Tales From Ahm-Shere 2 - Desert Fever

Introduction

This is the second story from the series of short stories set in Ahm-Shere. Once more the story focusses on the young Fremen chieftain Muad'Dib and is set during the White War, about two weeks before Lord-General Erkenbrand left Ahm-Shere for the White Realm.

Desert Fever

Muad’Dib walked through the Fremen encampment at a leisurely pace, exchanging waves and nods with various tribe members, even stopping to share a short conversation with some. He had been back in the Fremen lands for several days now, and had settled in to the comfortable, familiar place again. He was walking towards the centre of the encampment, where the few more permanent shelters were. While the Fremen were not as nomadic as they had been in days long past, before The First, they only had a few buildings in the centre of each encampment which could not be moved, the rest being large sturdy tents and shelters. They were rough, sandstone buildings with flat roofs, and thin rectangular windows, carved out of the stone, open to the air. The doorways were similar, having no door like in the towns or cities, but a simple cloth covering draped across the opening. The largest and most impressive of these buildings was the home of Muad’Dib and his family, befitting his status as chieftain of the tribe.

Before he returned to his home Muad’Dib had spoken with Lord-General Erkenbrand, the ruler of all Ahm-Shere. It seemed there was trouble in the White Realm, and Erkenbrand might leave with a force to help the Realm. He was also worried about his sister, who lived there. Muad’Dib would be as well, he knew what it was like to be away from family when trouble was brewing. This trip would have to be short, as Muad’Dib would be needed back in Verdonsk if Erkenbrand was to ride out to war.

Just this morning Muad’Dib had visited his wife’s former tribe, some miles to the west of the Fremen lands. The chieftain of the Inarum tribe was Liana’s cousin, Aymeric. The meeting had been to discuss trading, as well as to talk about a strange increase in animals in the surrounding area. It seemed that the populations of various herbivores were flourishing, and that was worrying. Either the predators were not eating as much as normal, or they were moving to other areas, or something was preying on the predators. Muad’Dib had promised to send some of his Fedaykin, his most skilled warriors and trackers to investigate. Upon returning to the encampment, he had sent Arra’Bin and Sainic’Tor with four other Fedaykin to begin solving this mystery.

As he reached the centre of the encampment he was almost bowled over by a dozen of the tribe’s children as they played a game involving a smooth stone, bound in several layers of leather hide. The children kicked this ball about, running around and chasing each other to get it. Amongst the crowd of children was Muad’Dib’s daughter Jora. Seeing him, she called out to him “Father, do you want to play?”

Muad’Dib smiled saying “I’m sorry Jora, but I have to speak with your mother. Perhaps we will play another time.”

Jora laughed and replied “Ok father. If you promise to play another day.”

Muad’Dib laughed as well; his daughter was very wise, knowing that if he promised to play he would never break his word. Relenting he held up his hands and said “Very well Jora. I promise I will play another day before I leave.”

With that the children ran off to continue their game, and Muad’Dib continued to his home. Reaching the doorway, he pulled the dark blue cloth back and stepped inside. It was cooler inside the building, if only because it was out of the direct sunlight.

Muad’Dib walked through the small hallway and into the dinning room, where he found his wife sitting reading. Pulling the hood of his black cloak back he said “Liana, I have returned from the Inarum tribe.”

Looking up Liana smiled. The same smile which had caught Muad’Dib’s attention when they first met. She replied “How are Aymeric and the rest of the tribe?”

Muad’Dib sat down beside his wife and answered “They are doing well, although they have noticed something strange happening with the animals.”

Liana frowned “What’s wrong?”

Muad’Dib said “Well, it seems that many of the predators are disappearing, the balance is being upset somehow. I’ve sent Arra’Bin with some others to investigate.”

Liana nodded and spoke “I’m sure everything will be fine.” Looking at her husband she noticed his complexion, almost pale. She said “Muad’Dib are you alright? You look pale.” Placing a hand on his cheek, she felt the heat of his face and he shivered visibly.

Muad’Dib took Liana’s hand in his and said “I don’t know, as I journeyed back I felt strange, tired perhaps. I thought it was nothing, but now it seems worse.”

