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Camber of Culdi
The Legends of Camber of Culdi, Volume One
By Katherine Kurtz
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Katherine Kurtz
All rights reserved.
In the multitude of people is the king's honour; but in the want of the people is the destruction of the prince.
— Proverbs 14:28
Though it was but late September, a wintry wind howled and battered at the ramparts of Tor Caerrorie, rattling the narrow, glazed windows in their frames and snapping to tatters the gules/azure MacRorie standard atop the tower keep.
Inside, the only daughter of the Earl of Culdi sat huddled over the manorial accounts beside a crackling hearth, wrapped in a fur-lined mantle against the chill of the deserted great hall, a brindle wolfhound asleep at her feet. Torches guttered on the wall behind her, though it was not yet mid-afternoon, besmirching the stone walls with soot. Smoke mingled with the scent of mutton roasting in the nearby kitchens, and a rushlight cast a yellow glow across the table where she worked. It was with some relief that she finally marked the last entry with her cipher and laid down her quill. Umphred, her father's bailiff, heard her sigh and came to collect the rolls with a bow.
"That completes the accounts for last quarter, mistress. Is all in order?"
Evaine MacRorie, chatelaine of Tor Caerrorie since her mother's death seven years before, favored Umphred with a gentle smile. The wolfhound raised his great head to look at the bailiff, then went back to sleep.
"You knew it would be," Evaine smiled. She touched the old man's hand in affection as he curled the membranes into their storage tubes and gathered them into his arms. "Would you please ask one of the squires to saddle a horse and come to me?" she added. "I have a letter to go to Cathan in Valoret."
As Umphred bowed and turned to go, Evaine pushed a strand of flaxen hair from her forehead, then began nibbling at an inkstain on her thumb as she glanced at the letter on the table. She wondered what Cathan would say when he got the letter. For that matter, she wondered how her other brother, Joram, would react when the news reached him.
Actually, Cathan's reaction was not difficult to predict. He would be shocked, dismayed, outraged, in turn; but then the double bond of friendship to his king and duty to his father's people would move him to plead the king's mercy, to urge the tempering of royal wrath with princely pardon. Though the MacRories themselves were not implicated in what had happened, the incident had taken place on Camber's hereditary lands. She wondered whether Imre would be in one of his difficult moods.
Joram, on the other hand, was not so bound by the cautious duty which ruled his elder brother. An avowed priest of the militant Order of Saint Michael, Joram was apt to explode in one of the grandiloquent tirades for which the Michaelines were so justly famous, when he heard the news. However, it was not the possibility of Joram's eloquent and caustic rhetoric which made Evaine apprehensive; it was the fact that the priests of Saint Michael were just as likely to follow verbal pyrotechnics with physical action, if prudence did not take the upper hand. The Michaelines were a fighting as well as a teaching order. More than once, their intervention in secular affairs had touched off incidents best forgotten by their more contemplative brethren.
She consoled herself with the probability that Joram would not receive the news until he got home for Michaelmas two days hence, then stood and stretched and fished for a missing slipper in the rushes with one stockinged toe, bidding the hound remain in the hall. Perhaps, by Michaelmas, the situation would have resolved itself — though Evaine doubted it. But whatever the outcome, the MacRories' Michaelmas would be a bit more sober than usual this year. Joram would be home, of course, bringing her beloved Rhys with him; but Cathan and his wife and sons must remain in Valoret with the Court. The young king was demanding, and no more than on the time and attention of his favorites, like Cathan. Evaine remembered the long months her father had spent at Court, when he had been in the old king's service.
A squire came and bent his knee to her, and she bantered with him briefly before handing over the missive he was to deliver to her brother. Then she pulled her mantle close and crossed the rush-strewn hall, to make her way up the narrow, newel staircase to her father's study. She and Camber had been translating the classic sagas of Pargan Howiccan, the Deryni lyric poet, and this afternoon Camber had promised to go over a particularly difficult passage with her. She marvelled again at the many facets of the man who was her father, fond memories accompanying her up the spiral stair.
Camber's secular successes had never been quite anticipated, nor were they by design. In his youth, he had been preparing for the clergy and had earned impressive academic credentials at the new university in Grecotha, under some of the greatest minds of the century. There would have been no limit to his rise in the Church.
