|by James Baldwin|
|Far away in the Frozen Land in the long ago time a master wizard forged the wonderous sampo or mill of fortune, which ground out all sorts of treasures and gave wealth and power to its owner. This story, retold in from the Finnish Kalevala, tells of the making of this mill and the adventures of the heroes who sought to gain possession of it. Ages 11-14 |
LL through the long and dreary winter,
Ilmarinen waited idly by old Louhi's
hearth-side. "No great thing in magic
can be done in stormy weather," he said.
"Summer and fair days of sunshine are the
wizard's time for action."
The wise men of the North Land came often
to see him. Herdsmen from the frozen meadows,
savage fellows from the forest, fishermen
from the icy inlets—these also came to hear the
words of the wizard Smith and be taught by
him. They came on snowshoes and in reindeer
sledges, battling with the wintry storm
winds and heeding not the cold. Singly and by
twos and threes they came and squatted round
Dame Louhi's fireplace, rubbing their hands
together, warming their shins, and staring into
the face of the marvellous stranger. And
Ilmarinen sat in their midst and told them many
tales of wonder, chiefly tales of his own rare
skill and cunning.
 He told them how he had broken the mountains
with his hammer, how he had conquered
wild Iron and imprisoned him in his smithy, and
how, from a single lump of metal, he had hammered
out the sky and set it up as a lid to cover
the land and sea. "All these things," said
he, "were done by me—me, the prince of smiths,
me, the skilfulest of men."
Then all his listeners, wise men, herdsmen,
fishermen, wild men, looked up at him with awe
and admiration. They drew up closer to the
fire, they threw fresh logs into the flames, they
turned their faces towards him and asked a
thousand curious questions.
"Who painted the sky and gave it its blue
and friendly color?" asked the wise men.
"I painted it—I, the first of smiths," answered
Ilmarinen. "And when I swept my
brush across from east to west, some drops of
blue fell into the sea and colored it also."
"What are the stars that glitter so brightly
above us when the nights are clear?"
asked the herdsmen.
"They are sparks from my forge," was
the answer. "I caught them and fixed them
securely in their places; I welded them into the
 vast sky-lid so they should never fall out nor
"Where is the home of the Great Pike, the
mightiest of all the creatures that swim in the
water?" asked the fishermen.
"The Great Pike lurks in the hidden places
of the deep sea," said Ilmarinen; "for he knows
that I have forged a hook of iron that will some
day be the cause of his undoing."
"Ah! ah! ah!" muttered the wild men. Their
mouths were open and their eyes were staring
at the rafters where hung long rows of smoked
salmon, slabs of bacon, and dried herbs of magic
power. "Ah! ah! ah! What shall we do when
we are hungry and there are no nuts to be
gathered, no roots to be digged, no small beasts to
be captured, no food of any kind? Ah! ah! ah!"
"Forget to-day, think only of to-morrow—for
then there will be plenty," answered
Ilmarinen. "Go back to your old haunts in the
forest, and to-morrow I will send you many
nuts and roots and small beasts that you shall
grow fat with the eating of them."
Thus, all through the wintry weather, Ilmarinen
dispensed wisdom to the inquiring men
who desired it, and there was no question which
 he could not answer, no want which he could not
satisfy. And at length, when every mind
was filled with knowledge, and every stomach
with food from Dame Louhi's bountiful stores,
the visitors departed. Singly, or by twos and
threes, in sledges, on snowshoes, on foot, they
returned to their respective haunts and homes.
"We have seen him, and there is nothing more
to be desired," they said.
And now the snow was melting, the grass was
green on the hillsides, the reeds were springing
up in the marshes, and the birds were twittering
under the eaves.
Forthwith, brave Ilmarinen sallied out to find
a smithy. Ten men, willing and strong, followed
him, prepared to do any sort of labor, to undergo
any sort of privation. Long did he seek,
and far and wide did he travel, and many
were the vain inquiries which he made; but
nowhere in all the Frozen Land could he discover
forge or chimney, bellows or tongs, anvil
or hammer. In that dismal, snowy country
men had never needed iron; they had no tools
save tools of fish-bone; they had no weapons
save sticks and stones and fists and feet. What
wonder, then, that they had no smithy?
 Some men would have given up in despair,
but not so Ilmarinen. "Women may lose their
courage," he said; "fools may give up a task
because it is hard; but heroes persevere, wizards
and smiths conquer."
So, still followed by his serving-men, he set out
to find a fit place in which to build a smithy.
For nine days he sought—yes, for ten long summer
days he wandered over the brown meadows
and among the gloomy hills of Pohyola. At
length, deep in the silent forest he found a great
stone all streaked and striped in colors of the
"This is the place," he said, never doubting;
and he gave orders to build his smithy there.
The first day's task was to build the furnace
and the forge with yawning mouth and towering
chimney. On the second day he framed the
bellows and covered it with stout reindeer hide.
On the third he set up his anvil, a block of hardest
granite for ten men to roll.
Then he made his tools. For a hammer he
took a smooth stone from the brook; for tongs
he cut a green sapling and bent it in the middle,
forcing the two ends together. Thus his smithy
was completed; but how was he to forge the
 magic Sampo? With what was he to form its
"Only weaklings say, 'I cannot,' " said he.
"Only want-wits say, 'It is too difficult.' Heroes
never give up. Nothing is impossible to a true
Then from a secret pocket he drew the things
most needful for his forging. He counted them
over, giving to each a magic number—two tips
of white swan feathers, a bottle of milk from a
young red heifer, a grain of barley grown in a
land beyond the sea, and the fleece of a lambkin
not one day old. These he mixed in a magic
cauldron, throwing upon them many bits of precious
metals, with strange wild herbs and rank poisons
and sweet honey dew. And all the
while, he kept muttering harshly the spells and
charms which none but smiths and skilful
At length the mixture was completed. Ilmarinen
set the cauldron firmly in the furnace, he pushed
it far into the yawning cavern. Then he
kindled the fire, he heaped on fuel, he closed
the furnace door and bade the serving-men set
the bellows to blowing.
Tirelessly the ten men toiled, taking turns,
 five by five, at the mighty lever. Like the fierce
North Wind sweeping over the hills and rushing
through the piney forest, the heaving bellows
roared. The flames leaped up and filled the
furnace and the forge. The black smoke poured
from the chimney and rose in cloudlike, inky
masses to the sky. Ilmarinen heaped on more
fuel, he opened the draughts of the furnace, he
danced like a madman in the light of the flames,
he shouted strange words of magic meaning.
Thus, for three long summer days and three
brief summer nights, the fire glowed and the
furnace roared and the men toiled and watched
unceasingly. And round about the feet of the
workmen lichens and leafy plants grew up, and
in the crannies of the rocks wild flowers bloomed,
nourished by the warmth from the magic forge.
On the fourth day, the wizard Smith bade
the workmen pause while he stooped down and
looked into the cauldron far within the fire-filled
furnace. He wished to see whether anything
had begun to shape itself from the magic mixture,
whether anything had been brought forth
by the mighty heat.
As he looked, lo! a crossbow rose from out
the caldron—a crossbow, perfect in form and
 carved with figures fantastical and beautiful.
On each side it was inlaid with precious gold,
and the tips were balls of silver. The shaft was
made of copper, and the whole bow was
"This is a beautiful thing," said Ilmarinen,
"but it is not the Sampo."
Forthwith the crossbow leaped from the caldron;
it flew out of the furnace; it stood humbly
bowing before the wizard Smith.
"Hail, my master!" it said. "Here I am,
ready to serve you as you command. My task
is to kill, and I love it, I love it! Send me forth
quickly, and let me begin. On every work-day
I'll kill at least one. On every holiday I'll kill
more—sometimes two, and sometimes very
many. Oh, yes, I will kill, I will kill!"
"What will you kill?" asked Ilmarinen.
"In war, men; in peace, singing birds and
timid deer. Oh, I can kill, I can kill!"
And having said this the crossbow began to
shoot arrows recklessly about to the great peril
of the ten serving-men. This made Ilmarinen
angry. "You are bad!" he cried. "You love
only evil. I have no use for you!" and he seized
the bow and threw it back into the boiling
cal-  dron. Then he bade the workmen blow the
bellows as before; and he heaped on more fuel
and more fuel, singing meanwhile a wild, weird
song which made the flames leap out from the
very top of the chimney.
