Can a flight instructor and stable manager find love, especially when one is a reindeer shape-shifter and the other is Santa's relative?
Lester is a flight instructor. Humboldt is the village stable master. After Humboldt suggests something that helps two of Lester's students, they begin the journey both have wanted but hadn't taken the chance to start.
It's a month before Christmas and Humboldt's Uncle Nick needs a reluctant Lester to once again join his team for the holiday. Humboldt has Miriam doing her best to get between the two.
With the village behind them, and family encouraging both of them, can the two find lasting love? The reindeer shape-shifter with a secret, and St. Nick's (Yes, we mean Santa Claus) Austrian relative?
Humboldt Winter looked out of the stable feeding room window and watched the beginning of the new flight training session.
Flight training. One of the many things he hadn’t known about until he moved to the village. It was fascinating to watch, but Humboldt inwardly acknowledged that he was really watching the trainer, who was also fascinating.
Lester Brandt was easy on the eyes. At five and a half feet tall, lean and with a dancer’s build, Lester’s brown eyes almost glowed when he talked about training the young to fly. His long brown hair was pulled back into a tail today. Humboldt had begun watching Lester soon after he came to the village.
When Humboldt had arrived at the village six months ago, he hadn’t known what to expect. Being invited to visit his Great-Uncle Nick and Aunt Martha had been an unexpected joy. Being invited to move to the village? Fantastic. He had needed to get away from the humdrum life he’d been living in Austria.
Now, as the person in charge of feeding and caring for the caribou herd and other farm animals that lived in the village, Humboldt believed he had a new purpose in life. A use for his animal husbandry degree, which had been going to waste in Zell am See. And a feeling of family that had been missing since he had lost his parents.
Meeting Lester, with his laughing eyes and dimples when he smiled, was another reason to stay. Humboldt had dated, and been in one long-term relationship, but Lester made him feel more.
The few times Lester had entered the stable, Humboldt had been covered in hay or worse. Taking care of animals was not a clean job in any sense. Also, the lead sheep had decided Humboldt was hers and the small flock followed him everywhere when they weren’t penned up. She had also tried to butt Lester when he had stepped close to Humboldt one time.
If he could only get Lester to pay attention to him. Not just as one of Nick’s Great-Greats. That’s what the inhabitants of the village called relatives of St. Nick/Kris Kringle/Santa Claus, who came to live at the North Pole. The Great-Greats.
Humboldt looked out the window again. Maybe the flight school attendees could use a snack. And, maybe the instructors would like something to drink.
Lester stood back and watched the newest class gather to begin take-off training. His assistant, Drury, was in the middle of the students, doing his best to keep them quiet and not purposely knock each other into the snow banks. It was a losing battle.
“Boys! And Girls.” Lester smiled and waved at the two females who were in the class of twelve. They giggled. “You need to listen to Drury. He is the best assistant I’ve ever had and knows what he’s doing.”
That seemed to do the trick. Now the students were looking at Drury with a bit of awe. Drury puffed up a bit at the praise.
“Line up along the edge of the field everyone. We’ll have the whole length of that space to get a good run and jump.” Drury herded the class closer to where Lester stood.
They both needed to assess the students from the first class to the final flights. Only certain students had the traits they needed for the premium jobs they were training for. Santa needed reindeer who could work as a team. No grandstanders or trouble-makers.
Lester began to speak as he walked along the line. “Remember. Not everyone takes off on the first try.” That quieted the students. “Which does not mean you will not make the team eventually. It took me three tries before I had my first clean lift-off.”
Some of the kids looked relieved. And they were just that. Kids. Lester and Drury swore the classes got younger every year.
Lester stopped in front of the class. “This is your first chance to show Drury and I how you are not only in flying, but in getting along with others and taking orders. Remember, there are eight reindeer and Rudolph up in the air together every year. Everyone needs to do their part in the team.”
“All right now. Everyone shift into your furs,” Drury said. “I’ll show you how it’s done as Lester explains.”
And suddenly, there were twelve young bucks and does and one older reindeer with an impressive rack. Lester, still in human form, looked over the group, differentiating the markings on the students.
Floyd had a darker chest then the other males. Daphne had no markings at all. Jimmy had a black ring around his left eye. The ones he and Drury were going to have difficulties with were the West twins, Bruce and Wayne. Even in shifted form they were identical, with bat shaped brown masks over their eyes. Now the names made sense.
“As you know, we fly by magic,” Lester began. “But, it’s not like we wave a hoof or nod our heads and suddenly we’re flying. We have to physically leap into the air and use our instincts to guide our bodies while up there.” He pointed across the field. “What I want you to do is run to the middle of the field and jump as high as you can. While you are in the air, concentrate on the feel of the wind. The closeness of the sky. Feel yourself between the Earth and the Heavens.” Lester looked at the deer. “We are Santa’s reindeer, using the air to make our way to other places, letting the updrafts in the air help us to fly.”
The students were staring out at the long, flat, snow field. Some of them looked nervous.
“Remember to keep running after you jump. You need to keep moving through the air. And don’t close your eyes.” Lester added. “Everyone must see where they are going. No crashes.”
A couple of the caribou snorted. “No need to laugh. It happens,” Lester said. “We’ve had a good crash or two on this training field.”
Drury joined him in front of the kids.
“Ready?” Lester asked. The students nodded. “Go for it.”
Drury turned and with a shake of his antlers, began running.
