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Dune: Paul’s Women, Chapter 13 (Book II)

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Paul’s Atreides Women

Book Two: MUAD’DIB

Chapter 13

The concept of progress acts as a protective mechanism to shield us from the terrors of the future.

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

 

On his seventeenth birthday, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen killed his one hundredth slave-gladiator in the family games. Visiting observers from the Imperial Court - Count and Lady Fenring – were on the Harkonnen homeworld of Giedi Prime for the event, invited to sit that afternoon with the immediate family in the golden box above the triangular arena.

In honor of the na-Baron’s nativity and to remind all Harkonnens and subjects that Feyd-Rautha was heir-designate, it was holiday on Giedi Prime. The old Baron had decreed a meridian-to-meridian rest from labors, and effort had been spent in the family city of Harko to create the illusion of gaiety: banners flew from buildings, new paint had been splashed on the walls along Court Way.

But off the main way, Count Fenring and his lady noted the rubbish heaps, the scabrous brown walls reflected in the dark puddles of the streets, and the furtive scurrying of the people.

In the Baron’s blue-walled keep, there was fearful perfection, but the Count and his lady saw the price being paid-guards everywhere and weapons with that special sheen that told a trained eye they were in regular use. There were checkpoints for routine passage from area to area even within the keep. The servants revealed their military training in the way they walked, in the set of their shoulders... in the way their eyes watched and watched and watched.

"The pressure’s on," the Count hummed to his lady in their secret language. "The Baron is just beginning to see the price he really paid to rid himself of the Duke Leto."

"Sometime I must recount for you the legend of the phoenix," she said.

They were in the reception hall of the keep waiting to go to the family games. It was not a large hall– perhaps forty meters long and half that in width–but false pillars along the sides had been shaped with an abrupt taper, and the ceiling had a subtle arch, all giving the illusion of much greater space.

"Ah-h-h, here comes the Baron," the Count said.

The Baron moved down the length of the hall with that peculiar waddling- glide imparted by the necessities of guiding suspensor-hung weight. His jowls bobbed up and down; the suspensors jiggled and shifted beneath his orange robe. Rings glittered on his hands and opafires shone where they had been woven into the robe.

At the Baron’s elbow walked Feyd-Rautha. His dark hair was dressed in close ringlets that seemed incongruously gay above sullen eyes. He wore a tight- fitting black tunic and snug trousers with a suggestion of bell at the bottom. Soft-soled slippers covered his small feet.

Lady Fenring, noting the young man’s poise and the sure flow of muscles beneath the tunic thought:

Here’s one who won’t let himself go to fat.

The Baron stopped in front of them, took Feyd-Rautha’s arm in a possessive grip, said,

"My nephew, the na-Baron, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen." And, turning his baby-fat face toward Feyd-Rautha, he said, "The Count and Lady Fenring of whom I’ve spoken."

Feyd-Rautha dipped his head with the required courtesy. He stared at the Lady Fenring.

She was golden-haired and willowy, her perfection of figure clothed in a flowing gown of ecru–simple fitness of form without ornament. Gray-green eyes stared back at him.

She had that Bene Gesserit serene repose about her that the young man found subtly disturbing.

"Um-m-m-m-ah-hm-m-m-m," said the Count. He studied Feyd-Rautha. "The, hm-m- m-m, precise young man, ah, my... hm-m-m-m... dear?" The Count glanced at the Baron.

"My dear Baron, you say you’ve spoken of us to this precise young man? What did you say?"

"I told my nephew of the great esteem our Emperor holds for you. Count Fenring," the Baron said. And he thought: Mark him well, Feyd! A killer with the manners of a rabbit–this is the most dangerous kind.

"Of course!" said the Count, and he smiled at his lady.

Feyd-Rautha found the man’s actions and words almost insulting. They stopped just short of something overt that would require notice. The young man focused his attention on the Count: a small man, weak-looking. The face was weaselish with overlarge dark eyes. There was gray at the temples.

And his movements–he moved a hand or turned his head one way, then he spoke another way. It was difficult to follow.

"Um-m-m-m-m-ah-h-h-hm-m-m, you come upon such, mm-m-m, preciseness so rarely," the Count said, addressing the Baron’s shoulder. "I... ah, congratulate you on the hm-m-m perfection of your ah-h-h heir. In the light of the hm-m-m elder, one might say."

"You are too kind," the Baron said. He bowed, but Feyd-Rautha noted that his uncle’s eyes did not agree with the courtesy.

"When you’re mm-m-m ironic, that ah-h-h suggests you’re hm-m-m-m thinking deep thoughts," the Count said.

There he goes again, Feyd-Rautha thought. It sounds like he’s being insulting, but there’s nothing you can call out for satisfaction.

Listening to the man gave Feyd-Rautha the feeling his head was being pushed through mush... um-m-m-ah-h-h-hm-m-m-m! Feyd-Rautha turned his attention back to the Lady Fenring.

"We’re ah-h-h taking up too much of this young man’s time," she said. "I understand he’s to appear in the arena today."

By the houris of the Imperial hareem, she’s a lovely one! Feyd-Rautha thought. He said:

"I shall make a kill for you this day, my Lady. I shall make the dedication in the arena, with your permission."

She returned his stare serenely, but her voice carried whiplash as she said: "You do not have my permission."

"Feyd!" the Baron said. And he thought: That imp! Does he want this deadly Count to call him out?

But the Count only smiled and said: "Hm-m-m-m-um-m-m."

"You really must be getting ready for the arena, Feyd," the Baron said. "You must be rested and not take any foolish risks."

