The Last Empress (The Shattered Messiah Trilogy Book 2)

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Paul named their contents silently — the dry ingredients of the desert pharmacopoeia, unguents, incense, mementos The rich odor of spice-coffee filled the room. Paul inhaled, his glance falling on a yellow bowl beside the tray where Chani was preparing the coffee. The bowl held ground nuts. The inevitable poison-snooper mounted beneath the table waved its insect arms over the food. The snooper angered him. They'd never needed snoopers in the desert days!

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Chani saw his anger, though, poured their coffee, put a cup near his hand. She sat down on the foot of the bed, exposed his legs, began rubbing them where the muscles were knotted from walking in the stillsuit. Softly, with a casual air which did not deceive him, she said: "Let us discuss Irulan's desire for a child.

He studied Chani carefully, "Irulan's been back from Wallach less than two days," he said. Paul forced his mind to mental alertness, examined Chani in the harsh light of observational minutiae, the Bene Gesserit Way his mother had taught him in violation of her vows. It was a thing he didn't like doing with Chani. Part of her hold on him lay in the fact he so seldom needed his tension-building powers with her. Chani mostly avoided indiscreet questions. She maintained a Fremen sense of good manners.

Hers were more often practical questions. What interested Chani were facts which bore on the position of her man — his strength in Council, the loyalty of his legions, the abilities and talents of his allies. Her memory held catalogs of names and cross-indexed details. She could rattle off the major weakness of every known enemy, the potential dispositions of opposing forces, battle plans of their military leaders, the tooling and production capacities of basic industries.

Why now, Paul wondered, did she ask about Irulan? She went on massaging his legs, spoke matter-of-f actly : "You've said many times she's your contact with our enemies, that you can read their plans through her actions. A lump rose in his throat. Softly, he said: "Chani, beloved, I swore an oath never to take her into my bed. A child would give her too much power. Would you have her displace you? What is this sudden concern for Irulan? If she carried an Atreides child, her friends would question her loyalties. The less trust our enemies place in her, the less use she is to them.

So that was it: Chani had not produced a child for him. Someone else, then, must do it. Why not Irulan? That was the way Chani ' s mind worked. And it must be done in an act of love because all the Empire avowed strong taboos against artificial ways. Chani had come to a Fremen decision. Paul studied her face in this new light. It was a face he knew better in some ways than his own.

He had seen this face soft with passion, in the sweetness of sleep, awash in fears and angers and griefs. He closed his eyes, and Chani came into his memories as a girl once more — veiled in springtime, singing, waking from sleep beside him — so perfect that the very vision of her consumed him. In his memory, she smiled. Paul's mouth went dry.

For a moment, his nostrils tasted the smoke of a devastated future and the voice of another kind of vision commanding him to disengage. His prophetic visions had been eavesdropping on eternity for such a long while, catching snatches of foreign tongues, listening to stones and to flesh not his own. Since the day of his first encounter with terrible purpose, he had peered at the future, hoping to find peace. There existed a way, of course. He knew it by heart without knowing the heart of it — a rote future, strict in its instructions to him: disengage, disengage, disengage.

Paul opened his eyes, looked at the decision in Chani ' s face. She had stopped massaging his legs, sat still now — purest Fremen.

Her features remained familiar beneath the blue nezhoni scarf she often wore about her hair in the privacy of their chambers. But the mask of decision sat on her, an ancient and alien-to-him way of thinking. Fremen women had shared their men for thousands of years — not always in peace, but with a way of making the fact nondestructive. Something mysteriously Fremen in this fashion had happened in Chani. As he had done many times, Paul wondered how he could explain the delicacy of the oracle, the Timelines without number which vision waved before him on an undulating fabric.

He sighed, remembered water lifted from a river in the hollow of his hands — trembling, draining. Memory drenched his face in it. How could he drench himself in futures growing increasingly obscure from the pressures of too many oracles? That vision-future scarce any longer accessible to him except at the expenditure of life-draining effort, what could it show them except grief? He felt that he occupied an inhospitable middle zone, a wasted place where his emotions drifted, swayed, swept outward in unchecked restlessness.

Chani covered his legs, said: "An heir to House Atreides, this is not something you leave to chance or one woman. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Are you never going to let it rain here? 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. He shook his head from side to side.

I'll cuckold you and dare you to expose me. We both know who my wife is. 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? 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. 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. 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.

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.

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

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But that woman has many plots — plots within plots. Give into one of her ambitions and you could advance another of them. 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. Even if I died now, my name would still lead them. When I think of the Atreides name tied to this religious butchery You've — " "I'm a figurehead. When godhead's given, that's the one thing the so-called god no longer controls. 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. His arm tightened around her shoulder. Give me yet a little time. The soothing spice smell of her filled his nostrils. 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. She lifted her head to look at him. 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. 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 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?

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? 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.

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! 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. He recalled his childhood room on Caladan then. 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. He shook his head without speaking. 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. 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. The torrent of his vision dissipated, became a deep, still place whose currents moved with absorbing power beyond his reach.

