Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. -Words of an ancient philosopher (Attributed by Harq al-Ada to one Louis Veuillot)

Leto leaned out the covert exit from the sietch, saw the bight of the cliff towering above his limited view. Late afternoon sunlight cast long shadows in the cliff’s vertical striations. A skeleton butterfly flew in and out of the shadows, its webbed wings a transparent lacery against the light. How delicate that butterfly was to exist here, he thought. Directly ahead of him lay the apricot orchard, with children working there to gather the fallen fruit. Beyond the orchard was the qanat. He and Ghanima had given the slip to their guards by losing themselves in a sudden crush of incoming workers. It had been a relatively simple matter to worm their way down an air passage to its connection with the steps to the covert exit. Now they had only to mingle themselves with the children, work their way to the qanat and drop into the tunnel. There they could move beside the predator fish which kept sandtrout from encysting the tribe’s irrigation water. No Fremen would yet think of a human risking accidental immersion in water. He stepped out of the protective passages. The cliff stretched away on both sides of him, turned horizontal just by the act of his own movement. Ghanima moved closely behind him. Both carried small fruit baskets woven of spice-fiber, but each basket carried a sealed package: Fremkit, maula pistol, crysknife . . . and the new robes sent by Farad’n. Ghanima followed her brother into the orchard, mingled with the working children. Stillsuit masks concealed every face. They were just two more workers here, but she felt the action drawing her life away from protective boundaries and known ways. What a simple step it was, that step from one danger into another! In their baskets those new garments sent by Farad’n conveyed a purpose well understood by both of them. Ghanima had accented this knowledge by sewing their personal motto, “We Share,” in Chakobsa above the hawk crest at each breast. It would be twilight soon and, beyond the qanat which marked off sietch cultivation, there would come a special quality of evening which few places in the universe could match. It would be that softly lighted desert world with its persistent solitude, its saturated sense that each creature in it was alone in a new universe. “We’ve been seen,” Ghanima whispered, bending to work beside her brother. “Guards?” “No — others.” “Good.” “We must move swiftly,” she said. Leto acknowledged this by moving away from the cliff through the orchard. He thought with his father’s thoughts: Everything remains mobile in the desert or perishes. Far out on the sand he could see The Attendant’s outcropping, reminder of the need for mobility. The rocks lay static and rigid in their watchful enigma, fading yearly before the onslaught of wind-driven sand. One day The Attendant would be sand. As they neared the qanat they heard music from a high entrance of the sietch. It was an old-style Fremen group — two-holed flutes, tambourines, tympani made on spice-plastic drums with skins stretched taut across one end. No one asked what animal on this planet provided that much skin. Stilgar will remember what I told him about that cleft in The Attendant, Leto thought. He’ll come in the dark when it’s too late — and then he’ll know. Presently they were at the qanat. They slipped into an open tube, climbed down the inspection ladder to the service ledge. It was dusky, damp, and cold in the qanat and they could hear the predator fish splashing. Any sandtrout trying to steal this water would find its water-softened inner surface attacked by the fish. Humans must be wary of them, too. “Careful,” Leto said, moving down the slippery ledge. He fastened his memory to times and places his flesh had never known. Ghanima followed. At the end of the qanat they stripped to their stillsuits and put on the new robes. They left the old Fremen robes behind as they climbed out another inspection tube, wormed their way over a dune and down the far side. There they sat shielded from the sietch, strapped on maula pistols and crysknives, slipped the Fremkit packs onto their shoulders. They no longer could hear the music. Leto arose, struck out through the valley between the dunes. Ghanima fell into step behind him, moving with practiced unrhythmical quiet over the open sand. Below the crest of each dune they bent low and crept across into the hidden lee, there to pause and peer backward seeking pursuit. No hunters had emerged upon the desert by the time they reached the first rocks. In the shadows of the rocks they worked their way around The Attendant, climbed to a ledge looking out upon the desert. Colors blinked far out on the bled. The darkening air held the fragility of fine crystal. The landscape which met their gaze was beyond pity, nowhere did it pause — no hesitations in it at all. The gaze stayed upon no single place in its scanning movements across that immensity. It is the horizon of eternity, Leto thought. Ghanima crouched beside her brother, thinking: The attack will come soon. She listened for the slightest sound, her whole body transformed into a single sense of taut probing. Leto sat equally alert. He knew now the culmination