Read Dune Messiah Online

Authors: Frank Herbert

Tags: #Dune (Imaginary place), #Fantasy, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction

Dune Messiah (28 page)

BOOK: Dune Messiah
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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
“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
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 watch-robes 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!”
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 felt 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?”
BOOK: Dune Messiah
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The TV Detective by Simon Hall
Sixpence & Whiskey by Heather R. Blair
With All My Worldly Goods by Mary Burchell
Stormwalker by Allyson James
Complicated by Claire Kent
Mad for the Billionaire by Charlotte DeCorte