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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 21 of 22
 

             The winter days passed, and the daylight began to linger a little longer.  Santa’s compound was still active, although the work this time of year was less frantic, and there was more time for feasting and for winter games.  Rudolf participated freely in many activities, a favorite one being flying reindeer rides for elf families.  A new sense of peace and contentment seemed to weave through the compound, as often happened immediately following Christmas:  there was more laughter, more cocoa, and there were many more snowball fights.  Whenever the elves did work, they discovered that the little elf with the curiously curved arm could perform certain tasks better than they.  There were also a surprising number of tasks where a third hand was especially useful.  And if this little elf seemed to be a favorite passenger of Rudolf’s, no one objected.

            In this fashion, then, several weeks passed.  During that time, Rudolf and Courage could often be seen, walking together, deep in conversation.  Often, they disappeared from the compound for hours at a time, exploring the woods roundabout; and while none knew the content of these conversations, it was obvious to all the depth of the bond that had formed between the two. 

            But all the while, Santa watched, wondering what place this little one would have in Christmases to come.  With the sight that he could sometimes command, he looked ahead to Christmas in future years.  Eight reindeer shapes appeared to him, swimming out of these strange mists.  There was no ninth.  Thus these days took on a special meaning for the old man.  He also spent time with Rudolf, and man and animal exchanged their special wisdom.

            Then, on a night far into the winter, and well before dawn, Santa awoke.  He walked to his bedroom window and peered out.  It was a clear night, and silver light from a waxing moon lit the snowfields.  In a moment he saw what he half-expected to see but hoped he would not:  two dark antlered figures, one small and one large, making their way across the clearing.

            Mrs. Claus stirred.  “What is it?” she asked sleepily.

            Santa’s eyes followed the forms.  A glimmer seemed to follow the smaller one.  “He is leaving,” he said.

            “Leaving?  Who?”

            “Rudolf.”

            “Rudolf?  But why?”  She yawned.

            “Because he has traveled farther than the realm of reindeer.  He is being translated into legend.”  Santa paused, thinking deeply.  “Songs will be sung of him,” he said at length.  “Some amusing, some serious.  None will really capture who and what he was.  Even now, the team will begin to forget.  But while they will not remember him clearly, their sense of purpose will strengthen.  And their sight will be keener.  He has given that to them all.”  The forms disappeared into the trees.  “Onward, Rudolf, fearless, fabled, and free,” Santa breathed.  “Onward, onward!”

***

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