The overwhelming smell of fresh bread and the brightness of many candles met Mirabel as she stepped into the kitchen so early in the morning that it was still dark. The linen sleeping sack draped over her shoulders looked like a long shawl.
“Ah, there you are,” said Rowan. “Good morning, Sister and Caretaker of of Barn Hill, and thank you for bringing the sack.”
“Good morning to you my Brother the Baker,” replied Mirabel. “Look at all the fresh loaves on that table! You must have arisen in the deepest of the night to finish the baking.”
“And so I did,” answered Rowan, lifting Robere, the cat, and adding, “I did have help from Robere who watched to be sure that no mice nibbled the fresh bread.”
Rowan and Mirabel ate bread and butter and jam as the sun rose. “I’ll clean the kitchen, so you can be on your way,” said Mirabel. “I so appreciate that,” said Rowan, “but the mice will be disappointed when you’ve swept up all their goodies.” They both laughed. Then Mirabel went out to the well to fill a bucket with water and then fill the flask that was a gift from Princess Eleanor. When Mirabel returned to the kitchen, she saw Rowan had loaded all twenty fresh loaves and draped the full sack around his shoulders.
“I’ll be back by nightfall,” said Rowan.
“I will have dinner waiting for you,” said Mirabel as the two siblings stepped outside to the bright morning.
Rowan waved as he set off on his journey to the stable in the foothills and then Mirabel returned to the kitchen. It wasn’t until mid-morning, after cleaning the kitchen, feeding the chickens and walking Giselle and her calf, that Mirabel took a moment to think about the fact that she was the only human being on Barn Hill and that she had never before been so far from her family. She thought fondly about her mother, her father, little Adelaide and the baby. “I hope that Rowan can send a message back to mother that we are well,” she thought.
Ronduin walked quickly along the four boards. This was easy now since he and his father had moved them to the stone path where they didn’t wobble and wiggle as they had on the squishy mud. When a chicken blocked his progress, Ronduin stepped off the boards and returned to helping his father.
“Now we can see whether our plan will work,” said the King, poised on one knee to use a hand drill to make a hole near the corner of one of the boards. Ronduin used a knife to cut a length of scratchy rope and soon he had looped the rope through two drilled holes and tied it to form a loop.”
“Now it will be easy to lift any board that gets stuck,” said Ronduin, “and we won’t have to pry it up with a strong stick like we did with the one we pried up this morning.”
“I think it will make the boards easier to move, even when they’re not stuck,” said the King. “Now we just have to put holes in the rest of the boards and then add ropes. Then we can test our invention.”
Ronduin stood near the board and held the rope which came to the level of his waist. Holding the rope, he lifted and dropped, lifted and dropped the board. “When we are out on the mud we are likely to drop the rope in the muck and it will become wet and yucky.”
“Hmm, I see what you mean,” said his father.
“How about we shorten the rope so the loop is very short,” said Ronduin.
The King laughed. “That will work for you, my limber young son, but I think my old back will tire from all the bending and lifting.”
Ronduin thought for a moment while the King began drilling another hole. “We could lift the board with a foot,” he said.
“I see what you mean, ” said the King. “Let’s shorten this rope and test that idea. Ronduin cut the rope and tied it so the loop sat only a few inches higher than the board. Now he stood on one leg on the stone path and put one foot inside the loop at the end of the board.
“Look,” he said, lifting the end of the board with his foot. ” I can lift it to the level of my hand, then I can use my hands to move it. It’s easy.”
“Then short loops it is!” said the King.
At that moment Ronduin stood just behind two of the boards which lay parallel to each other on the walk. Feeling playful he put one foot on top of each board and slipped a foot into each loop.
The King looked at him and said, “Hmm.”
Ronduin felt like he could hear his father’s thoughts. He nodded.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked the King.
“That you could step into the other end of these boards and we could walk together like that? replied Ronduin. “We can just walk the parallel boards across the mud. It will be easier than moving one board over the other again and again.”
“Exactly!” said the King “Let’s practice first with the boards here on the stone walk.” He stepped into the loops at the other end of the boards so that he faced the same direction as Ronduin.
“I’ll say … one, two, three, right… and when I say ‘right’ we lift our right feet and take a step so we both move the board together and move forward together.”
“I’m ready,” said Ronduin
“One, two, three, right,” said the King.
As he said the word, “right,” the father and son each lifted a left leg and together moved the board forward.
“Let’s keep going,” said Ronduin. “I think it’s going to be easy on the stone walk.”
“Yes,” said the King, “but I’m not sure whether this will work on the mud.”
“One, two, three, left,” said the King.
“It’s working on the path!” shouted Ronduin.
Ronduin and his father walked the boards to the end of the walk.
“Now let’s try the mud,” said Ronduin.
The King nodded and said, “I’m eager to see whether this works.”
They carefully placed the parallel boards in the mud parallel to the walk.
“I think we should step into them at the same time,” said Ronduin, “So they stay balanced.”
“I agree,” said his father. “First the close board.”
Ronduin said, “I’m ready,”
“Same signals,” said his dad. “The close board is next to our left feet, but we have to step into it with our right feet so our left feet can swing to the left board.”
“Let’s do the whole thing quickly, so we don’t lose our balance,” said Ronduin.
‘Good plan,” said the King. “Ready?”
“Yes,” said Ronduin.
“One, two, three, right,” said the King.
When he said, “right” they both stepped onto the close board with their right feet.
Immediately, the King said, “One two three, left,” and immediately they swung their left legs onto the second board.
“Now we’re ready to walk on the mud,” said Ronduin excitedly.
“Here we go,” said the King. “Let’s start with our left feet. One, two three, left.”
Ronduin and his father both pulled upwards, straining against the ropes.
The board stayed stuck in the muck.
“Let’s try wiggling the board to break the suction,” said Ronduin.
They both wiggled their left feet. A loud thwack sound let them know the suction was broken. The board now lifted easily and they moved forward one step.
Now the King said, ” Let’s include the wiggle in each step.”
“Ready,” said Ronduin.
“One, two, three, wiggle, wiggle, right,” said the King.
Again, a thwack sound told them the mud had let go of the board.
“It works!” called out Ronduin. “Hurrah! We can use these boards to walk to Barn Hill!”