The King’s Deryni


Cover of The King's DeryniKatherine Kurtz, The King’s Deryni

I already had this in hardback, from the moment it was out (late 2014) but unfortunately it has such small type in a light font, in such huge line lengths, that my middle-aged eyes gave up. I thought I’d finished it regardless but the last 20% or so was a complete surprise when I’d finally acquired an epub version.

Perhaps I gave up even earlier and I just don’t remember what I did and didn’t read, because the first 80% (or even more) of the book is completely unsurprising. Bill Capossere of Fantasy Literature nails it. Children grow up, little boys become pages, pages become squires, squires are knighted, people get married, babies are born, people die, battles are fought, kings come into their magical inheritance… oh wait. Yes, that is surprising, and I’d have liked to see more of it. As it is, most of the psychic training of young Alaric Morgan happens when he’s in a trance. That is the way his mentor’s religious-knights order trains its novices, as the mentor tells him. Yes, that’s as may be, but we readers would like to be in on it! All we get now is “you’ll know that when you need it”.

I have very high tolerance for low-plot slice-of-life writing, but even I was “what, it’s Twelfth Night again?” after a few iterations. And much like In the King’s Service and Childe Morgan, when something does happen it’s likely to be the killing-off of a beloved character. That may continue in the fifteen-year-gap between The King’s Deryni and Deryni Rising, or the adult Alaric Morgan from the latter wouldn’t be an almost friendless man with hardly any family! The King’s Deryni ends with him having three half-sisters, all with a husband and children, and many friends, who he’s in intensive contact with.

Yes, I know that Deryni Rising was the first Deryni novel Katherine Kurtz wrote, when she didn’t know about all those people yet and wrote only the ones pertinent to that story. All writers know that’s how it happens. I’ll call it “prequelitis”, and if that wasn’t a word, now it is. But my fanfic brain thinks up several scenarios to get rid of all those friends and relatives. (No, I won’t go there; I’d rather think they’re all living happy lives and just aren’t needed for the plot of Deryni Rising and its sequels.)

The pet peeves from my earlier post remain: however much it’s stressed that good people use their powers for good and only evil people for evil, much of what Deryni do with their powers is coercion. As I said in that earlier post, that’s what my bad guys do. Setting “controls”, altering people’s memory — urgh. Also, the Camberian Council is much more in the spotlight than in other books, masterminding people’s lives.

Alaric Morgan, then. I like him a lot, but isn’t he far too competent and precocious? At four he seems seven, at seven an adolescent, at fourteen an adult. Granted, it’s alternate-world historical fantasy, you can argue that children grow up faster than we’re used to, but that doesn’t excuse all of it. You need some experience to be an adult. I somewhat miss the almost-adult brittleness of a fourteen-year-old when he leads the magical ritual to confirm King Brion’s Haldane powers. (But that magical ritual is impressive. Too bad that the king’s soldiers arrive just too early and distrust him because of it.)

I’ll now go on to reread Deryni Rising[1] and try to figure out if Alaric Morgan is different in the light of what I now know about him.

[1] After I’ve finished reading and reviewing a friend’s book because I promised to do that.

Vespers of Easter


Time: 0:25 Total: 3:25 Grand total: 17:40
Congregation: 25 or so. Daughter alerted me to a woman who had come in from the street who had noticed “there was something going on” and wanted to know what it was, and she stayed until the end.
Crew: Altar: Fr T and a hypodiakon. Choir: SSSAAATT, sorely in need of basses but we sang joyfully anyway.

The “we can’t stop celebrating” service. Opportunity to say “Christ is risen” to people who couldn’t come in the night. I saw one definite enemy and ignored them; would have greeted them in the night (as I did another enemy, I pointedly do that every year trying to stop being enemies but it hasn’t worked until now) but that mood was gone by Vespers. (I don’t have many enemies: can still count them on the fingers of one hand and have fingers left over. If I ever run out of fingers I may try to reconcile.)

Christ is risen!


Time: 3:00 Grand total: 17:15
Congregation: Many. Lots.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, one hypodiakon, 3 adult acolytes, 1 boy acolyte (who, according to the hypodiakon, was asleep most of the time) Choir: Everybody, except Intermittent Bass who was probably singing in Nijmegen. We got compliments for the singing, and a toast from Fr T at the feast.

We seem to always have a police car “just passing” at the procession; this time even two, one at the first corner we turned, and one in the last street before we got back to church. I didn’t notice the second one but Spouse did, and he’d seen them “observing”. I wonder if the first car called the second, and if so, why: we were a very peaceful procession and didn’t attract any cat-callers like a couple of years ago.

Choirmistress and I are going to clean up the Holy Week and Easter choirbooks on Tuesday and they sorely need it: not only the choirbook equivalent of bitrot but also some things that really should be clearer. We need a reader’s note for the Easter night, for one thing! The reader first forgot the prokeimenon, and when we yelled at her from the choir, tried to read the Ascension Day one as well (which is below the Easter one in the book because Ascension Day has the same reading, at least one that starts the same). I could tell her later that I did the same thing when I first read the Easter Epistle, but the choir couldn’t yell helpfully at me then because we were singing from the balcony and I had to go all the way down to read. After enlarging the church 11 years ago (goodness, have I been a reader so long?)  the balcony no longer exists, and it was a horrible place to sing anyway.

