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Melissa: The Black Hats of Gwynedd

Started by Evie, January 20, 2017, 03:38:12 PM

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Heroes are all very well, but it is the villains that truly round out the Deryni novels and engage our need to know what happens next. Deryni and human protagonists have always had plenty of enemies to fight, and they make a fascinating rogue's gallery. They are not all alike, and their motives arise from every sentiment between outraged religious sensibilities through patriotism to pure self-interest. Some combine religious fervor or patriotism with well-developed self-interest. Deryni villains have their own agendas, but Deryni blood is no proof against the basic human traits of greed, ambition and revenge. Some do not see themselves as villains at all, but consider their actions right and necessary to rid themselves or their countries from a genuine threat. Then there are the well-meaning people whose actions precipitate disaster.

The Religious Enemies
The Church of Gwynedd has supplied some of the most memorable and threatening villains of all. Anti-Deryni religious fervor in both priests and laymen were the justification for many if not all Deryni deaths between Alroy's reign and Kelson's. Hubert MacInnis must answer for much of this in the Camberian timeline. Hubert is a priest and bishop and his sacerdotal authority is real, but it always appears that power, not God, is his first love. As a younger son, the church was simply his most efficient vehicle to acquire that power, and his piety always takes second place. Hubert campaigns shamelessly to become Primate in 917, but the results of the legitimate balloting are not to his liking. He and his fellow regents launch a vengeful bloodbath that includes the nonviolent Gabrilites among its first victims, then force a new election for Hubert's sake. The repressive Ordo Custodum Fidei was also Hubert's creation, ostensibly to protect the church from Deryni heresy. The harm that he and the Custodes did in just ten years is only beginning to heal in Kelson's reign. Javan, a most reluctant member of the Custodes, has the good sense to keep his true agenda to himself, for the implication is clear that Custodes priests would have violated the seal of the confessional for Hubert's benefit.

Edmund Loris's fanaticism was at least rooted in honest religious fervor, giving the man a grim sort of integrity. Not that that would console his victims. This certainty that he is right leads Loris to ally himself with the rebel Warin de Grey against Kelson, and ultimately leads to his loss of legitimacy in the Church of Gwynedd. In The Bishop's Heir and The King's Justice, Loris burns to regain his high rank, so he throws his support to Caitrin Quinnell of Meara who has helped him escape from prison although his gratitude is rather tainted:

"Do you think I care a whit about her, Gorony? It's my see I want back—and I want the Deryni who took it from me. I want them very badly." The Bishop's Heir, p.93

Loris shows Bishop Istelyn no mercy, and when Duncan is taken prisoner in The King's Justice, Loris and Gorony display a ghoulish pleasure in inflicting pain and degradation upon him. The two are accomplished torturers—Duncan can't possibly have been their first victim:

"It had only been a little, for apparently they knew too that too much would either put him to sleep or kill him—out of reach of their pain in either case—but it was more than enough to keep him in thrall to the drug's disruptive effect... he found himself wondering where Gorony had gotten his obviously fine-tuned knowledge of merasha. But, then, torturers through the ages had always had their sources of information..." The King's Justice, pp 233-234.

Gorony—where did he learn what he knows about merasha, and who taught him? Although he was a loyal henchman both to Oliver de Nore and Loris, Gorony himself was never consecrated bishop, and his lower rank never appeared to be a negative issue for him. In Kelson's time, the Custodes no longer exist openly, but as Katherine has said, absence of proof is not proof of absence. Gorony's torture methods in The King's Justice are certainly reminiscent of the Custodes. When Dimitri is tortured in The Bastard Prince, the Custodes are positively scientific in their use of merasha:

"Is that a new way of administering merasha, Lior?" he (Rhun) asked, as he released the captive's head and stepped back, looking at the inquisitor-general.

"Absorbtion of the drug through the skin is slower but steady," Lior said, drawing a deep breath and exhaling. "The umbilicus provides a handy receptacle and the skin lining it is very thin. A somewhat limited method of delivery, but it has its uses. Father Magan discovered it. Obviously it had not occurred to Dimitri." The Bastard Prince p. 135

From the date of their institution at Candlemas 918, it's clear that these Guardians of the Faith are dangerous enemies with a very specific agenda; the elimination of the remaining Deryni in Gwynedd, and to forcibly cleanse the church of all Deryni heresy. The knights of the new Order are given the Benediction of the Sword—in this case, a license to murder Deryni. They invented the Deryni pricker, the tradition of merasha-tainted ordination wine and minution being used as a weapon. The Deryni pricker is simply a useful tool, and no more treacherous a way to dose a Deryni with merasha than any other. The tainted ordination wine is far more insidious and with more horrible results, as we see in Jorian de Courcy's case. It was certainly a diabolically effective way to keep Deryni out of the priesthood—at least in most cases. In most monasteries, minution was a benevolent, accepted medical procedure, which the Custodes corrupted to become a weapon of intimidation and even death. For Javan, it was a severe test of courage, as all Custodes had to undergo minution at least once. Minution was used to try to force a confession out of Father Faelan, and for Rhys Michael, it was first a means of intimidation, and then of his terrible death in 928.

Eager though they are to protect the Church and the Christian faith against Deryni, the Custodes are deep in thrall to Hubert, the arch-hypocrite. Furthermore, the Custodes pragmatically make use of Dimitri's services. He is the ultimate Deryni sniffer, used in interrogations to intimidate and betray any Deryni unlucky enough to fall into Custodes hands, or to frighten useful information out of unfortunates like Father Faelan.

Pure Self-Interest
The most despicable villains, naturally, are those who are looking out for number one, and don't care who gets hurt or even killed by their actions. Imre of Festil is an over-indulged and self-indulgent scion of Gwynedd's Deryni conquerors. Uninterested in statecraft or the welfare of his subjects, Imre cared only about what he wanted, whether it was a costly new capital at Nyford or his sister Ariella in his bed. Ariella cares for nothing but Imre and her own influence upon him—having Imre marry would not suit her at all, and to the devil with a legitimate Festillic heir. Had Imre put even a little more effort into his kingship, the Restoration might never have happened, although Gwyneddan history would have been far different. Coel Howell, another man who places his interests before those of anyone else, is easily able to manipulate Imre into killing Cathan with virtually no questions asked. Coel does not lose any sleep over his brother-in-law's ruin and murder, or over making a widow of his own sister and rendering his young nephews fatherless.

While Cinhil Haldane was no nurturing father by the most generous standard, the six men who serve as regents for his underage sons are a thoroughly ruthless and unsavory lot. To them, Gwynedd owes the diabolical institution of Deryni sniffers, in which captive Deryni were forced to betray their own kind on pain of torture and death for their families. Hubert's sins have already been discussed, but his colleagues are no better; Murdoch of Carthane was "a staunch opponent of everything and everyone Deryni." Rhun of Horthness was a butcher without mercy or a conscience. Ewan MacEwan was an ambitious man whose worst qualities were brought out by his unpleasant colleagues. After Ewan's death—execution, really, Manfred MacInnis was another merciless brute like Rhun. Tammaron Fitz-Arthur might have been a decent minister of the crown if he'd had better associates. But he shows a basic lack of integrity in going along with his colleagues without protest. Not surprisingly, the welfare of Cinhil's sons was hindmost in the concerns of these five men:

"Two of the most somber personal realities of royalty—the lack of privacy and the lack of true companionship—had been most emphatically underlined when the regents decreed that Javan and his brothers henceforth should have separate households...

