Rolo’s Reindeer Mission (or How Rolo got his Jewel Collar) ©Debi Evans  

I was bounding around the forest enjoying the strange sensation of leaping in the deep white powdery stuff so deep it came up to my tummy and tickled me. I am, as you know, quite close to the ground.

‘Yulia! Da!’ I shouted and my voice was muffled in the stillness of the white blanket of snow. ‘They can’t hear you little pup’ Athelstan’s barky voice came from the outline on the oak tree.

‘They are deep within the understory as are all the woodland creatures, keeping warm from the cold and seeing out the Winter’. Athelstan blew a gentle puff of fiery breath and melted a little circle of snow on the ground in front of him.

‘Ah that’s better! My nose is full of cold’ the guardian of the forest said. ‘The time tunnel is blocked with snow. Nothing for you to do over the holidays until the thaw. Go and enjoy Christmas with your people.’ I thought fondly of the Smiley Lady and the Boy with Floppy Hair who had rescued me from the Dog’s home and still have no idea of the secret adventures I get up to when they think I am asleep in my basket in the kitchen. Just then I heard the tinkling of bells followed by a whooshing sound that could only mean one thing! I sat back in the snow and watched. Athelstan faded into the bark of his tree and as if by magic a sleigh alighted on the ground landing neatly in the thawed circle of bare earth Athelstan had made.

‘Whoah!’ said a booming voice and the reindeers pulling the sleigh came to a sudden halt. They stamped their hooves and shook the snowflakes from their antlers and that’s when I realised that the tinkling sound was coming from tiny bells around the reindeers necks. They reminded me of the chocolate reindeer the Smiley Lady was so fond of at Christmas and how the Floppy Haired Boy always attaches the bell to my collar when the chocolate has all gone. It has become a family tradition. A large gentleman in a red suit made soothing noises to the impatient reindeer as he jumped down, his big black shiny boots crunching as he landed heavily in the snow. He scratched his head and rummaged in his coat pocket for a folded piece of paper. He blew on his hands to warm them, and unfolded the paper. Four pairs of reindeers whickered and stamped their hooves impatiently. I coughed politely to attract his attention and asked if I could be of any assistance. ‘Not unless you have a satnav young pup’ boomed the red suited man as he turned the paper round and peered at it through small round spectacles.

‘Rudolph, our guiding reindeer has stormed off at our last chimney stop and he’s the only one who can map read. I have all these presents to deliver to the boys and girls by morning and I have no sense of direction, I’m afraid to say.’ Well my navigating skills aren’t brilliant, but I wondered if instead I could help restore Rudolph to the sleigh team.

‘Why did he storm off?’ I asked the other reindeers. They all looked at the ground and seemed to be avoiding eye contact with me and the big red man. A small voice piped up ‘we laughed at him.’ This was apparently Cupid.

‘WHAT?!’ roared the big red man. The reindeer jangled nervously. Another voice said quietly ‘we pointed out his red nose. It started out as a little joke, but I think we probably went too far…’ Prancer tailed off. I had no idea reindeer could be so mean! I knew from the Floppy Haired Boy that kangaroos box and camels spit but I didn’t realise that reindeer could be spiteful!

‘Well how on earth are we going to get him back at the front of the team?’ said the red man, ‘we’re certainly lost without him.’

‘Can you retrace your flight path?’ I asked the big red man as I jumped up beside him. ‘I think so’ he replied sliding over to make room for me on the seat. He took up the reins and the reindeer came swiftly to attention with just a slight jingling. Wow! I was flying up and over the rooftops! I glanced down at Athelstan and I’m sure he was smiling. Flying over the tall trees in the forest we saw a cottage on the outskirts, with a chimney stack.

‘There he is!’ shouted Comet, and the big red man steered the reindeer down to land with precision on the front lawn. I hadn’t really thought the next bit through, so I knew I’d have to wing it. I had to first make sure that the other reindeer had realised the error of their ways and that it was mean to tease someone just because they are different. I jumped off the seat and stepped in front of the sleigh to address the reindeer. I spoke firmly but quietly as I didn’t want Rudolph to hear. There was a lot of shuffling of hooves and the reindeer all looked at the ground again and muttered in unison ‘we’re sorry.’ Rudolph was still looking very sorry for himself with his back to the sleigh and he seemed quite small and sad standing there alone in the snow, his face close to the ground. I went over to him and stroked his nose with my paw because that is how I like to be comforted. I think it worked because I saw the glimmer of a smile in those big sad reindeer eyes.

