Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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The Fremen must return to his original faith, to his genius in forming human communities; he must return to the past, where that lesson of survival was learned in the struggle with Arrakis. The only business of the Fremen should be that of opening his soul to the inner teachings. The worlds of the Imperium, the Landsraad and the CHOAM Confederacy have no message to give him. They will only rob him of his soul. -The Preacher at Arrakeen

All around the Lady Jessica, reaching far out into the dun flatness of the landing plain upon which her transport rested, crackling and sighing after its dive from space, stood an ocean of humanity. She estimated half a million people were there and perhaps only a third of them pilgrims. They stood in awesome silence, attention fixed on the transport’s exit platform, whose shadowy hatchway concealed her and her party. It lacked two hours until noon, but already the air above that throng reflected a dusty shimmering in promise of the day’s heat. Jessica touched her silver-flecked copper hair where it framed her oval face beneath the aba hood of a Reverend Mother. She knew she did not look her best after the long trip, and the black of the aba was not her best color. But she had worn this garment here before. The significance of the aba robe would not be lost upon the Fremen. She sighed. Space travel did not agree with her, and there’d been that added burden of memories — the other trip from Caladan to Arrakis when her Duke had been forced into this fief against his better judgment. Slowly, probing with her Bene Gesserit-trained ability to detect significant minutiae, she scanned the sea of people. There were stillsuit hoods of dull grey, garments of Fremen from the deep desert; there were white-robed pilgrims with penitence marks on their shoulders; there were scattered pockets of rich merchants, hoodless in light clothing to flaunt their disdain for water loss in Arrakeen’s parching air . . . and there was the delegation from the Society of the Faithful, green robed and heavily hooded, standing aloof within the sanctity of their own group. Only when she lifted her gaze from the crowd did the scene take on any similarity to that which had greeted her upon her arrival with her beloved Duke. How long ago had that been? More than twenty years. She did not like to think of those intervening heartbeats. Time lay within her like a dead weight, and it was as though her years away from this planet had never been. Once more into the dragon’s mouth, she thought. Here, upon this plain, her son had wrested the Imperium from the late Shaddam IV. A convulsion of history had imprinted this place into men’s minds and beliefs. She heard the restless stirring of the entourage behind her and again she sighed. They must wait for Alia, who had been delayed. Alia’s party could be seen now approaching from the far edge of the throng, creating a human wave as a wedge of Royal Guards opened a passage. Jessica scanned the landscape once more. Many differences submitted to her searching stare. A prayer balcony had been added to the landing field’s control tower. And visible far off to the left across the plain stood the awesome pile of plasteel which Paul had built as his fortress — his “sietch above the sand.” It was the largest integrated single construction ever to rise from the hand of man. Entire cities could have been housed within its walls and room to spare. Now it housed the most powerful governing force in the Imperium, Alia’s “Society of the Faithful,” which she had built upon her brother’s body. That place must go, Jessica thought. Alia’s delegation had reached the foot of the exit ramp and stood there expectantly. Jessica recognized Stilgar’s craggy features. And God forfend! There stood the Princess Irulan hiding her savagery in that seductive body with its cap of golden hair exposed by a vagrant breeze. Irulan seemed not to have aged a day; it was an affront. And there, at the point of the wedge, was Alia, her features impudently youthful, her eyes staring upward into the hatchway’s shadows. Jessica’s mouth drew into a straight line and she scanned her daughter’s face. A leaden sensation pulsed through Jessica’s body and she heard the surf of her own life within her ears. The rumors were true! Horrible! Horrible! Alia had fallen into the forbidden way. The evidence was there for the initiate to read. Abomination! In the few moments it took her to recover, Jessica realized how much she had hoped to find the rumors false. What of the twins? she asked herself. Are they lost, too? Slowly, as befitted the mother of a god, Jessica moved out of the shadows and onto the lip of the ramp. Her entourage remained behind as instructed. These next few moments were the crucial ones. Jessica stood alone in full view of the throng. She heard Gurney Halleck cough nervously behind her. Gurney had objected: “Not even a shield on you? Gods below, woman! You’re insane!” But among Gurney’s most valuable features was a core of obedience. He would say his piece and then he would obey. Now he obeyed. The human sea emitted a sound like the hiss of a giant sandworm as Jessica emerged. She raised her arms in the benedictory to which the priesthood had conditioned the Imperium. With significant pockets of tardiness, but still like one giant organism, the people sank to their knees. Even the official party complied. Jessica had marked out the places of delay, and she knew that other eyes behind her and among her agents in the throng had memorized a temporary map with which to seek out the tardy. As