"The real reason, Javan had long suspected—and his Deryni friends concurred was to keep the royal brothers shut away from outside ideas and divided among themselves, so that they would never develop any independent thinking or even compare notes on how they thought princes ought to be treated." The Harrowing of Gwynedd, p.115

Not only are the princes kept isolated, their squires, who should have been their friends and companions, were forced into the roles of spies and jailers. The regents stifle Alroy's interest in statecraft by reiterating the message he's only a boy and such matters are over his head. Additionally, they see to it that this sickly, underage king is regularly drugged to keep him docile. Surely, five grown men could have kept one naturally meek twelve year-old boy under their control without drugs? In public, the regents address Alroy as a king, but he is never more than their puppet who occasionally finds the courage to speak his mind. We don't know what price Alroy pays for his periodic outspokenness, but the regents don't have much courtesy to waste on him in private:
"But her uncle still lives," Alroy blurted, consternation clouding his brow. "And surely such haste is less than seemly, with her sister not yet dead a day." "Why, do you fancy her yourself, Sire?" Murdoch retorted, chuckling unpleasantly as his eyes raked Alroy's thin form and the boy went bright red. "I had no idea you were so eager." The Harrowing of Gwynedd, p. 137

In King Javan's Year, the former regents have become deadly enemies who resent their capable, newly adult king, and would like nothing more than their former power back—and tragically, they get it. Rhys Michael, who was manipulated into early marriage and fatherhood by the regents, pays the highest price of all three brothers in the form of six years of true imprisonment and a terrible death when he is only twenty-one. The regents no longer bother to keep up a benevolent façade before him. He knows in hatefully clear terms what will happen to himself and to Michaela if he refuses to comply:

"Preserving the legitimate succession was the most desirable; but if Rhys Michael had declined to cooperate, the great lords had decided very early that it was sufficient for their purposes merely to keep the king alive until some willing surrogate ensured that the queen did, indeed, bear offspring that would be taken for Haldane. What the great lords most desired was a puppet Haldane king; but a puppet bastard carrying the Haldane name would suit them well enough if it came to that." The Bastard Prince, p. 39

The welfare of the kingdom, the preservation and legitimate succession of the Haldane line, and even the life of this theoretical puppet bastard sired by one of them is as nothing to the great lords beside their own power and prestige. Thanks to Rhys Michael's making the most of his one opportunity to win allies and act, young King Owain and his brother Uthyr are finally able to rule independently when they come into their majority.

Beside the manipulative selfishness of these lords, other people's villainies pale by comparison. Not that betrayal goes out of fashion by any means. Lord Ian Howell, the Earl of Eastmarch is easily lured into treason by Charissa. He willingly backs her in the hopes of getting Alaric Morgan's Corwyn which borders his own Eastmarch after Brion, Kelson and Morgan are out of the way. Ian's ambitions do not stop there, although he does not realize Charissa knows his ultimate plans to depose her. Restless, dissatisfied Bran Coris is won over to treason by Wencit with equal ease, if by different means. Both of them are human men and ultimately seem more like the dupes of the real villains. Evidently, neither Ian nor Bran stopped to think they might have been killed rather than rewarded once they had outlived their usefulness. Ruthless people like Charissa and Wencit were unlikely to keep untrustworthy people around them unless they were very, very useful.

Unfortunately, the time we spend with Conall Haldane through the pages of The Quest for Saint Camber prove him to be an immature, selfish young man who can't resist the temptation to misuse his dishonestly gained powers. Nor does he have the courage to take responsibility for his crimes. These are not precisely pre-meditated, but his guilt gradually compounds as the novel unfolds:

"Conall's own pounding heart began to slow down as he realized that he at least, could not be blamed, and a detached, unfamiliar part of him began quite coolly developing a story to explain the (Nigel's) condition without casting blame upon himself. Some of the reasoning, he knew with a frightened and puzzled certainty, came from the memories of the dead Tiercel de Claron...
"He dared not let his part in it be known, then. His guilt was multiplying with every new, terrible thing that happened, but he dared not confess—not with the crown at last within his reach." The Quest for Saint Camber, pp. 249-250.

