ATREIDES, LADY ALIA
© Dr. Willis E. McNelly

(also "The Womb of Heaven," "The Accursed One," "Saint Alia-of-the-Knife"; 10191-10220).

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA . Born in 10191, within a year of her parents' move from Caladan to Arrakis, the Lady Alia was the first of the Atreides pre-born. Her consciousness was permanently altered during the Water of Life ceremony which made her mother, the Lady Jessica, a Fremen Reverend Mother. The desert folk did not know of Jessica's pregnancy, and so had no way of knowing that they were creating more than a new Reverend Mother when they fed Lady Jessica the "illuminating poison"; the recently-widowed Lady knew the effect the raw Water of Life would have on her unborn daughter, but could not refuse the ceremony. The result was the creation of something Jessica's Bene Gesserit superiors had long feared: a child born with full awareness and knowledge of her ancestral memories.

The superstitious Fremen were affected by the child from the moment of her birth. After only a few moments of crying, the newborn looked around the birthing room as if taking in every detail with her already-focused eyes, and with a curious smile, drank the Water of Conception fed her by her godmother Harah. Some of the other women present at the birth were unnerved by this behavior and spread the word among their people that their new Reverend Mother had given birth to a child who would bear careful watching. The Bene Gesserit were not the only group in the Imperium with legends of Abomination.

Alia's precocity in other matters did nothing to soothe the Fremen's unease. By the time she could walk, only eight months after her birth, she was exercising their water discipline as thoroughly as any adult among them. Her access to Fremen memories, in addition to those of her own ancestors, meant she did not have to learn the discipline but simply implement what she already knew. Her first words to her godmother and nurse where not the nonsense syllables the Fremen women would have expected from a baby, but a recognizable sentence: "I love you, Harah." But most unsettling was the child's habit of sitting alone at the edge of the desert, practicing adult Bene Gesserit exercises.

Only the stature of her mother and brother among the tribes saved the child Alia from being put to the Test of Possession. The Fremen seldom used the ritual, for it evoked a feeling of communal guilt as no other action could; but the sight of a child behaving so much older than her known years was enough to make them consider it.

In 10193, during the last engagements between the forces of Shaddam IV and Muad'Dib's Fremen, the two-year-old Alia permitted herself to be captured by the Emperor's Sardaukar rather than take responsibility for telling her brother that his son had been killed in the fighting. Taken before the Emperor, his Truthsayer R.M. Gaius Helen Mohiam, and the Baron Harkonnen, the little girl exhibited such poise and intelligence that she unnerved all three. The Reverend Mother demanded that she be killed at once, claiming that she was the Abomination the Sisterhood had long known was possible, a development feared above all other consequences of their breeding program. Shaddam IV insisted that she reveal her brother's whereabouts and tried futilely to frighten her as though she were any other child. The old Baron, already known to the girl as her maternal grandfather, made the most foolish mistake of all by seizing her, believing that she was helpless and easily dispatched. The "helpless" child struck him with a poisoned needle; the Harkonnen died moments later.

As she grew older Alia often mentioned her loneliness and isolation from the rest of humanity. Not even Muad'Dib, for all his own prescient abilities, shared her unique position as a pre-born. Jessica, while she understood what had happened to her daughter as well as one who had not experienced such an awakening could, provided little comfort to the girl who increasingly came to view her mother as the person to blame for her condition.

In another sense, she was never alone. Maintaining an individual identity amid the barrage of memories was a constant drain, made more difficult by Alia's part in her brother's legend. As he was Muad'Dib, the Mahdi who would lead his Fremen to paradise over the bodies of the unbelievers, so she became transformed into Saint Alia-of-the-Knife, the divine huntress who sought out the faithless, who could not be deceived. For Alia herself-as child, adolescent, or young woman-there was little room.

Following her brother's disappearance into the desert in 10209, Lady Alia was appointed as Regent for his twins, Leto and Ghanima. One of her first acts in that capacity was to order the deaths of those who had conspired against the Emperor, sparing none but the repentant Princess Irulan. Interestingly, in light of Paul's having ordered that the old woman be spared, Alia's orders included the execution of Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. It was assumed at the time that her action resulted from a simple desire for revenge, but recent revelations concerning the possibility that the Reverend Mother was Lady Jessica's biological mother make such an uncomplicated explanation suspect. This violation of her brother's express command marked the Lady's first departure from usual Atreides' behavior.

