Sampo - James Baldwin

The Flight

Quietly, very quietly, the Minstrel rose and looked around upon the sleepers. With finger-tips upon his lips he beckoned to the hero Ilmarinen and to the young heroes who stood beside him.

"Be cautious, be brave," he whispered, "and soon we shall win the Sampo. Speak no word, make no sound to break the magic spell, but follow me and do my bidding."

Then with great care he opened the wallet of reindeer leather that he carried always beneath his belt. He looked within and picked out, one by one, a handful of sleep-needles, long and slender and exceedingly sharp. Silent as the moon among the clouds he moved on tiptoes cautiously between the rows of slumbering people. With his magic needles he crossed the eyelashes of the sleepers, pinning their eyelids close together and thus holding them so that they might not waken.

"Sleep! sleep!" he murmured softly. "Sleep till the daylight fades in Pohyola. Sleep, and waken not till the golden sun rises bright in the Land of Heroes. Sleep, and let no dreams disturb you."

He waved his arms above them, silently bidding them farewell, and left them there where they had fallen. The unlovely Mistress, the swordsmen and the spearsmen, the old men and the married women, the young men and the half-grown girls, and the little children—he left them all sweetly slumbering, forgetful, senseless, harmless.

"Now for the Sampo!" he whispered, and with noiseless footsteps he hastened away toward the hill of copper. Behind him followed the heroes and the young men and the maidens with curling hair, and not one dared utter a word or in any way disturb the wonderful silence that prevailed.

As they drew near to the hill, however, they could hear the magic Sampo grinding, grinding in its darksome prison; they could hear the lid of many colors turning, turning, and pouring out wealth without cessation. But at the entrance to the cavern the great doors were shut—nine huge and heavy doors, and each door was made secure by nine locks of hardest metal.

The Minstrel paused, he could go no farther; the heroes stood waiting around him. Gently he began to sing, softly he chanted a song so sweet, so strong, that it had power to move the rocks and even persuade the mighty hills and the restless sea. And as he sang, the copper mountain began to tremble and the doors of the cavern were shaken. Thereupon the hero Ilmarinen and the young men that were with him hastened to pour oil upon the rusty metal. With reindeer fat they smeared the locks, and they greased the hinges with butter, lest they should creak and make a rattling.

Then Wainamoinen, still singing, touched the locks with his wizard fingers and the bolts slid back; he pushed gently against the yielding metal and the nine mighty doors opened silently and without a sound.

The heroes pressed forward to the entrance, eager to see what the cave contained; and lo! as they looked within, they saw the Sampo with its lid of many colors standing in its place in the middle of the strongly built prison. Very beautiful was the magic mill, its resplendent sides embossed with gold and lined with silver; gorgeously beautiful was its rainbow cover, full of pictures of men and beasts and trees and flowers. The wheels of the mill were whirring softly, its levers were moving in their places; it was grinding out riches for Pohyola.

"Who now will carry this Sampo out of its prison-house?" asked the Minstrel.

"I will carry it out," answered Ahti, the nimble, long-armed fisherman. "I am a man of strength, a son of heroes. Stand back and see how quickly I shall remove it to our waiting ship. See, I have only to touch it with the toe of my boot and the deed is done."

He pushed against the Sampo; he twined his long arms about it and lifted with all his might; he braced himself with his knees and strained till the blood rushed from his mouth and nose. But the Sampo stood in its place unmoved, grinding and turning without cessation.

"Foolish boaster!" cried Wainamoinen. "A big mouth has never yet moved mountains. Great talkers are always little doers."

Then he began to play softly upon the kantele; and as he played, the Sampo began to rock to and fro, it turned itself around as though breaking away from the chains which held it. At a sign from the Minstrel the young heroes, with Ilmarinen as their captain, seized hold of it and carried it forth from the hill of copper. Silently, without rustling a leaf or snapping a twig, they bore it across the fields and the meadows and placed it on board of their waiting vessel. There they lashed it with ropes to the strong deck beams. They bound it securely so that it could not be moved.

"Now let every one work valiantly at his oar," said Ilmarinen, "and let the red sail be hoisted on the mast."

Instantly the benches were filled with rowers; all the young men and also the fifty fair maidens bent to their work; the water boiled with the strokes of a hundred long oars.

