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Shiral Crystals By Susan Werner

Started by Evie, January 20, 2017, 02:36:34 PM

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Unicorn636 (RIP)

Shiral crystals intrigue both us, the readers, and the Deryni, although most of the Deryni characters we know best seem to know surprisingly little about these gems. There is no entry in Codex Derynianus for shiral crystals and little is said about them in Deryni Magic. We have seen shirals used to identify Deryni potential in those like the Haldanes who can be empowered; as a meditation and relaxation aid; as a communication link, and in burials. But are those the only things for which shirals can be used? Or have they secret powers like some of the mysterious characters who use, own, or leave them behind?

Where do shirals come from?

Camber says that the polished golden stone comes from a river in Kierney. He found this particular shiral crystal near Culdi, though we have no proof that shirals cannot be found in other areas. In fact, we don't really know where most of the shirals we've encountered in Gwynedd originated. We know Morgan received his from the Hort of Orsal and Duncan and Maryse's may have come from the Kierney area. But do shirals only form in the rivers in Kierney? We don't know where Laran and Coram's giant shiral crystal in "The Priesting of Arilan" originated. Given that the Airsid wove shirals into net coverings for the dead, it seems safe to assume shirals were plentiful, at least in the Airsid era. Wencit used a shiral to test Bran's potential, so presumably shirals are available in Torenth. Although Wencit may have purchased one from someone in the Kierney area or inherited one purchased or stolen years or decades earlier from someone from that region. Or perhaps shirals form in rivers in Torenth too.

What can Deryni do with Shiral Crystals?
Chronologically we first see a shiral crystal at the beginning of Camber of Culdi when Camber shows one to Evaine. Interestingly, Camber seems relatively uninformed about shirals, despite his arcane expertise and scholarship. After showing Evaine how to set the crystal aglow by concentrating and letting her experiment with it, he admits "I haven't been able to find a single use for it yet–other than to fascinate gullible daughters."

Why does Camber, the best trained and most well-read Deryni we've encountered, know so little about shiral crystals? He knows about many of Orin's secret spells, including shape-changing, memory-integration, and death-postponement. He possesses four of the Codex Orini. Yet he can find no uses for shirals. Is there so little to know about shirals? Or have the Airsid kept the true powers and uses of shirals hidden for some reason? Personally, I suspect the latter.

In The Harrowing of Gwynedd, Evaine, Joram, and Queron find Orin and Jodotha's corpses laid out beneath a net of shiral crystals in the secret cavern beneath the black and white cube alter. "A fine net of multi-colored silk cord shrouded the body beneath, each knotted jointure of the netting secured with what looked to be a small shiral crystal drilled through the center for fastening in place." Evaine seems somewhat familiar with "cording lore" and has by this time integrated some of it into the Camberian Council joining ritual. She tells Joram, "This is cording lore. I know a little of it, beyond what we use for the Council binding, but most of it has been lost over the centuries. 'Tis women's magic, for the most part." Could shirals also be associated with a female magic that we have yet to uncover? Perhaps some magical rituals and spells created by or associated with Jodotha?

Evaine seems to be involved in all the early scenes involving the use of shiral crystals. Evaine uses the shiral crystal while praying in Camber of Culdi and then introduces Cinhil to Deryni magic through showing him how to use the shiral. She tells Cinhil that the shiral may enhance her prayer experiences and is a link "perhaps with the Deity?" She describes the shiral as "an aid to concentration...a focal point...better than most because it shows you, by glowing, when you've reached the minimum level of concentration." Evaine then allows Cinhil to focus on the shiral and uses this opportunity to enter his mind and forge some bonds. And discovers that Cinhil possesses the ability to make the shiral glow. The shiral thus helps her both prove the existence of Cinhil's talents and break down his resistance to things Deryni. Evaine also uses the crystal to make Cinhil fall asleep. Later, she trains Cinhil to use the crystal himself to slip in and out of Derynilike trances. Therefore a man can use a shiral crystal, too, at least for relatively simple spells.

Evaine also gives Camber a shiral crystal to use when he assimilates Alister's memories in Saint Camber, this one a gift from Rhys. Camber uses the crystal to focus and release tension as he enters the deep trance necessary for the working. The crystal ceases it's usefulness once Camber has gone very deep because he senses "Evaine leaning forward to take the now-unnecessary crystal and slip it back inside her robe..." Once again, a woman is involved in the use of the shiral, although both men (Camber and Cinhil) seem able to focus on the gem without assistance. But what more could they do with it? And what makes these particular amber gems so useful to the Deryni?

