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The Uses of Shiral Crystals, by Melissa Houle

Started by Evie, January 20, 2017, 02:45:11 PM

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In the hands of a trained Deryni, the fossilized tree resin which we call amber, becomes something far more. Shiral crystals are useful tools and a valuable natural conduit and focus for powers both trained and untrained Deryni possess. Deryni have found at least three distinct uses for shiral crystals in their universe, and there may be more we don't know about. Most commonly, they are used as a tool in scrying and visualization. They can also test individuals for Deryni powers, and sometimes, as with the ancient Airsid people, they have been used to preserve the bodies of the dead.

The renowned author of The Protocols of Orin was a man of high standing in the Airsid community if his elaborate funeral bier is any indication. When Evaine, Joram and Queron find his bier three centuries after his death, his perfectly preserved body is covered by a net of silk cords with shiral crystals knotted at the interstices. Evaine describes the technique as cording lore, which was traditionally a feminine magical discipline. But was the net the primary spell, or was it a barrier to keep the real preservation spell from dissipating? Like Ward cubes which work in pairs of opposites, perhaps the silk and shiral net worked in tandem with magic laid down by the Airsid men, each intended to complement and reinforce the other. However it was done, it was powerful enough to preserve Jodotha's body too without actually touching it, and Joram, Evaine and Queron could all feel the magic three centuries later.

In the epilogue to The Quest for Saint Camber, Kelson and Dhugal go riding on the beach near Coroth where they encounter a mysterious teacher who shows them a vision:

"Upon that bier, covered by a network of scarlet silk cords, lay a body clad in robes very like those of the priestly elite at Saint Kyriell's, of dark blue rather than grey. Like the nets Kelson and Dhugal had seen in the mountain burial chambers, this one was studded at its intersections with small shiral crystals, but all of these were polished very smooth and drilled to take a cord. The net seemed to delineate a shimmer of power shrouding the body and the sense of peace surrounding it was almost palpable." The Quest for St. Camber, p 421.

If this is a true vision of Camber's final resting place, who made the scarlet silk and shiral net covering Camber's body? It's not the same net that covered Orin as that one had multi-colored cords, but the workmanship is similar. It's possible that burial nets could be made by anyone for anyone, the magic only becoming specific when the net was laid over the body. But if they had to be made for a specific person whose identity was known to the net-maker, the question of who made Camber's becomes all the more intriguing. Evaine recognized cording lore when she saw it, but might not have known the technique herself. Furthermore, her last months of life were devoted to finding a way to free Camber from his limbo, not to entomb him permanently.

The tomb chambers that Kelson and Dhugal stumble onto in The Quest for Saint Camber support at least the possibility that Airsid descendents once lived in the valley of St. Kyriell's. Whoever prepared the unknown corpse in the oldest tomb chamber had some knowledge of cording lore.

"Dhugal fingered one of the threads cautiously. 'Silk? And some of the stones have traces of shiral unless I miss my guess. It's all awfully old, though. I've never seen anything like it." The Quest for St. Camber p.314.

These burial preparations recall Orin's if in a cruder, less potent way. Only some of the stones in this net are shirals, and the power has mostly dissipated. The body itself has decomposed to skeletal remains. But the tradition of covering the dead with a silk and shiral net had survived, as had the technique, and that knowledge couldn't have passed down in a vacuum. The Airsid scattered to escape royal persecution as did the Servants of Saint Camber three hundred years later. But did the Servants find that remote mountain valley by accident, or did they deliberately seek that place in the hopes of finding Airsid survivors living there?

The occupant of the newest tomb at St Kyriell's is also covered with a net, indicating that the tradition survived. But Sagart's net is made of coarse wool thread with ordinary stones at the intersections, and has no power stored in it. It could be that the old lore has been lost with the passing generations, and while the Servants observe the traditions, nobody remembers why that one started. Or the women at St. Kyriell's could still have known what they were about, but were forced to use the inferior materials they had to hand when the time came to bury Sagart.

