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    riding with the sun, music and stories by david soubly

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  The Legend of Rudolf.                                               Page 9 of 22
 

             The little reindeer snorted.  There was strength in that small sound, strength and fear and determination.  Courage sensed this and understood it.  Her eyes rose from that misshapen nose and met his eyes.  Wide and dark they were, darker than any eyes she had ever seen, like two points opening on an unreachable void.  She sensed something then, as though by looking into those eyes she approached a deep brooding magic.  She shook her head.  The bells on her harness jingled, and the tiny glasslike sound dispersed what she had sensed.  Now she was facing a small, frightened and confused youngster, who had come to this place all alone, and who stood before her, trembling all over but with a spirit that could not be hidden.  "Can you speak, child?" she said gently.

          The little reindeer looked up at the great beast, and the fear subsided in him a little.  There was warm rough strength in that voice, and tones that reminded him of days gone by.  He wanted to answer that yes, he could understand her, though he didn’t know how this had come to be, wanted too to reply, to answer in this new and wonderful language.  But he could not.  He opened his mouth and tried with all his might, but all that burst out was a rude bleating that seemed to hang in the air between them.

          "I didn’t think so,” Courage said, as much to herself as to the little reindeer.  “That would have marked you as a truly special foundling, and that would mean – "

          A voice called to them, a great booming sound.  The little reindeer stiffened, turning his head toward the sound.  He could see quite clearly the three little sleighs, reindeer with breath steaming, and a tiny bearded figure in a hood with hands cupped about his mouth.  The mouth opened, and the booming call reached their ears again.

          "That will be Santa,” Courage said.  “Santa Claus, the rest of the reindeer, and a few elves.  They’re off in that direction.”  She nodded her head vaguely in the direction of the sleigh team.  “My last flight to catch you took me out of seeing distance.  He’s calling us back in, so if we follow his voice, we should be all right."

          The little reindeer was surprised.  How was it that this great creature couldn’t see Santa or his sleigh train?  They were far away, to be sure, but sharp and clear in the distance nonetheless.  And there was also something reassuring in Santa’s voice, muffled though it was by the distance.  The little reindeer’s fear subsided.  He could trust these beings.  He started walking toward the sleigh train.

          "He’s off again!” Courage muttered, and she started to call out, “Where are you going now?”  But Santa’s third call stopped her:  the little creature was heading right for the sound!  With a couple of long strides she joined him, glancing at the face with the huge red nose.  His dark eyes were set, a distinct expression of one relying on seeing rather than hearing.  Could that be?

          At the sleigh train, the other reindeer peered into the gloom where Courage had disappeared.  Santa, whose sight was clearer, could just make out the approaching forms.  “There they are at last!” he said.  And with no time to spare, either!  As it is, we’ll be back after dark, and Mrs. Claus is likely to be worried!"

          Santa and the chief elf watched the two forms approach.  Santa rubbed his eyes with the backs of his mittens.  First he and then the chief elf gasped at what they saw.  Their gasps were echoed along the sleigh line, as Courage and the little reindeer came within the seeing distance of the other reindeer.  Santa could hear their mutterings:  “Where on earth could such a creature come from!”  “How tiny it is!”  “What an awful nose!”  “It must have been abandoned, and no wonder, too!”  “How can it smell anything!”  The team said many more such things, not all kindly, as they reacted to the little reindeer’s appearance; until, with a stern glance and a sharp word, Santa silenced them.  In silence, then, they waited until Courage and the little reindeer were standing before Santa.

          Santa looked the little reindeer up and down, his eyes resting only an instant on the prominent nose.  “So, little one,” he said softly at last, “do you have a name?”  The little reindeer bowed his head, calmed by the gentle magic of Santa’s voice.  Seeing no harness or any other sign of ownership, Santa turned to the chief elf and asked, “What is the name of the small elf, born several winters back, whose crooked arm prevents him from doing many of the toy chores?"

          "You don’t mean the one who’s constantly getting into trouble?” the chief elf wondered.

          "Yes, that one,” Santa said.  “He’s determined to make a difference, whatever the cost.  When the other elves finally learn that about him, he will stop getting into trouble.  Yes, I mean exactly that one."

          "Rudolf."

          "
Rudolf.”  Santa smoothed his white mustache with large thumb and forefinger.  “Rudolf.”  He paused a moment, thinking.  Then, “All right, little one,” he said firmly, “from now on you shall be known as Rudolf.  And you shall have a place in my compound.  Where that place will be, only you can decide.  Welcome."

          The little reindeer tossed his head, snorted, and stamped.  Rudolf!  He would now be known as Rudolf!  He liked the sound of the name.  He stamped again, and Santa chuckled.

          "I like strength, small as well as large,” he said.  “All of it is needed.”  Then he raised his voice and shouted, “Ho, team!  Please welcome the newest member of my compound!  Please welcome – Rudolf!”  To Courage, he said, “Take him alongside the team, so they may see him."

          Courage nodded her head and led Rudolf past the great harnessed animals, saying quietly, “Dasher.  Prancer and Vixen.  Dancer and Cupid.”  As Courage and Rudolf passed, the great reindeer nodded their huge antlered heads.  They did not show their amazement at Rudolf’s deformed nose.  Some of their glances were darker than others.  None of them said anything except Cupid, who whispered, “Welcome, little one!”

           They turned and made their way back to the head of the team.  “Stay by my side on the way home,” Courage instructed, as she resumed her place next to Dasher.  Rudolf’s eyes widened as he watched Courage accept the harness:  he had never seen one before and didn’t know what to make of this thing that restrained the large animal.  Surely she could break free of those straps if she chose!

          "Are we all ready?” Santa was saying.  “Good!”  He and the chief elf climbed into the lead sleigh.  “Ho, team!” Santa shouted.  “Homeward!"

          The team pulled at the sleighs, and the train slowly started back.  They did not fly, because these were work sleighs, not made for the air nor set with magic the way Santa’s Christmas sleigh was.  And long flight this early in the year was risky as well:  their strength developed as Christmas drew near, and so was not yet at its full; or they might be spotted by a passing herder.  So they bent their heads and pulled their lightened burden landward home.

          As he walked beside Courage, Rudolf had much to think about.  Santa’s creatures seemed to come in two sizes:  the great – Santa and the reindeer; and the small – elves.  He was small, too.  He wondered if there were other reindeer his size at Santa’s compound.  And if there were, he wondered if they would accept him.

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