Lately I've been thinking about writing a sequel to Larka, one of my fantasy short stories set in the Ravelin universe. Aryn, the protagonist, has always been one of my all-time favorite characters, and while I intended her tale to end where it did, many readers over the years have asked what happened after the end.
Aryn is also an example of world-building by character, in that the reader discovers the world exclusively through her point of view, which is that of a castaway human who has been raised by non-humans. Aryn has a few, blurry memories of her life before she became marooned, but she has been so completely and succesfully integrated into her non-human adoptive family she no longer thinks of them. She's also had zero contact with her own kind prior to this story, so she's at the same disadvantage as the reader, in that she has to learn everything about the world she's about to discover along with them.
Because she has been raised by non-humans Aryn believes she is a larka, or a non-person (among her adoptive people, she has about the same status as an affectionate, interesting pet.) Her interpretation of what she experiences is likewise the same as theirs would be. When she is rescued, she doesn't understand things like clothing or furniture or even something as basic as a loaf of bread:
Kalas had me perch on something called a chair at another thing called a table and eat something that looked like a rock but was soft and tasted like munochin frills. I ate with my hands until I saw Kalas stab at its soft rocks with a blade.
Maybe the food was strange to the other larka, too.
“You don’t have to kill it,” I said in the polite form. “I think it’s already dead.”
Aryn also has to learn about human society and customs, which Kalas, her human rescuer, explains are very different from those of her adoptive people:
“Aryn, not all hue mens adjust to deprivation and hardship as well as you have. Do you know what a cripple is?”
The word was different in Srupas, but I felt sure it meant the same thing. “A youngling who is born with useless parts, or one whose parts are made useless by injury or sickness.”
“Then you know what happens to them.”
I nodded. “Their mother or their clutch kills and eats them.”
Kalas drew back, his eyes wide, and then he pressed his lips together and looked out the land ship opening for several moments.
“You don’t have to say it.” I sighed, resigned. “Hue men mothers don’t eat their useless young.”
Aryn doesn't get a free pass in the story after she rejoins human society, either. In fact she's treated very badly, especially when she attempts to help someone in trouble. Aryn may be ignorant, but she's not stupid, and she decides it's better for her to be treated as a non-person than endure anything more from her own kind:
Jathel argued with me, and would not give me permission to go, but I spent only oneday more in the stronghold before I felt strong enough to leave on my own. Guards got in my way and tried to stop me more than once, but I took a blade with me and when they saw I meant to use it they stepped out of my way. I went down to the sea and swam for a long time, letting the good salty water bathe my wounds. Then I set up a place for myself in the caves and went about catching and storing some food.
Whenever guards from the stronghold came down to the shore, I went into the water, and stayed there until they left again.
I waited and watched for a shiner vessel. As soon as I saw one I planned to swim out to it and ask if I could work the nets in exchange for passage back to Valanar.
After fourday Kalas came, and dove into the water after me. He couldn’t swim as fast as me, though, so he didn’t catch me.
“Why are you doing this?” he called out, panting. “Lord Jathel wishes to reward you.”
“I don’t want a reward,” I shouted back. “I want to go back to Valanar.”
“You belong with your people, Aryn. We have to find your kin. We have to know who you are,” he said.
“No you don’t.” I swam a little closer so I didn’t have to yell. “You said I was free, that the hue mens would be kind to me. But they locked me away alone. They beat me and starved me. That woman wants me dead.”
By the end of the story both Aryn and the reader come to understand everything, but it's a journey they've taken together every step of the way. Sharing the perspective with the character that way can offer the reader the same kind of satisfaction the character feels when the world is made understandable and the conflict resolved.
If you'd like to read Larka, I've posted it online in a standalone .pdf here.