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Susan: The Orders of Gwynedd

Started by Evie, January 20, 2017, 02:06:10 PM

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Unicorn636 (RIP)

The Orders of Gwynedd have fascinated me ever since I first read the Camber trilogy when I was fifteen. Numerous orders populate Gwynedd serving the kingdom in various ways and sometimes, as in the case of the Custodes Fidei, not serving her so well. But what do we really know about each order?

We know quite a bit about the Michaelines and the Custodes, but less about the intriguing Gabrilites, Varnarites, and Knights of the Anvil. And then there are the mysterious Airsid, who may have been more a culture than an order but seem connected to both the Gabrilites and the Varnarites. We've also glimpsed several smaller orders, such as the Ordo Verbi Dei. How did all of these orders evolve? Have some of them been completely obliterated or do secret groups function somewhere in the Eleven Kingdoms?

The Michaelines
Chronologically, we first encounter the Michaelines early in Camber of Culdi and in "Catalyst" when Evaine and Camber worry about the Michaeline talent for backing up verbal attacks with physical ones. "Joram was apt to explode in one of the grandiloquent tirades for which the Michaelines were so justly famous...It was not the possibility of Joram's eloquent and caustic rhetoric which made Evaine apprehensive; it was the fact that the priests of St. Michael were just as likely to follow verbal pyrotechnics with physical action...more than once their intervention in secular affairs had touched off incidents best forgotten by their more contemplative brethren." Camber of Culdi p.2.
Despite his reservations about the Michaeline Order, Camber has his children and Rhys educated by them, so he obviously believes they provide excellent academic training. Camber also supports Joram's decision to become a Michaeline priest.

Imre also has reservations and concerns about the Michaelines, which turn out to be well-founded since the Michaelines assist in the Haldane Restoration. Interestingly, Camber goes directly to the Michaelines for support in this endeavor, probably because he knows the Restoration needs the Michaelines' superb military abilities and respects their talents although he disagrees with some of their philosophies. No one questions Joram's suggestion that "Camber" be buried in a Michaeline habit (for Alister's benefit), so by 905 Camber has apparently come to admire the Michaelines enough that this request seems reasonable.

Imre destroys ten of the twelve Michaeline Houses by burning down the buildings and sowing the fields with salt. After helping Cinhil gain his throne, they also fight for him against Ariella and the Torenthi and Festilic forces in the Battle at Iomaire. They are described as "cohesive" in battle and obviously they are quite successful in their military efforts.

Before this battle, we see the Michaeline leaders and Camber celebrating mass through the "unorthodox" method of sharing both bread and wine. Cinhil has heard rumors of the Michaelines engaging in certain "irregular" practices and is not terribly surprised by this, which makes me wonder what else the Michaelines might do that Cinhil would consider "unorthodox."

When Camber integrates Alister's memories we get a glimpse of the Michaelines' past when Camber recalls Alister attacking and killing an unnamed Deryni enemy by night and relaxing with Jebediah afterward. "At night, and he knew this was no training exercise, he and another knight slipped through the shadows of an enemy periphery by moonlight. He knew the dry, metallic tension in his throat as he realized his quarry was also Deryni, though not yet aware of his presence–and the grim satisfaction of drawing his dirk across the man's throat, the body crumpling without a warning sound..." Saint Camber p.146.

Who was this enemy? Why did they kill him? Slitting an enemy's throat without giving him a chance to defend himself seems rather crude and unethical for the highly moral Michaelines and Alister in particular. For Alister to do this, the enemy must have been vicious and deserved death. Yet until he attacked, Alister did not even know that his quarry was Deryni. What were the Michaelines doing? This would make a fascinating story.

Codex states that the Michaelines were founded in the time of St. Bearand Haldane to hold the forts against the Moors and keep the sea-lanes free of pirates and Muslims, but that was long before Alister's time. We know the Michaelines knew certain battle spells that even Camber did not know. We see Alister empower his sword before hurling it at Ariella. Later, Jebediah uses magic to kill one of the men who attacks him and Camber/Alister in their last battle using a spell unfamiliar to Camber.

Where did the Michaelines knowledge come from? Did they have access to different or more detailed texts than Camber had? What became of those texts? Surely all such valuable materials were not left for the Regents' soldiers to destroy. Did the Michaelines take that literature with them to Djellarda? That seems logical. But that suggests that the Knights of the Anvil has access to that information since the Michaelines merged with them. Or does a secret Michaeline group still exist in the Kelsonian era? Could that be the Brother Theo group?

I rather doubt the latter because the Michaelines seem more devoted to strategy and militaristic endeavors than to scholarship, but it's certainly possible, especially if Joram helped found that secret order.

The Gabrilites
Unlike the Michaelines, the Gabrilites are completely devoted to scholarship and healing and refuse to kill with their powers even to save their own lives. The Gabrilites are a much smaller order than the Michaelines, with only one house — St. Neot's. We first encounter the Gabrilites early in Saint Camber when Camber states that he obtained the scrying spell he uses to learn Ariella's battle plans from the Gabrilites and consulted Dom Emrys about Ariella's weather magic. "He had confided his suspicions about the weather to the gentle Dom Emrys, Abbot of the Gabrilites– one man who might know for certain whether such things were possible, even for Deryni. The Order of Saint Gabriel was renowned and respected, even among humans, for the purity of its discipline, for its preservation of ancient wisdom, and teaching of the healing arts." Saint Camber p.4. Even Camber seems rather in awe of the mysterious Gabrilites and seems to know far less about them than he would like.

