Page 5

Dune Messiah (The Dune Chronicles, Book 2)

Farok relaxed, stepped aside. “You are welcome in my house.”

Scytale slipped past him into a shadowy atrium – blue tile floor, glittering designs worked in crystal on the walls. 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 were a noble people,” Farok said, leading the way toward the courtyard. “We were not of the cast-out. We lived in no graben village… such as this! We had a proper sietch in the Shield Wall above Habbanya Ridge. One worm could carry us into Kedem, the inner desert.”

“Not like this,” Scytale agreed, realizing now what had brought Farok into the conspiracy. 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.”

Those were not the original words of the song, Scytale noted. 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.

“There is a cushion once occupied in sietch by Muad’dib,” Farok said, indicating a round, black mound. “It is yours now.”

“I am in your debt,” Scytale said, sinking to the black mound. 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?”

Scytale gestured to a cushion facing him, put his back against a cool pillar. “I enjoy music.”

“My son lost his eyes in the conquest of Naraj,” Farok said. “He was nursed there and should have stayed. 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?”

“In my youth, I toured there with a troupe of my fellow Face Dancers,” Scytale said.

“You are a Face Dancer, then,” Farok said. “I had wondered at your features. They reminded me of a man I knew here once.”

“Duncan Idaho?”

“That one, yes. A swordmaster in the Emperor’s pay.”

“He was killed, so it is said.”

“So it is said,” Farok agreed. “Are you truly a man, then? I’ve heard stories about Face Dancers that…” He shrugged.

“We are Jadacha hermaphrodites,” Scytale said, “either sex at will. For the present, I am a man.”

Farok pursed his lips in thought, then: “May I call for refreshments? Do you desire water? Iced fruit?”

“Talk will suffice,” Scytale said.

“The guest’s wish is a command,” Farok said, settling to the cushion which faced Scytale.

“Blessed is Abu d’ Dhur, Father of the Indefinite Roads of Time,” Scytale said. And he thought: There! I’ve told him straight out that I come from a Guild Steersman and wear the Steersman’s conconcealment.

“Thrice blessed,” Farok said, folding his hands into his lap in the ritual clasp. They were old, heavily veined hands.

“An object seen from a distance betrays only its principle,” Scytale said, revealing that he wished to discuss the Emperor’s fortress Keep.

“That which is dark and evil may be seen for evil at any distance,” Farok said, advising delay.

Why? Scytale wondered. But he said: “How did your son lose his eyes?”

“The Naraj defenders used a stone burner,” Farok said. “My son was too close. Cursed atomics! Even the stone burner should be outlawed.”

“It skirts the intent of the law,” Scytale agreed. And he thought: A stone burner on Naraj! We weren’t told of that. Why does this old man speak of stone burners here?

“I offered to buy Tleilaxu eyes for him from your masters,” Farok said. “But there’s a story in the legions that Tleilaxu eyes enslave their users. My son told me that such eyes are metal and he is flesh, that such a union must be sinful.”

“The principle of an object must fit its original intent,” Scytale said, trying to turn the conversation back to the information he sought.

Farok’s lips went thin, but he nodded. “Speak openly of what you wish,” he said. “We must put our trust in your steersman.”

“Have you ever entered the Imperial Keep?” Scytale asked.

“I was there for the feast celebrating the Molitor victory. 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.”

“You objected to the feast?” Scytale asked, speaking from a knowledge of the Fremen orgies which were ignited by spice-beer.

“It was not like the mingling of our souls in the sietch,” Farok said. “There was no tau. For entertainment, the troups had slave girls, and the men shared the stories of their battles and their wounds.”

“So you were inside that great pile of stone,” Scytale said.

“Muad’dib came out to us on the terrace,” Farok said. ” ‘Good fortune to us all,’ he said. The greeting drill of the desert in that place!”

“Do you know the location of his private apartments?” Scytale asked.

“Deep inside,” Farok said. “Somewhere deep inside. 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.”

Myth all tangled up with facts, Scytale thought.

“The apparatus of government accompanies him everywhere,” Farok grumbled. “Clerks and attendants and attendants for the attendants. He trusts only the ones such as Stilgar who were very close to him in the old days.”

“Not you,” Scytale said.

“I think he has forgotten my existence,” Farok said.

“How does he come and go when he leaves that building?” Scytale asked.

“He has a tiny ‘thopter landing which juts from an inner wall.” Farok said. “I am told Muad’dib will not permit another to handle the controls for a landing there. 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.”

