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  • Home > Frank Herbert > Dune Series > Dune Messiah (Chapter Six)     
  • Dune Messiah(Dune Series #2)(6) by Frank Herbert
  • Empires do not suffer emptiness of purpose at the time of their creation. It is when they have become established that aims are lost and replaced by vague ritual. -Words of Muad'dib by Princess Irulan.

    It was going to be a bad session, this meeting of the Imperial Council, Alia realized. She sensed contention gathering force, storing up energy - the way Irulan refused to look at Chani, Stilgar's nervous shuffling of papers, the scowls Paul directed at Korba the Qizara.

    She seated herself at the end of the golden council table so she could look out the balcony windows at the dusty light of the afternoon.

    Korba, interrupted by her entrance, went on with something he'd been saying to Paul. "What I mean, m'Lord, is that there aren't as many gods as once there were."

    Alia laughed, throwing her head back. The movement dropped the black hood of her aba robe. Her features lay exposed - blue-in-blue "spice eyes," her mother's oval face beneath a cap of bronze hair, small nose, mouth wide and generous.

    Korba's cheeks went almost the color of his orange robe. He glared at Alia, an angry gnome, bald and fuming.

    "Do you know what's being said about your brother?" he demanded.

    "I know what's being said about your Qizarate," Alia countered. "You're not divines, you're god's spies."

    Korba glanced at Paul for support, said: "We are sent by the writ of Muad'dib, that He shall know the truth of His people and they shall know the truth of Him."

    "Spies," Alia said.

    Korba pursed his lips in injured silence.

    Paul looked at his sister, wondering why she provoked Korba. Abruptly, he saw that Alia had passed into womanhood, beautiful with the first blazing innocence of youth. He found himself surprised that he hadn't noticed it until this moment. She was fifteen - almost sixteen, a Reverend Mother without motherhood, virgin priestess, object of fearful veneration for the superstitious masses - Alia of the Knife.

    "This is not the time or place for your sister's levity," Irulan said.

    Paul ignored her, nodded to Korba. "The square's full of pilgrims. Go out and lead their prayer."

    "But they expect you, m'Lord," Korba said.

    "Put on your turban," Paul said. "They'll never know at this distance."

    Irulan smothered irritation at being ignored, watched Korba arise to obey. She'd had the sudden disquieting thought that Edric might not hide her actions from Alia. What do we really know of the sister? she wondered.

    Chani, hands tightly clasped in her lap, glanced across the table at Stilgar, her uncle, Paul's Minister of State. Did the old Fremen Naib ever long for the simpler life of his desert sietch? she wondered. Stilgar's black hair, she noted, had begun to gray at the edges, but his eyes beneath heavy brows remained far-seeing. It was the eagle stare of the wild, and his beard still carried the catchtube indentation of life in a stillsuit.

    Made nervous by Chani's attention, Stilgar looked around the Council Chamber. His gaze fell on the balcony window and Korba standing outside. Korba raised outstretched arms for the benediction and a trick of the afternoon sun cast a red halo onto the window behind him. For a moment, Stilgar saw the Court Qizara as a figure crucified on a fiery wheel. Korba lowered his arms, destroyed the illusion, but Stilgar remained shaken by it. His thoughts went in angry frustration to the fawning supplicants waiting in the Audience Hall, and to the hateful pomp which surrounded Muad'dib's throne.

    Convening with the Emperor, one hoped for a fault in him, to find mistakes, Stilgar thought. He felt this might be sacrilege, but wanted it anyway.

    Distant crowd murmuring entered the chamber as Korba returned. The balcony door thumped into its seals behind him, shutting off the sound.

    Paul's gaze followed the Qizara. Korba took his seat at Paul's left, dark features composed, eyes glazed by fanaticism. He'd enjoyed that moment of religious power.

    "The spirit presence has been invoked," he said.

    "Thank the lord for that," Alia said.

    Korba's lips went white.

    Again, Paul studied his sister, wondered at her motives. Her innocence masked deception, he told himself. She'd come out of the same Bene Gesserit breeding program as he had. What had the kwisatz haderach genetics produced in her? There was always that mysterious difference: she'd been an embryo in the womb when her mother had survived the raw melange poison. Mother and unborn daughter had become Reverend Mothers simultaneously. But simultaneity didn't carry identity.

    Of the experience, Alia said that in one terrifying instant she had awakened to consciousness, her memory absorbing the uncounted other-lives which her mother was assimilating.

