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Thus spoke St. Alia-of-the-Knife: “The Reverend Mother must combine the seductive wiles of a courtesan with the untouchable majesty of a virgin goddess, holding these attributes in tension so long as the powers of her youth endure. For when youth and beauty have gone, she will find that the place-between, once occupied by tension, has become a wellspring of cunning and resourcefulness.”


“Well, Jessica, what have you to say for yourself?” asked the Reverend Mother.

It was near sunset at Castle Caladan on the day of Paul’s ordeal. The two women were alone in Jessica’s morning room while Paul waited in the adjoining soundproofed Meditation Chamber.

Jessica stood facing the south windows. She saw and yet did not see the evening’s banked colors across meadow and river. She heard and yet did not hear the Reverend Mother’s question.

There had been another ordeal once—so many years ago. A skinny girl with hair the color of bronze, her body tortured by the winds of puberty, had entered the study of the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Proctor Superior of the Bene Gesserit school on Wallach IX. Jessica looked down at her right hand, flexed the fingers, remembering the pain, the terror, the anger.

“Poor Paul,” she whispered.

“I asked you a question, Jessica!” The old woman’s voice was snappish, demanding.

“What? Oh….” Jessica tore her attention away from the past, faced the Reverend Mother, who sat with back to the stone wall between the two west windows. “What do you want me to say?”

“What do I want you to say? What do I want you to say?” The old voice carried a tone of cruel mimicry.

“So I had a son!” Jessica flared. And she knew she was being goaded into this anger deliberately.

“You were told to bear only daughters to the Atreides.”

“It meant so much to him,” Jessica pleaded.

“And you in your pride thought you could produce the Kwisatz Haderach!”

Jessica lifted her chin. “I sensed the possibility.”

“You thought only of your Duke’s desire for a son,” the old woman snapped. “And his desires don’t figure in this. An Atreides daughter could’ve been wed to a Harkonnen heir and sealed the breach. You’ve hopelessly complicated matters. We may lose both bloodlines now.”

“You’re not infallible,” Jessica said. She braved the steady stare from the old eyes.

Presently, the old woman muttered: “What’s done is done.”

“I vowed never to regret my decision,” Jessica said.

“How noble,” the Reverend Mother sneered. “No regrets. We shall see when you’re a fugitive with a price on your head and every man’s hand turned against you to seek your life and the life of your son.”

Jessica paled. “Is there no alternative?”

“Alternative? A Bene Gesserit should ask that?”

“I ask only what you see in the future with your superior abilities.”

“I see in the future what I’ve seen in the past. You well know the pattern of our affairs, Jessica. The race knows its own mortality and fears stagnation of its heredity. It’s in the bloodstream—the urge to mingle genetic strains without plan. The Imperium, the CHOAM Company, all the Great Houses, they are but bits of flotsam in the path of the flood.”

“CHOAM,” Jessica muttered. “I suppose it’s already decided how they’ll redivide the spoils of Arrakis.”

“What is CHOAM but the weather vane of our times,” the old woman said. “The Emperor and his friends now command fifty-nine point six-five per cent of the CHOAM directorship’s votes. Certainly they smell profits, and likely as others smell those same profits his voting strength will increase. This is the pattern of history, girl.”

“That’s certainly what I need right now,” Jessica said. “A review of history.”

“Don’t be facetious, girl! You know as well as I do what forces surround us. We’ve a three-point civilization: the Imperial Household balanced against the Federated Great Houses of the Landsraad, and between them, the Guild with its damnable monopoly on interstellar transport. In politics, the tripod is the most unstable of all structures. It’d be bad enough without the complication of a feudal trade culture which turns its back on most science.”

Jessica spoke bitterly: “Chips in the path of the flood—and this chip here, this is the Duke Leto, and this one’s his son, and this one’s—”

“Oh, shut up, girl. You entered this with full knowledge of the delicate edge you walked.”

“‘I am Bene Gesserit: I exist only to serve,’” Jessica quoted.

“Truth,” the old woman said. “And all we can hope for now is to prevent this from erupting into general conflagration, to salvage what we can of the key bloodlines.”

Jessica closed her eyes, feeling tears press out beneath the lids. She fought down the inner trembling, the outer trembling, the uneven breathing, the ragged pulse, the sweating of the palms. Presently, she said, “I’ll pay for my own mistake.”

“And your son will pay with you.”

“I’ll shield him as well as I’m able.”

“Shield!” the old woman snapped. “You well know the weakness there! Shield your son too much, Jessica, and he’ll not grow strong enough to fulfill any destiny.”

Jessica turned away, looked out the window at the gathering darkness. “Is it really that terrible, this planet of Arrakis?”

“Bad enough, but not all bad. The Missionaria Protectiva has been in there and softened it up somewhat.” The Reverend Mother heaved herself to her feet, straightened a fold in her gown. “Call the boy in here. I must be leaving soon.”

“Must you?”

The old woman’s voice softened. “Jessica, girl, I wish I could stand in your place and take your sufferings. But each of us must make her own path.”

“I know.”

“You’re as dear to me as any of my own daughters, but I cannot let that interfere with duty.”

“I understand…the necessity.”

“What you did, Jessica, and why you did it—we both know. But kindness forces me to tell you there’s little chance your lad will be the Bene Gesserit Totality. You mustn’t let yourself hope too much.”

Jessica shook tears from the corners of her eyes. It was an angry gesture. “You make me feel like a little girl again—reciting my first lesson.” She forced the words out: “‘Humans must never submit to animals.’” A dry sob shook her. In a low voice, she said: “I’ve been so lonely.”

“It should be one of the tests,” the old woman said. “Humans are almost always lonely. Now summon the boy. He’s had a long, frightening day. But he’s had time to think and remember, and I must ask the other questions about these dreams of his.”

