Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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It is said of Muad’Dib that once when he saw a weed trying to grow between two rocks, he moved one of the rocks. Later, when the weed was seen to be flourishing, he covered it with the remaining rock. “That was its fate,” he explained. -The Commentaries

“Now!” Ghanima shouted. Leto, two steps ahead of her in reaching the narrow cut in the rocks, did not hesitate. He dove into the slit, crawled forward until darkness enfolded him. He heard Ghanima drop behind him, a sudden stillness, and her voice, not hurrying or fearful: “I’m stuck.” He stood up, knowing this would bring his head within reach of questing claws, reversed himself in the narrow passage, crept back until he felt Ghanima’s outstretched hand. “It’s my robe,” she said. “It’s caught.” He heard rocks falling directly below them, pulled on her hand but felt only a small gain. There was panting below them, a growl. Leto tensed himself, wedging his hips against the rock, heaved on Ghanima’s arm. Cloth ripped and he felt her jerk toward him. She hissed and he knew she felt pain, but he pulled once more, harder. She came farther into the hole, then all the way, dropping beside him. They were too close to the end of the cut, though. He turned, dropped to all fours, scrambled deeper. Ghanima pulled herself along behind him. There was a panting intensity to her movements which told him she’d been hurt. He came to the end of the opening, rolled over and peered upward out the narrow gap of their sanctuary. The opening was about two meters above him, filled with stars. Something large obscured the stars. A rumbling growl filled the air around the twins. It was deep, menacing, an ancient sound: hunter speaking to its prey. “How badly are you hurt?” Leto asked, keeping his voice even. She matched him, tone for tone: “One of them clawed me. Breached my stillsuit along the left leg. I’m bleeding.” “How bad?” “Vein. I can stop it.” “Use pressure,” he said. “Don’t move. I’ll take care of our friends.” “Careful,” she said. “They’re bigger than I expected.” Leto unsheathed his crysknife, reached up with it. He knew the tiger would be questing downward, claws raking the narrow passage where its body could not go. Slowly, slowly, he extended the knife. Abruptly something struck the top of the blade. He felt the blow all along his arm, almost lost his grip on the knife. Blood gushed along his hand, spattered his face, and there came an immediate scream which deafened him. The stars became visible. Something threshed and flung itself down the rocks toward the sand in a violent caterwauling. Once more, the stars were obscured and he heard the hunter’s growl. The second tiger had moved into place, unmindful of its companion’s fate. “They’re persistent,” Leto said. “You got one for sure,” Ghanima said. “Listen!” The screams and thrashing convulsions below them were growing fainter. The second tiger remained, though, a curtain against the stars. Leto sheathed his blade, touched Ghanima’s arm. “Give me your knife. I want a fresh tip to make sure of this one.” “Do you think they’ll have a third one in reserve?” She asked. “Not likely. Laza tigers hunt in pairs.” “Just as we do,” she said. “As we do,” he agreed. He felt the handle of her crysknife slip into his palm, gripped it tightly. Once more he began that careful upward questing. The blade encountered only empty air, even when he reached into a level dangerous to his body. He withdrew, pondering this. “Can’t you find it?” “It’s not behaving the way the other one did.” “It’s still there. Smell it?” He swallowed in a dry throat. A fetid breath, moist with the musky smell of the cat, assaulted his nostrils. The stars were still blocked from view. Nothing could be heard of the first cat; the crysknife’s poison had completed its work. “I think I’m going to have to stand up,” he said. “No!” “It has to be teased into reach of the knife.” “Yes, but we agreed that if one of us could avoid being wounded . . .” “And you’re wounded, so you’re the one going back,” he said. “But if you’re badly injured, I won’t be able to leave you,” she said. “Do you have a better idea?” “Give me back my knife.” “But your leg!” “I can stand on the good one.” “That thing could take your head off with one sweep. Maybe the maula . . .” “If there’s anyone out there to hear, they’ll know we came prepared for –” “I don’t like your taking this risk!” he said. “Whoever’s out there mustn’t learn we have maulas — not yet.” She touched his arm. “I’ll be careful, keep my head down.” As he remained silent, she said: “You know I’m the one who has to do this. Give me back my knife.” Reluctantly he quested with his free hand, found her hand and returned the knife. It was the logical thing to do, but logic warred with every emotion in him. He felt Ghanima pull away, heard the sandy rasping of her robe against the rock. She gasped, and