But when plague took two elder brothers and left him heir to the MacRorie lands and name — and he not yet under his final vows — he had found himself quite rudely plucked from the religious life by his father and thrust into the secular world — and found he liked it. Further honing of his abilities as an educated layman, and an earl's son at that, had been accomplished, earning him wide academic notoriety long before he was first called to the Court at Valoret. When the old king's father, Festil III, had sought the most brilliant men in the land to advise him, Camber had had little competition. The next quarter-century was spent mostly in the royal service.
But that was past. Now in his late fifties, Camber had retired three years ago, on the death of King Blaine, to his beloved Caerrorie, birthplace of himself and his five children. It was not the principal seat of the Culdi earls; that was reserved to the great fortress tower of Cor Culdi, on the Kierney border, which Camber still visited several times a year to preside over the feudal court. But here, near to the capital and his children's active lives, he was free at last to resume the academic pursuits which he had abandoned for the Court so many years before — this time in the company of a fair, witty, and insatiably curious daughter whose depths he had but lately begun to discover.
If confronted, he would have vigorously denied that he favored any one of his children above the others, for he loved all of them fiercely; but Evaine unquestionably occupied a special place in his life and his heart — Evaine, youngest of his living children and the last to remain at home. Evaine accepted this facet of her father as she accepted all the others, without consciously stopping to analyze it — and without needing to.
She reached her father's door and knocked lightly before slipping the latch and going inside.
Camber was seated behind a curved hunt table, the leather surface littered with rolls of parchment and ink-stained quills and other accoutrements of the academic mind. Her cousin, James Drummond, was with him, and both of them stopped speaking as she entered the room.
Cousin James looked decidedly angry, though he tried to conceal it. Camber's face was inscrutable.
"I beg your pardon, Father. I didn't know Jamie was with you. I can come back later."
"There's no need, child." Camber stood, both hands resting lightly on the table. "James was just leaving, weren't you, James?"
James, a blurred, darker copy of the silver-blond man behind the table, hitched at his belt in annoyance and controlled a scowl. "Very well, sir, but I'm still not satisfied with your analysis. I'd like to return tomorrow and discuss it further, if you don't mind."
"Certainly I don't mind, James," the older man said easily. "I am always willing to listen to well-reasoned arguments different from my own. In fact, stay and share Michaelmas with us, if you can. Cathan won't be here, but Joram is coming, and Rhys. We'd love to have you join us."
Disarmed by Camber's reply, James murmured his thanks and something about having things to do, then bowed stiffly and made his exit.
With raised eyebrows, Evaine turned to face her father, leaning thoughtfully against the closed door.
"Goodness, what was that about? Or shouldn't I ask?"
Camber crossed to the stone fireplace — a rare luxury in so small a room — and pulled two chairs closer, gesturing for her to sit. "A slight difference of opinion, that's all. James looks to me for guidance, now that his father is dead. I fear he didn't get the answer he wanted to hear."
He yanked on a bell cord, then busied himself with poking at the fire until a liveried servant appeared at the door with refreshment. Evaine watched curiously as her father took the tray and bade the servant go. Then, cupping a goblet of mulled wine between her palms, she gazed across at him. Despite the fire and the tapestried walls, it was chill in the old room.
"You're very quiet this afternoon, Father. What is it? Did Jamie tell you about the murder in the village last night?"
Camber tensed for just an instant, then relaxed. He did not look up. "You know about that?"
She spoke carefully. "When a Deryni is killed, practically under one's window, one learns of it. They say that the king's men have taken fifty human hostages, and that the king intends to invoke the Law of Festil if the murderer is not found."
Camber drank deeply of his wine and stared into the fire. "A barbarous custom — to hold an entire village to blame for the death of one man — even if the man was a Deryni."
"Aye. Maybe it was a necessary barbarism in the early days," Evaine mused. "How else for a conquering race, few in numbers, to secure its hold over the conquered? But you know how much Rannulf was disliked, even among our own people. Why, I remember that Cathan practically had to evict him bodily from Caerrorie one day, when you were still at Court. If gentle Cathan would do that, I can imagine how boorish the man must have been."
