Sampo - James Baldwin

The Maid of the Morning

The voyage was scarcely begun. Close on the starboard side appeared the headland of Wainola; directly in front lay the bar, a long, narrow, pebbly beach, jutting far out into the deep sea. Like an old and skilled seaman, the Minstrel suddenly changed his vessel's course, veering sharply towards the west in order to pass round the low-lying barrier. But, just as the boat was gliding through the shallow water near the end of the bar, the wind ceased blowing. The sails hung useless from the mast; not a breath of air was stirring; scarcely a ripple could be seen on the face of the sea. The fairy vessel hesitated, then stopped stock-still not forty paces from dry land.

Was the South Wind angry? Why should she treat the prince of minstrels in this ungrateful manner? But Wainamoinen did not stop to argue; he was too wise to find fault with wind and weather. He looked on this side of the little ship—nothing but water, growing deeper and deeper and stretching away and away to the blue horizon. He looked on that side—the shallow water, the narrow bar, and beyond it the great northern sea and the winding shore which marked the way to the Frozen Land. Then quickly he seized his other oar, and thrust it out over the gunwales.

He was preparing to row the boat around the bar, when suddenly he was startled by hearing his name called, not harshly, but in tones of friendship and inquiry. He looked up. His face grew red with confusion, his lips trembled with vexation; for, right before his eyes, he saw one whom he by no means wished to see.

Midway between the boat and the sandy, pebbly bar a maiden was standing knee-deep in the quiet water. Her head was bare, save for the long, dark tresses that fell in profusion over her shoulders and dipped their ends into the wavelets that were playing modestly above her bare white ankles. Her cheeks were red— red as the dawn of a summer day. Her eyes were dark—dark as the midnight hour in winter. One of her fair hands was raised to shade her face from the glaring noonday sun; in the other she held a bundle of long silken ribbons which she had been washing in the sea.

"O Wainamoinen!" called the maiden. "O hero of the sea, do you know me?"

"Truly do I know you," answered the Minstrel; and, pulling in his oar, he dropped it with a crash upon the deck. "You are Anniki, the maid of the morning. You are the sister of my dearest friend, the master Smith. It was only yesterday that we sat together at the table of your good mother, Dame Lokka. So, why should I not know you?"

"Well," said the maiden, and she laughed while speaking, "memories are sometimes short, and even a minstrel may forget. Aren't you glad to see me?"

"Indeed, your face should make the surliest of men happy," answered the gallant Minstrel; "but, tell me, what errand has brought you hither? Why are you here, so far from home and all alone?"

"Oh, this is our wash day," laughed Anniki, and she danced in the water until the white bubbles floated all around her. "See these ribbons that I have just cleaned. See the clothes that are spread on the sandy beach to dry. There are still others hanging on the bushes a little way up the shore. Don't you think that I am in-dus-tri-ous?"

"Surely, Anniki; and you deserve to be the wife of an industrious man. I wonder how any maiden can do so much washing in one short morning."

"Well, I get up early," said the maiden, pirouetting in the shallow water. "I was here at the break of day, and not a minute have I been idle since. But now my work is done and I'm going to play. Tra-la-la!"

The Minstrel stood on the deck of his becalmed and motionless ship and looked at her. His face betrayed both wonder and vexation, and he muttered to himself: "She is a witch and I know it. She has done more than wash clothes. It is she that has lulled the South Wind to sleep and halted my voyage at its very beginning. She will spoil all my plans."

Suddenly Anniki paused in the midst of her dancing and cried out, "O Wainamoinen! Where are you going in that fine boat?"

The Minstrel frowned, he pursed his lips, vexation filled his heart. Then he answered curtly, "I am going around to the great north bay to fish for salmon."

Anniki shrieked with laughter, "Do you think I'll believe that story?" she said. "I know something about salmon fishing. Father and grandfather used to go out often in the season for catching such fish. Their boat was a plain one—no golden prow nor silver-plated deck nor rainbow-colored sail. It was full of nets and snares and other tackle. The decks were littered with poles and lines and fishing spears. The smell of fish filled the vessel and floated thick in the air around it. Oh, I know something about salmon fishing!"

Then she danced another gleeful dance, splashing the water over herself and over the Minstrel, and making little waves that rocked the fairy boat to and fro but did not stir it from its place. At length, growing tired, she spoke again:

"O Wainamoinen! Everybody says that you are wise and truthful. Now tell me truly, where are you going in that beautiful boat?"

"I am on my way to the quiet inlets of yonder northern shore," said the cunning Minstrel. "In those pleasant waters many wild geese abound, and there they build their nests and rear their young. It is fine sport to lay traps for those red-beaked waterfowl, and better still to shoot them on the wing. I hope to fill my boat with the fat fellows, to carry a thousand home for winter eating."

