The Elderling race is the result of humans and dragons living closely with one another.
Although the descriptions are never consistent, Elderlings generally have long, slender limbs and unusually vibrant and colorful eyes. They develop iridescent scaling upon their skin, a side effect of sharing their lives with dragons.
The unpleasant growths the Rain Wild Traders experience may be a mutation of Elderling characteristics due to living close to, but not in harmony with dragons.
The first Elderlings came into existence when humans living in the Rain Wilds area began to mingle their society with that of the dragons. Those who developed bonds with dragons began to adopt some of the large beasts' physical and mental characteristics.
Elderlings became assistants to the dragons, aiding in the care of dragon eggs and ensuring the survival of the dragon species. In return, they developed extended lifespans, and were able to cultivate an advanced civilization amongst the Rain Wilds.
At some point in time, a catastrophic earthquake known as the Great Quake destroyed the civilization of the Elderlings, killing them and the dragons, and sealing away the remaining unhatched serpents in their cocoons beneath the ruins of Frengong.
The Elderlings built some of their cities, particularly Frengong, as large communal houses, with chambers and halls linking rooms like a catacomb or labyrinth. They relied on jidzin, a glowing metal with unique properties, hammered into strips, to provide light in their halls. Elderlings cared for the dragons' young, constructing birthing halls where young dragons emerged from their cocoons under the watchful eyes of their parents and Elderling caretakers.
Other cities, such as Kelsingra, were built with wide plazas, and dragon-size baths.
Elderling ruins above ground frequently feature map towers, with three-dimensional map models.
Little else is known about Elderling society, except that it was prosperous and highly advanced. They possessed a unique quality of magic with which they created their society. It is known they valued music, theatre and traditional arts.
In the Farseer Trilogy
Elderlings are first introduced to the story in a tapestry in Fitz's bedroom, which depicts King Wisdom greeting an Elderling. It is believed by the characters of the Farseer Trilogy that the Elderlings are the mammoth stone beasts that come to the aid of the Six Duchies against the Red Ship Raiders. These stone creatures, sleeping in a vast garden hidden in the Mountain Kingdom, are in fact a revered form of Elderling art. Elderlings discovered that by carving dragon forms out of memory stone and filling them with memory, they would eventually take flight for a brief period of time. The practice was seen as a way to honour dragons.
In the Liveship Traders
Long after The Great Quake killed the Elderlings and buried their cities, the remaining cocoons of unborn dragons were sawn open and shaped into wooden planks ("wizardwood") by the Rain Wild Traders. These planks were used to construct ships that eventually became sentient and were resistant to the corrosive quality of the Rain Wild River, hence the existence of liveships.
Malta and Selden Vestrit freed Tintaglia, the last dragon left alive within her cocoon. Through their association with her, they began to change into Elderlings. It is reasonable to assume that Malta, along with her beau Reyn Khuprus and younger brother Selden, will play a part in reviving the Elderling race and restoring the dragons and Elderlings to their former glory.
In the Rain Wilds Chronicles
The young "keepers" of the dragons that emerged at Cassarick begin to show Elderling traits as they are favored by the dragons with whom they pair up.
The Elderling Queen
A tapestry in the ruins of Frengong depicts a young Elderling queen with a large, scarlet scar upon her forehead. Malta Vestrit severely injures her head on the night of Bingtown's uprising, leaving her with a similar crest. Reyn describes Malta as "crowned" and the dragon Tintaglia later refers to Malta as "rewarded" with "the scarlet crest".
Tintaglia: "I see you have been well rewarded for your part in freeing me, young queen. A scarlet crest. You will take much pleasure from that."