of all the training which had gone into the lives he shared so intimately. In this wilderness one developed a firm dependence upon the senses, all of the senses. Life became a hoard of stored perceptions, each one linked only to momentary survival. Presently Ghanima climbed up the rocks and peered through a notch at the way they had come. The safety of the sietch seemed a lifetime away, a bulk of dumb cliffs rising out of brown-purple distance, dust-blurred edges at the rim where the last of the sunlight cast its silver streaks. Still no pursuit could be seen in the intervening distance. She returned to Leto’s side. “It’ll be a predatory animal,” Leto said. “That’s my tertiary computation.” “I think you stopped computing too soon,” Ghanima said. “It’ll be more than one animal. House Corrino has learned not to put all of its hopes into a single bag.” Leto nodded agreement. His mind felt suddenly heavy with the multitude of lives which his difference provided him: all of those lives, his even before birth. He was saturated with living and wanted to flee from his own consciousness. The inner world was a heavy beast which could devour him. Restlessly he arose, climbed to the notch Ghanima had used, peered at the cliffs of the sietch. Back there, beneath the cliff, he could see how the qanat drew a line between life and death. On the oasis edge he could see camel sage, onion grass, gobi feather grass, wild alfalfa. In the last of the light he could make out the black movements of birds pick-hopping in the alfalfa. The distant grain tassels were ruffled by a wind which drew shadows that moved right up to the orchard. The motion caught at his awareness, and he saw that the shadows hid within their fluid form a larger change, and that larger change gave ransom to the turning rainbows of a silver-dusted sky. What will happen out here? he asked himself. And he knew it would either be death or the play of death, himself the object. Ghanima would be the one to return, believing the reality of a death she had seen or reporting sincerely from a deep hypnotic compulsion that her brother was, indeed, slain. The unknowns of this place haunted him. He thought how easy it would be to succumb to the demand for prescience, to risk launching his awareness into an unchanging, absolute future. The small vision of his dream was bad enough, though. He knew he dared not risk the larger vision. Presently, he returned to Ghanima’s side. “No pursuit yet,” he said. “The beasts they send for us will be large,” Ghanima said. “We may have time to see them coming.” “Not if they come in the night.” “It’ll be dark very soon,” she said. “Yes. It’s time we went down into our place.” He indicated the rocks to their left and below them where windsand had eaten a tiny cleft in the basalt. It was large enough to admit them, but small enough to keep out large creatures. Leto felt himself reluctant to go there, but knew it must be done. That was the place he’d pointed out to Stilgar. “They may really kill us,” he said. “This is the chance we have to take,” she said. “We owe it to our father.” “I’m not arguing.” And he thought: This is the correct path; we do the right thing. But he knew how dangerous it was to be right in this universe. Their survival now demanded vigor and fitness and an understanding of the limitations in every moment. Fremen ways were their best armor, and the Bene Gesserit knowledge was a force held in reserve. They were both thinking now as Atreides-trained battle veterans with no other defenses than a Fremen toughness which was not even hinted at by their childish bodies and their formal attire. Leto fingered the hilt of the poison-tipped crysknife at his waist. Unconsciously Ghanima duplicated the gesture. “Shall we go down now?” Ghanima asked. As she spoke she saw the movement far below them, small movement made less threatening by distance. Her stillness alerted Leto before she could utter a warning. “Tigers,” he said. “Laza tigers,” she corrected him. “They see us,” he said. “We’d better hurry,” she said. “A maula would never stop those creatures. They will’ve been well trained for this.” “They’ll have a human director somewhere around,” he said, leading the way at a fast lope down the rocks to the left. Ghanima agreed, but kept it to herself, saving her strength. There’d be a human around somewhere. Those tigers couldn’t be allowed to run free until the proper moment. The tigers moved fast in the last of the light, leaping from rock to rock. They were eye-minded creatures and soon it would be night, the time of the ear-minded. The bell-call of a nightbird came from The Attendant’s rocks to emphasize the change. Creatures of the darkness already were hustling in the shadows of the etched crevasses. Still the tigers remained visible to the running twins. The animals flowed with power, a rippling sense of golden sureness in every movement. Leto felt that he had stumbled into this place to free himself from his soul. He ran with the sure knowledge that he and Ghanima could reach their narrow notch in time, but his gaze kept returning with fascination to the oncoming beasts. One stumble and we’re lost, he thought. That thought reduced the sureness of his knowledge, and he ran faster.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank