Shiloh, the protagonist of my new fantasy novel Hexborn, is ostracized by her peers due to having been born with a highly stigmatized medical condition. Over the course of the story, I have the chance to show some of the ways this bullying affects her. Not that I have all the answers about how to handle bullying in real life, but I think it is still helpful to young people to see that even a wizard heroine has to deal with cruelty from her peers.
In this first passage, a flashback to Shiloh’s early childhood, you can see how crucial it is for Shiloh to have a sympathetic and supportive parent with whom to discuss her difficult experiences:
“What is troublin’ ye, little mouse?” Poll asked. “What is runnin’ about in that clever noggin?”
Her words came out in a rush, having been pent up all day long. “So I was at the river this morning, and Meggan said that my ma must have been a monster for me to turn out all a mess like this. And that since she was a monster, I'm going to turn out a monster, too. What do you reckon?”
“I reckon Meggan needs to get the devil slapped out of ‘er mouth,” Poll muttered. He looked down into Shiloh’s big, serious eyes and heaved a sigh. “Now, it's true your mother musta cast plenty o’ curses when she was with child in order for you to be hexborn, with yer arm half missin’ and yer eyes and hair of pink and all. There's no denying that. But here's the thing, little mouse . . . During the war, people had to do all kinds of terrible things, just tryin’ to make it through. I killed so many men I lost count the first month. Brother Edmun, too, only he used a wand instead of an ax. So yer ma . . . She coulda been a nun or a priest made to fight on one side or t’other. That ain’t her fault.”
“But the sisters and brothers aren't allowed to have children,” Shiloh argued.
“Well, when a person thinks she's gonna die any day, those vows go out the window right quick. So, when ye came along, she was prolly right frightened of what would happen to her, bein’ that she’d broke the law twice, having a baby, and a hexborn one at that. But she didn't drown ye, like a lot of folks might’ve. She cast wards to protect ye until someone came along to take care of ye. For all I know, she was keepin’ watch her own self, hidin’ in the trees ‘til I came along. So, no, I don't think yer ma was a monster. And even if she was, that’s no reason to think ye would be one.
“It's the choices ye make that make ye a monster, little mouse. Ye understand? Do ye want to be a monster?”
Shiloh shook her head. “No. But I wouldn't mind if folks like Meggan were a little bit afraid of me. Maybe then they would leave me alone.”
Poll heaved a sigh. “Well, I can't rightly blame ye for feeling that way.”
Poll might not be able to solve her problems, but at least Shiloh doesn’t feel alone.
In this next passage, as a young woman, Shiloh handles rejection in her own way, refusing to allow another character to force her into a situation that she knows will only result in her getting hurt:
“There’s a pub with an inn. I am told it is comfortable enough, compared to most,” Shiloh informed Silas. “You and your men should be able to get a warm bed and a decent meal, anyway.”
“Yes, I know it. I'll pay for a room for you, as well,” Silas hastened to assure her. “They are expecting us.”
Shiloh shook her head. “They'll never let me in.” She pointed to her hair, peeking out from her hood. “The best I can hope for is the stable. They might not notice I'm hexborn if I duck in there straightaway, as long as I hide the arm under my cloak. If they make me as Unclean and see us together, they might not let you in, either.”
Silas shook his head. “I think you underestimate the effectiveness of my reputation in obtaining cooperation.”
“I think you underestimate how superstitious and ignorant my fellow Teethtrash can be,” she countered. “They will lose every other paying customer if I walk through their door. Mountain folk do not break bread with the Unclean.”
“The cleanliness statutes were outlawed nearly five years ago, during the Reforms,” Silas protested.
“They keep to the old ways up here. The Reforms have not yet taken root, as I’m sure you are more than aware.”
“The innkeeper works for me,” Silas countered.
“One of your many sources of vital information, I presume? If he’s valuable and you want him to keep working for you, you won’t force me on them. I’ll be fine in the barn,” she declared. “The horses keep it warm.”
“Master Hatch, even if they let me in, they’ll be muttering and staring and spitting in my food. It simply isn’t worth it to me. Respectable people do not want me in their company, and I am willing to oblige them.”
Shiloh knows that avoiding bullies can be a perfectly acceptable strategy in certain situations. It isn’t because she is a coward, and she isn’t going to apologize for protecting herself in this way. She’s simply learned to save her strength for the fights that really matter.
Did you have experiences with bullies, either as a child or as an adult? How did you deal with them?
And don’t forget to grab your copy of Hexborn!