Anderson, Kevin J. – The Winds of Dune

The unscheduled ship loomed in orbit over Caladan, a former Guild Heighliner pressed into service as a Jihad transport.

A young boy from the fishing village, apprenticed to the Castle as a page, rushed into the garden courtyard. Looking awkward in his formal clothing, he blurted, “It’s a military-equipped vessel, my Lady. Fully armed!”

Kneeling beside a rosemary bush, Jessica snipped off fragrant twigs for the kitchens. Here in her private garden, she maintained flowers, herbs, and shrubs in a perfect combination of order and chaos, useful flora and pretty pleasantries. In the peace and stillness just after dawn, Jessica liked to work and meditate here, nourishing her plants and uprooting the persistent weeds that tried to ruin the careful balance.

Unruffled by the boy’s panic, she inhaled deeply of the aromatic evergreen oils released by her touch. Jessica rose to her feet and brushed dirt off her knees. “Have they sent any messages?”

“Only that they are dispatching a group of Qizarate emissaries, my Lady. They demand to speak with you on an urgent matter.”

“They demand?”

The young man quailed at her expression. “I’m sure they meant it as a request, my Lady. After all, would they dare to make demands of the Duchess of Caladan—and the mother of Muad’Dib? Still, it must be important news indeed, to warrant a vessel like that!” The young man fidgeted like an eel washed up on shore.

She straightened her garment. “Well, I’m sure the emissary considers it important. Probably just another request for me to increase the limits on the number of pilgrims allowed to come here.”

Caladan, the seat of House Atreides for more than twenty generations, had escaped the ravages of the Jihad, primarily because of Jessica’s refusal to let too many outsiders swarm in. Caladan’s self-sufficient people preferred to be left alone. They would gladly have accepted their Duke Leto back, but he had been murdered through treachery at high levels; now the people had his son Paul-Muad’Dib instead, the Emperor of the Known Universe.

Despite Jessica’s best efforts, Caladan could never be completely isolated from the outside storms in the galaxy. Though Paul paid little attention to his home planet anymore, he had been christened and raised here; the people could never escape the shadow cast by her son.

After all the years of Paul’s Jihad, a weary and wounded peace had settled over the Imperium like a cold winter fog. Looking at the young messenger now, she realized that he had been born after Paul became Emperor. The boy had never known anything but the looming Jihad and the harsher side of her son’s nature. . . .

She left the courtyard gardens, shouting to the boy. “Summon Gurney Halleck. He and I will meet the delegation in the main hall of Castle Caladan.”

Jessica changed out of her gardening clothes into a sea-green gown of state. She lifted her ash-bronze hair and draped a pendant bearing a golden Atreides hawk crest around her neck. She refused to hurry. The more she thought about it, the more she wondered what news the ship might bring. Perhaps it wasn’t a trivial matter after all. . . .

Gurney was waiting for her in the main hall. He had been out running his gaze hounds, and his face was still flushed from the exercise. “According to the spaceport, the emissary is a high-ranking member of the Qizarate, bringing an army of retainers and honor guards from Arrakis. Says he has a message of the utmost importance.”

She pretended a disinterest she did not truly feel. “By my count, this is the ninth ‘urgent message’ they’ve delivered since the Jihad ended two years ago.”

“Even so, my Lady, this one feels different.”

Gurney had aged well, though he was not, and never would be, a handsome man with that inkvine scar on his jaw and those haunted eyes. In his youth he’d been ground under the Harkonnen boot, but years of brave service had shaped him into one of House Atreides’s greatest assets.

She lowered herself into the chair that her beloved Duke Leto had once used. While scurrying castle servants prepared for the emissary and his entourage, the director of the kitchen staff asked Jessica about appropriate refreshments. She answered in a cool tone, “Just water. Serve them water.”

“Nothing else, my Lady? Is that not an insult to such an important personage?”

Gurney chuckled. “They’re from Dune. They’ll consider it an honor.”

The foyer’s oaken castle doors were flung open to the damp breeze, and the honor guard marched in with a great commotion. Fifteen men, former soldiers from Paul’s Jihad, carried green banners with highlights of black or white. The members of this unruly entourage wore imitation stillsuits as if they were uniforms, though stillsuits were completely unnecessary in Caladan’s moist air. Glistening droplets covered the group from the light drizzle that had begun to fall outside; the visitors seemed to consider it a sign from God.

The front ranks of the entourage shifted aside so that a Qizara, a yellow-robed priest of the Jihad, could step forward. The priest lowered his damp hood to show his bald scalp, and his eyes glittered with awe, completely blue from addiction to the spice melange. “I am Isbar, and I present myself to the mother of Muad’Dib.” He bowed, then continued the bow all the way to the floor until he had prostrated himself.

“Enough of this. Everyone here knows who I am.”

Even when Isbar stood, he kept his head bowed and his eyes averted. “Seeing the bounty of water on Caladan, we more fully understand Muad’Dib’s sacrifice in coming to Dune as the savior of the Fremen.”

Jessica’s voice had enough of an edge to show that she did not wish to waste time on ceremony. “You have come a long way. What is the urgency this time?”

Isbar seemed to wrestle with his message as if it were a living thing, and Jessica sensed the depth of his dread. The members of the honor guard remained silent as statues.

“Out with it, man!” Gurney ordered.

The priest blurted, “Muad’Dib is dead, my Lady. Your son has gone to Shai-Hulud.”

Jessica felt as though she had been struck with a cudgel.

Gurney groaned. “Oh no. No . . . not Paul!”

Isbar continued, anxious to purge himself of his words. “Forsaking his rule, the holy Muad’Dib walked out into the desert and vanished into the sands.”

It took all of Jessica’s Bene Gesserit training to erect a thick wall around herself, to give herself time to think. The shutdown of her emotions was automatic, ingrained. She forced herself not to cry out, kept her voice quiet and steady. “Tell me everything, priest.”

The Qizara’s words stung like sand pellets blown by a harsh wind. “You know of the recent plot by traitors among his own Fedaykin. Even though blinded by a stone-burner, the blessed Muad’Dib viewed the world with divine eyes, not the artificial Tleilaxu ones that he purchased for his injured soldiers.”


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