• Home
  • Directory
  • Popular
  • Authors
  • Series
  • Home > Frank Herbert > Dune Series > Dune Messiah (Chapter Twenty)     
  • Dune Messiah(Dune Series #2)(20) by Frank Herbert
  • The voice of this intrusion was known to all of them - Muad'dib. Paul came through the doorway from the hall, pressed through the guard ranks and crossed to Alia's side. Chani, accompanying him, remained on the sidelines.

    "M'Lord," Stilgar said, refusing to look at Paul's face.

    Paul aimed his empty sockets at the gallery, then down to Korba. "What, Korba - no words of praise?"

    Muttering could be heard in the gallery. It grew louder, isolated words and phrases audible: "... law for the blind... Fremen way... in the desert... who breaks..."

    "Who says I'm blind?" Paul demanded. He faced the gallery. "You, Rajifiri? I see you're wearing gold today, and that blue shirt beneath it which still has dust on it from the streets. You always were untidy."

    Rajifiri made a warding gesture, three fingers against evil.

    "Point those fingers at yourself!" Paul shouted. "We know where the evil is!" He turned back to Korba. "There's guilt on your face, Korba."

    "Not my guilt! I may've associated with the guilty, but no... " He broke off, shot a frightened look at the gallery.

    Taking her cue from Paul, Alia arose, stepped down to the floor of the chamber, advanced to the edge of Korba's table. From a range of less than a meter, she stared down at him, silent and intimidating.

    Korba cowered under the burden of eyes. He fidgeted, shot anxious glances at the gallery.

    "Whose eyes do you seek up there?" Paul asked.

    "You cannot see!" Korba blurted.

    Paul put down a momentary feeling of pity for Korba. The man lay trapped in the vision's snare as securely as any of those present. He played a part, no more.

    "I don't need eyes to see you," Paul said. And he began describing Korba, every movement, every twitch, every alarmed and pleading look at the gallery.

    Desperation grew in Korba.

    Watching him, Alia saw he might break any second. Someone in the gallery must realize how near he was to breaking, she thought. Who? She studied the faces of the Naibs, noting small betrayals in the masked faces... angers, fears, uncertainties... guilts.

    Paul fell silent.

    Korba mustered a pitiful air of pomposity to plead: "Who accuses me?"

    "Otheym accuses you," Alia said.

    "But Otheym's dead!" Korba protested.

    "How did you know that?" Paul asked. "Through your spy system? Oh, yes! We know about your spies and couriers. We know who brought the stone burner here from Tarahell."

    "It was for the defense of the Qizarate!" Korba blurted.

    "Is that how it got into traitorous hands?" Paul asked.

    "It was stolen and we..." Korba fell silent, swallowed. His gaze darted left and right. "Everyone knows I've been the voice of love for Muad'dib." He stared at the gallery. "How can a dead man accuse a Fremen?"

    "Otheym's voice isn't dead," Alia said. She stopped as Paul touched her arm.

    "Otheym sent us his voice," Paul said. "It gives the names, the acts of treachery, the meeting places and the times. Do you miss certain faces in the Council of Naibs, Korba? Where are Merkur and Fash? Keke the Lame isn't with us today. And Takim, where is he?"

    Korba shook his head from side to side.

    "They've fled Arrakis with the stolen worm," Paul said. "Even if I freed you now, Korba, Shai-hulud would have your water for your part in this. Why don't I free you, Korba? Think of all those men whose eyes were taken, the men who cannot see as I see. They have families and friends, Korba. Where could you hide from them?"

    "It was an accident," Korba pleaded. "Anyway, they're getting Tleilaxu... " Again, he subsided.

    "Who knows what bondage goes with metal eyes?" Paul asked.

    The Naibs in their gallery began exchanging whispered comments, speaking behind raised hands. They gazed coldly at Korba now.

    "Defense of the Qizarate," Paul murmured, returning to Korba's plea. "A device which either destroys a planet or produces J-rays to blind those too near it. Which effect, Korba, did you conceive as a defense? Does the Qizarate rely on stopping the eyes of all observers?"

