BEYOND THE FIRE ISLAND Russian Once there was a man who decided to take a journey to the uttermost end of the world where it touches the sky. He thought he could reach that point only by sea, but being tired of the water decided to travel on the wings of an eagle. A raven told him better, however, for the nights are months long in the far Northland and the eagle loves the sunlight. Then this man, who was a king, gave orders to fell the greatest oak tree in his three kingdoms. Olaf the Brave undertook this task. The oak tree was very large and neither sun, moon, nor stars could shine between its leaves, they were so close together. The king commanded that deep-sea sailing ships should be made from its trunk, warships from its crown, merchant ships from its branches, children's boats from the splinters, and maidens' rowing boats from the chips. But the wise men of Norway and Finland assembled and gave the king advice. They told him that it was no use building a wooden ship, for the spirits of the Northern Lights would set it on fire. Then the king made a ship of silver. The whole of the ship--planking, deck, masts, and chains--was of silver, and he named his vessel "The Flyer." Then--for this was ages ago--he provided golden armor for himself, silver armor for his nobles, iron for the crew, copper for the old men, and steel for the wise men. When everything was ready, he and his sailors set out for Finland. But they soon turned and headed "The Flyer" to the far north. The Great Bear in the sky guided them. At the helm of the ship was a wise pilot who knew all languages and the speech of birds and beasts. The winds of Finland were angry because he slighted their country, and a great storm arose and blew the ship out of her course. The birds sang to the helmsman and told him by their song that his ship was being driven on the bleak and desolate coast of Lapland. The king and his bold comrades succeeded in landing in Lapland, but could find no people. At last a sailor discovered a house. In it dwelt a wise man and his daughter. The king asked the wise man the way to the end of the world. The wise man answered that he had asked a vain question. "The sea has no end, and those who go westward have found their death in the Fire Island. Turn homeward and live," said the wise man. The king only answered by asking the wise Lapp if he would be their guide to the Fire Island. He consented and went aboard the ship. His name was Varrak. He steered the boat due north for thirty days and thirty nights. The first danger they met was a great whirlpool, whose center was a vast hole into which had been drawn many a brave ship. Varrak threw overboard a small barrel wrapped in red cloth and trimmed with many red streamers, but with a rope attached to it. A whale swallowed this bait and then tried to escape as he felt the rope pulling him. In his flight he towed the ship to a safe place in the open sea. This brought them far westward and at last they came within sight of the Island of Fire. Iceland, men call it now, but surely it has as much fire as ice. From the middle of this Iceland they could see great pillars of flame and vast clouds of smoke ascending into the air. Varrak warned the king of his danger, but was commanded to run the boat ashore. Those who explored the land found a vast mountain casting up flames and another mountain pouring out smoke. Soon the party came across great spouting fountains of boiling water, and they found the ground beneath their feet to be burning lava. The son of Sulev, who was leading this exploring party, wandered through snow-fields covered with ashes. A shower of red-hot stones warned him that he was near the volcano. Going too close to this burning mountain, his hair and eyebrows were singed and his clothing took fire. He rolled in the snow and saved himself. Then the son of Sulev thought it best to go back to the ship. Calling his party together, he found that the youngest, the yellow-haired boy who was cupbearer to the king, was gone. The birds told the helmsman, the wise Lapp, that the lad had made friends with the water-sprites beyond the snow mountains and would never return. The winds drove the ship about for many days till she grounded again on a strange shore. Another party of nobles and sailors went to search this country. Being tired, they lay down under an ash tree and fell asleep. The people in this land were giants, and a giant's daughter found them. They were so very small to the giant child that she picked them up and put them in her apron, and carried them home to her father. "Look at these strange creatures, father," she said. "I found them asleep under a head of cabbage in our garden. What are they?" The giant knew them to be men from the east. Now the east has always been noted for its wisdom, so he questioned these men with riddles. "What walks along the grass, steps on the edge of the fence, and walks along the sides of the reeds?" he asked. "The bee," answered the wise man of the party. "What drinks from the brooks and wells, and from the stones on the bank?" "The rainbow," replied the wise man. Then the giant told his little daughter to put the strangers back exactly where she had found them. But the wise man asked her to carry them to the ship just for fun. She leaned over the vessel like a vast cloud and shook them out of her white apron upon the deck. Then with one long breath she blew the ship four miles out to sea. The king shouted back his thanks. But that wind blew northwest instead of north. The cold was intense and they watched from midnight to midnight the combats in the air between the spirits of the Northern Lights. The sailors were frightened, but the king was pleased. He was farther north than ever before. The helmsman warned them that they were approaching another shore. No birds welcomed them or sang them the name of the country. Men dressed in the skins of dogs and bears met them as they landed, and took them to their homes on sledges of ice drawn by dogs. Their houses were of blocks of ice and snow, and their talk sounded like dogs barking. The king did not like these people, for their land was cold. The wise man told him again that his search was an idle one. The end of the world was not for mortal eyes to see. At last the king believed him and sailed homeward. No man to this day has been able to find the far north, the end of the world.