"Speed thee, O crimson vessel," said Wainamoinen. "Hasten from the hostile shores of Pohyola. And O, thou North Wind, come and urge the ship along. Blow and give assistance to the oarsmen. Give lightness to the rudder, give skill to the helmsman, and swiftly bear us over this vast expanse of water."

Merrily and hopefully, then, the rowers rowed; the Minstrel steered, and the strong North Wind pushed against the well-stretched sail. And away and away, onward and onward, the vessel flew over the lonely sea. From morning until mid-day, and from mid-day until evening, it ploughed its way through the surging waves; the land faded from sight, and the heroes, looking forward, could see naught but one vast field of tossing waters. "We are lost! We shall never find the Land of Heroes," they murmured.

"Have courage! be brave!" said Wainamoinen. "Beyond this sea lies our own sweet country, the home of heroes."

Then Ahti, the nimble boaster, spoke up and said, "Why should we still speak in whispers, fearing to be heard? The shores of Pohyola are far away, the Mistress sleeps, there is no one to listen. Let us be jolly and glad, and even a little noisy, rejoicing over our victory."

"Nay, nay, we are not yet out of danger," said the Minstrel.

"But the time is passing," answered the long-armed one; "daylight is fading and darkness is approaching. Let us at least have a little song to cheer our drooping spirits."

"Nay, nay," repeated the steadfast Minstrel. "We must not sing upon these waters; singing would turn the ship from its right course, songs would hinder the rowers. The night and darkness would find us bewildered, and we should indeed be lost on a shoreless sea. Nay, nay, keep silent, and sing no songs till we sight the shores of our own fair land."

So the rowers rowed in silence, and the steersman steered and spoke not, and the hearts of all were hopeful. All night long they rowed and sailed and felt no weariness. The second day passed, and still no land was seen. The third day came, it was mid-day, when a long white shore and the lofty headland of Wainola appeared lying far away between the sea and the sky.

"O master! Why may we not sing?" cried Ahti, always restless and in the way. "Before us is the Land of Heroes, and we have won the glorious Sampo. Let us sing and be glad."

"Nay, nay," again said Wainamoinen. "It is too early to rejoice. When we hear our own home doors creaking behind us, then will be the time to sing and rejoice. When we see the fire burning on our own hearth-stones, then we may be glad because of victory."

"Well, then," answered the long-armed, thoughtless one, "I, at least, feel like rejoicing this very hour. If no one else will sing, I will. I will give you a song of my own composing."

He stood in the stern beside the Minstrel. He turned his face toward the prow and pursed up his mouth to sing. His voice was hoarse, his tones were discordant, there was no music in his song. He opened his mouth till his beard wagged and his long chin trembled. He waved his arms and shouted—he shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far across the water. In many villages it was heard, alarming all the people and filling their hearts with terror.

By the long white shore a blue crane was wading, looking down to count his toes in the clear sea-water. Suddenly he heard the noise of Ahti's singing—a noise most strange, most unlike any other that had ever broken the silence of the sea. The crane, alarmed, spread his wings and leaped upward. He screamed in terror and flew rapidly up, up to the sheltering sky. He flew rapidly and paused not till he had reached the distant shores of Pohyola. There below him he saw the fields and the meadows and the old familiar places where he and his mate had oftentimes nested and reared their young. Then, to his great wonder, he saw all the people lying asleep on the ground and the mighty Mistress slumbering in their midst, her eyelids pinned together with magic needles.

This sight gave new alarm to the blue crane. His terror was too great to be described. He screamed, not once only, but ten times, loudly, harshly, terrifically. The noise awoke Dame Louhi the Mistress; it awoke all her slumbering people. They shook the sleep-needles from their eyes and looked around, dazed, bewildered, wondering what had happened to them. The armed men formed themselves in battle array, waiting for commands; the old men and the married women hastened to their homes, ashamed of their weakness; the children, too, sought their own firesides, for night was approaching.

Up rose Dame Louhi, angry and apprehensive. She saw that the Minstrel and his heroes had disappeared, and anxious forebodings filled her heart. She ran to her treasure-room; her chests of gold and silver had not been disturbed. She hastened to the barnyard; all her favorite cattle were there, not one was missing. She looked into the barns; they had not been plundered, not an ear of corn had been taken.

