Deryni

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The Deryni are a fictional race of humans who possess a variety of psychic and magical abilities in the Deryni series of historical fantasy novels by Katherine Kurtz. The political, social, and religious conflicts that surround the Deryni, particularly in the Kingdom of Gwynedd, often serve as major plot points throughout the novels.

Deryni powers[edit]

The novels include various examples of inherent Deryni abilities that are displayed by numerous primary and secondary characters. Deryni powers are closely interconnected with each other, since a Deryni's natural psychic abilities also give him/her the ability to perform magical rituals of varying complexity, but many of these powers can be divided into three basic categories: psychic abilities, magical abilities, and Healing.

Psychic abilities[edit]

  • Memory manipulation: The ability to retrieve, alter, block, or erase specific memories, either in the Deryni's own mind or in the mind of someone else.
  • Mind-Seeing: The ability to completely enter a subject's mind, thus viewing the subject's memories, emotions, reasoning, and intellect.
  • Shields: Occasionally described as the foundation upon which the rest of the Deryni powers are built, shields are mental barriers that a Deryni erects around his/her mind to protect it from attack or intrusion. The strength of a Deryni's shields is often a combination of his/her natural strength and the quality of their training.
  • Telekinesis: The ability to manipulate small objects with only the power of the mind, such as moving the tumblers of a lock, igniting a torch, or altering the flight of an arrow.
  • Telepathy: The ability to communicate mentally, including the power to share large amounts of information in a very brief period of time.
  • Truth-Reading: The ability to detect an intentional spoken lie. This power only reveals the presence of the falsehood, not the specific truth that is being concealed.
  • Truth-Saying: The ability to force a subject to truthfully answer any question to the best of his/her abilities.

Magical abilities[edit]

  • Minor spells: Trained Deryni are often capable of performing basic spells, such as spells to calm the mind, focus the mind, or temporarily relieve fatigue.
  • Major spells: Those Deryni powerful enough to work more complex spells can perform feats such as manipulating the weather, changing their physical appearance, creating illusions, or summoning and controlling fire, water, or lightning.
  • Ritual magic: Skilled Deryni adepts are capable of performing complex arcane rituals designed to accomplish a wide variety of effects. Such rituals often involve a great deal of magical power and can be quite dangerous to the untrained practitioner.
  • Transfer Portals: A Portal is an artificially-created nexus of arcane power that is set in stone or earth. Deryni have the ability to access the nexus and use its energy to instantly transport themselves to other nexuses in other locations. Each Portal has its own unique energy signature (or coordinates), so a Deryni must be familiar with the coordinates of his/her intended destination to be able to use a Portal. (This is best accomplished in person, but it is also possible for highly skilled Deryni to read the coordinates of a Portal from the mind of another person.)

Healing[edit]

A small percentage of Deryni are born with the natural ability to heal physical injuries, a power that goes beyond merely setting broken bones or sewing wounds shut. A highly trained Healer can bring a seriously wounded patient back from the brink of death, repairing their injuries in a matter of minutes through a combination of arcane powers, extensive anatomical knowledge, and the innate ability to augment the wounded body's own natural recovery processes. Healers often study for years before completing their training, expanding their knowledge of the body and developing their own inner strength for the large amounts of energy that Healing requires. In the Kingdom of Gwynedd, the knowledge to identify and train Healers is lost soon after the Haldane Restoration in the early tenth century. For over two centuries, Healers effectively cease to exist in Gwynedd, until the lost Healing talent is rediscovered in the twelfth century by Duke Alaric Morgan of Corwyn.

Blocking[edit]

In 917, the Healer Rhys Thuryn accidentally discovers a new Healing talent while attempting to Heal Earl Gregory MacDinan of Ebor. While deeply immersed in a Healing trance, Rhys successfully blocks all of Earl Gregory's Deryni powers. After further research, Rhys discovers that he is capable of blocking the powers of any Deryni with a simple touch, regardless of the strength of his subject. While their powers are blocked, these Deryni subjects function as normal humans, displaying absolutely no signs of any arcane abilities. Although Rhys attempts several times to teach this talent to other Healers, his efforts ultimately fail, and it is determined that the ability to block is as rare to Healers as Healers themselves are to the general Deryni population. Later research indicates that the Deryni masters of the past were aware of this ability, but knowledge of its existence became lost over time. While a few Healers are later found to possess this ability, knowledge of its existence once again disappears when the rest of the Healing arts are lost in Gwynedd.

Genetic basis of Deryni powers[edit]

The basic ability to naturally develop Deryni powers is hereditary in nature, passing from parent to child and thus from generation to generation. Although several characters in the novels refer to Deryni-nonDeryni hybrids as "half-breeds" or "half-Deryni," the inherent nature of Deryni powers enables them to be passed to a child even if only one parent is Deryni. (Throughout the novels and ancillary material, nonDeryni humans are referred to simply as "humans," although it is unspecified whether this exclusionary terminology was originally positive or negative.) However, the natural strength of the Deryni bloodline tends to become weakened if succeeding generations continue to breed with full-blooded humans. The exact rate of this genetic "dilution" is not specified, and several half-Deryni characters (such as Alaric Morgan and Duncan McLain) display significant levels of arcane strength. An appendix to one of the early books speculates that the usual Deryni powers are carried on the X-chromosome (thus explaining why Morgan and Duncan, who have Deryni mothers, can have full powers), while the "Haldane potential" (also seen in several other families), is carried on the Y-chromosome. However, this is not borne out by later genealogies and seems to have been dropped as an explanation by Katherine Kurtz.

