Ralf runs through the rain to Plumbob Hall to begin his work in his lordship’s kitchen.
When he has dried himself off, Humphrey the Cook presents him with a new set of clothes and shows him where he will sleep.
Humphrey has to get back to preparing the lunch, so he sends his new hire to the stables to ask Ralf the Groom for a tour of the manor house.
The older boy has a wiry frame, a thick beard on his chin, and kind, dark eyes. He laughs when he hears they are both Ralfs. In the household accounts, if they are named at all, the two will be referred to as ‘Ralf, Groom of the Marshalsea’ and ‘Ralf, Child of the Kitchen’, but the groom suggests that between themselves they adopt the less formal nicknames ‘Tall Ralf’ and ‘Small Ralf’.
Tall Ralf stables the horse he has been brushing, and takes the boy to see the parts of the house he will need to know.
First they enter the buttery, where the candles and everyday nectars are stored. The lower household sometimes drinks here after supper, and the room is also used to dispense bread to the poor, and to serve food and drink to any merchants, workers or messengers that arrive outside of mealtimes.
Across the hallway is the parlour, a storeroom for bread, dried fruit and preserves.
Finally, they move into the great hall. Tall Ralf explains where everyone sits and in what order they should be served. Small Ralf himself will sit down last, after laying out the dishes for the rest of the lower hall.
He must not step up onto the dais or into the rooms beyond it: different servants of higher rank wait on their lord- and ladyships there. Tall Ralf has never seen the great chamber; neither has Small Ralf’s father, nor any man of the village since the manor house was built. Their wives have, however, occasionally passed the invisible divide to serve as midwives and nursemaids, or to bring gifts to new mothers of the household.
At the opposite end of the hall from the dais, above the screens passage, is a balcony where musicians sometimes sit at weddings and other great feasts.
The lunch bell brings the tour to an end. Ralf tucks into a hearty stew of carrot, garlic, and a little beef, sprinkled with fresh mint and thickened with grains of rye. He is not used to eating meat on normal working days, so the tender strips of beef come as a pleasant surprise. So too does the fine white bread, sweeter and airier than the village baker’s loaves.
While the high table eat their second course, Humphrey brings the boy before Lord Snordwich and to swear an oath of loyalty.
After lunch, work begins again in the kitchen. Ralf washes dishes and chops vegetables while Humphrey rubs a chicken with honey and the purple flower from the garden.
This, Humphrey tells him, is lavender; and over the next few days he sees that the cook has many uses for it. It is added to pottages, sprinkled over salads, turned into jams and jellies, distilled into bath oils, and dried out to make wardrobe bouquets. Sometimes his lordship’s chaplain comes to instruct Humphrey in the production of lavender cordials, syrupy drafts to be stored in the kitchen until they are needed to treat headaches, cramps, or disrupted sleep.
From Wednesday through to Saturday, Humphrey and Ralf need to make four extra messes for the villagers, who have been bringing in the harvest. When Ralf’s family arrives, he tells them all about his work.
Everyone is seated in the great hall.
On Ralf’s table are Richard, Jaclyn and Tephna. The girls gossip freely until Ralf warns them to keep their voices quiet: if the noise in the lower hall grows too loud, his lordships’s marshal will command total silence. In an excited whisper, Tephna tells him about the limes, plums, and grapes she picked for the first time that day.
Jaclyn, who is less hardy than Aelfgiva and not as interested in the harvest as Tephna, has been put in charge of the little ones. She lets Ralf know that his little brother Mark is happy and healthy, and that he seems more comfortable around the other children than he once did.
The villagers bring with them the grapes, limes and plums from the demesne, and from Friday there are pears and apples too. Later in the season, brewers will come from Crafthole to turn some of these into bottles of Black Friar and Bishops’s Gold, but for now Humphrey and Ralf use them in pies, crumbles, and, on the warmer days, refreshing fruit soups.
Humphrey teaches Ralf him other things too: how to kneed bread, and pluck and joint a pheasant. The cook has high standards and a sharp tongue, and he scolds the boy whenever he makes mistakes.
But with Ralf’s gardening Humphrey cannot find fault. When he sees that he can trust him with his precious herbs and berries, which will be in fruit until the end of the week, he makes the entire plot Ralf’s responsibility. Now the boy’s favourite time of day is the early morning, when goes out weed and water the plants.