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In the kings service, p.1
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       In the King's Service, p.1

           Katherine Kurtz
 
In the King's Service


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Epilogue

  APPENDIX I - Index of Characters

  APPENDIX II - Index of Places

  Praise for In the King’s Service

  “Kurtz is one of the best of those fantasy writers who use medieval-like settings for their novels, and this is one of her better books.”—Chronicle

  “Kurtz’s fidelity to the customs and mores of medieval Europe gives a richness of detail to her alternate medieval world.”—Library Journal

  “Exquisitely detailed . . . the scenes of daily life at court, plus the usual church versus magic conflict, will keep fans turning the pages.”—Publishers Weekly

  “The novel sparkles with Kurtz’s attention to detail . . . can be enjoyed by fans and newcomers alike.”

  —RT Bookclub (Top Pick)

  Praise for King Kelson’s Bride

  “Katherine Kurtz’s triumphant return to the magical medieval realm of Gwynedd . . . Exciting and intriguing.”

  —SF Site

  “Kurtz’s strengths lie in her patient accumulation of telling detail, well-articulated plots, and believable magics. Should bring the fans flocking, and attract newcomers, too.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “The author remains just as polished and expert as ever . . . Kurtz, one of the founders of modern historical fantasy, after nearly thirty years continues to be one of its most accomplished practitioners.”—Publishers Weekly

  “Ms. Kurtz creates compelling characters, a byzantine plot, and magical wonder for a beguiling reading experience.” —Romantic Times

  “A good choice for most fantasy collections.”

  —Library Journal

  “This Deryni yarn should satisfy all the fans the series has accumulated during its thirty-year run.”—Booklist

  “One of the happiest . . . books in this series.”—Locus

  Praise for Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels

  “An incredible historical tapestry of a world that never was and of immensely vital people who ought to be.”

  —Anne McCaffrey

  “A rich feast of medieval chivalry, romance, and magic—the book that all Katherine Kurtz’s fans have been awaiting.” —Marion Zimmer Bradley

  “At her best Kurtz’s love of history lets her do things with her characters and their world that no nonhistorian could hope to do.” —Chicago Sun-Times

  “Kurtz has created a fascinating idealization of the Middle Ages and infused it with a kind of magic one can truly believe in.” —Fantasy Review

  THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4V 3B2, Canada

  (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr. Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South

  Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  IN THE KING’S SERVICE

  An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

  Copyright © 2003 by Katherine Kurtz.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without

  permission. Please do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials in

  violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  eISBN : 978-0-441-01209-1

  ACE

  Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  ACE and the “A” design

  are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  With Love and Thanks to

  Andre Norton,

  Great Lady of Many Wondrous Tales

  Prologue

  “Set not thy heart upon goods unjustly gotten; for they shall not profit thee in the day of calamity.”

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 5:8

  “I HEAR that you have a son at last,” Dominy de Laney said to Sir Sief MacAthan, as she settled beside him at the heavy, eight-sided table in the Camberian Council’s secret meeting chamber. “Congratulations are surely in order.”

  Across the table from them, Vivienne de Jordanet was absently twirling a dark ringlet around one forefinger as she read over the shoulder of the man to her right: Lord Seisyll Arilan, one of the Council’s two coadjutors. Both of them looked up at the other woman’s comment, and Vivienne gave the new father an indulgent smile.

  “Well done, Sief.”

  Sief’s face brightened, a boyish grin creasing his still handsome features as he basked in this affirmation of his male potency. After nearly thirty years of indifferent marriage, four living daughters, and a sad succession of stillborn or short-lived sons, he had all but given up hope of a male heir. This birthing had been difficult, for the child was large and his wife was no longer young, but the new babe was hale and lusty, if disappointingly unlike Sief in appearance. Of course, most infants were inclined to look like wizened little old men so soon after birth. Hopefully, the pale eyes would darken—and as yet, the babe had too little hair to tell what color it would be.

  “I must confess that I am pleased,” Sief allowed. “I’ve decided to call him Krispin. There was a Krispin MacAthan a few generations back. His sisters adore him already. I suppose it is a natural reaction of young girls, anticipating children of their own.”

  Dominy de Laney smiled and patted his hand, kindly mirth in the sea-green eyes. “Young boys, as well, Sief. In truth, most children seem to like babies. My own are constantly begging for another si
ster or brother. And well do I remember when Barrett was born. I’ve always wondered whether our poor parents had him to achieve some respite from me and my sisters. Especially after Cassianus died, we were determined that there should be another boy for us to pamper later.”

