By Karah Pino with Kim Allsup
In the purple darkness of early morning, Mirabel quietly climbed down the ladder and made her way through the barn. She opened the small door and noticed an orange glow coming from the kitchen. Her legs felt bouncy and alive as the dream of running with Ronduin still lived in her. Walking around the corner of the barn, she discovered that the heavy kitchen door was partially open. She climbed the steps and peeked inside.
Roland was humming in the light of the kitchen fire. He wrapped a block of cheese tightly in cloth and tucked it next to a loaf of bread at the top of his pack. In the warm light, Mirabel looked around and noticed more than she had when she was sitting at the table half asleep the night before. Two large, thick circles of new cheese wrapped in cloth rested next to one another on the floor. On the table, sat a wooden crate, packed tightly with clay pots and bundles. Loaves of bread also lay on the table next to a folded cloth. Two long ropes, coiled neatly, rested on the folded cloth.
Mirabel felt the tickle of fur brush against her leg as Robere, the cat, pressed his way into the kitchen with a “Mrr-eow!”
Roland stayed focused on arranging the items in his pack while addressing the cat .“Oh ho, my friend, you’ve come just in time to supervise my packing.” Robere chirped inquisitively. “Now, don’t worry, Rowan and Mirabel will care for everything while I am gone. They will watch after the chickens and Giselle and her new calf, and you can keep catching the mice in the barn. Pssst! Robere, you know you are not allowed near the fresh cheese!” Roland snapped his fingers and Robere scampered back to the front door and pressed past Mirabel.
“Oh! Good morning, Mirabel. You are up early!”
“Good morning, how can I help?” replied Mirabel with a quick smile.
“Well, hmmm, I am seeing how much room I can make in my pack to bring supplies to the workers in the farm fields.” Roland looked around the kitchen. “Perhaps you can help me wrap the bread in this cloth and make breakfast while I finish up. We will do the heavy work once your brother is up and we’ve eaten.”
Together, Roland and Mirabel unfolded the cloth and laid it out on the table. They lined up four loaves, then rolled them in the cloth, lined up four more, then rolled the cloth again. After a third layer of bread, Roland showed Mirabel how to securely tuck in the sides of the cloth around the entire bundle. “How many farmers do you think that will feed?” asked Roland.
Mirabel thought out loud, “Well, we wrapped three rows of 4. That is twelve loaves. Our family of five can eat 4 loaves a week. Since the flood, we have had only one loaf for two families. But most of us are children who don’t eat as much as farmers.”
“Speak for yourself!” Exclaimed Rowan from the doorway.
Roland laughed. “Well, I guess it’s time for breakfast, then!”
Roland showed Mirabel thebread slices he had set soaking in a mixture of milk and eggs. He brushed the hot coals away from a flat stone and showed her how to place the bread on the stone until it baked. Then he showed her how to turn it to the other side with tongs. After handing a broom to Rowan, he neatly stacked the wooden crate, the pack and the rolled up bread next to the door. “The stars are fading, so I will feed Galen before the cows catch wind of it. Galen will need extra strength and patience for his load!”
When Roland returned to the kitchen, the floor was swept clean and the table set for three with a pile of golden bread slices on a wooden plank in the middle. “Wonderful!” said Roland, “We will celebrate with a special breakfast.” He opened a door in the stone wall, pulled out two small clay pots, and placed them on the table saying, “Let us sit together.” Rowan and Mirabel sat on a bench on one side of the table and Roland sat in a chair on the other side. Roland reached out his hands in a wide half circle and the children each grasped a hand. Then they clasped one another’s hand forming a circle and bowed their heads.
“Dear children,” Roland began with closed eyes, “I am so grateful that you have journeyed safely all this way to help care for our animals. This has been a difficult time of uncertainty and separation for our Kingdom. Today, I will take the animals to greener pastures with supplies for our brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles in the fields who are working the earth to plant our crops. We are grateful for the abundance of water in our Kingdom and hope that the blessing will make fertile the soil so that our fields will grow strong crops that yield nourishment for all the families of the castle and our village. We give thanks to all the creatures that give us food, from the great cows to the tiny honeybees. We ask that a blessing of strength and resilience protect the of farmers who do such heavy work from dawn until dusk on our behalf.” Mirabel and Rowan glanced at one another. “Amen.” Roland concluded. “Amen.” The children chimed.
