Just after sunrise and long before breakfast, Mirabel pushed opened the heavy barn door and let Giselle and her calf out onto the hillside. It was a beautiful day on barn hill under a brightening sky decorated with fluffy pink clouds.
This was the first time Mirabel had allowed Giselle to roam freely without being led on a rope, and Mirabel was both surprised and delighted when Giselle took off into a gleeful gallop. The cow tossed her head, as if to say,” I’m free! I’m free.” Just before Giselle settled down to graze the new grass, she appeared to dance in a series of awkward leaps. Her frisky calf imitated his mother with a series of his own little jumps.
Joining Mirabel, Rowan said, “When I spoke with Father he told me that Roland had told him that we could bring Giselle and her calf to join the rest of the herd anytime. It certainly looks like she’s strong enough for the journey. Oh, and I forgot to tell you that Roland told father that we can choose a name for the calf.”
Mirabel thought for awhile while she watched the bright white clouds dance across the sky. “I think it should be a name that reminds us of these strange times,” she said.
“Something like Flood?” asked Rowan. Or even better, we could call him Mud,” he suggested, laughing.
“Or maybe Grass” said Mirabel. The cows and sheep waited so long for good grass. “Or … Journey…we’ve all had unexpected journeys during this time.”
“Except for the royal family and for Mother and the little children at home,” said Rowan.
“Let’s pick a name that fits everyone,” said Mirabel, sitting down on the grass and looking out over the muddy fields between the hill and the castle.
She sat for a few minutes, thinking. She thought about all the long hours she had spend on this hillside, patiently watching the grass grow, patiently watching the mud become less muddy. She thought of the royal family waving at them each evening, patiently stuck in the castle day after day. Finally, she said, “I’ve got it.”
“So what is this name that fits everyone?” asked Rowan.
“Patience,” said Mirabel.”Let’s call him Patience.”
Mirabel and Rowan allowed Giselle and Patience to graze until the the day began to feel warm. Then they herded the two creatures back into the barn for a rest.
“I think we need to practice walking on the mud with skis,” said Mirabel over a late breakfast of cold peas porridge and bread in the kitchen.
“I was thinking we might practice today,” said Rowan. “We can take turns mud walking on skis and watching Giselle and Patience.”
After breakfast they brought the skis outside and practiced securing them on their feet. Then they opened the barn door again and Giselle and Patience followed them out to the hillside.
“I’ll try the skis first,” said Rowan. But first I have to cut some sticks. I was told to have a long stick in each hand to help me balance.
Mirabel noticed that Rowan carried a small axe.
I think that tree that chickens roost in, down by the muddy fields, will have branches you can cut.
Mirabel placed herself halfway down the hill, between the chicken tree and the cattle.
“My turn to be patient,” she thought, eager to try the skis.
Ronduin ate breakfast with his parents and Cook Agnes in the ground floor kitchen. He allowed himself to feel, at least for a moment, that life in the castle had returned to normal. The kitchen smelled like it smelled before the flood. The morning sun of a bright day streamed in the windows. Everything was in its proper place. Well, almost everything. The biggest tables still sat on the second floor waiting for a strong group of workers to carry them down the stairs.
They ate quietly and this made Ronduin aware of the silence of the castle. “In normal times, the castle is only quiet in the darkest part of the night,” thought Ronduin.”Usually so many people work in the castle here that I can hear footsteps and shouting and laughing. I miss laughing with the workers. It seemed like every worker had something funny to tell me every day. They got used to trying to make me laugh when I was the sickly prince. And, once I was well, they kept up their silliness.”
Mother broke the silence. “I suppose it’s about time I start practicing with the skis you made for me. I’m wearing my stoutest boots so the ropes will feel comfortable on my feet.”
Soon Ronduin and his parents stood in the courtyard with the two skis the King had made for the Queen. The skis had ropes looped through drilled holes that they tied onto the Queen’s feet which were protected by her boots. The Queen held a long stick in each hand as she had remembered doing when she had skied on snow as a girl living in the Mountain Kingdom.
And then she was off. Ronduin was astonished to see his mother crossing the muddy courtyard in fast, confident strides.
“This feels very different from snow skiing,” said the Queen, “yet I think it’s easy for me because I learned to ski as a child.”
“I think we should give up our clumsy double skis and make this type of single person skies for both of us,” said Ronduin.
“Let’s start working on them today,” said his father.
Mirabel walked to the bottom of barn hill as Rowan stepped sideways off of the mud and onto the dry land.
“It felt awkward at first,” said Rowan. “But then I figured out how to use the sticks for balance and it got easier.
Mirabel attached the skis to her feet and stepped slowly onto the mud. She stood still for a moment, and then, without stepping, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
“It feels wobbly,” said Mirabel, “but I don’t sink into the mud.”
Mirabel took a careful step, then another.
Rowan watched from a spot under the chicken tree.”I sunk in farther than you do,” he said. “Because I’m heavier. And now you are moving faster than I did. Perhaps we should choose light weight people like you to rescue the royal family.”