|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 HOMESICK HERO
HE sunlight was streaming white and
yellow, over sea and land. The wild
geese were honking among the reeds.
The swallows were twittering under the eaves.
The maids were milking the reindeer in the
paddock behind Dame Louhi's dwelling. Ilmarinen
had slept late. He rose hurriedly and hastened
to go out, not to listen to the varied sounds of
the morning, but to ponder concerning the great
problem that was soon to be solved.
He opened the door, but quickly started back,
trembling, and pale. What had he seen to give
him pause, to cause him to be frightened?
Right before him, so near that he might have
touched her with his hand, stood the Maid of
Beauty. Her cheeks were like the dawn of a
summer's morning; her lips were like two ripe,
red berries with rows of pearls between; her
eyes were like the glorious suns, shining softly in
the midst of heaven. Who would not have
 trembled in the presence of such marvellous
Ilmarinen was overcome with bashfulness.
He stammered, he paused, he looked into those
wonderful eyes and was covered with confusion.
Then he spoke to his own heart and said, "Why
am I so cowardly—I who have hitherto feared
nothing under the sun? I will be brave. I will
ask her the momentous question and abide by
So, with quivering lips and downcast eyes he
spoke: "Fairest of maidens, my task is done.
I have forged the Sampo, I have hammered its
marvellous lid, I have proved myself worthy to
be called the Prince of Smiths. Will you not
now go with me to my far distant home—to the
Land of Heroes in the sunny south? There you
shall be my queen; you shall rule my house,
keep my kitchen, sit at the head of the table.
O Maid of Beauty, it was for you that I forged
the Sampo and performed those acts of magic
which no other man would dare to undertake.
Be kind, and disappoint me not."
The maiden answered softly, and she blushed
as she spoke: "Why should I leave my own
sweet home to go and live with strangers, to be
 a poor man's wife in a poor and distant land?
My mother's hall would be desolate; her kitchen
would be cold and ill-cared for were I to go
away. She herself would grieve and die of
"Nay," said Ilmarinen, "she is not the sort
of woman to feel sorrow; her heart is too hard
to be crushed so easily."
"But there are others who would miss me,"
said the maiden softly. "If I should go away,
who would feed the reindeer at the break of
day? Who, in the early springtime, would welcome
the cuckoo and answer his joyous song?
Who, in the short summer, would caress the
wildflowers in the wooded nooks and sing to the
violets in the meadows? Who, in the autumn,
would pick the red cranberries in our marshes?
Who, at winter's beginning, would tell the
songbirds to fly southward, and who would
cheer the wild geese on their way to summer
The Smith had now grown bolder, and he
answered wisely: "The cuckoo comes to my country
as well as yours. There are flowers in the
forests of Wainola more beautiful than any in
this chilly land. There are cranberries in our
 marshes also, redder and larger than any you
have ever picked. The songbirds live in the
Land of Heroes half of every year, and the wild
geese tarry there and build their nests in the
"All that may be true," said the Maid of
Beauty, "but your cuckoo is not my cuckoo,
and so how could I welcome it in the springtime?
All things in Wainola would be strangers
to me, while all things in Pohyola are friends.
The North Country, the Frozen Land as you
call it, would be very lonely if I were to leave it;
the meadows would be joyless, the hills would
be forlorn, the shores would be desolate. Were
I not here to paint the rainbow, the storm clouds
would never vanish. Were I not here to note
the change of seasons, the songbirds would
surely forget to come, the flowers would neglect
to bloom, the cranberries would perish ungathered.
No, Ilmarinen, I must not go with you.
You are skilful, you are wise, you are brave, you
are the prince of wizards and of smiths—but I
love my native land. Say no more; I will not go
The Smith was speechless; his tongue was
motionless, and he could not make reply. He
 turned slowly away, and with head bowed down
and cap pulled over his eyes, he sought his
favorite place by the side of the smouldering
All day he sat there, pondering, wondering
how now by any makeshift he could escape
from Pohyola and return to his native land.
The longer he thought, the larger his troubles
appeared. He had no boat to sail by sea, no
sledge nor reindeer to travel by land, no money
in his purse, no knowledge of the road. Would
not magic avail him? Could he not call upon the
winds to carry him, as they had once done
against his will? Alas, no! All his magic lore,
all his magic power, had been exhausted in the
forging of the Sampo; he was utterly bankrupt.
While he sat thus, homesick, disappointed,
and forlorn, Dame Louhi came suddenly into
the hall. She was white with flour and laden
with silver, and she wore a look of triumph on
her grim and unlovely face.
"Ha! forger of the Sampo!" she cried. "Why
do you sit here moping day after day? What
ails you—you, who hammered out the sky and
set the stars in their places—you, the prince of
wizards, the king of boasters?"
 Ilmarinen groaned and pulled his cap still
lower over his eyebrows; but he answered not
The mistress went on with her bantering; she
laid salt on the poor man's wounds and briskly
rubbed it in. "Why do you groan so like an
ice-floe breaking up at the end of winter? Why
do you weep salt tears, extinguishing the fire
on my hearth? Have you the toothache, earache,
heartache, stomach-ache? Did you eat too
much at dinner? Surely, the prince of
wizards ought to curb his appetite."
The Smith's heart was filled with anger; his
brain burned, his cheeks were flushed with
shame. Much had he suffered from this woman's
greed and cunning; painfully was he stung
by her bitter words. Yet he answered her with
becoming gentleness—for was she not the mother
of the Maid of Beauty?
"I have no ache nor bodily pain," he said;
"but I am sick of this wretched country, this
Frozen Land. I am sick of its mists, of its
storms, of its long nights and its cheerless days.
