THE HAG OF THE ROCK
ILENTLY, stealthily, Tuoni's queen glided
from the room in which the Minstrel lay
asleep. Hastily she went out from the
castle, furtively she glanced backward over her
shoulder as though fearful of pursuit. Down to
the river-side she went, nor did she pause or
slacken her speed until she came to a sudden
turn in the shore where a huge ledge of rock
jutted far out into the stream.
An old, old woman, gray-eyed, hook-nosed,
wrinkled, was sitting on the rock and busily spinning.
"Hail, O Hag of the Rock!" said the queen.
"What are you spinning to-night?"
"What am I spinning? answered the Hag.
"I am spinning the thread of many a man's
life. For those who are honest and true and
deserving, I spin joy and honor and length of days;
for those who are false and cruel and selfish, I
spin grief and punishment and an early journey
to Tuoni's kingdom."
 "Yes, yes, I know!" cried the queen impatiently;
"but what kind of thread do you spin
to-night for that rash, foolhardy man who has
come into our kingdom unbidden and before his time?"
The old woman paused in her spinning; her
fingers twitched uneasily, her thin lips grew
thinner still, and her gray eyes shone with
phosphorescent light. Then she asked hoarsely,
"Is there such a man?"
THE HAG OF THE ROCK
"There is," answered the queen; "and he
sleeps now on Tuoni's couch, in the great hall
of our dwelling. He is old, his hair is snow-white,
wrinkles are beneath his eyes; yet he is
wise and fearless, and his limbs are strong. He
would fain return to his own country, carrying
with him the secrets that none should know
save those of Tuoni's household."
"That he shall never do!" cried the old
woman, fiercely, savagely. "No man, whether
hero or slave, shall ever recross our river to tell
his friends and countrymen how matters fare
on this side of the stream."
"But he is very wise; he possesses many powerful
runes; he is master of many magic spells,"
said the queen. "My cunning may detain him
 for a while; Tuoni may hold him for a season;
but it is not given to us to destroy him. I
would that we might keep him here forever—one
hero in the flesh among a myriad of formless shades!"
"Leave that to me, sweet queen," said the
spinner soothingly. "I will hedge him about
with prison walls and perils through which he
can never escape. His doom is fixed."
Then, without deigning to speak another
word, she resumed her spinning. But the
threads were not of the sort she had spun before.
She twirled her spindle to the right, and
drew out threads of iron; she twirled it to the
left, and wires of copper, small but exceeding
strong, ran through her fingers; she twirled it
upward, downward, and a thousand coils of
twisted metal soon lay in the moonlight beside her.
Higher up, on the same ledge of rocks, an old
wizard was sitting—a grisly, misshapen creature
who, in times past, had been a counsellor
of kings. This wizard had but one hand, and
on it were three long and crooked fingers, fearful
to behold, which he used in weaving nets.
As fast as the Hag of the Rock spun threads of
 iron, wires of copper, or coils of twisted metal,
he would gather them up and intertwine them
together, making a fabric both pliable and strong.
Thus, in that short silent night of summer, he
wove a hundred broad nets of iron—yes, a thousand
small-meshed nets of twisted metal.
At length the Hag of the Rock cried,
"Enough!" and the Wizard of the Rock ceased
"Now spread your nets cunningly wherever a
fish may attempt to swim," said the hag.
So the wizard, with his hard and crooked
fingers, stretched them, one by one, across the
river; he stretched them, this way and that,
along the sullen stream; he stretched them all
around the gray-peaked island, the kingdom of
Tuoni. Nowhere in the darksome water did
he leave an open space through which a shiny
fish could wriggle. How, then, would it be possible
for a living man, a breathing hero, to escape
through this wall of nets so closely woven
and so cunningly spread?
By and by the day began to dawn. The sun
rose pale and sickly above the ashy-gray hills,
the lonely woodlands, and the empty plains.
 Its garish light fell upon the face of the Minstrel
and woke him from his slumber. He sat up
and looked around, scarcely remembering where
How fearful was the silence! How ghost-like
seemed the very air! A dreadful horror
seized him, his blood ran cold, his heart seemed
Then suddenly and with great effort he leaped
to his feet and fled from Tuoni's hall. The
gates were open and unguarded, and he ran out
into the fields, into the vast unknown beyond.
Terror pursued him, and new horrors came into
view at every moment of his flight. On each
side of the way he beheld yawning chasms
filled with yellow flames. From beneath rocks
and from crevices in the earth snakes peeped
out, licking with fiery tongues. From every
tree hideous creatures looked down and grinned
The wind blew strong and cold, yet made no
sound. The trees swayed back and forth as
though rocked by the fiercest of storms, yet
there was silence everywhere. The Minstrel
could not hear his own footfalls as he ran blindly,
aimlessly, among traps and snares, and through
 a wilderness of perils. At length, however, his
tongue was loosened in prayer; it moved in his
mouth, but uttered not even a whisper.
"O Jumala, the mighty!"—these were the
words which the Minstrel tried to frame. "O
Jumala, the mighty! O Jumala, ruler over all!
O Jumala, Jumala! Help me, save me!"
And Jumala heard where there was no sound;
for he led the hero straight to the river's bank,
he showed him how to avoid every snare, and
how to escape every peril. With the courage of
despair, Wainamoinen leaped into the dark
water and swam with hasty, sturdy strokes
toward the shore of safety. He swam not far,
however, for the nets of wire rose up against
him—the nets of twisted metal which the
three-fingered wizard had spread to catch him. He
tried to avoid them. He turned this way and
that, he dived into the black depths of the
stream, he sought everywhere for an opening
through which he might pass. But the meshes
were fine; the nets were laid close together;
there seemed to be no way of escape.
Again he called upon Jumala the mighty;
and then he bethought him of all the magic he
had practised erstwhile in the Land of Heroes.
 His voice came to him, and he muttered a spell
of enchantment; he recited the runes which no
other wizard knew; in the midst of the whelming
waters he cried aloud and sang weird songs
to charm the evil powers that were seeking to
entrap and destroy him.
The old net weaver, the three-fingered wizard,
heard him and came swimming out into the
sluggish stream; with his gaunt and hideous
fingers he seized one net after another and tore
the meshes apart; he made a way between the
wires through which the Minstrel might squeeze
his by no means slender body.
Why did the grim Wizard of the Rock thus
undo his own work? In the spells and songs
which Wainamoinen uttered, the maker of nets
had found his master; the power of magic had
overcome him; naught could he do but obey
the will of the mighty Minstrel.
And the Minstrel was glad when he saw that
his enchantment had worked his deliverance.
He uttered still another magic spell, and suddenly
his body became slender and sinuous like
that of an eel or water-serpent. Then, with ease
and quickness, he squirmed and glided, this way,
that way, through the broken meshes and
be-  tween the nets so cunningly spread. Across the
broad stream he labored; through a thousand
narrow holes he squeezed and clambered; and,
at length, wearied exceedingly, he reached the
shore of safety and climbed panting upon the
dry, warm, throbbing land of the living.
"O Jumala, I thank thee!" he cried. "Grant,
mighty Jumala, that no other man shall be so
rash, so foolhardy, as I have been. Grant that
no other hero may ever see the sights that I
have seen, or feel the fear that I have felt. Not
for gold, nor for power, nor for lost words of
magic, should any mortal dare to trespass upon
the forbidden realms of King Tuoni."