Midwinter is not a hectic time for the farmers of Plumville. After the feasts of the Nativity and New Year’s are over, all there is to do is plant the summer crops. Thanks to a frostless winter, this year Robert Fowler’s are already in the ground. Instead, he takes a boat out onto the river with John and his son Hugh.
Elvina uses her spare time to work on a chair she has been trying to finish for weeks.
While she chips away at it, Aelfgiva teaches Rikilde to sew.
Despite the light workload, the season is a difficult one. Damp air soaks the thatch and swirls in through glassless windows. The last of the fresh vegetables have been eaten and the hens are laying fewer eggs. The shorter days mean that, after his lordship’s cut has been taken, Robert is lucky to bring home enough fish to fill a stew.
When it is time for lunch, Elvina sends Rikilde town to the cellar to fetch a jar of pickled fruits and vegetables.
For their bread, she toasts the stale end of one of the loaves bought for the Nativity.
After they have eaten, Aelfgiva asks for permission to go and play by the river. This her mother grants, but she must take her sister and be back before dark.
By the riverbank the girls find Richard using his old bear to teach Mark his numbers.
When he sees Aelfgiva, he grins and tells her she looks pretty. She knows this—her father tells her every day—but she blushes to hear Richard say it.
It is not long before Jaclyn joins them.
It is strange to see her without Tephna by her side; she and Oriel must be helping their father with the evening’s bread. Jaclyn tells them that she is indeed a little lonely, and would be happy to watch the little ones for a while.
Aelfgiva and Richard take the opportunity to race along the riverbank.
By the time they return, Rikilde is feeling cold, and Aelfgiva knows that it is time to get her home.
John and Hugh join the family for supper that evening. Aelfgiva helps her mother with the stew.
Hugh is impressed with how the chair is coming along, although he assumes it is Robert’s handiwork. The boy has been working on something of his own, a toy horse for his little brother, but he does not think it is good enough to show to anyone yet.
The next day, on her way to pick up a new loaf, Rikilde runs into Jaclyn, who tells her that Eda was just last night delivered of a baby girl.
When her mother hears the news, she sighs, bundles up a jar of pickled eggs, and takes the girls over to congratulate the Jardines. Aelfgiva and Rikilde think that the little girl—Agnes, her parents will call her—is adorable.
That night, the weather turns, and snow starts to fall.
It is still coming down when the family wakes up the following morning.
They spend the morning gathered about the hearth, drinking cups of hot nectar.
They are interrupted when Eda’s son Gilbert knocks at the door. He has come to invite them to lunch to celebrate his sister’s naming.
Robert tells the girls to wrap up warm and sends them over with the rest of the pan of nectar.
His wife has started to feel tired and unwell, so he decides to stay home with her.
It is nice and cosy over at the naming feast, with so many people crowded together. Everyone has brought something different to eat or drink.
By the time they have finished eating, the snow has almost melted. Aelfgiva and Richard lead some of the younger children in a game.
Rikilde prefers to stay close the the house, listening to Jaclyn and Tephna chatter.
When the girls get back to their own cottage that evening, their parents greet them with news: another child is on the way. Their father seems happy but their mother is in a bad humour.
The snow comes again that night, and continues throughout the next couple of days. Some of the wives come to visit Elvina and wish her well. Juliana brings her daughter Emma and a plate of pancakes.
Aelfgiva is delighted to see her.
She places Juliana’s very first gift to her, a little woolen sheep, down in the crib for her new brother or sister.
When Elvina’s time draws near, Robert heads out into the snow towards the tavern.
The delivery is difficult, but both mother and baby come through. When the little boy is all swaddled up, Elvina lets Aelfgiva hold him.
The next day at church, everyone is delighted to hear the good news.
After the sermon, Robert sends Rikilde home to check on mother and baby, and takes Aelfgiva for a walk along the river, now clear of snow. When they reach a quiet spot, he stops and turns to her. He has something serious to say: his life has been long and full of blessings, but he does not think he will see another winter. He is old now, much older than his own father was when the Watcher took him.
He warns his daughter that there are difficult times ahead. She and Rikilde will have to help their mother look after the little plot of land until their brother is old enough to claim it. And although the Church is often kind to widows, they may find that less work comes their way without a man to head the household.
He must see her lip tremble, because he takes her into his arms to comfort her, but she will not cry in front of him. She will show him how strong she can be.
That night, Aelfgiva asks to go next door—to show Emma a piece of knitting she says. Out of her family’s hearing, she sobs in Juliana’s arms.