    "It was a curiosity, m'Lord," Korba pleaded. "We knew the Old Law said that only Families could possess atomics, but the Qizarate obeyed... obeyed... "

    "Obeyed you," Paul said. "A curiosity, indeed."

    "Even if it's only the voice of my accuser, you must face me with it!" Korba said. "A Fremen has rights."

    "He speaks truth, Sire," Stilgar said.

    Alia glanced sharply at Stilgar.

    "The law is the law," Stilgar said, sensing Alia's protest. He began quoting Fremen Law, interspersing his own comments on how the Law pertained.

    Alia experienced the odd sensation she was hearing Stilgar's words before he spoke them. How could he be this credulous? Stilgar had never appeared more official and conservative, more intent on adhering to the Dune Code. His chin was outthrust, aggressive. His mouth chopped. Was there really nothing in him but this outrageous pomposity?

    "Korba is a Fremen and must be judged by Fremen Law," Stilgar concluded.

    Alia turned away, looked out at the day shadows dropping down the wall across from the garden. She felt drained by frustration. They'd dragged this thing along well into midmorning. Now, what? Korba had relaxed. The Panegyrist's manner said he'd suffered an unjust attack, that everything he'd done had been for love of Muad'dib. She glanced at Korba, surprised a look of sly self-importance sliding across his face.

    He might almost have received a message, she thought. He acted the part of a man who'd heard friends shout: "Hold fast! Help is on its way!"

    For an instant, they'd held this thing in their hands - the information out of the dwarf, the clues that others were in the plot, the names of informants. But the critical moment had flown. Stilgar? Surely not Stilgar. She turned, stared at the old Fremen.

    Stilgar met her gaze without flinching.

    "Thank you, Stil," Paul said, "for reminding us of the Law."

    Stilgar inclined his head. He moved close, shaped silent words in a way he knew both Paul and Alia could read. I'll wring him dry and then take care of the matter.

    Paul nodded, signaled the guardsmen behind Korba.

    "Remove Korba to a maximum security cell," Paul said. "No visitors except counsel. As counsel, I appoint Stilgar."

    "Let me choose my own counsel!" Korba shouted.

    Paul whirled. "You deny the fairness and judgment of Stilgar?"

    "Oh, no, m'Lord, but... "

    "Take him away!" Paul barked.

    The guardsmen lifted Korba off the cushions, herded him out.

    With new mutterings, the Naibs began quitting their gallery. Attendants came from beneath the gallery, crossed to the windows and drew the orange draperies. Orange gloom took over the chamber.

    "Paul," Alia said.

    "When we precipitate violence," Paul said, "it'll be when we have full control of it. Thank you, Stil; you played your part well. Alia, I'm certain, has identified the Naibs who were with him. They couldn't help giving themselves away."

    "You cooked this up between you?" Alia demanded.

    "Had I ordered Korba slain out of hand, the Naibs would have understood," Paul said. "But this formal procedure without strict adherence to Fremen Law - they felt their own rights threatened. Which Naibs were with him, Alia?"

    "Rajifiri for certain," she said, voice low. "And Saajid, but... "

    "Give Stilgar the complete list," Paul said.

    Alia swallowed in a dry throat, sharing the general fear of Paul in this moment. She knew how he moved among them without eyes, but the delicacy of it daunted her. To see their forms in the air of his vision! She sensed her person shimmering for him in a sidereal time whose accord with reality depended entirely on his words and actions. He held them all in the palm of his vision!

    "It's past time for your morning audience, Sire," Stilgar said. "Many people - curious... afraid..."

    "Are you afraid, Stil?"

    It was barely a whisper: "Yes."

    "You're my friend and have nothing to fear from me," Paul said.

    Stilgar swallowed. "Yes, m'Lord."

    "Alia, take the morning audience," Paul said. "Stilgar, give the signal."

    Stilgar obeyed.

    A flurry of movement erupted at the great doors. A crowd was pressed back from the shadowy room to permit entrance of officials. Many things began happening all at once: the household guard elbowing and shoving back the press of Supplicants, garishly robed Pleaders trying to break through, shouts, curses. Pleaders waved the papers of their calling. The Clerk of the Assemblage strode ahead of them through the opening cleared by the guard. He carried the List of Preferences, those who'd be permitted to approach the Throne. The Clerk, a wiry Fremen named Tecrube, carried himself with weary cynicism, flaunting his shaven head, clumped whiskers.

