Friday Fiction – The Queen of Byhaven
There were only two seasons in Byhaven, and Ginnie hated them both.
Summers were long, oppressive affairs, when even the strawflies struggled to flap their wings. The sun held court for 11 hours a day, scorching the earth and anyone foolish enough to venture outdoors. Not that you’d want to go out there anyway – if the heat didn’t get you, the stench would.
Ginnie knew that they liked to take things slow in Byhaven, but they practically went backwards during the summer. It gave the noble citizens an excellent excuse to laze around in their air-conditioned cots, desperately fanning themselves and despairing if even a dimple of perspiration wetted their brow.
The only positive was that Harrison didn’t bother her much when it was hot. He liked to be at a permanent temperature of 25 degrees, and even talking could tip the thermostat into unfavourable territory. Ginnie wasn’t still enough for his liking either, and a few days of her rattling around in his quarters was enough for him to suggest that she might be more comfortable with her own space.
Ginnie was delighted. She could read or walk about the room without his small piggish eyes following her every move. She could slouch without a sigh escaping his parched lips, and eat ice cream without the disapproving ‘tut-tut’ accompanying each bite.
The winter weather was much more tolerable, but equally as fiendish. The temperature never dipped low enough to produce anything exciting like snow or frost, and instead lurked around the lower middle of the thermostat. Non-weather, Ginnie called it. Neither cold nor hot. Back home, back when home wasn’t Byhaven, the winters were fierce and unpredictable. There would be snow up to your knees, enough to build snowmen and give the town excuse to close and play for a couple of days.
Some of Ginnie’s best memories were of winter days spent hurtling down the Mayor’s Park on a sledge with Cole and Francis, or enacting plays with Sophie whilst their mother fixed cocoa to warm their frosted fingers. The people of Byhaven had never even seen snow, and yet they treated their non-weather like it was a punishment from God.
The noble born continued their tradition of staying huddled inside, constantly asking their workers to update them on the treacherous conditions (“A mild wind is brewing, Sir” “Heavens! Fetch more wood for the fire at once”).
Harrison, decked in the finest wools from the North, suddenly came out of his summer hibernation and decided that Ginnie was once again worthy of his attention. When he wasn’t using her to get warm, he made her talk at length about the day-to-day routine of her old home. His favourite game was picking her reports apart, remarking at how ‘wrong’ and ‘simple’ her people seemed. “You wouldn’t get that kind of thing in Byhaven,” was one of his favourite catchphrases, another was “How ghastly!”
He would demonstrate genuine astonishment at their rituals, from the fact that workers didn’t have their own designated leisure areas, to the revelation that the Queen hadn’t taken a husband. When Ginnie revealed that Cole practiced magic, Harrison was close to being physically sick. Whatever the subject, she was constantly reminded that she was very fortunate to have been rescued from ‘those sort’, and that for as long as Harrison lived, he wouldn’t allow her to go back to ‘that muck’.
That was the theme of his speech as his servants dressed him that morning. He was just reaching the pique of his tirade when his attention was caught.
“You are smiling?” he asked, and then when there was no immediate response he struck Ginnie with his left hand. “Did you find that amusing? Would you like the right hand next?”
Ginnie took a moment to feel the sting and then pointed to the grand window across the room. The smile returned to her face at once.
“I did not mean to offend, Sir. It has just been such a long time since I have seen snowfall.”