Chapter 1: Into the Unknown
Some people say that if you wander through the forest long enough, you’ll find something you didn’t want to find. To some it’s a rotting animal, or a poisonous plant, or a predator. To some it’s a whole other world. Now, Snufkin agreed with the sentiment. He knew all too well that a walk through the forest could lead to just about anything. But he didn’t believe in other worlds. He had seen just about everything, and he had found no evidence that such a place existed. He had heard stories, but there were stories about any and every thing. The forest was a gateway to many things, but another world wasn’t one of those things, as far as he was concerned. That was one of the reasons he didn’t have any problems exploring the forests, nor did he have any problem sharing the forest with his more innocent friends.
At the moment, he and Moomin were off trying to find an adventure in the forest of Moomin Valley. They had been up since very early in the morning to go off just the two of them, but they had yet to find anything. They were going quite deep into the forest, and if it weren’t for the Lonely Mountains, they might have been lost. Even if they did get lost, Snufkin knew how to find his way again with nothing on him. Snufkin was walking briskly, but Moomin was lagging behind, picking up interesting leaves that he found. Tomorrow was their last day together before Snufkin left for the winter, so they would be spending the next two days very close together.
“If only we could find some adventure…” Snufkin muttered to himself. Moomin perked up at his friend’s voice, but decided that it probably wasn’t meant for him to hear anyway. They continued on for a while, until something caught Moomin’s eye.
“Snufkin, look!” He called, reaching out to take Snufkin’s hand. He pulled Snufkin away from the direction they had been going in, over closer towards the mountains. Snufkin followed easily, and soon he spotted what Moomin had. “A ravine! I almost didn’t notice it.” Moomin said, letting go of Snufkin’s hand to have a closer look. “It drops almost straight down.” He said in awe, stepping away from the ravine again. Snufkin stepped forward to have a better look.
“Yes, and it is very deep. But, I think we could climb it, if you’d like. There are plenty of hand holds.” Snufkin said, stepping closer to the edge to look down into the ravine.
“I don’t know Snufkin….neither of us brought any rope, and it is a long way down.” Moomin said, ringing his hands together.
“Oh c’mon Moomin, where’s your sense of adventure? We wouldn’t have to go all the way to the bottom.” Snufkin said, taking another smaller step forward.
“No Snufkin, I don’t want to! Now, come away from the edge before you fall in!” Moomin said, a hint of fear in his voice. Snufkin sighed, but turned back around.
“Alright. It’s not like I can force you to climb. But, you don’t have to worry Moomin, I am capable of keeping my feet firm against almost anything.” Almost as if it had heard him, the rocks beneath his feet crumbled slightly. Snufkin’s eyes widened, and he carefully adjusted his footing. Moomin looked panicked and took a small step forward. “No, don’t. It’s dangerous Moomin.” Snufkin internally cursed himself for getting so close to the edge. Still, the rocks weren’t that damaged, he could easily get back to Moomin and solid ground. “Don’t panic Moomin, I’ll be fine.”
He took another tiny step forward, but that only made the rocks crumble more. He realized that he would have to jump if he was going to make it across. He glanced up at Moomin, whose eyes were wide with fear. “Moomin, be prepared to catch me. I hope you won’t have to.” Moomin braced himself and held his arms out. Snufkin took one more step as a means of leverage and jumped. But that last step proved his undoing.
The rocks around his feet completely crumpled under his weight. Snufkin did manage to jump, but more upwards than forwards. Moomin stepped forward to try and catch him, and their fingertips brushed, but there was nothing he could really do. Snufkin felt as though he were falling in slow motion as he watched Moomin get smaller and smaller above him. He heard his friend screaming, but didn’t have the time to do so himself before he hit his head against something.
From there, it was dark for a very long time.
Snufkin groaned as he slowly sat up. His head hurt something awful and his leg felt stiff. He looked around and realized he was lying in a ditch. He slowly stood up, looking at all the forest stretched out for him. He didn’t recognize where he was. Had he left Moomin Valley? Was he somewhere beyond the mountains? Had he been dreaming of exploring with Moomin? It didn’t feel like a dream. Besides, his head hurt like he had just hit it, and he didn’t have his pack or his tent or anything. The world around him was still in autumn, but something about it felt different. There was a sort of magical energy about this forest, something he hadn’t felt anywhere near Moomin Valley. In fact, it felt different from any other magic he had felt before. He pulled himself out of the ditch and found a small road.
“Well, it’s a place to start.” He thought, making his way down the path. The forest around him soon opened up into a clearing, and he spotted a school building in the middle of it. He stuck his tongue out, and considered making his way back into the forest, but something seemed to draw him to the little building. He took a few cautious steps forward, and then was almost run over by a small group of animals. He fell against the grass, but managed to catch himself. He stood up, brushing some of the grass off his behind.
