Countless stories will never be heard in the Great Songs of the Archipelago. Some are stories of ordinary people, of selfishness and sacrifice – stories of commonplace troubles and pleasures. Others are tales of might and magic but are long forgotten.
The Isle of Paln has its tales, though most are unfamiliar to Archipelagans. They tell of the days waves first spilled between Paln and Havnor; of the dragon run rising in the West Reach; of voices calling between the deep of the earth and the deep of the sea. They tell, too, of the great mages of Pelnish Lore. Through these tales, all Paln has heard of the summoning of the Grey Mage, of Ennes who lead the eighty in battle, of Serrif the wise, and of the duels that brought the great plagues.
Paln has heard, too, the twin stories of Telf and Seppel. Telf freed the frozen battalion, fought the might of Havnor and created an unbreakable barricade about Paln. And mild Seppel spoke with the nameless under the earth, walked with the King through the drylands and ultimately was instrumental in uniting Paln and Havnor. He did not have Telf’s fire and skill, yet for all that he was perhaps the greater.
In the time before these deeds of Pelnish legend, Telf and Seppel were children training together. They were also friends.
The sands of South East Paln sweep gently from the surrounding seas. The rocks are warm and black – baked in the sun but formed of the heat below the surface. Everything grows abundantly, whether plant or beast or child.
It is not a land known for magic.
Yet here the mage Seppel was born, and born under a kind star. He was the eighth child of parents whose love encompassed not only Seppel and his siblings, but their village, friends, cousins, strangers and the sweet land beneath their feet. Seppel was their perfect child, round and amenable and loved by all who knew him. He grew up solid and strong, and though everything came easily he was never restless.
Along that coastline waves curl against the beaches, depositing sand and sifted rubble in wide shallow pools. From the time he could walk unassisted, Seppel scoured the pools for sticks and stones and bright shells. Sometimes he found tiny pieces of metalwork from wrecks of Archipelagan ships. Once he uncovered the head of a child’s doll.
The cliffs there are a honeycomb of rock faces and tiny caves. Seppel set his treasure there. He rested curved sticks in hollows, placed shells carefully on ledges and glued shiny stones to rock walls in an instinctive and increasing pattern. As the work grew his village and the surrounding coast sat untouched by raiders and disaster.
There were strangers who came. Some were travellers entranced by the coastline’s gilded ease. They brought their knowledge and their songs and they stayed as they willed. Other strangers came to mine and steal, drawn by the black and blue gems under the ground. These visitors found little. Their food spoiled, they sickened and they swiftly left the region for more hospitable climes.
So every day went on unchanged.
The eldest of Seppel’s siblings was his brother Evven, eighteen years Seppel’s senior. By the time Seppel was six, Evven had married and was raising clean black pigs and chickens and growing flowering herbs. His pigs lived on and on, his crops never failed.
Evven had been taught husbandry by a testy old farmer from Semel and so he recognised something was amiss.
One evening he came upon the child Seppel sobbing over an elderly stumbling pig.
“You don’t want to cry over her,” Evven said.
“She belongs here with us,” said Seppel.
“I know. But, Seppel, things have to die.”
“No they don’t. You don’t know that.”
Evven frowned. He was a physical man and not comfortable with words. He spoke haltingly. “Child, I reckon life has an end. It’s because it has a beginning. Every living thing ends or else it gets worn out. Lay the pig down.”
Seppel shook his head and continued to sob. But the next day the elderly pig was dead with a stomach full of sweet yams and a quiet face.
Still, even with death life was more than easy. The land went on in golden summer.
When Seppel turned thirteen his village put together a feast and everyone smiled upon him. That evening a tall man walked through the village. He reached Seppel’s doorway, nodded abstractedly at his parents.
“Seppel,” he said to the boy. “Is that your treasure built into the cliffs?”
“Yes,” said the boy.
“This is your land.”
“I am called Attil. I would like to have the training of you.”
For thirteen years, everything had come easily for Seppel. He had never so much as looked beyond his stretch of the coast. Yet that evening Seppel left with Attil and followed him away from the coast, across the salt flats, for a life of training in Central Paln.
