The Finnish legend of the great wizard Vainamöinen

On a day long ago when the world was very young, a horse-drawn sleigh swept along Finland. It trekked through shining alkes and dark pine forests where the wolves sang. At the reins was a very old man, heavy-browed and white-bearded. He was Vainamöinen, called the Steadfast, and he was a wizard.

Hours passed. On the horizon, Vainamöinen sighted a speck in the pale snow light. As he moved, the speck grew larger. The speck grew shape. It was a sleigh, speeding like the wind by a horse whose hooves struck glittering sparks in the snow.

The Steadfast reined in his horse, but the stranger moved on. True to his name, Vainamöinen stayed where he was. The strange sleigh crashed into the old wizard. The men brought the horses under control. Silence followed.

Vainamöinen calmly asked the stranger's clan name. The stranger replied with abuse and challenge. The stranger's name was Joukahainen, and he had traveled across the Northern wastes from Lapland. He had heard the tales of the old wizard, and came to challenge his power. To take his place as sage of the North.

Joukahainen began to chant, composing a song that shown he knew the ways of the wizard. But Vainamöinen knew he was only at the surface, that he only sung of common things.

"Speak of more profound matters," said Vainamöinen.

Joukahainen grew louder. He sang of origins. He claimed that he himself had plowed the sea, propped up the sky, guided the moon, flung the stars into the heavens and shaped them into constellations.

"You lie," said Vainamöinen calmly.

Joukahainen challenged Vainamöinen to a duel with swords. Vainamöinen refused. The young wizard replied with a threat: "If you will not measure swords with me, old one, I will sing you into a swine, into a rooting, grumbling, ground-watching, sty-dwelling pig."

Vainamöinen then grew angry. He threw back his head and began to sing. Bright, keening melodies shook the air, the earth began to move. Mountains trembled, lakes spilled onto the shores, and great stones split into pieces.

Vainamöinen then turned to Joukahainen, and bushes sprouted from the sleigh. The sleigh turned into a pile of logs sliding down into a lake. The horse froze into a rock, crouching beside a waterfall. The young wizard's golden sword exploded, and his arrows shot into the sky, sprouting wings. One by one, Joukahainen's garments flew off, and landed in pools of water or sailed away into the clouds. Joukahainen was cold and naked. He began to sink into the boggy earth.

Vainamöinen continued to sing, and Joukahainen descended steadily down. And at last, the earth closed around his shoulders. Ice began to form at his feet, and fear in his heart. He pleaded to the old wizard, "Eternal sage, reverse the charm and spare my life. Let me pay ransom!"

Vainamöinen ceased singing. "And what will you give me?"

Joukahainen offered splendid cross-bows, but Vainamöinen had no need of any. The young wizard offered a pair of swift boots and a great pair of stallions, but the old man had plenty. Joukahainen offered silver, Vainamöinen had silver enough. The Laplander offered the fields that birthed him, but the old man cared nothing for them. Vainamöinen began to sing again, and Joukahainen began to sink again, slowly.

As the ground began to close around his mouth, Joukahainen offered one last plea. He offered the enchanter his own sister, Aino.

And Vainamöinen paused. A glowing girl to comfort his old age. He accepted the offer. He sat, and again sang, once, twice, thrice. His song raised Joukahainen from the bog, drew his clothes from the water and clouds, his sleigh from the lake and his horse from the rock. The young wizard had his life again.

In the end, Vainamöinen set sail in a copper boat for the "land between the earth and the heavens."

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