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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 19 of 22
 

             The cocoa was poured but untouched.  Steam curled from the cups resting on the kitchen table.  The old man had wrapped his large hands around his cocoa mug, feeling the heat work its way into cold bones.  He stared at the brown liquid, and at length he spoke.

            “It was a night like no other.  As soon as we lifted clear of the compound, the wind took us.  We were rocked from side to side, as though giant hands slapped us.  At times, I could barely see the team, laboring as they were through that awesome night.  If it weren’t for Rudolf and that glow of his, I wouldn’t have been able to see at all!

            “Who knows where he came from, little foundling?  By all rights, he should have given up a hundred times, both before and during that night.  His flight was so perfect and so true, guiding us through every difficulty.  And there were close calls, to be sure:  trees and rock towers jumping out of the darkness, houses and dark castles leaping out of the night.  It was there that his sight saved us.  There is no question that he could see far further than any of us.  At first, the team shouted and swore at him, for he seemed to veer the sleigh for no apparent reason, and sometimes directly into the storm’s teeth, too!  But there was always a reason, not seen by the rest of us until it would have been too late.  And when the team realized this, they no longer questioned anything he did.

            “All night long the storm whipped and pummeled us.  Snows blasted the reindeers’ backs.  Sometimes from the younger ones – Donder especially, I think, and Blitzen – there were some bellows of fear, especially in response to the voices on the wind.  But from the front, nothing.  And on and on we went – hard landings, difficult takeoffs, flights into that wind that tested the endurance of us all.  But he didn’t flinch, didn’t make a sound.  Never have I seen such strength and such purpose concentrated in so small a form!”  He sighed and at last took a long pull from his steaming mug.

            “It’s still a wonder we returned safe and whole.  The team had truly spent its last strength when he landed the sleigh for the last time.  Never have our bells sounded so wonderfully welcome!  After landing, I spoke to the team such words of strength as I could gather, and many more for Rudolf, so terribly all in did he look.  They should all be well into buckets of hot mash by now, and I hope ready for a long rest!”

            “Exactly what you need as well, Mr. Claus,” Mrs. Claus said.  “Finish your cocoa, and it’s off to bed with you!  You’ll need a good rest before the celebration!”

            The soft words had their usual effect on the big man, transforming him from the fierce challenger of the north wind to a tired old man with cold feet and a sore back.  He drained the rest of his cocoa and allowed himself to be led to bed.

***

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