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The Sampo by  James Baldwin

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THE FATE OF THE SAMPO

[353]

L
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 Sampo."

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.

[354] 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, [355] 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 battles.

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 [356] 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 and prayed:

"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 [357] 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 peace-maker:

"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 robbers."

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 [358] 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 [359] 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- [360] 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- [361] 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- [362] 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.

[363] 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- [364] 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 [365] 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.

[366] 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.


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