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  • Home > Frank Herbert > Dune Series > Dune Messiah (Chapter Nineteen)     
  • Dune Messiah(Dune Series #2)(19) by Frank Herbert
  • "Do you see, m'Lord?" Stilgar asked, wonder in his tone. "How can you see?"

    For answer, Paul put a finger out to touch Stilgar's cheek above the stillsuit mouthcap, felt tears. "You need give no moisture to me, old friend," Paul said. "I am not dead."

    "But your eyes!"

    "They've blinded my body, but not my vision," Paul said. "Ah, Stil, I live in an apocalyptic dream. My steps fit into it so precisely that I fear most of all I will grow bored reliving the thing so exactly."

    "Usul, I don't, I don't..."

    "Don't try to understand it. Accept it. I am in the world beyond this world here. For me, they are the same. I need no hand to guide me. I see every movement all around me. I see every expression of your face. I have no eyes, yet I see."

    Stilgar shook his head sharply. "Sire, we must conceal your affliction from -"

    "We hide it from no man," Paul said.

    "But the law... "

    "We live by the Atreides Law now, Stil. The Fremen Law that the blind should be abandoned in the desert applies only to the blind. I am not blind. I live in the cycle of being where the war of good and evil has its arena. We are at a turning point in the succession of ages and we have our parts to play."

    In a sudden stillness, Paul heard one of the wounded being led past him. "It was terrible," the man groaned, "a great fury of fire."

    "None of these men shall be taken into the desert," Paul said. "You hear me, Stil?"

    "I hear you, m'Lord."

    "They are to be fitted with new eyes at my expense."

    "It will be done, m'Lord."

    Paul, hearing the awe grow in Stilgar's voice, said: "I will be at the Command 'thopter. Take charge here."

    "Yes, m'Lord."

    Paul stepped around Stilgar, strode down the street. His vision told him every movement, every irregularity beneath his feet, every face he encountered. He gave orders as he moved, pointing to men of his personal entourage, calling out names, summoning to himself the ones who represented the intimate apparatus of government. He could feel the terror grow behind him, the fearful whispers.

    "His eyes!"

    "But he looked right at you, called you by name!"

    At the Command 'thopter, he deactivated his personal shield, reached into the machine and took the microphone from the hand of a startled communications officer, issued a swift string of orders, thrust the microphone back into the officer's hand. Turning, Paul summoned a weapons specialist, one of the eager and brilliant new breed who remembered sietch life only dimly.

    "They used a stone burner," Paul said.

    After the briefest pause, the man said: "So I was told, Sire."

    "You know what that means, of course."

    "The fuel could only have been atomic."

    Paul nodded, thinking of how this man's mind must be racing. Atomics. The Great Convention prohibited such weapons. Discovery of the perpetrator would bring down the combined retributive assault of the Great Houses. Old feuds would be forgotten, discarded in the face of this threat and the ancient fears it aroused.

    "It cannot have been manufactured without leaving some traces," Paul said. "You will assemble the proper equipment and search out the place where the stone burner was made."

    "At once, Sire." With one last fearful glance, the man sped away.

    "M'Lord," the communications officer ventured from behind him. "Your eyes... "

    Paul turned, reached into the 'thopter, returned the command set to his personal band. "Call Chani," he ordered. "Tell her... tell her I am alive and will be with her soon."

    Now the forces gather, Paul thought. And he noted how strong was the smell of fear in the perspiration all around.

    = = = = = =

    He has gone from Alia, The womb of heaven! Holy, holy, holy! Fire-sand leagues Confront our Lord. He can see Without eyes! A demon upon him! Holy, holy, holy Equation: He solved for Martyrdom! -The Moon Falls Down Songs of Muad'dib

    After seven days of radiating fevered activity, the Keep took on an unnatural quiet. On this morning, there were people about, but they spoke in whispers, heads close together, and they walked softly. Some scurried with an oddly furtive gait. The sight of a guard detail coming in from the forecourt drew questioning looks and frowns at the noise which the newcomers brought with their tramping about and stacking of weapons. The newcomers caught the mood of the interior, though, and began moving in that furtive way.

    Talk of the stone burner still floated around: "He said the fire had blue-green in it and a smell out of hell."

    "Elpa is a fool! He says he'll commit suicide rather than take Tleilaxu eyes."

    "I don't like talk of eyes."

    "Muad'dib passed me and called me by name!"

    "How does He see without eyes?"

    "People are leaving, had you heard? There's great fear. The Naibs say they'll go to Sietch Makab for a Grand Council."

