Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Camber the Heretic, Chapters 22-23

Welcome to the weekly reread of Camber the Heretic!

Last time, the regents summarily dealt with the princes’ attackers, while the Camberian Council did its best to control the damage. This week Javan’s inexplicable powers continue to grow, Javan and Tavis concoct a plot to trap Rhys, and the prelates of Gwynedd meet to choose a new Primate—with deadly consequences.

 

Camber the Heretic: Chapters 22-23

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 22 drones through the repercussions of Jaffray’s death. It’s blamed on Deryni, of course, specifically Jebediah, and the body count rises to fifty by the time the riot is over. The Camberian Council knows as soon as Jaffray dies. The royals learn soon after—the regents use Portals via their Deryni collaborators. (It’s only bad if it’s the other guy doing it.)(Painfully apropos in the US right now.)

Hubert is hastily appointed to Jaffray’s place, though there has to be a show of an election to make it official. While the regents and their minions bustle about making this happen, Javan slips away. Tavis follows.

Javan does not want Hubert to be made Primate of Gwynedd. Hubert is a liar, and Javan can sense it. That’s Truth-Reading, Tavis tells him.

Javan is troubled. Tavis speculates that something was done to him on that infamous night when Cinhil died. Javan proposes that they invite Rhys to “see us” when the synod meets to officially elect Hubert. He has a plan to do the same thing to Rhys that Rhys did to Tavis and the princes, to find out what happened.

They discuss logistics. Tavis knows what drug to use. Javan will have to take it, too, and will be sick, but they agree it’s worth the price.

The narrative goes back to its drone. Javan and the other royals are “accidentally” prevented from attending Jaffray’s funeral. The synod gathers in leisurely fashion; it takes weeks for everyone to get there. Hubert is politicking early and often. So, much less obviously, is Camber, who is attended by a certain “Brother Lorcan,” better known to readers as Ansel, the new Earl of Culdi (if Culdi were still permitted to exist).

Now everyone is there, we get a lengthy drone of meeting attendance and summaries, including histories and analyses of three newly appointed bishops, one of whom, a surprise pick, rings Camber’s alarm bells. He has a distinctly anti-Deryni pedigree.

The synod goes on and on and ever on. They discuss the roving bands of Deryni hotheads. They discuss the religious context of Deryni magic—and a well-meaning Deryni bishop makes things worse by implying that Deryni spirituality can attain levels the human version can’t.

The drone continues. Summary synopsis passive voice summary. Camber’s sainthood comes in question but gets passed by (he won’t be Camber the Heretic this round).

At long last the synod rambles around to electing Hubert, with Alroy, “heavily coached,” calling for him to be chosen. More summary. More synopsis. A bit of fuss from another candidate. Some yelling.

And finally, the actual election, with multiple ballots. We’re told the results of each. Hubert is not getting the votes he needs. It goes on for days. Weeks. One candidate is intimidated into withdrawing, but that just causes a three-way deadlock.

On Christmas Eve we get an actual scene: Camber and Joram are visited late at night by four bishops, two of whom are Deryni. They’re very nervous. Camber raises wards against the regents’ tame Deryni, with some discussion of how he’s not known for much use of his powers. Then finally the meeting can get down to business.

Bishops Dermot and Robert want to withdraw their candidacies—in favor of “Bishop Alister.”

Boom. New chapter. In Chapter 23, Camber isn’t surprised but he is “queasy.” He doesn’t want this, of course he doesn’t (and Joram surely doesn’t). He never wants the things he ends up doing for everyone’s own good (regardless of the consequences).

In this case, he knows the regents will react extremely badly if he ends up back on the council. Not to mention it will look like a Deryni coup.

The other bishops present their own arguments in favor of doing this. One is the pleasure of ramming another Deryni Primate down the regents’ throats. Another is the church’s independence from secular power, and its right to make its own choices. They all loathe Hubert and would love to see him suspended.

They keep pushing. Alister is a consensus candidate. If the regents object, he can excommunicate them.

Camber is not in favor of that. The discussion continues. Joram blurts out that Jaffray’s death might have been a plot by the regents. Camber shuts him down and tries to propose another candidate.

It doesn’t work. Camber ponders the issue from all sides, including the possibility that Jaffray was assassinated. Inevitably, since he’s Camber, he comes to the conclusion that there is no other possible candidate and of course he has to do it. “Camber must allow himself to be swept away by destiny once more.”

Destiny, or the plot synopsis. In the world of books, they’re pretty much the same. Finally he says he’ll do it. The bishops leave, their mission accomplished.

Joram is totally not in favor. Of course. As usual. Though he allows as how, objectively, Camber is “the best candidate.”

