In a novel full of compelling, three-dimensional, dynamic characters, only one gets the gold medal for Most Consistently Surprising. Yep: our boy Helmud.
He's the guy fused to El Capitan's back. The guy who can only robotically echo the words of his brother. The guy who's utterly useless… except when he's indispensible.
For example, when El Capitan can't get Wilda to recite The New Message, check out what Helmud does:
Helmud's hand appears over El Capitan's shoulder. He's holding a small boat, whittled from wood […] It's so delicate and beautiful that El Capitan feels a little choked up. His eyes flood and he presses them shut. (7.88)
And Helmud actually comes to the rescue again and again. Helmud whittles out the explosive spider in El Capitan's leg. Helmud stabs the zombie-dusts out by the carnival. And when El Capitan is bound to a tree and being stabbed by thorns, Helmud shocks everyone:
And then as everything goes dark, he hears a voice—clear and sweet as an angel's voice. It is his brother, singing the way he used to sing for their mother, the beautiful voice that made her cry. Maybe Helmud is an angel after all. Maybe that's who he's been all along. (73.48)
El Capitan's blood forms a dark halo, and Helmud has the voice of an angel. Hmm: something smells significant. Helmud looks over El Capitan — literally and metaphorically. He's not just El Capitan's brother, he's El Capitan's guardian angel. His loving, caring, stationary guardian angel. Without El Capitan, there's no Helmud. But without Helmud, there's no El Capitan. And we should never forget that.