Actions

Work Header

Dune: Paul’s Women, Chapter 16

Work Text:

Paul’s Women

Book One: DUNE

Chapter 16

Greatness is a transitory experience. It is never consistent. It depends in part upon the myth-making imagination of humankind. The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.

- from "Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib" by the Princess Irulan

Jessica entered the shadowy room. It was quiet.

Paul lay on his cot, naked like usual, with one arm beneath a light cover, the other thrown back over his head.

Jessica stared at her lovely son. He could be the Kwisatz Haderach! Then she smiled, when noticed that he was not asleep.

“Paul…” she called. “I know that you are awake, I know that you waiting for me… yesterday you were…”

She moved to the cot and sat near his legs. When he felt the contact his eyes were opened.

“After your arrival I managed to talk to your father for some instants… you should know that he… I… we…” she continued to hesitate “Our relations are different from what it was in Caladan… we have much less time to be together… I have less opportunities to talk to him…”

“I know mother…” he was going to say something more, hesitated and stood in silence. He could not talk about his father.

She sensed his hesitation but took it for another reason. She laid down next to him.

“Move aside… give me some room”

Paul rolled his body and showed his back to his mother. Jessica let her nightgown drop in the floor and lay down.

“Well… I talked again about the concubine…” she embraced him from behind, “You must understand that at the moment we cannot send nobody to the Chapterhouse, in Wallach IX, to bring a Bene Gesserit concubine to you.”

“I know mother!” he repeated. Paul was too much conscientious of the warm body of his mother on his back, spooned against him. He felt her breath near his hear and his neck hairs were bristling. Only the thin light cover separated them.

“So, for now the only alternative is…”

“To find a local woman, from Arrakis…”

“Well… it seems that you have already tough about it…” Jessica smiled and stroked his hair “We are going to organize a ball and some young girls will come… then, after four or five years you can change of concubine, and we can get one from Wallach IX…”

“Change? Like my father can change you for another concubine?”

Jessica blanched in the dark.

“That wasn’t what I meant!”

“It doesn’t matter. First I want to talk to with Shadout Mapes… I think that she may be interested…”

Jessica stood up in surprise. And there was another felling besides surprise… jealous? She questioned herself.

“Shadout Mapes? But… she is too old for you… she must have my age!” In that moment Jessica stood in silence, realizing that her last sentence could have been a mistake.

“Shadout Mapes?” Jessica tough… it could be a complicated choice. “Why the easy things got so complex?”

“Why don’t you wait to know the young ladies that come to the ball?”

“Why should I?”

“They can be young and beautiful…”

“Shadout Mapes is a good looking woman, and she is still young…”

Jessica couldn’t deny it.

“The Princess Irulan will come to the ball! Her beauty is well known in all the Empire.”

“Well… I don’t think that she will accept to be my concubine!” said Paul in a sour tone.

There was a moment of silence.

“Son! Did you fall asleep? You want that I go away?”

“No…. please… stay.”

She quivered with cold, lifted the cover and pressed her naked body against her son and took him in her arms. She cuddled him. Her breasts were smashed against the soft skin of his back. Her arms, her hands caressed him.

When one of her hands slide down from his belly she already knew that he had an erection. Her hand and her fingers played delicately with his penis with slight touches and ethereal caresses like fingertips and then her fingers slide down once more to caress his hips. But Paul couldn’t take more that caress game, he put his hand over his mother’s and pulled her up again, against his penis.

Her fist closed around his member. Her fingers closed upon the penis. He pulsed. She bite him in his ear lobe. He gasped. Her luxuriant breasts felt like two soft burning mountains against his back. One of her long legs was over his legs.

Her arm moved. Slowly. Quickly. Her fist squeezed. Her wet tongue was inside his hear. Then she bite him again. This time in his nape, then in his neck. Again on his nape. And her fist had that constant up and down movements. Up and down. Bodies compressed together. Wet tongue in the ear. Small bites in the nape, then in the neck. Up and down. And all over again. And all over again.

Paul couldn’t take that huge amount of pleasure. But he just wanted more. He was near… but he wanted more. His body begun to tremble. He knew he was close. Jessica new. He had to stop it. Than she was again liking his napes skin, biting him, her het tongue traveling to reach his neck.

In a gesture that surprise them both, Paul pulled her mother away and jumped from the bed in a quick motion. Quick enough to avoid his orgasm.

For some seconds he stood still. Naked. Completely erect. His eyes closed. Wheezing. With his back to the bed were the cover had fallen to the floor and Jessica’s nakedness completely exposed. He turned around and saw his mother's surprised expression.

He smiled in triumph. He had managed to surprise her.

And there she was with that almost candid stunned look, lying on her back in bed, her mouth opened reveling her white teeth that just had bite him, her long bronze hair all spread over the sheets, her protuberant full breasts just slightly apart to the sideways, her smooth and flat stomach. She was with her beautiful legs slightly apart, knees bent, her feet backed against the bed, in a pose revealing her inner treasures, showing in the half-darkness of the bedroom a small triangle of reddish pubic hair, her outer lips just a just a bit slightly apart… just enough so he could foresee or imagine her clit, her inner lips, her love hole… he just stared for some seconds…

That again he moved quickly, as a result of his combat training.

He reached the bottom of the bed. Knelled before her. With his hands he pushed her legs further apart.

“No” she said with all the Bene Gesserit strength in her voice.

He just obeyed her because he was not going to do what she thought.

His head dive between her legs. His tongue licked her, almost reaching her anus, pulled back her inner lips, and reached her clit, where he stayed for a while playing. And licking.

He held her with is hands in her ass cheeks. And he felt her tremble. And for the first time Paul knew for certain that his mother had pleasure with him. She moaned and writhed in the bed gasping. Her hands trying to move away Paul’s head.

“No”.

In that moment it was more a request than an order. But Paul’s lack of experience, even if partially compensated by his enthusiasm, allowed Jessica to take her breath, compose herself, and took charge of the situation. She began to give him tips, words of advice and encouragement. She was again a teacher, giving him a lesson, moving her hips against his tongue, lifting her ass off the bed, arching her hips. She placed her hands on the sides of his head to caress his hair and also to guide him, pushing his head against her and above all… allowing herself to have pleasure… to enjoy the moment.

But Paul this time didn’t want a lesson. He was an excited bull like the one who had killed his grandfather with his horns. He was between her thighs and her torso prevented her from closing her legs, so he moved up and continued to climb up his body between her long legs. His tongue moved from her sex to her abdomen. Kissing. Licking. Sucking. Leaving a trace of saliva all over her body. His knees moved forward until he reached into a position to enter her with his member. He kissed her breasts and her neck. His rigid penis approached her. He could anticipate her warm womanhood receiving him. He didn’t know the felling but he had anticipated it a thousand times in awaken dreams.

His mouth went up. He kissed her chin and finally arrived at her lips. Their mouths merged in a long kiss. Their tongues danced in a mob of actions apparently uncontrolled. She was still wet and slippery by his previous actions. In the moment that she sucked his tongue and he jerked his hips, made a quick thrust and his penis went forward.

It was only his lack of experience that avoided the penetration. He hit her lips and slid until the tip of his member touched her clit. For a moment he slid there, he backed and tried again.

In a quick move Jessica rolled their bodies in the small bed. She almost miscalculated the movement and for a swift instant the tip of his member was in her entrance, maybe the head was even there.

She bent forward with is reddish hair falling, tickling and caressing his now sensitive skin. Her soft breasts, her erect nipples, brushed his face, his nose, his eyes. For one brief instant one entered his mouth, then the other…

One of her hands was again around his penis. Controlling it. So he couldn’t escape. Then she positioned herself over is bent penis and begun rubbing against it. Jessica leaned over her son and covered his mouth with her own full lips in one interminable kiss.

He begun to surrender to the caresses of her voluptuous body. Her experience smashed him. She kissed his skin. Liked. Bitted. His lips. Chin. And slowly, so slowly, she begun to move down. Sucked his nipples and traced a line of saliva until his belly bottom… just to suck.

Her red hair felled in his chest and tickled him, rubbing his hypersensitive skin as she went down. In that moment she was unsighted to all but to her son’s pleasure, it was a task that she had to fulfill. She bent over him, her reddish hair still falling and caressing in his chest’s skin, her mouth near his penis, too near, too much near while she was whispering silenced words, in an enchanting chant, continuing the slowly motion of her hands and at the same time licking the tip of the penis each time it passed within reach of her tongue.

His hips jerked again and again. He wanted more. And she did it again until his body began to tremble and raised itself to be consumed by her hands and finally by her mouth.

