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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 15 of 22

              Final preparations for Christmas continued.   Rudolf’s wounds, which the elves tended skillfully, quickly healed over, although scars to flank and leg remained.  Now that he could fly, Courage explained to him, she needed to join the others in their practice:  the team had to regain its rhythm.  “I don’t know why you’ve been taught the secret flying ways,” she said gently, seeing the disappointed look in his eyes.  “Please understand that I must train with the team if we are to be successful on Christmas Eve.  Perhaps Santa can tell you why you’ve learned to fly:  I cannot.  But I can at least promise you that, if you continue your flying and have questions about the art, you can always come to me, at any time, and I will tell you what I know.”

            And Rudolf was alone again.  He felt his loneliness more acutely this time.  While the rest of Santa’s team and the elves had indeed become more open to him now, nonetheless he had a growing feeling that they were going about a high and serious business in which he could not play any role.  For many hours during these last pre-Christmas days he was alone.  He spent much of that time in the practice pasture, some distance apart from the other reindeer.  They paid him no mind:  they were much too busy now.  Had they looked in his direction, they would have seen the small form leaping when they leapt, turning when they turned, climbing when they climbed.  He had resolved that if he could not join in their practice directly, he would join it from a distance, his hard seed of determination telling him that, for whatever reason, he must be as ready as they for Christmas.

            Santa watched this twin dance, stroked his beard, and wondered.  The practice pasture seemed to crackle with purpose now, but it was the entire pasture, not just the part Santa’s team was using.  He understood, now, that the fate of his team and of this Christmas was somehow bound with the fate of that small one.  In what way their fates were merging remained a mystery.  He watched Rudolf through narrowed eyes.  Often, now, he seemed to catch a light that danced about the head of the little animal, a fickle glow that shimmered and disappeared if stared at directly.  Every day, as Christmas approached, it seemed to grow brighter.  What was it?  He sighed and went back to work.

           The light was indeed much brighter, filling more and more of Rudolf’s vision.  It seemed to anticipate his moves, as though pointing to a spot where he needed to be.  Step by step, he had learned to allow the light to be, accepting the guidance it seemed to provide without seeking it directly.  Thus his flying acquired a subtle artistry not attained by any of Santa’s team; and this, coupled with his gift of strong sight, made him a wonder to behold high above the plain, if any cared to see.  And when the team returned to the barn, weary from their long day’s effort, Rudolf returned also, as weary as they.  Settling into the warm straw at his end of the barn, he could hear the low rumble of their voices, even though he couldn’t make out what they said:

            “Do you think he’ll fly with us at Christmas?”  “Not likely – he’s too small!  And he hasn’t practiced with us.”  “Santa could elect to have him join…”  “Why?  He’s given no sign of including him!”  “Where would he go?  He can’t be paired with any of us!”  “That leaves the rear…or the head!”  “The head?”  General laughter rumbled through the stalls.  “Wouldn’t that be something!  Imagine:  Rudolf leading the team!  What do you say to that, Courage?”

            But Courage, who had not joined the conversation, remained silent.  “Perhaps she’s already asleep,” one of the others said.  “It’s time we thought about getting some rest ourselves.”

            The low voice music ended, and Rudolf fell asleep, never knowing that all the talk had been about him.


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