Sampo - James Baldwin

The Tree of Magic

Very early in the morning the Minstrel rose from his couch. He opened the door and looked out. The sun was not yet up, but a tinge of yellow in the eastern sky foretold the coming of brilliant day. The stars of the Great Bear were still visible, twinkling dimly above the pine trees. The air was sharp and biting; the frost lay thick on the hilltops and the barren moorland; patches of newly formed ice glared white in the marshes.

"What a fine day for my journey!" said the Minstrel.

Presently the Graybeard's son brought the red reindeer to the door and harnessed it to the birchwood sledge.

"You will have a fine day for your journey," he said.

The Graybeard helped the Minstrel into the sledge; he wrapped the robes of fur around him and threw over his shoulders a bearskin cloak that was both ample and warm. Then he packed beneath the seat a store of food for the long journey—eight large jars of bread and deer meat, yes, nine great jars of toothsome victuals.

"Farewell, kind host and skilful surgeon!"

"Farewell, great guest! My blessings go ever with you!"

Thus the good-bye words were spoken. Then the Minstrel seized the reins and cracked his long whip. The reindeer leaped forward; the journey was begun.

Swift as the wind the well-built sledge glided on its course. Loudly the birchwood runners rang upon the frozen ground, smoothly they sped over the hoarfrost and the glistening ice. Through fens and woodlands, across the meadows and the moorlands, the red reindeer rushed unwearied, never pausing to rest, never thinking of food.

For one whole day the Minstrel held the reins and shouted urgently to his faithful steed. Yes, for two days and two long, silent nights he sat in the sledge and drove onward with no slackening of speed—so impatient was he to reach his dear home land, to behold his own fireside. The third day came, and still onward flew the tireless reindeer. The fourth day came; it was half gone when the Minstrel uttered a shout so joyful that the woodlands rang with the sound, and the wild geese in the marshes answered it gleefully.

He shouted again and again, for now he was among familiar scenes. Here was the forest road which he had often travelled in his youth and later manhood. Here was the long, rough causeway across the treacherous fen land—he knew it so well that it seemed like the face of a friend. Straight ahead, only three leagues farther, the little village of Wainola was nestling warmly in a wooded glen close by the sea; in that village was the snug cottage which the Minstrel called his home; and in that cottage was the fireside around which his friends were sitting and bewailing his absence. What wonder that he shouted so joyfully!

All at once, however, his joy was dimmed; the memory of something unpleasant came into his mind. A cloud passed over his face, and the last shout died, half-uttered, on his lips. The birchwood runners bumped hard on the rough causeway. The reindeer slackened its speed; it seemed ready to sink in its tracks. The Minstrel's mind was far away; it was with the grim, gray Mistress of the Frozen Land. For suddenly he had thought of the promise he had given her—"I will send you Ilmarinen, the skilfulest of smiths; he will forge the Sampo for you."

In another hour—yes, in half that time—he would meet Ilmarinen face to face. Would he be able to redeem his promise?

"I am a wizard; I can do wonderful things by magic," said the Minstrel to himself. "If my friend, the Smith, will not be persuaded, I will prevail upon him through other means."

Then he chuckled to the reindeer, and the birchwood runners glided more smoothly over the causeway.

On the farther side of the great fen there was a grove of pine trees, and in the midst of the grove was a green grassy space as round as the moon and as level as the sea. At this spot the Minstrel paused; he brought the reindeer to a sudden stop. He leaped from the sledge and began to draw magic circles upon the ground. He muttered strange words which only wizards and magicians know. He lifted his arms above his head and sang a song so weird and wild that the pine trees shuddered and shrieked.

He ceased; and instantly in the centre of the green space a slender twig sprang out of the ground and grew. It grew and grew, unfolding leaves and buds and blossoms. It grew and grew until it became a flower-crowned tree which seemed to pierce the clouds and sweep the solemn sky. No one knows how tall it might have grown. It might have grown till it touched the stars had not the minstrel bidden it to cease expanding.

Then he sang another song quite different from the first—a song so sweet, so persuasive, that the wild creatures in the forest and the fen came out of their dens and listened to it. The white-faced moon heard, and sat herself down among the branches of the tree of magic. The seven stars of the Great Bear also heard; and they came circling from the sky and began to dance and play amid the leaves and blossoms.

Cunning, indeed, was Wainamoinen, cunning and old; and when he saw the work of his magic, he was pleased beyond measure. He clapped his hands together in triumph; he leaped and danced around the tree like one gone mad. Then he climbed into the sledge and sat down upon the furry robes; he shook the long reins and spoke gently to his steed. Slowly and thoughtfully, as one well contented with himself, he drove onward along the well-known pathway that led towards the village. His sharp gray eyes looked first this way and then that; his ears were open to the slightest sound; all his senses were alert.