First published in I Don't Care What You Smell #2, 1996

Luki: Prince of the Forest

by MJ Mink

It was peaceful and beautiful in the Forest, quiet except for the usual noises, a full orchestra and a humming chorus, on the day that the New Young Prince was first seen. The tiny bluebirds were singing, and the teeny pinkbirds were twittering. The bunnies hopped, sniffling and sniveling and wriggling their noses. Skunks filled the air with their delicate fragrance. Butterflies fluttered over the glade like guardian angels. Squirrels chattered with excitement and threw nuts into the peanut gallery. Huge owls hooted, geese honked, ducks quacked and birds of prey circled in anticipation. Pigs grunted and elephants trumpeted. Horses whinnied and red snappers snapped. Everything that was capable of making a noise, did. So little Luki was born with his front hooves clasped firmly over his wee pointed ears.

Mama Penguin was the first to notice the new arrival. She strolled over to Mudder Dear and inspected the fuzzy bundle. "What is it?" she exclaimed.

Mudder Dear nuzzled the newborn Young Prince. "It's the New Young Prince of the

Forest," she explained sweetly.

Word of the birth spread rapidly, and soon all the animals of the Forest appeared to pay their respects. Eventually Luki awakened and yawned widely, his tiny, perfect white teeth sparkling in the midday sun.

Without opening his eyes, he nuzzled the warm body next to him, closed his tiny mouth and began to suckle. The animals watched in silent reverence as the New Young Prince devoured his first meal. When Luki's stomach was full, he lifted his head and hiccoughed.

"Whatcha gonna call him?" called a voice from the back of the crowd.

"I'm going to call him Luki," Mudder Dear said solemnly. "No one knows it, but that was the name of his father."

"When's he gonna open his eyes?"

Luki's ears perked up. He heard something! His ears were filled with oooh's and aaah's. Very slowly, he lifted his long, heavy lashes and looked around.

"Lookit his eyes, Mommy! They're almost as big as his head! And BLUE!"

"That's because he's the New Young Prince of the Forest, Felene. His eyes, clear and purposeful as they are, set him apart from all other dear. He's a miracle! He is the Dear for whom we've been waiting! He's our Only Hop!"

Luki lifted his head in response to the compliment. "Hel-lo," he said bashfully.

All the animals responded with more oooooh's, aaaaw's, singing, twittering, sniffling, sniveling, chattering, hooting, honking, quacking, grunting, trumpeting, whinnying and snapping. Luki whimpered and crossed his front legs over his ears.

"I think Luki needs some quiet now. Why don't you all run along home," Mudder Dear said, kindly but regally.

One animal remained, gawking at Luki in fascination. "Hi."

Luki uncrossed his legs and lifted his huge eyes up and up. "Hi. What're you?"

"I'm a bantha!" The big quadruped leaped straight into the air and came back down. The ground shook. "They call me Thudder! Betcha know why!"

Luki whimpered. "You hurt my ears," he whined.

Thudder shook his shaggy hair. "Sorry, Luki. I'm gonna be your Best Friend."

"How come?"

"'Cause I'm BIGG! An' I'll beat up anybody who makes fun of your eyes!"

"Okay." Luki yawned, his gigantic eyelids drooping. He began to snore.

"Is he goin' t'sleep now, Missus Mudder Dear?" Thudder asked plaintively. "I wanted t'play."

"You can play with Luki later, Thudder." She nuzzled her offspring with her nose, blowing into the soft fur. "Right now the New Young Prince of the Forest needs to sleep."

"'Kay. Bye! See ya later, Luki!" Thudder called as he trod heavily away.

All was again peaceful and beautiful in the Forest. Mudder Dear raised her head and stared at a distant ridge as if she saw someone there.

* * *

"Mudder! Mudder! Thudder!" Luki called pathetically. He ran in circles until he'd made a bloody track in the snow. He paused to wipe the jogger off his hooves. "Mudder! Thudder! Mudder! Thudder!"

Luki sighed. He was alone in the Forest. His Mudder was gone. He'd been abandoned, deserted, orphaned and left friendless, all in one morning. It was not one of his better days. He raised his face to the sky and bleated, trying to imitate the trumpeting he'd heard the elephants make, but he was too small for the sound to be impressive.

"What the Sitka is that pitiful noise supposed to be?"

Luki jumped because the question was very loud--as loud as he hoped to be some day. Then he shivered in dread and looked around. Something menacing was in the Forest. A great, huge, gigantic, really-really big Dear stood on a nearby ridge looking down at him. The Dear was an awesome sight, and Luki watched him awefully. Forked antlers towered above the enormous Dear's head, something faintly ominous in their structure. They reminded Luki of lightning, but upside down.

"M-mudder?" Luki asked querulously.

"What, are you blind?" the Dear demanded. "I'm not your Mudder! I'm a Stud! I'm your


"YOU?" Luki shrieked. "You can't be my Vadder! My Vadder is big and strong, a hero whose name used to be Luki!"

"So what am I?" the deep voice grumbled. "Chopped liver?"

Luki began to cry. "I don't know what chopped liver is!"