And, most of all, I am sick of its thankless
"Ah! I understand," answered the woman;
 and she closed her toothless jaws tightly,
restraining her anger. "In other words, you are
homesick; your heart is filled with longing for
your own country and your own fireside."
"You speak rightly," answered Ilmarinen.
"My heart is in the South Land, in the Land of
Heroes. Unwillingly did I come to your bleak
and chilly Pohyola; unwillingly have I remained
here, cheered by a single hope which has at last
been blasted. And now my only wish is to return
home, to see once more the friends whom
I love, to cheer my mother in her loneliness."
"Surely, the lad who cries for his mother
should be comforted," said the Mistress derisively,
"At what moment would you like to
start on your homeward journey?"
"At the break of day?" answered the Smith,
his face brightening as his hopes were strengthened.
"It shall be as you wish," said the woman,
and her tones were uncommonly tender and kind.
"I will see that everything is in readiness. At
the break of day a boat will be waiting for you
at the landing. Delay not a moment, but go
on board and ask no questions. You shall be
safely carried to the haven that is so dear to you."
 Ilmarinen stammered his thanks. His eyes
grew brighter, his heart was cheered with hope.
Very impatiently the hero waited through the
short hours of night, and gladly did he hail the
first gray streak of dawn that heralded the morning.
He hastened out to the shore. The promised
boat was there, moored to the landing by a
hempen rope. It was a small vessel, but roomy
enough for one passenger who would also be
captain and crew. Its hull was of cedar and
the trimmings were of maple. Its prow was
tipped with copper, sharp and strong. The oar
also was of copper, and the sail was painted red
In the boat a great store of food was packed—deer
meat, smoked herring, cakes of barley,
toothsome victuals enough for many days.
Ilmarinen asked no man any questions,
although many persons were gathered on the
shore, wondering whence came the strange vessel
and whither it was going. He climbed over the
polished gunwales and stepped boldly on board.
Then, as the sun was peeping out of the sea, he
raised the square sail of red and yellow. He cut
the mooring rope, and took the copper paddle
 in his hands; he sat down in the stern to do the steering.
A gentle wind filled the sail, and the boat
glided smoothly, swiftly away from the land.
Ilmarinen looked back; he saw all the folk of
Pohyola standing along the shore, and he heard
them shouting their good-byes and bidding him
god-speed. He looked again, and saw the Maid
of Beauty among them; she was waving her
hand, and her face seemed to him tenfold more
beautiful than before; her cheeks were wet with
tears, and there was a look of great regret in
her wonderful eyes.
And there also stood the Mistress of Pohyola,
gray and grim and toothless, but noble in mien
and of queenly appearance. She lifted her arms,
she raised her eyes towards heaven, and called to
the North Wind to prosper the voyage for her
"Come, thou North Wind, great and strong,
Guide this hero to his home;
Gently drive his boat along
O'er the dashing white sea-foam.
"Push him with your mighty hand;
Blow him o'er the blue-backed sea;
Carry him safe to Hero Land,
And let him ne'er come back to me."
 The North Wind heard her, and he came,
strong, swift, and steady. Like a waterfowl in
some sheltered cove, the boat glided with
incredible smoothness over the chilly waters.
Joyfully the prince of smiths handled the oar,
and loudly he shouted to the wind as he saw the red
prow cleaving the waves and knew that he was
Three days the voyage lasted. As the morning
of the fourth was dawning, Ilmarinen beheld
on his left the lofty headland and pleasant
shore of his native land, green with summer-leafing
trees and odorous with the breath of
wildflowers. The sun rose above the eastern
hills, and then his eyes were rejoiced with the
sight of the weather-stained roofs of Wainola,
and curling clouds of smoke rising from the
hearths of many well-known dwellings.
Gently, then, the glad voyager guided his boat
into the harbor. He dismissed the North Wind
with warm thanks for his friendly service; and
then with a few skilful strokes of the oar, he
drove his stanch little boat high up on the sloping
"Home! home at last!" he cried as he leaped
out. He paused not a moment, he took no care
 to tie his little vessel to the mooring-post, but
with eager, impatient feet he hastened towards
Scarcely had he walked half-way to the nearest
dwelling, when a man stepped suddenly into
the road before him. It was Wainamoinen, the
cunning wizard, the first of all minstrels.
"O Ilmarinen, dearest of brothers!" shouted
the aged man, so wise, so truthful, so skilled in
tricks of magic. "How delighted I am to behold
your face again! Where have you been
hiding through all these anxious months?"
The Smith answered curtly, coldly, yet
politely: "You know quite well my hiding-place,
for it was you who sent me thither. I thank
you for the journey; but it will be long ere I
climb another one of your magic trees."
"Wisest and skilfulest of metal workers, why
do you speak in riddles?" asked the Minstrel,
appearing to be hurt. "Never have I sought to
harm you; but all that I did was for your own
good. Now, I welcome you back to Wainola.
Let us be brothers as in the days of yore. Come!
here is my hand; let us forgive and forget!"
The generous Smith could not cherish ill-feeling
in his heart. He loved the aged Minstrel
 as he would have loved a father. So he grasped
the proffered hand, gently, warmly; he embraced
his friend twice, three times, as had been
his wont whenever fondness prompted his warm
heart. Then he said, "I forgive you, sweetest of
Side by side, arm in arm, the two old comrades
"Tell me, Ilmarinen," asked the Minstrel, "did
you perform my errand? Did you fulfil my promise
and forge the magic Sampo? Did you win the prize?"
"Yes, I forged the Sampo," answered Ilmarinen;
"and I hammered its rainbow cover.
Therefore your debt is paid, and you are freed
from your promise. But as for me—well, as
you see, I have not won the Maid of Beauty."
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