Ria ran all the way back to Santa’s Stables.  She couldn’t wait to tell Duck about her trip down the glacier.  He was chatting with Brojo, the train station master, when she found him.

          “I don’t know much about engine repair, myself,” Duck was saying, “but Smitty can . . .”

          “Duck!” Ria said.

          “Smitty’s your elf.” Duck ignored Ria.  “He knows more about machinery than anyone.”

          Brojo grinned.  “I should have thought --”

          “Hey, Duck,” Ria persisted.

          “Ria, you’re interrupting,” Duck said firmly.

          “I’m sorry, ‘scuse me.”

          “As I was saying, Brojo --”

          “Excuse me, Duck, but I fell all the way down the glacier today.”

          “Ria!” Duck said, exasperated.

          Brojo spun about. “What?  What did you say?”

          “I fell down the glacier.”

          Duck and Brojo stared at Ria.  “Are you okay?” Duck asked.

          “Yep, I’m fine.  Doc came and he dusted me, and I went to the Dispensary, and Zann came to see me and everything.”

          “Slow down, Ria,” Brojo said.

          “What on Earth were you doing on that ice berg?” Duck demanded.

          Ria shared the events of the morning, while Brojo and Duck listened intently.  “And I didn’t even cry,” Ria finished her story.

          “That’s quite an adventure,” Brojo said, buttoning his coat.  “Can I tell Smitty?  I’m on my way to see him.”

          “Tell him I fell all the way down, almost from the top.”

          Duck waved to Brojo and then turned to Ria.  “How are you feeling now?”

          “I’m fine,” she grinned.  “I can help with the reindeer.”

          “Good, because I need your help.  Who would you like to groom?”

          “Comet!” Ria always picked her favorite reindeer.

          “I’ll do Donder.” Duck always picked his favorite, too.  He and Donder both liked gumdrop candy.  The little deer followed him around, hoping for a gumdrop or two.

          Duck brushed Donder, and then checked his hooves.  He strung some jingle bells in Donder’s antlers.  He gave the deer an affectionate swat on his hindquarters. Donder turned his head and looked at Duck.  Tossing a gumdrop into his mouth, Duck grinned slyly and started chewing.  Donder nudged at his elbow.

          “Ya want somethin’?”

          Donder nudged again.

          “Oh, alright.  Here ya go.”  He extended his hand, full of gumdrops.

          Donder eagerly lapped at his palm.

          Duck wiped his hand on his britches and patted Donder on the nose.  “That’s all, little feller.”

          Donder snorted, and followed Duck to the next stall.  Duck quickly brushed Dasher, and moved on.  He didn’t even notice that Ria had disappeared.

          Meanwhile . . .

          “Fly,” Ria whispered into Comet’s ear. He leapt into the air. Ria hugged his neck tightly as he soared through the starry sky.  “Wheee,” she squealed.

          Comet glided to the ground. Ria slid off his back and rubbed his neck.  “Thank you, Comet,” she whispered. She started leading Comet toward the stables.

          “Ria,” Duck called.

          “Here I am.”

          "Where have you been?”

          “Playing with Comet.” Ria put him in his stall.

          “While I groomed all the reindeer!”

          “Not Comet!”

          “No, not Comet,” Duck sighed. “You’ve been disappearing a lot lately.”

          “I like to play with Comet.”

          “It’s okay if you play, but you have to do your chores first.”

          Ria hung her head. “Gee, I’m sorry, Duck. I forgot.”

          “That’s okay. Just clean the stalls.”

          Ria grabbed the broom and began sweeping.  She loved making a comfortable home for Santa’s reindeer. She dumped the dustpan and smiled at Duck. “What should I do now?”

          “Put feed in the troughs, and I’ll throw some hay in the stalls.”

          Ria went for some grain and Duck smiled gratefully. For centuries, he had worked alone at Santa’s Stables. The job was satisfying, but getting very tough for the elder elf.  He was thrilled when Santa sent Ria to help him. He mainly trained and supervised, while she did most of the hard work.  She had a good attitude, although she was a little mischievous and a bit of a nag. Duck enjoyed her company, though.

          "Do you want me to get some water, too, Duck?” Ria interrupted his thoughts.

          “Is it time to give the deer water?”

          Ria thought for a moment. “Yes, I’m supposed to give them water when I feed them.”

          “Then, yes, I want you to get water.” Duck just shook his head.

          “Then what?”

          “Then, we’ll see.”

          Ria took a pail in each hand, and went into the yard to fetch water. The hand pump creaked as she filled each one. Each deer needed an entire bucketful of water, so she made several trips.  She returned the empty pails to their hooks and then looked at Duck.

          He chuckled. “You’re excused.”

          “Can I play with Comet?”

          “Yeah, go on, get outta here. By the way, Ria, you did a good job today.”

          Ria smiled broadly. Then she called to Comet, and took him from the barn before Duck could change his mind.


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