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Matters of State

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Caladan's weather had given the capital a cool, moist send off for her favorite son. The Duke Leto took his time to savor the rich air, letting the sea brine settle into his spirit. He would have preferred to be fishing, enjoying the peace he had been favored with recently by sailing the seas he held so dearly. However, duty called, and some sacrifices were meant to be.

The faithful Thufir Hawat walked alongside his Lord toward the waiting ship. "Remember, my Lord, this is a trap that you are placing yourself into. The Bene Gesserit have not been happy since they lost their communication from your Lady Mother."

Leto's smile tightened as his advisor brought up the treacherous Lady Helena. Still, he was bound to be as jovial today as he possibly could be.

"Thufir, you and Duncan Idaho can manage until my return. Stay abreast of the information coming from Ix; I'd like to help Rhombur and Kailea return to their rightful place." Leto gave Thufir a tight Atreides salute, saw it returned with a bow, and then ascended the ramp of the shuttle. Kailea was a problem that would have to be soon addressed, with both her pressuring for status as his wife and the disposition of their son, Victor, to consider.

With the Duke aboard, the shuttle's crew secured the lock, and began upwards to the waiting Heighliner, taking care that no jar or shock ripple through the vessel in deference to the royalty aboard. Duke Leto smiled into his hand for the courtesy, but he made sure to praise each member of the crew and the pilots for his smooth delivery before the Heighliner got underway through the strangeness of foldspace. Only the Navigators, with their mutations born from immersion in gases derived from the strange chemical melange, found only on Arrakis, could navigate such distances as the empire spanned. Only melange, or spice as it was more commonly called, allowed the Empire to survive at all, perched on the delicate balance of the Landsraad (with the Emperor at its head), the Bene Gesserit witchhood, and the Navigation Guild.

While Leto's CHOAM holdings made Caladan a strong member in the Landsraad, it was not strong enough. That, more than anything, was why he had finally consented to go and choose a Bene Gesserit woman as a concubine, in exchange for more influence on resolving the Ixian disaster.

`~`~`~`~`

Leto was led into a lounge by a conscientious Wallachian, one of the males the Bene Gesserit kept for skills or service, he supposed. It was his first trip to the home of the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers, and he had, so far, been impressed by the simple, almost rustic seeming of the city he had been brought to.

"Duke Leto Atreides," came a polished voice from the only other doorway into the room. The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam herself entered the room for the negotiations necessary.

He had turned toward her at the sound of her voice, and now gave her a slight bow. //Padishah Emperor, what are you up to, that your Truthsayer is here now?// he thought, but he kept careful control of his features and pulse. He had long since determined that the more of himself he could hide from the powerful women, the more they wanted their hooks in him. He could use that wish, use their ambition, to get the results he wanted.

"Reverend Mother."

"Now that we have acknowledged the identity of one another, shall we begin? You seek our aid in the matter of the dispute between the Bene Tleilax and House Vernius. We wish only to be certain you avail yourself of the full benefit that we Bene Gesserit can give to a noble house such as the Atreides."

Her blunt summation had caught Leto completely off guard. He had resolved himself to long-winded, intricate negotiations, only to have her take that entire platform from under him.

"In a word, yes." He eyed her carefully, taking in the still young face, the eyes that hid depths of intelligence he knew not to underestimate. "I have an able Swordsmaster and a capable Mentat. It is true Caladan has been without the advisory talents of the Bene Gesserit for some time now."

"Regrettably, yes. The marriage between your father and Helena of the Richese was achieved before your father had tired of sports and fishing," the Reverend Mother said smoothly. Her own abilities to read men were tested severely; not a sign showed on Leto's face of Lady Helena's fate among the Sisters of Isolation. "The Lady Helena was remarkable for guiding the religious worth of men, and might have made a very suitable Reverend Mother at one time...were it not for the Richese zealousness," she added, again provoking no outward signs of distress.

