The Hero's Return
I T was midwinter in Wainola, and the shortest day of the year. The sun had not been able to rise above the horizon and short was the interval between night and night. The North Wind came hurtling over the sea, carrying the storm spirit in his arms. He buried the earth in snow and filled the air with blinding frost. He roared on the hill-tops, and shrieked in the tree-tops, and threatened to overwhelm everything that stood in his way.
But, safely sheltered in their low-roofed dwellings, the villagers thought but little of the turmoil out-of-doors. They sat gossiping and nodding beside their cheerful hearth-fires, and were glad that their lives had been cast in the pleasant Land of Heroes. To sleep, to eat, to rejoice together in the hour that was their own—this, to them, was the sum of all happiness—and this, too, is wisdom.
Suddenly, far down the snow-drifted road, a sound was heard which was not the noise of the wind, a cry was heard which was not the voice of the storm spirit. It was repeated again and again, each time a little nearer. Men heard it and ran to their doors to look out and listen. Women left off their knitting, they forgot their baking, and peered out wonderingly, into the gloomy twilight. Again the call was heard. It was the call of a human voice; but by whom was it uttered? Was it the cry of a stranger, or was it the shout of a home-coming hero?
Presently, some of the watchers saw in the distance a dim figure battling with the storm, struggling through the heaped-up snowdrifts. Friend or stranger, it mattered not, this man needed help. A dozen heroes ran forward to save him, a dozen strong arms were stretched out to succor him—and lo! to the wonder and joy of all, they perceived that it was Wainamoinen, their honored neighbor, their best-loved countryman. His face was haggard and worn, and his body was bent with weariness from long journeying and much buffeting with the storm.
"O sweetest of singers! Is this indeed you?" cried his rescuing friends.
He could answer them not a word, so feeble had he become; his eyes grew suddenly dim, and he fainted away in their arms.
They lifted him gently; they carried him to Ilmarinen's dwelling and laid him on his own bed. There the master Smith and his mother, Dame Lokka, did all that they could for his comfort. They covered him with soft robes, they wrapped his half-frozen feet in warm flannels and chafed his icy hands between their own cheer-giving palms. Then, as he gradually came to himself, the good matron brought him that which would satisfy his hunger. She fed him warm milk of the reindeer, food most nourishing; soups and gruels she also gave him till his strength revived. All this and more did these kind people do for the returning hero—gave him rest and quiet, asking no questions, saying nothing, suffering no one to disturb him.
On the third day the poor man rose and sat in his old accustomed seat by the fire—he seemed quite well and strong. Then the neighbors flocked in to see him. They came by twos and threes—men, women, and children—and each one brought him some gift to cheer him in his illness.
"Why did you leave us, O best of singers?" they asked. "We have missed you sadly, and great was our fear that we should never see you again."
"O my friends," answered the hero, "it is only through Jumala's goodness that I am here! For surely I have been in dreadful places, I have seen dreadful sights, I have suffered dreadful hardships."
"Tell us about it," cried both men and women. "Tell us of your dreadful places in which you have been. It will ease your mind and make you stronger."
"My friends," then answered the Minstrel, "I have been to the land of Tuonela. Oh, whisper not that name, breathe it not to your children or to one another! For it is a land indescribable, full of terrors, full of fearful creatures. Many heroes have gone unwittingly to Tuoni's kingdom, but none have ever returned. O my friends, pray now to Jumala, the almighty! Pray that the day may be far away when you shall cross the dark river into that unnamable region."
He could say no more. His friendly neighbors saw how sadly the memory of his journey distressed him, and they asked no more questions. They talked of the storm, of their household affairs, of their children, of Ilmarinen's latest work in smithing; and all thoughts of the dark river and Tuoni's kingdom were banished from their minds.
Days passed, and strength returned to the hero minstrel. Soon all his ancient courage came to him again, and the happy habits of by-gone days were resumed. Again he sat with the master Smith through the evening hours, and pleasantly discussed the charms of the Maid of Beauty; again in every dwelling he was a welcome visitor, and his voice was heard singing the sweet songs of the older times; and again the children of the village clustered round him to listen to his words of wisdom and to be taught the lore of the ancients.
"Now, every child of Hero Land, listen to me," he would say. "Here are five rules for you to remember—yes, six which you must write down in your hearts and never, no, never, forget:
Obey these rules, my children, and you will be happy. And when the time comes for you to cross the dark river you need have no fears of King Tuoni, for messengers of light will lead you into the valley of rest prepared for the good and the true. Pray earnestly to Jumala to help you."