In the epigraph from Princess Irulan’s text “Count Fenring: A Profile” she details the relationship between the Count and her father, the Padishah Emperor. The closest thing to an intimate relationship that her father ever had was with the Count, who was a close friend of the Emperor’s since childhood. The Princess describes a positive aspect of their relationship, when Count Fenring aided the Emperor in overcoming the Landsraad’s suspicion and fears after House Atreides was destroyed. She also describes a negative aspect of their friendship, when the Emperor ordered the Count to kill a man, but he refused to do so, despite it being within his capabilities.
The Padishah Emperor’s political position as the monarch attempting to maintain Imperial rule while evading attacks on his leadership means that he has lived a strict and lonely existence. His only close relationship with another person, his trusted friend Count Fenring, is broken when the Count refuses his Emperor’s order to kill a man—foreshadowing for the novel’s final scene in which the Count honors his close spiritual connection to the Kwisatz Haderach Paul Atreides rather than his earthly duty and friendship to the Padishah Emperor.
Two years have passed. The Baron Harkonnen is in a rage and bursts into an antechamber to find that his guard captain, Iakin Nefud, is in a deeply drugged ecstasy. The Baron demands to know where his nephew Feyd-Rautha is, as he has worked out that the younger Harkonnen is the likely mastermind behind an attempt on the Baron’s life. A slave boy sent for the Baron’s pleasure tried to kill the nobleman with a poison needle embedded in his skin.
Baron Harkonnen’s lust is almost his downfall. He regularly manipulates and threatens his enemies and allies, including his family, but cannot bear it when he receives the same treatment.
Nefud believes that Feyd-Rautha will be taking his pleasure in the slave quarters. Baron Harkonnen finds his nephew and confronts him, where his suspicion is confirmed—Feyd-Rautha tried to assassinate his uncle.
Feyd-Rautha resembles Baron Harkonnen in partaking in pleasure with slaves whenever he desires—both men are corrupt and selfish in caring only for their own desires and gains.
Baron Harkonnen tells Feyd-Rautha how foolish he has been. He also asks his nephew why Feyd-Rautha used a slave boy rather than trying to kill the Baron using his own considerable talents. Feyd-Rautha reminds his uncle that he taught him to always get someone else to carry out his dirty work.
Baron Harkonnen only has himself to blame for the cruel and deceitful values he has taught his nephew. Feyd-Rautha is unashamed and unrepentant for his actions, confident that his skills and growing political power will protect him from his uncle’s potential revenge.
To prevent an early death orchestrated by his nephew, Baron Harkonnen offers Feyd-Rautha a compromise: the Baron will step down as head of House Harkonnen in the not too distant future, allowing Fey-Rautha to succeed him as the rightful heir, in return for Feyd-Rautha to stop trying to kill the Baron. The Baron will also have his Mentat Thufir Hawat watch over his nephew to prevent an act of treachery. Feyd-Rautha realizes that Hawat has been playing the pair against one another to try and harm House Harkonnen.
Once again the Baron depends on his cunning wits to ensure his survival. The power-hungry pair reach an agreement that ensures their future fortunes and safety from one another.
Baron Harkonnen has even bigger plans for achieving power. He tells Feyd-Rautha that he wants to place a Harkonnen on the Imperial throne, making use of Thufir Hawat’s intelligence to come up with a plan to defeat the Padishah Emperor. Baron Harkonnen also comments on the new religious leader among the Fremen called Muad'Dib; neither he nor Feyd-Rautha realize their peril.
The Baron wants to enact his lifelong dream to advance the Harkonnen family to Imperial rule, using Feyd-Rautha as a puppet to achieve this mission. Baron Harkonnen once again dismisses the Fremen threat on Arrakis, building tension toward the inevitable confrontation between Paul Atreides and House Harkonnen.