Ursula K. Le Guin: “The Finder” from “Tales from Earthsea” (c) 2001.
“The Finder” is the story of how Roke Island, in the Earthsea Archipelago, became the Isle of the Wise, how the Great House or School of mages was founded, in a time of chaos, when warlords, merchants and pirates ruled over the islands.
“The Finder” is Medra, a man with gifts of magery, of being able to locate people and places, and things that are lost or hidden, above or below the ground. He is also a shape-changer, being able to transform himself from his human form to other living creatures. He is known as Otter or Tern to most people, but Medra is his true name, which he must guard very carefully. To know the true name of a person or a thing is to control that person or thing.
As I read through the story, I realized that Medra’s gifts as a mage are not as great as those of the evil wizards he must fight. But his gift of Finding gives him the strength to seek ways to defeat his enemies. And the story became more interesting when Medra is faced with life-threatening situations: there are two women mages who help him and change the direction of his life. Anieb is a slave woman in the Samory mines who helps him to defeat the wizard Gelluk, and in her dying moment, she tells him to seek the help of “the Women of the Hand” . Elehal (Ember) is one of the Women of the Hand on Roke Island and from her, Medra learns of the foundations of mage knowledge. They love each other, and live together the rest of their lives.
On Roke Island, Medra learns that the Women of the Hand have spread their knowledge far and wide, but indirectly, to protect themselves from warlords and their wizards. How can mage knowledge be shared more freely and openly? Ember suggests that they can build a school, where the wise can come to learn from each other. She says that Roke’s freedom lies in offering others freedom. They talk of what the school would teach:
Masteries of Finding. Weatherworking, Changing, Healing, Summoning, Patterning, Naming.
Medra uses his gift as a Finder, and the sign of the Hand, to sail to other islands to seek out wise men and women, children with gifts of magery, and ancient books of magery lore and knowledge. In this way, the school begins, and it grows as more mages come to Roke to learn and to teach. Together, the women and men build a larger school, the Great House: The walls are of stone and wood, strengthened with magic and spells.
Medra sets out on one one last voyage from Roke. He sails to Havnor, to his home. However, he soon faces a struggle for survival as Havnor’s wizard, Early, begins a hunt for Medra or Otter. Roke itself is in grave danger as Early leads a fleet of ships to attack the island. But Early’s powers are no match for the powers of the Women of the Hand, and Early loses all his powers of wizardry.
Medra returns to Roke Isalnd. He and Elehal teach at the School for some years. When Elehal dies, Medra becomes the Doorkeeper, the ninth Master of Roke. As a Finder, he can find out if those who want to enter, really belong in the School.
more from “The Finder”:
Medra, or Otter is the young son of a boatwright in Havnor Great Port, on the great island of Havnor. All of Earthsea’s trade, commerce and learning passes through Havnor. He grows up in the chaotic times when wizards fight each other, and work for the warlords using their magery skills for evil. All magic is seen as black magic. In the villages, where women had used the lore of magic for various village activities, it becomes dangerous to practice witchcraft.
Ordinary people, men and women, who have gifts of magery meet secretly to practice and teach each other. On one Earthsea island, wizards form a group, the Women of the Hand, to protect their knowledge and use their gifts to do good only. The Hand is a sign of trust, a fist opening with the palm up.
From an early age, Otter shows gifts of magery. Others who recognize his gifts teach him in secret the arts and crafts of magery. He learns to be careful, to hide those gifts.
Losen, the warlord of Havnor, keeps the local shipwrights busy, building ships for piracy and to loot and plunder other islands. Otter is uneasy: the galley they are building will be manned by slaves, to bring back more slaves as cargo. His conscience knows he must use his skills only for good. Otter uses his carpentry skills to build the ship so that it will float and handle well, and as a wizard, he weaves a spell into the beams and hull, so that the ship dos not steer quite right.
The spell is soon detected by Losen’s wizards, Hound, and the more powerful wizard Gelluk. Otter is imprisoned and Hound tells him to work for Losen or be killed.
In the Samory mines: Otter and Anieb:
Gelluk has Otter drugged and taken inland, to the Samory mines near Mount Onn. The mines are rich in cinnabar, which releases quicksilver when roasted. In an ancient lore book of the wizards, Gelluk has read of the powers of quicksilver, or King Turres as it is called in wizard lore. He uses Otter to find the cinnabar ores deep beneath the earth of the valleys.
Gelluk takes him to the tower where the cinnabar is roasted. The fumes of quicksilver rise through a spiral of chambers, to be cooled and reheated and cooled, finally into liquid in the highest chamber. Slaves, men and women who work in the tower sicken and die from the poisonous fumes.
