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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 10 of 22

             Rudolf.  He liked his new name.  But Santa had given it another meaning, too.  Santa had seen something that had caused him to believe both in Rudolf’s strength and in the necessity of its use.  Why was that?  What struggles would he face?  Certainly Santa’s own reindeer team didn’t seem too friendly.  Why had they stared at him so?  What had he done to any of them other than to stand before Santa in silent assertion of his right to exist?  He guessed he would need to earn their acceptance and trust, that he would have to struggle yet again to find his place.

          But he was already tired.  He had fought so many things these several days:  snow, terror, crying voices, tired limbs – and a long unyielding sense of what it meant to be alone, to be without his mother, to be set apart, even now, even among creatures as great as these.  The light that seemed to beckon to him at the edge of his sight was very dim.  It flitted like a moth’s wing, dancing and disappearing if he tried to bring it into focus.  It was there even now.  He stared intently straight ahead, refusing to be tricked into looking for it.  And it was still there.  But – was it possible?  Had the light grown brighter by just the tiniest amount?

          Santa gazed thoughtfully at the small, determined back.  Why had this little one come to them?  Santa could sense the raw purpose that swirled around and through Rudolf the way firesmoke swirls around and through breathing things.  But the purpose had as yet no shape.  Santa pondered this, sensing that, whatever form it took, this raw purpose was bound to and blended with Santa and his team as they met and used the approaching magic of this Christmas.

           "Courage!" he called softly, and the great reindeer lifted her head.  "You must see to it that Rudolf receives proper care."  The reindeer nodded.  "And," Santa continued, "for a reason we may discover much later – he is to be instructed in our ways."

          "In all ways?" Courage asked.

anta felt the chief elf's eyes hard on him.  "In all ways."  He watched Courage closely.  The great reindeer appeared to stumble, and the snort she released might well have been caused by the surprise of a tree root, though there were no trees about.  Santa started to say something, then fell silent, brooding.

          In silence, the team plodded across the darkened land.

          When Rudolf first saw the tiny traces of chimneysmoke, he wasn't sure if this was Santa's compound.  Certainly the team seemed to be making right for it.  Then he saw a tiny dot of light, and the tiny outlines of buildings nestled in a small valley.  It must be the compound!  They could surely see it now!  He raised his head and gave a soft bleat of recognition.

          The small sound lifted Santa out of his reverie.  He looked at Rudolf.  The little reindeer's head was up, his dark gaze fastened on a point far ahead in the darkness.  Santa knew his compound lay straight ahead in the darkness, knew too that very soon first he and then the reindeer would see the tiny points of light that would draw them home.  But Rudolf had never been there before.  How could he be anticipating the journey's end, unless – unless he was really seeing it?  How could that be?

          Santa shook his head, wondering.  Had he seen something else, as well:  the barest glimmer of light surrounding the little reindeer's head and dancing on the half-grown antlers?  He blinked and rubbed his eyes.  There it was again! or seemed to be; but no:  it was a trick of reflection.  Tiny lights had indeed appeared in the distance.  That was what he'd seen, perhaps!  They were close to home.  "Onward, team!" he shouted through his wonder.  "Hot mash and warm stalls await you!"


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