© Dr. Willis E. McNelly

When Usul was still a boy, he became no longer content to stay in the sietch with his mother. He went to her to take leave, but she said, "Usul, your minha, the season for your testing, has not yet come. Stay with me a while." But he said to her, "Every hour seems like a day. I will go forth into the desert, where the time will not pass so slowly, and where I shall see wonders." So he went out of his sietch into the bled, and went on from mom till night, and whichever way his path led him, it was all the same to him.

It came to pass that, as the sun was setting, he saw some little way off a castle made all of sand. The walls were sand, the towers were sand, even the doors were sand. Now Usul was tired from his journey and he longed to lie down, but he thought, "Who knows what will happen if I push one of these doors? The whole place may come down on me." So he readied himself to sleep outside, but as he did so, he saw to one side an open door, and he went in.

Inside the castle was a room, empty but for a table of sand on which stood a jug of liban and a bowl with some apricots. Usul ate and drank, and when he had filled himself, he wrapped his cloak about him and lay down on the floor to sleep. In the middle of the night, there came a great clap of thunder, and a roaring wind filled the room. Usul sprang up, and the thunder became a voice that spoke on every side. "Welcome, little dessert. Dost thou know to which place thou hast invited thyself, and whose guest thou art?"

"No," said Usul, "but I came into the bled to see wonders, and I am ready to pay for them."

"So thou shalt," said the thunder. "This is Kalatorano, the Castle of Sand, and it is my sietch, the sietch of Alhen, Naib of All the Djinn."

"And I am Usul," Usul replied, "and your castle belongs to me, for Dune is my world, and when I am ready, all shall know it." Usul did not know that alhen means death, but he spoke bravely even though he was afraid, for he knew he was a kin 's son.

The roaring wind sounded like laughter then, and a great marid appeared before him, filling the room. As the demon laughed, his teeth showed like burning coals.

"Well," said the Marid, "empty boasts will not fill my stomach. Thou hast eaten my meal, and now thou must take its place." Usul then remembered what his mother used to say when someone threatened her, so he answered the demon with the words "Jild an hayy ma tumal minn-u harakis (Shoes are not made of the hide of a living animal)." With that the demon roared again, and laughed so hard that the whole castle shook. When he stopped, he said to Usul, "Thou art a funny little fellow, and I shall be sorry to eat thee, but no one can come here and leave again. Thou, like all others, must pay the water tribute. But thou seem'st so small, I doubt thou wilt be more than a mouthful for me. Thou wilt be put to better use as a nosebag for one of my donkeys." And with that he grabbed Usul by the hair of his head and threw him into a pit in the center of the castle.

Usul sat at the bottom of the pit and thought that his yearning to see wonders had been satisfied in a way not altogether to his liking. As he thought of his own hearthfire, he heard a small voice near him: "Ya mawla, argab aanina!" He looked in the darkness and saw a small mouse with its head bent low. Usul said to the mouse, "Why do you call me 'mawla'? I am no one's lord. And how can I intercede for you if, like you, I am myself a captive?" "Ya mawla," said the mouse, "my wife has given birth, and my tribe will starve if I cannot get out of this pit I have fallen into. I am everything to them, but to your strength I am nothing. You can throw me out of the pit with ease."

"I will do what I can," said Usul, and lifting up the mouse in his hand, he threw it high overhead out of the pit. The mouse looked down, bowed its head, and said, "Tija al-sadaqa (The gift will return to the giver)." And with that the mouse departed, and Usul passed the rest of the night alone.

When morning came, the Marid Alhen returned. He reached his arm down into the pit and grabbed Usul by the hair once again. The heat of his breath singed the eyebrows of Usul as the demon said "I have decided which of my donkeys to give thee to." And he cast Usul into the middle of the great desert. As he lay there full of pity for him- self and of fear for the next moment, a mouse hopped to his ear and spoke to him. "My name is Muxabbi; watch me and learn from me, for my gift to you is knowledge." The mouse began to sniff the wind and to watch the spray of sand from the dune tops. Usul saw the mouse start to burrow, then stop as the sand drifted down. When the mouse found the shadow of the wind, where the burrow did not collapse, it tunneled deeper and curled up inside with its nose deep inside its fur. The wind rose, and small drifts of sand hid the mouse from sight.

