Sampo - James Baldwin

The Pursuit

Already great changes were taking place in Pohyola. The frost spirit, peeping over the mountains, saw that the hill of copper had been robbed of its treasure, that the prison-house of the Sampo was empty. He listened; he could no longer hear the whirring of the wheels or the busy clacking of the pictured cover. So he stretched his long, cold fingers over the land, and everything that he touched was frozen and blasted. He breathed in the air, and chilling mists hovered over the hills and descended upon the fields and gardens. The reign of plenty in Pohyola was ended.

Dame Louhi, old and grim and undaunted, called loudly to her serving-men, her warriors, and her sailors. As a mother hen summons her chickens around her at the approach of a danger, so did she marshal her swordsmen, her spearsmen, and her stout-hearted oarsmen.

"Make ready now our great warship," she said. "We must pursue the hated robbers; we must overcome and destroy them and bring the precious Sampo back to our own shores. Lose not a moment, be courageous, be skilful, be strong—and hasten, hasten, hasten."

They sprang forward by tens and by hundreds, every one eager and impatient to obey her commands. They pushed the mighty warship out into the deep water. They hoisted her mast and spread her broad sail upon the sail-yards. The rowers sat down in their places and each seized his long oar. The warriors shouted and all the crew joined in singing the war-song of Pohyola. And the Mistress herself stood at the helm and with gaunt hands wielded the great rudder and steered the vessel out to sea. The friendly North Wind filled the sail, the rowers bent to their oars, and the famous voyage was begun.

Like a monstrous sea-bird skimming over the waves, or like a white cloud scudding low upon the billows, so did the swift warship speed onward over the vast and measureless sea. With lips drawn lightly over her toothless mouth, Dame Louhi stood at her post, silent and determined, and but one thought filled the minds and hearts of her courageous crew—the thought to serve her and obey her.

Meanwhile the heroes on their storm-battered red ship were sailing hopefully homeward, thanking Jumala for their escape from the fog and the storm. The Sampo was still safely secured with strong ropes to the bow beams of their brave vessel; its wheels were whirring; its levers were at work; it was grinding out great streams of salt to feed the hungry sea.

"To-morrow we shall turn it over," said Ilmarinen; "and then it will pour out gold and silver enough for every hero in Wainola. To-morrow—but who knows what may happen to-morrow?"

The Minstrel, with steady hand and hopeful heart, sat at the stern, guiding the vessel straight through the pathless waters. "Ah! who knows what may happen to-morrow?" he echoed, as he gazed with expectant eyes toward the dim, distant horizon.

"Ahti," he cried, "climb up on the broken mast and look around at the sea and the sky. Tell us whether the horizon is clear or whether clouds are rising in the air to vex us. Look before us, look behind us, and then tell us what you see."

Quickly the long-armed one obeyed. He climbed the mast to its splintered top, and there he stood, balanced on one foot, unmoved and unafraid, as though on solid ground. Eastward he looked and westward, and naught did he see but the trackless waters and the unscarred sky. He looked toward the south, and a smile of pleasure overspread his face.

"Far away, I see the lofty headland and the long, white shore of your own dear country, "O heroes!" he said. "It is the same shore from which the storm drove us three days ago; but the distance is great."

Then he looked toward the north and with his sharp eyes eagerly scanned the horizon.

"Away, away in the northwest I see a little cloud," he said. "It is a white cloud, and a small one, and it sits low down upon the water."

"Nonsense!" said Wainamoinen, losing patience. "No sailor ever saw a white cloud in the northwest sitting low upon the water. Look again!"

Ahti obeyed. "I see it more plainly now," he said. "It is not a cloud but an island—a small island looming up on the horizon. And I see dark specks hovering over it—they must be falcons or nesting ravens flying among the birch trees."

"Nonsense!" a second time cried Wainamoinen. "Give your eyes a moment's rest and then look again."

The long-armed one shaded his brows with his broad palm and looked long and eagerly. Then he leaped nimbly down upon the deck as though content to see no more.

"It is a warship from Pohyola," he said, trembling and much disturbed. "It is a great ship with a hundred oarsmen and a thousand armed warriors. It is pursuing us, it is gaining upon us. Look now, and all of you can see it plainly."

Loudly then did the Minstrel call to the heroes. "Row, now, with all speed, my brave men! Rush the ship forward! Let us not be overtaken."

"Row, row, and let no man falter!" shouted Ilmarinen, himself wielding the foremost oar.

Loudly did the rowlocks ring with the quick, even pressure of the oars. The red ship swayed from side to side as its sharp prow cut its way through the billows. Behind it the water boiled as beneath a mighty cataract. On the right and on the left the spray was dashed as the rain in a furious hurricane. But, swiftly as the heroes rowed, their vessel moved not half so swiftly as the warship of Pohyola.

"We are lost!" moaned the young men, desperately bending to their oars. And the fifty maidens hid their faces in their bosoms and echoed the hopeless cry, "We are lost!" Even the hero Ilmarinen, the mighty wizard, could see no way of escape from their pitiless pursuers, and he, too, losing all his courage, began to bewail their luckless fate. But Wainamoinen, steadfast even in misfortune, spoke up cheeringly and with encouraging words.

"There is yet one way by which we may escape," he said. "There is still one trick of magic that I have reserved for a time like this. I will try it."

From beneath his belt he drew his tinder-box of silver. He opened it skilfully with his left thumb and finger. From its right-hand corner he took a bit of soft pitch, black and pliable, and from its left-hand corner a piece of tinder no larger than a pea. Then with care he enclosed the tinder within the pitch and cast it over his left shoulder far out into the sea.

"O wonderful tinder and pitch," he said, "do marvellous things now, and shield us from the wrath of Pohyola's mighty Mistress. Raise up a barrier between her ship and ours—a barrier past which she cannot sail. Work quickly, work powerfully, and help us soon to arrive safe in Wainola's sheltered harbor."

And now the great warship was but a little way behind. The heroes looking back could see a host of armed men standing beneath the wind-filled sail. They could see the hundred long oars rising and falling as though moved by a single hand. They could see the Mistress herself, even Dame Louhi, sitting in the high seat at the stern and shouting her commands to the crew. Her face was grim with determination, her eyes shone green with the joy of expected triumph, the sound of her harsh voice rose high above the din of clashing oars and dashing waves and the shouts and cries of pursuers and pursued.