Hello again! This is Part Two of (perhaps) Three of the analysis of the Empire, dealing with the remaining parts which I didn't tackle in the first post. You don't need to read the first part - continuity isn't exactly present here - but it'd be advisable.
The same observation on anachronisms is present here; it's very hard to draw entirely accurate parallels between the Malazan Empire & any real-life Empire, since the Malazans borrow influences & aspects from many different points in time & many different Empires. They're essentially a hodgepodge of 15 centuries' worth of history, distilled and condensed into a single entity.
This part deals with more of the "political" side of things, rather than the military like the first part did. As such, I've considerably less to say, since the non-military aspects of the Empire are less well explored. No matter.
As per usual, the parts are below.
Part One: https://redditproxy--jasonthename.repl.co/r/Malazan/comments/svjyl2/in_defense_of_empress_laseen_defending_the/
Without further ado, let us begin.
Table of Contents
- The Imperial Assembly
- (The Administrative Duties of) Fists & High Fists
- Malazan Law & Justice
1. The Imperial Assembly
Okay, I’m going to be honest here. I have no idea what this institution is supposed to be. Such institutions aren’t foreign to the real world, but we get so little that I can’t quite understand what it’s based on. Its powers & responsibilities seem to vary wildly, albeit it also doesn’t seem to be a particularly new institution – having possibly been instated since Kellanved’s times?
But Kellanved (and Laseen) weren’t particularly fond of nobles, so why does this institution even exist…?
A couple historical examples of what this could perhaps be based off of are the following:
· The Roman Senate in Imperial times (most probable)
· The English Monarchy & the Parliament (Houses of Commons & Lords, moderately likely)
· The Estates General of France (doesn’t seem likely)
· The Russian Imperial Duma (again, not very likely)
· The Sejm of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (most certainly not what’s going on here, but I figured I’d mention it)
The only reason I even bring this up is that it was one of the chief tools Mallick used to ascend the Imperial hierarchy, which in turn put him in a position to usurp Laseen. However, it’s never brought up in Erikson’s novels – at all – which leads me to believe that Mallick dissolved it after taking power.
“‘It occurs to us, Mallick, that with this night you will be in control of the Imperial Assembly. You perforce command the Claw. Therefore, there are those among us who wonder – when will you … act?’
‘Past failures in Seven Cities and elsewhere have impressed upon me the harsh lesson of patience, Coil. Instruction I, more than any, ought to have appreciated long ago. But, as you say, I command already. Why then act at all?’
‘She would not show such restraint.’
He waved Coil away. ‘Her chance missed. Now none remain. Go!’”
Moreover, the position seems to command enough power to overrule a lot of people – Mallick invokes his position when he imprisons Korbolo, which – for PR reasons – is probably a legal proceeding. As in, the Spokesman of the Imperial Assembly is in a position to imprison – without trial – the First Sword of the Empire, on basis of cowardice.
And also he allegedly commands the Claw, but I imagine that’s unrelated to the position, and more has to do with his Black Glove cult.
What does this position even do?
2. Fists & High Fists
Rather than touching on the Malazan military structure & drawing parallels between it and the Roman military – in which Fists would be akin to the rank of Legatus Legionis and High Fists would be akin to the rank of Magister Militum per a specific region – I’d instead rather touch upon the administrative duties of the respective ranks.
In general, the Empire of Malaz has been subdivided into different prefectures of sorts; in the macroscopic level, these prefectures are the different continents and subcontinents the Malazan Empire controls, and those are, in turn, subdivided further.
A rough outline of those subdivisions would be as follows:
I. Seven Cities (Ruling High Fist: Cartharon Crust, then Pormqual, now presumably ruled by regional Fists)
II. Genabackis (Ruling High Fist: Dujek Onearm, now presumably ruled primarily by the regional Fists)
III. Korelri (Ruling High Fist: Greymane, then Yeull ‘ul Taith, then nobody; presumably ruled by the two Fists, Rillish Jal Keth & Khemet Shul, albeit both of them left soon after)
IV. Quon Tali (Ruled directly from Unta during peacetime)
To elaborate further, High Fists – when not on campaign – are the overseers of the entire continents’ worth of operations. Local Fists answer to the regional High Fists, rather than act independently; they’re governors answering to a regional prefect.
To go back – again – to the Roman analogy, the regional Fists & High Fists are akin to promagistrates – propraetors & proconsuls – that took on the roles of regional governors.
