|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 GREAT PIKE
H! Who is this?" cried the Wise Woman,
rising quickly. Surprise leaped from her
narrow eyes, disappointment sat in her
loveless face. "Is this the young man who
went out to plough our field?"
"The field is ploughed," humbly answered
Ilmarinen. "I have performed my task and
now I come to claim my own—the Maid of
Beauty for whom I have waited and toiled."
"Who saw you plough the field of serpents?
Who saw you perform the dreadful task? Am
I to believe your word alone?" And wise Dame
Louhi spoke harshly, gruffly, as one who has
never been defeated or denied.
Then from the dark corner beyond the
hearth-stones, suddenly a voice croaked like the
voice of a sea-bird breasting the storm. And
out of the gloom emerged the dwarfish form of
old Sakko, the last and the wisest of all earth
 "I will be the hero's witness," she croaked.
"Unknown to him, I was hidden close beside
the field of deadly serpents. I saw the young
man perform his task, and he performed it well.
Twelve broad furrows he made towards the east,
towards the west; twelve other furrows he made
towards the north, towards the south. The
ground was heaped up, deep trenches were made.
The serpents reared their heads, they ran out of
their holes, hissing and dismayed; they were
overwhelmed and destroyed; not one remains.
Give the hero his prize. Give him the duckling
for whom he has risked so much."
"No, no!" answered Dame Louhi, graver,
grimmer than ever before. "Any man can kill
snakes. Shall this poor Smith have my daughter
for performing so paltry a task as that?
No! no! But there is another task which perhaps
he would like to try—an undertaking
worthy of a hero, although I fear too difficult
for this young man!" She spoke tauntingly,
Then Ilmarinen's boastfulness returned, and
he answered proudly, fearlessly: "Never yet
was there anything too difficult for me. Did I
not hammer out the sky, and set the stars where
 they belong? Did I not find Iron in his hiding
places and subdue him? Did I not forge the
Sampo and shape its lid of rainbow colors?
Harder things than these will I do if only you
will surely give me your daughter."
"Listen then," said the cunning Mistress. "In
the dark and sluggish river that surrounds the
land of Tuonela there lives a monstrous fish, a
pike so huge, so scaly, so fierce that all the
fishes of the sea obey him. Hundreds of brave
fishermen have sought to snare him, but not
one has lived to tell his story. Go, now, and
capture this king of fishes. Take him without
using net or tackle and bring his head to me.
Then I will surely give you my daughter; you
shall have the blue-wing duckling; you shall
wait no longer, toil no longer, but be at once
rewarded with your prize."
The hero heard and deep dejection came
upon him. He hung his head, he turned away
and walked slowly, silently out into the darkening
twilight. He sat down on the rocks by the
shore and looked out over the cold and pitiless sea.
"Now, I may as well die," he said. "This
last task is impossible. For how can any one,
 without net or tackle, catch and subdue the
Great Pike? and how can I hope to drag him
from the sluggish water and bring his head
hither to the Mistress of Pohyola? Vainly have
I lived, vain have been all my valiant deeds, vain
indeed is life with all its empty victories; there
is naught that is worth the doing."
Suddenly he heard light footsteps behind him,
suddenly the darkness was dispelled and the
smiling Maid of Beauty laid her hand upon his
"O Ilmarinen, prince of wizards, smith of all
smiths!" she said, "Why are you so despondent?
The task is not so hard as you imagine."
"But I cannot perform it," said the hero.
"I dare not attack the Great Pike in the dismal
stream of Tuonela."
"Only women say, 'I cannot,' only cowards
say, 'I dare not,' " laughed the maiden cheerily.
"You see I learned a lesson from your
elder brother, the prince of minstrels. Now I
will tell you how to catch the Great Pike of
Tuonela. Go at once to your magic smithy
and forge a fiery eagle with flaming wings and
iron talons. Then sally forth upon your errand;
have no fear, but be wise and valiant."
 Ilmarinen would have replied, but she had
vanished. He buckled his armor about him
and with right good courage hastened to his
smithy. There for many days he toiled at his
forge; for many days he watched the magic
caldron in the midst of his glowing furnace; for
many days he tried all his wizard arts, singing
strange songs and reciting secret runes which
only the wisest may ever know. At length
one morning he drew the caldron from the fire
and lifted the lid.
"Art thou there, my eagle?" he cried.
Quickly from the clouds of scalding vapor a
wonderful bird leaped into being. Her wings
were as large as the sails of a ship, her claws and
beak were of the hardest iron, her eyes were like
"Here I am, my master, what will you have
"O, my eagle," answered the Smith, "carry
me swiftly towards the land of Tuonela, fly with
speed and pause not till the sluggish, silent
river is beneath you. Then find for me the
Great Pike, so huge, so scaly, the king of all
the fishes. Help me take the slippery monster
from its lair beneath the waters."