Within a month after becoming Regent, Alia married the first ghola of Duncan Idaho, the Atreides swordmaster. The marriage ceremony was performed before an audience of hundreds of thousands of Imperial subjects in the capital city of Arrakeen as befitted the bride's rank; but the ceremony was unfamiliar to most of the watchers. Alia had chosen to observe the Fremen rites, omitting only those sections of the ritual which involved removing her crysknife from its sheath at her waist. She was still too much under the Fremen influence to unsheath a crysknife before a crowd of out-freyn and already adept enough a politician to realize how such an action would have alienated the people who made up her power base.

During the earliest years of her Regency, Lady Alia seemed little changed from the young woman who had led crowds of pilgrims in prayer and prophesied for them during the Muad'Dib days. As rebellions were put down and problems solved, however, she found herself more often subject to the demands of her ancestral memories for a second chance, a new life gained at her expense. The Bene Gesserit litanies and rituals helped to silence the inner voices for a time, as did the Zensunni rituals Alia knew from her background of Fremen memories. But the interior personalities grew stronger with time and were strengthened still further by the Regent's frequent recourse to heavy doses of melange.

Her decisions as Regent, as well as those affected by them, suffered. Aides whispered to one another of their mistress's "divine rages"; those closest to her, including her husband, urged her to spare herself more, to rest. Driven from within, she ignored their advice.

One of the schemes most important to her involved the twins placed in her care. With the Lady Jessica safely out of the way in Castle Caladan, and their Fremen guardian Stilgar content to defer to her in all things, Alia was in complete control of Leto and Ghanima. She knew that they were pre-born, as she had been, and that they had avoided taking large doses of melange because they feared its effects on them. If they could be persuaded to attempt the spice-trance, a greater degree of prescience might be available to them than was to her. And to whom they relate their visions, if not to their waiting and sympathetic aunt? She encouraged them to experiment with the spice from their earliest years in her care, never realizing that they were capable of seeing what such a course had done to her and determined to avoid it at all costs. The twin's lack of cooperation left their aunt puzzled, annoyed, and finally infuriated. It was another barrier to her exercising full control over the Imperium she had been given to command, another unneeded drain on her diminishing personal resources.

ATREIDES, LADY ALIA

(also "The Womb of Heaven," "The Accursed One," "Saint Alia-of-the-Knife"; 10191-10220).

By 10217, the strain of dealing with her inner voices finally became too great for Alia to handle alone. To avoid total personality fragmentation, she made an alliance with the memory of old Baron Harkonnen, the family enemy she herself had killed many years earlier. With this strong personality acting in concert with hers, she was able to shut out the maddening internal voices and act decisively once again. It is not known whether the Regent realized or cared that her relationship with her grandfather's memory-self had to change the direction her actions would take.

From this year onward, Alia's decisions grew increasingly more self-protective, less representative of the old Atreides codes. Her use of Bene Gesserit techniques to maintain her young body dated from this time. Her change soon prompted the Sisterhood to send a delegation to the Lady Jessica on Caladan, asking her help in investigating her daughter. Jessica accepted at once: if Alia indeed were slipping into a state of Abomination, she wanted to be the one to confirm it and perhaps help her daughter save herself. Jessica knew her B.G. sisters well; they would think only to destroy an Abomination.

Her mother learned firsthand just how true were the rumors concerning Alia. Within weeks of her arrival in Arrakeen, Jessica was a captive of House Corrino, young Leto was presumed dead, and an engagement between Ghanima and Farad'n Corrino was in the works. Alia was free to act with even greater vigor in expanding her control of the Imperium and of the young woman, her niece, who was ostensibly to inherit it. The Regent tightened her grip wherever possible, not realizing that other plans were in progress to bring about her ruin.

Those plans-among them those of Jessica, Gurney Halleck, Leto, Farad'n, Ghanima, and Duncan Idaho- blossomed within weeks of one another in 10220. Alia was put in the position of having to take more and greater risks when her assassin failed to kill Halleck, her husband's death forced Stilgar to take Irulan and Ghanima with him as he fled into the desert, and her internal ally, the old Baron, spent more time lusting after the young men in her court than he did helping her. Despite her eventual success in securing Irulan and Stilgar in her dungeons and in persuading Ghanima to feign acceptance of Farad'n, she had spread herself too thin. When Leto, now protected and strengthened by his sandtrout skin, arrived at Alia's temple, he faced an adversary he could now overcome, in spite of her legendary prowess at hand-to-hand combat. Subdued by Leto, Alia exerted the force of her own personality one final time. In spite of the protests of her inner voices, she chose to take her own life rather than to submit to a Fremen Trial of Possession. As she flung herself to the Temple courtyard, she performed her first independent act in years.

