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."