At Plumbob Hall, his lordship is entertaining his dear friend and mentor William Postel, Baron Burdley. The two men are of equal degree, but Lord Snordwich yields his seat to his guest out of respect for his age.
Among Lord Burdley’s party are his eldest son Sir Ronald Postel, and Sir Ronald’s wife Lady Elaine, daughter to Edward de Vesci, Earl of Tredony. Theirs was a love match of sorts: Elaine, strong-willed since childhood and indulged in all things by her doting father, sabotaged his every attempt to marry her off, until this handsome young knight caught her eye.
Lords Snordwich and Burdley have known one another since Snordwich was a young page, heir to his father’s barony but as yet titled only ‘Master John Cecil’. He was barely tall enough to mount a horse when he entered the service of the former Earl of Tredony, and fondly remembers how Burdley, then among the earl’s henchman, made him feel safe and welcome in the strange house.
Over their years in Tredony, the two came to think of one another as brothers. Burdley later named his second son John for his young friend, and sent him to serve in his household. He has not seen his younger son since his eldest’s wedding, and is delighted to be reminded of the brave and courteous young man he has become—if still a little too fond of nectar.
John is glad to see his family, especially his brother. Since they both love to ride, they share their hopes that Lord Snordwich will assemble a hunting party before the visit is over.
In the kitchen, Ralf is rushed off his feet. Lord Snordwich has summoned his knights and gentry to wait upon his honoured guests, and since they arrived the hall has been full of people.
Not only are there more mouths to feed, but Ralf’s aging master, unable to work as fast as he once could, now relies more and more on his young helper.
The boy also has his kitchen garden to tend to. It has flourished under his care, yielding healthy cabbages, mint, cucumbers, and big, juicy strawberries.
From midsummer, the other crops start to come in: garlic, carrots, blackberries, raspberries, and lavender.
Together he and his master make fruit pies and fresh summer salads scattered with purple petals.
Chamomile blooms around the same time. The village boys come up to the manor house with armfuls of it that their sisters have picked.
Humphrey the Cook steeps the flowers in boiling water to make a handwash to be set at the high table.
After dinner each night, Ralf has a sliver of free time to play with the John of the Marshalsea while his master takes a drink in the buttery.
It is a busy time for the John too, as one Lord Snordwich’s mares has recently given birth to a foal.
The baron plans to present him to his daughter Aldiytha when she is old enough to ride.
Aldiytha is an energetic and inquisitive little girl. She is always wandering off, and her poor nurse Alice is often seen frantically chasing after her.
Her father loves to tell her scary stories about dragons and ogres, which make her giggle with delight.
It is quite obvious to everyone that she is his favourite, although no one feels it more acutely than his middle child Fabyan.
Fabyan is as easily frighted and ill-tempered as his elder brother Roger. His tutors often send him to be scolded by his father’s marshal, Master Grancourt—in charge of discipline as well as horses and deliveries.
He takes his lessons with the marshal’s son Thomas, but the two are not friends. Thomas has a gentle grace that Fabyan envies, and fits of melancholy for which the he has no patience.
Lord and Lady Snordwich both blame the Crafthole wife who nursed both boys for their their sons’ imbalanced tempers, which swing violently between cowardice and anger. For Roger, a friend of the family’s late chaplain recommended plenty of red meat to build courage and confidence, to be balanced with more fish and vegetables if fever or fitful sleep ensued. Lord Snordwich also has his cook follow this advice for his second son. The rabbit and lamb that Fabyan is prescribed do not seem to alter his disposition, but he likes them well enough, even more so when he notices that the other children are not allowed so much rich meat.