Sjostad Ghost Town - Sweden
Crisp, icy air, pale blue sky and a frozen lake stretching out maybe ten kilometres to the far shore and a town where the merchants of Sjöstud use to trade their furs and jewellery made from the teeth and bones of the animals trapped in the cold wilderness of southern Sweden. But that was then. These days with the expansion of the Danish Empire, east into Estonia and North West into Norway, the merchants’ livelihood was at the mercy of the Danes. There wasn’t much they could gain from this land so they took what they could from those that did and of late that meant the merchants. It began as simple interest in what they traded, occasionally a trade between Dane and Swede would take place but then they got greedy, drawn in by the merchants’ fine clothes and possessions and so they began to tax, then tax more, then tax with menaces if the taxes weren’t paid. But now the Swedish merchants had had enough. The region’s Danish overlord was visiting the town across the lake and it was decided that all 700 merchants would cross to present their case to him.
So on that bitterly cold day, well wrapped up against the arctic wind, they set off across the ice. Kilometre after kilometre they trudged on, their resolve growing stronger with each footstep until in the distance they could see the smoke from the cottages. Closer and closer they got but then, what was that in the distance, a crowd coming to meet them?
On the other side of the lake, a solitary Dane had looked out across the frozen wasteland wishing he was indoors by the warmth of a fire. Then he saw a dark mass moving slowly across the ice. What to do? There were no telescopes or binoculars to make a positive identification. It could only be an invading army intent on reclaiming Swedish territory. After all, didn’t those merchants say they weren’t going to put up with robbery from now on? Nothing for it, the local militia had to be called up. Sounding his horn, he rushed for his sword and shield and beckoned all who came armed to join him near the lake edge. Soon hundreds were gathered there and the overlord greeted them wishing them success against those who would destroy the empire. Then off they charged across the ice, fear, anticipation and hatred driving them on.
The merchants saw them coming, initially thinking it was a contingent checking on what they were doing. They would say there piece and be determined to be taken to the overlord to plead their case. But wait, swords glinting in the late morning sun, shield bosses glowing golden in the pale rays. Surely not?
The Danes didn’t stop to see if the merchants were armed, they’d obviously come for trouble and they were going to pay dearly for their impudence. It was like ants being crushed by a rock. The Danes ploughed into them and within minutes the ice was stained and slippery with the blood of the merchants. In full flight now the call came top press on to the village the merchants came from and to teach them a lesson. As they approached the village, torches were lit, swords unsheathed and the slaughter and destruction began. Women, children, babies were all cut down or burned in their homes. When they left, all that remained were the charred stones of the hut walls and the crackle of flames dying in the timber.
Today the site of the village is only known from the merchant’s treasure hoard that was found there and the detail in the annals of the Danish rulers that warn any Swedes to respect their masters and pay their rightful dues. Summer came and peace and tranquillity fell once more on the remains of the village, on the bones of the dead and the secret hiding places of their wealth. Some came, determined to resurrect the village as a homage to those that died and as an insult to the Danes but at first they were warned off by the Danes, then others reported hearing cries and moans of women and children carried on the arctic air, of shadows, and cold air currents, even in the sunshine and Sjostud was left with all eternity to mourn its dead. Today little remains apart from a sign commemorating the carnage and raised mounds that are the walls overtaken by soil, grass and stubby shrubs. You can tell there was a village here, tell that once life was good here but still there hangs in the air the cold tendrils of death.