Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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The one-eyed view of our universe says you must not look far afield for problems. Such problems may never arrive. Instead, tend to the wolf within your fences. The packs ranging outside may not even exist. -The Azhar Book; Shamra I:4

Jessica awaited Idaho at the window of her sitting room. It was a comfortable room with soft divans and old-fashioned chairs. There wasn’t a suspensor in any of her rooms, and the glowglobes were crystal from another age. Her window overlooked a courtyard garden one story down. She heard the servant open the door, then the sound of Idaho’s footsteps on the wood floor, then on the carpet. She listened without turning, kept her gaze upon the dappled light of the courtyard’s green floor. The silent, fearful warfare of her emotions must be suppressed now. She took the deep breaths of her prana-bindu training, felt the outflow of enforced calmness. The high sun threw its searchlight along a dustbeam into the courtyard, highlighting the silver wheel of a spiderweb stretched in the branches of a linden tree which reached almost to her window. It was cool within her quarters, but outside the sealed window there was air which trembled with petrified heat. Castle Corrino sat in a stagnant place which belied the greens in her courtyard. She heard Idaho stop directly behind her. Without turning, she said: “The gift of words is the gift of deception and illusion, Duncan. Why do you wish words with me?” “It may be that only one of us will survive,” he said. “And you wish me to make a good report of your efforts?” She turned, saw how calmly he stood there, watching her with those grey metal eyes which held no center of focus. How blank they were! “Duncan, is it possible that you’re jealous of your place in history?” She spoke accusingly and remembered as she spoke that other time when she’d confronted this man. He’d been drunk then, set to spy upon her, and was torn by conflicting obligations. But that had been a pre-ghola Duncan. This was not the same man at all. This one was not divided in his actions, not torn. He proved her summation by smiling. “History holds its own court and delivers its own judgments,” he said. “I doubt that I’ll be concerned when my judgment’s handed down.” “Why are you here?” she asked. “For the same reason you’re here, My Lady.” No outward sign betrayed the shocking power of those simple words, but she reflected at a furious pace: Does he really know why I’m here? How could he? Only Ghanima knew. Then had he enough data for a mentat computation? That was possible. And what if he said something to give her away? Would he do that if he shared her reason for being here? He must know their every movement, every word was being spied upon by Farad’n or his servants. “House Atreides has come to a bitter crossroads,” she said. “Family turned against itself. You were among my Duke’s most loyal men, Duncan. When the Baron Harkonnen –” “Let us not speak of Harkonnens,” he said, “That was another age and your Duke is dead.” And he wondered: Can’t she guess that Paul revealed the Harkonnen blood in the Atreides? What a risk that had been for Paul, but it had bound Duncan Idaho even more firmly to him. The trust in the revelation had been a coin almost too great to imagine. Paul had known what the Baron’s people had done to Idaho. “House Atreides is not dead,” Jessica said. “What is House Atreides?” he asked. “Are you House Atreides? Is it Alia? Ghanima? Is it the people who serve this House? I look at those people and they bear the stamp of a travail beyond words! How can they be Atreides? Your son said it rightly: ‘Travail and persecution are the lot of all who follow me.’ I would break myself away from that, My Lady.” “Have you really gone over to Farad’n?” “Isn’t that what you’ve done, My Lady? Didn’t you come here to convince Farad’n that a marriage to Ghanima would solve all of our problems?” Does he really think that? she wondered. Or is he talking for the watchful spies? “House Atreides has always been essentially an idea,” she said. “You know that, Duncan. We bought loyalty with loyalty.” “Service to the people,” Idaho sneered. “Ahhh, many’s the time I’ve heard your Duke say it. He must lie uneasy in his grave, My Lady.” “Do you really think us fallen that low?” “My lady, did you not know that there are Fremen rebels — they call themselves ‘Marquis of the Inner Desert’ — who curse House Atreides and even Muad’Dib?” “I heard Farad’n’s report,” she said, wondering where he was leading this conversation and to what point. “More than that, My Lady. More than Farad’n’s report. I’ve heard their curse myself. Here’s the way of it: ‘Burning be on you, Atreides! You shall have no souls, nor spirits, nor bodies, nor shades nor magic nor bones, nor hair nor utterances nor words. You shall have no grave, nor house nor hole nor tomb. You shall have no garden, nor tree nor bush. You shall have no water, nor bread nor light nor fire. You shall have no children, nor family nor heirs nor tribe. You shall have no head, nor arms nor legs nor gait nor seed. You shall have no seats on any planet. Your souls shall not be permitted to come up from the depths, and they shall never be among those permitted to live upon the earth. On no day shall you behold Shai-Hulud, but you shall be bound and fettered in the nethermost abomination and your souls shall never enter into the glorious light for ever and ever.’ That’s the way of the curse, My Lady. Can you imagine such hatred from Fremen? They consign all Atreides to the left hand of the damned, to the Woman-Sun which is full of burning.” Jessica allowed herself a shudder. Idaho undoubtedly had delivered those words with the same voice in which he’d heard the original curse. Why did he expose this to House Corrino? She could picture an outraged Fremen, terrible in his anger, standing before his tribe to vent that ancient curse. Why did Idaho want Farad’n to hear it? “You make a strong argument for the marriage of Ghanima and Farad’n,” she said. “You always did have a single-minded approach to problems,” he said. “Ghanima’s Fremen. She can marry only one who pays no fai, no tax for protection. House Corrino gave up its entire CHOAM holdings to your son and his heirs. Farad’n exists on Atreides sufferance. And remember when your Duke planted the Hawk flag on Arrakis, remember what he said: ‘Here I am; here I remain!’ His bones are still there. And Farad’n would have to live on Arrakis, his Sardaukar with him.” Idaho shook his head at the very thought of such an alliance. “There’s an old saying that one peels a problem like an onion,” she said, her voice cold. How dare he patronize me? Unless he’s performing for Farad’n’s watchful eyes . . . “Somehow, I can’t see Fremen and Sardaukar sharing a planet,” Idaho said. “That’s a layer which doesn’t come off the onion.” She didn’t like the thoughts which Idaho’s words might arouse in Farad’n and his advisors, spoke sharply: “House Atreides is still the law in this Empire!” And she thought: Does Idaho want Farad’n to believe he can regain the throne without the Atreides? “Oh, yes,” Idaho said. “I almost forgot. Atreides Law! As translated, of course, by the Priests of the Golden Elixir. I have but to close my eyes and I hear your Duke telling me that real estate is always gained and held by violence or the threat of it. Fortune passes everywhere, as Gurney used to sing it. The end justifies the means? Or do I have my proverbs mixed up? Well, it doesn’t matter whether the mailed fist is brandished openly by Fremen legions or Sardaukar, or whether it’s hidden in the Atreides Law — the fist is still there. And the onion layer won’t come off, My Lady. You know, I wonder which fist Farad’n will demand?” What is he doing? Jessica wondered. House Corrino would soak up this argument and gloat over it! “So you think the Priests wouldn’t let Ghanima marry Farad’n?” Jessica ventured, probing to see where Idaho’s words might be leading. “Let her? Gods below! The Priests will let Alia do whatever she decrees. She could marry Farad’n herself!” Is that where he’s fishing? Jessica wondered. “No, My Lady,” Idaho said. “That’s not the issue. This Empire’s people cannot distinguish between Atreides government and the government of Beast Rabban. Men die every day in Arrakeen’s dungeons. I left because I could not give my sword arm another hour to the Atreides! Don’t you understand what I’m saying, why I came here to you as the nearest Atreides representative? The Atreides Empire has betrayed your Duke and your son. I loved your daughter, but she went one way and I went another. If it comes down to it, I’ll advise Farad’n to accept Ghanima’s hand — or Alia’s — only on his own terms!” Ahhh, he sets the stage for a formal withdrawal with honor from Atreides service, she thought. But these other matters of which he spoke, could he possibly know how well they did her work for her? She scowled at him. “You know spies are listening to every word, don’t you?” “Spies?” He chuckled. “They listen as I would listen in their place. Don’t you know how my loyalties move in a different way? Many’s the night I’ve spent alone in the desert, and the Fremen are right about that place, in the desert, especially at night, you encounter the dangers of hard thinking.” “Is that where you heard Fremen curse us?” “Yes. Among the al-Ourouba. At The Preacher’s bidding I joined them, My Lady. We call ourselves the Zarr Sadus, those who refuse to submit to the Priests. I am here to make formal announcement to an Atreides that I’ve removed myself to enemy territory.” Jessica studied him, looking for betrayals of minutiae, but Idaho gave no indication that he spoke falsely or with hidden plans. Was it really possible that he’d gone over to Farad’n? She was reminded of her Sisterhood’s maxim: In human affairs, nothing remains enduring; all human affairs revolve in a helix, moving around and out. If Idaho had really left the Atreides fold, that would explain his present behavior. He was moving around and out. She had to consider this as a possibility. But why had he emphasized that he did The Preacher’s bidding? Jessica’s mind raced and, having considered alternatives, she realized she might have to kill Idaho. The plan upon which she had staked her hopes remained so delicate that nothing could be allowed to interfere with it. Nothing. And Idaho’s words hinted that he knew her plan. She gauged their relative positions in the room, moving and turning to place herself in position for a lethal blow. “I’ve always considered the normalizing effect of the faufreluches to be a pillar of our strength,” she said. Let him wonder why she shifted their conversation to the system of class distinction. “The Landsraad Council of the Great Houses, the regional Sysselraads, all deserve our –” “You do not distract me,” he said. And Idaho wondered at how transparent her actions had become. Was it that she had grown lax in concealment, or had he finally breached the walls of her Bene Gesserit training? The latter, he decided, but some of it was in herself — a changing as she aged. It saddened him to see the small ways the new Fremen differed from the old. The passing of the desert was the passing of something precious to humans and he could not describe this thing, no more than he could describe what had happened to the Lady Jessica. Jessica stared at Idaho in open astonishment, not trying to conceal her reaction. Could he read her that easily? “You will not slay me,” he said. He used the Fremen words of warning: “Don’t throw your blood upon my knife.” And he thought: I’ve become very much the Fremen. It gave him a wry sense of continuity to realize how deeply he had accepted the ways of the planet which had harbored his second life. “I think you’d better leave,” she said. “Not until you accept my withdrawal from Atreides service.” “Accepted!” She bit it off. And only after she’d uttered the word did she realize how much pure reflex had gone into this exchange. She needed time to think and reconsider. How had Idaho known what she would do? She did not believe him capable of leaping Time in the spice way. Idaho backed away from her until he felt the door behind him. He bowed. “Once more I call you My Lady, and then never again. My advice to Farad’n will be to send you back to Wallach, quietly and quickly, at the earliest practical moment. You are too dangerous a toy to keep around. Although I don’t believe he thinks of you as a toy. You are working for the Sisterhood, not for the Atreides. I wonder now if you ever worked for the Atreides. You witches move too deeply and darkly for mere mortals ever to trust.” “A ghola considers himself a mere mortal,” she jibed. “Compared to you,” he said. “Leave!” she ordered. “Such is my intention.” He slipped out the door, passing the curious stare of the servant who’d obviously been listening. It’s done, he thought. And they can read it in only one way.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank