Eregiel and one of the Rangers who was going off patrol accompanied the five who’d broken their swords North to the estate where Eregiel had lived now for many years. There four of the Angmarians would remain while Eregiel and the remaining soldier went north to bring out the familes of himself and the one other who was married, and the sister of a third. Eregiel’s mother greeted her son and guests with pleasure and the two hounds with more, and those who worked on the estate and with the kennel treated all with respect. Along the way the three whose families would be brought out were questioned closely, the ways to their homes discussed and rehearsed at length, the family members to be extracted from Angmar described in detail. And at last Eregiel came up with a plan for getting them out.
The one to accompany Eregiel was named Crispos, and his home was the furthest from the border. He admitted he and his family had a pair of oxen and an ox cart, which could be helpful in carrying those they sought closer to the border. He had four children, all of them small; the walk to the border would be too difficult for them to support, although to get them across it at the last they would have to abandon the cart and animals near it, most likely.
After resting the night they set off, slipped across the border at a site the guards of Arnor had identified as little patrolled, and for two days they went North unimpeded. On the third day they came to an area where they had to take the road, and here Eregiel surprised his companion mightily. “I will never pass as one from Angmar, although I know your tongue well enough. Bind my arms behind me and take my sword, and let me appear to be your prisoner; let it be known to who question you that I was taken as a slave. In this way none is likely to question you overmuch.”
That Eregiel agreed to allow Crispos to carry his sword impressed the Angmarian; that he trusted him to follow through on the ruse even moreso. The plan worked indeed, and soon they were north of the heavily traveled area, where Crispos quickly untied his companion and restored his weapon.
Margit worried for the return of her husband. She was not certain precisely why they had chosen Crispos for this assault South into Arnor, but she did not have a good feeling about it. As soon as the reports came that the twenty of them were south into Arnor, Bellor, headman for the village, had come to see her, and had looked on her with an expression she’d not liked, as if he intended in time to take possession of her. But his expression regarding the farmhouse and its contents had disturbed her even more, as if it were all his; and the next day he’d had his own beasts moved to the fields where Crispos had planned to pasture the cattle he’d hoped to purchase with the funds he’d husbanded away for the past four years.
That day five of Bellor’s folks had gone through the byre and begun to measure out how it might be extended to house Bellor’s cattle. There could be no question Bellor saw the property now as his. But if he expected Crispos to come back he’d never do such things. No, Bellor did not expect Crispos to return, obviously. Margrit quietly retrieved the funds she and Crispos had hidden in the well, sewed the hard-won coins into the hems of the children’s clothing, and tried to think of how she would get them away from this place.
She’d just turned out the lamp and settled into bed, worries tumbling through her mind like leaves lifted by one of the circular winds that blew across the flats, when she heard the bar lifted. Shocked, she rose quickly and picked up the staff she and Crispos had always kept leaning by the bed. As quietly as possible she crept to the door, which was creaking open. She readied the weapon when she heard a whisper she’d not expected to hear again. “Margit, heart of mine, it is me. Put down the cudgel that we might come in, but don’t light a lamp.”
Shocked even more, she’d straightened and stepped back, and in a moment two shapes slipped in through the door, closing and barring it behind them. Crispos took her into his arms with a fierce pleasure, then was whispering introductions, indicating he was there to take her and the children to safety.
Bellor had taken the oxen three days previously, but the ox cart and the goat cart were both there. Should they steal one or more of Bellor’s beasts to pull the larger one? Crispos went out to survey the situation, and the Arnorian remained in the house with her, helped her clothe the children, and she was certain felt the weight of the coins in the hems, although he said nothing. She took the babe and nursed it, wrapped the others in blankets, got together some supplies and water bottles, and waited for Crispos to return. She heard the sound of muffled harness, and soon she was opening the door to admit him.
“I’ve harnessed two of Bellor’s beasts, for he brought his own ox team here with the rest, and they are finer even then ours. A fair exchange, don’t you think, Margit?” She’d smiled fiercely at that, and pulled still another blanket about herself. She carried the babe to the cart, whose back he’d filled with hay. He helped her in and she lay down with the babe, and he and the one from Arnor carried the other three out, laid them beside her, and suggested all go back to sleep as quickly as possible. Then Crispos and the other carefully brought the food, and Crispos mounted the box while the one from Arnor walked by the heads of the oxen, and they began the journey West and then South.
Garitsa was also anxious, for no word had come for weeks as to what had become of her husband. She knew from the beginning that this was no honor. Never had Dentrero, his commander, liked him, for Velkor had often questioned Dentrero’s commands. No, this had been no honor for all of Dentrero’s words. She did not think any in this group was expected to return, in fact.
It was near sunset that an oxcart turned up the lane to their farm. Was this a family intended to replace that of Velkor and Garitsa on the land? she wondered. Very probably, and most likely someone close to Dentrero, someone Dentrero sought to make beholden to himself. She felt a rising fury and hopelessness take her.
The one driving was of Angmar, but the one walking by the head of the oxen was not, and she was surprised. Surely this one was of the Southlands! But what was he doing here?
A woman slid out of the back of the oxcart and came to her, a move she’d certainly not expected. She walked stiffly, as if she’d ridden quite a time and with little change of position.
“My name is Margit. My Man there was one of those sent south with your Velkor. Velkor was taken by those of Arnor almost two weeks past, and has broken his sword.”
Garitsa was stricken. “Broken his sword? What could cause him to do such a thing?”
The woman who called herself Margit shrugged. “My husband tells me he has stood before the King of Arnor and Gondor and has found him an honorable Man, and that much which had been told them has proven untrue. He, too, has broken his sword, and they have come to bring us to them in the Southlands where we might live safe. Certainly if I’d stayed on our farm longer Bellor would have claimed me and my children soon, probably would have made them little better than slaves.”
Within a half hour Garitsa and those few goods she would take with her were also in the cart, and they were on the road. Later in the morning they found themselves traveling with a number of other carts to a cattle sale in the Southern reaches. None questioned them at all, or the dirty Arnorian slave who walked by the head of the ox team. They traveled with the group for two days, and followed them into the area where the carts were to be left. The guard for the lot was struck on the head not long after the parties entered the area where the sale took place, and one of the oxcarts and its team was stolen. When the farmer who’d driven it came back for the food his wife had packed for the day he was most upset with the loss. He and his wife and her sister and their children were forced to walk back home, so disheartened at the loss of this sign of prosperity they did not stay for the rest of the sale.
A half mile away Eregiel had the cart hidden in an abandoned byre, and together they loaded the two women and four children back into the cart, along with the extra food Margit had purchased.
Andrada was finishing up the feeding of the goats when a woman she did not know entered the byre. Fifteen minutes later she went into the house and quietly wrapped a few items in one of her brother’s cloaks, bound it with one of his belts, and carried it out the back door and through the woodlot, where Garitsa awaited her. By the end of the day they were near the border with Arnor. Watching to make certain there were no patrols from Angmar to be seen, but that one from Arnor was in sight, Eregiel signed for them to cross the border.
“Halt!” called the captain of the guard troop, and several aimed their bows at the party.
“They are mostly women and children, my Lord,” commented one of the Rangers, not lowering his bow for that.
“And one Ranger, Gonthor,” called out the one who had appeared to be a slave at the head of the team of oxen. “Valandion, is there a place we can stay the night? I’ve been in Angmar on the King’s business, and these are his guests in Arnor.”
Within four days they were back in Bree, and the oxcart was on its way back north, carrying a coffin and the remains of several broken swords.