Shiral Crystals' Powers
We know that shirals are smooth amber stones found in certain rivers. Yet they respond to Deryni powers in special ways and can be used in some very long-lasting stasis spells on the dead since Orin and Jodotha's bodies have not decomposed in hundreds of years. Certainly, not all amber stones found in rivers in the Eleven Kingdoms are shirals, so something special must need to happen to form these. Perhaps the temperature of the river water or something which grows in the river enhances certain stones, making them shirals?

The corded shirals have holes drilled into them through which the silken cords are woven and knotted. We know silk is often associated with magic and that magical instruments are frequently wrapped in silk or kept in silk-lined containers. Does the drilling increase the power of the shirals in some way, perhaps by increasing the number of exposed faces and the amount of external light the crystals can reflect? Or do the cords add to the power?

We see several more examples of shirals with holes drilled through them in 1125 in The Quest for Saint Camber. When trying to legitimize Dhugal, Duncan tells that during their marriage ceremony he gave Maryse a silver cloak clasp shaped like a sleeping lions head and she gave him a shiral crystal "smooth from the river bottom and drilled to receive a slender leather thong." Presumably the leather thong transmits no magic for this shiral only glows when a Deryni directs it to do so. Kelson and Dhugal also find corpses covered with shiral nets in the caves occupied by the Servants of Saint Camber. For some reason, these stones have taken on a greyish cast, perhaps from aging or lack of exposure to light. Are the Servants somehow connected to the Airsid? Or did Joram and the group at Sanctuary begin using this burial technique and pass it along to some secret group of Camber followers? We know that Joram and Queron were working on some secret project related to Camber's sainthood in The Bastard Prince and hopefully we will learn more about that when Katherine writes the 948 novel.

For that matter, is cording lore specific to the Airsid? Did the Varnarites and Gabrilites also practice it? Queron does not act particularly familiar with this burial method, so presumably this was not used among the Gabrillites unless it was reserved for members of the inner Gabrilite Circle of Elders, those who knew the spell to raise the alter. Who knows we might find beneath the ruins of St. Neot's if some Deryni could raise an altar in that chapel? Then again, if cording lore is women's magic, it likely was not used in the all male orders. But perhaps some the of female Deryni orders used it.

Whatever their uses on the dead, the living Deryni and potential Deryni use shirals in both the 10th and 12th centuries. When Duncan comes to Coroth to tell Morgan that Loris and Corrigan are about to place Corwyn under interdict and excommunicate Morgan, he is immediately attracted to the giant shiral in Morgan's green tower room. However, his anger at Loris causes him to conjure Loris' image in the crystal when he examines it. He comments that "with a crystal like this I ought to be able to form images without half trying." This suggests that Duncan and apparently Morgan have formed images in smaller shiral crystals, though we have never seen them do this. Perhaps Duncan's mother, the mysterious Vera, taught them this. Perhaps Vera knows more about shirals and cording lore than most of those living in the persecution times. This would suggest that she is highly-trained and has connections to other well-trained Deryni adepts and scholars. Hopefully we'll learn more about her and her sister, Alyce, in the Childe Morgan trilogy. Morgan and Duncan later use this giant shiral crystal to enter the Thuryn trance when they prepare to link with Derry in Fathane. So someone taught them to use shirals as aids in focusing.

Duncan also uses the shiral crystal Maryse gave him when he and Dhugal form a link to prove that Dhugal is his son and possesses Deryni powers. Similarly, Wencit uses a shiral to test Bran's potential before empowering him, which shows that Deryni outside of Gwynedd know how to use shirals too.

At the end of The Quest for Saint Camber, Kelson and Dhugal meet a mysterious grey-robed stranger on the beach near Coroth. The stranger encourages their search for Saint Camber shows them what seems to be Camber's tomb, with Camber laid out in a dark-blue presumably Michaeline habit beneath a net of silk cords and shiral crystals. This suggests that Joram and Queron applied the cording magic to Camber's body and probably Evaine's after the working in which Evaine frees Camber's soul and sacrifices herself. It seems safe to assume that all others who died at Sanctuary or were part of the Camberian Council may have received similar burials. Certainly it would be fitting for Rhys (he could have been reburied), Evaine, Joram, and Queron to have had such burials. When the mysterious grey-cowled man disappears with no footprints, Kelson and Dhugal find a shiral crystal with a hole drilled in it floating in the water. This makes Kelson wonder if Dhugal's mother knew about Saint Camber or was somehow connected with those who did. This event triggers numerous questions. Did this particular shiral come from Camber's bier? Or is this a token from the Camberian Council's inner or Secret Circle, a group who also possess knowledge about shirals and many other arcane things.

