|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 |
UIETLY, very quietly, the Minstrel rose and looked around upon the
sleepers. With finger-tips upon his lips he beckoned to the hero
Ilmarinen and to the young heroes who stood beside him.
"Be cautious, be brave," he whispered, "and soon we shall win the
Sampo. Speak no word, make no sound to break the magic spell, but
follow me and do my bidding."
Then with great care he opened the wallet of reindeer leather that
he carried always beneath his belt. He looked within and picked out,
one by one, a handful of sleep-needles, long and slender and
exceedingly sharp. Silent as the moon among the clouds he moved on
tiptoes cautiously between the rows of slumbering people. With his
magic needles he crossed the eyelashes of the sleepers, pinning
their eyelids close together and thus holding them so that they
might not waken.
 "Sleep! sleep!" he murmured softly. "Sleep till the daylight fades
in Pohyola. Sleep, and waken not till the golden sun rises bright in
the Land of Heroes. Sleep, and let no dreams disturb you."
He waved his arms above them, silently bidding them farewell, and
left them there where they had fallen. The unlovely Mistress, the
swordsmen and the spearsmen, the old men and the married women, the
young men and the half-grown girls, and the little children—he
left them all sweetly slumbering, forgetful, senseless, harmless.
"Now for the Sampo!" he whispered, and with noiseless footsteps he
hastened away toward the hill of copper. Behind him followed the
heroes and the young men and the maidens with curling hair, and not
one dared utter a word or in any way disturb the wonderful silence
As they drew near to the hill, however, they could hear the magic
Sampo grinding, grinding in its darksome prison; they could hear the
lid of many colors turning, turning, and pouring out wealth without
cessation. But at the entrance to the cavern the great doors were
 shut—nine huge and heavy doors, and each door was made secure by
nine locks of hardest metal.
The Minstrel paused, he could go no farther; the heroes stood
waiting around him. Gently he began to sing, softly he chanted a
song so sweet, so strong, that it had power to move the rocks and
even persuade the mighty hills and the restless sea. And as he sang,
the copper mountain began to tremble and the doors of the cavern
were shaken. Thereupon the hero Ilmarinen and the young men that
were with him hastened to pour oil upon the rusty metal. With
reindeer fat they smeared the locks, and they greased the hinges
with butter, lest they should creak and make a rattling.
Then Wainamoinen, still singing, touched the locks with his wizard
fingers and the bolts slid back; he pushed gently against the
yielding metal and the nine mighty doors opened silently and without
The heroes pressed forward to the entrance, eager to see what the
cave contained; and lo! as they looked within, they saw the Sampo
with its lid of many colors standing in its place in the middle of
the strongly built prison. Very
 beautiful was the magic mill, its
resplendent sides embossed with gold and lined with silver;
gorgeously beautiful was its rainbow cover, full of pictures of men
and beasts and trees and flowers. The wheels of the mill were
whirring softly, its levers were moving in their places; it was
grinding out riches for Pohyola.
"Who now will carry this Sampo out of its prison-house?" asked the
"I will carry it out," answered Ahti, the nimble, long-armed
fisherman. "I am a man of strength, a son of heroes. Stand back and
see how quickly I shall remove it to our waiting ship. See, I have
only to touch it with the toe of my boot and the deed is done."
He pushed against the Sampo; he twined his long arms about it and
lifted with all his might; he braced himself with his knees and
strained till the blood rushed from his mouth and nose. But the
Sampo stood in its place unmoved, grinding and turning without
"Foolish boaster!" cried Wainamoinen. "A big mouth has never yet
moved mountains. Great talkers are always little doers."
Then he began to play softly upon the kantele; and as he played, the
Sampo began to
 rock to and fro, it turned itself around as though
breaking away from the chains which held it. At a sign from the
Minstrel the young heroes, with Ilmarinen as their captain, seized
hold of it and carried it forth from the hill of copper. Silently,
without rustling a leaf or snapping a twig, they bore it across the
fields and the meadows and placed it on board of their waiting
vessel. There they lashed it with ropes to the strong deck beams.
They bound it securely so that it could not be moved.
"Now let every one work valiantly at his oar," said Ilmarinen, "and
let the red sail be hoisted on the mast."
Instantly the benches were filled with rowers; all the young men and
also the fifty fair maidens bent to their work; the water boiled
with the strokes of a hundred long oars.