‘We’re truly sorry Rudolph’ piped up Vixen, and the other reindeer joined in with the general apology. The big red man said, ‘Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?’ and Rudolph broke into a reindeer grin and walked proudly over to harness up in front of Donner and Blitzen at the head of the team. The big red man clapped his hands together to shake off the cold and then he scooped me up in his arms, flipped me over and rubbed my tummy, pleased his sleigh team were back in harmony.

‘Thanks for averting disaster on Christmas Eve,’ he whispered, and added, ‘Coming with us? We could use some extra paws!’

I didn’t need asking twice and was delighted to spend the rest of the night handing presents down from the sleigh to the big red man and watching him squeeze down chimneys, and tiptoe through open doors to fill expectant pillowcases and stockings. Big snowflakes started falling again on the nearly empty sleigh and the weary reindeer turned homeward. Just three presents remained at the big red man’s feet.

‘We’d better get you home before you are missed’ he said, echoing Athelstan. ‘You know how the Floppy Haired Boy gets up extra early on Christmas morning to try to catch me out!’ he added with a twinkle in his eye. The united team of reindeer landed softly in the back garden on the decking. I glanced up anxiously at the bedroom window in case there was a nose pressed against it, awoken by the sound of sleigh bells, but I needn’t have worried. ‘Take these then’ said the big red man as he lifted me down and handed me the three remaining parcels.

‘Wait!’ I called as I disappeared with the smallest two presents through the trapdoor and came back with one of the Smiley Lady’s rock cakes which she had left out for Father Christmas, and a handful of carrots for the reindeer. ‘Not more carrots!’ Dasher muttered under his breath and the other reindeer shushed him. ‘Do us a favour little pup: tell the children we like sultanas, we’re a bit carrotted out!’ said Venus. The other reindeer nodded in agreement. The big red man brushed the crumbs from his white beard, bent down and patted me on the head and then climbed back up into the driver’s seat.

‘You saved Christmas little pup! Thank you!...Merry Christmas!’ I watched from the decking as they ascended over the rooftops, turning North East towards Lapland. I turned to go indoors and saw the awkwardly shaped third parcel nestled in the snow. It was long and had knobbly bits on one side and was proving tricky to shove through the trapdoor. I turned it on its side and navigated it through the bottles of cleaning fluid, only knocking one bottle over. Thankfully the lid was on tightly. I hoped no-one heard. At last I turned in a circle in my basket, snuggling down comfortably for the remainder of Christmas Eve. I was tired. Dog tired.

Almost as soon as I had closed my eyes, the kitchen door flew open and the Floppy Haired Boy sprang into the kitchen shouting ‘Merry Christmas Rolo!’ and flipping me over for a belly rub. As he let me out into the white garden, he was oblivious to my reluctance to go, and I suddenly realised the imprint of the sleigh and reindeer hoofmarks were clearly visible on the decking. Then I heard a shriek from the kitchen, ‘A new skateboard!’ he shouted.

The Smiley Lady appeared at the door with a towel to dry my paws. She was wearing her fluffy dressing gown and rubbing the sleep from her eyes and clutching her present from Father Christmas: a chocolate reindeer with real bell round its neck on a ribbon. I just knew I’d be wearing that later! ‘Come on in Rolo, there’s one for you!’ she called.

‘Why did Father Christmas leave the presents in the kitchen?’ The Floppy Haired boy wondered out loud. ‘Probably because he couldn’t get into your messy bedroom!’ the Smiley Lady laughed. My present contained a very smart new collar with a shiny crystal mounted in it. She fastened it around my neck and the Floppy Haired Boy took a photo. I thought the crystal might mean something, perhaps a key to new adventure. I had a feeling Athelstan might know. 

N.B. you can find out the significance of Rolo's jewel collar in book 4 of the same name!

Merry Christmas one and all and your furry friends, and don’t forget that reindeer are fed up with carrots!