|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 |
ITH eyes that never failed and arms that never tired the Minstrel
stood by the helm and guided the vessel around the jutting headland
and straight forward into the great white sea. On the benches the
rowers sat, wielding their oars with strength and deftness and
singing and shouting for gladness. On the deck the long-armed Ahti
danced nimbly and joyously, forgetful of his fishing, forgetful of
For one long day and through the moonlit night the ship sped onward
across the open sea. On the next day it skirted the low, marshy
shores of the Frozen Land. On the third day it sailed through narrow
straits between small islands, approaching by stealth the longed-for
haven of Pohyola. And now the rowers were silent, the maidens had
ceased their singing, the young men refrained from shouting, even
the nimble Ahti left off his dancing and sat quietly at the feet of
 Suddenly, in a deep channel, the vessel's bottom grated upon
something, and the ship shivered and stood still. It remained fast
in its place and no effort of the rowers could move it. The nimble
Ahti seized a long pole and thrust it into the water, trying with
all his great strength to push the ship along. What was it that had
thus so suddenly stopped the flight of the gallant vessel?
"O thou lively Ahti," then cried the Minstrel, "lean far over the
gunwales and look below. See what it is that keeps us moveless. Is
it some rock, or is it the snaggy trunk of some forest tree lying
deep beneath the waves?"
The long-armed hero obeyed. Holding fast with one hand to the
vessel's edge, he let himself down into the water. He looked under
the ship's hull, he peered closely at her keel, and then he leaped
quickly back among the rowers.
"It is not a rock," he shouted, "neither is it a tree! It is a fish,
a mighty pike that has stopped the vessel. Never have I seen so
large a fish. It lies in the water silent, motionless, asleep, like
a senseless mountain. The ship is wedged against its back fin—a
fin as large as the
 sail upon our mast. If the fish should sink, it
will drag our vessel down into the depths; if it should rise, it
will tumble us all headlong into the sea."
"Too much talk will never save us," said Wainamoinen. "Never yet was
pike slain by idle words. Draw your sword and wield it valiantly
with your long, ungainly arms. Sever in twain the fish on which we
"Surely I will do so," answered Ahti. "I will carve him into a
He drew his fish-knife from his belt, he reached downward with his
long arms, he slashed furiously this way and that; but nothing did
he cut save the yielding water.
Up leaped Ilmarinen from his seat among the rowers. He seized the
boaster by the hair and thrust him back among the benches. "Easy it
is to brag," he said, "but to do is quite another story."
Then with his sword of truest metal he reached down—deep down
beneath the ship's round hull. With all his strength he struck at
the fish, thinking to cleave it in twain. But the scales of the
monster were like iron plates lapping one upon another. The sword
shiv-  ered in pieces, it fell from the hero's hand, and the pike
still slept unharmed in the quiet water.
"This is no boy's work!" cried Wainamoinen. "A man is needed—a
man's sense, a man's strength, a man's skill. Stand aside, and see
what a real man can do."
Then, drawing the sword—the keen-edged sword, Faultless, which the
Smith had forged for him—he leaped into the sea, he dived deep
down to the fish's resting-place. With one tremendous stroke he
severed the mighty pike in twain, with another he hewed off its
head. The monstrous body sank to the bottom; but the Minstrel
dragged the head up to the surface, and with Ahti's help he hoisted
the mighty jaws into the vessel.
"Now, row! Row all together!" shouted Ilmarinen.
Instantly the hundred oars were dipped into the waves, all the
rowers pulled together and the ship began again to move steadily,
proudly through the water. Wainamoinen stood at the helm. With
masterly skill he piloted the vessel through narrow ways, he guided
it along deep, winding channels, and finally steered it to the
 mainland, where it rested in a safe, well-sheltered haven close by
the village of Pohyola.
All leaped out upon the sands, glad that the long voyage was ended.
A fire was built and the young men and maidens clustered round it.
The head of the pike was brought, and all examined its huge scales,
its staring eyes, its sharp-pointed teeth.
"It is long since we tasted food," said the Minstrel. "Let the
fairest of the maidens cook this fish. Let them broil it for our
breakfast. Never shall we enter Pohyola while hunger pinches us,
while famine robs us of strength."
