Rereading Katherine Kurtz

Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Camber the Heretic, Chapters 26-27

Welcome to the weekly reread of Camber the Heretic! Last time, our heroes raced to save the last of the Gabrilite and Michaeline Orders, Rhys fell into trap, and Tavis confronted a terrible dilemma.

This week Camber’s brilliant plan goes awry, the conflict between Church and Crown comes to a violent conclusion, and karma rides a fan favorite to a fall.


Camber the Heretic: Chapters 26-27

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 26 opens on a snowy Christmas morning. Camber frets over Evaine, who is pregnant and on the road, but he has rationalizations for that. Camber always has rationalizations. He also, uncharacteristically, is having regrets, mostly of the “if only fate had not thrown wrenches in my beautiful plans” variety. And mostly he blames Cinhil for the bad decisions that have led to this crisis.

Here’s the plot in full control, because it’s inevitable that the regents will win, and inevitable that there will be years of persecutions. Because that’s what the timeline of the Morgan/Kelson books says. Camber doesn’t even try to imagine any alternatives.

I’m not convinced. This is the great Machiavellian statesman and he’s got nothing?

Meanwhile, back at the cathedral, the day is beginning. Camber makes note of people coming in, and Jebediah overseeing the defenses. And Rhys’ absence. Camber isn’t actively worried, yet, but he is concerned. He can’t do anything about it, either. (More rationalizations.)

This state of mind continues through the morning. Camber begins to think something’s, you know, really wrong.

And that allows us to shift back to Rhys, and back in time again to dawn. Rhys takes gradual and detailed stock of the fact he’s held captive, and the drugs are starting to wear off. He realizes he’s been scanned, but also calculates that Tavis doesn’t know what actually happened in Cinhil’s chapel, because Rhys didn’t see it.

While he’s ruminating on this, Tavis discovers he’s awake. Rhys tries defiance, but immediately succumbs to nausea. At length. Painfully.

Tavis offers him a potion, which Rhys doesn’t believe is just for the nausea. Tavis has no apparent regrets about the previous night. Eventually Rhys gives in and takes his medicine.

Next time he comes to, Javan and Tavis are having a heated discussion. Rhys finds Javan’s stare disturbing. It’s much too mature.

Javan confronts Rhys about what happened on the infamous night. It was magic. Rhys doesn’t deny it. He informs Javan that Cinhil “countenanced” it. Javan wants to know what was done to him—how he was “changed.” He also wonders if Cinhil did it voluntarily or if he was coerced.

Suddenly Rhys Michael and some squires arrive. Tavis flips Rhys’ power switch (again—and Rhys is wry that he’s finally found someone else who can do this) and spells him into a sort of coma. He can’t do anything, but he can still hear.

Officially Rhys is asleep after a long, hard night. Rhys Michael has news: Alroy and the regents plan to surround the cathedral when Mass starts, and arrest Alister and the rest if he’s enthroned. (Didn’t Camber and company already know this? Isn’t it exactly what they were expecting–and in fact hoping for? Why is all shocking new news now?)

Rhys struggles in vain to come up with a plan. Tavis gives him back a little motor function, which allows him to remonstrate with Javan about what Alroy is up to. He explains the actual role and powers of the king, which aren’t what the regents have taught the princes.

Javan hates Hubert. This is an opening. Javan and Tavis are wary, but Rhys keeps pushing. The regents are breaking the law and setting up Alroy to become a despot. If they keep going, all the Deryni in Gwynedd will be dead, and the kingdom will be lost.

He convinces them. Now they have to act. Rhys explains Alister/Camber’s plan, and begs to be allowed to warn him of what’s going down.

Javan is still dubious. Rhys keeps talking. Alister was supposed to be a regent, by Cinhil’s actual will. He pushes this.

Javan fires back with what he wants most to know: what happened That Night. Rhys snaps and dares Tavis to “rip it from my mind.” This could be a bad mistake, as we’re told at length, but then Tavis advises Javan to let Rhys go. He’s been reading Rhys and sees the truth.

Tavis flips Rhys’ powers back on again. Rhys has to wait while Tavis mixes up a quick antidote to the drugs. And we wait, through a lot of stage business, and Javan still pressing to find out what happened that night(tm), but Rhys won’t tell him. Then at long last, and after asking Tavis to go with him, Rhys heads for the cathedral.

Scene shift. Still snowing. People are mostly in favor of Alister, we’re informed. The story-camera moves into the cathedral, which is all but dark, except for the lights in the sanctuary. Alister/Camber has been consecrated and is now on the throne, doing his business and continuing to worry about Rhys. He catches sight of Jebediah heading toward him.

Meanwhile, Rhys and Tavis Portal into the sacristy. Tavis thinks this is crazy. Rhys points out that there’s no other way.

Rhys tries to get Camber’s attention. Finally Joram sees him, and alerts Camber, who sends him a telepathic “What the hell?” Rhys is overwhelmed, and alarmed that Camber might forget himself and out him.

Tavis is ready with a disguise: an alb from the sacristy, in which Rhys can impersonate a priest. Rhys urges Tavis to go back to Javan. Tavis is sullen and wants to stay and help Rhys, but finally agrees.

Rhys makes it to Camber with his warning. Camber is shocked at Rhys’ condition, sees Tavis (who is taking his time getting out of there) and puts two and two together. Rhys points out that they’re getting short on time. They need a plan.

Camber reads Rhys rapidly and ruthlessly. Neither he nor Joram can come up with any quick options. He assesses the situation while he’s in procession, assisted by Jebediah’s report: the regents and the king are outside, with an army.

