Cedric sits impatiently on the dais of his hall, his household at the table ready to eat. He scolds the dogs and grumbles to the servants. Rowena is late, and Cedric will wait for her even though he is hungry and fretting over the overdue return of Gurth and the pigs. He prizes Gurth and hopes to promote him someday, and his swine are valuable property.
In his irritation, Cedric begins to mull the likelihood that Gurth and the herd have been carried away by thieving outlaws or thieving barons. Primarily, however, he misses Wamba, who he learns is with Gurth and so must have been carried off too.
Contemplating his revenge aloud, Cedric defies his enemies "old and childless as I am." The declaration leaves Cedric suddenly sad, because in fact, he has disowned his only son Wilfred for being too pro-Norman.
Cedric's reverie is interrupted by the arrival of his Norman guests. Prior Aymer and the knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert are announced and Cedric welcomes them reluctantly, unwilling to violate the ancient rules of hospitality but unhappy about having to entertain his enemies. Orders are issued to set places for them and their retinue. Rooms are made up for them, and the best wine is brought out.
Cedric is aware of the reputations of both guests and sends a message to Rowena that she might want to skip her appearance and eat in her rooms. The maid reminds Cedric that Rowena is unlikely to pass up a chance to hear first-hand news from Palestine, to which Cedric replies with uncharacteristic restraint, although he is angered by the servant's impertinence. The maid belongs to Rowena, and Cedric does not assert any authority over his ward.
Being the last descendant of King Alfred, Rowena is the legitimate heir to the Saxon throne, as far as Cedric is concerned, and his fealty belongs entirely to her. He serves Rowena and provides her his protection, but—even though she grew up in his house—he does not believe he can tell her what to do.
Cedric muses on the bloody absurdity of the Crusades and the storytelling of "dissolute crusaders or hypocritical pilgrims" from that "fatal land." Nevertheless, he also hopes to hear news from Palestine. It is there that Wilfred went to serve the Norman king Richard the Lion Heart.
Cedric angrily resolves not to be any more concerned for Wilfred than for any other crusader. The hall doors open and the guests are escorted into dinner with a show of honor.