“Good Day to you Prince Ronduin!” proclaimed the strong voice. This voice called out from the forest near the barn kitchen. It seemed as if the trees themselves spoke to Ronduin. Yet, this feeling of surprise did not last, for he quickly recognized Roland’s booming voice. Looking down the hill path through the forest, he now saw Roland rounding a curve leading Galen.
“Good day to you,” called Ronduin.
“Galen carries jugs of milk for your morning meal,” said Roland, patting the saddle bags slung across the horse’s broad back.
Now Rowan opened the kitchen door and greeted both Roland and Ronduin. “You are in time for fresh bread,” he called out cheerfully.
“It was the smell of that fresh bread that helped me hurry up the hill,” said Roland.
Soon everyone gathered near the remains of the bonfire. The King and Queen, Sir Andrew, Roland, Cook Agnes, Ellyn and her cousins, Mirabel, Rowan and Ronduin ripped great chunks of bread off warm loaves of bread. Ronduin had not had milk to drink for many weeks. He swallowed great gulps. As soon as he finished, Ellyn refilled his cup. He smiled. “There is no greater luxury than fresh milk,” he said. “Thank you for bringing it,” he said to Roland. And then, noticing Galen grazing on the hillside, he called out, “thank you too, Galen.”
Ellyn stirred the embers and fed small sticks into the glowing heap until they caught fire. Then she added small branches until the blaze became a cooking fire. Rowan carried the big pot and hung it from three tall poles that leaned on each other. Then he poured water into the pot in preparation for making a stew.
As everyone finished their bread, talk turned to plans for the day. Roland began. “We have six boats now,” he said. “One of course is the green boa. And one is from the mountain kingdom and four are lent to us by fishermen from the far end of the lake.” Those who have stayed in the village used these to bring the tents we always set up for the spring faire. They had just finished setting up the royal tent when I left. It’s in the upper field where the we will have the Festival. It’s a flat field recently grazed by cows, so the grass is short.”
“Sounds perfect for running and games,” said Ronduin, imagining running around this great field.
“And the tent will perfect for for the King and me to live in,” said the Queen.
“If we can finish heaping wood for a signal fire we can leave after the mid-day meal and accompany Roland and Galen in their journey back to the foothills.”
“We must practice our juggling presentation before we leave,” said the Queen.”
“Yes, that we must,” said the King.
The morning flew by quickly. Ellyn and Rowan worked on preparing the stew, and Cook Agnes searched the hillside for wild garlic. Everyone else gathered fallen wood from the forest near the kitchen. Ronduin and the King and Queen used their pack baskets to carry small twigs and branches and Ellyn’s cousins, Mirabel and Sir Andrew carried heavier branches. Roland found his axe and sat on a stump outside the kitchen door. Here he chopped the long branches down to a reasonable size.
Again and again Ronduin ran up the hill and around the barn with his basket full of small branches. Running fast with sweat beading on his forehead, he did not grow tired. It had been many months since he had run though a forest. And it had been many months since he had seen young people. Running uphill, he smiled as he stepped off the the path to let Mirabel pass as she travelled downhill. When he and Peyton dumped their loads on the growing pile, the sound of crashing sticks made them both laugh out loud. They kept laughing as each member of their team crashed their pile of wood into the heap.
Nearby, the cooking fire cracked and the scent of wood smoke mixed with garlic and onions filled the air. Needing more wood for their fire, Ellyn tiptoed over to the new pile of wood and, waiting until almost no one was looking, pulled a few fat sticks out of the heap and quickly hid them behind her skirt. She knew they would be happy to give her as much wood as she needed, but had fun pretending that she was stealing. Now, smiling mischievously, she walked backwards toward the fire, keeping the sticks hidden.
“Thief, thief,” called out Mirabel, joining in the joke.
“Oh no, I see a stranger in a blue bonnet stealing valuable sticks,” called Peyton as Ellyn tossed the sticks on the cooking fire. “Too late to catch me,” she called out.
“I’ve never been so happy,” thought Ronduin, feeling lighthearted as he laughed with the merry crew.
Now he looked across the damp fields at the lonely castle. He remembered the many weeks of quiet.
“I got used to it,” he thought, “being the only young person in a big castle. And now I’m so happy to be able to run and to be with friends both old and new.”
The laugher had calmed when the King and Queen arrived with their loads of twigs just as Ronduin and his friends were about to go back to the forest for another load. The King said, “I think you strong, young people can finish without our family, for we must go in the barn and practice our performance for the festival. Come along Ronduin. If we start now, we can be back for the mid-day meal.”
And then it all happened so fast. The rehearsal went so well that they didn’t have to repeat any part of it. The midday meal was served just as they walked out of the barn. And then Mirabel, Cook Agnes and Rowan carried dishes to the kitchen for cleaning. Ronduin helped Roland hang bags of bread over Galen’s back. The Queen emerged from the barn wearing a long, velvet dress. Then the King appeared wearing a long, embroidered jacket. Ronduin realized he had become accustomed to seeing his parents in their peasant clothing. Sometimes he had even forgotten that they were the King and the Queen. But, now, seeing them in their royal garb, he realized that they had many responsibilities ahead of them.
After saying their good-byes, Ellyn, Peter, Peyton, Viola, Rosamond, Sir Andrew, Roland, Galen the horse, the King and the Queen walked down the hill toward the foothills. Mirabel, Rowan and Cook Agnes stepped into the kitchen, but Ronduin remained at the top of the path, watching the line of travelers move down the hill.
Just before they all disappeared into the thick forest the Queen turned and called out, “See you in seven days.”
“Fare thee well,” called out Ronduin.
credit for the fire image: Yondon Batbileg from Mongolia