In the year 1604, when the great Virgin Queen Elizabeth had died and passed on the throne to the newly-coronated King James, Richard Beach and his crew landed their ship near the top of the world.
“If there is any money to be made and glory to be won on this island, then so be it,” declared the captain. “We will seize our riches and mark this as territory for Mother England.” But it should be done in a timely manner, he added in his head, though not daring to speak such words aloud in front of his men.
Beach thought he could brave the coldest of the cold, having lived on the British Isles all his life; however, he was unprepared for the frigid Arctic temperatures. Although Beach had no way of knowing this—since the first thermometer had only been invented by Galileo a mere decade ago, the first modern version of the device would not come into existence for eight more years, and the man called Fahrenheit would not be born for another 110—the temperature that day measured about ten degrees below zero.
William Bragg did not want to be there. A native of northern England, near Scotland, he had lived in the cold his entire life, and hated it. He had boarded this voyage for the purpose of traveling to someplace warmer. Sick of the farm he shared with his six brothers, two sisters, mother, and father, he had opted for a life in Bristol. It was there that he had heard fantastic tales of the New World, with lands flowing with gold, where the sun shined every day and the temperatures were always warm. When Captain Beach had come looking for crewmembers for his voyage, Bragg volunteered immediately. El Dorado would be his.
That was, until the ship departed the port of Bristol and began sailing north. And here Bragg was, 1,700 nautical miles later.
When they had finally set up camp for the night, Bragg finally relaxed. He and his fellow mates had been dragging the supplies through the cold for the entire day. Beach wanted to explore the interior of the island. Bragg was not sure what he intended to find—he could barely distinguish the frozen tundra from the frozen waters they had seen passing by Greenland. However, Bragg was still happy. Although he was still chilled, he was, at least, not weighed down by hundreds of pounds of supplies.
Bragg took out the lute he had snuck from home, and began to strum lightly. It had been a departing gift from Lucy, his younger sister. He never cared much for his crude brothers or his loudmouthed other sister, Martha. But Lucy had been different. After he had left home—no, it really wasn’t his home, it was just a house he had lived in for eighteen years—his only regret was leaving Lucy.
He was playing an old folk song he and Lucy used to sing together when a boot came flying at the lute. It made contact and the wooden instrument splintered into hundreds of pieces.
Startled, confused, and sad, Bragg looked at the owner of this boot. It was Beach.
“There is no music on Svalbard,” the captain snarled. Then, he walked away.
* * *
Easington held the final note of Overture in the French Style, allowing the note to resonate throughout the decrepit room. Instinctively, he glanced at the clock above, but realized, as he did every week, that the clock was stuck at twelve and had been for as long as he could remember. Instead, he checked the pocketwatch he brought with him every week.
Two hours had passed. It scarcely felt like two minutes.
Easington smiled to himself. However faster he could make the time pass, the better. It usually went by so slowly on Svalbard, as if it itself were frozen, as everything else was at the 78th parallel.
Even though the island was technically a part of Norway, it felt distant, as it was nearly 1,500 kilometers north of the mainland.
Easington stood up, opened the bench he was sitting on, put the Bach piece in, and took out what he had really been looking forward to playing.
He banged out the opening notes, and then began to sing as well.
“I remember when rock was young. Me and Suzy had so much fun. Holding hands and skipping stones. Had an old gold Chevy and a place of my own…”
Of course, Easington had no idea what any of these words meant. He only spoke Norwegian.
Still, these types of songs were the ones that meant the most to him.
Easington loved Elton John.
He closed his eyes, continuing to play. He knew the notes and lyrics by heart. He only wished he could understand those words.
After Easington finished playing Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, the clock struck seventeen. It was time to go home.
* * *
Easington wasn’t born on Svalbard, nor was his family Norweigan. However, he couldn’t remember his life off the island. His mother had died giving birth to him. He didn’t know who his father was. His mother was an only child.
His only next-of-kin was an uncle of his mother. Caspar Rutherford had fought in the Second World War and, so horrified by the atrocities that were committed, and he himself was forced to commit, he moved to a place where he felt war would never be waged. In his mind, nobody would ever fight over a frozen rock at the top of the world. So, at the age of 30, Caspar migrated to Svalbard, became a professor of Arctic biology at the local college, married, and began a family.
One could only live so long on Svalbard. Human life was simply not suited for the frigid climate. One had two options- leave, or waste away in the cold. The former was what befell Uncle Caspar’s wife, Aunt Irene, ten years before Easington came to the family. Ingrid, the couple’s daughter, had done the latter, moving to mainland Norway just after finishing her schooling. Although Oslo was no tropic, the snow melted quicker on its sunny shores.
No one could last on Svalbard for very long- not even Caspar Rutherford, who had loved the place so much. A heart attack had claimed him at sixty-three, when Easington was only three years old. Suddenly, UCIS was left without a president and Easington without a caretaker.
Only one person seemed able to fill those roles: Caspar’s son, Hector.