The wind rose still more, and the sand scratched at Usul's hands and face. All at once, before him there stood what seemed like a swirl of winds in the shape of a man, and a voice from it said, "I am Azfar, the Yellow Djinni, and thou hast been given me for my breakfast." And the wind howled and clutched at his cloak, it pushed him this way and that, and the sand stung his body. Then Usul thought of the mouse. He found the shadow of the wind on the lee side of a dune and crawled from place to place, testing the sand, as the wind tumbled and tossed at him. When he found what the mouse had taught, he dug into the sand and scooped himself a burrow. He covered himself with his cloak, draping it over his head and knee, tucking it in beneath him. The wind screamed, and with one shriek sand would cover the mouth of Usul's burrow, then with another the sand would be blown away as the gusts eddied and swirled in the shadow of the wind.

All the while Usul waited until the storm blew itself out. Then he heard the voice of Azfar again. The djinni said, "You have won, Usul. I am sorry you are a prisoner but I can do nothing about that. If you should ever be free, call me and I will do you one service." But when Usul lifted his cloak to speak, he found himself not in the face of a dune, but in the middle of a great cavern.

As he sat there in wonder, a mouse hopped onto his knee and spoke to him. "My name is Rauhanin," said the mouse. "Watch me and learn from me, for my gift to you is Peace." With that the mouse hopped to the door and crouched as if it were praying. Usul watched but the mouse did not move. He stretched forth his hand and touched it, but it did not move. He rolled it over and lifted it up, but still it did not move. Usul, thinking that the mouse was dead, put it on the floor again only to see it rise, shake itself, and run off as a distant rumble was heard.

The rumbles grew louder, as if someone marched toward him beating a great drum, and the sounds echoed from the walls of the cave until Usul's head rang. Between the beats of the drum, Usul heard a rattling, clacking voice say, "I am Ahmar, the Red Djinni. Thou art not a man, Usul, nor even a very big boy, but thou wilt do for my dinner." And the beating of the drum became louder and louder until rocks cracked and shattered on the walls of the cave. Usul thought he could bear no more, and fell to his knees, clutching his ears and grinding his teeth.

Then he thought of the mouse, and praying, he looked deeper and deeper inside of himself, for the small place where all is quiet. He looked and breathed from the center of his soul, and as he looked, he heard the drum less and less. Then he found the silent place, and rested there in reverence.

After what seemed only a beat of a bird's wing, he felt a touch on his shoulder and he knew all at once that a pebble had fallen on him. He heard Ahmar's voice again, but weak and far off. "Well, Usul, you are more than you look. Too bad you are a prisoner, but that is out of my hands. When you are your own master, call me, and I will do you a service." Usul opened his eyes to look for the demon, but saw none, nor even the cave in which he had been.

Now he saw nothing but a gray floor, stretching as far as he could see all round him, with a gray sky over all. He stood up and marveled, "Is this what death is like? Has Alhen eaten me after all?" But he knew this was not so, for he saw something small move far off. It was a mouse, which hopped to him and onto his shoe and said to him, "My name is Basbasiyah; watch me and learn from me." With that, the mouse leapt to the floor and began to wiggle its tail. First it hopped on one foot, then on the other. It jumped up and down, it spun in circles, it stood on its nose. It capered and swaggered and danced. Usul was at first surprised, then amused, then so delighted at the antics of the mouse that he laughed so hard he had to sit down. When the mouse made an end to its frolics, it said, "My gift to you is laughter; use it well." Then it scampered away, and just as it did, Usul started, for a drop of water had fallen on his face.

