Muad’Dib won freedom for his people. Duke Paul Atreides seized the Imperial throne. He rewarded his followers greatly, made his control sure in all spheres of influence, and established the foundation of a religious bureaucracy to last a dynasty.
Then he disappeared.
From “Muad’Dib: The Lost Years”, by Princess Irulan
The first certainty Paul had upon becoming aware of the terrible purpose, even before seeing through the Water of Life, when he first faced the image of the faceless hordes under the Atreides banner, was that the Jihad would follow his ghost with even more joy that it would follow him.
When the urgent summons had reached Chani on the south, she’d been seized by a sudden sense of foreboding. Chani had brought Leto with her to the Cave of the Birds; it was, Paul knew, a bit of the latent talent of her people awakening, and it had saved their son’s life.
It was also the fulcrum that broke Paul's resolve. What was one life indeed, however important. His life included.
As he was settling his Empire, Chani and Leto silently left Arakeen.
The Guild’s representatives had radiated smugness, although they'd known better than to show it. They had carried a runaway Emperor, his consort and his heir, along with the treasures of their House, a fortune in spice, and what was left of the family's Atomics, efficient and discreetly. For all their polite self-assuredness, they were aware of the destruction Muad’ Dib’s word could unleash on them.
When Paul stepped down from the landing platform, the water in the air shook him to the core, memories of Caladan filling him. Even in the place they’d settle, where the temperature was closest to what they were used to, the planet was kind, of temperate climates and free-growing vegetation. Chani was wary, the alien chemistry suspicious to her Fremen mind. Leto, however, only looked around with curious eyes, and reached after a bird.
It happened a month after they’d settled. Their house was made of red rock, low, with a garden (a garden!), and low, gnarled trees. It was furnished similarly to their old home in the Sietch, comfortable in its simplicity, with tapestries in hiding the walls and carpets and pillows on the floor. But they were still getting used to the sounds, the smells, the overwhelming amount of green.
So when an explosion rattled their windows, and the sky flashed white, Chani rushed to the door, prepared for violence - then stopped, staring in awe.
Sheets and sheets of water, a constant stream, was falling from the sky heavier than a landslide. Big fat drops were hitting the ground in repeating patterns, making a constant white sound both alien and soothing.
Softly, gingerly, Chani crossed the threshold. Her bare feet were light on the floor, like she was expecting the ground to give in under her, or a sand trap to boom. She stepped unto the rain.
Water on her arms, her feet, her hair. She tilted her head upwards, and water filled her nostrils and mouth - she choked, couldn't breathe. Coughing, she shook her head; her skin felt distended, wrinkled like a date.
Paul stepped out into the garden with Leto in his arms. Chani turned around to him, and the joy and awe of her face was reason enough. Usul kissed his desert bride in the rain, while their son gurgled happily, trying to catch the falling drops.
Most people on the planet were the remains of disgraced or defeated Houses, fugitives, survivors of past wars, all trying to live in peace. Strangely, Paul found the old rivalries didn't mean much in this place of exile. Each house had enough to survive - resources lasted longer when not used up on servants and assassins - and enough to share.
So instead of plotting, there were gatherings and quiet parties. In one of them, Paul found himself with a baliset in his hand.
He hadn’t played in so long. He plucked the strings experimentally, each chord holding a memory like strings of shigawire, until he raised her eyes to find an audience had formed.
He picked a love song, the same one he’s played for Chani a lifetime ago, half-drunk in time and pain and blood. Her voice joined his, and as they finished people cheered. It soon became part of their routine.
(It didn’t escape Paul’s attention that he was, too, still in the arena, making himself a target for his people’s amusement. But he was also aware that none of his children would be able to play, even passably, the instrument, and memories of futures that weren’t made him count this a victory.)
A few short years into their exile, Chani bore him twins.
They were healthy, fussy babies, with inquisitive eyes and water rich bodies. They named them Liet (her father, the man to whom he'd once pledged his Atreides loyalty, and his life with it) and Ghanima (the war spoil he hadn't been able to see, a genetic accident, naturally shielded from prescience).
Rumours flew about the young couple with spice eyes, but it was an unspoken rule that questions about the past were not welcome, so they praised his music and otherwise left them alone.
However, Paul could still See. The Jihad, the bloodthirsty hordes under the green flag of the Atreides, was swirling around their fragile sanctuary. He had visions of hands, searching, clawing, looking to capture him, to lift him up or tear him apart, as any of those would do as well as the other. His thoughts were flotsam, swirling in the seas of his vision.
Sometimes, he thought of his life as an exile. Most times, it felt like an escape.
Oh, hear the story of the Mahdi in exile.
He whose all-knowing vision showed the pain that was to come.
Whose love for his people was so great his soul bled with their pain
and drowned out the world
Prologue to the Hymn of the Dark Path
Leto Atreides II could have never been mistaken as anyone other than his father’s son. Even with his Fremen ancestors' wiry frame, he had the Atreides’ black hair and green eyes, Paul’s aquiline nose, his mother’s full lips.
He had been trained by both mother and father, Bene Gesserit training added to his Fremen discipline; it may have been strange, but neither of them had to discuss it. Their child would not be denied his inheritance. He was skilled with the blade, honorable and earnest but often impetuous, and as was was to be expected (damn those witches to the depths of hell), he displayed signs of prescience very young.
Liet and Ghanima, on the other hand, were a cipher, and happily so. Born with their mother’s red hair and elvish features, their bodies were full of water, their statures short, their smiles mischievous. Quiet and very close, they grew fast, learned quickly, and were in awe of their big brother. Although they were both prescient, this didn't make itself evident until they were older.
All in all, the Atreides' heirs were a strange contradiction. Leto, born in the erg Habbanya and raised in the ways of the desert, was so much like his grandfather, Atreides to the core. The twins, born in an alien planet, to the soft comforts of an exiled Great House, were growing to be decidedly Fremen.
But the forces of the universe were not to be deterred, and without Muad’Dib’s fragile hold, the Jihad spiraled out of control, razing everything in its path.
Paul saw it before it started, as did his children. At eighteen and just short of fifteen, their limited prescience had become more focused, a tool they could wield.
An incursion on Tupile.
Of course, the armies did not know where they were heading; Tupile’s location had been a secret even the Emperor wasn’t privy to. But all of their oracles pointed the same way; an attack, a tower of fire, their (only, new, other) home, gone.
Of course they would fight, said the children. There was nothing to it.
After it was over, Leto faced his father. He had decided to go back, to reclaim his title as the Emperor’s heir, and Liet and Ghani refused to stay behind.
The whole thing was Leto’s plan, damn the cunning boy.
They all knew why Muad'Dib couldn't return. They'd been educated in the traps of religious rule, and had seen the results with their own eyes, heard the screams and choked on the smoke of their father's deification. But them, with their limited prescience and hidden training, they could play the mortal saplings of the world tree, run the Empire on this world only.
On Arrakis, the besieged center of the universe, Irulan had stayed as Empress, with the support of Alia, religious leader of Muad'Dib's cult. It had been an unlikely partnership, and one fraught with danger - mostly from each other - but both were aware that it was the only way for them to survive. Alia knew what his brother had done, yet she couldn’t find him, or call to him. So she helped spread among the Fedaykin the myth that Paul had stepped onto the alam al-mithal, as he had done before. They were eager to believe her.
As for Irulan, it had been only mildly difficult to reach her; after that, convincing her of their plan was easy. Despite her trying, Irulan hadn't borne children, and it was plain to Leto’s trained perception that she was in love with his father, and always had been.
She agreed to take in Leto as her own, claiming him to be a child her and Paul, one that had been kept hidden until the time was right for him to take over, and to abdicate to him once the court had become used to the change. She remained as Queen Mother, and she much preferred that to be cast out into the desert, which Leto made clear was her other chioce. It was the best offer Irulan was going to have, but it also played right into her fantasies - and Leto looked exactly like Paul. It was hard to deny him.
Leto and Ghani kept to the shadows, working with the Fremen (or what was left of them). Stilgar recognized them at once, of course, being as they were the perfect image of Chani.
As it all happened, a Guild transport left two solitary Fremen back on the planet.
(As the years had gone by, his sister had screamed at him though the void, carving words on the edges of Time he was sure she didn't mean to. He - they- couldn't leave her to be consumed. They returned to save her from the monster in her own mind.)
On the Temple of Alia, a blind Fremen appeared, who denounced Muad'Dib's religion, preached heresies on the priests' faces, talked to Saint Alia as if he could see her.
Returning to Arrakis slotted Paul's life back into the groove of the Prophecy. Of all the possible paths, he couldn't but choose the one that would draw the pain away from his loved ones, from his people, even if he had to carry it all himself. But his children were not totally prescient; they had a chance to shape their own future.
They could feel the forces gathering around them. The places of power didn't know what to do with this unexpected Atreides, the confident, charismatic, human Emperor with eyes of spice who claimed to rule from the old laws and neither accepted nor denied his father's ministry, and the two Fremen who advised him, as hard to get a hold on as dust. Conspiracies were being built, traps were closing up around them. Liet and Ghani were not optimistic about their odds. They were hardly ever optimistic about anything.
If he was honest with himself, neither was Leto, but he rather liked being able to choose.
The Lisan-Al-Gaib faced pain without name and sorrow without end.
His spirit-ruh ran into the world where all difference ceases
He sought a path out of our suffering
Offered himself up for the good of his people
And his love was the strength of his children
And the shade of our path
Closing of the Hymn of the Dark Path