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Thoughts on In The King’s Service

Started by Evie, January 20, 2017, 10:41:33 AM

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By Melissa Houle

As I do with each new Deryni novel that passes my way, I did not so much read In The King's Service the first time through—I devoured it. What was different about this time was that the book was in paperback galley form sent by Katherine's publisher, and I was reading it during my visit to Holybrooke Hall in September, 2003. Was it any wonder I stayed up very late to read "just one more page" each night during my visit?

My second, more mindful reading took place in November after the official release. In several ways, this book represents something of a departure from the usual Deryni novel. Some of the novels in the Camberian timeline cover time spans of a year or two, but in most cases, the action takes place in the space of months or weeks. In the King's Service covers nine years, and the pace is rapid out of necessity. The Camberian Council, the court and the church all supply a large cast of characters, some familiar from appearances or mentions in previous books, some entirely new, including the ducal family of Corwyn. No single character dominates the novel, but the four most important characters are Lady Jessamy MacAthan, King Donal Haldane, Lady Alyce de Corwyn, and Sir Kenneth Morgan. In many ways, In the King's Service is an informational novel, and a great deal of its function appears to be supplying information about the socio-political and religious atmosphere of the Eleven Kingdoms at the middle point of Donal Haldane's reign in preparation for what is to come in the next two novels.

The Camberian Council
Regarding the Camberian Council, there are some familiar names on the roster as the novel opens, most notably, Vivienne and Barret de Laney. Adding to the complement is Sir Seisyll Arilan, uncle to Jamyl and Denis Arilan. Barrett's elder sister, Lady Dominy de Laney, the previously mentioned Michon de Courcy, Sir Sief McAthan, and the hitherto unknown Oisín Adair complete the company. This starting line-up changes almost at once, when Sief McAthan is killed in self-defense by King Donal when Sief attacks him in blind rage after discovering his supposed son is actually Donal's bastard. Replacing Sief is Khoren Vastouni, uncle to Sofiana, the future sovereign Princess of Andelon, and Camberian Council member. As a body politic, the Camberian Council has some clout to reinforce its aims, and defying the Council was not lightly done in 1082 when the novel begins. Lewys ap Norfal's dangerous experiment at Coroth Castle in 1052 was a rare act of rebellion.

We can only speculate at the eventual fate of Dominy de Laney, Oisín Adair, Khoren Vastouni and Seisyll Arilan. Whether they retire from the council, or leave on account of age or death, or whether they tangle with the Church of Gwynedd and come off worst is currently unknown. As the council debates the wisdom of getting rid of Alexander Darby, an eminent anti-Deryni priest and author of De Natura Deryniorum, it seems possible that one or two may have encountered a mishap, and either died, or were forced to go into hiding. Michon de Courcy is still alive at the end of In The King's Service, we must wait to find out what his fate will be. Vivienne and Barrett are the survivors, and plainly, Seisyll Arilan was succeeded by his nephews, Jamyl and Denis upon his eventual death or retirement. As Khoren's niece, Sofiana may have been recruited during his lifetime, or filled his vacant seat after death.

The Church of Gwynedd in 1082
The Church of Gwynedd, too, both is and is not familiar over the course of In the King's Service. If Alexander Darby's treatise, De Natura Deryniorum has become required reading in the seminaries of Gwynedd, we may surmise the official stance of the church has not changed much since 928. The Custodes Fidei may no longer exist as such, but their spiritual heirs are alive and well. Bishop Oliver de Nore, the Archbishop who later burns Jorian de Courcy in The Priesting of Arilan, is the ecclesiastical enemy du jour, as is his brother, Father Septimus de Nore. Bishop Patrick Corrigan who is Archbishop of Rhemuth by the end of Brion's reign also appears briefly. Edmund Loris is not yet a player in In the King's Service, but he will no doubt surface in volume two or three.

Fortunately for the Haldanes, the church no longer has the stranglehold upon them that Hubert MacInnis had on Alroy, Javan and Rhys Michael. It still manages to make its power felt when Donal takes revenge on Septimus de Nore who murdered his illegitimate son, Krispin. Balancing them are various more benevolent priests; Princess Dulchesse's chaplain, and two priests at the Convent of Notre Dame d'Arc en Ciel where Alyce, Marie and Zoë Morgan are educated. Father Paschal Didier, family chaplain to Keryell Earl of Lendour and his children is the most instrumental to the story. As a native of Bremagne and a Deryni chaplain to a Deryni noble household, Father Paschal functions somewhat outside the loop of the Church of Gwynedd. He does not appear to be directly under the authority of any Gwyneddan bishop.

