The Graybeard and His Son
A LL night the Minstrel rode wildly towards the South Country, never looking behind him, never pausing to rest. The day was breaking when he reached the end of the mighty forest. There, on the slope of a barren mountain, the road divided into three paths, and at the end of each path he saw a small house with smoke rising from the chimney. And now his pain increased, and the blood began to pour anew from his deep wound.
Weak and weary, he turned boldly into the lowest pathway and drove his steed up to the little homestead.
"Hail, ho!" he cried; and a piping voice inside answered, "Hail, ho!"
The door was open, and the Minstrel saw a little child sitting on the hearth beside the blazing fire.
"Hail, ho!" he cried again; and the child laughed and said, "Welcome, stranger!"
Wainamoinen sat upright in his sledge; his wound pained him; he was in much distress.
"Is there any one in this house that can heal the wounds of Iron?" he asked.
"No, no," answered the child. "All gone but me. Drive away, big man! Drive away to some other house."
The Minstrel pulled the reins and turned his sledge about. He cracked his whip, and the steed leaped forward. Soon he came into the middle pathway, and madly he drove to the second little cottage. He drove right up under the window and looked in. There he saw an old woman resting on a couch, while another woman was spinning by the fire. They were telling pleasant tales of their neighbors and of goblins and ghosts and unnamable things.
"Hail, ho!" cried the Minstrel, not too loudly.
The women jumped up in alarm; but when they saw his pale and weary face they answered, "Welcome stranger! Alight, and rest thyself by our fireside."
Wainamoinen sat still in his sledge. The blood was pouring in torrents from his wound.
"Tell me," he said, "is there any one in this house that can stop the flow of blood, that can heal the wounds of Iron?"
"Ah, no!" answered the elder of the two and her three teeth gnashed together. "Naught do we know about blood or iron. Drive away to some other house. Speed thee, rash man!"
Again the Minstrel pulled the reins and turned the sledge about in the narrow pathway. Again he cracked his whip, and the steed rushed onward. With furious speed he drove into the upper pathway, and paused not until he reached the highest cottage. There he drew up before the doorway and called as before, but very feebly; "Hail, ho! Hail, ho!"
"Welcome stranger!" was the answer from within. Then an old Graybeard opened the door and repeated, "Welcome, stranger!"
"Welcome, stranger!" echoed the Graybeard's son, peeping over his father's shoulder. "Alight and rest yourself and your steed."
"First tell me," said the Minstrel feebly, "tell me if you can stop this flow of blood and heal this wound of Iron."
"Three magic words may stop the flood, three magic drops may heal the wound," answered the Graybeard.
And the young man added, "Come in and let us see what can be done."
The Minstrel climbed out of his sledge slowly, painfully. He staggered into the house. He lay down upon the couch by the fireside. The wound was bleeding sorely.
"Ah, save us!" cried the Graybeard. "What hero is this? Bring something to catch the flowing blood."
His son ran quickly and fetched a golden goblet; but it was far too small to hold the gushing blood. He ran for other vessels. Seven pails he brought, then eight, and all were filled to overflowing. The Graybeard shook his head; he lifted his eyes; he clinched his fists. Then he spoke harshly to the crimson flood:
"Hear me, O thou blood-stream! Cease thy flowing. Fill no more pails. Flow not upon the floor. Stay in the veins of this hero and give him strength. Stay in his heart and give him courage. Hear me, O thou blood-stream!"
Forthwith the red stream grew smaller; but still the drops trickled from the wound. All the strength of the Minstrel was gone.
The Graybeard looked upward, he turned his face towards heaven. He spoke in tones that were soft and pleading:
"O thou great Creator, thou lover of heroes! Come down and help us. Stop this rushing red river. Heal this gaping wound. Restore to this hero the strength that is rightfully his."
Then he grasped the Minstrel's knee just above the place where the wicked axe had struck it. He pressed the sides of the wound together firmly, gently. The bleeding ceased; and now not even the smallest drop escaped. The Graybeard bound soft bands of linen around the limb, he laid the Minstrel upon his own rude bed, he covered him with the warm robes and bade him rest quietly.
"The flow of blood is stanched," he said; "we must now heal Iron's bitter bite, we must close up the gaping, ugly wound."
Then turning to his son, he said "Go now to our smithy on the mountain. Take with you a supply of healing herbs, as I have taught you. Bake them, boil them, mix them, brew them into a magic ointment that will heal all manner of wounds. When you have finished the mixture and tested it, bring it hither to me."
"That I will do, father," answered the young man; and with a basket on his arm and a glad song rising from his lips, he hastened away.
Half-way up the mountain side he came to a gnarly old oak.
"Friend oak, so good and strong," he said, "have you any honey on your branches?"
"Look and see," answered the oak. "Yesterday I had such plenty that the bees came to carry it away."
