“This is so, so, so good,” said Rowan, between great bites of quiche. He and Mirabel sat at the candle-lit table in the barn kitchen. “I barely ate after I reached the stable because I was running and walking most of the time I was there.”
“Why were you running?” asked Mirabel, lighting a second candle.
“It’s a long story,” said Rowan, “and an exciting one. I’ll start when Sir Andrew saw me coming and rode down the road that runs along Disappearing Brook,” continued Rowan. “He kindly took the big sack of bread so I wouldn’t have to carry it up the hill to the stable. And then he asked how we were doing and I told him we are well and that we wave to the royal family every night. He seemed so happy to hear that the King, the, Queen, the Prince and Cook Agnes all look well, at least from a distance.”
Rowan stopped speaking for a few moments to cut a second piece of quiche. Then he continued telling about his journey as he ate.
“I asked him about father, and Sir Andrew pointed and said, ‘You can see for yourself that he is well.’ And, sure enough, looking up the road, I saw father walking toward us waving his arms wildly like he does when he’s excited.”
“I’ve seen that wave,” said Mirabel, laughing. “What did Sir Andrew say next?”
Rowan imitated Sir Andrew’s deep voice. “if you look far up to the top of this hill beyond the bridge, you can see the cows and sheep and maybe you will get a glimpse of Roland. We’re keeping the animals on this side of the brook because we don’t want them in the fields that we’re planting on the other side of the stable. They are used to grazing there in past years, so Roland is watching them carefully to be sure they don’t get any ideas about wading across the book. Today, after I drop this bread in the barn, I will ride to the Mountain Kingdom and I will see Roland on my way there. I will him tell about your arrival and bring him a loaf of your bread.”
Rowan continued, “I told Sir Andrew to tell Roland that Giselle and her calf and the chickens are well. And then Sir Andrew looked at the bread with a big smile and said, ‘This is more than bread. It’s field food. The planters try to keep going all day without a stop to come back to the stable. When we have bread from town, they bring it with them to the fields in their pockets. But today we were out of bread and we planned to eat porridge for the mid-day meal. Have you ever tried to carry porridge in your pocket?’ ”
Mirabel laughed, imagining filling her pockets with porridge.
“So then I asked Sir Andrew, ‘Who will carry the bread to the planters?’ ”
“He said that he could not because he will be riding to the Mountain Kingdom, but that he’d ask one of the planters to carry it.”
“So I told him I would do it so everyone could keep planting. And that is why I’m late. Instead of coming straight back, I stayed to deliver bread to each planter.”
“Then Father arrived and Sir Andrew said his goodbye to both of us and trotted up the road on his horse carrying the great sack of bread.”
“And father and mother and the little ones?” asked Mirabel.
“He is well. He hears from the villagers that arrive by boat that it is still too muddy to walk to our house. But father watches for the smoke from our chimney every morning. He says it rises up over the trees and that it is a signal from mother that all is well.”
Mirabel smiled when she heard this and imagined her mother and the little children alone in their home on the little island surrounded by a muddy forest.
Rowan continued, “Father and I walked up the road together and I told him about Giselle and the calf and about baking the bread. Soon we crossed the bridge to the stable. It’s a real bridge, not at all like the fallen tree we crossed to get over the lower part of the the brook. And then father and I entered the great stable. They had had set up a long table and this is where Sir Andrew had left the bread. It was while we were cutting bread that he told me the amazing plans. I suppose that’s when I should have eaten, but I was too excited by what father was saying to realize I was hungry.”
“Tell! Tell!” commanded Mirabel.
“Remember what I told you about the plan to rescue the royal family with skis? Well, there’s more! The skis I brought with me today were sent by Princess Eleanor the day after she went home. She sent a message that said they should try them on the mud and that, if they work well, they should send someone back for more skis. Father tried the skis on the mud yesterday and they worked! The princess also said she would send a sled that can carry someone like the sickly prince or maybe two little children. That was the journey Sir Andrew began when he left father and me.”
“Little children like Adelaide and the baby?” asked Mirabel.
“Exactly!” said Rowan, “and that’s the plan! Father will carry the skis and the sled in the green boat and will rescue mother and the little ones. That will be the practice rescue. They will also rescue people from the other two forest homes. If everything works, we’ll use the skis and the sled to rescue the royal family. And that’s not all. By then, the plowing and planting will be almost done. And we’ll get ready for the spring fair and the sheep shearing festival in one big festival in a high meadow above the stable. And everyone will be there!”
After so many months away from her friends, and, now, after days away from her mother and siblings, Mirabel was so happy to hear all of this that she stood and jumped up and down.
“I can’t wait to see mother and father and the little ones and all my friends!” she squealed excitedly. “But now tell me more.”
“Father found a fresh horse in the corral just outside the stable. I thought I knew all the royal horses, but I had never seen this one. He’s a huge workhorse, black as coal at the hind quarters and gray with a touch of white toward his chest and his face. He is magnificent! Father called him Cinder. He fed him a few hand fulls of oats and then put a rope around his neck to lead him out to the fields. He had found a sack for the bread he took for the plowers and he threw that over his back and we said our good byes.”
I followed and got my first view of the planting fields. The hill fields are huge and are full of people planting. Father reminded me to get right back to you as soon as I finished bringing bread to the workers. He said to bring you his love and best wishes. He and Cinder walked down a central path while I started at the lower edge of the field.
“And then it took a long time to deliver all the bread, because every time a handed a worker a piece of bread they asked about you and Giselle and the calf. And then I asked them about their family.” Rowan yawned.
“I want to hear what every person said to you,” said Mirabel eagerly.
“I’m suddenly so tired,” said Rowan. “Let’s go to the loft and I’ll try to remember all of the news I learned today before we fall asleep.”