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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 17 of 22

             When the team learned of it, they were amazed.  “Lead.  Lead us?”  “He can’t be serious!”  “”We’ll surely go to our deaths, now!”  “He hasn’t flown with us!”  “This is pure madness!”  -- and so on, many more comments of this sort, so surprised they were at Santa’s decision to put the little reindeer at the head of the team –

-- until, in the midst of the uproar, breaking her long silence, Courage shouted above wind and reindeer voice alike, “Be quiet!  All of you!”  In the silence that followed, she looked the team up and down.  She had always been their leader, and they knew it.  Snow swirled over them, and wind whistled among their ears.  Rudolf stood off to one side, his head down, waiting.  He felt he could no longer contain the glow:  it seemed to surround him.  Courage could see it now, a radiance clustered about the small antlered head and passing lightly along the body.  “Look at him!” she commanded:  “ – can’t you see it?”  Met with silence, she continued, “You will never see such a one again!  His sight has been clearer than ours!  We’ve allowed appearance and size to cloud our vision, our envy expressed as ridicule!  He has seen where we haven’t, to places inside, where fear and madness rule if you let them.  And he has overcome all of it!  Do not think for a minute he cannot command this team, this sleigh, on this darkest and most difficult night!”  She bowed her head for a moment, then, tossed it high and, eyes bright, she stated, “I am proud to be one of the team this one commands!  Now come on, all of you!” – her voice cracking, she stamped her hoof:  “There is work to be done!”

            Her words charged the team.  They formed in their precise, well-trained line.  Rudolf walked to the head of the team.  The elves hitched them carefully to the magic sleigh, cinches checked and doublechecked against the storm.  Nine reindeer stood, their stillness a disciplined contrast to the wildness raging all around them.

            Santa emerged from his house in his grand red suit.  His eyes proudly swept the team, this magic team, this fabled team formed for this night only, its purpose fused at last and twined with the ageless purpose that is Christmas.  “So we are ready at last!” he boomed, and the team bellowed and stamped.  “Do not be afraid!  I have seen Rudolf match you move for move, leap for leap, and flight for flight these last few days!”  The small head jerked up.  “Yes, little one,” Santa continued, his voice rising above the storm:  “Neither you nor I could understand why all your work had to be done; only now can we see above the storm!  And now onward!”  He swept into the sleigh and seized the reins.

            “On Courage, strong-willed and steadfast!  On Dasher, swift and agile!  On Prancer, trim and precise!  On Vixen, beautiful and brave!  On Dancer, nimble and strong!  On Cupid, warm and wise!  On Donder, boisterous and bold!  On Blitzen, flashing and free!

            “And onward Rudolf, far-sighted and true!  Lead our sleigh through this storm!  Guide us on our mission to bring joy to the people of the world!  And lead us safely home!

            “Onward, glorious team, onward!”

            The bold words rang out into the night, piercing the angry storm winds.

            The magnificent team answered.  As one they heaved.  The lines cracked, the harness bells jingled.  With a loud crunch, the huge runners broke free.  Slowly at first, then gathering speed, the massive sleigh glided past the elves, past Mrs. Claus staring from the parlor window, circling the compound clearing, snow swirling about the heads of the huge beasts, then lifting up, up and over buildings, veering and tossing in the wind as it disappeared into that dark storm, Santa’s thundering voice blending with the harrier voices on the night wind.

            And watching from the parlor window, the last glimpse Mrs. Claus had of her husband and his magical team was a tiny glow, the sparest of glimmers, appearing and disappearing in the shades of the night, rising higher and higher before it winked out.


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