Finnish Legends for English Children | Annotated Tale

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Isle of Refuge, The

LEMMINKAINEN hastened from Louhi's house and looked around for his sledge and steed to escape from the Pohjola men. But both had disappeared, and in their place he found only a clump of willows. As he stood there, wondering what he should do next, the noise of armed men running together grew louder and louder, and he knew that they would soon reach him. So Lemminkainen changed himself into an eagle, and rose up into the clouds. As he flew towards the south he met a gray hawk flying northward, and called to it: 'O Gray Hawk, fly to Pohjola and tell the warriors of the Northland that they will never catch the Eagle, Lemminkainen, ere he reaches his home in distant Kalevala.'

               Then he flew on home and taking on again his own form, he went to his mother's house. When she saw the troubled look in his face, she guessed that some great danger threatened him, and began to ask him if it were this, or that, or the other that troubled him, but to all her questions he answered 'no.' At length she bade him tell her, then, what his trouble was, and he replied: 'All the men of Northland are sharpening their swords and spears to kill thy unlucky son Ahti, for I have slain the host of Pohjola, Louhi's husband, in a quarrel, and the men of Northland will soon come hither to avenge it.'

               His mother then reminded him how she had warned him of the journey and its troubles, and asked him where he was going to take refuge. Lemminkainen replied that he did not know, and asked his mother to help him, and she answered: 'If I should turn thee into a tree, thou might be cut down for firewood. Or if into a berry, the maidens might pluck thee. Or if to a fish, thou would never have a happy life. But if thou wilt swear to me not to go to war again for sixty years, then I will tell thee of a distant isle, far off across the ocean, where thou mayst rest in safety.'

               So Lemminkainen gave his promise, on his honour, not to fight for sixty years, and then his mother told him how to find the isle of refuge. He must sail across nine seas and in the middle of the tenth he would come to the island, where his father had once taken refuge long before. There he must stay until the third year was come, and then he might return to his home.

               Lemminkainen took enough provisions in his boat for a long journey, and then bidding farewell to his mother and his home he sailed away. When he had raised the linen sails, he called up a fair wind to drive him onward, and for three months he sailed on without a moment's rest, until at length he reached the magic Isle of Refuge.

               First, he asked the people of the island if there was room there for his boat, and on receiving their consent he drew it up out of the water. Next he asked them if he might take refuge and conceal himself there, and they granted this too; but when he asked for a little ground to cultivate, and a place in the forest to cut down the trees, they told him that the whole island had long ago been divided up amongst them, and that he must live in one of their houses if he wished to stay on the island.

               But Lemminkainen was not satisfied with this, and told them that he only wished to be allowed to go into the forest and sing some few magic songs there, and this they willingly allowed him to do. So he went into the forest and began to sing the most wondrous spells, making oak-trees to grow up around him, and on each branch an acorn, and on each acorn sat a cuckoo. Then the cuckoos began to sing, and gold fell from every beak, and silver from their wings, and copper from their feathers, until the isle was abundantly supplied with precious metals. Then Lemminkainen sang again, and turned the sand to gems and the pebbles into pearls, and he covered the whole island with flowers, and made little lakes with gold and silver ducks swimming in them, until every one was delighted, and the maidens most of all.

               Then Ahti said: 'If I were in a fine castle I would conjure up the most wonderful feasts and sing the grandest songs you have ever heard.' No sooner had he said this than they led him to their finest castle, and there he conjured up a splendid feast, with knives and forks and all the dishes made of gold and silver. From this time on Ahti was treated as an honoured guest, and spent his time most delightfully. In every village on the island were seven castles, and in each castle were seven daughters, and all of these made Lemminkainen welcome as he went from one to another according to his fancy. Thus he spent the whole of his years of exile; but there was one maid, old and ugly, and living in a remote village, whom he neglected.

               At length the time of his return was come, and he made up his mind to leave. But just as he had decided to go, the maid whom he had neglected came to him and bade him beware, for she was going to take revenge for his slighting her; but Lemminkainen scarcely heard her, for he was so busy thinking about his journey home. But the maiden went around to all the men of the island, and told them evil stories about Lemminkainen, and then she went and burned his boat.

               The next morning Lemminkainen started off to bid his friends the maidens farewell, but he had not gone far before he saw the men getting their weapons ready to come and attack him, and he saw that he must fly immediately if he wished to escape alive. So he hastened down to his boat, but when he reached it there were only the ashes left. At first he did not know what to do, but he spied seven broken pieces of planks and a few fragments from a broken distaff, and taking these he began to sing some mystic spells over them. No sooner had he finished his incantations than a magic boat stood ready before him, and he got into it and sailed away. But before he was far from the shore all the maidens came down to the beach and began to weep and beg him to come back and dwell with them for ever. But Lemminkainen answered them that he felt a great longing to see his home once more and his mother, yet that he was truly sorrowful to leave them, but it must be so. And so he sailed on until the isle was out of sight.

               The boat sailed on and on for two days and nights, but on the third day came a mighty storm-wind, and tossed the vessel about until it broke all in pieces, and left Lemminkainen struggling in the waters. He swam for long days and nights, struggling with the waves, until at length he reached a rocky point projecting out into the ocean. There he landed and soon found his way to a castle that was built upon the rocks. He told the mistress of the castle how he had been in the water for days and days, and was almost perishing from hunger, and she, being a kind-hearted woman, gave him a splendid feast of bread and butter, veal and bacon, and fish and honey-cakes, and when he had eaten that and rested, she gave him a new boat, loaded with provisions, in which to finish his journey.

               So off he sailed again, and after many weary days of sailing he at length reached his beloved island-home. But when he landed and went up to where the house had stood, there was not a sign of anything left. The whole place was all overgrown with trees and bushes.

               Then Lemminkainen sat down and began to weep; but it was not for the loss of his home and all his riches that he wept but for his beloved mother. As he sat there he caught sight of an eagle flying in the air above, and Ahti asked him if he knew what had happened to his mother. But the eagle could only tell him that his people had all perished long go. Next he asked the raven, and the raven told him that his people had been killed by his enemies from Pohjola.

               On hearing this Lemminkainen began again to mourn her loss, and to look about for some dear relic that he might keep in remembrance of her. But as he looked he suddenly came on a faint pathway leading away from the house, and on it he saw the prints of light feet. He began to follow it eagerly, over hill and valley until he reached the gloomy forest. There it led him to a hidden glade, right in the middle of the island, and there he found a humble cabin, and his gray-haired mother weeping in it.

               Ahti cried aloud for joy at the sight of her, and then he told her how he had mourned her as dead. She asked him in return how he had spent those years on the Isle of Refuge, and he told her all; how charming the life there was, and how he had enjoyed himself there, but that at the end all the men of the isle had come to hate him, because the maidens admired him so much, and how through their jealousy and the hatred of the one maid whom he had neglected, he had nearly lost his life. And when he had ended his story they both gave thanks to great Ukko that they had found each other again.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Isle of Refuge, The
Tale Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Book Title: Finnish Legends for English Children
Book Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1893
Country of Origin: Finland
Classification: unclassified

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