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  • Home > Frank Herbert > Dune Series > Dune Messiah (Chapter Four)     
  • Dune Messiah(Dune Series #2)(4) by Frank Herbert
  • That was a thing his mother might've said, Paul thought. He wondered if the Lady Jessica had been in secret communication with Chani. His mother would think in terms of House Atreides. It was a pattern bred and conditioned into her by the Bene Gesserit, and would hold true even now when her powers were turned against the Sisterhood.

    "You listened when Irulan came to me today," he accused.

    "I listened." She spoke without looking at him.

    Paul focused his memory on the encounter with Irulan. He'd let himself into the family salon, noted an unfinished robe on Chani's loom. There'd been an acrid wormsmell to the place, an evil odor which almost hid the underlying cinnamon bite of melange. Someone had spilled unchanged spice essence and left it to combine there with a spice-based rug. It had not been a felicitous combination. Spice essence had dissolved the rug. Oily marks lay congealed on the plastone floor where the rug had been. He'd thought to send for someone to clean away the mess, but Harah, Stilgar's wife and Chani's closest feminine friend, had slipped in to announce Irulan.

    He'd been forced to conduct the interview in the presence of that evil smell, unable to escape a Fremen superstition that evil smells foretold disaster.

    Harah withdrew as Irulan entered.

    "Welcome," Paul said.

    Irulan wore a robe of gray whale fur. She pulled it close, touched a hand to her hair. He could see her wondering at his mild tone. The angry words she'd obviously prepared for this meeting could be sensed leaving her mind in a welter of second thoughts.

    "You came to report that the Sisterhood had lost its last vestige of morality," he said.

    "Isn't it dangerous to be that ridiculous?" she asked.

    "To be ridiculous and dangerous, a questionable alliance," he said. His renegade Bene Gesserit training detected her putting down an impulse to withdraw. The effort exposed a brief glimpse of underlying fear, and he saw she'd been assigned a task not to her liking.

    "They expect a bit too much from a princess of the blood royal," he said.

    Irulan grew very still and Paul became aware that she had locked herself into a viselike control. A heavy burden, indeed, he thought. And he wondered why prescient visions had given him no glimpse of this possible future.

    Slowly, Irulan relaxed. There was no point in surrendering to fear, no point in retreat, she had decided.

    "You've allowed the weather to fall into a very primitive pattern," she said, rubbing her arms through the robe. "It was dry and there was a sandstorm today. Are you never going to let it rain here?"

    "You didn't come here to talk about the weather," Paul said. He felt that he had been submerged in double meanings. Was Irulan trying to tell him something which her training would not permit her to say openly? It seemed that way. He felt that he had been cast adrift suddenly and now must thrash his way back to some steady place.

    "I must have a child," she said.

    He shook his head from side to side.

    "I must have my way!" she snapped. "If need be, I'll find another father for my child. I'll cuckold you and dare you to expose me."

    "Cuckold me all you wish," he said, "but no child."

    "How can you stop me?"

    With a smile of upmost kindness, he said: "I'd have you garroted, if it came to that."

    Shocked silence held her for a moment and Paul sensed Chani listened behind the heavy draperies into their private apartments.

    "I am your wife," Irulan whispered.

    "Let us not play these silly games," he said. "You play a part, no more. We both know who my wife is."

    "And I am a convenience, nothing more," she said, voice heavy with bitterness.

    "I have no wish to be cruel to you," he said.

    "You chose me for this position."

    "Not I," he said. "Fate chose you. Your father chose you. The Bene Gesserit chose you. The Guild chose you. And they have chosen you once more. For what have they chosen you, Irulan?"

    "Why can't I have your child?"

    "Because that's a role for which you weren't chosen."

    "It's my right to bear the royal heir! My father was -"

    "Your father was and is a beast. We both know he'd lost almost all touch with the humanity he was supposed to rule and protect."

    "Was he hated less than you're hated?" she flared.

    "A good question," he agreed, a sardonic smile touching the edges of his mouth.