I was wearing a pair of knee-socks I’d found in the sock drawer because my dress was shorter than usual and it wasn’t warm enough for sandals. They turned out to be semi-compression socks: nice   if you’re standing and walking for a long time like working in a shop, but with standing still all the time in the choir they pinched my calves and ankles and made my feet tingle. The moment I started moving around for the Paschal greeting they did their work properly, but after that there was another hour and a half of standing, of course.

Afterwards at the feast we sat in the “children’s room” that’s always reserved for the choir and altar crew, and I said to a choirmate “look, we’re here and your daughter and mine are over there at the next table” — I think they know each other from camp, or Orthodox Youth. Then we saw Choirmistress’ daughter at that table as well. Choirmistress’ granddaughter, who will be four tomorrow, was at our table drawing and commenting on the sorry state of the crayons (she was right).


Vespers and Liturgy of Holy Saturday


Time: 2:45 Total: 4:50 Grand total: 14:15
Congregation: At least 90 because I heard Fr T count me as ’70’ at the blessing and there were twenty or more people behind me.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, both hypodiakons and two adult acolytes. We’d have liked to have the really clever boy acolyte but he’s in Ukraine at the moment celebrating Easter with family. He and his sister weren’t available to read some of the Old Testament readings either. Choir: SSSSAATB (with Intermittent Bass and Auxiliary Tenor). Another soprano, who hadn’t been to any practice, turned up halfway through the service, and Choirmistress asked me “is that S? she shouldn’t sing!” and sent her away.

Some ragged edges (Choirmistress gave a wrong cue when reading Exodus, so we got the end of the glorification wrong; I mixed up some animals in Psalm 103 but all translations have different animals anyway so it would hardly have mattered if I hadn’t called both deer and hares “hares”; one choir member sang a joyful phrase when everybody else was silent) but a wonderful service in all. Every time I’m in this service it seems to be more about the Resurrection: surely it’s Easter already!

Matins and First Hour of Holy Saturday


Time: 2:05 Grand total: 11:30
Congregation: looked as if there was hardly anybody at the beginning but we ended up at 10 or so, not counting the very populous choir.
Crew: Altar (though mostly behind and around the epitaph): Fr T and an adult acolyte. Choir: SSSSAAATB.

Rambling at times, mostly because we hadn’t practiced with everyone together so the other alto who is entitled to sing the troparia of the Lamentations (only old hands who can reliably carry a tune get to do that) and I weren’t on the same page all the time. Mistakes were made: I forgot to read the Ikos, Choirmistress gave very unfeasible notes a couple of times, Fr T skipped the troparion in the second tone at the end (but we clamored for it and got to sing it). I should have read that troparion in the First Hour instead of The Noble Joseph, come to think of it. Next year we should just have the hour in the book, troparion and kontakion and all.

We didn’t have anyone to carry the cross in the procession, only the one acolyte with the lantern, so the cross wasn’t carried. No problem — less chance to accidentally put it back among the flowers awry.


Vespers of Good Friday


Time: 1:05 Total: 5:30 Grand total: 9:25
Congregation: 40? Didn’t really count, this is a very rough estimate.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, a hypodiakon, two adult acolytes (one was late and put on a sticharion that was much too short for him but couldn’t change that in time). Choir: SSSSAAAB, sorely missed a tenor but two of the altos can sing some tenor parts and both of them did so occasionally.

Strangely this Good Friday had no conflict at all. Usually I get into some altercation because everybody’s tempers are frayed from fasting. It might have helped that I made a point of drinking a glass of water every time I happened to be in my own kitchen: made the difference between staying in one piece and falling apart.

Royal Hours and Typika of Good Friday


Time: 1:50 Total: 4:25 Grand total: 8:20
Congregation: starting out 2, growing to 5
Crew: Fr T outside the altar with a hypodiakon to handle the candlestick and the censer, Choirmistress and I in the choir so we alternated hours and I got the Typika.

This is such a wonderful understated service. I used to go with an attitude of “ah well, while I’m at it” but I love it more every year. Hearing all the Passion Gospels in full (well, except Luke who gets only the part the other ones don’t have) helps too. And psalms that don’t usually come up unless we read arbitrary psalms when Fr T is hearing confessions.

All day I’ve had a spate of being extremely practical in little things — a small blessing which I’m grateful for! For one thing, I tied the plastic thingy that supports the overflow of pages when the choir book is thicker than the lectern is wide to the base of the lectern with a length of sturdy but almost-invisible thread, so we don’t have to search for it when someone (likely to be me as I’m the usual Turner of Pages) unwisely turns a page without heeding the bleeping thing and it falls to the floor again.

