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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 6 of 22

          -- until the little reindeer leapt up, suddenly awake and back in the world, grey light overtaking darkness, wind whistling in and around the little hollow.  He blinked, shivering.  What had the dream meant?  The void, the darkness had retreated.  He was back in the present world with its present dangers.  He listened for sounds of distant howling riding the wind.  Hearing nothing, he crept out of the burrow.

          Night was giving way to grey predawn light.  The snow had stopped falling, but it hardly mattered:  the icy wind had increased, blowing snow needles over the harsh land.  Instinctively, the little reindeer turned his head away from the wind-driven snow and struggled forward, putting his small shoulder into the storm.  Slowly, one small hoof in front of the other, he moved forward.  For something in him was growing now.  Something small and hard had taken hold deep inside him, not to be dislodged easily.  He would face this day, and days to follow as well.

          The ground ahead of him sloped gently upward, a small rise meeting the lightening sky, snow swirling over the land’s edge.  When he reached the top of this small slope, he was amazed to see the land fall suddenly away before his eyes.  He was at the top of a high ridge, and a vast wintry plain stretched to the distance ahead and to either side.

          He blinked once more against the snow and then let his gaze sweep over the plain.  How clear and sharp things looked, even with the snow!  He could see tiny antlered bodies moving across the plain – restless reindeer herds, searching as his had been for the reindeer moss buried too early this year.  Far away and to his left, he discovered the dark grey shapes of a pack of wolves, dancing around the dying form of an old or sick reindeer:  an ancient, brutal, necessary and accepted drama playing out silently underneath his stare.  Far to the right, the wind scattered smoke from the tops of two tiny farmers’ huts.  Harsh and beautiful, this was his world, and he had to strengthen himself if he was to survive it.

          He shook his head, took a deep breath, and snorted, a tiny defiant sound.  Then he straightened up, all senses suddenly alert:  Was that the tiniest glow of light, at the very edge of his sight?  It seemed to come from somewhere on his right, but if he turned to look at it, it disappeared.  It hovered on the very border between sight and darkness.  He could see it only when he looked straight ahead.  Perhaps it was there to guide him; he couldn't be sure.  And he had a growing feeling that he first had to try to find his own way.

          He would try.  Cautiously and firmly, one small hoof before the other, he began the descent from the ridge to the plain.


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