The epigraph from Princess Irulan’s text “Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib” meditates on the quality of “greatness.” An individual can experience greatness if they have an imagination that partakes in myth-making, can reflect the ideas that other people project onto them, and have a sense of the sardonic to disconnect themselves from the myth.
At the Atreides palace in Arrakeen, the dining hall has been dressed grandly for a formal dinner. Duke Leto observes the arrangements, taking note of the exorbitant flagon of water at each table setting. It was the previous Harkonnen rulers’ custom that guests would arrive to a dinner and slop the water on the floor while washing their hands, then drying their hands and flinging a growing mound of towels into a wet puddle beside the door. Arrakeen’s beggars would then gather outside to try and collect water squeezings from the used towels. Leto finds this practice to be despicable, and instead gives away the clean water to Arrakeen’s needy. This change in tradition causes some resistance from the Arrakeen elite who are arriving for dinner, but the Duke politely ignores their objections.
Duke Leto’s understanding of and reaction to the traditional Arrakeen palace’s water rituals shed light on why Arrakeen locals hate the imposing rule of Great Houses so much—previous Great Houses have selfishly squandered precious water at the expense and humiliation of Arrakeen city residents. Leto acts in a manner that endears him to common citizens more than it does the Arrakeen upper class. It is his broad popular appeal that attracts the jealously and resulting danger from other Great Houses.
Meanwhile, in the Great Hall Lady Jessica is entertaining guests who have arrived for the dinner. Paul, Dr. Kynes, and Duncan Idaho are among them; there are also many of the planet’s prosperous upper class present, and Lady Jessica has decided to invite a smuggler. As he approaches the Great Hall, Duke Leto sees that Jessica has worn stunning clothing in his favorite colors, and he knows that this is a subtle reproach for his recent cold manner toward her—part of the pretense to trick the Harkonnens into revealing the true House Atreides traitor. The Duke knows that part of Idaho’s role at the formal dinner is to keep watch over Jessica. Leto is in a dispirited mood, reminded again that his death might be near. Paul’s mood matches his father’s bitterness.
Like Duke Leto, Lady Jessica is not afraid to rebel against upper-class tradition. Her actions in wearing uncustomary clothing and socializing with a known smuggler echo her refusal to bow to Bene Gesserit convention, which resulted in the birth of Paul. Once more, the narrator uses Duke Leto and Paul’s behaviors to remind readers that Leto’s death is quickly approaching.
Joining the guests in the Great Hall, Duke Leto confirms that he will be experimenting to see if weather controls can induce climate change on Arrakis for a more hospitable ecosystem. A watershipper named Ligar Bewt challenges the Duke’s many changes in tradition on the planet, eventually daring to ask Leto if he plans to continue “flaunting” the conservatory’s thriving plant life in spite of limited water resource available. Lady Jessica steps in with a diplomatic answer that House Atreides is holding the conservatory in trust for the people of Arrakis, in the hopes that one day the planet’s environments will be able to sustain lush plant life.
Duke Leto and Lady Jessica are no strangers to verbal political attacks, navigating Bewt’s challenges with ease. They slip into an easy rhythm in supporting one another, despite their current strained relationship due to Leto’s pretense that he suspects Jessica might betray him.
Dr. Kynes is surprised that Jessica shares his dream for a more Eden-like Arrakis. He asks her “Do you bring the shortening of the way?” This phrase startles her, as she knows it is a reference to the Kwisatz Haderach. Jessica is unable to answer due to an interruption from Bewt, who insults Kynes as living like the uncivilized “mobs of Fremen.” Jessica wonders if the Bene Gesserit order planted the Kwasitz Haderach prophecy on Arrakis, which encourages her secret hope that Paul might be that messianic figure.
Kynes surprise at Jessica’s similar ecological hopes are echoed symbolically by her claim that the Atreides will keep the lush conservatory as a reminder of the potential for Arrakeen climate change. Unbeknownst to Jessica, Kynes has set up similar vegetative pockets in the Arrakeen deserts for the same reason. Jessica is shocked at how closely the Fremen’s savior myth matches the Bene Gesserit Kwisatz Haderach prophecy, once more signaling the future likelihood that Paul is the prophesized messiah.
