Entering the kitchen in the morning twilight, Mirabel saw the glow of candlelight shining up into the dim room from the opening in the floor. Rowan had already moved the great stone and had climbed down the ladder into the food storage area.
“Good Morning, dear brother!” Mirabel called out to Rowan. “How can I help?”
“Good Morning to you dear sister,” called Rowan. “You are here just in time. After two sleeps we will feed the royal family, so I am bringing up the best cheese, the raspberries preserved in honey, the last of the butter and so many more treasures. I will carry these to the top of the ladder and you can move them to the table.”
“I’m ready,” said Mirabel, leaning over the storage area and breathing in the luscious scents of the food stored below.
Soon the table was covered with cheeses, crocks of butter, preserved fruit and bottles of mead.
“This morning, if all went well, our parents and Adelaide and Merek are waking up in the foothills,” said Mirabel.
“And, Ellyn is about to take the green boat down the river to the far lake shore to ask her cousins to help with the rescue,” said Rowan. “But, right now, here on barn hill, we must start food preparations. The first step is to fill all the water jugs. I will need water for cooking and let’s have many jugs ready for our visitors.”
“You know I’ am an expert at filling water jugs,” said Mirabel. “Day after day, I filled jugs to send to town.”
“Since you are so good at it, you can fill jugs while I start making bread,” said Rowan. “I want to make enough bread for for our visitors and enough to bring to the foothills.”
Mirabel stepped out of the kitchen with with a load of empty jugs to the trill of far off birdsong and a soft breeze tickling her face. Walking to the well under a fair morning sky with puffy clouds still tinged pink with the last hints of sunrise, she thought, “I’m happiest working outside.”
Ronduin trudged down the stairs carrying a heavy sack of oats. His father and mother walked behind him, also burdened with heavy bags from the food storage room.
“I think we can finish moving everything from the food storage room to the old kitchen by the end of the day tomorrow,” said the King.
“Then we must move every last thing from Cook Agnes’ room,” said the Queen.”If we leave anything behind, I’m afraid she’ll climb the stairs to fetch it and climbing stairs has become very difficult for her.”
“I agree,” said the King. “Let’s bring all of it to the old kitchen.”
“How many days until we leave to go to barn hill?” asked Ronduin as they stepped into the kitchen.
“We will leave after four sleeps,” said the King, setting his heavy sack on the floor.
“I don’t like the idea of leaving Cook Agnes behind,” said the Queen. “Before we go we must do everything we can to make her safe and comfortable.”
“You worry too much about me,” said Cook Agnes, hearing their conversation. She sat at the far end of the long kitchen, holding a basket and a stout thread and a big needle.
“What are you making?” asked Ronduin.
“You are just in time to test this travel basket, young Prince,” said Cook Agnes. “I’ve made three of them and I’m just finishing sewing shoulder straps on this small one for you.”
“This is so kind of you,” said the Queen. “I’ve been wondering how we will each carry a few items of clothing.”
Cook Agnes slid the basket straps over her own arms to show Ronduin how to wear his basket on his back. “As you see,” she said,” the basket will stay on your back and your arms are free to hold your skiing poles. “
Ronduin wore his basket for most of the rest of the day. He used it to carry items from the food storage room to the kitchen. He used it to carry food to the chickens.
Placing his throwing sacks in the basket, he spoke to his throwing sacks, “Today you get to ride in comfort instead of all squished in my pockets. We’re on our way to meet my mother in the turret.”
“I think we’ve managed to keep our juggling a secret,” said the Queen. “I’m pretty sure that the the King and Cook Agnes don’t know you can juggle.”
“I’ve been very careful to make sure I am far from them every time I practice,” said Ronduin. “Are you still planning to juggle at the festival in the foothills?”
“Yes,” said the Queen. ” I think we will have a combined Sheep Sheering Festival and Spring Fair. I want to surprise everyone with a juggling show, and I’m hoping you will join me. In fact, this could be the time when we announce your true identity — Prince Ronduin who is no longer the Sickly Prince.”
“who has been attending the village school with a false identity,” said Ronduin who looked embarrassed as he said this.
The Queen looked at Ronduin sympathetically and continued, “I’ve been thinking that, if we plan to make the announcement at the fair, it would be best for you to remain at Barn Hill with Mirabel and Rowan until we sneak you into the royal tent at the fairgrounds just before the festivities.”
“I like that idea. But it means that father will have to know about the surprise,” said Ronduin.
“Yes,” said the Queen. “Your father and Mirabel and Rowan must all know the secret.”
“I feel bad that Cook Agnes will miss the fair and our juggling performance,” said Ronduin.
This is a good reason to surprise her and the King with a juggling show before we leave the castle,” said the Queen.
“I like that idea,” said Ronduin, smiling.
Mirabel and Rowan arrived laughing at the barn door just before sunset.
“Just look at you, covered in flour,” said Rowan, giggling at his sister’s appearance.
“And look at you!” said Mirabel, also giggling. “Your hair is so full of flour that you look to be a white haired old man. But that splotch of jam on your shirt makes you look like a messy little child.”
“But finally the baking is done. I’m especially pleased with the big cake that has a layer of jam in the middle,” said Rowan.
“I can’t wait to present that cake to the royal family after two sleeps and a rescue,” said Mirabel, waving energetically as the royal family and cook Agnes appeared on the castle wall.
“Four sleeps until we walk to barn hill,” said Ronduin, standing at the castle wall, waving.
“We have much to do to be ready,” said the King.
“Including the special surprise that Ronduin and I have prepared,” said the Queen.