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Melissa: On Wards and Warding

Started by Evie, January 20, 2017, 02:57:01 PM

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Eight small black and white cubes form the literal building blocks of a Ward Major matrix, one of the most useful magical tools available to trained Deryni. Fortunately so, as casting wards is one of the most common forms of Deryni magic that we've seen practiced in the 13 novels so far. Although often a function in and of itself, warding can also be the prelude to a more complicated working to follow. If the partially destroyed black and white altar in the chapel—or temple—beneath the Bishop's Palace in Grecotha is any indication, ward cubes are also a very old arcane tool dating back to days of the Airsid. Perhaps they are even older than that.

By Kelson's reign, the most common use of ward cubes appears to be when a single Deryni needs to protect a person, place or thing on a short-term basis. Morgan's warding of Kelson's bed on the night before his coronation is an excellent example. Even in Camber's day, this appears to be as much use as most Deryni made of their wards. Camber himself is nearly sixty before he discovers the strange altar beneath Grecotha, and realizes there are many other possible configurations for the eight cubes, not all of them necessarily benign.

Camber, in his wisdom and caution, doesn't rush right into experimentation without proper research, and is only able to make a few of the more minor new configurations even work. The most successful of these he calls "the pillars of the temple." It causes the altar slab in the Camberian Council's keeill chamber to rise and float above its normal height, revealing the much larger black and white cubes supporting it from beneath. When the wards are dismissed, the mensa slab sinks back into place on account of its own weight—not the most versatile application, as Camber himself admits. In The Harrowing of Gwynedd, Queron makes a more startling discovery when Evaine's ward cubes, configured for the pillars of the temple, trigger a potent memory of the cubic bluestone meditation altar at St. Neot's. When Queron duplicates a specific purification blessing used by one of his early teachers while manipulating actual ward cubes on a larger black and white altar, it causes the entire keeill altar to sink below floor level. Ultimately, this leads to the discovery of Orin and Jodotha's final resting place. Furthermore, Orin was lying on a bier composed of large, black and white stone cubes. As Orin was definitely a prominent man among the Airsid, it all points to ward cubes having a very important place within their magical arsenal, and that their significance went beyond mere protection.

But before the mastery Queron displays with the wards, the basics must be learned. Although education is not their primary function, ward cubes are a well-designed learning tool. The first Deryni to use physical wards might well have been a teacher seeking a clearer way to demonstrate the concepts of warding. Having objects to see and touch that clearly illustrate the difference between the light and dark halves of the whole would be invaluable for a Deryni child and for that child's teacher. Not only this, but the cubes change their appearance at each stage of the process, showing right away whether the pupil understands or not. We the readers get a glimpse of this when Tiercel de Claron gives Prince Conall a lesson in the prologue of The Quest for Saint Camber. He also teaches Conall that wards can do more than passively protect whatever they surround:

"That's enough of that," Tiercel finally said, gesturing for him to pull back. "Now I'm going to make a subtle alteration." He held his hand over the domelet for a few seconds, not doing anything that Conall could detect, then blinked and glanced up at Conall again. "Now touch it."

Conall started to obey, but a blue-violet spark arced between the dome and his fingertip with painful consequences before he could even make contact...

"Actually, the first version is more useful for general purposes—and there are variations between." The Quest for Saint Camber, prologue, p. xxii

On the night before the battle of Iomaire, Joram tells Cinhil that the camp is protected by Watch-wards, which take less energy to maintain, and will not activate unless there is an attempt to intrude. It's fortunate that quiescent wards are most common, as the consequences for anyone unwise enough to intrude or unlucky enough to stray near a more aggressively set ward look likely to be very painful if not fatal.

The physical matter used to make ward cubes is not truly important although ivory and ebony are traditional. There simply needs to be a clear contrast between the light and dark cubes, and the material must be able to absorb the power and patterning from a Deryni mage that will turn ordinary cubes into a working matrix. Prime, seconde, tierce and quarte are the white cubes. They represent the positive, the masculine, the light half of the balance. The black cubes are quinte, sixte, septime and octave, the feminine, the negative and the dark counterbalance. Different magical disciplines use different imagery for wards. Some compare them to the towers of a castle, for others they represent the four compass points, the four Archangels, four pillars or all of these things at once. All theories are valid, it simply depends on what works best for the individual user. Cubes are most practical as they are easy to stack. But eight light and dark discs would work just as well, according to Katherine. Theoretically, triangular, pyramidal or spherical wards would also work in the arcane sense. It's simply that the physical impossibility of stacking them would be counterproductive and infuriating to their user.