And she sucked. Her lips gave the pressure that he needed. Her tongue teased around him. In his inexperience he couldn’t describe his feelings. The sensation of seeing his mother sucking him. The soft wet warm of her mouth around his member. The will of wanting to kiss her and embrace her just to thank her the pleasure that she was giving to him, a pleasure that he thought it couldn’t exist.

At the same time he felt smashed, inebriated and annihilated. He wasn’t in control of his body and he knew that the semen would come. He felt mixed feelings. He wanted the release but at the same time he wanted to maintain that state of pleasure forever. But her experienced mouth denied him the chance to choose.

His hands went down in search of her body. One hand reached a breast and he grabbed her. The other begun to caress her hair and he had to resist the temptation to push her head even more against his engorged member.

The pleasure came, first like little a soft breeze caressing a dune, playing with the sand, then a stronger wind arrived, arose like a storm to end in waves, one rolling upon another, milky salty waves were expelled from his body directly to her sucking mouth.

And he released her breast and her hair. His sweaty buttocks landed definitely in the bed but she continued to close her lips tenderly around his member, drinking his life, sucking the last traces of erection until he had no more. Then her hand replaced her mouth and she begun to kiss, bite and lick his skin all the way up, to his belly, chest, his neck, chin, to end in a tender and long kiss in his mouth, forcing him to taste the remains his own cream.

He was drained.

Then he was lost in oblivion.

***

In the dining hall of the Arrakeen great house, suspensor lamps had been lighted against the early dark. They cast their yellow glows upward onto the black bull’s head with its bloody horns, and onto the darkly glistening oil painting of the Old Duke.

Beneath these talismans, white linen shone around the burnished reflections of the Atreides silver, which had been placed in precise arrangements along the great table –little archipelagos of service waiting beside crystal glasses, each setting squared off before a heavy wooden chair. The classic central chandelier remained unlighted, and its chain twisted upward into shadows where the mechanism of the poison-snooper had been concealed.

Pausing in the doorway to inspect the arrangements, the Duke thought about the poison-snooper and what it signified in his society.

All of a pattern, he thought. You can plumb us by our language–the precise and delicate delineations for ways to administer treacherous death. Will someone try chaumurky tonight – poison in the drink? Or will it be chaumas–poison in the food?

He shook his head.

Beside each plate on the long table stood a flagon of water. There was enough water along the table, the Duke estimated, to keep a poor Arrakeen family for more than a year.

Flanking the doorway in which he stood were broad laving basins of ornate yellow and green tile.

Each basin had its rack of towels. It was the custom, the housekeeper had explained, for guests as they entered to dip their hands ceremoniously into a basin, slop several cups of water onto the floor, dry their hands on a towel and fling the towel into the growing puddle at the door. After the dinner, beggars gathered outside to get the water squeezings from the towels.

How typical of a Harkonnen fief, the Duke thought. Every degradation of the spirit that can be conceived. He took a deep breath, feeling rage tighten his stomach.

"The custom stops here!" he muttered.

He saw a serving woman – one of the old and gnarled ones the housekeeper had recommended – hovering at the doorway from the kitchen across from him. The Duke signaled with upraised hand.

She moved out of the shadows, scurried around the table toward him, and he noted the leathery face, the blue-within-blue eyes.

"My Lord wishes?" She kept her head bowed, eyes shielded.

He gestured. "Have these basins and towels removed."

"But... Noble Born..." She looked up, mouth gaping.

"I know the custom!" he barked. "Take these basins to the front door. While we’re eating and until we’ve finished, each beggar who calls may have a full cup of water. Understood?"

Her leathery face displayed a twisting of emotions: dismay, anger...

With sudden insight, Leto realized that she must have planned to sell the water squeezings from the foot-trampled towels, wringing a few coppers from the wretches who came to the door. Perhaps that also was a custom.

His face clouded, and he growled: "I’m posting a guard to see that my orders are carried out to the letter."

He whirled, strode back down the passage to the Great Hall. Memories rolled in his mind like the toothless mutterings of old women. He remembered open water and waves – days of grass instead of sand – dazed summers that had whipped past him like windstorm leaves.

All gone.

I’m getting old, he thought. I’ve felt the cold hand of my mortality. And in what? An old woman’s greed.

In the Great Hall, the Lady Jessica was the center of a mixed group standing in front of the fireplace. An open blaze crackled there, casting flickers of orange light onto jewels and laces and costly fabrics. He recognized in the group a stillsuit manufacturer down from Carthag, an electronics equipment importer, a water-shipper whose summer mansion was near his polar-cap factory, a representative of the Guild Bank (lean and remote, that one), a dealer in replacement parts for spice mining equipment, a thin and hard-faced woman whose escort service for off-planet visitors reputedly operated as cover for various smuggling, spying, and blackmail operations.

Most of the women in the hall seemed cast from a specific type–decorative, precisely turned out, an odd mingling of untouchable sensuousness.

Even without her position as hostess, Jessica would have dominated the group, he thought. She wore no jewelry and had chosen warm colors – a long dress almost the shade of the open blaze, glued to her body, opened in the back to show her pale soft skin and v shaped in the front gave an imposing emphasis to her chest. Her garment set ended in a simple way with an earth-brown band around her long bronzed hair. She had the figure and pose of a stunning beautiful woman that knew her official status.

He realized she had done this to taunt him subtly, a reproof against his recent pose of coldness. She was well aware that he liked her best in these shades – that he saw her as a rustling of warm colors. Oh! He missed so much those soft days and warm nights in Caladan!

Nearby, more an outflanker than a member of the group, stood Duncan Idaho in glittering dress uniform, flat face unreadable, the curling black hair neatly combed. He had been summoned back from the Fremen and had his orders from Hawat- -"Under pretext of guarding her, you will keep the Lady Jessica under constant surveillance."

The Duke glanced around the room.

There was Paul in the corner surrounded by a fawning group of the younger Arrakeen richece, and, aloof among them, three officers of the House Troop. The Duke took particular note of the young women. What a catch a ducal heir would make. But Paul was treating all equally with an air of reserved nobility. He showed no signs to be looking for a concubine.

He’ll wear the title well, the Duke thought, and realized with a sudden chill that this was another death thought.

Paul saw his father in the doorway, avoided his eyes. He looked around at the clusterings of guests, the jeweled hands clutching drinks (and the unobtrusive inspections with tiny remote-cast snoopers).

Seeing all the chattering faces, Paul was suddenly repelled by them. They were cheap masks locked on festering thoughts – voices gabbling to drown out the loud silence in every breast.

I’m in a sour mood, he thought, and wondered what Gurney would say to that.

He knew his mood’s source. He hadn’t wanted to attend this function, but his father had been firm.

"You have a place – a position to uphold. You’re old enough to do this. You’re almost a man."

Besides, his mother had also convinced him in some very persuasive ways. He should find a pleasant and entertaining young lady that could accomplish the position of his concubine.

Paul saw his father emerge from the doorway, inspect the room, then cross to the group around the Lady Jessica.

As Leto approached Jessica’s group, the water-shipper was asking: "Is it true the Duke will put in weather control?"

From behind the man, the Duke said: "We haven’t gone that far in our thinking, sir."

The man turned, exposing a bland round face, darkly tanned. "Ah-h, the Duke," he said.

"We missed you."

Leto glanced at Jessica. "A thing needed doing." He returned his attention to the water-shipper, explained what he had ordered for the laving basins, adding: "As far as I’m concerned, the old custom ends now."

"Is this a ducal order, m’Lord?" the man asked.

"I leave that to your own... ah... conscience," the Duke said. He turned, noting Kynes come up to the group after a brief change of words with Shadout Mapes. Leto had invited her to be present at the party as the Palace governess. He thought that she would give a important feminine presence to an almost all male guests from the House of Atreides. Her superb evening gown for an Fremen proved him right.

One of the women next to him said: "I think it’s a very generous gesture – giving water to the –" Someone shushed her.

The Duke looked at Kynes, noting that the planetologist wore an old-style dark brown uniform with epaulets of the Imperial Civil Servant and a tiny gold teardrop of rank at his collar.

The water-shipper asked in an angry voice: "Does the Duke imply criticism of our custom?"

"This custom has been changed," Leto said. He nodded to Kynes, marked the frown on Jessica’s face, thought: A frown does not become her, but it’ll increase rumors of friction between us.

"With the Duke’s permission," the water-shipper said, "I’d like to inquire further about customs."

Leto heard the sudden oily tone in the man’s voice, noted the watchful silence in this group, the way heads were beginning to turn toward them around the room.

"Isn’t it almost time for dinner?" Jessica asked.

