Fifth Reindeer. Page 5 of 9
If October was unkind, November was more so. Blizzard after blizzard raged over the land, lashing the villages with great bursts of stinging snow, testing the strength of human as well as animal. Each day, men, women, and children struggled through the heavy drifts, leaning into the howling winds, to gather wood for the fires, to tend the cows, to gather the eggs. And slowly, steadily, like the certain advance of a glacier, all of the people in all of the villages began to say to each other, "If we can just make it to Christmas!" And even though winter would be far from over by that time, it was as though Christmas, the celebration of the great holiday, would give everyone the strength to look beyond this horrible winter to the promise of spring.
Far in the north, Santa was having his problems, too: Comet was proving to be a difficult student. The wildness about which the farmer had warned Santa showed itself in a tendency to leap instead of fly, to go in the wrong direction, to tumble into snowdrifts, to slam into fir trees. It was a wonder that neither man nor beast was injured. Yet a bond seemed to grow between the two of them: Comet stopped trying to escape at every opportunity, and even appeared at times to be paying attention to what Santa was saying.
But while things improved in the air, things remained very hard in the stalls. The other reindeer were well aware that each day Santa spent teaching Comet meant a day spent away from the workshops. This meant that toy production was falling further and further behind. And the reindeer didn't hesitate to discuss this, in a way that Comet was sure to overhear: "He can't fly at all: he just jumps and falls!" "How hard can it be, learning to fly? Doesn't he have any sense at all?" "Doesn't he realize that Santa needs more than ever to be in the workshop, not teaching some slow learner how to stay up in the air?" "What'll he do when he has to do flying drills with the rest of us?" "I sure hope he's not hitched next to me!" "Nor to me!"
There was much more talk like this, which Comet endured in silence. Sometimes, after difficult sessions or when landings had been particularly hard, his weak leg would hurt so much that he could scarcely stand and force down his oats.
Only Cupid refused to join with the other reindeer in their stall talk. And one very hard night, when Comet didn't even look at his oats but only stood, his breath coming in rasping sobs, she muttered to herself, "This won't do at all!" and, leaning her head over the wall they shared, she said, "The last thing you want to do on a cold winter's night is forget to eat your oats!...I remember how hard it was for me to learn how to fly, and I didn't have a hurt leg to worry about...I don't know about the others, but I think you'll do just fine."
It was as though these words carried a magical charge. Comet lifted his head, and his breath came easier. Eventually, he was able to eat.