Friday, December 9, 2011

Dune: Part 7: Meanwhile on Giedi Prime/The Waters of Life

As last we saw, Paul and Jessica have been accepted into Stilgar's Fremen tribe. Now let's check in on what's going on with those wacky Harkonnens!

It's the birthday of young Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, the Baron's nephew and heir presumptive, and he is celebrating in the traditional Harkonnen fashion: by killing something. One of Feyd's hobbies is participating in gladiatorial combat -- all carefully arranged, of course, to eliminate any actual risk to himself. But this time the slave he is to fight has not been drugged as is usual, and comes very close to killing Feyd by seizing the na-Baron's poisoned dagger and stabbing him with it. Good thing Feyd took the precaution of poisoning the other blade, the one traditionally left untainted, instead. And the mental conditioning which caused the slave to go limp when Feyd uttered a trigger word helped too.

The whole thing was set up by Hawat, who is now the Baron's mentat, but who is also advising Feyd for his own purposes. By vanquishing a deadly opponent despite apparent treachery, and by his magnanimous treatment of his dead foe, Feyd has won a good deal of popularity. He also has given future enemies whom he might want to intimidate something to think about. And, most immediately, he has discredited the Harkonnen slavemaster who will take the blame, giving Feyd the opportunity to place his own candidate in the position.

Here we see Feyd at his best. He does have some good qualities. Besides being handsome and athletic, he has courage and skill. He is capable of cultivating the brauvara Duke Leto spoke of in an earlier chapter. Count Fenring and his wife, observing the combat, note his potential and lament how he could have turned out if raised, say, under the Atreides code rather the Harkonnens. In many ways, Feyd is an analogue to Paul; his story runs parallel to Paul's and in fact the Bene Gesserit. originally intended that Lady Jessica bear a daughter so that she could be married to the young Harkonnen. It didn't work out that way.

Count and Lady Fenring are I think the most interesting minor characters in Dune. The Count is a close friend of the Emperor, and serves as the Emperor's eyes and ears as well as being his hatchet man. A killer with the manners of a rabbit, is how the Baron describes him, and the Count's foppish, insinuating manners mask a stiletto-keen mind. But what I find most interesting about him is the relationship he has with his wife, Lady Margot Fenring. We had mention of her in an earlier chapter where Jessica recieved a letter from her. The Count and his Lady were formerly the Emperor's unofficial representatives on Arrakis during the Harkonnen's rule and they resided in the palace Duke Leto chose for his own. Like Jessica, Lady Fenring is a Bene Gesserit.

But although the Count and his Lady are essentially agents working for different patrons, (the Emperor and the B.G., respectively), they work together as partners; respecting each other's work and even comparing notes.

The Count is visiting the Baron to tie up some of the loose ends of the Arrakis situation. The Emperor is not at all happy with the way some of the things ended up. As the two exchange pleasantly veiled threats, the Baron off-handedly mentions that he is considering using Arrakis as a prison planet, similar to what the Emperor has done on the planet Salsus Secondus. The Baron is puzzled as to why the Count seems so interested in this. The reader, however, will recall Duke Leto's theory that the Emperor used the harsh conditions on his prison planet to train his elite Sardaukar troops and that the conditions on Arrakis might have done the same to the Fremen. And we have seen that the Fremen are as good or better than the Sardaukar in battle. The Sardaukar really hate the Fremen.

Lady Fenring's mission is to investigate Feyd and to ensure that the B.G. doesn't lose his genetic material. She won't find it difficult to seduce him; Feyd is a horny adolescent, after all. He shares the Harkonnen self-centered hedonism, and has already expressed an unseemly interest in Lady Fenring. While she's at it, she'll perform a little discreet Bene Gesserit mental programming on him while he's having his fun with her. After all, you never can tell when something like this might come in handy. No wonder the Baron is so paranoid about the B.G.'s.

We return then to Stilgar's tribe in Sietch Tabr. The Sardaukar patrols have been coming too close to the sietch, and so preparations are being made to relocate. Paul is introduced to something else he has inherited from Jamis: the man's wife, Harah. Although Paul does not wish to marry her, the woman -- and her two sons -- are his responsibility. Through Harah we get to see a few glimpses of the Fremen's home life.