All round him from the gray air he heard the sounds of moans and wailing. He felt still another drop, and in the air above him hung a dark cloud, and out of the cloud came a sorrowful voice, which said, "Usul, I am Abiad, the White Djinni. Though thou art not much, thou wilt do for an evening's sup." And at once Usul saw his mother in their sietch, worrying for him, and he saw his young sister with no playfellow. He heard sobbing and he saw his bed, and the pot of dates on the shelf, and with each thing he saw, his heart grew heavier until it seemed it would fall from his chest and break into pieces on the gray floor. And he heard more wails and sobs and keening, and as if in a dream, he saw himself, small and helpless, far from friends and home, lost to his people forever. He bowed his head and, putting his face in his hands, he said, "Death can be no worse."

But as he cast his eyes down, he saw in the dust the swirls and whirls and twirls left by Basbasiyah, and a smile blossomed on his lips. As he bethought himself of the hopping and the prancing of the mouse, the smile bloomed into a laugh, and before he knew it, the gray land was alive with his mirth and the echoes answered his laugh with giggles and chuckles, crows and snickers and peals. He laughed so hard he had to close his eyes to save his water, but he heard the departing voice of Abiad saying, "Well, Usul, and well again. Looks can deceive, and you are a man, though misfortunately a captive. If you be free someday, call me, and I will not forget that you have bested me."

Usul opened his eyes then, and found himself once again at the bottom of the pit. But it was now evening, and worn out with learning, he put down his head and rested himself in sleep.

When Usul woke, he found himself in a position he had not enjoyed at first and which had become no more welcome since-hauled from the pit by the hair of his head. He was brought face to maw with the Marid Alhen for the third time.

"Usul," the demon said, "my donkeys have shied away from thee, so mayhap thou art worth more than the nosebag thou seem'st. Wouldst thou perform a task for thy freedom?"

And Usul answered him, "In the pit or on the bled, I am always free in the place inside me where none can trespass," for Usul would ask no favor of this or of the greatest demon.

"A young shoot but a tough one," said the demon. "Here is what I offer thee, nonetheless. I have a taste for some portyguls from a garden across the sands from here. Do thou get me some-a trifle for a lion such as thou-and I will release thee. But know this, that I have laid a spell on thee: step aside from the task but one pace, and thou shalt find thyself in a pit from which not even thy mighty arm can toss a mouse."

"I will do it," said Usul, "but only because it pleases me to get some portyguls myself." He would not let the demon know that his heart beat fast at this talk of his release. So the demon threw him again, far into the desert. And Usul set off then with every bone singing for the joy of being his own master again, tempered only a little by the thought of the Marid's spell and the task ahead, which would be no easy one. And he thought as he walked along, "Forever I will call this day just past my al-awwal nahar, for in wonders and adventures it has surely been the first day-for me, at any rate." And in spite of all that had befallen, his spirit was high as he thought of all that he had learned and the foes he had overcome. So with these things in his mind he crossed the sands, not as a child fresh from the sietch but as one who knows the ways of the desert.

By and by, his hajra ended as all journeys will, and he saw in the distance a garden, and in it many an imp and djinni gathering the dew from the plants with scythes (for he had walked through the night, and it was now near sunrise).

"Khala, folk of the air," he said to the djinn, "I have come in off the erg, a messenger of the Marid Alhen, who has sent me to fetch him some portyguls. Show me the tree that bears them." The djinn smiled and bowed and brought him to the midst of the garden to a tree heavy with fruit. First Usul ate his fill and refreshed himself, and thought he had never tasted anything better. Then he plucked three for Alhen. He rose to leave, and turned to a dijinni and boasted, "Fruit as excellent as this, and so poorly guarded! Any outcast might fill his belly here." The djinn answered, "It is guarded well enough. If the outcast you speak of were not to reach his hearth by nightfall, he would become as we. Many indeed have eaten these portyguls, and as you see, we are all still here. And as for that, is your journey a long one?"

