The spring penitence is a quiet time for the brewery. With nectar, cheese, eggs and meat all forbidden, fish, cabbage and pickled onion are the family’s main sources of sustenance.
From Tuesday, William Jardine and Henry Yates have fresh mint for them too.
With his afternoons free, Henry the Brewer often takes his sons Richard and Mark to visit his good friend Geoffrey in the bakery. Geoffrey’s wife gives them toasted spring buns, and his daughter Tephna shows them the wild flowers she has gathered.
The evenings sometimes still bring guests to tavern, usually travellers on their way to Crafthole.
Mark is shy around these strangers, but completely at ease with friends and family. He loves to swim in the river with his big brother and race with their friend Aelfgiva; he is almost as fast as her now.
On Wednesday morning, the boys’ mother wakes them early. At sunrise, the Feast of the Watcher will begin, bringing the long period of fasting and penitence to an end.
As the sun appears over the mountains, the villagers gather outside the church to sing songs and celebrate. Geoffrey has sweet buns to share, and Henry opens a bottle of last year’s Country Blend.
It is good to see everyone together again, fully recovered from the sickness that swept through the village during the winter months.
The baron and his household ride down from Plumbob Hall to attend the sermon later that morning. The faces of Lord and Lady Snordwich are stern, but their clothes are beautiful, shimmering with the brilliant greens and golds of youth and rebirth.
The church itself is no less splendid, with its altar decked out in spring flowers, candles, and fine cloth of white and gold.
Every year, Lord Snordwich begins his Feast of the Watcher celebrations with a meal for his servants and their families. After church, Henry and his family follow the noble household up the hill. For the occasion, Francis has made herself a new shift and her husband a new shirt of bleached linen.
They are all happy to see Ralf again. He introduces them to his friend John, the manor’s new stable boy and son of one of Master Grancourt’s tenants.
While they wait in the buttery for their lunch, they meet John’s mother and sister, Matilda and Cecily. John’s father is running an errand in Crafthole for Mistress Grancourt, so the women have traveled to Plumville alone. Last night they enjoyed the hospitality of the retired Chaplain Wereables, whose groom fed them and let them sleep by the fire.
Lunch is called and everyone is seated in the great hall. The centerpiece of the feast is roast lamb in a mint sauce, but there are also spring greens, a custard tart, fresh cheese, and a dense purple nectar that even Henry does not recognize.
Mark likes the tart the best; Richard, the rich, earthy meat.
Ralf cannot stay long with his family after they have eaten; there are pigeons to be plucked for supper. But he has good news: the baron and most of his household will be spending the rest of the festival season visiting friends, so his services will not be required in the kitchen. Ralf’s master Humphrey has given him permission to return home for two days, starting the following morning.
Happy in the knowledge that they will soon see Ralf again, the rest of the family walk down the hill with Matilda and Cecily. The sun will set in a few hours and Francis does not like to think of mother and daughter on the road after dark, so she insists they stay the night.
While Mark is shy around the strangers, Richard and Cecily soon make friends.
He shows her the riverbank and family cows, but she is most impressed by his father’s plum trees. Richard desperately wants to show off, but he cannot think of the answers to her questions about planting seasons and soil quality. If Ralf were here, he would know.
In the evening, William and Geoffrey come to the tavern with their families to enjoy a few cups of nectar. Matilda is the midwife in her village, so she and Eda have much to say to one another. Tephna and Cecily listen to their conversation with interest.
The baker’s son Adam is getting quite big, and is now dressed in the Brewer boys’ old clothes. Richard plays a game with him.
Adam’s parents are eager to hear all about lunch at Plumbob Hall.
Tepha tells Cecily where on the road out of the village she will find the prettiest wildflowers.