The religious atmosphere during Donal's reign, while certainly not friendly or favorable to Deryni in terms of official policy, appears a degree or two more relaxed than at the end of Brion's reign in Deryni Rising. To be openly Deryni is still unwise, especially at court, but simply being Deryni is not an automatic death sentence—at least not if one has royal protection. Jessamy is not widely known to be Deryni, and Alyce and Marie de Corwyn, while being known Deryni, do not appear to live in perpetual fear of religious persecution. Jessamy's daughter, Sister Iris Jessilde, is a professed nun at Arc en Ciel, and it is implied she may not be the only Deryni there. Ahern de Corwyn is the acknowledged Earl of Lendour after his father's death, and although by the Statutes of Ramos, he cannot inherit his senior title of Duke of Corwyn until age twenty-five, the church will not be able to prevent his inheritance when that time comes. In strategic terms, Donal's need for a strong Deryni defense against Torenth in the southeast trumps the will of the Archbishop of Valoret. There is a showdown of ecclesiastical and temporal power at the end of In The King's Service, but it is mild, compared with Loris's open rebellion against Kelson thirty-odd years later.

Marriage and Family Life
Another departure for In The King's Service is the number of prominent women, some previously mentioned in earlier books. There is far greater emphasis on marriage and family life in this novel, between intermittent Mearan campaigns and a Torenthi invasion of Corwyn in 1089. We glimpse the start of Sief and Jessamy's marriage in The Green Tower thirty years before In The King's Service, and see it end only pages into the first chapter of this novel. The most Sief and Jessamy appear able to do is to beget children and tolerate one another the rest of the time. While Sief is understandably outraged to learn his wife and king cheated him of his longed-for son, he has not been much of a father to his four daughters by Jessamy in the meantime. While neither Sief nor Jessamy would betray one other to a true enemy, the blame for their unhappy marriage cuts in both directions. Jessamy makes it clear that she puts up with her husband out of duty, reserving her true affection for the queens and princesses of Gwynedd whom she serves as a lady-in-waiting. In the prologue Sief states the only alternative to marriage for Jessamy was death, and the Camberian Council does not contradict him—not the most stellar moment in the Council's long history. Surely, seven adult Deryni should not have been so frightened of an eleven-year-old girl's potential, however dangerous and reckless her father had been, and why did none of them bother to explain anything to her? Instead, they might have fostered Jessamy to the care of Duke Stiofan Anthony de Corwyn where she'd have had Stevana for company, and the potential to grow up a happier woman. Nor, as Jessamy reaches adulthood, does the Council give her credit for having any common sense or loyalty. Jessamy shows she possesses both these qualities when Sief takes her to court after their marriage. Princess Dulchesse Haldane gives Jessamy the attention and affection she craves, and Dulchesse and her successors are rewarded with years of Jessamy's love and loyal service. While pitiable, Jessamy is not altogether sympathetic or trustworthy in In The King's Service. I found her interesting nonetheless—she may know what is necessary to survive, but she doesn't always have to like it.

Stevana de Corwyn is dead before the novel opens, but through tantalizing hints, it's clear she had no more say about her marriage than Jessamy did. Whether Earl Keryell of Lendour was ambitious, amorous, impetuous, or all three when he abducts and forcibly marries Stevana after Duke Stiofan's death is not known. He benefits from the marriage, as he gains three daughters and a son to replace his dead first heir; becomes a principal regent in Corwyn, and his bloodline is joined to the ducal family of Corwyn, which may have been his aim, all along. We can only guess whether Stevana benefited, as we do not know what married life was like for her, and she dies when her children are quite young. Keryell fosters Alyce, Marie and Ahern to the Orsal's court for several years, suggesting at least he was a less than devoted father. As Prince Sobbon von Horthy had several children of his own, the three Corwyn children would have had plenty of playmates, but not much individual adult attention. Just at the beginning of ITKS, Keryell recalls them, and fosters his two daughters to court in Rhemuth prior to taking a third wife. Keryell keeps Ahern with him, no doubt to begin teaching him lessons in statecraft before he inherits Lendour and Corwyn.