    "What've they done with the Panegyrist?"

    "I saw them take him into the chamber where the Naibs are meeting. Imagine Korba a prisoner!"

    Chani had arisen early, awakened by a stillness in the Keep. Awakening, she'd found Paul sitting beside her, his eyeless sockets aimed at some formless place beyond the far wall of their bedchamber. What the stone burner had done with its peculiar affinity for eye tissue, all that ruined flesh had been removed. Injections and unguents had saved the stronger flesh around the sockets, but she felt that the radiation had gone deeper.

    Ravenous hunger seized her as she sat up. She fed on the food kept by the bedside - spicebread, a heavy cheese.

    Paul gestured at the food. "Beloved, there was no way to spare you this. Believe me."

    Chani stilled a fit of trembling when he aimed those empty sockets at her. She'd given up asking him to explain. He spoke so oddly: "I was baptized in sand and it cost me the knack of believing. Who trades in faiths anymore? Who'll buy? Who'll sell?"

    What could he mean by such words?

    He refused even to consider Tleilaxu eyes, although he bought them with a lavish hand for the men who'd shared his affliction.

    Hunger satisfied, Chani slipped from bed, glanced back at Paul, noted his tiredness. Grim lines framed his mouth. The dark hair stood up, mussed from a sleep that hadn't healed. He appeared so saturnine and remote. The back and forth of waking and sleeping did nothing to change this. She forced herself to turn away, whispered: "My love... my love... "

    He leaned over, pulled her back into the bed, kissed her cheeks. "Soon we'll go back to our desert," he whispered. "Only a few things remain to be done here."

    She trembled at the finality in his voice.

    He tightened his arms around her, murmured: "Don't fear me, my Sihaya. Forget mystery and accept love. There's no mystery about love. It comes from life. Can't you feel that?"

    "Yes."

    She put a palm against his chest, counting his heartbeats. His love cried out to the Fremen spirit in her - torrential, outpouring, savage. A magnetic power enveloped her.

    "I promise you a thing, beloved," he said. "A child of ours will rule such an empire that mine will fade in comparison. Such achievements of living and art and sublime -"

    "We're here now!" she protested, fighting a dry sob. "And... I feel we have so little... time."

    "We have eternity, beloved."

    "You may have eternity. I have only now."

    "But this is eternity." He stroked her forehead.

    She pressed against him, lips on his neck. The pressure agitated the life in her womb. She felt it stir.

    Paul felt it, too. He put a hand on her abdomen, said: "Ahh, little ruler of the universe, wait your time. This moment is mine."

    She wondered then why he always spoke of the life within her as singular. Hadn't the medics told him? She searched back in her own memory, curious that the subject had never arisen between them. Surely, he must know she carried twins. She hesitated on the point of raising this question. He must know. He knew everything. He knew all the things that were herself. His hands, his mouth - all of him knew her.

    Presently, she said: "Yes, love. This is forever... this is real." And she closed her eyes tightly lest sight of his dark sockets stretch her soul from paradise to hell. No matter the rihani magic in which he'd enciphered their lives, his flesh remained real, his caresses could not be denied.

    When they arose to dress for the day, she said: "If the people only knew your love..."

    But his mood had changed. "You can't build politics on love," he said. "People aren't concerned with love; it's too disordered. They prefer despotism. Too much freedom breeds chaos. We can't have that, can we? And how do you make despotism lovable?"

    "You're not a despot!" she protested, tying her scarf. "Your laws are just."

    "Ahh, laws," he said. He crossed to the window, pulled back the draperies as though he could look out. "What's law? Control? Law filters chaos and what drips through? Serenity? Law - our highest ideal and our basest nature. Don't look too closely at the law. Do, and you'll find the rationalized interpretations, the legal casuistry, the precedents of convenience. You'll find the serenity, which is just another word for death."

    Chani's mouth drew into a tight line. She couldn't deny his wisdom and sagacity, but these moods frightened her. He turned upon himself and she sensed internal wars. It was as though he took the Fremen maxim, "Never to forgive - never to forget," and whipped his own flesh with it.

    She crossed to his side, stared past him at an angle. The growing heat of the day had begun pulling the north wind out of these protected latitudes. The wind painted a false sky full of ochre plumes and sheets of crystal, strange designs in rushing gold and red. High and cold, the wind broke against the Shield Wall with fountains of dust.

