Last year, Santa left Runt with a peasant family. The father wanted to kill and salt him, to provide meat in the winter, but the children cried and cried… Their mother had another idea – she wanted the children to look after Runt and train him to give rides which other children would pay for. That way, the children would be happy with Runt to play with, and the family would have more money and be able to buy food in the winter.
The children were happy! And Runt was too! No-one had ever fed him before. It was lovely when the children brought him hay! The children were nice to him, so he was nice to them! That’s how it is in life. Mostly. And Runt didn’t have to do much work. He just had to take children for a ride. He didn’t mind too much, for it wasn’t hard, and he knew the money for the rides was important to the children who looked after him, who always gave it, every krone, to their mother. All the same, it was boring. And every day was the same. As for the hay, it got musty, and the new grass could not grow till the spring. What Runt wanted was some lovely fresh lichen! That’s what reindeer like!
The winter was over, the days got longer and lighter, and Runt began to long for the open tundra, the forest and the hills. He could easily have jumped over the fence and run off, but he knew that reindeer do not live on their own – there is safety in numbers. Especially if wolves and bears are after you! Besides that, Runt couldn’t swim. Reindeer need to be good swimmers, – to escape wolves – and there was nowhere for him to practise. Come to that he needed to practise his running. The more Runt thought about it, the more he knew that he had to leave. But how? That was the question, and it was a long time before he could answer it.
Runt decided to start with one thing at a time. He was going to start by practising his running, as the best way for him to prepare to leave. Runt decided he would jump over the fence at night when the family was asleep and practise his running.
Reindeer don’t sleep through the night like we do. They sleep after eating, that is one thing. Another thing is that because they live in the far north, they are used to it being dark all the time in the winter, so the darkness does not mean sleep for them. Their eyes do change colour in the winter, so they can see better.
The first night Runt jumped over the fence, he was very excited. It was wonderful to run and run, and so he did. But not too far, – he didn’t know what else might be out there. Runt got stronger and fitter, and healthier, and he felt better and more confident. The mother noticed it, but she didn’t know why. This went on for some time. One day Runt had an idea. “Perhaps Santa will bring the children a present,” he said to himself, “and I can leave with him and the other reindeer. That way I won’t be on my own.” The year went by.
Soon it was December. Runt’s Mum had not forgotten him. She thought about him a lot, and one day she went to see Santa, who was getting his things together. “Will you go and see my Runt?” she said. “I do hope he is well and big and strong.”
“He should be,” said Santa. “After a whole year of eating!”
Runt’s Mum looked at him out of the corner of her eyes (that’s hard for a reindeer). “Could you bring him home to me?” she asked.
Santa was a nice man. “I will if I can,” he said. “What’s more, I will take the smallest of this year’s reindeer to replace him! I have my eye on one.”
I think you know what happened next. Santa took two sledges again; he took the smallest reindeer in the herd as a present to the children; and when Santa arrived at the cottage where the children lived, Runt jumped high for joy.
“Steady,” said Santa. “Oh, you are a big fellow! And what a lovely red nose you’ve got! Steady, boy!” Runt jumped for joy again. “I need you to go on this sledge with the big boys, and this youngster,” – he took a little reindeer out of the other sledge – “will stay with the children this year…” Runt could hardly wait to be harnessed up. He heard a call from the children’s room – they had just opened their shutters and their window, “Goodbye, goodbye,” they called, “we love you.” Runt stamped his feet impatiently, Santa cracked his whip in the air, and both sledges flew off. “Goodbye, goodbye,” the children called. Runt could not look back because of the harness, but he waved his tail to the children as a good-bye, and off he flew with Santa and his sledges.
The children missed Runt, for they loved him, but they soon got fond of the new reindeer and had fun training him.
Wouldn’t you like to have a ride on a reindeer?
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