by Karah Pino and Kim Allsup
Roland’s farewell song turned into a whistling tune as he walked. He steadily lead the long line of animals down the hill through the forest and then along the high path that sat just above the muddy fields.
The cows and sheep pressed forward excitedly, murmuring to one another. Every time an inviting patch of grass appeared along the path, a few animals at the head of the line leaned down for a nibble. Roland patiently urged them on, “Come along, my friends, don’t spoil your lunch feast. We will step off this path and onto the grassy foothills soon.”
Reaching the place where the high path met the slope of the foothills, Beni bellowed a long “Moooooo,” and clambered from the path up the hill into the grassy meadow. She sprinted into the field and then, excited by the lush grass, showed her joy by dancing sideways and tossing her head. The other cows followed, each dancing in her own way while bleating and mooing happily.
The grass on the hillside meadow was a thick carpet. In the middle of the meadow, a shallow pond offered a reminder of the heavy rains. Roland chuckled as the cows ran from one side of the meadow around the pond to the other side. They stopped and bent down to munch a mouthful of grass and then, filled with the joy of new grass, ran across the meadow again as if they felt happy disbelief about their luck in discovering such an amazing banquet.
After the last sheep trotted into the pasture, Roland made his way up the gentle slope and looked out over the valley. From here, he could see barn hill, the town and the great expanses of mud and puddles that would normally be green fields at this time of year. Looking for the castle, he could make out turrets, but not the full castle for it was hidden behind barn hill.
Roland took a deep breath of the cool mountain air and felt deeply content as he watched the cows and the sheep grazing the pasture. He carefully sat down, untied his pack and scooted forward allowing the top of the pack to gently slide down his back. When it came to rest on the ground, he opened the top and took out a bundle with bread and cheese and a bit of raspberry honey from the breakfast he had shared with Mirabel and Rowan.
The cows and sheep took turns lapping water at the pool. A few cows lay down to rest and chew their cud. Roland pulled out a worn flask with the same pattern of braided cord as the flask given to Rowan and Mirabel by Princess Eleanor. The cord had frayed and was knotted in several places where it had broken and had been mended. Roland drank deeply and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the water still held some coolness from the bottom of the deep well.
Feeling content, Roland leaned back into the slope behind him. He untied his bedroll and placed it in the curve of his neck. He watched over the animals while he rested.
“You have to continue to stay out of the kitchen all afternoon,” said Rowan to Mirabel, taking her empty bowl. ” The surprise I’m working on will be ready for our evening meal. Please stay on this side of the barn, I’ll come for you when our meal is ready.”
Mirabel smiled and said, “Then I will muck out the barn, and collect eggs and take both Giselle and the calf for a walk. And I will bring oats down from the loft, and, while i’m up there, I will freshen our sleeping straw. I’m happy to do all the barn and animal chores if you are doing the kitchen work.”
“And I am happy to cook and clean,” said Rowan excitedly. “It is like I have my very own kitchen.”
“The sheep and cows must be contently eating fresh grass on the foothills by now,” said the King as Cook Agnes carried her special creation from the fireplace to the table.
“I hope Mirabel and Rowan are faring well,” said Ronduin. “I so wish I could join them at barn hill.”
“Don’t get any ideas about crossing the wet fields,” said his mother.
“The big flood of my childhood caused no injuries until we came to the time of muddy fields,” said Cook Agnes. “When the water went down, people walked on the fields too soon. In a matter of a few days five villagers got stuck. My uncle was one of the people who figured out how to use planks of wood to rescue them. The people who had been stuck in the mud had injured their legs and needed weeks of rest to recover.”
“I used a plank myself to get from the path to the bench in the courtyard,” said Ronduin. I think we could use planks to cross the mud to barn hill. Once we are there we could walk to the foothills and help with the planting.”
“We will think about this,” said the Queen, but now let us bow our heads and give thanks for our meal.
After offering gratitude for their food, Cook Agnes cut pieces from the quiche she had placed on the table. “This will be a bit different,” she said. “For I have no cream, only eggs and cheese.”
Ronduin bit into the quiche and chewed slowly, enjoying the crunchiness of the crust which was made of bread dough. “I like it a lot,” he said. “I will be sure to thank Sunset and Sunrise for their eggs.”
“Speaking of sunset,” said the King. ” As soon as we have eaten, let us go to the turret and see if we can get a glimpse of the two children on barn hill.”
After Mirabel finished her chores and put Giselle and the calf in the barn for the night, she sat on a wooden bench near the barn door holding a basket of eggs and gazing at the castle.
“I’m hungry,” she thought, just as Rowan walked around the barn with a great grin on his face.
“It’s ready,” he said. “And it’s good. I wasn’t sure I could make it on my own, but I did.”
Mirabel followed Rowan around the barn. Stepping through the gate, the comforting smell of fresh bread, reached out to her and drew her in to the kitchen. And there is was, Rowan’s surprise. Three perfect round loaves lay on the table next to a bowl of butter and a big chunk of cheese.
“You made bread! All by yourself!” exclaimed Mirabel.
“I learned everything from watching the baker when he was at our house,” he said. When we were in town he gave me some bread starter. I carried it here nice and warm under my shirt.”
Rowan cut two big pieces from a loaf and the two children spread butter on them and ate.
“This is as good as the baker’s bread,” said Mirabel. “Thank you so much! And look at this kitchen. It’s even cleaner than it was this morning.”
“I learned kitchen cleaning from the baker too,” said Rowan. “Did you know that Garrick will apprentice with the blacksmith? This means that someday the village will need a new baker and it won’t be Garrick.”
“So you think you will work a baker someday?”
“I hope so,” said Rowan.
They ate silently for some time, enjoying the fresh bread, the butter and the cheese.
And then Mirabel said, “Let’s go look at the castle as the sun sets.”
As the sky lit up with pink and orange colors, the four people of the castle and the two people of barn hill stood and waved at each other. On this evening they began a tradition that they would continue. It was a few short moments when they were together even though they were apart. And they would continue to wave across the muddy fields each sunset as long as Mirabel and Rowan were the caretakers of the barn, the hill and the creatures that lived there.
Here is the link to Chapter 49: https://childrengrowing.com/2020/10/09/the-secret-prince-chapter-49-thinking-in-the-dark/