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Main > Dutch folktales > Fairy tale "When Wheat Worked Woe"

When Wheat Worked Woe

Many a day has the story-teller wandered along the dykes, which overlook the Zuyder Zee. Once there were fertile fields, and scores of towns, where water now covers all. Then fleets of ships sailed on the bosom of Lake Flevo, and in the river which ran into the sea. Bright and beautiful cities dotted the shores, and church bells chimed merrily for the bridal, or tolled in sympathy for the sorrowing. Many were the festal days, because of the wealth, which the ships brought from lands near and far.

But to-day the waters roll over the spot and "The Dead Cities of the Zuyder Zee" are a proverb. Yet all are not dead, in one and the same sense. Some lie far down under the waves, their very names forgotten, because of the ocean's flood, which in one night, centuries ago, rushed in to destroy. Others languished, because wealth came no longer in the ships, and the seaports dried up. And one, because of a foolish woman, instead of holding thousands of homes and people, is to-day only a village nestling behind the dykes. It holds a few hundred people and only a fragment of land remains of its once great area.

In the distant ages of ice and gravel, when the long and high glaciers of Norway poked their cold noses into Friesland, Stavoren held the shrine of Stavo, the storm-god. The people were very poor, but many pilgrims came to worship at Stavo's altars. After the new religion came into the land, wealth increased, because the ships traded with the warm lands in the south. A great city sprang up, to which the counts of Holland granted a charter, with privileges second to none. It was written that Stavoren should have "the same freedom which a free city enjoys from this side of the mountains (the Alps) to the sea."

Then there came an age of gold in Stavoren. People were so rich, that the bolts and hinges and the keys and locks of their doors were made of this precious yellow metal. In some of the houses, the parlor floor was paved with ducats from Spain.

Now in this city lived a married couple, whose wealth came from the ships.

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