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Deryni checkmate, p.1
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       Deryni Checkmate, p.1

           Katherine Kurtz
 
Deryni Checkmate


  For JOHN G. NELSON

  who, lie the Deryni, strives to hold bac the darkness-of whatever ind.

  A Del Rey Book

  Published by Ballantine Books

  Copyright © 1972 by Katharine Kurtz

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada, Limited, Toronto, Canada.

  ISBN 0-345-29224-3

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  First Edition: May 1972 Seventh Printing: May 1980

  Cover art by Darrell K. Sweet

  CONTENTS

  I Three things there are which defy pre- 1 diction: a woman's whims, the touch of the Devil's finger, and the weather of Gwynedd in March.

  —St. Veneric, Triads

  II I am the son of the wise, the son of 11 ancient kings.

  —Isaiah 19:11

  III I am a man: I hold that nothing human 31 is alien to me.

  —Terence

  TV And the Angel that spoke in me, said 57 to me ...

  —Zechariah 1:9

  V Who is she that looketh forth in the 72 morning, fair as the moon, clear as die sun, and terrible as an army with banners?

  —Song of Solomon 6:10

  VI They also that seek after my life lay 91 snares for me.

  —Psalms 38:12

  VII Let destruction come upon him un- 104 awares . . .

  —Psalms 3 5:8

  VIII For there cometh a smoke out of the 124 north, and there is no straggler in his ranks.

  —Isaiah 14:31

  IX And he will send them a savior, and a defender, and he will deliver them.

  —. Isaiah 19:20

  X Seek the aid of darker counsel . . -.

  XI I have raised up one from the north, and he is come . . . and he shall come upon rulers as upon mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay.

  —Isaiah 41:25

  XII When fear cometh as a storm. . . . — Proverbs 1:27

  Going down to the chambers of death. . . .

  — Proverbs 7:27

  XIV What is the supreme wisdom of man? Not to injure another when he has the power.

  — St. Teilo

  XV The humans kill what they do not un-derstand.

  — Unknown Deryni

  XVI For love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.

  — Song of Solomon 8:6

  XVII There must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be manifest among you.

  — I Corinthians 11:19

  XVIII Stand now with thine enchantments, with the multitudea of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth.

  —Isaiah 47:12

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  278

  DERYNI CHECKMATE

  CHAPTER ONE

  Three things there are which defy prediction: a woman's whims, the touch of the Devil's finger, and the weather of Gwynedd in March.

  —St. Veneric, Triads

  MARCH HAS long been a month" of storms in the Eleven Kingdoms. It brings the snow sweeping down from the great northern sea to layer a last coat of winter on the silver mountains, to seethe and swirl around the high plateaus of the east until it finally funnels across the great Gwynedd plain and turns to rain.

  March is a fickle month at best. It is the last stand of winter against the coming spring, but it is also harbinger of the greening, of the floods which yearly inundate the central lowlands. It has been known to be mild—though not recently. Still, it is spring—close enough for men to dare hope that winter might end early this year; it has, on occasion.

  But those who know the ways of Gwynedd do not build their dreams on the chance of an early spring. For they have learned through hard experience that March is capricious, often cruel, and never, never to be trusted.

  March in the first regnal of King Kelson of Gwynedd was to be no exception.

  2 Deryni Checkmate

  Nightfall had come early in Kelson's capital at Rhe-muth. It often did in March, when- the northern storms rolled in across the Purple March from the north and east.

  This particular storm had struck at midday, pelting the brightly canopied stalls and shops of the market square with hail the size of a man's thumbnail and sending merchants and vendors scurrying for cover. Within an hour, all hope of salvaging the interrupted market day was gone. And so, amidst thunder and rain and the pungent lightning-smell which the wind carried, the merchants had reluctantly packed up their sodden wares, closed up their shops, and left.

  By dusk, the only people to be found on the rainswept streets were those whose business compelled them to be out on such a night-—city watchmen on their rounds, soldiers and messengers on official errands-, citizens scurrying through the wind and cold to the warm hearthsides of their homes.