Telf grew like a wild thing in the mountains of Northern Paln. She lived with her silent father and a puzzled soft-eyed stepmother in a sloping hut. Telf was home rarely, flying barefoot through the door in time to eat and disappear again on one of her solitary quests. Sometimes she was gone for days.
The Pelnish wilds are a haven for colossal tusked wolves and clans of bears. Though she had run in the mountains since she was six years old, Telf was never touched by wolf or bear. When asked, Telf said her mother had been eaten by a pack of tusked wolves and, remorseful, the great wolf leader had welcomed Telf into the pack. It wasn’t true. Telf’s mother had died of an ordinary water fever. Yet no one argued with the girl who seemed as much animal as human.
Telf turned thirteen much as she’d turned ten, eleven and twelve. She briskly thanked her stepmother for the gift of a hand-made dress. She kissed her father’s still cheek. Then she tore away. The dress was cast upon a boulder in favour of worn shirt and pants.
This day, for the first time, there was a stranger on Telf’s mountains. The man was middle-aged with steady eyes. He sat on a high rock and looked unafraid.
“Who are you?” asked Telf warily.
“They call me Attil. I’ve come from the plains of Central Paln. Will you tell me your name?”
Telf thought to deny him but found herself answering, “Telf.”
The man smiled at her. “Telf of the Mountains, I came here to find you. I would like you to come and train with me. “
So Telf walked away from her mountains, nodded a goodbye to her father and stepmother, and came to train under Attil on the Pelnish flatlands.
The training grounds were inland of the shipbuilding township, Ferao. Initially Seppel was the youngest of seven novices. The remaining mages in training looked to be an indistinguishable mass of slender young men. Seppel longed for home and family. He longed to exchange the hiss of winds across the brittle grasses for his home’s ever-present waves and sea birds.
On Seppel’s third day at the grounds, Telf arrived. She looked as unlike the people Seppel knew from home as any one had ever. But late in the evening, seated by a waning fire, Seppel began to sing the songs of the ocean. His voice was rich and supple, shifting between melodies he had known all his life. Telf joined in. Her voice was unexpectedly fluting, full of the clear mountain air and the harsh call of birds of prey. They did not know the same songs, but their music had the push and pull of sea and rock and sky and they listened to the other as they sang together. Perhaps an hour went by before Telf abruptly stood and went to her tent.
The next morning Seppel smiled at Telf as she approached the group of novices seated on the ground. Telf looked startled and glanced at the ground. But she sat beside him.
Almost immediately, it seemed as though Seppel and Telf had known one another their whole childhoods. They were from opposite sides of Paln but they were the same age and they loved some of the same things: the depth of the earth, the span of the sky, home. Seppel’s kindness was so deeply engrained in him that even Telf was unwary beside him. As for Seppel, to him Telf was a joy, a piercing brightness in the stretching sameness of the flatlands.
Attil taught the novices to speak in the old language, then to understand and hear the powers of the earth. Seppel was a natural listener. He heard voices, still and sure, in the sounds of the deep. All the novices listened on and on until each of them could feel the molten rock thudding below them. Only then did Attil invite them to speak to the air. After fidgeting through listening to the earth, Telf excelled at air and electricity, freeing lightning from the sky with ease.
That night she whispered at the entrance to Seppel’s tent.
“C’mon Seppel, I need to get out of here.”
Seppel opened the tent flap and blinked at her sleepily.
“Come on,” she persisted. “I need to climb some trees or find a big rock or something, just climb up high somewhere. I can do it without you but it’s more fun if you come.”
Seppel smiled at that and clambered out to stand under the clouded sky. The wind was rising. There were no stars. When he turned Telf had already left and was darting across the open plain. He ran to catch up with her.
At length they reached the foothills. There was a village built into the hills, known as Ferano or Little Ferao. The air here was heavy with thunder and a coming storm.
Telf cocked her head as they climbed the slope.
“Pel,” she said at length. “There’s, I don’t know, there’s real substance to this storm.”
Seppel felt it too - a lift and danger to the wind. They watched as lightning coursed across the dark sky.
The two continued their climb into the village. The houses were mostly ramshackle. Already trees and rooftops were creaking with the wind.
“We can stop this,” said Telf.
“Or we can help barricade the windows and doors and move these people.”
