Back in Plumville, Lord Snordwich’s tenant Robert Fowler and his wife Elvina prepare for the coming cold.
Robert and Elvina live a one-room cottage with a small gardening patch and chicken coop. They are one of the poorest families in the village, but have always managed to scrape by. Elvina prides herself on keeping their little home clean and tidy, and her husband meticulously rations out their food and fuel to ensure they have enough to see them through the year.
It is the first day of winter, and Elvina is making soul cakes to celebrate All Souls’ Eve.
These flat, buttery cakes are traditionally given to local children in exchange for their prayers for the dead, but, since there are none old enough, Robert and Elivna share theirs with their neighbours, John and Juliana.
As the sun sets, the church bell rings to ward evil spirits, to keep them from cursing the living or leading the dead astray.
Among this year’s departed is Robert’s father, an honest, patient man beloved by the his friends, but sickly throughout his life and finally dependent on the charity of the church. On this hallowed evening, Elvina sets a place for him at supper, to sustain him on his journey to the afterlife.
When she and her husband retire to bed, they leave a candle burning above the fireplace to help him light his way.
In his All Souls’ service the following morning, Parson Reviers honours the good men and wives the village has lost that year.
The Feast of All Souls and its vigil are holidays, but on the following day Robert and Elvina must return to work. Although their small garden and birds provide them with just about enough food, to afford other necessities they must find ways to supplement their income. Elivina is a competent joiner, and is currently making a new table for Goodman Brewer, which Robert will deliver in exchange for cloth and coin.
Robert himself rents a fishing boat from Plumbob Hall and takes it out onto the river. Any salmon he catches must be surrendered to Humphrey the Cook for his lordship’s own table, but a portion of the rest Robert may keep to eat or sell.
The need to make ends meet is more urgent than ever before, as the couple are expecting their first child.
They are both apprehensive about new arrival. Elvina remembers how difficult she found it when four noisy, messy younger siblings erupted into her parents’ orderly household. And while Robert knows that their children will eventually be able to help them with the cottage, he is anxious about the cost of extra clothing, medicine, bedding, and food.
On Wednesday evening, Goodwife Jardine sees Elvina safely through her delivery. Her daughter, Aelfgiva, has light brown eyes and a strong, healthy grip.
Mother and baby will stay at home until they have received their blessings, so the following morning Robert goes to church alone. The service it to celebrate the Feast of the Children, a joyful festival that precedes three days of penitence and fasting. On her way to hear the sermon, Juliana stops by the house, bringing Aelfgiva a stuffed sheep she has sewn together out of scraps of fabric.
The seasonal ban on eggs, butter, meat, and other rich foods begins at sunset, so for lunch Elvina uses up some of the hens’ eggs in a thick herb omelette.
The rest of the eggs she pickles and stores in the cellar for later in the winter.
Aelfgiva’s naming ceremony is held on the first day of the winter penitence. The following celebration is not lavish, but the villagers are happy to come together over steaming bowls of fish stew, and Robert is relieved to have avoided providing a more expensive meal.
Jaclyn plays with a wooden dragon her parents must have given her for the Feast of the Children.
Eda checks on Aelfgiva, who continues to grow hale and happy.
The days that follow provide more chances to fish. On Saturday, Robert and John rent a boat together. They see Henry Yates out on the river too.
Fish are in high demand during the winter penitence, and Humphrey the Cook is happy to buy Robert and John’s share of the day’s catch to fry for the high table.
The fast will end sunset on Sunday. In preparation for the evening feast, the village wives bring their uncooked loaves to the bakery. They spend the morning there, chattering, nursing their infants, and tying bundles of mistletoe to hang up in their homes.
The road up to Plumbob Hall is bustling from dawn to midday. The following day is the Feast of the Nativity, and the Cecils’ festivities draw guests and entertainers from all over the barony. Many sorts of people make their way up the hill, while riders from the manor bring down white and gold samite for the church altar. Sir Thomas Ros and Ralf the Groom stop at the tavern for a drink of Snordwich Sunset.
In the evening, the villagers gather in homes across town to break their fast. John and Juliana visit Robert’s cottage with spiced buns and a cured ham.
They stay up late into the night, and, when the bell strikes twelve, everyone heads to the church to see in the Feast of the Nativity with a midnight service.