This week we’re going to fight in a gladiator arena (and cheat), and attend a funeral.
Index to the reread can be located here! And don’t forget this is a reread, which means that any and all of these posts will contain spoilers for all of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. If you’re not caught up, keep that in mind.
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God created Arrakis to train the faithful.
—from “The Wisdom of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan
The cave is unsealed for their trek to the sietch and Jamis’s funeral rights have begun with chanting. Jessica is deeply cognizant of how uncomfortable she is in the stillsuit, and remembers that Stilgar told her that the suit would become more comfortable once she adjusts to a lower level of water in her body. She wants to be sure that she warns Paul about the Fremen women—he must be reminded that one of them might make a suitable concubine, but not a wife. Paul approaches and explains that they have asked him what is to be done with Jamis’s water; a person’s water belongs to their tribe, but this is forfeit if they die by combat because the person who fought them will need to replenish their water due to fighting without stillsuits. Paul doesn’t want the water, but Jessica tells him that he will take it. Water is more valuable than money here and Paul should not break with their traditions.
The Stilgar has the friends of Jamis step forward and circle what is left of Jamis. Stilgar tells them all of a memory where Jamis pulled him to safety, then takes his robe. He takes other items for Jamis’s woman and guards. He takes his coffee service marker to give to Paul in the ritual later. He takes the crysknife handle for the funeral plain. In turn, each friend of Jamis shares a memory of the man and takes a possession of his. Paul realizes that they expect him to do so, though he cannot see how he can call the man his friend, having taken his life. Jessica stands and takes a handkerchief from the body, saying that she was a friend of Jamis and his spirit spared her son. Paul realizes what he must do and takes Jamis’s baliset (it reminds him of Gurney), saying that Jamis taught him that when you kill you pay for it. He cries and they are astounded that he gives moisture to the dead. Jessica realizes that in a place where water is so scarce, Paul has given a sacred gift. The Fremen begin to touch his face.
What is left is Jamis’s water, which Chani blesses and then offers to Paul. He comes forward to accept the water, each amount of it represented by a different metal ring known as watercounters. She then tells him that she will teach him how to carry the rings tied together so that they don’t rattle. In the meantime, Paul asks if she will carry them, and Chani looks to Stilgar. He reminds her that Paul does not know their ways yet, and asks her to do this for him for now. Paul realizes that he missed something, and figures out that asking a woman to carry watercounters for you is a courtship gesture. The group head move further underground to an area where the air is moist and sealed off. Jessica realizes that there are windtraps there, set up by the Fremen. They empty the water into a cache where it is carefully measured. There are millions of decaliters there, and Stilgar tells Jessica that they have thousands of these caches and only a few of them know where they all are. None of them would take from those caches no matter how in need they were of water.
They plan to someday use these caches to change the face of Arrakis. To ground the water with grass and trees, and leave only the desert for the maker and the spice. Jessica sees that this is Liet’s work, and that the Fremen are perfectionists in the pursuit of these dreams. She knows they will be useful to Paul. Paul keeps thinking of the coming jihad, though, knowing that even if he were to die, the thing he senses is coming would continue through his mother and unborn sister. He plays Jamis’s baliset for the group, an old song of Gurney’s that is romantic. Jessica wonders why he would play that for Chani, concerned again. Paul thinks that his mother is his enemy and that he must be wary of her.
These points in the narrative are never high on action, but retain a great deal of intrigue to my mind because all sections where we learn about Fremen customs and planning are relevant and also beautiful in their own manner. Herbert’s interest in ecology and history are always present in his writing, but I think his anthropological leanings are equally fascinating. He enjoys exploring culture from the inside out.
The funeral rites are a unique moment to explore Fremen traditions and beliefs. Like many funerals around the world, the Fremen share stories about the deceased—though in their case, they seem to focus on tales where the deceased did something to aid them, tying into the idea that Fremen exist to serve the good of their tribes. There is no room for aggravation now that Jamis is gone. He may have been a hothead in life, but his passing is marked with nothing but respect. Especially from Paul, as the man who took his life.
Then his water is specifically accounted for (though we pointedly do not see how it is done here), and Paul is given counters as a form of safeguard. The system is genius on a number of fronts, and while Jessica knows that Kynes is behind the plans to reshape Arrakis, the outline of how this all works must be Fremen by design; the watercounters, the reservoirs to store the water so that one is not obligated to carry it everywhere, the precise measurements of a person’s water and the ability to break a person down to nothing but that substance. These things had to exist before Kynes and his father arrived and someone had to create them.
I do wonder a bit at how Paul’s prescience comes off to him in moments where he cannot see clearly. He thinks at first that he can see paths to Gruney Halleck again, and worries if there’s something he might do that could prevent their meeting again. But then he later wonders if Gurney is dead. Either this is an error on Herbert’s part, or Gurney is literally occupying the place of Schrödinger’s Cat in Paul’s mind—he could be dead or alive at this moment, because Paul cannot be certain of how clear his prescience is at any given time. He thinks on the flow of time in these particular instances, how it’s sort of like an ocean, but he is in different parts it at any given moment, sometimes able to see beyond the crest of one wave to another, and sometimes not.
We get glimmerings of things to come here, particularly Paul’s relationship with Chani, which he can’t seem to help falling into it already by accidentally asking her to carry the watercounters. But we also get Paul’s upset toward his mother, who he believes is his enemy in these moments. He decides this is because she gave birth to him, which seems an unfair assessment until we consider that this might be his prescience gaining a little insight into another being that Jessica will give birth to—his sister. So while Paul’s hot and cold feelings toward his mother seem perhaps unfounded, when you take Alia into account, his distress makes a bit more sense.
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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
It is Fyed-Rautha’s birthday and he has killed his 100th slave-gladiator in the arena. The Baron has made the whole event a holiday on Geidi Prime, and slapped a fresh coat of paint on the place, giving the people a day of rest. But Count Fenring notes how run-down the planet is. He waits to meet Feyd with his wife, and the baron presents the boy to him. Feyd doesn’t like the count at all, thinks the man very adept at saying things in such a manner that they are insulting, but fall short of a person’s ability to say anything against him. He tells the baron that it’s impressive that his heir is such a fine looking boy given his stock (but in a slightly politer fashion, of course). Feyd is taken with his wife and says that he would make a kill in the arena in her name with her permission. She does not give it, and the baron tells Feyd to leave and gets his rest before the match.
The count asks to speak with the baron privately and his wife leaves. He directs them to a cone of silence where no one will hear them and tells the count that the Emperor is not happy with the way he handled the Sardaukar, and that Rabban is not seeing properly to the Fremen problem. Baron Harkonnen insists that most of them must be dead because the southern reaches are uninhabitable, but Count Fenring is adamant that someone on Arrakis (he hesitantly calls them a smuggler) did a flyover of the area and saw vegetation. The baron does not believe it.
The conversation turns to questions about the baron’s accounting and the fact that the Emperor is displeased that Paul and Jessica were lost in the takeover. Baron Harkonnen insists that nothing could be done about it, and they engage in a back-and-forth for leverage. The baron says that he could reveal the Sardaukar’s part in his plans, but Fending tells him that the Sardaukar would claim that they acted without orders for the chance to fight the Fremen. The baron takes no issue with having his books checked; he knows they are in order, and after bearing up under that scrutiny, any accusation leveled at him afterward would not seem credible once he’d already been vindicated. He asks why the Emperor wants the Fremen eradicated and Fenring tells him that the Sardaukar merely want practice killing. The baron suggests that he might want to use Arrakis as a prison planet to get more money out of it, and the count tells him it would be an unwise move without the Emperor’s permission.
Fearing asks after Hawat, who was supposed to be dead according to what the baron had told the Sardaukar. The baron insists that he needed a Mentat and that the man was useful. Count Fenring tells him to kill the man, but the baron refuses unless he gets sealed orders from the Emperor himself on that account. Fearing makes it clear that the Emperor is concerned about Baron Harkonnen’s behavior and is considering charging him with treason. The baron pretends to be worried and hurt over the words, knowing that if he were ever formally charged, all the Great Houses would flock to him and he could overtake the throne. They head out to the arena with the spectators and Fenring makes it clear that he’s come to observe Feyd-Rautha as the Emperor has not yet sanctioned him as the baron’s successor. The baron is irritated that the Emperor had promised him free selection in that regard.
Feyd-Rautha enters the arena with his two knives; white for poison, black for purity. He dedicates the fight to his uncle and thinks of the true plan thought up by Hawat—the black dagger does have poison. The slave-gladiator in this fight will not be drugged the way the others always are, and when it’s discovered, all eyes will be on the slavemaster who will be killed so that Feyd can promote his own man to the position. There is a key word that will immobilize the man on utterance. The slave turns out to an old Atreides fighter, and Feyd wonders if this was a plan within a plan on Hawat’s part, but goes into the fight anyway. He has poisoned barbs as well and entered the arena as the slave challenges him, not usual for his fights. Everyone knows that the man is not drugged. Feyd buries both barbs in the man despite his clear skill as a fighter.
Feyd attacks the man with the blade that the slave believes carries the poison while tying to get a hit in the black blade that truly carried the poison. But the man has lashed the barbs to his arms and uses them to shield himself from the blow. Finally, Feyd manages to scratch him with the poison blade and revels at how everyone will see this (including his family) and know something about him—that they will never know which of his hands carries the poison blade. The Atreides man manages to impale himself on his own dagger before succumbing to the poison and Feyd finds himself impressed in spite of himself. The baron believes that the plan intended that the slave undrugged was an attempt to get to him and that Feyd uncovered the corruption of the slave master. To reward him, he tells the men that Feyd can have the gladiator’s head.
