Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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O Paul, thou Muad’Dib, Mahdi of all men, Thy breath exhaled Sent forth the hurricane. -Songs of Muad’Dib

“Never!” Ghanima said. “I’d kill him on our wedding night.” She spoke with a barbed stubbornness which thus far had resisted all blandishments. Alia and her advisors had been at it half the night, keeping the royal quarters in a state of unrest, sending out for new advisors, for food and drink. The entire Temple and its adjoining Keep seethed with the frustrations of unmade decisions. Ghanima sat composedly on a green floater chair in her own quarters, a large room with rough tan walls to simulate sietch rock. The ceiling, however, was imbar crystal which flickered with blue light, and the floor was black tile. The furnishings were sparse: a small writing table, five floater chairs and a narrow cot set into an alcove, Fremen fashion. Ghanima wore a robe of yellow mourning. “You are not a free person who can settle every aspect of her own life,” Alia said for perhaps the hundredth time. The little fool must come to realize this sooner or later! She must approve the betrothal to Farad’n. She must! Let her kill him later, but the betrothal requires open acknowledgment by the Fremen affianced. “He killed my brother,” Ghanima said, holding to the single note which sustained her. “Everyone knows this. Fremen would spit at the mention of my name were I to consent to this betrothal.” And that is one of the reasons why you must consent, Alia thought. She said: “His mother did it. He has banished her for it. What more do you want of him?” “His blood,” Ghanima said. “He’s a Corrino.” “He has denounced his own mother,” Alia protested. “And why should you worry about the Fremen rabble? They’ll accept whatever we tell them to accept. Ghani, the peace of the Empire demands that –” “I will not consent,” Ghanima said. “You cannot announce the betrothal without me.” Irulan, entering the room as Ghanima spoke, glanced inquiringly at Alia and the two female advisors who stood dejectedly beside her. Irulan saw Alia throw up her arms in disgust and drop into a chair facing Ghanima. “You speak to her, Irulan,” Alia said. Irulan pulled a floater into place, sat down beside Alia. “You’re a Corrino, Irulan,” Ghanima said. “Don’t press your luck with me.” Ghanima got up, crossed to her cot and sat on it cross-legged, glaring back at the women. Irulan, she saw, had dressed in a black aba to match Alia’s, the hood thrown back to reveal her golden hair. It was mourning hair under the yellow glow of the floating globes which illuminated the room. Irulan glanced at Alia, stood up and crossed to stand facing Ghanima. “Ghani, I’d kill him myself if that were the way to solve matters. And Farad’n’s my own blood, as you so kindly emphasized. But you have duties far higher than your commitment to Fremen . . .” “That doesn’t sound any better coming from you than it does from my precious aunt,” Ghanima said. “The blood of a brother cannot be washed off. That’s more than some little Fremen aphorism.” Irulan pressed her lips together. Then: “Farad’n holds your grandmother captive. He holds Duncan and if we don’t –” “I’m not satisfied with your stories of how all this happened,” Ghanima said, peering past Irulan at Alia. “Once Duncan died rather than let enemies take my father. Perhaps this new ghola-flesh is no longer the same as –” “Duncan was charged with protecting your grandmother’s life!” Alia said, whirling in her chair. “I’m confident he chose the only way to do that.” And she thought: Duncan! Duncan! You weren’t supposed to do it this way. Ghanima, reading the overtones of contrivance in Alia’s voice, stared across at her aunt. “You’re lying, O Womb of Heaven. I’ve heard about your fight with my grandmother. What is it you fear to tell us about her and your precious Duncan?” “You’ve heard it all,” Alia said, but she felt a stab of fear at this bald accusation and what it implied. Fatigue had made her careless, she realized. She arose, said: “Everything I know, you know.” Turning to Irulan: “You work on her. She must be made to –” Ghanima interrupted with a coarse Fremen expletive which came shockingly from the immature lips. Into the quick silence she said: “You think me just a mere child, that you have years in which to work on me, that eventually I’ll accept. Think again, O Heavenly Regent. You know better than