    "I became my mother and all the others," she said. "I was unformed, unborn, but I became an old woman then and there."

    Sensing his thoughts on her, Alia smiled at Paul. His expression softened. How could anyone react to Korba with other than cynical humor? he asked himself. What is more ridiculous than a Death Commando transformed into a priest?

    Stilgar tapped his papers, "if my liege permits," he said. "These are matters urgent and dire."

    "The Tupile Treaty?" Paul asked.

    "The Guild maintains that we must sign this treaty without knowing the precise location of the Tupile Entente," Stilgar said. "They've some support from Landsraad delegates."

    "What pressures have you brought to bear?" Irulan asked.

    "Those pressures which my Emperor has designated for this enterprise," Stilgar said. The stiff formality of his reply contained all his disapproval of the Princess Consort.

    "My Lord and husband," Irulan said, turning to Paul, forcing him to acknowledge her.

    Emphasizing the titular difference in front of Chani, Paul thought, is a weakness. In such moments, he shared Stiliar's dislike for Irulan, but sympathy tempered his emotions. What was Irulan but a Bene Gesserit pawn?

    "Yes?" Paul said.

    Irulan stared at him. "If you withheld their melange..."

    Chani shook her head in dissent.

    "We tread with caution," Paul said. "Tupile remains the place of sanctuary for defeated Great Houses. It symbolizes a last resort, a final place of safety for all our subjects. Exposing the sanctuary makes it vulnerable."

    "If they can hide people they can hide other things," Stilgar rumbled. "An army, perhaps, or the beginnings of melange culture which -"

    "You don't back people into a corner," Alia said. "Not if you want them to remain peaceful." Ruefully, she saw that she'd been drawn into the contention which she'd foreseen.

    "So we've spent ten years of negotiation for nothing," Irulan said.

    "None of my brother's actions is for nothing," Alia said.

    Irulan picked up a scribe, gripped it with white-knuckled intensity. Paul saw her marshal emotional control in the Bene Gesserit way: the penetrating inward stare, deep breathing. He could almost hear her repeating the litany. Presently, she said: "What have we gained?"

    "We've kept the Guild off balance," Chani said.

    "We want to avoid a showdown confrontation with our enemies," Alia said. "We have no special desire to kill them. There's enough butchery going on under the Atreides banner."

    She feels it, too, Paul thought. Strange, what a sense of compelling responsibility they both felt for that brawling, idolatrous universe with its ecstasies of tranquility and wild motion. Must we protect them from themselves? he wondered. They play with nothingness every moment - empty lives, empty words. They ask too much of me. His throat felt tight and full. How many moments would he lose? What sons? What dreams? Was it worth the price his vision had revealed? Who would ask the living of some far distant future, who would say to them: "But for Muad'dib, you would not be here."

    "Denying them their melange would solve nothing," Chani said. "So the Guild's navigators would lose their ability to see into timespace. Your Sisters of the Bene Gesserit would lose their truthsense. Some people might die before their time. Communication would break down. Who could be blamed?"

    "They wouldn't let it come to that," Irulan said.

    "Wouldn't they?" Chani asked. "Why not? Who could blame the Guild? They'd be helpless, demonstrably so."

    "We'll sign the treaty as it stands," Paul said.

    "M'Lord," Stilgar said, concentrating on his hands, "there is a question in our minds."

    "Yes?" Paul gave the old Fremen his full attention.

    "You have certain... powers," Stilgar said. "Can you not locate the Entente despite the Guild?"

    Powers! Paul thought. Stilgar couldn't just say: "You're prescient. Can't you trace a path in the future that leads to Tupile?"

    Paul looked at the golden surface of the table. Always the same problem: How could he express the limits of the inexpressible? Should he speak of fragmentation, the natural destiny of all power? How could someone who'd never experienced the spice change of prescience conceive an awareness containing no localized spacetime, no personal image-vector nor associated sensory captives?

    He looked at Alia, found her attention on Irulan. Alia sensed his movement, glanced at him, nodded toward Irulan. Ahhh, yes: any answer they gave would find its way into one of Irulan's special reports to the Bene Gesserit. They never gave up seeking an answer to their kwisatz haderach.

    Stilgar, though, deserved an answer of some kind. For that matter, so did Irulan.

