On Saturday, the Aelfgiva and Rikilde’s mother sends them to gather wild chamomile with the younger girls.
They stop by the riverbank on their way home. Rikilde lays herself out to doze on the warm grass.
While her sister sleeps, Aelfgiva wanders down to the river. She has not been resting there long when she sees Richard swim by. He looks so powerful as he thrusts through the water; his torso is lean, but broad at the shoulders, and his whole body glistens in the afternoon sun.
She wants nothing more than to slip out of her dress and dive in to join him. They used to when they were small, of course, but things are different now.
Richard catches sight of her and waves, gesturing downriver to where his clothes must be. Moments later, he is half dressed and emerging through the trees.
Aelfgiva points to her sleeping sister; he slides an arm about her waist and whispers her he is glad to see her.
Richard’s shirt is open at the neck, its fabric thin with river water. When he holds her, she can feel every curve of his body, hard against hers.
They find the ground together, kissing and clutching at one another. It thrills her to realize how little separates them now. His laces are undone, her skirts scrunched and lifted in his fists. Then there are only thin layers of wool between them, and, then, nothing at all.
Elvina is crushing garlic when her daughters return. Aelfgiva looks pink and dreamy; she has probably been staring at herself in the river again and lost track of time. And Rikidle has no doubt been napping in the sun. Elvina has them tie their hair back up and help her with the supper. She will scold them later for their tardiness and sloppy dress.
Just before suppertime, Hugh brings Robert home. They have tidings from the manor kitchens—all the servants are talking about it: Lord Snordwich has been married in Advorton to some lady of the court, and they should both be back in Plumville before the year is out.
This is good news indeed. His lordship will be eager to show off his new wife, and there will surely be many feasts up at the great house.
Over supper they talk about what kind of woman the new Lady Snordwich might be. The sister to his majesty’s own chamberlain is what Hugh heard. Rikilde imagines fanciful backstories for her.
After church the next day, everyone has something to say about the news.
Elvina tucks herself up in bed that night, feeling a little less anxious about the future. But as she lies awake she hears a noise outside, and knows at once it is a thief trying to break into her cellar. Oh no you don’t, she thinks, and rushes outside to challenge him, determined to protect her winter food store at any cost.
The man knocks her to the ground, and she fears that things will go badly for her, but suddenly Aelfgiva is by her side, beating him back with a frying pan.
The girl reigns down blow after blow; when she hesitates for a moment to look over at her mother, the intruder takes the opportunity to escape with his life. Elvina has never seen her daughter look so fierce.
Aelfgiva gets her inside and checks she is not too badly hurt. They embrace one another, relieved that the threat is past.
They find Robert sobbing in terror in a corner of the room, but Rikidle manages to get him back into bed and off to sleep.
The next day they will tell everyone what passed. Their neighbours will be outraged to hear that someone tried to rob a poor old widow.
But when morning comes, there is something more urgent to deal with: the unmistakable swelling of her eldest’s daughter’s belly. Aelfgiva admits who the father is, and says that they have promised themselves to one another. She does think that Richard means to marry her, but she is frightened of what his family and friends will say to see her like this.
Elvina thought she would be more angry; she can see that Aelfgiva expects it too. But she is surprised to find that all she wants to do is help. There is no way to keep their neighbours from finding out, but she will at least make that boy honour his promises to her daughter, if she has to go to the marshal himself at Plumbob Hall.
They must forget about the thief of course. If the villagers hear that a man was in the house at night, and that now her daughter is with child, it will only confuse things. They might not believe that he was only after jars of food, or that Aelfgiva was able to see him off so easily. Elvina makes her younger children swear to say nothing to anyone about the intruder.
When they are both dressed, she leads Aelfgiva across the village to confront the Brewers.