Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

“You say you long for Caladan seas, Where once you ruled, Atreides, Without surcease — But exiles dwell in stranger-lands!

You say ’twere bitter, men so rude, To sell your dreams of Shai-Hulud, For tasteless food — And exiles, dwell in stranger-lands.

You make Arrakis grow infirm, Silence the passage of the worm And end your term — As exiles, dwell in stranger-lands.

Alia! They name you Coan-Teen, That spirit who is never seen Until –”

“Enough!” Alia screamed. She pushed herself half out of her throne. “I’ll have you –” “Alia!” Jessica spoke just loud enough, voice pitched just right to avoid confrontation while gaining full attention. It was a masterful use of Voice and all who heard it recognized the trained powers in this demonstration. Alia sank back into her seat and Jessica noted that she showed not the slightest discomfiture. This, too, was anticipated, Jessica thought. How very interesting. “The judgment on this first one is mine,” Jessica reminded her. “Very well.” Alia’s words were barely audible. “I find this one a fitting gift for Farad’n,” Jessica said. “He has a tongue which cuts like a crysknife. Such bloodletting as that tongue can administer would be healthy for our own court, but I’d rather he ministered to House Corrino.” A light rippling of laughter spread through the hall. Alia permitted herself a snorting exhalation. “Do you know what he called me?” “He didn’t call you anything, daughter. He but reported that which he or anyone else could hear in the streets. There they call you Coan-Teen . . .” “The female death-spirit who walks without feet,” Alia snarled. “If you put away those who report accurately, you’ll keep only those who know what you want to hear,” Jessica said, her voice sweet. “I can think of nothing more poisonous than to rot in the stink of your own reflections.” Audible gasps came from those immediately below the thrones. Jessica focused on Mohandis, who remained silent, standing completely uncowed. He awaited whatever judgment was passed upon him as though it did not matter. Mohandis was exactly the kind of man her Duke would have chosen to have by his side in troubled times: one who acted with confidence of his own judgment, but accepted whatever befell, even death, without berating his fate. Then why had he chosen this course? “Why did you sing those particular words?” Jessica asked him. He lifted his head to speak clearly: “I’d heard that the Atreides were honorable and open-minded. I’d a thought to test it and perhaps to stay here in your service, thereby having the time to seek out those who robbed me and deal with them in my own fashion.” “He dares test us!” Alia muttered. “Why not?” Jessica asked. She smiled down at the troubadour to signal goodwill. He had come into this hall only because it offered him opportunity for another adventure, another passage through his universe. Jessica found herself tempted to bind him to her own entourage, but Alia’s reaction boded evil for brave Mohandis. There were also those signs which said this was the course expected of the Lady Jessica — take a brave and handsome troubadour into her service as she’d taken brave Gurney Halleck. Best Mohandis were sent on his way, though it rankled to lose such a fine specimen to Farad’n. “He shall go to Farad’n,” Jessica said. “See that he gets his passage money. Let his tongue draw the blood of House Corrino and see how he survives it.” Alia glowered at the floor, then produced a belated smile. “The wisdom of the Lady Jessica prevails,” she said, waving Mohandis away. That did not go the way she wanted, Jessica thought, but there were indicators in Alia’s manner that a more potent test remained. Another supplicant was being brought forward. Jessica, noting her daughter’s reaction, felt the gnawing of doubts. The lesson learned from the twins was needed here. Let Alia be Abomination, still she was one of the preborn. She could know her mother as she knew herself. It did not compute that Alia would misjudge her mother’s reactions in the matter of the troubadour. Why did Alia stage that confrontation? To distract me? There was no more time to reflect. The second supplicant had taken his place below the twin thrones, his Advocate at his side. The supplicant was a Fremen this time, an old man with the sand marks of the desert-born on his face. He was not tall, but had a wiry body and the long dishdasha usually worn over a stillsuit gave him a stately appearance. The