The Elderlings are a race who dwelled in the world with humans and dragons, but have disappeared, along with the dragons, leaving behind ruins and artifacts that appear in several of the novels. The Elderlings begin to return within the course of the series.
There are two main areas that the books are set in - the Six Duchies in the north (location of the Royal Assassin and Tawny-man trilogies) and the Rain Wild River and Bingtown are further to the south (setting of the Liveship Traders books).
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The celebrated hereditary magic of the royal Farseer line, The Skill allows mind to mind contact that can be used to accomplish anything from mind to mind communication to causing pain and even death. During the time of King Shrewd's father, Skill training was limited to members of the royal family until the creation of Galen's coterie. After the death of Will, the last member of that coterie, there were no Skillmasters or coteries until Tom Badgerlock returned to Buckeep fifteen years later to train Prince Dutiful and others in the Skill. The Skill's origin has been theorized by The Fool that the Skill is a remnant of the communication between The Elderlings and Dragons, and those who have the Skill are the descendants of people who had interacted with Dragons.
Coterie is a group of people trained to skill together whose closeness is such that if a member dies it causes pain and loss to all other members of the coterie as well as a loss of overall power. Worse is when one member of a coterie kills another member of the same coterie: since all members of a coterie are sworn to their ruler, killing one amounts to treason to the throne. While the Skill has many uses, a coterie's main duty is to provide skill-strength to their sovereign. A single person can also act as a King/Queen's man as Burrich did for Prince Chivalry or FitzChivalry for Prince Verity.
Other abilities include:
- Communication - Possibly the most commonly used ability available to a Coterie, they can communicate mind to mind over any distance with each other.
- Skill-walls - a Skill user can establish mental walls that block out other Skill users from entering their mind. There are ways around Skill walls, such as using brute force or allowing oneself to "seep" into a persons mind.
- Healing - The Skill can be used to speed up the healing of an individual. This process draws on the body's energy stores however and can leave the recipient exhausted for days or weeks after the process.
- Pain barrier - A Skillmaster might create a barrier within a student's mind that causes pain whenever they attempt to Skill.
- Causing pain and death - the skill can be used to inflict pain on another, and even death. Such use is considered immoral and killing another Skill-user with the Skill can leave the person without the ability to skill until suitable healing is done.
- Leeching - Skill strength can also be drained off another unwillingly. While this can cause death, it is unlike the other in that the person chooses to die rather than give up all their strength to the cause.
- Skill-block - A person can be blocked by a skill-user from all other Skill-users to keep their secrets and power to themselves. Prince Chivalry is said to have done this to Burrich.
- Skill-walking - A Skill-user can travel vast distances with their mind, and with enough power actually enter another person's body for a short period of time.
- Dream-walking/manipulating - Certain Skill-users are adept at the spying and manipulation of other people's dreams. Nettle's Dream-Manipulations are especially powerful. It seems to be her specialty. When Nettle is in a dream, she can even force someone to stop dreaming or render them powerless
- Skill-commands - The Skill can be used to imprint certain instructions into another's mind. the range of this ability can range from a simple command, to a completely fabricated loyalty that the recipient is completely unaware exists.
The Wit, called Old Blood by its practitioners, is magic based on the ability to perceive the links between all living things. The population generally believes that the magic endows its users the ability to speak the tongues of beasts. This is not entirely true, a Witted person cannot speak with animals, but can communicate with them through shared thoughts. This is one of the most common of the many uses of the Wit. Another common use is to form a bond with a similarly minded animal. A properly Wit-bonded pair share a very deep friendship, and often incorporate aspects of the other's species' lifestyle into their own.
The Wit also allows its users to sense other living things nearby, from tiny crickets and mice, to humans and horses, even the most ancient of trees. For this reason, a Witted person is often difficult to take by surprise. This sense also tells the user how healthy a creature is, a weak or dying creature will have far less impact on this sense than a strong, healthy one. Unlike the Skill, this sense is bound by distance, a Witted one cannot detect animals over large distances. When a creature dies, it will let out a 'scream' through the Wit, so a Witted one, over time, becomes used to the small screams made by insects and mice and such, as they die. A bonded animal, however, lets out a much louder scream, usually accompanied by the despair of their Wit-partner. In this way a Wit-user can tell if another Wit user nearby has lost their Wit-partner.
It is possible to use the Wit to repel another person; this is a mind blast of feral rage using the emotions of the witted person. Repelling halts the target in their tracks, and in some cases, if the Witted is strong enough or their emotions are very powerful, can cause the target to run away, or even throw them backwards. The opposite of repelling is also possible - the ability to send out a calming influence.
Throughout the Six Duchies, the Wit is despised magic. A common misconception is that a person with the Wit can transform into an animal; in reality, this is impossible, although members of Wit-bonded pairs will slowly assume behavioral traits of the other species. Another misconception is that a Witted person can command animals to do their bidding. This, too, is not entirely wrong, and likely stems from the common use of the Wit to bond and communicate. A Witted human cannot 'command' an animal to do their bidding, but they can ask. This, however is no different from asking a human to do a task, or in the case of a Wit-partner, asking a very close friend.
However, it is also possible to use the Wit in a way that justifies its foul reputation throughout the Six Duchies. An aging Wit-user can take a very young Wit-partner, one who is likely too young to know better. At the point of death, the Wit-user can use their bond to transfer their spirit to their animal partner, extending their life by however many years the animal has left to live. This often results in the animal being pushed back into a 'spectator' role, as they can only watch while the human takes control of, and uses, their body. This practice is despised even by the Old Blood, and those who use it are shunned from the community. A Witted person looking upon someone who has transferred their spirit will be confused, their eyes will detect one creature, but their Wit-sense will detect two.
If someone is strong in the Wit, they can attempt to reverse this process, by taking the spirit out of the animal, and placing it back in their rightful body. However, there are two constraints to this. First, there must be a body for the person to go back into. The body shuts down as soon as the spirit leaves it, and, for all intents and purposes, is dead. The restoration process must take place quickly, before the body has decomposed to the point where it cannot work again. Second, the process takes an enormous amount of strength in the Wit, only a very small amount of Wit-users can perform the process.
In the Tawny Man trilogy, it is shown that the Wit can apparently be used to heal, though the exact process is unclear. Web sees Burrich using this application of the Wit, and says it was long ago lost by the Old Blood community; Fitz goes further, using the Wit to raise someone from the dead.
A form of divination, which allows people to see distant events while looking in a bowl of water.
Hedge magics are a lesser form of magic than the Skill or the Wit, akin to scrying. A person with the ability to perform hedge magics can create and use tokens to accomplish many minor feats of magic. These tokens can be small bracelets or necklaces to be worn by the intended recipient, and hangings to be placed in their intended area of effect. The magics worked are likewise diverse, and include attracting love, warding off predators, making people well disposed to someone, and increasing crop growth or fertility. These tokens can be attuned to their recipients, making them more effective than ones produced for anyone to use.
Hedge wizards and witches are also capable of reading someone's past, present and future on the palm of their hands, similar to the practice of Chiromancy. Hedge wizards and witches use this to attune their tokens to the recipients.