Even Conall's love for Rothana is selfish and possessive with a large dollop of adolescent male libido thrown in. Conall wants her, but spares little thought as to whether she wants him or whether she would find lasting happiness as his wife—it is always and only about him. Had Rothana refused his offer of marriage, Conall was prepared to blackmail her to her religious superiors with no regard for her vocation. Fortunately she and he are spared this eventuality, as there's scarcely a worse basis for marriage than deception and blackmail.

Marek of Festil and his cousin Miklos von Furstán are another pair of self-interested villains. Marek, forced into the position of a poor relation at King Arion's court, wants his father's kingdom back, as conquerors get more respect than hangers-on at someone else's court. Miklos, a younger brother, is willing to back Marek in exchange for some Gwyneddan territory of his own, rather than waiting politely for Arion to grant him some Torenthi lands and titles. Together, they manage to draw Rhys Michael out to Eastmarch for a face-to-face meeting. Sudrey of Eastmarch, distant kin to the Furstáns, had infuriated Miklos months before by remaining loyal to Hrorik. Easy enough for Miklos and the shape-changed Marek to kill Rhys Michael and Sudrey together, except that the meeting does not go the way either Torenthi Prince thought it would. For Miklos, the surprise that Rhys Michael has the Haldane power is a fatal one, and the aftermath of the meeting ultimately costs both Sudrey and Rhys Michael their lives. Marek, returning to Beldour without Miklos, was disgraced, and deprived of King Arion's practical support for years to come.

Miklos's Deryni agent, Dimitri, is himself a puzzling figure. What was his payoff for the danger (and tedium) of living among the Deryni-hating Custodes for six years as the ultimate sniffer? He was despised and feared by his own kind while he betrayed them to the Custodes. Miklos gained a pipeline of valuable information, but it's never exactly known what Dimitri himself stood to gain. True, Dimitri supposedly offered Paulin of Ramos his services for having saved his brother Collos's life, but how far would fraternal love and gratitude really stretch, and for how long? Dimitri was risking his life and liberty daily among the Custodes, and he ends up painfully dead without having ever betrayed Miklos. Dimitri's promised reward, whatever it was, must have been extravagant.

The Loyal Opposition
Successful arguments could be made that Wencit and Charissa belong in the category of pure self-interest—they are both ruthless in the pursuit of their aims and display no qualms over those they use or kill along the way. Wencit was no Imre, though, and, as King of Torenth, he had a duty to his people to at least keep track of the Haldanes, traditional enemies of the House of Furstán. What takes Wencit past merely being the warrior king of a different land is his cool sadism toward his prisoners, especially Derry. He enjoys Derry's fear and humiliation far too much. Nor does display remorse over the hanging of Duke Jared McLain and the other hundred Cassanis, and was prepared to impale a further hundred men if necessary, to break Kelson's will. Before we even meet the man, we learn of Wencit's treachery in that he broke two treaties in his efforts to annexe the mountain city of Cardosa. Nor did he ever intend the four-way Duel Arcane to be a fair fight; it was simply that for once, he was out-maneuvered, first by Kelson and his colleagues, and then by Stefan Coram.

Had Charissa openly met Brion in a Duel Arcane, she would simply have been a challenger to his authority, and the would-be avenger of her father's death. But there is an element of cowardice as well as ruthlessness in her process. Knowing Brion might beat her in a fair fight, she murders him at a distance instead, having first rendered him helpless through drugged wine. With Brion out of the way, defeating Kelson shouldn't be any problem for a sorceress of Charissa's magnitude—or so she thinks. She boasts as much to Morgan the night before Kelson's coronation.

