The game of gnubb is interrupted by Perroy, with news that Lord and Lady Snordwich have arrived.
Everyone has someone special to welcome them home.
Matilda looks about for her brother, but finds he is already by her side. He scoops her up in his arms and hugs her tightly.
Lord Snordwich introduces his wife, Lovia, an older lady with jet black hair. The baroness does not seem proud or unapproachable at all. She smiles shyly at everyone she meets.
Her ladyship has a son, Brice Saisset, handsome and dark-haired like his mother.
The baron himself has aged since Matilda saw him last, but he still looks full of energy. They have not ridden far today, he says, only from Crafthole. When he hears they have been playing gnubb, he insists they all resume the game.
Between turns, Matilda catches up with Jacquemon. He tells her all about his time in Advorton, and they laugh together. Things have not changed between them at all.
Brother and sister are seated far apart for evensong, but at supper she insists his place be laid next to hers. She will be lady of this place one day, and will have her way in this at least.
While they eat, Marian’s brother John and betrothed Sir Vincent sing for them.
Lady Snordwich is delighted. She loves music, her husband explains. In fact, she has a beautiful voice herself, but could never be convinced to perform in front of such a large audience.
Matilda likes to listen to the singers too. Sir Vincent is pitch-perfect, and seems so full of confidence. She remembers too how deftly and purposefully he moved when they played their game of gnubb. Marian is a lucky girl. But then again, he is only a knight, not a great lord’s heir like her husband. And it is easy enough to admire a man when you are not the one who has to marry him. Perhaps her handmaid feels as uncertain about Vincent as she does about Roger.
She has never asked her, and will not now. After supper, as Marian brushes her hair and helps her into her finest bedclothes, Matilda says only how pleasant it is to have all the men back in Snordwich.
Tonight will be a kind of wedding night for her, now that her husband is home, and almost a man. Dame Joan brings her a cup of strong, sweet nectar; she may need it for her nerves, the old wife says. She encourages Matilda not to be afraid, but to relax and let her husband please her.
She has more advice too, about what will happen and how young maids should conduct themselves: seem modest, though not squeamish; be charming and tractable, though never too bold; flatter their husbands’ pride as naturally and unassumingly as they can. Matilda should be hearing this from woman of her own family, but she has no mother or sisters, and her aunt is far away. She suddenly feels very alone.
She wonders what Roger’s father and attendants are telling him in the next room, whether he is being commanded to reconcile the same impossible set of contradictions.
At last they bring him in. They are all laughing and drinking, save for Roger himself—and his brother Fabyan, whom Matilda has never seen smile.
The chaplain speaks a blessing over their marriage bed.
Matilda feels exposed, standing before everyone like this. Her attendants have seen her undressed before of course, so have her cousins at home in Effenmont, but never so many people at once. She holds her head up high and reminds herself who she is: a Howard, and now a Cecil too; an earl’s granddaughter, and one day a baroness.
When they leave, though, she almost wishes she could call them back. Her husband looks as apprehensive as she feels. But he could leave if he wished to, and she cannot.
Waiting is surely the worst part, she thinks. And so she lightly presses her lips against his.
He seems to like that, and soon his uncertain hands are pushing her back towards the bed.
It does not last long, at least. When it is over, she musters all her inner strength to smile demurely at him and tell him she hopes their sons will favour him.
In the days that follow, Matilda walks often in the gardens with Marian. She sees Jacquemon too, when he is not on duty or out hunting with Lord Snordwich.
At lunch and supper they eat the vension the men have caught, with grouse, duck, and the finest fruits of the autumn harvest. John Ros always has a song for the company, and the other boys take it in turns to wait on them.
Her father-in-law’s tenants fill out the hall every evening. Matilda puts on her best show for them, and for the highborn folk who sit at table with her. She smiles at them all, listening politely to the men talk about the day’s hunt or their plans for the next great feast day. She knows this game well, and feels most herself when she is playing it.
Her nights, though, belong to her husband. The whole household no longer comes to put them to bed—that was only for the first time—but Marian and Thomas are always there to undress them.
At last, in the final days of autumn, Matilda feels her belly swell.
Marian waits on her during her confinement, bringing her fresh flowers every day. Lady Snordwich visits her often too. When she first comes, she says that hearing so much praise of the young mistress’ elegance and charm has made her eager to know her for herself. This pleases Matilda.
The women pass the time with their embroidery. Matilda and Marian are both astonished by the baroness’ talent, but when they commend her she blushes and protests that her son Brice is the real artist in the family.
When Matilda’s labour begins, she faces it bravely. She is glad to have Marian there. Lady Snordwich stays with her too, and the midwife and her girl.
Over in the great hall, Lord Snordwich watches his two youngest daughters have their singing lesson.
Geva has grown since he left. She is now the very picture of the girls’ elder sister Aldiytha at her age. When he arrived home, he could have sworn it was Aldiytha herself who came to greet him, had he not just seen her last week in Burdley, almost a young woman.
He stopped there on his journey back from Advorton. During his stay, he arranged for Geva to be wed to his dear old friend’s grandson, William Postel.
Linyeve he intends to offer to John Ros, if the boy continues to serve him well. He believes his girls will be happy with the husbands he has chosen for them. John is faithful and warm-hearted, and will be a valiant knight like his father Sir Thomas; William comes from a noble line, and will make Geva Baroness Burdley one day.
When the lesson is over, Lord Snordwich invites Roger to come and sit with him, signalling to John to pour the boy a drink.
In a few short hours he expects to hear news of his first grandchild. He had worried his son would not have it in him, but in just three nights he has got his wife with child. And even if it is a girl, they will have plenty of time to try again; they are both still so young. Lord Snordwich cannot remember the last time he felt this proud of either of his boys.
A little after sunset, John’s sister Marian comes in with happy news: her mistress’ labour was short; she is quite well, and has been delivered of a healthy son.