bored young Deryni nobles randomly attacking humans ends in bloodshed and death, and the regents take full advantage of the opportunity. As a special bonus, they get to destroy the earldom of Culdi and outlaw the rest of the Camber family—that has to give them a warm and fluttery feeling inside.

Javan is growing into quite an interesting person. He’s bright and he’s tough, and he doesn’t take anything at face value. He’s closing in on the truth about his Haldane magical heritage, which could go either well or very badly. I’m sure we’ll find out.

Davin’s death keeps on sending ripples through the charactersphere. The Council, which is mostly his relatives, grieves at length and in detail. It’s very affecting, though Camber is much too full of himself to feel guilty about his role in his grandson’s death.

I’m also a bit perplexed by the big magical experiment in the middle of all the emotional upheaval. It’s nice fan-service, but why here? It doesn’t do anything but provide cool special effects. It distracts Camber, which is a benefit, I suppose, but still.

Evaine actually stands out here. She’s the most hard-headedly practical member of the Council, and she has no hesitation about making policy. She’s an actual functional female being, which is a striking rarity in the Kurtz oeuvre. It’s almost like having a real female character in a fully rounded world in which half the population is non-male.

Then of course we go right back to all male, all the time, but it’s nice while it lasts.

I’m sorry to see Jaffray go. He’s a bit of a cipher, but he’s been a regular in the ensemble cast, and his death comes as a shock.

It’s the beginning of the end for Deryni in Gwynedd, clearly. Not to mention, the Council has just lost its spy in the regency council—and with Davin dead, it doesn’t have access to the royals, either. Things have gone from sort of bad to distinctly worse. It looks as if it’s all downhill from here.

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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