“So….” The four of them had been travelling in an awkward silence for the past hour or so. Well, Snufkin, Wirt, and Beatrice had been silent. Greg had been singing little songs and occasionally asking for Wirt’s opinion on something, which he had always replied in a noncommittal sound. Snufkin had caught Beatrice glaring at him more than once, and he wasn’t sure what he’d done, but he had a feeling that it wasn’t much. Maybe even nothing at all. Despite his hatred of the fact, the silence had to be broken at some point, and it seemed that Wirt had decided that that moment needed to be now. “You must be lost too, right?” Snufkin gave Wirt a quizzical look. “I mean, you have to be. Why else would you be going with us to see Adelaide?”
“I hate to admit it, but….yes, I’m lost.” Snufkin said. Greg was humming to himself again, but it was quieter and Snufkin knew he was paying attention to the conversation.
“So, you must be trying to go home too.” Wirt said. “Where exactly do you live?”
“I live everywhere. If I can pitch my tent, I live there. I don’t have a home.” Snufkin said. Beatrice scoffed at him, and he just shrugged. “I am trying to find my way back somewhere though. I don’t have my gear, so there must have been some accident.”
“Where are you trying to go?” Wirt asked.
“Moomin Valley.” He replied simply.
“Alright, can I talk to Wirt and Greg for a moment?” Beatrice said, flying over to land on Greg’s tea kettle hat. Snufkin rolled his eyes, but made his way to one end of the path, while the others went to the opposite end. He knew that Beatrice was going to try and convince the other two to leave him behind. Which suited him just fine. He had a place in mind now, he knew where he could get directions. Beatrice seemed to know how to whisper, but Wirt wasn’t good at it, and Greg didn’t seem to know how to at all.
“We can’t just leave him here!” Greg yelled. Both Wirt and Beatrice shushed him. Snufkin just smiled. He wasn’t surprised after all. He leaned against a tree and pulled out his harmonica. He began to play, leaving the other three to their “mysterious” conversation. Greg soon wandered away from the other two to listen to his tune. He was just playing anything that came to mind, but Greg didn’t seem to mind when the melodies skipped or stopped all together for a new one to take it’s place. Wirt and Beatrice were still huddled, seemingly arguing. Snufkin put away his harmonica and wandered over to them.
“You know, I don’t mind if you don’t want us to travel together. I prefer solitude.” He said. Wirt and Beatrice jumped and turned to face him.
“What? We weren’t talking about ditching you! Don’t be silly!” Wirt fake laughed. Beatrice face palmed, and Snufkin couldn’t help but laugh.
“If we can make our way to the nearest stop on the road, then I can leave you all be. Perhaps we will meet again at Adelaide’s, perhaps we won’t. It doesn’t matter to me.” Snufkin said. Wirt and Beatrice glanced at each other.
“That sounds great!” Beatrice cut Wirt off. Snufkin smiled and nodded.
“Hey! Can you play something else!” Greg exclaimed. Snufkin shook his head, and continued down the path. “Why not?”
“I have nothing to play.” He replied. He could always play Moomin’s song but….it didn’t feel right to play that for three strangers. Especially if he would be leaving them behind soon.
“What if I sang something? Would you play it?” Greg asked.
“Greg, how about we don’t sing? Or play anything? We could focus on walking!” Beatrice said. Snufkin raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. “Why don’t you walk as fast as you can without running? That’s a fun game!”
“Hmm….maybe later.” Greg replied. Snufkin chuckled. “If you won’t play, will you tell me about Moomin Valley?” Now, that was something Snufkin could do.
“Well, Moomin Valley is in the middle of the Lonely Mountains. It is always beautiful, but especially so in spring. There aren’t a whole lot of people there, but the ones that are there and some of the nicest people I have ever met. There’s Sniff, he’s a little greedy, but a tried and true friend. There’s the Snork and Snork Maiden. The Snork is a genius, he’s working on building a flying ship. Snork Maiden is sweet and kind, and very beautiful. There’s my sisters, Little My and Mymble. Mymble is a bit plain, but she’s kind. Little My is always up to no good, but she is very fun because of it. There’s Moomin Mama and Moomin Papa. Moomin Mama is very doting and kind, while Moomin Papa is very smart and well versed in the world. And then there’s….Moomin. He’s my best friend.” Snufkin explained as they traveled down the path. Greg held onto his every word. He glanced behind them and found both Wirt and Beatrice giving him the oddest look.