robe was in keeping with his narrow face and beaked nose, the glaring eyes of blue-on-blue. He wore no stillsuit and seemed uncomfortable without it. The gigantic space of the Audience Hall must seem to him like the dangerous open air which robbed his flesh of its priceless moisture. Under the hood, which had been thrown partly back, he wore the knotted keffiya headdress of a Naib. “I am Ghadhean al-Fali,” he said, placing one foot on the steps to the thrones to signify his status above that of the mob. “I was one of Muad’Dib’s death commandos and I am here concerning a matter of the desert.” Alia stiffened only slightly, a small betrayal. Al-Fali’s name had been on that demand to place Jessica on the Council. A matter of the desert! Jessica thought. Ghadhean al-Fali had spoken before his Advocate could open the pleading. With that formal Fremen phrase he had placed them on notice that he brought them something of concern to all of Dune — and that he spoke with the authority of a Fedaykin who had offered his life beside that of Paul Muad’Dib. Jessica doubted that this was what Ghadhean al-Fali had told Javid or the Advocate General in seeking audience here. Her guess was confirmed as an official of the Priesthood rushed forward from the rear of the chamber waving the black cloth of intercession. “My Ladies!” the official called out. “Do not listen to this man! He comes under false –” Jessica, watching the Priest run toward them, caught a movement out of the corners of her eyes, saw Alia’s hand signaling in the old Atreides battle language: “Now!” Jessica could not determine where the signal was directed, but acted instinctively with a lurch to the left, taking throne and all. She rolled away from the crashing throne as she fell, came to her feet as she heard the sharp spat of a maula pistol . . . and again. But she was moving with the first sound, felt something tug at her right sleeve. She dove into the throng of supplicants and courtiers gathered below the dais. Alia, she noted, had not moved. Surrounded by people, Jessica stopped. Ghadhean al-Fali, she saw, had dodged to the other side of the dais, but the Advocate remained in his original position. It had all happened with the rapidity of an ambush, but everyone in the Hall knew where trained reflexes should have taken anyone caught by surprise. Alia and the Advocate stood frozen in their exposure. A disturbance toward the middle of the room caught Jessica’s attention and she forced a way through the throng, saw four supplicants holding the Priest official. His black cloth of intercession lay near his feet, a maula pistol exposed in its folds. Al-Fali thrust his way past Jessica, looked from the pistol to the Priest. The Fremen let out a cry of rage, came up from his belt with an achag blow, the fingers of his left hand rigid. They caught the Priest in the throat and he collapsed, strangling. Without a backward glance at the man he had killed, the old Naib turned an angry face toward the dais. “Dalal-il ‘an-nubuwwa!” al-Fali called, placing both palms against his forehead, then lowering them. “The Qadis as-Salaf will not let me be silenced! If I do not slay those who interfere, others will slay them!” He thinks he was the target, Jessica realized. She looked down at her sleeve, put a finger in the neat hole left by the maula pellet. Poisoned, no doubt. The supplicants had dropped the Priest. He lay writhing on the floor, dying with his larynx crushed. Jessica motioned to a pair of shocked courtiers standing at her left, said: “I want that man saved for questioning. If he dies, you die!” As they hesitated, peering toward the dais, she used Voice on them: “Move!” The pair moved. Jessica thrust herself to al-Fali’s side, nudged him: “You are a fool, Naib! They were after me, not you.” Several people around them heard her. In the immediate shocked silence, al-Fali glanced at the dais with its one toppled throne and Alia still seated on the other. The look of realization which came over his face could’ve been read by a novice. “Fedaykin,” Jessica said, reminding him of his old service to her family, “we who have been scorched know how to stand back to back.” “Trust me, My Lady,” he said, taking her meaning immediately. A gasp behind Jessica brought her whirling, and she felt al-Fali move to stand with his back to her. A woman in the gaudy garb of a city Fremen was straightening from beside the Priest on the floor. The two courtiers were nowhere to be seen. The woman did not even glance at