Giant Shirals
If a Secret Circle exists, it obviously possesses knowledge other Deryni lack — such as shape-changing and visiting people without leaving footprints. Thus it seems logical to assume such a group would know much about shirals too. Furthermore, we have seen giant shirals possibly used by members of this group.

We encounter giant shiral crystals in two locations in the 1100s, though the same crystal may appear both times. In 1104 when Jamyl Arilan takes Denis to meet Stefan Coram and Laran ap Parrdyce, they meet in a chamber which contains a giant shiral. Denis sees Laran "leaning close to drape a veil of purple silk over the biggest shiral crystal Denis had ever seen." The group have apparently used the shiral as a focus while examining Denis' memories of Jorian's ordination. We are not told where they are meeting but it must be either the Camberian Council chamber (though we never seen the giant crystal there again) or Laran's or Coram's home.

In 1121, we see the giant crystal in Morgan's green tower room at Coroth. Morgan says he bought it from the Hort of Orsal at "an outrageous price" which echoes Coram's comments to Denis to "not even think about what it (the giant shiral) cost." Thus we know giant shirals are valuable in more ways than one. We also now know (since King Kelson's Bride) that the Hort of Orsal is Deryni. So perhaps he had some ulterior motive for selling Morgan a giant shiral. Or perhaps someone else engineered this sale. Is the giant shiral a tool for spying? We know that Duncan is able to conjure Loris' image in the crystal. Perhaps a Deryni adept can see images through the shiral. While in the room with the giant shiral, Duncan discusses his impending suspension from the priesthood and questions whether he can be both a Deryni and a priest. The next day on the Coroth Road, "Saint Camber" repeats much of the contents of this conversation to Duncan. We later learn that "Saint Camber" was actually Coram (Before dying Coram implies this). So how did Coram know what Duncan said to Morgan in the tower that night? While I suppose he may have used a Portal (one Morgan doesn't know exists in Coroth) and actually been in the castle spying on them, I think it far more likely that he used the giant shiral crystal to listen to their conversation. After all, we have seen Coram with a giant shiral in the scene with Arilan. Perhaps, knowing what was likely to happen to Duncan and Morgan, Coram arranged for the Hort to acquire the crystal and sell it to Morgan. For that matter, perhaps the Hort belongs to the Secret Circle too. First of all, it seems unlikely that Coram just happened to coincidentally pick that night to enter Coroth via Portal and overhear Morgan and Duncan's conversation. And, while I think the mysterious Coroth Castle likely contains at least one Portal, I doubt Coram would have had time to routinely visit Coroth while masquerading as Rhydon in Wencit's camp. A third possibility is that Duncan actually saw Camber and not Coram masquerading as Camber. This seems unlikely since Coram used the same guise when he appeared to Duncan and Morgan at St. Neot's. And on both occasions "Camber" spoke, while Morgan's Camber vision in Brion's library while in the Thuryn trance, did not speak. Personally, I think Morgan truly saw Camber but that both Duncan's Camber sightings were actually Coram.

This brings up another question. If the shirals are connected to those who have the ability to teleport without a Portal or use some spell to leave no footprints, are they an integral part of such a spell?

Conclusions and Connections
We have seen shiral crystals used for linking, focusing, identifying Deryni potential, and possibly for communication. But we also know of other items which glow when touched by Deryni and which can be used for communication and focus — ward cubes and Saint Camber medals immediately come to mind. And then there are the blue stones used in Torenthi roofs. And some blue stones were used at St. Neot's both in the buildings and in the bluestone altar on which Queron saw his master work the spell which raises altars. We also see that special blue in Matyas' icon and in the Raphael medal in the prayer beads Jehana gives Kelson. Kelson senses something Deryni about these beads but never says if they are shiral crystals. They are described as looking like blood in the twilight, but that might just be sunset glowing on amber crystals. And even if they are a different color, are these beads and blue stones related to shiral crystals?

Since the shirals and cording lore were used by Orin, why did Camber not find information about them in Orin's Protocols? Did Orin purposely keep such information secret? Or did he perhaps encode messages about shirals in his texts in such a way that only a certain device or spell (such as the rings Evaine used to read the passage about the death-postponement spell) would reveal this information? Perhaps one must use a shiral to reveal this hidden text. Maybe shirals are integral to the secret Airsid spells.

Susan Werner

Mistress of Complications