  Now, as darkness fell and the great cathedral bells in the north of the city rang Evensong, sleet and rain whined through the narrow, deserted streets of Rhe-muth, slashing at the red-tiled roofs and cupolas and filling the cobble-lined gutters to overflowing. Behind rain-blurred windowpanes, the flames of countless evening candles shivered and danced whenever a gust of wind managed to force its way through cracks in wooden doors and shutters. And in houses and taverns, inns and roadhouses, inhabitants of the city huddled around their firesides to take their evening meals, sipped good ale and traded yams while they waited for the storm to subside.

  At the north of the city, the archbishop's palace was likewise under siege from the storm. In the shadow of palace walls, the massive nave of Saint George's Cathedral loomed dark against the blackening sky, stubby bell tower thrust brazenly heavenward, bronze doors sealed tightly against the onslaught.

  Deryni Checkmate 3

  Leather-cloaked household guards patroled the ramparts of the palace proper, collars and hoods muffled close against the cold and wet. Torches hissed and flared under sheltered eaves along the battlements as ihe storm raged and howled and chilled to the .bone.

  Inside, the Lord Archbishop of Rhemuth, the Most Reverend Patrick Corrigan, was snug and warm. Standing before a roaring fireplace, pudgy hands extended toward the flames, he rubbed his hands together briskly to further warm them, then pulled his fur-lined robe more closely around him and padded on slippered feet to a writing desk on the opposite side of the room. Another man, also in episcopal violet, was poring over an elaborate parchment manuscript, squinting in the light of two yellow candles on the desk before him. Half a dozen candle sconces placed around the rest of the room made a feeble attempt to further banish the gloom encroaching from the darkness outside. And a youngish-looking priest-secretary hovered attentively over the man's left shoulder with another light, ready to apply red sealing wax when he was told to do so.

  Corrigan peered over the reader's right shoulder and watched as the man nodded, picked up a quill, and scrawled a bold signature at the foot of the document. The secretary dripped molten wax beside the name, and the man calmly imprinted the wax with his amethyst seal of office. He breathed on the stone and polished it against his velvet sleeve, then looked up at Corrigan and replaced the ring on his finger.

  "That should take care of Morgan," he said.

  Edmund Loris, Archbishop of Valoret and Primate of Gwynedd was an impressive-looking man. His body was lean and fit beneath the rich violet cassock he wore, and the fine silvery hair formed a wispy halo-effect around the magenta skull cap covering his clerical tonsure.
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br />   4 Deryni Checkmate

  The bright blue eyes were hard and cold, however. And the gaunt hawk-face was anything but benificent at the moment. For Loris had just affixed his seal to a document which would shortly cause Interdict to fall upon a large portion of Royal Gwynedd. Interdict— which would cut off the rich Duchy of Corwyn to the east from all sacraments and solace of the Church in the Eleven Kingdoms.

  . It was a grave decision, and one to which both Loris and his colleague had given considerable thought in the past four months. For in all fairness, the people of Corwyn had done nothing to warrant so extreme a measure as Interdict. But nor, on the other hand, could the true cause of the measure be ignored or tolerated any longer. An abhorrent situation had existed and continued to exist within the archbishops' jurisdiction, and it must be stamped out.

  And so the prelates salved their consciences with the rationalization that the threat of Interdict was not, after all, directed against the people of Corwyn, but against one man who was impossible to reach in any other way. It was Corwyn's master, the Deryni Duke Alaric Morgan, who was the object of sacerdotal vengeance tonight. Morgan, who had repeatedly dared to use his blasphemous and heretical Deryni powers to meddle in human affairs and corrupt the innocent, in defiance of Church and State. Morgan, who had initiated the boy-king Kelson into the forbidden practice of that ancient magic and loosed a duel of necromancy in the cathedral itself at Kelson's coronation last fall. Morgan, whose half-Deryni ancestry doomed him to eternal torment and damnation in the Hereafter unless he could be persuaded to recant, to give up his powers and renounce his evil heritage. Morgan, around whom the entire Deryni question now seemed to hinge.

