|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 |
MISTRESS AND MINSTREL
OU must rise early in the morning," said Dame Louhi,
the Wise Woman of the North. She stood at the door of
her chamber and looked back into the low-raftered hall
where her daughter was spinning. Her face was wrinkled
and grim, her thin lips were puckered over her
toothless mouth, her gray-green eyes sparkled beneath
her shaggy eyebrows.
She paused and listened. No answer came from her busy
daughter. The day was almost ended. Already the
swallows were asleep under the eaves, the reindeer
were lying down in their paddock, all the underlings of
Dame Louhi's household had retired to rest. So near
was her dwelling to the sea that she could hear the
waves lapping on the beach and the ice-floes crunching
and grinding and pounding against the shore. But other
sounds there were none.
 The Mistress, Dame Louhi, grew impatient. She stamped
her foot angrily, and loudly repeated her command:
"You must rise early in the morning, my daughter."
This time the maiden heard her. She ceased twirling her
spindle, and sweetly answered, "Yes, mother, for there
is a great deal to be done tomorrow."
The Mistress was satisfied; and as she turned to enter
her chamber you should have seen how unlike the mother
was the fair daughter whom men called the Maid of
Beauty. Nature had given to the maiden all the
loveliness that had been denied to the dame. And she
was not only surpassingly beautiful, but she was wise
and skilful and very industrious. The housekeeping in
the roomy dwelling beside the sea would have been
shabbily attended to had it not been for her daily
care; and the sun would have shone but seldom in the
had not the Maid of Beauty encouraged it with her smiles.
So, on the morrow, long before any one else had risen,
she was up and bustling hither and thither, attending
to this thing and that and
 putting the house in order.
She went out to the sheepfold and sheared six fat
lambs. She spun their six white fleeces into snowy
yarn, and of the yarn she wove enough cloth for six
Then she went into the kitchen and rekindled the fire
upon the hearth. She swept the floor and dusted the
long benches. She scrubbed the birchwood tables till
they were as white and glistening as the frost-covered
meadows. She made the rooms neat and tidy and set the
breakfast things to cooking. By this time the day was
dawning; the sky in the east was becoming flecked with
yellow and red; the cock was crowing, wild ducks were
quacking by the shore, sparrows were chirping under the
The maiden paused and listened—listened long and
intently. She heard the joyful sounds of the morning;
she heard the cold waves lapping and splashing upon the
shore. She looked out of the door and saw the first
rays of the sun dancing and glancing upon the uneasy
surface of the sea. Away from the shore, she saw the
broad meadows lying lonely and still under the lonely
sky and beyond them the dark line
 which marked the
beginning of the forest and the rugged land of
Suddenly, as she looked and listened, she heard a
wailing which was not the wailing of the sea. She held
her breath and listened again. She heard a cry which
was not the cry of a sea-bird.
"Oh, mother," she called, "what is that strange sound?
The wild geese never call so hoarsely; the waves never
make such moaning. Listen mother! What can it be?"
Wise old Louhi, grim and toothless, rose quickly and
hastened to the door, chattering and mumbling and
grumbling. She paused and listened, but the sound
seemed very faint. She ran down to the landing-place
before the house, and there she listened again. Soon the
sound came to her ears, louder and more distinct, and
yet hard to make out. Once, twice, thrice she heard the
call; and then she knew what it meant.
"It is a man's voice," she said. "Some hero has been
shipwrecked near our shore. He is in distress; he calls
She leaped nimbly into her boat. She pushed it from the
shore and rowed with speed out of the little inlet and
around the rocky point which jutted far into the sea.
The cries grew
 louder, the calls were more frequent as
she urged her boat forward over the sullen, icy-cold
Soon she saw the shipwrecked man. He was not fighting
the waves as she had supposed, but was clinging to the
branches of a tree that had been uprooted and carried
to sea. Ah, the sad plight of the poor man! He seemed
wounded and helpless; his face was gaunt and pale; his
eyes were filled with sadness and salt-water; he was
shivering with cold and deep despair.
