Sampo - James Baldwin

The Unexpected Journey

In his smoky smithy Ilmarinen was toiling alone, fashioning crude bits of metal into forms most delicate and beautiful. His face and arms were begrimed with sweat and black soot, his eyebrows were gray with ashes, his shoulders and head were besprinkled with dust and flaky cinders. Like a weird elf, or some uncanny dweller in the underworld, he stood in the lurid light of his forge and deftly wielded his heavy hammer. His bellows roared and his anvil tinkled sweet music, and a song burst from his lips as he welded and wrought and gave shape to wonderful things.

So busy, indeed, was the master Smith that he heard nothing, saw nothing, thought of nothing, save the work which he had in hand; therefore, when his sister Anniki came suddenly to the outer door and called to him, he did not hear her.

"Ilmarinen, dearest brother!" she repeated. But the Smith, invisible in the midst of the smoke, did not hear her. He kept on singing and hammering and blowing his bellows, altogether forgetful of everything save the work in hand.

Anniki called a third time, a fourth, "Ilmarinen! O Ilmarinen!" But the hammer continued to strike, the anvil kept on singing, the fire in the forge flamed higher, and there was no pause in the Smith's sweet singing. His thoughts were centred on the trinket he was forging and shaping, but his song was of a maiden in a faraway land.

Anniki called a fifth time. Then, losing patience, she ran through the thick of the smoke and seized her brother's arm just as he was taking a fresh bit of glowing metal from the fire.

"Ho! little sister of the morning!" he cried in surprise. "What now? Have you finished your washing? Have you brought me something from the shore?"

"Yes, yes, dear brother!" she answered, still breathless from running and excitement. "I've brought you a great secret. What'll you give me for it? It's about Wainamoinen and the Maid of Beauty. Would you like me to tell it to you?"

"Well, if it's anything important I will listen," said Ilmarinen. "So, out with it quickly, before this piece of metal gets cold. Tell me your wonderful secret."

"Oh, but it is too important to give away," said his sister. "It concerns you, and the Maid of Beauty, and the Frozen Land, and the Sampo, and, and— Well, wouldn't you like to know what it is?"

"Tell me about it, Anniki."

"What will you give me if I do?"

"A kiss, dear sister."

"Bah! kisses are for lovers. Will you make me a finger ring?"

"I will make you a dozen."

"Of gold?"

"No, of iron."

"Fie, fie! None of your jesting;" and Anniki stamped her foot angrily, while she gave her brother a look which told him more plainly than words that this was no unimportant matter. "I tell you that the Maid of Beauty is in great danger. Now, if you wish to know more you must make me a gold ring—yes, six gold rings to grace my pretty fingers."

Pouting and haughty, she turned as if going away; but Ilmarinen held her by the hand.

"You shall have the six gold rings, my sister," he said—"yes, I will make you seven this very day."

"And four or five pretty girdles inlaid with silver?"

"Oh, certainly, Anniki—anything that you wish. But make haste and tell me the secret."

"Will you make me a pair of gold earrings with blue stones in them?"

"If your secret is worth so much."

"And a brooch of woven silver?"

"I will make it."

"And a golden comb for my hair?"

"I promise it."

"Then, if you will surely keep your promise, I will tell you all that I know, and tell you truly. Is it a bargain?"

Ilmarinen looked down into his sister's dark eyes and answered, "If what you tell me is worth anything I will give you all that you have asked for—finger rings, earrings, brooch, comb, and five or six beautiful girdles. If you are fooling me, you shall have no trinket nor ring nor precious jewel—for I will teach you not to hinder me with trifles."

"I bring you no trifles," said Anniki; "and I shall hold you to your promise."

Then, in a few words plainly spoken, she told her brother all that she had seen and heard that morning. She told him of the Minstrel's magic boat, and of the voyage which he had planned, and of his cunning scheme to gain possession of the Maid of Beauty. "And now, brother," she added, "why do you toil here in the smoke and the heat while your false friend is hurrying northward to rob you of the treasure that ought to be your own?"

"He shall not rob me," said the Smith coolly, earnestly. Then he heaped some more fuel upon his fire and blew his bellows till the flames leaped up to the roof of his smithy. "Anniki, your news is worth the price. I will fashion the pretty girdles for you, I will make the rings and the earrings and the brooch and the comb, and I will bring them all to you before the sun goes down."

"That's a good brother!" cried the maiden. "I knew you would do it. Now I am sure that a great resolve is in your heart, and you will do something worthy of your name and fame. How can I help you?"

"Hasten home and heat the bath house for me," answered Ilmarinen. "Heap the wood around the big bath-stones; put plenty of dry kindlings underneath, then lay hot coals around and make a roaring fire. Fetch water and fill the pails and tubs, for I shall need not a little of it. Make a handful of soap, for nothing else will cleanse my smoky, grimy visage. Get everything ready, and tell mother that I am going on a long journey."

"Yes, brother," said Anniki. "I know what is in your mind, and everything shall be done as you desire;" and then with hasty steps, smiling and proud, she ran out of the smithy and hurried to her mother's house in the village.

"Mother!" she cried, "Ilmarinen is coming home early to-day. I think he must be going on a journey, for he wishes to take a bath."

"Well, then, my daughter," said good Dame Lokka, "it is for you to make the bath house ready. Put plenty of wood around the bath-stones and build a roaring fire. See that the water is ready, and put everything needful in the right place. And you should see that his clothes are mended and brushed and fit for him to wear."

"Yes, mother!" answered the dutiful maiden.

