A Great Drowning of Men

28 August 1626 (old style)

The hooves of the cavalry horses thundered as the lifeguards of Friedrich, third of the name, duke of the Danish province Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp, rode for their lives with the duke safely in their midst.

Behind them was the carnage of the battle of Lutter. There, twenty thousand Imperial troops under the command of Jan Tzerclaes, Count Tilly, had managed to rout an equal number of Danish troops under the direct command of Christian IV, King of Denmark.

Most of Christian’s army holed up in Stade, but Friedrich headed for Nordstrand Island, off the west coast of Schleswig.

Tired, hungry, and somewhat fearful for his life, the duke of Gottorp hauled his horse to a stop in the town square of the little town of Husum. It was just dawn, and he and his men had been riding all night.

“Find somebody who knows what is going on around here,” Friedrich ordered. One of his troopers saluted and turned his horse off toward the Rathaus. Well, it would have been a Rathaus if the town had been really big enough for a city hall.

“I want to get to Nordstrand by nightfall,” Friedrich said to his aide de camp. The aide, probably wisely, said nothing.

The trooper returned. “Lord Duke,” he reported, “the burgomaster says that he thinks there are Imperialists on Nordstrand.”

“Nonsense!” Friedrich glared, moustaches quivering. He slapped his leather riding coat. “We will go. If there are Imperials, we’ll just have to beat them!”

The troop remounted, dressed their lines, and started for the dock. There was a decent sized sailing ferry there.

The ferry captain was sitting on a wooden bollard on the dock. He had a piece of wood that he was whittling into something nondescript. His mate stood next to him, smoking a long clay pipe. They watched the cavalry troop ride down the road and out onto the dock.

“Well, Hubertus,” the captain said to the mate, “I guess we’re going for a sail.”

****

It took less time to sail to Sudhaven on Nordstrand Island than it took for Friedrich’s small troop to load themselves and their horses on the ferry. It was a beautiful day, with light wind, and the sea was running fast between the mainland and the island. Soon, the jetty at Sudhaven came into sight, and with it, the ranks of Imperial troops standing on the pier. There was a small group of burghers standing with the soldiers.

Without being told, the ferry captain brought the boat to a stop about fifty feet off the jetty. The ferry rocked in the light chop.

Friedrich went to the rail. “What is this?” he shouted. “And who in the Devil’s Hell are you?”

“I am Pieter Karstense van Nortstrant, the burgomaster,” one of the civilian burghers shouted back, “We have joined the Imperials, my lord.”

Nordstrand was home to a small Catholic population surrounded by Lutherans. As they were an island, and they were small, Friedrich had never bothered about them.

“If you come ashore, My Lord,” van Nortstrant, who was standing beside the obvious commander of the Imperial troops shouted, “you must be taken prisoner.”

Friedrich stood by the rail, his blood pounding in his ears. After being beaten badly the day before at Lutter, and riding cold and hungry through the night to what he thought was going to be his safe haven, only to be repulsed! It could not be, it would not be borne. Friedrich gave a wordless shout of anger, tore off his hat, threw it to the deck and stamped on it.

“With God’s help, this island should sink into the sea!” he shouted.

Friedrich turned to the ferry captain. “Prepare to take me back to Husum.”

22 October 1634 (old style)

It was very early. The sun had just come up, and there was Jan Adriaanzoon walking the dike near Dagebüll for cracks and damage during the previous night, just as he did every morning including Sundays. When ministers remonstrated with him for working on the Sabbath, Jan had always told them, “The sea works on Sundays, so must the engineer.”

Jan was born in the Low Countries, and he called himself Leeghwater, “low water” because, as he told his son Adriaan, “we engineers drain the polders and make the water low.” He always laughed as he said it. Now in his late fifties, Leeghwater had grown corpulent and his big belly shook as he laughed.

