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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 20 of 22

             In the barn, the exhausted team prepared to sleep the day away.  Some had nearly fallen asleep even while the elves were tending them.  Upon their arrival at the barn, each of the huge beasts had paused while being led to the stalls; paused and nodded a massive antlered head toward the small form who stood at the side of the barn, head bowed, giving way to fatigue at last.  Now, each of Santa’s team in his or her way relived the long flight, as one by one sleep overtook them all, safe and warm in their stalls.

            All except Courage.  Tired she was, even to the point of being unsteady on her feet, but she pricked her ears, hearing a tiny sound coming from the little stall at the end of the barn.  She pushed her stall door open – none of Santa’s reindeer were ever locked in – and quietly made her way to Rudolf’s stall.  As she approached, the sounds shaped themselves into small, soft sobs.  She paused at his door.

            For Rudolf, it had all come crashing around him now.  No longer needing to hold himself rigid within the confines of the great purpose, he could relax at last, relax and give way to the long series of hurts:  crying out of exhaustion from sustained effort, crying against the long nonacceptance, crying at long last and always for the mother he had lost.  He sobbed and sobbed, spending himself in this as in all else he had experienced, relieving himself of all burdens at once, setting them all aside now, these many burdens that had defined him but that needed to be his no more.  His breath came in great shuddering gasps, and his small body shook again and again in a long and final release.   He did not notice as Courage, her own eyes shining, pushed her head into the stall.  “Oh, Rudolf,” she asked gently, “whatever could be the matter?”

            And the small trembling creature, who had been through so many trials but who now could barely lift his head from the straw, took a halting breath, struggled for a moment, and then realized the miracle of his own speech as he whispered his first two words:  “I’m sorry.”

            “Sorry?” Courage wondered.  “But what on earth for?”

            Rudolf laid his head on the straw.  “I’m so tired,” he whispered.  “And it’s all over, and she’s gone so very far away now, and I’m all alone again…”  He sighed.  "I wish my mother were here.  I miss her so much."

            It came to Courage all at once, then:  the light was no longer in the stall.  “She will be back,” she said slowly.  “Or, perhaps she’s still with you – if you’ll only look hard enough.  And you’re not alone,” she said firmly, “not anymore.  You’ve gained respect, admiration, and, yes, friendship, and you now hold a high place of honor on Santa’s team.  You have the magic gift of speech now, as well as clear sight and great strength for one your size.  You will lead our great celebration, wise child, just as you led our team.  And she will be there, too,” she whispered, “in a place from which none can take her.  She’s been there all along.  Do you understand?”

            But Rudolf had already fallen asleep.

            Courage sighed, turned her head as if to go back to her own stall.  Then she stopped, turned her gaze toward the little sleeping form, and lay down, her head resting just inside his stall.  “I will be there too,” she murmured.  “I will be there too.”

            And that is how the elves found the two sleeping reindeer, when it was time to wake the team for the Christmas night celebration.  Except for the difference in stature, they looked as ordinary as any reindeer mother and child.


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