The Gabrilites are considered the best Healers in the Eleven Kingdoms and the best teachers for young Healers. Queron's visualization of "Saint Camber" talking to Guarre before the sainting committee demonstrates a little of the vast knowledge and abilities of the Gabrilites.

The talented Rhys Thuryn feels very nervous about demonstrating his blocking talent for the Gabrilites Dom Emrys and Queron, but he and Camber enjoy watching the Gabrilite instructors at work.

We know that the Gabrilites wore their hair in the four strand braid called the g'dula which requires a magical ritual to destroy. Queron says the g'dula contains special significance, beyond the obvious connection to the Four Archangels and Quarters. Creating a g'dula likely also involves a ritual – one I'd love to see!

What do we really know about the Gabrilites? Beautiful St. Neot's is decorated in a spectacular blue stone that may resemble the Torenthi blue stone we later see in King Kelson's Bride and which appears to possess certain powers or at least the ability to glow in various patterns. Katherine has said she doubts St. Neot's blue and Torenthi blue are the same, though, but perhaps some connection exists. Whatever, the St. Neot's buildings and ruins retain some magic. Dom Emrys message in the ruined Portal somehow survives for over 200 years. And Coram as Camber manages to come and go within St. Neot's without leaving footprints. Does some sort of invisible or moving Portal remain in St. Neots? Something perhaps akin to the rotating Portal Camber found in Queen Sinead's Watch?

When Queron shows Evaine and Joram the spell which raises the altar in the ruins beneath Grecotha, he wonders about a secret inner order within the Gabrilites who knew such spells. He also comments that Gabrilite training offers some unique features and "implies connection with an ancient mystery school whose very existence I'm not supposed to reveal." The Harrowing of Gwynedd p.217. Since Queron's spell leads to the discovery of Orin and Jodotha's bodies, logic suggests this inner Gabrilite order has Airsid connections and that mystery school was an Airsid school. Presumably the Gabrilites (or at least this inner circle) also understood various workings with ward cube permutations.

Yet, if they knew so much, why did they disappear and how could they let themselves be completely destroyed? Or did they? Personally, I find it hard to believe these brilliant Gabrilites allowed their order to be destroyed two more times (at Joux and Netterhaven as Rob Reginald has stated in the newsgroup). Perhaps the inner order went underground and still exists in the Kelsonian era in some other form...perhaps as the Brother Theo group. Or perhaps they found and joined the remains of the Airsid group.

The Varnarites
The Varnarites are described as more involved in the practical aspects of Healing than the theoretical and philosophical. At a Camberian Council meeting shortly after Camber/Alister's death, Joram comments that he, Queron, and Rickart should not argue certain ideas with Tavis because as a Varnarite Tavis isn't arguing from the same theoretical premises as they are as Michaelines and Gabrilites. "Let's not start a theological debate. Tavis is not a Gabrilite or a Michaeline, so he's not arguing from the same assumptions." The Harrowing of Gwynedd p.10. At this point, Tavis wants to attack Hubert, despite his Healers Oath's. "I am no Gabrilite, to submit meekly to the slaughter." The Harrowing of Gwynedd p.10.

Tavis himself considers his training inferior to Gabrilite training although he possesses the blocking talent which many Gabrilites lack. He nods "sheepishly" when Camber correctly deduces that his training wasn't Michaeline or Gabrilite. Camber states that Varnarite training "often ignores the more subtle nuances....you would have learned the standard Healers's approaches, but not the secondaries." Tavis agrees, so obviously his training was less comprehensive than that of Rhys or the other Gabrilites.

Codex tells us that the Varnarites split with the "more conservative" Gabrilites about 745 taking their library and records to Grecotha where they began a Varnarite Schola which emphasized a more pragmatic and less philosophical approach to healing than the Gabrilites did. Jodotha's lectures indicated that certain Varnarite records were placed in a secret archive before the split, which suggests a Varnarite-Airsid connection, given that Jodotha is an Airsid.

The Ordo Verbi Dei or The Order of St. Jarlath
We know little about the Ordo Verbi Dei except that they are the contemplative order in which Cinhil Haldane lived as Brother Benedict prior to the Haldane Restoration. Presumably the order knew nothing of his true identity, though one wonders if they would have protected and hidden him had they known. Certainly Cinhil had a true vocation and would have been welcomed by any order. He would, of course, have received quite different training had he chosen to become a Michaeline — training which might have made him better suited to kingship. Joram tells Camber that as a member of Ordo Verbi Dei Cinhil is likely very well educated so apparently this Order has a reputation for good scholarship.