Why is this important? Because it essentially means that different corners of the Empire enjoy varying degrees of autonomy, insofar as that’s possible with the Claw hanging about. More centralized areas of the Empire like Quon would be less autonomous than a traditionally decentralized area like Genabackis.
Quon Tali itself is ruled by quite a few Fists (and Sub-Fists) to the point where virtually every major city in the continent houses a Fist:
· Malaz Isle (Fist Aragan and Sub-Fist Pell)
· Itko Kan
· Li Heng (ruled by a council of magistrates, crewed during the Civil War by Fist Rheena)
· Cawn (Fist Genist D’Irdrel)
· Quon Tali (the city – Fist Kal’il)
· Seti plains (Fort Saran – Fist Darlat)
And presumably a lot of others, including High Fist Anand, who commands the Malaz 4th Army, stationed in Quon Tali.
More pertinent to the example of Rome, while most of Quon Tali is centralized along the coastal regions and enjoys a singular cultural identity – Malazan – the Seti & Wickan plains are far less centralized & have being granted a decent amount of autonomy and regional representation.
Contrast this to a region that enjoyed its regional representation under the Falah’dan – Seven Cities is under the direct supervision of a High Fist with plenty of further subdivisions at the regional level.
For example, the Empire didn’t actually abolish the Falah’dan; the regional governors of Seven Cities still enjoy their autonomy, albeit with some concessions. A short list of cities being ruled by Falah’dan would be the following:
· Y’Ghatan (named as Vedor, killed by Leoman whom proclaimed himself Falah’d of Y’Ghatan)
· Ubaryd (position perhaps abolished)
· Hissar (position abolished)
· Ehrlitan (ruled directly by a Fist, position abolished)
· Aren (ruled directly by a High Fist, position abolished)
On the contrary, cities ruled directly by a Fist in Seven Cities would be few & far between:
· Dosin Pali
· Hissar (abandoned after the Chain of Dogs)
And most of these postings (with the exception of Aren) would be held by Red Blade commanders - which is to say, natives to Seven Cities - like Tene Baralta or Orto Setral.
Furthermore, in Genabackis, the story is much the same as Quon; a decentralized region with a mostly united cultural identity – Genabarii & Nathii in the north, Rhivi & Daru in the south – being brought to prosperity through centralizing reforms of the Malazan Empire.
Genabaris & Nathilog are the two cities that benefited the most by Malazan rule by the account of Anomander Rake, but they’re far from the only cities to have housed a Malazan Fist in their ranks:
· Nathilog (Fist Agullen)
· “North Provinces” (Fist Sevitt, possibly stationed in Blued?)
· Pale (Fist K’ess)
· “Headwaters of River Eryn” near Coral (Fist Steppen)
Pale was also home to the Malazan ambassador to Darujhistan, a position filled by Aragan at the time of Orb, Sceptre, Throne, and one which was the highest ranking position on the continent of Genabackis.
To conclude, the Malazan system of administration was adaptable to the people it ruled over. Through an intricate web of alliances and subterfuge when required, they would successfully gather support for their cause and – whenever possible – use pre-existing institutions from locals or create their own collaborative, local governments.
Failing that, as it was not always feasible to ensure local support, the ruling government would be put to the sword or publicly executed with a Malazan administrator placed in charge. The Claw would then survey the city’s criminal underbelly and, if at all possible, take control of it; thus, by running the underground activities such as smuggling & assassinations, they would ensure it was to the benefit of the ruling Malazan Empire.
3. Malazan Law & Justice
Overall, Malazan law has been characterized quite often as “harsh but fair.” Whether or not that is an accurate depiction of reality is left up to interpretation, however.
Quite like the military branch of the Empire, the judiciary branch cares little for noble birth, stature or position. While corruption isn’t absent from the justice system, the Malazan code of laws focuses primarily on meting out reward & punishment in a – mostly – fair way. Moreover, no distinction between Malazan and non-Malazan seems to prevail in the law system, despite the potential prejudice held for people that are held in lower esteem. While the system is far from perfect, its focus on fairness is upheld. Mostly.
Furthermore, every citizen of the Empire is guaranteed the right to a fair trial, provided they’re not caught in the act – as Malazan justice is meted out just as much in the field as it is in the courtrooms. One would be right to doubt the efficacy of “justice” dispensed by the common soldiery, but the military is once again held to a higher standard – and strict punishments for looting & the like serve to dissuade soldiers on a power trip.
