The joyful conversation at the kitchen table could be heard far down the hallway of the castle. Stepping out of the stairwell, the King was astounded by this cheerful noise, so he ran to the kitchen door where he stood, incredulous at what he saw. Noticing that her husband was so amazed that he could not speak, the Queen stood and said, “Dear King, I see you are as astonished as I am to see these young people in the the castle. Ellyn, who was once an assistant to Cook Agnes, led this team on skis. They brought a sled carrying skis for us from the Mountain Kingdom. And, here is a a packet of letters from Sir Andrew.”
The King’s face lit up with a joyous smile. Then, he became serious as he spoke. “Ellyn, is all well in the foothills? Are the villagers well, and did the crops get planted in the foothills?”
“All is well,” said Ellyn as the King sat down at the head of the table. “We are all grateful for Sir Andrew and the green boat, for he brought us clean water to drink when we needed it and then rowed us to the foothills. The planting was completed in time to bring us good crops that will last though the cold months. We are planning a festival where we will give thanks for our good fortune. And, of course, no celebration would be complete without the Royal Family. We are grateful too that the Mountain Kingdom brought us skis and a sled.”
“The sled that sled carried skis,” said the Queen. “It is meant to transport the sickly prince. But, since Ronduin is no longer sickly and is able to ski, Cook Agnes can ride in the sled along the chickens and the cat.”
“This is wonderful news,” said the King. “Since Cook Agnes will come with us, we no longer need to fill more jugs of water. And, since our pack baskets are ready, we can leave after we all eat and after our rescuers have rested enough for the return journey. Now, let’s take a look at the letters from Sir Andrew!”
“I’ve been so eager to leave,” thought Ronduin. “But now I’m more worried than eager. I can’t tell whether Mirabel is angry because I did not tell her sooner that I am the Prince. And I don’t want to lose her friendship.”
The King and Queen smiled as they silently read the letters from Sir Andrew. Now, while they read, silence descended on the kitchen. Mirabel and Ronduin sat opposite each other at the long wooden table. Ronduin, eager to read Mirabel’s mood, didn’t want to stare at her, so kept his eyes on his porridge, glancing casually in her direction from time to time. Mirabel, still in shock by the surprise of learning that her friend is the Prince, did not want to stare at Ronduin, so she too was careful to mostly look at the peas porridge in her bowl.
“She is probably thinking that I am a bad person because I lied to her,” thought Ronduin.”
“My good friend Ronduin is the Prince,” thought Mirabel. “I am actually friends with a Prince. He will be a King one day and then I will be a friend of the King, who I will remember as a boy who could run as fast as the wind.”
After some time, the Queen tucked all the letters back in the satchel and the King announced, “I am happy to read that all is well in the village and in the foothills and at barn hill. We have all endured a long, challenging time, and it is time to celebrate.”
“We need not wait until the festival to begin celebrating our good fortune,” said Ellyn. “Rowan, who is now the baker of Barn Hill, has sent this sweet honey cake. We can eat it now in the spirit of celebration.”
Eight people on skis stood at the door of the castle ready to walk across the muddy fields. In a moment the King would pull closed the heavy door and put on lovely skis sent from the mountain Kingdom. But, now the door still stood open and Ronduin looked at the the bright light that lit the hallway and remembered the green boat emerging from that door and moving out onto a broad sea.
Cook Agnes, settled comfortably in the sled, held the kitchen cat. It was known to be an unfriendly feline, so, after luring her with a bit of cooked egg, the cook had wrapped her in a blanket. Now she enjoyed cuddling the cat as if it were a swaddled baby. Two special baskets at the cook’s feet held Ronduin’s chickens, Sunrise and Sunset.The big, yet lightweight, bag of juggling supplies was tied to the back of the sled.
Mirabel looked out over the muddy fields toward barn hill. There, waving wildly, Sir Andrew stood at the bottom of the hill.
“Look,” said Ronduin. “It’s Sir Andrew.” Everyone waved with great cheer.
Now Ellyn, Viola, Rosamond and the King each lifted one of four ropes that were tied to one central rope which was tied to the sled.
“Be ready for a lurch,” said Ellyn to Cook Agnes as the pulling team began to move forward. “The sled sticks to the mud at first, then it moves suddenly.”
“I’m ready,” said Cook Agnes, gripping the cat.
Mirabel and Ronduin soon found themselves moving quickly across the muddy fields. Looking back, they noticed that the sled moved very slowly. Peter and Peyton stayed near the sled in case they were needed to help pull and the Queen moved along next to the sled to keep Cook Agnes company.
Ellyn called out,”Mirabel and Ronduin, you may go fast if you wish, meet us at the island!”
Mirabel raised her arm to signal that she had heard. Then the two children fell into an easy, yet fast pace, moving along together, much as they had run together through the forest. Their habit was to avoid talking while they ran, and, here too, Mirabel and Ronduin put all their energy into their legs.
They both forgot the surprises and the worries of the day and retuned to their old habits, relishing the joy of movement and she spirit of camaraderie that had made them good friends.
Thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack, said their skis sticking, then pulling out of the mud. Without planning it, they fell into matching each other’s speed and rhythm, so that their skis sang together as did their hearts.
And yet, as they grew near to the first grassy island, Ronduin slowed. Their thwacking sounds fell out of rhythm and Mirabel wondered whether Ronduin was worn out. She slowed to match his pace, but said nothing. Glancing in his direction she detected an expression she could not interpret. All she knew was that Ronduin did not look happy.
“We can rest on the hill in a couple of minutes,” said Mirabel.
Ronduin nodded but did not speak. Stepping onto onto the low, grassy mound, they kept their silence as they looked back toward the castle and the slower skiers and then toward barn hill where Sir Andrew and Rowan stood waiting by the chicken tree. A slight breeze tickled the grass and the sun came out from the clouds and shone warmly on their faces.
Finally, Ronduin took a deep breath and said, “Can you forgive me?”
“Forgive you?” said Mirabel. “I want to thank you. If you had come to the village school as a prince, all the children would have avoided playing with you. We would have treated you as the future king, a person who deserves respect and who is above friendship with peasants like us. Instead, you became like a peasant. You laughed with us and played our games and ran with me through the forest. You dared to be your true self.”
“So you are really not angry with me?” said Ronduin.
“Angry? asked Mirabel in an incredulous voice. “Of course I’m not angry. I’m grateful that you are my friend.”
Ronduin smiled. ”I am grateful to be your friend too. And I want you to know, I want everyone at school to know, that even though I am the Prince, I am still their friend and always will be. Someday you will see me in my royal garb, but know that my purple velvet jacket is just a costume. When I was sickly, I learned that being a Prince does not protect me from all burdens, that under the velvet clothing, I am the same as everyone. Then when I grew strong and went to school, I wished above all for everyone to know the true me. In my heart, I will always be a peasant boy who loves to run through the forest with Mirabel, my best friend.”