Considering the use the Airsid made of shiral crystals, it's likely that there's a paragraph about them buried somewhere within the five Protocol scrolls. Camber must not have found that paragraph yet, for his attitude toward his own shiral crystal is dismissive the first time we meet him. After making it glow for Evaine, Camber jokes that he hasn't found any better use for it than fascinating gullible daughters. Of course right then, Camber also believes his world will allow him to quietly retire to Caerrorie, with no idea that his most important contributions still lie in his future.

If Camber can casually give his crystal away, Evaine finds a much more important use for it less than six months later. Cinhil, the last living Haldane, is a resentful, uncooperative future King of Gwynedd. Evaine succeeds at winning his confidence where the men fail through a strategy of unthreatening afternoon talks, until the day she shows him her crystal with deliberate innocence. In Evaine's hands, Camber's 'useless' stone signifies a major turning point for Cinhil and his captors, ultimately enabling them to endow him with the power to defeat Imre, setting everything that follows into motion.

Evaine does manipulate Cinhil, although her chief purpose is to help him to defeat Imre and accept his new life more easily. When King Wencit of Torenth uses a shiral crystal to lure Bran Coris into treason against Kelson in High Deryni, he has his own best interests firmly in mind. In "Legacy", Prince Wencit Furstan was a quietly ambitious prince who did his research thoroughly. By the time he and Bran meet face to face, Wencit probably knows much more about Bran Coris than Bran realizes. Bran is loyal, but ambitious, discontent, and fully human – a perfect tool from Wencit's point of view. If Bran has no idea that his wife and son are Deryni, Wencit probably does. While quite willing to demoralize Kelson by the treason of one of his earls, and being equally willing to make all the use of Bran Coris that he can, perhaps Richenda was Wencit's real target all along. As Richenda herself says, Wencit does not tolerate conquered Deryni in his realm. Bran himself represents no challenge; all Wencit has to do is dangle a shiny object – the glowing shiral crystal– before him while appealing to his greed, and Bran's treason is the work of less than an hour. The shiral crystal is just a prop to Wencit; he probably made it glow himself and let Bran think he had done it.

The third testing with a shiral crystal is Duncan's testing of Dhugal in The Bishop's Heir. There is no deception involved whether for benevolent or selfish reasons, and no question that Dhugal is able to make a shiral glow in his own right. It is a poignant moment, for no one present realizes the full signficance of what they're seeing: Dhugal, being tested for Deryni powers by his father with the shiral crystal that had belonged to his mother which she had given to Duncan as a wedding gift. Was Maryse given that shiral by someone else, or did she find it herself? If so, did her instinctive attraction to it mean that she was Deryni without knowing it? It must have been precious to her, or she wouldn't have given it to Duncan as her bridal token.

Scrying and Visualization
Of all the uses Deryni make of shiral crystals, the most helpful is for scrying and the viewing of images. An excellent example of this is in "The Priesting of Arilan" when Jamyl, Laran and Stefan Coram project Arilan's memories of Jorian's ordination into Laran's unusually large crystal. Rather like a Deryni home video, to use a very modern analogy. The advantages of this are plain; all three men could watch at once, probably in finer detail than would be possible if they'd relied on reading Denis' memories alone. Denis himself remembers nothing when he returns to normal consciousness, but nonetheless knows he has been the subject of a very sophisticated arcane working.

Laran, Stefan and Jamyl have two distinct advantages. The first and most obvious is the enormous shiral itself which is as large as a man's head. As they watched, they no doubt probed Denis' mind for his complete sensory recall. The second advantage was their level of training. Morgan, Duncan and Kelson are all markedly less proficient in their use of shiral crystals. Morgan and Duncan know what shirals can do and they each own one– a very large, fine one in Alaric's case. In Deryni Checkmate, he boasts of having paid an outrageous price for it.

"With a crystal this size I ought to be able to form images without half-trying," Duncan says of Alaric's crystal although he is dismayed when it shows him Loris, forcing him to come straight to the point of his visit. Duncan's fatigue, his priestly suspension or his incomplete training could all account for his imperfect control of the crystal. It might be that shirals will show their user whatever is uppermost in their thoughts if they have no other purpose in mind.