All eyes were on the deer as it ran to the middle of the field and leaped into the air. The leap carried it a few feet into the air, and as the deer continued running, he traveled higher and higher. Drury flew to the end of the field, turned and made his way back, over the heads of the class.
“Remember, keep running. If you don’t make it on the first try, do not worry about it.” Lester turned and looked at the students in line. “If you start falling, keep running. Land on your feet, if possible, and run the landing out. That way there’s less likelihood of any injury.”
The kids nodded their heads while still watching Drury fly around the field. A few pawed the ground.
“Landing after your flight.” Lester moved back in front of the class. He signaled Drury to come down. “Watch him begin his landing. See how he starts slowing his run? At the same time, Drury is feeling a downdraft in the wind.”
They watched as the deer came closer to the ground. His legs were still moving, and he continued to move them as he touched down. Then Drury trotted to stand next to Lester.
“The first time you begin to land, don’t stop moving your legs. If you do, you will drop very fast. Gravity is real,” Lester said. “Concentrate on the wind and the air. Feel it lower you to the ground. Feel it continue to guide you, even when you are on land.” Lester looked at the hopeful eyes of the deer in front of him. “Best of luck to all of you.”
“We’ll start at this end of the line.” Lester pointed to the nearest doe, Caprice. She was also the smallest deer in this class.
Caprice swallowed. Her eyes opened wide and she shook herself. Daphne, the other female student, gave her a little nudge on the shoulder for encouragement.
“Remember, keep running,” Lester said to her. “Think of the wind and the air. Picture yourself up in the sky.”
The little doe started running. As she approached mid-field, Caprice leaped into the air.
Lester held his breath for the little female. He watched her take-off. Good forward motion.
Caprice stayed in the air for a good ten seconds before starting to sink. Her legs had slowed down.
“Keep running!” Lester shouted. “Caprice! Move those hooves!”
Caprice shook her head and ran. She started lifting higher into the sky. The other students on the ground began pawing the ground and calling. Lester was happy the others were cheering Caprice on.
As the flying reindeer looped around the end of the snow field and came overhead, Lester could almost feel the joy and excitement Caprice was radiating. One of the joys of training first time flyers.
Two hours later, Lester was experiencing one of the frustrations of training first time flyers.
The twins. Neither of them could get off the ground. This was Wayne’s third try. Bruce had taken five turns, but had never gotten off the ground any higher than his jump.
As Wayne once again jumped and came straight back to Earth, Lester heard a throat clear behind him. He turned to find Humboldt, one of St. Nick’s Great-Greats standing near him. The one Great-Great he’d been watching. And wanting.
Blond haired and green eyed, the man stood eye to eye with Lester. But only when Lester was wearing his heeled boots. Muscular from working in the stable, but not muscle bound. And Humboldt always had a smile on his face.
Right now, the smile was small and sympathetic as Humboldt looked at the twins.
“Hummer.” Lester greeted the man. “Did you bring us some snacks?” He indicated the hamper sitting next to the Austrian’s feet.
His gaze ran from the boots on Humboldt’s feet up to the scarf around his neck. Lester met the green eyes and smiled. Maybe this time he would ask Humboldt out. And maybe, if he was lucky, the answer would be yes.
“There are cookies and hot chocolate for when you are finished,” Humboldt said. He cleared his throat. “May I suggest something about the twins?”
“If it helps get them into the air, I will gladly listen.” Lester looked back at the two deer with their heads hanging. He hated when any of the students were feeling down.
“The boys do everything together. Everything.” Humboldt emphasized. “Maybe they need to fly together.”
Lester frowned for a moment, considering the idea. “It’s worth a try. I hope it works. Thanks, Hummer.” He turned and made his way to the twin bucks.
Lester could hear the mumbling behind him. “I hate that name. I’m not a truck.” He held in the grin that came to his lips.
“Boys, I want you to try something for me.” Lester put his hands on the deers’ shoulders. They lifted their heads. He could see sadness and worry in their eyes.
“You two do basically everything together, right?”
Two identical heads nodded, mirroring each other.
“Maybe we need to have both of you try to take off at the same time,” Lester said.
Both deer heads cocked at the same angle as Bruce and Wayne looked hopefully into Lester’s eyes. Their own eyes began to brighten. They glanced at each other and Lester could swear they were grinning.
“Drury!” Lester called across the field. “The twins are going to try to fly at the same time.”
In human form again, Drury waved his understanding. He herded the other reindeer farther back to the edge of the snow field.
Lester took the boys to the end of the field and stood in front of them. “I need you guys to concentrate. Think about flying before you start your run.” The deer nodded. “Also, keep a few feet apart. I don’t want you to knock each other off balance when you get airborne. Good luck boys. I know you can do it.” Lester headed back to stand beside Humboldt.
The twins looked at each other for a long moment. They nodded, and faced the length of the field. Both pawed the ground and started running. As the twins reached the center of the field, they leaped into the air.
Their hooves kept moving and they began rising into the air.
“Go, boys! That’s the way!” Lester shouted, hands waving in the air.
The other deer began calling. Drury cheered. Humboldt yelled.
Lester grinned at the twins flying over the field. He reached his arm around Humboldt’s shoulders in a quick hug.
Bruce and Wayne looped around the field twice.
“You can almost feel how happy they are,” Humboldt said in awe as he watched the twins fly through the sky.
“One of the best things about training the young,” Lester said softly. “They basically project their happiness. It’s a great feeling, watching each first flight.”