"But our guest has some questions," Leto said. And he looked at the water- shipper, seeing a roundfaced man with large eyes and thick lips, recalling Hawat’s memorandum: "... and this water-shipper is a man to watch – Lingar Bewt, remember the name. The Harkonnens used him but never fully controlled him."

"Water customs are so interesting," Bewt said, and there was a smile on his face. "I’m curious what you intend about the conservatory attached to this house. Do you intend to continue flaunting it in the people’s faces... m’Lord?"

Leto held anger in check, staring at the man. Thoughts raced through his mind. It had taken bravery to challenge him in his own ducal castle, especially since they now had Bewt’s signature over a contract of allegiance. The action had taken, also, a knowledge of personal power. Water was, indeed, power here. If water facilities were mined, for instance, ready to be destroyed at a signal . . . The man looked capable of such a thing. Destruction of water facilities might well destroy Arrakis. That could well have been the club this Bewt held over the Harkonnens.

"My Lord, the Duke, and I have other plans for our conservatory," Jessica said. She smiled at Leto.

"We intend to keep it, certainly, but only to hold it in trust for the people of Arrakis. It is our dream that someday the climate of Arrakis may be changed sufficiently to grow such plants anywhere in the open."

Bless her! Leto thought. Let our water-shipper chew on that.

"Your interest in water and weather control is obvious," the Duke said. "I’d advise you to diversify your holdings. One day, water will not be a precious commodity on Arrakis."

And he thought: Hawat must redouble his efforts at infiltrating this Bewt’s organization.

And we must start on stand-by water facilities at once. No man is going to hold a club over my head!

Bewt nodded, the smile still on his face. "A commendable dream, my Lord." He withdrew a pace.

Leto’s attention was caught by the expression on Kynes’ face. The man was staring at Jessica. He appeared transfigured – like a man in love... or caught in a religious trance.

Kynes’ thoughts were overwhelmed at last by the words of prophecy: "And they shall share your most precious dream.” He spoke directly to Jessica: "Do you bring the shortening of the way?"

"Ah, Dr. Kynes," the water-shipper said. "You’ve come in from tramping around with your mobs of Fremen. How gracious of you."

Kynes passed an unreadable glance across Bewt, said: "It is said in the desert that possession of water in great amount can inflict a man with fatal carelessness."

"They have many strange sayings in the desert," Bewt said, but his voice betrayed uneasiness.

Jessica crossed to Leto, slipped her hand under his arm to gain a moment in which to calm herself. Kynes had said: "... the shortening of the way." In the old tongue, the phrase translated as "Kwisatz Haderach." The planetologist’s odd question seemed to have gone unnoticed by the others, and now Kynes was bending over one of the consort women, listening to a low-voiced coquetry.

Kwisatz Haderach, Jessica thought. Did our Missionaria Protectiva plant that legend here, too? The thought fanned her secret hope for Paul. He could be the Kwisatz Haderach. He could be.

The Guild Bank representative had fallen into conversation with the water- shipper, and Bewt’s voice lifted above the renewed hum of conversations

"Many people have sought to change Arrakis."

The Duke saw how the words seemed to pierce Kynes, jerking the planetologist upright and away from the flirting woman.

In that moment a herald announced loudly above the murmur of the guests:

“Her majesty, Princess Irulan Corrino”

The silence in the room was almost palpable.

“You didn’t have told me that the princess was invited!” – whispered Leto.

“She wasn’t. The invite was sent to the Emperor. As a matter of courtesy. But it seems that Thufir Hawat failed to notice that the princess arrived with the last ship of the Guild. But the Bene Gesserit informed me of her arrival” Jessica smiled “you need to go welcome her!”

And she thought that if Irulan Corrino was really in Dune, surely the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam would have came with her.

The duke Leto Atreides cursed the dinner, made his best fake smile, controlled his tiredness and his anger, moved forward and went to receive the princess.

“Welcome to our house, princess Irulan!” said Let while he made the bow adequate to the princess. All the guests in the room followed promptly him in the bow.

In that moment he felt sorry for her. She was an only a young woman. Probably she had the same age of his son Paul and was there as a peon of her father.

But she was a wonderful and graceful creature trained by the Bene Gesserit. The Princess was tall with a face of a patrician beauty classic in its hauteur, her blonde hair was arranged into bunches, set behind her ears, her green eyes were bright but had a touch of… maybe apprehension, that not even her Bene Gesserit train didn’t hide completly. Her dress was in style similar to the one used by Jessica, but had tones of dark blue, that could remind for many in that room the night of Caladan, and as the nigh in that planet the dress was sprinkled with little bright stars that established a wonderful contrast with its sober color. Her golden hair was supported above her forehead by the only jewel she was using, an imperial diadem full of bright stars.

Her voice stood loud and crystalline when she spoke.

“I am here in behalf of my father, the emperor, to show our support to the cause that the great Atreides House has in their hands. And may the spice flow!”

All the guests bowed again before her presence and her warm words.

Into the sudden silence, a house trooper in uniform of a footman cleared his throat behind Leto, said:

"Dinner is served, my Lord."

The Duke directed a questioning glance down at Jessica.

“I think our son Paul could escort the princess”

“It will be my honor” stated Paul while advancing. In that moment he was being truthful. Irulan Corrino was among the most beautiful young women he had ever seen. And it was not an imposing beauty, like the one he had seen on Gaius Helen Mohiam, it was candid and much more natural. He felt that he really wanted to escort her.

Paul offered his hand and with a delicate movement she landed her hand on his. On that instant there was a discharge of static electricity between the two. And for a moment both removed their hands. They smiley to each other and Paul offered again his hand, this time with his palm up. She landed again her hand or his, this time almost hesitating. But there was no new static discharge. The touch was exquisite as in that instant all of Paul’s focus was in that delicate fingers that in an almost diaphanous way was in contact with his skin, even so he could feel her warm presence.

With the proximity her smell invaded him. Involuntary his nostrils expanded without the necessity of spice. Undoubtedly she was using a light perfume that combined in a more than perfect way with her body scent. For a brief, Paul imagined to approach her neck and inspire strongly her human fragrance. He just smiled in a silly way before dismissing the effects of a shiver. She was effectively trained by the Bene Gesserit, thought Paul.

Jessica nodded to the princess with an ambiguous smile.

"The custom here is for host and hostess to follow their guests to table," She said, and smiled; "Shall we change that one, too, my Lord?"

He spoke coldly:

"That seems a goodly custom. We shall let it stand for now."

The illusion that I suspect her of treachery must be maintained, he thought. He glanced at the guests filing past them. Who among you believes this lie?

Jessica, sensing his remoteness, wondered at it as she had done frequently the past week. He acts like a man struggling with himself, she thought. Is it because I moved so swiftly setting up this dinner party? Yet, he knows how important it is that we begin to mix our officers and men with the locals on a social plane. We are father and mother surrogate to them all. Nothing impresses that fact more firmly than this sort of social sharing.

Leto, watching the guests file past, recalled what Thufir Hawat had said when informed of the affair: "Sire! I forbid it!"

A grim smile touched the Duke’s mouth. What a scene that had been. And when the Duke had remained adamant about attending the dinner. Hawat had shaken his head.

"I have bad feelings about this, my Lord," he’d said. "Things move too swiftly on Arrakis. That’s not like the Harkonnens. Not like them at all."

Paul passed his father escorting the princess Irulan that seemed half a head taller than himself. He shot a glance at his father, nodded at something the young princess said.

"Her father manufactures stillsuits," Jessica said referring to a young woman ahead of Paul. "I’m told that only a fool would be caught in the deep desert wearing one of the man’s suits."

"Who’s the man with the scarred escorting her?" the Duke asked. "I don’t place him."

"A late addition to the list," she whispered. "Gurney arranged the invitation. Smuggler."

"Gurney arranged?"

"At my request. It was cleared with Hawat, although I thought Hawat was a little stiff about it. The smuggler’s called Tuek, Esmar Tuek. He’s a power among his kind. They all know him here. He’s dined at many of the houses."

"Why is he here?"

"Everyone here will ask that question," she said. "Tuek will sow doubt and suspicion just by his presence. He’ll also serve notice that you’re prepared to back up your orders against graft – by enforcement from the smugglers’ end as well. This was the point Hawat appeared to like."

"I’m not sure I like it." He nodded to a passing couple, saw only a few of their guests remained to precede them. "Why didn’t you invite some Fremen?"

"There’s Kynes," she said.

"Yes, there’s Kynes," he said. "Have you arranged any other little surprises for me?" He led her into step behind the procession.

"All else is most conventional," she said.

And she thought: My darling, can’t you see that this smuggler controls fast ships, that he can be bribed? We must have a way out, a door of escape from Arrakis if all else fails us here.

“Where is Dr. Yueh? I can’t see him” asked Leto.

