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datatime: 2022-12-08 13:52:58 Author:GUSFrUdo

"Still it was your own decision, despite my warnings and despite my advice. Your decision alone, Paulus Atreides." Her voice was frighteningly cold. "You must live with the consequences, and be damned by them."

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."

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?"

"Still it was your own decision, despite my warnings and despite my advice. Your decision alone, Paulus Atreides." Her voice was frighteningly cold. "You must live with the consequences, and be damned by them."

"Then what --"

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.

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.

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."

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.

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

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

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."

"Then what --"

"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."

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.

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."

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?"

"Still it was your own decision, despite my warnings and despite my advice. Your decision alone, Paulus Atreides." Her voice was frighteningly cold. "You must live with the consequences, and be damned by them."

Unswayed, she said, "In their pride, the people of Ix have broken the Law, and they have paid for it. Should I feel sorry for them? I think not."

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?"

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.

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

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

"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."

"Then what --"

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