"If we execute every boor in Gwynedd, I think there will be few folk left." Camber smiled wryly. "However you feel about Rannulf as a person, he did not deserve death — and certainly not the sort of death he met." He paused. "I assume, since you know of the incident, that you also know the details of the murder?"
"Only that it was not a pretty sight."
"And it was not the work of our peasants, though the king's agents would have it so," Camber retorted. He stood and leaned his arm against the mantelpiece, his thumb tracing the wood graining on the goblet in his hand. "Rannulf was hanged, drawn, and quartered, Evaine, in as professional a manner as I have ever seen. The peasants of this village aren't capable of such finesse. Besides, the king's Truth-Readers have already probed the hostages and learned nothing. Some of the villagers think — mind you, they think — that it may have been the work of the Willimites. But no one really knows, or can supply any names."
Evaine snorted derisively. "The Willimites! Yes, I suppose Rannulf would have been a likely target. There's been talk that a child was molested last week in one of Rannulf's villages a few miles from here. Did you know that?"
"Are you implying that Rannulf was responsible?"
Evaine arched an eyebrow at him. "The villagers think so. And it's well known that Rannulf kept a catamite at his castle in Eastmarch. He was nearly excommunicated last year, until he bought off his local bishop. The Willimites may have decided that the time had come to take matters into their own hands. Saint Willim was a martyr from Deryni ill-use, you know."
"You hardly need remind me of my history, daughter," Camber smiled. "You've been talking to Joram again, haven't you?"
"May I not speak with my own brother?"
"Nay, don't ruffle your feathers, child." Camber chuckled. "I shouldn't want to be accused of fostering ill-will between brother and sister. Only, be a little prudent with Joram. He's young yet, and a bit impulsive sometimes. If he and his Michaelines aren't careful, they're liable to have young Imre breathing down their necks with an inquisition, Deryni or not."
"I know Joram's weaknesses, Father — just as I know yours."
She glanced at him coyly and caught his indulgent expression, then smiled and stood, relieved by the chance to change the subject.
"May we translate now, Father? I've prepared the next two cantos."
"Have you, now?" he asked. "Very well, bring the manuscript."
With a pleased sigh, Evaine darted to the table and began searching among the rolls. She located the scroll she was looking for, but before she could turn away her eye was caught by a small, pale golden stone lying beside one of the inkwells. She picked it up.
"What is this?"
"This curious golden stone. Is it a gem?"
Camber smiled and shook his head. "Not really. The mountain folk in Kierney call it shiral. It comes out of the river that way, already polished. Bring it here and I'll show you something peculiar about it."
Evaine returned to her chair and sat, settling the forgotten scroll in her lap as she held the stone to the firelight. It glittered, slightly translucent, strangely compelling. She passed it to her father without a word as he set aside his wine goblet.
"Now," said Camber, gesturing expansively with the stone in his hand, "you're familiar with the spell Rhys uses to extend perception before he heals — the one he taught you and Joram as an aid to meditation?"
Rhys's image flashed before her for just an instant and she blushed. "Of course."
"Well, on my last trip to Culdi, I found this. I happened to have it in my hand one night while I said my evening devotions, and it — Well, watch. It's easiest to show you."
Holding the object lightly in the fingers of his two hands, Camber inhaled, exhaled, his eyes narrowing slightly as he passed into the earliest stages of a Deryni trance. His breathing slowed, the handsome face relaxed — and then the stone began to glow faintly. Camber brought his eyes back to focus and extended his hands toward Evaine, still in trance, the stone still glowing.
Evaine's lips formed a silent O.
"How do you do it?" she breathed.
"I'm not exactly sure."
Camber blinked and broke the spell, and the stone-light died. He cupped it between his hands for a mere heartbeat, then held it out to her with a shake of his head.
"You try it."
Taking the stone in one hand, Evaine passed her other hand over it and bowed her head, mentally reciting the words which would bring Rhys's trance. The stone did nothing for several seconds as she explored its several avenues of approach; then it began to glow. With a sigh, Evaine returned to the world, held the stone closer as the light was extinguished.
Excerpted from Camber of Culdi by Katherine Kurtz. Copyright © 1976 Katherine Kurtz. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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