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The Great Assemblies of the Laanstraad were the biennial assemblies of the Great Houses mandated by the eighty-first Padishah Emperor, Shaddam Corrino IV, in the fifty-seventh year of his reign, for the stated purposes of promoting peace between the Great Houses. Each House was required to send its Duke and the stated heir to the Dukedom (though these heirs were subject to change, and indeed some Houses changed the heir every Assembly), and many sent a much larger entourage. Paul Atreides, as the designated heir of House Atreides, as well as his father Duke Leto, would certainly have attended all these Assemblies. The Great Assemblies ceased in the sixty-fifth year of the Padishah Emperor's reign, the year that Paul and Leto went to Arrakis.
--Princess Irulan, Life and Times of Paul Muad'Dib

The two seven-year-old boys watched each other warily. Someone who did not know the boys might have been tempted to call them brothers, or cousins. They both had dark hair, and something of a similar slant to the brow; but one was broader, especially in the shoulders, but with a narrow face, while the other had an oval face but a whip-thin body.

The bigger boy spoke first. "You're Paul Atreides. I saw you in your father's entourage."

"And you are Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen," Paul replied, politely. "I too saw you with your uncle."

Feyd-Rautha came closer to him. "We are mortal enemies. When we grow up, we'll try to kill each other. I could kill you now. I have a knife. My uncle would like that. I could say it was an accident."

Paul shrugged. "You could try. If you succeeded, I don't think you'd get away with it. These Assemblies of the Great Houses are supposed to be neutral. They wouldn't take well to a Duke's heir dead in the middle of one."

Feyd-Rautha studied him for a moment. Paul could see him deciding whether to take offense or not; finally, Feyd laughed. "I like you. Let's sit down and talk. I promise I won't kill you, at least during this Assembly. You think you've got some training, hm? Your father teaching you about politics?"

Paul looked at the other boy steadily. "He is. I'm going to be Duke someday, so I need to know. Doesn't your uncle teach you things?"

Feyd-Rautha scowled. "Well, yes, of course, although it's my brother Rabban that's heir. But Uncle says he might change his mind someday. Rabban doesn't want to be Baron, anyway; he doesn't like our uncle much. Do you have to please your father to get a lesson?"

Paul frowned. There was something about Feyd-Rautha's question that he didn't understand, but which seemed... frightening, somehow. "When I display understanding of a subject, I please my father," he said carefully. "Is that what you mean?"

"No," Feyd said impatiently. "I mean, do you, you know, do things to him for his pleasure. It's supposed to teach you how to use tools like pleasure to get information about things. It's an important lesson."

Paul still didn't know what he meant, and sensed that he perhaps didn't want to know. "I haven't done that lesson yet."

Feyd grinned. "That means I'm smarter than you. That's nice. I like talking to someone my own age and rank. My uncle would whip me if I tried talking to the servant girls, although he tells me that when I get older he'll show me what they're useful for."

Paul was a little startled; it hadn't occurred to him that Feyd would be as lonely as he was. "I don't have anyone my age to talk to either. I mean, there are my tutors, but that's not the same."

"Oh, tutors," Feyd said dismissively. "My uncle's Mentat gives me lessons, and he's crazy."

This led into a discussion of the relative merits of tutors, and from there to various comparisons of their homeworlds. They continued to talk for a while before Paul jumped up. "I've got to go find my mother," he said. "It's late enough that the Assembly Meetings are probably over, and she'll have been expecting me."

Feyd-Rautha sighed. "This was fun. I like talking to you. Let's find each other at the next Assembly, in two years. I don't imagine we'll see each other before then."

Paul smiled, a little tentatively. "Okay."

Feyd-Rautha grinned at him. "We're still killing each other when we grow up, but I won't kill you at the next Assembly either. Really. Like you said, it would be stupid, and I'm not stupid."

Paul grinned back. "All right. Well, in that case, I won't kill you either. At the next Assembly, that is."

*

"Do you remember me?" Feyd-Rautha said.

