The plan (such as it was) had been to swap out the robes they had escaped from the Royal Keep in, for the robes that were gifted to them by House Corrino before their departure from Steich Tabr. Or they would have done had someone not swapped them out for something just as nondescript. Still, whomever their mysterious benefactor had been, they had made sure that the new robes were of Fremen manufacture, unlike the off-world Corrino robes; they had chosen well.
Ghanima's fears haunted her like a note plucked from a baliset, even though she buried them deep inside. However, she was with Leto and they were away from the subtle terrors of Arrakeen. It was a beginning.
Here the dangers that faced them were known and easier to avoid than the ones found in the Royal Keep. Those tended to be wrapped in a pleasant guise but sought to twist them to their own dark ends.
The mystery of Jacarutu was before them and, she hoped, the cessation of Leto's visions. The knowledge of such things made her fearful for her brother and for his sanity. Such things did not bring enlightenment, only entrapment. They had seen how such things had started with their Aunt; she could not bear to lose him that way as well.
Ghanima wanted to speak of her fears with Leto. To tell of their grandmother's fears for him, that she too feared that they had lost their aunt to Abomination. To tell him that she knew he would not succumb as Alia had; that he was stronger than that. Not just because he had her at his side, as always but she just knew.
If he would repay her faith in him by speaking of the matters that he withheld from her, then all the better.
Yet, in the open bled, even words cost water, so she kept her words and her fears to herself.
* * *
The second moon was high in the clear, moisture less night sky as the worm they were riding approached Jacurutu Sietch. With whispered words of thanks, Ghanima jumped down, followed by Leto a moment later.
Having run far enough from the wake of the worm, she waited for her brother. With the familiar weight of his hand in hers, they walked towards the deserted edifice. They discussed, during the twenty-thumper ride from Tabr, whether to wait until sun up to explore this enigma or to begin with night on their side.
Even though the place was shunned by all right-thinking Fremen, not all of those who lived on Arrakis could be called that. As such, it was decided to seek answers straight away; there would be time to rest and reflect later.
As they stepped onto the sietch proper, Leto drew her into the shade of an outcropping. All that could be heard around them was the wind blowing. It was unnerving to her. Memories of other lives whispered to her the horror stories that had earned Jacurutu it's taboo status.
"I am glad that you are with me, Ghani," he murmured against her ear as he held her close as they embraced. "Even though I should have sent you away. This is my burden to bear."
Ghani pushed him away with a thump to the shoulder. Her frustration and bitterness with him over his behaviour over the last few weeks poured out like so much spilled spice. She may not have his gift/curse for prophesy but she could tell when something was not right. He was her brother, the other half of her.
"Leto, you are my brother." she childed, reining in her desire to shake him. "Whatever you feel you face-" she had her suspicions as to what he had been hiding from her all this time may entail. She was sure that the first steps along the Golden Path would be taken here. "You do not face it alone." She sighed softly. "Whatever path you take, there is surely room for another on it."
"You are fearful." Leto stated, rubbing his shoulder and grimacing. As well he should, Ghani thought not unkindly, she had not pulled her punches.
"Fear is the mind killer," she quoted, looking out to the open bled and away from him. The words brought no comfort to her in that moment.
"I will face my fear and allow it to pass through me," Leto continued quietly, "And only I-" he reached out for her hand. "We will remain," She took it, turning back towards him with a small smile as he took the other as well, drawing her close enough for their foreheads to touch.
For a fleeting moment, Ghanima wished that she could stay like that forever, holding onto her brother and enjoying the peace that such closeness gave. She could not; they had a mystery to solve and a god to destroy.
* * *
The sietch corridors, which would have been filled with the hustle and bustle of a community living, were echoingly empty as Leto and Ghanima walked through them. A step ahead of her, she could see Leto trail his hand against the carved stone pillars as he walked along. He moved with a sureness that spoke to her of his having seen all of this in his visions.
She was about to ask if he had seen her in his visions when the corridors opened up into a chamber, lit by shafts of moonlight. With a gentle touch laid on his arm, Ghanima moved forward further into the chamber. As she did so, she could hear the familiar sounds of-
"Sandtrout," Leto murmured as they approached the large sand pits that covered the floor, he stood on the boulders that penned the creatures in. Ghanima stared at them, memories of such pits in other sietches floated like mythical clouds in the back of her mind, ready for her to examine. It was all well and good but why were these still here? Surely they would have returned to the desert before now, or outgrown the pens or-? Unless they were not alone as they had been led to believe...