Scytale nodded. 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.

“He uses men to carry his distrans messages,” Farok said. “It demeans men to implant wave translators in them. A man’s voice should be his own to command. It should not carry another man’s message hidden within its sounds.”

Scytale shrugged. 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.

“Even his tax officials use this method,” Farok complained. “In my day, the distrans was implanted only in the lower animals.”

But revenue information must be kept secret, Scytale thought. More than one government has fallen because people discovered the real extent of official wealth.

“How do the Fremen cohorts feel now about Muad’dib’s Jihad?” Scytale asked. “Do they object to making a god out of their Emperor?”

“Most of them don’t even consider this,” Farok said. “They think of the Jihad the way I thought of it – most of them. 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.” He shook his head.

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. I had my own share of our spice, but no money. I was rich and did not know it. Two wives I had: one plain and dear to me, the other stupid and obstinate, but with form and face of an angel. I was a Fremen Naib, a rider of worms, master of the leviathan and of the sand.”

The youth across the courtyard picked up the beat of his melody.

“I knew many things without the need to think about them,” Farok said. “I knew there was water far beneath our sand, held there in bondage by the Little Makers. I knew that my ancestors sacrificed virgins to Shai-hulud… before Liet-Kynes made us stop. I had seen the jewels in the mouth of a worm. My soul had four gates and I knew them all.”

He fell silent, musing.

“Then the Atreides came with his witch mother,” Scytale said.

“The Atreides came,” Farok agreed. “The one we named Usul in our sietch, his private name among us. Our Muad’dib, our Mahdi! And when he called for the Jihad, I was one of those who asked: ‘Why should I go to fight there? I have no relatives there.’ But other men went – young men, friends, companions of my childhood. When they returned, they spoke of wizardry, of the power in this Atreides savior. He fought our enemy, the Harkonnen. Liet-Kynes, who had promised us a paradise upon our planet, blessed him. It was said this Atreides came to change our world and our universe, that he was the man to make the golden flower blossom in the night.”

Farok held up his hands, examined the palms. “Men pointed to First Moon and said: ‘His soul is there.’ Thus, he was called Muad’dib. I did not understand all this.”

He lowered his hands, stared across the courtyard at his son. “I had no thoughts in my head. There were thoughts only in my heart and my belly and my loins.”

Again, the tempo of the background music increased.

“Do you know why I enlisted in the Jihad?” The old eyes stared hard at Scytale. “I heard there was a thing called a sea. It is very hard to believe in a sea when you have lived only here among our dunes. We have no seas. Men of Dune had never known a sea. We had our windtraps. We collected water for the great change Liet-Kynes promised us… this great change Muad’dib is bringing with a wave of his hand. I could imagine a qanat, water flowing across the land in a canal. From this, my mind could picture a river. But a sea?”

Farok gazed at the translucent cover of his courtyard as though trying to probe into the universe beyond. “A sea,” he said, voice low. “It was too much for my mind to picture. Yet, men I knew said they had seen this marvel. I thought they lied, but I had to know for myself. It was for this reason that I enlisted.”

The youth struck a loud final chord on the baliset, took up a new song with an oddly undulating rhythm.

“Did you find your sea?” Scytale asked.

Farok remained silent and Scytale thought the old man had not heard. The baliset music rose around them and fell like a tidal movement. Farok breathed to its rhythm.

“There was a sunset,” Farok said presently. “One of the elder artists might have painted such a sunset. It had red in it the color of the glass in my bottle. There was gold… blue. It was on the world they call Enfeil, the one where I led my legion to victory. We came out of a mountain pass where the air was sick with water. I could scarcely breathe it. And there below me was the thing my friends had told me about: water as far as I could see and farther. We marched down to it. I waded out into it and drank. It was bitter and made me ill. But the wonder of it has never left me.”

Scytale found himself sharing the old Fremen’s awe.

“I immersed myself in that sea,” Farok said, looking down at the water creatures worked into the tiles of his floor. “One man sank beneath that water… another man arose from it. I felt that I could remember a past which had never been. I stared around me with eyes which could accept anything… anything at all. I saw a body in the water – one of the defenders we had slain. There was a log nearby supported on that water, a piece of a great tree. I can close my eyes now and see that log. It was black on one end from a fire. And there was a piece of cloth in that water – no more than a yellow rag… torn, dirty. I looked at all these things and I understood why they had come to this place. It was for me to see them.”

