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Chapter 10. Departure
Preparations went quickly, for Hally and Rosemary worked efficiently together gathering supplies for Estella. As they worked, Ferdi sat with Estella in the pantry, describing their journey and the difficulties he anticipated.
‘Honestly, I’d like to leave you here until my next visit,’ he said. ‘My pony threw a shoe before I crossed out of the Tookland, and so I left her there.' The old shepherd, who watched over the border at the point where Ferdi and a few other Tooks slipped in and out of the Tookland, was to lead her to the nearest smith and have the problem remedied, '...by the time I return. It would be faster, safer and easier to bring you through the Wood on ponyback…’
‘So why not?’ Estella said.
Ferdi looked intently at her. ‘You may be willing to take the risk, but I am not,’ he said. ‘I should rather risk myself, than my sister and her family.’
And he might rather risk herself than his sister, Estella thought privately. As she was in complete agreement with Ferdi, she felt no need to say the words aloud, but simply nodded. She was the reason they were all risking their freedom, perhaps their very lives. Whether it would be more of a risk to herself to go now, or to stay, she could not say. But if worse came to worst, she imagined Ferdi could look after himself. Hally and Rosemary, on the other hand, had the children to consider. Estella did not want to cause further risk to the little ones in the interest of an easier journey.
Ferdi went on. ‘Lotho’s louts will be eager for the reward they can gain from their Boss, by finding you. A sharp one among them might begin to wonder about any newcomers in the area, and the name “Bolger” might stir someone’s imagination…’
‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ Estella said low. ‘Look for a Bolger amongst other Bolgers. It makes sense that my parents might have sent me to safety with relatives… seeing how that is the very thing they did.’
‘That is why I do not want to delay, even another day,’ Ferdi said. ‘All this belated talk might have cost us an hour, but we’ll still reach our first hiding before the dawning, so long as you can keep up a good pace.’
‘I can keep up,’ Estella said, clenching her fists with determination. She was not the delicate, pampered maiden who had left her father’s house some weeks ago. She had been chopping wood, hauling water, pushing a cart, milking a goat, and more. Didn’t she have muscles to show it?
‘We’ll be on very short commons,’ Ferdi said. ‘We’ll carry as much food as is practical, and a water bottle each, and we must be sparing, for it will take the better part of a week or more to reach the borderland.’
Though Estella did not know it, at that moment Rosemary was doubling the amount of food in the bag she’d already packed for Ferdi, while preparing a similar bag for Estella, for her brother calculated it would take him twice as long with the encumbrance of bringing Estella with him. These bags were of simple make, flour sacks dyed a dark colour, with shoulder straps sewn on, the tops folded down over the contents and tied in place, something that could be worn under a cloak and leave the hands free.
Quickly Ferdi sketched out the route they would take, the hiding places along the way, how he would find their way by stars (if the skies were clear), the Stock Road, and the course of a stream they’d follow for some way. The last stretch would be the most dangerous, for the ruffians kept a closer watch on the borderland than anywhere within the Woody End, and while the going might be easier in the open Green Hill country, after the Woods ended, there was also less opportunity for concealment. The Tooks had constructed traps both in the wooded portion and on the paths that wound through the Green Hills, which complicated the journey as well.
They would travel in the dark of night for the first part, though Ferdi maintained he could make his way through the Woody End with his eyes closed, he’d made the journey so often. On one difficult section, where the Wood gave way to heather and grassland and they'd pass through a boggy area, they would have to risk travelling in the light, though they’d try for late afternoon shading into evening.
When Estella asked if he might sketch her a map to go by, in case they were somehow separated, Ferdi shook his head. ‘Too dangerous, if you're taken by ruffians with a map on your person. There are landmarks, if you know what to look for,’ he said. ‘You will not, so keep tight hold on my cloak and stay close. Place your feet with care that you might neither stumble nor tread upon a dry stick. We’ll go quick as we can, and quietly as well.’
‘I understand,’ Estella said. ‘I’ll do my best.’
Ferdi looked long into her eyes. ‘I’m counting on it, lass,’ he said. ‘Rose gave a good account of you, which is why I’m giving you this chance.’
‘I thank you,’ Estella said, for it seemed the proper response, but Ferdi shook his head once more.
‘No thanks are due me,’ he said, ‘at least, not until you’re safe over the border, breathing the free air.’ And from something in his tone, she knew he was making no guarantees as to their success.
She took a deep breath and said, ‘Perhaps. But I’ll thank you all the same, at least for making the attempt.’
And then Rosemary was at the pantry door, and she slipped inside, to take Estella in a hug. ‘Everything is ready,’ she said, ‘and Hally saw to it that you had a farewell of sorts, with the littles, with his talk of missing home. It will be easy to tell them in the morning that you slipped away while they were sleeping, to seek your home once more…’
‘Hug them for me!’ Estella cried impulsively, blinking away tears. ‘And may they be safe, may you all be kept safe, until the Shire is free again one day.’
‘Or perhaps we’ll join you in… my homeland, when my brother brings me leave to come home at last,’ Rosemary said, stepping back again and turning to Ferdi. ‘He keeps trying, you know.’
Her brother smiled down at her and took her in his arms for a hug of his own, and Estella saw the two of them, brother and sister, hold each other tightly as if this might be their final farewell. As it well might be, considering how dangerous Ferdi’s business was.
‘I’ll put in a good word for you as well,’ Estella said, holding up her hand in pledge as Rosemary and Ferdi parted once more. ‘I promise.’
‘Bless you, lass,’ Rosemary whispered, and kissed her on the cheek. ‘Now, then, Hally’s watching, and he says there’s nothing stirring without, and the clouds have thickened to cover the moon, and the children are deep asleep…’ She put a hand to her mouth to still her nervous chatter, and when she put it down again, she merely smiled, though her lips trembled and her eyes glistened with unshed tears.
The travellers slipped to the door and Ferdi helped Estella into her pack and cloak, settled a hood on her head, and then took up his own burden and covering. Hally looked to them from where he stood beside the window and gave a nod. That was all, but there was a wealth of love, hope and good wishes in his look, and the travellers returned the gesture with nods of their own.
Ferdi lifted the heavy bar to free the door, opened the door a handbreadth, and peered for a long moment into the darkness. He held out a corner of his cloak to Estella; she took it, and as one they slipped from the smial, into the darkness, and before Hally had closed and barred the door once more, they were gone as if they’d never been, beyond sight or imagination, swallowed by the shadows of the forest.
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