" 'Tis no such thing!" cried the maiden angrily, and she beat the water with her feet until the sea seemed boiling around her. "Why, I know something about goose hunting. Father and grandfather used to go out often in the wild-goose season. Then their long bows stood ready, tight-strung, at the prow of their swift rowboat. They kept a fine bird dog always tethered at the stern, and three or four puppy dogs ran whining about the deck. But where are your dogs, and where is your long bow? If you are wise and truthful, don't be foolish. I know you are not going to hunt wild geese."

"Perhaps not," answered the Minstrel, growing somewhat ashamed; "perhaps I am going after larger game. In the North a war is raging, the strong are oppressing the weak, as is usual in wars. I am sailing thitherward, hoping to do my part in the struggle and to lend my aid to those who deserve it most. The wild geese that I shall capture are the foes that I shall overcome in battle."

" 'Tis no such thing!" again cried the impatient Anniki. "Why, I know something about war and battle. Father used to go out to fight for friends and country, to help the weak and worry the strong. He went in a large ship which required a hundred men to row it. A thousand men stood beside him, fully armed. Their shields hung all round the hull of the mighty vessel and a black dragon floated from the masthead. The sword-blades clanged against each other and glittered in the morning light, and their winged helmets were like golden birds of victory resting on their brows. Oh, yes, Wainamoinen, I know something about war and battle, and you are not going on any fighting errand, I'm sure. You have in mind some trick of cunning, and you shall sail no farther in your pretty boat until you tell me truly what that trick is."

The wary Wainamoinen was too proud to be outwitted by a simple maiden, and so he tried another subterfuge. He answered her gently, persuasively, and his words were full of guile: "O wise and beautiful maid of the morning, I have been speaking to you in riddles, trusting that you would understand their secret meaning. Fain would I make everything clear, but I dare not tell it to you where you stand: the fishes would hear me and carry the secret to every corner of the sea; the birds would hear me and convey the news to every land under the sun."

"Then speak out, and be famous," said Anniki disdainfully.

"Nay, nay, dear sister! I would whisper it in your ear. The water is not deep, so wade out hither and sit by my side on the shining, silvery deck, and I will tell you the plain truth and a wonderful secret. I know your power, Anniki. I know that you have chained the winds so that they will carry me no farther on my voyage until you have learned what you wish. So why should I try to deceive you? Come hither and see the treasures that I have in my boat, and listen to a wonderful story."

The maiden retreated to the shore, splashing the water angrily at every step. When she reached the dry sand she turned and looked back at the puzzled hero and his little ship. Then she raised both of her hands skyward and cried out, "Yes, the winds are mine and they obey me. If you try again to deceive me, I will command the East Wind to fall upon your pretty vessel and sink it in the sea. If you fail to tell me the truth, I will cause the waves to rise up and swallow you! Do you hear?"

Great and powerful wizard though he was, the Minstrel felt himself helpless before this slender girl. He was conquered, and well he knew the folly of trying further to deceive her. So, speaking softly, gently, as becomes a vanquished hero, he proposed this modest bargain: "If I tell you where I am going and for what purpose, will you promise to waken the South Wind that he may drive my ship forward on its perilous voyage?"

"Yes, yes, friend Wainamoinen," answered Anniki, very generous as becomes a conqueror. "You shall have a fair wind and a smooth sea and my best wishes to the end of your adventure."

"Listen, then," said the Minstrel. "This little vessel is a magic boat, built of strange runes and words of wisdom. On it I am hoping to sail to that distant, dismal country of which you have often heard me talk—to Pohyola, the Frozen Land, where wild men live under the ground and eat each other. My errand thither is to woo the Maid of Beauty and bring her, willy-nilly, to the Land of Heroes where she shall be the mistress of my dwelling and the joy of my heart——"

"Does my brother know about it?" asked Anniki, open-eyed, anxious, still suspicious. "Did you tell Ilmarinen about your plans?"

"I told no one," answered the Minstrel; "neither must you do so, Anniki, for this is a secret voyage and if any person should learn why I have undertaken it, all will come to naught."

"Take care of your boat! The South Wind is awake!" cried Anniki, and the next moment she was running to the mainland with the speed of a deer. Her washing was left behind, where she had spread the pieces to dry; her ribbons were scattered upon the sand; even her shoes were forgotten, so hasty was her flight. Before the astonished Minstrel could think of anything to say, yes, before he could call to mind a single magic word, she had reached the higher ground and was lost to sight among the stunted pines and cedars.