“Roland,” said Rowan, “We have some good news!’
The children took turns telling Roland about their journey up the river and the arrival of Princess Eleanor. Roland listened intently to the description of the help from the Mountain Kingdom. Mirabel ended the story saying, “Stephan also sent word through the Princess to tell you to light a signal fire if you need more helpers to bring the animals to the foothills.”
Roland exhaled in a long whistle. “Good news indeed! Ah, Princess Eleanor. The last I saw her, she was still a small child, running through the foothills! She journeyed here for the wedding of her cousin, our Queen. To think she is now a brave Princess riding here on her own…wonderful! Let us feast in gratitude for our friendship with the Mountain Kingdom this blessed morning!” Roland opened the clay pots to reveal fresh butter and raspberries preserved in honey.
After eating, the heavy work began. The children cleaned the kitchen, scrubbing the floor while Roland fetched Galen and strapped on the pack saddle. He then laid a heavy cloth over the saddle so that it hung down nearly to the ground on either side. Next he showed Rowan how to fold the cloth into pockets to carry food. Finally they, criss-crossed a rope over the saddle and around the other side to hold everything securely.
“Now we will reveal the hidden treasure of barn hill!” said Roland with a wink and a broad smile. Leading the children back into the kitchen, he continued, “Have you noticed this slab of stone in the middle of the floor?”
Rowan and Mirabel stood on each side of a great stone slab that was as thick as Mirabel’s foot. The slab was a large rectangle, nearly as long as Mirabel was tall if she laid down upon it.
“I used to be able to move this slab on my own,” said Roland, “but today I’m glad to have help from both of you.”
“It looks like it will be difficult even for three of us,” said Mirabel.
“Ah,” said Roland. “I have tricks and tools that will help. Mirabel, bring the long fire poker and stand near that end of this great stone slab.”
Mirabel found the fire poker and stood ready.
“Now, see that notch in the center?” asked Roland. “Place the point of the poker into the notch at the end. Now, Rowan, see the piece of firewood I left under the table? Please place that on the floor touching the fire poker. That will be our fulcrum.”
Rowan placed the piece of wood at the tip of the triangle made by the poker and the floor.
Mirabel, when you push down really hard, you will lift the slab a just a bit.”
“I don’t think I’ll be strong enough,” said Mirabel poking the tool into the notch.
“You will be surprised by the power of a lever and a fulcrum,” said Roland.
Mirabel stood on the side of the long piece of iron so she could grab it with two hands. She took a deep breath and pushed down with all her strength.
“Oh my,” said Mirabel as the stone slab rose from the floor “This was much easier than I expected! And look, we’ve uncovered a dark hole!”
Immediately, a rich mixture of smells rose from the hole under the slab and filled the kitchen. Mirabel breathed it in with wonder.
Now Roland reached behind a wooden barrel and found four long, round poles as thick as Mirabel’s arm..
“Next we will roll the slab on these,” he said. “Mirabel, can you keep lifting the stone for a moment?”
“Of course,” she said, continuing to push down on the lever. “It doesn’t seem that heavy.”
Roland didn’t have to explain the next step to Rowan who moved quickly to place the poles under the raised slab.
“Looks good, ” said Roland. “You made sure they are placed evenly and stick out on the floor on both sides of the slab.”
“Now, Mirabel, you can slowly drop the slab onto the rollers.”
Mirabel took extra care as she very slowly released pressure on the lever until, with a big thunk, the slab dropped onto the rollers.
“I think we can figure out the rest,” said Rowan.
The two children positioned themselves on each side of the slab. They worked together to slowly roll the slab back from the hole. As the stone moved, it left a roller behind. Mirabel ran the roller to the other end of the slab and stuck it under the far end as Rowan rolled the slab over it. They repeated this three times until the hole in the floor was completely uncovered and the slab sat on the rollers on the floor behind the hole.
Roland, Rowan and Mirabel lay on the floor and peered into the hole. “Roland, what is down here?” asked Rowan.
“Ahhh, you shall see,” answered Roland climbing down a ladder into the underground room. The children heard grunting and the thumps and bumps of objects being moved in the dark. Soon a plank appeared, positioned as a ramp from the undergraound room to the kitchen floor. “Here, pull this up and carefully roll it to the wall,” said Roland, pushing a large wheel of cheese up the ramp. Roland pushed and the children pulled until the disk rolled along the floor guided by Rowan to lean against the wall near the door. “Here’s another.” Roland grunted again.
While Rowan rolled the second wheel of aged cheese to the wall, Mirabel collected the items Roland handed up: a bag of apples, a basket of of thick carrots, bunches of dried meats and cloth bundles filled with fragrant herbs. Finally, he carefully passed up two clay pots sealed with wax. “Now, we must bring down the fresh cheese to dry.” Roland placed a square of slatted wood on the kitchen floor at the edge of the plank. “It is too soft to roll, so you must lift it into the plank.” Mirabel and Rowan lifted each heavy disk together and pushed the slatted wood over the edge so it slid down the ramp. Even though they had eaten a wonderful breakfast, Mirabel’s mouth watered and her stomach rumbled with excitement from the smell of so many kinds of foods.
Once the stone slab was pushed back into place, Roland and Rowan tied the supplies onto Galen’s saddle. They set the wheels of cheese into the cloth pockets on either side of the saddle. Mirabel handed the bread bundle, a bundle of dried meats and the packed crate out the door, holding each bundle to her nose and breathing deeply. They wove the rope back and forth over the bundles until the load was secure.
“You’ve been so patient, Galen, are you also anxious to get going?” Roland caressed the horse’s long muzzle and held out an apple near his nose.
While Galen happily crunched the apple, Roland beckoned the children to follow him. The sun was nearly fully risen over the horizon. “We will let the cows and sheep out, all but for Giselle and her calf.” He unlatched one of the doors, opened it and latched it open. As the cows pressed forward, he pushed past to hold back Giselle and her calf. He spoke soothingly to them, patting each of them with a hand.
“Rowan, should we give Roland the flask from the Princess?” Asked Mirabel.
“Yes, I will get it.” Rowan moved past the animals and climbed the ladder returning with the flask and said, “I will fill it at the well.”
Roland looked up and said, “Mirabel, keep Giselle in here until we have long gone. You can give her another carrot and fresh water this afternoon and again tonight. You will find a barrel of oats by the kitchen fire and more in the loft. Giselle can eat these oats that I saved for my porridge. You will have enough for the chickens as well.
Once the last sheep trotted out of the barn, Mirabel closed the barn door again. A few moments later, Roland came out of the small door carrying a beautifully carved walking staff and wearing a bedroll tied over one shoulder and across his back. Around his waist, he wore a thick belt with several cinched pouches hanging on one hip and a scabbard with a knife hanging on the other.
“Do you have a blade?” Roland asked when Rowan returned from the well with the filled flask.
“Yes, father lent me his.” Rowan lifted his shirt hem and showed the small scabbard with a carved knife handle hidden underneath.
“Ah, good, it will serve you well.” replied Roland. “There is a whetstone in the kitchen so you can keep it sharp.”
“I filled this for you.” Rowan said, pulling the flask from over his shoulder.
Roland smiled. “Thank you for your kindness, but I have my own.” He pulled up his bedroll to reveal a worn flask with the same pattern of braided cord from the Mountain Kingdom, knotted in several places where it had broken and been mended. “You might have need of a flask once more before you find your way back home.”
He placed a hand on each child’s shoulder. “I have stocked the pantry with the food we brought up today. You should eat well and be rested for you may be needed as runners once again in the coming weeks. I can not be sure how long it might be before I return. I will come back as soon as someone is available to care for the sheep and cows in the footlills. If you find that you need some help, light a signal fire on the well side of the barn and someone will come.”
The children followed Roland back to the kitchen and watched as he tied the bed roll to the pack and then swung the pack over his shoulders. “We have a long journey to the first pasture.” Roland said grasping the walking staff in one hand and Galen’s reins in the other. You can let the chickens out through the small door when we are out of sight. Use the oats to bring them back in at night or they might try to join their friends at the castle.” Roland smiled broadly. “Remember we are all closer than it seems.”
Roland led Galen around to the back of the barn and called the cows and sheep to follow him. Rowan and Mirabel watched as the cows pressed forward, mooing followed by the scampering sheep. Soon, all the animals had fallen into a line behind Galen. A familiar song floated through the air to the children’s ears and they joined in, singing their farewell. At the top of the first rise, Roland turned briefly to face the children and held his hand up high before disappearing.
Here is the portal to Chapter 45: https://childrengrowing.com/2020/09/02/the-secret-prince-chapter-45-muddy-puddly/