The Gift is the name for the ability of certain humans to perform magic in the Tortallan Universe. It is different from wild magic and the Sight. It has been described as "all-purpose". The Gift can be trained, and a Gifted person can be taught to apply their Gift to various spells and tasks. Although the Gift can be used for nearly every purpose, each Gifted human still has an area where he or she is especially talented. People who have tried to use magic the Gods have not given them have been known to die in "ugly ways".
Properties of the Gift
The Gift manifests as a reserve of energy within certain humans that allows them to use magic. Each person is unique in both the color and strength of their Gift, although magical potency appears to run in families. However, the Gift is exclusively possessed by humans; immortals and Gods also possess magic, but it does not manifest or appear to operate in the same way as The Gift. Although The Gift must be trained to be useful to its possessor, untrained people with strong Gifts may accidently use it subconsciously. When The Gift is used for magic, it reduces the strength of its user and is temporarily drained. Rest, relaxation, and meditation may all help replenish it. During meditation, The Gift often appears to its user as a pool of colored fire. Animals can detect the presence of The Gift, particularly during meditation.
A gifted person is shielded from the magic sight of someone else through his or her magic.
Powers of the Gift
The Gift is the primary source of human magic in the Tortallan Universe, and is required to cast nearly all spells. Spells are usually cast using a set of Words of Power, runes, and symbols of unclear origin.
One of the principles of major magical workings is the fact that affecting the image of a thing has the equivalent effect on the actual thing. Thus, mages can cast spells on larger subjects than they could normally, or upon unwilling subjects. Duke Roger uses image magic to slowly wash away the Queen of Tortall's health by putting a wax image of her under a fountain, while a model of the valley of Dunlath allows the mage Tristan to create a magical barrier around the entire valley without actually walking its perimeter.
Magic and Magical Spells are often cast with a focusing object, in a slightly similar way to Ambient magic in the Circle Universe. For example, Alanna in the Song of the Lioness quartet often casts fighting magic though her sword, and uses thread to wrap a rug around one of her rebellious students in The Woman Who Rides Like a Man. This may be a semi-modified form of image magic. In addition, there are ways to use the Gift to put permanent magic into an object.
Shielding and Countering Magic
The Gift may be used to shield against or block magic. Magical shields generally appear as a wall of colored fire when simply blocking magic, but may be extended to invisibly cover a huge area, as was done in Dunlath in the book Wolf-Speaker. In this case however, the spellcaster used Black Opals to make the spell strong enough to spread so far so strongly. It is also possible to use The Gift to block the magics of others, by spreading out a magic-dampening spell over a large area, as was done the Catharki Navy during their siege of Pirate's Swoop in Wild Magic.
The Gift also may be used to communicate between two people with The Gift. This appears in the form of a globe of colored fire that people on each end can both speak into and hear from, like a telephone. It is also used in Wild Magic, with Alanna using a mirror from one of her sons.
It is possible to use magic to scry on a distant area, as long as it isn't blocked out by something. The City of the Gods, for example, causes scrying magic to get fuzzy and unreliable, then downright impossible as gets closer.
With the Gift and proper training, it is possible to create a version of oneself that not only appears to have physical reality but also appears to have The Gift in its own right. These are not strictly illusions because they have some sort of physical anchor, be it something small or an entire replica of a man. It is even possible, as Numair showed in Emperor Mage to create a Simulacra so realistic it can pass for human well enough to be executed.
After the barrier between the Mortal Realms and the Divine Realms is broken, it becomes possible for talented mages to summon immortals into the mortal realms with magic.
The Gift can be used to change the essential nature of objects with Words of Power; Numair Salmalín is capable of transforming a stone into a loaf of bread, although he said that doing so would make him sick for days. He later used this talent to transform an Tristan into an apple tree in Wolf-Speaker. The drawback to this power, however, is that every transformation causes an equal and opposite transformation to happen somewhere else in the world; if Numair decided to transform a rock into gold, somewhere else a piece of gold would turn into a rock. Although Numair has stated that he would be sick for days if he turned one thing into another, Alanna turned a shirt into a log rather easily, and without using any Words of Power, so she can test her Emberstone in In the Hand of the Goddess. However, he may have been meaning that if he consumed the transmuted bread, he would be ill for days.
Although most effectively done with wild magic, it is possible to use the Gift to shape shift into an animal, although like transmuting objects, this is very draining. It is unclear whether shape shifting with the Gift is the same as shape shifting with wild magic.
Many Gifted mages have the power to heal, but it takes quite a lot of energy and power to do so. Some mages have more of an affinity for healing than others, like Baird of Queenscove and his son Nealan of Queenscove, both of whom are primarily healers. Baird mentioned that much of this has to do with how he honed his magic in training. Duke Baird compared this to Numair Salmalín, who is unable to even light a candle with his magic without it exploding. Alanna the Lioness honed her Gift so that it could be very versatile, and could range from war magic to healing. Most mages, however, pick and choose a path.
Healing magic is often compared to natural healing. Healers simply speed up—sometimes within a span of seconds—the time it takes for an injury or wound to heal. This is why after a healing, the patient usually feels like several weeks have gone into healing the injury naturally, rather than magically. Healing does tend to make patients sleepy.
It's also important to mention that healing is not all powerful. Whether or not healing is effective depends on the strength of the healer in question, the strength of the injured person, and the nature of the wound. Even extremely powerful and practiced healers have trouble with a few types of trauma and wounds, like stomach injuries, head injuries, etc. For example, when Mequen Balitang received a stomach wound from Bronau Jimajen, Ochobu Dodeka was unable to heal him, even though she was an extremely powerful mage. Alianne of Pirate's Swoop recognized the wound to be fatal even with magic, as Ochobu was not able to attend to Duke Mequen immediately.
It might also be helpful to know that Alanna the Lioness mentioned to her daughter Alianne of Pirate's Swoop that "When you've been healed as many times as I have, you develop a certain resistance to healing." Combining this with a letter found in Tortall: A Spy's Guide, shortly after this The Lioness retired. It is probable that her "resistance" was a contributing factor.
Influences on the Gift
Opals are Power Stones; They can be used to enhance the power of the Gift or store magical power. Black Opals are particularly potent for this purpose, and are thus extremely expensive and rare. A new mine of Black Opals was recently discovered in the valley of Dunlath. Emperor Ozorne has a necklace of Black Opals, six deep.
The link between two closely related people, particularly twins, but possibly others, is close enough for one to draw magical power off of one to cast a spell performed by the other. The mechanism for doing this is unclear, and Thom is the only character known to have done this, even doing so without Alanna giving her consent.
Immortals possess a type of magic that does not require the Gift. In the same way, immortals like Tkaa can phase through human shields and are immune to a certain amount of magic; Stormwings, however, cannot.
Saltwater and Chill
Saltwater and chill or both may increase any kind of magic used. For example Daine could expand her range of detecting animals or immortals, but she had Wild Magic, not the Gift. It also works, if the magic is strained to regain power.
Detecting the Gift
Training the Gift
Once discovered, the Gift is usually trained by the nearest magic user to prevent accidents from occurring. Afterwards, the person may decide to seek magical training. Magical training is usually done in one of two ways: by apprenticeship or at a school. There are many schools that teach use of the Gift in the Tortallan Universe, although only a few have been named. The most significant ones are the City of the Gods in northern Tortall and the University of Carthak in the city of Carthak. Magical apprenticeships are much more common, although the quality of education is less even. In this case, the apprentice nearly always moves in with the master and learns to use the Gift while assisting with whatever projects the master is engaged in.