Shouting words of cheer, the Mistress hurried to him.
She lifted him from the place of danger and seated him
in her boat. Then with steady arms and mighty strokes
she rowed homeward, nor did she pause until the boat's
keel grated on the beach before her door.
She carried the stranger into the house; she placed him
by the warm fire; she bathed his limbs, his face, his
head in tepid water and wrapped him up in soft skins of
the reindeer. For three long days—yes, for four
summer days—she tended him as though he were her
son, and no questions did she ask. Then to her great
joy, he sat up and soon grew well and strong.
"Now, friend and fellow of the sea, said the
woman, "tell me your name. Tell me why and how you have
come to our lovely land and to Pohyola, the sweetest of
The stranger, who also was old and gray, answered, "My
name is Wainamoinen, and all the world knows me; for I
am the first of minstrels, the prince of wizards, the
man whom other men delight to honor. Luckless was the
hour when I embarked on a ship to go fishing; still
more luckless was it when a storm overturned the
vessel. Nine days did the sea toss me—yes, ten days
did the waves buffet me—ere I was cast upon these
"I welcome you, Wainamoinen!" cried the grim Mistress.
"Welcome, welcome to this northern land! Your name is
well known to me, and long have I honored it. Men call
you the sweet singer of Hero Land, and they say that no
other songs cheer the dreary hours of winter as yours
do. You shall stay here in Pohyola and sing to me and
my people. My house shall be your home and this
delightful land shall be your country."
The gray-bearded Minstrel shook his head and sighed. He
looked out and saw the lonely meadows and the snowy
mountains and the
 cold gray sea. Then his eyes filled
with tears and he wept.
"O singer of Hero Land, why are you so sad?" asked the
woman. "Have I not been kind to you? Why, then, do you
weep and gaze towards the sea?"
"I weep for my own dear country; I am sick for my
home," answered the Minstrel. "I do not wish to remain
in this Frozen Land. I am lonely and heart-broken."
"Cheer up, cheer up!" said Dame Louhi, trying to look
pleasant. "Beautiful Pohyola shall be your country. This
comfortable house shall be your home. My fireside shall
be your fireside, and my friends shall be your
But the Minstrel still wept.
"Stay here and be our honored guest," continued the
Mistress. "You shall sleep in the warmest corner, you
shall sit at the head of our table. Good food we will
give you—choice bacon, fresh salmon from the sea,
white cakes of barley, hot from the oven. Stay with us
and cheer us with your sweet songs."
"Nay, nay!" moaned the sad Minstrel. "How can I sing in
a strange land? My own country is the fairest; my own
home is the dearest; my
 own table is the sweetest. All
that I can ever do in this Frozen Land is to sigh and
weep; and I shall sigh and weep till my eyes are out
and my voice is gone forever."
"You are foolish," then said the unlovely Mistress.
"Pohyola is the fairest place in all the world, and you
must learn to love it."
The Minstrel still shook his head and sighed. All his
thoughts were with his home land.
The summer passed swiftly, but to Wainamoinen the days
were full of loneliness. He wandered over the silent
meadows, he went out with the fishermen to catch salmon
in the sea, he visited one place and another in the
vast Frozen Land, vainly trying to forget his grief.
And not once did he open his lips in song, for there
was no music in his heart; and how shall a minstrel
sing if his heart is empty?
At length Dame Louhi relented.
"How much will you give me if I send you back to your
own country?" she asked. "Come, let us make a bargain."
"How much will I give?" answered he. "I have nothing
here that is my own, but I promise to send you many
rich treasures. I will send you gold, I will send you
 "But you claim to be a mighty wizard," said Dame Louhi.
"Show us some of your work in magic."