  The comment elicited a chuckle from Vivienne, who sat back in her chair just as the great doors to the chamber parted to admit the scarlet-clad subject of Dominy’s comment, one of his graceful hands resting on the arm of Michon de Courcy for guidance. Barrett de Laney’s hooded robes were those of a scholar at the great university of Nur Sayyid, but his emerald eyes gazed into eternity, sightless—not through any infirmity of age, for he was only two-and-thirty, but through blindness, incurred when he was hardly grown to manhood, willingly accepted in exchange for the freedom of several dozen children.

  Those who had taken his sight had intended to take his life as well—a probability Barrett had been well aware of, when he submitted to the hot iron that bought the children’s release. In memory of that day, he still wore his thinning hair sleeked back in a soldier’s knot: faded red, where it was not streaked with white. He had not expected to leave that place alive, or that another would lay down his life instead, to secure his escape.

  The man who guided him now, of his father’s generation, had fostered him as a child of promise, helping to hone his natural talents, and had taught him to adjust to his lack of physical sight—a task made far easier by the powers they shared in common with the others in the chamber. For all of them were highly trained Deryni, members of that long-vilified race of sorcerers and wise men who must coexist with mortals not so gifted, in whom fear and perhaps even jealousy bred intolerance that often killed.

  Even other Deryni did not know the composition of this elite and highly secretive body now gathering under the purple dome of the Council’s meeting place, though most with any formal training had at least some inkling of its existence and the policing function it carried out for the good of all their race. A few individuals were believed by some to have the Council’s ear, but none would ever confirm or deny. Only rarely did it intervene directly in the affairs of other Deryni, and even less often were its rulings challenged.

  Mostly, its guidance was more subtle: the hidden hand in the glove of another’s apparent action, quietly exerting pressure behind the scenes to discourage and hopefully prevent wanton use of Deryni powers. And while rigorous discipline and the mutual intent of its members gave it access, as a body, to power not generally available to any single individual, the Council’s greater power lay in the speculations of other Deryni about what the Council might actually be able to do, and apprehension regarding what force it could bring to bear to enforce its rulings and to discipline those who strayed from responsible behavior.

  For the Deryni in Gwynedd were few, and always had been, regarded by the much larger human population with varying measures of wary fascination, suspicion, and outright fear—which, in reaction to Deryni abuses, whether real or imagined, could shift all too swiftly to active hostility and murderous rampages. Once that occurred, sheer numbers could overwhelm even the mightiest of magical defenses—and had done so, far too many times.

  It had not always been thus. Early in the previous century—and still, in many of the lands neighboring Gwynedd, especially to the east—humans and Deryni had cohabited in relative peace, mostly to the mutual benefit of both races. But there had always been those who harbored an uneasy mistrust of the Deryni and their sometimes startling abilities, and feared the possible misuse of powers not accessible to ordinary men. Some said that such powers were too near to that of gods, or at least of angels—or devils. Others were convinced that such powers could only be demonic, corrupting not only the wielders of those powers but those touched by them.

  Such hostility, born of fear of what was not understood, had finally come to a head early in the previous century, triggering a period of persecution akin to a religious crusade. Many had died as a result. A rigid and repressive code of laws now regulated the existence of those remaining, excluding known Deryni from many occupations and barring them from holding public office or even owning property above a certain value, under pain of fines, imprisonment, or worse. Most odious of all was to be discovered using one’s powers, even with the most benign of intentions, for such folly was apt to trigger a killing rampage by frightened and irate humans—an act given legitimacy by human law.

  With care and cunning, such laws could be circumvented, as all the members of the Camberian Council were well aware, but even those who lived beyond the borders of Gwynedd mostly maintained a low profile, for magic could make one a target as well as giving one a tool or weapon. Those resident within Gwynedd were extremely careful. Of the seven members of the Council, only Sief had managed to carve out a secure public position within Gwynedd itself, at the king’s court in Rhemuth, as had his family for many generations. Seisyll, likewise, had achieved modest prominence among the king’s courtiers, though he and his extended family lived outside the capital. Neither was known to be Deryni.

