Sarah Spellings & The Followers of The Grove

Golden Birthday

Sarah woke at dawn, dazzled by the promise of the day. Through an open window she heard waves crashing on the beach, and the sharp cries of sea birds. She stood up, stretched, and tiptoed around sleeping bodies in the dormitory, whistling softly for Rumpus, who had worked himself free of his leash overnight.

Outside, storm clouds tumbled in from the ocean, and a blustery wind tossed the water of the bay into wild whitecaps. Seagulls hovered, borne aloft by powerful gusts. The tide was in, so the three big ships seemed further from shore. Paths along the beach were already busy with joggers and cyclists. To the north, Sarah could see the trees of Stanley Park. She had never been there, but her father spoke of it with happy nostalgia. She pulled her hair into a ponytail, buttoned her coat, and headed toward the towering cedars and firs, walking along the tumbledown remains of a seawall. Rumpus sniffed at seashells and dug holes.

Rounding a tight bend in the shoreline, Sarah came across six people in matching blue jackets and white baseball hats. The jackets said S.O.A.P. in white letters on the back, and two blue rowboats with S.O.A.P. painted on their bows rested on their keels in the sand. The Soapies were arguing; the wind grabbed snatches of shouts and sent them whirling. Sarah stood still, listening to the wind roar and watching the Soapies disagree. Rumpus growled softly, baring his teeth—and Sarah was grabbed from behind, encircled by strong arms! She shrieked, and fought to throw off her assailant.

“Happy Golden Birthday!” Levvy shouted.

Sarah punched her friend’s shoulder, then hugged her. Quinn was there too, his yellow hair blowing like bright ribbons. When Levvy released Sarah, Quinn gave her a stiff, awkward embrace, and as they separated, his lips lightly brushed her cheek. Did he just kiss me? Sarah was glad for the briskness of the air, camouflaging the redness of her cheeks.

“Here’s your present,” said Levvy, bouncing up and down. “Open it—open it!” She thrust a big, soft bundle into Sarah’s hands.

“Oh, Levvy.”

“Don’t worry. It isn’t another necklace.”

Sarah touched the heart-shaped locket on her breastbone, hanging above the golden hexagon talisman. Levvy had given her a sage green poncho with a long, pointed hood, and two roomy pockets. The cloth was sturdy, yet plush and comforting to the touch. With a cry of delight, Sarah threw the poncho over her head. The colour contrasted beautifully with her hair. She stroked the fabric lovingly.

“Thank you so much,” Sarah gushed. “Where did you find it?”

“One of our rescuers was wearing it,” Levvy said proudly. “We bartered for half an hour, and I finally convinced her to part with it. I offered her a fishing pole, and my grandmother’s silver earrings, but she wasn’t interested. Then I hit on her weakness, strawberry jam, and three jars did the trick.”

“I also have a gift to mark your Golden Birthday,” said Quinn.

“But you already gave me this,” Sarah mumbled, tugging at the hexagon necklace.

“The talisman is yours by right. This is your birthday present—I thought you would like one of your own.” Quinn handed her a small white parcel.

Sarah unwrapped a heavy object the size of her palm, with a broad silver blade on one side. It was a folding knife, the burnished wood handle inlaid with the silhouette of a Sitka spruce tree. Sarah unfolded the knife, and touched the edge with a cautious finger. It was honed and sharp.

“Thank you.” Sarah refolded the knife, stood on her toes, and kissed Quinn gently on his tan, freckled cheek, then swept around and kissed Levvy, too. A bubble of buoyant energy in her chest expanded, and she whirled on the beach, her arms outstretched. When she stopped, and dizziness subsided, she saw the Soapies had put their rowboats out to sea. Heaving, white-crested waves were battering the boats, and the Soapies were struggling valiantly with their oars. There were three Soapies in each boat, two rowers and a coxswain with a megaphone. The beach was filling up with spectators. Sarah spotted Vinnie Vantego’s lanky frame striding toward them. Beside him was a petite, sharpish woman with black hair and piercing hazel eyes.

“Morning, crew,” said Vinnie. “This is Grizzella Sticks, independent leader of our free city. Grizzella, allow me to introduce Sarah, Levvy, and Quinn.”

“Welcome.” Grizzella shook their hands with a firm, determined grip.

“On behalf of Sassamatta, we thank you,” said Quinn. “The help you sent saved our grove.”