In the highest chamber, Gelluk shows Otter the drops of pure liqiud metal. A slave woman works here. The woman looks at Otter, moving her eyes only. That night in his cell, he sees her very clearly as if she is in the cell with him. He sees through her eyes, the lines of spell holding him, and a way out of the tangled lines: he is free for now. But Gelluk knows his true name, Medra. How can he escape from Gelluk?
Otter hears himself speaking in the voice of the woman slave. She is the key to his freedom. In his mind, Otter summons her and she appears as an apparition in the cell. He speaks his true name: Medra. And she speaks her true name: Anieb. She tells him that Gelluk’s true name is the key to their freedom. She can be with him, in spirit, when Otter and Gelluk are together. Medra makes a fist, and opens her hand palm up and then she is gone.
Otter has located a great lode of ore near Mount Onn. He senses a ledge of mica, and underneath the ledge a cavern, and thin crimson beds of cinnabar. Gelluk is with him and turns his mind to the location of the ore. Otter calls to Anieb, and she is with him in his mind. She now speaks thru Otter, in his voice.
There is no entrance, and only the King’s true name can open the earth into the lode. Gelluk whispers, tense and trembling, “Turres” (the name for quicksilver). Nothing happens. He then cries out his own true name, Tinaral! The hillside opens and the ledge of mica splits apart, revealing the Cavern. Gelluk strides forward to the broken edge , hesitates, and in that moment, Anieb shouts out his true name Tinaral, and commands him to fall! Gelluk is doomed — he plunges into the cavern into the darkness.
Ottter pleads in the Old Language of the Making, to the earth to heal, and the broken ground closes. He goes to the roasting tower, and helps Anieb to walk away from the mines and towards the foothills of Mount Onn. She has no strength but she keeps walking towards her home. At dawn they see Mount Onn. In her dying moments, Anieb tells Otter to go to the Women of the Hand in her village.
A carter finds Medra, with Anieb in his arms. He takes them to Woodedge, Anieb’s village. Ayo, Anieb’s mother, is a wise woman. As Otter’s mind heals, he talks of Anieb, her great strength that gave them their freedom.
Ayo tells Otter to go south to Morred’s isle, where the Women of the Hand teach the old mage arts. Otter goes to the stream in Woodedge, and transformed into an otter, he slips into the stream. He emerges as a man on the shores of Great Bay of Havnor.
Roke Island: Otter and Elehal
Working on fishing boats, Otter makes his way west and then further south. Perhaps Morred’s Isle is there. On some of the islands, he finds people of the Hand and he learns from them: From mage Highdrake, he learns how all things are part of a pattern. A wealthy recluse, Crow, who loves books and the ancient lore, teaches him to read.
On one voyage, he has no choice but to sail on a slave galley. He goes as a weatherworker . The shipmaster tells the helmsman to avoid Roke Isle. Otter learns that Roke has been destroyed by sea pirates, and that strong spells surround the island.
Aboard the ship, Otter senses a witchwind is approaching. He tells the shipmaster to get the sail down. The witchwind strikes , the ship pitches, rolls, and sinks. A white tern flies up from the waters, towards Roke Island. In the early morning the tern lights on a green hill and is transformed: It is Otter. He senses a magic greater than his own.
He makes his way from the hill into the town. Two wise women, Ember and Veil, greet him. Otter gives the sign of the Hand. The wizards are uncertain, they do not know how he has broken thru the spells around Roke. But they agree to teach him their arts and crafts of magery. On Roke Island he is called Tern.
He learns more of the history of Roke. Years ago a Roke wizard betrayed the island to the pirate lords of Wathort. The pirates destroyed villages and farmsteads. They carried off men, boys, young women. A few of the wise women of the Hand, their children and a few men survived. After that Roke sealed itself inside powerful spells making the island appear as a reef or a cloud.
All the teachers on Roke are women. Ember teaches him about the foundations of mage knowledge. The Immanent Grove of trees are the oldest in the world, the source and center of magic. Their roots are the roots of knowledge.
In summer, Ember lives in the Grove. One summer, Medra goes with her. He camps nearby and goes with her when she walks far into the woods, or sits for hours under a tree in silence. He is unsure what he is to learn from the Grove. When Ember’s sister Veil visits, he confides in her. And in that moment he realizes he is in love with Ember. He takes courage, and tells her his true name, Medra, and she tells him her true name: Elehal. And they learn to love each other and to live together.