Ghani was about to ask when a voice without a body called out; taunting them over their knowledge of desert farming of all things. As her hand went to the crysknife at her waist, Ghani would have laughed if the situation had not been so dire. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Leto twist and turn, crysknife in hand, searching for any sign of their taunter."That's right, young Atredies," the voice continued, "We have your waters in our cup!"
Ghanima was pondering as to the intelligence of their agressor, declaiming as if he was the villain from a lurid melodrama, when she heard the subtle hiss of a dart. It buried itself into the skin of Leto's neck. Quickly followed by another, which landed in the unguarded skin of her throat. It was such a gentle touch, like the bite of a mite, that it barely registered. Until terrible paralysis consumed her as she frantically pushed herself to do something, to move her hand, to call out to Leto, to do something. Nothing happened, her body betrayed her, making her fall gracelessly to the ground. Reaching out to and not touching Leto as darkness claimed her.
* * *
Time passed. How long, Ghanima could not tell. All she could tell that were 'real' were the rock and linens beneath her back and the gentle hands and voice of the girl who force fed her spice essence.
Ghanima was real and she would remain herself after everything had passed; she held onto that idea like a drowning man at sea would hold onto a life preserver. A strange analogy for someone who had only ever seen the sea through the eyes of her ancestors but it held true.
Especially since everything else was subsumed by the spice trance.
In those moments, when the trance was at it's deepest, did she feel that she truly understood the future. The Golden Path.
She had an inkling on the flight from Sietch Tabr to Arakeen a few weeks before (or was it a few months now? Time was no meter here) when Shai-Hulud had sent the four worms to greet them. It had been a thing of beauty but with hindsight, it had been more. She could remember Leto's words clearly now - that the balance had been tipped too far the 'wrong' way.
Ghanima found herself standing, in the trance, on the precipice that marked one of the boundaries of Tabr; noted for it's views of the open bled. She had stood there many times, gazing out, most times withe Leto, but other times alone.
The view that greeted her now was unlike any she had seen before; either from her own memories or the memories of the past lives she shared. Where there had been sand and stone was now grass and rivers. It could have been beautiful had it not been for the leviathan carrion of Maker worms scattered around like rocky outcrops, bursting out of the green like the monstrosities that they were.
The wind carried the sound of a voice screaming out in it's - his anger and pain. Ghani closed her eyes, sharing in their grief. Yes, this was a dream brought about by spice overdose but it did not mean that it should not be heeded.
“Is this what will happen or what could happen?” she demanded angrily of the sky.
"There is a need for balance in all things," a feminine voice from behind Ghanima began. She did not turn around, the voice was known and loved but not anothers memory. Those she she had silenced; the fear that they would consume her had passed. The memory was her own; a lesson to be heeded. " Too much is the same as too little." the voice continued. "The problem is knowing when the balance has been struck and keeping it so without allowing for it to become stale."
Ghanima nodded, not taking her eyes from the horror before her. Under her feet she could feel the solidity of rock. A warm hand slid into hers. Soft skinned with long fingers; the telltale calluses left by writing styluses at the tips.
"Leaving such decisions to one is not enough." the voice continued. "The lessons of the past show how corrosive absolute power can be. Checks and balances are needed; even if the other voice is in agreement."
“I understand,” she said quietly, seeing the truth in the speaker's words. The speaker squeezed gently the hand they held, reminding Ghani of when she had done the very same for her a few days (or was it weeks?) before. "No path is so narrow that two cannot walk in the place of one alone." Irulan murmured.
Ghani took a deep breath as she closed her eyes. The fear that had been her constant companion of recent months melted away like dew in the morning sun. She knew her path and she knew that she and only she remained.
* * *
One of the first things that Ghani noticed as she opened her eyes was how *quiet* everything was. The rustle of fabric as she shifted around and her breathing sounded so very loud to her ears.
