[The Three-Faced God] chose three races from different threshold worlds to be his champions and forged them into the Kencyrath. The original Kencyr—renamed (by themselves) the Highborn—became the leaders of this new people. They were quick-witted and proud, blessed (or cursed, as some thought even in those days) with an unusually close relationship with their god. Those especially affected were called the Shanir. These individuals possessed strange powers and had a tendency to go mad.
– God Stalk, "Appendix III: The Kencyrath"
The Highborn are one of the Three People of the Kencyrath. They are the leaders and rulers, and only those with Highborn blood can be Shanir.
Highborn are lighter in build and finer in feature than Kendar, and usually smaller. "Fine-boned" is a common description. For example, even though Rue is slightly shorter than Jame, she weights a good 30 pounds more.
Highborn are quite susceptible to senility. They are very long-lived, often living to 150, but the old often become senile just before their death. It is usually very sudden, the minds of the old suddenly collapsing with little warning. It is considered hereditary, was well as contagious, and unsafe even to mention. When it strikes, it often renders the victim unable to filter themselves, and all their true characteristics are shown without any limitation.
Many Highborn fear this, and choose other forms of death near the end to avoid it.
Highborn Kencyr marriage takes the form of serial monogamy, in which the partners are known as consorts. Unions are formed via marriage contracts, which are signed by the potential consort's lord. During a contract, the woman goes and lives with her consort's house, if they are of different houses.
There are two main forms of contracts: limited term consorts and contracts in perpetuity.
A limited term consort is a Highborn woman who is contracted to a Highborn man for a set period of time. When a contract expires, it can either be ended, or renewed. At this time, contracts can also be extended, to include children.
A contract in perpetuity is a much rarer form of contract, in which the woman is bought permanently and irrevocably, and becomes a member of the man's house. Her former house and lord give up all rights to her forever. Her house is paid a large sum for her.
Historically, the Highborn breed within their own houses, often inbreeding to produce Shanir, in hope of bringing about the Tyr-ridan. After Jamethiel Dream-Weaver and Gerridon were born of such a match, Shanir fell out of popularity, cross-breeding between houses became the norm.
Highborn women can generally control contraception at will, at least insofar as not conceiving. Conceiving seems rather harder, as Telarien struggled with fertility.
Given the power politics, Highborn men often take Kendar women as lovers, and Highborn men can father children on Kendar women regardless of the women's will. (There are no known instances of the other way round, and so no one really knows if a Highborn woman could control contraception with a Kendar male.)
Highborn bastards are considered extremely scandalous, because it means that the child's mother willfully misbreed.
Half-Kendar bastards are a common, if somewhat embarrassing occurrence. These half breeds still find their uses as solders or priests among their houses and can be easily manipulated by their need for acceptance among their people.
Highborn women have a relatively high maternal mortality rate, with Telarien, Tieri, Kirien's mother, and Donkerri's mother all dying in childbirth. When this happens, her child and it's father are both blacklisted from future breeding. However, these restrictions seem less than complete. Kirien refers to herself as "suspect breeding stock," not "blacklisted." When Trishien briefly suggests that Torisen take Kirien as his consort, her mother's death and Kirien's breeding status does not come up. Gerridon saw Tieri as a suitable consort, even though Telarien died giving birth to her — though Gerraint didn't tell Gerridon that, and he may not have known, and Tieri did end up dying in childbirth herself.
↑ 1.01.1To Ride a Rathorn, "Chapter VII: In the Bear's Den", I — "A few were clearly Highborn, smaller and finer boned than the Kendar,"
↑To Ride a Rathorn, "Chapter XIX: Darkness at Noon", III — "Both had always been slight and fine-boned, even for Highborn"
↑Seeker's Mask, "Part IV: Restormir", I — "Only one, a cadet named Rue, was shorter than Jame, although the Kendar girl outweighed the Highborn by a good thirty pounds."
↑ 4.04.1Dark of the Moon, "Chapter 15: The Killing Ground" — "He always forgot how old Ardeth was, how close to that abrupt slide into senility and death that marked the end of so many Highborn. Adric would probably prefer to die of sudden heart failure or even by his own hand than finish as Jedrak had;"
↑Bound in Blood, "Chapter I: Naming the Dead" — "Highborn often lived a century and a half unless violence cut short their lives. Toward the end, many plunged into senility."
↑Honor's Paradox, "Chapter III: Pyres and the Pit", VI — "Highborn lived a long time, but their ends tended to be abrupt, as if their brains suddenly crumbled under the weight of years."
↑Dark of the Moon, "Chapter 6: The High Council" — " 'Adric thinks that senility is contagious.' Rowan gave him a startled look. 'Isn't it?' 'Who knows?' "
↑Dark of the Moon, "Chapter 6: The High Council" — "Madness, like senility, was considered not only hereditary but contagious and unsafe even to mention."
↑Honor's Paradox, "Chapter XII: A New Favorite", IV — "She had heard that when senility struck, all one’s true characteristics came spilling out without check. What a terrifying thought. Surely the Ardeth randon hadn’t always been as he was now."
