The Howards remain as guests at Plumbob Hall for the Feast of the Children. The day begins with gifts for Roger, Marian, Peter, and Alberic. Lord Snordwich presents Peter with an alabaster sun, hoping that it will help the boy remember him when he is Earl of Tredony.
Roger Cecil’s gift is a little drum. His mother is eager for him to develop an interest in music, though the little boy treats his new toy more as an enemy than an instrument.
Lunch is a magnificent feast, intended to impress the Cecils’ powerful guests. There are fruit pies, nuts, roast goose, and, for the high table, wild rabbit and spiced pears. Grancourt and Clerinell are both in attendance with their wives and grooms, and the hall is full of people.
Peter and Alberic sing for their master.
The meal goes on late into the afternoon, until the household is called to prayer in the chapel.
Supper, though more intimate, is a no less sumptuous affair; but Rohesia can manage only bread and diluted nectar. She has been feeling faint since her return from Tredony and the rich food finally gets the better of her. With apologies to Effenmont and his wife, the baroness retires early to the great chamber. There, Chaplain Wereables brings her a sweet mint cordial to ease her turning stomach and help restore her appetite.
Lord Snordwich is worried, but his wife knows this feeling well enough.
On Friday morning, the first day of the winter penitence, the earl and countess take their leave of their hosts.
By the evening another guest has arrived—John Gillian, a poet who takes part in Plumbob Hall’s Nativity entertainments every year.
The lower household does not eat supper during the penitential season, but since the hall is quiet Sir Thomas finds Gillian a seat at the end of the high table. Postel and Perroy are eager to hear what story they will be presenting in this year’s mumming. Perroy tells him he has two gold rings that he would like to give to his lord’s children as part of the performance.
Gillian has a revised version of last year’s tale ready, but, once he hears that Lady Snordwich is again with child, he sits down to write something new.
It is the story of Cecelia, a brave and faithful wife, whose husband has been carried away by a dragon. On her quest to find him, she faces embodiments of idleness, lechery, and vanity, who try to tempt her from her path, but Cecelia remains steadfast. Not all of her encounters are frightening: from a kindly wizard she hears a prophecy that her virtue will be rewarded with many noble sons and daughters, one of whom will go on to found the illustrious Cecil line. Eventually, Cecelia finds her husband and helps him fight the dragon. Perroy’s gold rings will represent the dragon’s hoard, which Gillian will say fall to the Cecil children as Cecelia’s heirs.
Gillian is pleased. As a mythic origin story of Lord Snordwich’s ancestry and a well-timed celebration of wife- and motherhood, the mumming should please both lord and lady.
At nightfall, a bedroll is laid down for him outside his lordship’s chamber, in the corridor where Adam the Minstrel sleeps.
The gentlemen are not disappointed by his work. Postel plays Cecelia, and Perroy all the other parts. He has particular fun portraying the villains.
Other regulars at the baron’s Nativity celebrations are a juggler and a choir, who arrive just in time for evensong.
The following morning is cold and wet, but the juggler is able to keep the children entertained indoors.
While his wife is lying in, Lord Snordwich spends some time with his son.
He keeps Roger by his side until supper time, when Dame Joan brings welcome news that her ladyship is safe and well, and has been delivered of a healthy baby boy.
The celebrations are kept muted throughout the next morning and afternoon, but at sunset a great feast is served, with gifts of nectar and small purses for all the servants.
Everyone drinks and dances until midnight, when they repair to the chapel to see in the Feast of the Nativity. The choirboys sing as the baroness, resplendent in white and gold, brings her son Fabyan to the altar to be blessed.