John Stirling, also known as Sinuhe, is a male Exekian. As part of the peace terms for ending the Fifth Exekian War, he was adopted by Queen Laura Stirling in exchange for her firstborn. After her death, John was imprisoned by King Aldous Stirling in Castle Vallon, only to be set free ten years later by Aldous' successor, King Richard.
John was born in 183 AYZ within the fortress of Heliobas. His mother was an Exekian female named Arsinoe, and his father may have been Kemet, the fortress' commander, though it is impossible to confirm this. John showed no signs of carrying Kemet's hereditary aisling powers, which would seem to indicate that he is not his offspring.
At the time of his birth, war was raging right outside the walls as King Aldous Stirling of Apicarta invaded Exekias, beginning the bloody and barbarous Fifth Exekian War. The invasion was timed to coincide with the Exekians' kluuda, or mating cycle, which occurs once ever 214 years and left the entire Exekian population weakened and disorganized.
As per Exekian cultural norms, John was abandoned by his mother shortly after his birth, being left in the care of the fortress' nursery workers. Clara Richter, Kemet's human wife, was enraged by her husband's infidelity with Arsinoe and assumed the child was his. She was the one who suggested the baby be exchanged with that of Queen Laura, Aldous' wife, who had willingly submitted to captivity at the fort and was hoping to halt the war. Clara was able to convince the young and inexperienced but determined Laura to give up her son, Aldous' heir, and take an Exekian child home instead. It was Laura who named the Exekian infant "John".
Laura and John were returned to her husband's camp following negotiations, and Aldous arrived from battle to find his wife nursing an Exekian child. Aldous was known to be a superstitious man, and he genuinely believed her story that the Exekians had cursed his offspring in retaliation for his invasion of their lands. The invasion was ultimately called off, and Laura became known as the "queen of peace".
While he permitted John to live in his castle, King Aldous refused to accept John as his son. The boy's interactions with other children and adults were strictly controlled out of fear he would cause them harm. Nonetheless, he grew close to Prince Richard and Princess Eleanor, with whom he was raised as a brother. In one particular instance, John rescued Eleanor from drowning in the Sepa river by diving in after her.
Laura died when John was eleven years old. Aldous immediately began plotting to get rid of the child, and decided to imprison him in Castle Vallon, where various political prisoners and troublesome relatives of the royal family were locked away. Most famously, it was the home of Princess Helen, Aldous' exiled sister.
John spent ten years in the fortress, ruled over by Helen. During his exile, John and Richard communicated via letters, which were smuggled in by bribed guards. The letters became fewer and far between as time went on, and John began to believe that Richard was forgetting about him. Through these letters, John learned of Richard's relationship with Karen Liu, which made him jealous and frustrated.
Shortly after John's twenty-first birthday, King Aldous died and Richard ascended to the throne. Richard used his newfound power to release John and Helen, and sent Sir Leonard Gorrister to retrieve them. Gorrister was meant to serve as John's permanent bodyguard, as many at Carthmere remained hostile to Exekians.
Helen warned John not to trust Richard, whom she believed intended to use him for political gain. Specifically, she claimed that Richard would give John the title of prince at the feast upon their return in order to make him an eligible heir. John doubted this, but was still cautious.
John, escorted by Gorrister, attended the feast held in his and Helen's honor. He was warmly, if awkwardly, received by Eleanor and her husband, Logan Brynner, but there was no sign of Richard. While dancing with Eleanor, John was attacked by a man wielding a dagger, slashing his arm. The man was reprimanded by Gorrister and Eleanor apologized to John, but the damage had been done.
Later that night, John was summoned to Richard's quarters. He noticed the rooms were kept pitch black, but his natural night vision allowed him to make out the startling shape of the king. Richard revealed he was suffering from Rheims disease, a rare condition he inherited from a distant ancestor that causes physical deformities, joint pain, difficulty breathing, and ultimately a shortened lifespan. With the Council having blocked his attempts to legitimize his two children by Karen, and with his nephew Tobias being a mere child, Richard had decided to free John and make him a prince of the realm, enabling him to succeed Richard on the throne.
John flatly refused on the grounds that his subjects would never accept him as king. Richard managed to talk him down until he vowed to serve as Tobias' regent until he came of age, superseding Logan and Eleanor. He also revealed that an Exekian ambassador was due to arrive in a few months, and asked John to play the part of host to her and her entourage.
