Sarah Spellings & The Followers of The Grove

War, Peace, and Plum Pudding

Snow clung to Sarah’s clothes. She was filled with cold despair. Crying people dotted the snowy lawn. Her father’s shoulders jerked with the force of his sobs, and strangely, the sight made Sarah feel a bit better. Maybe her father wasn’t a traitor after all. She washed her hands with snow, leaving a pink, bloodstained circle where she’d fallen. Tanks squatted under a starless sky. Others were recovering too; two warriors restrained a protesting prisoner, Ichamus Nickel, and carried him into the building. Rumpus bounded to Sarah’s side, his tail wagging, and her heart warmed as she rubbed his wiry fur. Drying his eyes with the backs of his hands, Sarah’s father joined her.

“I wanted to kill him,” he said, “but I couldn’t do it.”

“You’re not a murderer, Dad.”

“Sarah, you have to believe me. I left the grove with Milton to try and change Harpy’s mind about the attack. I thought you and Sammy would be safe at Sassamatta.”

Tears filled Sarah’s eyes again, and she turned away from her father. A slim figure was striding toward them, removing a large hood.

“Fern,” Sarah gasped.

“Hey, Sarah. I see you found your dad. Sammy’s with Murdock,” she said.

“Is he alright?” Tony asked anxiously.

Fern considered the question for a moment. “Sure,” she said. “Kind of depends on what you mean by fine. He misses you guys, but he and Murdock have been riding the park trails all day.”

“Riding?” Tony frowned.

“Christmas, remember? Santa brought Sammy a bicycle,” said Fern.

Tony peppered Fern with questions, and Sarah went looking for Quinn. She found him kicking at burned-out arrows that studded the scorched lawn.

“Where did he go?” Quinn asked, his mouth twisting in disgust.

“I don’t know,” said Sarah. “He got away.”

“Are you sure? He could be hiding close by.” Quinn surveyed the shrubs, as if Harpminster Abbott might be crouched behind a bush.

“No, he’s gone. I can feel it.”

“He could be inside one of the tanks,” Quinn said.

The tanks! Sarah hurried over trampled snow to the tank that had brought her to Vancouver. Inside the metal machine, the air was chilly. There were no lights, but Sarah’s hexagon necklace glowed softly. She searched the tank, but it was empty—the old man was gone. Puzzled, she rejoined Quinn, who was speaking earnestly with Grizzella Sticks.

“Sarah, on behalf of Vancouver, I thank you,” said Grizzella, clutching her velvet hat to her chest. “Without the information you fed us, we wouldn’t have known they were coming.”

“I thought the microphone wasn’t working, because no one came to rescue me,” Sarah said. She glanced reproachfully at Quinn.

“We were overwhelmed with preparations,” Grizzella said. “It seemed you were safe.”

“I was a prisoner,” said Sarah. “I was under guard the whole time.”

I’m curious about something,” said Grizzella, ignoring Sarah’s aggrieved tone. “The Parleyment forces were a good deal smaller than what we expected. Based on your reports, we expected a bigger army.”

“There was an accident on the way here,” said Sarah. “A bridge collapsed.”

“A bridge—where?”

“Couldn’t tell you. I was inside a tank. It wasn’t far from Wailsmouth Street.”

“The Patullo Bridge, then,” said Grizzella. “I’ll dispatch a team of Soapies. They’re trained in maritime first aid, and open water rescue.”

“Sarah, about not coming for you,” Quinn began.

“I’m afraid I must ask for more help, Sarah,” Grizzella cut in. “Even after all you’ve done. We have wounded. One of the Pavilion ballrooms is being converted to a small hospital, and Quinn tells me you have a talent for healing. Would you mind?”

Sarah nodded, and Grizzella gave her a tight smile. They started toward the Pavilion. On the steps, Hanx and Trig were blubbering. A black form was stretched out on the ground between them.

“Take some deep breaths,” Quinn advised the big men. “You’ll feel better soon.”

“It’s m-m-m-Milton,” cried Hanx. “We squished him.”

