Preface to Chapter 40
New posting schedule: Find a new chapter each week on Tuesdays
Children have endured a time of increased solitude. They have had their daily lives changed and still face an uncertain time as the world moves through the end of the pandemic and back to health.
I am a retired teacher developing the story The Secret Prince to show role models who face a situation in which their world has changed dramatically. A flood surrounds the Medieval castle and the village. Prince Ronduin cannot go to school in the village and cannot run through the woods. How does he pass his time? Mirabel, who lives near the village is stuck in a small house with eleven other people. Can Ronduin and Mirabel help children today? Can the story help to normalize the experience of living in an unusual time?
As the flood waters in the story begin to recede, we see the pandemic receding in some countries and regions and not in others. The story continues to be a metaphor for the evolution of the pandemic and our experiences during this unusual time. In the story, some characters travel to the foothills, away from the flooding while those in the castle continue to be homebound.
I’ve been pleased to learn that many families are reading this to their children as the story grows. In the northern hemisphere, teachers used this story with their classes during the 2019/2020 schools year and some are resuming the story with their classes for the 2020/ 2021 school year. I’ve included math topics relevant to children in the early grades. The story can also be used by teachers presenting the Medieval period. Historical events are not included, however, I am attempting to show how people lived in this time period.
I hope you and your family will join us!
If you are new to this story, start here: https://childrengrowing.com/2020/03/15/stories-for-children-in-times-of-trouble-storytelling-help-for-parents-in-the-era-of-covid-19/
You will find a link to the next chapter (as soon as it is available) at the end of each chapter.
Many thanks to the collaborators who are translating this story: Joel Aragón Colín who is translating the story into Spanish, to Phan Lê Minh who is translating the story into Vietnamese and Tanya Kirilova Kothari who is translating The Secret Prince into Bulgarian! I am also grateful Karah Pino who is writing the chapters about Roland, the farmer on the hill, and to Elliot Gardner who has joined the team as my editorial assistant.
Also in the works is The Secret Prince readaloud onvideo by a talented speaker!
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Mirabel ran down the pathway that parted the grass. She ran into the soft breeze with her long hair flowing behind her, with her skirt swishing against her legs. She ran lightly across the lowest of the foothills almost like a flying bird, as did Rowan running behind her.
The path had, at first, led them uphill for some time. When the path split they had stopped to drink from the flask. Then they had followed Sir Andrew’s direction to take the left path, the narrower path. Mirabel ran for the joy of it, shaking off weeks of being stuck on a little island in the forest surrounded by water. The sun felt warm and good on her face.
Mirabel had rolled her mother’s light weight wool shawl into a thin tube and tied it around her waist, for it was too warm to wear around her shoulders. She used the rolled up shawl as a pocket to carry two chunks of cheese and two rolls of bread baked that very morning.
Mirabel felt like she could run forever, and, looking at the rolling hills before her, and the high path across the low soggy fields to barn hill in the distance, she realized that today she would cover more distance she ever had as a runner. Now the path led the two runners downhill. Ahead, in the bottom of a valley, Mirabel saw a line of low trees and bushes. The path was steeper as it entered this thicket and here Mirabel and Rowan slowed.
Rowan and Mirabel saw the ravine at the same time. Rowan called out, “Look at that!” They stopped running and walked downhill to the edge of the deep crack in the earth. A loud, rushing stream ran filled the ravine with its roar.
“They call this Disappearing Brook,” said Rowan.
“It must dry up at the end of the summer in the heat,” said Mirabel.
“But now the water is running fast and deep because the floodwater is still flowing out of the mountains,” said Rowan.
“I can see why they said a horse cannot travel to barn hill on this path right now,” said Mirabel, raising her voice to be heard above the rushing water.
“But, when the river is low, or when it’s dry, a horse could walk to the bottom of the ravine and just walk across at that spot down there where the river widens and the sides aren’t so steep, ” said Rowan.