    "You say you've no wish to be cruel to me, yet... "

    "And that's why I agree that you can take any lover you choose. But understand me well: take a lover, but bring no sour-fathered child into my household. I would deny such a child. I don't begrudge you any male alliance as long as you are discreet... and childless. I'd be silly to feel otherwise under the circumstances. But don't presume upon this license which I freely bestow. Where the throne is concerned, I control what blood is heir to it. The Bene Gesserit doesn't control this, nor does the Guild. This is one of the privileges I won when I smashed your father's Sardaukar legions out there on the Plain of Arrakeen."

    "It's on your head, then," Irulan said. She whirled and swept out of the chamber.

    Remembering the encounter now, Paul brought his awareness out of it and focused on Chani seated beside him on their bed. He could understand his ambivalent feelings about Irulan, understand Chani's Fremen decision. Under other circumstances Chani and Irulan might have been friends.

    "What have you decided?" Chani asked.

    "No child," he said.

    Chani made the Fremen crysknife sign with the index finger and thumb of her right hand.

    "It could come to that," he agreed.

    "You don't think a child would solve anything with Irulan?" she asked.

    "Only a fool would think that."

    "I am not a fool, my love."

    Anger possessed him. "I've never said you were! But this isn't some damned romantic novel we're discussing. That's a real princess down the hall. She was raised in all the nasty intrigues of an Imperial Court. Plotting is as natural to her as writing her stupid histories!"

    "They are not stupid, love."

    "Probably not." He brought his anger under control, took her hand in his. "Sorry. But that woman has many plots - plots within plots. Give into one of her ambitions and you could advance another of them."

    Her voice mild, Chani said: "Haven't I always said as much?"

    "Yes, of course you have." He stared at her. "Then what are you really trying to say to me?"

    She lay down beside him, placed her hand against his neck. "They have come to a decision on how to fight you," she said. "Irulan reeks of secret decisions."

    Paul stroked her hair.

    Chani had peeled away the dross.

    Terrible purpose brushed him. It was a coriolis wind in his soul. It whistled through the framework of his being. His body knew things then never learned in consciousness.

    "Chani, beloved," he whispered, "do you know what I'd spend to end the Jihad - to separate myself from the damnable godhead the Qizarate forces onto me?"

    She trembled. "You have but to command it," she said.

    "Oh, no. Even if I died now, my name would still lead them. When I think of the Atreides name tied to this religious butchery... "

    "But you're the Emperor! You've -"

    "I'm a figurehead. When godhead's given, that's the one thing the so-called god no longer controls." A bitter laugh shook him. He sensed the future looking back at him out of dynasties not even dreamed. He felt his being cast out, crying, unchained from the rings of fate - only his name continued. "I was chosen," he said. "Perhaps at birth... certainly before I had much say in it. I was chosen."

    "Then un-choose," she said.

    His arm tightened around her shoulder. "In time, beloved. Give me yet a little time."

    Unshed tears burned his eyes.

    "We should return to Sietch Tabr," Chani said. "There's too much to contend with in this tent of stone."

    He nodded, his chin moving against the smooth fabric of the scarf which covered her hair. The soothing spice smell of her filled his nostrils.

    Sietch. The ancient Chakobsa word absorbed him: a place of retreat and safety in a time of peril. Chani's suggestion made him long for vistas of open sand, for clean distances where one could see an enemy coming from a long way off.

    "The tribes expect Muad'dib to return to them," she said. She lifted her head to look at him. "You belong to us."

    "I belong to a vision," he whispered.

    He thought then of the Jihad, of the gene mingling across parsecs and the vision which told him how he might end it. Should he pay the price? All the hatefulness would evaporate, dying as fires die - ember by ember. But... oh! The terrifying price!

    I never wanted to be a god, he thought. I wanted only to disappear like a jewel of trace dew caught by the morning. I wanted to escape the angels and the damned - alone... as though by an oversight.

    "Will we go back to the Sietch?" Chani pressed.