“Are….are they human?” Wirt asked. Snufkin perked up a bit.
“Is that what you two are? Human?” He asked. Wirt’s eyes went wide, and Beatrice looked a little worried.
“Yeah! What are you?” Greg asked.
“Me? I’m a Snufkin. What else would I be?” He replied. Greg nodded. “And no Wirt, none of them are human. Moomin Mama, Moomin Papa, and Moomin are all, well, Moomin’s. The Snork and Snork Maiden are Snorks, and Sniff is a Sniff. Mymble and Little My are Mumriks. There’s also the Hemulen, and Too-Tikki, although I’m afraid I’m not sure what she is.”
“He’s crazy!” Beatrice muttered under her breath.
“How so?” Snufkin asked.
“Well, I mean, none of those exist! You’re just a funny looking human! And-and, there’s no such thing as a Moomin!” She cried. Snufkin glared at her.
“Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Although, I don’t blame you. I don’t tend to believe things until I’ve seen them myself.” He replied.
“Yeah, okay, sure!” She said, sounding flighty. She landed on Wirt’s shoulder and began to whisper to him. Snufkin’s ears began to burn, but he didn’t need them to do that to know he was being talked about.
“I think your story is great!” Greg piped up.
“It’s not a story Greg, it’s all real.” Snufkin said.
“Woah, really? That’s so cool!” He said. They marched on for another while in silence. Well, mostly silence. Wirt and Beatrice were still talking in hushed tones, but Snufkin didn’t mind. It wasn’t the first time that people hadn’t believed him about Moomin Valley. “Hey, what’s that?” The four of them stopped and looked at what Greg was pointing at. It was a horse drawn buggy with a mound of hay in the back. There was no driver in sight, but there was another smaller path off into the woods, and Snufkin could swear he heard a voice down there. “We should ride it!”
“No way! We don’t know who owns it! We’d at least have to ask first, and we have no idea where it’s going!” Wirt said.
“It’s pointing in the right direction. We could always jump back out, it’s not like it’ll be going fast.” Beatrice said.
“We can’t just get in though! That’s probably illegal.” Wirt replied, biting his lip.
“So?” Snufkin and Beatrice spoke at the same time, and when they met eyes, Snufkin could’ve sworn he saw something pleasant behind the surprise.
“We can’t just break the law!”
“Why not?” Again, Snufkin and Beatrice spoke at once.
“Because-wait, where’s Greg?” Wirt asked. They glanced around, and all saw as Greg’s legs disappeared into the mound of hay. The voice began to get closer, and Snufkin made a dive into the hay. There was a delay, but Wirt jumped in too. “You guys are crazy!” He whispered.
“Beatrice sure seems to think so.” Snufkin replied. Beatrice at least had the decency to look ashamed.
“The Beast is upon me!” The cart jostled as it raced down whatever path they were on now. Snufkin rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help feeling a little anxious. After all, Wirt had taken the time to tell him about the Woodsman’s warning. If there really was a beast in the woods, they had the right to be cautious. Still, it seemed unlikely that a beast would be interested in a cart that, as far as anyone else knew, only contained hay. Greg peeked his head out of the hay, and pulled it in a moment later.
“Greg, is there really a beast out there?” Wirt asked.
“No, the driver’s loony.” Greg said. “I did find a duck though! Do you know how to get eggs from a duck? I’m hungry.”
“We could just eat the duck.” Snufkin suggested. He was beginning to get hungry too after all.
“Raw?” Wirt asked, panic in his voice. Snufkin just shrugged. Wirt made a face, and an odd noise, but he didn’t get the chance to say anything else. The cart rounded a sharp turn, and all the hay went flying off, the four of them included. Snufkin had to spit out a mouthful of hay, but they dug themselves out just fine. None of them even had so much as a scraped knee. “Where are we now?”
“I don’t know, but we aren’t close to Adelaide’s, that’s for sure. That crazy driver took us off course!” Beatrice said, clearly miffed.
“Look! A creepy building!” Greg said, pointing in the distance. Sure enough, there was a creepy building. “The Dark Lantern” the sign read, and Snufkin recognized that it was a tavern right away. It certainly wasn’t an inviting one though. Snufkin caught a glance at a man in the window who was just staring at the four of them with a grim line for a mouth. If Snufkin had been a lesser man, he would of shuddered in fear, or perhaps even panic.
It seemed that Wirt was a lesser man.
“No, no way! We are not going in there! We’ll get kidnapped or….or murdered, or worse!” He said, and Snufkin rolled his eyes.
“We have to go ask for directions.” Beatrice said, authoritatively.
“You guys go! Wait, no, I don’t want to be out here by myself….”
“I’ll go.” Snufkin said, glancing between the tavern and the other three. “That way, I can tell you the directions when I come out and we can split ways.”
“Good! I like that plan!” Beatrice said, flying over to land on Greg’s tea kettle. “We’ll wait over by the horse and-”
“I’m going in, I’m hungry!” Greg said, before running ahead of the rest of them.
“Greg! Wait up!” Wirt called after him, before giving chase. Snufkin sighed, but he couldn’t help smiling as he followed them into the tavern.
Well, tried to follow them. The four of them all ran into the door, but it was jammed by something. Greg pushed on it, but he had no luck. Wirt tried and he got it to budge a bit, but couldn’t open it all the way. “Oh! There’s a dog on the other side.” He said, backing away from the door a bit. Snufkin tried, and he was able to push it open all the way, the moppy dog skidding across the floor. The interior of the tavern was much nicer than the outside, but that might’ve just been because it was warm and dry. There was a small band on a slightly raised platform, and a man up there whistling. There was several people sitting at various tables, but there was an empty one by a small window. Greg made a beeline for it, Snufkin and Wirt right on his tail. Greg sat his frog down on one of the stools.
“You stay here. I’m going to get food.” He said, before wandering off. Beatrice flew over to land on Wirt’s shoulder as he sat down. Snufkin opted to stand, leaning against the wall.
“Who are you?” A squeaky voice asked, and they all looked up. A tall woman in purple was standing there, holding a broom.
“Hi! I was traveling through the woods with these sweet kids and we got a bit turned around. We were wondering if-” Beatrice got cut off by a broom to the face and a scream. Snufkin had to hide a snicker behind his hand. “Hey!”
“No blue birds allowed in my tavern! It’s a bad omen when a blue bird flies through your door!” She said. Snufkin didn’t quite believe that, in fact he’d heard the opposite. Although, maybe Beatrice’s attitude made it different.
“Blue birds are good luck lady! We bring joy and prosperity!” Beatrice squaked. It was useless though, she was just hit with the broom again. This time it knocked Wirt over and Snufkin couldn’t help but laugh at the two of them. Beatrice shot him a glare before lifting off. “That’s it, I’m out of here. Wirt, you’re in charge of getting directions!” She called as she flew out the door.
“What? But-” Wirt was cut off as the door was slammed shut behind Beatrice by the dog. He sighed and stood up to get back on the stool.
“Now, who are you?” The bar keeper asked.
“Oh, um, well I’m Wirt, he’s Greg, and I think that guy is Snufkin?” Snufkin tipped his hat at her.
“No, who are you?” She asked. “See, there’s the Butcher. The Midwife, the Master and Apprentice, the Tailor, the Toymaker, and I’m the Tavern Keeper!” She said, pointing to each person as she introduced them. “Who are you?”
“Oh. Oh, well I’m just….I’m sort of just me. I don’t like labels.” Wirt said.
“I’m hungry!” Greg piped up. He was holding two empty plates, and Snufkin wasn’t sure if he had polished them off, or if he had found two empty plates.
“And what about your friend over there?” The Tavern Keeper asked, pointing to Snufkin. Now, he wasn’t a huge fan of labels either, but he was sure that these people would only bug him about it.
“A vagabond.” He replied simply, pulling his hat down to hide his eyes. There was a murmur through the tavern , before a low but clear voice cut through them all.
“I’m the Highwayman.” Snufkin stiffened up and looked up. The shifty man he had seen from the window was standing on the little platform. It made sense that someone wearing a mask would be a highwayman. Snufkin shuffled a little closer to Wirt and Greg, neither of which seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. Instead of attempting to hold up the place, he began to sing and dance, the band joining in on the haunting melody. Snufkin got the feeling that this place was a bit different from anywhere he’s ever been. Especially when the other patrons of the tavern clapped at the end of the little dance number.
“What about you Vagabond?” The Midwife asked, gesturing to Snufkin. He looked between the uprising and the people and smiled slightly.
“Well, I can’t sing. But I can play.” He said, pulling his harmonica out. The tavern’s people muttered excitedly as he walked up to the little stage. Greg looked down right delighted at the idea of him playing. “I wrote this song myself, as a reminder of a wonderful place I visit every year.” He began to play “All Small Beasts Should Have Bows in Their Tail”, Moomin’s song. He closed his eyes and pretended that he was back in Moomin Valley, in the spring. When everything was blooming, and when he and Moomin and the others didn’t have a care in the world. It was a much nicer time, and a much nicer thought as well.
When he finished, there was a short pause as the tavern’s people just stared at him. After a moment, they burst into applause and Snufkin took a small bow. He returned to the wall besides Wirt and Greg’s table, and the tavern was abuzz.
“That was awesome!” Greg said, and Snufkin did another mini bow. Wirt nodded, and Snufkin felt a rush of emotion over the two humans.
“Okay, I’m gunna ask for directions from….that guy over there.” Wirt muttered. Snufkin wasn’t sure if he was talking to him, or to himself. “You think that’s a good idea?” He asked, turning to Snufkin.
“Well, he’s the toymaker, I’m sure he’ll like kids.” Snufkin replied. Wirt’s eyes narrowed.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re a child.” Snufkin replied simply.
“What? How can you say that, you’re only like, a year or two older than me!”
“I’m twenty-one.” Snufkin said, staring at Wirt in curiosity. Had Wirt really though he was a teenager?
“Oh my gosh. You can’t be serious.” Wirt said. Snufkin just raised an eyebrow. “You are serious. Okay, cool, I’ve been wandering through the woods with my half brother, a talking bird, and a twenty-one year old who apparently isn’t human. Great.” Wirt stood up. “I’m gunna go ask that guy for directions. Hopefully, it won’t be any weirder than the rest of this has been.”
“Good luck with that.” Snufkin said snarkily as Wirt walked across the tavern. He turned to look at Greg, who was standing on the table and leaning out the window. Snufkin walked over to look out the window, and realized that he was feeding a horse out there. Beatrice was sitting next to the horse, muttering to herself. Snufkin could see a distant light in the woods too. “Greg, don’t feed the horse too much, or he’ll get sick.” He warned.
“It’s okay! He’s a magic horse!” Greg said. Beatrice finally seemed to notice them, and hopped up on the windowsill.
“Hey. How’s Wirt doing with directions?” She asked. Greg and Snufkin turned around to look for Wirt. It wasn’t hard, seeing as he was being lifted up by the people of the tavern.
“Good.” Greg replied simply, and Snufkin laughed. Beatrice scoffed and hopped away from the windowsill. They turned around just in time to see Wirt being dumped on the little uprising.
“Sing lover sing! Sing lover sing!” The tavern’s people were chanting. Snufkin smiled as he realized that they had decided that Wirt was a lover. They must not have listened past the fact he was looking for a woman. Wirt stood up and began to sing. After the first few lines, Snufkin just covered his ears. By his tail, this boy could not sing. At all. He uncovered his ears as Wirt finished up.
“I know what you are!” The Butcher said, coming over to lift Wirt up again. “You’re a Pilgrim!”