  Michon, for his part, kept mostly to his modest holdings far to the west, though still within Gwynedd, only venturing to court when duty required: Twelfth Night, always, and usually several more times each year, when the king summoned various of his vassals to attend him. The others, through choice or circumstances, dwelt outside Gwynedd’s borders, where those of their kind could live more openly, though even they were circumspect. Barrett, perhaps, had the greatest freedom, being currently in residence at one of the great Torenthi universities. The remaining member of the Council resided not far from where the Council met, but had sent apologies for non-attendance, being currently occupied with business concerns away from Portal access.

  But six were more than enough to transact informal business; five of the seven would have been sufficient to uphold any serious ruling of the Council, though no capital matter was under discussion on this night. When possible, the Council met fortnightly, to brief one another on affairs in the areas where they lived. In the past three decades—longer than any member’s span of service save Sief himself—there had been no truly serious demand on the Council’s powers of arbitration. Though all of them were well aware how precariously still stood the plight of Deryni in Gwynedd, slow gains had been made in the past several generations, and the future was beginning to look hopeful.

  “We should begin,” said Seisyll Arilan, when Michon had led Barrett to his seat between them and taken his own. “Doubtless, Sief will wish to return to his new son. My congratulations,” he added, inclining his head in the new father’s direction. “Your lady wife is well?”

  Sief gave a nod, still looking pleased. “Weakened somewhat, which is to be expected with an older mother, but I am hopeful that the child will show more of its paternal heritage than its maternal. I never forget that she is the daughter of Lewys ap Norfal.”

  “You did agree to marry her,” Michon pointed out.

  “It was that, or have her killed,” Sief said lightly, though all of them were aware that he meant precisely that. “We could not have trusted Lewys’s daughter to a nunnery.”

  “Yet you have trusted one of her daughters to a nunnery,” Dominy de Laney reminded him.

  “She is my daughter as well,” Sief replied. “And each child is different.“But I would have smothered Jessilde at birth, had she shown the wayward potentials of her grandfather—or her mother.”

  Vivienne rolled her eyes heavenward, then glanced at Dominy, a mother like herself.

  “Let us please have no more talk of smothering babies,” she said emphatically. “Especially not Deryni babies. It’s bad enough that poisonous priests like Alexander Darby continue to spread lies about us. Have any of you actually seen that scurrilous piece of tripe that he published at Grecotha last year? De Natura Deryniorum, indeed!”

  “Scurrilous or not,” Sief said, “I hear that it’s to become required reading at every seminary in Gwynedd.”

  Barrett was nodding
, fingers steepled before his sightless eyes. “It’s been making the rounds at Nur Sayyid. Well written, they say, but utterly lacking in scholarly integrity.”

  “Lacking in scholarly integrity?” Dominy blurted. “Is that all you can say? Barrett, the man’s a monster!”

  “Yes, and he’s a monster with a growing following,” Seisyll said sourly. “And I can understand why. I heard him preach a few months ago. A very persuasive speaker, and a very dangerous man.”

  “I’ve heard him, too,” Michon said. “It’s a pity that a timely accident can’t be arranged. A fatal one. Actually, it could. But given the public profile he’s already established, I suppose the authorities would quickly draw the right conclusion regarding who was responsible, at least in general terms—and that would spark the very kind of reprisal that we try to avoid.”

  Seisyll Arilan gave a disgusted snort. “We should have taken care of the problem long ago. Now it’s too late for the more obvious solutions.”

  “It is never too late to stamp out pestiferous vermin,” Vivienne said coldly. “I’m sure one of my brothers would be happy to oblige.”

  “No, we’ll not risk losing one of them for the sake of the likes of him,” Michon said.

  “Sometimes risks are necessary,” Sief pointed out. “You are aware, I trust, that the bishops already have an eye on him?”

  “For what, chief inquisitor?” Seisyll muttered.

  “Actually, for a bishop’s miter,” Sief replied. “I have that directly from the Archbishop of Rhemuth. Unless Darby puts a foot seriously wrong, it will happen, mark my words.”

  “But—he was only ordained last year,” Dominy said, sounding scandalized.

  “True enough,” Seisyll said patiently. “But keep in mind that he is hardly your typical green young priest. He’s something of a scholar, yes—though he draws all the wrong conclusions. But he also lived in the world before he took holy orders. He trained as a physician, and they say that he has all the arrogance that sometimes comes of both disciplines. That’s a dangerous enough combination in a priest who also hates Deryni. In a bishop—”

 
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