Sampo - James Baldwin

The Recipe

Smith Ilmarinen stood thoughtfully, silently, beside the fire. The low, dark hall was full of shadows; dim figures lurked in the corners and danced among the rafters; the air was grimy with smoke; the flames burned blue and fitfully on the ash-strewn hearth.

Out-of-doors the storm was raging. The winds whooped and howled in savage combat. They reached their chilly fingers down through the chimney-hole as though they would snatch up the luckless Smith and bear him still farther away into regions untraversed and unknown.

He stood and listened. He heard the shrieking of the tempest demons; he heard the hail pelting upon the roof and the rain dashing and splashing upon the half-frozen ground; he heard the sea roaring fearfully in the darkness and the mad waves pounding upon the dumb and patient shore.

"In such a storm as this, any shelter is sweet," he said; and he stirred the fire logs till the sparks shot upward and filled the hall with the sound of their merry snapping. Then the thought came to him of his own fireside at home—of his mother and sister and the friends whom he loved—and he groaned aloud in anguish.

"O Wainamoinen, prince of minstrels!" he moaned. "Why have you treated me so unkindly? Why have you betrayed me—me your friend and brother? Never could I have believed that your magic power was so much greater than my own. Never——"

He paused suddenly, for he heard a rustling which was not the rustling of leaves, a breathing which was not the breathing of the South Wind, a pitty-pat of soft footsteps upon the floor. He turned and looked, and lo! a radiant vision appeared before him in the firelight. It was the Maid of Beauty, the peerless daughter of the grim Mistress of Pohyola. Right winsomely she came forward to greet him, her cheeks blushing red, her eyes sparkling and joyous. The Smith's heart was beating hard and fast like a sledge-hammer beneath his waistcoat. He trembled and grew pale. Never had he seen, never had he imagined, a maiden so wondrously fair.

"O Prince of Smiths," she said in tones more sweet than the warble of birds, "I welcome you to our pleasant land of Pohyola."

Not even when the storm winds seized him had Ilmarinen felt so helpless and utterly overcome. He could scarcely say a word in answer; he could hardly lift his eyes; his hands hung as though palsied at his side; his feet were rooted to the floor. Then, ere he could recover from his confusion, he saw the Mistress herself advancing—the grim and toothless Mistress of the Frozen Land. She spoke, and her voice was cracked and harsh and grating.

"O master of smiths," she said, "this is my daughter, the fairest of all maidens. Now say, will you not forge the Sampo? Will you not hang its weights, adjust its levers? Will you not hammer its lid of many colors, even as your brother, the Minstrel, assured me you would?"

"Yes, yes, yes!" stammered the poor Smith, scarcely knowing what he said. "I will do anything, everything that lies in my power. But I have never seen a Sampo, and I know not what it is. Tell me what it is like; tell me of its various uses."

"The Sampo," answered the Maid of Beauty—and her voice was like the ripple of wavelets on the shore of the summer sea—"the Sampo is the mill of fortune—the magic grinder that will grind whatever its owner most desires: money, houses, ships, silver, flour, salt—everything!"

"Silver, flour, salt—everything!" echoed the Smith.

"Yes. Do you think you have the skill to forge it?"

"Well, I have done greater things than that," he answered boastingly. "Long ago, when the world was young, I found Iron, ruddy Iron, hiding in the bogs, skulking in the woods, basking in the sunlight of the hills. I caught him and subdued him; I taught him to serve me; I gave him to the world to be a joy forever."

"We have often heard of your skill, and your praise is in all men's mouths," said the eager Mistress. "But the Sampo can be forged only by a great master of magic. Your friend, the Minstrel, although he was able to do many very wonderful things, would not undertake a task so difficult."

"Truly, I have performed harder tasks," answered the boaster. "Why, it was I that forged the blue sky that bends over the earth in summer. I hammered it out of a single piece of metal. I fashioned it into a dome-shaped lid to shut down over the earth and air. I painted it pale blue and azure and murky brown. Nothing is too great for my magic. Give me but one hint regarding its shape and nature, and I will make the Sampo—yes, a hundred Sampos—for you.

Toothless though she was, the wise old Mistress smiled—she smiled fearfully, cunningly, as one pleased and plotting.

I cannot describe its shape," she answered, "for it is still uncreated and therefore formless; but its composition is quite simple and its ingredients are of the commonest kind. If by your power in magic you can mix these ingredients properly, the mill is made—it will do its work. But talk not of a hundred Sampos; the world can never hold but one."

"And I promise that with my magic skill I will put that one together," said the Smith; "but what can you tell me about its ingredients? Tell me all you know about its composition."

"I have a recipe which has come down through the ages," said the woman, "a recipe for making the Sampo; but no magician has ever yet been wise enough, strong enough to make use of it. Here it is, written in runes on a white whalebone:

" 'Take the tips of two swan feathers;

Add the milk of a young heifer;

Add a single grain of barley;

Mix and stir with wool of lambkin;

Heat the mixture, quickly, rightly;

In a magic cauldron boil it;

On a magic anvil beat it;

Hammer its lid of many colors;

Furnish it with wheels and levers;

Set it up, and start it going.' "

Ilmarinen listened. "The directions are plain and easily followed," he said. "To a smith who has shaped the mountains and hammered out the sky it will be an easy task, the pleasant pastime of a few fleeting days. But it must not be undertaken in the winter time. We must wait till the sky is clear and the sun shines warm on land and sea."

"And will you then forge the much-desired Sampo?" inquired the Mistress.

"I promise you," answered the Smith.

Thus the boasting Ilmarinen, having come suddenly, unexpectedly, unwillingly to the land of Pohyola, was conquered by the power of beauty. And thus he promised, not once alone, but thrice, promised solemnly on his honor, that he with his magic power would forge the wondrous mill of fortune and shape its lid of rainbow colors. And the cunning Mistress grimly smiled and joyfully gave him a home in her broad, low dwelling—she gave him food and lodging, the softest seat beside her hearth, the warmest bed beneath her rafters. And he, forgetful of his home and kinsmen, sat content in the glow of the blazing fire logs, and counted the days till the storm should pass, the weeks till the winter should end.