Sitting at his own wedding feast, Roger is still surprised to find himself a married man. This is not how things were meant to go. His wife Matilda was chosen for him by his father, a noble bride to carry on the Cecil line. Last week Lord Snordwich came to watch his lessons, and at the end of his visit made it clear that during the celebrations he did not expect his son to try to dance or shoot, or do any other thing so poorly as to bring shame upon the family.
Roger, though, gave up trying to please his father a long time ago. Defiantly, he plotted to dishonour him by publicly refusing to accept his choice of bride. Yet when he saw her, shining bright in Howard green and gold, his courage failed him and he spoke his vows.
Matilda and he will not live together as man and wife until she is old enough to bear his children safely. Perhaps that is for the best, Roger reflects, since he can’t even get up the nerve to talk to her. Last night they walked quietly together in the gardens with her brother Sir Jacquemon, but Roger’s mouth was all dry and he almost tripped over his own feet.
Getting nervous all over again, he turns his attention to the dishes before them. He thinks he will like the herring best—boiled in something red, probably nectar—but his mother sends word from the other side of the table for him not to neglect the meat. She is still trying to make a man of him, he thinks with irritation, and has Alberic Roussel heap still more of the fish onto his plate. He can follow through on this small act of rebellion at least.
He looks out over his father’s hall, packed full of guests.
The dais is full of great lords, but he and Matilda have been placed in high honour, between her uncle and the Bishop of Gastrobury.
When everyone has their food, Lord Snordwich rises to welcome them. He wishes the bride and groom happiness, and says he has a special entertainment for them.
That seems to be the queue for the poet Gillian to come forward and announce a new work, a pageant entitled The Gifts of the Seasons. The musicians strike up again, and little John Ros enters. He is dressed in a tunic of green silk, gossamer-thin and edged with gold. When he reaches the dais, he begins to sing, sweet and clear:
Hunting, dancing, carefree pleasures,
These are summer’s blessed treasures.
As long as you to love stay true,
My gift of joy will bide with you.
As he finishes his verse, John presents a jar of honey to Roger and his wife, before stepping to the side to make way for Sir Geoffrey’s son Simon. The squire’s red doublet is embroidered with autumn leaves, and he bears cups of golden nectar, which hands to bride and groom to share. In a rich, melodious timbre he sings:
Eat your fill of harvest’s plenty,
Let no guest return home empty.
While you to all keep open doors,
Autumn’s bounty be ever yours.
Next comes a boy Roger does not recognise, clad in icy blue with a woollen hood about his shoulders. He may be one of the choristers from Crafthole, since he as pitch-perfect as he sings:
In the dark of cold midwinter,
Fires still burn and stars still glimmer.
Whatever hardship fall to you,
My gift of patience help you through.
His token is a silver ribbon, which he presents to the couple to twine about their wrists.
Last in the procession is Thomas Grancourt. His clothes are embroidered with leaves and flowers, and as he walks he scatters seeds about him. At the foot of the dais he stops and sings:
Spring brings hope and new life blooming,
Plants in flower and lovebirds pluming.
I pray for you now you are wed
That issue bless your marriage bed.
The last of the gifts is a bouquet of yellow hawthorn flowers.
The pageant is over, but the musicians in the gallery continue to play as some changes are made to the seating arrangements at the far end of the hall.
The second course starts to come out; a leg of lamb with fresh spring greens is carried through the hall to the top table, then distributed throughout the lower hall. Roger tries a little of this and of everything else too: an egg and pickled onion tart; pale yellow jelly, pungent, fiery, and a little sweet; soft cheese, drizzled with honey.
He listens to Lord Peter, heir to Tredony, talk excitedly with his sister Lady Agnes about tomorrow’s archery tournament.
Roger feels a flash of resentment towards the older boy, so athletic and self-assured. But he fights the feeling. He knows that anger is a sin—as is cowardice, Sir Thomas always tells him.
He is deep in thought when Matilda, who has been quiet all through the feast, leans in to tell him that she is greatly enjoying the music coming from the gallery.
He such a fright that he almost chokes on his tart.
Furious with himself, and unsure of how to recover from this humiliation, he is grateful for the distraction when his mother calls Sir Vincent and Ansellus Le Roux up to sing for her.
It is dark outside by the time the third course arrives: roast swan, cold plover pie, and sweet swirls of pastry, served with his father’s best Black Friar.
While they eat, the tables in the centre of the room are cleared away and the daughters of some of his father’s vassals perform a dance for them.
The drinking continues long after the food is done and the leftovers have been carried to the buttery to be given out as alms. Some of the knights have fallen asleep at their tables, though Peter de Vesci is somehow still going strong.
Eventually, Lord Effenmont calls for his party to retire to bed. When Roger bids Matilda goodnight, she tells him that she looks forward to sitting with him again tomorrow.
Roger shares a small room beside the great chamber with Fabyan and Thomas that night. His wife will sleep with her aunt and uncle in the guest lodgings.
Fabyan, who has been on his feet carrying plates almost all day, falls asleep immediately, and Thomas does not take long to follow him. Roger, though, lies awake for hours. When he does at last drift off, he dreams of Matilda smiling at him.