Grizzella grimaced. “Don’t thank me too soon. Your village is only safe for the time being. I’ve declared Vancouver’s independence from Parleyment, a move that will likely be answered by aggression from Parleyment forces. Our communities are out of step with Harpminster Abbott’s desire to maintain central government control. So we might have to ask you to return the favour, and help us when we are attacked. Sarah, Vinnie tells me you have some kind of supernatural powers?” Grizzella’s voice was prim, polite, and edged with doubt.

“More like natural powers,” said Levvy. “Sarah can change weather, and make things—”

“Please excuse me,” Grizzella interrupted. “I have a diplomatic duties.” She brushed past them and walked down to the water line, with Vinnie at her heels.

“She wants our help, but she doesn’t have a clue what Sarah can do,” Levvy spluttered.

“No big deal,” said Sarah, inwardly pleased by her friend’s loyalty.

They joined the throng on the shore. The Soapies’ rowboats bobbed and pitched near the closest of the three ships, the four-masted caravel. The caravel’s crew were lowering a dinghy with four sailors on board. One sailor held a large white flag aloft, flapping and snapping in the wind. The junk and frigate lowered their own dinghies, also with crews of four, flying white flags. Soon there were fourteen boats in the water, twelve dinghies from the visiting ships plus the two Soapie rowboats. Watching boats get tossed about like flotsam in the waves, Sarah felt ill. Water sloshed over gunwales, and sailors were thrown from bow to stern. On the beach, a crowd of gaily dressed, enthusiastic onlookers waved banners of welcome. A band on a hastily erected stage struck up a cheerful song. The crowd recognized the tune, and took up the refrain:

Oh, Terra round and green and blue, oh spinning ball of life

We sing for peace between us all, we sing to end the strife

With clumsy hands and thoughtless ways, we hurt our Mother Earth

So now we heal her trees and lakes, and prove we know her worth!

Sing hey-oh! Sing hey-oh! Sing hey-oh all the day-oh!

Sing hey-oh! Sing hey-oh! Hey for a better way-oh!

The boats made slow progress toward the shore. The caravel’s sailors wore flowing white robes and woven crowns of flowers. The junk’s sailors wore shiny red and blue silk ensembles, embroidered with golden dragons. The furthest dinghy, launched from the frigate, held sailors clad in black, silver and green armour. Using their megaphones, the Soapies addressed the closest dinghy, the one from the caravel. The Soapies’ rowboat floated perilously close, and the Soapy with the megaphone gestured out to sea.

“It looks like the Soapies don’t want the visitors to land,” said Levvy.

“They can’t stop people from coming ashore,” said Quinn doubtfully.

But it seemed the Soapies were doing precisely that. One Soapy thrust his oar into the caravel dinghy and tried to pull the two boats together. The foreign sailors struggled to navigate away from the Soapies. The ocean heaved, the sailors fought over the oar—and both boats capsized, spilling seven people into the cold water of the bay!

Without reflecting Sarah closed her eyes, spread her arms, and stroked empty air. Her hexagon talisman glowed, her palms tingled, and the tingling spread to her arms. As she stroked the air, wind relented, and waves in the bay subsided. People close to Sarah noticed the connection between her exaggerated movements and the calming of the water, and heads began to turn in her direction. Soon the water of the bay swelled gently, and cumulus clouds overhead dispersed. Rays of sunshine found their way through, striking beach and bay in brilliant bands of light.

The capsized sailors thrashed in tangled robes, struggling to swim to shore. Sarah imagined long, rubbery tentacles of seaweed. She extended her fingers, and undulated her hands. Bubbles boiled near each of the swimmers, and bulbous tips of bull kelp broke the surface—the ends of seven long seaweed ropes. The swimmers grasped the slippery seaweed, and held on tightly. People from the beach waded out, took hold of the lengths of kelp, and hauled the bedraggled swimmers in. Spitting and gasping, drenched Soapies and sailors reached the shallows, and onlookers cheered as they clambered gratefully over rocks to dry land.

The dinghies from the junk and the frigate, as well as the remaining Soapie rowboat, had surfed ashore, and crews were hauling their vessels above the high tide line. Buzzing in Sarah’s hands faded. Depleted, she sagged to the sand. Levvy knelt down and asked if she was alright, but Sarah couldn’t muster the energy to speak. The twelve visiting sailors linked arms, formed a line, and marched ceremonially up the beach, robes dripping and floral wreaths sodden. Levvy and Quinn helped Sarah to her feet. The crowd parted for the visitors, but before they could reach Sarah, they were intercepted by Grizzella Sticks, flanked by Vinnie and two aides. Grizzella recited a prepared speech in strident tones, welcoming the sailors to the free city of Vancouver. The sailors listened politely, and bowed when she finished speaking.

“These ships are in violation of the Anchorage and Landing Laws!” A Soapy shouted.

Jeers and booing from the crowd drowned the Soapy out, and the band struck up a reprise of the catchy song. Once again, the crowd sang the soaring refrain. The delegations of foreign sailors walked around a frowning Grizzella. Before Sarah, they dropped to one knee, and bowed their heads. Sarah looked to Quinn for an explanation, but he just smiled. An audience formed around the twelve sailors and Sarah. It was too much attention; she wanted to sink into the sand. One of the white-robed caravel sailors, a striking man with bronze skin and a jaunty topknot, addressed her in a Spanish accent.

“You are she of whom the prophecies speak,” he said. “She who will gather tribes together, and lead us into blessed harmony with our mother the Earth. We have sailed from the South Pacific Ocean to find you. We bring friendship and support from the South lands.”

With cupped hands, the man presented Sarah with a few tiny black seeds. He tipped them into her open, moist palm, and the moment the seeds touched her flesh they sprouted. In seconds the seeds grew into a bouquet of pink and orange flowers, and the crowd erupted in cheers and applause, smothering Sarah’s protests.

Next a beautiful woman in a red silk robe stitched with a golden dragon stepped forward. She had dark green eyes set like gems in a heart-shaped face, a mouth like a lush red flower, and when she spoke, her voice was like a sweet ringing of bells.

“We represent the lands to the East,” the woman said. “In visions and in dreams, we learned of a woman who holds hands with Nature. It is our honour to bring you the greetings and solidarity of kindred spirits in the Orient.”

Raising a slender arm, the woman revealed a small number of papery grey seeds in her hand. Sarah transferred the pink and orange flowers to her left arm, and accepted the fresh seeds with her right. Once again, on contact with her skin, seeds sprouted and grew into flowers, delicate pale green stalks ending in translucent, creamy blossoms. Onlookers reacted with shouts of surprise, and another burst of applause.

Finally, the armoured sailors sent forward a stern man with a light brown beard and moustache. He saluted Sarah, and nodded at Quinn and Levvy. “Our ship sailed the Northwest Passage to find the Witch Goddess. We bring you the friendship of the League of Natural Villages, in the Westerlands.” He handed Sarah flat brown seeds, which she accepted while balancing her large bouquet. The brown seeds produced a magnificent bunch of purple coneflowers.

Overwhelmed, Sarah faced the twelve sailors, clutching her exuberant bouquet. She wanted to say something gracious and appropriate, but had no clue where to start. Jellica, who had sidled through the crowd to stand beside Quinn, suddenly clutched his arm, and squealed.

“Oh look—a rainbow!”

A vibrant rainbow spanned the sky. It began in English Bay, and arced over the North Shore mountains. The sailors watched Sarah with expectant awe.

Tell them who you are,” Quinn whispered.

“The rainbow’s just a coincidence,” said Sarah urgently. “I didn’t—”

“Doesn’t matter. These people travelled around the world to meet you, so introduce yourself.” Quinn put a firm hand on Sarah’s back, and shoved her forward.

“I’m, uh, Sarah Spellings.”

“Sarah Spellings, Sarah Spellings.” Her name was quickly passed around the beach until the whole assembly seemed to be chanting it like a mantra.

Tell them about the grove,” Quinn prodded.

“We live in a treehouse grove? It’s, uh, called Sassamatta, after the lake?”

People were shushing each other to hear Sarah speak. Her tongue was cleaving to the roof of her mouth, and her mind had gone blank.

“We live in, uh, the forest. Welcome, by the way, to Vancouver.” Sarah glanced at Grizzella, whose lips were pinched in a wrinkled knot. “Um, maybe we can teach each other how we survive, in different parts of the world,” Sarah ended lamely.

To Sarah’s dismay, her halting little speech was met with thunderous applause. The band burst into song once more, heralding a dance party that lasted into the night. Word spread that it was Sarah’s birthday, and strangers stopped to wish her many happy returns of the day. Some pressed gifts upon her, food and clothing. Quinn and Levvy stayed by her side everywhere she went, taking questions on her behalf and relieving the social pressure.

At midnight, the sailors promised they would soon send delegations to Sassamatta, and rowed back out to their ships. As she walked back to Sylvia Place, Sarah caught sight of Grizzella Sticks. The leader’s arms were folded, and her face was stony. It had been a fabulous birthday, and Sarah had forgotten about Vancouver’s rebellion—and Parleyment’s intention to fight back.

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