Anniki ran into the forest and gathered armloads of pine-knots, dry and resinous and impatient to be burned. She carried them into the bath house and heaped them up on the big hearth; she brought hot coals from the kitchen and made a roaring fire. She filled the pails and the great kettles with water. She placed the bath-stones where they would heat the quickest. She dipped some sprigs of white birches in wild honey and threw them into the water. Then she ran again to the kitchen and brought a handful of reindeer fat. She mixed this with milk and ashes, and thus made a magic soap that was pure and white and cleansing.

"My brother will have a good bath when he comes home," she said. "It will not be my fault if he doesn't come out of it clean."

Meanwhile the master Smith was toiling steadily at his forge, making the ornaments which he had promised to give to his sister. First, he hammered out the finger rings of gold and the precious earrings. Then he made six girdles of rare and most wonderful beauty; nor did he forget the comb and the brooch and some golden pins which he knew would please Anniki's fancy. He finished all these quickly, skilfully. Then he raked the coals from his forge; he laid his hammer down in its place beside the anvil; he took off his leather apron and hung it on a peg; he went out of his smithy and closed the door behind him. With long, impatient strides he hurried home and laid the precious gifts in his sister's hands.

"Here are your wages, Anniki," he said.

"Oh, brother, I thank you," she answered. "They are even more beautiful than I expected. Now make haste and take your bath. The bath-stones are hot, and the fire burns low; your soap, your brushes, your combs—all are ready. And your best clothes, they are hanging on the pegs close by the bath-kettle."

Ilmarinen surely needed a washing. Grimy with soot and gray with ashes, he quickly obeyed his sister. He stepped into the bath house. Out of doors the sun was shining; by the window a cuckoo was calling; in the air sweet voices were sounding. He looked, he listened, his heart throbbed with joy as he disrobed himself and poured the water slowly upon the red-hot bath-stones. Soon the house was filled with a mighty steam; the Smith was lost to view in the dense hot vapor.

An hour passed by, the sun went down, and at length the Smith came forth from his bathing. Who would have known him? Who would have thought that a bath could work such wonders? His hair was a golden yellow; his cheeks were as ruddy as cranberries in the late days of autumn; his eyes sparkled like two full moons when the sky is clear and the winds are at rest.

And he was clothed, oh, so beautifully! His coat was of linen, dyed yellow and beautifully embroidered by his mother. His trousers were of soft flannel, scarlet-colored. His vest was of crimson silk. His stockings, too, were silken and very long. His shoes were made of softest leather—leather tanned from the skin of a reindeer. Over his shoulders he wore a sky-blue shawl, thick and soft. Around his waist was a magic girdle fastened with gold buckles. His hands were incased in reindeer gloves of wondrous warmth and beauty; and on his head was the finest cap that had ever been seen—a cap which his father and grandfather had worn in their youth when they went wooing.

Anniki clapped her hands for joy when she saw her brother thus arrayed, and Lokka, his mother, threw her arms around his neck and wept for very pride and happiness.

"O my beautiful boy!" she cried. "Never was your father more handsomely dressed. Never was any bridegroom more fitly arrayed. Good luck to you! Good luck to you!"

Ilmarinen put her off gently, kissing her on the cheek and thanking her for her words of praise. "Now bring me the horse," he said. "Harness my trusty steed and hitch him to my enchanted sledge. I am going to the North Country, to the Frozen Land and the dreary shores of Pohyola. Long will it be ere I again return to home and country."

"Which steed shall it be?" asked the serving-man. "There are seven racers in your stables, all trusty and true—seven fleet-footed steeds of rare strength and mettle. Which shall it be?"

"The gray is the best," answered Ilmarinen. "Hitch the gray steed to my enchanted sledge. Put in food and feed for seven days' journey—yes, for eight days of wintry weather. Remember, too, the big bearskin and the soft fur robes to be wrapped about me, for in the North Country the air is always chilly and the winds are always cold."

"Everything shall be done as you wish, my master," said the serving-man.

Very soon the fleet-footed gray steed and the enchanted sledge were brought to the door. The soft fur robes, the skins of two great bears, blankets in plenty were put in their proper places; a jar of reindeer meat, a string of smoked herring, food for many days, were stowed beneath the seat; everything was done to speed the traveller on his way.

The hero had bidden his mother good-bye, he had kissed Anniki's lips and whispered a word of magic in her ear, and he had sent messages of love to all his friends. Now he stepped out of the door, clad in his beautiful garments, princely in form and bearing. He climbed quickly into the sledge and sat down upon the great bearskins. They wrapped the warm robes around him and put the long reins in his hands. The last good-byes were spoken. The hero cracked his whip, and the gray racer bounded forward and sped swiftly away. Like the wind he flew through the woods and the marshes and along pebbly shores of the sea; and the heart of the brave Smith was cheered with courage and hope.

Then in the dim evening twilight the hero perceived six cuckoos perched on the dashboard before him, and beside them seven small bluebirds were sitting. They had been placed there by the trusty serving-man, and now they all began twittering and singing, and the faster they travelled the louder was their sweet music.

"They are omens of good fortune!" cried Ilmarinen. " 'Tis thus that the merry springtime journeys to the Frozen Land! Good luck, good luck, good luck!"

Then he cracked his whip again and shouted loudly, joyfully. The gray racer neighed shrilly and flew onward with redoubled speed. The waves of the sea rippled with joy upon the sands, and the very stars in the sky twinkled and danced as the enchanted sledge glided like a swift meteor toward the frozen North Country.