“She rides the sandworm of space! She guides through all storms Into the land of gentle winds. Though we sleep by the snake’s den, She guards our dreaming souls. Shunning the desert heat, She hides us in a cool hollow. The gleaming of her white teeth Guides us in the night. By the braids of her hair We are lifted up to heaven! Sweet fragrance, flower-scented. Surrounds us in her presence.”
Balak! Paul thought, thinking in Fremen. Look out! She can be filled with angry passion, too. The temple portico was lined with tall, slender glow-tubes simulating candle flame. They flickered. The flickering stirred ancestral memories in Paul even while he knew that was the intent. This setting was an atavism, subtly contrived, effective. He hated his own hand in it. The crowd flowed with him through tall metal doors into the gigantic nave, a gloomy place with the flickering lights far away overhead, a brilliantly illuminated altar at the far end. Behind the altar, a deceptively simple affair of black wood encrusted with sand patterns from the Fremen mythology, hidden lights played on the field of a pru-door to create a rainbow borealis. The seven rows of chanting acolytes ranked below that spectral curtain took on an eerie quality: black robes, white faces, mouths moving in unison. Paul studied the pilgrims around him, suddenly envious of their intentness, their air of listening to truths he could not hear. It seemed to him that they gained something here which was denied to him, something mysteriously healing. He tried to inch his way closer to the altar, was stopped by a hand on his arm. Paul whipped his gaze around, met the probing stare of an ancient Fremen — blue-blue eyes beneath overhanging brows, recognition in them. A name flashed into Paul’s mind: Rasir, a companion from the sietch days. In the press of the crowd, Paul knew he was completely vulnerable if Rasir planned violence. The old man pressed close, one hand beneath a sand-grimed robe — grasping the hilt of a crysknife, no doubt. Paul set himself as best he could to resist attack. The old man moved his head toward Paul’s ear, whispered: “We will go with the others.” It was the signal to identify his guide. Paul nodded. Rasir drew back, faced the altar. “She comes from the east,” the acolytes chanted. “The sun stands at her back. All things are exposed. In the full glare of light — her eyes miss no thing, neither light nor dark.” A wailing rebaba jarred across the voices, stilled them, receded into silence. With an electric abruptness, the crowd surged forward several meters. They were packed into a tight mass of flesh now, the air heavy with their breathing and the scent of spice. “Shai-hulud writes on clean sand!” the acolytes shouted. Paul felt his own breath catch in unison with those around him. A feminine chorus began singing faintly from the shadows behind the shimmering pru-door: “Alia . . . Alia . . . Alia . . . ” It grew louder and louder, fell to a sudden silence. Again — voices beginning vesper-soft:
“She stills all storms — Her eyes kill our enemies, And torment the unbelievers. From the spires of Tuono Where dawnlight strikes And clear water runs, You see her shadow. In the shining summer heat She serves us bread and milk — Cool, fragrant with spices. Her eyes melt our enemies, Torment our oppressors And pierce all mysteries. She is Alia . . . Alia . . . Alia . . . ”
Slowly, the voices trailed off. Paul felt sickened. What are we doing? he asked himself. Alia was a child witch, but she was growing older. And he thought: Growing older is to grow more wicked. The collective mental atmosphere of the temple ate at his psyche. He could sense that element of himself which was one with those all around him, but the differences formed a deadly contradiction. He stood immersed, isolated in a personal sin which he could never expiate. The immensity of the universe outside the temple flooded his awareness. How could one man, one ritual, hope to knit such immensity into a garment fitted to all men? Paul shuddered. The universe opposed him at every step. It eluded his grasp, conceived countless disguises to delude him. That universe would never agree with any shape he gave it. A profound hush spread through the temple. Alia emerged from the darkness behind the shimmering rainbows. She wore a yellow robe trimmed in Atreides green — yellow for sunlight, green for the death which produced life. Paul experienced the sudden surprising thought that Alia had emerged here just for him, for him alone. He stared across the mob in the temple at his sister. She was his sister. He knew her ritual and its roots, but he had never before stood out here with the pilgrims, watched her through their eyes. Here, performing the mystery of this place, he saw that she partook of the universe which opposed him. Acolytes brought her a golden chalice. Alia raised the chalice. With part of his awareness, Paul knew that the chalice contained the unaltered melange, the subtle poison, her sacrament of the oracle. Her gaze on the chalice, Alia spoke. Her voice caressed the ears, flower sound, flowing and musical: “In the beginning, we were empty,” she said. “Ignorant of all things,” the chorus sang. “We did not know the Power that abides in every place,” Alia said. “And in every Time ” the chorus sang. “Here is the Power,” Alia said, raising the chalice slightly. “It brings us joy,” sang the chorus. And it brings us distress, Paul thought. “It awakens the soul,” Alia said. “It dispels all doubts,” the chorus sang. “In worlds, we perish,” Alia said. “In the Power, we survive,” sang the chorus. Alia put the chalice to her lips, drank. To his astonishment, Paul found he was holding his breath like the meanest pilgrim of this mob. Despite every shred of personal knowledge about the experience Alia was undergoing, he had been caught in the tao-web. He felt himself remembering how that fiery poison coursed into the body. Memory unfolded the time-stopping when awareness became a mote which changed the poison. He reexperienced the awakening into timelessness where all things were possible. He knew Alia’s present experience, yet he saw now that he did not know it. Mystery blinded the eyes. Alia trembled, sank to her knees. Paul exhaled with the enraptured pilgrims. He nodded. Part of the veil began to lift from him. Absorbed in the bliss of a vision, he had forgotten that each vision belonged to all those who were still on-the-way, still to become. In the vision, one passed through a darkness, unable to distinguish reality from insubstantial accident. One hungered for absolutes which could never be. Hungering, one lost the present. Alia swayed with the rapture of spice change. Paul felt that some transcendental presence spoke to him, saying: “Look! See there! See what you’ve ignored?” In that instant, he thought he looked through other eyes, that he saw an imagery and rhythm in this place which no artist or poet could reproduce. It was vital and beautiful, a glaring light that exposed all power-gluttony . . . even his own. Alia spoke. Her amplified voice boomed across the nave. “Luminous night,” she cried. A moan swept like a wave through the crush of pilgrims. “Nothing hides in such a night!” Alia said. “What rare light is this darkness? You cannot fix your gaze upon it! Senses cannot record it. No words describe it.” Her voice lowered. “The abyss remains. It is pregnant with all the things yet to be. Ahhhhh, what gentle violence!” Paul felt that he waited for some private signal from his sister. It could be any action or word, something of wizardry and mystical processes, an outward streaming that would fit him like an arrow into a cosmic bow. This instant lay like quivering mercury in his awareness. “There will be sadness,” Alia intoned. “I remind you that all things are but a beginning, forever beginning. Worlds wait to be conquered. Some within the sound of my voice will attain exalted destinies. You will sneer at the past, forgetting what I tell you now: within all differences there is unity.” Paul suppressed a cry of disappointment as Alia lowered her head. She had not said the thing he waited to hear. His body felt like a dry shell, a husk abandoned by some desert insect. Others must feel something similar, he thought. He sensed the restlessness about him. Abruptly, a woman in the mob, someone far down in the nave to Paul’s left, cried out, a wordless noise of anguish. Alia lifted her head and Paul had the giddy sensation that the distance between them collapsed, that he stared directly into her glazed eyes — only inches away from her. “Who summons me?” Alia asked. “I do,” the woman cried. “I do, Alia. Oh, Alia, help me. They say my son was killed on Muritan. Is he gone? Will I never see my son again . . . never?” “You try to walk backward in the sand,” Alia intoned. “Nothing is lost. Everything returns later, but you may not recognize the changed form that returns.” “Alia, I don’t understand!” the woman wailed. “You live in the air but you do not see it,” Alia said, sharpness in her voice. “Are you a lizard? Your voice has the Fremen accent. Does a Fremen try to bring back the dead? What do we need from our dead except their water?” Down in the center of the nave, a man in a rich red cloak lifted both hands, the sleeves falling to expose white-clad arms. “Alia,” he shouted, “I have had a business proposal. Should I accept?” “You come here like a beggar,” Alia said. “You look for the golden bowl but you will find only a dagger.” “I have been asked to kill a man!” a voice shouted from off to the right — a deep voice with sietch tones. “Should I accept? Accepting, would I succeed?” “Beginning and end are a single thing,” Alia snapped. “Have I not told you this before? You didn’t come here to ask that question. What is it you cannot believe that you must come here and cry out against it?” “She’s in a fierce mood tonight,” a woman near Paul muttered. “Have you ever seen her this angry?” She knows I’m out here, Paul thought. Did she see something in the vision that angered her? Is she raging at me? “Alia,” a man directly in front of Paul called. “Tell these businessmen and faint-hearts how long your brother will rule!” “I permit you to look around that corner by yourself,” Alia snarled. “You carry your prejudice in your mouth! It is because my brother rides the worm of chaos that you have roof and water!” With a fierce gesture, clutching her robe, Alia whirled away, strode through the shimmering ribbons of light, was lost in the darkness behind. Immediately, the acolytes took up the closing chant, but their rhythm was off. Obviously, they’d been caught by the unexpected ending of the rite. An incoherent mumbling arose on all sides of the crowd. Paul felt the stirring around him — restless, dissatisfied. “It was that fool with his stupid question about business,” a woman near Paul muttered. “The hypocrite!” What had Alia seen? What track through the future? Something had happened here tonight, souring the rite of the oracle. Usually, the crowd clamored for Alia to answer their pitiful questions. They came as beggars to the oracle, yes. He had heard them thus many times as he’d watched, hidden in the darkness behind the altar. What had been different about this night? The old Fremen tugged Paul’s sleeve, nodded toward the exit. The crowd already was beginning to push in that direction. Paul allowed himself to be pressed along with them, the guide’s hand upon his sleeve. There was the feeling in him then that his body had become the manifestation of some power he could no longer control. He had become a non-being, a stillness which moved itself. At the core of the non-being, there he existed, allowing himself to be led through the streets of his city, following a track so familiar to his visions that it froze his heart with grief, I should know what Alia saw, bethought, I have seen it enough times myself. And she didn’t cry out against it . . . she saw the alternatives, too.