    "The uninitiated try to conceive of prescience as obeying a Natural Law," Paul said. He steepled his hands in front of him. "But it'd be just as correct to say it's heaven speaking to us, that being able to read the future is a harmonious act of man's being. In other words, prediction is a natural consequence in the wave of the present. It wears the guise of nature, you see. But such powers cannot be used from an attitude that prestates aims and purposes. Does a chip caught in the wave say where it's going? There's no cause and effect in the oracle. Causes become occasions of convections and confluences, places where the currents meet. Accepting prescience, you fill your being with concepts repugnant to the intellect. Your intellectual consciousness, therefore, rejects them. In rejecting, intellect becomes a part of the processes, and is subjugated."

    "You cannot do it?" Stilgar asked.

    "Were I to seek Tupile with prescience," Paul said, speaking directly to Irulan, "this might hide Tupile."

    "Chaos!" Irulan protested. "It has no... no... consistency."

    "I did say it obeys no Natural Law," Paul said.

    "Then there are limits to what you can see or do with your powers?" Irulan asked.

    Before Paul could answer, Alia said: "Dear Irulan, prescience has no limits. Not consistent? Consistency isn't a necessary aspect of the universe."

    "But he said..."

    "How can my brother give you explicit information about the limits of something which has no limits? The boundaries escape the intellect."

    That was a nasty thing for Alia to do, Paul thought. It would alarm Irulan, who had such a careful consciousness, so dependent upon values derived from precise limits. His gaze went to Korba, who sat in a pose of religious reverie - listening with the soul. How could the Qizarate use this exchange? More religious mystery? Something to evoke awe? No doubt.

    "Then you'll sign the treaty in its present form?" Stilgar asked.

    Paul smiled. The issue of the oracle, by Stilgar's judgment, had been closed. Stilgar aimed only at victory, not at discovering truth. Peace, justice and a sound coinage - these anchored Stilgar's universe. He wanted something visible and real - a signature on a treaty.

    "I'll sign it," Paul said.

    Stilgar took up a fresh folder. "The latest communication from our field commanders in Sector Ixian speaks of agitation for a constitution." The old Fremen glanced at Chani, who shrugged.

    Irulan, who had closed her eyes and put both hands to her forehead in mnemonic impressment, opened her eyes, studied Paul intently.

    "The Ixian Confederacy offers submission," Stilgar said, "but their negotiators question the amount of the Imperial Tax which they -"

    "They want a legal limit to my Imperial will," Paul said. "Who would govern me, the Landsraad or CHOAM?"

    Stilgar removed from the folder a note on instroy paper. "One of our agents sent this memorandum from a caucus of the CHOAM minority." He read the cipher in a flat voice: "The Throne must be stopped in its attempt at a power monopoly. We must tell the truth about the Atreides, how he maneuvers behind the triple sham of Landsraad legislation, religious sanction and bureaucratic efficiency." He pushed the note back into the folder.

    "A constitution," Chani murmured.

    Paul glanced at her, back to Stilgar. Thus the Jihad falters, Paul thought, but not soon enough to save me. The thought produced emotional tensions. He remembered his earliest visions of the Jihad-to-be, the terror and revulsion he'd experienced. Now, of course, he knew visions of greater terrors. He had lived with the real violence. He had seen his Fremen, charged with mystical strength, sweep all before them in the religious war. The Jihad gained a new perspective. It was finite, of course, a brief spasm when measured against eternity, but beyond lay horrors to overshadow anything in the past.

    All in my name, Paul thought.

    "Perhaps they could be given the form of a constitution," Chani suggested. "It needn't be actual."

    "Deceit is a tool of statecraft," Irulan agreed.

    "There are limits to power, as those who put their hopes in a constitution always discover," Paul said.

    Korba straightened from his reverent pose. "M'Lord?"

    "Yes?" And Paul thought. Here now! Here's one who may harbor secret sympathies for an imagined rule of Law.

    "We could begin with a religious constitution," Korba said, "something for the faithful who -"

    "No!" Paul snapped. "We will make this an Order in Council. Are you recording this, Irulan?"

    "Yes, m'Lord," Irulan said, voice frigid with dislike for the menial role he forced upon her.

    "Constitutions become the ultimate tyranny," Paul said. "They're organized power on such a scale as to be overwhelming. The constitution is social power mobilized and it has no conscience. It can crush the highest and the lowest, removing all dignity and individuality. It has an unstable balance point and no limitations. I, however, have limitations. In my desire to provide an ultimate protection for my people, I forbid a constitution. Order in Council, this date, etcetera, etcetera."

    "What of the Ixian concern about the tax, m'Lord?" Stilgar asked.