Feyd-Rautha bowed, his face dark with resentment. "I’m sure everything will be as you wish, Uncle."

He nodded to Count Fenring. "Sir." To the lady: "My Lady." And he turned, strode out of the hall, barely glancing at the knot of Families Minor near the double doors.

"He’s so young," the Baron sighed.

"Um-m-m-m-ah indeed hmmm," the Count said.

And the Lady Fenring thought: Can that be the young man the Reverend Mother meant? Is that a bloodline we must preserve? For a moment she had difficulty to believe. Could the Reverend Mother be wrong?

"We’ve more than an hour before going to the arena," the Baron sad. "Perhaps we could have our little talk now, Count Fenring." He tipped his gross head to the right. "There’s a considerable amount of progress to be discussed."

And the Baron thought; Let us see now how the Emperors errand boy gets across whatever message he carries without ever being so crass as to speak it right out.

The Count spoke to his lady: "Um-m-m-m-ah-h-h-hm-m-m, you mm-m will ah-h-h excuse us, my dear?"

"Each day, some time each hour, brings change," she said. "Mm-m-m-m." And she smiled sweetly at the Baron before turning away. Her long skirts swished and she walked with a straight-backed regal stride toward the double doors at the end of the hall.

The Baron noted how all conversation among the Houses Minor there stopped at her approach, how the eyes followed her. Bene Gesserit! the Baron thought. The universe would be better rid of them all!

"There’s a cone of silence between two of the pillars over here on our left," the Baron said.

"We can talk there without fear of being overheard." He led the way with his waddling gait into the sound-deadening field, feeling the noises of the keep become dull and distant.

The Count moved up beside the Baron, and they turned, facing the wall so their lips could not be read.

"We’re not satisfied with the way you ordered the Sardaukar off Arrakis," the Count said.

Straight talk! The Baron thought.

"The Sardaukar could not stay longer without risking that others would find out how the Emperor helped me," the Baron said.

"But your nephew Rabban does not appear to be pressing strongly enough toward a solution of the Fremen problem."

"What does the Emperor wish?" the Baron asked. "There cannot be more than a handful of Fremen left on Arrakis. The southern desert is uninhabitable. The northern desert is swept regularly by our patrols."

"Who says the southern desert is uninhabitable?"

"Your own planetologist said it, my dear Count."

"But Doctor Kynes is dead."

"Ah, yes... unfortunate, that."

"We’ve word from an overflight across the southern reaches," the Count said. "There’s evidence of plant life."

"Has the Guild then agreed to a watch from space?"

"You know better than that, Baron. The Emperor cannot legally post a watch on Arrakis."

"And I cannot afford it," the Baron said. "Who made this overflight?"

"A... smuggler."

"Someone has lied to you, Count," the Baron said. "Smugglers cannot navigate, the southern reaches any better than can Rabban’s men. Storms, sand- static, and all that, you know.

Navigation markers are knocked out faster than they can be installed."

"We’ll discuss various types of static another time," the Count said.

Ah-h-h-h, the Baron thought. "Have you found some mistake in my accounting then?" he demanded.

"When you imagine mistakes there can be no self-defense," the Count said.

He’s deliberately trying to arouse my anger, the Baron thought. He took two deep breaths to calm himself. He could smell his own sweat, and the harness of the suspensors beneath his robe felt suddenly itchy and galling.

"The Emperor cannot be unhappy about the death of the concubine and the boy," the Baron said.

"They fled into the desert. There was a storm."

"Yes, there were so many convenient accidents," the Count agreed

"I do not like your tone, Count," the Baron said.

"Anger is one thing, violence another," the Count said. "Let me caution you: Should an unfortunate accident occur to me here the Great Houses all would learn what you did on Arrakis. They’ve long suspected how you do business."

"The only recent business I can recall," the Baron said, "was transportation of several legions of Sardaukar to Arrakis."

"You think you could hold that over the Emperor’s head?"

"I wouldn’t think of it!"

The Count smiled. "Sardaukar commanders could be found who’d confess they acted without orders because they wanted a battle with your Fremen scum."

"Many might doubt such a confession," the Baron said, but the threat staggered him.

Are Sardaukar truly that disciplined? he wondered.

"The Emperor does wish to audit your books," the Count said.

"Any time."

"You... ah... have no objections?"

"None. My CHOAM Company directorship will bear the closest scrutiny." And he thought: Let him bring a false accusation against me and have it exposed. I shall stand there, Promethean, saying:

"Behold me, I am wronged. " Then let him bring any other accusation against me, even a true one.

The Great Houses will not believe a second attack from an accuser once proved wrong.

"No doubt your books will bear the closest scrutiny," the Count muttered.

"Why is the Emperor so interested in exterminating the Fremen?" the Baron asked.

"You wish the subject to be changed, eh?" The Count shrugged. "It is the Sardaukar who wish it, not the Emperor. They needed practice in killing... and they hate to see a task left undone."

Does he think to frighten me by reminding me that he is supported by bloodthirsty killers? the Baron wondered.

"A certain amount of killing has always been an arm of business," the Baron said, "but a line has to be drawn somewhere. Someone must be left to work the spice."

The Count emitted a short, barking laugh. "You think you can harness the Fremen?"

"There never were enough of them for that," the Baron said. "But the killing has made the rest of my population uneasy. It’s reaching the point where I’m considering another solution to the Arrakeen problem, my dear Fenring. And I must confess the Emperor deserves credit for the inspiration."

