The thrilling conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Katherine Kurtz’s epic Childe Morgan trilogy.
Alaric Morgan has one clear purpose in life—to stand alongside the King of Gwynedd. The old king knew that his successor would benefit from having a Deryni at his side, so Alaric and the young Prince Brion Haldane were bound together by magic—a magic to be called upon when Brion was most in need.
Now that eighteen-year-old Brion has ascended to the throne, seven-year-old Alaric has come to court. Through the coming years, as Alaric learns the extent of his powers and faces the ugliest prejudices against the Deryni, he will experience love, loss, and the hard lessons gained from both. And he will be there to unleash the full power of his Deryni magic at Brion’s command.
For Alaric is—and always will be—the king’s Deryni.
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Katherine Kurtz has been writing fantasy for more than four decades and is the author of the Novels of the Deryni, including Childe Morgan and In the King’s Service. She is married and lives in Staunton, Virginia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born. . . .”
In the four years immediately following the accession of Brion Haldane King of Gwynedd, the new sovereign perforce focused his energies on perfecting the statecraft learned at his father’s knee, and also honing the martial skills he would need as a warrior and leader of men. He had come to the Crown at fourteen, of age in law; but for a warrior-king, the true rite of passage into adulthood came only with the accolade of knighthood.
He would receive that accolade on his eighteenth birthday, conferred by both his royal uncles. Richard Haldane Duke of Carthmoor, younger half-brother of the late King Donal, was reckoned one of the most accomplished knights of his generation, and had ultimate responsibility for the training of all the young boys and adolescents who came to court to hone their warrior skills in royal service. In his hands, Brion Haldane had been but another squire as he completed his apprenticeship, wearing no crown when he bowed himself to the discipline his uncle imposed; and he had learned his lessons well.
Slated to assist Duke Richard was King Brion’s other uncle: his mother’s brother, Illann King of Howicce and Llannedd, come with his son and heir, Prince Ronan (himself only recently knighted), to likewise lay his royal hand on the sword that conferred this public recognition of his nephew’s true coming of age.
Many were the noble witnesses to this royal rite of passage. In addition to his family—his mother, his surviving brother, and two younger sisters—some were young men like the king himself: Ewan Duke of Claibourne, but three-and-thirty; Sir Phares Donovan and Sir Jaska Collins, among the last knights to be made by Brion’s late father; Sir Joris Talbot, eldest son of Meara’s royal governor; and Sir Jamyl Arilan, a favored companion of the king, knighted by Duke Richard but two years before, whose late uncle Seisyll had served both Brion and his father before him.
Others had been his father’s friends and confidantes: Tiarnán MacRae and Jiri Redfearn, both with sons now preparing for royal service, and several of the great earls: Jared McLain Earl of Kierney, Caulay MacArdry Earl of Transha, and Sir Kenneth Morgan, now Earl of Lendour, who had come to his title through his young son, Alaric Morgan, who was sired on a Deryni heiress and destined to become the king’s magical protector and companion—if he could be kept alive that long. For though young Alaric was heir to a great duchy, one of only four in the land, he also was not yet eight years old, with powerful enemies who would risk much to see him dead.
Meanwhile, Brion King of Gwynedd had enemies of his own, both east and west. Happily for his young reign, none of these had yet dared any overt measures to undermine his crown—none, at least, that had required direct intervention. Separatist factions in Meara, to the west, continued to skirt the edges of rebellion, but nothing had flared that was beyond the ability of the provincial royal governor to quell it. That would change, as it always did in Meara—King Donal had been obliged to mount expeditions into Meara on a regular basis—but for now, all was quiet in the province.
So it was, as well, in Torenth, to the east—at least so far as anyone knew. Not long before Brion’s accession, the Kingdom of Torenth had suffered serious upheavals in the highest echelons of power: the still-unexplained death of King Nimur’s eldest son, Crown Prince Nimur, and the subsequent setting aside of the second son, Prince Torval, in favor of Prince Károly, the meek and bookish third son. Torenth had offered no official statement beyond the bare announcement of Prince Nimur’s passing, but the House of Furstán was Deryni, and used its magic openly—which could explain much. Persistent rumor had it that the true cause of Prince Nimur’s death had been a magical experiment gone horribly wrong, and that his brother Torval had been present, and was driven mad by what he had seen and experienced.