“Looks like our bridge is that fallen tree,” said Mirabel pointing to a fallen oak part way down the ravine.
Mirabel and Rowan walked along a zigzag path until they came to the tree.
“This tree was chopped down,” said Rowan.
I see the axe marks,” said Mirabel. “Looks like someone, probably Stephan, cut it on purpose to make a bridge.”
“You first,” said Rowan.
Mirabel walked out on a broad and branchless section of trunk. She concentrated on balance and moved ahead slowly with confidence. She felt grateful as she gripped the first branch. The branches were closely spaced and Mirabel found it easy to reach for a new branch while still holding on to the last one. Now, grasping a branch in each hand, she looked down at the brook rumbling beneath. She broke a twig off of a limb and dropped it and watched as it danced, bouncing downstream with the force of the current.
She finished her journey across the tree bridge. Then she watched Rowan make his own careful crossing. Climbing out of the ravine, they found themselves on a wide cart path. Looking to the left they saw that the path normally provided a way for horses travel from the stable at the base of barn hill to the foothills. Looking to the right, they saw that the cart path ran uphill along the ravine and led to the hill stable that was so far in the distance that it looked very small.
“Ready to run?” asked Mirabel.
“More like ready to eat,” said Rowan. “See that big rock on the hillside? It actually looks like a table top. Let’s stop there and have our bread and cheese.”
“I’ll race you!” challenged Mirabel.
Rowan smiled and nodded. At the same second they burst onto the path across the grassy hillside. Here the path was wide enough for them to run side by side, for it was often used by horses. Memories of running with Ronduin flashed through Mirabel’s mind again and again. “How lucky I am to get to run,” she thought, “while Ronduin is probably stuck at home.”
The brother and sister ran together and then Rowan burst ahead. Mirabel held herself back, saving her energy. They ran and ran across the grassy hillside with Mirabel close behind Rowan.
Mirabel waited for the right moment. She wanted to surprise Rowan by bursting ahead him as they neared the big rock. When the boulder was less than a minute away, Mirabel poured on speed and easily passed Rowan.
He called out, “Hey!” and again took the lead. Mirabel rushed forward and they reached the rock at the same time, laughing. For a moment they both leaned against the rock which was shoulder high for Mirabel. Then she stepped away from the rock and walked slowly, feeling the pounding of her heart and quick breathing settle down. Rowan walked around the rock, looking for the best place to climb up. Finally he found a foothold that was high, but not too high for his long legs. After scrambling up, he reached out and took Mirabel’s outstretched hand and pulled her up.
Mirabel stood and looked to her right at the castle and at barn hill. Then she looked straight ahead at the soggy fields. Finally, she looked left toward the village where the bell tower could be seen above the trees and toward the forest that sheltered their home. She thought of their mother, home alone with the little children.
“I wish we could send a signal to mother to let her know that we are well,” said Mirabel.
“Think hard and maybe your message will reach her,” said Rowan.
Mirabel took off her makeshift belt, the rolled up shawl. She unrolled it and took out the bread and cheese wrapped in cloth. She spread out the shawl on top of the rock for a picnic blanket and placed the food in the center. Rowan placed the flask of water next to the food. Mirabel and Rowan both bowed their heads in thanks. Never had a simple meal tasted so good.
They ate in silence and at first Mirabel’s thought only about the tang of the cheese and the chewiness of the bread.
But then her eyes fell on the castle. “You know,” she said, “people are sometimes jealous of kings and queens, princes and princesses. But I think that today we are the lucky ones. We get to run through these lovely hills and that sickly prince is stuck in a castle surrounded by mud.”
“I would rather be free to run than to be such a prince,” said Rowan. “Today we are the most fortunate children in the entire kingdom.”
“We must then show our gratitude by reaching Roland as soon as we can,” said Mirabel.
“Yes,” said Rowan. “The high path to barn hill is not that far away. We have run so far. Do you need to walk for a bit?”
“I can run,” said Mirabel, feeling strong.