On the surface, it seems surprising that Alyce is the future mother of Alaric Morgan who spends his youth and early adulthood as the center of controversy at King Brion's court. Alyce herself does not appear to be a rebel at all, leaving the defiance to her younger sister, Marie. Alyce does to all that is asked of her, and in the end, Marie does the same, although not without protest. It may be that Alyce learned obedience and good behavior were the surest way to secure adult approval and attention during her time at the Orsal's court, and simply never outgrew the habit. When Donal Haldane assumes most of the responsibility for her future, Alyce may have further realized she would have to do the king's will no matter what her personal feelings were, and unlike Jessamy, decided to make the best of her lot. Marie is not so easily guided, and her love for Sir Sé Trelawney, a young Corwyn knight in Keryell's and Ahern's service, eventually proves to be her downfall, although not because of the king. Alyce's good temper appears to serve her well enough. When compared to the lives of other Deryni since the Restoration, Alyce and Marie must be considered fortunate within certain parameters. While they see little of their father and brother for almost four years, as highborn young women under the protection of both the king and queen of Gwynedd, they lead very pleasant, safe lives.

My greatest exception to Alyce's equanimity is that she retains it, even in the face of devastating personal losses. She certainly grieves for her father, sister and brother in turn, and is not left entirely bereft, as by the time of Marie's and Ahern's deaths, she has been reunited with her twin sister, Vera. She also has her friend Zoë Morgan and her father, Sir Kenneth Morgan for support. Still, Alyce shows no prolonged depression, bitterness or rebellion, as one might expect to see in a young woman who has lost almost all her family within the space of four years. Being unjustly excommunicated for following Donal's orders does not appear to faze her very much. As heiress to the only Gwyneddan Duchy under Deryni control since before the Restoration, I would have expected somewhat more anxiety over the future of her family's lands and titles from Alyce, as well.

Concerning Vera (de Corwyn) Howard, the novels in the Kelsonian timeline make it clear that Alyce and Vera's true relationship and consequently, Duncan's Deryni blood, was successfully kept secret after the death of both sisters and far into Duncan's adulthood. How this secret was kept had to be explained at some point in the Childe Morgan books. That Keryell and Stevana could give up one of their infant twin daughters, even for her protection, seems fantastic, but it does account for the secret. For all that she is separated from her real parents, sisters and brother for most of her childhood, Vera may have been the happiest of the four de Corwyn children, and outlives all her siblings. Upon her adolescence, she is brought to Keryell's household as a lady-in-waiting to his third wife, Lady Rosmerta. There, she learns Keryell is her real father, and acquires magical tutoring from Father Paschal. Later, she is brought to court by Queen Richeldis, at the suggestion of Alyce and Marie, where she eventually makes a good match with Earl Jared McLain. We know from Deryni Checkmate that her marriage to Jared was long and happy. No doubt we shall come to know Vera better in the second and third Childe Morgan books, as she raises Alaric and Bronwyn Morgan, Kevin McLain, and her own son, Duncan.

Queen Richeldis Haldane is another happy woman and wife, for all that she and Donal are decades apart in age. She appears very content with her lot in life as a whole. Perhaps Richeldis was taught to expect little and forgive much in marriage, or else she has a gift for taking her happiness wherever she finds it. She and Donal appear genuinely fond of one another with a true compatibility that transcends their age difference. They are secure enough that their marriage can encompass some affectionate teasing and informality. Richeldis gives Donal four sons and two daughters within the course of the novel, so she must enjoy great favor and status at court, given her dynastic success. To all indications, Brion and Nigel and their brothers and sisters had fairly stable, happy childhoods as royal childhoods go. The only mystery is what became the rest of these Haldane princes and princesses in the years between In the King's Service and Deryni Rising, when there is not so much as a mention of their presence or their fates.

If Richeldis ever wonders about the strong Haldane resemblance between her sons and Krispin MacAthan, she does not mention it, nor does she express any bitterness toward Jessamy or Donal that we ever see. It may be that she can handle the situation as long as she never brings the accusation into the open—if she does not acknowledge it, then her husband and friend did not betray her. Alternatively, it's possible if unlikely that Richeldis did know Donal planned to give their children a Deryni protector and how it was done. Royalty demands certain personal sacrifices in the service of the realm, and Donal is very much king first and husband second. It cannot be denied that the danger of Festillic and Furstán challengers has been a continuing threat to the Haldanes.

Whatever fears Alyce might have for Corwyn are apparently assuaged by her marriage to Sir Kenneth Morgan who becomes principal regent for the duchy. Discreet, loyal and competent, but unassuming, Kenneth Morgan is a welcome addition to the numbers of 'good' humans in the Deryni cannon. He is also bowled over by Donal's royal favor in allowing him, a man of no great fortune or title in his own right, to marry Alyce. It is at once a romantic fantasy come true and a gigantic social promotion for Kenneth Morgan. Alyce gains a loyal champion, and a companion who is intelligent, well read and conversational. As he and Alyce have known each other, their mutual good will transforms from a quasi father-daughter affection at the start to a true, happy marriage by the end. At the very end of the novel, Kenneth shows superhuman restraint at finding Donal in his very bedchamber, apparently intent on fathering a child upon Alyce, without her knowledge or consent. Two factors may have had influence on Kenneth at that point. First of all, he has benefited enormously through royal favor, and the man who can take everything he values and all that he has gained away from him is the same king who has tried to wrong him. Not to mention that to strike one's king is treasonous and potentially deadly.