Is that a terrible thing? 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. 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. 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. 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? 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.

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? 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. Scytale suppressed a sigh of relief. He was to be accepted, after all. Does this mean anything to you? Beyond the atrium was a covered courtyard. Light admitted by translucent filters spread an opalescence as silvery as the white-night of First Moon. The street door grated into its moisture seals behind him.

We lived in no graben village.

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We had a proper sietch in the Shield Wall above Habbanya Ridge. One worm could carry us into Kedem, the inner desert. The Fremen longed for the old days and the old ways. They entered the courtyard. Farok struggled with an intense dislike for his visitor, Scytale realized. Fremen distrusted eyes that were not the total blue of the Ibad. Offworlders, Fremen said, had unfocused eyes which saw things they were not supposed to see.

The semuta music had stopped at their entrance. It was replaced now by the strum of a baliset, first a nine-scale chord, then the clear notes of a song which was popular on the Naraj worlds. As his eyes adjusted to the light, Scytale saw a youth sitting cross-legged on a low divan beneath arches to his right.

The youth's eyes were empty sockets. With that uncanny facility of the blind, he began singing the moment Scytale focused on him. The voice was high and sweet: "A wind has blown the land away And blown the sky away And all the men! Who is this wind? The trees stand unbent, Drinking where men drank. I've known too many worlds, Too many men, Too many trees, Too many winds. Farok led him away from the youth and under the arches on the opposite side, indicated cushions scattered over the tile floor.

The tile was worked into designs of sea creatures. He smiled. Farok displayed wisdom. A sage spoke of loyalty even while listening to songs of hidden meaning and words with secret messages. Who could deny the terrifying powers of the tyrant Emperor? Inserting his words across the song without breaking the meter, Farok said: "Does my son's music disturb you? No woman of the people will have him thus. I find it curious, though, to know I have grandchildren on Naraj that I may never see. Do you know the Naraj worlds, Zaal? They reminded me of a man I knew here once.

A swordmaster in the Emperor's pay. I've heard stories about Face Dancers that. For the present, I am a man. Do you desire water? Iced fruit? And he thought: There! I've told him straight out that I come from a Guild Steersman and wear the Steersman's conconcealment. They were old, heavily veined hands. But he said: "How did your son lose his eyes? Cursed atomics! Even the stone burner should be outlawed. And he thought: A stone burner on Naraj! We weren't told of that. Why does this old man speak of stone burners here? My son told me that such eyes are metal and he is flesh, that such a union must be sinful.

Farok's lips went thin, but he nodded. It was cold in all that stone despite the best Ixian space heaters. We slept on the terrace of Alia's Fane the night before. He has trees in there, you know — trees from many worlds. We Bashars were dressed in our finest green robes and had our tables set apart. We ate and drank too much. I was disgusted with some of the things I saw. The walking wounded came, dragging themselves along on their crutches. I do not think our Muad'dib knows how many men he has maimed. For entertainment, the troups had slave girls, and the men shared the stories of their battles and their wounds.

The greeting drill of the desert in that place! I am told he and Chani live a nomadic life and that all within the walls of their Keep. Out to the Great Hall he comes for the public audiences. He has reception halls and formal meeting places, a whole wing for his personal guard, places for the ceremonies and an inner section for communications.

There is a room far beneath his fortress, I am told, where he keeps a stunted worm surrounded by a water moat with which to poison it. Here is where he reads the future. He trusts only the ones such as Stilgar who were very close to him in the old days. It requires an approach, so it is said, where the slightest miscalculation would plunge him down a sheer cliff of wall into one of his accursed gardens. This, most likely, was true. Such an aerial entry to the Emperor's quarters would carry a certain measure of security.

The Atreides were superb pilots all. A man's voice should be his own to command. It should not carry another man's message hidden within its sounds. All great powers used the distrans in this age. One could never tell what obstacle might be placed between sender and addressee.

The distrans defied political cryptology because it relied on subtle distortions of natural sound patterns which could be scrambled with enormous intricacy. More than one government has fallen because people discovered the real extent of official wealth. It is a source of strange experiences, adventure, wealth. This graben hovel in which I live" — Farok gestured at the courtyard — "it cost sixty lidas of spice.

Ninety kontars! There was a time when I could not even imagine such riches. Across the courtyard, the blind youth took up the notes of a love ballad on his baliset. Ninety kontars, Scytale thought. How strange. Great riches, certainly. Farok ' s hovel would be a palace on many another world, but all things were relative — even the kontar.

Did Farok, for example, know whence came his measure for this weight of spice? Did he ever think to himself that one and a half kontar once limited a camel load? Not likely. Farok might never even have heard of a camel or of the Golden Age of Earth. His words oddly in rhythm to the melody of his son's baliset, Farok said: "I owned a crysknife, water rings to ten liters, my own lance which had been my father's, a coffee service, a bottle made of red glass older than any memory in my sietch.