“He was invited, Leto, but I didn’t saw him yet.”

As they emerged into the dining hall, she disengaged her arm, allowed Leto to seat her. He strode to his end of the table. A footman held his chair for him. The others settled with a swishing of fabrics, a scraping of chairs, but the Duke remained standing. He gave a hand signal, and the house troopers in footman uniform around the table stepped back, standing at attention.

Uneasy silence settled over the room.

Jessica, looking down the length of the table, saw a faint trembling at the corners of Leto’s mouth, noted the dark flush of anger on his cheeks. What has angered him? she asked herself.

Surely not my invitation to the smuggler. And for a brief spark of time Jessica repressed another thought: Surely not her attitude towards Paul!

"Some question my changing of the laving basin custom," Leto said. "This is my way of telling you that many things will change."

Embarrassed silence settled over the table.

They think him drunk, Jessica thought.

Leto lifted his water flagon, held it aloft where the suspensor, lights shot beams of reflection off it.

"As a Chevalier of the Imperium, then," he said, "I give you a toast."

The others grasped their flagons, all eyes focused on the Duke. In the sudden stillness, a suspensor light drifted slightly in an errant breeze from the serving kitchen hallway. Shadows played across the

Duke’s hawk features.

"Here I am and here I remain!" he barked.

There was an abortive movement of flagons toward mouths–stopped as the Duke remained with arm upraised. "My toast is one of those maxims so dear to our hearts: ’Business makes progress! Fortune passes everywhere!’ "

He sipped his water.

The others joined him. Questioning glances passed among them.

"Gurney!" the Duke called.

From an alcove at Leto’s end of the room came Halleck’s voice. "Here, my Lord."

"Give us a tune, Gurney."

A minor chord from the baliset floated out of the alcove. Servants began putting plates of food on the table at the Duke’s gesture releasing them–roast desert hare in sauce cepeda, aplomage sirian, chukka under glass, coffee with melange (a rich cinnamon odor from the spice wafted across the table), a true pot-a-oie served with sparkling Caladan wine.

Still, the Duke remained standing.

As the guests waited, their attention torn between the dishes placed before them and the standing Duke,

Leto said: "In olden times, it was the duty of the host to entertain his guests with his own talents." His knuckles turned white, so fiercely did he grip his water flagon. "I cannot sing, but I give you the words of Gurney’s song. Consider it another toast–a toast to all who’ve died bringing us to this station."

An uncomfortable stirring sounded around the table.

Jessica lowered her gaze, glanced at the people seated nearest her–there was the round-faced watershipper and his woman, the pale and austere Guild Bank representative (he seemed a whistle-faced scarecrow with his eyes fixed on Leto), the rugged and scar-faced Tuck, his blue-within-blue eyes downcast.

"Review, friends – troops long past review," the Duke intoned. "All to fate a weight of pains and dollars. Their spirits wear our silver collars. Review, friends–troops long past review: Each a dot of time without pretense or guile. With them passes the lure of fortune. Review, friends – troops long past review. When our time ends on its rictus smile, we’ll pass the lure of fortune."

The Duke allowed his voice to trail off on the last line, took a deep drink from his water flagon, slammed it back onto the table. Water slopped over the brim onto the linen.

The others drank in embarrassed silence.

Again, the Duke lifted his water flagon, and this time emptied its remaining half onto the floor, knowing that the others around the table must do the same.

Jessica was first to follow his example. Princess Irulan followed her.

There was a frozen moment before the others began emptying their flagons. Jessica saw how Paul, seated near his father, was studying the reactions around him. She found herself also fascinated by what her guests’ actions revealed – especially among the women. This was clean, potable water, not something already cast away in a sopping towel. Reluctance to just discard it exposed itself in trembling hands, delayed reactions’ nervous laughter... and violent obedience to the necessity. One woman dropped her flagon, looked the other way as her male companion recovered it.

Kynes, though, caught her attention most sharply. The planetotogist hesitated, then emptied his flagon into a container beneath his jacket. He smiled at Jessica as he caught her watching him, raised the empty flagon to her in a silent toast. He appeared completely unembarrassed by his action.

Halleck’s music still wafted over the room, but it had come out of its minor key, lilting and lively now as though he were trying to lift the mood.

"Let the dinner commence," the Duke said, and sank into his chair.

He’s angry and uncertain, Jessica thought. The loss of that factory crawler hit him more deeply than it should have. It must be something more than that loss. He acts like a desperate man. She lifted her fork, hoping in the motion to hide her own sudden bitterness. Why not?

He is desperate.

Slowly at first, then with increasing animation, the dinner got under way. The stillsuit manufacturer complimented Jessica on her chef and wine.

"We brought both from Caladan," she said.

"Superb!" he said, tasting the chukka. "Simply superb! And not a hint of melange in it.
One gets so tired of the spice in everything."

The Guild Bank representative looked across at Kynes. "I understand, Doctor Kynes, that another factory crawler has been lost to a worm."

"News’ travels fast," the Duke said.

"Then it’s true?" the banker asked, shifting his attention to Leto.

"Of course, it’s true!" the Duke snapped. "The blasted carry-all disappeared. It shouldn’t be possible for anything that big to disappear!"

"When the worm came, there was nothing to recover the crawler," Kynes said.

"It should not be possible!" the Duke repeated.

"No one saw the carryall leave?" the banker asked.

"Spotters customarily keep their eyes on the sand," Kynes said. "They’re primarily interested in wormsign. A carryall’s complement usually is four men– two pilots and two journeymen attachers. If one – or even two of this crew were in the pay of the Duke’s foes –"

"Ah-h-h, I see," the banker said. "And you, as Judge of the Change, do you challenge this?"

"I shall have to consider my position carefully," Kynes said, "and I certainly will not discuss it at table." And he thought: That pale skeleton of a man! He knows this is the kind of infraction I was instructed to ignore.

The banker smiled, returned his attention to his food.

Jessica sat remembering a lecture from her Bene Gesserit school days. The subject had been espionage and counter-espionage. A plump, happy-faced Reverend Mother had been the lecturer, her jolly voice contrasting weirdly with the subject matter.

A thing to note about any espionage and/or counter-espionage school is the similar basic reaction pattern of all its graduates. Any enclosed discipline sets its stamp, its pattern, upon its students. That pattern is susceptible to analysis and prediction.

"Now, motivational patterns are going to be similar among all espionage agents. That is to say: there will be certain types of motivation that are similar despite differing schools or opposed aims. You will study first how to separate this element for your analysis–in the beginning, through interrogation patterns that betray the inner orientation of the interrogators; secondly, by close observation of language-thought orientation of those under analysis. You will find it fairly simple to determine the root languages of your subjects, of course, both through voice inflection and speech pattern."

Now, sitting at table with her son and her Duke and their guests, hearing that Guild Bank representative, Jessica felt a chill of realization: the man was a Harkonnen agent. He had the Giedi Prime speech pattern – subtly masked, but exposed to her trained awareness as though he had announced himself.

Does this mean the Guild itself has taken sides against House Atreides? she asked herself.

The thought shocked her, and she masked her emotion by calling for a new dish, all the while listening for the man to betray his purpose. He will shift the conversation next to something seemingly innocent, but with ominous overtones, she told herself. It’s his pattern.

The banker swallowed, took a sip of wine, smiled at something said to him by the woman on his right.

He seemed to listen for a moment to a man down the table who was explaining to the Duke that native Arrakeen plants had no thorns.

"I enjoy watching the flights of birds on Arrakis," the banker said, directing his words at Jessica. "All of our birds, of course, are carrion-eaters, and many exist without water, having become blooddrinkers."

The stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter, seated between Paul and his father at the other end of the table, twisted her pretty face into a frown, said: "Oh, Soo-Soo, you say the most disgusting things."

The banker smiled. "They call me Soo-Soo because I’m financial adviser to the Water Ped-dlers Union." And, as Jessica continued to look at him without comment, he added: "Because of the watersellers’ cry–’Soo-Soo Sook!’ " And he imitated the call with such accuracy that many around the table laughed.

Jessica heard the boastful tone of voice, but noted most that the young woman had spoken on cue–a set piece. She had produced the excuse for the banker to say what he had said.

She glanced at Lingar Bewt. The water magnate was scowling, concentrating on his dinner.

It came to Jessica that the banker had said: "I, too, control that ultimate source of power on Arrakis–water."

Paul had marked the falseness in his dinner left companion’s voice, saw that his mother was following the conversation with Bene Gesserit intensity. To his right the princess stood in silence. On impulse, he decided to play the foil, draw the exchange out. He addressed himself to the banker.

"Do you mean, sir, that these birds are cannibals?"

