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       High Deryni, p.1

           Katherine Kurtz
High Deryni


  Deryni books available from Ace










  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

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

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  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

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  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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  Copyright © 1973, 2007 by Katherine Kurtz.

  The Eleven Kingdoms map copyright © 2004 by Grey Ghost Press, Inc.,; graphic design by Daniel M. Davis, Ann Dupuis, James A. Fox-Davis, and Martine Lynch.

  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 piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  ACE and the “A” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  First revised edition: December 2007

  Originally published in 1973 by Ballantine Books.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Kurtz, Katherine.

  High Deryni / Katherine Kurtz.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  ISBN: 978-1-1012-0885-4

  1. Deryni (Fictitious characters)—Fiction. 2. Gwynedd (Imaginary place)—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3561.U69H54 2007

  813'.54—dc22 2007021621

  For Margaret Frances Carter,

  because every mother

  with an offspring who writes

  should have a book from her Author-Child.

  And with special thanks to

  Tania Ryan,

  for scanning both Deryni Checkmate

  and High Deryni from the original

  paperback editions.




































  THE first spring following the coronation of Kelson King of Gwynedd should have been a time of eager anticipation, as the land lay a-greening along with his newly begun reign. Sadly, he knew full well how precariously lay the crown upon his young head. Only fourteen when his father, King Brion, was slain by magic, the boy-king had immediately taken counsel of the controversial Duke Alaric Morgan, his late father’s close friend and confidant, along with Morgan’s cousin, Father Duncan McLain, who was also chaplain to the royal household. Both were now known to be Deryni, wielders of the same sort of magic that had killed King Brion—and all magic was forbidden by Gwynedd’s powerful Church. Its presiding bishop had suspended Duncan McLain from his priestly function, and the hastily summoned Curia of that same Church had now excommunicated both men.

  Not that Gwynedd’s individual bishops presented a united front. While all of those present at the Curia convened in Dhassa had consented to the excommunication of the pair (albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm), they remained sharply divided on whether further sanctions should be imposed on Morgan’s Duchy of Corwyn; so divided that Gwynedd’s presiding bishop, supported by a slender majority of the other bishops present, had declared the six dissenting bishops to be schismatic and threatened disciplinary action against them. The Six, in turn, had declared for the king and expelled Archbishop Loris and his adherents from the city. Rumor had it that the archbishop and his followers had fled southward and were taking refuge with the anti-Deryni rebel Warin de Grey while they sought support from bishops who had not been present at Dhassa. At least a few of Loris’s supporters had taken their master’s anger seriously enough to attempt more direct disciplinary action against the dissident Six.

  “Someone attacked Wolfram?” Bishop Siward blurted, when a trembling and shaken household chaplain had repeated his disturbing news to several of the Six huddled in Bishop Cardiel’s private withdrawing room.

  “Several ‘someones,’ apparently,” Bishop Tolliver replied, taking off his own cloak to lay it around the shoulders of their informant. He had been present when the young priest had burst into the stable yard, gasping for breath, and had been first to hear the news. “Father Jodoc tells me that they were in the service of Archbishop Loris.”

  “They were, my lords!” the priest agreed. “One of the men even wore the archbishop’s badge under his cloak!”

  “Dear God, has it come to this?” Cardiel whispered.

  “At least we are fortunate in that Wolfram was not harmed,” Bishop Arilan said coolly. “What of the attackers, Father?”

  “All dead, my lord,” Jodoc said promptly, nodding his thanks as a priest called Father Hugh, now secretary to the dissident bishops, pressed a cup of mulled wine into his hand. He indulged in a deep gulp before he continued. “One was killed outright, and another died of his wounds before he could be questioned. They say that a third was pulled to pieces by the crowd.” He looked away briefly before adding softly, “It must have been dreadful.”

  Bishop Istelyn had gone white at the account, and Richard of Nyford shuddered and crossed himself, shaking his head. The pair had joined the original six dissenting bishops at Dhassa several days after the departure of Loris and his adherents, first Istelyn and then Richard, bringing their number to eight. Together, they believed and hoped that Loris had gained no additional support, without which his decree of In
terdict for Corwyn still did not technically have the force of law.

  “I must go to the king,” Istelyn said quietly. “He should know of this latest development.”

  “True enough,” Bishop Arilan replied. “He will not take it kindly that one of his bishops tried to kill another.”

  “Indeed, he will not,” Cardiel agreed. “And he should have one of us in his household to give him heart when Loris continues to make demands. Nor should he be without spiritual counsel when he must eventually face Wencit of Torenth.”