But Usul said no more, for he knew he had overreached himself, and cast about to find a way out of his new-made troubles. It was clear that he could not return the way he came, for that would be a day and a night in its making, and he would either be in Alhen's pit or gathering dew with a scythe long before that. So if he could not go the safe way, he must go the straight way, and trust whatever had brought him thus far to bring him farther. To that purpose he marked where the sun rose and set a course straight and fast for Alhen's castle.

His path led him over a jagged rock wall, from which he looked at the sand basin before him, and all seemed well: he saw kaymun, dust sand, in the basin, but with a good suit that was no more than the buzzing of a fly. He ran down the face of the slope, flying like the wind and thinking, "I shall surely make it on time." But as he reached the level, he felt no ground beneath his feet, and he knew that what he had thought a sand basin was instead a chasm filled with bar almeda, and in this dust he would sink lower and lower until he breathed no more.

Usul felt the dust rise to his knees, and he pulled his cloak from him and threw it across the dust before him, but it did him little good. He sank more slowly, but still he sank, and now the dust was rising to his hips. He looked round carefully, so as not to thrash and flounder, but saw nothing in reach- no spur of rock, no plant, no firmer sand. Usul tried to inch his way onto his spread-out cloak, but the dust sucked him down, and now it had swallowed him up to the arms.

Then he raised his head and cried out, "Azfar, come to me!" and the Yellow Djinni swirled in a dust cloud above his head. "Here I am," said the demon. "What do you want of me?"

"Get me out of this dust," Usul commanded.

"I offered you a service when you were your own master," the djinni replied, "but Alhen has spelled you-you are not free. But I will do it for one of the portyguls of the garden which you carry."

"Take it then," said Usul. And the djinni, telling Usul to hold fast to his cloak, swept under the dust and rose inside the cloak, bearing Usul up out of the bar almeda and setting him down on firm sand on the farther side. And taking his reward, Azfar departed.

Usul brushed the dust away and settled his garments. He saw a mouse nearby, and he puffed up his chest and said, "Well, brother, you see that the earth tried to swallow me up, but I defeated it." But the mouse shook its head and said, "You, had a djinni to help you. If a hawk should, snatch me from a scorpion, that does not make the scorpion my slave nor the hawk my ally." And the mouse scurried away.

"For all that," thought Usul, "I am still alive, and I still have two portyguls left." He saw that the sun was not far from its zenith, and he knew his present need was for haste, and he set a steady pace for the Castle of Sand.

As he crossed a low range of dunes, he saw before him a plane of flat sand, and his heart rose, for he saw the sparkle of the grit and knew that this was firm sand, not dust beneath his feet. He stepped steadily across the salt basin, heading for a ridge of rock on the far side. When he came to the very middle of the place, his footfall went "Boom!" He took another step, and "Boom!" "Drumsand," he thought, "this atambal will call a worm!" And behind him, with the thought, he heard a hissing as of wind, but there was no wind. The drumsand would give him firm footing, he knew, and he judged the distance to the rocks carefully. He said to himself, "Shai-hulud moves through the sand like the falcon through the air. He will surely catch me long before I get to safety." And without a second thought, he cried, "Ahmar! Come to me! " and at once the Red Djinni stood before him.

"Ahmar," Usul said, "walk off into the desert beating your drum. This is the service I require of you."

"But Usul," said the demon, "are you not still under Alhen's spell?"

"I am," replied Usul.

"Then you can command nothing of me. But I will do what you ask in return for a portygul from the garden." "Done," said Usul. And Ahmar took his fruit, and with his drum boon-ting like two mountains mating, the demon sped off into the desert, with the worm following him like the wind.