    Paul forced his attention away from the brooding, angry look on Korba's face, said: "You've a proposal, Stil?"

    "We must have control of taxes, Sire."

    "Our price to the Guild for my signature on the Tupile Treaty," Paul said, "is the submission of the Ixian Confederacy to our tax. The Confederacy cannot trade without Guild transport. They'll pay."

    "Very good, m'Lord." Stilgar produced another folder, cleared his throat. "The Qizarate's report on Salusa Secundus. Irulan's father has been putting his legions through landing maneuvers."

    Irulan found something of interest in the palm of her left hand. A pulse throbbed at her neck.

    "Irulan," Paul asked, "do you persist in arguing that your father's one legion is nothing more than a toy?"

    "What could he do with only one legion?" she asked. She stared at him out of slitted eyes.

    "He could get himself killed," Chani said.

    Paul nodded. "And I'd be blamed."

    "I know a few commanders in the Jihad," Alia said, "who'd pounce if they learned of this."

    "But it's only his police force!" Irulan protested.

    "Then they have no need for landing maneuvers," Paul said. "I suggest that your next little note to your father contain a frank and direct discussion of my views about his delicate position."

    She lowered her gaze. "Yes, m'Lord. I hope that will be the end of it. My father would make a good martyr."

    "Mmmmmm," Paul said. "My sister wouldn't send a message to those commanders she mentioned unless I ordered it."

    "An attack on my father carries dangers other than the obvious military ones," Irulan said. "People are beginning to look back on his reign with a certain nostalgia."

    "You'll go too far one day," Chani said in her deadly serious Fremen voice.

    "Enough!" Paul ordered.

    He weighed Irulan's revelation about public nostalgia - ah, now! that'd carried a note of truth. Once more, Irulan had proved her worth.

    "The Bene Gesserit send a formal supplication," Stilgar said, presenting another folder. "They wish to consult you about the preservation of your bloodline."

    Chani glanced sideways at the folder as though it contained a deadly device.

    "Send the Sisterhood the usual excuses," Paul said.

    "Must we?" Irulan demanded.

    "Perhaps... this is the time to discuss it," Chani said.

    Paul shook his head sharply. They couldn't know that this was part of the price he had not yet decided to pay.

    But Chani wasn't to be stopped. "I have been to the prayer wall of Sietch Tabr where I was born," she said. "I have submitted to doctors. I have knelt in the desert and sent my thoughts into the depths where dwells Shai-hulud. Yet" - she shrugged - "nothing avails."

    Science and superstition, all have failed her, Paul thought. Do I fail her, too, by not telling her what bearing an heir to House Atreides will precipitate? He looked up to find an expression of pity in Alia's eyes. The idea of pity from his sister repelled him. Had she, too, seen that terrifying future?

    "My Lord must know the dangers to his realm when he has no heir," Irulan said, using her Bene Gesserit powers of voice with an oily persuasiveness. "These things are naturally difficult to discuss, but they must be brought into the open. An Emperor is more than a man. His figure leads the realm. Should he die without an heir, civil strife must follow. As you love your people, you cannot leave them thus?"

    Paul pushed himself away from the table, strode to the balcony windows. A wind was flattening the smoke of the city's fires out there. The sky presented a darkening silver-blue softened by the evening fall of dust from the Shield Wall. He stared southward at the escarpment which protected his northern lands from the coriolis wind, and he wondered why his own peace of mind could find no such shield.

    The Council sat silently waiting behind him, aware of how close to rage he was.

    Paul sensed time rushing upon him. He tried to force himself into a tranquility of many balances where he might shape a new future.

    Disengage... disengage... disengage, he thought. What would happen if he took Chani, just picked up and left with her, sought sanctuary on Tupile? His name would remain behind. The Jihad would find new and more terrible centers upon which to turn. He'd be blamed for that, too. He felt suddenly fearful that in reaching for any new thing he might let fall what was most precious, that even the slightest noise from him might send the universe crashing back, receding until he never could recapture any piece of it.

    Below him, the square had become the setting for a band of pilgrims in the green and white of the hajj. They wended their way like a disjointed snake behind a striding Arrakeen guide. They reminded Paul that his reception hall would be packed with supplicants by now. Pilgrims! Their exercise in homelessness had become a disgusting source of wealth for his Imperium. The hajj filled the spaceways with religious tramps. They came and they came and they came.

    How did I set this in motion? he asked himself.
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