Marian Ros awakes on Friday morning barely rested.
Last night at the feast, Sir Vincent Le Roux asked her father for her hand. They negotiated it all then and there, over spice-stuffed pastries, plover pie, and what seemed like gallons of Black Friar. Marian has not had time to think about it, and does not now: in the great chamber, her ladyship has another piece of news.
Marian assumes that she will remain by her mistress’ side, but Lady Snordwich tells her to go and enjoy the last day of the feast with her betrothed. Marian’s mother will stay with her instead.
The tournament grounds are bright and festive, with the colours of Effenmont and Snordwich hanging everywhere.
The noble lords and ladies take their seats under a pavilion of gleaming white and gold.
Fabyan, Thomas, and Marian’s own little brother John carry trays of pie and nectar.
Not far from the high table, Marian’s sisters Imenya and Avice sit silently together, grave faces rising out of folds of dusky burgundy and grey. Marian does not know her brother or sisters well, but she has noticed that the girls do not like to play with other children.
Aldiytha passes by them both to sit with little Dominica and Margery Clerinell.
All three are excited about the day ahead. Aldiytha is always impressed by knightly displays of skill and strength; Dominica, dazzled by the pageantry of it all; and Margery is just happy to be outdoors in the fresh air and among friends.
As everyone waits for the first round to begin, Sir Vincent’s squire Simon approaches and loudly announces to Hilith Grancourt that when he is a knight he will win a tournament in her honour.
Felicia Clerinell thinks the gesture wonderfully romantic, but Hilith, blushing, tells her it was just words.
Sir Vincent himself is down by the targets. He smiles at Marian, but only when the contest is about to start does he come to sit by her side. He has been here since dawn, he tells her, but will not shoot today: it would not be appropriate while he is still in mourning.
She asks him about his own tournament victory last summer in Effenmont; this flatters him, as she guessed it would. He tells her how in the final round he defeated Sir Henry Bajout. He is sure that Sir Henry will win today. Marian smiles softly to herself: Sir Vincent has not seen her father shoot.
Sir Vincent’s favourite to win is certainly handsome, with broad shoulders, golden hair, and cool blue eyes.
Alice and Felicia both prefer him over all the other knights.
Their sister Beatrice sets her sights even higher, on young Lord Peter, magnificent in de Vesci gold and scarlet. No doubt he will marry some great peer’s daughter.
As the rounds continue, Ansellus comes to join them. Sir Vincent is distracted by the archers, and Marian is happy to talk to someone closer to her own age. Only when the boy tells her how grateful he is to her ladyship for convincing his brother to send him back to university does the knight look up at them.
The day draws on and eventually there are only three competitors left: not Sir Henry after all, but Marian’s father against Lord Peter and Sir Ronald.
These young noblemen are the heirs to Tredony and Burdley. Marian is proud to see her father shooting alongside them. When he finally takes the victory, they both gracefully accept defeat. Sir Ronald embraces him, laughing.
Lord Effenmont promises the victor a seat of honour upon the dais that night.
Sir Vincent, impressed by Sir Thomas’ skill, asks if he may ride beside him on the way back to the house.
Marian rides a little way behind them with the other girls. No sooner are they through the gates than Aldiytha is on her feet and rushing off with Dominica.
Marian is crosser than she should be when she catches them up. Aldiytha is sorry; she wanted to show her friend her foal, her father’s gift to her last winter.
There is time before supper, so Marian consents, but insists she go along with them. Aldiytha will end up with mud all over her dress if allowed to go alone.
The foal is a charming little thing, not quite old enough to ride but growing stronger every day the stable boy tells them.
When the girls are done, Marian drops them off with their nurses.
Marian’s father will be honoured at the feast that night, but her place is with her mistress.
She finds the women in the room she once shared with her parents, now hung all about with tapestries. The midwife is already there with her young helper, who is singing. The tune—so far as Marian can make it out—is pretty enough, but the girl’s untrained voice does not carry it well.
Her ladyship is eager to know about Marian’s day with Sir Vincent.
Marian tells them all about the tournament. Her mother is delighted to hear of Marian’s father’s victory.
Once their questions have been answered, the women sit back down to their game. Marian’s mother always used to win at chess, and does this time too. Lady Snordwich smiles and claps when she sees she has been bested once more.
In the morning Matilda comes in to join them. She presents her ladyship with a bouquet of roses, white for purity and hope.
Since yesterday the bride has unveiled her hair and put aside her jewels, but she bears herself with no less dignity. Marian hopes that they will have a chance to become good friends.
At lunchtime, Thomas Grancourt brings chicken broth and white bread to the chamber door, with vinegar and honey for her ladyship. He tells Marian that Lord Snordwich has been pacing anxiously about the house all morning, stopping at the chapel upon each hour to pray.
Marian feels it too: they all remember the fever that almost tore his wife from them last summer. First, though, they must pass through other dangers. When the time draws near, the shutters are closed and the fire stoked. Marian stays close by her mistress’ side, reading to her, washing the sweat from her brow, turning about the room with her when she grows tired of her bed.
The labour is long and hard. Marian watches in dismay as her ladyship grows more and more distressed. They all try to speak soothing words while the midwife rubs her belly with ointments, but push after push the baby still does not come.
Hours drag by; the air grows stifling hot and thick with the smells of ash and sweat and blood. Master Roger’s wedding, Marian’s own betrothal, even her words with Thomas just that afternoon—it all seems part of another world.
At long last, a child’s cry sounds out. The midwife carefully washes the wauling baby girl then hands her over to the family nurse.
The child’s mother, though, lies faint and pale in a bed of blood. The women sing softly to her and lay sweet herbs about for her to smell, but by first light Lady Snordwich has passed from them.