"That’s an odd question, young Master," the banker said. "I merely said the birds drink blood. It doesn’t have to be the blood of their own kind, does it?"

"It was not an odd question," Paul said, and Jessica noted the brittle riposte quality of her training exposed in his voice. "Most educated people know that the worst potential competition for any young organism can come from its own kind." He deliberately forked a bite of food from his companion’s plate, ate it. "They are eating from the same bowl. They have the same basic requirements."

The banker stiffened, scowled at the Duke.

"Do not make the error of considering my son a child," the Duke said. And he smiled.

Jessica glanced around the table, noted that Bewt had brightened, that both Kynes and the smuggler, Tuek, were grinning.

"It’s a rule of ecology," Kynes said, "that the young Master appears to understand quite well. The struggle between life elements is the struggle for the free energy of a system. Blood’s an efficient energy source."

The banker put down his fork, spoke in an angry voice: "It’s said that the Fremen scum drink the blood of their dead."

On the other side of the table Shadout Mapes froze. Kynes shook his head, spoke in a lecturing tone: "Not the blood, sir. But all of a man’s water, ultimately, belongs to his people–to his tribe. It’s a necessity when you live near the Great Flat. All water ’s precious there, and the human body is composed of some seventy per cent water by weight. A dead man, surely, no longer requires that water."

The banker put both hands against the table beside his plate, and Jessica thought he was going to push himself back, leave in a rage.

Kynes looked at Jessica. "Forgive me, my Lady, for elaborating on such an ugly subject at table, but you were being told falsehood and it needed clarifying."

"You’ve associated so long with Fremen that you’ve lost all sensibilities," the banker rasped.

Kynes looked at him calmly, studied the pale, trembling face. "Are you challenging me, sir?"

The banker froze. He swallowed, spoke stiffly: "Of course not. I’d not so insult our host and hostess."

Jessica heard the fear in the man’s voice, saw it in his face, in his breathing, in the pulse of a vein at his temple. The man was terrified of Kynes!

"Our host and hostess are quite capable of deciding for themselves when they’ve been insulted," Kynes said. "They’re brave people who understand defense of honor. We all may attest to their courage by the fact that they are here... now... on Arrakis."

Jessica saw that Leto was enjoying this. Most of the others were not. People all around the table sat poised for flight, hands out of sight under the table. Two notable exceptions were Bewt, who was openly smiling at the banker’s discomfiture, and the smuggler, Tuek, who appeared to be watching Kynes for a cue. Jessica saw that Paul and Irulan were looking at Kynes in admiration.

"Well?" Kynes said.

"I meant no offense," the banker muttered. "If offense was taken, please accept my apologies."

"Freely given, freely accepted," Kynes said. He smiled at Jessica, resumed eating as though nothing had happened.

Jessica saw that the smuggler, too, had relaxed. She marked this: the man had shown every aspect of an aide ready to leap to Kynes’ assistance. There existed an accord of some sort between Kynes and Tuek.

Leto toyed with a fork, looked speculatively at Kynes. The Geologist’s manner indicated a change in attitude toward the House of Atreides. Kynes had seemed colder on their trip over the desert.

Jessica signaled for another course of food and drink. Servants appeared with langues de lapins de garenne – red wine and a sauce of mushroom-yeast on the side.

Slowly, the dinner conversation resumed, but Jessica heard the agitation in it, the brittle quality, saw that the banker ate in sullen silence. Kynes would have killed him without hesitating, she thought. And she realized that there was an offhand attitude toward killing in Kynes’ manner. He was a casual killer, and she guessed that this was a Fremen quality.

The princess leaned towards Paul, her scent intensified:

“I hope you are used to more tranquil meals here in Arrakis?” murmured just to him.

Their eyes met. Paul understood that the question had no second meanings. It was just a cry from her to escape all that tension.

Paul nodded. “Especially when I eat alone!”

“I hope that doesn’t happen often! But sometimes also I prefer to eat alone that with my preceptors”.

“You are talking about the Reverend Mother?”

Irulan showed a sad smile.

“Also, but I have more preceptors.”

“All Bene Gesserit” – said Paul.

“All Bene Gesserit” – confirmed the Princess trying a cheerful tone, and with that raising her tone enough to the point that other guest turned their heads. “Oh! It seems that I have attracted attentions!”

“You are the daughter of the Emperor! You are beautiful! You will always attract attentions.”

“Thank you” said Irulan, resting his hand on Paul’s.

“How so?

She opened her face in a big and captivating smile showing her white teeth. Her golden bunches bounced gracefully.

“You said that I was beautiful”

“And you know that you are. The Bene Gesserit must said this to you every day.”

“Yes, I know that I am. But it is good to hear it from…” she shook his head and hesitated, Paul had the idea that she blushed a bit “… a young man.” Probably she gained conscience that her hand still held his and she quickly removed it to pick the fork.

“Why are you here?”

“Isn’t that obvious? My father send me.”

“You could certainly avoid it!” teased him.

“And miss all this fun!” she laugh. Paul liked when she laugh. “The reception dinners at Kaitain aren’t less tense than these ones. It is good to leave Kaitain for a while and learn something from the world outside my father’s Palace.”

“And what are your instructions?”

“That question is rude, Paul” her smile disappeared, “you know well that I can’t answer that to you without lying to you.” with that she turned to the guest of the other side leaving temporarily Paul alone with his plate.

Jessica turned to the stillsuit manufacturer on her left, said: "I find myself continually amazed by the importance of water on Arrakis."

"Very important," he agreed. "What is this dish? It’s delicious."

"Tongues of wild rabbit in a special sauce," she said. "A very old recipe."

"I must have that recipe," the man said.

She nodded. "I’ll see that you get it."

Kynes looked at Jessica, said: "The newcomer to Arrakis frequently underestimates the importance of water here. You are dealing, you see, with the Law of the Minimum."

She heard the testing quality in his voice, said, "Growth is limited by that necessity which is present in the least amount. And, naturally, the least favorable condition controls the growth rate."

"It’s rare to find members of a Great House aware of planetological problems," Kynes said.

"Water is the least favorable condition for life on Arrakis. And remember that growth itself can produce unfavorable conditions unless treated with extreme care."

Jessica sensed a hidden message in Kynes’ words, but knew she was missing it. "Growth," she said. "Do you mean Arrakis can have an orderly cycle of water to sustain human life under more favorable conditions?"

"Impossible!" the water magnate barked.

Jessica turned her attention to Bewt. "Impossible?"

"Impossible on Arrakis," he said. "Don’t listen to this dreamer. All the laboratory evidence is against him."

Kynes looked at Bewt, and Jessica noted that the other conversations around the table had stopped while people concentrated on this new interchange.

"Laboratory evidence tends to blind us to a very simple fact," Kynes said. "That fact is this: we are dealing here with matters that originated and exist out-of-doors where plants and animals carry on their normal existence."

"Normal!" Bewt snorted. "Nothing about Arrakis is normal!"

"Quite the contrary," Kynes said. "Certain harmonies could be set up here along self-sustaining lines. You merely have to understand the limits of the planet and the pressures upon it."

"It’ll never be done," Bewt said.

The Duke came to a sudden realization, placing the point where Kynes’ attitude had changed – it had been when Jessica had spoken of holding the conservatory plants in trust for Arrakis.

"What would it take to set up the self-sustaining system, Doctor Kynes?" Leto asked.

"If we can get three per cent of the green plant element on Arrakis involved in forming carbon compounds as foodstuffs, we’ve started the cyclic system," Kynes said.

"Water ’s the only problem?" the Duke asked. He sensed Kynes’ excitement, felt himself caught up in it.

"Water overshadows the other problems," Kynes said. "This planet has much oxygen without its usual concomitants – widespread plant life and large sources of free carbon dioxide from such phenomena as volcanoes. There are unusual chemical interchanges over large surf ace areas here."

"Do you have pilot projects?" the Duke asked.

"We’ve had a long time in which to build up the Tansley Effect–small-unit experiments on an amateur basis from which my science may now draw its working facts." Kynes said.

"There isn’t enough water," Bewt said. "There just isn’t enough water."

"Master Bewt is an expert on water," Kynes said. He smiled, turned back to his dinner.

The Duke gestured sharply down with his right hand, barked: "No! I want an answer! Is there enough water, Doctor Kynes?"

Kynes stared at his plate.

Jessica watched the play of emotion on his face. He masks himself well, she thought, but she had him registered now and read that he regretted his words.

"Is there enough water?" the Duke demanded.

"There... may be," Kynes said.

He’s faking uncertainty! Jessica thought.

With his deeper truthsense, Paul caught the underlying motive, had to use every ounce of his training to mask his excitement. There is enough water! But Kynes doesn’t wish it to be known.

"Our planetologist has many interesting dreams," Bewt said. "He dreams with the Fremen – of prophecies and messiahs."

Chuckles sounded at odd places around the table Jessica marked them – the smuggler, the stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter, Duncan Idaho, the woman with the mysterious escort service… and even the princess!

Tensions are oddly distributed here tonight, Jessica thought. There’s too much going on of which I’m not aware. I’ll have to develop new information sources.

The Duke passed his gaze from Kynes to Bewt to Jessica. He felt oddly let down, as though something vital had passed him here. "May be," he muttered.

Kynes spoke quickly: "Perhaps we should discuss this another time, my Lord. There are so many –"

The planetologist broke off as an uniformed Atreides trooper hurried in through the service door, was passed by the guard and rushed to the Duke’s side. The man bent, whispering into Leto’s ear.

Jessica recognized the capsign of Hawat’s corps, fought down uneasiness. She addressed herself to the stillsuit manufacturer’s feminine companion – a tiny, dark-haired woman with a doll face, a touch of epicanthic fold to the eyes.

"You’ve hardly touched your dinner, my dear," Jessica said. "May I order you something?"

The woman looked at the stillsuit manufacturer before answering, then: "I’m not very hungry."

Abruptly, the Duke stood up beside his trooper, spoke in a harsh tone of command: "Stay seated, everyone. You will have to forgive me, but a matter has arisen that requires my personal attention."

He stepped aside. "Paul, take over as host for me, if you please."

Paul stood, wanting to ask why his father had to leave, knowing he had to play this with the grand manner. He moved around to his father’s chair, sat down in it.

In some way he felt relief to leave the princess side, she barely changed a word with him, after his last question. He had to work on that latter on.

The Duke turned to the alcove where Halleck sat, said: "Gurney, please take Paul’s place at table. We mustn’t have an odd number here. When the reception’s over, I may want you to bring Paul to the field C.P. Wait for my call."

Halleck emerged from the alcove in dress uniform, his lumpy ugliness seeming out of place in the glittering finery. He leaned his baliset against the wall, crossed to the chair Paul had occupied, sat down.

"There’s no need for alarm," the Duke said, "but I must ask that no one leave until our house guard says it’s safe. You will be perfectly secure as long as you remain here, and we’ll have this little trouble cleared up very shortly."

Paul caught the code words in his father’s message–guard-safe-secure- shortly. The problem was security, not violence. He saw that his mother had read the same message. They both relaxed.

The Duke gave a short nod, wheeled and strode through the service door followed by his trooper.

Paul said: "Please go on with your dinner. I believe Doctor Kynes was discussing water."

"May we discuss it another time?" Kynes asked.

"By all means," Paul said.

And Jessica noted with pride her son’s dignity, the mature sense of assurance.

The banker picked up his water flagon, gestured with it at Bewt. "None of us here can surpass Master Lingar Bewt in flowery phrases. One might almost assume he aspired to Great House status. Come, Master Bewt, lead us in a toast. Perhaps you’ve a dollop of wisdom for the boy who must be treated like a man."

Jessica clenched her right hand into a fist beneath the table. She saw a handsignal pass from Halleck to Idaho, saw the house troopers along the walls move into positions of maximum guard.

Bewt cast a venomous glare at the banker.

Paul glanced at Halleck, took in the defensive positions of his guards, looked at the banker until the man lowered the water flagon. He said: "Once, on Caladan, I saw the body of a drowned fisherman recovered. He – "

"Drowned?" It was the stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter.

Paul hesitated, then: "Yes. Immersed in water until dead. Drowned."

"What an interesting way to die," she murmured.

Paul’s smile became brittle. He returned his attention to the banker. "The interesting thing about this man was the wounds on his shoulders – made by another fisherman’s claw-boots. This fisherman was one of several in a boat – a craft for traveling on water – that foundered... sank beneath the water. Another fisherman helping recover the body said he’d seen marks like this man’s wounds several times. They meant another drowning fisherman had tried to stand on this poor fellow’s shoulders in the attempt to reach up to the surface–to reach air."

"Why is this interesting?" the banker asked.

"Because of an observation made by my father at the time. He said the drowning man who climbs on your shoulders to save himself is understandable – except when you see it happen in the drawing room." Paul hesitated just long enough for the banker to see the point coming, then: "And, I should add, except when you see it at the dinner table."

A sudden stillness enfolded the room.

That was rash, Jessica thought. This banker might have enough rank to call my son out.

She saw that Idaho was poised for instant action. The House troopers were alert. Gurney Halleck had his eyes on the men opposite him. Shadout Mapes put her hand under the gown and held her crysknife, carefully evaluating the guests near her.

"Ho-ho-ho-o-o-o!" It was the smuggler, Tuek, head thrown back laughing with complete abandon.

Nervous smiles appeared around the table.

Bewt was grinning.

The banker had pushed his chair back, was glaring at Paul.

Kynes said: "One baits an Atreides at his own risk."

"Is it Atreides custom to insult their guests?" the banker demanded.

Before Paul could answer, Jessica leaned forward, said: "Sir!" And she thought: We must learn this Harkonnen creature’s game. Is he here to try for Paul? Does he have help?

"My son displays a general garment and you claim it’s cut to your fit?" Jessica asked. "What a fascinating revelation." She slid a hand down to her leg to the crysknife she had fastened in a calfsheath.

The banker turned his glare on Jessica. Eyes shifted away from Paul and she saw him ease himself back from the table, freeing himself for action. He had focused on the code word: garment. "Prepare for violence."

Kynes directed a speculative look at Jessica, gave a subtle hand signal to Tuek.

The smuggler lurched to his feet, lifted his flagon. "I’ll give you a toast," he said. "To young Paul Atreides, still a lad by his looks, but a man by his actions."

Princess Irulan stood up. After his hard words, he feared that she would support the banker. But the smiled to Paul, a forced smile and lifted his flagon:

“To Paul!”

Why do they intrude? Jessica asked herself.

The banker stared now at Kynes and then to Irulan, and Jessica saw terror return to the agent’s face.

People began responding all around the table.

Where Kynes leads, people follow, Jessica thought. He has told us he sides with Paul.

What’s the secret of his power? It can’t be because he’s Judge of the Change. That’s temporary. And certainly not because he’s a civil servant.

She removed her hand from the crysknife hilt, lifted her flagon to Kynes, who responded in kind.

Only Paul and the banker – (Soo-Soo! What an idiotic nickname! Jessica thought.) –remained emptyhanded.

The banker’s attention stayed fixed on Kynes. Paul stared at his plate.

I was handling it correctly, Paul thought. Why do they interfere? He glanced covertly at the male guests nearest him. Prepare for violence? From whom? Certainly not from that banker fellow.

Halleck stirred, spoke as though to no one in particular, directing his words over the heads of the guests across from him: "In our society, people shouldn’t be quick to take offense. It’s frequently suicidal." He looked at the stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter beside him. "Don’t you think so, miss?"

"Oh, yes. Yes. Indeed I do," She said. "There’s too much violence. It makes me sick. And lots of times no offense is meant, but people die anyway. It doesn’t make sense."

"Indeed it doesn’t," Halleck said.

Jessica saw the near perfection of the girl’s act, realized: That empty-headed little female is not an empty-headed little female. She saw then the pattern of the threat and understood that Halleck, too, had detected it. They had planned to lure Paul with sex. Jessica relaxed. Her son had probably been the first to see it – his training hadn’t overlooked that obvious gambit. But was would be the role of Irulan in all this?

Kynes spoke to the banker: "Isn’t another apology in order?"

The banker turned a sickly grin toward Jessica, said: "My Lady, I fear I’ve overindulged in your wines. You serve potent drink at table, and I’m not accustomed to it."

Jessica heard the venom beneath his tone, spoke sweetly: "When strangers meet, great allowance should be made for differences of custom and training."

"Thank you, my Lady," he said.

The dark-haired companion of the stillsuit manufacturer leaned toward Jessica, said: "The Duke spoke of our being secure here. I do hope that doesn’t mean more fighting."

She was directed to lead the conversation this way, Jessica thought.

"Likely this will prove unimportant," Jessica said. "But there’s so much detail requiring the Duke’s personal attention in these times. As long as enmity continues between Atreides and Harkonnen we cannot be too careful. The Duke has sworn kanly. He will leave no Harkonnen agent alive on Arrakis, of course." She glanced at the Guild Bank agent. "And the Conventions, naturally, support him in this."

She shifted her attention to Kynes." Is this not so, Dr. Kynes?"

"Indeed it is," Kynes said.