There was a wooden footpath laid on top of the dike, and he navigated his ponderous bulk up it to the stairs that led to the top of the sluice. Jan grunted as he knelt to inspect the gaskets on the sluice gate. The leather gaskets were well greased, and looked to be in good shape. Jan levered himself upright and huffed through his mustachios from the exertion. There were wooden stairs leading down from the sluice gate platform. Jan made sure it was easy to get to every gate he’d ever designed.

He’d been working in the Low Countries on trying to make a polder, a reclaimed field, from a low-lying saltmarsh called Beemster. That project was nearly complete but with the unsettled political situation in Holland, he’d agreed to go to Denmark for a while to work on a project to build dikes at Bottschoter in western Schleswig, or northern Frisia, depending on who you talked to.

Before he came to Denmark, Jan had bought from a bookseller in Amsterdam some up-time books. They’d been written by a man called George, with the unpronounceable surname of Tchobanoglous and another man called Takashi Asano. While the first name sounded maybe Turkish, and the second sounded like somebody from far Nippon, the men apparently were up-time professors in someplace called the University of California. Their books on water and wastewater treatment and design, said to be from the library of the water treatment plant in Grantville, had some new techniques that Jan was eager to try, if the cursed war would ever end, but the fundamentals were still what Jan knew. Since he’d read the books, he’d taken to calling himself by the up-time title, “hydraulic engineer.”

Jan clattered down the wooden steps from the sluice gate, and walked briskly down the raised earthen dike. This dyke was old, and only a few feet tall, which was why Jan had been hired to replace it with a bigger, stouter, taller dike. After the storm surge in 1632, the Nordfrieslanders decided that they’d have to come up with the money to rebuild and renew the barrier that kept them from the North Sea.

Even though the 1632 storm had been much less severe than the up-timers’ histories described it in the original time line, the Nordfrieslanders didn’t trust the butterfly effect. So they went ahead with the project, despite the very high taxes they were paying because of the war between the Swedes and the Imperials. Jan, with his experience based on a thousand years of dike building in the North Sea and his new up-time knowledge sounded to the burghers like just the ticket.

Jan stood on the dike, looking out to sea. The water was as calm as the North Sea got, at least in the channel between Dagebüll and the big island of Strand, or Nordstrand. There were few clouds. It was a beautiful October day.

After finishing his inspection, it was almost noon, and Jan headed to a tavern. Like nearly all the small towns in Nordfriesland, Dagebüll was built on a raised mound that had been added to for as long as the inhabitants could remember. It was as if Dagebüll had one long street, raised above the fields where crops grew and cattle grazed.

The inn was old, as buildings went, but still had the huge beams exposed in the ceiling that made the building stout. That was important when the winds blew in off the North Sea, and the weather turned.

Jan joined a group of men sitting at a long table under the window, reading newspapers and drinking small beer.

“And what is news today?” he asked his master carpenter, Pieter Jansz, who was reading a broadsheet.

“Work on the Union of Kalmar moves apace. Apparently we are all to be Swedes now.”

“Well, I am Dutch, and not likely to wake up Swedish one day,” Jan said, tugging on his VanDyke beard. “It appears, however that I may be Spanish now.” He sat and picked up another paper from the small pile on the table and nodded thanks when the server brought him a mug of beer.

“Prost!” he said, raising his mug.

He settled down to read. The paper was full of news about the dashing rescue of the Princess Maria Anna by the new “king in the Netherlands,” the former Cardinal-Infante Don Fernando. Jan wasn’t sure he approved of the treaty between the House of Orange and the House of Habsburg ending the Netherlands war. But he was sure that the situation for engineers was going to improve tremendously, especially since the Swede was building docks and a fortified harbor so he could cut off traffic through the Zuider Zee if he wanted to.

There was even talk about draining the whole Zee . . . just like the up-time Hollanders did in the twentieth century. Jan had read about the project in another book that claimed to be “faithfully republished” based on a book in the library of Grantville itself. He was as excited as he could let himself be thinking about working on that project.