    Paul felt Chani's warmth beside him. Momentarily, he lowered a curtain of forgetfulness across his vision. He might just be standing here with his eyes closed. Time refused to stand still for him, though. He inhaled darkness - starless, tearless. His affliction dissolved substance until all that remained was astonishment at the way sounds condensed his universe. Everything around him leaned on his lonely sense of hearing, falling back only when he touched objects: the drapery, Chani's hand... He caught himself listening for Chani's breaths.

    Where was the insecurity of things that were only probable? he asked himself. His mind carried such a burden of mutilated memories. For every instant of reality there existed countless projections, things fated never to be. An invisible self within him remembered the false pasts, their burden threatening at times to overwhelm the present.

    Chani leaned against his arm.

    He felt his body through her touch: dead flesh carried by time eddies. He reeked of memories that had glimpsed eternity. To see eternity was to be exposed to eternity's whims, oppressed by endless dimensions. The oracle's false immortality demanded retribution: Past and Future became simultaneous.

    Once more, the vision arose from its black pit, locked onto him. It was his eyes. It moved his muscles. It guided him into the next moment, the next hour, the next day... until he felt himself to be always there!

    "It's time we were going," Chani said. "The Council..."

    "Alia will be there to stand in my place."

    "Does she know what to do?"

    "She knows."

    Alia's day began with a guard squadron swarming into the parade yard below her quarters. She stared down at a scene of frantic confusion, clamorous and intimidating babble. The scene became intelligible only when she recognized the prisoner they'd brought: Korba, the Panegyrist.

    She made her morning toilet, moving occasionally to the window, keeping watch on the progress of impatience down there. Her gaze kept straying to Korba. She tried to remember him as the rough and bearded commander of the third wave in the battle of Arrakeen. It was impossible. Korba had become an immaculate fop dressed now in a Parato silk robe of exquisite cut. It lay open to the waist, revealing a beautifully laundered ruff and embroidered undercoat set with green gems. A purple belt gathered the waist. The sleeves poking through the robe's armhole slits had been tailored into rivulet ridges of dark green and black velvet.

    A few Naibs had come out to observe the treatment accorded a fellow Fremen. They'd brought on the clamor, exciting Korba to protest his innocence. Alia moved her gaze across the Fremen faces, trying to recapture memories of the original men. The present blotted out the past. They'd all become hedonists, samplers of pleasures most men couldn't even imagine.

    Their uneasy glances, she saw, strayed often to the doorway into the chamber where they would meet. They were thinking of Muad'dib's blind-sight, a new manifestation of mysterious powers. By their law, a blind man should be abandoned in the desert, his water given up to Shai-hulud. But eyeless Muad'dib saw them. They disliked buildings, too, and felt vulnerable in space built above the ground. Give them a proper cave cut from rock, then they could relax - but not here, not with this new Muad'dib waiting inside.

    As she turned to go down to the meeting, she saw the letter where she'd left it on a table by the door: the latest message from their mother. Despite the special reverence held for Caladan as the place of Paul's birth, the Lady Jessica had emphasized her refusal to make her planet a stop on the hajj.

    "No doubt my son is an epochal figure of history," she'd written, "but I cannot see this as an excuse for submitting to a rabble invasion."

    Alia touched the letter, experienced an odd sensation of mutual contact. This paper had been in her mother's hands. Such an archaic device, the letter - but personal in a way no recording could achieve. Written in the Atreides Battle Tongue, it represented an almost invulnerable privacy of communication.

    Thinking of her mother afflicted Alia with the usual inward blurring. The spice change that had mixed the psyches of mother and daughter forced her at times to think of Paul as a son to whom she had given birth. The capsule-complex of oneness could present her own father as a lover. Ghost shadows cavorted in her mind, people of possibility.

    Alia reviewed the letter as she walked down the ramp to the antechamber where her guard amazons waited.

    "You produce a deadly paradox," Jessica had written. "Government cannot be religious and self-assertive at the same time. Religious experience needs a spontaneity which laws inevitably suppress. And you cannot govern without laws. Your laws eventually must replace morality, replace conscience, replace even the religion by which you think to govern. Sacred ritual must spring from praise and holy yearnings which hammer out a significant morality. Government, on the other hand, is a cultural organism particularly attractive to doubts, questions and contentions. I see the day coming when ceremony must take the place of faith and symbolism replaces morality."

    The smell of spice-coffee greeted Alia in the antechamber. Four guard amazons in green watchrobes came to attention as she entered. They fell into step behind her, striding firmly in the bravado of their youth, eyes alert for trouble. They had zealot faces untouched by awe. They radiated that special Fremen quality of violence: they could kill casually with no sense of guilt.