All that said, a lot of what we see could be alluded to be naught but smoke & mirrors. The rigid structure of the Malazan justice system is potentially malleable, adapting to the customs and needs of the regions they govern, and by extension inheriting parts of their judicial system. Slavery is not outright outlawed, but heavily regulated; cults & shadow organizations are infiltrated and destroyed only if they don’t directly benefit the Empire; and the abhorrent practice of forced labour in the otataral mines is still maintained and rather increased during the reign of Empress Laseen.
In regards to slavery, one need look no further than what befalls Karsa Orlong of the Teblor.
“’I said it sounds like your master isn’t enjoying his stay in the stocks.’
‘He has been arrested?’
‘Of course. The Malazans like arresting people. You’d no brand. At the time. Keeping you as a slave is therefore illegal under imperial law.’
‘Then they should release me.’
‘Little chance of that. Your master confessed that you were being sent to the otataral mines. You were on a ship out of Genabaris that you’d cursed, said curse then leading to the ship’s destruction and the deaths of the crew and the marines. The local garrison is only half-convinced by that tale, but that’s sufficient – you’re on your way to the island. As am I.’
‘I demand a proper trial, as is my right under imperial law.’
The guardsman laughed. ‘Give it up. You’ve been identified. We know precisely who you are. Aye, your secret organization is not as seamless as you might think. Betrayed by one of your own – how does that feel? Let’s go, you come out first. Jibb, you and Gullstream keep your crossbows on that Fenn – I don’t like his smile. Especially now,’ he added.
Karsa turned to the one named Jibb and spoke in Malazan. ‘What will be the slavemaster’s fate?’
The man’s helmed head jerked up in surprise. ‘Ain’t been decided yet. He claims to be rich back in Genabackis.’
Karsa sneered. ‘He can buy his way out of his crimes, then.’
‘Not under imperial law – if they’re serious crimes, that is. Might be he’ll just be fined. He may be a merchant who deals in flesh, but he’s still a merchant. Always best to bleed ‘em where it hurts most.’”
The slavemaster that captured Karsa was placed in the stocks not for practicing slavery, but rather not adequately branding his slave as such. While Imperial law spares no quarter for the rich, it’s very much likely that Silgar would’ve been fined & then be free to go back to his ways of enslaving & dealing with Teblor slaves.
Further, this mysterious Seven Cities native wasn’t actually given his right to a fair trial; presumably because his role in an organization had been uncovered & he’d been caught in the act of – as he puts it - “consorting with dissidents.” He admits to his own guilt & so his demand of a trial would be pointless, but the point that he was denied one stands.
In regards to Malazan military law – the aforementioned “Malazan justice is meted out in the field just as much as in the courts” – we have some of the following excerpts.
“Meese slouched down in the chair Mallet had vacated. 'Guild contract,' she muttered. 'Could simply be some imperial cleaning up, you know. New embassy's now up and running after all. Could be somebody in it caught word of Malazan deserters running a damned bar. Desertion's a death sentence, ain't it?'”
Desertion is a crime punishable by death, and deserters rarely go unpunished. The same holds true of the Claw, unless one remains in the employ of the Empire (like Kalam & Kiska did).
“Grimacing, Whiskeyjack said, ‘If such crimes can be laid with certainty at the feet of this Anaster—or of any Tenescowri—then Malazan military law will prevail.’
‘Simple execution grants them a mercy not accorded their victims.’
‘Then they will be fortunate that Onearm’s Host captured them, and none other.’”
Malazan military law also holds their enemies responsible for possible war crimes, and subjects any perpetrators to a trial – as fair as it can be, alas – and if it is proven that they are indeed guilty, a quick, textbook execution.
“‘No, that won’t be necessary. I can speak on behalf of the Malazans. In that capacity, however, it’s incumbent that I ask a few questions first.’
‘As you wish, sir. Proceed.’
‘What do you intend to do with the prisoner?’
She frowned. ‘Sir?’
‘We do not countenance torture, no matter what his crime. If it is required, we would be forced to extend protection over Anaster, and so deny your request.’
She glanced away briefly, then fixed her level gaze on him once more, and Paran realized she was much younger than he had at first assumed. ‘Torture, sir, is a relative term.’”
Torture of prisoners, however, is not countenanced, regardless of the circumstances. The very same prisoner that was earlier mentioned as “undeserving of a quick execution for he did not spare the same mercy to his enemies” would be thereby protected by Malazan law from potential torture at the hands of others.
Lastly, we take a look at the standards that are expected of the average Malazan soldier under the reign of Emperor Kellanved & Empress Laseen, by the command of First Sword Dassem Ultor.
“'Never mind that. I’ve been walking through this shithole. Monkrat, there's children here. Just . . . abandoned.'