The newspaper also had an article about the aftermath of the Galileo business in Italy. Jan sipped his beer and continued to read.

A hand dropped on his shoulder. He looked up to find Jansz standing over him.

“Master,” Jansz said, “we are having some people over for dinner tonight. Will you join us?”

“I would like that,” Jans said.

“Good. We will be seeing you at dinnertime tonight then.”

Jansz went out the door of the inn. Jan ordered some lunch and decided to eat it out in the inn yard. There were some trestle tables there for outdoor eating in good weather. Even though it was October, it wasn’t very cold. There were more scudding clouds in the sky, but the sky was blue and the wind was dying down. Jan ate a nice chunk of ham and a piece of Gouda cheese that reminded him of the Netherlands and home.

After he ate, Jan walked back up to the outer dyke and walked along it, looking out to sea. The wind, he noticed, was coming up. The sea had bigger swells and was raising whitecaps. He could see the rip current in the channel between Dagebüll harbor and Nordstrand off in the distance. There was definitely a change in the weather. He thought he’d best do another inspection before he went to Jansz’s house for dinner. He walked from sluice gate to sluice gate, checking the great wheels and chains that could raise the gates and the pawls that kept the gates closed. He checked the dry wells that were installed every few hundred yards to make sure there was no seepage or at least no more than normal.

When he finished, Jan went back to the inn and finished reading the news broadsides. About seven or eight o’clock, he walked down the inner dike from the inn to the house that Pieter Jansz and his family were living in.

All through dinner, Jan and Jansz discussed the state of the big new sluice that Jansz was building. It was more or less on schedule, which was certainly a wonder, Jan thought. They hardly noticed the wind picking up.

After dinner, they lit their long clay pipes and talked about politics. Jansz was from Friesland, and he supposed, he said, that he was Danish. “I don’t really know. We speak the dialect here,” he said, “and we pay our taxes to the Duke of Gottorp, but this new idea that we are citizens of a country . . . that takes some thinking about. Especially when our country has gotten beaten in a war by the Swedes and the Americans.”

“Yes,” said Jan. “I can see that. But it looks like the king came out pretty well, with his son betrothed to the Swede’s daughter.”

They laughed. Suddenly a shutter blew in. One of Jansz’s older children ran to close it. Jan and Jansz went to the door. They opened the half-door and quickly closed it, struggling against the wind.

“This sounds like it may get nasty,” Jan said. “I think I ought to be getting on home.”

“Well why don’t you stay with us here tonight, Master?” Jansz said. “It is getting foul out and by the time you get home, you’re likely to be drenched.”

“Ah,” Jan said, “it isn’t so far as all that. Besides, you have a full house. Where would I sleep?”

“On the floor,” Jansz said.

“No, Pieter Jansz,” Jan replied. “What if the water rises? Your house is only five to six feet above ground level. Mine is on the dike, at least at eleven feet.”

“As you wish, Master,” Jansz said, and brought Jan his coat.

Jan headed for his own house. The wind was high and swirling, and it was beginning to rain with big heavy drops. He wrapped his coat around himself, his long hair whipping around his face and his mustachios bristling.

It was getting bitter and cold. Up ahead, Jan saw the house of another one of his crew, Pauwels Harmensz, with all the lights still on. Jan realized he was freezing.

He fought his way through the wind and rain to the Harmensz’s door. He banged on it, and Harmensz opened it. Jan almost fell through the doorway, but managed to stay upright.

“Pauwels,” Jan said, “I need to warm up before I go on home. It is incredibly cold out there. The wind is high and the water is rising.”

Harmensz sat Jan before the fire, and as Jan warmed up, they talked about the storm.

“It came up very suddenly,” Harmensz said. “I hope we don’t have another surge like we did two years ago.”

“Well, the dike is taller now,” Jan said. “If we get a surge we’ll see how well we’ve built, that’s for sure.”