“What, like the guys in funny hats?” Wirt asked, and Snufkin raised an eyebrow. What did Wirt think Pilgrims were?
“No, a Pilgrim! A man on a holy quest!” The Butcher said. “Tell us about your journeys!”
“Oh! Well, I beat a massive dog.” Wirt said. The crowd oohed, and Snufkin had to admit he was impressed. He hadn’t heard about this.
“Yeah! And a gorilla!” Greg piped up. “And he helped me find this frog!” The crowd continued to gawk at them.
“Oh, and I met a friendly woodsman, who warned Greg and I about the Beast.” Wirt said mysteriously. The tavern’s people gasped and dropped him quickly. “Oh, do you know about the Beast?”
“Everyone knows about the Beast pilgrim.” The Tavern Keeper said. She began to sing about the dangers of the Beast, and Snufkin listened carefully. Anything they could learn about this Beast would be good to know. You never know what you’ll run into while traveling, and if someone is willing to tell you about a danger, it’s best to listen. Apparently, the Beast is a dark creature that can turn you into an edelwood tree and carries a lantern.
“But, the Woodsman was the one carrying the lantern. He’s a nice guy.” Wirt protested.
“He who holds the lantern must be the Beast.” The Tavern Keeper warned.
“Oh, well, that reminds me. We’re looking for directions to see Adelaide, the Good Woman of the Woods.” He continued. “Do any of you know the way?”
“You don’t need directions Pilgrim. Just follow the compass in your heart.” The Apprentice said.
“No….we really do need directions.” Before anyone could reply, there was a scream from outside. “Beatrice!”
“Go on Pilgrim! Save your friend, and get yourself back home!” The Tavern Keeper called after them as they opened the door. Wirt ran for the stable, but Snufkin dropped to all fours and ran off into the woods. The tavern’s people seemed all abuzz about that, but he ignored them. He raced into the woods, towards where he had heard Beatrice scream. He soon heard hoofbeats behind him, and he knew Wirt and Greg were with him when he could see better from a light they must’ve brought. They came to a small clearing and Snufkin recoiled at the sight of a towering, hollow tree that seemed to have twisted and pained faces in it’s holes and knots. A tall man with a bundle of sticks on his back was standing over the tree, and Beatrice, who was unconscious.
“You were trying to turn her into an edelwood.” Wirt muttered. “You really are the Beast.” That was all Snufkin needed to hear.
He pounced on the Woodsman and used his claws to scratch anywhere he could reach. Then, Wirt blew out the lantern and everything was chaos. He could’ve sworn he saw Greg grab Beatrice, and he knew that Wirt had grabbed onto the Woodsman’s leg to help him in the attack. The Woodsman did have an axe, but Snufkin was right on him, so there was no way he could use it without hurting himself. After a moment, Wirt was gone, and Snufkin jumped off the Woodsman to follow him. He swung himself onto the horse behind Wirt, who was behind Greg.
“I heard you guys needed directions.” The horse said. Wirt jumped, and Greg’s eyes gleamed in awe.
“Yes, we do. Do you know how to get to Adelaide’s?” Snufkin asked.
“Sure. You need to take the ferry if you want to get there fast though. You’ll need two cents to get on.” Snufkin looked at the two brothers, but they just shrugged.
“You’re the adult, shouldn’t you have money?” Wirt asked.
“I usually have at least a little, but I don’t have my gear with me. We’ve been over that.” He replied. “We’ll just have to find some somewhere.” And by find, he meant steal.
“I’m Fred, by the way.” The horse said.
“Hi Fred! I like your mane!” Greg said.
“Ow….my head…..” Beatrice muttered as she woke up.
“Beatrice! Are you okay? What happened?” Wirt asked.
“I….I saw a weird shadow and then stupidly flew into a tree.” She said.
“Oh. Well, Snufkin is still with us, at least for now.”
“You’re stuck with me for another little bit.” Snufkin said.
“Yay!” Greg cheered. “Oh! And Fred told us about a ferry we can take!”
“Yeah, the horse.”
“You could talk?!?” Fred whinnied and Snufkin couldn’t stop himself from laughing again.