Sampo - James Baldwin

The Wedding Feast

Who shall find tongue to tell of the wonderful feast at Ilmarinen's wedding? Who shall invent words to describe its vastness, its grandeur, its joy?

Dame Louhi, the wise, the cunning Mistress, planned it. She it was who provided the food and the drink; she it was who directed the cooks, the butchers, the brewers, the bakers, the serving maidens; and she it was who invited the guests.

First, she built in Pohyola a house so roomy and large that even minstrels blushed to tell its dimensions, and story-tellers feared to speak the truth. It was so long that when a dog barked at one end the sound of his voice could not be heard at the other. The roof was so high that when a cock crowed on the ridge-pole the hens on the ground below could not hear him. In this house the fires were kindled, the tables were set up, and the feast was prepared. Here, back and forth upon the planking, the aged Mistress walked, pondering, planning, instructing, commanding.

"We must have roast meat and plenty of it," she said. "So bring hither the great bull of Carelia and let him be slaughtered. No finer beef was ever fattened; no nobler beast was ever butchered."

The great bull was quickly brought—a ship's rope around his horns, a hundred strong men tugging at the rope. A stupendous ox he was, larger by far than any that grows in our degenerate times. Six fathoms long were his horns; and his back was a highway where squirrels frisked and birds built their nests as in the branches of a tree.

Think you he yielded much meat for the feast, much food for the hungry? Of roasts and steaks there were certainly a hundred barrels; of sausages in large round links they made a hundred fathoms. Seven boat loads of blood flowed from the great beef's veins. Six strong sledges could scarcely hold the fat that was rendered from him.

"Surely now we have meat in plenty," then said the Mistress; "but what shall we do for pleasant drinks to give joy to our guests? How shall we brew enough ale for the multitude that will come to the wedding feast?"

Forthwith she ordered all the tubs in Pohyola to be half filled with water, fresh water from the springs and rivers. Then into each she poured new barley and added flowers of hops in greatest plenty, stirring all with a magic paddle. Quickly the ale began its working, it filled the tubs, the white foam rose like mountains and poured itself in bubbles over the ground.

"Surely the guests shall not go thirsty," said the Mistress, well contented with her labor. And she called the serving-men to store the ale safely away in rock-walled cellars till the time for the wedding feast.

Thus did Dame Louhi, the wise one, provide everything needed for eating or drinking. All the kettles were singing, all the stewpans were hissing on the glowing coals. The pots were full of porridge. In the ovens loaves of bread in great plenty were baking for the banquet. All day, all night, the fires were glowing; all day, all night, the bakers, the brewers, the kitchen maids were running hither and thither, each busily working, each busily preparing his part of the wonderful feast.

Then the Mistress, the wise but loveless one, sent out her messengers to invite the guests.

"Invite all the folk of Pohyola," she said; "forget not one. Invite the people of Hero Land to come in boats, in sledges, by sea, by land. Ask Wainamoinen, the prince of minstrels, to come with his sweet songs. Call the blind, the lame, the poor and wretched. Lead the blind ones kindly with your hands, bring the lame ones in sledges or on your backs, fetch the children, fetch the old and feeble, let not one be slighted or forgotten."

And the messengers departed, carrying the invitations northward, southward, eastward, westward. In four directions they went, yes in eight directions they hastened, telling all the world how the hero, Ilmarinen, was to be wedded on a certain day to the Maid of Beauty, whom all the world adored.

The day came, the morning dawned. Bright was the sun above Pohyola's chilly shores. The sea was calm, the air was mild, the meadows were golden. Dame Louhi, wisest of women, rose early to put her house in order. First, she busied herself in-doors, then out she hastened. She put her hand to her ear and listened. Far out on the sea she heard the sound of oars splashing, she heard the rippling of the waves as they were cut by the prows of many vessels, she heard the voices of a multitude approaching. On land she heard the clatter of reindeers' hoofs, the galloping of horses, the rattle of sledges and the grating of their birchwood runners upon the sand.

"What do I hear? What do I see?" cried she. "Is this a hostile army coming to attack me? Or is it only the billows breaking on the beach, or the wind whistling and moaning among the pines?"

She looked again, and again she listened. Her face was less grim, her voice was less harsh; never did she appear so handsome.

"Oh, no, no!" she muttered. "I thought I heard the North Wind blowing, a pine tree falling in the forest, the billows roaring and the breakers beating. But it is not so. The air is mild, the sea is calm, no storm is near. That which I hear is not the wind, it is not a hostile army. It is the multitude of guests assembling, the hosts of friends coming to rejoice with us because it is Ilmarinen's wedding day."

"How shall we know the bridegroom when we see him? How can we distinguish him in the great crowd of friends and neighbors?" asked a little waiting-maiden.