"Ah-h-h?"

"You see, Count, I have the Emperor’s prison planet, Salusa Secundus, to inspire me."

The Count stared at him with glittering intensity. "What possible connection is there between Arrakis and Salusa Secundus?"

The Baron felt the alertness in Fenring’s eyes, said: "No connection yet."

"Yet?"

"You must admit it’d be a way to develop a substantial work force on Arrakis – use the place as a prison planet."

"You anticipate an increase in prisoners?"

"There has been unrest," the Baron admitted. "I’ve had to squeeze rather severely, Fenring.

After all, you know the price I paid that damnable Guild to transport our mutual force to Arrakis.

That money has to come from somewhere."

"I suggest you not use Arrakis as a prison planet without the Emperor ’s permission, Baron."

"Of course not," the Baron said, and he wondered at the sudden chill in Fenring’s voice.

"Another matter," the Count said. "We learn that Duke Leto’s Mentat, Thufir Hawat, is not dead but in your employ."

"I could not bring myself to waste him," the Baron said.

"You lied to our Sardaukar commander when you said Hawat was dead."

"Only a white lie, my dear Count. I hadn’t the stomach for a long argument with the man."

"Was Hawat the real traitor?"

"Oh, goodness, no! It was the false doctor." The Baron wiped at perspiration on his neck.

"You must understand, Fenring, I was without a Mentat. You know that. I’ve never been without a Mentat. It was most unsettling."

"How could you get Hawat to shift allegiance?"

"His Duke was dead." The Baron forced a smile. "There’s nothing to fear from Hawat, my dear Count.

The Mentat’s flesh has been impregnated with a latent poison. We administer an antidote in his meals.

Without the antidote, the poison is triggered–he’d die in a few days."

"Withdraw the antidote," the Count said.

"But he’s useful!"

"And he knows too many things no living man should know."

"You said the Emperor doesn’t fear exposure."

"Don’t play games with me, Baron!"

"When I see such an order above the Imperial seal I’ll obey it," the Baron said. "But I’ll not submit to your whim."

"You think it whim?"

"What else can it be? The Emperor has obligations to me, too, Fenring. I rid him of the troublesome Duke."

"With the help of a few Sardaukar."

"Where else would the Emperor have found a House to provide the disguising uniforms to hide his hand in this matter?"

"He has asked himself the same question, Baron, but with a slightly different emphasis."

The Baron studied Fenring, noting the stiffness of jaw muscles, the careful control. "Ah-h-h, now," the Baron said. "I hope the Emperor doesn’t believe he can move against me in total secrecy."

"He hopes it won’t become necessary."

"The Emperor cannot believe I threaten him!" The Baron permitted anger and grief to edge his voice, thinking: Let him wrong me in that! I could place myself on the throne while still beating my breast over how I’d been wronged.

The Count’s voice went dry and remote as he said: "The Emperor believes what his senses tell him."

"Dare the Emperor charge me with treason before a full Landsraad Council?" And the Baron held his breath with the hope of it.

"The Emperor need dare nothing."

The Baron whirled away in his suspensors to hide his expression. It could happen in my lifetime! He thought. Emperor! Let him wrong me! Then–the bribes and coercion, the rallying of the Great Houses: they’d flock to my banner like peasants running for shelter. The thing they fear above all else is the Emperor’s Sardaukar loosed upon them one House at a time.

"It’s the Emperor’s sincere hope he’ll never have to charge you with treason," the Count said.

The Baron found it difficult to keep irony out of his voice and permit only the expression of hurt, but he managed. "I’ve been a most loyal subject. These words hurt me beyond my capacity to express."

"Um-m-m-m-ah-hm-m-m," said the Count.

The Baron kept his back to the Count, nodding. Presently he said, "It’s time to go to the arena."

"Indeed," said the Count.

They moved out of the cone of silence and, side by side, walked toward the clumps of Houses Minor at the end of the hall. A bell began a slow tolling somewhere in the keep–twenty-minute warning for the arena gathering.

"The Houses Minor wait for you to lead them," the Count said, nodding toward the people they approached.

Double meaning... double meaning, the Baron thought.

He looked up at the new talismans flanking the exit to his hall–the mounted bull’s head and the oil painting of the Old Duke Atreides, the late Duke Leto’s father. They filled the Baron with an odd sense of foreboding, and he wondered what thoughts these talismans had inspired in the Duke Leto as they hung in the halls of Caladan and then on Arrakis – the bravura father and the head of the bull that had killed him.

"Mankind has ah only one mm-m-m science," the Count said as they picked up their parade of followers and emerged from the hall into the waiting room–a narrow space with high windows and floor of patterned white and purple tile.

"And what science is that?" the Baron asked.

"It’s the um-m-m-ah-h science of ah-h-h discontent," the Count said.

The Houses Minor behind them, sheep-faced and responsive, laughed with just the right tone of appreciation, but the sound carried a note of discord as it collided with the sudden blast of motors that came to them when pages threw open the outer doors, revealing the line of ground cars, their guidon pennants whipping in a breeze.

The Baron raised his voice to surmount the sudden noise, said, "I hope you’ll not be discontented with the performance of my nephew today, Count Fenring."

"I ah-h-h am filled um-m-m only with a hm-m-m sense of anticipation, yes," the Count said.

"Always in the ah-h-h process verbal, one um-m-m ah-h-h must consider the ah-h-h office of origin."

The Baron hid his sudden stiffening of surprise by stumbling on the first step down from the exit.

Process verbal! That was a report of a crime against the Imperium!

