The Vagabonds and Little Nell

(from Maven Fairy Godmother: Through the Veil ) Home
Little Nell carried a bucket of water as big as she was, the one her mother had sent her to fill when the caravan people had taken her. She brought it to Veda’s tent and stepped up on the log to pour it into the cauldron where Veda was making soup. It had been fun to see their wagons and their dark-eyed children. She liked riding in the caravan in the daytime and sleeping underneath it.

The bucket was very heavy, and she spilled some of the water.

Stupid Girl.” Veda turned and raised her hand to slap Little Nell. Nell froze, staring at her. Veda looked away, dropping her hand. “Get more water. Don’t waste my time. And don’t spill any this time.”

Even if they did get mad at her, it was fun to live with the vagabonds. They played music and danced at night. Some of them knew magic tricks that they practiced on each other, like how to get a money pouch out of someone’s tunic. They had taught her a few tricks too: how to swish her skirt and dance, how to look very sad while asking for money, and how to shake someone’s hand and take off a ring. These were strange games, but Little Nell was getting better at them, though not nearly as good as the vagabond children were. She wondered if that was why they didn’t like her.

The women yelled at her, and the men were always trying to scare or embarrass her. It was funny at first, but now even the children seemed afraid of her. They wouldn’t talk to her or play with her.

But it wasn’t so bad. All she had to do was look at them and smile. Then they would back off. Little Nell skipped back to the creek for more water.

On her way back, she heard some men talking, arguing about her. She listened, forgetting the water bucket and Veda.

“She’s cursed.” Veda’s husband, Bale said. “Veda reaches back to slap her, and she shows no fear. What child is taken from the mother and never cries or looks sad? There is evil magic here.”

The circle of men nodded to each other, some smoking their pipes and some staring into the campfire.

“Perhaps her mother was cruel,” said the man whose wagon usually was at the end of the caravan. “Perhaps life is better here for her.”

Another man snorted in disgust. “Perhaps you will tell a different tale when your horse goes lame, or your children get sick. She will put the evil eye on them.”

“She seems cheerful enough. Never causes any problems, even when our children taunt her. What kinds of mischief do you think she is doing?”

“I can’t tell yet,” Bale said. “But Veda laid the cards last night, and this child is connected to many others, by some magic Veda did not know. She saw a powerful sorceress, one come from the Dark Side come here. She may be looking for this child. Who knows what will happen to us if she is found with us?”

Again, the men stirred their pipes, muttering to themselves with a grunt or a sigh.

“It would be cruel to abandon her in this wild country,” Bale said, “and if such a sorceress came seeking the girl, would she not be doubly angry?”

Just then, Little Nell heard Veda yelling for her, so she jerked up the water bucket and dragged herself away. She didn’t want to be left alone in the great forest, and Veda might convince the men that abandoning such a lazy girl would be a good idea.

Still, it might be fun.

* * *

Late that night, after the moon had set and all the other children were asleep, Little Nell heard Veda whisper to her husband. Nell held her breath and listened very hard.

“She can’t stay with us,” Veda whispered. “We must get her out of here, maybe tonight.”

“No. I have a plan. Your brother spoke to a farmer. The prince of the land will be married soon. We will take the girl to the castle and sell her. Who knows what else we can get from them, and they may even pay us to perform for them.”

“And the Dark Sorceress? What if she comes for the child?’

“The child won’t be with us, and we will have helped her. Throw your cards.”

Veda shuffled her cards. “The Wheel of Fortune, she said. “We keep moving. Take the child to the castle, for we are bound to her path as she is into ours. ”

Nell snuggled back into her blanket. A prince’s wedding and a castle. It sounded like fun.

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