"Never was there a greater magician than I," returned
the Minstrel boastfully. "You have but to name some
wonderful act and forthwith I will perform it. But
first, I must have your promise to send me home. My
heart is so full of the thought."
"Very well, then," answered the gray woman. "If you
will make the magic Sampo for me, I promise to send you
home at once. It must be the real, the wonderful Sampo;
I will have nothing else."
"The Sampo! What is that?"
"Do you ask me what is the Sampo? Minstrels from the
earliest times have sung of its power, and all the
wizards of the North have tried their spells, hoping to
make something equally precious and potent. And do you,
a minstrel and a wizard, ask what it is?"
The Minstrel was cunning, and he answered: "In my own
country we call it by another name. If you will
describe it I will tell you what that name is and also
some strange things which no other minstrel knows."
 The Mistress was off her guard. "The Sampo," she said,
"is the mill of fortune which wise men, since the
beginning of things, have sought to invent. It is the
magic mill which grinds out all sorts of treasures and
gives wealth and power to its possessor. One has only
to whisper his wishes to it, and they will all come
"Ah!" answered the Minstrel. "In our country we call
it the Stone of the Wise Men."
"That is a good name. And now, if I promise to send you
safe home, will you try your magic power and forge me
such a mill? Have you the skill to fit it with wheels
and levers? Can you hammer into shape a becoming lid
for it—a lid of rainbow colors?"
Wainamoinen sat silent for a long time, shaking his
head and thinking. Then he said:
"It is a thing so strange and so difficult that I must
have time to consider my strength. In three days you
shall have my answer."
He went out alone, and for many tedious hours he walked
up and down by the seashore pondering upon the subject.
He repeated all the magic runes that he remembered, and
re-  cited spells to the winds and the waves and the
gray-blue sky, he recalled all the words of power that
he had learned from the sages of old. Then, at length,
on the third day, he went back to the house where Dame
Louhi was still sitting by her fireside.
"I cannot make the Sampo for you," he said. "My magic
is not strong enough; my skill is not of the kind that
forges mills of fortune. But I have a friend who can do
wonderful things. It was he who shaped the sky that
bends above our country; and, surely, to forge the Sampo
is no more difficult than that."
"Ah, that is the man whom I am looking for," cried the
woman eagerly. "What is his name? Will you send him to
"His name is Ilmarinen, and he is dear to me as a
brother," answered the Minstrel. "He is the prince of
all smiths, and there is nothing in magic or in
smithing that he cannot do. If you will permit me to
return to my dear home land, to the Land of Heroes, I
will send him to you without delay."
"But suppose he doesn't wish to come?"
"Then I will send him against his will. My magic is
strong enough to command him."
 "Can I trust you? Do you promise?"
"You have my word, and I will perform," answered the
Minstrel. "Never yet have I failed to do that which I
have agreed to do."
"You shall go home, then, quickly," said the gray
woman. "You may promise the skilful smith a rare reward
if he will forge the Sampo for me. I will even give
him, if he so desire, my daughter for his wife—this
Forthwith she hurried to the paddock. She chose the
fleetest reindeer and harnessed it to her birchwood
sledge. She brought warm furs for the Minstrel to wrap
around him. She put the whip and the long reins in his
"Now fare you well, and speed you to your home land!"
she said. "Drive swiftly while the sun shines, but
remember to keep your eyes upon your pathway, and do
not look upward. If you should gaze towards the
mountain top or the sky, sad misfortune will befall
you. Fare you well, first of minstrels! Send me the
wizard, the prince of smiths, and fail not, lest my
curses follow you and blight your life."
The Minstrel cracked his whip joyfully, the reindeer
sprang forward, the journey homeward was begun.
Merrily did the birchwood
run-  ners whistle as they glided
over the half-frozen earth. With a glad heart did
Wainamoinen speed across the brown meadows and into
the silent forest; his face beamed like the sunlight,
his eyes glowed like twin stars, and a song was ready
to burst from his lips.
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