    "Yes," he whispered. And he thought: I must pay the price.

    Chani heaved a deep sigh, settled back against him.

    I've loitered, he thought. And he saw how he'd been hemmed in by boundaries of love and the Jihad. And what was one life, no matter how beloved, against all the lives the Jihad was certain to take? Could single misery be weighed against the agony of multitudes?

    "Love?" Chani said, questioning.

    He put a hand against her lips.

    I'll yield up myself, he thought. I'll rush out while I yet have the strength, fly through a space a bird might not find. It was a useless thought, and he knew it. The Jihad would follow his ghost.

    What could he answer? he wondered. How explain when people taxed him with brutal foolishness? Who might understand?

    I wanted only to look back and say: "There! There's an existence which couldn't hold me. See! I vanish! No restraint or net of human devising can trap me ever again. I renounce my religion! This glorious instant is mine! I'm free!"

    What empty words!

    "A big worm was seen below the Shield Wall yesterday," Chani said. "More than a hundred meters long, they say. Such big ones come rarely into this region any more. The water repels them, I suppose. They say this one came to summon Muad'dib home to his desert." She pinched his chest. "Don't laugh at me!"

    "I'm not laughing."

    Paul, caught by wonder at the persistent Fremen mythos, felt a heart constriction, a thing inflicted upon his lifeline: adab, the demanding memory. He recalled his childhood room on Caladan then... dark night in the stone chamber... a vision! It'd been one of his earliest prescient moments. He felt his mind dive into the vision, saw through a veiled cloud-memory (vision-within-vision) a line of Fremen, their robes trimmed with dust. They paraded past a gap in tall rocks. They carried a long, cloth-wrapped burden.

    And Paul heard himself say in the vision: "It was mostly sweet... but you were the sweetest of all... "

    Adab released him.

    "You're so quiet," Chani whispered. "What is it?"

    Paul shuddered, sat up, face averted. "You're angry because I've been to the desert's edge," Chani said.

    He shook his head without speaking.

    "I only went because I want a child," Chani said.

    Paul was unable to speak. He felt himself consumed by the raw power of that early vision. Terrible purpose! In that moment, his whole life was a limb shaken by the departure of a bird... and the bird was chance. Free will.

    I succumbed to the lure of the oracle, he thought.

    And he sensed that succumbing to this lure might be to fix himself upon a single-track life. Could it be, he wondered, that the oracle didn't tell the future? Could it be that the oracle made the future? Had he exposed his life to some web of underlying threads, trapped himself there in that long-ago awakening, victim of a spider-future which even now advanced upon him with terrifying jaws.

    A Bene Gesserit axiom slipped into his mind: 'To use raw power is to make yourself infinitely vulnerable to greater powers.'

    "I know it angers you," Chani said, touching his arm. "It's true that the tribes have revived the old rites and the blood sacrifices, but I took no part in those."

    Paul inhaled a deep, trembling breath. The torrent of his vision dissipated, became a deep, still place whose currents moved with absorbing power beyond his reach.

    "Please," Chani begged. "I want a child, our child. Is that a terrible thing?"

    Paul caressed her arm where she touched him, pulled away. He climbed from the bed, extinguished the glowglobes, crossed to the balcony window, opened the draperies. The deep desert could not intrude here except by its odors. A windowless wall climbed to the night sky across from him. Moonlight slanted down into an enclosed garden, sentinel trees and broad leaves, wet foliage. He could see a fishpond reflecting stars among the leaves, pockets of white floral brilliance in the shadows. Momentarily, he saw the garden through Fremen eyes: alien, menacing, dangerous in its waste of water.

    He thought of the Water Sellers, their way destroyed by the lavish dispensing from his hands. They hated him. He'd slain the past. And there were others, even those who'd fought for the sols to buy precious water, who hated him for changing the old ways. As the ecological pattern dictated by Muad'dib remade the planet's landscape, human resistance increased. Was it not presumptuous, he wondered, to think he could make over an entire planet - everything growing where and how he told it to grow? Even if he succeeded, what of the universe waiting out there? Did it fear similar treatment?