She pushed herself up onto her elbows, muscles protesting at the movement. A few deep breaths and the lessons 'learned' from her Bene Gesserit ancestors put paid to them. That she ached gave her an understanding as to how long she had been 'lost' in the spice trance. Days, not hours.
Lost no longer.
As Ghani swung her feet off the stone plinth, she scanned her surroundings, searching for information that would aid her. Starting with where her brother was. As she glanced down, taking in the state of the underthings her 'captors' had left to her; where she was able to find clean clothes was also on that list.
The latter took no time at all. Her clothes (and more importantly, her crysknife) were neatly piled up just inside the door of the chamber where she had been lying. The fact that her crysknife was prominently placed on the top of the pile gave her momentary pause. If the madness of the other lives *had* overcome her... would she have taken her own life?
Ghanima shook her head as she sorted through the clothes to find something that was passably wearable. That question was moot. She had faced down her other lives and like fear they had passed, leaving her to remain.
Whomever had disrobed her had not been too gentle with her clothes; cut (mostly) into ribbons. She was thankful that it was only her clothes and nothing else that had taken the brunt of the smugglers - no, water stealers' wrath against hers and her brother's intrusion. She was not in the mood to be merciful. Still, the trousers were (mostly) in one piece and what remained of her cloak could be put to use to cover her modestly until more serviceable clothes could be procured. It was enough.
Once attired, she slid her crysknife into her waistband and set off to explore the caves of Jacarutu Sietch further. Her mission, to discover her brother's whereabouts. And if necessary: ‘release’ him from a fate worst than death.
Walking through the corridors of the Sietch, Ghanima met no one but could feel eyes watching her. She schooled her features to give no indication that she was aware of their scrutiny, simply continued in her exploration.
Or at least she did until she entered the cave where she discovered another plinth, similar to the one she had awoken on earlier. Blankets similar to the ones she had found herself cocooned in, covered its surface. The sensation of being watched was stronger now.
Standing in the middle of the room by the plinth, Ghani tightened her grip on her crysknife minutely, preparing to deal 'comprehensively' with the mysterious 'observer'. Someone trained in the Bene Gesserit arts would see such a movement, but no others. All the better to throw someone off the scent.
Ghanima could not see them but she could sense them moving closer, ever closer to her. So she simply stood, ostensibly looking around, searching out the signs of habitation when-
She moved with lighting speed to pin her 'watcher' under her, over the plinth with her blade at their throat.
"Leto?" She gasped incredulously upon realising that the identity of her 'observer' was none other than her brother. "Is it you?" she asked, stepping away from him, easing her knife away from his throat, but remaining alert to any sign that he was... abomination.
He pushed himself up off the plinth, she had bent him over, keeping his hands open and in front of him. His eyes glowed with spice saturation and something else. Something that Ghani did not wish to put a name to lest she was mistaken. Hope clouded judgement.
Leto was dressed in a pair of trousers and nothing else. Even within the confines of the Sietch, such attire was 'questionable' at best. That their captors had a rather 'strange' sense of humor was the only answer she could discern. Not that she was complaining, he was a handsome man.
"It is I, Ghanima," he intoned, a smile dancing at his lips, "And I alone."
Her knife did not waver. She wanted to be sure, more than anything but how could she be? It could still be a delusion on her part but then she was sure that she was awake and no longer in the grip of the spice trance-
"If you think your eyes deceive you, sister, use your other senses," he entreated, standing perfectly still.
Seeing the truth in his words, Ghani slowly reached out to touch the being who may or may not be her brother.
Her hand met the solid flesh of his shoulder. Skin that that was as familiar as her own was warm to her touch. Warm and very, very real. For a moment, she stared transfixed at her hand as it splayed over his skin, moving down over his chest until-
He shifted away from her, laughing. "Ghanima!" he exclaimed, shooting her a fond look. Only she and Irulan knew that Leto was ticklish, it was all the evidence she needed.
Ghani grinned as she threw her arms around him. There was no doubt in her mind, that this was her Leto. Her worries evaporated like early morning dew as she felt his arms go around her in reply, burying his face in her hair as she rested her cheek on his shoulder.
Laughter bubbled through her as they parted, not breaking the embrace. Leto began to laugh a heartbeat after she did; the sound like music to her ears after and water to her soul after so very, very long without it.