Jan stood and began to put on his coat.

“It is dark as pitch,” Harmensz said. “Why don’t you let me send one of my men along with you? He can carry a lantern and make sure you get home safe and sound.”

“The lantern sounds good,” Jan said.

When they reached Jan’s house, Jan’s son was waiting for him.

“I was beginning to be worried, Father,” Adriaan said.

“Nothing to worry about,” Jan replied, “just a storm.”

Jan had Harmensz’s man stay. Adriaan helped him get a hot drink and warm up, and then sent him with his lantern back home.

Even with a fire, it was very cold in the house. It was also quite late, being close to midnight.

“Tired, boy?” Jan asked his son.

“Yes, Father. Can we go to bed soon?”

“Probably we should. And since it is so cold, we should probably sleep with our clothes on as well.”

The wind was coming from the west now, and the house shook and rattled with each gust. The rain hammered on the roof and the western wall of the house like buckshot. Even though the house wasn’t right at the shore, the sound of the waves grew louder and louder.

“I can’t sleep, Father,” Adriaan said.

“Come here, boy,” Jan said, “you can sleep with me in my bed. You’ll be safe then.” Adriaan climbed into bed. Jan hugged the boy hard.

They lay there dozing for about an hour as the wind grew even more harsh and blustery.

“Father, I think the roof is leaking.”

Jan rolled off the bed. There was a steady drip of water from the ceiling. As Jan watched, the leak got bigger and bigger.

The waves were smashing on the sea wall. Every sixth or seventh wave was so large that it would crash over the sea wall, and smash against the roof of the house. There was a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder, and one of the shakes on the roof blew off with a bang. There was a sudden gush of water through the hole onto the mattress.

Suddenly there were shouts from outside the house. “Leeghwater! Leeghwater! It’s time to get up!” Jan pulled the door open and found his boss, Supervisor Siewert Meynerts with a small group of people. “We have to get to the mansion,” Meynerts shouted.

Jan and Adriaan collected what they could and went up the dike to the mansion, which was close by but built on substantially higher ground.

Meynerts and his people were right behind. “I’ll be glad if we reach the mansion alive,” he shouted.

There was quite a lot of flying debris. All the planks and slats were blown from the stockpiles where they’d been waiting to be used in the construction of the new sluice. They were flying around like feathers and straw.

Looking back from the doorway of the mansion, Jan could see that the water was almost at the top of the dike. Adriaan clung to his leg, sobbing.

Meynert was counting heads. “Eighteen, nineteen, twenty . . . “ Then the door opened again and a large number of people rushed in, soaked and panting with exertion from fighting the wind and the rain. “I make us about thirty-eight souls, all told,” Meinert told Jan.

The wind turned a little to the northeast, and the waves pounded harder on the dike. Suddenly, one of the big doors on the west wall of the house blew open and water came pouring into the house. The fire was extinguished by the wave rolling into the room and Jan’s boots were instantly filled with seawater.

One of Meynerts’ men, a carpenter, took his axe and made a hole in the lower part of the wall so that the water could run off. Jan looked out the window.

“The water is above the dike now!”

“How high is the surge?” Meynerts asked.

“That would be at least thirteen feet,” Jan said.

“Oh my God, what will become of us?” the carpenter’s wife moaned.

“Well, God has seen to it that we are all equally rich now,” Meynerts said. The joke fell flat.

Adriaan had taken refuge in the scullery. “Oh, Father, are we going to die?” he asked. Jan grimaced as the cry was taken up by several others.

“We just have to hope that the Almighty will have mercy on us.” Jan said.

The storm went on for hours. Jan tried to see if the water was rising even more or if the height of the surge had passed, but he couldn’t tell.

There was a loud noise from the northern side of the house. The wall on that side started to fall apart. Through the hole that appeared suddenly, Jan could see a huge eroded channel like a gutter that was about six feet deep and at least ten feet wide. The wall started to fall into the gutter, and the flow of water broke it into kindling and washed it away.

The house itself started to collapse. The refugees huddled together in the center of the house under the groaning rooftree. The water kept pouring through the house. A large money box broke loose from its fastenings and before anybody could grab it, it came open and its contents, money and jewelry, was washed away by the water and swallowed by the earth. The entire mansion was being washed away.

Jan, Adriaan, Supervisor Meynerts and the rest of the refugees held on for dear life. It seemed to Jan like time was standing still. He thought that he was looking into the maw of Hell.

15 November 1634 (old style)

“The storm went on for hours, Majesty,” Jan said to King Christian IV of Denmark. Enthusiastically adopting up-time habits, the king had called for a Grantville-style meeting, instead of a throne room audience. “The next morning, when it was safe to come out, I saw that the ruins of the reeve’s mansion were the only house still standing on the dike. All thirty-seven of the workers’ houses lower down toward the sea had been washed away. I had to take a boat to Dagebüll because the dike had been washed away and the sea had covered the fields. There were bodies of men and animals floating everywhere.”

“Do we know how many dead?” Prince Ulrik spoke up.

“No,” Duke Friedrich said. “We are still burying the men, and also the cows. My men estimate somewhere between eight and twelve thousand persons perished.”

“It was like Noah’s Flood,” Jan said. “The priest in Dagebüll said that the water had reached almost five feet high inside the church, which is built on its own hill in the town. Jansz and Harmensz’s houses, where I had been before the storm had vanished, and they and their families were all dead. Big sea ships were stranded up on the dikes, and several ships were aground in the higher streets of Husum. I’ve been on the beaches, where I have seen horrible things, Majesty.”

“We have been checking the up-timers’ books, Father,” Ulrik said. “It seems that the storm was in the books, but on a different date . . . October 11th. In the original time line, though, the area was never really rebuilt, and the only thing that you, Duke Friedrich, would say was, “˜God is just. My wish has come true.'”

Friedrich said, “That’s not going to happen here. I have learned . . . I think we have all learned something from the events of the past few years. We will begin rebuilding the dikes immediately and draining the fields. We will need the farms and dairies. So, Leeghwater, how fast can you get back to work?”

“I can raise men in Holland, and begin ordering the materials immediately, my prince,” Jan said, “but it will take time. We should have things back to normal in five or six years.”

The king had been sitting quietly through all of this. He was staring at the end of the table, where another man sat silent.

“So,” the king said. “You, Cantrell. Tell me how it is that my new allies didn’t warn me of this horrible event. Since, as we have found, it is in your books that you brought with you in the Ring of Fire. Why didn’t you tell us?”

The room grew silent. Everyone in the room stared at Cantrell. He swallowed convulsively.

“I think . . . well, Majesty,” Cantrell said, “we believed that it wouldn’t happen because of the butterfly effect. At worst, we thought it would be much less severe than the storm in the history books that they called “˜a great drowning of men.’ And the dikes were being rebuilt, so we just didn’t think to say anything.”

A king’s anger is not safe to see. Especially if you are on the receiving end. Eddie thought back to the night he became betrothed to the king’s daughter. How he felt when he was told to kneel and King Gustav pulled out his sword. Beheadings could still happen. King Christian’s face could have been carved from granite. His eyes, however, burned.

Ulrik intervened. “Father, what this has shown us is that we must carefully read the up-timers’ histories. Yes, there is what they call the “˜butterfly effect.’ But some things will happen, and we must prepare for them. That is the awful lesson we must learn from this.”

“Then learn it!” the king roared. “You and Cantrell must read and learn so we can plan. See to it.

“And you, Jan Leeghwater, build as fast as you can. We have had two of these devastating floods in two years now, the one in 1632 and now this one. We will not, we must not, ever, suffer another one, as I am the king!” King Christian slammed down his ever-present wine cup on the table. “Why are you still standing here? Do it!”

****

Share