From Caitrin Quinnell of Meara's perspective, she has both the right and the duty to try to free Meara from its Haldane overlords. Kelson's relationship to Donal Haldane is enough to make him her enemy, and his Deryni blood simply makes him more of one. Princess Annalind's Quinnell line goes out fighting, even though the last Quinnell-Haldane war ends exactly as all the previous ones had done. The Quinnells have their own ruthlessness; Caitrin allies herself with Loris, and does nothing to protect Henry Istelyn, who never swore her any oaths, from a terrible, undeserved death. Sicard MacArdry, once a vassal of Brion's, does nothing to stop Duncan's torture and only makes a token protest after watching it go on all night. Sicard's own army pays dearly for Loris's anti-Duncan obsession when Kelson catches up to them. Llewell Quinnell cuts his own sister's throat on her wedding day to prevent a peaceful resolution with the Haldanes. Ithel Quinnell and his men desecrate an abbey church and rape the nuns of St. Brigid's—after the women had already given them the supplies they demanded. Just before his capture, Ithel sacks the town of Talacara, torments the townspeople, and allows his soldiers to loot the village unchecked. It appears unlikely that Mearan commoners will miss the Quinnells or their wars very much.

Duke Lionel of Arjenol is perhaps the best example of loyal opposition. Not to make him better than he was; he was a formidable adversary who helped lure Bran into treason and had a hand in the deaths of the Cassani prisoners. He is a loyal vassal to his own King however, and dies at Wencit's side. Mahael of Arjenol is a duke of a different color. As effective King of Torenth for eight years, as regent for Alroy and Liam, he definitely stands to lose when Liam returns. But even before Liam leaves Torenth, his elder brother, Alroy, suffers a fatal riding accident. While Kelson is initially blamed, circumstances were suspicious, and the accident was tremendously convenient for Mahael. The attack on Kelson and Liam on the Ile d'Orsal points even more suspicion in Mahael's direction, but no proof can be obtained. Liam admits to Kelson that he strongly suspects Mahael murdered his brother and is out to kill him, but that he has no proof. The fugitive brother Teymuraz will be a force both Kelson and Liam will have to contend with in the future. It's not known for certain what would have happened to Richelle or Araxie had Teymuraz abducted them, but he does murder Morag, his own sister-in-law, without hesitation. Nor does Teymuraz flinch from using Derry in his attempt to kill Matyás.

Morag had a legitimate grudge against Kelson, having lost her brother and husband at Llyndruth Meadows in 1121. Morag, Wencit's sister and very much a Furstán herself, probably wouldn't hesitate to take a life if she deemed it necessary. She suborns Derry to her will although one senses she is not necessarily out to kill him. He's simply a tool her brother found useful, while Kelson was her real target. Morag is also a mother to two kings, and was suitably outraged by Mahael and Teymuraz's treachery against them. She was at Liam's killijalay, and Kelson's actions that day must have challenged at least some of her preconceived notions about him. Her attitude is further softened by watching the court of Gwynedd through Derry's eyes.

The Accidental Villains
King Cinhil, while a fundamentally decent man and king, nevertheless caused great harm to his realm and family. In his head, Cinhil accepted the necessity for his kingship, but he didn't abandon his vocation willingly or gladly. His three sons paid the highest price for his attitude both during his life and after it:

"King Cinhil was not demonstrative by nature, and, after his wife's death, found it increasingly difficult to take much part in the upbringing of children whose very existence was an embarrassment to his former priestly status—especially when Javan's lameness daily proclaimed God's displeasure over Cinhil's abandoned vocation." The Harrowing of Gwynedd, p. 114.

Once Cinhil knew he was dying, his choice of regents for his underage sons was downright disastrous. Thanks to the regents, Cinhil's sons all died young; the Gabrilites and their gift of healing were lost for prosterity; and the spiritually sound Michaelines were driven out of Gwynedd. The Church became a nest of anti-Deryni fanatics for two centuries, and everything positive about Deryni knowledge and culture, and most of the Deryni themselves, were wiped out, regardless of their personal guilt.

