“We can wait here at the well until we can see Roland and the animals walking along the high path toward the foothills,” said Mirabel.
“Let’s get Giselle and her calf. They can wait with us,” said Rowan.
The two children walked along the barn and, at the corner, stepped through the open gate in the the fence that ran between the barn and the thick forest. Normally, this gate was closed to keep animals from wandering around the barn and finding the hill path to the foothills. But, today, the gate stood open as Roland had led the cows and sheep through it as they departed barn hill. Entering the barn from the castle side, they found Giselle and her calf locked in a stall so they wouldn’t follow the others.
“I’ll take the calf and you lead Giselle,” said Mirabel putting a rope around the neck of the young creature.
Back at the well, they hauled up buckets of water and Giselle and her calf drank.
Then Giselle looked up as if she remembered something. She walked away from the well toward the path,”She remembers walking to the hill pastures,” said Rowan, grasping the rope tightly.
Mirabel knew it would work better to distract Giselle than to pull her away from the path with the rope. She quickly handed the calf’s rope to Rowan and ran over to the barn where patches of grass grew tall. She plucked a handful of tall stems and ran them over to Giselle. Next she walked backwards toward the grassy clumps and Giselle and her calf followed as she fed them bits of grass.
The animals don’t usually come over here,” said Mirabel, as the animals began happily grazing, “so these patches of grass between the barn and the forest aren’t overgrazed like the other side of the hill.”
Rowan walked along the grassy edge of the barn with Giselle and her calf while Mirabel climbed up a tree seeking view through the forest out to the high path.
“I see them!” she called out. “They are just now coming into view. I see Roland and Galen leading the way and I’m just starting to see the cows.”
Mirabel watched for a moment and then climbed down the tree and took the ropes for Giselle and the calf so Rowan could climb up and look.
Rowan watched in silence and then said, ” Now I see all the cows and the start of the line of sheep. But, we’ve got a lot of work to do, we can’t just spend the day watching the herd walking to the hills. We have to exercise the calf and feed the chickens and clean up after breakfast and cook for for us and make sure Giselle gets some rest. Rowan paused while he took one last look at the long line of animals headed for the hills.
Mirabel sighed as she imagined herself stuck in the kitchen when she would rather be exploring barn hill with the little calf.
But then Rowan said, “I’ll clean the kitchen and prepare food for us for later today.”
“I’ll put Giselle in her stall and feed the chickens and collect eggs and take the calf for a walk,” said Mirabel cheerfully, feeling surprised and happy that Rowan had offered to do the inside work.
Mirabel smiled as she and the little calf stepped out of the barn after locking Giselle in a stall to rest. To her left she saw the thick forest that covered the steep hill on the town side where the hill ran down to the stable. To her right the long hillside, once covered in thick grass, had been grazed to a low stubble. Looking straight ahead she saw the castle, unreachable because the fields were still too muddy and puddly to walk upon.
Nevertheless, Mirabel felt drawn toward the castle, so she led the calf down the path toward the clump of trees at the bottom of the hill.
They were halfway down the hill when Robere the cat darted past them, ran down the path and leaped up into the tree startling the chickens roosting in the branches. The birds burst out of the tree with much squawking and landed on the ground where they immediately settled into pecking and scratching in search of seeds and insects.
Arriving under the tree with the calf, Mirabel looked up and saw that Robere had found his way to the end of a branch that reached far out over the mud.
Mirabel stroked the calf’s neck and then tied him to a tree. Finding a stick, she poked it into the mud and found it to be very squishy.
A sudden splashing sound drew her attention to a puddle in the muddy field. She saw this puddle had something moving in it. Next to the puddle, she noticed a mound that looked like a small, dry island about the size of a horse’s saddle. Mirabel heard the splash again. And then something leaped.
Now a big, green frog sat top the mound, bright and sleek in the sunshine. Mirabel noticed that Robere’s branch bounced down and up and Robere now stood, poised to jump.
“Leave that frog alone!” demanded Mirabel. But she was too late. Robere flew through the air toward the frog.
And then, splash! The frog leaped back into the puddle just before Robere landed on the mound.
“Oh you silly, cat,” said Mirabel. “Now you’ll have to make your biggest leap ever to come back here.”
Mirabel watched Robere for a long time, hoping would jump. The calf lay down and fell asleep. Mirabel heard Giselle mooing from the barn. “Your mom is calling you,” she said to the sleeping calf.
“Robere, I have to take the calf back to his mother. Now it’s time to jump,” called Mirabel.
Robere lay down and put his paw over his face.
Mirabel wondered how she could help Robere. She could not jump to the mound. It was too far away, about the length of a huge work horse. She didn’t dare wade out through the muck for she had been warned about sinking in so far she could not pull herself out.
Mirabel walked around the tree and, on the other side, she found an old, fallen branch. She snapped off side branches to make it easier to move. Then, slowly, for the branch was thick and heavy, she dragged the branch around the tree.
Now the calf woke and stood and began answering his mother. “I’ll get you back to her soon,” said Mirabel. “But first we have to rescue Robere who wanted a frog for lunch.”
Mirabel pushed the branch through the muck toward Robere who stood and watched her progress. The the branch was only halfway to the little island when Robere ran out of patience and leaped onto it. With one more quick bound he landed next to Mirabel who lifted him and held him close.
Mirabel had just closed the calf in with his mother when Rowan appeared at the barn door carrying two wooden bowls.
“Pease porridge,” he said. “You have to stay out of the kitchen, because I’m working on a surprise.”
“I’m happy to stay out of the kitchen,” said Mirabel settling herself on the floor and gratefully taking the porridge. “I’m starving.”
“Where did you take the calf?” asked Rowan.
“We went down the path toward the castle and Robere tried to pounce on a frog,” said Mirabel.
“I guess that field must still be quite wet if there’s a frog,” said Rowan. “I’ve been hoping it would dry out enough that the royal family could walk to barn hill. Then they could make their way to the foothills.”
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” said Mirabel. “They must be dreadfully worried about this year’s crops. They don’t know that the Mountain Kingdom sent help.”
“And when everything is planted it will be time for the sheep shearing festival and it wouldn’t seem right for the King and Queen and the Prince to be left out,” replied Rowan.
“Did you ever notice that the sickly prince never comes to that festival,” asked Mirabel. “I guess he stays in the castle because he’s too sick to travel.”
“Well he can’t miss the festival this year,” said Rowan.” It will be the most wonderful celebration when everyone from the town and from barn hill and from the castle can all be together again. They’ve been all alone in there for months, ever since the servants and even Sir Andrew left the castle. The sickly prince must be so tired of not seeing anyone but his family and Cook Agnes.”
“I thought it was difficult to live with so many people in our little house. But I think it would be even worse to be alone, especially to be the only child” said Mirabel. Everyone thinks it must be so lovely to be a prince, but I think that perhaps it’s not so lovely.”
“The sickly prince must be so lonely,” said Rowan. “I’m guessing people will be able to walk across the field long before heavy horses and carts can travel over it. I remember seeing the sickly prince wrapped in a gray blanket in the royal cart. But I’ve never seen him walking. We have to make sure he is not left behind. I will carry him to the festival if he can’t walk on his own.”