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Main Characters in 'In The King’s Service'

Started by Evie, January 20, 2017, 10:47:22 AM

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Unicorn636 (RIP)

By Susan Werner

Katherine's newest novel, In the King's Service, introduces us to a group of fascinating characters who inhabit Gwynedd and the Eleven Kingdoms during the late 11th Century. This is our first in-depth look at Gwynedd in the era between Rhys Michael and Kelson. And this definitely is a different Gwynedd. While Deryni are still persecuted by fanatical religious leaders like Oliver de Nore, his brother Septimus, and Alexander Darby, Deryni seem to exist in more safety than they did in Javan and Rhysem's time. Major changes have already occurred in the Camberian Council which was comprised almost entirely of Gwyneddan Deryni in the Camberian and immediately post-Camberian era. Now, as in the Kelsonian era, most of the Camberian Council members live and work in realms outside of Gwynedd. Since analyzing all the characters and the Camberian Council would make this a novel-length column, let's look specifically at four major characters: Jessamy, Donal, Alyce, and Kenneth.

Jessamy is a rather tragic character. Robbed of her girlhood by her mother's death and her father's disappearance and apparent demise during a mysterious magical endeavor, Jessamy is forced into a loveless marriage and lives most of her life controlled by Deryni who detest her simply because of her father's actions. Did Lewys ap Norfal care little for his daughter to leave her in the hands of the members of the Camberian Council he had just defied? Or was his magical endeavor so important that it made sacrificing his daughter worthwhile? And if the latter, did he achieve any measure of success to make his own and his daughter's sacrifices worthwhile? Hopefully Katherine will someday tell us the whole Lewys ap Norfal story.

After being forced to marry Seif, eleven-year-old Jessamy comes to King Malcolm's court where she finds friends and safety with Princess Dulchesse. Dulchesse protects her from Seif's lust until she turns fourteen, at which point she must go to Sief's bed and bear him children. Alas, Jessamy's firstborn son and all other sons until Krispin, died in childbirth or are stillborn. She does seem to enjoy mothering her daughters and enjoys her friendships with Dulchesse, Sile, and Richeldis.

Despite the Camberian Council's fears that Jessamy will cause some kind of trouble as her father did, Jessamy apparently does nothing remotely questionable until she embarks upon an affair with King Donal. It seems that perhaps Jessamy actually loves Donal; certainly she enjoys sharing his bed more than she enjoys sharing Sief's bed. "His (Krispin's) very begetting had been profoundly different from any of the others – no resentful and resigned yielding to marital duty, but welcome fruit of a well-planning series of quick, focused couplings...the memory stirred a pleasant aching in her loins."

Did Donal and Jessamy continue their relationship after Krispin's birth? We do not know, though it seems unlikely since Donal now has what he most desired: a son and magical protector for his heir. Whether she loves Donal or not, Jessamy definitely loves their son, Krispin. She also does not truly mourn Sief, though she does nothing to assist Donal in mindripping him. Of course, we don't know if Jessamy participated in Donal's empowerment ritual. And if Jessamy did not, then who did? Someone obviously helped Donal gain access to his Deryni/Haldane powers. If not Jessamy, then either a Deryni was working in Rhemuth in secret for many years or someone on the Camberian Council was taking action without the Council's knowledge. (We know this happens in the Kelsonian era with Coram and later Tiercel). The latter seems more likely, since one would think that a Deryni who worked outside the Council might have felt moved to assist Jessamy in somehow defying the Council and finding freedom from their rigid control of her life.

Apparently, Jessamy comes to accept the Council's role in her life and in the working's of Gwyneddan politics, since before her death she tells Seisyll Arilan the truth about Krispin's parentage, Sief's death, and Donal's plans for Alyce. Given Jessamy's obvious fondness for Alyce, it seems somewhat surprising that she would assist Donal in taking Alyce without her consent in an attempt to produce another Deryni protector for Brion. Perhaps she agrees to this out of love for Donal. Or perhaps she wishes once more to circumvent the will of the Camberian Council. The latter, however, seems unlikely given her confession to Seisyll; though if she did assist Donal in his empowerment she takes that secret to her grave.

Whatever her actions, I find Jessamy a very sympathetic character who would have been more than justified in acting out against Sief or the Camberian Council. If she truly possessed the dangerous powers the Council feared, what might she have been able to accomplish?

Donal is a much less sympathetic character than Jessamy or than many of the other Haldanes (Javan, Rhysem, and Kelson) whom we know and love. Donal seems to use his powers rather casually and to act with little concern for the feelings and needs of those around him. Jessamy obviously felt great affection for him; yet one suspects for Donal their coupling represented merely the means to an end, "an affair of state." He believes that his queen's barrenness justifies his infidelity. And while he regrets killing Sief, he considers this also a necessary act of kingship. Sief would not accept Donal's child, therefore Sief had to die. Perhaps such ruthlessness is necessary in a Gwyneddan king of this era, but it makes Donal much less sympathetic that most of the other kings we have come to know.

Later we see Donal use Jorian's Deryni abilities to assist in questioning military prisoners; once again using Deryni with little care for their feelings about the task. Given his close work with Jorian, perhaps Jorian empowered Donal. But Jorian, too, seems to be under the control of the Council – he willingly agrees to investigate Jessamy and Krispin when Oisin visits him.

