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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 5 of 22

             -- The burrow of needles tickled the youngster’s nose, and he snuggled farther in, so warm, so warm and sleepy, hearing tiny busy sounds under his bed.  He sank farther, down and down, until suddenly the bed gave way under him and he felt himself floating in space, looking up now at a light shining through branches – no, roots, the bottoms of trees.  Where was he?  Blackness seemed to open and extend all around him, a great black emptiness that was matched by the emptiness within.  His mother!  Where had she gone? 

            But the emptiness grew inside as he realized she was gone now, forever, never to return.  He wanted to cry and found he couldn’t, his voice stolen by the darkness.  And then, slowly, seeming to rise everywhere out of the darkness, a Voice began to grow upon his mind.  He strained his ears, trying to hear, trying to understand.  Gradually, from the hazy hum of the Voice, words shaped themselves, until he could hear the Voice clearly, speaking directly to him out of the void:

            “So she is gone.  So you are alone.  So it must be.  But look around.  Out of emptiness, darkness.  Out of darkness, Voice.  Out of Voice, voices.  From voices, purpose.  Chosen you are.  Sight you will be given, many times clearer than those of your kind.  You will also be marked, in a way you will discover much later.  Because you are set apart from the others, they will turn away from you.  So you will have to see even more clearly.  Your sight will travel farther and farther, farther and yet farther, until you may at last perhaps see her.”

            He struggled to answer the Voice, to tell it he was afraid, to ask it how he would do this, ask also whether he would really see his mother again.  But all he could seem to manage, after a furious struggle, was a tiny raspy bleat. 

            “You do not have your own voice yet,” the Voice went on, as if it did not notice the interruption but answered it anyway.  “You will be given two difficult tasks.  One will require your outside strength, the other, your inside strength.  You must do them both well, and then, perhaps…” The Voice began fading rapidly.

            The little creature struggled.  Perhaps what? It wanted to know but could not say.

            But the Voice was gone now.  It had faded and blended with a rising tide of other voices, a confusion of sounds, roaring and swirling noise, the darkness turning now to grey and the cold reaching in –

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