“We didn’t mean to—we just wanted to t-t-tackle him,” bawled Trig.

Rumpus sniffed at the crumpled black form, and whined in distress.

“I’m sure he’ll bounce back. Let me have a look at him.” Fern scanned the body with her altered eyes, then knelt down and felt Milton’s chest. She checked for a pulse with her fingers, then straightened slowly, brushing off her hands.

“Nope. He’s dead.”

Hanx and Trig howled.

“Hey,” said Sarah. “You guys saved my life. And maybe you didn’t squish him,” she added. “He could have had a heart attack.”

“Go inside, boys. We’ll take care of this,” Fern said kindly, gently steering the big men toward the Pavilion.

Quinn lifted Milton’s feet. Fern hooked her elbows under lifeless arms.

“Heart attack?” Quinn raised an eyebrow.

“Pretty sure they squished him,” Fern muttered.

Sarah scanned the empty lawn. An awful premonition made her shiver.

“Where’s Levvy?”

“As I was saying, there’s a field hospital—”

Sarah pushed past Grizzella and rushed into the building. The foyer was decked for Christmas. Holly wreaths hung on panelled walls, and mistletoe dangled from doorways. Wrought iron sconces bore flaming torches. Swaths of red-and-cream plaid fabric were draped and tied over every window, framing evergreen wreaths with gold-dusted pinecones. A lusty tenor led a happy throng in a hearty chorus of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Brushing off congratulations, shouts of victory, applause, and cheers, she jostled soldiers and warriors to get through the crowd.

“Where’s the medical room?” Sarah demanded.

“Come with me.” Grizzella steered Sarah to a set of swinging doors at the rear of the room.

They entered a considerably less jolly place, bright with overhead electric lights. Rows of bodies lay supine on stretchers.

“No dogs allowed,” a stern nurse said.

But Sarah was focussed on finding her friend. She spotted an orange toque, and hurried to Levvy’s side with Rumpus at her heels, much to the nurse’s displeasure.

Levvy tried to rise, winced, and collapsed on the stretcher.

“What happened?” Sarah asked.

“Got shot again,” Levvy grimaced. “In the arm this time. Can you believe it? I’m still limping from last time. But I have a theory: it’s my magnetic personality.

“Are you deaf?” A harried nurse confronted Sarah. “Get that dog out of here!”

“Please give us five minutes,” Sarah said. Rumpus blinked up at the nurse, and tilted his head.

“Oh, all right,” said the nurse gruffly.

“No offence Sarah, but you look way worse than I feel. Is that blood?”

“Yeah. Milton cut my throat.”

The day caught up with Sarah. Glaring electric lights faded. Happy sounds from the grand hall merged with the memory of cannon fire, and boomed inside her head. She felt herself falling.

She woke when gentle hands placed a warm washcloth on her forehead. A nurse fed her a sweet drink, and covered her with a soft blanket. Her bloody clothes were gone; she was dressed in a clean hemp tunic and pyjama pants. Snippets of conversation reached her:

Cannon shot, right through the second floor.

No fatalities, except the little Parleyment guy.

That girl Fern saw them coming from a mile away.

I felt so awful—just couldn’t stop crying.

Nurse Leona? The Dwight girl’s parents are here to see her.

A gong sounded. Quinn appeared. “The gong means dinner,” he said. “Do you think you can walk?” He was helping Sarah stand when someone screamed.

“NO! Don’t touch me!”

Three beds away, a Parleyment soldier lay face down on a gurney. His pants had been cut away, and two metal throwing stars protruded from his exposed backside. A nurse was prodding the red, inflamed flesh.

“Ouch,” said Quinn. “That looks like it hurts. Song’s got great aim.”

“Go on,” the nurse said brusquely. “Off to the feast, you two.”

“Levvy’s parents are here,” said Quinn. “They just arrived, with Sammy and Murdock.”