"But the Sampo, the Sampo!" she cried. "It was the Sampo that the robbers demanded. Have they carried it away?"

Then came an old serving-man with trembling limbs and with tears in his eyes, who knelt in the dust before her and begged her mercy.

"Yes," he said, "they have carried away the Sampo and its pictured lid. While we were all drowned in slumber they broke into the cavern beneath the copper mountain, they drew back the bolts and opened the mighty doors. Then they lifted the Sampo from its place and bore it away, but whither I cannot tell."

"They must have carried it to their red-prowed ship," said another old man, "for the haven where it was moored is empty and no crimson sail is anywhere in sight."

Dame Louhi, grim and old and haggard, fell into the greatest fury. She stormed, she screamed, she wept, she prayed. "O Maiden of the Air," she cried, "O queen and ruler of the mists and stormclouds! Send me help I pray thee. Cover the sea with dense fogs and clouds of vapor. Send down the winds and let the tempest rage round those wicked robbers. O Maiden, sink them all beneath the billows, but save the Sampo. Let it not fall into the raging sea, but hold it in thy large hands and bring it safe back to Pohyola's lovely shore."

The Maiden of the Air heard her and was pleased with her prayer. She called to her servants, the mists, the clouds, and the winds, to wreak vengeance upon the heroes, to drive their ship far out of its course and sink it in the bottomless sea.

Forthwith thick clouds obscured the sky and dense fogs covered the waters like a cloak of darkness. The winds rose in fury and a mighty storm swept down from above. All the winds, save the North Wind alone, assailed the heroes' gallant vessel. The mast was splintered just above the sail-yard, the red sail itself was blown away, the rudder was unmanageable, all the oars were made useless, so terrible were the winds and the tossing waves.

Like a withered leaf of autumn the ship was driven hither and thither through the mists and fearful darkness. The young men hid their faces, and the golden-haired maidens cowered beneath the benches. The nimble Ahti, cause of all this trouble, lay prone upon the deck speechless with fright. Even the hero Ilmarinen crouched himself down in the narrow hold and bewailed their great misfortune.

"Never before have I seen such a storm as this," he moaned. "My hair is soaked with salt-water and my beard trembles with the shaking of the ship. My very heart thumps wildly as I hear the noise of the mighty tempest. O winds, have pity! O waves, deal gently with us all!"

The Minstrel, alone of all on board, stood up fearless and calm and steadfast as though no danger threatened.

"This is no place for weeping," he said. "You cannot save yourselves by howling. Groaning will not preserve you from evil, nor will grunting dispel misfortune."

He raised his hands high above his head and called upon all the powers of air and sky and sea to befriend the heroes in their dire distress.

"O sea, so vast, so grand, remember that we are small and weak, and deal gently with us! O waves, do not play too roughly with us, do not fill our ship with water, do not break her ribs or hull beams. O winds, rise up higher and play with the clouds in heaven. Drive away the mists that blind us, but blow gently upon our crimson vessel, and waft, oh! waft it safely southward to the shores of Hero Land."

And the lively Ahti, still sprawling prone upon the high deck, lifted up his voice also and prayed to his god, the great bird of the mountains:

"O thou mighty eagle, come down from thy eyry on the heaven-high cliffs, and help us. Bring with thee a magic feather—yes, two or three—that they may put a charm upon this ship and protect it from disaster."

But still the storm raged; the waves dashed furiously against the vessel; the winds howled and fought and gave no heed to Wainamoinen's prayer; the fog still hung darkly upon the waters or drifted in mist-like clouds before the wind; the eagle of Ahti screamed in vain.

Thus all day the red ship drifted helpless upon the raging sea; for two long days the tempest prevailed and the heroes were in despair. But on the third day the Minstrel's prayer was answered. The storm ceased, the fog was lifted, and the sun shone out, bright and clear in the midst of the sky. The heroes sprang up and shouted for joy; they had forgotten their fears.

"To your oars, my brave men, to your oars!" shouted Ilmarinen, and every man bent willingly to his task.

The maidens also regained their courage. The color returned to their cheeks; their eyes, so long tear-wet, now sparkled with joy; with songs of gladness they woke the echoes of the sea, and cheered the laboring oarsmen.

"It is well to rejoice and be merry," said the steadfast Minstrel, "but we are still upon the uncertain sea, we are still far away from our own safe home land."