"You shall know him as you know an oak among the willows, as you know the moon among the tiny stars," answered the Mistress. "The steed which he drives is as black as a raven. His magic sledge is glowing bright and golden as the sun. Six yellow birds sit on his shafts sweetly singing, and of bluebirds there are seven perched gayly on the dashboard. You cannot fail to distinguish the noble hero."

Even while she spoke there was a clatter in the roadway, a humming and a bustling and a tramping of many feet. The bridegroom had arrived with all his friends around him. Swiftly he drove his bright-hued sledge into the courtyard, and quickly he alighted while the bluebirds sang and the cuckoos called lustily to the swallows beneath the eaves. The young men shouted, the old men laughed, and the very air was bubbling with joy.

"Hostler, hasten!" called the Mistress. "Take the bridegroom's horse, and loose him gently from the shafts. Remove the copper-plated harness, the silver breast-band, the reins of silver. Lead the noble steed to the spring and let him drink his fill of the gushing water. Then put him in the hindmost stable, in the stall reserved for heroes' horses. Tether him to the ring of iron that is set in the polished post of birchwood. Set three trays of food before him, the first filled with oats, the second with soft hay, the third with finest chaff. And when you have curried him and smoothed his shining hair, cover him with a soft blanket and leave him alone, locking the stable door behind you."

"I will do everything as you have bidden me," answered the serving-man, and he led the steed gently from the courtyard.

"Now, my boys," said the Mistress, "you little lads of Pohyola! Conduct the bridegroom to the house and show him the doorway. Take off his hat gently, gently. Remove his gloves also. Let us see if the door is wide enough for him to pass through; let us see if it is high enough to admit so great a hero."

Without delay the waiting-lads took their appointed places, four at the right hand and four at the left, six in front of him and six behind, and thus they marched lightly and orderly into the dwelling.

"Now let all give thanks to Jumala, the gracious," said the Mistress, and her unlovely face grew pleasanter for the moment. "Give thanks to Jumala, for the hero has passed through the door in safety, he has entered the house of the bride."

And the bridegroom responded, "Give thanks to Jumala, and may his blessing rest upon this house and all that abide beneath its roof."

The table was ready, the feast was spread, the guests were waiting. The lads, with much ado, let the bridegroom to his place—the highest seat at the end of the room. He sat down by the side of the blushing bride, the Maid of Beauty, while all the guests clapped their hands and shouted for joy.

Then, as one accustomed to entertaining a multitude, the wise old Mistress feasted her guests in the noblest fashion. Busy, very busy, were the little waiting-maidens, serving food to all the people. Of roast beef and savory sausages there was great plenty. Broiled salmon, pork, the meat of lambkins were served to each guest's liking. The whitest of bread and the yellowest of butter, cream cakes, nuts, and apples—who could ask for more than these? And there was the ale, the foaming white ale which the Mistress herself had brewed—it was handed round in great tankards so that each of the heroes present might drink his fill. When it came to the Minstrel, old Wainamoinen, he rose and sang a new song:

"O ale, sweet ale!

Let no one fail

To sing of thee

And merry be.

"O hero, strong!

List to my song,

Be glad, be gay

On your wedding day."

Then, changing his theme and the subject of his song he tuned his voice to a higher key.

"What would our Creator do

If to-day he sang to you?

He would sing the sea to honey,

Sing the stones to precious money,

Sing the sand to foaming ale,

Sing the rocks to rain and hail,

And the mountains sing to lakes,

And the hilltops sing to cakes.

"As a minstrel and magician,

He would bless this land's condition;

He would fill the fields with cattle,

Make our treasure boxes rattle;

He would fill the mines with metal,

Fill each pot and fill each kettle;

He would fill the lanes with flowers,

Bless each day, bless all the hours.

"As a minstrel and a singer

He would with this household linger,

Give the bride a ring of gold,

A dress of silk, and wealth untold;

And to the bridegroom, he would give

More skill than to all smiths that live.

Let us therefore crave his blessing,

All our prayers to him addressing."

Thus did people feast, and thus did the mighty Minstrel sing on Ilmarinen's happy wedding day. All day, all the long night, the guests sat at the table, eating and making merry and listening to the songs and pleasant speeches that were made in honor of the bride, the bridegroom, and the noble hostess.

Much good advice was given to her who had lately been the Maid of Beauty but was now the Bride of Beauty: how she should keep her husband's house in order; how she should obey and serve him; how she should love and cherish her mother-in-law and all the members of her family. Much sage counsel also did the hero, Ilmarinen, receive: how he should always be very gentle to the dove that he had captured; how he should not forget to praise her industry in the kitchen, at the loom, in the hay field; how he should never upbraid her in hissing tones, or beat her with a slave whip; but how he should stand like a wall before her to protect and defend when others were unkind.