Of church-cleaning, I didn’t do anything except take all the things that had accumulated inside the choir lectern out, wipe it, sort the stuff and put the useful stuff back again. Also sharpened the pencil and provided a bottle of white-out, because I found several spare bottles of white-out in my desk while searching for labels. I felt sort of called to polish copper and brass but a couple of minutes in the cellar to ask someone a question and stick the “Don’t switch off this machine!” note [1] on the dehumidifier gave me such a headache and sore throat that I went shopping instead. Many people can polish brass, but not many people can read verses and I happen to be one of the latter.

[1] Also with a table of “if the humidity is below 45, tell Irina; if 45-59, setting should be Low; 60-70 Medium; over 70, High” because someone switched off the machine because they thought it had done its work –after all the humidity was 55 or so, down from 80 when we bought the machine– and it was back in the 70s when I noticed a couple of days later.

Yesterday I mentioned to a choirmate that the little notepad and the pencil are in the lectern in case someone thinks of something they’d otherwise either forget or would need to keep in their head during the rest of the service, and she was all “oh!” because she’d been annoyed with me writing things down, but she absolutely gets into the same situation quite often.


Matins of Good Friday


Time: 2:35 Grand total: 6:25
Congregation: 3-6, some staying all the time, others coming in later or leaving earlier or, in one case, both.
Crew: Clergy (outside the altar): Fr T and an adult acolyte who was instructed by the hypodiakon (who wasn’t serving and left early to nurse his vestigial bronchitis) how to ring the bell. He did fairly well, learning how to strike it softly in the course of the service but as he got tired struck it too loudly again. Choir: SSAT and for about half the service another T.

The service started very smoothly and felt very quick, but eventually it was only five minutes shorter than last year, probably because there were fewer people to venerate the Cross.

We actually started the sedalion in the fourth tone right! Probably because I remembered to virtually strike out the ordinary Amen and point to the special fits-with-it Amen. It’s a very hard piece so it was still a bit ragged, but definitely better than last year.

All of us had forgotten to get the cross from its usual place (the corner where the dead are commemorated) so when we saw “Carrying out of the cross” in the book there was a brief flurry of excitement, resulting in Auxiliary Tenor getting the cross to Fr T so he could carry it into the altar in order to properly carry it out.

It’s a good thing that the Gospel readings get shorter and shorter: the first one is four and a half chapters of John, easily twenty minutes, and the last only four verses of Matthew. This service is exhausting enough as it is.


Vespers and Liturgy of Holy Thursday


Time: 2:10 Total: 3:50
Congregation: about 5, coming and going.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, one hypodiakon and one adult acolyte. Choir: SSSAAT (Regular but Still Somewhat Trainee Tenor was holding his own very well)

Nice no-nonsense service. Afterwards, over coffee and cinnamon bread and a glass of wine, a very good conversation between Fr T and a choirmate (who is a physicist) and me about, well, the world. The sciences. The fact that some people are ignorant enough to disbelieve that a person can be a scientist and a Christian (which is not the same as a Christian Scientist!) And that both the creation story and the Big Bang are in fact models for the same thing: the beginning of the word. The same thing can be described accurately by more than one model, though models are of necessity not a complete description.

Then Choirmistress and I turned the church black — it won’t be white again until Saturday morning, and all the ordinary non-Easter white cloths can now go in the wash — and put the holder for the cross in place and filled it with flower-arranging foam. While we were doing that, a man and a woman looked in with interested faces so I said “you can come in!” and they did. We talked a bit, explained the Orthodox cross, showed off our icons of St Lebuinus, and then it transpired that they were killing time while the man’s wife/the woman’s mother was in surgery. “You can light a candle if you want!” we said, “we’ll snuff it when we leave but light it again tonight when the service starts.” And they wanted! Unfortunately we forgot to ask for the woman’s name so we could pray for her, but the church has the convenient “Thy handmaiden, whose name Thou knowest” for that.


Matins and First Hour of Holy Thursday


Time: 1:40
Congregation: 1 man and 1 woman. But they did stay the for the whole service
Crew: Altar: Fr T and 1 adult acolyte. Choir: SSSAATB! Both T and B were the non-regulars, who happen to have more experience than the regulars.

We turned the church white before the service (in the early afternoon in fact) because Choirmistress and Fr T had talked about it and decided that it’s Matins of Thursday, so it’s Thursday, so the church ought to be white already. And it did make a difference!

Wonderful singing, too. Very good start of Holy Week, at least for the choir: Fr T did Holy Unction on Monday but none of us were there for historical (it used to be a tacked-on thing that the other priest, who now belongs to a different diocese, did, and when he left some people in the congregation were so used to it that Fr T does it now but the choir wants no part of it) and emotional (as I said, the choir wants no part of it) reasons.

In the afternoon, after turning the church white and having a spare key for the bulletin-board case cut but long before the service, I was cycling to the Turkish butcher to order a leg of lamb for Sunday and suddenly something in my brain snapped me into Holy Week mode, where the world may be there but it doesn’t matter, only the great cosmic drama matters. The little things are still there, like having the key cut and ordering the leg of lamb (and those little things are somehow more important than the greater outside world), but they don’t matter in that way.