But Feyd does not want it. Instead, he places the man’s knife in his heads and asks that he be buried with it because he earned it. The baron thinks that he’s insulted the crowd, but Lady Fenring knows it’s the opposite—the crowd adores him for the gesture. The baron orders a fete in his name to reward him, knowing that the people are enamored of him tonight. The count and his lady speak in their code language (the humming they both do in the midst of their sentences is its own hidden language); now that they’ve seen what the boy is made of, Lady Fenring agrees that they must preserve this bloodline, and that she will seduce the boy and have his child. The count wonders how impressive Feyd might have been raised by the Atreides, and laments the death of Paul. But Lady Fenring tells him a Bene Gesserit saying: that you can never count a human dead without seeing their body, and even then you can make a mistake.
Yeah, that quote at the start of this section. That’s messing me up this week.
Weird aside to begin this section: Herbert makes a point of noting that the hall that Count and Lady Fenring are standing in isn’t all that large, but that the pillars have been tapered and the ceiling arched to give the effect of a bigger space. Tricks like this are one of my favorite little tidbits about architecture and again harkens back to ancient Greece and Rome; the Greeks perfected that subtle curve to make a space or building look larger, and the Romans were all about their curved ceiling basilicas. But in the case of the Harkonnens, everything that they have is tainted with an underlayer of grime and mistreatment. They keep their subjects frightened, dirty, and overworked—even in a time of celebration it is clear that this is a carefully controlled state.
Yet again, we run into the baron’s fatal flaw in all of his scheming; he completely refuses to give any credence or thought to the Fremen, and is sure that Jessica and Paul are dead. The baron is an overall logical tactician, but he has his limits, places where he cannot conceive of being wrong. During his conversation with the count, he is far more concerned with whether or not the Emperor has plans to try and undermine him, which he believes would only strengthen his position. And to that account, he may have been right had Paul not survived. But it is also deeply intriguing to consider how the baron functions in regard to how the power comes to their house—because he’s not intent on gaining all that power and wealth for himself if it doesn’t happen to come their way for some time. He is doing this so that Feyd can eventually be the Harkonnen in charge of everything. And he tells Feyd that he shouldn’t be so quick to want power because he still has much to learn from his uncle (and he’s right), but the point is that the survival and rise of the Harkonnen line is what matters to him. He doesn’t care if he dies before he gets to see the fruit of all his plans.
Extending the Romanesque feel of Harkonnen rule, we get gladiator games, a favorite pastime of the Romans. And, of course, many Roman gladiators were slaves or criminals sent to die in the arena. (Although I’ve never come across an account of them being drugged, so that just makes Feyd-Rautha extra specially awful.) We learn that Hawat is helping Feyd independently of the baron, and that he is clearly hoping to get rid of the man by backing the nephew, sowing suspicion so that the baron doubts his own staff and raising his paranoia.
As Count Fenring notes that they are observing Feyd to learn about him on the Emperor’s behalf (and Lady Fenring is doing the same on behalf of the Bene Gesserit), we are also observing Feyd more closely than the narrative has ever allowed us. And he is pure ambition and cunning. Like, he’d be one of those kids who barely had the Sorting Hat touch his head before it shouted “Slytherin!” More importantly, he has no compassion for anyone and no inclination to anything but power. Still, he has enough intelligence to note when a “softer hand” will elevate him in the public eye. It’s an odd moment where the baron forgets what he has been training Feyd for; he presumes that the crowd will be angry with him for refusing the gladiator’s head, but Feyd knows exactly how to play the scene, insisting that the man be buried “respectfully.” (Still extra bemusing considering the conniving way he was murdered, but I’m sure that if you live around the Harkonnens, any gesture at all amounts to kindness.)
I have a weird liking for Count and Lady Fenring, I think maybe because of their secret language. The fact that they use the odd hums in their conversations to relay information back and forth is one of my favorite bits in the whole novel. While I wouldn’t trust the duo in a pinch, they are intriguing in their dual goals as a married Mentat and Bene Gesserit. They work together expertly, and it’s fun to observe how they manipulate others with so little effort. Which is really just an odd way of noticing that when so many characters in a book are so expertly manipulative, it’s easy to latch on to the characters who embody these traits, but are slightly less awful than, say, Baron Harkonnen.
The more you learn about the Bene Gesserit breeding program, on the other hand, the more disgusting it gets. Really just from the top down. So while the Fenring’s are fun from a certain standpoint, as soon as Lady Fenring brings up seducing Feyd, my brain just nopes right outta there. Ugh.
And then we end on an old Bene Gesserit saying, which also happens to be a saying for anyone who enjoys fiction: you can never count someone dead until you see the body, and even then, something can always come up. She knows it. We know it. We also know that Paul and Jessica are alive anyhow, but the irony is still funny.
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And here is your weekly audiobook corner!
Emmet Asher-Perrin is interested in a tradition that allows your enemies to know where you are carrying poison, though. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.