As he stood up, Liana rose as well saying “You’re burning up, and yet you are pale and shivering. I should call one of the shamans.” The term ‘shaman’ was misleading, as these individuals in the Fremen tribe had no magic and did not practice archaic forms of ritualistic healing anymore. They were wise in the ways of their homeland though, and had a good understanding of illness and medicine. But the term was still in almost universal usage by the Fremen as that was what such people used to be.

Muad’Dib shook his head, swaying slightly. He began to say “I’ll be fine…” before he collapsed to the ground in front of his wife.

With a look of shock on her face, Liana knelt down beside Muad’Dib, seeing something which confirmed her fears. Pulling the cloth around his neck away she saw the red patch of enflamed skin. She said quietly, fearfully “Desert Fever.” Quickly she ran to the door of the house, calling to a few of the men nearby “Hurry, Muad’Dib is unconscious, it’s Desert Fever!”

The men bolted into action for their chieftain. Three ran into the house to carry him to a bed, while a fourth ran off to find one of the shamans. Muad’Dib could hear voices, they sounded as if they were far away. Faces swam before his eyes, images blurred beyond recognition as he lost consciousness again.

While her husband slept fitfully, Liana spoke with the shaman, Jain; an elderly woman who Muad’Dib had once said “Has forgotten more about ancient herb-lore and the crafts of healing than most will ever know.”

Liana looked at Muad’Dib as he lay on the bed, sickly pale and writhing in his fever induced dreams, and asked “Jain, what can we do? Will the Desert Fever take him?”

The old woman sighed, a kindly look in her eyes “All we can do is wait, and watch over him. The Desert Fever is rare, and powerful. Few who are touched by it survive, unless they are strong of will. Muad’Dib is Fremen to the core of his being, a stronger will he could not hope for. He has a chance, even if it is a small chance. He must fight.”

Liana smiled weakly “If there is one thing my husband knows how to do, it is fight.”

Muad’Dib could hear voices again, but they were too far away for him to catch the words. Slowly, he awoke; opening his eyes gradually and the world began to take focus once more. At first everything was just a blur of colour, mixing together and swirling apart like light dancing across the surface of an oasis. Then he started to make out shapes, and he could see the sky and the sun and the ground beneath him. Standing slowly he looked around. He was on a plateau somewhere in Ahm-Shere, and the ground swirled in a thick fog, so thick that he could not see his feet now that he was standing. His black cloak was around him, the hood over his head, and his face was covered by the dark red cloth all Fremen wore. His scimitar was at his side, and his bow and quiver slung across his back. Muad’Dib thought for a moment, why am I not at home?

It was then that he heard footsteps; light, almost undetectable, bar from the skilled senses of the Fremen warrior. Looking behind him, he saw the shapes move from the fog, which now seemed taller than the height of a man on horseback. The figures moved towards him, cloaks swirling behind them. Then he heard a familiar voice, one he had not heard in over a decade. “Muad’Dib my son, it is time.”

The young Fremen chieftain answered almost without pause “Time for what father?” It was only after he spoke that he realised that this was the voice of his father, and he began to wonder if he was dreaming or awake.

Mass’Dib stepped clear of the fog, and spoke again “It is time to see what troubles await your people. We have a great battle ahead of us.”

Muad’Dib frowned, concerned by his father’s words. Even more concerned he realised that what seemed so real at first must be a dream. In dreams it is often difficult to connect the thoughts which lead you to understand that you are not awake, especially when you encounter such a vivid dream. He could feel the solid rock beneath his feet, smell the air, and feel the slight chill in its touch on this plateau, high above the desert sands. But it was a dream. Regardless he said “Who are these others with you father?”

Mass’Dib laughed, and it seemed to echo “Do you not recognise them my son? They are the ones who went ahead of us, all the Naibs of the Fremen stand here, just as you stand before them. You are the current Naib, and eighteen were Naib before you. If there are to be more Naib after you, then you must be prepared for war.”

The figures stood still, and as Muad’Dib watched, the fog began to clear, blown away by the wind. The wind grew stronger, until he had to brace his legs to keep his balance and the cloak around him rippled wildly. Then without warning it was gone, the air was still, and warm. Opening his eyes he saw them. All eighteen of the previous Naibs of the Fremen tribe, as the legends described. He saw them all. Sacul’Tor, the Thrice-Slain, a giant of a man in both stature and personality, was standing with a grin on his face. His daughter Luha’Tor stood to his left. Muad’Dib certainly agreed with the legends of his tribe, she was a stunning beauty to behold. And next to her was Kovet’Zorel, a man known for his sage-like wisdom. Muad’Dib looked around the assembled group with awe, seeing Baré’Dib, as strong and brave a woman as had ever lived, even amongst the hardy Fremen tribe. The names were all engrained into Muad’Dib’s mind, but greatest amongst them was the First. Upon looking at him, Muad’Dib bowed low and the man spoke “Stand up Muad’Dib. My time is long past, five hundred and sixty-six years since I became chieftain. If anything I should bow to you.”

Muad’Dib was stunned, but found the words eventually “But you are Seth’Dib, the First. You gave us our name, you gave us our purpose. I am just a lesser son of greater ancestors.”

Seth’Dib nodded with a kindly smile “Your words do me too great an honour. The Fremen themselves found their purpose, I merely pointed them in what I thought was the right direction. But come, we’ve spent long enough talking of times long since gone. We must look forward to the future, and safeguard the present.” Seth’Dib motioned for Muad’Dib to follow him, towards the edge of the plateau. The others followed as well, moving silently with purpose.

As Muad’Dib walked, he began to hear a strange sound. It started like a faint buzzing, and steadily grew until it sounded like drums. As they reached the edge Seth’Dib pointed down to the sands below, at the source of the sound. Muad’Dib looked out on what initially appeared to be a seething morass of black liquid, but as the man squinted at it, he realised that it was not liquid. It was an army.

This was like no army Muad’Dib had ever seen. Their black armour was like the carapace of a beetle, glinting in the sun and their faces were concealed by fully-enclosed helmets. They were a faceless, numberless horde and they seemed to radiate death. He asked “What are they?”

Seth’Dib sighed deeply and answered “They are the darkness. They are evil taken form. This is the great enemy which will soon attempt to devour the lands. We must stand together if we are to fight them—”

Sacul’Tor cut in “Then let’s fight them. We are Fremen, we always stand together.”

The others agreed. Muad’Dib nodded and said “It is our way. This is the desert, this is Ahm-Shere. We have the power here.”

Seth’Dib said “To battle then.” He pointed to the east, where a path wound down to the desert below. Quickly the Fremen chieftains moved off towards the path.

The walk down the path took only a few minutes, and as Muad’Dib reached the end and stepped from the rocky ground to the sand beyond he realised the enemy army was still marching towards them. The front rank was almost three hundred metres distant from the nineteen Fremen. Seth’Dib placed a hand on Muad’Dib’s shoulder and said “What is your command Naib?”

Muad’Dib raised his left hand idly, pulling back the hood of his black cloak. He then pulled the cloth which covered his face down around his neck. Looking at the tide of darkness which marched slowly towards them, he rubbed his chin, feeling his black beard as he did so. He raised an eyebrow, his eyes glinting and said simply “We fight.”

Sacul’Tor laughed and responded “Yes! I knew there was a reason I liked this one.”

Muad’Dib did what he was supposed to do; he did what he was empowered to do; lead the Fremen into battle. He took the bow from its harness across his back, selected an arrow from his quiver and shouted “Fire at the front rank, give us some space to fight.” Notching the arrow to his bow, he stretched back his arm and squinting slightly he took careful aim. Firing a volley at the shadowy horde approaching, the Fremen saw their twelve arrows strike home. One each of the enemy fell, arrows protruding from gaps in their armour, or punched right through it. But the next rank simply walked over them, or crawled like insects, Muad’Dib thought.

Firing a second time, and a third they saw more of the invaders fall, but they did not halt, did not pause. They gave no thought to their dead, only stepped over them and continued marching, like a wave of unspeakable horror. The Fremen gave no ground, standing still, almost like statues, until they released another arrow, and another. These were drops in the ocean, and eventually the enemy would reach them. Muad’Dib noticed that the enemy had not fired arrows in response, perhaps they had no archers. But it was disturbing, as he saw them get closer, and he could see that they held no weapons in their hands. The gauntlets of their armour flexed, but they refused to draw their weapons. As they got closer, the details became clearer to him. He could see the segments of their armour, just like a beetle’s carapace as he had thought earlier. They did indeed have weapons, cruel looking swords held in simple loops of leather attached to their belts. He could see the hooks and barbs on the blades, a weapon designed to do terrible damage, not just kill.

The enemy seemed unfazed by their casualties, and closed the gap between them and the nineteen Fremen. They saw the closest begin to draw their wicked blades, and the Fremen knew as one that the time for arrows was past. Dropping the bows and quivers behind them, Muad’Dib and the other Fremen drew their scimitars. The clear ringing of their drawn weapons echoed up the cliff-sides up to the plateau above. The weapons seemed to sparkle in the sun, a sharp contrast to the blackened and charred look of the swords wielded by the enemy. Muad’Dib raised his scimitar as if in salute, and then the Fremen calmly walked towards the dark enemy. He could hear them louder now; a thumping, clanking sound from the rusty armour of the enemy seemed to surround him. Focussing, Muad’Dib said “For Ahm-Shere!”

With an almighty shout the Fremen broke into a run, charging headlong at the enemy soldiers. The enemy stopped, perhaps uncertain, perhaps simply waiting for the Fremen to come within reach of their cruel weapons.

As Muad’Dib reached the first black-clad soldier, he knocked its blade aside with his scimitar, and quickly plunged it straight through a gap between the segments of its armour. Pulling the weapon out and moving forward in one fluid motion, slashing down the next enemy as well. The next two soldiers raised their weapons, but the agile warrior darted to one side as a blade arced down at him, blocked two quick slashes and then stepped inside the guard of the opponent on the left, hacking the arm which fell lifelessly to the ground, before slicing the exposed neck. As one soldier fell, he turned to the other, blocking a series of heavy-handed blows, before he found an opening, burying the tip of his scimitar in the gut of his foe. But as these soldiers had fallen, more of the numberless throng clamoured to take their place. As he continued to fight, he saw from the corner of his eye the other Fremen fighting, each one alone and surrounded. Sacul’Tor made heavy, broad strokes with his scimitar, using his strength and size to cleave armour and flesh. Muad’Dib’s father Mass’Dib used his knowledge of the blade to hit each enemy in a weak point, dropping at least four enemies in the space of as many seconds. Luha’Tor seemed to dance around her opponents, making light, but deadly strikes, some so fast that the dark soldiers barely registered their wounds before slumping to the ground. Everything seemed to slow down, and Muad’Dib fought on, carving a bloody path through these invaders, these defilers. Time had little meaning in the thick of combat, seconds could pass like agonisingly long minutes, or minutes flew by in what seemed like a fraction of the time. It was all about the battle, surviving, the heat, the blood, the emotion. Even as he spun on his heel and hacked the head from one of his enemies, Muad’Dib thought about battle. It is like the oceans against the coast. The ebb and flow of the tides, some which must be fought against, others which you must let carry you wherever they may take you.

But the foes against which they stood were vast and seemingly did not tire. The Fremen themselves were men and women, they breathed, they tired, and they slowed. Each was a great hero, and fought like legends, but even legends can die. Gradually the numbers which flung themselves at the Fremen were too overpowering. Each Naib stood amongst piles of these dead enemies. Even the agility of the Fremen was not enough to carry the fight away from the dead. As Muad’Dib struggled with a particularly tough enemy, he heard the shout. He held the foe’s sword arm, as it held his, but he raised his leg, and placing his foot against it’s torso he pushed with all his might, sending the foe sprawling in the sand. Turning in the direction of the shout, he saw what he had most feared; one of the Fremen Naibs died before his eyes. Galen’Tor hacked down one of the many soldiers surrounding him, but another rose up behind him, plunging its cruel blade through his back, and as his back arched from the impact he lurched convulsively, blood spurting from his open mouth. As he slumped to his knees, several of the evil soldiers hacked and slashed at his body. The shout had come from Goben’Tor, Galen’Tor’s son, who vainly fought his way towards his father, only to be dragged down and butchered horribly. As each Naib died, it seemed as if something was lost inside Muad’Dib. He felt it keenly, as if he were growing weaker.

Seth’Dib shouted to him “Do not give up Muad’Dib. You must fight, you are Fremen!”

Steeling himself, Muad’Dib nodded and fought on with renewed vigour, a trio of the invaders falling before his scimitar, which was slick with blood. It was apparent however, that to survive the Fremen must move together. Fighting alone against such numbers was folly. He kicked one of the brutes into its comrades, and slashing his weapon into the back of another’s knees he sent it crashing to the ground, dragging a second foe down under it’s weight. He had created some room, and so he used it well, falling back a few paces and calling to the others “Fremen to me! We must stand together or we all die.” The others began to fight towards him, each second bringing them closer.

Muad’Dib spun quickly, bringing his scimitar round in a wide arc at the height of his enemies’ necks. The blade sliced through one throat, then a second and a third. The blood rushed out like a fountain, staining him and the ground. The arc brought him round to a fourth enemy, but it was too far away to catch with the move. Its throat was just as exposed though and Muad’Dib thrust with the blade and withdrew it, all in a fluid, smooth motion as the blood began to seep from the wound. Four foes dead, but countless more trampled over their bodies like flies.

The others had fought their way towards him, carving a path through the multitude of enemies like a farmer cuts the chaff. Together as a group, the Fremen stood in a line, surrounded by piles of these black-armoured enemies, with more and more rushing towards them. It seemed to Muad’Dib that the vanguard of the invading force had fallen, and now the next portion of the enemy was rushing like a dark tide to assault them. The Fremen had chosen their battleground well though, as the boulders and rocks around the path which led up to the plateau funnelled the enemy into smaller formations where they could not bring their numbers to bear. Now there were only sixteen of the Fremen Naibs left, as Fash’Dra had been dragged down by five of the enemy soldiers, stabbed many times as his hand reached for help. Muad’Dib had felt it keenly in his heart, as if he was dying himself.

As he took a moment to regain his breath, he could hear a voice on the wind, so familiar, almost cooling and calming as it whispered “Fight Muad’Dib, fight. You are needed.”

Asar’Mhir stood beside him and asked “How long can we fight them? There are too many of them.”

Muad’Dib blocked a crude swipe from one of the enemies and then sliced across its chest and stabbed it in the side. He replied as he fended off another enemy “As long as we are standing we will fight. There is no other way for us.”

Hours seemed to pass as they fought with every breath in their bodies. Muad’Dib lost count of the enemies he had personally slain this day. But still the enemy seemed to fight on with no signs of the army decreasing much in size. Even though the Fremen Naibs were great warriors, many being great legends as well, they fell in battle against these foes. As Muad’Dib dodged a thrusting blade, it caught him in the side, a light cut, but stinging none-the-less. He hacked the extended arm from the invader, and then buried his own scimitar in the gut of the black-clad monster. When he looked around to see how the others were faring he realised that many of the Naibs were already dead. He had not even realised it, he had not seen them fall. It was like a stabbing pain in his chest and heart, and he clutched at it instinctively, searching for a wound. He found none, but was greatly saddened by the losses in this battle. The funeral pyres would burn high tonight. It was the way of the Fremen people to burn their dead on pyres, as they had originally been nomadic people and had no place to entomb them. Once they settled the practice continued as a way to ward off the undead and also the Fremen believed that burning the body freed the spirit from its confines to pass over to the other side.

He could only see four others left alive, Seth’Dib, Sacul’Tor, Luha’Tor and Mass’Dib. He opened his mouth, but found that the words seemed stolen away from his lips. Silently he turned back to the enemy, a fire in his eyes.

The invaders were pressing the attack now, seeing a chance to finish off the tired Fremen. Muad’Dib blocked a high stroke, parried and carved his blade into the shoulder of his foe, pulling his scimitar back then plunging it into the heart of the faceless attacker. He ducked under a large sweep made by the next enemy, raising his scimitar to block the downward strike which followed. His reaction was slow, and he only barely stopped the force of the blow, pushing up with all his strength and jumping to one side he sliced the throat of the obsidian-armoured invader.

Luha’Tor struggled with an attacker, desperately trying to get her sword-arm free to strike the creature which seemed to tower over her. Each fought with every ounce of power they possessed, Luha’Tor gripping the sword-arm of her foe, pulling it down and away from her body, her knuckles white with the force. The invader’s gauntlet closed around her forearm, crushing and wrenching and twisting to try and make her drop her weapon. Neither was willing to admit defeat, until the invader flung his weapon down and tore his hand away violently, pulling the Fremen woman forward as she tried to keep her balance. Before Luha’Tor could do anything, the invaders hand gripped her throat tightly, and as her eyes widened, the black-armoured foe began to crush her neck, then almost with contempt rotated his wrist, snapping her neck like kindling.

Sacul’Tor, for all his bravado and bluster, fought back tears as he saw his daughter die, and hacked down the two foes nearest him in a fit of anger. He grabbed a third enemy by the arm, and stabbed him twice in the gut, before throwing the body into the seething mass of enemies who clambered to get over the waist-high piles of their own dead. He charged forward, smashing aside the blades of his enemies and hacking at them in return. Just as he finished another invader, he had to fend off a series of thrusts made by one of the advancing foes. Even while he did this, another of the brutes attacked from the other side, skewering his side with the wicked-looking blade. With a bellow of rage he severed the man’s hand, leaving the sword still in his side, until he cleaved the man from shoulder to hip. The man crumpled to the ground in a bloody mess, and Sacul’Tor pulled the sword free from his side and dropped it to the reddening sand. He turned back to face his enemies, but his reactions slowed due to the blood loss which was heavy. As he stabbed one enemy in the chest, he felt immense pain as two swords plunged deep into his guts. The black-clad foes withdrew their weapons, but as Sacul’Tor slumped to one knee, he raised his scimitar and hacked the legs out from under one man, and slashed the second across belly, spilling his insides. This last act of defiance on his part proved his name well founded, as Sacul’Tor, Thrice-Slain fought on, killing four more of the invaders before his wounds overcame him. He died amongst many enemies, with wounds which would have killed three other men.

Mass’Dib pulled his scimitar free from the body of an attacker, quickly blocking a low slash from another, blocking a second blow before he struck back. For a few minutes they traded slashes, thrusts and cuts, each blocking and parrying the others’ attacks. Mass’Dib was more skilled than this dark warrior, but he was fatigued from the long battle. Gradually the enemy wore down his defence, until he raise his scimitar to ward off a high downward stroke, only to find it was a feint and stumbled as the tip of the cruel blade pierced his chest, sliding in quickly up to the hilt. He took a bloody and ragged breath, and laid his scimitar against the side of the foe, who had not removed his sword quickly enough. Mass’Dib pulled the scimitar back, slicing deeply into the exposed neck of the invader. The last thing he saw as he fell sideways to the ground was the enemy falling as well, vainly clutching at his neck.

Seth’Dib mourned each passing of the Fremen Naibs, knowing that he would be last to fall just as he was first to rise to the mantle of chieftain. Holding his scimitar in a two-handed grip Seth’Dib slashed left, then right, and left again. Three of the enemies fell dead before him. He took a few steps forward, passed the corpses, seeing several more of the invaders marching towards him, hefting their wicked-looking swords as they did so. Seth’Dib raised his scimitar in front of him and took up a defensive stance. He spoke, his voice ringing clear and loud and boldly around the rocks, echoing “No Fremen will ever bow to the will of outsiders. These lands are honour-bound for us to protect. So speaks one, so speaks all of us.” Four of the armoured foes charged at him, and he calmly parried blow after blow, striking one of the attackers down when he found an opening. But masterful as his skill with the blade was, Seth’Dib was a man of honour, and he underestimated his enemy’s underhandedness. While he was busy with these three attackers, another two joining them to attack him from the front, two more crept from behind, skulking in their insidious nature. As Seth’Dib swept aside the blades of two foes, they staggered out of sword’s reach, and he found the chance to plunge his shining scimitar into the heart of the third attacker. But the two hidden enemies made their move while he began to remove his scimitar, rising up like evil shades, slashing their cruel, barbed blades across his back. The Fremen warrior shouted in pain, falling forward to his hands and knees. In an instant, even as he tried to raise his weapon to fight on, one of the attackers standing in front of him took up a two-handed stance, aiming the sword at Seth’Dib’s neck, almost as if he was chopping wood, bringing the sword down in a brutal swing, hacking Seth’Dib’s exposed neck.

Muad’Dib saw each death of those greatest amongst the Fremen legends, seeing his father fall again. He had been just a boy when Mass’Dib and his brother Bara’Dib were slain in battle. He remembered when the Fedaykin had brought their broken bodies back to the tribe. He saw his mother’s spirit broken in that same moment and he became chieftain of the Fremen. He felt it throughout his body, like a wave passing over him, renewing him and restoring his energy. As if now that he was alone, he was somehow whole again, instead of fractured. Was this the meaning of the dream? Muad’Dib wondered. Perhaps the other Fremen chieftains were merely parts of him, and now that they had fallen in battle he was complete again, and ready to fight on. Then a fell mood took Muad’Dib and all he could see was a red haze. As he roared in hatred, anger and grief, the clouds darkened and rumbled. The sky was set alight and burned, the ground shook and the mountains cracked and crumbled. The air seared and hissed, and far away the sea boiled to vapour.

Gripping his scimitar tightly in both hands, he charged a group of the enemies. He hacked the arm from the nearest, a welter of blood spurting from the grievous wound. Kicking out, Muad’Dib sent the armoured foe sprawling into another enemy. With the deadly skill of a warrior who has honed his swordsmanship like an art his entire life, Muad’Dib cut down two more enemies in quick succession. Turning, he reversed the grip on his sword and plunged it downwards into the chest of the enemy who struggled to free himself from the dead weight of the armless invader. Seeing the invader stir, blood still pumping from the severed stump which remained of his arm, Muad’Dib put the man out of his misery. An act of battlefield mercy which he was sure these defiling invaders would not show him. For what seemed like an eternity he went this way and that, walking with a grim purpose as he slaughtered any of the enemies which came within his reach. So many fell to his vengeance that his scimitar looked like it had been forged from red metal. Finally he looked around, with only piles of dead as far as the eye could see. Then he caught sight of one foe standing, far away from the plateau, back where there were no fallen dead, only the sand and one solitary enemy.

Muad’Dib raised his weapon high, and ran towards this last enemy ready to cut the vile invader down. The foe, much larger than any of the others, stood there, its sword cast away, and the baroque armoured plates seemed to bristle with anticipation. Muad’Dib ran for what seemed like a lifetime, each moment stretching agonisingly and melding into the next like ink soaking into parchment. He passed piles of bodies, towering to either side like rocks jutting from the earth, and finally he reached his foe, slicing his scimitar down in a high arc at the monster’s head. But as the razor-sharp edge of the weapon came within an inch of carving into the flesh of his foe, the armoured form seemed to disintegrate, turning to black ash or sand, blowing away in the wind, high into the air and dispersing before Muad’Dib’s eyes. As he halted, stunned momentarily, the light from the sun seemed to fade, diminish, flicker and falter, until everything began to turn grey, then black. Everything turned to pitch black, not even the semblance of night, but darker still. As Muad’Dib stood, breathing heavily, he looked around, and for all the darkness, he saw a pale light linger, blinking like a star. It grew gradually, the light growing brighter, more intense, right before his eyes, until it filled his vision entirely.

Slowly he opened his eyes and as they adjusted he became aware of the room, the bed, the ceiling and most importantly, his wife sitting beside the bed, her head resting gently against it. He twitched his fingers, feeling the life and energy return. Lifting his hand, he stroked Liana’s black silken hair. She stirred, and woke, smiling instantly when she saw he was awake. Liana said joyously “Muad’Dib, your fever has broken. You’re going to be fine, you survived the desert fever my love.”

Muad’Dib replied “Desert fever… now the dream begins to make more sense. But as long as I see your face nothing can hurt me. It feels as if an eternity has passed since I last saw you my love.” Sitting up in the bed he pulled Liana close to him, kissing her softly but passionately upon the lips. As he embraced the love of his life, Muad’Dib thought that he would rather stay here than do anything in the world. Woe betide any foe that came between him and his family, and his people.

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