"We are not speaking of either my father or my mother this day, Reverend Mother. It is I who will be choosing from among your ladies, I who will return to Caladan with your...advisor." His word said the politeness, but his inflection gave her the tone of 'spy'. This man was no blind ruler, seeing the Bene Gesserit as a benevolent shepherd of the faith of mankind. He used his brain, and had been exposed to treachery too often to trust easily.

"I had in mind a particular young lady, fully trained, and able to perform both sides of duty a Bene Gesserit woman takes on," the Truthsayer told him. "Stay with us in this retreat for a few days, with Carin as your company, and we shall see if she suits you."

Leto decided one witch or another could make very little difference. All of them were not to be trusted, and he nodded his acquiescence.

`~`~`~`~`

Carin, a woman of pale beauty and mousy demeanor, was not exactly what Leto expected in a concubine trained in the Bene Gesserit ways. She only laughed when he did, smiled in mirror of his own, and spoke when spoken to. He did discover she was well-versed in politics and history, but overall, she did not spark a thing in Leto's soul.

He had hoped, even if the woman he chose was to never be trusted, to at least have the spark of desire and cause it to flare in him. At this rate...well, there was Kailea as his first concubine to consider. Duncan...best not to think of that particular liaison while he was here among the keepers of breeding and religion.

Leto accepted Carin's company for three days, three days of testing the water. How could the Reverend Mother have so erred in placing them together, he wondered. He got more satisfaction out of conversing with the younger woman that attended to Carin...what had her name been? Jessica. Yes. Jessica with bronze hair and green eyes, wits sharp and a mouth versed in airing them, was far more interesting than the mouse he had been granted.

The Reverend Mother met with him on the third day, a much more casual robe and habit this time as she met him in the same lounge as before. "Carin does not suit you, I take it?"

Leto frowned. "I cannot, honestly, see why you thought she might."

The Reverend Mother merely smiled to that, and made a gesture with her hand toward her chest. "We are not infallible. Perhaps we thought a bold woman was not in order."

"You were wrong."

"Then please, accept our hospitality, and allow us to introduce you to Alycia?"

"One try down..."

`~`~`~`~`

Alycia, Leto discovered, was a bold woman with a heavy hand. Again, Jessica was the girl assigned to take care of the woman. While Alycia was quick to tell him her opinions on everything from fire opals to the politics of the Emperor himself, she was also very quick to rebuke the girl, Jessica, when she made any comments to the Duke.

Leto dismissed Alycia barely a day after meeting her, and demanded to see the Reverend Mother immediately.

Gaius Helen Mohiam was as serene as any of her order could be when she met him in formal robes, in her office where he had been shown to.

"Duke Leto."

"I am rapidly losing faith in your ability to guess what any man could possibly want in a woman as his companion and advisor." He refused to be seated, prowling in front of her desk and ignoring the chairdog.

"You have met others in your stay here; whom would you pick of the young ladies you have met so far?" she asked with concern.

The Duke ran the ones that Carin and Alycia had introduced him to in the course of the stay here so far. None of the other young women stood out, except....

"The only damn one of the lot that has everything I find appropriate in a companion is Jessica. The girl that's been handling serving girl duties for both the poor choices you made for me!"

The Reverend Mother looked surprised. "But Duke Leto, she's hardly more than a child. Barely through with the studies of the lower order!"

"She's the only one here that has interested me," Leto said obdurately.

The Reverend Mother looked loathe to let it go at that, and the Duke pounced.

"I'll take no other," he said to forestall her objections.

"I think you would be better served with a more experienced woman, but never let it be said that the Bene Gesserit cannot be swayed by the wishes of the nobles we meet with. She will be yours, with a full Bene Gesserit binding ceremony."

"In exchange, you will help with the Ixian situation?" he asked her bluntly.

She inclined her head.

`~`~`~`~`

As Lady Jessica left with her Duke, the Reverend Mother smiled. He would still be suspicious, but less so, having chosen her from among the populace for himself. Her aims were accomplished, and truthfully, the situation on Ix was dangerous as it stood. She did not trust the Bene Tlielax, and would mention that to the Emperor after her return to House Corrino's Palace.