Ronduin woke early, tucked his throwing sacks in his pockets, fed the chickens in the courtyard, then ran up the stairs in the turret to the spot where he liked to practice juggling.
“You’ve been very patient about waiting to practice,” said Ronduin as he placed Apple, Pear and Peach on the stone window ledge.”I’m sorry I’ve been so busy. I’ve had no time to juggle because we are getting ready to walk to barn hill and then to the foothills.”
The throwing sacks looked lonely on the window ledge.
“Don’t worry,” said Ronduin. “You are coming with me. But Cook Agnes is staying here. Everyday father and mother decide to bring more things down to the old kitchen so it will be easy for her when she is in the castle by herself.”
The throwing sacks listened quietly.
“But today I woke up early to have time to juggle! Are you ready?” asked Ronduin.
When he sensed that Apple, Pear and Peach were ready, Ronduin took them off the window ledge and began juggling. Around and around the throwing sacks flew through the air, always grabbed and tossed by Ronduin at just the right time.
Ronduin did not notice the solid castle walls. He didn’t notice barn hill, visible through the window. He didn’t notice the clouds floating across the early morning sky or the fact that beads of sweat grew across his forehead. Ronduin was completely focused on keeping the throwing sacks moving at just the right speed.
When Ronduin decided to stop, he caught each throwing sack and sat them again on the window ledge. “We need a rest,” he told them as they slumped into comfortable positions.
“I’ve decided,” said Ronduin. He paused and looked calmly at the three throwing sacks. “ I can no longer be a secret prince. The time has come for my classmates, for everyone in the village, to know that I, Ronduin, was once the sickly prince. It’s time to tell everyone that the sickly prince is now well and has been attending the village school wearing peasant clothes.”
The throwing sacks leaned against each other as if they were trying to provide comfort to one another.
“I wish I could shrink to your size and snuggle up with all of you,” said Ronduin. “After everyone learns that I hid the truth, you may be my only friends.”
Ronduin was certain that the sound of footsteps on the stone steps of the turret belonged to his mother. She entered the landing with a big smile, said, “Good Morning, my fine son,” pulled throwing sacks from her pockets and began juggling. Ronduin thought Apple, Pear and Peach looked well rested, so he lifted his throwing sacks and, again, juggled as the expert he had come to be.
“After a few moments, the Queen asked, “Ready?” Ronduin answered, “yes.” The Queen counted, “One, two three.” Then, at the exact same time, one of the Queen’s throwing sacks flew toward Ronduin and one of Ronduin’s throwing sacks flew toward the Queen. Instead of two people each juggling three throwing sacks, now two people juggled six throwing sacks in one pattern with throwing sacks flying back and forth between them at regular intervals.
After a few minutes of the Queen said, “ready to stop?”
“Yes,” said Ronduin who then counted, “One two, three.”
Instead of throwing the sacks, they now caught them one at a time. When Ronduin placed Apple, Pear and Peach on the window ledge, the Queen placed her three throwing sacks there as well.
Ronduin sensed that his throwing sacks wanted him to tell his mother what was on his mind.
“I’ve decided it will soon be time to let everyone know that the sickly prince is not well and that I am the prince,” said Ronduin. “I thought about your idea of continuing the secret by appearing at the foothills later than you and father in my peasant clothing. But, that doesn’t feel right.”
“I agree with you,” said the Queen. “It doesn’t feel right to be dishonest with the villagers. After all this time away from the people of the village, it’s strange, but I feel closer to them. We have been doing the work of the castle, the work they usually do. And I have found unexpected joy in this common work. When I light a fire, I feel the same joy as a villager watching the flames leap into life. When I watch you learning to juggle, I am no different from any mother happily watching her child learn a new skill.”
Ronduin nodded. “The reason I decided to be a secret prince at school is that I wanted the villagers to treat me like any other person. I’ve known since I was very little that the deference given to Kings, Queens, Princesses and Princes makes it difficult to make true friends. But, at the same time, secrets stand in the way of friendship. I want my friends to know my whole truth.”
The Queen nodded.
Ronduin continued, “Also, when we all arrive at barn hill together, Mirabel and Rowan will realize right away that I am the prince. It would not be fair to ask them to keep this secret.”
“So, how will we make this announcement to the villagers?” asked the Queen.
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” said Ronduin, frowning and shaking his head.
“We have a few days to think about this,” said the Queen. “Let’s talk with your father and Cook Agnes now as we eat our porridge.”
The setting sun shown on Mirabel and Rowan who stood just outside the barn waving. They waved happily at the Royal Family and Cook Agnes who waved back at them.
“We did a lot of work today,” said Rowan, “and I’m tired.”
“Me too,” said Mirabel. “Floors are swept. We’ve piled the last of the straw in the loft for sleeping. The kitchen is shining and all the jugs are full of water, lined up along the barn near the well. The whole time I worked, I thought of mother and father and Adelaide and Merek along with Sir Andrew, traveling from our home to the foothills on skis and in the mud sled and then in the green boat. When I was filling the water jugs at the well, I kept looking at the path to the foothills and thinking how quickly I could run there. But Robere sat in the entry to the path and meowed every time this thought crossed my mind. I have to thank Robere for keeping me here.”
“Tomorrow is baking day,” said Rowan as the Royal family and Cook Agnes waved at them one more time before leaving the castle roof.
“I will help,” said Mirabel, as she and Rowan turned to enter the barn. “And then two more sleeps until we see Mother and Father and the children.”
“And three sleeps until rescue day”, said Rowan.