|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 |
THE FATE OF THE SAMPO
IKE a cruel eagle in pursuit of a young falcon the mighty warship
of Pohyola sped onward, relentless, pitiless, triumphant. At every
sweep of the hundred oars she seemed to leap from the waves, to
spring forward like a wild beast pouncing upon its prey. The
swordsmen shouted, the spearsmen poised their weapons, they waited
only for Dame Louhi's command.
"In another moment!" she shouted; "but have a care not to harm the
Then suddenly a wonderful thing took place. Right in the ship's
pathway a huge iceberg rose dripping from the sea, a mighty,
impassable barrier blocking the way like a massive wall of iron.
High above the masthead of the speeding vessel, the white cliff
towered—it towered even to the clouds and the blue sky beyond. The
magic spell of the Minstrel's small bit of tinder had done its work.
 In an instant there was a dreadful crash, a sound of breaking
timbers, of grinding ice, of shouts and groans and despairing cries.
The warship was wedged firmly in a rift of the great ice cliff. The
mast was broken short off and fell splashing into the sea. Every rib
of the strong vessel was shattered, the rowlocks were broken, the
oars were lost in the turbulent waves, the deck boards were loosened
and carried away.
Then it was that the Mistress, the mighty Wise Woman of the North,
showed her great power. With one foot in the sea and the other
firmly placed in the rift of the icy barrier, she quickly changed
her form into that of a monstrous gyrfalcon, the fiercest, the most
untiring of birds of prey. Of the sides of the ship she formed
herself wings, wide-spreading and powerful. Of the long rudder she
fashioned a tail, flat and broad, with quill-like feathers
overlapping each other as do the boards on the roof of a house. Of
the ship's dragon-headed prow she made herself a beak of copper,
sharp, relentless, cruel. Of the two massive war shields that hung
at the ship's bows she made herself a pair of round eyes, keen as
the eyes of a panther,
 restless, untiring. And lastly, of ten sharp
scythes in the ship's hold she formed talons for herself, fierce,
curved fingers, ending in needle-like claws, with which to fight her
With a voice like that of a tempest she screamed to her warriors who
were clinging to the remains of the wreck: "Make yourselves very
small! Make yourselves very small and do as I bid you!"
They obeyed her, and beneath her wings she hid her hundred
swordsmen, while upon her tail she placed her thousand spearsmen.
With a screech that thrilled the sea to its very bottom and made the
great iceberg tremble and totter, the mighty bird extended her wings
and soared aloft. Up, up, she flew, surmounting the icy barrier that
had risen in her path, undismayed, triumphant. Like a dark
storm-cloud in the depth of winter, obscuring the sky and
overshadowing the earth, she hovered midway between the blue
heavens and the boundless sea, eagerly looking for the prey which
had wellnigh escaped her.
Meanwhile the heroes, rejoicing because of their deliverance, were
rapidly nearing their wished-for haven of safety. The headland of
 Wainola and the long, white shore so dear to them rose plain and
clear above the horizon; soon their perilous voyage would be ended.
Joy beamed in every countenance and hope cheered every heart.
Suddenly the sun was obscured and an ink-black shadow fell upon the
deck of the red ship—it fell upon the Sampo where it was bound
with ropes to the bow beams. The rowers paused in their rowing and
looked up, amazed, confounded. Even Wainamoinen, so brave, so
steadfast, turned pale as he gazed aloft and saw the peril that
menaced them. The next moment the fierce gyrfalcon, the transformed
Louhi, swooped down and perched herself upon the splintered mast.
With one horrid foot she grasped the sail-yard, while with the other
she reached down and sought to seize the Sampo.
Surely then did the hero Minstrel feel that his doom was at hand. He
let go of the long oar, the rudder with which he had steered the
vessel, and as it fell splashing into the sea, he lifted his eyes
"O Jumala, good and kind, help me in this my time of peril. Cast a
robe of fire round me. Shield my head, my arms, my body, and let no
 stroke of weapon harm me. Help us all with strength and wisdom."
With a hasty effort he drew his enchanted sword, the sword,
Faultless, the last piece of workmanship wrought in Ilmarinen's
smithy. He raised it to strike the mighty bird upon the sail-yard.
But first he spoke to her, humbly, pleadingly, as an earnest
"Hail! hail! O Mistress of Pohyola! Will you not now divide the
Sampo with me, each taking half of the precious treasure? Much
better it will be for us to share it like friends than to fight for
it and then lose it."
Fearfully screamed the fierce gyrfalcon, the transformed Wise Woman,
as she answered, "No, I will not divide the Sampo with you. The mill
of plenty is mine, and no part of it will I share with strangers and
Having said this she gaped horribly with her beak of copper, and
again reached far out with her sharpened talons, trying to grasp the
coveted Sampo. Failing in this, she screamed a second time, and from
her wings the swordsmen leaped down. She screamed again and a host
of spearsmen dropped upon the red ship's deck. Dreadful was the
confusion that followed, and
 sad would have been the fate of the
heroes had not Wainamoinen, with unheard-of swiftness, let fall his
sword of magic. He struck with all his might the extended talons,
the crooked fingers, the horrid feet of the relentless gyrfalcon.
The sharp edge of the weapon fell squarely upon the scythe-like,
grasping claws; it sheared them off close by the ankle joints; it
shattered them every one, save only the smallest, the crookedest,
the indescribable little finger of Dame Louhi.
Loudly, most horribly did she shriek, not more from pain than from
intensest anger and despair. And now on the fated red ship of the
heroes an awful struggle began—a struggle the bloodiest and the
woefullest that sea or sky ever looked upon or minstrel's song ever
painted in words. Swords flashed, spears crashed, men shouted. The
screams of frightened maidens, the moans of the wounded and the
dying, the victorious cries of the warriors, and the despairing
lamentations of the heroes—all these sounds were mingled in one
awful chorus. But above every other sound the hoarse cries of the
dauntless Mistress were heard, making the earth shudder and causing
the deep sea to quake.
One by one the heroes fell; and by fives and
 tens the low-browed
warriors of Pohyola were thrust overboard to perish in the waves.
Towering above both friends and foes, mighty in strength and
endurance, the master Smith moved to and fro performing many deeds
of courage. But the weavers of his fate had decided against him; it
was not for him to prevail. Covered with wounds, the blood flowing
from his arms, his head, his heart, he felt his end approaching. "O
thou who wert once the Maid of Beauty!" he cried, looking upward. "O
thou matchless one among women! I see thee in the mist-filled air, I
hear thy voice calling from the rainbow arch. I come! I come! I come
to meet thee!"
Overwhelmed in the fight, his arms unnerved, his strength departed,
he fell toppling into the sea. As a giant pine, when rent by the
storm, falls crashing from the mountain top and is swallowed in the
bottomless gorge below, so fell the hero. The pitying waves closed
over him; he was with his loved ones in the halls of rest.
Bravely, too, did the ever-ready Ahti struggle to defend the Sampo,
wielding his long arms valorously, until his strength failing he
also was hurled into the hungry deep. And
Wainamoi-  nen, immovable as
the lofty headland of his own sweet country, stood steadfast at his
post, directing and cheering his comrades and overwhelming with
terror the foes who dared approach him.
Suddenly, in the midst of the mêlée, the mighty bird of prey, even
the transformed Mistress of Pohyola, leaped down from her lofty
perch, and sweeping across the vessel's bows sought to carry away
the Sampo. With her maimed and useless feet she struck it, and with
her one crooked, indescribable finger she grasped it. But the ropes
with which the heroes had bound it confused her—she could not
break them. She therefore seized the pictured cover with her
monstrous beak, she pulled it from its place, and, twisting it until
it broke into three jagged pieces, she cast it into the sea. Angry
and despairing, she flapped her rude wings against the sides of the
mill, smashing the wheels and levers and breaking the wonderful
framework into a thousand pieces.
Dismayed by the ruin she had caused, the fierce gyrfalcon, the
determined Wise One, ceased her destroying work and looked around
her. Slowly, as in pain, she spread her wings and rose from the
crimson deck all strewn with
frag-  ments; but, as she leaped high into
the air, she seized with her one indescribable finger a single
small, three-cornered piece of the precious Sampo; with the strength
of despair she clutched it within her crooked claw.
"Alas! this is all that I can recover for my poor country, my ruined
people!" she screamed. "O my Pohyola! O my dear land, once so
prosperous! May Jumala give me strength to carry this small,
precious gift to you!"
Feebly, she soared upward, she turned her flaming eyes toward
Pohyola, and with laboring wings made her way slowly across the sea.
By now the red ship had floated far, and the few remaining heroes
shouted as, looking upward, they saw the friendly headland looming
right above them. The next moment the vessel's keel was grating upon
the sand; its long prow was jutting quite over the safe, inviting
beach. The fighting had ceased with the breaking of the Sampo. With
the flight of the baffled Mistress all animosity was ended.
Like one awaking from a swoon, the Minstrel looked around him. Where
were the heroes who had survived the great struggle? Where were the
frightened maidens? Where were the
Po-  hyolan warriors whom the sea
had not claimed? Not one remained; all had leaped ashore and fled.