Secondly, Kenneth knows what Donal does not; he has already fathered a child on Alyce, despite the king's efforts to keep the couple apart in the first months of their marriage. Knowing they have the upper hand concerning what the king most wanted, Alyce and Kenneth can afford to be gracious and opt to forgive Donal. Nor is Donal's quest for a Deryni protector for his sons in vain at the end, as Alaric Morgan is born at the end of the epilogue.

Looking Ahead
The quartet of main characters in In The King's Service is already reduced by Jessamy's death near the end of the novel. According to genealogical charts, both Donal and Alyce are not much longer for this world, and Kenneth Morgan will not survive them by very many years. Since Alaric is still very young when Alyce dies, Kenneth will no doubt still play an important part in the first half of volume two. Vera Howard McLain and Duke Jared, who help raise Alaric and Bronwyn Morgan with their own sons, Kevin and Duncan, will also likely be prominent. The setting too, will change, as Alaric spends much of his childhood in Culdi, Kierney and Cassan with his aunt and uncle. I will look forward to Alaric's return to court at age nine in particular, and the beginning of his long, deep friendship with King Brion. I have been curious about that friendship ever since my first reading of Deryni Rising nearly three decades ago, and can hardly wait to find out about it in book two.

Melissa Houle

Head, Department of Wishful Thinking
You can have a sound mind in a healthy body--Or you can be a nanonovelist!


I had a little extra time to do some reading tonight. Shiral, I really enjoyed your summation of the ITKS. Nice recap. Thanks.
May your horses have wings and fly!

Raksha the Demon

Excellent review of In the King's Service.

I actually found myself far more intrigued by Jessamy McCathan's rather tragic life than I was by the life of Alyce de Corwyn.  Alyce's narrative never really interested me very much; indeed, until Donal decreed a marriage between her and Kenneth Morgan, she's more of a witness to life in the convent and life at court and not that much of a participant.  Jessamy is more of a tragic heroine, or fleshed-out fallen woman if one goes by old-fashioned stereotypes; Jessamy has a compelling, vibrant quality to her characterization that I don't find in Alyce (who is maybe too sweet-and-light).  I don't always admire Jessamy, but note that she is a survivor of terrible circumstances who has been pushed around and emotionally bullied since she was a child and she still manages to love her children and give loyalty (and more, I know) to the king in grateful memory of a queen who treated her like a human being. 

Septimus de Nore gets my vote for Worst Villain of All the Deryni Books, with the men who raped Krispin coming in a close second.  I don't think that even Wencit of Torenth would have stooped to shoving a recently raped child down a well head-first to drown for no particular reason; and I think he would have been too meticulous to force himself on a child to begin with...Krispin's last hour was terrible; and I can't blame Donal for the terrible death he gave the boy's murderer.  (I also think that the horrible rape and death of Krispin did not mesh very well with the rest of the narrative in the book; there hadn't been any particular threat to Krispin ever, he was known to be a King's page and thus under the King's favor, and then, suddenly, he's set upon and raped and then murdered by a priest who had pulled his two assailants away from him for no other reason than the priest calling Krispin a "Deryni brat" - it just seemed like the sexual assault of the boy was shoehorned into the plot; and I can't remember Septimus de Nore seeming particularly put out by a Deryni brat becoming a royal page, even though he hated Deryni in general; the only explanation that is given is that the men who raped Krispin were in the service of a Lord Deldour, who hated Deryni and who had been observed talking to Septimus; but Krispin's memories don't support the idea of Septimus acting in concert with Deldour's servants)

I also thought it rather a shame that Vera's adoptive parents were never told that she was switched with their own stillborn child; and that Vera never (unless I'm not remembering right) trusted Jared enough to tell him the truth about her heritage - and neither did their son Duncan...

I wondered whether Queen Richeldis did know about Donal's philanderings; and just kept quiet about it.  They had a good relationship; he treated her with respect and they seemed to like each other a lot; maybe that was enough for Richeldis, and she was smart enough to know that Donal was not the sort of man to be faithful and she might as well accept it in good grace.