The young man gathered many handfuls of slender twigs from the tree, and saw that on each twig was a tiny drop of dew. Then he wandered hither and thither among the rocks, seeking all kinds of healing herbs and putting them in his basket. When, at length, the basket was filled, he went on, whistling, to the little smithy on the mountain top.
Soon a fire was roaring in the furnace. A pot was filled with the herbs and twigs and set to boiling on the coals. The pungent odor of the mixture pervaded the air; every corner of the smithy was lit up with the glare of the flames; the smoke rolled in clouds from the smoke hole in the roof.
For three sunny days and three lonely nights the youth stood over the furnace and stirred the magic mixture. He threw fuel upon the flames, he poured fresh spring water into the seething pot. And all the while he sang weird songs and muttered strange charms such as his father had taught him. Then for nine nights he caught the moonbeams and mingled them with the mixture; and for nine days he entrapped the sunlight and added it to the magic ointment.
On the tenth day he looked into the pot and saw that all was of a rich golden color, bright and sparkling, with pretty rainbows mingled here and there in many a curious pattern.
"It is done," he said. "I will test its power."
He lifted the pot from the fire and allowed the mixture to cool, still singing his songs of magic. Then he went out to find something that had been wounded and might be healed.
Half-way down the mountain side there was a giant pine tree which the lightning had split from crown to roots. Its two halves gaped wide apart; its torn and broken branches hung dangling in the wind.
"Ah! here is a case to test," said the young man. Then with the greatest care, he took a small portion of the ointment upon his finger; he smeared it gently upon the trunk and branches of the wounded pine; he sang softly a little song of magic:
As he spoke the last words he clapped his hands together and shouted; and lo! the parts of the pine tree came suddenly into their right places, and it stood there as whole and as beautiful as it had been before the lightning smote it.
"Good!" cried the young man. "The ointment is as it should be. None could be better."
Then, with the pot balanced carefully on his shoulder, he started homeward. Every now and then, as he went down the slope, he paused to try the healing mixture on splintered rocks and broken bowlders; and he smiled as he saw the rough stones knit themselves together and the gaping fissures close up and disappear.
When at length he approached his father's cottage he heard loud groans within—groans of some one suffering deadly pain. He listened and knew that they came from the wounded Minstrel; he knew that now there was great need of his magic ointment.
Then Graybeard met him at the door. "What news, my son?"
"Good news, my father," he answered. "Never was there better salve than this. I could fuse the hills together with it if I had the mind to try."
The father took the pot and carried it into the house. He dipped his finger gently into the ointment; he touched it to the tip of his tongue.
"The mixture seems perfect," he said. "Now we shall see wonders."
The Minstrel was lying upon the bed and groaning at every breath. True, the bleeding had ceased, but the fever of Iron was upon him. He knew not where he was. He had forgotten his family, his home, and his sweet country. The madness of Iron had clouded his mind.
The Graybeard smeared a little of the ointment on the Minstrel's wounded knee; he stroked the poor man's back, his hands, his head. He waved his palms slowly to and fro before his eyes. And all the while he softly muttered a little song of wisdom and power.
The groans of the wounded man waxed louder and louder. He turned this way and that, seeking ease; but at each moment the pain grew greater, and he writhed in anguish. Then the Graybeard raised his voice and angrily commanded the pain to depart.
"Hear me, pitiless pain!" he cried. "Go away from this house! Depart! Vanish! Leave this worthy stranger and betake yourself to your own place. Hide yourself in the Hill of Tortures. There, if you choose, you may fill the stones with anguish; you may rend the rocks with torment. But now let this hero rest in peace. Depart! Depart! Depart!"
As he uttered the last word the pain vanished. The Minstrel's mind grew clear; he felt his strength returning; he laughed right joyfully and rose from his bed. The wound was healed, the ugly gash had disappeared, every trace of pain had vanished from his body.
"I never felt so well in my life!" he shouted as he danced about the room. Then remembering himself, he threw his arms around the Graybeard's neck and thanked him for his exceeding kindness.
"No thanks are due to me," said the old man, leading him to a seat by the fireside. "I have done nothing myself; Jumala did it all. Give praises to Jumala, the great Creator, from whom all good things come."
Thereupon the Minstrel raised his hands towards heaven, and cried, "To thee, O Jumala, the gracious, I humbly offer thanks. To thee I owe my life, my strength, my all—accept my gratitude."
"Jumala only is good," said the Graybeard. "He only is merciful and kind. But what shall we say of Iron—of Iron, the spiteful, the treacherous, the wicked? Tell me, my friend, why should Iron bear a grudge against you? Why should he seek to destroy your life?"
Wainamoinen, first of minstrels, answered, "Iron has no grudge against me. He wounded me, it is true, but not purposely. Had it not been for a wicked hornet, Iron would never have harmed me—would never have harmed any one. Blame not Iron. Blame the hornet that made him what he is."
"Pray tell me how that can be," said the Graybeard.
Then, sitting by the pleasant fireside, the Minstrel answered him by telling a story—a story as old as the race of man on earth.