In addition to their genetic basis, most Deryni abilities must be trained and developed. While basic arcane skills can be often be mastered during adolescence, more complex abilities and talents may require constant study and practice throughout the adult life of a Deryni. Deryni adepts such as Camber MacRorie and Wencit Furstán of Torenth continue their arcane studies throughout their lives, enabling them to wield powers far beyond the abilities of many of their contemporaries. Conversely, Queen Jehana of Gwynedd, a full-blooded Deryni from an ancient and powerful lineage, is barely able to perform the most basic of Deryni talents, due to her lack of training throughout much of her life. Regardless of the inherent strength of a Deryni's natural powers, proper training is essential for those powers to be of any practical use.

It should also be noted that the use of the Deryni powers generally requires some degree of mental concentration and is physically tiring to perform. The need for concentration is key to the drama of the battle that ends in Duncan's capture in 'The King's Justice, as well as his rescue later in the same book. Alaric Morgan is frequently shown pushing himself to the point of exhaustion and collapse by the repeated use of his powers in short periods of time, generally when driven by the demands of events. These facts, together with the training requirement, impose realistic limits on Deryni magic.

The Haldane potential[edit]

In 903, Earl Camber MacRorie of Culdi theorizes that certain humans possess the natural ability to be invested with the full range of Deryni powers. Camber develops a magical ritual to perform this feat and utilizes Cinhil I Haldane as his subject, believing that the Haldane prince would need such powers to overthrow King Imre Festil-Furstán and reclaim the throne of Gwynedd. The ritual is successful, and Cinhil later uses his newly acquired powers to accomplish the Haldane Restoration. Although later research indicates that the Deryni masters of the past were aware of this possibility, Cinhil is the first known human to acquire Deryni abilities.

While other humans are later shown to acquire such powers, this human ability to wield Deryni powers becomes known as "the Haldane potential." Similar to natural Deryni powers, it is hereditary within the Haldane line. However, unlike Deryni powers, the Haldane powers require no training. Once the powers are activated (usually through a magical ritual), they are fully accessible, as the knowledge of how to use them is automatically included with the powers themselves. In general, the reigning Haldane king sets the potential in his heir at a young age (using a ritual he designs), leaving the heir's powers dormant until he ascends the throne himself. A second ritual (distinct from the coronation) fully activates the potential in the new monarch. Various forms of these rituals have been depicted in the novels, and they may or may not include the participation of other people. It is thought that the ritual variations serve to prevent other Haldanes or other Deryni from usurping the powers and the throne itself.

To date, all of the Haldane kings specifically depicted in the novels have wielded at least some of the Haldane powers. However, whether or not any of the other Haldane kings had their hereditary powers activated is unknown. During the two centuries of Deryni persecution in Gwynedd, the Haldane kings justify their arcane powers by claiming that such powers are part of their Divine Right, a sign that they have been chosen by God to sit upon the throne. For much of this time, it is also believed (specifically by the Camberian Council) that only one Haldane can wield the power at a time, and that right is reserved for the reigning king. However, this belief is disproved during the reign of King Kelson Haldane, when several members of his immediate family hold varying levels of arcane power at the same time.

Deryni status in society[edit]

Deryni have been a minority within the larger population throughout the history of Gwynedd. The novels have established very little specific information about the exact status of Deryni or their place in Gwyneddan society prior to the Festillic Coup of 822, but they clearly rise to prominence following the successful invasion of Festil I Furstán, a younger prince of the Deryni ruling house of the Kingdom of Torenth. During the eight decades that follow, most of the positions of power in Gwynedd (both secular and ecclesiastical) are held by Deryni. Although there are numerous humans who still manage to rise to positions of influence, many Deryni clearly enjoy privileged status simply because of their race. Human resentment toward the ruling minority is one of the factors that eventually leads to the Haldane Restoration in 904.

Following the return of the Haldanes to the throne of Gwynedd, a backlash against Deryni soon begins to manifest itself throughout Gwyneddan society. Shortly after the death of King Cinhil I Haldane in 917, a violent explosion of anti-Deryni fervor sweeps through the kingdom, fueled by the human lords and bishops who now control both the Crown and the Church. Over the next two centuries, the number of Deryni in Gwynedd shrinks dramatically, as many Deryni flee the realm to escape the dangerous persecutions. Those who remain are stripped of most of their legal rights, and forbidden to use their powers by a Church that declares them to be evil heretics.

By contrast, Deryni are openly accepted and respected in the neighboring Kingdom of Torenth. The royal family of Torenth is not only Deryni, but they are acknowledged as being among the most powerful and highly trained Deryni adepts in the Eleven Kingdoms. As a result, Deryni are an integral and established part of all aspects of Torenthi society. The differences between the social standing of Deryni in Gwynedd and Torenth are one of the factors that has contributed to the constant state of antagonism between the two lands. To date, the status of Deryni in the other realms of the Eleven Kingdoms has not been clearly established.

Deryni as characters[edit]

Many of the novels are set specifically in Gwynedd, and deal with the efforts of Deryni to reclaim a position of social equality for their race. As a result, many of the Deryni are depicted as protagonists. However, there are also several notable Deryni that plainly serve as antagonists in the novels, displaying motivations and actions that establish or complement the main conflict. Similarly, human characters are depicted as both antagonists and protagonists, further underlying the theme that the characters in the novels are neither "good" nor "evil" simply based on their race. Regardless of whether the character is human, Deryni, or a mixture of both, it is ultimately his/her unique personality and history that determines their actions. This theme is a recurring motif throughout the novels.

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