“Sorry!” A voice called, and a small child ran up to him. He looked a little different than anyone Snufkin had ever seen, although not much. He didn’t have paws, and he had an odd nose. “Hello. I’m Greg!” He sounded so excited too, despite knowing nothing about Snufkin. A couple of animals wearing clothes came over and stood a little distance behind him. “Do you wanna play with us? We’re playing Two Old Cats!” Snufkin just stared for a minute, not sure what to do. After a moment or so Greg’s face soured. “You’re not here to go to school are you?”
“Of course not. School is pointless.” Snufkin said, waving a hand dismissively. He might not be sure what to do, but he does know that school is horrible. Greg’s face light up again, and he reached up to take Snufkin’s hand. He jerked away, but Greg didn’t seem to mind.
“C’mon! We’ve gotta find a couple of old cats to play!” Greg ran off and the animals followed him. Snufkin, unsure of what to do, trailed behind them at a slower pace. Wherever he was, it was a long way from Moomin Valley. But it seemed safe, so for now he’d roll with it.
Chapter 2: Schoolyard Absurdities
Again, loosely inspired by a beautiful piece of artwork done by @avril-circus on tumblr! Please go check them out! Also, Snufkin is a bit of an asshole in this chapter. He's just not used to new people, you'll have to excuse him.
Snufkin wasn’t very fond of children, but he had to admit that Greg didn’t seem too bad. Sure, Greg kept trying to get him to play with himself and the animals, but he wasn’t pushing. It just seemed that he didn’t understand that someone who didn’t care for school didn’t care for games either. Which wasn’t really true. Snufkin didn’t mind playing games, but he did mind playing games with strangers. And truly, the children were strange. The animals didn’t talk, but they seemed just as intelligent as the tigers that had come from the zoo when the Moomins had a jungle. And Greg, what even was he? He was so similar to Snufkin, but wrong in just a few places. Not to mention that he had a tea kettle on his head that seemed to stay there no matter how he moved.
“Here’s one!” Greg yelled, and all the animals crowded around him. Snufkin approached, trying to get a peek at what they’d found and, sure enough, it was an old looking cat. “We just have to find another one!” The animals dispersed across the schoolyard while Greg held onto the cat they’d already found. Snufkin suddenly felt a little on edge. After all, these were animals. And Greg was probably young enough that he didn’t know how to properly hold a cat.
“Um, Greg? How do you play this game?” He asked, leaning down to take the cat from Greg. He had been holding it awkwardly, and the cat hadn’t looked too happy about it. Greg’s face light up and Snufkin realized that he’d made it sound and look like he was interested. He groaned, but Greg seemed too excited to notice.
“Well, first you find two old cats. Then you take them and-oh, no, that cat is too old!” Greg cut himself off to tell his animal friends about the cat they’d found. He ran over to them and Snufkin huffed in annoyance. Maybe he should get out of here.
After all, he needed to get back to Moomin Valley. There was a feeling of winter in the air, and normally he would’ve left by now but….something wasn’t right. He didn’t have any of his supplies with him, and for the life of him he couldn’t remember saying goodbye to Moomin. Additionally, he couldn’t recall walking to the ditch he had woken up in, or why he would’ve chosen a ditch to sleep in. Everything about it seemed strange, and he was sure that Moomin Valley would have answers. Even if it didn’t, it would be a good place to regroup and find out where to go from there.
“Gorilla!” Greg’s shrill shout made Snufkin jump out of his thoughts and back into the real world. He wasn’t sure why Greg had screamed for a moment, before he and the animals came barreling out of the shrubs, a gorilla hot on their tail. They ran around, the gorilla chasing them all the while. None of them seemed to notice Snufkin.
“Why is there a gorilla in a deciduous forest?” Snufkin asked. No one answered. “Is it tame?” No one answered. “Where did it come from?” Nothing. Snufkin sighed and put the cat down. It flopped over lazily, but no one seemed to care. Snufkin put his hand up to his mouth and whistled loudly. The gorilla froze, but Greg and the animals ran to get away from it. The gorilla came over to Snufkin, just staring at him. “Where did you come from?” The gorilla just let out a muffled roar and raced at him. He was about to dodge out of the way when the gorilla stopped. A loud bell toll came from the building, but that didn’t seem to be what had stopped him. Greg had hit the gorilla with a stick.