Jessica remained with her arms upraised, Gurney and his men emerged. They moved swiftly past her down the ramp, ignoring the official party’s startled looks, joining the agents who identified themselves by handsign. Quickly they fanned out through the human sea, leaping knots of kneeling figures, dashing through narrow lanes. A few of their targets saw the danger and tried to flee. They were the easiest: a thrown knife, a garrote loop and the runners went down. Others were herded out of the press, hands bound, feet hobbled. Through it all, Jessica stood with arms outstretched, blessing by her presence, keeping the throng subservient. She read the signs of spreading rumors though, and knew the dominant one because it had been planted: “The Reverend Mother returns to weed out the slackers. Bless the mother of our Lord!” When it was over — a few dead bodies sprawled on the sand, captives removed to holding pens beneath the landing tower — Jessica lowered her arms. Perhaps three minutes had elapsed. She knew there was little likelihood Gurney and his men had taken any of the ringleaders, the ones who posed the most potent threat. They would be the alert and sensitive ones. But the captives would contain some interesting fish as well as the usual culls and dullards. Jessica lowered her arms and, cheering, the people surged to their feet. As though nothing untoward had happened, Jessica walked alone down the ramp, avoiding her daughter, singling out Stilgar for concentrated attention. The black beard which fanned out across the neck of his stillsuit hood like a wild delta contained flecks of grey, but his eyes carried that same whiteless intensity they’d presented to her on their first encounter in the desert. Stilgar knew what had just occurred, and approved. Here stood a true Fremen Naib, a leader of men and capable of bloody decisions. His first words were completely in character. “Welcome home, My Lady. It’s always a pleasure to see direct and effective action.” Jessica allowed herself a tiny smile. “Close the port, Stil. No one leaves until we’ve questioned those we took.” “It’s already done, My Lady,” Stilgar said. “Gurney’s man and I planned this together.” “Those were your men, then, the ones who helped.” “Some of them, My Lady.” She read the hidden reservations, nodded. “You studied me pretty well in those old days, Stil.” “As you once were at pains to tell me, My Lady, one observes the survivors and learns from them.” Alia stepped forward then and Stilgar stood aside while Jessica confronted her daughter. Knowing there was no way to hide what she had learned, Jessica did not even try concealment. Alia could read the minutiae when she needed, could read as well as any adept of the Sisterhood. She would already know by Jessica’s behavior what had been seen and interpreted. They were enemies for whom the word mortal touched only the surface. Alia chose anger as the easiest and most proper reaction. “How dare you plan an action such as this without consulting me?” she demanded, pushing her face close to Jessica’s. Jessica spoke mildly: “As you’ve just heard, Gurney didn’t even let me in on the whole plan. It was thought . . .” “And you, Stilgar!” Alia said, rounding on him. “To whom are you loyal?” “My oath is to Muad’Dib’s children,” Stilgar said, speaking stiffly. “We have removed a threat to them.” “And why doesn’t that fill you with joy . . . daughter?” Jessica asked. Alia blinked, glanced once at her mother, suppressed the inner tempest, and even managed a straight-toothed smile. “I am filled with joy . . . mother,” she said. And to her own surprise, Alia found that she was happy, experiencing a terrible delight that it was all out in the open at last between herself and her mother. The moment she had dreaded was past and the power balance had not really been changed. “We will discuss this in more detail at a more convenient time,” Alia said, speaking both to her mother and Stilgar. “But of course,” Jessica said, turning with a movement of dismissal to face the Princess Irulan. For a few brief heartbeats, Jessica and the Princess stood silently studying each other — two Bene Gesserits who had broken with the Sisterhood for the same reason: love . . . both of them for love of men who now were dead. This Princess had loved Paul in vain, becoming his wife but not his mate. And now she lived only for the children given to Paul by his Fremen concubine, Chani. Jessica spoke first: “Where are my grandchildren?” “At Sietch Tabr.” “Too dangerous for them here; I understand.” Irulan permitted herself a faint nod. She had observed the interchange between Jessica and Alia, but put upon it an interpretation for which Alia had prepared her. “Jessica has returned to the Sisterhood and we both know they have plans for Paul’s children.” Irulan had never been the most accomplished adept in the Bene Gesserit — valuable more for the fact that she was a daughter of Shaddam IV than for any other reason; often too proud to exert herself in extending her capabilities. Now she chose sides with an abruptness which did no credit to her training. “Really, Jessica,” Irulan said, “the Royal Council should have been consulted. It was wrong of you to work only through –” “Am I to believe none of you trust Stilgar?” Jessica asked. Irulan possessed the wit to realize there could be no answer to such a question. She was glad that the priestly delegates, unable to contain their impatience any longer, pressed forward. She exchanged a glance with Alia, thinking: Jessica’s as haughty and certain of herself as ever! A Bene Gesserit axiom arose unbidden in her mind, though: “The haughty do but build castle walls behind which they try