Cook Agnes sat on a stump, warmed by the signal fire which had died down to bright orange glowing embers. She still held the bundled kitchen cat.
“We are going to introduce the kitchen cat to Robere, who no doubt thinks he owns barn hill,” said Cook Agnes to Ronduin who sat at her feet.
Now Mirabel, holding Robere, walked slowly toward Cook Agnes. Mirabel felt Robere’s muscles tense in preparation for a leap. She tightened her grip on him and crouched down to bring him to the same level as the cat from the castle.
Both cats squirmed to get away from their captors. Concerned that the cats might fight, Mirabel and Cook Agnes held the cats firmly.
Mirabel, settled herself on the ground, a few feet from Cook Agnes, crossed her legs and, still gripping Robere firmly, placed placed him in the hollow of her skirt.
Now Rowan and Ellyn appeared carrying a huge pot of stew. Each held one end of a stout stick that was looped through the handle of the pot. Peter and Peyton followed them with baskets full of cups, bowls and spoons.
Cook Agnes said, “Ellyn, may we have a bit of stew to settle these grumpy cats?”
“Of course you may,” said Ellyn, who, along with Rowan, set the stew on the grass before scooping portions into two small wooden bowls. Ronduin hopped up to take the little bowls of stew to the cats. Mirabel and Cook Agnes held the bowls for the cats. Robere, who had already eaten his fill of mice, nibbled daintily. The kitchen cat devoured her stew quickly.
When the cats were finished eating, Mirabel and Cook Agnes stroked the cats until they purred.
Still gripping Robere around his chest, Cook Agnes stretched forward to place the kitchen cat on the ground.
“I’ll hold her,” said Ronduin. Cook Agnes nodded and Ronduin grasped the kitchen cat firmly around her chest.
“I think it makes sense to release Robere first,” said Cook Agnes. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Mirabel pulled her hands away from Robere. He slowly placed one paw on her foot, then gingerly climbed over her feet and, ignoring the other cat, walked regally toward the barn.
“You may release the kitchen cat anytime,” said Cook Agnes. Ronduin slowly pulled his hands away from the cat, who stood still for a full minute. Then she too walked slowly in the direction of the barn. Halfway to the barn, she stopped and hopped up onto a stump. “I think she’s quite surprised to find herself in this new place,”said Cook Agnes. “She’s sitting there, taking it all in, trying to make sense of so many new things: a big fire, flocks of chickens, the view from a hilltop, people she doesn’t know. It must be a big shock to a cat who is used to spending most of her time in the castle.”
Ronduin thought, “I feel like that too.”
Now Ellyn and Rowan began filling wooden bowls with the warm stew. Tired and hungry, the rescue party, the Royal Family, Cook Agnes, Rowan and Sir Andrew sat on the hillside eating and gazing at the castle.
“It’s almost time for our sunset wave,” said Mirabel, “but the people we waved at are here, not there.”
“Seeing you on barn hill at sunset each evening was so important to us,” said the Queen.
“It kept us from feeling too lonely,” said Cook Agnes.
“It helped me not worry too much about the people of the kingdom,” said the King. “You always looked well, and I hoped that was a signal that everyone was well.”
“When news came to me that Mirabel and Rowan saw you daily, it helped me not worry too much about the four of you, alone in the castle,” said Sir Andrew.
“Now we have all come through this safe and sound,” said the Queen. “And the crops are planted and the muddy fields around the castle are drying, we can see ahead of us the end of these strange times. We have much to celebrate.”
“And celebrate we will!” said the King. “My dear Queen and Sir Andrew, let’s meet later in the kitchen by candle light to discuss our journey to the foothills and the festival.”
“Yes,” said the Queen. “We have much to decide. “But, after we eat, let’s first let’s sort out our sleeping arrangements in the barn.”
As they scraped the last of the gravy from their bowls, the cloudy sky turned purple as the sun sank toward the horizon.
Mirabel stood and said, “The castle looks lonely.”
“Let’s all wave,” said Rowan, “and say goodnight to the castle.”
Holding their wooden bowls, everyone stood, enchanted by the purple-pink clouds over the castle and the band of bright gold that lit the castle walls like a bright torch.
Mirabel waved. Rowan waved. Then everyone joined in waving at the castle.
“Good night good castle,” said Ronduin. “Good night good castle,” repeated everyone.