The snow fell from the sky in thick flakes. It was the day of Christmas, but Rose wasn’t about to be happy. The carriage rattled as it drove along the road, heading for the castle several miles away. The cold came through her clothes and the shivering sounds next to her told her that she wasn’t the only one dealing bad with the temperature. She watched the snowflakes dancing in little whirlwinds, filling the road and the forest around them.

“Rose” said a commanding voice. “Get out and tell the driver to speed up. I’m not going to be late for Christmas dinner today.”

“Sure” Rose answered. As if the princess had ever been late. Lady Elizabeth was the most punctual person she had ever met. And the most authoritative. Never would she miss a moment to order the common people around. Rose herself was only a maid, a servant. She had to do the things the princess wanted. So she got out of the carriage and ran forward, until she was on a level with the driver. “The princess orders higher speed, Sir.”

It was hard to keep balance while running through the piled up snow, but somehow she managed not to fall over until she could grab the door-handle. But before she could pull it open, the carriage came to a jerky stop. For some horrible moments, Rose flew through the air until she ended up in a high mountain of fluffy white snowflakes.

As she looked around, she saw what had happened. The road was hidden from view completely, the way was blocked. Besides, several men in black coats closed in from all directions. Their knives and other weapons glittered in the snow-reflected light of the barely-seen sun. Bandits, Rose thought. She got up and glanced to the carriage with alarm.

The men pulled the princess outside while requiring her treasures. The driver lay on the ground, groaning barely conscious. Two other bandits headed for Rose, their weapons drawn. She thought for something she could say to save her life, but the only words coming out were “Stop it, please.”

Strangely enough, the men stopped really. One of them began to grin. “So you think, you can stop us with a request?” he said. “Naive girl. But I can offer you something. Join us and you will live. But the princess will die.”

It was a tempting offer. Let her die. It’s your great chance, a voice in her head said. But Rose couldn’t do that. That would make her a murderer. Within a few seconds, she made a decision.

“You know, it’s Christmas” she began. “So let us make a deal. I’ll join you, if you let the princess go. It would embarrass her anyway to be late for dinner.” In her mind she added And I’ll be free. Free of commitments.

The first man laughed. “Naive, but brave. Yes, I think we can arrange that. At last, it’s Christmas, isn’t it?” He made his way to his comrades and told them to interrupt their work. Lady Elizabeth watched them fearfully until she saw Rose with them. The princess’ eyes widened, but the former servant followed the bandits into the woods, knowing she was free.

They walked until they reached a clearing, surrounded by small cabins. In the middle a campfire gleamed in the darkness of the dusk. The man who had offered Rose to join them gave her a warm coat and indicated her to sit down at the fire. “Now we are going to celebrate Christmas in our way.”

Glg, Rose