The snow falls again that night. By the first morning of spring, it is still lying thick on the ground.
Francis Brewer stays warm by giving the house a good clean.
Her sons are are outside playing in the snow.
Henry is teaching their daughter to walk.
Aphra has his dark eyes and auburn hair.
That evening, the parson joins the family for supper. He has been in the church all day blessing the villagers’ candles. The spring penitence will not begin for days, so Francis has Mark bring out the bread and cheese, along with a jar of fruits and vegetables that have been pickling in honey and nectar since the autumn.
By nightfall, the snow has yet to melt. Henry is getting more and more worried. He must start putting the autumn crops in the ground the following day; if he cannot, the whole year will be thrown off.
But the next morning they wake to find their prayers answered. In the night, the Watcher has sent rain to wash away the snow and soften the soil. Francis sees Henry and Richard off with their lunches in bundles. They have both their own fields and his lordship’s to plant, and will not be back until late.
She is glad to have Mark to help her about the house. When they have finished their chores, they sit down together to tell Aphra a story.
The younger children are already in bed by the time her husband returns with Richard. Francis gives them cups of hot Bishop’s Gold to help them sleep. They have had their supper in his lordship’s hall, where they saw Ralf. Richard says that his brother seemed well; busy, as always, but excited about his spring greens.
The next day, Francis gets a surprise when Ralf himself walks through the door.
Once hugs and kisses have been exchanged, he tells her that the kitchen needs a new boy trained up for the wedding next week. Francis suggests the Cotters’ youngest child Peter. He is perhaps a little stubborn, but will surely appreciate the work. A position in his lordship’s household, however meager, could change everything for the second son of poor parents.
Ralf embraces her again and bids her farewell but does not quite look ready to leave. He stares at the floor and shifts his feet for a while before finally asking whether she has anything she needs him to take to the bakery. Francis is confused for a moment, but then understands: he is looking for a reason to call upon his little friend, the baker’s daughter.
Playing along, she roots about in the cupboard until she finds a jar of prunes, which she tells him she needs to get to Tephna’s mother.
Ralf gives her one last grateful squeeze and then is gone.
A gentle rain continues to fall throughout the afternoon, keeping the sharp spring frost at bay. By the evening, the crops have all been planted; on Thursday, everyone is ready to celebrate the Feast of the Absolution.
After the sermon, the villagers usually spend this holiday playing games on the green, but a heavier downpour forces them to move their celebrations indoors. Unphased, Geoffrey dashes home to fetch his fiddle and freshly baked sticky buns, while Henry pours out some nectar and moves the smaller tables to create a space to dance.
Avice thanks Francis for the prunes. Such an unexpected gift. She will save them up for the Feast of the Watcher, she says, then bake them into a pie.
As they are talking, Francis hears thunder crash, and excuses herself to run and check on Speckle. The poor beast has been startled, but Francis manages to calm her down.
When she gets back inside, she notices her youngest son is missing. She finds him playing on his own in the back room. He looks happy, so she leaves him be.
Richard, of course, is in the thick of things.
After a day of revelry, the Brewers retire to their beds, praying that the Watcher help them shrive their souls in the days ahead.
Meat, eggs, dairy, and nectar are once more forbidden, but Francis is delighted to see that her garden has yielded her cabbages for stews and salads.
No one visits the tavern until Saturday, when Tall Ralf stops in for lunch. He tells his hosts that his short tenure on his old master’s land is up; Lord Snordwich has found a freeholder to buy it, he thinks. Fortunately, his wife’s son can put them up, but they will not have so much space as they did, so he is now on his way to Crafthole to sell off some furniture.
They talk for a little longer as Ralf eats. He is delighted to hear that his small friend is still doing well at Plumbob Hall. When he is ready to leave, Francis asks him whether he would mind carrying some cloth back from Crafthole for her. All sorts of important people will soon start passing through the village for Master Roger’s wedding, and she wants her family to look as clean and proper as they can.