anyone the years I have within me. I’ll listen to them, not to you.” Alia barely suppressed an angry retort, stared hard at Ghanima. Abomination? Who was this child? A new fear of Ghanima began to rise in Alia. Had she accepted her own compromise with the lives which came to her pre-born? Alia said: “There’s time yet for you to see reason.” “There may be time yet for me to see Farad’n’s blood spurt around my knife,” Ghanima said. “Depend on it. If I’m ever left alone with him, one of us will surely die.” “You think you loved your brother more than I?” Irulan demanded. “You play a fool’s game! I was mother to him as I was to you. I was –” “You never knew him, “Ghanima said. “All of you, except at times my beloved aunt, persist in thinking us children. You’re the fools! Alia knows! Look at her run away from . . .” “I run from nothing,” Alia said, but she turned her back on Irulan and Ghanima, and stared at the two amazons who were pretending not to hear this argument. They’d obviously given up on Ghanima. Perhaps they sympathized with her. Angrily, Alia sent them from the room. Relief was obvious on their faces as they obeyed. “You run,” Ghanima persisted. “I’ve chosen a way of life which suits me,” Alia said, turning back to stare at Ghanima sitting cross-legged on the cot. Was it possible she’d made that terrible inner compromise? Alia tried to see the signs of it in Ghanima, but was unable to read a single betrayal. Alia wondered then: Has she seen it in me? But how could she? “You feared to be the window for a multitude,” Ghanima accused. “But we’re the preborn and we know. You’ll be their window, conscious or unconscious. You cannot deny them.” And she thought: Yes, I know you — Abomination. And perhaps I’ll go as you have gone, but for now I can only pity you and despise you. Silence hung between Ghanima and Alia, an almost palpable thing which alerted the Bene Gesserit training in Irulan. She glanced from one to the other, then: “Why’re you so quiet suddenly?” “I’ve just had a thought which requires considerable reflection,” Alia said. “Reflect at your leisure, dear aunt,” Ghanima sneered. Alia, putting down fatigue-inflamed anger, said: “Enough for now! Leave her to think. Perhaps she’ll come to her senses.” Irulan arose, said: “It’s almost dawn anyway. Ghani, before we go, would you care to hear the latest message from Farad’n? He . . .” “I would not,” Ghanima said. “And hereafter, cease calling me by that ridiculous diminutive. Ghani! It merely supports the mistaken assumption that I’m a child you can . . .” “Why’d you and Alia grow so suddenly quiet?” Irulan asked, reverting to her previous question, but casting it now in a delicate mode of Voice. Ghanima threw her head back in laughter. “Irulan! You’d try Voice on me?” “What?” Irulan was taken aback. “You’d teach your grandmother to suck eggs,” Ghanima said. “I’d what?” “The fact that I remember the expression and you’ve never even heard it before should give you pause,” Ghanima said. “It was an old expression of scorn when you Bene Gesserit were young. But if that doesn’t chasten you, ask yourself what your royal parents could’ve been thinking of when they named you Irulan? Or is it Ruinal?” In spite of her training, Irulan flushed. “You’re trying to goad me, Ghanima.” “And you tried to use Voice on me. On me! I remember the first human efforts in that direction. I remember then, Ruinous Irulan. Now, get out of here, all of you.” But Alia was intrigued now, caught by an inner suggestion which sluffed her fatigue aside. She said: “Perhaps I’ve a suggestion which could change your mind, Ghani.” “Still Ghani!” A brittle laugh escaped Ghanima, then: “Reflect but a moment: If I desire to kill Farad’n, I need but fall in with your plans. I presume you’ve thought of that. Beware of Ghani in a tractable mood. You see, I’m being utterly candid with you.” “That’s what I hoped,” Alia said. “If you . . .” “The blood of a brother cannot be washed away,” Ghanima said. “I’ll not go before my Fremen loved ones a traitor to that. Never to forgive, never to forget. Isn’t that our catechism? I warn you here, and I’ll say it publicly: you cannot betroth me to Farad’n. Who, knowing me would believe it? Farad’n himself could not believe it. Fremen, hearing of such a betrothal, would laugh into their sleeves and say; ‘See! She lures him into a trap.’ If you . . .” “I understand that,” Alia said, moving to Irulan’s side. Irulan, she noted, was standing in shocked silence, aware already of where this conversation was headed. “And so I would be luring him into a trap,” Ghanima said. “If that’s what you want, I’ll agree, but he may not fall. If you wish this false betrothal as the empty coin with which to buy back my grandmother and your precious Duncan, so be it. But it’s on your head. Buy them back. Farad’n, though, is mine. Him I’ll kill.” Irulan whirled to face Alia before she could speak. “Alia! If we go back on our word . . .” She let it hang there a moment while Alia smilingly reflected on the potential wrath among the Great Houses in Faufreluches Assembled, the destructive consequences to believe in Atreides honor, the loss of religious trust, all of the great and small building blocs which would tumble. “It’d rule against us,” Irulan protested. “All belief in Paul’s prophethood would be destroyed. It . . . the Empire . . .” “Who could dare question our right to decide what is wrong and what is right?” Alia asked, voice mild. “We mediate between good and evil. I need but proclaim . . .” “You can’t do this!” Irulan protested. “Paul’s memory . . .” “Is just another tool of Church and State,” Ghanima said. “Don’t speak foolishness, Irulan.” Ghanima touched the crysknife at her waist, looked up at Alia. “I’ve misjudged my clever aunt, Regent of all that’s Holy in Muad’Dib’s Empire. I have, indeed, misjudged you. Lure Farad’n into our parlor if you will.” “This is recklessness,” Irulan pleaded. “You agree to this betrothal, Ghanima?” Alia asked, ignoring Irulan. “On my terms,” Ghanima said, hand still on her crysknife. “I wash my hands of this,” Irulan said, actually wringing her hands. “I was willing to argue for a true betrothal to heal –” “We’ll give you a wound much more difficult to heal, Alia and I,” Ghanima said. “Bring him quickly, if he’ll come. And perhaps he will. Would he suspect a child of my tender years? Let us plan the formal ceremony of betrothal to require his presence. Let there be an opportunity for me to be alone with him . . . just a minute or two . . .” Irulan shuddered at this evidence that Ghanima was, after all, Fremen entire, child no different from adult in this terrible bloodiness. After all, Fremen children were accustomed to slay the wounded on the battlefield, releasing women from this chore that they might collect the bodies and haul them away to the deathstills. And Ghanima, speaking with the voice of a Fremen child, piled horror upon horror by the studied maturity of her words, by the ancient sense of vendetta which hung like an aura around her. “Done,” Alia said, and she fought to keep voice and face from betraying her glee. “We’ll prepare the formal charter of betrothal. We’ll have the signatures witnessed by the proper assemblage from the Great Houses. Farad’n cannot possibly doubt –” “He’ll doubt, but he’ll come,” Ghanima said. “And he’ll have guards. But will they think to guard him from me?” “For the love of all that Paul tried to do,” Irulan protested, “let us at least make Farad’n’s death appear an accident, or the result of malice by outside –” “I’ll take joy in displaying my bloody knife to my brethren,” Ghanima said. “Alia, I beg you,” Irulan said. “Abandon this rash insanity. Declare kanly against Farad’n, anything to –” “We don’t require formal declaration of vendetta against him,” Ghanima said. “The whole Empire knows how we must feel.” She pointed to the sleeve of her robe. “We wear the yellow of mourning. When I exchange it for the black of a Fremen betrothed, will that fool anyone?” “Pray that it fools Farad’n,” Alia said, “and the delegates of the Great Houses we invite to witness the –” “Every one of those delegates will turn against you,” Irulan said. “You know that!” “Excellent point,” Ghanima said. “Choose those delegates with care, Alia. They must be ones we won’t mind eliminating later.” Irulan threw up her arms in despair, turned and fled. “Have her put under close surveillance lest she try to warn her nephew,” Ghanima said. “Don’t try to teach me how to conduct a plot,” Alia said. She turned and followed Irulan, but at a slower pace. The guards outside and the waiting aides were sucked up in her wake like sand particles drawn into the vortex of a rising worm. Ghanima shook her head sadly from side to side as the door closed, thought: It’s as poor Leto and I thought. Gods below! I wish it’d been me the tiger killed instead of him.

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