Usul made his way to the rocks and sat down to catch his breath. He saw nearby a mouse nibbling on a blade of scrubgrass, but this time he was not minded to boast. "Brother," he said to the mouse, "I am still alive. And I have one portygul." The mouse replied, "Make sure when you cross the desert you always have Ahmar's drum at your call and no worms will bother you." "That I cannot do," said Usul, but he began to think that such a drum were something that more than one Fremen might use to speed his way. But he put such thoughts off till a calmer time, for the day was well advanced and he still had far to go.

As he walked on, Usul thought that while he had not beaten the uncaring earth nor the greedy worm, neither had they beaten him, whatever help he may have had. This thought sparked him for many a league, but each passed slower than the last, for Al-Lat had long been in the sky, and Usul grew thirstier with each step. But he took no rest. He still had a long way to go, and no desire at all to tend a demon's garden. His mouth grew dry, and he thought of the portygul he carried and the smell of its rind. His throat grew dry, and he thought of the fruit and the sweetness of its pulp. Even his eyes grew dry and his lids scratched when they blinked, and he thought of the fruit and the wetness of its juice. "But if I eat the portygul," he thought, "then I shall spend a few wretched hours in Alhen's pit before I make an appetizer for his supper." And he found no way of putting an end to his troubles.

So by and by Usul lay flat on the desert sands, too weak to move. But he could still hear, and he heard the voices of two mice. "Is this Usul, ruler of Dune?" one asked. "No," answered the other, "it cannot be. For Usul would have remembered his brave words to Alhen about how one is always one's own master." And hearing this, Usul smiled though his lips were cracked, for he thought, "I am not dead yet," and he called in as loud a croak as he could muster, "Abiad, come to me!" In a wink the mournful White Djinni was at his side.

"Weep for me," Usul said, "that your tears may slake my thirst. "

"Usul," said the djinni, "I will not, for while Alhen's spell is laid on you, you are not free."

"But I am free," said Usul. "I am free in my will to bear or to bow, to endure or to submit, and the mightiest naib can say no more. If I were to die in chains, I will still have a freedom that no one can take from me."

"That is as may be," said Abiad, "but I judge as the world judges. I cannot see this quiet place within you, and to me your outside looks like a slave's. But nevertheless, I will do what you ask in return for-"

"Silence!" commanded Usul, and although his face was blistered, for he had foreseen this answer too, and he knew what was needed. "I will not give you the portygul, for I mean to eat it myself. And once it has refreshed me, I mean to cross those hills and leave all thought of Alhen behind." Usul pushed himself to his feet, and spoke with all the strength he had. "Think you that I crossed these sands, fronted the djinn, jumped out of the bar almeda, gave the slip to Shai-Hulud, for the sake of Alhen's dessert? No! This portygul's water will bear me to my own sietch, where this very night I will sit before my hearth and my tribe will laugh at the fool I made of the Marid Alhen, Naib of All the Djinn!"

No sooner had the words left his mouth than he found himself at the bottom of a great pit, and above him, the an-n of Alhen reaching down to haul him up. In an instant he stood before the angry Marid, who shouted, "So! Thou hadst no thought from the first to bring me the fruit, but my spell brought thee back-smiling teeth and deceitful heart-all the same!"

"Do you believe words or eyes?" asked Usul. "Here is your portygul. I but took the fastest way to fetch it here."

Well, with that the Marid smiled, and knew that like his donkeys, he had been bested by Usul. And he said, "I give you your freedom, Usul, and I will give you besides whatever you ask, even if it be the whole planet." But Usul said no, "For I have learned that you can give me nothing that I lack or cannot get for myself. The only gift I will take is the one I shall give myself-a name."

"And what shall that name be," asked the demon. "Sandswimmer? Shai-Hulud's Drummer? Peacefinder?"

"No," Usul answered again. "I shall take the name of my preceptors, whose teaching brought me through all my troubles. I shall be called 'Mouse."'

"Well, and well again," said the Marid Alhen, Naib of All the Djinn, "Muad'dib it shall be."


From Ibarhimal-Yazizh's Fremen Folktales from Onn, SAH 313.