John Stirling, also known as Sinuhe, Prince John, and the Changeling Prince, was a male Exekian/human hybrid. He was born the son of Kemet and Clara Richter, but was adopted in infancy by Queen Laura Stirling in exchange for her son Tristan.
As a changeling, he took the place of the true crown prince of Amarna for a period of twenty-five years and briefly became the king (in name only). Accompanied by two knights and Princess Kai, he left the besieged Carthmere behind in search of his human counterpart.
John was born in 183 AYZ within the fortress of Heliobas. His mother was Clara Richter, a human, and his father was Kemet, the fortress' Exekian commander. His parents named him Sinuhe at birth.
At the time of his birth, war was raging right outside the walls as King Aldous Stirling of Apicarta invaded Exekia, beginning the bloody and barbarous Fifth Exekian War. The assault was timed to coincide with the Exekians' kluuda, as during this period the entire Exekian population was left physically weakened, disorganized, and vulnerable to attack.
The tide of the battle turned when Queen Laura, Aldous' wife, arrived at the fortress with her three year old son Tristan, the crown prince and heir to the Amarnan throne. She willingly submitted them both as hostages in hopes of slowing down her husband's war. Eventually, it was decided that the only way to ensure the war ended was to leave Tristan behind as a hostage.
As a token of goodwill, and because they wanted to give their child a better life, Kemet and Clara agreed to turn their newborn son over to Laura as a return hostage. Laura renamed the infant "John" and kept his hybrid parentage a secret. She and the child were then returned to her husband's camp. Aldous approached the cart carrying them, threw open the canvas covering, and was horrified to find his wife carrying an Exekian child. Before he could do anything irrational, he was stopped by Eugene Verne, the royal physician. He told Aldous that the Exekians had taken his offspring in retaliation for his invasion of their lands, and was the first to refer to John as a changeling. If anything happened to the Exekian child, the same would be done to his own true heir, who was alive but still held in captivity.
A highly superstitious man, Aldous genuinely believed John was a changeling and that if he harmed him, his own child would likewise be harmed. The invasion was immediately called off in hopes that it would appease the Exekians, but John remained in the crown prince's place.
While he begrudgingly 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, as he was seen as an embarrassment to the crown. Nonetheless, he grew close to Prince Richard and Princess Eleanor, who were born shortly after him. He was raised as their elder brother, and officially he held the title of prince.
One winter during his childhood when the Sepa river froze over, Richard teased Eleanor and goaded her into attempting to skate across the ice. The ice cracked and Eleanor was sucked under. While Richard was stricken with shock and horror, John immediately dove in after her. His Exekian heritage enabled him to withstand the freezing temperature of the water, and he rescued the princess from drowning. The incident seemed to earn John a tiny inkling of respect from Aldous, but the king did not change his behavior toward the changeling whom he so despised.
Laura died when John was eleven years old. Aldous immediately began plotting to remove the changeling from his sight once and for all. He decided to imprison him in Castle Vallon, where various political prisoners and troublesome relatives of the royal family were locked away throughout the nation's history. At the time, it was the residence of Princess Helen, Aldous' exiled sister.
John spent fourteen years at Vallon, a domain presided over by the acidic, bitter Helen. She initially regarded him as a freak and held the typical biases against Exekians common among Apicartans. Over time, however, the two developed a mutual respect borne from their shared circumstances. They did not like each other, but they understood each other and had more to gain from working together than remaining enemies.
During his imprisonment, 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 and the arranged marriage of Eleanor to Logan Brynner. The letters frequently provoked John's jealousy, frustration, and longing, but he was determined not to resent his siblings for the actions of their father.
Shortly after John's twenty-fifth birthday, King Aldous died in a hunting accident 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 had volunteered to serve as John's permanent bodyguard, as many at Carthmere remained hostile to Exekians.
Before they departed from Vallon forever, Helen warned John not to trust Richard, whom she believed intended to use him for political gain. Specifically, she claimed that Richard would make John his heir upon their return. John doubted this, but was still cautious.
John, escorted by Gorrister, traveled to Carthmere, where he attended a feast held in honor of his and Helen's return. He was warmly, if awkwardly, received by Eleanor and her husband Logan, but curiously there was no sign of Richard. During the festivities, John was attacked by a man wielding a dagger, slashing his arm. The man was apprehended by Gorrister and Eleanor apologized to John, but the damage had been done. John retired to his quarters for the night, where he tended to his wound and came to terms with the dangers that lay ahead of him.
Early the following morning, John was summoned to Richard's quarters. He noticed the rooms were kept in near total darkness, 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 genetic condition he inherited from a distant ancestor. The disease 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 niece Kai 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 Kai's regent until she 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. Kai became attached to him and affectionately called him "Uncle John".
The Exekian ambassador, Nesrine, finally arrived. Upon meeting John, she insulted him and refused even to acknowledge his presence. Richard's hopes that John could serve as a go-between (and spy) were dashed. However, one of Nesrine's servants, Eira, befriended John. Like him, she was an outsider among her people. Eira was even more invested in the peace talks than her mistress, and their relationship enabled her to report the Exekians' opinions and plans to John.
- 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.
- 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 Eleanor is worrisome, 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.