Fifth Reindeer. Page 7 of 9
At first, he flew here and there, with no clear purpose except a vague idea of trying to get the help Santa needed -- but from where, and who it would be, he had no idea at all. Gradually, his arcs grew wider and wider, until they were giant swings across the night sky, urged on by a desperate sense that it was all his fault, and that only he could make things right again. He flew farther and farther, getting more and more tired, and feeling more and more a sense of despair. Finally, just as he was about to give up, he spied a light flickering ahead of him in the distant hills. With the last of his strength, he made for the light.
It turned out to be the flickering light of a fire in the snow. As he landed, Comet looked about for some sign of life, but found none. Though the fire gave off a welcome heat, Comet knew he couldn't stay long. After resting for a few minutes, he prepared to take off again. At that moment, an old woman dressed in rages moved into the firelight. Whether she had been standing all this time outside the circle of fire, or whether she had mysteriously appeared from somewhere else, it was impossible to say.
"Hello, Comet," she said, and he took a quick step back. "Ahh, cautious, are we? That's good, that's good. You must be wondering who I am and how it is that I know your name."
Comet stamped and shook his head.
"Not speaking, then? Oh, that's right. Of course. And Santa was too busy teaching you to fly. And of course the others wouldn't tell you. Let me see what I can teach you:
"First, I am a Power in these hills. That's all you really need to know. Second, the other reindeer can speak, and you can't. Not yet. Not even Santa can help you there. You must earn your privilege of speech, by doing a deed worthy of it. All the others passed their tests. Ask Dasher about rescuing the snow people. And Cupid about the drowning sailors. Ask -- But how silly of me: you can't ask anyone anything, unless you do what's required.
"And that brings us to the third point: You want to help Santa out of his trouble, correct? Patience, patience"! -- for Comet was stamping fiercely and snorting. "This is what you must do...
"You have been christened on a shooting star and given the name Comet on purpose," the old woman stated, "for you will become the greatest flier of all the reindeer. And you will need every bit of your skill. For the help Santa needs lies far away...up there!" She gestured to the stars. "You must fly up and up, much farther than any other creature before you. You must fly into the blue vault of the heavens, beyond the highest earthbound peaks. In the reaches of the heavens, where the air is cold and thin, you will find a starlike people. Those are the people who will help Santa. Some of them will follow you back to the earth.
"You are the only creature who will be able to do this, for I will give you magic that lets you fly into the most remote skies. Even so, you will be hard pressed. For you must make your journey and return with the Star People this very night, before the full moon sets behind the hills. Only then, if you meet this task, will you receive your new voice.
"And this I further state: Because you are receiving this great gift of special flight, you must make this journey every year. For the men and women multiply upon the earth, and the children of the world increase. Therefore, more Star People will be needed each year to provide Santa the help he needs. Succeed, and Christmas continues. Fail --"
Comet bowed his head.
"You're tired, I see," she said gently. "Here, then, drink this!" And she brought a steaming pail into the light circle.
Greedily, Comet drank. Each swallow seemed to send fire to every limb and through his entire being. He bellowed and tossed his head.
"Receive the magic!" the old woman shouted. "And now fly beyond the clouds, with the stars as your companions!"
But her voice had already dwindled to a speck of sound, for Comet had hurled himself far into the night. On and on he flew, faster and further than any other creature, beyond the peaks, beyond the clouds, high into the cold blue vault of the heavens. His great heart throbbed: he must not fail.