Ordo Verbi Dei has several houses, though apparently not as many as the Michaelines once had. Also, the Ordo Verbi Dei stayed primarily within Gwynedd's borders while the Michaelines extended their reach well beyond them. Queron masquerades as a medicant friar of St. Jarlath when he goes to Rhys Michael and gives him last rights. Once again an order founded by St. Jarlath assists a Haldane king in need.

The Knights of the Anvil
We first encounter the Knights of the Anvil in the Kelsonian era, in The King's Justice when Azim visits Rhemuth. We know that the Michaelines moved their mother house to Djellarda in the Anvil of the Lord in 917 which is where the Anvillers are based. According to Codex, this militant religious order was founded by Michaeline refugees. The order was renamed on the first day of January in the Year of Our Lord 923. However, the Anvillers have non-Christian members, some who may be Muslims which seems odd since the Michaelines once fought against the Muslims. Of course, the Muslims may have proved more open to Deryni magic than the Regents in Gwynedd. Did some sort of Anviller group exist before the Michaelines arrived in Djellarda with whom the Michaelines merged or did the original Anviller group contain only Michaelines? When and why did they open to others? Presumably the Anvillers thus gained texts and knowledge from the Michaelines. Judging by Azim, the Anvillers are very well trained in the arcane arts. When Barrett recalls the funeral of Michon de Courcy just after Vivienne's death, he says that six Knights of the Anvil acted as pallbearers and his coffin floated. "Six vowed Knights of the Anvil carried him to his rest... all of them arrayed in the full panoply of your Order — and none of them laid a hand on the coffin. He floated on a catafalque of golden fire." King Kelson's Bride p.276. Later, when Kelson, Dhugal, Morgan, and Arilan are discussing Teymuraz's mind-ripping of Morag, Azim mentions the Deryni talent for integrating the memories of the dead. We don't know if he learned this through the order or elsewhere, but the Anvillers obviously possess intriguing abilities and talents.

The Custodes Fidei
I rather hate to devote space to the despicable Custodes, but they deserve mention in this column. They were founded by vicious men and used primarily to find and execute Deryni, but Owain's Regents chose not to disband them completely, feeling they had some positive qualities, particularly in running schools. So what happened to them after 928? We've never seen any Custodes in the Kelsonian era, although Denis Arilan was educated at Arx Fidei Seminary which was once a Custodes house. Did later Haldanes disband the Custodes completely? Or did some go underground and continue a secret Deryni-hating order that provides the merasha-tainted wine for ordinations? In High Deryni, Gorony knows a great deal about merasha which suggests he might belong to such a group.

The Airsid
We know very little about the mysterious Airsid. In fact, they may not even have been an order, although the Gabrilites developed from the Airsid group. We know that Orin and Jodotha were learned Deryni scholars and that Jodotha tried to help the sons of the evil king Llarik. Whatever happened at that time, the Airsid suddenly disappeared. Or did they simply take on a new aspect? Orin, at least, knew how to shape-change with a dead man and integrate his memories and had done research on the evading death spell. Did he attempt the evading death spell and have better success than Camber? Or did Jodotha attempt it and Orin die rescuing her as Evaine dies releasing Camber? Since the Airsid knew how to shapechange, did they perhaps take on new identities — identities more acceptable under the new political regime? Do any Airsid survive in any form in the Kelsonian era? We don't know, although Stefan Coram and the mysterious gentleman robed in grey whom Kelson and Dhugal encounter at the end of The Quest for Saint Camber could well be Airsid descendants given their ability to vanish without footprints.

Changing Orders
We don't know what Orders remain in the Kelsonian era other than the Knights of the Anvil and the Sisters of St. Brigid, Rothana's order , which likely harbors other Deryni. Are there other secretly Deryni orders in early 12th century Gwynedd? What about in Torenth or the other surrounding lands? Presumably at least some of those lands which are more Deryni-friendly have Deryni orders or orders which include Deryni. Kelson witnesses some Deryni light shows coming from Torenthi churches to honor Liam Lajos which suggests that Deryni orders exist in Torenth.

Perhaps Kelson's Schola at Rhemuth will lead the way for other Deryni Schola and resurgence of Deryni orders. We'll have to wait for the next Kelson book to find out. Meanwhile, perhaps The Childe Morgan trilogy will provide more insight into the orders of later eras.

Susan Werner,

Mistress of Complications


This is an amazing Essay!  I am not sure I had seen it before. Some interesting points about the Michalians and Alister that I did not recall reading in the books. It confirms my opinion that the Michaelines were a rather aggressive order.

On a side note, I have a curiosity about Alister's past and the memory of slitting the throat of a Deryni, I hope that has nothing to do with Collos Feyd and his revenge. Not sure how you can get Revenge on the Michaelines when they have not existed for more than 200 years.
May your horses have wings and fly!



Susie had great articles and thoughts when it came to many aspects of the Deryni. She is greatly missed. Thank you for breathing a bit of life into this post.

And to answer your question. No, that event has nothing to do with it.
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This is a really, really good article.


In Camber the Heretic, the Michaelines moved to their commanderie to what I've come to assume was Djellarda, since reading the King's Justice. Mostly because it was mentioned as one or if not their first commanderies, so I am assuming they became the Knights of the Anvil at some point.