All day, all night, the bellows roared; all day
again, and again all night, the furnace glowed,
white-hot, and furious. Then, just at sunrise,
the Smith called to the bellows-men, "Halt!"
He stooped down and gazed steadfastly, curiously,
into the magic caldron. As the flames
subsided and the furnace began to grow cool,
behold a ship rose from the mixture—a ship
complete with pointed beak and oars and sails,
all ready to be launched upon the sea. Its hull
was painted blue and yellow, its ribs were
golden, its prow was of copper, and its sails
were of white linen whereon were depicted most
wonderful figures of dragons and savage beasts;
and on its deck and within its hold were all
manner of weapons of war—axes and spears,
bows and arrows, sharp daggers and gleaming
"Here I am, my master!" said the ship. "I
am ready for your service, if you please. You
see that I am well fitted for war, well fitted to
 plunder and rob the seaports of other lands.
Send me out, that I may help you slay your
enemies and make your name a terror throughout
The wizard Smith drew the ship toward him.
Beautiful and well-laden though it was, he was
by no means pleased with it. "I like you not!"
he cried. "You are a destroyer and not a
builder. You love evil, and I will have no part
nor parcel of you," and he broke the ship into
a thousand pieces, and threw the fragments back
into the caldron. Then he bade the serving-men
blow the bellows with all their might, while he
heaped fresh fuel upon the flames and sang wild
songs of wizardry and enchantment.
On the fourth morning Ilmarinen looked again
into the caldron. "Surely something good has
been formed by this time," he said.
From the caldron a mist was slowly rising,
hot, pungent, fog-like; within it, the magic
mixture could be heard bubbling, seething, hissing.
The Smith looked long ere he could see what
was forming. Then suddenly the mist cleared
away and a beautiful young heifer sprang out
into the sunlight. Her color was golden, her
neck and legs were like the wild deer's, her horns
 were ivory, her eyes were wondrous large, and
on her forehead was a disc of steely sunshine.
The Smith was delighted, his heart was filled
with admiration. "Beautiful, beautiful creature!"
he cried. "Surely, she will be of use to mankind."
Scarcely had he spoken when the heifer rushed
out of the smithy, pausing not a moment to
salute her master. She ran swiftly into the forest,
bellowing, horning, fighting, spurning everything
that came in her way.
"Ah, me!" sighed the Smith, "she, too, has an
evil nature. Alas, that one so wickedly inclined
should be blessed with so beautiful a form!"
Then he bade the serving-men bring her back
to the smithy; and when, with infinite labor,
they had done this, he cut her in pieces and
threw her back into the caldron, And now the
bellows was set to blowing again, and it roared
like a tempest in a forest of pines; the smoke
rolled darkly from the chimney; and the fire
glowed hotter than before around the seething
caldron. And all that day, and through the
midsummer night, the master and his men
At sunrise on the fifth day, Ilmarinen looked
 again into the caldron. As he stooped and
gazed, a plough rose suddenly from the magic
mixture. Like a thing of life it glided softly
through the furnace door, bowed low before the
wizard Smith, and waited to receive his judgment.
It had been shaped and put together
with great skill, and every line was a line of
beauty. The frame was of copper, the share
was of gold, the handles were tipped with silver.
"Here I am, my master," it said. "Send me
forth to do your bidding."
"What good thing can you do?" asked Ilmarinen.
"I can turn things over, tear things up," answered
the plough. "Nothing in the fields can stand
against me. I will overturn the sod, I
will uproot all growing things whether good or
bad. I will go into gardens, meadows, cornfields,
and stir the soil; and woe to the plant
that comes in my way, for I will destroy it."
"You are beautiful and you are useful," said
the Smith; "but you are rude and unkind.
You do not know how to discriminate between
the evil and the good. You give pain, you
cause death, and therefore I do not love you."
He waited not for the plough's answer, but
 struck it with his hammer and broke it into a
thousand fragments; then he threw the fragments
back into the magic caldron and closed
the door of the furnace.
Long and thoughtfully he sat, silent but not
despairing. His elbows rested upon his knees,
his head was bowed upon his hands. And he
repeated to himself his favorite saying: "None
but cowards say, 'I cannot,' none but weaklings
say 'Impossible,' none but women weep for
At length he rose and called to his serving-men;
he dismissed them, every one, and summoned
the winds to come and be his helpers.
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