Scytale (Dune)

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Dune character
Scytale-Martin McDougall (2003).jpg
Martin McDougall as Scytale in the Children of Dune miniseries (2003)
First appearanceDune Messiah (1969)
Last appearanceDune Messiah (1969) [1]
Created byFrank Herbert
Portrayed byMartin McDougall
(2003 miniseries)
OccupationFace Dancer
AffiliationBene Tleilax

Scytale /ˈsktl/[2] is a fictional character in the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. In the novel Dune Messiah (1969), Scytale is a Tleilaxu Face Dancer who participates in the conspiracy to topple the rule of Paul Atreides. He later returns as a ghola and Tleilaxu Master in Heretics of Dune (1984) and Chapterhouse: Dune (1985). Finally, Scytale's story continues in Hunters of Dune (2006) and Sandworms of Dune (2007), Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's sequel novels that complete Frank Herbert's original series.

The character is portrayed by Martin McDougall in the 2003 miniseries Frank Herbert's Children of Dune.

Dune Messiah[edit]

In Dune Messiah (1969), Tleilaxu Face Dancer Scytale is involved with the Guild Navigator Edric, Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, and Princess Irulan of House Corrino (the consort of Emperor Paul Atreides) in a plot planned by Scytale himself to force Paul from the throne through assassination or abdication. Unlike later Face Dancers presented in the series, Scytale appears autonomous, and his high-level dealings with the other conspirators suggest a certain rank and level of trust among the Tleilaxu.

Scytale notes of Face Dancers, "We are Jadacha hermaphrodites ... either sex at will." He subsequently kills and assumes the appearance of Lichna, the daughter of the trusted Fremen Otheym, in order to gain entrance to the Atreides Keep at Arrakeen and lure Paul out to Otheym's house, where Scytale has planted a nuclear weapon called a stone burner. The attack fails to kill Paul, but the atomic blast blinds him. Scytale soon makes an attempt to force Paul's allegiance. With the Tleilaxu ghola of Duncan Idaho having regained the memories of the deceased original, Scytale has proven that the Tleilaxu can essentially "resurrect" a human being. He offers Paul a ghola of his concubine Chani, who has just died giving birth to their twin children Leto II and Ghanima, in exchange for Paul surrendering his Empire to Tleilaxu control. Though tempted, Paul refuses. Scytale holds a knife over the newborn twins; unless Paul accepts, he will kill them instantly. Paul instead kills Scytale with a thrown crysknife, guided by a vision sent by his infant son.

Heretics of Dune[edit]

A Tleilaxu Master named Scytale is mentioned in Heretics of Dune (1984), 5000 years after the events of Dune Messiah. He is one of Tleilaxu leader Waff's nine councillors, and apparently a ghola of the original Scytale:

Every one of them here had been wakened time after time in ghola flesh. There was a fleshly continuity in this Council that no other people had ever achieved. Mirlat himself had seen the Prophet with his own eyes. Scytale had spoken to Muad'dib!

Though Herbert notes little about Tleilaxu Masters prior to Heretics, the novel establishes that after learning how to restore a ghola's memories in Dune Messiah, the Masters use this knowledge as a form of immortality. As in God Emperor of Dune (1981), Face Dancers are Tleilaxu servants rather than emissaries. Herbert does not explain how the Scytale of Messiah — a Face Dancer, though autonomous — could ascend to become a Master, or how the Master-Face Dancer relationship may have evolved over the millennia.

Chapterhouse Dune[edit]

In Chapterhouse Dune (1985), the Honored Matres have destroyed all of the Tleilaxu worlds in retaliation for the Tleilaxu role in programming the latest Duncan Idaho ghola with knowledge of how to sexually enslave Honored Matres. Scytale, likely the last surviving Tleilaxu Master, barely escapes the attack while leaving his homeworld and is given sanctuary by the Bene Gesserit. Essentially a prisoner, he is kept in a no-ship grounded on the secret Bene Gesserit planet Chapterhouse.

In exchange for their protection, Scytale has given the Bene Gesserit the knowledge to create axlotl tanks to grow their own gholas. Desiring his own Face Dancer servants, axlotl tanks, and access to the ship's systems, Scytale has held back the secret to creating artificial melange for future negotiations. His secret bargaining chip is a nullentropy capsule containing cells carefully and covertly collected by the Tleilaxu for millennia:

Scytale rubbed his breast, reminding himself of what was hidden there with such skill that not even a scar marked the place. Each Master had carried this resource — a nullentropy capsule preserving the seed cells of a multitude: fellow Masters of the central kehl, Face Dancers, technical specialists and others he knew would be attractive to the women of Shaitan ... and to many weakling powindah! Paul Atreides and his beloved Chani were there. (Oh what that had cost in searching garments of the dead for random cells!) The original Duncan Idaho was there with other Atreides minions — the Mentat Thufir Hawat, Gurney Halleck, the Fremen Naib Stilgar ... enough potential servants and slaves to people a Tleilaxu universe.

The prize of prizes in the nullentropy tube, the ones he longed to bring into existence, made him catch his breath when he thought of them. Perfect Face Dancers! Perfect mimics. Perfect recorders of a victim's persona. Capable of deceiving even the witches of the Bene Gesserit. Not even shere could prevent them from capturing the mind of another.

The tube he thought of as his ultimate bargaining power. No one must know of it.

Bene Gesserit leader Darwi Odrade notes that "Scytale admits to memories of Muad'Dib's times," and Herbert clarifies that Scytale is technically a clone, as the cells used to resurrect him had been taken from his living predecessor rather than a corpse.[3] There is no indication in the text that this "reincarnated" Scytale possesses any of the Face Dancer abilities of his Dune Messiah incarnation.

Hunters of Dune[edit]

In Hunters of Dune (2006), Scytale remains a prisoner on the no-ship (now named the Ithaca by its passengers), which has escaped the Bene Gesserit planet Chapterhouse and wanders in deep space. He is desperate; the Tleilaxu sustain their lives indefinitely through the use of gholas; his current body is slowly dying, and he does not have another to replace it. Needing to grow a new ghola of himself, his only bargaining tool is the secret nullentropy capsule.

It is noted that other cells in Scytale's possession include those of Duke Leto Atreides, Lady Jessica, Leto II and other legendary figures dating back to Serena Butler and Xavier Harkonnen from the Butlerian Jihad. The Bene Gesserit have a vicious debate over whether to create gholas of any of these historical figures. Sheeana believes they may prove useful, while others fear the return of such 'mistakes' as Leto II. Despite the controversy, gholas are created, a few at a time. Scytale is allowed to have his own once the first few have been born.


  1. ^ Frank Herbert hints (but never establishes explicitly) that the Scytale of Heretics of Dune (1984) and subsequent novels is a ghola of the original Scytale of Dune Messiah (1969); these may or may not be considered appearances of the original character.
  2. ^ Herbert, Frank (1969). Dune Messiah (October 2, 2007 Audiobook ed.). Macmillan Audio. ISBN 1-4272-0236-2.
  3. ^ Herbert, Frank (1985). Chapterhouse: Dune. Tamalane frowned. She had disagreed from the first with calling this child a ghola. Gholas were grown from cells of a cadaver. This was a clone, just as Scytale was a clone.