They strike at the boy when both parents are away.
It’s rare for the Duke to be away, now that he has a son, and rarer still for Lady Jessica to be gone from the planet, but he was called to inspect a land nearly destroyed by flooding and she to a meeting with the Reverend Mother, and so Paul is nearly alone when they come for him.
It’s his nightmares that save him; he’s been having them for days, and so Duncan has been walking past his room at night to make sure the boy is okay. So he is close enough to see the boys door swing closed at a time when nobody should be entering it, and he is close enough to sprint to the door, close enough to enter just in time to see a man drawing his blade–
When it is over, there is blood everywhere.
The boy is covered in it, and there is panic running through Duncan like a live wire because he can’t tell if the boy is hurt, he can’t tell anything, and he should be able to remember if the boy was struck but everything is a blur of bloodlust and fury.
He crouches down beside the boy’s bedside, taking his hand, and the boy is sobbing in great airy gasps. He asks, “Are you hurt?”
The boy throws himself at Duncan, who cups his head and pulls him close, but just as fast Duncan is pushing him away, running bloody hands over bloody clothes to try to find injuries that that blood might be hiding.
And then the boy gasps, and Duncan shoves up the bottom of his shirt to see a gash the length of his handspan across the boy’s skinny stomach, and Duncan has him up and is running before he can manage to think about it.
If the boy dies–
Duncan sleeps, eventually. Not for hours, not until Gurney comes with naked blade to sit watch, humming something under his breath to fill the silence of the boy barely breathing.
They are searching for miles around the palace, to try to find co-conspirators, and Duncan would join them but the boy’s parents aren’t here and he can’t bring himself to leave the boy even in Gurney’s care.
But he sleeps, and he wakes to the boy trying to launch himself off of the bed and into his lap, sobbing and whimpering and crying. Duncan holds him carefully, keeping his hands away from the wound on his side.
The boy is saying something, quiet slurred words almost too fast for him. When he manages to tilt the boy’s head up enough to hear, it’s to hear the boy saying, “We were eaten by the sand, we were all eaten by the sand, you and Dad were swallowed up by the sand.”
There isn’t much sand in this part of Caladan, though there are beaches. He wouldn’t have thought the boy would be that afraid of them. “Were we drowning?” he asks, because he wants to keep the boy talking, wants to get him slightly less than hysterical with fear.
But the boy shakes his head, pressing his head underneath Duncan’s chin. “The sand was eating you,” he mumbles. “My side hurts. Was I bad?”
Duncan’s heart hurts. “Why do you think you were bad?”
“Mostly hurt when I’m bad,” the boy says. He plucks at Duncan’s shirt, then curls himself around Duncan like a squid, all grabbing arms. Duncan cups the back of his head. It’s not the most comfortable way of sitting, but he’d suffer more than a little discomfort to have the boy feel safe. “Like when I spar with you and I’m not doing good enough and I fall over and it hurts.”
“You weren’t bad,” Duncan tells him. “You were attacked by an enemy of Atreides.”
“But you stopped them,” the boy says. He tilts his head back to peer up at Duncan, leaning back so far Duncan has to hold him up so he doesn’t fall off of Duncan’s lap. “You’ll always save me.”
“I will always save you,” Duncan says, even though he knows he can’t promise that. “I will always save you, my boy.”