Whatever the cause, this unforeseen shift in the Torenthi succession had left Torenth ill equipped to take advantage of the youth and inexperience of Gwynedd’s new king. Both Prince Nimur and his brother had been grown men, well capable of backing up an aging sire in declining health; and neither would have hesitated to take up the Torenthi cause, which was the eventual re-conquest of Gwynedd.
That assumption appeared not to hold true for Prince Károly, the new Torenthi heir, who was a decade older than Brion, but had received only a rudimentary portion of the education for kingship that was lavished on his two elder brothers—and his own heir was young yet, and certainly lacking in the training of a future king. Of a certainty, Károly would have set about remedying that deficiency while Brion scrambled to complete his own training for kingship, but thus far, Torenth had made no move beyond the usual border incursions that tested periodically at Gwynedd’s eastern defenses.
Old King Nimur had even sent an envoy bearing his congratulations on King Brion’s knighting—Count János Sokrat, aged but little since his visit for Brion’s fourteenth birthday observances—but no Torenthi royalty accompanied him this time around. The king’s advisors duly noted the Torenthi presence, and the absence of any over-large escort, and concluded that the visit was unlikely to spawn any great threat. Brion, so advised, put the matter out of his head and set about readying himself for the ceremony.
“Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles . . .”
STANDING in his own great hall at Rhemuth, surrounded by men sworn to uphold him, Brion King of Gwynedd knew that the faintly queasy sensation in his gut came of no rational fear for his safety. Nonetheless, the sight of a foreign king standing between him and his throne, armed and crowned, could not but give one pause, especially when that king was accompanied by another prince regarded as one of the most puissant warriors in all the Eleven Kingdoms.
That the two men were his royal uncles only partially reassured, for blood greed had been the downfall of many a young king come prematurely to his crown, with still much to learn of his craft as monarch and warrior—and Brion had been but fourteen at his coronation, hardly four years before.
Nonetheless, all experience before and since that day declared that Brion King of Gwynedd need harbor no such misgivings about these two men. For as long as he could remember, Prince Richard Haldane, younger half-brother of his late father, had been his teacher, his mentor, his most merciless critic when Brion failed to do his very best.
As for the goodwill of his other uncle—the one who wore a crown of his own—that, likewise, was beyond question. Illann King of Howicce and Llannedd was the beloved elder brother of Brion’s mother, the Dowager Queen Richeldis, come especially to honor this milestone in his nephew’s young reign. He stood now at Richard’s left, peacock-bright in the colors of Howicce and Llannedd amid all that Haldane crimson. Both he and Richard were the sons of kings, of blood equally royal to Brion’s own, yet they had come to their feet at their nephew’s approach, inclining their heads in respect.
The man who had presented the royal candidate, and had fixed the golden spurs to his heels, was also of blood both ancient and royal. Ewan Duke of Claibourne was a direct descendant of the last prince of Kheldour, to the north, and one of only four dukes in Gwynedd. Assisting him had been the scion of another great ducal family: Jared Earl of Kierney, deputizing for his ailing father, the Duke of Cassan. Like the royal uncles, both of these men also wore noble coronets upon their brows, and all of them bore steel at their hips.
By contrast, Brion King of Gwynedd wore no crown or other emblem of his royal estate, no rich raiment or even any weapon. With his sable hair caught back severely in a warrior’s knot, he had donned the robes traditional to any candidate for knighthood: the unadorned inner robe of white, signifying the purity of his honor, partially covered by the stark black over-tunic symbolic of the grave to which all eventually must come.
Over both lay the bloodred mantle: fittingly, in Brion’s case, of Haldane crimson. To such blood had he been born—blood which, even more than any mere knight, he must be willing to shed in defense of his realm, even unto death. At his coronation, the new king had pledged his life to his kingdom: reckoned a man, in law, for the governing of his realm, and well enough prepared in mind, but all too aware that he wore still the body of a half-grown youth, with much yet to learn of the warrior he must become, if he hoped to keep his crown.
That he had kept it thus far was due, in part, to his royal uncles, to the princely dukes flanking him, and to the loyalty and courage of the sandy-haired man standing close beside the throne: Sir Kenneth Morgan Earl of Lendour, who bore the great state crown of leaves and crosses intertwined as if it were no more burden than its mere weight of gold and precious stones, though he had saved it and Brion’s life on more than one occasion.
And the towheaded boy at Kenneth’s side, who had proudly carried the golden spurs now affixed to the king’s heels, and assisted in their fastening, was cut from the same cloth as his sire: quick and earnest, utterly devoted to Brion, and so much more than he appeared to be, for all that he was only seven years of age. Because his mother had been heiress to a great duchy, Alaric Morgan would be Duke of Corwyn when he came of age, one of the most powerful men in the land. But Alyce de Corwyn had also been Deryni, possessor of powers both feared and resented by ordinary folk—which meant that many feared who and what young Alaric was, and what he might become.
