In the King's Service, p.1Katherine Kurtz
Table of Contents
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
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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.
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“Set not thy heart upon goods unjustly gotten; for they shall not profit thee in the day of calamity.”
“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
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
“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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