The 'Holdfast Smugglers are a group of mostly family members that operate a secret trade route between Blue Lake Town and the Mountain Kingdom. The are able to operate because of bribes paid to the soldiers at Moonseye.
FitzChivalry Farseer and Starling Birdsong approach the smugglers when they arrive at Blue Lake Town and find out that there is no travelling across Blue Lake until the summer. Starling overhears some pilgrims talking about getting to the Mountain Kingdom with the assistance of the smugglers and from the overheard information they are able to find the home of Pelf Holdfast. Pelf introduces them to her brother Nik, the leader of the smugglers, and they are able to arrange to journey with the pilgrims. Since they are low on funds, Fitz is tasked with replacing Nik's cousin Hank as the driver for the wagon of an old woman named Kettle. Most of the journey takes place during a snow storm to hide their travels. When they reach a river crossing shortly before entering the Mountain Kingdom, Nik is betrayed by soldiers from Moonseye, whom he had agreed to turn Fitz over to.