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At the end of Dune when ordered by Shaddam IV to fight Paul Atreides, Count Fenring refuses to do so even though it is strongly implied that it is well within his capability to defeat him in combat. It is also noted that Shaddam IV and Fenring were companions since childhood and that Fenring is possibly his closest friend.

These aspects alone make his refusal seem odd to me, so I was wondering if there are deeper reasons behind it. The book implies that Fenring holds some reverence for Paul due to him being the end product of the generations long Bene Gesserit breeding program. Is this the only possible reason for his refusal to fight or is there more to it than that?

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Fenring is indeed the Emperor's closest friend, and it is mentioned that it was out of friendship that Fenring refuses the order:

The second major evidence of the Count's friendship was negative. He refused to kill a man even though it was within his capabilities and my father commanded it. I will relate this presently. -"Count Fenring: A Profile" by the Princess Irulan

There is one rather overt reason why Fenring refuses the order. As DVK mentioned, Fenring was a failed attempt at the Kwisatz Haderach project. He had much of the potential, and some of the talents, that the Bene Gesserit bred for, but a genetic anomaly caused him to be a eunuch, making him a dead end for his branch of the breeding program. His abilities protected him from Paul's, and made it entirely possible for Fenring to actually follow through and kill Paul. Paul realizes this just before the Emperor gives the order:

The Emperor's errand boy, Paul thought. And the thought was a shock crashing across his consciousness because he had seen the Emperor in uncounted associations spread through the possible futures--but never once had Count Fenring appeared within those prescient visions. It occurred to Paul then that he had seen his own dead body along countless reaches of the time web, but never once had he seen his moment of death. Have I been denied a glimpse of this man because he is the one who kills me? Paul wondered.

Paul also realizes the source of Fenring's powers, and feels a sudden and overwhelming kinship with Fenring. This emotional connection is a large part of why Fenring refuses to kill him:

Slowly, Fenring moved his head, a prolonged turning until he faced Paul. "Do it!" the Emperor hissed. The Count focused on Paul, seeing with eyes his Lady Margot had trained in the Bene Gesserit way, aware of the mystery and hidden grandeur about this Atreides youth. I could kill him, Fenring thought -- and he knew this for a truth. Something in his own secretive depths stayed the Count then, and he glimpsed briefly, inadequately, the advantage he held over Paul -- a way of hiding from the youth, a furtiveness of person and motives that no eye could penetrate. Paul, aware of some of this from the way the time nexus boiled, understood at last why he had never seen Fenring along the webs of prescience. Fenring was one of the might-have-beens, an almost Kwisatz Haderach, crippled by a flaw in the genetic pattern -- a eunuch, his talent concentrated into furtiveness and inner seclusion. A deep compassion for the Count flowed through Paul, the first sense of brotherhood he'd ever experienced. Fenring, reading Paul's emotion, said, "Majesty, I must refuse."

However, that unexpected kinship between Paul and Hasimir is not the only reason why Hasimir refuses the Emperor's order. As was implied by Irulan, Hasimir seems to feel that disobeying the order is his duty to the Emperor, as his friend:

"We have been friends, Majesty. What I do now is out of friendship. I shall forget that you struck me."

While this could be interpreted as "I will forget that you struck me out of friendship," I believe he is saying that his refusal is out of friendship. Irulan certainly seems to agree. My speculation as to why this is the case is that Fenring sees the honesty and "hidden grandeur" in Paul, and realizes that Paul will spare the Emperor's life, and not allow him to be mistreated, but that if Paul were to be killed, the Fremen would slaughter the Emperor, and every single member of his family and entourage.

As an additional influence, Hasimir loves his wife, who is a Bene Gesserit, very deeply. The previous scenes with the two, when Lady Fenring goes to Giedi Prime to seduce Feyd-Rautha, demonstrated that Fenring respects and understands (to an undefined extent) the goals of the Bene Gesserit, and likely feels that it would be a mistake to destroy the culmination of the breeding project he himself was once part of, knowing how highly the Bene Gesserit valued the program.

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Excellent answer. +1 –  DVK Jul 27 '12 at 13:30
    
Great answer +1 and accepted. I need to get copies of the Dune series and read them all over again –  bazz Jul 27 '12 at 17:46
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I have just finished listening to "Paul of Dune" by Brian Herbert (no comparison to Frank Herbert's quality of writing, by the way). Count Fenring is featured prominently in this book, and his refusal to kill Paul at the end of Dune is explained by his contempt for Shaddam's failures, and by his clear understanding the Paul had won, and Shaddam had lost.

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I have not read or listened to "Paul of Dune" so I am not familiar with Fenring refusing out of "contempt for Shaddam's failure". Do you think you could find some quotes from the book? I am interested. –  Justin C Jul 28 '12 at 15:45
    
I can't really give you an exact quote. I was listening to the audio book, and I have already returned it. –  Dima Jul 30 '12 at 15:15
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Fenring was one of the not-quite-successful side branches of Kwizatz Haderach breeding program. Among other reasons, he felt kinship to Paul because of that.

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Having been quoted by the widow Fenring as saying he was more B.G. than the B.G. it is quite likely he had been so indoctrinated that destruction of the Atreides bloodline before it could be culled would have shut down the idea of killing Paul by itself. Fenring also valued hos own skin and knew the outcome of killing the mahdi

Quote found in Lady Fenring section of The Dune Encyclopedia

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