Roland led Mirabel and Rowan into the the great barn. The glow of the sunset still lingered in the sky, yet the barn was already a place of deep shadows. Mirabel blinked, but she could not blink away the darkness. Then, as her eyes got used to the dimness, she saw heavy wooden beams above, a dirt floor and cows looking at her curiously.
Mirabel sensed that something about this barn was unusual. For some reason, even though many cows and sheep turned their heads to stare at her, the barn felt empty. It took a moment to figure out what was different. She remembered this barn from her visit and she remembered other, smaller barns. Now she realized that this barn had no straw bedding filling every stall, no feeding troughs brimming with hay. She realized that they were out of food and bedding. This was why she and Rowan had run all the way from the river. These animals were hungry and Roland could not leave without someone to care for the creatures left behind.
Now, one cow spoke a low mooing sound. Then the others joined in until all the cows bellowed together.
“Rowan,” said Roland raising his voice to be heard over the cows, “Would you mind climbing the ladder to the loft to bring down the bucket you will find there?”
“Of course,” he said, and then Rowan climbed up and then down the wooden ladder carrying a wooden bucket which he handed to Roland.
Now Roland walked along the row of cows, allowing each to poke her snout into the bucket for mouthful of oats. He spoke to the cows as he fed them. “You are hungry tonight, but, tomorrow, you will travel to new grass, as much as you can eat.”
The cows became quiet again. It was only then that Mirabel noticed a cat at her feet looking up at her.
“That’s Robere,” said Roland. “He hopes you brought him a treat.” “I do have a small treat for you, Robere,” she said. Mirabel untied the shawl from her waist, pulled out a rolled up cloth and found within it a few tiny chunks of cheese. She lifted the big cat and held out the bits of cheese on her flat hand.
“Here you go, Robere,” said Mirabel. “You remind me of my own cat who was born here in this barn.”
“Robere is a brother to your cat,” said Roland. “He won’t need much care while I’m away. In fact, he helps care for us by ridding the barn of mice.”
Roland walked across the barn to a stall occupied by a cow and her calf.
“This is Giselle,” said Roland. “And here is her little calf.” She is the reason I need help here in the barn. In the morning, I will walk to the foothills with Galen the horse, all the sheep, and all the cows except for Giselle and the little one.
Your job it to care for Giselle and her calf, plus the chickens. Rowan stroked Giselle’s side and Mirabel put her hand on the little calf’s head and then rubbed behind his ears.
“But right now, you must be as hungry as these cows. Follow me to the kitchen. I’m guessing it has been a long time since you’ve had eggs.”
Mirabel and Rowan followed Roland around the barn. The moon shown softly through the thin clouds so they could see their way to the kitchen door. Once inside, Roland lit a candle from the glowing embers in the hearth. Mirabel could feel her stomach growling as she settled onto a stool at the table and Roland cracked eggs into a bowl and poured them into a pan set on the embers.
“Thank you so much,” said Mirabel as Roland handed her and Rowan wooden bowls heaped with the cooked eggs. “Even when we do have eggs at home, we never have this many.”
Roland laughed. “While you are here, you will have more eggs than you can eat! We have enough hens to provide eggs for the castle, but, of course, we have no way to send them across the muddy fields.”
Mirabel stared into the flame of the flickering candle while she ate her eggs. Scenes from her long day flashed through her mind: crossing the Disappearing Brook, running and running through the grass, meeting the regal Princess Eleanor, gliding up the river, watching for smoke from the tower, waking to the smell of bread in the bakery. By the time she finished eating, a great cloak of tiredness fall upon her. She closed her eyes and realized she could fall asleep right there, sitting upright on a stool.
“To the loft with you before you fall asleep,” said Roland. “If you two can find your way back on your own, I’ll stay here for a bit to get supplies ready for the journey. I saved the last of the straw for your bedding in in the loft.”
Roland found a metal lantern on a shelf, took out the candle inside it, lit it from the candle flame on the table and placed it back in the lantern. “Sleep well,” he said. “I’ll be up before dawn to pack up for the journey.”
“At home I wake before dawn everyday to run around the house before the others are up,” said Mirabel, yawning. “I’m used to seeing the sun rise. I will help.”
“I will help too,”said Rowan, lifting the lantern.
In Mirabel’s dream she woke in an empty barn with sun streaming in the open door. She remembered telling Roland she would be awake early to help. “He has left without waking me,” she thought, feeling guilty for not fulfilling her promise.
Mirabel stepped out of the barn onto a hillside covered with thick grass. She still did not realize she was dreaming, and, like most dreamers, did not notice anything strange about what she saw.
She walked down the hill to the flat plain and looked across the green fields to the golden castle.”
‘I have never been to the castle,” she thought. “I will go there now.”
Mirabel walked on a path through fields of barley, their spikey, grain-laden tops bent low like a person bowing. Gusts of wind tickled the barley and tugged at her hair. She looked to her left and to her right and the ever-moving field of grain reminded her of waves on the lake on a windy day.
Drawn into the beauty of the swaying barley she did not look ahead for some time and then, when she did, she was startled. Coming her way was a boy, about her age. He was wrapped in a gray blanket which he wore like a hooded cloak.
“The Sickly Prince,” she thought. “Finally I will meet him.” Walking steadily, Mirabel wondered how she should speak to a prince. “Should I call him Your Highness?” she wondered. “Should I bow low, just as the barley is bowing to him? What would it be like to live with such deference? I wouldn’t like it and perhaps he doesn’t like it. So, instead, perhaps I should simply say, ‘Good Morning.’ ”
Now the boy was about as far away as Mirabel could throw a ball. He stopped walking. Mirabel stopped too. The boy reached up and grabbed the top of the gray blanket and, all at once, pulled it off and dropped it on the path, revealing that he was not dressed like a prince, but like a common boy. It took Mirabel a few seconds to realize that she was not looking at the Sickly Prince, but had come face to face with her friend Ronduin.
Ronduin smiled at her and she smiled back. Then he motioned for her to follow him. He turned back toward the castle and began running. Mirabel ran too, joyously, the wind in her hair, feeling like she was somehow blending into the waving fields of barley.
And then Mirabel woke up in the dark barn.
Here is the portal to Chapter 44: https://childrengrowing.com/2020/08/25/the-secret-prince-chapter-44-hidden-treasure/