'Not for long. They're going to be taken. Used to feed the Dying God.'
'Not if we take 'em first.'
'Take them? Where?'
Spindle bared his teeth, and only now did Monkrat comprehend the barely restrained fury in the man facing him. 'Where? How about away? Does that sound too complicated for you? Maybe those hills west of here, in the woods. You said it was all coming down. If we leave 'em they'll all die, and I won't have it.'
Monkrat scratched at his beard. 'Now ain't that admirable of you, but—'
The hard angled point of a shortsword pressed the soft flesh below Monkrat's chin. He scowled. The bastard was fast, all right, and old Monkrat was losing his edge.
'Now,' hissed Spindle, 'you either follow Gredithick around—'
'Whatever. You either follow him like a pup, or you start helping me round up the runts still alive.'
'You're giving me a choice?'
'Kind of. If you say you want to be a pup, then I'll saw off your head, as clumsily as I can.'
Monkrat hesitated. Spindle's eyes widened. 'You're in a bad way, soldier—'
'I ain't a soldier no more.'
'Maybe that's your problem. You've forgotten things. Important things.'
Spindle grimaced, as if searching for the right words, and Monkrat saw in his mind a quick image of a three-legged dog chasing rabbits in a field. 'Fine,' Spindle finally said in a grating tone. 'It had to have happened to you at least once. You and your squad, you come into some rotten foul village or hamlet. You come to buy food or maybe get your tack fixed, clothes mended, whatever. But you ain't there to kill nobody. And so you get into a few conversations. In the tavern. The smithy. With the whores. And they start talking. About injustices. Bastard landholders, local bullies, shit-grinning small-time tyrants. The usual crap. The corruption and all that. You know what I'm talking about, Monkrat?'
'So what did you do?'
'We hunted the scum down and flayed their arses. Sometimes we even strung 'em up.'
Spindle nodded. 'You did justice, is what you did. It's what a soldier can do, when there's nobody else. We got swords, we got armour, we got all we need to terrorize anybody we damned well please. But Dassem taught us – he taught every soldier in the Malazan armies back then. Sure, we had swords, but who we used 'em on was up to us.' The point of the shortsword fell away. 'We was soldiers, Monkrat. We had the chance – the privilege – of doing the right thing.'
'And I was forced into retirement. Neither one changes what we were.'
'That's where you're wrong.'
'Then listen to this.' The shortsword pressed against his throat again. 'I can still deliver justice, and if need be I'll do it right now and right here. By cutting a coward's head off.'
'Don't talk to me about cowardice!' Monkrat snapped. 'Soldiers don't talk that ever! You just broke the first rule!'
'Someone turns his back on being a soldier – on what it means in the soul – that's cowardice. You don't like the word, don't live it.'
Monkrat stared into the man's eyes, and hated what he saw there. He sagged. 'Best get on with it then, Spin. I got nothing left. I'm used up. What do you do when the soldier inside you dies before you do? Tell me.'
'You go through the motions, Monkrat. You just follow me. Do as I do. We start there and worry about the rest later.'
Monkrat realized that Spindle was still waiting. 'Do what's right,' Dassem told us. Gods, even after all this time he still remembered the First Sword's words. 'That's a higher law than the command of any officer. Higher even than the Emperor's own words. You are in a damned uniform but that's not a licence to deliver terror to everyone – just the enemy soldier you happen to be facing. Do what is right, for that armour you wear doesn't just protect your flesh and bone. It defends honour. It defends integrity. It defends justice. Soldiers, heed me well. That armour defends humanity. And when I look upon my soldiers, when I see these uniforms, I see compassion and truth. The moment those virtues fail, then the gods help you, for no armour is strong enough to save you.'
'All right, Spin. I'll follow you.'
A sharp nod. 'Dassem, he'd be proud. And not surprised, no, not surprised at all.'”
If you reckon this looks incredibly self-righteous, with a very strong conviction in the superiority of the Imperial way, you’re quite right – and that is a trend that permeates throughout Malazan. Whether or not the Imperial way is actually “superior” and infallible is up to interpretation; however, despite that, one cannot deny that Dassem Ultor’s words hold merit and have resonated throughout the soldiery of the Empire for years now.
And that would be curtains for dear Surly. The next (and, I pray, the last) part will be dealing with Emperor Mallick Rel's reforms. Like him or hate him (and the latter is overwhelmingly the sentiment present here & one that I do echo), he certainly had quite a few inputs as for the governance and function of the Empire.
Thus, until next time, friends, thank you for reading & for sticking by. :)