The Fremen's impending move has precipitated matters for Jessica as well. The tribe's priestess, their Reverend Mother, is too old to make a long journey, and so Jessica has been asked to take over as Reverend Mother right away. She is apprehensive about this, but she sees it an a necessary step to cement her place in the Fremen community.

From here, the chapter gets psychedelic. The ritual involves partaking of the "Waters of Life", secretions of a small sandworm that has been drowned, that takes the consciousness-expanding qualities of the spice and cranks it up to Eleven. It is one of the awareness drugs the Bene Gesserit uses to produce its own Reverned Mothers. It is also, Jessica realizes too late, a deadly poison; but by ingesting it she also gains the ability to psychically alter the drugs chemical structure to make it harmless.

She also makes mental contact with the tribe's old Reverend Mother, who chides her for the risk she has taken. Jessica is pregnant; something only she and Paul know; and the drug will have an unknown effect on the unborn child. That's too late to be helped now; the Reverend Mother is dying and in her death transfers all her memories into Jessica's mind; including the memories of all the Reverend Mothers of the tribe before her for who knows how many generations. Jessica is now the living repository of the tribe's experiences.

And so is her still-embryonic daughter. Jessica must reach out to her as well and try to cushion the unbelievably brutal shock of all those lives downloaded into that yet unformed mind. This will have consequences.

Fast forward.

Two years have passed. Feyd is no longer the bratty adolescent showing off in the arena; he's now a bratty adult who's getting tired of waiting for his uncle to kick the bucket. And so he's taken matters into his own hand.

The Baron has just avoided an assassination attempt by Feyd. The impetuous youth arranged to have a poisoned needle hidden on the body of the latest boy-toy sent to his uncle's bedroom. It might have worked too if Hawat hadn't warned the Baron of the plot. The Baron has some stern words for his nephew. He has big plans for Feyd -- bigger even than his plan to have Feyd replace his brother Rabban as governor of Arrakis -- and he certainly doesn't want Feyd to muck things up. Through a skillful blend of promises and threats, he brings Feyd around to a sullen acceptance of the situation... for now.

Feyd realizes that Hawat has been playing him and his uncle against each other. He warns his uncle of the mentat's danger, but the Baron believes he has Hawat under control. He thinks that by focusing Hawat's energies against the Emperor, the mentat won't be plotting against him. And he believes that the residual poison makes Hawat dependent on him, rendering him harmless.

"In a way, it's like the arena," Feyd muses. "Feints within feints within feints." That theme of plans within plans is repeated often in the series.

In the next chapter, Hawat has a meeting with the Baron to discuss the Arrakis situation, which the Baron thinks is under control. The Baron has always dismissed the Fremen as being merely a handful of desert scum, not worthy even of contempt. Hawat knows better. He patiently lays out the evidence in front of the Baron of the Fremen's numbers, of their deadly fighting ability as evidenced by statistics of battle casualties, and of his conclusion that the Fremen are equal to or better than the Emperor's elite Sadaurkar.

Here is where the Baron sheepishly admits mentioning to Count Fenring something about making Arrakis a second Salusa Secundus. Hawat loses his temper. As a mentat, he lives by information, and this small piece of information changes everything. The Emperor would have assumed, from the Baron's remark, that Harkonnen was trying to build an elite fighting force against him and has had two years now to take counter-measures. Hawat immediately takes command of the situation and begins devising counter-counter-measures.

Here, in these Harkonnen chapters, we finally see Hawat in his element. In the earlier chapters, he seemed impotent; out-maneuvered by the Harkonnen plots and blinded by his mistaken suspicions of Jessica; but here we get a glimpse of the old plot-meister at work. In the past two years under the Baron's service he has been making himself indispensable. If he is dependent upon the Baron for the antidote to the residual poison, the Baron has become dependent upon him as well. Hawat and the Baron each knows that he is being used by the other; but the Baron's grasp on the situation is not nearly as good as he thinks it is.

NEXT TIME: Paul catches a worm; we meet his creepy baby sister; and we're re-united with an old friend, whom Paul might have to kill.

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