“Meal time!” A woman’s voice called from inside the school building. All the animals he had seen dropped down from the school’s roof (when had they gotten up there?). The gorilla turned to Greg, and he looked a lot less brave than he had a second ago. The gorilla opened it’s mouth wide and Snufkin knew he had to act fast. He raced by the gorilla, grabbing Greg on the way, and into the school building. He slammed the door behind them and reached up for the lock. Greg fall to the floor as he did, but he locked the door before the gorilla could force it’s way in. He let out a sigh, and glanced down at Greg. He looked fine. “Children, it’s meal time.” The same woman’s voice said, and Snufkin looked up to see who he assumed was the teacher.
“Oh boy, meal time!” Greg said, racing into the room she was gesturing too. Snufkin glanced at the door, but there was a dangerous gorilla outside. It seemed he had no choice. He walked into the other room.
The sight in front of him was very dull. There were more animals like the ones he had seen outside, but they all looked morose. They all had plates of mashed potatoes in front of them, and he pulled a face. He hated mashed potatoes, and it looked like the animals felt the same. Greg had opted to sit next to another creature that looked like him, although much taller. A bluebird sat on the taller one’s shoulder, and Snufkin found some relief in that. A bluebird was a sign of good fortune.
“Please have a seat.” The woman said, lightly pushing him towards the tables. He turned to scowl at her, but realized he didn’t have much of a choice. He went over to one of the blanker areas in the far right table, attempting to sit on his own. Greg waved at him, but he didn’t wave back. Why should he?
A slow, molloncally piano tune soon filled the room. He realized the teacher (who she really must have been) was sitting in the corner, playing the sad tune. It seemed fitting of the room, and Snufkin decided to live with it. It was a beautiful song, even if it was sad. Not all music could be happy, and with how lost he was, he didn’t mind a bit of wallowing. He glanced out the window, but the gorilla was still there. He was stuck in the school building until it went away. The sky was beginning to turn orange, and he realized that it was much later than he had thought.
“Miss Langtree?” Snufkin looked up to see Greg at the piano. “Can you play something like this?” Snufkin winced as Greg slammed his hands on the keys. He wasn’t the only one, most of the animals winced as well, including the other creature like Greg.
“Like this?” She asked, playing a jaunty upbeat tune instead. Snufkin smiled. It wasn’t the kind of music you’d find in Moomin Valley, but he had heard similar things in his travels. Greg began to sing, pulling a jug of molasses off a shelf. He walked on the table, pouring the molasses onto people’s potatoes. He didn’t think that molasses and potatoes would go well together, but it would be better than the potatoes alone. Animals around him began to pull out instruments and played along to Greg’s singing. Snufkin pulled out his harmonica, and began to play along as well. He caught a few people smiling at him, and he realized he didn’t mind it that much. School may be horrible, but that didn’t mean the people that attended were bad. Just as he had begun to get into the song, someone slammed the door open.
“What’s all this?” A booming voice asked. Everyone turned to the door and a tall wide man stood there.
“Father!’ Miss Langtree gasped. The man looked around the room, and Snufkin became a little anxious. After all, it wasn’t like he was supposed to be in this school.
“Is this what this school was made for? I thought we were here to teach animals to read and write! Not to sing about potatoes and molasses.” He said sternly.
“Of course father, but-”
“We were just trying to a have a little fun.” Greg said, putting his hands on his hips. The man scoffed and went around, picking the instruments out of the animal’s hands. He stood tall over Snufkin, but he still glared him right in the eyes. Until the man plucked his harmonica from his hands.
“Hey! That’s mine!” Snufkin growled, standing up quickly.
“Not anymore!” The man said. Snufkin began stalking towards him, and he did look the slightest bit scared. “Send them off to bed! And no more of this foolishness!” And just like that he was gone.
“Get back here!” Snufkin roared, racing through the two rooms. He just barely saw the man disappear into the forest, and was ready to give chase when someone gripped his arm tightly. “Let go!”
“I know father had no right to take your harmonica, but please, leave him be!” Miss Langtree said, tugging Snufkin by the arm. He tried to twist out of her grasp, but she was holding on surprisingly tight. “He really is a nice man, he’s just under a lot of stress. What with the school closing down, and that mysterious gorilla on the loose….” Snufkin sighed, but let himself be lead to the room beyond the meal room. “Now, straight to bed with you. No more fussing!” She closed the door behind him, and he quickly turned around. Everyone else was wearing nightgowns and had crawled into a bed.
“C’mon Wirt! We’re going to get those back.” Greg said, hopping out of his bed.
“Okay.” The other creature, Wirt apparently, said, also hopping out of the bed. They pulled the sheets and blankets off the bed to tie them together and escape through the window.
“I’m coming.” Snufkin said, and several animals shushed him. “I want my harmonica back.” Wirt looked shocked, almost like he had just noticed Snufkin was there.
