Sampo - James Baldwin

The Famine

Sad were the days and joyless were the months in the Land of Heroes. The sky was cloudless and gray and the ground was parched and dry for long lack of rain. In the fields the crops failed and the cattle died. In the forest there was no game for the huntsmen. In the sea the fishes had fled to other waters, leaving the fishermen to toil in vain. In Wainola the children were crying for food and the men and women were sitting on their doorsteps, silent, with stony faces, hopeless, helpless, despairing.

Then one day a little boat came creeping into the harbor with but one man on board. Many of the people saw the lone sailor as he moored his vessel to the shore, but none had the courage to go and meet him. He walked slowly up the deserted pathway to the village, looking at the barren fields and the fruitless trees, the empty barns and the gloomy houses, the many signs of poverty and distress. His eyes wandered onward to the ruined farmhouse, and past it to the smokeless smithy which had once been the joy and the pride of the hero, Ilmarinen.

"Ah, me! Can this be Wainola, the village once so happy and prosperous?" he said to himself. "Can this be the smithy, can this be the home which echoed to the merry sounds of love and peace?"

Then from out of the shadows an old man, feeble and tottering, came to meet him. It was Wainamoinen, pale with fasting, gaunt with hunger, but brave and steadfast as in former days.

"Hail, stranger!" said the Minstrel. "Welcome to Wainola and to the best that its people can offer!"

"Hail, friend and brother!" answered the stranger heartily and with gentleness. He lifted the cap which had concealed his forehead, he loosed the broad scarf that had been well drawn up about his chin and cheeks. His ruddy face was wrinkled with sorrow although for the moment it was wreathed in smiles.

The Minstrel old and feeble uttered a cry of joy. "O Ilmarinen! Ilmarinen! Have you returned? We had mourned you as dead! We had given you up as lost!" And the next moment each was locked in the other's arms.

"Now, tell me, my young brother, where have you been since you departed from Wainola and the Land of Heroes? Word came to us that you had perished, that you had gone to dwell in Tuonela; and when this great blight of famine and sorrow came upon the land, we were fain to believe that it was indeed so. Why did you leave us? Where have you been?"

"I went away from Wainola because of my sorrow," answered Ilmarinen sadly. "I went to the far North Land, to Pohyola's shores, because the voice of my dear lost Maid of Beauty seemed to call me thither. For twelve months—yes, for two long, sorrowing years—I sought her in that land. But Tuoni holds her captive in his castle beside the river of silence. She cannot come to me, but I can go to her. I am even now seeking the road to Tuonela."

"You need not go far to find it," said the Minstrel. "Look around you and see your neighbors starving, dying—hear your neighbors' children moaning, crying. The road to Tuonela is here, and many are the feet that are travelling in it. But tell me, was it thus in Pohyola? Have they a famine there also?"

"A famine! Far from it," answered Ilmarinen. "Never was there a more prosperous people than those of Pohyola. They plough, they sow, they reap in great abundance. Of grain and fruit there is no end, and no man nor woman, child nor dog, knows the meaning of hunger."

"How strange that a land of mists and fogs, a land so dreary and forbidding, should be so blessed with plenty!" said the Minstrel. "Is it by some power of magic that this is so? Why is it that you, the prince of wizards, cannot find some way to bless and save our own kinsmen, our own people?"

"Do you remember the Sampo?" said the Smith. "Do you remember the magic mill which I made for Dame Louhi many years ago? That mill is still grinding in Pohyola, its lid of many colors turns and turns and turns forever. Safely locked in a stony cavern, still it grinds wealth and food and clothing without end. The soil draws richness from it, the fields of grain thrive upon its grindings, the fruit trees send their roots downward and suck up the wealth which it pours out."

"The Sampo, the Sampo!" said the Minstrel, feebly as in a dream. "If only we might bring it to our own country, how quickly we could save our people!"

"It was I that forged the wonderful mill, I, the prince of smiths and wizards," said Ilmarinen with a far-off look in his eyes. "Never can another be made that is like it."

"And if you forged it, why is it not your own?" queried Wainamoinen, wise though feeble.

"I forged it for another," answered Ilmarinen. "I made it for wise old Louhi, the Mistress of Pohyola; and the reward which she ought to have given me, I obtained by other means. Neither gold nor silver nor aught else have I ever received for my labor."

"Then surely you have a valid claim upon the Sampo," said Wainamoinen. "O my friend and brother, we must hasten to Pohyola and seize that mill of plenty, that we may bring it to our own sweet land. We must save our starving people."

"Nay, nay, it cannot be," returned the Smith. "The mill is securely stored away in a stony cavern beneath a hill of copper. Nine heavy doors shut it in, and nine locks of strongest metal make each door fast and safe. No man nor men can seize the mighty Sampo."

But the Minstrel persisted. All that night he held the Smith's strong hand and talked of naught but the Sampo and how, by it, they might save the lives of their famishing friends and neighbors. At length Ilmarinen ceased objecting. "You are wise, my elder brother," he said, "much wiser than I. The task is a mighty one, but for the sake of our people and our country I will not shrink from it. None but women say, 'I cannot,' none but cowards say, 'I dare not.' "