he knew she must be standing. Be very careful! he thought. And he almost pulled her back to insist they use a maula pistol. But that could warn anyone out there that they had such weapons. Worse, it could drive the tiger out of reach, and they’d be trapped in here with a wounded tiger waiting for them in some unknown place out on those rocks. Ghanima took a deep breath, braced her back against one wall of the cleft. I must be quick, she thought. She reached upward with the knife point. Her left leg throbbed where the claws had raked it. She felt the crusting of blood against her skin there and the warmth of a new flow. Very quick! She sank her senses into the calm preparation for crisis which the Bene Gesserit Way provided, put pain and all other distractions out of her awareness. The cat must reach down! Slowly she passed the blade along the opening. Where was the damned animal? Once more she raked the air. Nothing. The tiger would have to be lured into attack. Carefully she probed with her sense of smell. Warm breath came from her left. She poised herself, drew in a deep breath, screamed: “Taqwa!” It was the old Fremen battlecry, its meaning found in the most ancient legends: “The price of freedom!” With the cry she tipped the blade and stabbed along the cleft’s dark opening. Claws found her elbow before the knife touched flesh, and she had time only to tip her wrist toward the pain before agony raked her arm from elbow to wrist. Through the pain, she felt the poison tip sink into the tiger. The blade was wrenched from her numb fingers. But again the narrow gap of the cleft lay open to the stars and the wailing voice of a dying cat filled the night. They followed it by its death throes, a thrashing passage down the rocks. Presently the death-silence came. “It got my arm,” Ghanima said, trying to bind a loose fold of her robe around the wound. “Badly?” “I think so. I can’t feel my hand.” “Let me get a light and –” “Not until we get under cover!” “I’ll hurry.” She heard him twisting to reach his Fremkit, felt the dark slickness of a nightshield as it was slipped over her head, tucked in behind her. He didn’t bother to make it moisture tight. “My knife’s on this side,” she said. “I can feel the handle with my knee.” “Leave it for now.” He ignited a single small globe. The brilliance of it made her blink. Leto put the globe on the sandy floor at one side, gasped as he saw her arm. One claw had opened a long, gaping wound which twisted from the elbow along the back of her arm almost to the wrist. The wound described the way she had rotated her arm to present the knife tip to the tiger’s paw. Ghanima glanced once at the wound, closed her eyes and began reciting the litany against fear. Leto found himself sharing her need, but put aside the clamor of his own emotions while he set about binding up the wound. It had to be done carefully to stop the flow of blood while retaining the appearance of a clumsy job which Ghanima might have done by herself. He made her tie off the knot with her free hand, holding one end of the bandage in her teeth. “Now let’s look at the leg,” he said. She twisted around to present the other wound. It was not as bad: two shallow claw cuts along the calf. They had bled freely into the stillsuit, however. He cleaned it up as best he could, bound the wound beneath the stillsuit. He sealed the suit over the bandage. “I got sand in it,” he said. “Have it treated as soon as you get back.” “Sand in our wounds,” she said. “That’s an old story for Fremen.” He managed a smile, sat back. Ghanima took a deep breath. “We’ve pulled it off.” “Not yet.” She swallowed, fighting to recover from the aftermath of shock. Her face appeared pale in the light of the glowglobe. And she thought: Yes, we must move fast now. Whoever controlled those tigers could be out there right now. Leto, staring at his sister, felt a sudden wrenching sense of loss. It was a deep pain which shot through his breast. He and Ghanima must separate now. For all of those years since birth they had been as one person. But their plan demanded now that they undergo a metamorphosis, going their separate ways into uniqueness where the sharing of daily experiences would never again unite them as they once had been united. He retreated into the necessarily mundane. “Here’s my Fremkit. I took the bandages from it. Someone may look.” “Yes.” She exchanged kits with him. “Someone out there has a transmitter for those cats,” he said. “Most likely he’ll be waiting near the qanat to make certain of us.” She touched her maula pistol where it sat atop the Fremkit, picked it up and thrust it into the sash beneath her robe. “My robe’s torn.” “Yes.” “Searchers may get here soon,” he said. “They may have a traitor among them. Best you slip back alone. Get Harrah to hide you.” “I’ll . . . I’ll start the search for the traitor as soon as I get back,” she said. She peered into her brother’s face, sharing his painful knowledge