But the Count chuckled to make it seem a joke, and patted the Baron’s arm.

All the way to the arena, though, the Baron sat back among the armored cushions of his car, casting covert glances at the Count beside him, wondering why the Emperor ’s errand boy had thought it necessary to make that particular kind of joke in front of the Houses Minor. It was obvious that Fenring seldom did anything he felt to be unnecessary, or used two words where one would do, or held himself to a single meaning in a single phrase.

They were seated in the golden box above the triangular arena–horns blaring, the tiers above and around them jammed with a hubbub of people and waving pennants–when the answer came to the Baron.

"My dear Baron," the Count said, leaning close to his ear, "you know, don’t you, that the Emperor has not given official sanction to your choice of heir?"

The Baron felt himself to be within a sudden personal cone of silence produced by his own shock. He stared at Fenring, barely seeing the Count’s lady come through the guards beyond to join the party in the golden box.

"That’s really why I’m here today," the Count said. "The Emperor wishes me to report on whether you’ve chosen a worthy successor. There’s nothing like the arena to expose the true person from beneath the mask, eh?"

"The Emperor promised me free choice of heir!" the Baron grated.

"We shall see," Fenring said, and turned away to greet his lady. She sat down, smiling at the Baron, then giving her attention to the sand floor beneath them where Feyd-Rautha was emerging in giles and tights–the black glove and the long knife in his right hand, the white glove and the short knife in his left hand.

"White for poison, black for purity," the Lady Fenring said. "A curious custom, isn’t it, my love?"

"Um-m-m-m," the Count said.

The greeting cheer lifted from the family galleries, and Feyd-Rautha paused to accept it, looking up and scanning the faces–seeing his cousines and cousins, the demibrothers, the concubines and outfreyn relations. They were so many pink trumpet mouths yammering amidst a flutter of colorful clothing and banners.

It came to Feyd-Rautha then that the packed ranks of faces would look just as avidly at his blood as at that of the slave-gladiator. There was not a doubt of the outcome in this fight, of course. Here was only the form of danger without its substance–yet...

Feyd-Rautha held up his knives to the sun, saluted the three corners of the arena in the ancient manner.

The short knife in white-gloved hand (white, the sign of poison) went first into its sheath. Then the long blade in the black- gloved hand–the pure blade that now was unpure, his secret weapon to turn this day into a purely personal victory: poison on the black blade.

The adjustment of his body shield took only a moment, and he paused to sense the skin-tightening at his forehead assuring him he was properly guarded.

This moment carried its own suspense, and Feyd-Rautha dragged it out with the sure hand of a showman, nodding to his handlers and distracters, checking their equipment with a measuring stare – gyves in place with their prickles sharp and glistening, the barbs and hooks waving with their blue streamers.

Feyd-Rautha signaled the musicians.

The slow march began, sonorous with its ancient pomp, and Feyd-Rautha led his troupe across the arena for obeisance at the foot of his uncle’s box. He caught the ceremonial key as it was thrown.

The music stopped.

Into the abrupt silence, he stepped back two paces, raised the key and shouted. "I dedicate this truth to... " And he paused, knowing his uncle would think: The young fool’s going to dedicate to Lady Fenring after all and cause a ruckus!

"... to my uncle and patron, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen!" Feyd-Rautha shouted. And he was delighted to see his uncle sigh.

The music resumed at the quick-march, and Feyd-Rautha led his men scampering back across the arena to the prudence door that admitted only those wearing the proper identification band.

Feyd-Rautha prided himself that he never used the pru-door and seldom needed distracters. But it was good to know they were available this day–special plans sometimes involved special dangers.

Again, silence settled over the arena.

Feyd-Rautha turned, faced the big red door across from him through which the gladiator would emerge.

The special gladiator.

The plan Thufir Hawat had devised was admirably simple and direct, Feyd- Rautha thought.

The slave would not be drugged–that was the danger. Instead, a key word had been drummed into the man’s unconscious to immobilize his muscles at a critical instant. Feyd-Rautha rolled the vital word in his mind, mouthing it without sound: "Scum!" To the audience, it would appear that an un-drugged slave had been slipped into the arena to kill the na-Baron. And all the carefully arranged evidence would point to the slavemaster.

A low humming arose from the red door ’s servomotors as they were armed for opening.

Feyd-Rautha focused all his awareness on the door. This first moment was the critical one.

The appearance of the gladiator as he emerged told the trained eye much it needed to know.

All gladiators were supposed to be hyped on elacca drug to come out kill-ready in
fighting stance – but you had to watch how they hefted the knife, which way they turned in defense, whether they were actually aware of the audience in the stands. The way a slave cocked his head could give the most vital clue to counter and feint.

The red door slammed open.

Out charged a tall, muscular man with shaved head and darkly pitted eyes. His skin was carrotcolored as it should be from the elacca drug, but Feyd-Rautha knew the color was paint.

The slave wore green leotards and the red belt of a semishield–the belt’s arrow pointing left to indicate the slave’s left side was shielded. He held his knife sword-fashion, cocked slightly outward in the stance of a trained fighter. Slowly, he advanced into the arena, turning his shielded side toward Feyd-Rautha and the group at the pru-door.

"I like not the look of this one, "said one of Feyd-Rautha’s barb-men. "Are you sure he’s drugged, m’Lord?"

"He has the color," Feyd-Rautha said.

"Yet he stands like a fighter," said another helper.

Feyd-Rautha advanced two steps onto the sand, studied this slave.

"What has he done to his arm?" asked one of the distracters.

Feyd-Rautha’s attention went to a bloody scratch on the man’s left forearm, followed the arm down to the hand as it pointed to a design drawn in blood on the left hip of the green leotards–a wet shape there: the formalized outline of a hawk.

Hawk!

Feyd-Rautha looked up into the darkly pitted eyes, saw them glaring at him with uncommon alertness.

It’s one of Duke Leto’s fighting men we took on Arrakis! Feyd-Rautha thought. No simple gladiator this! A chill ran through him, and he wondered if Hawat had another plan for this arena–a feint within a feint within a feint. And only the slavemaster prepared to take the blame!

Feyd-Rautha’s chief handler spoke at his ear: "I like not the look on that one, m’Lord. Let me set a barb or two in his knife arm to try him."

"I’ll set my own barbs," Feyd-Rautha said. He took a pair of the long, hooked shafts from the handler, hefted them, testing the balance. These barbs, too, were supposed to be drugged–but not this time, and the chief handler might die because of that. But it was all part of the plan.

"You’ll come out of this a hero," Hawat had said. "Killed your gladiator man to man and in spite of treachery. The slavemaster will be executed and your man will step into his spot."

Feyd-Rautha advanced another five paces into the arena, playing out the moment, studying the slave.

Already, he knew, the experts in the stands above him were aware that something was wrong. The gladiator had the correct skin color for a drugged man, but he stood his ground and did not tremble.

The aficionados would be whispering among themselves now:

"See how he stands. He should be agitated–attacking or retreating. See how he conserves his strength, how he waits. He should not wait."

Feyd-Rautha felt his own excitement kindle. Let there be treachery in Hawat’s mind, he thought. I can handle this slave. And it’s my long knife that carries the poison this time, not the short one. Even Hawat doesn’t know that.

"Hai, Harkonnen!" the slave called. "Are you prepared to die?"

Deathly stillness gripped the arena. Slaves did not issue the challenge!

Now, Feyd-Rautha had a clear view of the gladiator ’s eyes, saw the cold ferocity of despair in them.

He marked the way the man stood, loose and ready, muscles prepared for victory.

The slave grapevine had carried Hawat’s message to this one: "You’ll get a true chance to kill the na-Baron." That much of the scheme was as they’d planned it, then.

A tight smile crossed Feyd-Rautha’s mouth. He lifted the barbs, seeing success for his plans in the way the gladiator stood.

"Hai! Hai!" the slave challenged, and crept forward two steps.

No one in the galleries can mistake it now, Feyd-Rautha thought.

This slave should have been partly crippled by drug-induced terror. Every movement should have betrayed his inner knowledge that there was no hope for him–he could not win. He should have been filled with the stories of the poisons the na-Baron chose for the blade in his white-gloved hand. The na-Baron never gave quick death; he delighted in demonstrating rare poisons, could stand in the arena pointing out interesting side effects on a writhing victim.

There was fear in the slave, yes – but not terror.

Feyd-Rautha lifted the barbs high, nodded in an almost-greeting.

The gladiator pounced.

His feint and defensive counter were as good as any Feyd-Rautha had ever seen. A timed side blow missed by the barest fraction from severing the tendons of the na-Baron’s left leg.

Feyd-Rautha danced away, leaving a barbed shaft in the slave’s right forearm, the hooks completely buried in flesh where the man could not withdraw them without ripping tendons.

A concerted gasp lifted from the galleries.

The sound filled Feyd-Rautha with elation.

He knew now what his uncle was experiencing, sitting up there with the Fenrings, the observers from the Imperial Court, beside him. There could be no interference with this fight.

The forms must be observed in front of witnesses. And the Baron would interpret the events in the arena only one way–threat to himself.

The slave backed, holding knife in teeth and lashing the barbed shaft to his arm with the pennant. "I do not feel your needle!" he shouted. Again he crept forward, knife ready, left side presented, his body bent backward to give it the greatest surface of protection from the half-shield.

That action, too, didn’t escape the galleries. Sharp cries came from the family boxes. Feyd-Rautha’s handlers were calling out to ask if he needed them.

He waved them back to the pru-door.

I’ll give them a show such as they’ve never had before, Feyd-Rautha thought. No tame killing where they can sit back and admire the style. This’ll be something to take them by the guts and twist them.

When I’m Baron they’ll remember this day and won’t be a one of them can escape fear of me because of this day.

Feyd-Rautha gave ground slowly before the gladiator ’s crablike advance. Arena sand grated underfoot. He heard the slave’s panting, smelled his own sweat and a faint odor of blood on the air.

Steadily, the na-Baron moved backward, turning to the right, his second barb ready. The slave danced sideways. Feyd-Rautha appeared to stumble, heard the scream from the galleries.

Again, the slave pounced.

Gods, what a fighting man! Feyd-Rautha thought as he leaped aside. Only youth’s quickness saved him, but he left the second barb buried in the deltoid muscle of the slave’s right arm.

Shrill cheers rained from the galleries.

They cheer me now, Feyd-Rautha thought. He heard the wildness in the voices just as Hawat had said he would. They’d never cheered a family fighter that way before. And he thought with an edge of grimness on a thing Hawat had told him: "It’s easier to be terrified by an enemy you admire."

Swiftly, Feyd-Rautha retreated to the center of the arena where all could see clearly. He drew his long blade, crouched and waited for the advancing slave.

The man took only the time to lash the second barb tight to his arm, then sped in pursuit.

Let the family see me do this thing, Feyd-Rautha thought. I am their enemy: let them think of me as they see me now.

He drew his short blade.

"I do not fear you, Harkonnen swine," the gladiator said. "Your tortures cannot hurt a dead man. I can be dead on my own blade before a handler lays finger to my flesh. And I’ll have you dead beside me!"

Feyd-Rautha grinned, offered now the long blade, the one with the poison. "Try this one," he said, and feinted with the short blade in his other hand.

The slave shifted knife hands, turned inside both parry and feint to grapple the na-Baron’s short blade–the one in the white gloved hand that tradition said should carry the poison.

"You will die, Harkonnen," the gladiator gasped.

They struggled sideways across the sand. Where Feyd-Rautha’s shield met the slave’s half-shield, a blue glow marked the contact. The air around them filled with ozone from the field.

"Die on your own poison!" the slave grated.

He began forcing the white-gloved hand inward, turning the blade he thought carried the poison.

Let them see this! Feyd-Rautha thought. He brought down the long blade, felt it clang uselessly against the barbed shaft lashed to the slave’s arm.

Feyd-Rautha felt a moment of desperation. He had not thought the barbed shafts would be an advantage for the slave. But they gave the man another shield. And the strength of this gladiator! The short blade was being forced inward inexorably, and Feyd-Rautha focused on the fact that a man could also die on an unpoisoned blade.

"Scum!" Feyd-Rautha gasped.

At the key word, the gladiator ’s muscles obeyed with a momentary slackness. It was enough for Feyd-Rautha. He opened a space between them sufficient for the long blade. Its poisoned tip flicked out, drew a red line down the slave’s chest. There was instant agony in the poison.

The man disengaged himself, staggered backward.

Now, let my dear family watch, Feyd-Rautha thought. Let them think on this slave who tried to turn the knife he thought poisoned and use it against me. Let them wonder how a gladiator could come into this arena ready for such an attempt. And let them always be aware they cannot know for sure which of my hands carries the poison.

Feyd-Rautha stood in silence, watching the slowed motions of the slave. The man moved within a hesitation-awareness. There was an orthographic thing on his face now for every watcher to recognize. The death was written there. The slave knew it had been done to him and he knew how it had been done. The wrong blade had carried the poison.

"You!" the man moaned.

Feyd-Rautha drew back to give death its space. The paralyzing drug in the poison had yet to take full effect, but the man’s slowness told of its advance.

The slave staggered forward as though drawn by a string–one dragging step at a time.

Each step was the only step in his universe. He still clutched his knife, but its point wavered.

"One day... one... of us... will... get... you," he gasped.

A sad little moue contorted his mouth. He sat, sagged, then stiffened and rolled away from Feyd-Rautha, face down.

Feyd-Rautha advanced in the silent arena, put a toe under the gladiator and rolled him onto his back to give the galleries a clear view of the face when the poison began its twisting, wrenching work on the muscles. But the gladiator came over with his own knife, protruding from his breast.

In spite of frustration, there was for Feyd-Rautha a measure of admiration for the effort this slave had managed in overcoming the paralysis to do this thing to himself. With the admiration came the realization that here was truly a thing to fear.

That which makes a man superhuman is terrifying.

As he focused on this thought, Feyd-Rautha became conscious of the eruption of noise from the stands and galleries around him. They were cheering with utter abandon.

Feyd-Rautha turned, looking up at them.

All were cheering except the Baron, who sat with hand to chin in deep contemplation–and the Count and his lady, both of whom were staring down at him, their faces masked by smiles.

Count Fenring turned to his lady, said: "Ah-h-h-um-m-m, a resourceful um-m- m-m young man.

Eh, mm-m-m-ah, my dear?"

"His ah-h-h synaptic responses are very swift," she said.

The Baron looked at her, at the Count, returned his attention to the arena, thinking: If someone could get that close to one of mine! Rage began to replace his fear. I’ll have the slavemaster dead over a slow fire this night... and if this Count and his lady had a hand in it... The conversation in the Baron’s box was remote movement to Feyd-Rautha, the voices drowned in the foot-stamping chant that came now from all around:

"Head! Head! Head! Head!"

The Baron scowled, seeing the way Feyd-Rautha turned to him. Languidly, controlling his rage with difficulty, the Baron waved his hand toward the young man standing in the arena beside the sprawled body of the slave. Give the boy a head. He earned it by exposing the slavemaster.

Feyd-Rautha saw the signal of agreement, thought: They think they honor me. Let them see what I think!

He saw his handlers approaching with a saw-knife to do the honors, waved them back, repeated the gesture as they hesitated. They think they honor me with just a head! he thought.

He bent and crossed the gladiator ’s hands around the protruding knife handle, then removed the knife and placed it in the limp hands.

It was done in an instant, and he straightened, beckoned his handlers. "Bury this slave intact with his knife in his hands," he said. "The man earned it."

In the golden box, Count Fenring leaned close to the Baron, said: "A grand gesture, that – true bravura. Your nephew has style as well as courage."

"He insults the crowd by refusing the head," the Baron muttered.

"Not at all," Lady Fenring said. She turned, looking up at the tiers around them.

And the Baron noted the line of her neck – a truly lovely flowing of muscles – like a young boy’s.

"They like what your nephew did," she said.

As the import of Feyd-Rautha’s gesture penetrated to the most distant seats, as the people saw the handlers carrying off the dead gladiator intact, the Baron watched them and realized she had interpreted the reaction correctly. The people were going wild, beating on each other, screaming and stamping.