  Archbishop Corrigan frowned and picked up the parchment, his bushy grizzled brows knitting together in a single line as he scanned the text once more. He

  Deryni Checkmate

  5

  pursed his lips and scowled as he finished reading, but then he folded the document with a decisive crackle and held it flat on the desk while his secretary applied wax to the overlap. Corrigan sealed it with his ring, but his hand toyed uneasily with the jeweled pectoral cross on his chest as he eased himself into a chair beside Loris.

  "Edmund, are you sure we—" He halted at Loris' sharp glance, then remembered that his secretary was still awaiting further instructions.

  "That will be all for the moment, Father Hugh. Ask Monsignor Gorony to step in, please."

  The priest bowed and left the room, and Corrigan leaned back in his chair with a sigh.

  "You know that Morgan will never permit Tolliver to excommunicate him/' Corrigan said wearily. "Do you really think the threat of Interdict will stop him?" Duke Alaric Morgan did not technically fall within the jurisdiction of either archbishop, but both were hopeful that the letter on the table would shortly circumvent that small technicality.

  Loris made a steeple of his fingers and gazed across at Corrigan evenly. "Probably not," he admitted. "But his people may. Rumor has it that a band of rebels in northern Corwyn even now preaches the overthrow of their Deryni duke."

  "Humph!" Corrigan snorted derisively, picking up a quill pen and dipping it into a crystal inkwell. "What good can a handful of rebels hope to do against Deryni magic? Besides, you know that Morgan's people love him."

  "Yes, they do—now," Loris agreed. He watched as Corrigan began carefully inscribing a name on the outside of the letter they had written, watched with a hidden smile as the tip of his colleague's tongue followed each stroke of the rounded uncials. "But will they love him as well once the Interdict falls?"

  Corrigan looked up sharply from his finished han-

  6 Deryni Checkmate

  diwork, then vigorously sanded the wet ink with pounce from a silver shaker and blew away the excess.

  "And what of the rebel band then?" Loris continued insistently, eying his companion through narrowed lids. "They say that Warin, the rebel leader, believes himself to be a new messiah, divinely appointed to rid the land of the Deryni scourge. Can you not see how such zealousness could be made to work to our advantage?"

  Corrigart pulled at his lower lip in concentration, then frowned. "Are we to permit self-appointed messi-ahs to go galavanting around the countryside without proper supervision, Edmund? This rebel movement smacks of heresy to me."

  "I've given no official sanction yet," Loris said. "I've not even met this Warin fellow. But you must admit that such a movement could be highly effective, were it given proper guidance. Besides," Loris smiled, "perhaps this Warin is divinely inspired."

  "I doubt it," Corrigan scowled. "How far do you propose to pursue the matter?"

  Loris leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his waist. "The rebel headquarters is reputed to be in the hills near Dhassa,, where the Curia meets later this week. Gorony, whom we send to Corwyn's bishop, has been in touch with the rebels and will return to Dhassa when he finishes his current assignment. I hope to arrange a meeting with the rebel leader then."

  "And until then, we do nothing?"

  Loris nodded; "We do nothing. I do not want the king to know what we are planning, and—"

  There was a discreet knock at the door, followed by the entrance of Corrigan's secretary and an older, nondescript-looking man in the travelling garb of a simple priest. Father Hugh lowered his eyes and bowed slightly as he announced the newcomer.

  Deryni Checkmate 7

  "Monsignor Gorony, Your Excellency."

  Gorony strode to Corrigan's chair and dropped to one knee to kiss the archbishop's ring, then stood at Corrigan's signal to wait attentively

  "Thank you, Father Hugh. I believe that will be all for tonight," Corrigan said, starting to wave dismissal.

  Loris cleared his throat, and Corrigan glanced in his direction.

