Finnish Legends for English Children | Annotated Tale

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Kullervo and Ilmarinen's Wife

AS SOON as the purchase was completed, Kullervo asked Ilmarinen and his wife to give him some work for the next day. So they decided to make him a shepherd. But the wife, once the Rainbow-maiden, did not like the new servant, so she baked him a cheat-loaf--a very thick loaf, half of barley, half of oatmeal, and with a great flint-stone in the centre, and around the flint-stone was melted butter. Then she gave it to Kullervo and told him not to eat it until he was out on the pasture-ground.

               The next morning Ilmarinen's wife showed Kullervo the cattle, and bade him take them to the open glades among the forests, where they would find food in abundance. Then she addressed a prayer to Ukko that he would guard the flock in case the shepherd should neglect them. And she sought the aid too of all the goddesses of the forest and the daughters of summer and the spirits of the fountains and the brooks, to care for her cattle and watch over them. And she also sang a spell to keep away the bear from coming and devouring them. And when all these prayers and spells were ended she sent Kullervo off with the herds.

               Kullervo drove them off to their pastures in the woods, carrying his lunch in a basket on his arm. And as he walked he sang of his hard lot as a slave, and how he was given only the scraps and crusts to eat, while his master and mistress fed on honey-cakes and wheaten biscuit. At length the time came for him to eat his luncheon, and he sat down and drew the cheat-loaf from the basket. But instead of eating it at once he turned it carefully over and over in his hands, and thought: 'Many loaves are fine to look at on the outside, but are nothing but chaff inside,' and he drew out his knife to try the loaf.

               This knife was the one thing that his mother had kept of all her father's possessions, and Kullervo looked upon it as something sacred. Now as he plunged it into the cheat-loaf it hit right upon the hard flint in the centre and broke in several pieces. Then Kullervo sat down and began to weep over his loss, and to ponder how he should revenge it. But a raven was sitting in a tree near by and overhead him talking to himself, and the raven said: 'Why art thou so distressed, Kullervo? Drive the herd away, one half to the wolves' and the other half to the bears' dens, so that they may all be devoured. And then when it is time to return home call together the wolves and bears and make them look like cattle, by thy magic art, and drive them home for thy mistress to milk. Thus thou wilt repay this insult.'

               At these words Kullervo jumped up and did as the raven had said. And when the sun was setting in the west, Kullervo hastened homeward, driving bears and wolves before him, but by a magic spell he made them look like cattle. And as he went, he said to them: 'Seize my hateful mistress when she comes to milk the cattle, and tear and rend her in pieces.' And he took a cow-horn and made a bugle of it and blew till the hills rang, to announce his return.

               When he reached the cow-yard, Ilmarinen's wife greeted him joyfully, for it was late and she had feared that something had happened. And she told her oldest maid-servant to go and milk the cows as she herself was busy. But Kullervo said: 'Thou shouldst go thyself, for the cows are in better condition to-night than they have ever been before.' And so she went, and when she saw them she cried out in wonder: 'Truly my cattle are beautiful to-night, for their hair glistens like the fur of lynxes, and is soft as ermine skin.'

               With these words she seated herself to begin milking, but all at once the wolves and bears appeared in their true shapes and began to tear her to pieces. Then she cried out to Kullervo, when she saw what he had done, but he answered: 'If I have done evil thou hast done still greater evil, for thou hast baked a stone inside my bread, and I have broken on it my knife, the only relic of my mother's people.'

               Then Ilmarinen's wife began to beg him to aid her, and promised him the best of everything to eat, and that he should never have to work again. But Kullervo would not listen to her prayers, but rejoiced at her agony, and then the wolves and bears made one more onset, and she fell and died. Such was the end of the beauteous Rainbow-maiden, for whom so many had wooed, and who had become the pride and joy of Kalevala.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Kullervo and Ilmarinen's Wife
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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