Farok turned slowly, stared into Scytale’s eyes. “The universe is unfinished, you know,” he said.

This one is garrulous, but deep, Scytale thought. And he said: “I can see it made a profound impression on you.”

“You are a Tleilaxu,” Farok said. “You have seen many seas. I have seen only this one, yet I know a thing about seas which you do not.”

Scytale found himself in the grip of an odd feeling of disquiet.

“The Mother of Chaos was born in a sea,” Farok said. “A Qizara Tafwid stood nearby when I came dripping from that water. He had not entered the sea. He stood on the sand… it was wet sand… with some of my men who shared his fear. He watched me with eyes that knew I had learned something which was denied to him. I had become a sea creature and I frightened him. The sea healed me of the Jihad and I think he saw this.”

Scytale realized that somewhere in this recital the music had stopped. He found it disturbing that he could not place the instant when the baliset had fallen silent.

As though it were relevant to what he’d been recounting, Farok said: “Every gate is guarded. There’s no way into the Emperor’s fortress.”

“That’s its weakness,” Scytale said.

Farok stretched his neck upward, peering.

“There’s a way in,” Scytale explained. “The fact that most men – including, we may hope, the Emperor – believe otherwise… that’s to our advantage.” He rubbed his lips, feeling the strangeness of the visage he’d chosen. The musician’s silence bothered him. Did it mean Farok’s son was through transmitting? That had been the way of it, naturally: The message condensed and transmitted within the music. It had been impressed upon Scytale’s own neutral system, there to be triggered at the proper moment by the distrans embedded in his adrenal cortex. If it was ended, he had become a container of unknown words. He was a vessel sloshing with data: every cell of the conspiracy here on Arrakis, every name, every contact phrase – all the vital information.

With this information, they could brave Arrakis, capture a sandworm, begin the culture of melange somewhere beyond Muad’dib’s writ. They could break the monopoly as they broke Muad’dib. They could do many things with this information.

“We have the woman here,” Farok said. “Do you wish to see her now?”

“I’ve seen her,” Scytale said. “I’ve studied her with care. Where is she?”

Farok snapped his fingers.

The youth took up his rebec, drew the bow across it. Semuta music wailed from the strings. As though drawn by the sound, a young woman in a blue robe emerged from a doorway behind the musician. Narcotic dullness filled her eyes which were the total blue of the Ibad. She was a Fremen, addicted to the spice, and now caught by an offworld vice. Her awareness lay deep within the semuta, lost somewhere and riding the ecstasy of the music.

“Otheym’s daughter,” Farok said. “My son gave her the narcotic in the hope of winning a woman of the People for himself despite his blindness. As you can see, his victory is empty. Semuta has taken what he hoped to gain.”

“Her father doesn’t know?” Scytale asked.

“She doesn’t even know,” Farok said. “My son supplies false memories with which she accounts to herself for her visits. She thinks herself in love with him. This is what her family believes. They are outraged because he is not a complete man, but they won’t interfere, of course.”

The music trailed away to silence.

At a gesture from the musician, the young woman seated herself beside him, bent close to listen as he murmured to her.

“What will you do with her?” Farok asked.

Once more, Scytale studied the courtyard. “Who else is in this house?” he asked.

“We are all here now,” Farok said. “You’ve not told me what you’ll do with the woman. It is my son who wishes to know.”

As though about to answer, Scytale extended his right arm. From the sleeve of his robe, a glistening needle darted, embedded itself in Farok’s neck. There was no outcry, no change of posture. Farok would be dead in a minute, but he sat unmoving, frozen by the dart’s poison.

Slowly, Scytale climbed to his feet, crossed to the blind musician. The youth was still murmuring to the young woman when the dart whipped into him.

Scytale took the young woman’s arm, urged her gently to her feet, shifted his own appearance before she looked at him. She came erect, focused on him.

“What is it, Farok?” she asked.

“My son is tired and must rest,” Scytale said. “Come. We’ll go out the back way.”

“We had such a nice talk,” she said. “I think I’ve convinced him to get Tleilaxu eyes. It’d make a man of him again.”

“Haven’t I said it many times?” Scytale asked, urging her into a rear chamber.

His voice, he noted with pride, matched his features precisely. It unmistakably was the voice of the old Fremen, who certainly was dead by this time.

Scytale sighed. It had been done with sympathy, he told himself, and the victims certainly had known their peril. Now, the young woman would have to be given her chance.

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