The Baron spoke wearily. "I shall have to order a fete. You cannot send people home like this, their energies unspent. They must see that I share their elation." He gave a hand signal to his guard, and a servant above them dipped the Harkonnen orange pennant over the box–once, twice, three times – signal for a fete.

Feyd-Rautha crossed the arena to stand beneath the golden box, his weapons sheathed, arms hanging at his sides. Above the undiminished frenzy of the crowd, he called: "A fete, Uncle?"

The noise began to subside as people saw the conversation and waited.

"In your honor, Feyd!" the Baron called down. And again, he caused the pennant to be dipped in signal.

Across the arena, the pru-barriers had been dropped and young men were leaping down into the arena, racing toward Feyd-Rautha.

"You ordered the pru-shields dropped. Baron?" the Count asked.

"No one will harm the lad," the Baron said. "He’s a hero."

The first of the charging mass reached Feyd-Rautha, lifted him on their shoulders, began parading around the arena.

"He could walk unarmed and unshielded through the poorest quarters of Harko tonight,"
the Baron said. "They’d give him the last of their food and drink just for his company."
The Baron pushed himself from his chair, settled his weight into his suspensors. "You will forgive me, please. There are matters that require my immediate attention. The guard will see you to the keep."

The Count arose, bowed. "Certainly, Baron. We’re looking forward to the fete. I’ve ah-h-h-mm-m-m never seen a Harkonnen fete."

"Yes," the Baron said. "The fete." He turned, was enveloped by guards as he stepped into the private exit from the box.

A guard captain bowed to Count Fenring. "Your orders, my Lord?"

"We will ah-h-h wait for the worst mm-m-m crush to um-m-m pass," the Count said.

"Yes, m’Lord." The man bowed himself back three paces.

Count Fenring faced his lady, spoke again in their personal humming-code tongue:

"You saw it, of course?"

In the same humming tongue, she said: "The lad knew the gladiator wouldn’t be drugged.

There was a moment of fear, yes, but no surprise."

"It was planned," he said. "The entire performance."

"Without a doubt."

"It stinks of Hawat."

"Indeed," she said.

"I demanded earlier that the Baron eliminate Hawat."

"That was an error, my dear."

"I see that now."

"The Harkonnens may have a new Baron ere long."

"If that’s Hawat’s plan."

"That will bear examination, true," she said.

"The young one will be more amenable to control."

"For us... after tonight," she said.

"You don’t anticipate difficulty seducing him, my little brood-mother?"

"No, my love. You saw how he looked at me."

"Yes, and I can see now why we must have that bloodline."

"Indeed, and it’s obvious we must have a hold on him. I’ll plant deep in his deepest self the necessary prana-bindu phrases to bend him."

"We’ll leave as soon as possible – as soon as you’re sure," he said.

She shuddered. "By all means. I should not want to bear a child in this terrible place."

"The things we do in the name of humanity," he said.

"Yours is the easy part," she said.

"There are some ancient prejudices I overcome," he said. "They’re quite primordial, you know."

"My poor dear," she said, and patted his cheek. "You know this is the only way to be sure of saving that bloodline."

He spoke in a dry voice: "I quite understand what we do."

"We won’t fail," she said.

"Guilt starts as a feeling of failure," he reminded.

"There’ll be no guilt," she said. "Hypno-ligation of that Feyd-Rautha’s psyche and his child in my womb – then we go."

"That uncle," he said. "Have you ever seen such distortion?"

"He’s pretty fierce," she said, "but the nephew could well grow to be worse."

"Thanks to that uncle. You know, when you think what this lad could’ve been with some other upbringing – with the Atreides code to guide him, for example."

"It’s sad, "she said.

"Would that we could’ve saved both the Atreides youth and this one. From what I heard of that young Paul – a most admirable lad, good union of breeding and training." He shook his head. "But we shouldn’t waste sorrow over the aristocracy of misfortune."

"There’s a Bene Gesserit saying," she said.

"You have sayings for everything!" he protested.

"You’ll like this one," she said. "It goes: ’Do not count a human dead until you’ve seen his body. And even then you can make a mistake.’ "

 

***

 

Count Fenring was alone in the room. He twisted his hands in a small moment of… despair. On the other side of the door the noise would go one. There was a party there. A fete. An Harkonnen fete. But the party was not for him.

He loved Margot, he was totally and completely in love with her. And he knew that she loved him in her own way. In the Bene Gesserit way. She loved his assassin skills. She loved his mind. But he was not sure if she loved his weakness… and his weakness was loving her.

He knew he could please her. Even being a genetic eunuch he could please any woman… or man… using his mouth, his hands and his body. He was barren but he could have an erection even if he didn’t had sexual gratification… but he could simulate it quite well...

Oh! But he had pleasure; he could admire Margot’s body as well as any other man. He could enjoy touching her, kissing her and lead her to an orgasm. Even if he could not avoid seeing the deception in her eyes when she was aware of his lack of sexual fulfillment.

That is why he requested many times the assistance of a servant, to see her in full pleasure. Naturally he would get rid of the servant after the task, sending him for any obscure corner of his county, or… to nowhere.

And yet, there were those moments, when he knew that Margot was with another man, using her Bene Gesserit abilities, without him, in which he had difficulty to overcome.

Jealousy?... maybe…

Suddenly, he took his decision… he needed to find Feyd-Rautha quarters.

 

***

 

Margot followed a smiling Feyd-Rautha.

She didn’t like his smile, but she buried that aversion and showed her own fake smile as she walked balancing excessively her hips.