to hide their doubts and fears.” Could that be true of Jessica? Surely not. Then it must be a pose. But for what purpose? The question disturbed Irulan. The priests were noisy in their possession of Muad’Dib’s mother. Some only touched her arms, but most bowed low and spoke greetings. At last the leaders of the delegation took their turn with the Most Holy Reverend Mother, accepting the ordained role — “The first shall be last” — with practiced smiles, telling her that the official Lustration ceremony awaited her at the Keep, Paul’s old fortress-stronghold. Jessica studied the pair, finding them repellent. One was called Javid, a young man of surly features and round cheeks, shadowed eyes which could not hide the suspicions lurking in their depths. The other was Zebataleph, second son of a Naib she’d known in her Fremen days, as he was quick to remind her. He was easily classified: jollity linked with ruthlessness, a thin face with blond beard, an air about him of secret excitements and powerful knowledge. Javid she judged far more dangerous of the two, a man of private counsel, simultaneously magnetic and — she could find no other word — repellent. She found his accents strange, full of old Fremen pronunciations, as though he’d come from some isolated pocket of his people. “Tell me, Javid,” she said, “whence come you?” “I am but a simple Fremen of the desert,” he said, every syllable giving the lie to the statement. Zebataleph intruded with an offensive deference, almost mocking: “We have much to discuss of the old days, My Lady. I was one of the first, you know, to recognize the holy nature of your son’s mission.” “But you weren’t one of his Fedaykin,” she said. “No, My Lady. I possessed a more philosophic bent; I studied for the priesthood.” And insured the preservation of your skin, she thought. Javid said: “They await us at the Keep, My Lady.” Again she found the strangeness of his accent an open question demanding an answer. “Who awaits us?” she asked. “The Convocation of the Faith, all those who keep bright the name and the deeds of your holy son,” Javid said. Jessica glanced around her, saw Alia smiling at Javid, asked: “Is this man one of your appointees, daughter?” Alia nodded. “A man destined for great deeds.” But Jessica saw that Javid had no pleasure in this attention, marked him for Gurney’s special study. And there came Gurney with five trusted men, signaling that they had the suspicious laggards under interrogation. He walked with the rolling stride of a powerful man, glance flicking left, right, all around, every muscle flowing through the relaxed alertness she had taught him out of the Bene Gesserit prana-bindu manual. He was an ugly lump of trained reflexes, a killer, and altogether terrifying to some, but Jessica loved him and prized him above all other living men. The scar of an inkvine whip rippled along his jaw, giving him a sinister appearance, but a smile softened his face as he saw Stilgar. “Well done, Stil,” he said. And they gripped arms in the Fremen fashion. “The Lustration,” Javid said, touching Jessica’s arm. Jessica drew back, chose her words carefully in the controlled power of Voice, her tone and delivery calculated for a precise emotional effect upon Javid and Zebataleph: “I returned to Dune to see my grandchildren. Must we take time for this priestly nonsense?” Zebataleph reacted with shock, his mouth dropping open, eyes alarmed, glancing about at those who had heard. The eyes marked each listener. Priestly nonsense! What effect would such words have, coming from the mother of their messiah? Javid, however, confirmed Jessica’s assessment. His mouth hardened, then smiled. The eyes did not smile, nor did they waver to mark the listeners. Javid already knew each member of this party. He had an earshot map of those who would be watched with special care from this point onward. Only seconds later, Javid stopped smiling with an abruptness which said he knew how he had betrayed himself. Javid had not failed to do his homework: he knew the observational powers possessed by the Lady Jessica. A short, jerking nod of his head acknowledged those powers. In a lightning flash of mentation, Jessica weighed the necessities. A subtle hand signal to Gurney would bring Javid’s death. It could be done here for effect, or in quiet later, and be made to appear an accident. She thought: When we try to conceal our innermost drives, the entire being screams betrayal. Bene Gesserit training turned upon this revelation — raising the adepts above it and teaching them to read the open flesh of others. She saw Javid’s intelligence as valuable, a temporary weight in the balance. If he could be won over, he could be the link she needed, the line into the Arrakeen priesthood. And he was Alia’s man. Jessica said: “My official party must remain small. We have room for one addition, however. Javid, you will join us. Zebataleph, I am sorry. And, Javid . . . I will attend this — this ceremony — if you insist.” Javid allowed himself a deep breath and a low-voiced “As Muad’Dib’s mother commands.” He glanced to Alia, to Zebataleph, back to Jessica. “It pains me to delay the reunion with your grandchildren, but there are, ahhh, reasons of state . . .” Jessica thought: Good. He’s a businessman above all else. Once we’ve determined the proper coinage, we’ll buy him. And she found herself enjoying the fact that he insisted on his precious ceremony. This little victory would give him power with his fellows, and they both knew it. Accepting his Lustration could be a down payment on later services. “I presume you’ve arranged transportation,” she said.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank