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datatime: 2022-12-04 12:11:13 Author:MPRFxlQs

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

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?"

Leto thought he wanted to give one to Kailea as a present. With the wealth of House Atreides, he could afford to buy Rhombur's sister many greater treasures if he wished, but the gift might mean more if he procured it himself. She would probably appreciate it either way.

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

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."

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."

"There's the reef," Leto said. "We'll anchor about half a kilometer away so we don't risk ripping open the hull. Then we can go diving." He opened a compartment and withdrew a sack and a small spatulaknife for each of them. "The coral gems don't grow very deep. We can dive without air tanks." He slapped Rhombur on the back. "It's about time you started to earn your keep around here."

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?"

The Prince of Ix stood at the bow while Leto worked the controls. Rhombur soaked up the experience of water and wind and sun, smiling. He took a deep breath. "I feel so alone and so free out here."

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."

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

Rhombur wandered the deck and tried to help, doing whatever Leto told him to do. He'd never been on an open boat before. The engines carried them away from the cliffs, beyond the shielded harbor, and out into open water. Sunlight glittered like sparkflies on the rippled surface of the sea.

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.

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?"

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.

Leto thought he wanted to give one to Kailea as a present. With the wealth of House Atreides, he could afford to buy Rhombur's sister many greater treasures if he wished, but the gift might mean more if he procured it himself. She would probably appreciate it either way.

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."

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

Finally, as Rhombur looked on with curiosity and trepidation, Leto clapped him on the shoulder. "Remember your rock collection? You and I are going to dive for 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."

"There's the reef," Leto said. "We'll anchor about half a kilometer away so we don't risk ripping open the hull. Then we can go diving." He opened a compartment and withdrew a sack and a small spatulaknife for each of them. "The coral gems don't grow very deep. We can dive without air tanks." He slapped Rhombur on the back. "It's about time you started to earn your keep around here."

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?"

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

"Then what --"

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