Chapter 1: Rudy the reluctant reindeer

Introduction:
Rudy the reluctant reindeer

For as long as anyone could remember, winter in Lapland had meant two things – good cheer… and reindeer.

But for Rudy the elk, this time of year was anything but cheery. Every winter, he suffered the humiliation of being mistaken for a reindeer, and every winter, he rued the day his parents had named him Rudolph.

This year, his good cheer was wearing particularly thin. Deep in the woods, he’d been surprised by a photographer from the tourist board and now his image was all over its festive website, advertising reindeer rides with Rudolph.

He wouldn’t mind if the site had said something about visiting the noble elk, but then, tourists didn’t come to Lapland to visit elks. No – they wanted sleigh rides and jingle bells, and as Rudy knew from bitter experience, they wanted reindeer.

In winters past, he’d grudgingly accepted a little festive work, trotting around for tourists with his nose painted red – a real low for the last in a long line of classically trained elks. These days, he had a little more self-respect.

When Rudy logged onto the tourist site, he noticed his nose had been airbrushed, Rudolph-like, to a deep cherry-red. It was time for action. It was time to stand up for his kind.

Rudy packed his bags and prepared for a Grand Tour of Europe through which he’d educate the world about the mighty elk – noblest of beasts, first amongst forest-dwellers, and definitely not the same as the reindeer.

Since he was an elk of superior taste, St Petersburg seemed quite the setting for his grand début. He booked a room at Hotel Astoria, waved a polite farewell to the reindeer, and set off, whistling, for Russia.