Christmas Serial in 25 parts
for good boys and girls everywhere
Story by Steve Englehart Art by Joe Staton
December 11: Ice
The three friends hurried to get out of sight of the village, so that Rustle could drop his coat and hat and scarf. It was still snowing, harder if anything, but he wanted his limbs free, and open to the light. Despite all the magic within him, he remained a tree, with a tree's needs. More than that, he had a tree's love of peace and quiet, and the events in the village had shaken him more than he cared to admit. Not just the discovery of Nick's disappearance from the minds and memories of the persons who walked there, but the presence of the persons themselves.
Where he had sprouted and grown in the north woods, persons appeared only occasionally. The coal miners had stayed the longest, but their grove (their camp) had been farther down the valley, where even their ugly machines could be forgotten for days at a time. The other persons who came simply walked on by, enjoying their sight of Rustle and Bumpyhead and the others. So Rustle's time in the streets of the outpost was the first time he'd been surrounded by so many of those walking, talking creatures, and it had made him think, for the first time since he'd left it, of the quiet and solitude in his birthplace. This desolate glacier was nothing like his woods, but it was much closer to it than the town.
Remembering that this had all begun because he was eager to escape his hillside brought a wry shrug to his limbs. He could only hope that his second encounter with Yørgøn would let him, and the world that once had known and loved "Santa Claus," find the peace that they all desired.
But first they had to find Yørgøn.
"His trail is very, very fresh now," said Chiss, who was forced once again to ride on Mymla's shoulders, but kept jumping down to make certain they continued in the right direction. "We're right behind him now!"
"If this snow gets any worse," said Mymla, who bore her burden with only a little complaining, "we could run right over him and never even know it."
"Can't you melt the snow away, Chiss?" Rustle asked. It was getting hard to make progress, even for someone with roots spread out in all directions.
"I wish I could," Chiss replied, clambering back atop Mymla. "But there's so much of it now, I'd wear myself out."
"So instead, you'll wear me out," sighed Mymla.
"Can you really keep following his trail if you don't melt the snow?" Rustle asked, growing a little concerned. "You could do it when snow wasn't falling on top of it, but this is turning into a blizzard." Rustle looked around them and saw the same white desolation in all directions. "And even if you can, we'll have to be able to follow the trail back again, to get off this ice."
"I thought of that," answered Chiss. "Look what I got in the village." He pulled out a brightly-colored plastic bag, along with a roll of fishing line.
"What is it?" asked Rustle.
"Popcorn," said Chiss proudly.
"He's just a tree," Mymla reminded Chiss gently.
"Don't I know it," muttered Chiss. "Well, Rustle, popcorn is what persons use to make strings with at Christmastime -- that and cranberries. I can pop this corn and push it onto this line, to make a string we can lay out as we go. Even if the snow covers it, we'll be able to pull it up and follow it when we need to follow it back."
"Cranberries " said Rustle musingly. "I didn't know about them before, but when I think about them now, I do. So I can grow them and make the string go even farther." He began to produce the little red fruits on all his branches, which he lowered so Mymla could pick them off; meanwhile, Chiss held the bag of corn in his hands and began a hearty pop! pop! pop!
And so they made their way onward, leaving the colorful markers behind. Even though the snow storm did get worse, Rustle didn't worry any longer.
The glacier sloped slightly upward as it led back into the mountains. It was important to make sure each foot or root was placed firmly before trusting any weight to it; a slip could send the slipper sliding a hundred yards. Wherever the ice was split by wind or weather, a pale blue color showed from below -- the color of water, Mymla explained.
They were only halfway through the bag of popcorn when they heard a voice calling them on the wind across the wasteland. "Hallooo! Halloooo !"
"What's that?" asked Mymla.
"I don't know," said Chiss. "But it's not a gnome's voice, that's for certain."
The voice called out again, closer this time: "Hallooo, Rustle! Hallooo, Chiss!"
"It knows us," said the tree, astonished. "Here in the middle of all this emptiness."
"I'm sure it's not Yørgøn," Chiss insisted. "Might as well see who it is." And before they could debate it, he called out an answer: "Here we are! Here!"
Almost at once, a huge shape appeared before them, looming suddenly out of the white. In the first moment, Rustle was reminded of their first encounter with Melchior, and in the second, he thought it was the moose again. But in the third, he saw it was another antlered beast.
"I'm Regina, a reindeer," said the newcomer, "queen of the ice as my cousin Melchior is king of the forest. He called to me and told me you might come this way; my herd and I have been looking for you."
"That's wonderful," said Rustle, "but -- he called to you? I didn't hear anything and it's quite a far distance."
Regina lifted her antlers toward the sky. "Just as your kind is connected through the Spirit in the Bark, so is our kind through the Spirit in the Horns. He can send me his thoughts, and I can hear them as clearly as I can hear you."
"Good for Melchior!" said Rustle. "I knew he wouldn't forget us. Then you know we're looking for a gnome with a silver bell?"
"Not only do I know that," replied Regina, "but I know where he's to be found!"
"Really?" gasped Mymla, delighted.
"Yes. I sent my herd to scout the glacier, and my daughter has discovered him. She called his location to me not five minutes ago."
"Shall I call my herd back together, to meet us there?"
"Then come with me, my journeying friends. You have reached your destination!"
email Rustle, Steve, and Joe! We'd love to hear from you!