After Krispin's death, we for the first time see Donal truly grieving and emotional. Yet his anger quickly turns to a need for vengeance and he uses Alyce to prove the killers' guilt and then begins plotting to impregnate Alyce as he did Jessamy. While Donal appears to have been an efficient king who keeps the peace as well as any might in his world, he seems somewhat lacking in sensitivity and genuine affection for anyone other than Krispin. And one wonders if he loved Krispin primarily for who he was as a person or because of the way in which he planned to use him to assist Brion.

While his relationship with Jessamy is understandable, as is his desire to provide his son with a loyal Deryni protector, Donal's decision to take Alyce without her knowledge or consent cannot be viewed as other than rape. Eventually, of course, he fails in this plan because Father Paschal has undone Jessamy's controls on Alyce's mind and because Alyce is already carrying Kenneth's child. Donal seems genuinely ashamed of his actions when he weeps with Alyce and appears even to feel guilty for the way he treated Jessamy. Only time and Childe Morgan II will tell if and how much this experience has changed Donal.

We first meet Alyce when she and her sister, Marie, come to Carthanelle to be fostered at court after their father's marriage to Rosmerta, Alyce possesses a feisty nature we have rarely seen in Gwyneddan women, other than Evaine and Rhysel. When she goes to Arc en Ciel she repeatedly makes it clear that she and her sister have come there to study, not to take permanent vows. She maintains strength and courage while living at Arc en Ciel with the evil Father Septimus de Nore. Also we don't get to see the details of their conflict, but apparently Alyce prevailed since Father Septimus is sent away. Later Alyce stands beside her sisters during the traumatic loss of their father and the shocking discovery that Vera is her sister. Alyce seems to possess the same strength and courage as her brother, Ahern, although she is tested in different ways.

While Ahern must fight through pain and a crippling injury, Alyce must patiently sit by waiting for the king to choose a husband for her and watching as the men she loves, first father and then brother, die.

At Arc en Ciel, Alyce makes friends with Zoe and succeeds as a student of in academics, womanly arts, and Deryni magic. We do not see her use her powers often (only with Vera when Vera reveals her true identity, when she truthreads Krispin's murderers, and at the end, with Donal) but we know that she is a powerful and well-trained Deryni. We see her become involved at court in writing up the census records for Donal. Perhaps we will see that document become important in a future novel.

Alyce also has to be strong when Marie and the children are killed by the marchpane, poisoned by the treacherous Lady Muriella. She puts aside her own grief to help Jessamy make sure that Krispin and Brion vomit any of the poisonous candy they may have eaten.

Later Alyce uses her powers to calm Kenneth's skittish horse and to help Kenneth bear the pain from his injured leg. Slowly the love between Alyce and Kenneth develops as Alyce matures from schoolgirl to powerful Deryni heiress. Given that Alyce truly loves Kenneth and wants to marry him, we know that she would never choose to betray him by sleeping with Donal, even if she believed she were acting in the best interest of the crown. Alyce seems to feel genuine sympathy for Donal and a surprising lack of anger given what he intended to do to her.

Of course, we knew (even before reading ITKS) that Alyce was a strong, remarkable woman since she produced a powerful, sensitive Deryni son in Alaric Morgan.

Like his ancestor, Charlan Kai Morgan, and his son, Alaric, Kenneth Morgan serves the Gwyneddan King with unflinching loyalty. He rides great distances to bring tragic news, such as the information about Ahern's terminal illness, and fights through pain and serious injury himself. Kenneth also seems very humble. Despite his love for Alyce, he considers her above him in political status and believes it unlikely that Donal will allow him to marry her.

All through Alyce's young life, Kenneth keeps reappearing at her times of need and supporting her quietly and calmly. But only after he becomes injured and they start chatting about her use of her powers to assist in his recovery and to calm his horse, does Alyce begin to see him as a man and not just as Donal's vassal. Presumably he only begins falling in love with her at this point also, though one suspects he may have admired her from afar long before that. Kenneth is incredibly understanding and forgiving. When he learns that Donal intended to impregnate his bride, Alyce, he does not fly into a rage as Sief MacAthan did, but accepts that Donal was acting in the crown's best interest. Beyond that, he forgives him and offers him in his personal loyalty and service to his house. "I can do more than that (forgive) – because you are my king and I and mine are in your service and in your homage and in your love, I hope....we shall give him to you, Sire...not physically, but in the sense of loyalty and power and utter devotion to your House."

This is remarkably kind of Kenneth, whom one would expect to be furious at Donal's intentions for his wife. But both Kenneth and Alyce genuinely care about Donal and about Gwynedd and the House of Haldane.

Many new characters and situations are introduced in In the King's Service. Some characters we do not really get to know because we glimpse them too briefly. Perhaps some of those, like Morian, Zoe, and Richedis will appear in Childe Morgan II. We meet some intriguing personalities on the Camberian Council like Michon de Courcy and Oisin and Khoren – hopefully we'll see more of them in future books too. Arc en Ciel introduces an intriguing haven for Deryni women and one wonders how this order may have acted behind the scenes to affect life in Gwynedd. Hopefully we'll learn more about all of these fascinating characters, places, and situations and about Alyce and Kenneth's romance in Childe Morgan II.