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The Battle of Farrago Square

Last time, we left Karen stuck in Farrago Square, listening to Marianne Hardbun’s speech…

The crowd applauded and hollered and stamped their hooves enthusiastically. Marianne Hardbun waved from the stage, then clasped both hands over her head. Karen checked her phone. Once again there was no signal, but she took note of the time. The afternoon was slipping away. She had no intention of walking back to Winton’s after dark, especially on her own. If she was going to the river, she had better leave now. With so many sucked into Farrago Square, Karen hoped the surrounding streets would now be empty. But escaping such a thick crowd would not be easy. With Whiteley securely stowed in her hip pocket, she stood up and steadily went back the way she came. The crowd faced the stage, and barely noticed Karen, making no effort to move out of her way. She picked through as politely as she could, and pushed when necessary, which was often. It took fifteen minutes of tortuous writhing and shoving to return to the corner of the Treasury. The police were still guarding it. But their mood had changed.

The police were enraged.

Karen quickened. The crowd thinned towards its edges, allowing her easier progress. The anger of the police made Karen feel edgy. She wanted to get away from here, and from them. Something bad might happen. The feelings of the police were understandable, but that did not make Karen feel any happier. Never mind her sore ankle, which felt like it had been rubbed raw. Karen was now pushing her way through the remainder of the crowd, desperate to break through and out.

The police were furious.

They had reason to be angry. As they guarded the base of the Treasury, the birds sitting on the Treasury roof had begun their own protest against authority. It was a dirty protest – a very dirty protest. Lining the roof of the Treasury, the birds turned their backs to the police below, and pooed on them. Splat, splat, splat, it came down like thick white rain. Black helmets were turned a Dalmatian pattern. The police dogs barked furiously. Karen kept her distance, like the rest of the crowd. She put a hand to her mouth, feeling sickened. Some of the police were shouting at the birds to stop. Others sheltered under their shields. The barrage continued. Karen was nearly clear of the crowd and ready to slip down a side street. Thankfully, the street looked empty. She was nearly clear. And then things turned nasty.

“Look at that!” shouted somebody from the crowd. Like ripples from a stone in the water, it spread, as more and more looked up, and pointed, and shouted. Karen looked too. She was nearly clear, but she looked too. Curiosity reached out its spindly fingers and caught her in its grasp. She saw two golden eagles in the sky. They looked like the eagles that had stood on the steps behind her. They dove in, lunging their fearsome talons at the birds on the Treasury roof. And then two more eagles came, and one caught a pigeon, and flew away with it. Karen put her hand over her eyes. It was horrible to see, but beautiful too. She watched through her fingers. Another eagle caught its prey. And then another. Hundreds of eagles swooped down from the airship that patrolled the square. The birds on the Treasury roof responded with panic, flying away in every direction, as quickly as they could. More eagles came, more prey was taken. The protesting birds were savagely torn apart, and their lifeless bodies were dropped on the crowd below, so the eagles could circle back to catch more. The police on the ground cheered and high-fived each other. The dirty protest had been broken up. But the police were not relieved for long.

Now the crowd was angry.

A man carrying a flag rushed towards the line of police. He brandished the flagpole like a spear, jabbing it toward a policewoman. She parried it with her shield. Other police rushed to the fray, and wrestled to take possession of the flagpole. The crowd surrounded them. Fists and feet struck the unprotected backs and legs of the police. Those police scrambled back to the line of their colleagues. The police dogs snapped at protestors that came too close. With the Treasury building behind them, and their shields in front of them, the police held off the most violent of the crowd, thrashing and gnashing with batons and teeth. Objects were thrown by foes hidden in the multitude: a half-eaten piece of fruit, a placard, a bottle. Now the eagles swooped on the crowd below, causing them to duck away from their claws. Somebody’s face was cut. Horses came, with policemen riding them, and they charged the crowd. Somebody fell under the hooves. Elsewhere, a policewoman was on the floor, encircled by rioters. They kicked her. Police reinforcements burst out of the Treasury; a slew of bears stampeded into the mob, causing panic. This was mayhem, chaotic struggle, like the geese at St. James’ Park, but so much worse. Those geese fought for food; Karen could not tell what this fight was for. Limbs struck in every direction. Weapons were made from whatever was to hand. Voices were in uproar. Blood flowed. Karen looked at the people and the animals, but from the way they behaved, it was no longer possible to say which was which. She wanted to get away. Some behind her were surging forward, towards the fighting, trying to join it, pushing her along with them. She pushed back, wriggled through them, turning her back on the fray. She wanted to go home. She pushed back. She wanted none of this. She wanted to be home. She pushed back, and through.

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