"Liver matters not. All you need to know is that your Mudder can't be with you any more."

Luki sniffled. "I don't remember my Mudder!" he wailed. "I never knew her!"

"Of course you knew--" The Great Dear stopped and shook his massive head. "You don't get your brains from the Foresthopper side of the family," he pronounced darkly.


The gaze was unreadable, almost as if the Dear wore a mask. "I was once Luki Foresthopper," he said heavily, "as you are now. One day, you will be as I am."

"Huh?" Luki's mouth dropped open. "Be as you are what?"

"Never mind, son. You must come with me now. It is your Destiny."

"I'll never come with you!" he exclaimed, just to be difficult. "And my Destiny is none of your business!"

Vadder laughed ominously and foretellingly. "You will and it is. I am not only your Vadder, but I am Vadder, Prince of the Forest and Dark Lord of the Sitka. And YOU are the Young Dark Lord of the Spruce."

"Spruth!" Defiantly, Luki faced Vadder. "I don't believe you! You're not my Vadder! And I'm no Spruthie! Ben would have told me--"

"Ben? BEN!" Vadder galloped off the ridge and halted beside him, glaring, his eyes flashing lightning that made Luki squeak in dismay and hop around to avoid it. "Ben Uni-Horn? Luki, have you been playing Reindeer Games?"

"Oh, no, Vadder!" Luki exclaimed. He accepted the truth that Vadder was his Vadder, because something in the name seemed familiar. "Mudder told me NEVER to play Reindeer Games! I haven't, honestly, really, truly! Please don't punish me!"

"You must be punished, my offspring," the tall, dark Dear said ponderously. "Believe me, this hurts me more than it does you. is your Destiny."

With that, looking nothing like his Destiny, Vadder bent his head and pawed the ground with his front hooves. Luki gulped when he saw those huge, ominous antlers heading straight for him, but he held his courageous, doomed stance.

"I'm the New Young Prince of the Forest," he cried, "and I'm brave and strong and-- EEEEEEEEEEK!"

* * *

Luki realized that he must have been unconscious since he didn't remember anything after flying through the air. When he revived, night had fallen on him. He struggled from beneath its dark weight, wondering what damage his Vadder had done. "Vadder?" he asked tentatively.

There was no reply. He was alone in the Forest again. An orphan, abandoned, deserted and left friendless for the second time in one day!

He staggered to his feet. His blue eyes were so huge and bright that they acted as flashlights. Carefully he examined his body for marks. Finally, his eyes focused on his hooves and he shrieked. "No! NO! NOOOOOOOO!" Tears came to his mammoth eyes. "My nails! He broke my nails!"

Sobbing, Luki flung himself to the ground. Fortunately, night was already there, so he rebounded off it and remained upright on his crippled feet. "Oh, Sitka!" he exclaimed angrily. "Mudder! I need you! My nails, my nails--look what he's done to my nails, Ma!"


He swiveled his head around. "Who's there?"


He stamped all four hooves on the snowy ground, ignoring the squeak of ragged nails on its blackboard-like surface. "I said, who's there?! This is the Young Prince of the Forest you're talking to, so quit fooling around and answer me!"

"It's me, kid. Thudder." The Forest parted, revealing a big, shaggy quadruped much like himself, only different.

"Th-Th-Th-Thudder?" Luki stuttered. "What happened to you? You look different. You look like someone else entirely!"

"I'm all grown up now, kid, that's what different. I been a lotta places and seen a lotta things. But I never seen nothin' like the Forest."

"You're talking funny." Luki's ears drooped forlornly. "Are you still my best friend?"

"'Course I am, kid," Thudder said with a roguish tilt to his head. "And I guess I'm gonna be spending more of my time gettin' your tail out of trouble."

His tail perked up at the mention of its name. It shone white and shiny in the moonlight that had miraculously appeared. "My TAIL'S not in trouble! It's my NAILS."

"Oh, nails. Sorry. I got a message through the Forest, and it wasn't too clear. What's the problem with your nails?"

"I...I broke them." Luki hated lying to his best friend, but he just couldn't tell Thudder the truth, he just COULDN'T!!! He couldn't tell anyone that Vadder was his Vadder! "I'm so ashamed, so embarrassed, so humiliated, so mortified--"

"So get a dearicure." Thudder shrugged. "Chill out, kid. Sitka happens. Especially when you play Reindeer Games."

"I do NOT play Reindeer Games!" Luki shrieked. "Why does everybody keep saying that?"

* * *

The sun peeked shyly between towering inferno trees. Luki stirred, wakened by the sudden arrival of spring and a change in the background music. Without opening his eyes, he nuzzled the warm belly next to his nose, closed his mouth and began to suckle.

All at once, he was flying through the air! He landed hard on the ground. Dazed, he turned his head in a circle. "Huh?" Luki asked piteously. "Wha' happened?"

A dark shadow eclipsed the sun, causing shivers to run along Luki's fragile body. Ominous antlers were outlined against the sky. "What the Sitka do you think you're doing?"

Luki drew back from the booming sound, covering his little ears with his back hooves. "Mudder?" he asked, confused.