↑Bound in Blood, "Chapter XV: Winter's Eve", II — "those Highborn who chose the pyre when they felt themselves to be failing?"
↑Seeker's Mask, "Interim II: Kothifir Encampment" — "Ardeth's pharmacopoeia might do no harm in itself—after all, Highborn were almost impossible to poison—"
↑Seeker's Mask, "Part III: The Riverland", I — "It was difficult to poison or infect a Highborn, but M'lady could be counted on to have tried her best."
↑To Ride a Rathorn, "Chapter 3: Wine, Women, and Wolvers", II — " 'Lady,' he said carefully, 'as you well know, Highborn are very difficult to poison, but we do react to drugs in different ways. What did you put into the wine?' "
↑Dark of the Moon, "Chapter 6: The High Council" — "a map of Rathillien in colored glass, all Kendar work, of course: the Highborn were about as artistically inept as an intelligent race could be."
↑Dark of the Moon, "Chapter 9: The Haunted Palace" — "a stitchery portrait of a young, fair-haired, brown-eyed man, so clumsily done that it could only be the work of a Highborn."
↑ 16.016.116.2Dark of the Moon, "Chapter 9: The Haunted Palace" — " 'The marriage contract. It comes up for review at Midwinter. My father, Lord Caineron, won't renew it if anything is, well, not quite right. Then I would have to leave. But if the Prince helps Father win at the Cataracts, maybe he will even extend the contract to include children.' "
↑ 17.017.1Dark of the Moon, "Chapter 6: The High Council" — " 'On your advice, I took Caineron's daughter as a limited term consort, and that did keep her father off my back for nearly a year. Kallystine was sure I would extend the contract to include children.' "
↑Seeker's Mask, "Part VI: Mount Alban", V — " 'I know that Lord Brandan pledged a huge sum for her contract in perpetuity, that Ganth was about to give up all rights to her forever.' "
↑ 19.019.1Dark of the Moon, "Appendix II: The Master's Generation" — "Most lords have a number of consorts during their lifetimes. Their contract specifies how long the arrangement will last and whether or not the lady is authorized by the head of her father's house to bear her consort children. If she does, they stay in their father's house even if she moves on."
↑To Ride a Rathorn, "Chapter 3: Wine, Women, and Wolvers", II — "Her child, of course, being male, had stayed in his father's house, probably with a Kendar wet nurse, while she had returned here to be used over and over again, as her house saw fit."
↑Seeker's Mask, "Part VIII: Kithorn" — " 'By ancient custom, the heir always has the status of a man, and "he" doesn't form any contracts before coming of age at twenty-seven.' "
↑God Stalk, Book II: Crown of Nights, "Chapter 6: Water Flow, Fire Leap" — "Red ribbons, she vaguely remembered, were usually for a lord's wedding chamber,"
↑Dark of the Moon, "Appendix II: The Master's Generation" — "long ago the Highborn may have been trying to breed Shanir, from whose ranks the Tyr-ridan or chosen three will come to lead the Kencyrath in final battle against Perimal Darkling. The way to get the most powerful Shanir, however, is to inbreed, hence the custom of mating twins. But since the Fall, Shanir have become less popular and cross-breeding between houses has become more and more the rule."
↑ 24.024.124.2Dark of the Moon, "Appendix II: The Master's Generation" — "they can usually control conception at will, which is fortunate because childbirth is often fatal for them. If they do die, their child and its sire are both more or less blacklisted as future breeding stock. The rare illegitimate child is considered as having no family and its mother, again, is blacklisted."
↑Blood and Ivory: A Tapestry, "Hearts of Woven Shadow" — "being the long-desired, half-despaired of heir to a house desperately short on sons. Five years later, Ganth had come as such a surprise that Telarien had nearly died giving birth to him."
↑To Ride a Rathorn, "Chapter VI: The Lordan's Coat", IV — " 'What is it, I wonder, that draws Highborn men to Kendar women? One rarely hears of the reverse. Among our own kind, we can control conception as well—or ill—as Highborn ladies. But not with Highborn lovers. They take us and use us and cast off our children as the whim takes them.' "
↑Seeker's Mask, "Part I", VI — "Illegitimacy shouldn't exist among the Highborn, whose ladies usually controlled conception at will and grimly honored the terms of any contract to which their lord bound them. […] To misbreed as Tieri had was black disgrace, dishonoring both mother and child."
↑Seeker's Mask, "Part I", VI — "Old songs claimed that living or dead, twins occupied corners in each other's soul. Jame could almost believe that, asleep if not awake:"
↑Seeker's Mask, "Part V: Mount Alban", IV — " 'Then too, since my Randir mother died bearing me, I've been suspect breeding stock. […] So the Matriarchs let me go my own way. That may change now that my house has chosen me as lordan.' "
↑To Ride a Rathorn, "Chapter VIII: A Forgotten Name", V