  "The suspension we spoke of earlier, Patrick? We had agreed that the man must be disciplined, had we not?"

  "Oh, yes, of course," Corrigan murmured. He rummaged briefly among the papers piled at one corner of the desk, then extracted one and pushed it across the desk to Hugh.

  "This is the draft of a writ of summons I need as soon as possible, Father. When the official document is drawn up, would you return it for my signature?"

  "Yes, Excellency/'

  As Hugh took the paper and headed for the door, Corrigan resumed his conversation with Gorony.

  "Now, this is the letter you're to deliver to Bishop Tolliver. I've a barge waiting to take you to'tiie free port of Concaradine, and from there you can take ship with one of the merchant fleets. You should be in Corwyn within three days."

  Father Hugh de Berry frowned as he closed the door to the archbishop's study and began walking down the long, torch-lined corridor toward his chancery office. It was cold and damp, and the corridor was drafty. HugK shivered and clasped his arms across his chest as he walked, debating what he should do.

  Hugh was Patrick Corrigan's personal secretary, and as such was privy to information not normally accessible to one of his comparative youth. He was a bright man, if not brilliant. And he had always been

  8

  Deryni Checkmate

  honest, discreet, and totally loyal to the Church he served through the person of the archbishop.

  Lately, though, his faith had been sorely shaken—at least his faith in the man he served. The letter he had copied for Corrigan this afternoon had helped to do that. And as he remembered, Hugh shivered again— this time, not from the cold.

  Gwynedd was in danger. This had been apparent since King Brion fell at Candor Rhea last fall. It had been evident when Brion's heir, the boy Kelson, had been forced to battle the evil Charissa for his throne but a few weeks later. And it had been painfully obvious whenever Morgan, the boy's Deryni protector, had had to use his awesome powers to slow down the inevitable conflagration that all knew must follow on the heels of such events. And it would follow.

  It was no secret, for example, that the Deryni tyrant Wencit of Torenth would plunge the kingdom into war by midsumme
r at latest. And the young king must certainly he aware of the unrest being generated in his kingdom by rising anti-Deryni sentiment. Kelson had begun to feel the brunt of that reaction ever since the disclosure of his own half-Deryni ancestry at the coronation last fall.

  But now, with Interdict threatened for all of Corwyn—

  Hugh pressed one hand against his chest where the original draft of Corrigan's letter now rested next to his skin. He knew that the archbishop would not approve of what he was about to do—in fact, would be furious if he found out—but the matter was too important for the king not to be made aware of it. Kelson must be warned.

  If Interdict fell on Corwyn, Morgan's loyalties would be divided at a time when all his energies were needed at the king's side. It could fatally affect the king and also Morgan's plans for the war effort. And while Hugh, as a priest, could hardly condone Mor-

  Deryni Checkmate 9

  gan's fearsome powers, they were nonetheless real and needed if Gwynedd was to survive the onslaught.

  Hugh paused beneath the torch outside the chancery office door and-began to scan the letter in his hand, hoping the copy could be entrusted to one of his subordinates. Skipping over the archbishop's standard salutation for such documents, he gasped as he read the name of the addressee, then forced himself to reread it—Monsignor Duncan Howard McLain.

  Duncan' Hugh thought to himself. My God, whafs he done? Duncan McLain was the young confessor to the king, and Hugh's own boyhood friend. They had grown up together, gone to school together. What could Duncan possibly have done to incur such action?

  Knitting his brows together in consternation, Hugh read the letter, his apprehension increasing as he read.

  . . . summarily suspended and ordered fo present yourself before our ecclesiastical court . . . give answer as to why you should not be censured . . . your part in fhe scandals surrounding the king's coronation November last . . . questionable activities . . . consorting with heretics. . .

  My Corf, Hugh thought, unwilling to go on, he's been tainted by Morgan too. I wonder if he knows about this.

  Lowering the paper, Hugh made his decision. Obviously, he must go to the king first. That had been his original intention, and the matter was of kingdom-wide importance.

 
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