"Mudder? Are you blind? I'm your Vadder, and I asked what you were doing!"

"Oops." Luki's front hooves slipped down over his face. One giant blue orb peeked around them. Then it turned red with embarrassment. "Sorry. Wrong parent."

"I should hope so. We'll have none of THAT, Luki." Vadder scowled at him. "You promised you would never play Reindeer Games!" he said accusingly.

"I HAVEN'T!" Luki screeched. "Honest! Those are just ugly rumors! I'd like to get my hooves on whoever made up that story!"

"Very well. I accept your word, my son. Now, how about a little horseplay with your old Dear?"

THAT was exactly what had gotten him into trouble with the Reindeer, but Luki decided it wouldn't be tactful to mention it to his Vadder. "Sure, Vad!" he exclaimed, untwisting his legs and scrambling to his feet.

They butted playfully for awhile. Luki giggled as he darted back and forth behind his Vadder, circling around, scampering just out of reach of the pointed antlers.

"Hold still! We're supposed to be duelling!" Vadder exclaimed. "This isn't funny!"

"Sure it is!" Shrieking in merriment, he butted his Vadder's rear.

"SITKA!" his Vadder yelled.

Luki found himself flying through the air once more! He closed his eyes, anticipating the impact.

It never came.

He opened his monumental blue eyes. The entire Forest was upside down. "Vadder? You're a Great Dear, so tell me--why is the Forest upside down?"

Vadder was upside down, too. "That does it. This winter you're going to school." He sighed. "The Forest isn't upside down, Luki. You are."

"Oh." He considered that, wondering if his Vadder was telling him the truth. He wriggled his feet a little. They flopped down and curled on his belly. He wriggled his head, but only his body moved. "What's goin' on? Hey! I'm STUCK!"

His head wasn't on the ground! Frantic, Luki tried to look at the top of his head, but his jumbo blue eyes couldn't roll that far. "Vadder? VADDER! Help me--pleeeeeeease!"

"Stop that whining!" Vadder stomped his prosthetic hoof.

"But I don't understand what's happened to me!"

"You're stuck on your antlers."

"Huh?" Luki asked in bewilderment. "What antlers?"

"The ones on top of your head. For Sitka's sake, don't you ever look at yourself in the lake?"


"Well, next time check before you go butting your Vadder in the--" Vadder nuzzled his nose against the ground below Luki's head and sniffed. "Oh, for Sitka's sake! You're really stuck now! Those antlers are a good three inches in the ground. Probably your best three inches, too," he added in an aside to the interested animal audience that had crept up on them.

Luki sniffled. "What do I do now, Vadder?"

"So...." Vadder laughed ominously. "You have finally decided to accept the truth."

"Huh?" Luki asked pitifully. "Vadder, what do you--"

"THAT name no longer has any meaning."

"Huh?" Luki repeated sadly. "Vadder, please. What should I do? I'm trapped here. There IS no escape."

Vadder paced away, carrying his tormented conversation with him. Through the spruces, a whisper began, borne through the air by pink and blue birds. USE THE FOREST, the whisper said. USE THE FOREST!

Use the Forest? What did that mean? Luki pondered the mysterious words while he considered his life, his Destiny, the cosmic scope of the universe, and how they all intertwined.

The ground shook. Thudder appeared, upside down like everyone else.

"Thudder? I don't know what to do," Luki whimpered. "Everyone's telling me to Use the Forest, but I don't know what that means."

"Get a grip, kid. Look, you're the Forest's Only Hop. Doesn't that give you a clue?"

"Nuh-uh," Luki denied.

"Oh, for--" Thudder lowered his head. "Look, kid," he mumbled out of the side of his mouth, "you're the Young Prince. It's your Destiny. Use the Forest. You're the Only Hop. Hop. Get it? Hop. But don't tell 'em I told you so."

"Wow!" Luki was impressed with his friend's uneducated resourcefulness and native ingenuity, though he wondered why everyone kept talking about his Destiny. "I've got it!" he exclaimed. He tucked his legs inward, coiled his muscles, and HOPPED! After doing three mid-air somersaults, he did a roll 'n' tuck on the ground and landed on his hooves.

The Forest applauded. The chorus returned, humming like a hive of aroused bees. Luki bowed and graciously accepted a diamond tiara and two dozen long-stemmed red roses. He was proud, yet somehow humbled by the greatness of the Forest and his insignificant but important place in it. He was Someone. He was the New Young Prince, he was Luki in Charge. He was the Greatest! He was Lord of the Spruce, Master of the Forest, Leader of the Pack! Someday he might even be like his Vadder!

Proudly he lifted his head and stared at the majestic bluff. Vadder stood atop it, ominous antlers outlined across the sky, cape billowing in the sudden gust of wind. Then the massive figure slowly faded into the Forest.

"Everything I need to know, I learned from my Vadder," Luki announced happily. "And now I must leave you to pass on what I have learned to my offspring."

A new era had dawned. No longer did Luki have to be the Forest's Only Hop. The long-prophesied, long-awaited time had finally arrived.

He set off on the well-traveled trail. It was time to find that cute Destiny Reindeer again and teach her a new Game.