Kelson is even less aware of shiral crystals. Until the end of The Quest for Saint Camber when he finds the shiral bead on the beach, he doesn't even own a crystal. Of course, Kelson has had things of more immediate importance to learn since Brion's death. Before Brion's death, he had no idea he was Deryni, and Brion's discomfort with and Jehana's vehement opposition to Deryni magic wouldn't have helped. Kelson's one attempt at scrying in The Bishop's Heir is hampered by his and Morgan's not having a crystal available to provide a focus for the images. But the failure could also be a factor of their relative inexperience with scrying.

We haven't seen Alaric truly use his shiral yet, either. It's puzzling that Morgan and Duncan don't try to scry for Kelson and Dhugal in The Quest for Saint Camber. Even Morgan's large crystal wouldn't have taken much space in a saddlebag, and might have been a more efficient and reassuring tool for seeking Dhugal and the King than dowsing the underground river. Of course, the emotional state of both men at the time could explain why the shiral was left behind at Coroth.

Obviously seeing images within a shiral crystal would be far easier using Laran's head-sized or even in Alaric's fist –sized crystal rather than in a crystal the size of Kelson's bead. It would be like watching Lawrence of Arabia on a movie screen instead of on a portable television, to use another very modern analogy. Forming the images might also require less effort in a large crystal. Obviously, head-sized and fist-sized shiral crystals are very rare and costly although available, if a Deryni has the connections and financial means. But given the power and concentration necessary, could a Deryni form images in a crystal the size of a bead? Most Deryni appear to use crystals of a size to be comfortably held in one hand. Faced with a row of shirals of comparable size and clarity, would an individual get a better feel for one above any of the others? Ward cubes become attuned to their owners over time – do shiral crystals, or is their power more neutral for being a natural substance?

Lewys ap Norfal
There is one further use for shiral crystals that doesn't fall into any of the three categories. We the readers cannot know what Lewys ap Norfal hoped to achieve in his experiment at Coroth Castle, but surely his own disappearance wasn't it. It had to have been important to him, for he defied the Camberian Council of his day. There is a brief description of his procedure in the Codex Derynianus:

"At sunrise on the XXIst day of March in the year 1052 which is the Vernal Equinox, Lord Lewys conducted a magical working in the Barroughyard near the center of the Castle grounds, erecting a large shiral crystal there. As the light of the sun touched the windows of the Green Tower, it reflected into the garden, each subsequent Tower adding its light to the focal point as the sun continued to rise. When the last Tower, which had windows of black obsidian glass, was touched by the rays of light, the crystal suddenly flashed white, temporarily blinding all of the observers." Codex Derynianus, p.99.

All the observers could be sure of afterwards was that Lewys had disappeared and hasn't been seen or heard from since. If nobody knew that he was dead, he couldn't be said to be alive, either.

Was that result what the Camberian Council feared, or had they expected something even worse? They must have had a compelling reason to urge Lewys to desist. It could be that they thought Lewys wasn't sufficiently trained to carry out his purpose and had no right to risk anyone else's safety. Perhaps they feared his plan would initiate some disastrous chain of events that nobody would be able to control. Whatever their reasons, Lewys and his descendents made the Camberian Council jumpy for decades after the fact.

Is Lewys dead, or could he be in limbo as Camber was between the ends of Camber The Heretic and The Harrowing of Gwynedd? If there is no one astute enough to guess his plight, Lewys himself is in no position to ask for help. More information on the original purpose of the experiment and it's aftermath will have to wait until the publication of Katherine's new story "The Green Tower" next June.

For a simple natural material, shiral crystals have had serious impact on various lives in the Deryni books, and sometimes upon Gwyneddan and Torenthi history itself. What impact will it have on the future as Kelson and Liam gradually turn the relationship between Gwynedd and Torenth to a more peaceful one? Except for Wencit's use in High Deryni, we can only speculate on what uses Torenthi Deryni make of shiral crystals, if any. On the other hand, since much of the amber in our world comes from Baltic Northern Europe, perhaps Torenth is a rich source of shiral crystals along the Northern Sea. A brisk trade in crystals between east and west could be a strong new incentive for peaceful relations between Gwynedd and Torenth.


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