The stillsuit manufacturer pulled his companion gently back. She looked at him, said: "I do believe I’ll eat something now. I’d like some of that bird dish you served earlier."

Jessica signaled a servant, turned to the banker: "And you, sir, were speaking of birds earlier and of their habits. I find so many interesting things about Arrakis. Tell me, where is the spice found? Do the hunters go deep into the desert?"

"Oh, no, my Lady," he said. "Very little’s known of the deep desert. And almost nothing of the southern regions."

"There’s a tale that a great Mother Lode of spice is to be found in the southern reaches," Kynes said, "but I suspect it was an imaginative invention made solely for purposes of a song.

Some daring spice hunters do, on occasion, penetrate into the edge of the central belt, but that’s extremely dangerous – navigation is uncertain, storms are frequent. Casualties increase dramatically the farther you operate from Shield Wall bases. It hasn’t been found profitable to venture too far south. Perhaps if we had a weather satellite..."

Bewt looked up, spoke around a mouthful of food: "It’s said the Fremen travel there, that they go anywhere and have hunted out soaks and sip-wells even in the southern latitudes."

"Soaks and sip-wells?" Jessica asked.

Kynes spoke quickly: "Wild rumors, my Lady. These are known on other planets, not on Arrakis. A soak is a place where water seeps to the surface or near enough to the surface to be found by digging according to certain signs. A sip-well is a form of soak where a person draws water through a straw... so it is said."

There’s deception in his words, Jessica thought.

Why is he lying? Paul wondered.

"How very interesting," Jessica said. And she thought. "It is said..." What a curious speech mannerism they have here. If they only knew what it reveals about their dependence on superstitions.

"I’ve heard you have a saying," Paul said, "that polish comes from the cities, wisdom from the desert."

"There are many sayings on Arrakis," Kynes said.

Before Jessica could frame a new question, a servant bent over her with a note. She opened it, saw the Duke’s handwriting and code signs, scanned it.

"You’ll all be delighted to know," she said, "that our Duke sends his reassurances. The matter which called him away has been settled. The missing carryall has been found. A Harkonnen agent in the crew overpowered the others and flew the machine to a smugglers’ base, hoping to sell it there. Both man and machine were turned over to our forces." She nodded to Tuek. The smuggler nodded back.

Jessica refolded the note before destroying it.

"I’m glad it didn’t come to open battle," the banker said. "The people have such hopes the Atreides will bring peace and prosperity."

"Especially prosperity," Bewt said.

"Shall we have our dessert now?" Jessica asked. "I’ve had our chef prepare a Caladan sweet: pongi rice in sauce dolsa."

"It sounds wonderful," the stillsuit manufacturer said. "Would it be possible to get the recipe?"

"Any recipe you desire," Jessica said, registering the man for later mention to Hawat. The stillsuit manufacturer was a fearful little climber and could be bought. Small talk resumed around her: "Such a lovely fabric..." "He is having a setting made to match the jewel..." "We might try for a production increase next quarter..."

Jessica stared down at her plate, thinking of the coded part of Leto’s message: "The Harkonnens tried to get in a shipment of lasguns. We captured them. This may mean they’ve succeeded with other shipments. It certainly means they don’t place much store in shields. Take appropriate precautions."

Jessica focused her mind on lasguns, wondering. The white-hot beams of disruptive light could cut through any known substance, provided that substance was not shielded. The fact that feedback from a shield would explode both lasgun and shield did not bother the Harkonnens.

Why? A lasgun-shield explosion was a dangerous variable, could be more powerful than atomics, could kill only the gunner and his shielded target.

The unknowns here filled her with uneasiness.

Paul said: "I never doubted we’d find the carryall. Once my father moves to solve a problem, he solves it. This is a fact the Harkonnens are beginning to discover."

He’s boasting, Jessica thought. He shouldn’t boast. No person who’ll be sleeping far below ground level this night as a precaution against lasguns has the right to boast.

***

The Orchestra begun to play a Waltz in he ballroom.

With the duke’s absence it was Paul Atreides that had to open the dance floor with his mother, as party hosts. Paul was glad to dance the Waltz, it was the simplest of the dances and he had danced it for ages, with his mother and his sister and even with Ephigenia.

He took is mother in his arms and allowed himself to relax and enjoy the dance and the music for a couple of minutes minutes. He even made his mother smile with a more risky step out of his usual, with a under arm passage. He also enjoyed the warm of her body, the inconstant pressure of her breasts against his chest, the nakedness of her back, were is hand could run almost free without any scandal.

After the first steps other couples joined the dance floor and the attention was not so concentrated in them. Paul noted that the planetologist, Dr. Kynes, had invited Shadout Mapes, and that the Guild Bank representative, the stillsuit manufacturer had invited their escorts as well as Ducan Idaho. Then some other officers of the House Troop and members of the younger Arrakeen richece begun to fill the floor.

Jessica and her son were interrupted by Gurney Halleck.

“Allow me this dance, my Lady?” asked him loud and clear, to proceed in a lower tone “The young emperor’s daughter seems to be waiting that a young noble invite her to a dance, young master”.

Paul knew that Gurney was right to interrupt them. But as soon as he disengaged from his mother’s body he felt the need for a return.

He located her, alone in her beauty, straightened out the uniform and approached in a quasi-military step. Rigid, he stopped in front of the princess, preparing formally the invite.

“Are you going to ask me to dance or to participate in a military march?”

Paul was in the middle of a small bow. Raised his head and smiled. Her simplicity as sometimes almost disconcerting.

“Peace?” he asked.

“Peace you shall have” she answered her accepting his lead to the dance.

Soon it was evident that her dancing capacities were not mach for him.

“You are not a good dancer.”

“I still didn’t crushed on your feet.” He answered. Smashing without intention his chest against her young yet already abundant breasts.

“Relax a bit, breathe, and follow my lead” she smiled again and again, “the group dances are much more complicated!”

He breathe and aspired again her scent. The next moments were quite enjoyable. His feet seemed lighter. They rode on the dance floor, while he was holding her hand and girded her waist, maintaining eye contact, causing him to lose himself in her green eyes, making them both smile without a rational cause.

“You were quite rude with me!” she said.

“Yes, it was a rude question.”

“So…”

“So?”

“So, aren’t you going to apologize?”

They stopped. In that moment Paul forgot all the rest. There were no guests. Just him and the princess. He leaned forward a bit and felt her warm and sweat breath. She was directly looking to him, in his arms. She parted slightly her reds lips and trembled like she was cold.

In that precise moment he just knew that she was waiting for his kiss.

“My princess, since you stop dancing with our host, may I have this dance?”

They didn’t had noticed that the music had stopped and a new Waltz had begun allowing some changes between the dancing partners.

Paul and Irulan looked to the man that had spoken as they hadn’t seen it. Before them was Paul’s most hated banker.

“By all means, Soo-Soo, you can have a dance.”

Paul had to retread with the dignity that the moment demanded from him. He moved trough the crowd to looking for a footman with drinks.

From the corner of his eyes he saw his mother was dancing with Ducan Idaho so he decided to join with Gurney Halleck.

“Did you already leave the dance floor, Gurney?”

“Oh! You know that I am no dancer…”, the troubadour warrior smiled, “it seems that our friend Soo-Soo-Soo wants to ruin your pleasant evening!”

“I should have killed him on the dinner table!”

“I had the same will…”

“Alia would fill the ballroom if she was here” said Paul in a sad tone.

“One good reason for her absence!” answered the older man in a wiser tone.

“She is an excellent dancer!”

“As your mother, Paul.”

Shadout Mapes approached them. The men smiled.

“Shadout, you are mesmerizing with that dress! I am almost tempted to invite you to dance!” said Gurney.

“Thank you Gurney, our dance will have to wait. I need to speak to Paul”

“You do look beautiful, Shadout, almost unrecognizable with the change of costumes.”

“Invite me to dance.”

“Hum?”

“Please, it is the best to talk. Your father isn’t here and I can’t dance with your mother.”

“That would be odd in this ball with so many young officers around!”.

Paul went again to the dance floor, this time leading Shadout Mapes.

“I was instructed to tell you be the Fremen that there is a traitor among you,” said Mapes without any preamble. “You must warn your father”.

“We already had that suspicion.”

“He suspects of Lady Jessica, but it is not her.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know”, answered Mapes, “maybe the princess can tell you something… if she knows…”

As a new Waltz progresses they were near the princess and Soo-Soo. In a quick move, Irulan opted for a under arm turn that surprised Soo-Soo and he had to release her hand just to be cached by Paul in a quick change of dancing partners.

The couples progressed their natural turns and went away in opposite directions for Soo-Soo exasperation.