 The wonder bird spread her wings and
Ilmarinen leaped up between them and seated
himself upon her back. The bird screamed and
began her flight. Up, up, up into the high air
she soared. Then, swifter than the wind, she
sailed straight onward, towards the mystic island
and the dark and dismal river. How far did she
fly? No man can tell; for none can know
whether Tuonela be in this place or in that,
whether it is one day's journey distant or an
hundred. From the graybeard it is only a step,
a stone's throw, a short walk at most; from the
babe upon the floor it may be a thousand weary
At length, however, the goal was reached and
the flaming eagle stayed her flight. She swooped
down and perched herself upon a rock which
overhung the shore. Beneath it flowed the sluggish
river, dark and dismal and deathlike; beyond
lay the shores of the silent land where
Tuoni reigns; above it was the ashy-gray sky
where no bird flies and no star has ever twinkled.
Upon this rock the eagle sat and watched for her
prey, and Ilmarinen waited patiently beside her.
By and by from the black mud at the river's
bottom a water sprite arose. It rose quickly, it
 leaped high into the air and with its long fingers
clutched at Ilmarinen. Then, indeed, would
the hero have met his death had not the eagle
saved him. She seized the fearful sprite by
the head; with her iron talons she twisted the
creature's neck and forced it to hide again in the
slimy, pitch-like ooze in the bed of the murky
Suddenly from amid the darkness the Great
Pike came swimming. No small fish was he,
for his back was seven times longer than the
longest boat, his teeth were like great spears set
round the entrance to a cavern, and his eyes
glowed like two flaming fires on the summit of a
mountain. Fiercely he dashed through the
water, high into the air he leaped, thinking to
seize and swallow Ilmarinen.
But now the eagle rushed to the rescue. No
small eagle was she, for her beak was six times
longer than the longest boat oar, her talons were
like the sharpened scythes of the mowers in the
meadows of Hero Land, and her eyes glittered
like two great suns glaring down from the top
of the sky. Terrible indeed was the fight that
followed. Dashing swiftly upward the fish
sought to seize the eagle with his spear-like
 teeth; he caught the tip of her right wing, he
drew it into the water and with might and main
strove to pull the giant bird into the depths.
But the eagle, with one foot gripping the rock,
struck fiercely at her foe; with her iron beak she
tore the scales from the fish's back, she forced
him to retreat into the murky deep.
Not long, however, was the fight delayed, for
soon the furious fish rose again and, swift as
lightning, leaped upward to the combat. The
bird of iron, her wings all glowing as with fire,
was ready for him. She struck with her scythe-like
talons; she seized him midway behind his
gills; with a mighty effort she drew him from
the water and bore him, struggling, helpless,
dying, to the topmost branch of a wide-spreading
oak. There she sat, screaming with joy
and anon tearing her prey and feasting upon
it. She ripped the scales from the Great Pike's
glistening sides; she tore the fins away; she
devoured the long breast and the jointed tail;
she sundered the head from the mighty shoulders,
cleaving the gills with her iron beak.
And under the tree stood Ilmarinen, helpless,
imploring, angrily remonstrating, "O faithless
bird! O wicked eagle! Why do you devour
 the fish that you were created to capture?
What shall I say to the pitiless mother at
Pohyola when I return empty-handed? What
proof shall I offer that the Great Pike has
indeed been taken?"
The eagle screamed until the sky seemed rent
in twain by the shrill echoes of her voice. Then
she threw the fish's head from her—it fell at
Ilmarinen's feet. She flapped her fiery wings
until the sun glowed hot above her; she leaped
from her perch; she soared upward, higher and
higher, above the treetops, above the desolate
mountains. Into the land of clouds she soared.
The thunder rolled; the lightning flashed; the
rainbow-bridge, Jumala's bridge of many colors,
was shivered and broken. Not for a moment
did the bird of iron pause, nor did she rest in
her flight until she reached the distant moon.
There, folding her fiery pinions, she alighted,
content to make her home on that changeable
orb. And there, on clear summer nights, you
may often see her pecking at the stars and scarring
the sky with her scythe-like talons.
Ilmarinen, wondering at the might of his own
invention, lifted the head of the Great Pike
from the ground. With much labor he laid it
 across his shoulders and adjusted it upon his
sturdy back. Then, with hope in his heart and
courage in his feet, he turned his face once more
towards distant Pohyola and the Frozen Land.
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