Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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Any path which narrows future possibilities may become a lethal trap. Humans are not threading their way through a maze; they scan a vast horizon filled with unique opportunities. The narrowing viewpoint of the maze should appeal only to creatures with their noses buried in sand. Sexually produced uniqueness and differences are the life-protection of the spices. -The Spacing Guild Handbook

“Why do I not feel grief?” Alia directed the question at the ceiling of her small audience chamber, a room she could cross in ten paces one way and fifteen the other. It had two tall and narrow windows which looked out across the Arrakeen rooftops at the Shield Wall. It was almost noon. The sun burned down into the pan upon which the city had been built. Alia lowered her gaze to Buer Agarves, the former Tabrite and now aide to Zia who directed the Temple guards. Agarves had brought the news that Javid and Idaho were dead. A mob of sycophants, aides and guards had come in with him and more crowded the areaway outside, revealing that they already knew Agarves’s message. Bad news traveled fast on Arrakis. He was a small man, this Agarves, with a round face for a Fremen, almost infantile in its roundness. He was one of the new breed who had gone to water-fatness. Alia saw him as though he had been split into two images: one with a serious face and opaque indigo eyes, a worried expression around the mouth, the other image sensuous and vulnerable, excitingly vulnerable. She especially liked the thickness of his lips. Although it was not yet noon, Alia felt something in the shocked silence around her that spoke of sunset. Idaho should’ve died at sunset, she told herself. “How is it, Buer, that you’re the bearer of this news?” she asked, noting the watchful quickness which came into his expression, Agarves tried to swallow, spoke in a hoarse voice hardly more than a whisper. “I went with Javid, you recall? And when . . . Stilgar sent me to you, he said for me to tell you that I carried his final obedience.” “Final obedience,” she echoed. “What’d he mean by that?” “I don’t know, Lady Alia,” he pleaded. “Explain to me again what you saw,” she ordered, and she wondered at how cold her skin felt. “I saw . . .” He bobbed his head nervously, looked at the floor in front of Alia. “I saw the Holy Consort dead upon the floor of the central passage, and Javid lay dead nearby in a side passage. The women already were preparing them for Huanui.” “And Stilgar summoned you to this scene?” “That is true, My Lady. Stilgar summoned me. He sent Modibo, the Bent One, his messenger in sietch. Modibo gave me no warning. He merely told me Stilgar wanted me.” “And you saw my husband’s body there on the floor?” He met her eyes with a darting glance, returned his attention once more to the floor in front of her before nodding. “Yes, My Lady. And Javid dead nearby. Stilgar told me . . . told me that the Holy Consort had slain Javid.” “And my husband, you say Stilgar –” “He said it to me with his own mouth, My Lady. Stilgar said he had done this. He said the Holy Consort provoked him to rage.” “Rage,” Alia repeated. “How was that done?” “He didn’t say. No one said. I asked and no one said.” “And that’s when you were sent to me with this news?” “Yes, My Lady.” “Was there nothing you could do?” Agarves wet his lips with his tongue, then: “Stilgar commanded, My Lady. It was his sietch.” “I see. And you always obeyed Stilgar.” “I always did. My Lady, until he freed me from my bond.” “When you were sent to my service, you mean?” “I obey only you now, My Lady.” “Is that right? Tell me, Buer, if I commanded you to slay Stilgar, your old Naib, would you do it?” He met her gaze with a growing firmness. “If you commanded it, My Lady.” “I do command it. Have you any idea where he’s gone?” “Into the desert; that’s all I know, My Lady.” “How many men did he take?” “Perhaps half the effectives.” “And Ghanima and Irulan with him!” “Yes, My Lady. Those who left are burdened with their women, their children and their baggage. Stilgar gave everyone a choice — go with him or be freed of their bond. Many chose to be freed. They will select a new Naib.” “I’ll select their new Naib! And it’ll be you, Buer Agarves, on the day you bring me Stilgar’s head.” Agarves could accept selection by battle. It was a Fremen way. He said: “As you command, My Lady. What forces may I –” “See Zia. I can’t give you many ‘thopters for the search. They’re needed elsewhere. But you’ll have enough fighting men. Stilgar has defamed his honor. Many will serve with you gladly.” “I’ll get about it, then, My Lady.” “Wait!” She studied him a moment, reviewing whom she could send to watch over this vulnerable infant. He would need close watching until he’d proved himself. Zia would know whom to send. “Am I not dismissed, My Lady?” “You are not dismissed. I must consult you privately and at length on your plans to take Stilgar.” She put a hand to her face. “I’ll not grieve until you’ve exacted my revenge. Give me a few minutes to compose myself.” She lowered her hand. “One of my attendants will show you the way.” She gave a subtle hand signal to one of her attendants, whispered to Shalus, her new Dame of Chamber: “Have him washed and perfumed before you bring him. He smells of worm.” “Yes, mistress.” Alia turned then, feigning the grief she did not feel, and fled to her private chambers. There, in her bedroom, she slammed the door into its tracks, cursed and stamped her foot. Damn that Duncan! Why? Why? Why? She sensed a deliberate provocation from Idaho. He’d slain Javid and provoked Stilgar. It said he knew about Javid. The whole thing must be taken as a message from Duncan Idaho, a final gesture. Again she stamped her foot and again, raging across the bedchamber. Damn him! Damn him! Damn him! Stilgar gone over to the rebels and Ghanima with him. Irulan, too. Damn them all! Her stamping foot encountered a painful obstacle, descending onto metal. Pain brought a cry from her and she peered down, finding that she’d bruised her foot on a metal buckle. She snatched it up, stood frozen at the sight of it in her hand. It was an old buckle, one of the silver-and-platinum originals from Caladan awarded originally by the Duke Leto Atreides I to his swordmaster, Duncan Idaho. She’d seen Duncan wear it many times. And he’d discarded it here. Alia’s fingers clutched convulsively on the buckle. Idaho had left it here when . . . when . . . Tears sprang from her eyes, forced out against the great Fremen conditioning. Her mouth drew down into a frozen grimace and she sensed the old battle begin within her skull, reaching out to her fingertips, to her toes. She felt that she had become two people. One looked upon these fleshly contortions with astonishment. The other sought submission to an enormous pain spreading in her chest. The tears flowed freely from her eyes now, and the Astonished One within her demanded querulously: “Who cries? Who is it that cries? Who is crying now?” But nothing stopped the tears, and she felt the painfulness which flamed through her breast as it moved her flesh and hurled her onto the bed. Still something demanded out of that profound astonishment: “Who cries? Who is that . . .”

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Categories: Herbert, Frank