“Yeah! C’mon!” Greg called, climbing up the makeshift rope they’d made. The three of them set off into the night, and quickly found the man setting up to sleep in a clearing. He was actually a lot thinner without the coat, which he had propped up with the trombone he’d stolen from the school. Snufkin was lost in his own angry thoughts as the man dropped off, so much so that he didn’t hear what the man said. Wirt and Greg had a hushed conversation, but Snufkin slowly and carefully approached the man. He knelt down to grab his harmonica and turned to the other two. “Grab the other stuff!” Greg said, and Wirt slapped a hand over his mouth. All three of them tensed, but the man just shifted in his sleep slightly. Snufkin rolled his eyes, but he grabbed the rest of the instruments and made his way back to the other two.
“There. I got you your stuff. Now, I’m leaving.” He said, turning to wander in the woods again. He’d find his way back to Moomin Valley, and then forget about this whole thing.
“Wait! I’ve got a wonderful idea about how to save the school!” Greg said, coming over to tug on his sleeve. “Don’t you want to hear it?”
“Honestly Greg? No.” He replied, turning to go into the woods again. He only made it about a foot into the shrubs when he heard Greg complaining to Wirt.
“He seemed so cool! And he got the instruments back, and he can play the harmonica very well. Besides, he looked lost too. Maybe Adelaide could help him?” He said.
“I don’t know….what do you think Beatrice?” Wirt said. Snufkin did pause at that. There hadn’t been anyone else with them.
“No way, he seemed like bad news. Although, he definitely wasn’t a push over like someone here.”
“Hey!” Snufkin suddenly remembered the bluebird that had been with Wirt earlier. The two of them could talk to birds too? He had only ever heard that one other person could do that, and he had never seen the Joxter do it. Still, just because they could talk to birds didn’t mean they were good company. But on the other hand, this Adelaide might be able to help him. He hated to admit it, but he was definitely lost. He heaved a big sigh, but turned around and walked back to the two of them. Three counting Beatrice.
“Alright Greg, what’s your plan?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to play?” Greg asked again, looking between Snufkin and the harmonica in his hand.
“I’m afraid that harmonicas and a grand band don’t exactly mix. Next time something happens, I’ll play.” Snufkin said, tucking his harmonica away. Greg pouted, but only for a moment before running up on the stage. Snufkin scanned the growing crowd and spotted Wirt off by a tree. He headed over to him, and noticed Beatrice sitting on a branch. “Alright, what can you two tell me about Adelaide?”
“Ask Beatrice. She’s the one who’s taking us to see her.” Wirt replied, gesturing to the bluebird. She huffed and hopped around on the branch.
“She’s the Lady of the Pasture, and she can get all of you home. If you’re good.” She said, glaring at Snufkin.
“Is she a witch?” He asked. Wirt suddenly looked anxious, but Beatrice didn’t look at all disturbed.
“Probably. I don’t know.” She replied easily.
“That’s good. Witches usually know their way around.” Snufkin said. He was mostly thinking to himself, but Wirt opened his mouth to reply. He didn’t get to say anything though, because a loud roar came from the bushes behind him. The gorilla jumped through them, and both Wirt and Snufkin dodged out of the way. “Everyone, look out!” Snufkin called, and several people screamed.
Wirt tripped over his shoelaces and ran into the gorilla. They both toppled over, and Snufkin quickly covered his eyes. He didn’t want to see Wirt ripped to shreds. For a few minutes he stayed like that, but he didn’t hear anymore screaming. Just gasps and excited chatter. He slowly removed his hands and found that everyone was fine, and that the gorilla had actually been a man in a costume. Miss Langtree was approaching him slowly, looking excited but also in disbelief. Greg came running over to help Wirt up, and Snufkin came over to the two of them.
“Well, that explains that.” Wirt said, rubbing at his head.
“Yeah!” Greg echoed, and Snufkin had to smile a little. It appeared that the man in the gorilla costume was Miss Langtree’s lost fiance. They looked very happy. Maybe finding that school building hadn’t been the worst thing that could’ve happened…. “C’mon Wirt, c’mon Mr. Funny-Hat! We’ve gotta find Adelaide!” Greg said, parading off into the woods.
“Mr. Funny-Hat?” Wirt and Snufkin said at the same time.
“Greg, you’re going the wrong way!” Beatrice called after him.
Chapter 3: Tales of the Dark Lantern
Again, credit to @avril-circus on tumblr for this idea! Oh, and Snufkin doesn't really have a canon age, but I always saw him as either an older teen or in his young twenties, so I just went with that. Hope that's find with ya'll!
“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.