  SOMEWHAT farther north and east of Dhassa, hard on Gwynedd’s border with Torenth, that same Wencit of Torenth was receiving a report of other occurrences in Kelson’s kingdom. Though it had not been he who had threatened Kelson’s crown at the coronation just past, he was of the same dynastic line as the woman whose challenge had failed, and he now counted himself as next in that line of succession. He had long coveted the lands of his neighbor to the west, and but awaited the coming thaws to take advantage of Kelson’s youth and press an invasion plan well advanced even before the assassination of the boy’s father.

  “No one seems to be certain who worked the magic to slay the pair, or whether it was even wholly intended,” Wencit’s informant told him, though his gaze was unfocused, his voice a monotone, for it was not he who spoke to the Torenthi king but a skilled and powerful agent far away, using more reliable magic to convey the information. “Nonetheless, it will have hurt Alaric Morgan to lose his only sister. In addition, the death of the Earl of Kierney leaves Jared Duke of Cassan with only a priest as his heir—though, as you know, Father Duncan McLain does seem to have Deryni powers. Certainly, Gwynedd’s bishops believe that to be true—and have excommunicated both him and Morgan. They even threaten Interdict for Corwyn.”

  “That little concerns me,” the Torenthi sorcerer-king replied with a negligent flick of one beringed hand.

  Shortly after the coronation of his new rival the previous autumn, as soon as the first snows closed the Cardosa Pass from the west, Wencit had begun assembling his army for the next year’s campaign and laid siege to the disputed mountain city of Cardosa, lurking through the winter at the Royal Abbey of Sankt Nikolas with his general staff and a unit of crack cavalry to prevent possible relief efforts to the city. He had occupied Cardosa early in June, immediately after the spring thaws allowed an approach from the east. By then the city had been very hungry. The apartment where he now made his headquarters—and where he had received the messenger seated before him—had belonged to the former royal governor, who now languished in a sparse but decent cell deep in the bowels of the fortress known as Esgair Ddu. The darker man with the scarred face, standing at the king’s elbow, had helped him take the city.

  “Interdict for Corwyn,” the man murmured. “Now, that is an intriguing notion.”

  “But will it make a difference?” Wencit countered.

  “Perhaps.” The dark man jutted his chin toward their ensorcelled informant and raised an eyebrow in query as the Torenthi king glanced in his direction. “If I may, Sire, I should like to explore an earlier point,” he murmured.

  At Wencit’s nod of agreement, the man eased a trifle closer.

  “I would hear more about this attempt on Bishop Wolfram,” he said softly. “Were the assassins truly in the service of Archbishop Loris?”

  The messenger’s expression did not change save for a flicker of comprehension behind the blank eyes. “It may be that they were…encouraged to take such action,” he stated baldly.

  Wencit’s lips curled in a sardonic smile beneath the fox-colored moustache. “My dear cousin, I sometimes think you are altogether too devious, even for one of our kind. Have you no shame?”

  The reply came in the same monotone as before, but still managed to convey a hint of smug satisfaction. “I was under the impression that my lord held little regard for Gwynedd’s religious authorities.”

  “Not for Edmund Loris,” Wencit’s companion murmured almost inaudibly.

  Wencit clucked his tongue in an indication of mild chastisement. “Now, now, Rhydon. You are a son of Gwynedd. A man should have some faith.”

  “He serves your purpose, I suppose, my lord,” Rhydon allowed, returning his gaze to the face of their intermediary. “My Lord Volmer, do you know whether the Six at Dhassa have gained any further support?”

  “Only the two I have already reported, my lord,” came the uninflected reply. “However, there is word from elsewhere that the Haldane’s troops are on the move. The Dukes of Cassan and Claibourne have been sent to secure the northern borders, and the Earl of Eastmarch occupies the plain below the city, where the king will bring his royal armies. Nigel Haldane is said to be probing into Corwyn.”

  “And the Duke of Corwyn?” Wencit asked, allowing himself a tiny, satisfied smile.

  This time, their intermediary’s tone suggested that he shared the opinion of the man whose voice he provided.

  “Apparently on the run, my lord, along with the discredited McLain.”

  “Excellent,” Wencit said softly. “Then it appears that we may proceed exactly as the Haldane has been fearing. How fortunate for us that the thaws come so late to Gwynedd’s side of the mountains.”