Of course he is.

Camber wants Rhys to come, though Evaine is close to giving birth. He wants some Healer-level backup. He sends Ansel by Portal to fetch Rhys, and to get Ansel out of the way in case of trouble. Rhys is to ride back—no Portal. They don’t want to be too obviously Deryni.

Joram goes to set things in motion. Camber stays to become resigned to this latest twist in the long con.

Morning. Another meeting of the synod. Another ballot. This time we get a scene after a mercifully brief bit of drone. There’s a new name! It’s Alister Cullen! Shock! Astonishment! He gets two-thirds of the votes!

Hubert is outraged. “Alister” is hailed as Primate. Then he faces down Hubert and tells him what happened last night. He asks Hubert to accept his office if not his person.

Hubert won’t have it. He’ll go! He’ll tell! This is against the king!

Hubert and his faction flounce out. The rest agree to install Alister tomorrow, on Christmas morning.

They work out logistics for the enthronement and for defense against probable attack by the regents. Jebediah will take care of that, if he can be recalled in time.

Camber asks Bishop Kai to go to Joram and have him get in touch with Jebediah. “He knows how.” Which causes a flutter, because it obviously will be done using Deryni magic.

The humans are actually amused. They know what they’re getting. They’re good with it.

While the bishops confer on the order of proceedings, the regents learn what happened in the synod. They’ve been hearing petitions with Alroy acting as figurehead. We’re given a complete description of the hall, the proceedings, the outfits (gorgeous as always), and the petition.

Javan is present but at a remove, with Tavis as always. Javan is pretending to be doing nothing in particular, but he’s actually paying close attention. He’s not really supposed to be there—the princes are supposed to be kept ignorant and therefore biddable.

Javan has figured this out and makes a regular habit of finding excuses to be nearby during meetings. He’s also made sure the relevant personnel think he’s “just a little simple.” He doesn’t like it, but it’s excellent camouflage.

They note the bishops’ arrival and Hubert’s obvious outrage, and correctly deduce the reason.

From their perspective we get snatches of the bishop’s news and the regents’ reaction, and the dismissal of the petitioners. Tavis does some mind-whammying and tells Javan who won the election. Javan is impressed.

The regents start conniving to undo the election. They get rid of Alroy and adjourn to continue their plotting.

Javan and Tavis discuss what to do next. Tavis will try to find out what the regents are up to through Oriel, the tame Deryni, who will be contacting the regent who’s out on military maneuvers. He also lets slip that Rhys arrived this morning; he forgot to tell Javan.

Tavis sends Javan to his room while he sets off to find out what he can. Javan is to wait, and if Tavis doesn’t came back by evening, do what he can to rescue his friend.

Tavis goes to do what’s needed. Javan ends up eventually in his own room, severely shaken, and manages to fall asleep until Tavis comes back. He tells Javan what he saw and heard. Oriel is a mess; he’s being abused by his masters; Tavis was able to read him, and what he read is very bad news. Rhun, the absent regent, has been ordered to destroy the major houses of Jaffray’s Gabrilites and Alister’s Michaelines.

This has been planned, Tavis suspects. It’s just finally being executed. Javan protests. It can’t be allowed. All those Deryni are innocent.

Tavis has an idea. He’ll make sure Javan comes down with a terrible fever. Rhys will have to come and Heal it. That way they can warn the Deryni and get what they need to know out of Rhys. Two birds, one spell.

Javan’s messenger finds the Camber family and the key bishops deep in discussion and planning. Lord Tavis begs Rhys to come: Prince Javan is ill.

It’s quite a desperate summons. It includes a written missive, which spells out the details of the plot against the religious houses, and again begs Rhys to come and save Javan’s life. And that’s it for the chapter.

 

And I’m Thinking: Once the drone dies down, these chapters come fast and furious. I wish we didn’t have to get the full experience of how tedious an episcopal synod can be, but when action finally starts, it’s rather satisfyingly dramatic. In a number of ways it reminds me of the revolt of the bishops in the first Morgan and Kelson trilogy, when a Deryni bishop joins forces with a human colleague to spike the wheels of an evil archbishop’s plot.

Of course Camber ends up in the hot seat again. Camber always ends up there. He’s everybody’s go-to Deryni for high and dangerous adventures, especially if they involve political skulduggery and furious humans. Nobody can fall face first into another dangerous con game like Camber.

Javan continues to be one of the most interesting characters in this book. He’s smart, and he thinks for himself. His codependency with Tavis is a tiny bit strange, but he manages to keep his individuality in spite of it. He’s also clearly had his Haldane powers triggered, though there’s still some mystery there. Not long now before it’s solved: the book is galloping to a close.

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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