“Nicholas, is something troubling you this evening?” asked Lydia Claus, pausing in her embroidery work.
“Hmmmm?” Nick made the sound without shifting his gaze from the flames in the fireplace.
“I asked what’s wrong, Dear. You haven’t been your jolly self for almost two days.”
Nick sighed, finally looking across at his wife in her chair. “It’s Leonard, Mama.”
“Leonard? Leonard, the elder deer?”
“Yes.” Nick sighed again, but didn’t continue. He seemed lost in his own thoughts again.
“Nick,” Lydia said, putting down her embroidery and sitting up straighter in her chair. “Is Leonard sick?”
“Hmm? Oh … oh, no, he’s not sick … not exactly.”
“Well, what on earth does that mean?”
Nick reached to a little table beside his chair and picked up his pipe. He lit it, and the sweet-scented smoke curled off into the air. “Leonard isn’t sick, Mama. He’s just old … very old. And I’m afraid he can’t do any real work around here any longer. He just sort of stands around watching the younger deer – or worse – sometimes he just lies in his stall and doesn’t even get out for exercise. He feels useless I think.”
“But his son Rudolph is still your lead reindeer, and I know that’s always made Leonard so proud. He’s the one who trained Rudolph to fly and to maneuver so beautifully. In fact, he trained almost all of your teams, didn’t he?”
“Oh, yes. He’s been more valuable to me than almost any other deer in our herd, but he doesn’t feel up to training the younger deer any longer. I’ve had to turn that job over to his younger cousin Archibald.”
“Oh, dear. I wish there were something I could do.”
“Me too,” Nick said, rising and heading toward the kitchen. “But perhaps I’ll think of something soon.”
(Next day. In the stable.)
“Leonard,” said Gladys Reindeer, “I wish you wouldn’t feel so sad. After all, look at all the teams of reindeer you’ve trained for Santa over the years. You should feel proud and just enjoy your time of rest.”
“Rest! Bah! I have to sit by and watch that whippersnapper Archy take my place as Santa’s right-hand. It’s degrading … humiliating … and worse … it’s terribly depressing.”
“But you can still give the elves rides and help with hauling the smaller toys from the toyshop to the warehouse for storage. It’s not as if you don’t do anything.”
“It’s not the same, Gladys. There are scores of other reindeer on the place who can do all that. And they do. In fact, they can do it all faster, and most days they’re already on the job before I can get my old bones and muscles moving. I just wish there were something I could do again that was special.”
“Well, my dear” – Gladys nuzzled his nose – “you will always be very special to me – and to Rudolph. And just think of our son. He’s become so famous, and he’s so good at what he does … and he gives you all the credit – rightly so, I might add.”
“Oh, he’s a source of pride, all right. It’s gratifying to see how well he’s done. But it doesn’t change my feeling of uselessness now.” Leonard plodded out of the stable, his head hanging low.
“Where are you going, dear?”
He sighed. “I don’t know. I think I’ll go for a walk in the forest. I do always feel a little better when I listen to the Redbirds sing for a while.”
Leonard walked slowly through the forest, stopping now and then to rest and listen to the sounds of all the other creatures he’d come to know and love. He hadn’t heard any Redbirds in song today, but as he moved farther into the woods, he heard a cacophony of bird voices that troubled him.
He followed the sounds to a huge Spruce tree where one of his favorite Redbird friends had her home. But something strange was happening today. Several men in hard hats were surrounding the tree, examining it. Off to the side sat a huge truck with a long flatbed on the back. Suddenly, one of the men pulled a lever on the machine he held in his hands, and the machine started groaning loudly enough to hear it on the other side of the forest.
At that moment, Leonard’s Redbird friend swooped down toward the man, screeching and acting as though she would attack him. A couple of her friends did the same. One of the other men picked up a large stick and started swinging at the birds.
Leonard couldn’t believe his eyes. He hurried over to the scene and called out to his friend. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “Can I help?”
“Oh, Leonard,” the Redbird cried, flying over to him, “I don’t know what to do! These men are going to cut down my tree and use it for the Christmas tree in the center of town. But my nest is there, and my little babies are just about to hatch. I can’t let them cut down my home and kill my babies. But I can’t get them moved to a safe place without building another nest, and that will take too long. What can I do? What can I do?’
The chainsaw had stopped momentarily, while the men talked together, but now it started up again. Leonard thought quickly. “I know!” he said. “I will come and lift your nest onto my antlers and carry it away safely.”
“That’s very kind of you, and it would get my babies out of the tree, but where can I put them? It will take me at least three days to build a new nest anywhere – and that’s if I can find the materials. Wild animals will find my babies and eat them before I can get it done.”
“No they won’t. I will keep the nest in my antlers until you build another nest. You can sit on your eggs in your nest, and when your babies are hatched, you can feed them and take care of them just the way you always do. I have nothing else I have to do these days, and I will enjoy being useful.
“Oh my, what a great friend you are. How can I ever thank you?”
“There’s no need. In fact, I’m the one who’s grateful. I was feeling rather useless lately, and it’s a wonderful thing to know that I am not useless after all. I can be a help to my friends. And, in fact, when you have your new nest built and have moved into it, I think I’ll go walking through the forest every day looking for other friends to help. There must be many things I can do for them if I just set my mind to it.” He grinned at Redbird. “You’ve helped me see that I have a future with unlimited possibilities.”
The chainsaw had stopped again, and the men were measuring something. “Come on,” said Leonard, “let’s hurry and go around to the other side where your nest is. I’ll burrow my way between the branches and lift off the nest, and you can make sure it’s settled safely. Then we’ll go back to Santa’s stable, and you and your babies can enjoy Christmas with Gladys and me. She will be so pleased to have guests for Christmas Day.”
If you enjoyed this story, think about checking out my Christmas anthology: Stocking Full Of Stories. It includes this story as well as 10 other stories for the season. It’s available from Amazon in digital or paperback.