that from this point on they would accumulate a store of differences. Never again would they be as one, sharing knowledge which no one else could understand. “I’ll go to Jacurutu,” he said. “Fondak,” she said. He nodded his agreement. Jacurutu/Fondak — they had to be the same place. It was the only way the legendary place could have been hidden. Smugglers had done it, of course. How easy for them to convert one label into another, acting under the cover of the unspoken convention by which they were allowed to exist. The ruling family of a planet must always have a back door for escape in extremis. And a small share in smuggling profits kept the channels open. In Fondak/Jacurutu, the smugglers had taken over a completely operative sietch untroubled by a resident population. And they had hidden Jacurutu right out in the open, secure in the taboo which kept Fremen from it. “No Fremen will think to search for me in such a place,” he said. “They’ll inquire among the smugglers, of course, but . . .” “We’ll do as we agreed,” she said. “It’s just . . .” “I know.” Hearing his own voice, Leto realized they were drawing out these last moments of sameness. A wry grin touched his mouth, adding years to his appearance. Ghanima realized she was seeing him through a veil of time, looking at an older Leto. Tears burned her eyes. “You needn’t give water to the dead just yet,” he said, brushing a finger against the dampness on her cheeks. “I’ll go out far enough that no one will hear, and I’ll call a worm.” He indicated the collapsed Maker hooks strapped to the outside of his Fremkit. “I’ll be at Jacurutu before dawn two days from now.” “Ride swiftly, my old friend,” she whispered. “I’ll come back to you, my only friend,” he said. “Remember to be careful at the qanat.” “Choose a good worm,” she said, giving him the Fremen words of parting. Her left hand extinguished the glowglobe, and the nightseal rustled as she pulled it aside, folded it and tucked it into her kit. She felt him go, hearing only the softest of sounds quickly fading into silence as he crept down the rocks into the desert. Ghanima steeled herself then for what she had to do. Leto must be dead to her. She had to make herself believe it. There could be no Jacurutu in her mind, no brother out there seeking a place lost in Fremen mythology. From this point onward she could not think of Leto as alive. She must condition herself to react out of a total belief that her brother was dead, killed here by Laza tigers. Not many humans could fool a Truthsayer, but she knew that she could do it . . . might have to do it. The multi-lives she and Leto shared had taught them the way: a hypnotic process old in Sheba’s time, although she might be the only human alive who could recall Sheba as a reality. The deep compulsions had been designed with care and, for a long time after Leto had gone, Ghanima reworked her self-awareness, building the lonely sister, the surviving twin, until it was a believable totality. As she did this, she found the inner world becoming silent, blanked away from intrusion into her consciousness. It was a side effect she had not expected. If only Leto could have lived to learn this, she thought, and she did not find the thought a paradox. Standing, she peered down at the desert where the tiger had taken Leto. There was a sound growing in the sand out there, a familiar sound to Fremen: the passage of a worm. Rare as they had become in these parts, a worm still came. Perhaps the first cat’s death throes . . . Yes, Leto had killed one cat before the other one got him. It was oddly symbolic that a worm should come. So deep was her compulsion that she saw three dark spots far down on the sand: the two tigers and Leto. Then the worm came and there was only sand with its surface broken into new waves by the passage of Shai-Hulud. It had not been a very large worm . . . but large enough. And her compulsion did not permit her to see a small figure riding on the ringed back. Fighting her grief, Ghanima sealed her Fremkit, crept cautiously from her hiding place. Hand on her maula pistol, she scanned the area. No sign of a human with a transmitter. She worked her way up the rocks and across to the far side, creeping through moonshadows, waiting and waiting to be sure no assassin lurked in her path. Across the open space she could see torches at Tabr, the wavering activity of a search. A dark patch moved across the sand toward The Attendant. She chose her path to run far to the north of the approaching party, went down to the sand and moved into the dune shadows. Careful to make her steps fall in a broken rhythm which would not attract a worm, she set out into the lonely distance which separated Tabr from the place where Leto had died. She would have to be careful at the qanat, she knew. Nothing must prevent her from telling how her brother had perished saving her from the tigers.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank