Over at Shaping Tomorrow’s World Bernard J. was looking for a scene out of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. It’s from the dinner given by the Duke for the nobility of Arakis, just after the chapter where the Duke and Paul witness the loss of a harvester to a sandworm and shortly before the Harkonnen invasion.
The banker picked up his water flagon, gestured with it at Bewt. “None of us here can surpass Master Lingar Bewt in flowery phrases. One might almost assume he aspired to Great House status. Come, Master Bewt, lead us in a toast. Perhaps you’ve a dollop of wisdom for the boy who must be treated like a man.”
Jessica clenched her right hand into a fist beneath the table. She saw a handsignal pass from Halleck to Idaho, saw the house troopers along the walls move into positions of maximum guard.
Bewt cast a venomous glare at the banker.
Paul glanced at Halleck, took in the defensive positions of his guards, looked at the banker until the man lowered the water flagon. He said: “Once, on Caladan, I saw the body of a drowned fisherman recovered. He–”
”Drowned?” It was the stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter.
Paul hesitated, then: “Yes. Immersed in water until dead. Drowned.”
”What an interesting way to die,” she murmured.
Paul’s smile became brittle. He returned his attention to the banker. “The interesting thing about this man was the wounds on his shoulders–made by another fisherman’s claw-boots. This fisherman was one of several in a boat–a craft for traveling on water–that foundered . . . sank beneath the water. Another fisherman helping recover the body said he’d seen marks like this man’s wounds several times. They meant another drowning fisherman had tried to stand on this poor fellow’s shoulders in the attempt to reach up to the surface–to reach air.”
”Why is this interesting?” the banker asked.
”Because of an observation made by my father at the time. He said the drowning man who climbs on your shoulders to save himself is understandable– except when you see it happen in the drawing room.” Paul hesitated just long enough for the banker to see the point coming, then: “And, I should add, except when you see it at the dinner table.”
A sudden stillness enfolded the room.
That was rash, Jessica thought. This banker might have enough rank to call my son out. She saw that Idaho was poised for instant action. The House troopers were alert. Gurney Halleck had his eyes on the men opposite him.
”Ho-ho-ho-o-o-o!” It was the smuggler, Tuek, head thrown back laughing with complete abandon.
Nervous smiles appeared around the table.
Bewt was grinning.
The banker had pushed his chair back, was glaring at Paul.
Kynes said: “One baits an Atreides at his own risk.”
”Is it Atreides custom to insult their guests?” the banker demanded.
Before Paul could answer, Jessica leaned forward, said: “Sir!” And she thought: We must learn this Harkonnen creature’s game. Is he here to try for Paul? Does he have help?
”My son displays a general garment and you claim it’s cut to your fit?” Jessica asked. “What a fascinating revelation.” She slid a hand down to her leg to the crysknife she had fastened in a calf-sheath.
The banker turned his glare on Jessica. Eyes shifted away from Paul and she saw him ease himself back from the table, freeing himself for action. He had focused on the code word: garment. “Prepare for violence. “
Kynes directed a speculative look at Jessica, gave a subtle hand signal to Tuek.
The smuggler lurched to his feet, lifted his flagon. “I’ll give you a toast,” he said. “To young Paul Atreides, still a lad by his looks, but a man by his actions.”