Jessica, but lifted her voice in the ancient keening of her people — the call for those who serviced the deathstills, the call for them to come and gather a body’s water into the tribal cistern. It was a curiously incongruous noise coming from one dressed as this woman was. Jessica felt the persistence of the old ways even as she saw the falseness in this city woman. The creature in the gaudy dress obviously had killed the Priest to make sure he was silenced. Why did she bother? Jessica wondered. She had only to wait for the man to die of asphyxiation. The act was a desperate one, a sign of deep fear. Alia sat forward on the edge of her throne, her eyes aglitter with watchfulness. A slender woman wearing the braid knots of Alia’s own guards strode past Jessica, bent over the Priest, straightened, and looked back at the dais. “He is dead.” “Have him removed,” Alia called. She motioned to guards below the dais. “Straighten the Lady Jessica’s chair.” So you’ll try to brazen it out! Jessica thought. Did Alia think anyone had been fooled? Al-Fali had spoken of the Qadis as-Salaf, calling on the holy fathers of Fremen mythology as his protectors. But no supernatural agency had brought a maula pistol into this room where no weapons were permitted. A conspiracy involving Javid’s people was the only answer, and Alia’s unconcern about her own person told everyone she was a part of that conspiracy. The old Naib spoke over his shoulder to Jessica: “Accept my apologies, My Lady. We of the desert come to you as our last desperate hope, and now we see that you still have need of us.” “Matricide does not sit well on my daughter,” Jessica said. “The tribes will hear of this,” al-Fali promised. “If you have such desperate need of me,” Jessica asked, “why did you not approach me at the Convocation in Sietch Tabr?” “Stilgar would not permit it.” Ahhh, Jessica thought, the rule of the Naibs! In Tabr, Stilgar’s word was law. The toppled throne had been straightened. Alia motioned for her mother to return, said: “All of you please note the death of that traitor-Priest. Those who threaten me die.” She glanced at al-Fali. “My thanks to you, Naib.” “Thanks for a mistake,” al-Fali muttered. He looked at Jessica. “You were right. My rage removed one who should’ve been questioned.” Jessica whispered: “Mark those two courtiers and the woman in the colorful dress, Fedaykin. I want them taken and questioned.” “It will be done,” he said. “If we get out of here alive,” Jessica said. “Come, let us go back and play our parts.” “As you say, My Lady.” Together, they returned to the dais, Jessica mounting the steps and resuming her position beside Alia, al-Fali remaining in the supplicant’s position below. “Now,” Alia said. “One moment, daughter,” Jessica said. She held up her sleeve, exposed the hole with a finger through it. “The attack was aimed at me. The pellet almost found me even as I was dodging. You will all note that the maula pistol is no longer down there.” She pointed. “Who has it?” There was no response. “Perhaps it could be traced,” Jessica said. “What nonsense!” Alia said. “I was the –” Jessica half turned toward her daughter, motioned with her left hand. “Someone down there has that pistol. Don’t you have a fear that –” “One of my guards has it!” Alia said. “Then that guard will bring the weapon to me,” Jessica said. “She’s already taken it away.” “How convenient,” Jessica said. “What are you saying?” Alia demanded. Jessica allowed herself a grim smile. “I am saying that two of your people were charged with saving that traitor-Priest. I warned them that they would die if he died. They will die.” “I forbid it!” Jessica merely shrugged. “We have a brave Fedaykin here,” Alia said, motioning toward al-Fali. “This argument can wait.” “It can wait forever,” Jessica said, speaking in Chakobsa, her words double-barbed to tell Alia that no argument would stop the death command. “We shall see!” Alia said. She turned to al-Fali. “Why are you here, Ghadhean al-Fali?” “To see the mother of Muad’Dib,” the Naib said. “What is left of the Fedaykin, that band of brothers who served her son, pooled their poor resources to buy my way in here past the avaricious guardians who shield the Atreides from the realities of Arrakis.” Alia said: “Anything the Fedaykin require, they have only –” “He came to see me,” Jessica interrupted. “What is your desperate need, Fedaykin?” Alia said: “I speak for the Atreides here! What is –” “Be silent, you murderous Abomination!” Jessica snapped. “You