Christmas Serial in 25 parts
for good boys and girls everywhere
Story by Steve Englehart Art by Joe Staton
December 23: The Plan
Rustle and Nick were still standing outside Nick's workshop at the North Pole, as Nick told the story of his life since they'd last seen each other. Despite himself, Rustle found himself fascinated by the person's adventures -- which was just the way Nick wanted it.
"The little boat I'd hollowed out for myself in Siberia carried me across what's now known as the Bering Strait, from the very tip of Russia to the very tip of North America. For three hundred years after landing there I continued to make my way eastward, helping the scattered bands of people I met along the way. With my thick, cold-weather clothing and the bag of marvels I'd brought from Europe and Asia on my back, I was considered a wondrous being. I became known to the people as the Reindeer-Man in the north, the Buffalo-Man on the plains, and the Whale-Man at the oceans. It was at the end of the tenth century that I first came to the Atlantic Ocean, and found my way blocked again. For nearly twenty years I wandered up and down the coast, looking for another land to cross to. Since the Atlantic, unlike the Bering Strait, is 2600 miles across, it's hardly surprising that I never found it. The idea of moving north had not yet come to me -- east was where I wanted to go, and it seemed that I couldn't.
"But then, in the autumn of 1017, while I was living with the people of what's now Newfoundland, a band of Vikings led by Leif Eriksson arrived from Europe.
"They were naturally astounded to find someone there who spoke an ancient version of the Russian languages they were accustomed to hearing when they sailed eastward. At first they decided that they'd sailed around the world, that they'd found the far side of Russia, but once I explained how I'd come to Newfoundland and what a vast distance still lay between them and Russia -- they decided they'd found a land of madmen. So they took me with them as a curiosity when they returned home.
"We arrived in Amsterdam on December 6, 1017, an event which the Dutch and I still celebrate today.
"For fifty years I lingered among the Northmen. They were very different from the men of the Mediterranean, but they shared in the general level of civilization that Europe alone possessed then. In the middle of the eleventh century, I set out to return to my home. Crossing Europe, I met more people than I had met in over a thousand years, and I had many amazing adventures -- but those I can tell you another time. It's enough to say this: can you imagine having people celebrate your existence of 800 years before, with you there to witness it? Out of those days came my European names -- Father Christmas, père Noël, der Weihnachtsmann, and all the others.
"In any event, it was the thirteenth century before I found myself once more in Rome. Of course I was in no danger then, but looking at the prison I had occupied, not in ruins but still very much used, brought something home to me. Just as the land that was Siberia had an ending, so, too, did the land that made up the world itself. I had traveled all the way around it, being, as far as I know, the first man to do so; and I knew it was time to find a place where all the lands I knew were available to me. That place, of course, was the center of the circle I had made: the North Pole.
"I came here nearly 800 years ago. I didn't settle at the absolute top of the world, reasoning (correctly) that other men would seek that point one day, but I came close. Here I rang my bell for the second time in my life, to build my home beneath the ice. Here I found the reindeer which I also made immortal. Here I summoned the elves to my side at last, and from here we make our yearly visits to the good people all around the world."
"I'm glad," Rustle said, and he was. "I'm glad you and the elves have found your place in the world."
"Yes. I've tried to make the most of my opportunities So now, why don't you come on inside with me again, and join me while I make certain everything is ready for my Christmas flight?"
"I I don't think so. I think I'll look around out here a little longer."
"There's not much to see, out here."
Nick put an arm around him. "All right, my friend. Whatever you want to do is fine with me. But I have to see to my work. I can't be late for Christmas, you know! People are counting on me."
"I know. I'll see you before you leave, Nick."
So Santa Claus went back inside, leaving Rustle to the dark and cold. The little tree bent forward a little, into the wind. He couldn't tell Nick why he wasn't happy here. It was so much a part of why Nick was happy here, and Rustle knew enough about Santa Claus that he couldn't do anything to distract that kindly old person. Nick was absolutely right: Santa Claus couldn't be late for Christmas.
But Santa had been happy with the life the silver bell had given him, and Rustle wasn't.
He missed the companionship of other trees. That was clear. If he stayed here, he would be the only -- and a very lonely -- tree.
But on the other branch, he couldn't travel around the world like Nick had. It's one thing to be a wandering person; it's another to be a wandering tree. The persons would never accept him -- he would be considered a freak at best, and be feared, and maybe even burned, at worst. Well, of course, his magic would probably protect him from burning, but the point was, he couldn't go where persons lived.
But on another branch (he now had to admit), there was still a part of him that wanted to travel. He had enjoyed the new worlds that movement had opened up to him. Looking back at it all, even though he'd been scared, he'd enjoyed bopping Yørgøn on the head, and flipping himself onto the horse's tail. He'd been thrilled to become an olive tree, a holly tree, and push out crimson flowers.
And on still another branch (trees have as many as they need, you know), he couldn't forget the pleasure of the peace he'd known when he couldn't move. As much fun as moving was, it was still unnatural to him; dozing in the cool spring rains, the soft summer sun, the brisk autumn winds, and the calm winter snows, year after year after year, was what he was born for.
No wonder he was unhappy. Like a child given too many boxes of candy (I know, that's not possible for you!), he couldn't make up his mind what he wanted. All he knew was, everything was wrong!
But then he heard the crunch of footfalls behind him again, and again it was Nick.
"As long as you're determined to stand out here anyway, you might as well hear a little idea Chiss and Mymla and Melchior and Regina and I had," said Nick with a mischievous grin.
"I don't want to take you away from your work," said Rustle softly. But he couldn't help adding, "What idea?"
"Well," said Nick, "it's like this "
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