The only thing that silenced their laughter was kissing. Ghani could not know who kissed who first, but she did not want it to end, not if she could help it.
Boldly, she stepped forward, pressing Leto back; he moved willingly, giving and taking kisses, until his back met the stone of the plinth. The action made him break away, an action that left Ghani pouting as she reached up to card her fingers through his hair.
"Ghani, I cannot ask this of you." He murmured as he cradled her cheek.
Turning her head slightly to plant a kiss on the heel of his hand, Ghani weighed his words. Whether he meant walking the Golden Path with him or welcoming this subtle change in their love for each other, she did not know. What she did know was that she had made her decision and no one, not even him, could sway her away from it.
"Then do not, Leto,." she stated calmly as she moved her hands to circle around his waist. "I feared in the past, but I have faced them down. I want this."
Her words had the effect Ghanima was hoping for as Leto's features broke into a brilliant smile.
"You are sure?" he asked, his hand moving to her shoulders.
"Yes!" she exclaimed, leaning forward to kiss him again; Leto met the kiss with fervour.
"Then be with me for all time," he asked. "There is one final act, the one that will set our feet on the Golden Path,"
Knowing that actions would speak louder than words, Ghanima nodded as she gave him her hand to lead on.
Without words but holding hands, they traced a path from that room, back to the cave where they had discovered the sandtrout days/weeks before.
Leto moved ahead of Ghani as if hypnotised by the hiss and shift of sand made by the movement of the little makers. In that moment, everything became clear to her. These poor creatures were meant to be shipped off world in a vain effort to try to start the spice cycle on another planet. Only to perish before even reaching maturity.
"The Golden Path will lead to a better life for all." she stated as she watched her brother kneel before the trap and sink his hand into the sand. Quickly she knelt beside him as he pulled his hand out with a grimace.
Ghani watched wide-eyed as the Little Makers inched up his arm to slowly melt into his flesh. She didn't even pause to think about her actions, when she reached out to reverently touch the one of the tiny creatures, sliding over her beloved brother's skin. The touch was enough for the creature to sublimate into her own flesh.
At first, Ghanima concentrated on the physical sensation with a surprised gasp. For someone with the knowledge of hundreds of lives at her beck and call, it was unlike anything either she or anyone else had experienced. It was strange and wonderful and frightening all at the same time.
The only sign that anything at all had happened was the small patch of scales that had suddenly appeared on the back of her hand. Mesmerised, she stared at it for a few moments before human fingers trailed over it, drawing her attention away.
With a huff of a laugh, she looked up into her brother’s eyes. “Never alone,” he murmured as he pulled her close to him; she went willingly, wrapping her arms around him. There would be changes, his more pronounced than hers, of that she was sure, but then what they endeavoured demanded such things.
* * *
The conversation that Ghanima had been dreading ambushed her as they basked on the crest of a sand dune in the centre of the bled in the mid-morning sun.
Leto chose his moment well. She was lying with her eyes closed, her hand trailing up and down the delicate patterning of maker scales that adorned her brother’s arm when he asked.
“So what was the deciding argument for you to follow the Golden Path with me?” he asked lazily, as he draped said arm over her, curling up beside her, the same way as they had when they were very young.
Sighing, Ghanima cracked an eye open to stare at her brother. “If you must know,” she began with an air of long sufferance, “It was something that Great Grandmother Mohiam said to Father when she visited Caladan to test him with the gom jabbar.”
Silence followed her words as Leto accessed the memories of his past lives to uncover the meaning in them. It gave Ghani enough time to push herself into a sitting position and brush the sand out of her bandeau.
“Which one was that - the one about learning the world’s language or something else?” he asked, a small frown marring his features.
“The one about laying the best coffee hearth to attract the best men,” she replied, looking at her brother through her lashes. She loved him but also understood him.
A pause, “I’m not quite sure I understand,” he noted as he sat up beside her, mirroring her seat.
“Leto... you will be a great emperor; you will rule wisely for a long, long time. I know this, but you also need someone to... balance you.” Ghani hesitantly explained, grasping for the words to phrase what she felt so intrinsically.
“That person would be you.” Leto stated, matter of fact.
“Yes.” Ghani replied with a small smile at her brother. She reached out to take his hand into hers.
“I love you but if we are to truly to break free from the tyranny of our Father’s legacy, we need to try a completely different approach. Unlearn the lessons of ruling that have been handed down by Father and Aunt Alia. To rule with balance and not let our power be twisted by machinations of others.”
For a short while, only the whisper of the breeze curling over the sand could be heard as Leto pondered her words. Ghani stilled herself, pondering the possible paths that lay ahead of them when she felt arms wrap around her and a kiss on her cheek.
“Thank you,” Leto whispered against her cheek. “Although, you will not be alone in your task for the foreseeable,”
Ghani shifted her weight away from him a moment to see him better. “You have seen someone?” she asked skeptically. It was always on the cards that she would marry. She had cherished a (vain) hope that she would at least have *some* say in the matter. After all, she was the sister to the future emperor of the known universe; a powerful bargaining chip in someones favour. She had always hoped it was hers.
She trailed her fingers over the small patch of Maker scales that adorned the back of her hand. “Although I, like you have been transformed, somethings remain the same.” she murmured.
“I know, I have seen it,” Leto replied “And I look forward to meeting them.”
Ghani nodded before leaning in to kiss him. Whoever they were, they would accept what she had with her brother or else live a life alone. Somehow, she knew it would not come to that.
* * *
Meeting her father, the man, not the myth or the memory-self, was not as Ghanima had expected. She, like Leto, had her suspicions that the Preacher was, in truth, their father. Yet the reality was very different from what was hoped for.
Paul Muad'Dib was not a god or a duke - just a man who had made so many mistakes. Ones that she and Leto would spend a very, very long time righting. That was not what cut her the most; it was realising that this blind, bitter man loved her and Leto more than his own life. And that she loved him just as deeply.
With Gurney standing at the entrance of the cave, their erstwhile 'hosts' elsewhere in the camp; they had a chance to speak freely, to plan how to set right what was made wrong by others who did not realise the importance of such things.
"This is not what I would have wanted for you," Paul muttered as they spoke of other things. "The Golden Path is dangerous enough for one to walk but two-"
"Complicates matters, changes them." Leto noted quietly, reaching out for Ghanima's hand; she took his into her own happily, squeezing it as she did so. "It is the best way,"
"Father, I chose to walk this path," Ghanima stated, voice clear and strong. "I will not let fear dictate what I can and cannot do." Enlightenment came to her; "We have passed the trials of Abomination; who we are and-" she glanced over at her brother, pulling him ever closer to her. Leto went willingly, bringing their entwined hands up to cradle to his chest. "How we live our lives are our decisions to make." They were of age now, free to love who and where they would.
Paul bowed his head, "I... understand but it still does not stop me from regretting not being there to watch you grow, to be there to teach you the ways of the Fremen and the ways of politics.” His voice broke on the words, “To give you all the tools to succeed where I failed.”
Ghani could take no more, letting go of her brother’s hand, she knelt before her father, taking his hands into hers. “Either by action or inaction, you did your best for us,” She stated, thinking of Irulan for a moment; love and pity mingling together; wondering if there was a way that she could advise her that she and Leto were well, knowing she’d be sick with worry... “We cannot ask for more than that.”
Paul raised his head to see her with sightless eyes. “Remember that in the days to come, my daughter.”
If Gurney noticed her tears as they began the twenty thumper worm ride to Sietch Tabr, he did not comment.
* * *
After all the upheavals and changes, Ghanima found herself standing on the precipice that overlooked the open bled that marked the boundary of Sietch Tabr.
This time, it was simply the dawn and not a spice trance dream. Both Leto and Farad’n were still ‘sleeping’ (or at least Farad’n was - Leto was resting with his eyes closed, it amounted to the same thing) and she would return to them soon enough.
She had come out here because she wished to see the dawn of the day. A day that would change everyone before it was through.
As the sun rose above the horizon in a blaze of colour, a small something on a nearby rock caught Ghani’s eye. It was the husk of a butterfly, dessicated by the harsh terrain. With a quiet prayer to the maker, she blessed the creature for it’s gift of water and wished it well.
Everything changed in the end because nothing stayed the same.