Sampo - James Baldwin

The Weeping Ship

Hour after hour the two heroes sat together and talked of their great project and the desire of their hearts. Nor could they readily agree by what road they should journey to Pohyola, whether by sea or whether by land.

"Twice have I sailed thither in a ship," said the Minstrel.

"Twice have I made the journey in a sledge," returned the Smith.

"It is nearest by water," said the Minstrel.

"It is safest by land," said the Smith.

"It is pleasantest to go thither by ship."

"It is surest to ride thither along the shore."

"Well, let this be as it may," at length said Wainamoinen. "We shall not quarrel. If the land way pleases you, I say no more; but it is beset with perils, and we must be well armed. As you know, it is not the habit of minstrels to carry weapons, and I have neither spear nor club. So get you to your smithy, kindle the fire in your furnace so long idle and cold, and forge me a keen-edged sword with which to fight wild men and savage beasts."

The Smith obeyed. Once more the flames leaped up within his furnace, once more the black smoke poured from the roof-hole, and once more the song of the anvil rang out cheerily in the morning air. Into the fire the mighty wizard threw first a bar of purest iron, then upon this he scattered a handful of gold, all that remained of the Golden Maiden. He blew the bellows with might and main till the whole smithy trembled and groaned and the flames leaped up to lick the sky. Then he drew out the half-melted mass and held it upon the anvil while he beat and turned it, and beat and turned it, until he had shaped it into a wonderful weapon the like of which no man had seen before.

"Ha! this is indeed a sword well suited to a hero," he said when it was finished.

He held it up and looked admiringly at its well-shaped blade and jewelled handle. Pictures rare and beautiful adorned its sides. The hilt was shaped like a prancing horse, the knob was the image of a mewing cat.

He looked long and lovingly at the blade and then handed it to Wainamoinen. "Take it, friend and brother," he said. "It is worthy of you. Its name is Faultless. With it you can cleave the hardest rocks; with it you can vanquish all your foes; with it you can carve for yourself great honor and fame."

Soon came the time for starting, and the courage of both began to waver. "We must have horses," said the Minstrel. "The way is long, the paths are rough, the journey cannot be made on foot. Let us seek out steeds for ourselves."

So into the fields they went, wondering whether any of Ilmarinen's steeds had escaped the wolves and the hungry bears and the starving days of the drought. Long they sought, and at last they found among the bushes in the great marsh a wild colt, scarcely grown, and a gaunt, long-legged, yellow-maned steed which had once been the pride of Ilmarinen's stable. With much labor they caught these beasts and bridled them, and upon their backs they threw rough blankets to serve in place of saddles.

They mounted and rode through the woods, the Minstrel going first with his great sword drawn. They rode along the pathway which each had travelled once before, the pathway which followed the windings of the coast; for this they judged was the safest way. They rode slowly, for their horses were neither swift nor strong, and their eyes and ears were alert for every strange sight or unexpected sound.

Suddenly, as they were skirting the shore of a small secluded inlet, they heard what seemed to be the moaning of some one in great distress. They stopped and listened.

"What can it be?" asked the Smith.

"I know not," answered the Minstrel. "It may be some child who has lost his way and is weeping by the shore. It may be some she-bear moaning for her dead cubs. It may be only a dove cooing among the branches of her nesting-tree. Let us ride along the beach and learn what we may."

So they rode onward, close to the water-side, listening and looking and drawing nearer and nearer to the place from whence the strange sounds issued. Presently, in a little cove, they saw not a child nor a mother bear nor even a dove, but a fine large boat with red hull and scarlet prow, and with oars and rowlocks and everything needed for a lengthy voyage. As the wavelets rippled against the sides of the pretty vessel and caused its keel to grate upon the sandy beach, it gave forth groans and lamentations like the cries of some living creature suffering from sorrow or pain.

"O little red vessel, why do you weep?" cried Wainamoinen. "Why do you complain so loudly, so grievously?"

"I weep for the great deep sea," answered the boat. "I am unhappy because I am tied to the shore. I long to be free, to speed over the water, to glide upon the waves."

"Where is your master, and why do you lie here idle?" asked Ilmarinen.

"I am waiting for my master," said the boat. "The wizard who sang my boards together bade me wait here for the hero who is to guide me across the sea. But he does not come, he does not come!" and with that it began again to cry and lament in tones of impatience and grief.

"Do not fret yourself, O boat with rowlocks!" said Wainamoinen. "Your master will surely come soon to claim you. Then you shall ride proudly upon the waves, you shall sail to unknown shores, you shall mix in the battle struggle and return home laden with plunder. Only be patient and wait."

"I have waited long already," answered the boat. "I have waited till my rowlocks are rusty and my deck boards are rotting. Worms are gnawing through my beams; toads are leaping in my hold; birds are nesting on my mast; all my sails and ropes are mildewed. I would rather be a mountain pine tree, or an oak in the valley with squirrels leaping among my branches."

"Have patience, O boat!" said Wainamoinen. "Lament no more, for your master has surely come."

Then the heroes leaped from their horses, turning them loose to wander free among the sand-hills. They put their shoulders to the little vessel and pushed it into deeper water. They climbed quickly on board of it, singing as it floated slowly from the shore:

"Little boat so snug, so strong,

Listen to our earnest song.

You are fair to gaze upon,

Are you as safe to sail upon?"

The boat answered:

"Two men may on me safely sail.

Two men I surely will not fail:

A hundred men with oars might row me;

A thousand men could not o'erthrow me."

While the Smith sat at the helm and guided the vessel out through the narrow inlet, the Minstrel stood up beneath the flapping sail and sang songs of magic, songs which he had wellnigh forgotten. He sang of the earth and the sea, of the sun and the stars, of love and battle, and of the great mysteries of life and death. Then, while with his sword he kept time to the rhythm of his song, he began a soft carol, sweet and low and very persuasive. And, behold! as he sang, one side of the boat was filled with strong young men, handsome youths, with long hair and downy cheeks and hands all hardened by labor.

He changed his theme, and the other side of the boat was filled with maidens—pretty girls, their hair in puffs and curls, with belts of copper round their waists and rings of gold upon their fingers. And as the Minstrel continued to sing, the boat grew broader, longer, roomier, and became a gallant ship. On each side were seats for fifty rowers, and in each of the fifty rowlocks a long and supple oar lay resting.

No sooner was the vessel outside of the inlet than it paused and refused to go farther. It stood in its place, rocking on the waves of the open sea. The Minstrel sat himself down in the prow and bade the young men begin their rowing.

"Wield the oars with strength, my heroes," he cried. "Row hard, row hard, and drive our good ship o'er this wide expanse of water, speed it through this treeless region."

The fifty youths obeyed. They leaned forward, they dipped their oars in the waves, they strained every muscle till the rowlocks groaned and cracked. But all in vain: the ship stood still.

Then in anger the Minstrel bade them drop their oars and change seats with the maidens, who had been idly looking on.

"Wield the oars with love, girls, wield them with all your power. Row hard, row hard, and speed our good ship on its way. Make it float lightly, joyously, swiftly over the curling waves."

The maidens obeyed. They grasped the oars with their slender fingers, they strained with their arms, their faces blushed scarlet red. But all in vain: the ship stood still.

Thereupon the hero Ilmarinen went toward the prow and seated himself upon one of the benches. He took the oar in his labor-hardened hands, he dipped its blade in the singing water and began rowing. Instantly the ship sprang forward like a wild bird beginning its flight. Instantly the prow of copper began to sing and the waves parted to make a path for the speeding vessel. Instantly the fifty maidens and the fifty stalwart youths, with joyous hearts, renewed their rowing.

The hero Ilmarinen shouted to the ship, to the sea, to the hundred rowers; and the ship, the sea, and the rowers answered him in tones of gladness. The oars bent and groaned, the rowlocks creaked, the seats shook and trembled. The dashing spray fell in showers to the right and the left. The slender mast croaked to the wind like a raven croaking to its mate. And Wainamoinen stood at the helm and wisely steered the fair red vessel on its pathless way.

By his hut on that bleak headland which juts farthest into the great icy sea a poor fisherman was sitting. He was mending his net and weeping because the fishes were so few. Suddenly a sound, seemingly far, far away but drawing nearer, touched his ears and caused him to start up. What was it? Was it a sea-gull breasting the morning gale and crying to its mate in the shelter of the ragged cliffs? Or was it some beast of the shore wandering along the desolate beach and howling from hunger and loneliness?

Very small was the fisherman's body, but his head was large and his arms were long. Very awkward were his fingers and dull of feeling, but his hearing was keen and his sight even keener.

He leaped quickly to his feet and gazed northward. Nothing there did he behold but the endless sea, the white-capped waves, and the cheerless, chilly sky. He turned and looked southward. At first he saw nothing there; then suddenly on the horizon a rainbow appeared with a single gray cloud beyond it.

Was it indeed a rainbow? Was it a gray cloud? Ah, no! It was a red ship speeding onward, and the rainbow was the spray that she dashed from her cleaving prow.

The vessel drew nearer, she was in plain sight, she loomed up large upon the waters. The fisherman could see the oars rising and falling, he could see the rowers sitting upon the benches. Then he heard clearly the shouting of the young men and the singing of the maidens, and above all the clear, commanding tones of the master.

With wild gestures he ran far out upon the beach, shouting loudly over the water:

"Who are you, O sailormen? What ship is this with crimson prow that ploughs the sea so swiftly?"

Three times he shouted and made inquiry, and then from the rowers came the answer:

"Who are you, lone fisherman? Why do you dwell on this bleak promontory far from your fellow-men?"

"My name is Ahti," answered the long-armed one. "I dwell here because it is my home and I have no other. I am strong, I am wise. Even though you tell me nothing I know your steersman: he is Wainamoinen, the great Minstrel. I know your master oarsman: he is Ilmarinen, the prince of wizards."

By this time the ship was close inshore, but still speeding on its way. Then the rowers rested on their oars, and it was easy to understand all that was being said whether on the ship or on the shore.

"Where are you going, O heroes?" asked the fisherman. "Why do you sail so swiftly through these barren waters?"

"We are sailing to the North Country," answered the Minstrel. "We are going to the Frozen Land, to the shores of Pohyola, where we shall ask Dame Louhi to share the Sampo with us."

"And what if she will not do so?" asked Ahti, running along the shore to keep abreast of the ship.

"Then we shall seize the mill of plenty and carry away its lid of many colors," said Ilmarinen.

"O take me with you! take me with you!" shouted the fisherman, waving his long arms and leaping into the sea.

A sturdy swimmer he was, like the seals, his only neighbors; and the water held no terrors for him, buffet him as it might. Bravely he launched out toward the speeding vessel, and quickly he came abreast of her fast-receding stern. The Minstrel reached over, he seized the man's long arms and drew him aboard. Then the hundred rowers took to their oars again and the ship bounded forward into the vast and trackless sea of the North.