As the group moves to the dining hall, Leto questions Jessica on her decision to invite a smuggler named Esmar Tuek to the event. She notes that Tuek is very influential among smugglers and on Arrakis at large; his presence at the dinner will give their enemies pause for thought. She also thinks to herself that the Duke doesn’t realize that smugglers, with their underground connections and fast ships, can be bribed if the Atreides family need a fast getaway from Arrakis.
Despite their earlier united front in fending off Ligar Bewt’s challenges, Leto and Jessica still have an unusual rift and lack of understanding that separates their usually close bond. This is particularly dangerous because of the Harkonnen threats that currently face House Atreides.
Before starting dinner, Duke Leto makes an unusual toast that includes the loud claim “Here I am and here I remain!” He orders Gurney Halleck to play guests a tune on his baliset, and while the weapons master does so, Leto continues to address his guests and then implies they must all follow his suit by tipping out their flagon of clean water on the floor. Jessica thinks he may come off to guests as being drunk, but notes that he is instead “angry and uncertain.” Guests’ response to the water dilemma is telling, with many nervous to follow through. Kynes openly tips his water into a personal container instead of on the floor, and then raises his glass in a toast.
Duke Leto suddenly reverts to the volatile and awkward behaviors that had previously scared his men and his son during their strategy meeting. Once more, it seems his leadership is failing.
As the group begins eating, Jessica overhears a conversation between Kynes and a Guild representative related to the earlier events of a sandworm destroying a spice crawler. She chillingly realizes that the Guildman has speech patterns from Giedi Prime and must be a Harkonnen agent. He manipulates the conversation around him to personal benefit, but is stopped short by Paul Atreides and is embarrassed when the boy outwits him. Kynes and Tuek enjoy Paul’s show of strategy. When the Guildman insults Kynes again, the planetologist threatens the Harkonnen agent, and Jessica realizes the Guild banker is terrified of Kynes.
Due to their Bene Gesserit training, Jessica and Paul can see human patterns that their peers completely miss. This skill becomes essential to their survival on Arrakis.
Lady Jessica once more turns to Dr. Kynes to pick up the conversation about the possibility of terraforming Arrakis. Duke Leto realizes that this dream is the reason the Imperial planetologist has softened toward House Atreides over the course of the day. Leto questions the prospects of climate change on Arrakis, pressing Kynes, who accidentally reveals enough for Jessica to realize that there’s enough water on Arrakis to one day change it into a more human-friendly ecosystem. Paul hears the same message by using his powers of truthsense.
While Jessica and Paul continue to make complex deductions about their fellow diners’ personalities and motives, Duke Leto makes his own important realization that Kynes highly values the dream of changing the Arrakeen climate into a more hospitable one. This knowledge can be used for political leverage to align the Fremen with House Atreides.
A messenger arrives with a communication for Duke Leto, and he leaves the dinner abruptly. Paul takes his father’s place as host and once more outwits the Guild banker after the man insults Paul’s youth. Tuek finds this enormously amusing, but the banker does not, and Jessica and Paul ready themselves for possible violence. Kynes signals Tuek to step in, and the smuggler defuses the tension with a loud toast. Jessica realizes even more Kynes’s influence as a leader on Arrakis and wonders why he has chosen to stand with Paul. However, she is confused when Kynes once again lies about Fremen practices—she and Paul sense his falsehoods when he assures the group that rumors of Fremen using soaks and sip-wells to successfully cross the planet’s deserts are untrue.
Jessica receives a message from Duke Leto informing her that the matter that called him away suddenly has now been resolved: a shipment of Harkonnen lasguns has been discovered by his men. Jessica is filled with worry about the implications of this event. Lasguns are violent weapons, and it is plausible that other shipments have been smuggled past the Duke’s men.
Yet another event heralds the impending Harkonnen attacks on House Atreides and casts doubt on who the family can trust.