They passed through the grand hall with its enormous, twinkling Christmas tree, and came to a long corridor. From the end of this hall came sumptuous aromas, happy chatter, and the clinking of cutlery. Inside a packed ballroom, a buffet table groaned under a feast. There were mounds of garlic-and-butter steamed kale and swiss chard, bowls of mashed potatoes and steaming platters of baked sweet potatoes, mushrooms stuffed with herbs and cheese, vats of cranberry sauce and gravy, and a row of crispy-skinned, juicy turkeys. A smaller table featured vats of plum pudding and sugared berries. Bellied up to this feast, his bushy head and gold-rimmed glasses almost obscured by a tower of potatoes, was Spex Gribble.

“Sarah! A happy Christmas to you! Such a delectable repast; one scarcely knows where to begin. But begin we must. I believe this would be an excellent morsel…” Spex placed a turkey leg almost as big as his arm on his plate, and ladled a generous portion of gravy overtop. “Plenty of time for a postprandial catch-up, my dear girl. Plenty of time,” Spex said.

Doug and Debbie Dwight stood up as Sarah passed their table.

“We are so proud of you,” Debbie said, giving her a hug.

“You have earned my deep respect,” said Doug.

“SARAH!” Sammy was jumping up and down at a corner table beside Murdock. Levvy and Fern were there too, and her father.

“Sarah, sit here with me and Dad,” said Sammy. “Guess what Santa brought me, a bike. It’s black, and it has front and back shocks. Murdock taught me how to do a wheelie. Do you know what that is?”

Sarah’s father smiled at her hesitantly. He looked exhausted. Sarah found she could only nod at him. A hearty chorus resounded: BLESSINGS! Sarah got a plate of food, and sat down.

“Great you got the microphone installed before you got caught,” Levvy said, chewing a mouthful of buttery carrots.

“I was worried about you,” Sarah said. “The last time I saw you…”

“I couldn’t walk for a week,” said Levvy. “My big toe is missing a notch.”

“When we heard you talk about the tanks, Doug had the brilliant idea of infesting them with mice,” said Quinn. “Sounds like that plan worked.”

Sarah dropped her fork. Gravy splashed onto the table.

“If you were right there, at Spex’s place, why didn’t you rescue me?”

Sarah thought bitterly about the long, tedious days in Violet’s hideous pink and purple living room, eating stale factory food under constant armed guard.

“Violet’s house was surrounded,” Quinn said.

“You were miserable, but safe,” Levvy chimed in.

Sarah’s father cleared his throat, and glanced around the table awkwardly. “I regret my decision to help Milton escape, and I owe you all an apology. I thought I could make Harpy listen to reason, but I was wrong.” Tony hung his head.

Quinn reached over and shook Tony’s hand, and Levvy patted his back.

Sarah’s mind was reeling. “I thought I put the mice in the tanks,” she murmured.

“How could you have ? You were locked up,” said Levvy. She stabbed a glistening baby potato with her uninjured arm.

Sarah recalled her hexagon necklace glowing after the mouse dream. If she hadn’t infested the tanks with mice, then all she had done was get herself captured. She took a deep breath, determined to be gracious. “You were right about the archery training, Quinn. It was useful,” Sarah admitted.

“The snow was the clincher,” said Quinn. “I bet that was you.”

Sarah smiled.

“Sarah, the snow was the best,” Levvy said. “It was Grizzella’s idea to decorate the city, and fill the streets with sounds and smells of Christmas. She ordered an evacuation to shelters, just in case. There are Christmas banquets like this one in safe locations all over the city.”

Sarah gazed around the room. Vinnie waved at her, and Jellica gave her a thumbs-up. The Parleyment soldiers who had surrendered were eating with gusto. In a back corner, Ichamus and Pietro were eating under guard. Before dessert, Grizzella stood to address the room.

“Merry Christmas! Today we celebrate a new era of peace!” A deafening roar went up in the hall. “Sarah, I believe a light snowfall is in order,” said Grizzella.

Sarah stood up, and raised her arms. The hexagon necklace shone. Outside the broad windows, sparkling snow began to fall.

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