Legend of Rudolf. Page 7 of 22|
The old man snored gently in his overlarge chair. His reading spectacles had slipped down his nose and almost rested on his white moustache. Flecks of cookie dotted his white beard. His ample belly slowly rose and fell. Next to him, on a small table, lay the remains of his early afternoon snack: warm milk and chocolate chip cookies. To his left, the fire in the fireplace crackled cheerily. The mantel clock chimed twice, softly.
A large, kindly old woman bustled into the room and over to where the old man was sleeping. She prepared to wake him, then hesitated. The poor dear, she thought, he has so much on his mind, with the busiest times just ahead; and now he'll be trying to take care of the wild ones, too, because of the storm. She smiled at him, reluctant to wake him, and sighed.
The old man stirred at the sound. He smacked his lips a couple of times, then opened his eyes. "Well, Mrs. Claus, " he said drowsily, "what may I do for you?"
"You told me to wake you at two o'clock," Mrs. Claus said, "but it was so difficult. You haven't been getting enough rest lately, and now there's even more you're trying to do."
Santa Claus sat up and brushed the cookie crumbs off his beard. "Well, it can't be helped, this year," he rumbled: "The storms have come so early, and have covered up the forage." The chair groaned as he rose from it. "Is the team ready?"
"Yes. The chief elf has assembled them. Several elves will be going, to help with the unloading. Six of the reindeer will be going. Courage will be leading them. She is anxious to go. Donder and Blitzen will be staying behind, as you requested."
"Yes, they're the youngest." Santa cleared his throat. He thumped out of the parlor and into the front hallway. He sat down on a small bench and pulled on his heavy black boots. From his large closet, he pulled a heavy dark coat, hood, and mittens. Mrs. Claus helped him into his coat and hood. Last to go on were the mittens. He pushed open the heavy front door and was greeted by a blast of cold air.
Outside, a collection of work sleighs, elves and reindeer were waiting. At the head of the reindeer team, Courage pawed the ground impatiently. Santa surveyed the heavily-laden team. He summoned the chief elf to his side. "It's not enough, you know," he mused.
"Well, we packed all we could," the chief elf said. "It's as heavy as we dare make it, even for beasts as strong as these."
"Yes, yes, I know," Santa replied gently: "You've done a wonderful job packing it all in and still taking into account the team's health. I suppose I was just thinking aloud: the need for food this year so greatly outstrips our ability to provide. The great herds are already on the move." He put a large hand on the chief elf's small shoulder. "I know you've all worked very hard on this, day after day. We are all very grateful."
The chief elf permitted himself a small smile under the praise. "Well, it's time we moved out," he said at length: "the day will end soon, and the team is restless."
"Of course," Santa said. He placed the thumb and index finger of his left hand between his lips and blew three short, sharp blasts.
The effect on the team was electric. As one, the six great reindeer raised their huge antlered heads, steam bursting from their mouths. They stamped the ground until it shook and bellowed into the wind. Santa sprang forward and jumped into the foremost sleigh, which was pulled by Dasher and Courage, largest and strongest of his reindeer. The chief elf took his place beside Santa. Other elves leapt into the two sleighs pulled by the other four reindeer.
"Now then!" Santa boomed. "On, Courage, great heart! On, Dasher, swift in sky and on land! On, Prancer, bold and high-stepping! On, Vixen, bright and brilliant! On, Dancer, light-footed and sure! On, Cupid, strong and compassionate!"
The cries snapped the team forward. They leaned into the wind, the heavy traces crackling taut, the sleigh runners cracking free of the snow. The sleighs creaked and groaned, gathering speed as they moved toward the edge of Santa's compound. The wind and snow followed them into the woods.