This month, as we are getting close to Christmas, I’d like to offer something a little different: a Christmas fable for readers of Writer Unboxed. And the very best of season’s greetings to everyone!

There was once a boy who was captured by robbers. Now these robbers were the most feared in the whole country. They held up travellers and robbed coaches, and their cave was full of stolen gold and silver and precious stones.

It was the custom of the robbers to make all their captives steal, as well. In this way, the robbers kept adding new members to their gang, because no-one ever dared to refuse. And once you’d stolen, you were in for good, because you were marked as a member of the robber gang, and would go to prison if you were caught.

Now the boy I am telling you about was as bright as a dewdrop and twice as fast as the breeze. But in the robbers’ cave, he pretended to be dull and stupid, while he thought of a way out of his predicament.

Now of course the robbers took no notice of Christmas, except that it was an even better time to hold up honest folk, for their bags would be bursting with rich pickings. And that fateful Christmas Eve, the robber chief turned to the boy and said, “Boy, tonight, you will not just stay in the cave. You will join our our gang. I want you to go down to the high road and relieve all the travellers of their purses and their bags.”

And he smiled, his broken yellow teeth giving him a wolfish look.

The boy, although he was very much frightened, and very much upset at the thought of robbing travellers on Christmas Eve, nodded vacantly and grinned an idiot grin. The robber chief felt a little uneasy at that grin–was the boy too stupid to understand?–but he sent him out, nevertheless, and waited in his cave for the boy to return.

Now the boy went out on the high road, and he saw all the travellers passing by. As he had been told to do, he stepped out onto the road, shouting, “Your belongings or your life!”

He was a tall, thin, gangling boy, with eyes that shone like ice, and the travellers were frightened by his strangeness. So they stopped, pulled out their purses, heavy with gold and silver and copper coins, and their bags, heavy with brightly-wrapped gifts, and gave them to him, trembling. He opened the purses, tipped out all the money into their palms, and took their empty purses, saying, “My chief has told me he wants your purses,” and then he did the same with the bags, tipping out the gifts and taking only the empty bags, saying, ‘My chief told me he wants your bags. ‘ And then he’d give a grin, empty as an abandoned house. The travellers wouldn’t wait to hear more; they bolted, taking their money and their gifts with them, full of his strangeness and their good fortune.

So the boy went back to the cave, loaded with silk and leather and cotton purses; leather and canvas and cardboard bags: some new, some old, some large, some small. And he said to the robber chief, “Master, here are the purses and bags you wanted,” while he smiled his silly grin.

“Fool!” The robber chief called out, pale with rage. “Fool! I didn’t just want their purses and bags, I wanted their money and gifts as well!”

“Oh,” the boy said, and his face drooped at the corners, as if he was sorry for what had happened. Inside his bright quick heart, though, a smile danced and sparkled.

“Stupid boy!” the robber chief screamed. “Tomorrow morning, you will go out one more time and bring back everything. Everything, you hear! And if you don’t. . ” His broken teeth glittered, his wicked eyes flashed, his hand drew slowly across the boy’s throat.

The boy gulped a little, as if he were afraid. And indeed he was, but his bright quick mind was working like a windmill, spinning, sending ideas into his skull.

“Yes, master,” he whispered, and bent his head.

So early on Christmas morning, the boy went out for the final time. It had snowed during the night and everything glittered around him and as he stepped out onto the highroad in the grey light of morning, his figure tall and straight, his eyes shining, he looked like a figure from some other world. There were many travellers passing on their way to Christmas feasts and each of them he stopped and each he spoke to. And as he spoke, their eyes began to shine, their mouths to smile, their hands to tighten on their belts.

As the sun began to climb mistily into the sky, a great assembly of travellers, with the boy leading them, was climbing up the snowy hill towards the robbers’ cave, where the gang lay drunkenly asleep. And working quickly, they gathered up all the robbers’ weapons, and put them into a large sack.

Wasn’t the robber chief surprised, when he opened his eyes to see the great assembly in his cave! He sprang to his feet, as did the other members of his gang, but it was too late. Every sword, every dagger, every knife and bow and arrow had gone into that huge sack which the boy held in his hand. Weaponless, helpless, the robbers and their chief looked at the boy and heard him say, “You told me to bring everything. Everything I brought, and everyone.”

Now it was the turn of the robber chief to bend his head, as he and his men were led out of the cave, down the hill, and towards the town. Now and then, he lifted his head and looked at the boy, so thin and gangling, and felt his smile, as bright and fleeting as the dew on the grass.

About Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson has published more than fifty novels internationally since 1990, mainly for children and young adults. A bilingual French and English speaker, raised mostly in Australia, she has a master’s degree in French and English literature. Sophie's new e-book on authorship, By the Book: Tips of the Trade for Writers, is available at Australian Society of Authors.