The Waltz ended and a Galop begun. Irulan helped again Paul but the rhythm of the music and dance didn’t allow him to talk to her. The dances proceeded between couple dances and group dances but Irulan remained Paul’s partner during all the ball, leading him when he doubted his steps, allowing him to relax and enjoy the evening.

The only moments that he was a bit more aware was when his mother made him a signal that she was leaving the ball in the company of Shadout Mapes.

Gurney remained as an attentive spectator, Dr Yueh never showed up and Duncan Idaho disappeared among the ladies.

“I need refreshment!” exclaimed Irulan, her face shining with a sweat tip. “Let us drink some water! Oh… it is so hot!”

They leaved the dancing floor. Paul called a footman with drinks.

“I will have to leave soon, Paul!”

“Come, let us leave the ballroom! Let us go to other place…”

She laughed.

“Where? My Sardaukar guards are in all the entrances, they will follow us.

“Do you trust me enough to follow me?”

She stare at him.

“Where do you want to take me?”

“To the most beautiful room of the Palace.”

He took her hand and dragged her to a corner of the ballroom. He felt Gurney’s eyes staring at him, but he didn’t care. His only concern were the Sardaukar.

But eluding them was an easy task; they didn’t know half of the corridors and passages of the palace. In quick steps they arrived to the oval door on the south wing. Paul opened the door and both entered on the airlock.

“And now… the surprise…

They stepped over the sill and let the door swung closed behind. The lights were dim but more than enough to appreciate the place.

"It is like a greenhouse! A wet-planet conservatory! It is beautiful… and all these flowers! It is also hot here, but the humidity is high!”

Irulan begun to wander around the greenhouse.

“And look there… a swimming pool! These place is a small paradise.”

She knelt by the pool, formed a shell with her hands and wet her face. The water ran down her cheeks and soaked her dress.

“I have to take out these shoes! They are killing me!”

Sometimes Irulan reminded Alia to Paul. Her joy and her spontaneity were contagious. And he saw with amusement she took off her shoes, pulled the dress up, sat down by the pool to dip her feet in the fresh water.

“Oh! What a relief! This is so good!”

Paul imitated her, took of the socks and shoes and seated near her, feet on the water, and begun to tickle her feet.

She laugh.

“Stop it! You will wet your pants!” She took a look to the glass “We can see the mountains from here! The landscape is beautiful” She turned to him “Thank you for showing me this!”

“I just wanted to be alone with you.”

“For what?” she taunted him.

He leaned forward just like in the ball and this time there was no one to interrupt them. Their lips met, hesitant and tender at the beginning, then gaining courage until she broke the kiss with a nervous laugh. She shivered for sometime. Trembling like she was with a fever, as if her body wanted to deny that contact. But they kissed again, her lips were warm and inviting. Her tongue was as curious as his.

“It is the first time that I kiss a man!” she laugh again.

“You seem to have some experience!”

“Well… it was not my first kiss!” she answered between laughs. “I am nervous!”

“Don’t be! We already made peace between us!” said Paul while his hand made a soft and tender caress in her face and neck.

She showed him a sad smile.

“Want to go for a swim?”

“I don’t have a swimming suit here!”

“Neither do I! Besides I never used a swimming suit here.

“Without clothes? I don’t think I can trust that much in you!”

“I won’t force you to anything!” he said in the most honest tone that he was able.

“You just want to see me naked!”

“Yes! I certainly do.”

“And make sex with me!”

“Yes!”

She hesitated: “I am not ready!”

He kissed her again. Gently. Lips. Face. Neck. Nape. Ear lobe. He introduced his wet tongue in her ear. She laugh and retreated.

“I know. I know,” his voice trembled. “I don’t even know if I am!”

She stood up on her toes. Slowly she pulled aside the dress straps and pushed the dark blue tissue down. First her full young engorged breasts became visible in the dim light, her nipples almost pop out like they wanted to be released. Then her belly button appeared. She pushed the blue dress further down and her small string panties made an appearance to Paul’s eyes. And finally the dress felled in the wet floor. With a toe she kicked it away from the pool. She balanced her lovely hips, took a deep breath as she was going to dive and with a movement she lowered the small thong. At first she covered herself, one arm above the breasts, the other hand above her sex, but the she took the last steep and showed to him all her naked beauty.

It was evident that the Bene Gesserit shaved her. He couldn’t see a single pubic hair. Paul understood that he was before a goddess. He couldn’t avoid swallowing. Feeling is throat completely dry. Then he had to remind himself to maintain his mouth closed.

“I want to see you naked!” she demanded before jumping graciously to the water.

He rapidly removed his uniform and kicked it to the place where her dress was. Then he stood there, near the pool, completely naked, so she could see him.

“You are the first naked man that I ever saw! I even dream with this!” she said, standing there, in the middle of the pool, with the water just a bit above her waist, her humid skin reflecting the dim light, her breasts supporting heavy drops of water that felt randomly in the pool. “You are also very beautiful. Even more beautiful that any of my dreams!”

He jumped to the water and embraced her. She laughed and said, “You’re suffocating me.” But she pressed even more her naked wet skin against his.

They just stood there. Kissing and kissing. Merely kissing. For seconds, for minutes, even for hours. They went drunk with kissing. Savoring and tasting each other smell and flavor. Exploring and discovering. Advancing and retreating. They couldn’t get enough. Just kissing. Sucking lips, nose and ear lobes, feeling her golden hair in the way. Kissing, just kissing.

Their hands run freely in each others backs and butts. He bent a little. His mouth sucked her skin like if he wanted to extract love from it. He wanted to reach her breasts. He bent a little more and she allowed him. His lips found an erect nipple. Her hands raund free in his nape, pressing him against her. And he drew more of her into his mouth to begun to suck like a starving baby. He felt a shudder run through her spine and heard her draw her breath in sharply. His hands her full with her buttocks. For a quick moment he let her nipple slip nearly from his lips, and his tongue battled with it, she protested, then he sucked it back in with as much of the surrounding tit as he could. She emitted a little cry. He pressed her buttocks. All her body trembled. He allowed the breast to ease almost out again. Then back in to his hungry mouth. And repeated it again and again.

But he felt the necessity of kiss her lips again. At some point, they glued completely their bodies, he felt those two mountains that were her full breasts smashed against his chest, the full breasts that he had sucked and could suck until the end of eternity, and she felt his turgid member touching her for the first time.

“Let me see it…” she said breaking contact, “I want to see it closely.”

She pushed him to the border of the pool, and he lay down on the border, his member challenging the gravity and pointing straight up.

“Can I touch it?” she asked with her right hand already on their way.

“Yes!”

She approached her head, until her green bright eyes were less than a fist from his member. She could already smell it. Her hand was still in the air, hesitating to touch it. She wanted. But she was not sure of it. Of herself.

The first time she touched him just with the tips of her fingers. Almost with fear.

“The skin is so soft”

He moaned with the touch. His pleasure gave her such a joy that she rubbed her opened hand against it. She liked the soft warm touch and never had ever imagined like that.

He raised one hand and cupped one of her breasts. She trembled again. Then she leaned forward and made a thing that he didn’t expected. She brushed his penis between her open hand and the soft skin of her face, caressing her face with his member.

It was his time to shiver “Don’t do that!” he whimpered and made even more pressure in her breast. If she had milk it would come out.

“Did I hurt you?” she asked innocently.

“Not quite!”

Finally she closed her fist around his member, in a movement she got out of the pool and mounted him. She was one her knees, with her long legs aside of his body. His member on her hand, too close to her hairless sex.

Paul raised his head and could see her clitoris poking out of her lips.

She was considering to move on.

But it wasn’t meant to be!

Precisely in that instant Gurney knocked on the oval door, from the other side of the airlock.

“Paul! Paul! I know you are there! The Sardaukars are coming! They are looking for the princess!! Come out!”

The princess jumped searching for her dress.

“Look the sun! It is almost morning!”

“Wait! Give us a second!” shouted Paul trying to give some coherence to his uniform.

Irulan was already dressed and went to the door with the shoes on her hand.

“Wait… your panties!” Paul picked the dark blue tongue.

The princess stopped, looked back to him and smiled! “Keep them! As a souvenir!”

“Paul!” shouted Gurney “they reached the stairs!”

“Let them come in come in” Paul put the panties in his pocket and adjusted the belt of his pants. He had never dresses up so quickly.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Ready!”

She gave two steps in his direction. With her hands she pushed his head against hers. Her lips were pressed strongly against his in a quick and violent kiss.

“You will be attacked by the Harkonnen. Many ships will come. Soon.”

They heard Gurney talking with the Sardaukars and the oval door opened.

“Goodbye, Paul!”