Old DuneFishUK wrote:I just found this on my Google Drive whilst moving everything into a brand new folder called “Old Shiz” and I thought I should preserve it here.
It was my entry to the Second (serious) Fanfic Competition and an attempt to learn from my previous (quite bad) attempt at (serious) creative writing. I think I mostly succeeded, but left it far too late and then wrote it very very quickly… which 100% shows in places. I don’t think the Chigger ever posted this or any of the other entries that may or may not have been submitted.
Disclaimer: Aside from the odd spelling mistake, I’ve not updated it at all - this is pristine 2011!
Danforth cursed as the suspensor sled sagged to the ground. This was a bad place, hiding places were limited. All around him steep scree-slopes reached up to sheer basalt crags high above. In the abrupt silence he slid the large brown box off the sled and frantically fumbled with the small bolts that held the inspection hatch closed. His fingers were numb from the biting wind that rushed between the cold grey mountains. He longed for the muggy warmth of the lowland forests where a man could disappear, and only fear attack by native predators.
The hatch clicked open, but the circuits inside meant nothing to him. The power seemed to be connected, but the machine was dead. Blast the Ixians and their toys, he punched the sled - a last vain hope that it might be able to carry the weight of the box just a few more kilometres. The sled remained silent and motionless.
He stood up and looked around, there was a small bush to his left - it would have to do. He dragged the sled off the path and hid it as best he could. Thankfully this was an area most commonly patrolled by one of the traitor legions: fanatics undoubtedly, but without the brutally refined aptitudes of the usurper's Fedaykin commandos. Returning to the box he worked out how best to move it. It was heavy, but not unmanageable - the Ixians had thought to install small handles along its sides, but it was unlikely they had intended it to be carried by just one man.
Just me now, he thought, a sudden feeling of loneliness rushing through his body. He thought of all the men he had lost. Those who had journeyed with him from Kaitain and those remnants of Earl Remsen's forces who had flocked to him as a last hope on this world. All dead now.
"You need help?"
Training kicked in. Danforth lunged, knife already drawn, caught the man's neck and threw him to the stony ground.
"Who are you!" He roared at the man's face, pushing the blade against his throat, "Who sent you?"
The man whimpered defensively, he was not Fedaykin, that much was obvious. But Muad'dib had many spies in many places, that this man was a collaborator could not be ruled out. Danforth shook the man and repeated the questions as he loosened the man's wrist sheath and stuffed it into his pocket. He pushed his blade more firmly against the man's flesh.
"Goats..." the man gasped, "...herd goats..."
Danforth faked a chuckle, "Goats? Then where are they? I see no goats here."
The man shook his head pathetically, "They are, I hid.." he tried to look to one back down the trail. Danforth did not follow the man's gaze - this could be the feint before the counter.
Then he heard a sound, a distant plink-plink-plinka-plink, the man looked suddenly relieved. Reinforcements? Danforth asked himself. Plink-plinka-plink. He risked an upwards glance, making sure the man felt the edge of the knife before he did so.
A goat stood silently atop a grey boulder, looking down at the two men, a small bell hung from it's collar. It sprung down, the bell plinking as the creature regained its balance.
Danforth released the man and stood up. Breathing heavily as he did, he smoothed what was left of his grey uniform. The goatherd sat up, rubbing the red mark on his neck and gesturing for the goat to come to him.
"What in Angul man!" the goatherd cursed as he regained his composure, "I see brave tall man struggling, and the stupid bastard tries to kill me!"
Danforth shook his head and walked back to the box, "I am sorry, friend. There are many enemies in these mountains, these are difficult and uncertain times." He still held his knife.
The goatherd struggled to his feet, "These are difficult and uncertain times for the whole world." He caught the goat by the collar and pulled it against his legs, "Are you going to put your knife away now? You are making me uneasy."
Danforth scanned the man once more, there was nothing to suggest he was anything other than one of the numerous local goat herders who passed through this area on a regular basis. Reluctantly he sheathed the blade, the man grinned.
"I thank you for your trust, Lord. I know when I see you that we fight the same fight. Our Noble Lord built roads, schools and great cities for his people. Now he is killed by the hand of the offworlders - the same offworlders who now order me to renounce the Oracle and worship the usurper who slayed my Lord."
Danforth let his hand drop from the handle of his knife, "We fight the same fight. I apologise for my actions. Your Lord was a good friend of mine, I wish to avenge his death."
After a brief pause the goatherd walked over to the box, walked round it and grasped two of the handles. Danforth's hand moved towards his knife as the goatherd tested the weight, "Come, I will help you carry."
Did the goatherd see what the box was? To many men it would be obvious, but to this man? Almost without thinking Danforth felt his hands grasp the handles opposite from the goatherd. Together they lifted and with two of them it was easier. "Alright!" Danforth grunted and they began to walk. The goat followed close behind, his small bell gently plinking as he moved.
"What is it? It is heavy," Danforth shot a glance at the goatherd, who was staring at the intricate Ixian angles carved into the box's surface, "Jewels? It is a nice looking box." He looked up at Danforth, then grinned, "Do not worry friend, I will not take them or ask for payment, although I do know many men who would." He paused, thoughtfully, "No, it is not treasure, is it? It's something much more valuable, and far more destructive." Reading something in Danforth's face, "Do not worry friend, I will not tell."
How much does he know? Danforth wondered, Will I have to kill him?
"You have brought this far from the West?" the goatherd asked, watching Danforth closely as they heaved the case along the trail, "There was fighting at my Lord's distillery."
Danforth nodded, "Many men died."
"But you have allies in Baiga?" the goatherd paused, then by way of explanation, "This is the road that leads to Baiga, the Ninth Legion is in Baiga." They took a few more steps, "A village is not far, maybe they will sell us a cart or a horse."
Danforth nodded, "We can hope - I'm not sure I can carry the weight of this stone-burner much further."
The goatherd missed a step, Danforth lunged.
He buried his ornate blade deep into the man's chest and pinned him to the ground. "Who are you really, goatherd? I don't think you're an Atreides, you look local, but you're not..."
He felt the goatherd's knife, still sheathed in his pocket, he pulled it out with his spare hand, dropped it on the ground and drew the blade. The goatherd, struggled, rising blood gurgling in his throat. Danforth inspected the blade, "Looks ordinary enough..."
After a moment's thought he scratched the goatherd with its tip, the goatherd let out a sob, then started throwing himself up and down, red foam pouring from his mouth.
"Impressive poison, face-dancer!" The goatherd's body sagged after one last spasm. "You forgot, there are no horses left on Naraj."
He stood, spat once on the crumpled and bloodied body and returned to the box, his only companion. Taking up position he grasped the handles and began to drag.
We will join my friends in Baiga, you are one thing the dirty Tleilaxu will not meddle with.