tried to have me killed, daughter! I say it for all here to know. You can’t have everyone in this hall killed to silence them — as that Priest was silenced. Yes, the Naib’s blow would’ve killed the man, but he could’ve been saved. He could’ve been questioned! You have no concern that he was silenced. Spray your protests upon us as you will, your guilt is written in your actions!” Alia sat in frozen silence, face pale. And Jessica, watching the play of emotions across her daughter’s face, saw a terrifyingly familiar movement of Alia’s hands, an unconscious response which once had identified a deadly enemy of the Atreides. Alia’s fingers moved in a tapping rhythm — little finger twice, index finger three times, ring finger twice, little finger once, ring finger twice . . . and back through the tapping in the same order. The old Baron! The focus of Jessica’s eyes caught Alia’s attention and she glanced down at her hand, held it still, looked back at her mother to see the terrible recognition. A gloating smile locked Alia’s mouth. “So you have your revenge upon us,” Jessica whispered. “Have you gone mad, mother?” Alia asked. “I wish I had,” Jessica said. And she thought: She knows I will confirm this to the Sisterhood. She knows. She may even suspect I’ll tell the Fremen and force her into a Trial of Possession. She cannot let me leave here alive. “Our brave Fedaykin waits while we argue,” Alia said. Jessica forced her attention back to the old Naib. She brought her responses under control, said: “You came to see me, Ghadhean.” “Yes, My Lady. We of the desert see terrible things happening. The Little Makers come out of the sand as was foretold in the oldest prophecies. Shai-Hulud no longer can be found except in the deeps of the Empty Quarter. We have abandoned our friend, the desert!” Jessica glanced at Alia, who merely motioned for Jessica to continue. Jessica looked out over the throng in the Chamber, saw the shocked alertness on every face. The import of the fight between mother and daughter had not been lost on this throng, and they must wonder why the audience continued. She returned her attention to al-Fali. “Ghadhean, what is this talk of Little Makers and the scarcity of sandworms?” “Mother of Moisture,” he said, using her old Fremen title, “we were warned of this in the Kitab al-Ibar. We beseech thee. Let it not be forgotten that on the day Muad’Dib died, Arrakis turned by itself! We cannot abandon the desert.” “Hah!” Alia sneered. “The superstitious riffraff of the Inner Desert fear the ecological transformation. They –” “I hear you, Ghadhean,” Jessica said. “If the worms go, the spice goes. If the spice goes, what coin do we have to buy our way?” Sounds of surprise: gasps and startled whispers could be heard spreading across the Great Hall. The Chamber echoed to the sound. Alia shrugged. “Superstitious nonsense!” Al-Fali lifted his right hand to point at Alia. “I speak to the Mother of Moisture, not to the Coan-Teen!” Alia’s hands gripped the arms of her throne, but she remained seated. Al-Fali looked at Jessica. “Once it was the land where nothing grew. Now there are plants. They spread like lice upon a wound. There have been clouds and rain along the belt of Dune! Rain, My Lady! Oh, precious mother of Muad’Dib, as sleep is death’s brother, so is rain on the Belt of Dune. It is the death of us all.” “We do only what Liet-Kynes and Muad’Dib himself designed for us to do,” Alia protested. “What is all of this superstitious gabble? We revere the words of Liet-Kynes, who told us: ‘I wish to see this entire planet caught up in a net of green plants.’ So it will be.” “And what of the worms and the spice?” Jessica asked. “There’ll always be some desert,” Alia said. “The worms will survive.” She’s lying, Jessica thought. Why does she lie? “Help us, Mother of Moisture,” al-Fali pleaded. With an abrupt sensation of double vision, Jessica felt her awareness lurch, propelled by the old Naib’s words. It was the unmistakable adab, the demanding memory which came upon one of itself. It came without qualifications and held her senses immobile while the lesson of the past was impressed upon her awareness. She was caught up in it completely, a fish in the net. Yet she felt the demand of it as a human-most moment, each small part a reminder of creation. Every element of the lesson-memory was real but insubstantial in its constant change, and she knew this was the closest she might ever come to experiencing the prescient dietgrasp which had