The rumors that she had heard begun to be rolled in her mind. The rumors that the Harkonnen had an exclusive predilection for anal sex! She mentally shrugged. The only problem was that she couldn’t get pregnant that way, and since the house still existed they should also be doing the things in a more procreational way. Rumors, just rumors!

His personal quarters were dark.

In the bedroom she could hardly see the details in the huge bed. Black satin curtains covered the walls. She followed him close to the bed, smiled at him and leaned forward exposing her cleavage. He was still smiling.

A movement near the curtains surprised her. A large man with the gladiator’s body emerged between the dark satin. An Harkonnen slave. Even in the dark she could notice that he was nude and fully erect.

“I thought we would be alone!”

“We will have a party”, said Feyd-Rautha.

Suddenly he landed his hand in her shoulder. A seductive smile begun to be formed in her lips, but she didn’t predict his following move.

With the hand in her shoulder he pulled the dress. The fabric was ripped off revealing her breasts. Her full tits sway free.

She didn’t try to resist with her Bene-Gesserit fighting techniques. He wanted rough, so be it… but she didn’t expected his other hand suddenly slapping her face.

Her faced burned from the heat of the and from the humiliation. She felt the blood on her lips. She saw the movement again. The new attack wasn’t a surprise but she decided again not to resist. This would be even worse that she could have imagined.

Then the gladiator approached and pushed her to the bed. Her dress was totally ripped off without any ceremony as well as her panties. With a sudden movement he turned her around, with belly down.

She felt the gladiator's hard penis ripping her apart in the following instant. Her Prana-bindu train allowed her to control partially the pain. She didn’t made a sound or a complain. But she could hear the gladiator’s grunts and Feyd-Rautha laughs. Slowly, while being penetrated, she begun to relax her muscles. Relaxing the sphincter seemed to ease the pain, but she knew that she was bleeding, she felt the hot liquid running between her legs.

Margot slowed down her breath and begun to analyze her new situation and how could she control it. Between the gladiators pushes she felt more weight on her. She tried to look behind just to be slapped again on her face.

She had seen enough. Feyd-Rautha was taking the gladiator from behind. And the gladiator’s pushes gained strength. By his expression she saw that he was also in pain, even if he would probably be used to it.

Margot partially disconnected her brain and let the time work. She needed Feyd’s sperm inside her so she could accomplish successfully her mission. Her future among the Bene Gesserit depended on that. And apparently this was his idea of preliminaries.

At some point she noticed movement. The men were exchanging positions. Feyd penetrated her without contemplations and the gladiator position himself behind him. She disconnected again. The time went on. The men changed positions several times. They were surely under the influence of the spice since they maintained their pace.

“Now, fuck that witch…” she heard the order from Feyd-Rautha.

The gladiator’s penis leaved her anus, slipped trough the blood and penetrated her other hole. She was not expecting it and she was dry. The only lubrification was her own blood. The pain rose again and she had difficulties to control it. For a moment she panicked. She was on her fertile period, and if the gladiator would come in her she would have to mentally blockade his spermatozoon. She couldn’t get pregnant by the gladiator.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a penis near her broken lips. She opened her eyes and saw Feyd-Rautha pushing her penis against her mouth. Behind her the gladiator continued to grunt. She hadn’t noticed that Feyd-Rautha had left the gladiator’s back.

She took it on her mouth. The taste of blood and fezzes almost made her puke. Feyd-Rautha moaned removed his penis and she saw that the gladiator’s mouth took it. By his face expression he also didn’t like the taste.

Feyd-Rautha returned to her and grunted, she felt his penis pulsing in her mouth and a hot spur filled her. She gagged and spit. For a moment she thought about using her teeth to cut the bastards penis in half, but again she managed to control herself.

She still had a mission.

The gladiator begun to tremble grunting with more intensity. He was close but Feyd-Rautha was still in control. He punched the gladiator’s face and filled his mouth with is now deflecting member. At least Margot could breathe again.

“I didn’t gave you permission to come!” she heard and she almost thanked Feyd-Rautha, at that moment she wasn’t sure that she had the mental strength to blockade the gladiator’s spermatozoon.

 

* * *

 

Count Fenring took a deep breath like a man that was about to dive in the sea. Then he opened the door.

In the dark he immediately saw her naked on the bed. She had a punched eye and her lips were cut and bloody. Behind her there was a huge man penetrating her slowly while at their side was standing Feyd-Rautha with his shrunken penis in the man’s mouth.

“Count Fenring! You came to join us!” greeted Feyd-Rautha. “How did the guards let you pass?”

Count Fenring didn’t answered. All the guards were dead. He just gave two steps forward ready to take Feyd-Rautha by the neck and strangle him until his eyes would pop out from the orbits. He thought immediately in two or three horrible ways to kill, trying to choose the most painful one for Feyd-Rautha.

It was Margot’s expression that stopped him. She nodded her head begging him not to kill them all.

The mission wasn’t accomplished yet!

Count Fenring showed a fake smile.

“"Um-m-m-m-m-ah-h-h-hm-m-m, I think I will join you!” he said, while undressing.

Feyd-Rautha hesitated for a moment. He had seen the moment of assassin madness in Fenring’s eyes. Then the young Harkonnen smiled and approached the already naked count. That Bene-Gesserit witch would see what he would do to her count.

Two days later, when count Fenring leaved the room helping lady Margot, the gladiator was dead and Feyd-Rautha had felt in and induced sleep. They had failed the mission and lady Margot had to impede count’s Fenring primal murderous instincts. She never had seen him like that. He had been on the edge.