"Speed thee, O crimson vessel," said Wainamoinen. "Hasten from the
hostile shores of Pohyola. And O, thou North Wind, come and urge the
ship along. Blow and give assistance to the oarsmen. Give lightness
to the rudder, give skill to the helmsman, and swiftly bear us over
this vast expanse of water."
Merrily and hopefully, then, the rowers
 rowed; the Minstrel steered,
and the strong North Wind pushed against the well-stretched sail.
And away and away, onward and onward, the vessel flew over the
lonely sea. From morning until mid-day, and from mid-day until
evening, it ploughed its way through the surging waves; the land
faded from sight, and the heroes, looking forward, could see naught
but one vast field of tossing waters. "We are lost! We shall never
find the Land of Heroes," they murmured.
"Have courage! be brave!" said Wainamoinen. "Beyond this sea lies
our own sweet country, the home of heroes."
Then Ahti, the nimble boaster, spoke up and said, "Why should we
still speak in whispers, fearing to be heard? The shores of Pohyola
are far away, the Mistress sleeps, there is no one to listen. Let us
be jolly and glad, and even a little noisy, rejoicing over our
"Nay, nay, we are not yet out of danger," said the Minstrel.
"But the time is passing," answered the long-armed one; "daylight is
fading and darkness is approaching. Let us at least have a little
song to cheer our drooping spirits."
 "Nay, nay," repeated the steadfast Minstrel. "We must not sing upon
these waters; singing would turn the ship from its right course,
songs would hinder the rowers. The night and darkness would find us
bewildered, and we should indeed be lost on a shoreless sea. Nay,
nay, keep silent, and sing no songs till we sight the shores of our
own fair land."
So the rowers rowed in silence, and the steersman steered and spoke
not, and the hearts of all were hopeful. All night long they rowed
and sailed and felt no weariness. The second day passed, and still
no land was seen. The third day came, it was mid-day, when a long
white shore and the lofty headland of Wainola appeared lying far
away between the sea and the sky.
"O master! Why may we not sing?" cried Ahti, always restless and in
the way. "Before us is the Land of Heroes, and we have won the
glorious Sampo. Let us sing and be glad."
"Nay, nay," again said Wainamoinen. "It is too early to rejoice.
When we hear our own home doors creaking behind us, then will be the
time to sing and rejoice. When we see the fire burning on our own
hearth-stones, then we may be glad because of victory."
 "Well, then," answered the long-armed, thoughtless one, "I, at
least, feel like rejoicing this very hour. If no one else will sing,
I will. I will give you a song of my own composing."
He stood in the stern beside the Minstrel. He turned his face toward
the prow and pursed up his mouth to sing. His voice was hoarse, his
tones were discordant, there was no music in his song. He opened his
mouth till his beard wagged and his long chin trembled. He waved his
arms and shouted—he shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far
across the water. In many villages it was heard, alarming all the
people and filling their hearts with terror.
By the long white shore a blue crane was wading, looking down to
count his toes in the clear sea-water. Suddenly he heard the noise
of Ahti's singing—a noise most strange, most unlike any other that
had ever broken the silence of the sea. The crane, alarmed, spread
his wings and leaped upward. He screamed in terror and flew rapidly
up, up to the sheltering sky. He flew rapidly and paused not till he
had reached the distant shores of Pohyola. There below him he saw
the fields and the meadows and the old familiar places where he
his mate had oftentimes nested and reared their young. Then, to his
great wonder, he saw all the people lying asleep on the ground and
the mighty Mistress slumbering in their midst, her eyelids pinned
together with magic needles.
This sight gave new alarm to the blue crane. His terror was too
great to be described. He screamed, not once only, but ten times,
loudly, harshly, terrifically. The noise awoke Dame Louhi the
Mistress; it awoke all her slumbering people. They shook the
sleep-needles from their eyes and looked around, dazed, bewildered,
wondering what had happened to them. The armed men formed themselves
in battle array, waiting for commands; the old men and the married
women hastened to their homes, ashamed of their weakness; the
children, too, sought their own firesides, for night was
Up rose Dame Louhi, angry and apprehensive. She saw that the
Minstrel and his heroes had disappeared, and anxious forebodings
filled her heart. She ran to her treasure-room; her chests of gold
and silver had not been disturbed. She hastened to the barnyard; all
her favorite cattle were there, not one was missing. She
 looked into
the barns; they had not been plundered, not an ear of corn had been
"But the Sampo, the Sampo!" she cried. "It was the Sampo that the
robbers demanded. Have they carried it away?"
Then came an old serving-man with trembling limbs and with tears in
his eyes, who knelt in the dust before her and begged her mercy.
"Yes," he said, "they have carried away the Sampo and its pictured
lid. While we were all drowned in slumber they broke into the cavern
beneath the copper mountain, they drew back the bolts and opened the
mighty doors. Then they lifted the Sampo from its place and bore it
away, but whither I cannot tell."
"They must have carried it to their red-prowed ship," said another
old man, "for the haven where it was moored is empty and no crimson
sail is anywhere in sight."
Dame Louhi, grim and old and haggard, fell into the greatest fury.
She stormed, she screamed, she wept, she prayed. "O Maiden of the
Air," she cried, "O queen and ruler of the mists and stormclouds!
Send me help I pray thee. Cover the sea with dense fogs and clouds
of vapor. Send down the winds and let
 the tempest rage round those
wicked robbers. O Maiden, sink them all beneath the billows, but
save the Sampo. Let it not fall into the raging sea, but hold it in
thy large hands and bring it safe back to Pohyola's lovely shore."
The Maiden of the Air heard her and was pleased with her prayer. She
called to her servants, the mists, the clouds, and the winds, to
wreak vengeance upon the heroes, to drive their ship far out of its
course and sink it in the bottomless sea.
Forthwith thick clouds obscured the sky and dense fogs covered the
waters like a cloak of darkness. The winds rose in fury and a mighty
storm swept down from above. All the winds, save the North Wind
alone, assailed the heroes' gallant vessel. The mast was splintered
just above the sail-yard, the red sail itself was blown away, the
rudder was unmanageable, all the oars were made useless, so terrible
were the winds and the tossing waves.
Like a withered leaf of autumn the ship was driven hither and
thither through the mists and fearful darkness. The young men hid
their faces, and the golden-haired maidens cowered beneath the
benches. The nimble Ahti, cause
 of all this trouble, lay prone upon
the deck speechless with fright. Even the hero Ilmarinen crouched
himself down in the narrow hold and bewailed their great misfortune.
"Never before have I seen such a storm as this," he moaned. "My hair
is soaked with salt-water and my beard trembles with the shaking of
the ship. My very heart thumps wildly as I hear the noise of the
mighty tempest. O winds, have pity! O waves, deal gently with us
The Minstrel, alone of all on board, stood up fearless and calm and
steadfast as though no danger threatened.
"This is no place for weeping," he said. "You cannot save yourselves
by howling. Groaning will not preserve you from evil, nor will
grunting dispel misfortune."
He raised his hands high above his head and called upon all the
powers of air and sky and sea to befriend the heroes in their dire
"O sea, so vast, so grand, remember that we are small and weak, and
deal gently with us! O waves, do not play too roughly with us, do
not fill our ship with water, do not break her ribs or hull beams. O
winds, rise up higher
 and play with the clouds in heaven. Drive away
the mists that blind us, but blow gently upon our crimson vessel,
and waft, oh! waft it safely southward to the shores of Hero Land."
And the lively Ahti, still sprawling prone upon the high deck,
lifted up his voice also and prayed to his god, the great bird of
"O thou mighty eagle, come down from thy eyry on the heaven-high
cliffs, and help us. Bring with thee a magic feather—yes, two or
three—that they may put a charm upon this ship and protect it from
But still the storm raged; the waves dashed furiously against the
vessel; the winds howled and fought and gave no heed to
Wainamoinen's prayer; the fog still hung darkly upon the waters or
drifted in mist-like clouds before the wind; the eagle of Ahti
screamed in vain.
Thus all day the red ship drifted helpless upon the raging sea; for
two long days the tempest prevailed and the heroes were in despair.
But on the third day the Minstrel's prayer was answered. The storm
ceased, the fog was lifted, and the sun shone out, bright and clear
in the midst of the sky. The heroes sprang up
 and shouted for joy;
they had forgotten their fears.
"To your oars, my brave men, to your oars!" shouted Ilmarinen, and
every man bent willingly to his task.
The maidens also regained their courage. The color returned to their
cheeks; their eyes, so long tear-wet, now sparkled with joy; with
songs of gladness they woke the echoes of the sea, and cheered the
"It is well to rejoice and be merry," said the steadfast Minstrel,
"but we are still upon the uncertain sea, we are still far away from
our own safe home land."
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