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datatime: 2022-12-03 20:15:17 Author:dVKNyHKX

Helena sounded eminently reasonable. "The children can't help who they are, Paulus -- they didn't ask to be born there, raised there, exposed to anything but proper teachings. Do you think they've ever held the Orange Catholic Bible? It's not their fault. They are what they are, and I can't hate them for it."

He made a rude noise. "There was no choice, Helena. On my honor and my word -- there was no choice."

Leto laughed and waved the man away. "Jerrik, you know I've been handling these boats for years now. The seas are calm, and we have a shore-com aboard. But thank you for your concern. Don't worry, we won't go far, just to the reefs."

These precious stones, found in knobby coral reefs, were popular pieces on Caladan, but perilous to handle. Coral gems were said to hold tiny living creatures that caused their inner fires to dance and simmer. Because of the hazards and expense of containment, the gems did not support much of an off-world export market, given the more viable alternative of soostones from Buzzell. But local coral gems were lovely, nonetheless.

Leto laughed and waved the man away. "Jerrik, you know I've been handling these boats for years now. The seas are calm, and we have a shore-com aboard. But thank you for your concern. Don't worry, we won't go far, just to the reefs."

Servants packed them a lunch while three mariner assistants checked all the onboard systems in preparation for a day-long voyage. Rhombur watched Leto treat these people as friends while they loaded the gear. "Is your wife's leg better, Jerrik? Did you finish the roof on your smoke shed, Dom?"

"Just keeping you out of trouble is, uh, effort enough," Rhombur countered.

He made a rude noise. "There was no choice, Helena. On my honor and my word -- there was no choice."

"Oh, calm down and go to sleep, Helena."

Leto sailed the coracle for about an hour, consulting satellite maps and charts, making for a knot of outlying reefs. He handed Rhombur a set of binoculars and indicated a frothy, tumultuous patch on the sea. Isolated black ridges of rock barely poked above the waves like the spine of a sleeping leviathan.

Looking overboard, Rhombur saw rafts of leathery-leafed seaweed and round gourdlike fruits that held up the plants like air bladders. "Paradan melons," Leto said. "If you want one, just reach over the side and take it. If you've never had paradan fresh from the sea, you're in for a taste treat...though the fruit's a bit salty for me."

He made a rude noise. "There was no choice, Helena. On my honor and my word -- there was no choice."

After the coracle was secured on its anchor cord, Leto pointed a scanner overboard to map out the contours of the reefs below. "Look at this," he said, letting his friend view the screen. "See those crannies and tiny caves? That's where you'll find the coral gems."

Paulus hit a piece of furniture hard with his hand, and Leto heard wood scraping across stone, a chair shoved aside. "And I'm to believe you are familiar enough with the inner workings of Ix to make such a judgment? Or have you already come to a conclusion based on what you want to hear, without being troubled by mere lack of evidence?" He laughed, and his tone turned more gentle." Besides, you seem to be working well with young Kailea. She enjoys your company. How can you say such things about her to me, and then pretend to be kind to her face?"

After the coracle was secured on its anchor cord, Leto pointed a scanner overboard to map out the contours of the reefs below. "Look at this," he said, letting his friend view the screen. "See those crannies and tiny caves? That's where you'll find the coral gems."

The two of them descended the narrow cliffside path and staircase, holding on to rails and vaulting weathered steps, avoiding the slippery moss and the white encrustations of salty spray.

After the coracle was secured on its anchor cord, Leto pointed a scanner overboard to map out the contours of the reefs below. "Look at this," he said, letting his friend view the screen. "See those crannies and tiny caves? That's where you'll find the coral gems."

She lashed out at him with such vehemence that Leto took a silent step backward in surprise out in the shadowy hall. "You're the one who has made a choice here, Paulus. And you've made the wrong one. That choice will cost you and our House dearly."

THE NEXT DAY, a calm and sunny morning, Leto stood next to Rhombur at an open window, admiring the quays at the base of the promontory. The ocean spread out like a blue-green prairie, curving off to the distant horizon. "A perfect day," Leto said, realizing that his friend was homesick for the lost underground city of Vernii, probably tired of too much weather. "Now it's my turn to show you around Caladan."

After the coracle was secured on its anchor cord, Leto pointed a scanner overboard to map out the contours of the reefs below. "Look at this," he said, letting his friend view the screen. "See those crannies and tiny caves? That's where you'll find the coral gems."

Looking overboard, Rhombur saw rafts of leathery-leafed seaweed and round gourdlike fruits that held up the plants like air bladders. "Paradan melons," Leto said. "If you want one, just reach over the side and take it. If you've never had paradan fresh from the sea, you're in for a taste treat...though the fruit's a bit salty for me."

Far off to starboard a pod of murmons swam like furred logs, large but harmless creatures that drifted with ocean currents, singing to themselves with low, hooting sounds.

Unsettled, Leto crept away, his question forgotten, without waiting to see how soon they extinguished the lights.

He made a rude noise. "There was no choice, Helena. On my honor and my word -- there was no choice."

After all preparations were completed, he and Rhombur boarded the wickerwood coracle. An Atreides burgee flew from the stern, snapping in the breeze. As the mariner assistants cast off the lines, one asked, "You can handle this yourself, m'Lord?"

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