    Alia moved to intercept him, giving Paul time to slip away with Chani through the private passage behind the dais. She experienced a momentary distrust of Tecrube at the prying curiosity in the stare he sent after Paul.

    "I speak for my brother today," she said. "Have the Supplicants approach one at a time."

    "Yes, m'Lady." He turned to arrange his throng.

    "I can remember a time when you wouldn't have mistaken your brother's purpose here," Stilgar said.

    "I was distracted," she said. "There's been a dramatic change in you, Stil. What is it?"

    Stilgar drew himself up, shocked. One changed, of course. But dramatically? This was a particular view of himself that he'd never encountered. Drama was a questionable thing. Imported entertainers of dubious loyalty and more dubious virtue were dramatic. Enemies of the Empire employed drama in their attempts to sway the fickle populace. Korba had slipped away from Fremen virtues to employ drama for the Qizarate. And he'd die for that.

    "You're being perverse," Stilgar said. "Do you distrust me?"

    The distress in his voice softened her expression, but not her tone. "You know I don't distrust you. I've always agreed with my brother that once matters were in Stilgar's hands we could safely forget them."

    "Then why do you say I've... changed?"

    "You're preparing to disobey my brother," she said. "I can read it in you. I only hope it doesn't destroy you both."

    The first of the Pleaders and Supplicants were approaching now. She turned away before Stilgar could respond. His face, though, was filled with the things she'd sensed in her mother's letter - the replacement of morality and conscience with law.

    "You produce a deadly paradox."

    = = = = = =

    Tibana was an apologist for Socratic Christianity, probably a native of IV Anbus who lived between the eight and ninth centuries before Corrino, likely in the second reign of Dalamak. Of his writings, only a portion survives from which this fragment is taken: "The hearts of all men dwell in the same wilderness." -from The Dunebuk of Irulan

    "You are Bijaz," the ghola said, entering the small chamber where the dwarf was held under guard. "I am called Hayt."

    A strong contingent of the household guard had come in with the ghola to take over the evening watch. Sand carried by the sunset wind had stung their cheeks while they crossed the outer yard, made them blink and hurry. They could be heard in the passage outside now exchanging the banter and ritual of their tasks.

    "You are not Hayt," the dwarf said. "You are Duncan Idaho. I was there when they put your dead flesh into the tank and I was there when they removed it, alive and ready for training."

    The ghola swallowed in a throat suddenly dry. The bright glowglobes of the chamber lost their yellowness in the room's green hangings. The light showed beads of perspiration on the dwarf's forehead. Bijaz seemed a creature of odd integrity, as though the purpose fashioned into him by the Tleilaxu were projected out through his skin. There was power beneath the dwarf's mask of cowardice and frivolity.

    "Muad'dib has charged me to question you to determine what it is the Tleilaxu intend you to do here," Hayt said.

    "Tleilaxu, Tleilaxu," the dwarf sang. "I am the Tleilaxu, you dolt! For that matter, so are you."

    Hayt stared at the dwarf. Bijaz radiated a charismatic alertness that made the observer think of ancient idols.

    "You hear that guard outside?" Hayt asked. "If I gave them the order, they'd strangle you."

    "Hai! Hai!" Bijaz cried. "What a callous lout you've become. And you said you came seeking truth."

    Hayt found he didn't like the look of secret repose beneath the dwarf's expression. "Perhaps I only seek the future," he said.

    "Well spoken," Bijaz said. "Now we know each other. When two thieves meet they need no introduction."

    "So we're thieves," Hayt said. "What do we steal?"

    "Not thieves, but dice," Bijaz said. "And you came here to read my spots. I, in turn, read yours. And lo! You have two faces!"

    "Did you really see me go into the Tleilaxu tanks?" Hayt asked, fighting an odd reluctance to ask that question.