Over the course of the next few months, John adapted to life at the castle. He received combat training from Gorrister, and gradually learned to overcome his natural intolerance of iron. Tobias became attached to him and affectionately called him "Uncle".
The Exekian ambassador, Nesrine, finally arrived. Upon meeting John, she insulted him and refused to speak with him. Nesrine's servant, a selkie named Eira, befriended John and reported her mistress' plans to him.
- John is tall and lean, with broad shoulders and a small waist. He has tousled straight black hair. His impish features haven't changed much since he was a child, with an upturned nose, a small mouth, and narrow, diamond-shaped black eyes. His face is angular in shape, and he has pointed ears. His voice is low and quiet, with the accent of a human noble.
- John is an outsider. He belongs neither with the Exekians nor the humans, and so walks the fine line between their worlds, never truly at home. To protect himself, he has developed a cool, stern, serious persona. He rarely shows what he is feeling, leading many to wonder whether he feels anything at all. His demeanor allows him to appear restrained, but also retain the more intimidating aspects of his character. He is, after all, not human, and everyone fears the unknown.
- Though he rarely smiles and almost never laughs, he has a strong sense of humor and can be quite witty. He also has an arrogant streak, looking down on both humans and Exekians for their petty conflicts and violent natures. His long imprisonment in the fortress of Vallon has affected his worldview and sociability.; he is somewhat awkward and aloof, having just been reintroduced to a world that has changed a great deal in his absence.
- Perhaps his greatest weakness is his love for his brother Richard, who is heavily dependent on him for companionship, protection, and advice. In return, Richard is John's best friend. If anything were to happen to Richard, John would never be the same.
- Losing his loved ones
- The passage of time
- Accidentally causing harm
- Falling in love/emotional attachments in general
- His adopted mother. John was very close to her. Laura sought to instill in her children a strong sense of morality and compassion for others. John and Laura were always honest with each other and he trusted her completely. Like Richard, his memory of her was somewhat unrealistic, but he is more willing to realize that she was human and flawed than his siblings. He is not particularly surprised to learn that she was deceptive and doesn't really blame her for lying to them.
- The king. Aldous never accepted John as his son and either bullied or ignored the child altogether. John in turn avoided him, afraid of his wrath. Once Laura died, there was nothing to keep John safe from him. Though it was within Aldous' power to have him killed, he opted instead to send John away to the tower and erase all sign he had ever dwelled at Castle Vallon. John is not as haunted as his siblings regarding the subject of Aldous, but the scars are still there.
- John's adopted brother. John's earliest memory is of standing over Richard's cradle. As soon as he could walk, Richard followed John around. The two were inseparable as youngsters. When John was sent to the tower, Richard sent him letters whenever he could, and promised that he would free him when he became king. Upon Aldous' death, he fulfilled that promise, but his motives are no longer clear.
- John's adopted sister. Eleanor was never afraid of John, but didn't become devoted to him until he saved her from drowning. Losing him was particularly painful for her, as she was ashamed to admit she loved him. He is one of the few people who can get through to her.
- All feelings of attraction he had toward the Exekian ambassador were dashed when she turned her nose up at him in disgust. Like most of her kind, Nesrine does not think highly of John, and she makes her opinions plain. Nonetheless, he can't help but admire her wit, which matches his own.
- Nesrine's long-suffering selkie maidservant, Eira is warm and kind to John in spite of his situation. He finds in her a trustworthy confidant and a reliable friend - possibly even something more.
- Helen's role in John's life is uncertain. She is considered obsolete at court, but it is plain that she really holds much more influence than she seems to. Her parasitic relationship with Julian is worrying, as is her nosy nature. John does not approve of how Helen uses her influence for petty blackmail. He would like to ignore her, but he needs her knowledge of court intrigue if he is to survive at Carthmere. He is concerned she will try to manipulate him, however, and thus is always wary of her advice.
- The court physician. Eugene has been a fixture of Carthmere since before John was born. Rumors have been circulating for years that he and Laura had an affair. Considering Eugene's current state, the rumors are a little hard to believe. But if it is true, the question of her children's legitimacy could have disastrous consequences.