A step beyond the skills of those merely Machiavellian, there are some rare individuals who can exert an uncanny, almost supernatural influence on the people around them.
The spoken word is an intrinsically powerful thing, more awesome and terrible than the crude markings which were created to try and bind it to the papers and pages that might tame it. Throughout history there have been people who have discovered ways to harness that power, be it through prayer and ritual or even through the more mundane arts of oration (brandishing soaring rhetoric that could pierce the veil of apathy and change hearts and minds) but a rare few are born with some innate linguistic abilities separate and apart from the magical or the poetic. There are many forms of art which can be learnt, which can be studied and practiced - even mastered - but the ways and works of Whispersmiths are more knack than knowledge.
It is hard to get an accurate understanding of how common the occurrence of Whispersmiths is; not least because of the number of marginal or disputed cases there are and because many may not have known or named their gift as such. Wielding subtle tools, weapons to those who choose to use them in that manner, these talents are made manifest in the voice: The words of a Whispersmith, even those which are clumsily or imperfectly chosen, can be as persuasive as the most finely-honed arguments or as bloodlessly sharp as the keenest blades. While their abilities stop somewhere short of controlling minds, of forcing people to act in overtly self-destructive ways or entirely against their own nature, they remain masterful manipulators and valuable allies.
Seldom seeking out leadership or ruling positions, and thus avoiding the attendant glare of scrutiny and accountability, the most ambitious and notorious Whispersmiths in history have tended to be found adjacent to overt influence, serving instead as advisers and confidants to the great and powerful. Naturals at statecraft - and even better at diplomacy - they can achieve more than their less-talented peers, and often achieve it more efficiently, with only an artfully-delivered remark or a hushed offer of counsel. The deeds of almost any influential courtier will have been scrutinised during their lives by their rivals and re-examined by occult historians, with an eye to discerning and distinguishing between those who played the game well and those who had the deck stacked in their favour from the off.
It is perhaps due to the relatively small circles in which Whispersmiths could make such a name for themselves that their apparent numbers were so limited. Certainly, as monarchies and theocracies and other absolutist power structures were weakened, they have seemed to become more common, or more commonly recognised for what they are. Perhaps this also has to do with the relaxation of certain taboos; an interest in witchcraft and similar schools of knowledge not as readily and belligerently condemned and curtailed. Still, it can be difficult to distinguish charm and persuasiveness from the knack which Whispersmiths expose when they are using their talents delicately. As their words resonate and reverberate in the minds of those they are attempting to persuade, slowly become that mind’s own belief, so too might any particularly stirring speech.
It is in more aggressive action that these signs become unmistakeable: While the aforementioned limitations around coercing peoples’ wills are believed to be inviolable, a Whispersmith’s words - when spoken in rage - can land so heavily and violently as to cause lasting psychological harm and even passing physical pain. What they say can bite and burrow, burn pathways of rehearsed and rote thoughts into those who listen, are compelled to listen, and leave them squirming; invasive and maddening. Victims of such cruelty still have a choice to comply or defy what has been asked of them, but when the only respite comes from obedience or death, this choice rings false. Most Whispersmiths, especially those who have a proper understanding of their gifts, avoid exposing themselves through such blunt and brazen manipulations.
Some Whispersmiths believe their abilities have a spiritual component, that their gifts are blessings bestowed by whichever local and contemporary gods or monsters best fit their existing theist ontologies. Often these are trickster gods, like Iktomi and Dolos, but some of Christian extraction have believed that their fellowship and fealty belong to Lucifer. The thinking behind this stance is easy enough to follow; it was the devil who tempted humanity into original sin, a silver-tongued serpent whispering its ill-fated enticements, and this belief is at the root of another, older name for Whispersmiths: Once upon a time, particularly wherever the persecution of the vulnerable was dressed up in the garb and guise of witch-hunting, they were primarily known as Wormwords, and those accused of possessing their demonic gifts were tortured and executed.
Of course, were any of the accused actually in possession of such abilities they would likely have been able to evade capture or avoid detection; most, if not all of those arrested and punished, were innocent of even the specious charges laid against them. These inquisitions and purges went so far as to claim that the Wormwords were no run-of-the-mill witches but that their names appeared in The Books of Diabolic Bloodlines, stultifying and curbing any expression of passion or creativity that might be mistaken for a hint of a heretical gift. More recently, some Whispersmiths have adopted this belief, the lie coming full circle and becoming a truth of some sort or another, though they eschew mainstream interpretations of Lucifer and his motivations.
No one knows for sure where the abilities of the Whispersmiths come from, and today the majority of those proven and suspected to share in their power are just ordinary and unremarkable people, living their lives and using their talents for their comfort and for minor conveniences. They may not have a name for what they can do, nor the verbal poise and flair that one might expect: Neither is apparently requisite in order to be possessed of such a talent. They can make good storytellers, are able to speak sweet rhapsody into the most banal of utterances, but since this does not translate into the written word - unless a reader is familiar enough with the specific Whispersmith’s voice that they read it with a psychic simulacrum of it - they also make for frustrated writers.