In Kelson's Gwynedd even now that the worst persecutions appear to be over, ward cubes are not simple to obtain, and possibly dangerous to own. We've never seen Denis Arilan produce his own set—they may still be too damning a possession for a Deryni bishop. Although ward cubes do not have to be made with a specific user in mind, they are not simply a neutral power source to be used with equal facility by any Deryni. The user must have some psychic compatibility to use their ward cubes effectively, although perhaps frequent use helps to attune wards to their owner. Personal relationships also determine who can use a given ward set. Rhys is easily able to work with Evaine's cubes, and Richenda probably does the same with Alaric's. Charissa, on the other hand might well find them impossible to use given her mutual enmity with Alaric.

Assuming that a Deryni family learned in this craft had survived with knowledge intact, they could hardly sell their arcane wares openly in the city marketplaces of Gwynedd. They would be cautious even about advertising their presence, as such exposure might still mean death. It may be that Kelson's Deryni subjects have to look to the Forcinn states or even to Torenth to obtain ward cubes, after saving money carefully for years to afford them. We don't even know how Alaric might have come by his ward cubes. My guess, which may well be disproved in the course of the Childe Morgan trilogy is that he inherited them from his mother who had inherited them from her Corwyn predecessors in her turn.

Beyond Ward Cubes
For major magical ceremonies involving several people, other methods than ward cubes are used to erect ward protection. Whether the ceremony is grand and impressive as in the case of Queron's induction to the Camberian Council, or hastily carried out with minimal preparation as for Rhys Michael's empowering in The Bastard Prince, wards of some kind are always set by the participants before the more serious work begins.

By observing the efficient magical team that Camber and his family make, we learn quite a lot about the process of warding a circle, a process that is strongly rooted in Christian worship as Camber and his family perform it. If a chapel is available, they use it, although that's not a requirement. First, a triple circle is cast in a clockwise direction to mark the boundaries of the ward, each beginning and ending with the Eastern quarter associated with St. Raphael. Rhys most often stands in the East, as healing is one of Raphael's divine attributes. The first circle is marked by one of the participants swinging a thurible, the incense smoke signifying air, the element of St. Raphael. Candles are also lit in each quarter at this stage, the flames signifying fire, St. Michael's element in the South, usually represented by Joram, Michaeline priest and knight. In the ceremony held on the night of Cinhil's death, the candles are each contained in holders of colored glass, amber in the East, ruby glass in the South, blue in the West for St. Gabriel, and green in the North for St. Uriel.

After the first circle is complete, the second is marked by sprinkling Holy water to honor St. Gabriel whose element is water. As the Angel of the Annunciation, Gabriel is generally represented by Evaine. Salt is added to the Holy water to honor St. Uriel and his element, earth. Camber himself most usually stands for Uriel in the North. On the night of Cinhil's death, Cinhil himself casts the third circle, using the Haldane sword to inscribe the outer limits of the ward, which begins to glow as he passes. The sword then remains at hand in the northeast quadrant for that ceremony to open and reseal the ward, allowing each of the three princes to be brought in and taken out in his turn.

In addition to providing the actual protection, casting the circle would have the additional benefit of calming any nerves, and focusing the concentration of all participants inward and on the work at hand. For the duration of the ceremony, mundane considerations lie outside the wards:

"We stand outside time in a place not of earth. As our ancestors before us bade, we join together and are One. By Thy blessed Apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; by all powers of Light and Shadow, we call Thee to guard and defend us from all perils, O Most High. Thus it is, and has always been, this will be for all times to come. Per omnia saecula saeculorum." Camber the Heretic, chapter 6, p 77.