inflicted itself upon her son. Alia lied because she was possessed by one who would destroy the Atreides. She was, in herself, the first destruction. Then al-Fali spoke the truth: the sandworms are doomed unless the course of the ecological transformation is modified. In the pressure of revelation, Jessica saw the people of the audience reduced to slow motion, their roles identified for her. She could pick the ones charged with seeing that she did not leave here alive! And the path through them lay there in her awareness as though outlined in bright light — confusion among them, one of them feinted to stumble into another. Whole groups tangled. She saw, also, that she might leave this Great Hall only to fall into other hands. Alia did not care if she created a martyr. No — the thing which possessed her did not care. Now, in this frozen time, Jessica chose a way to save the old Naib and send him as messenger. The way through the audience remained indelibly clear. How simple it was! They were buffoons with barricaded eyes, their shoulders held in positions of immovable defense. Each position upon the great floor could be seen as an atropic collision from which dead flesh might slough away to reveal skeletons. Their bodies, their clothes, and their faces described individual hells — the insucked breast of concealed terrors, the glittering hook of a jewel become substitute armor; the mouths were judgments full of frightened absolutes, cathedral prisms of eyebrows showing lofty and religious sentiments which their loins denied. Jessica sensed dissolution in the shaping forces loosed upon Arrakis. Al-Fali’s voice had been like a distrans in her soul, awakening a beast from the deepest part of her. In an eyeblink Jessica moved from the adab into the universe of movement, but it was a different universe from the one which had commanded her attention only a second before. Alia was starting to speak, but Jessica said: “Silence!” Then: “There are those who fear that I have returned without reservation to the Sisterhood. But since that day in the desert when the Fremen gave the gift of life to me and to my son, I have been Fremen!” And she lapsed into the old tongue which only those in this room who could profit by it would understand: “Onsar akhaka zeiiman aw maslumen!” Support your brother in his time of need, whether he be just or unjust! Her words had the desired effect, a subtle shifting of positions within the Chamber. But Jessica raged on: “This Ghadhean al-Fali, an honest Fremen, comes here to tell me what others should have revealed to me. Let no one deny this! The ecological transformation has become a tempest out of control!” Wordless confirmations could be seen throughout the room. “And my daughter delights in this!” Jessica said. “Mektub al-mellah! You carve wounds upon my flesh and write there in salt! Why did the Atreides find a home here? Because the Mohalata was natural to us. To the Atreides, government was always a protective partnership: Mohalata, as the Fremen have always known it. Now look at her!” Jessica pointed at Alia. “She laughs alone at night in contemplation of her own evil! Spice production will fall to nothing, or at best a fraction of its former level! And when word of that gets out –” “We’ll have a corner on the most priceless product in the universe!” Alia shouted. “We’ll have a corner on hell!” Jessica raged. And Alia lapsed into the most ancient Chakobsa, the Atreides private language with its difficult glottal stops and clicks: “Now, you know, mother! Did you think a granddaughter of Baron Harkonnen would not appreciate all of the lifetimes you crushed into my awareness before I was even born? When I raged against what you’d done to me, I had only to ask myself what the Baron would’ve done. And he answered! Understand me, Atreides bitch! He answered me!” Jessica heard the venom and the confirmation of her guess. Abomination! Alia had been overwhelmed within, possessed by that cahueit of evil, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Baron himself spoke from her mouth now, uncaring of what was revealed. He wanted her to see his revenge, wanted her to know that he could not be cast out. I’m supposed to remain here helpless in my knowledge, Jessica thought. With the thought, she launched herself onto the path the adab had revealed, shouting: “Fedaykin, follow me!” It turned out there were six Fedaykin in the room, and five of them won through behind her.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank