Sarah Spellings & The Followers of The Grove

Return, Reunion, Revelation

“Sarah, Sarah, SARAH!”

Sammy ran full tilt into this sister’s arms. She rushed forward and lifted him up, two heads of thick hair pressed together. It was good to be home, Sarah thought, a surge of joy sweeping over her. Five days was too long to be away. She noted that Fern had alerted the grove of their arrival, and the kitchen was bustling with activity, pots clanging and dishes rattling. Laxgi swooped in on broad, silent wings. The eagle perched on a branch, cocked her head, and fixed a piercing eye on the people below, while Rumpus leaped and bounded in excitement. Beeswax candle lanterns hung from tree branches, their light was warm and welcoming. It was good to be back.

“I brought you something special from Vancouver,” Sarah whispered in Sammy’s ear.

“It’s called chocolate, and you’re going to love it.” Sarah reluctantly put Sammy down, and briefly hugged her father, who looked tired and disheveled.

“Dad, are you okay?”

Before Tony Spellings could answer, a shout went up. Sarah turned toward the sound, and grinned. Spex Gribble was wobbling into the clearing, his rags dirtier, hair and beard wilder than ever. A stern-looking Fern accompanied him, her hand gripping his shoulder.

“What’s Spex doing here?” Sarah turned to ask her father, but to her dismay, he had slipped away. She was brimming with news, and felt a sharp itch of disappointment at the vanishing act.

“I found him lurking in the forest,” Fern said sternly.

“Now, now,” said Spex. “I wouldn’t say lurking. Approaching cautiously.”

“Surely you didn’t come all this way on foot?” Quinn asked Spex.

“Walk? Good gracious no—I’m too old and portly for athletics,” Spex chuckled.

“Then how did you get here?” Levvy asked.

“Oh, I have my ways. I called in a favour here, and a debt there. In the end I acquired a pony called Grump. He’s tethered yonder,” Spex gestured vaguely, “where I camped out.”

“But I scanned the forest last night,” Fern frowned. “You must have shielded your camp from my sensors—but how? I can’t believe I missed a man and a pony.”

“Not important at present,” said Spex, and he brushed Fern’s hand from his shoulder as if it were an annoying fly. “The freshly crowned Queen of Nature has returned, I hear, and has brought with her a most intriguing entourage. Introductions are in order.”

Sarah winced at the title; she didn’t feel like a queen. She was bone tired, as her father would say; but being back in Sassamatta Grove was reviving her. She felt an infusion of energy from the earth. Breathing deeply, she felt strengthened and renewed by forest and sky. But not royal. The twelve sailors from the tall ships clustered together, gazing about the clearing in the twilight. Sarah rallied her courage, and spoke up.

“In Vancouver, we discovered that three ships had sailed into English Bay, and our guests are from the crews of these ships. They want to live in nature, like us.” Sarah glanced at Quinn, and he gave her a nod of encouragement, but she promptly lost the thread of her speech. “Um, it’s a real honour to host them here, in Sassamatta, and—well, Mateo, would you please..?”

Mateo, the sailor from the south, stepped forward, and Sarah sank gratefully onto a mossy log between Quinn and Levvy. Mateo had exchanged white robes for canvas hiking pants and jacket. His topknot was perched on his head like a sculpture made of hair. With passionate gestures, he described how earthquakes had crumbled cities all the way down the Pacific edge of the Americas. Thousands of people had died in quakes, tidal waves, and flooding. Urban survivors, Mateo said, were saved by the residents of small villages, who shared their natural medicines, healthy foods, and ancient ways of life.

Mateo’s eyes grew round with wonder. “Great seers and prophets came from the mountains, telling of a girl from the north with phenomenal powers. So we outfitted a caravel, assembled a crew, and sailed to find this girl and hear her message. Far out in the Pacific Ocean, we met a Chinese Junk. on the same mission, and together we found Sarah Spellings.”

Sarah opened her mouth to protest; why was Mateo so confident she was the magical girl they sought? Levvy ground her heel painfully into Sarah’s foot, and shushed her.

Song, the beautiful sailor from the junk, spoke next, in an enchanting voice with sing-song swoops and lilts. She placed her palms together and bowed toward Sarah, then related the aftermath of catastrophic storms in Asia, and the subsequent return of small farms and old ways. “Eastern nations wondered if global trade and travel would ever be possible again,” Song said. “But Sing Yao, our famous prophet, spoke of a woman of natural wonders who lived across the Pacific Ocean. A junk was sent to find her, and as Mateo said, we met his caravel on the high seas.”

Sarah snorted. She was fourteen, and barely a woman. She was about to say so when Quinn grabbed her arm and yanked her down to the log, and Levvy glared a warning.

Bram, the bearded man from the frigate, addressed the grove in a booming voice. Sarah slouched uneasily between her friends, and listened to a European version of the same unbelievable story. Westerlanders, as Europeans now called themselves, had sailed across the Atlantic and through the Northwest Passage, then south to Vancouver. They had arrived, by sheer coincidence, at the same moment as the caravel and the junk.

“We were amazed,” Bram said, “to encounter two other ships seeking the Sorceress of the Earth. We knew we had found her when she calmed the sea even as we rowed to shore.”

Sarah lowered her gaze; what a fuss they were making! Spex was nodding his messy mane, and Fern stood at rapt attention, hanging on Bram’s every word. Bram moved on to an account of Europe’s rapid recovery from natural disasters. Equipped with solar, wind and tidal power, the Westerlander system of villages connected by bicycle and horse paths was a viable solution to post-disaster living, Bram said proudly. Tales of a mysterious sorceress had brought them to Vancouver, but they also wanted to help North American cities recover from natural disasters.

Bram sat down. Expectant eyes turned to Sarah, and reluctantly she stood, hoping Quinn and Levvy would haul her down again. But her friends waited for her to address the gathering.

“We’re, uh, honoured you came so far,” Sarah stammered. “And you’re all welcome to Sassamatta, our first grove. Hopefully the way of the future.” Sarah spread her arms, hoping the splendid tree village would speak for itself, but an uncomfortable silence permeated the clearing as the crews of the three ships peered into the forest, looking confused.

“Sarah, they haven’t eaten hunaja,” Levvy murmured. “So we’re just a bunch of people standing around. Not so impressive.”

Blood rushed to Sarah’s cheeks; she was already flubbing things. Maybe the delegations would turn around and leave, crushed to have come around the world for nothing. She turned to Quinn, but he

shook his head, and her heart sank.

“The bees need hunaja to survive winter, and there’s only enough capped honeycomb in the hives for the bees,” Quinn said, biting his lip in contrition.

“What about just a teeny, tiny piece?” Sarah whispered. “I could make more with that.”

A light of understanding shone in Quinn’s eyes, and sprinted into the gloaming. Sarah watched his yellow hair until she couldn’t see it anymore. The formal meeting dissolved, and Followers of the Grove fell to chatting with the foreign visitors.

“Ahem,” Spex cleared his throat importantly. “While our fine young man visits the beehives, I have information to impart, from my radio sessions.” He waved his short arms over his head, but no one paid him any attention.”My news is serious,” Spex warned.

But no one listened. Sammy rushed to ask Bram about his armour, and Tomin offered Song a private tour of the grove. Mateo opened a black case, revealing a classical guitar, which prompted the grove’s musicians to organize a jam session for later that night. Quinn reappeared, his hands cupped, and hurried to Sarah’s side. She took the minuscule portion of honeycomb he held and enclosed it in her hands. When the hexagon talisman came to life and glowed, light filtered out between her fingers, and she heard a faint musical hum. She could feel the hunaja growing between her fingers, but a searing pain made her gasp—her palms were being scalded! Swallowing a scream, she tolerated the pain by taking deep breaths. Tears streamed down her cheeks. When she couldn’t stand the agony any longer, Sarah opened her hands. She was holding a large, pyramid-shaped piece of honeycomb, dripping with hunaja. Quinn divided the comb between the sailors, and they thanked him in various languages, with variations on blessings. Sarah tucked her injured hands into her armpits.

“What’s up?” Levvy asked sternly.


“Let me see,” Levvy insisted.

Sarah opened her hands, showing her red, blistered palms.

“You can never do that again, Sarah,” said Levvy. “These burns could get infected.”

“It’s no big deal. A plantain salve will heal them,” said Sarah, thinking of her father’s home remedies. Where was he, anyway? It was unlike him to miss out on a momentous occasion like this. The sailors had eaten hunaja, and were exclaiming their awe at the glittering treehouse village.

“May we climb las escaleras?” Mateo asked eagerly.

Spex harrumphed. “Before you go running off all pleased with yourselves, you must digest some unfortunate tidings,” he said loudly.

Once again, Spex was ignored. He stumped into the forest.

Exploration of treehouses and rope bridges gave way to a festive gathering around a campfire that night. Mateo’s original Spanish drew emphatic applause. Tony Spellings showed up for dinner, but stayed close to Sammy, and avoided Sarah. Climbing into her cedar bed at midnight, Sarah was confused. Over breakfast the next morning, Tomin climbed a tree stump serving as a podium, and addressed the sailors.

“This is a temperate rainforest,” Tomin said. “Snow that sticks is rare this close to the ocean. But the mountains around us are deep in snow all winter, and it’s cold and rainy here for months. We have fish, vegetables and fruit to dry and preserve, extra cedar boughs to collect for insulating our treehouses, warm clothing to make and repair, root cellars to dig, and cornmeal flour to grind. Also, if any of you plan to stay for the winter, we need to build more treehouses. So we could use your help.”

“Excuse me, but your escaleras?” Mateo said. “Your ladders, yes? Where I come from we climb palm trees, and usemachetes to harvest leaves for thatching. I can make ladders.”

“Rope crafting is a tradition in my family,” Song offered. “I could be useful.”

“I am a boatbuilder,” said Bram. “A carpenter, by trade. Treehouses, I can help you build.”

Quinn oversaw the construction of ladders, bridges and treehouses. Levvy and Sarah were put on winter clothing duty. Murdock and Fern volunteered to work in the gardens, protecting rows of dark green kale and leafy swiss chard with mounds of dried grass. Sarah was surprised to see Hanx and Trig digging holes for fenceposts around the vegetable garden.

“They absolutely love it here,” Fern explained, “and they say they’ll never go back to Parleyment. We fed them for a couple of days, and they got hooked on the food. Plus we’re nice to them, which they say is a significant change from what they’re used to. But Sarah, Milton’s a problem. We had to keep him in the net, like a cage, because he says he’ll hurt us if we release him. Your father talks to Milton a lot, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s helping.”

Sarah didn’t know what to make of this information. What was her father talking to Milton about, she wondered? That evening, she and Levvy went to the meadow near the beehives. Levvy was armed with a crochet hook and a handful of bulky yarn. A bag of old sweaters slouched in the brown grass beside her; she was recycling sweaters by crocheting them into multicoloured patchwork coats and vests. Sarah had a basket of dried apricots and apples from the kitchen, because she wanted to explore her powers. If food was scarce in winter, would she be able to multiply the grove’s stores, without hurting her hands? She held a dried apple, and concentrated on relieving hunger, but the hexagon was a cold metal lump, and her palms didn’t warm up.
“It won’t work because there’s plenty to eat,” said Levvy, winding a skein of purple wool. “Logically, you won’t be able to make food until there’s nothing to eat.”

Sarah tried again. She pictured the grove in midwinter, her friends huddled together against frosty air, their faces drawn and pinched with hunger. But it was no use, and her palms prickled with pain. She buried her face in her sore palms and groaned, wished the hexagon talisman had sung for someone else. “What if everything that’s happened so far has been a fluke,” Sarah asked Levvy. “Like some kind of weird coincidence?”

Levvy dropped wool and crochet hook into her lap. “Are you kidding me? A fluke is when you meet someone who has the same birthday as you, or get dealt a perfect hand of cards. Flukes are pure luck. But white flowers, growing in minutes, lighting up a path at night? Seeds that explode into bouquets in your hands? Those weren’t coincidences! Nobody else can make those things happen, Sarah. Don’t worry, there’s no mistake. The tall ships sailed here for you.”

“But my powers aren’t working. Maybe I used up all the magic.”

“It doesn’t work like that,” said Levvy. “Remember what Quinn said? You can only make things happen when it will benefit people, so a practice session won’t work. Hand me one of those dried apples, and help me fix these sweaters.”

But Sarah felt restless. She said goodbye to her friend, and went looking for her father. She found him by the prisoner’s net, deep in conversation with Milton.

“Later,” her father mouthed, and smiling crookedly. He waved her away.

After sunset, Sarah walked down to the lake with Quinn and Levvy to watch the stars come out. The air was crisp, the sky clear and starry. A path of silver moonlight rippled across the water, and they realized they weren’t alone; Fern, Murdock, and Spex were standing by the lake.

“Sarah, there you are,” said Fern. “Spex has some news.”

“It’s rather a downer, as you children say. Ichamus Nickel is in disgrace with Parleyment, after his defeat at your hands, and his forces are a shambles. The neighbourhood around Wailsmouth Street has fallen into crime and anarchy.”

“What about my parents?” asked Levvy anxiously.

“We should get a message to them,” said Spex. “But we’ll have to hurry.”

“What’s the rush?” Quinn asked.

Spex folded his hands on his belly. “Harpminster Abbott is most displeased. He’s gathering an army, to retake Vancouver for Parleyment, and stamp out alternative communities—and the General of this Parleyment Army will be none other than himself.”

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