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  The Fifth Reindeer.                                                 Page 4 of 9

        It took several days for Santa and Comet to reach Santa's compound, partly because snowy weather delayed them, and partly because Comet stubbornly tried several times to go back the way they had come.  He still walked with a limp, a reminder of the injury he'd suffered earlier that season.  But that didn't stop him from resisting Santa's pull to the north.

          At the end of their long journey, late in the afternoon, they were greeted by the reindeer, the elves, and Mrs. Claus, who had all tumbled out of the house, workshops and barn to greet Santa and his new arrival.  The other reindeer rushed up to sniff at Comet, who stepped back a bit, understandably unsure about himself in his new surroundings.  Now, even though Comet was the largest reindeer the old farmer had ever seen, he was actually somewhat small compared to Santa's other reindeer.  When he stepped away from them, they all noticed his limp.  They began to talk quietly among themselves.

          "Hmph!" snorted Dasher.  "Gone for so many days, and this is what he comes back with!"

          "As if we could ever replace Courage," murmured Vixen, pawing the ground with her hoof.

          "Look at that limp," said Prancer.  "He'll barely be able to help pull the sleigh while it's on the ground.  I sure hope he'll do better when he flies!"

          "And how tiny he is!" said Dancer.

          All of them laughed quietly as Comet stood to one side, glowering and unsure, his pride shaken -- all except Cupid.  She took a couple of steps in Comet's direction, looked into his eyes, and said, "He may not replace Courage, but he'll do what's needed -- you'll see."

           Meanwhile, the chief elf had bad news for Santa.  "It's now the first week in November," he said:  "Since you've been gone, we've done the best we could, but the work has been slow.  Now that you've brought the new one in, let's stable him.  With your help, and with a little bit of luck, we may still be able to"

          "But we have to teach Comet how to fly," Santa interrupted.

          "What?!" the chief elf squawked.  "He can't fly?"

          The words passed through the little group like a lightning bolt:  "Can't fly!  What good is a flying reindeer who can't fly?" they all muttered.  "He might as well have brought back nothing at all!"  And they said many more things like this, creating quite a noise, until Santa, tired as he was, finally roared:

          "That's right!  That's right!  He can't fly!  And neither could any of you, when I found you!  Courage and I taught you!  And none of you elves knew how to make toys, either!  I taught you!...And I'll teach this one to fly, too!"

          After the blankets of snow had captured Santa's last words, silence settled over the yard, until Santa finally said, "Mrs. Claus!  I need a whole pot of hot cocoa tonight, which I will drink after I put Comet in his new home.  As for the rest of you, go back home!  We'll start again tomorrow morning!"  So saying, Santa trudged to the barn and introduced Comet to his stall, between Cupid's and Dancer's -- Courage's old stall, in fact.  "You'll need courage, too, friend," he muttered, before latching the stall door and stumping through the barn and up to his house.

***

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