    In this, I am different, Alia thought. The Atreides name has enough dirt on it without that.

    Word preceded her. A waiting page darted off as she entered the lower hall, running to summon the full guard detail. The hall stretched out windowless and gloomy, illuminated only by a few subdued glowglobes. Abruptly, the doors to the parade yard opened wide at the far end to admit a glaring shaft of daylight. The guard with Korba in their midst wavered into view from the outside with the light behind them.

    "Where is Stilgar?" Alia demanded.

    "Already inside," one of her amazons said.

    Alia led the way into the chamber. It was one of the Keep's more pretentious meeting places. A high balcony with rows of soft seats occupied one side. Across from the balcony, orange draperies had been pulled back from tall windows. Bright sunlight poured through from an open space with a garden and a fountain. At the near end of the chamber on her right stood a dais with a single massive chair.

    Moving to the chair, Alia glanced back and up, saw the gallery filled with Naibs.

    Household guardsmen packed the open space beneath the gallery, Stilgar moving among them with a quiet word here, a command there. He gave no sign that he'd seen Alia enter,

    Korba was brought in, seated at a low table with cushions beside it on the chamber floor below the dais. Despite his finery, the Panegyrist gave the appearance now of a surly, sleepy old man huddled up in his robes as against the outer cold. Two guardsmen took up positions behind him.

    Stilgar approached the dais as Alia seated herself.

    "Where is Muad'dib?" he asked.

    "My brother has delegated me to preside as Reverend Mother," Alia said.

    Hearing this, the Naibs in the gallery began raising their voices in protest.

    "Silence!" Alia commanded. In the abrupt quiet, she said: "Is it not Fremen law that a Reverend Mother presides when life and death are at issue?"

    As the gravity of her statement penetrated, stillness came over the Naibs, but Alia marked angry stares across the rows of faces. She named them in her mind for discussion in Council - Hobars, Rajifiri, Tasmin, Saajid, Umbu, Legg... The names carried pieces of Dune in them: Umbu Sietch, Tasmin Sink, Hobars Gap...

    She turned her attention to Korba.

    Observing her attention, Korba lifted his chin, said: "I protest my innocence."

    "Stilgar, read the charges," Alia said.

    Stilgar produced a brown spicepaper scroll, stepped forward. He began reading, a solemn flourish in his voice as though to hidden rhythms. He gave the words an incisive quality, clear and full of probity:

    "... that you did conspire with traitors to accomplish the destruction of our Lord and Emperor; that you did meet in vile secrecy with diverse enemies of the realm; that you... "

    Korba kept shaking his head with a look of pained anger.

    Alia listened broodingly, chin planted on her left fist, head cocked to that side, the other arm extended along the chair arm. Bits of the formal procedure began dropping out of her awareness, screened by her own feelings of disquiet.

    "... venerable tradition... support of the legions and all Fremen everywhere... violence met with violence according to the Law... majesty of the Imperial Person... forfeit all rights to..."

    It was nonsense, she thought. Nonsense! All of it - nonsense... nonsense... nonsense...

    Stilgar finished: "Thus the issue is brought to judgment."

    In the immediate silence, Korba rocked forward, hands gripping his knees, veined neck stretched as though he were preparing to leap. His tongue flicked between his teeth as he spoke.

    "Not by word or deed have I been traitor to my Fremen vows! I demand to confront my accuser!"

    A simple enough protest, Alia thought.

    And she saw that it had produced a considerable effect on the Naibs. They knew Korba. He was one of them. To become a Naib, he'd proved his Fremen courage and caution. Not brilliant, Korba, but reliable. Not one to lead a Jihad, perhaps, but a good choice as supply officer. Not a crusader, but one who cherished the old Fremen virtues: The Tribe is paramount.

    Otheym's bitter words as Paul had recited them swept through Alia's mind. She scanned the gallery. Any of those men might see himself in Korba's place - some for good reason. But an innocent Naib was as dangerous as a guilty one here.

    Korba felt it, too. "Who accuses me?" he demanded. "I have a Fremen right to confront my accuser."

    "Perhaps you accuse yourself," Alia said.

    Before he could mask it, mystical terror lay briefly on Korba's face. It was there for anyone to read: With her powers, Alia had but to accuse him herself, saying she brought the evidence from the shadow region, the alam al-mythal.

    "Our enemies have Fremen allies," Alia pressed. "Water traps have been destroyed, qanats blasted, plantings poisoned and storage basins plundered..."

    "And now - they've stolen a worm from the desert, taken it to another world!"
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