The Minstrel stood alone on the red, disordered deck.
The fragments of the Sampo had been scattered in many places. Some
of the wheels had rolled into the sea; they had sunk to the bottom,
there to be covered with tangled weeds and the slimy ooze of the
unseen depths. The levers and the lighter parts of the framework
were still floating upon the water, tossed hither and thither by the
waves and the wind. The fragments of the pictured cover had already
been carried far away, were sailing like little ships across the
vast expanse of the sea.
"Alas, alas! that the grandest treasure in the world should thus be
scattered and lost!" cried the Minstrel.
He leaped quickly overboard into the shallow water and with anxious
haste began to gather up the few remaining pieces that were still
floating around the vessel. With much labor and care he picked them
up, laying them one by one for safe keeping in the folds of his long
cloak. But alas! all these pieces were small, and he searched in
vain for any trace of the precious pictured cover.
 At length, when not another vestige could be found, the Minstrel
with tired limbs went up to the misty summit of the headland,
carrying the fragments with him. Very old and feeble he was, but
steadfast and brave as in former days. He stood alone upon the lofty
shore, gazing far out over the illimitable sea. He stood there
alone, his head erect, his white beard streaming in the wind, and
his hands uplifted toward the heavens.
"O Jumala!" he prayed, "O Jumala, thou giver of blessings, grant
that these small fragments of the mill of fortune may take root and
flourish and in time bring great joy and many comforts to the dear
people of this pleasant land."
Then taking the pieces reverently in his hands, he planted them one
by one in the ground, covering them deep in the rich soil of
Wainola's headland. And even while he stood there and watched, his
prayer was answered. For the small broken fragments of the Sampo
took root and grew up quickly, producing great crops of rye and
barley, and luscious fruits of all kinds, and other foods in great
abundance. Thus were the famishing people fed and made glad,
pros-  perity smiled upon all, and the Land of Heroes again became the
land of plenty and of peace.
As the Minstrel still stood on the lofty headland and looked into
the far distance, his eyes became very bright and his vision
wonderfully clear. He saw all the other fragments of the Sampo and
its pictured cover, and he watched each one as it was carried east,
west, or south and left upon some strange, unheard-of shore. Some of
the pieces floated far, far to the summer islands where the sun
shines hot every day in the year. And on the shores where they were
drifted, wonderful trees sprang up, bearing delicious fruits and
gorgeous flowers, such as the people of northern climes had never
seen nor dreamed about. The fragments that were carried to the
eastern seas spread their influence and took root in many lands.
Like the Sampo itself, they poured out wealth in many forms and in
endless profusion. And from them sprang numberless beautiful and
priceless objects—pearls and precious stones, gold and silver,
fine silks, strong castles, and kingly palaces.
As for the pictured cover, it was borne far, very far, to the utmost
bounds of the
 western sea. Broken though it was, and battered and
torn into strips and fragments, it, too, performed most marvellous
things. For in the places wherein it rested and took root, noble men
and women sprang up, scholars and statesmen and skilful workers in
all kinds of metals, and these were destined to rule the world.
The heavier fragments which had sunk beneath the waves and were
buried, invisible, in the black ooze and among the tangled seaweed,
they also took root and spread out many branches toward every corner
of the earth. And from them sprang the wealth of the seas, the joy
of all fishermen, the triumph of sailors, white-sailed
merchant-ships and mighty vessels of war.
And the tiny, rough-cornered piece, which with her last strength the
baffled Mistress had carried with her only finger back to her home
land—what became of that? Small and without beauty it was, and
there was little that it could do; but from it sprang such scant
comforts and pleasures as the people of the Frozen Land have enjoyed
until this day—warm underground huts, fishes for food, soft furs
for clothing, and the reindeer for all kinds of uses.
 With great wonder and thankfulness Wainamoinen saw these marvellous
transformations—these changes by which the Sampo enriched and
blessed not only his own land, but many an undiscovered and
far-distant shore. His heart throbbed with joy immeasurable, and his
fingers began to play on the strings of his kantele. Sweet was the
music that he called forth, sweeter than any that mortal man has
ever heard since that day; and as he played he sang again the old,
old songs of the world's beginning, the old, old songs with which he
had already charmed not only men and women, but all living things.
And when he had ceased singing and the sound of the kantele was
heard no more, he again raised his hands and called earnestly to the
mighty, the invisible Jumala:
"O thou great and good Creator, look down and hear our last
petition. Grant that we may live in joy and comfort, and when our
span of life is ended, let us die in peace and hope, loved by all
who know us, and worthy to be honored through the ages."
So, also, prays the weaver of tales, whose story is now ended.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics