Hilith Grancourt is back home, her education at the convent complete. She and her mother sew and read together; when the weather is fair, they swim in the lake.
They used to come here when she and Thomas were little, her mother tells her. Hilith does not remember it, though the deep feeling of calm the water brings her does seem strangely familiar.
Her mother teaches her to swim, and she takes to it quickly.
William stays within calling distance, whistling to himself as he traps small game.
Sometimes on the way home they call on Hilith’s old nurse Margery, now married once more. Her family always lays a good lunch out for them, and they in turn hand over gifts of coin or cloth.
Hilith does not think she has ever seen her mother closer to laughter than when she and Margery are together.
The girl sleeps deeply every night. She worries that she keeps her mother awake, but never hears any complaints.
Once a week, they are guests at Walstock Hall. Alice and Beatrice are home from the convent now too. Hilith is always delighted to see her friends.
They all like to walk in the sunshine together. This time Alice has thrilling news: she is betrothed to Sir Richard Fibrois, a landed knight of Effenmont. They are to be married this winter, and feasted by Lord Effenmont himself on New Year’s Day. Alice has already begun to embroider her bridal sheets.
They will be beautiful, Hilith is sure. Alice always had such a talent for that kind of thing.
Thinking Beatrice looks a little sour, Hilith reminds her of what a good thing this will be for the whole family. The earl’s New Year’s feast will certainly be something special, Beatrice concedes.
The three younger Clerinell girls are still away from home, but Felicia has remembered Hilith in her letters. Alice and Beatrice let her read them over.
They have a brother now too, called Richard. It will be exciting to watch him grow up, Hilith thinks. She hopes that he and her own brother Thomas will become good friends when the boy is a little older.
Back at home, she and her mother offer nightly entertainment to her father’s tenants, who have been taking their harvest in. They are all together in the hall on Wednesday evening when a messenger arrives with a letter for Hilith.
It is a love letter from Simon Bonel, a squire she met a Master Roger’s wedding feast. Hilith blushes to read how extravagantly he praises her beauty. He has thought of her morning and night every day since the tournament, he says, and intends to make her his wife, if she and their fathers will consent.
When they met in the spring, Simon made all kinds of outlandish promises to her, but Hilith did not expect to hear them repeated. Surprised and unsure of how to proceed, she shows the letter to her mother.
In the quiet of their chamber, they talk everything through. Her mother is moved by Simon’s professions of love, and thinks the offer a good one, if it is seriously meant. The lands the young squire will inherit lie just south of Crafthole, about a day’s ride from Havlock Hall. His father, Sir Geoffrey, is a knight of great renown, but not too mighty to be refused: if Hilith does not like this boy or his family, this will not be the last offer she receives.
But Hilith is already caught up in the idea of staying so close to home, only one day’s journey from her mother, and less than that from her brother at Plumbob Hall. Neither is she ignorant of the honour that the match would bring to her family. And Simon did not seem seem cruel or cowardly or stupid, only a little lacking in restraint. She will accept his offer, she tells her mother, if it is sincere and if both her parents approve.
Ewfame gives her daughter her wholehearted blessing. At first light, she rides out to Plumbob Hall to speak to Gilbert, who will be able to arrange everything with Sir Geoffrey.
While she is away, she leaves her daughter in Margery’s care. They play a game of gnubb until a light shower forces them indoors. Hilith hopes that her mother has not been caught out in the bad weather.
It is early evening by the time she and William return.
For the next day or so there is nothing to do but wait for news. On Saturday, a groom of his lordship’s stable at last arrives with word from Master Grancourt.
Everything has been settled: Sir Geoffrey’s consent obtained, Hilith’s dowry set, and a date named a year and a half from now, after Simon has taken his knight’s vows.
But there is more still. The very next day they should expect as their guests at Havlock Hall Roger and Fabyan Cecil, Ansellus Le Roux, and Sir Geoffrey and Simon Bonel, accompanied by Master Grancourt himself. Simon was eager to introduce his father to his chosen bride, and the other young men will apparently be on their way to university in Effenmont.
Mistress Grancourt springs into action, rushing to the kitchen to order Adam to prepare a great feast of the autumn’s harvest. And he should have one of the villagers slaughter a cow, she tells him: roast beef was always her husband’s favourite dish. Hilith thinks her mother seems more anxious about his return than about hosting Lord Snordwich’s own sons.
Together, they select the nectar to go with the meal. They settle on a batch of Country Blend Ewfame brewed herself four years ago, and a bottle of Black Friar sent by her friends in Advorton.
The guests seem to appreciate the feast laid out before them.
His lordship’s two fair-haired sons do not talk during the meal. They look almost identical in their mourning clothes, although Master Roger’s garments are a little finer than his brother Fabyan’s. Hilith’s heart goes out to them; she cannot imagine how it would feel to lose a mother in such a way.
She watches her own mother flutter nervously about her father, but he is in a surprisingly good humour.
After lunch, she and Simon walk in the garden. She wonders whether he will reign his praises in now that they are promised to one another, but finds them only more extreme. He lays out for her all over again, in the most colourful language, how overmastered he has been by thoughts of her fair face, and renews his vows to win tournaments and conquer cities in her honour. He even recites a poem he has written in praise of her eyes. It is all a little much.
Hilith sees another side of him, though, when his father is by. When the old man comes over, Simon’s whole manor changes: he puts aside his boasts and becomes gentle, affectionate, and eager to ensure his father’s ease and comfort. When father and son have spoken for a while, Simon says something that makes them both laugh. This is a version of him, Hilith thinks, that she could perhaps grow to love.