Camber conveys Rhys’ information to Jeb and the bishops. Then he halts the procession and addresses the crowd. He tells them how he was elected and why. As he speaks, the attackers throw open the doors and call Alister out.

The fight begins with shouting back and forth. Murdoch plays a trump card: Alroy with all the “Haldane mystique,” in his fine royal outfit, delivering the speech the regents taught him.

Biship O’Beirne argues back. Murdoch accuses them all of treason. Camber ramps things down by citing the law, which is on his side. This is all about Church versus Crown, very technical but also very fraught.

It doesn’t work. Alroy orders them all arrested.

Chapter 27 moves matters right along. The army closes in. The bishops go for Plan B: Portal to sanctuary in Dhassa, with Bishop O’Beirne asking to come, too. He’s done for if he stays.

Tavis is still there, in case they need a Healer—Rhys can’t do it. Before he can escape, Jebediah catches him. They spar verbally over the Healer issue, then Jeb kicks him out. Javan needs him.

It’s mayhem in the cathedral. Joram and Camber are fighting soldiers using processional crosses (those things are heavy, and effective). Tavis sees Rhys fall and hit his head hard. Tavis tries to help, but Jeb forces him toward the Portal.

Camber knows Rhys is in bad shape. He picks him up and fights his way toward the sacristy and the Portal, and so to Dhassa.

Rhys is still alive, with a severe depressed fracture on top of the drug effects. As usual, there’s no Healer immediately available. Camber and Joram do what they can, but they’re not Healers. Bishop Niallan prepares the Last Rites.

Camber contemplates the spell Ariella tried when she died, to preserve life in a dying body. But he only knows the theory. And then it’s too late.

And all for so little. A fall. “Death should be more difficult!”

As Camber wallows in personal grief, the regents clamp down hard on the people Camber abandoned in the cathedral, including the five remaining bishops—two having died in the fight, including Kai, who gave his life to destroy the Portal. The regents outlaw everyone including Joram and Jebediah, and order the arrest of the remaining Camber family, then send Rhun the Ruthless to besiege Dhassa (one presumes a tame Deryni told him that’s where the bishops went, since there’s no other way they’d be likely to know)—which won’t be easy, since it’s winter and the weather in Gwynedd is frightful. There’s another synod of bishops, but the captive rebels won’t budge on their choice of archbishop; Hubert and company replace them with another batch, who obligingly (but not unanimously) elect Hubert. Hubert is enthroned and promptly gets to work persecuting Deryni.

While they’re excluding, banning, and criminalizing to their cold little hearts’ content, Javan notices that Alroy is being systematically excised from the process. They let him into just enough of their meetings to look as if he’s involved, then out he goes. The other princes are left out completely.

Javan starts to worry about Tavis, who has been out and about at odd hours while Javan covers for him. Finally they discuss what to do if and when Hubert and company come for him.

Javan deduces that Tavis plans to escape through a Portal—and assumes he’ll go, too. But that, Tavis points out, would remove Javan from the succession, and that’s not a good idea. They assume Javan will end up king (The Timeline is in charge again). When that happens, he can bring Tavis back.

The conversation meanders around to how hard it is to be a prince, then back to the Portal. Tavis thinks he’s found the one Ariella used to escape when Imre was deposed. He spends time explaining the concept of trap Portals, and speculating about where Rhys and company are, and what’s happening at Dhassa. (Further cause to wonder how the regents know to lay siege to Dhassa in particular.)

Javan wants to go to Dhassa. When he states this, Tavis has been trying to penetrate his shields, and failing—and he almost succumbs to Javan’s will. He argues against testing the Portal in case it’s a trap or worse. But Javan is adamant. He asks Tavis to spell out what it’s like to go through a trap Portal.

Tavis obliges. Then Javan explains. He wants to apologize to Alister, and be sure Rhys is all right—he has a bad feeling.

Tavis keeps trying to talk him out of it. Javan will not be moved. He is determined to let Bishop Alister know Javan is on his side. As the chapter ends, he repeats his request (demand)(command): “Will you take me there?”


And I’m Thinking: The action comes fast and furious here. There’s a bit too much tyranny of the timeline for my preference—Camber not even trying to do anything effective because it wasn’t in the timeline for the Morgan/Kelson books, and later, the assumption that Javan will be king despite the fact he’s the same age as Alroy and Alroy could live on for years or even outlive him, not to mention the oddness of humans knowing where Deryni are when other Deryni have to guess—but we get a nice dose of excitement and a whole lot going on.

Camber continues to fail to live up to the hype. He’s completely ineffectual when it comes to executing a workable plan, and he seems to have forgotten how to come up with one in the first place. Then as soon as Rhys falls down, that’s it, Camber’s done, he abandons everyone else and takes off for Dhassa.

As for Rhys’ death…oh dear. It’s realistic I suppose, in that it’s random and trivial and rather stupid, and Camber underscores it with his comment about it not being difficult enough. But it’s random. And trivial. All this wild action, ferocious violence, plus torture and abuse, and Rhys has to die because he tripped over his own feet? It’s a dreadful anticlimax.

Tavis is quite interesting here, complex and conflicted. Javan continues to be one of the best characters in the book, and one of the best people in general. He’s smart, he’s focused, and he does the best he can in an impossible situation. He’s very Kelson-like in how he goes about things.

The end is racing toward us now. If these chapters are any indication, it will be a wild ride.

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, was published last fall 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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