Rikilde is Hugh Cotter’s wife now.
They were married shortly after her mother died. It was not ideal, to have a hurried little wedding so close to the funeral, but they both agreed it would help strengthen their bid for the guardianship of her little brother Robert.
They had worried that her sister’s husband Richard would challenge their suit, but he did not. Now she and Hugh will bring Robert up together, managing his inheritance for him until he is of age to claim it.
They first thought they might maintain two households, with Hugh, Robert and her in one cottage, and Hugh’s mother, sister and brother in the other, but in the end they decided it would be cheaper to keep everyone together under one roof.
Rikilde has taken over some chairs from her old home, some of them her mother’s own handiwork. She also wanted to bring the bedstead, their most valuable possession, but there would not have been space at the Cotters’ for two.
She wonders whether it would be better to try to sell the frame now, rather than risk losing it to rot or lice.
Hugh’s mother Juliana has the use of the the bed already in the house. At her age, she needs the comfort and support. She shares it with her daughter Emma, while her younger son Peter sleeps at its foot, and little Robert curls up by the fireplace.
The newlyweds lay their bedrolls down in an unused corner of the room. It is the furthest from the hearth, but they have one another for warmth.
When Rikilde can stay awake late enough, they take their marriage rights with muffled sighs and shudders, cold earth below them and darkness all about.
There are two patches of land to farm now, Hugh’s and what will be Robert’s.
There is double the rent to pay too, but Rikilde has found she has her father’s genius for stretching out supplies when things get tough.
Hugh often takes the boys fishing. It is a good time of year for it, with the great house sworn off all other meat and eggs for the spring penitence. Sometimes they have enough left over for Juliana, Rikilde and Emma to add to a stew.
They try to work together as a team, but it is not always easy. Emma is sullen and constantly on edge. Though the Cotter children did all lose their father this year, Emma has been like this for as long as Rikilde can remember.
Peter bristles under his brother’s new authority. They argue constantly. Peter says that when he is grown he will leave home and make his own way in the world.
Juliana does her best to keep the peace between them.
Amidst all the discord, Rikilde is thankful to have her mother-in-law there.
She thinks of her own mother often. Sometimes when she wakes in the morning, she thinks to ask her something about the breakfast or the day ahead, only to remember she is gone. The realization is always sad, and lonely, and very strange, but she never feels it as a hole punched right through the heart of family life, the way she did when her dear father passed.
Other villagers lost parents to the winter too: the seasonal ‘flu took not only her mother and Hugh’s father, but also Old Man Brewer and his wife, who were father- and mother-in-law Rikilde’s older sister Aelfgiva.
Richard is in charge of the brewery now, although everyone knows that it is his younger brother Mark really running things, quietly balancing the books and making sure everything is done on time.
Rikilde and Robert visit the Brewers often. It makes Rikilde cheerful to see her sister so bright-eyed and full of life.
She and Richard have two children now, James and Sabina. The girl arrived before the boy was even weaned.
As the Feast of the Watcher approaches, the baron and baroness announce they are expecting a child. Eda and Tephna go up the hill to deliver the baby, at last returning with news that it is a little girl with chestnut hair.
Word filters down that his lordship will be at home for the coming feast, not visiting friends. On Wednesday, knights and their dames start to pass through the village.
Robert is excited to see their horses.
The little boy loves all animals. Rikilde cannot remember when she last saw him so happy as with the Brewers’ newborn foal.
The whole family eats at the tavern every day throughout the feast. On the first, they bring an omelette; on the second, a roast chicken.
Rikilde tries not to think about all the eggs they could have had from it, reminding herself that this is a special occasion.
Their hosts have cooked a joint of beef that tastes almost as good as the food from the manor house kitchen.
Lord Snordwich himself has sent down nectar for their feast day meals, with a request to drink to the health of his sixth child, come to him so late in life.