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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 22 of 22

             Hooves crunched on softening snow.  Animal breath rose in clouds of steam.  A light wind brushed tufts of hair between wise and warm eyes.  They walked, the small one and the large, far into the forest, well past the practice pasture, on and on.  Stillness of night surrounded them.  Purpose drove them.  No speech was necessary.  On and on they went.  Light gathered in the southeast, leading them.

            For Rudolf, the light was truly all around now.  It bathed him and breathed with him, in and of him as surely as he was in and of this world he had transformed and that had transformed him.  He sniffed the clean, clean air.  The world all about him twinkled and glittered. 

            At length, they came to a large clearing that extended over a small rise to the southeast.  Light gathered behind the rise.  Rudolf stopped, turned and faced Courage.  The light was very bright now.  “She’s here,” he said to Courage.   “—Can you see her?”

            Courage gazed full upon him.  He shimmered in the predawn light.  “Yes,” she whispered.  "Yes, I can see her, feel her all about you.”

            He searched her face.  “You’ve been so good to me,” he said.  Then, awkwardly, “I wish you didn’t have so far to go back!”

            She gave way then.  “Oh, Rudolf, must you go?”

            He sighed, turned back toward the southeast.  “I must,” he said.  “I’m a feather in the world, now, don’t you see?  Light and strong and carried far away.  And I am seeing very far, far enough to join her.  The team will see more clearly now, too.  My sight will be given to them and to you.  You will all see clearly through the darkest storms.”  He turned to face her again.  “May the seasons, the stars, and the morning sun bless you, keep you, and watch over you – you and all reindeer,” he said.  “As a mother you’ve been to me.”

            She felt the magic rush through her, the magic from his dark and wild eyes, the magic that healed even as it hurt, terrible and brilliant fire that strengthened her.  “Go to her then, sweet child!” she cried, her voice strong and free.  “Go, and be with her!”

            And Rudolf turned and once more performed the miracle, a few steps, a quick canter, a bound, as trained, so precise and true, rising in a glorious arc to fuse with the light he saw, once and forevermore.

            Courage watched with shining eyes as the dwindling form met the white fire.  The morning sun crested the rise, blinding her.  She blinked but twice, and he had disappeared.

            She stood in the morning meadow for a long time, remembering many things.  Already other parts of him seemed to vanish with that vanishing form.  He would be both greater and lesser than he really was, to so many future generations – but he would always live truly within her.

            At last, she turned and walked slowly home, and if on the journey she noticed how clear her sight had become, she paid it little mind.  She was utterly exhausted, as one who has willingly carried a heavy burden for a long time and has suddenly been released from it, only to find that it was the burden itself that had given the strength.

            Day was well underway when she made her way to the barn.  The others left her alone, would find time later to share in her sadness and in her healing.  Santa had already told them why it must be this way.

            She settled into the straw in her stall.  Already she felt the light returning.  It would be there always, a great comfort whenever needed.  She buried her nose in the straw and slowly closed her eyes, hearing sounds twined with the light:  the tiny busy commerce of creatures rustling in the straw, wind on trees, and the high, thin cries of arctic birds, singing and singing the deep magic of the world.


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