I might not have included a post on humans in this survey of the fantasy kindreds you’d find in my work in progress Shadow of the King except for the distinctive role they play in the story world. So let’s go…
HUMAN (Homo sapiens sapiens)
Humans are not native to the realm of Saynim. In fact, they are a distinct minority. Those who live there are either “overbrought,” taken from the mundane world either in infancy or at a later age, or the descendants of those so taken. These humans were taken from their own world for various reasons, both benign and sinister.
Benignly, some humans were removed as young children from situations of abuse or neglect. Others found refuge in Saynim after escaping from dire situations such as domestic abuse, abject poverty, or systemic oppression. There is a Cherokee legend about the Nunnehi rescuing the people of certain towns from the Removal by whisking them away to their own magical domain.
Still others were “recruited”—perhaps with selfish motivation—because they possessed certain qualities deemed desirable to a particular otherworldly party. For instance, an elf might fall in love with a human and invite him or her to join this alien world.
At other times, however, folklore describes humans brought into the Otherworld for more sinister reasons. They might be taken as slaves to serve in either the harems or the armies of a powerful fae lord. The Cherokees believed water cannibals would steal children for food. The okwa naholo (“white water people”) of Choctaw mythology would lure swimmers to their underwater domain and, if they stayed long enough, would become okwa naholo themselves. Of course, sometimes humans are taken capriciously, for no discernible reason.
So, what roles do humans play in Saynim society? There are certain stereotypes of humans at play, not least among them the idea that humans are tricky and unpredictable. They think outside the box. More than any other kindred, they seem able to resist the pull of magic to become conformed to particular ways of thinking and acting.
All of this makes humans fascinating to elves and the rest, and they are often objects of a benign and patronizing racism that admires them for these unique qualities while ultimately diminishing their personhood. Think of the way some white folks romanticize (and even fetishize) peoples and cultures that they see as “exotic,” and you won’t be far removed from the way many in Saynim think of humans.
Humans rarely serve as common slaves, though they may be bonded to a lord in a more high-status position of servitude as an adviser, teacher, bodyguard, or in some other capacity where quick, unorthodox thinking is desirable. Some fae lords have maintained elite military units of overbrought children raised to be warriors virtually from birth, comparable to the janissaries of the Ottoman Empire. Whether bond or free, many humans end up in the officer corps of various otherworldly principalities.
Other humans find a niche in careers where their adaptability and unpredictability are assets. They might be merchants and entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, theoreticians, spies, adventures, and treasure-hunters.