I grew up hearing this story. This is my own little retelling of the story. So the disclaimer is that I really don't own it (I just don't know who does!) Enjoy and Merry Christmas.
The sky was a solid white blanket of expected snowfall, churning ever so slowly with the heavy clouds. The wind was picking up, as crisp as the air around it, sure to send the bare and frozen branches into holiday dances. Colter rubbed his uncovered hands together as he trudged through the crunchy snow that had sewn itself to the King's Park. Snow. That was what they needed. What was a Christmas Eve without snow? It was only afternoon, but he could picture a dark sky with snowflakes in the foreground. Pretty sight. If only the other boys would never hear he imagined such things. In fact, he wanted to pound in his own face for thinking such things. Well, they would never need to know. It was his secret for Christmas Eve, and no doubt the others thought such ridiculous things as well. Hopefully. He pulled his scarf tighter around his neck. His mother had made it specifically for Christmas, but the morning's sudden chill had prompted her to fret and worry and insist he take the gift now. Holly green, very fine. His mother was one of the finest knitters around. His father's woodcarving shop was so filled with such silly knit trinkets it was embarrassing.
His father would be home later that night. Colter had been sent ahead to help with Christmas plans at the house.
He didn't like that. He kicked into a snow drift. It would be cooking and decorating. Women's work. He hated women's work. No boy should be forced to do such things. Why, even his name was against such things. His great-grandfather had broke horses– James Colter had been his name, and Colter now wore that proudly. Horses. He would like to break horses. Or carve wood, like his father. Or maybe be the blacksmith's apprentice. Certainly not sew and cook.
Those were things that little girl by the pine probably wanted to do. He kicked another bank of snow before stopping to watch her. It was colder even to stop. He felt his cheeks grow all the redder. Hopefully his hair wouldn't freeze to his eyelashes again.
The girl was one of the richer folk's daughters. Just a little thing, black hair done up in fancy braids and a pale blue cloak wrapped around her skinny body. The cloak was lined with fur– and now snow. The children liked to come to the King's Park to play in the snow. But now her fancy cloak would be all wet and her mother would not be happy. She wasn't playing now, however. She stood still in the middle of the snow, wind tangling the free wisps of hair, staring at something in her hands.
Colter felt a twinge of jealousy. If a little girl had found something special, a treasure... he had always prided himself on finding the interesting stones and buttons! At least a boy should find such things.
But it didn't seem to be something like that. She was speaking softly.
Curious, Colter approached, just close enough to see a tiny patch of bright blue nestled in her hands.
What? He stepped closer.
Ruffled, frozen feathers, weak breathing.
Hadn't all the bluebirds already flown south?
The girl finally looked up. Her flushed face was determined. "Boy, come here! This bird was left behind by his friends and he is no freezing!"
Whoa. That surprised Colter. No, no, it didn't. It just proved that this girl was indeed one of the rich folk, all sounding just like a miniature queen.
He shuffled his feet, unsure whether to smile. "What do you expect me to do about it?"
The girl sighed haughtily. "I wrapped him in my fur muff, but I don't have any food for him. Would you happen to have any food? It is Christmas and we should be generous."
Well, what was he supposed to do there? His hands went to his pockets. A little of lunch's bread was still there. Still confused about why this little girl was bossing around a strong boy of ten years, he handed her the crumbs.
"Thank-you." Tenderly she held them out to the bluebird, who proceeded to weakly peck them from her hand.
"He's frozen," she continued in confidence. "I mean, not frozen solid, but the poor thing is sooo cold." So much effort went into two little syllables.
Colter found himself smiling. He had no sisters, and would never be caught dead playing with a girl, so he wasn't sure at all how they were supposed to act. "Well, is your fur thing warming him up?"
She nodded proudly. "Oh, yes. It keeps me warm, so why shouldn't it keep a tinier creature all the warmer?"
The bluebird, having finished its meal, seemed a little more aware. Its tiny head was up, black eyes blinking.
It was a nice little bird, Colter decided. He fished his pocket for a few more crumbs.
"You are so very kind," the little girl said in her proper little voice. "I must know the name of someone so generous."
"Colter Wood," he said, wondering if any of the other boys would ever hear about him talking to this funny little girl.
"Colter Wood," she repeated with a smile. "Such a nice name. I believe I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Christine." She gave as much of a curtsey as she could while still clutching the bluebird.
Christine. Where had Colter before heard that name? It sounded very familiar.
By now the little bird was hopping around Christine's arm, testing its wings. A good meal and a little warmth had suited it well. Not a very smart one, though.
"Should have had the sense to fly south with the others," Colter said.
Christine frowned. "Well, maybe he was hurt, or maybe his family forgot him."
Girls. They never had any sense. He sighed, wondering when it was safe to go. He had forgotten how cold it was. The sky finally opened, sending down the first flakes of glittering snow. Could the bird fly in the snow?
It certainly seemed willing to try. With a delighted little chirp, it flapped its wings, and took off.
Christine clapped her hands and laughed. "Look! He's all better now! And it is all because of you, Colter!"
As much as he didn't want to admit it, he liked watching the bird fly away. Instead he just shrugged. "Well, Christmas is a time of a service."
"Which you did very well, taking your own time to help a little creature. The kingdom thanks you."
The kingdom? What right did she have to speak on behalf of the kingdom?
It was only moments before he learned. The park, which had only been occupied by the two of them, suddenly had a third occupant. A hurried-looking woman in a fine black cloak and frazzled hair, hurried in.
"Princess Christine!" she shouted. "There you are!"
Colter froze, and not from the cold. Princess Christine? He had been speaking to the Princess?
"I was helping a bluebird, nurse!" Princess Christine protested. "I was helping someone in the kingdom!"
"After wandering away from me!" the nurse said. "Princess, we must return to the palace. The festivities will be starting soon, and certainly your father His Royal Highness will want to see you alive and without frostbite."
Princess Christine gave her own little sigh, then curtsied once more to the still-stunned Colter. "I thank-you again!" Then she disappeared with her nurse.
Colter took a deep breath. He suddenly didn't mind the cold. He had met the Princess. This was going to make a great story.
Though he wouldn't be able to tell the other boys. Princess or no princess, she was still a girl.