Mirabel and Rowan left Roland and ran along the path toward Disappearing Brook. The long cloth bag filled with loaves of bread hung around Rowan’s shoulders and bounced against him as they ran.
“Stop for a minute,” said Mirabel. “I have a better idea for how to carry the bread. I’ll hold one end over my shoulder and you run behind me holding the other end, so the the bag of bread hangs between us.”
“Good idea,” said Rowan, handing one end of the bag to Mirabel.
Mirabel ran in front of Rowan firmly grasping a corner of the bag that sat on her shoulder. Rowan made sure the bag was suspended between them and did not touch the ground. In this way, they ran uphill along the brook until they reached the stone bridge where they slowed to a walk.
They stopped on the bridge to watch the river flowing lazily and then walked the short distance to the stable. When they stepped inside, Mirabel, whose eyes were used to the bright light of the sunny morning, blinked in the darkness of the old wooden building. Slowly, her eyes adjusted and she made out a long table under great wood beams, a roof high overhead, many horse stalls, and a ladder leaning against a loft. The stable appeared to be empty.
“Anyone here?” called Rowan into the echoing space.
When no-one answered, they placed the sack of bread on the long table and stepped out the door on the field side of the stable.
“When I was here before, this field was full of people plowing and planting,” said Rowan. “And now it’s all plowed there is nobody here.”
“Where could they be?” asked Mirabel looking up the hill toward a line of trees and across the plowed fields toward the river.
“Look, way up the hill. Someone is stepping out of the trees,” said Rowan.
“I see her now,” said Mirabel. “She’s coming this way. I think it might be Ellyn, who we met on the boat. She’s the only adult who is small enough that one could mistake her for a child. She came here to find wild food and to cook for all the workers.”
Mirabel and Rowan stepped out into the field where Ellyn could see them well. They waved and Ellyn waved back, and then began running toward them. Rowan and Mirabel ran to meet her.
“Good Day good woman Ellyn,” called Mirabel.
“Good Day, dear Mirabel and Rowan” called Ellyn.
“You must think everyone was eaten by a dragon or something,” said Ellyn laughing as she approached them. “In truth, when we finished planting the fields by the stable, we realized we have enough seed to plant the the upper field beyond those trees. So the plowers and the planters all moved up the hill. I’m coming back to the stable to create something for the mid-day meal.”
“Lunch is on the table,” said Rowan, smiling. “We brought bread.”
Now the three of them turned and walked back to the stable as they talked.
“This is like a gift from heaven,” said Ellyn. “Sir Andrew and your father will bring more food from the village, but we won’t see them until tomorrow,” said Ellyn. “And, in truth, it was going to be a very meager meal. I fetched milk from Roland last evening, but we have little else besides wild greens until the return of the green boat.”
“They are also bringing the rest of our family,” said Mirabel.
“Yes,” said Ellyn, “We will celebrate their arrival. Then we will look forward to the rescue of the royal family. After the royal family arrives here, we will have a great festival.”
Now Ellyn looked at her feet and said in a soft voice, “But rescuing the royal family will have to wait, for we cannot spare any workers until the field is planted.”
“Maybe we don’t have to wait for the workers,” said Rowan. “I noticed that Mirabel is faster on skis than I am because she is lighter.”
“If someone can bring children from the village in the green boat, perhaps we don’t need any of the adults,” said Mirabel.
“The children who you know from school are already here,” said Ellyn. “They are needed in the upper field. They are working alongside the adults. But I have an idea. The farm families in the foothills on the other side of the lake are not able to send their children to the village school. I know this because my mother’s sister, her husband and their five children are among those families. Their homes are near a cliff on the far side of the lake, so they were not flooded. I’ve already volunteered to row across the lake to invite these families to the festival. Now, I’ll deliver that invitation along with a request to my cousins to help us rescue the royal family.”
“Your aunt and uncle may need their children to help plant their own fields,” said Rowan.
“Perhaps,” said Ellyn. “But, since their homes and land are high above the lake, they were not flooded. They likely finished the planting long ago. And, if I plan to be part of the rescue team, I can tell them I will watch out for my cousins,” said Ellyn. “Certainly I qualify for the team as a light weight person. After all I am barely taller than you are Mirabel.”
“Yes, yes!” said Mirabel, taking Ellyn’s hand. “Sir Andrew will be more likely to approve of our plan if we have you with us!”
“So, here’s what I will tell Sir Andrew tomorrow,” said Ellyn. “I’ll tell him tomorrow that I can take the boat down to the village the following day. I will row to the home of my relatives. I will try to return the same day with my cousins. Then we will need a morning to practice with the skis. If all goes well, we will travel to barn hill that afternoon and sleep there. The following morning we will set out for the castle.”
“If I understand the plan you are suggesting, and all goes according to plan, we have four sleeps until you arrive at barn hill with the rescue team,” said Mirabel.
“Yes, said Ellyn, four sleeps until the rescue if all goes according to the plan.”