Forthwith the maidens began the cooking. Ten of the most beautiful
were chosen to perform the work. The young men hastened to gather
sticks on the shore to feed the fire, to make hot coals for the
broiling. Wainamoinen drew his knife blade from its sheath and with
skilful strokes divided the head into a hundred pieces—yes, into
more than a hundred he cleaved it, that each of the crew might have
abundance. The flames roared, the red coals glowed upon the sand,
the juicy morsels sizzled loudly and gave forth savory odors very
pleasant indeed to the nostrils.
 Soon the breakfast was prepared and all sat down upon the sand to
eat the delicious morsels which the maidens had cooked. Sharp were
their appetites, and when they had finished, nothing was left of the
mighty head save its bones and its dagger-like teeth which lay
scattered on the beach.
"What a pity that these should be wasted!" said the Minstrel,
picking up a fragment of the jawbone—a fragment with the teeth
still fast within their sockets. "Surely, if Ilmarinen had them in
his smithy he might shape them into something useful, beautiful,
"Nay, nay!" answered Ilmarinen. "Nothing can be made from such
useless things. The skilfulest smith can never fashion fish-bones
into anything of value."
"It may be so," said Wainamoinen thoughtfully, "and yet, perhaps I,
who am not a smith, may make something from them that will give joy
to men and women."
Thereupon, with his sharp-edged knife he set to work to fashion from
the fish-bones a thing to give forth music. Of a piece of cedar he
made the framework; of the pike's jawbone he made the bridge; of the
pike's sharp teeth he
 made the pegs to hold the harp strings. Then
out into the fields he went, searching in the thickets and among the
briars. Soon he found five horsehairs which the wild steeds of
Pohyola had lost while pasturing there—five horse-hairs, long and
strong and resonant. "These will serve right well for harp strings,"
He hung the horsehairs in their places, he stretched them tight, he
gave to each its proper length and tension. "Ha! ha!" he laughed.
"Who now will say that nothing can be made of fish-bones? Here is
something that will breathe forth music sweeter than a minstrel's
song. It will delight the young, the old, the rich, the poor—all
sorts of people—with its rare and matchless melodies. Call it the
kantele, call it the harp of the North, and let minstrels never fail
to play upon it."
The news of his invention spread quickly. The youths, the maidens
came crowding round him. From the fields and the fishermen's boats
the men came running. From the huts and the washing pools the women
came dancing. Half-grown boys and little girls pushed shyly forward—all
curious to gaze on the wonderful kantele, all anxious to hear
its sweet music.
 And Wainamoinen passed it from hand to hand,
saying, "Look at it, let your fingers play upon it, let its melodies
rejoice your hearts."
Wistfully the little girls, the maidens, the older women, all held
the harp in their hands and with their tender fingers swept the harp
strings. Boldly, confidently, the half-grown boys, the young men,
the old fishermen, all grasped the wonderful instrument and tried to
play upon it. But the tones which they drew from it were harsh,
"It is not thus the kantele is played," said Wainamoinen. "Not one
of you can draw cheerful music from it, and yet the melodies are
there; they lie hidden in the strings of horsehair, in the jawbone
of the pike."
"I can play it," said the nimble Ahti. "With my long arms I can call
forth the melodies that now lie slumbering within it. Let me try
what I can do."
Wainamoinen put the harp of fish-bone in his gnarly hands; he rested
it upon his knees; very eagerly the little fellow swept the harp
strings with the tips of his long fingers. But the sound which came
forth was not music—it was a noise, discordant, grating, painful
to the ears.
 "It is always thus," said the Minstrel, growing impatient at last.
"The poorest doers are the biggest boasters. The music of the
kantele lies still beneath its bridge, beneath the jawbone of the
pike. Not one of you has the skill to coax it forth from its
lurking-place. Let us all go now to the village, to the roomy
dwelling of Dame Louhi. Perhaps the Mistress of the land, the old,
the grim, the gray, the Wise Woman of the North, will be able to
touch the harp strings aright—perhaps she will know how to play
the kantele and bring sweet melodies from its heart."
And all the young men shouted, "To Dame Louhi's dwelling! Let us see
what the Wise Woman can do. Yes, lead us to Dame Louhi's dwelling."
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