I heard something I thought quite profound once from a young man at Bible Camp. He said that it’s not physical strength and fighting that makes a man; it’s love and compassion. This man was a cabin leader, happened to have big muscles, liked heavy metal music, and was just about as stereotypically masculine as you can get. My brothers are much the same. Masculine I mean. They don’t do heavy metal.
Romanticism has created unrealistic expectations for men to live up to, and I find nowadays that men are failing to live up to them. And how could they? Not everyone’s cut out to be super macho man who wins the girl. That’s why I found that one man’s statement so profound. Here was someone who fit the definition of a man and yet the two things he said that were required for manhood seemed in my mind to bely his appearance. Love and compassion. Where have I heard that before? Probably sermons about Jesus.
Ninthalas Líran Shadai
I suppose that’s where the idea for Ninthalas came from. It could also come from my own inability to fit in. There are many qualities I put into Ninthalas that are a reflection of my own interests. His love of poetry, for example, as well as his fondness for origins. These two things were a foundation for who he was. As he began to develop, more characteristics began to pop up without my knowing.
Ninthalas has a knack for medicine which he learned from his grandmother. That would be fine and dandy in our own world, but in True Faithen culture, medicine is solely a woman’s trade. There are no male doctors, only nurses—or medics, as they are called. And in a culture with strict gender roles and professions, it can be a challenge for someone such as Ninthalas to defy those gender roles. Thankfully, his family is much more accommodating and pro-integration. (For the most part. Ninthalas’ twin brother is what most would call the ideal man, and he’s still unsure about the concept of integration.)
At a young age, Ninthalas failed to develop much of a skill for fighting. He still took on his father’s trade of News Bearer, which as you can imagine entails bringing news to and from Serenestí. However, that didn’t stop him from following his interests. As I said, he found he had a remarkable talent for medicine, and his gift for song and eloquent poetry are arguably unmatched in the whole country. At least he would think so, though he’s not one to boast.
If there could be one flaw in Ninthalas’ character, it would be his overzealous intrigue in mysteries. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, but oftentimes he will get himself into trouble, whether it be a social mishap or diving into dangerous situations. He feels bad for cultural blunders, such as one which upset the trade alliance between Serenestí and Shalom, and will carry that shame for months or even years. You’d think he would learn from his mistakes, but he tends to get himself into trouble without always realizing it. It’s usually his brother who has to get him out of difficult situations, which is why they travel together.
The Longing in Ninthalas’ Heart
I incorporate my own longings into Ninthalas. He would like to have children someday. Some might say he would even like to be married. Yet there’s always something holding him back, some ache in his soul from a loss he suffered. In a sense, Ninthalas could say that he is stuck and that everyone else is progressing instead of him. He longs to escape from his country, but when he leaves, he longs for his forest home. He’s a complicated soul with conflicting emotions.
His coping mechanism is either immersing himself in song, history books and his own musings, or engaging with people of other cultures. He speaks to his brother for hours on end about his deepest speculations, and he will plunge himself into the forest. The trees comfort him. He could traverse anywhere if only to return to the trees.
That yearning for forests also makes him obsessive about Lotah ‘an Lí, known as the Forest of Life in the Common speech. He’s only ever seen that wood in the distance on his journeys to the southern countries, and even then just a line of green along the horizon. He feels a tug in his heart to go there, to discover the secrets and find out if it’s really true that the forest admits no guests. He can only fathom. His father and brother keep him on the road. But if given the chance, he would go there in a heartbeat.
Because of his unconventional nature, Ninthalas took the forefront of the A’thería’s Wake trilogy. I wanted a hero not defined by his brawn, a man who didn’t fit into his society’s gender roles, and a character I hope others like me can relate to. If people are looking for a badass hero who can slay a hundred monsters with a single stroke of his sword, has dashing looks, rippling biceps, and is the spitting image of a romanticized male figure, then they’ve come to the wrong place.
Ninthalas is none of those things. He is a man of compassion and song, a gentle soul of peace and goodwill. Does that mean that everything goes his way? Not in the least. Yet some battles aren’t fought with swords, and that’s the story I want to tell. It’s one he would as well.