    "Did I not say it?" Bijaz demanded. The dwarf bounced to his feet. "We had a terrific struggle with you. The flesh did not want to come back."

    Hayt felt suddenly that he existed in a dream controlled by some other mind, and that he might momentarily forget this to become lost in the convolutions of that mind.

    Bijaz tipped his head slyly to one side, walked all around the ghola, staring up at him. "Excitement kindles old patterns in you," Bijaz said. "You are the pursuer who doesn't want to find what he pursues."

    "You're a weapon aimed at Muad'dib," Hayt said, swiveling to follow the dwarf. "What is it you're to do?"

    "Nothing!" Bijaz said, stopping. "I give you a common answer to a common question."

    "Then you were aimed at Alia," Hayt said. "Is she your target?"

    "They call her Hawt, the Fish Monster, on the out-worlds," Bijaz said. "How is it I hear your blood boiling when you speak of her?"

    "So they call her Hawt," the ghola said, studying Bijaz for any clue to his purpose. The dwarf made such odd responses.

    "She is the virgin-harlot," Bijaz said. "She is vulgar, witty, knowledgeable to a depth that terrifies, cruel when she is most kind, unthinking while she thinks, and when she seeks to build she is as destructive as a coriolis storm."

    "So you came here to speak out against Alia," Hayt said.

    "Against her?" Bijaz sank to a cushion against the wall. "I came here to be captured by the magnetism of her physical beauty." He grinned, a saurian expression in the big-featured face.

    "To attack Alia is to attack her brother," Hayt said.

    "That is so clear it is difficult to see," Bijaz said. "In truth, Emperor and sister are one person back to back, one being half male and half female."

    "That is a thing we've heard said by the Fremen of the deep desert," Hayt said. "And those are the ones who've revived the blood sacrifice to Shai-hulud. How is it you repeat their nonsense?"

    "You dare say nonsense?" Bijaz demanded. "You, who are both man and mask? Ahh, but the dice cannot read their own spots. I forget this. And you are doubly confused because you serve the Atreides double-being. Your senses are not as close to the answer as your mind is."

    "Do you preach that false ritual about Muad'dib to your guards?" Hayt asked, his voice low. He felt his mind being tangled by the dwarf's words.

    "They preach to me!" Bijaz said. "And they pray. Why should they not? All of us should pray. Do we not live in the shadow of the most dangerous creation the universe has ever seen?"

    "Dangerous creation..."

    "Their own mother refuses to live on the same planet with them!"

    "Why don't you answer me straight out?" Hayt demanded. "You know we have other ways of questioning you. We'll get our answers... one way or another."

    "But I have answered you! Have I not said the myth is real? Am I the wind that carries death in its belly? No! I am words! Such words as the lightning which strikes from the sand in a dark sky. I have said: 'Blow out the lamp! Day is here!' And you keep saying: 'Give me a lamp so I can find the day.' "

    "You play a dangerous game with me," Hayt said. "Did you think I could not understand these Zensunni ideas? You leave tracks as clear as those of a bird in mud."

    Bijaz began to giggle.

    "Why do you laugh?" Hayt demanded.

    "Because I have teeth and wish I had not," Bijaz managed between giggles. "Having no teeth, I could not gnash them."

    "And now I know your target," Hayt said. "You were aimed at me."

    "And I've hit it right on!" Bijaz said. "You made such a big target, how could I miss?" He nodded as though to himself. "Now I will sing to you." He began to hum, a keening, whining monotonous theme, repeated over and over.

    Hayt stiffened, experiencing odd pains that played up and down his spine. He stared at the face of the dwarf, seeing youthful eyes in an old face. The eyes were the center of a network of knobby white lines which ran to the hollows below his temples. Such a large head! Every feature focused on the pursed-up mouth from which that monotonous noise issued. The sound made Hayt think of ancient rituals, folk memories, old words and customs, half-forgotten meanings in lost mutterings. Something vital was happening here - a bloody play of ideas across Time. Elder ideas lay tangled in the dwarfs singing. It was like a blazing light in the distance, coming nearer and nearer, illuminating life across a span of centuries.

    "What are you doing to me?" Hayt gasped.
  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire