It has been a difficult year for the baron and his wife. They had hoped that Roger would learn enough discipline, courage and courtesy from Sir Thomas to be sent to serve Lord Effenmont, but when they saw the boy at the Feast of the Nativity, they could not ignore how little he had improved. And his younger brother, of course, does not do much better at home.
Concluding that introducing Roger to any their powerful friends would do his prospects more harm than good, his parents determined to secure a bride for him before word of his temperament could spread. Over the past few weeks, they have been back and forth between Snordwich and Effenmont several times, negotiating a marriage contract. The earl would not part with his own daughter to a boy whose father apparently did not think fit to send to serve in the household of a peer; but he was at last willing to offer his orphaned niece, Matilda Howard.
The wedding will take place next spring, although the young couple will not live together as man and wife until a few years later. Lord Snordwich is relieved to have the negotiations behind him, and to be back in his own home with his friends.
His marshal and chief household officer Gilbert Grancourt is also glad to have his lordship home and entertaining guests. He is happier at Plumbob Hall than he was in his own household, and happier still when he has even more work than usual to undertake. In fact the more horses he has to stable, the more complicated arrangements he has to make, and the more detailed records he has to keep, the less gloomy and spiteful he feels.
On Wednesday, Lord Snordwich organizes a hunting trip. Sir Ronald and his brother are delighted, but their father chooses to remain behind the ladies. He and the baroness sit and talk while Lady Elaine plays a game with the children.
Rohesia has a great affection for the kind old man. He makes her laugh and shares her love of music.
She has Marian fetch Adam to play for them.
Fabyan is not yet old enough to ride out hunting. Instead, he and Thomas have a chess lesson with Chaplain Darcy.
In the afternoon, the men return with their prey. Humphrey and Ralf roast the best cuts of venison for the high table’s second course; the flank and brisket they stew with nectar and ground nuts.
Lord Snordwich orders some of his best nectar up from the cellar and feasts his guests late into the evening. In the morning they are due to begin their journey home.
After they have seen Lord Burdley’s party off with gifts and good wishes, the baroness shares some news with her husband: she believes she is with child again.
Lord Snordwich wishes for another girl like Aldiytha, but his wife points out that a son might take up office in the family home as a steward or clerk, and from that position advise and placate his eldest brother when he is baron.
Marian waits on her ladyship during her confinement, bringing her treats from the kitchen and singing to her.
As the baby’s arrival draws nearer, Lord Snordwich becomes increasingly anxious. Alone in the chapel, he opens his soul to the Watcher. Can he be responsible for his sons’ dispositions? Was their nurse really to blame, or is there some defect in him, that he can only father daughters and weak, peevish boys? Better another girl than a son like his others.
On Friday evening, the baroness is delivered of her child, and it is, indeed, a girl.
Mother and baby at first seem healthy, but on Saturday the baroness is taken ill with a fever and cramps. Lord Snordwich instructs Perroy to send Goodwife Jardine back from the village, and then to ride on to Crafthole to fetch a physician.
Postel he sends to Sir Thomas’ manor. Rohesia will want Dame Joan with her, and, if the fever looks ready to take her, Roger must be given a chance to say goodbye.
Fabyan is distressed to hear his mother is unwell.
When Eda arrives, she immediately recognizes her ladyship’s malady as the deadly childbed fever. There is no reliable cure, although a mixture of mint and honey may help cleanse corrupted blood. The midwife prepares this concoction while she waits for the physician to arrive.
In the chapel, the baby is blessed and named Linyeve. Many prayers are said for her mother’s recovery.
It is early evening when Sir Thomas and his wife, sweating from their hasty ride, arrive with Master Roger. The boy does not yet know about the marriage his father has arranged for him, but now is not the time to tell him. Dame Joan embraces her daughter before rushing to her ladyship’s chamber.
Roger feels worried and frustrated.
While the women do their best to make the baroness comfortable, his lordship comforts the boys. At such a time, he is glad to have every one of his children at his side.