Jessica nodded, went to the door of the Meditation Chamber, opened it. “Paul, come in now, please.”

Paul emerged with a stubborn slowness. He stared at his mother as though she were a stranger. Wariness veiled his eyes when he glanced at the Reverend Mother, but this time he nodded to her, the nod one gives an equal. He heard his mother close the door behind him.

“Young man,” the old woman said, “let’s return to this dream business.”

“What do you want?”

“Do you dream every night?”

“Not dreams worth remembering. I can remember every dream, but some are worth remembering and some aren’t.”

“How do you know the difference?”

“I just know it.”

The old woman glanced at Jessica, back to Paul. “What did you dream last night? Was it worth remembering?”

“Yes.” Paul closed his eyes. “I dreamed a cavern…and water…and a girl there—very skinny with big eyes. Her eyes are all blue, no whites in them. I talk to her and tell her about you, about seeing the Reverend Mother on Caladan.” Paul opened his eyes.

“And the thing you tell this strange girl about seeing me, did it happen today?”

Paul thought about this, then: “Yes. I tell the girl you came and put a stamp of strangeness on me.”

“Stamp of strangeness,” the old woman breathed, and again she shot a glance at Jessica, returned her attention to Paul. “Tell me truly now, Paul, do you often have dreams of things that happen afterward exactly as you dreamed them?”

“Yes. And I’ve dreamed about that girl before.”

“Oh? You know her?”

“I will know her.”

“Tell me about her.”

Again, Paul closed his eyes. “We’re in a little place in some rocks where it’s sheltered. It’s almost night, but it’s hot and I can see patches of sand out of an opening in the rocks. We’re…waiting for something…for me to go meet some people. And she’s frightened but trying to hide it from me, and I’m excited. And she says: ‘Tell me about the waters of your homeworld, Usul.’” Paul opened his eyes. “Isn’t that strange? My homeworld’s Caladan. I’ve never even heard of a planet called Usul.”

“Is there more to this dream?” Jessica prompted.

“Yes. But maybe she was calling me Usul,” Paul said. “I just thought of that.” Again, he closed his eyes. “She asks me to tell her about the waters. And I take her hand. And I say I’ll tell her a poem. And I tell her the poem, but I have to explain some of the words—like beach and surf and seaweed and seagulls.”

“What poem?” the Reverend Mother asked.

Paul opened his eyes. “It’s just one of Gurney Halleck’s tone poems for sad times.”

Behind Paul, Jessica began to recite:

“I remember salt smoke from a beach fire

And shadows under the pines—

Solid, clean…fixed—

Seagulls perched at the tip of land,

White upon green…

And a wind comes through the pines

To sway the shadows;

The seagulls spread their wings,


And fill the sky with screeches.

And I hear the wind

Blowing across our beach,

And the surf,

And I see that our fire

Has scorched the seaweed.”

“That’s the one,” Paul said.

The old woman stared at Paul, then: “Young man, as a Proctor of the Bene Gesserit, I seek the Kwisatz Haderach, the male who truly can become one of us. Your mother sees this possibility in you, but she sees with the eyes of a mother. Possibility I see, too, but no more.”

She fell silent and Paul saw that she wanted him to speak. He waited her out.

Presently, she said: “As you will, then. You’ve depths in you; that I’ll grant.”

“May I go now?” he asked.

“Don’t you want to hear what the Reverend Mother can tell you about the Kwisatz Haderach?” Jessica asked.

“She said those who tried for it died.”

“But I can help you with a few hints at why they failed,” the Reverend Mother said.

She talks of hints, Paul thought. She doesn’t really know anything. And he said: “Hint then.”

“And be damned to me?” She smiled wryly, a crisscross of wrinkles in the old face. “Very well: ‘That which submits rules.’”

He felt astonishment: she was talking about such elementary things as tension within meaning. Did she think his mother had taught him nothing at all?

“That’s a hint?” he asked.

“We’re not here to bandy words or quibble over their meaning,” the old woman said. “The willow submits to the wind and prospers until one day it is many willows—a wall against the wind. This is the willow’s purpose.”

Paul stared at her. She said purpose and he felt the word buffet him, reinfecting him with terrible purpose. He experienced a sudden anger at her: fatuous old witch with her mouth full of platitudes.

“You think I could be this Kwisatz Haderach,” he said. “You talk about me, but you haven’t said one thing about what we can do to help my father. I’ve heard you talking to my mother. You talk as though my father were dead. Well, he isn’t!”

“If there were a thing to be done for him, we’d have done it,” the old woman growled. “We may be able to salvage you. Doubtful, but possible. But for your father, nothing. When you’ve learned to accept that as a fact, you’ve learned a real Bene Gesserit lesson.”

Paul saw how the words shook his mother. He glared at the old woman. How could she say such a thing about his father? What made her so sure? His mind seethed with resentment.

The Reverend Mother looked at Jessica. “You’ve been training him in the Way—I’ve seen the signs of it. I’d have done the same in your shoes and devil take the Rules.”

Jessica nodded.

“Now, I caution you,” said the old woman, “to ignore the regular order of training. His own safety requires the Voice. He already has a good start in it, but we both know how much more he needs…and that desperately.” She stepped close to Paul, stared down at him. “Goodbye, young human. I hope you make it. But if you don’t—well, we shall yet succeed.”

Once more she looked at Jessica. A flicker sign of understanding passed between them. Then the old woman swept from the room, her robes hissing, with not another backward glance. The room and its occupants already were shut from her thoughts.

But Jessica had caught one glimpse of the Reverend Mother’s face as she turned away. There had been tears on the seamed cheeks. The tears were more unnerving than any other word or sign that had passed between them this day.

Views: 55, posted on: 2022-10-26