Paul thought, Can it be that he has not been trained in mnemonic devices as Hawat is training me? Of course I couldn't forget a person from a scant two years ago, even one who was not the heir of our House's enemy. Perhaps he's trying to ascertain if I am being so trained. "Yes. I was hoping you'd be at this Assembly."

Feyd-Rautha said, "I tried writing you a letter once, but Piter, our Mentat, found it and destroyed it. It was stupid, anyway. I told him it was so I could have a hold over you when we grew up." He frowned. "He made me do some things so he wouldn't tell my uncle, but then he taught me some interrogation techniques, so it worked out all right."

Or perhaps he just needs someone to talk to, Paul thought. Perhaps he's lonely.

Feyd-Rautha continued, "What have you learned in the last couple of years?"

"I don't think I should talk to a Harkonnen about what my mother and father teach me," Paul said, his eyes narrowed.

Feyd raised his eyebrows. "Your mother? My mother's dead. She wasn't able to teach me anything because she died. My uncle says it's better that way. So she's been teaching you? She's a Bene Gesserit witch, isn't she?"

Paul scowled. Never give up information you don't have to, he heard Hawat saying in his ears. And here he had done exactly that. Feyd-Rautha is sharper than he looks, sometimes. "Perhaps," he said.

"Come on, what has she taught you?" Feyd wheedled. "Does she teach you exciting Bene Gesserit ways of killing people? Maybe torturing them?"

Paul said sharply, "The Bene Gesserit aren't like that." And then he thought of something he could do. Hawat, he thought, would not be impressed, but Hawat didn't know the loneliness Paul felt as well, not having another child to talk to about things, and he didn't see how it could really do any harm. And perhaps it would help Feyd-Rautha. "I'll teach you one thing, Feyd-Rautha. This is the first lesson my mother taught me, and it's the most important one; it's the Litany Against Fear. It goes like this: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer..."

*

"Paul," Feyd-Rautha said. "I've been practicing that Bene Gesserit stuff you told me at the last Assembly. I didn't even tell the Baron or Piter, see?"

He wants me to think that he did this out of friendship, Paul thought, but he really did it to protect the secret that we talk at the Assemblies. We both know neither the Duke nor the Baron would approve.

"I think it's helped some," Feyd-Rautha went on, "especially with some things the Baron does."

Paul knew, now, what Feyd-Rautha referred to; his father had started to give him lessons on the various predilections and tastes of the different Great Houses. He said nothing.

"But -- " Feyd-Rautha said. He frowned. "Once I started really practicing the ritual, some strange things started happening. My memory got better. I can often tell when someone doesn't believe what he's saying. I started having... dreams."

Kull wahad! Paul thought. The fear litany is one thing, but if I've taught Feyd-Rautha to sense the truth, that's a powerful weapon I've given my opponent. And he wondered why Feyd-Rautha should be affected so; his mother did not seem to sense truth the same way Paul did; nor did she have his dreams. "What kind of dreams?"

Feyd-Rautha gazed off into the distance. "I sometimes dream about things that feel... important. Like I should be paying attention to them. Some of them are of you and me, talking. Some of them are of my uncle. And some of them --" He hesitated.

Paul whispered, "Some of the dreams are of you and me. Fighting to the death."

Feyd-Rautha looked at him with something almost like relief. "Yes. You have these dreams too." It was not a question, and Paul did not answer.

Feyd was silent for a second. "I think that's why I'm comfortable with you," he said finally. "Because we both know that we are enemies. Because we both know one of us will be killing the other. We don't have to pretend, with each other."

*

Between the last Assembly and this, both Feyd-Rautha and Paul had grown three inches and their voices had broken; Feyd-Rautha was still taller than Paul. Adolescence had, in addition, apparently sent Feyd-Rautha into a heavy sulk.

"They seem to be discussing getting rid of the Assemblies," Paul said, in a desperate attempt to say something that wouldn't be met by an angry monosyllable. He rather missed the garrulous Feyd-Rautha of previous years.