Archangelic protection is generally invoked after the physical warding is complete. On the night of Cinhil's death a brief magical or supernatural response occurs; a wind blows briefly for Raphael, flames leap up for Michael; rain falls into a chalice for Gabriel, and a small, localized earthquake shakes the chapel for just a moment after Uriel is summoned. Of course, prior to Cinhil's death and the persecutions that follow, Camber and his family practice their magical skills in conditions that are as close to ideal for Deryni as they ever are. Just over a decade later after the worst of the persecutions, only Rhysel is available to help Michaela set Owain's potential:

"I'll confess before we start that this is as primitive as I've ever worked," Rhysel whispered, as she came through the gap in the circle, closed and loosely tied the ends of silk behind her and climbed up onto the bed beside the queen. "My mother would have loved it—experimental ritual. My father would have been appalled. But then, Healers are often quite conservative. Look at my brother; you'd think he was thirty, not thirteen." The Bastard Prince, chapter 32, p 356

Rhysel is easily equal to the task, and she does follow the procedure of more formal wardings to the best of her ability. Joram, himself conservative about magical procedure, is satisfied with her report. Perhaps he did not fuss over what he knew could not be helped. Or he simply avoided asking questions for which Rhysel might have anxiety-provoking answers.

As the Haldanes continued to pass on their powers to each succeeding generation, we may assume that at least one loyal and competent Deryni was available each time to help them through the experience. It is not until Nigel's assumption of partial Haldane powers in The King's Justice that we see another warding anything like those practiced by Camber and his family. Many elements are the same; the casting of the triple circle with incense, holy water and the sword, and the invocation of the four Archangels, although it is Richenda alone who summons them. As the granddaughter of the Prince of Andelon, trained by Azim it is not surprising that Richenda's training has a slightly exotic tincture from Eastern and Southern magical influences.

Other Warding Traditions
The most significant warding we've seen outside of Gwynedd is in the Torenthi coronation ceremony or killijalay, traditionally held on New Year's Day. The uncrowned king of Torenth is escorted to the Hagios Iob by four Deryni noblemen who protect him within a moving ward. According to the Codex Derynianus, the four Pillars of the Realm are usually in their late twenties to mid-thirties—well-trained enough to hold the necessary concentration for several hours, and strong enough to withstand the power drain. Each man represents an Archangel at each quarter of the circle surrounding the king and each wears a silk robe of the appropriate color; red for Michael, blue for Gabriel, green for Uriel and gold for Raphael. At the climax of the killijalay in the Codex, the Pillars of the Realm momentarily take on the appearance of the Archangel they represent.

At this point, there are more questions than answers about Deryni of other faiths, and the ceremonial wardings we've seen have been strongly linked to Christian worship. We don't know how strong the link between religion and their magic might be for Deryni Jews or Muslims, or what religious imagery they would use in their magic, if any. Would Deryni Jews hold magical ceremonies in a synagogue, or Deryni Muslims in a mosque? Are they viewed with the same hostility and fear by their religious leaders as Christian Deryni are by theirs? Given the segregation of the sexes in both Jewish and Muslim worship, how might the women of these faiths practice their magic?

Although their story is not canon, fan authors Mark Klinger and Jeffrey Olson wrote a very interesting story concerning wards in v.14 of Deryni Archives: The Magazine. In "A Deryni Letter", their invented character, Shlomo Halevi, uses twelve blue and white equilateral tetrahedrons which he arranges in a Star of David on the floor. Once completed, Shlomo's ward is even stronger than those constructed using conventional ward cubes.

Al-Rasoul ibn Tarik is a powerful Deryni Muslim of formidable training, although we haven't yet seen his true abilities. I'd love to watch him work his magic, either alone or with a group of his Muslim colleagues, and how they would go about erecting ward protection. (If I knew more about Islam, I might well be tempted to commit a fanfiction tale of my own on that very topic, but alas, I could hardly know less.)

The Dueling Circle
When two or more Deryni meet face to face for a Duel Arcane, they cast a protective circle of another sort around themselves. The dueling circle might be thought of as a ward turned inside out. Combatants in a Duel Arcane hardly expect to be safe, especially with a mortal challenge involved, so while conventional wards keep harmful elements out, the dueling circle confines them for the safety of any onlookers. In a duel to the death, the dueling circle can only be abolished when the challenge has been won. Kelson modifies this condition to mean a clear victory when he faces Conall. And other Deryni can no doubt alter the conditions to suit themselves at all points between mortal combat and a friendly contest.

Melissa Houle

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