    Abruptly, he closed the draperies, sealed the ventilators. He turned toward Chani in the darkness, felt her waiting there. Her water rings tinkled like the almsbells of pilgrims. He groped his way to the sound, encountered her outstretched arms.

    "Beloved," she whispered. "Have I troubled you?"

    Her arms enclosed his future as they enclosed him.

    "Not you," he said. "Oh... not you."

    = = = = = =

    The advent of the Field Process shield and the lasgun with their explosive interaction, deadly to attacker and attacked, placed the current determinatives, on weapons technology. We need not go into the special role of atomics. The fact that any Family in my Empire could so deploy its atomics as to destroy the planetary bases of fifty or more other Families causes some nervousness, true. But all of us possess precautionary plans for devastating retaliation. Guild and Landsraad contain the keys which hold this force in check, No, my concern goes to the development of humans as special weapons. Here is a virtually unlimited field which a few powers are developing. -Muad'dib: Lecture to the War College from The Stilgar Chronicle

    The old man stood in his doorway peering out with blue-in-blue eyes. The eyes were veiled by that native suspicion all desert folk held for strangers. Bitter lines tortured the edges of his mouth where it could be seen through a fringe of white beard. He wore no stillsuit and it said much that he ignored this fact in the full knowledge of the moisture pouring from his house through the open door.

    Scytale bowed, gave the greeting signal of the conspiracy.

    From somewhere behind the old man came the sound of a rebec wailing through the atonal dissonance of semuta music. The old man's manner carried no drug dullness, an indication that semuta was the weakness of another. It seemed strange to Scytale, though, to find that sophisticated vice in this place.

    "Greetings from afar," Scytale said, smiling through the flat-featured face he had chosen for this encounter. It occurred to him, then, that this old man might recognize the chosen face. Some of the older Fremen here on Dune had known Duncan Idaho.

    The choice of features, which he had thought amusing, might have been a mistake, Scytale decided. But he dared not change the face out here. He cast nervous glances up and down the street. Would the old man never invite him inside?

    "Did you know my son?" the old man asked.

    That, at least, was one of the countersigns. Scytale made the proper response, all the time keeping his eyes alert for any suspicious circumstance in his surroundings. He did not like his position here. The street was a cul-de-sac ending in this house. The houses all around had been built for veterans of the Jihad. They formed a suburb of Arrakeen which stretched into the Imperial Basin past Tiemag. The walls which hemmed in this street presented blank faces of dun plasmeld broken by dark shadows of sealed doorways and, here and there, scrawled obscenities. Beside this very door someone had chalked a pronouncement that one Beris had brought back to Arrakis a loathsome disease which deprived him of his manhood.

    "Do you come in partnership," the old man asked.

    "Alone," Scytale said.

    The old man cleared his throat, still hesitating in that maddening way.

    Scytale cautioned himself to patience. Contact in this fashion carried its own dangers. Perhaps the old man knew some reason for carrying on this way. It was the proper hour, though. The pale sun stood almost directly overhead. People of this quarter remained sealed in their houses to sleep through the hot part of the day.

    Was it the new neighbor who bothered the old man? Scytale wondered. The adjoining house, he knew, had been assigned to Otheym, once a member of Muad'dib's dreaded Fedaykin death commandos. And Bijaz, the catalyst-dwarf, waited with Otheym.

    Scytale returned his gaze to the old man, noted the empty sleeve dangling from the left shoulder and the lack of a stillsuit. An air of command hung about this old man. He'd been no foot slogger in the Jihad.

    "May I know the visitor's name?" the old man asked.

    Scytale suppressed a sigh of relief. He was to be accepted, after all. "I am Zaal," he said, giving the name assigned him for this mission.

    "I am Farok," the old man said, "once Bashar of the Ninth Legion in the Jihad. Does this mean anything to you?"

    Scytale read menace in the words, said: "You were born in Sietch Tabr with allegiance to Stilgar."
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