"That's all I need," Feyd-Rautha said in an annoyed tone. "I only get to go off-planet somewhere that isn't Arrakis once every two years, and not even that now. I'll probably have to go to Arrakis instead with Rabban."

"What's Arrakis like?" Paul asked, curious. "You've never said much about it."

"You've never asked," Feyd-Rautha snapped. "It's a desert planet, you know. No water, hot sun, you'll die if you're exposed for long without a stillsuit. My uncle's men are always inside, so it isn't a problem. The natives are these aboriginal beasts who resist any attempts to civilize them, I suppose as a result of being exposed to these conditions."

Paul said firmly, "I'm sure they're really not like that. Have the Harkonnens spent any time with them?"

"Of course not, idiot!" Feyd-Rautha said angrily. "I just told you that they're little beasts. Why would we want to talk to them?"

"My father always says you have to get to know the populace you're ruling, get to know their concerns and culture," Paul said. "My mother says that once you know them, you will understand that they are people like you."

"Oh, that's such an Atreides thing to say," Feyd-Rautha grumbled. "I can tell you the Harkonnens are far superior to the people we rule. No wonder the House of Atreides is so weak."

"We're not weak," Paul said calmly. "Our Mentat has been showing me the numbers, and we get about three times the productive work out of our subjects that the Harkonnens do, and that's even before you moved to Arrakis. You may not agree with the moral imperative, Feyd-Rautha, but you'll have to concede the practical imperative: it works."

Feyd-Rautha looked like he had bitten into something sour. "That may be true, but our Mentat has been showing me numbers too, and when you process the large-scale results, we've been growing over the past half-century, while the Atreides have been contracting." Paul frowned and filed that information away to consider again later.

"And anyway," Feyd-Rautha added, "if you were on Arrakis instead of me, I don't think you'd consort with savages."

"I think I would," Paul contradicted.

Feyd moved closer to Paul. "You're committed to that idea about getting to know your subjects better, aren't you? How about your enemies?" He bent down and kissed Paul's mouth.

The kiss was not what made Paul jump back; it was the sense of wrongness, the sense of falsity, that came with it. He's not doing this for friendship, Paul thought, or even because he finds me attractive. He's doing it in hopes of gaining power over me. Aloud, he murmured, "You know better than that, Feyd-Rautha. None of that, unless you really mean it."

Feyd-Rautha laughed. "You knew I had to try," he said. "If I could get an Atreides in my bed -- what a coup!"

"I'm not your uncle. And I knew that kiss wasn't the real thing."

Feyd-Rautha sobered. "All right, I won't lie to you. Not because you're my friend, because you're not. You're my enemy. But because I think you'll know when I lie, and it's frankly not worth my trouble to seduce you if you're unwilling."

Paul nodded. "I won't lie to you, but that's because I'm an Atreides, and I honor my word."

Feyd-Rautha said, amused, "Now who's lying? You'll speak truth to me as long as it's convenient, and lie through your teeth when it's not." He shrugged. "In this I perhaps know you better than you know yourself, Atreides."

*

"Your father has declared kanly against my uncle," Feyd-Rautha said. "The Assemblies are dissolving. We won't be meeting like this anymore."

Paul crossed his arms. "Are you going to try to kill me?"

"Oh, I would," Feyd-Rautha said. "I will, very soon. But not today, because the Assembly is still in effect, and my uncle has let me know in no uncertain terms that it's too early to move against you." Feyd sighed. "I wish your father would just duel against my uncle right now," Feyd said plainly. "He could just kill him off and then I could be Baron."

Paul was conscious of the feeling he often seemed to have around Feyd-Rautha, a combination of revulsion at Feyd-Rautha's words and sorrow at the life that had brought him to say those words. "He'd probably kill you too, then, under the kanly," Paul pointed out.

Feyd-Rautha shrugged. "If I didn't kill him first." He smiled at Paul. "And now, I hear, the Emperor has ordered you to Arrakis. Have fun. Perhaps I will join you there someday, before I kill you." He spun on his heel and started walking away. Paul felt a deep melancholy, knowing that if they met again it would be under the rules and rituals of kanly.

I never got a chance to ask him whether the Harkonnens had talked to the people of Arrakis, Paul thought, and squared his shoulders. I will be able to talk to them myself, soon enough.

*

Paul and Feyd-Rautha saw each other once more, as they had both known they would.

"Kanly!" Feyd-Rautha shouted. "Your father named this vendetta, Atreides."

As Feyd-Rautha spoke, Paul sensed the turmoil, the nexus of time paths that now focused on this moment and place. And Paul saw how futile were any efforts of his to change any smallest bit of the future he saw, the jihad ranging across planets that his foresight had brought more and more insistently to his mind. He had thought to oppose the jihad within himself, but the jihad would be. A sense of failure pervaded him. He saw through it that Feyd-Rautha had stripped down to a fighting girdle with a mail core.

"Is the Atreides ready?" Feyd-Rautha called, using the words of the ancient kanly ritual.

Paul chose to answer him in the Fremen way: "May your blade chip and shatter!"

Circling and feinting... and a poison flip-dart, on the left side, when Paul had suspected the right. Treachery within treachery within treachery, Paul thought to himself. Using Bene Gesserit-trained muscles, he avoided the point, but it threw Paul off just enough that he missed his footing and found himself thrown hard to the floor, Feyd-Rautha on top.

"You see it there on my hip?" Feyd-Rautha whispered, his mouth close to Paul's ear. "Your death, fool." And he began twisting himself around, forcing the poisioned needle closer and closer.

Paul turned his head and kissed him. Feyd only startled for a fraction of a second -- not because the kiss was not sincere but because it was; Paul had known it would have to be, to have an effect -- but that was enough for Paul to find the weakness of balance in one of his opponent's leg muscles, and their positions were reversed. Feyd-Rautha lay partly underneath, and it it would be easy to strike a fatal blow.

And then Paul hesitated. All the world-lines in his mind came down to this particular juncture: Paul could kill Feyd-Rautha now, or both of them would die at the other's hand, perhaps now, perhaps in a year; and still he hesitated.

Feyd-Rautha whispered, "I told you I would not lie to you, Atreides. You have no choice but to kill me. Our whole lives we have been destined to kill one another. If you let me live, I will not rest until you are dead. That we have met before means nothing."

Paul understood that Feyd had -- perhaps only in dreams -- seen the same potential futures Paul himself had. He knew that Feyd was attempting to give him the only gift he was, perhaps, capable of giving: the ability to kill quickly the youth that Paul knew not just as an enemy, but as someone who could have been, had he lived another life, friend or lover or brother. He tensed his arm for the killing blow.

"Will you give water to the dead for my sake, Atreides?" Feyd-Rautha said suddenly, with a look in his eyes that reminded Paul of the first time they had met. He went to the Fremen!, Paul thought. He learned of their ways!

"I will," he promised, and he knew Feyd-Rautha would hear the truth in his words. "And you are wrong: that we met, that we knew each other, means everything." As Paul saw Feyd-Rautha register the words, he thrust once hard up underneath Feyd-Rautha's jaw. The point slid home into the brain, killing him instantly.

My mother and father always said we were responsible for understanding our subjects, but what about our enemies as well? Perhaps it can't change the overall events, but can it still make a difference in the meaning? And at the thought, as Paul started weeping over Feyd's body, he began to see subtle world-lines that, he thought, might always have been there, but that he had not noticed before.


Peaceful Jihad, or Water Jihad - The names later given to the jihad headed by the Emperor Paul Muad'Dib, whose mantra to his men was, "Give water to those you slay! Do not kill unless you can love the one you kill." The jihad was not actually peaceful -- it still resulted in a large number of deaths -- but it was remarkable among historical jihads for the confining of the vast majority of those deaths to the battlefield alone, with the sacking and pillaging common in other jihads almost wholly absent, as well as for the many acts of self-sacrifice and courtesy often demonstrated by the combatants towards their enemies.
--Princess Irulan, Dictionary of Muad'Dib