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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 12 of 22

             So the days passed, with Rudolf gaining strength, skill and speed under Courage's rough tutelage.  Many many times Santa's team took the heavy work sleighs far afield to deliver food to the wild roaming herds.  Rudolf was not permitted to go on these dangerous journeys, and he would have to spend long, difficult afternoons with little to do.  The elves and ordinary reindeer were busy with their tasks and had little time or patience for him; and if he stood near them, wanting to help but unable to say so, they frequently shooed him off, seeing only a strange deformed creature demanding their attention.  On one occasion, a particularly sour-tempered elf threw a rotten apple at him, striking him in the rump and stinging him throughout.

            But there were better days as well, days when he did well at training.  More and more, he began to receive compliments from Courage.  Her tone became less gruff, more accepting.  And she began to talk to him of things beyond the techniques of flying and leaping. 

            She told him how she had been the first of Santa's magical reindeer, how she had been found by him, following a time she could no longer remember.  Santa's magic was not as great in those early times, and his compound was smaller.  "Flight came later, after Dasher and Dancer joined the team," she said.  "Our Christmas magic was confined to this country roundabout.  But every year our strength would grow.  Some seasons after finding Dasher and Dancer, Santa found Prancer.  And our magic grew again and with it, our range.  Many years later, we found Vixen and only a few seasons later, Cupid.  She was a difficult one, like you!  Headstrong and skittish what a combination!"  Courage chuckled, a deep animal rumble.  "Finally, only a few seasons ago, we found Donder and Blitzen.  They have much to learn, despite what they think."

            She paused, deep in thought.  "Yes," she went on very softly, more to herself than to him as though she was discovering something profound through her own speech "We have always found the new members of our team.  You see, although there are male and female great reindeer on Santa's team, we cannot become mothers and fathers.  The females are barren, unable to have little ones."  She looked at him gently now, a curious softness in her eyes.  "So we cannot experience what it is to watch a little one of our own struggle to discover within itself a greatness it did not know it had.  Just as you struggle, little one, with a sense of purpose I can feel but only partly understand.

            "So it has been with all the team.  We have found them all far afield.  And they have all been in need when they were found.  All have had to struggle to find their magic voices.  But none have been so rudely stamped as you, little one!"

            Rudolf jerked his head up.  What did she mean, "rudely stamped?"  He was much smaller than they were, and seemed able to see much farther than they could but these were hardly rude markings!

            Courage saw the surprise in Rudolf's gesture.  "Rudolf, have you ever seen an image of yourself?" she asked gently, "reflected in still water, for example?  Answer as you have been trained, like this for Yes" she moved her head up and down "and like this for No" she moved her head from side to side.

            Rudolf moved his head from side to side.

            "I see," Courage said softly.  "Then follow me."  She led the little reindeer back from the training pasture to the compound.  They walked through the compound clearing until they reached a post on which was fastened something reflecting brightly in the late afternoon light.  "You can see yourself if you look here," Courage said; "but wait!" Rudolf was already trying to get a look "First take a long look at my face."

            Rudolf gazed at Courage's face.  Though larger, it was a reindeer face all the same:  large brown eyes, small ears, heavy furry nose, huge antlered spread.  She stepped aside and gestured to the mirror with her head.  "Go on, now," she said quietly, and Rudolf peered eagerly into the shining metal thing.

           This was all wrong!  He could not take his eyes from the huge red swelling thing that must be part of who he was, and yet How could this be?  Eyes, yes, antlers, yes (smaller), mouth, and nose.  It dominated his face.  In a flash he understood:  he was not one of them, he could never be one of them, he was different, different, different!  How could he hope to be accepted with this this thing for a nose!  He began to bleat softly, the sound then growing and swelling, erupting into a series of bellows, of rage and fear at the awful trick.  But why should this matter? he wanted to bellow.  His head bobbed up and down uncontrollably, his breath coming in large sobs.  He stopped, shuddered, looked away, then back, then away again.  He shut his eyes tightly, seeing before him now and into the future the red and ugly thing that defined his distance, his apartness, his isolation.  And then, through all his struggle, he felt the hard seed of determination take hold once more, shaping itself as his raw purpose.  How strong he would have to be, straight and swift, pitting himself against a world already hard and indifferent even toward those not marked apart!  He opened his eyes.  The light was there, stronger than ever, tricking the edge of his sight.  So he was marked.  It would not matter now!  He turned his back on the mocking steel, never to look in it or any like it again.  He pawed the ground and snorted.  There was work to be done.

            Courage had watched this entire struggle with a mixture of sympathy and amazement, watched how this small and strange creature journeyed through shock, disbelief, and angry understanding toward defiance, determination and purpose in one tiny sliver of time.  She marveled at it, realizing then that in the sudden turn, stamp of foot, and now proud and angry lifting of head he had traveled far, so far that she must now catch up with him, if ever she could.  She struggled to find words.  "Rudolf," she said at last, "your herd accepted you because you were a gift.  We must all, here, learn to do likewise."  After a moment, she nodded her head.  "Let's go back to the stalls," she said simply, for there was nothing else to be said; and, both changed, they headed back to the barn.


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