Nell walked until she came to the village. It looked peaceful in the grey light of morning. She said a goodbye in her heart, she gripped her stick, and she took the highroad.
Nell walked and walked all that day, seeing nothing unusual and encountering only one or two other travelers. At sunset, Nell stopped for the night, making herself a camp beneath the trees. She eventually wrapped herself in her cloak and blanket and fell asleep, listening to the whisper of leaves in the darkness.
Nell woke all of a sudden. She opened her eyes to the glare of torches. There was a hand before her face. It wasn’t very clean—the nails were especially dirty—and it was holding a long knife.
“What do we have here?” said a growling voice, as Nell sat up.
She looked around to see a group of men, all bandits, most certainly, and all leering and grinning nasty grins. They were dressed in heavy leather jerkins and breeches and boots. Some carried knives and some carried short clubs.
“You are going to come with us, my pretty,” said the one who had held the knife to Nell’s face. “And if you behave yourself, we won’t kill you right away.”
Nell stood up and looked at the bandits. The one who had held the knife to her face seemed to be the leader. “Let me gather my things,” she said.
The bandits looked at one another. Weren’t girls supposed to scream and cry and carry on? The bandit leader made a horrible face. “Now you’re going to come with us, and you’re not going to make a sound. Understand, girly?”
Nell nodded. “You may want to put that knife away. You may cut yourself.” Nell was aware of how dangerous knives could be.
The bandit leader glared at her. “Just you keep quiet,” he said, snarling. “Keep your tongue in your head or I might decide to cut it out.”
Nell smiled and nodded once again. The bandits looked again at one another, and this time they grinned.
The bandit leader led the way through the trees until they came to the bandit hideout. They had clearly been out all night, for they started grumbling about supper and who was going to make it.
“Your turn,” said one of the bandits, shoving the shoulder of his companion.
“No!” cried another. “Not his turn. He’ll poison us all!”
“I’ll make you supper,” said Nell. And the bandits looked at their leader hopefully.
The leader turned to Nell before the door of the bandit hideout. “Now,” he said, with a snarl. “Just you make us something tasty. If you don’t, we may have you for supper!”
The others laughed, trying to sound as banditish and dangerous as possible, but it wasn’t very convincing because they were now only thinking of their supper
Nell set to work. She told the bandits to sit at the table and wait quietly. She frowned at the state of the stove, but soon she had a great pot of stir-about bubbling and steaming. Opening a small pouch at her belt, Nell took a large pinch of herbs from a cloth. Nell knew all about herbs. She added it to the stir-about.
Soon she was doling out the stir-about into bowls, while the bandits waited obediently for their supper. They ate greedily, shoveling in the food and not saying a word, while Nell filled their tankards and bowls. It wasn’t long before they were yawning and nodding where they sat, and one by one, they put their shaggy heads onto their arms and fell fast asleep.
Nell sighed, looking at the lot of them around the table. She quickly got her things together. She thought of leaving them a note, but she doubted if any of them could read. She left the cave, and walked briskly through the forest, as the sky began paling towards dawn.