ALIA AS GODDESS: "THE, WOMB OF HEAVEN." The first recorded Cult of Alia was established in Arrakeen in 10970. Members of this and succeeding Cults should not be confused with those who worshipped Alia during her lifetime. The first group believed that Alia possessed a godhead of her own; the second saw her only as a reflected image of her brother, carrying on the work Muad'Dib had begun. While "The Womb of Heaven," one of her most popular titles in life, was adopted by the Cults, it took on far more hallowed connotation. Her lesser titles, including "Saint Alia-of-the-Knife," were discarded.

The formation of the, Cults may well have been a reaction against the rule of the Lord Leto. Humanity by this time understood that they were being ruled by a being who would outlive their most distant posterity, and many found the idea repellent. Turning to the worship of an older, safely dead goddess was one way of rebellion against the new deity. It could also be a dangerous one, if word of an individual's membership in the Cult got back to one of Leto's priests or priestesses. The heresy was not encouraged.

The Book of Alia is believed to have been composed by Cyris Nels (10942-11013), a failed candidate for the God Emperor's society of priestesses. Whether or not Nels was truly the author of the Book, whoever wrote it had access to considerable historical data concerning both Alia and the rest of her family, Leto II included. This familiarity would point to authorship by someone affiliated with the religion of the God Emperor; by this point in Leto's reign, these were the only persons allowed access to the written histories, and the Oral History did not contain the wealth of detail present in the Book.

The Cult's view of the relationship between Alia and her brother was unorthodox. Noting that Paul Atreides often denied his own divinity while not denying that of his sister, the Book of Alia offers its own interpretation:

Muad'Dib, we see, was a messenger, a prophet. Great powers of divination and prophecy were his, but not for use on his own behalf: it was his glorious duty to prepare the way for the Womb of Heaven.

If the seeker doubts this and would see Maud'Dib as a god in his own right, let the prophet's own life provide instruction. He was unaware at birth, an infant like any other. While some degree of prescience was within his power from his youth, not until Blessed Mother Jessica gave birth to his sister did he realize how dim were his feeble peerings into the future. He submitted to the Water of Life to brighten them. Even with the knowledge of the future thus gained, he permitted himself to be blinded, made a widower, and abandoned to the desert where he wandered for eleven years before his return to Arrakeen and his execution by his sister's priests.

Contrast this pitiable existence with that of our Lady, divine and aware from her earliest months in the Blessed Mother's womb, dying only to return when the cleansing of her people is completed, and it can clearly be seen by all that Muad'Dib was no god. Woe to those who persist in believing that he was!

On the subject of Alia's death the Book departs furthest from theological norms. It is now known that the body of Alia Atreides was removed from the courtyard of her Temple following her suicidal leap and processed through the nearest deathstill. The water thus obtained was carried into the desert and allowed to evaporate in the fierce sun. This Fremen way of disposing with the water of one convicted of Possession indicates the low opinion held of the Regent at the time of her death. In The Book of Alia, a far different explanation is given:

Her servants, all unknowing, were performing the Lady's will in ensuring that neither her body nor its water would be preserved. For when the Time of Trial is ended and the Usurper removed from his position of slavemaster to her people, the Womb of Heaven will return to sit in judgment over all in a divine form bearing no relation to that she occupied in life. Reminders of that shell of flesh would serve no purpose.

The true nature of Alia Atreides-Abomination, goddess, victim of history-may never entirely be known. The possibility exists, too, that she had no one distinct nature, and that Lady Alia was capable of encompassing each of the contradictory personalities with which she has been credited. In The Dune Catastrophe, Harq al-Ada makes this very point, citing the opinion of Ghanima Atreides: "My aunt chose her own course at many junctures, but the opportunity to choose was not always given her. Leto and I pitied her even as we feared her, and I believe that she often felt the same mix of emotions toward herself."

J.A.C.

Further references: ATREIDES, PAUL MAUD'DIB; ATREIDES, GHANIMA; ATREIDES, LETIO II; MOHIAM, REVEREND MOTHER GAIUS HELEN; Anon., The Azhar Book, ed K.R. Baraux, Arrakis Studies 49 (Grumman: United Worlds); Pyer Briizvair, ed., Summa of Ancient Belief and Practice (Boichef: Collegium Tamo); R.M. Lucius Ellen Callen and R.M. Hallus Deborah Seales, eds., Report on Alia Atreides, Lib. Conf. Temp. Series 169; Nels, Cyris (?), The Book of Alia, Lib. Conf. Temp. Series 242.