The Church, in particular, had made its position abundantly clear regarding Deryni, for those trained in that heritage were believed to wield extraordinary powers that could compromise another’s free will and even enslave the soul of the unwitting. Several of Gwynedd’s bishops, some of whom were present today, had been particularly vocal in their condemnation, and one of them had nearly been the death of Alaric’s mother before he was even born.
Yet King Brion’s father, only days before his death, had commended the boy Alaric to Brion’s especial attention and care, promising a legacy of benign magical powers to be employed in Brion’s service, and further powers to be imparted for Brion’s own use.
Was it true? Brion was not sure he remembered all that had been told him, but he believed and hoped that further knowledge would be revealed to him in due course—hopefully, well before he really needed it! And it was all somehow linked to the blond boy holding a crimson pillow beside the throne of Gwynedd.
But that was for the future—with any luck, some years in the future, when Alaric Morgan was grown. For now, Brion returned his full focus to his uncles, from whom he was about to receive the knightly accolade, which only another knight might bestow.
“Your Royal Highness,” a herald intoned, addressing Richard, “having been invested with the spurs, the noble squire Brion Haldane now presents himself before the throne of Gwynedd to request the accolade from your hand, that he may henceforth be recognized as a knight.”
Richard inclined his head, a faint smile curving within the sable mustache and close-clipped beard as his eyes met Brion’s, Haldane grey to Haldane grey. In that moment, wearing Haldane crimson and a royal diadem, with one hand resting on the hilt of the sword at his hip, he very much resembled his late brother.
“Kneel now, Brion Haldane,” he commanded.
With a nod of his head that was more jerky than intended, Brion moved forward to kneel on the scarlet cushion that young Alaric Morgan now set atop the first step of the dais; before, it had borne the golden spurs. As he settled himself and looked up, Richard turned to the crimson-clad duty-squire standing behind him: Brion’s younger brother and heir presumptive, the twelve-year-old Prince Nigel, who extended the hilt of the sheathed Haldane sword, borne by many generations of Haldane kings. He retained the jeweled scabbard as his uncle drew forth the blade in a hiss of fine steel, clasping it to his breast in wide-eyed awe as Richard raised the blade and briefly brought the sword’s cross-hilt to his lips in salute.
Richard paused then as King Illann reached across to rest his bejeweled hand atop Richard’s, in pointed reminder that this knighthood came by way of two lines of royal kings and noble knights. The significance was not lost on Brion or, indeed, on any of those present.
Very briefly, as the flat of the blade descended toward his right shoulder, Brion closed his eyes and prayed that he might be worthy of this new charge, then lifted his gaze to Richard’s once more, as the flat of the blade touched his right shoulder and Richard spoke.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son”—the blade lifted to touch the left shoulder—“and of the Holy Spirit”—the blade arched upward to briefly rest atop Brion’s head—“be thou a good and faithful knight. Amen.”
As the blade lifted again, to briefly rest over Richard’s right shoulder, he glanced aside at Illann with a speaking glance. Smiling, Illann offered the new knight his right hand and said, “Arise, Sir Brion Haldane, and be invested with the further symbols of your new estate.”
Murmurs of approval rippled among the assembled witnesses as Brion clasped his uncle’s hand and got to his feet, grinning as he accepted the bear hug that the older man offered. Richard, after passing the Haldane blade to Prince Nigel, likewise offered the new knight a quick embrace. As he did so, a beaming Dowager Queen Richeldis joined them from the sidelines, flanked by Brion’s two younger sisters. Xenia, the adoring thirteen-year-old, proudly bore the white belt across both hands like some holy relic: the most visible outward symbol of the honor her brother had just received. Silke, who was nine, had been entrusted with a single red rose.
Composing himself to a properly kingly mien, Brion bent to kiss his mother’s hand, then straightened and lifted his arms to either side so that she and his sisters could pass the belt around his waist and under his mantle, stark white against the sable of his over-robe.
“Congratulations, my son,” his mother murmured, as she fastened its jeweled clasp. “May this belt be always a reminder to keep your honor spotless.”
When she had kissed him on both cheeks and hugged him close, Silke shyly presented him with her rose, which he tucked into his belt. He then accepted a kiss from each of his sisters, in turn.
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