Tavis O'Neill and Javan himself, unfortunately, fit the mold of accidental villains when they deceive then drug Rhys on Christmas Eve, 917. Not that they ever intended Rhys's death, but Rhys's diminished faculties the next day were indirectly responsible for his fatal injury. Had Rhys survived, Evaine would have also. Their children and Joram, and the Camberian Council would all have had the benefit of their presence far longer. To balance the harm they did, Tavis does make it possible for Camber/Alister to warn Dom Emrys at St. Neot's in time. Rhys himself manages to warn Joram and Camber about the regent's attack on Christmas Day. Rhys Michael Haldane is also an accidental villain through his refusal to heed Javan's warnings about the regents, and almost willful naiveté. It is hard to remain angry with him, however as his punishment for his failing was crushingly harsh.

Duke Jared's architect Rimmell, in his lovesick ignorance, causes the death of Bronwyn and Kevin. Not only a terrible grief to their families, but a devastating blow to the Cassani succession. Even if Bronwyn and Kevin had not died, Rimmell's actual intent to interfere with the marriage was dishonorable, since Bronwyn and Kevin were in love. Bethane herself, although it gives her a pause to get involved where Bronwyn is concerned, works the charm for Rimmell, believing it is just another favor she's done for a young man in love. Whether or not she found out the harm she'd done is presently unknown. Colin of Fianna is another accidental villain in Deryni Rising. However, he could not help being used as a tool by Charissa, and had probably never seen her before she gave him the wine flask. No doubt she gave him some very specific instructions to be seen drinking wine in Brion's presence on the hunt, and to share it with his King.

Who was worst?
If I were going to nominate any of the characters mentioned here as the "worst villains" I think the nomination has to go to the regents as the smallest number of people who did the worst and most lasting damage through sheer treachery and selfishness. First runner up would be Cinhil Haldane, who refused to use his powers to choose better, wiser men. Second runners up would have to be Imre and Ariella. Their degenerate morals, inattention to duty, and their disregard for the welfare of all their human subjects drew the just anger of the kingdom and bred the very atmosphere that created the violent anti-Deryni backlash after Cinhil's death.

The dubious honor of being the worst individual priest in known Gwyneddan history belongs to Hubert MacInnis, I believe. But the Custodes win hands down for being the worst religious Order. The full tale of their spiritual terrorism in Gwynedd is unknown, but what we know of them is quite sufficient. Loris is Hubert's worst priest runner up, but of course, we don't know all the sins that lie on his doorstep, either. He was Primate of Gwynedd for a relatively short period of time, but in the approximately forty years of his priesthood, he had plenty of time to accumulate an impressive list of victims.

For Deryni villains, I think the dishonorable mention has to go to Wencit of Torenth. Charissa was definitely a threat, but she kept her enmity trained on those actually responsible for her father's death. Wencit has the greater power, and his ambition to rule Gwynedd is no less than Charissa's. She does murder a King, it's true, and would have killed the rest of the Haldanes, as well. Wencit's wickedness is less focused and he causes more harm to more people. If he failed to kill Kelson and his close comrades, it wasn't for lack of effort on Wencit's part.

For blind, stubborn clinging to an old idea with no regard to the cost for others, Caitrin of Meara was the worst member of the loyal opposition, but her sons were no credit to her, particularly not Ithel. Conall must take the prize for sheer pique and immaturity among princes, however.

Javan and Tavis, although they ultimately fought for the right cause, must answer for the great harm Rhys Thuryn's death caused. At a time when the Deryni cause needed every good man and woman it had, Rhys's death was a devastating blow, to Evaine and their children, most of all.

While some villains and antagonists of Deryni history have gone unmentioned here, and that will have to remain the case unless I continue for another ten pages. I have attempted to talk about the more prominent bad guys, in groups, if not individually. After all, the history of the Eleven Kingdoms is continuing to unfold, as will the history of villainy and antagonism. And Katherine has indicated there are many more villains to meet in the Childe Morgan trilogy to come.

Melissa Houle

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