Telf raised her voice. “This storm will wipe out this village.”
“We change this, we change something else,” said Seppel but then he saw eyes looking at him through an open window. He peered inside. Three children, an old woman and a sheep stared out.
“It’s a big one coming, for sure,” said the old woman.
“Yes,” said Seppel. “It feels big.”
“You’re but children yourselves,” said the woman. “Come inside.”
Seppel shook his head. “Are there other people in the village?” he asked.
“A number,” said the woman. “Quite a number.”
Telf followed as Seppel walked quickly through the village. People were covering doorways, crouching in corners. The storm built up around them, ever fiercer. Wind threw branches and the rain ran in rivers through the rough streets. A barnhouse tilted precariously on the slope.
Telf said, “You can’t just let things happen.”
Seppel nodded. He looked at her seriously. “Alright. I can keep the earth in place and maybe all these people safe. But you need to cope with the lightning.”
Telf grinned as the sky split open again. “It’s coming in strong,” she said as the rain fell in torrents over her face, “But you and I are stronger.”
Seppel stood still and solid as the storm moved around him. He listened as the earth groaned and somehow held all those dilapidated trees and cottages firmly in its depths. When he looked up, Telf was awash with the storm, training lightning toward the ground with her wrists and arms.
When the two arrived back at the training grounds they were exhausted and late. The story of the village saved had come before them, though.
Attil said only, “There is still much to learn.”
They moved on to history of the Old Powers, Weaving and Healing, and Summoning, the greatest and riskiest Pelnish craft. As years went by, Telf and Seppel dreamed, together, of travelling across the Archipelago and beyond. They even spoke of stopping at Roke, changing the mages’ hearts and staying to learn and share the truths in two traditions. They spoke of coming home forever to divide their time between her mountains and his coastline.
When Seppel and Telf were twenty four, long after they had learned all they could from Attil and other Pelnish teachers and mages, a king was crowned on Havnor.
In this time, Seppel’s livelihood was in Ferao and along the coast, building a quiet reputation among shipbuilders and fisherfolk. The coast was at peace and famed for fine ships and boundless fish.
Telf wandered the mountains healing beasts and humans and when absolutely necessary lending her sharp mind to villagers’ concerns. She was a traveller by nature and even by that age had found her way into the West Reach and skirted the Dragon Run.
Telf was staying in Ferao, lending her skills to a weathermaker charming Pelnish ships. A message came through the rulers of Paln from the King of Earthsea that all Pelnish people were to be counted and to present their names in fealty to the King.
The message was called through the streets. Seppel flung open his windows and sat with Telf to listen in silence.
After a moment Telf spoke. “We will not do this thing, of course.” She looked at Seppel across his wooden table. Her eyes were bright and focussed. “You are with me on this,” she said. “They think we are lesser. They think our magic is distorted. On Havnor and on Roke they call us uncanny. You never know what they’ll do with our names.”
Seppel said, “We do not know this King. There are good men all across Earthsea and he may be among them.”
“There are not good men among those who rule over us as though we are second to them. Why should we be outcast because we do not swear fealty to a man thrust upon us by an Archmage of Roke?”
Seppel said, “You and I dreamed of travelling to Roke. If anyone could change their minds surely we can.”
“That is not how things will change,” she said. “Paln is everything to us and this is going to be a great battle. Seppel, I can do it without you-” She trailed off.
He looked out the window across the water. “The earth continues under the sea, even the Pelnish Sea,” he said.
Telf’s deeds, her fight for freedom and her war with the mages of Roke, are renowned on Paln and into the Archipelago, even to the bright agony of her death. Seppel is spoken of more quietly.
As an old man, Seppel was sometimes asked why he first left his precious home, that stretch of coast now known as Seppli. Most often Seppel twinkled and said that the great mage Attil had charmed him with fine words and promises. In Seppel’s mother’s account though, Attil spoke little.
One time Seppel said, thoughtfully, that at the time he thought everything would come easily, even greatness.
He is not asked why he left Ferao to live among the migrant shipbuilders in Havnor City. Nor why after Telf’s death he returned to listen to the earth of Paln, to speak to the people and to unite Havnor and Paln under the King.