Medra now knows that the Women of Hand have spread their knowledge far and wide, but in secret. Ember says they can build a school, where the wise can come to learn from each other. Roke’s freedom lies in offering others freedom.
The school would teach: Masteries of Finding, Weatherworking, Changing, Healing, Summoning, Patterning, Naming.
Medra builds a deep-sea boat, “Hopeful”. He sails out of Thwil Bay alone, and northward to Orrimy, where he had some years ago, met Crow, a member of the people of the hand. Wealthy recluse, no mage gifts, but a passion for books of lore and history. He had taught Medra to read. Crow is excited when he learns that Medra is on a search for ancient books of lore. They sail as peddlers from islet to islet and trade their wares for old books.
Medra uses his gift as a Finder, and the sign of the Hand, to seek out people and books. In Pody, a woman takes them to an old house, once elegant, now very poor. The Mage Ath had lived there a very long time ago. A witch, who is a healer, lives there. She is dying, and she recognizes Medra as a mage. She tells him to take her daughter Dory to Roke, to learn magery.
In this way, the school at Roke acquires its first student, Dory, from another island. Crow becomes The school’s first Librarian. Wise men and women come to Roke to learn and to teach and send their children.
A larger school is built, the Great House. Medra senses water under the hill, and they dig down: Water springs forth as a fountain in the courtyard.
Medra sets out on one last voyage from Roke. He sails to Havnor, to his home. It has been many years since he left Havnor. He makes his way to his village of Endlane.
Losen the sea pirate still rules Havnor, but the real power is in the hands of his wizard, Early who was Gelluk’s assistant. Early craves power. When he hears of Roke Island and a school of mages, he tortures and kills men, women and children who appear to be connected to the school. He hears of a mage called Tern. Hound, who had worked for Gelluk, tells him that Tern is Otter, who had killed Gelluk. Hound says Tern is in Havnor.
Otter realizes that although he had not meant any harm in coming to Havnor, he has nevertheless caused innocent people to die. And Roke itself is now in grave danger. He plans to leave Havnor at once. The wizard Early, transformed into an eagle, appears in Endlane. He tries to bind Otter with spells, but Otter stops his spells, and is gone. Early summons Hound to track Otter. Hound can sense Otter has gone to Samory.
Otter knows he is no match for Early’s powers as a wizard. At the hillside in Samory, Otter falls to his knees and begs the earth to open to him. The earth opens. Otter hears an eagle. He falls into the darkness. The eagle searches, but to no avail.
Under the earth, Otter wakes up in darkness, in pain. He calls out to Anieb and he knows he must live. He has injured his hand and hip. He struggles, stands up, and crosses the cavern slowly, step by slow step. When he sees a passage he calls for Anieb to guide him.
In Havnor, Early tells Losen to send his fleets south to Roke Island, to fight a great enemy. Early himself leads the fleet towards Roke. He changes shape into a dragon and soaring high, he sights the hilltop. He screams to his men in the ships to sail on, while he flies as a dragon into Roke. The spells are transparent to him. He alights on the hilltop and finds himself in his own human form. A power greater than his own has changed him to his own form.
He watches a woman come up the hill, but he cannot stop her. When she asks his name, he gives his true name: Teriel. She asks him why he had come. When he replies that he has come to destroy Roke, she says that only Segoy can unmake Roke. Teriel is terrified because his powers of wizardry are gone.He looks eastward for the ships. But there is only mist, thickening and darkening over the sea.
In the underground passages of the Samory mines, Medra walks on. He knows Anieb is with him. Medra sees a dim light ahead, air moves against his face. He is at the opening of the cavern, and he crawls through the space of the roots of an old oak tree growing at the entrance. He falls asleep. The wizard Hound finds him there, and puts his own jacket around Medra.
Hound tells Medra that he had always regretted giving him up to Gelluk. Hound finds a carter to carry them to Endlane. He recovers slowly — his heart is in Roke and he fears for its fate. Hound goes into Havnor and returns with news of the ships that had returned from Roke. After Early flew off as a dragon, the men aboard the ships could not find or see Roke, and nobody knew what had happened to Early.
Medra cries. When Medra is well again, Medra and Hound sail to Roke aboard the “Hopeful”.
Over time, the School continues to attract mages, men and women, from other islands, and students go on to become mages.
When Elehal dies, Medra returns to the School. He asks to be made the Doorkeeper, and he becomes the ninth Master of Roke. As a Finder, he can find out if those who want to enter, really belong in the School.
The Garden Door comes to be known as Medra’s Gate, and the ninth Master of Roke is the Doorkeeper.