  “And how unfortunate for Kelson of Gwynedd,” his informant replied, a trace of smugness coming through the uninflected tone.


  “Abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is death.”


  THE name they had given the boy was Royston—Royston Richardson, after his father—and the dagger he clutched so fearfully in the deepening twilight was not his own. Around him in the fields of Jennan Vale, the bodies of the dead lay stiffening among the rows of newly ripening grain. Night birds hooted in the deathly silence, and wolves yipped in the hills away and to the north. Far across the fields, torches were being lit along the streets of the town, beckoning the living toward what slim comfort numbers might afford. Too many dead of both sides lay cold at Jennan Vale tonight. The battle had been brutal and bloody, even by peasant standards.

  It had begun at midday. The riders of Prince Nigel Haldane, uncle to the boy-king Kelson, had approached the outskirts of the village just past noon, royal lion banners billowing crimson and gold in the noonday sun, the horses sweating lightly in the early summer heat. It was only an advance guard, the prince had said. He and his troop of thirty were merely to scout a route for the royal army’s march toward Coroth to the east—no more.

  For the city of Coroth, seat of local government for the rebellious Duchy of Corwyn, was in the hands of the insurgent archbishops, Loris and Corrigan. And the archbishops, aided and supported by the zealot rebel leader Warin and his followers, were urging a new persecution of the Deryni: a race of powerful sorcerers who had once ruled all the Eleven Kingdoms; the Deryni: long feared, long suppressed, and now personified by Corwyn’s half-Deryni Duke Alaric Morgan, whom the archbishops had excommunicated for his Deryni heresy but three months before.

  Prince Nigel had tried to reassure the folk of Jennan Vale. He had reminded them that the king’s men did not plunder and pillage in their own lands; young Kelson forbade it, as had his father and Nigel’s brother, the late King Brion. Nor was Duke Alaric a threat to the peace of the Eleven Kingdoms—even if the archbishops had ruled otherwise. The belief that the Deryni as a race were evil was superstitious nonsense! Brion himself, though not Deryni, had trusted Morgan with his life, time and again, and had so esteemed the Deryni lord that he had created him King’s Champion, over the objections of his Royal Council. There was no shred of evidence that Morgan had ever betrayed that trust, then or now.

  But the Vale-folk would not listen. The revelation of Kelson’s own half-Deryni ancestry at his coronation the previous fall, though unknown even to Kelson before that day, had opened the door of distrust for the royal Haldane line—a distrust that had not been eased by the young king’s dogged support of the heretic Duke Alaric and his priest-cousin, Duncan McLai
n, now revealed as Deryni himself.

  Even now it was rumored that the king still protected Duke Alaric and McLain; that the king himself had been excommunicated as a result; that he and the hated duke and a host of other Deryni planned to march on Coroth and break the back of the anti-Deryni movement by destroying Loris and Corrigan and the beloved Warin. Why, Warin himself had predicted it.

  So the local partisans had led Prince Nigel’s troops the long way around Jennan Vale, luring them with the promise of ample water and grazing for the royal armies that would follow. In the fields green with half-ripe wheat and oats, the rebels had fallen on the troops in ambush, cutting a swath of death and destruction through the surprised royalist ranks. By the time the king’s men could disengage and retreat with their wounded, more than a score of knights, rebels, and warhorses lay dead or dying, the lion banners stained and trampled amidst the ripening grain.

  Royston froze with his hand on the hilt of his dagger for just an instant, then scuttled past a still body and continued along the narrow cartway toward home. He was only ten, and small for his age at that, but this fact had not prevented him from doing his share of the afternoon’s plundering. The leather satchel slung over his shoulder bulged with food and bits of harness and such other light accoutrements as he had been able to harvest from the fallen enemy. Even the finely etched dagger and sheath thrust through his rude rope belt had been taken from the saddle of a dead warhorse.

  Nor was he squeamish about picking over dead bodies—at least not in daylight. Scavenging was a way of life for peasant folk in time of war; and now that the peasants were in revolt against their duke—indeed, against even their king—it was an urgent necessity as well. The peasants’ weapons were few and crude: mostly pikes and scythes and clubs, or an occasional dagger or sword gleaned from just such an activity as Royston now pursued. Fallen soldiers of the enemy could provide more sophisticated weaponry: fighting harness, helmets, even gold and silver coinage on occasion. The possibilities were unlimited. And here, where the retreating enemy had picked up their wounded and the rebels had cared for their own, there were only dead men to worry about. Even so young a boy as Royston was not afraid of dead men.

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