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The Longing of a Vagabond

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Douglas firs that must be decades old stretch for the tangerine colored sky. Pink tinted clouds that surely could not be ridden are turned to wisps by a wind that blows so hard Snufkin has to keep one hand on his hat.

Although winter has gone from these parts a chill clings to the land, cutting down to the bone. His feet ache, his socks are soaked from stepping in puddles, and if he tightens his scarf one more time he’ll strangle himself. It’s too cold to play his mouth organ and his numb fingers couldn't hold the instrument, anyway, so Snufkin is left to his thoughts as he pushes forward.

Shivers wrack his fame and he glances upwards, struck by the unending expanse of sky above him. Not for the first time he’s reminded of the worlds vastness--and its almost unimaginably small inhabitants. Specks of dust floating amidst chaos they’ve no control over, their significance nill when put against cosmic terms. Thinking this very big thought makes him think of a very small creature. Sniff.

Poor Sniff, afraid of everything and too short sighted to see the futility of it. Most people are like Sniff, he supposes, preferring to busy themselves with things of no importance so they can forget their smallness.

Snufkin, however, is at peace with the inherent triviality of his existence. Titles and signs and rules and worrying--they’ve no place in the random disorder that is life. It’s like trying to count the stars--pointless when you can simply lay beneath the open sky.

The wanderer inhales the pine scented air, closes his eyes. His feet sink in the undergrowth of yesteryears pine needles.

Thinking of Sniff had been accidental, an unwanted reminder of a place he spends most of his time and doesn’t need to let it preoccupy him when he’s finally away.

He opens his eyes.

The sun dips below the horizon, casting its last rays over the humped dragon-spine of the mountains. Sunbeams filter down to the forest floor, soft and wet with decay. From the rot grow ferns and shrubs, dotted by wildflowers that would occupy hours of the Hemulin’s time.

Birds Snufkin traveled south with twitter from needled branches, settling in their nests. Deciding it’s time for him to do the same he walks until the creek he’d been following dumps into a lake. Water gurgles, rushing over smooth, round pebbles and sweeping back patches of moss.

Tent pitched, the young man sits on the grassy embankment and casts his fishing line. Dusk turns to night, rosy orange sky darkening to black. His fire pops and hisses, waiting for him to return with a skewered fish to cook.

But none are biting at the moment, and that’s fine with Snufkin. He’s gone plenty a night without a cooked meal and if he goes to bed hungry it’s simply the way of things. For now he relaxes, listens to the gentle murmurings of the forest. Deeper in the trees critters scurry and shout briefly--then silence. Moments later giggles escape into the clearing and someone says something in a teasing tone, although he can’t make out the words.

A game, Snufkin guesses. Woodland creatures playing hide-and-seek or perhaps tag, the same way Moomin and his friends do.

And oh--he hadn’t meant to think of the troll. Now that he has, he won’t be able to shake Moomin from his mind. His cream colored fur, softer than fleece as it brushes against his skin. His warm paws gripping Snufkin’s hands, the touch abrupt, unexpected. While Moomin was an emotional troll he didn’t often impose his clinginess on Snufkin, knowing he preferred space and meaningful glances to hugs and chattering.

The night branded on his mind, however, was special. Snow piled up outside, frost crept over the window panes. Snufkin had delayed his trip south, in part to attend the Moomin family’s annual winter party, and more so because he couldn’t bare Moomin’s increasingly frantic visits to his tent every morning when autumn deepened into winter.

Poor Moomin, Snufkin thought pityingly when the troll’s nervous anticipation transformed into glee at seeing he hadn’t left in the night. It was his folly to become overly attached to everything. Always wanting to capture things and keep them in one of Moominmamma’s jars. Though he never did keep what he caught, and thinking ill of his friend made guilt twinge in Snufkin’s chest.

But he wasn’t a dragon to be hand fed and kept for entertainment. He wasn’t a butterfly to be shoved into a jar with air holes. Things weren’t meant to be owned. They were meant to be appreciated while possible and let go when the time came.

Moomin understood these things, but he wasn’t at peace with them. Still, when the troll asked him not to leave without saying goodbye Snufkin was compelled to extend his stay.

So here he was. Warmth breathed through the house, radiating from the fireplace and kitchen stove. Elsewhere Moominmamma was humming as she prepared a feast, Moominpappa was making sure the house was locked up for winter, and Little My was tormenting Sniff.

It was as things usually were, and yet something was different in the way Moomin stood by his side at the front window, watching the storm rage. The gentle snowfall of that morning had turned to sleets and the snow angels Snorkmaiden convinced them to make were buried.

Snufkin, at the time, had made a conscience effort not to think about how nice Moomin looked wrapped in his orange scarf, his face ruddy from the cold and laughter their earlier snowball fight had caused.

“I’m sorry the weather's gone bad, Snufkin.” Moomin said, and he needn't say more. His meaning was easily gleaned. “Stay. Please, please, stay.”

Snufkin had smiled. And God, smiling at Moomin was effortless.

“Don’t be. After all, this will be the first time I get to have Moominmamma’s famous winter feast. I’m sure it will be worth the walk out of the valley.” His words, too, held more meaning. “I have to leave,” he silently said. “I have to and I’m going to.”

It was then Moomin grabbed his hands, almost desperate as he held onto his friend.

“I know you have to go.” His dark eyes fringed with tears. “I understand,” his voice cracked. “I do. Forgive me. I’ll miss you.”

Snufkin was shaken, and remembering it makes him shaken again.

“You’ll be asleep while I’m gone,” he had soothed. “I’ll be back next spring. You’ll hardly notice I’m gone.”

Moomin hugged him, warm and soft and not suffocating the way Snufkin had expected.

“Safe travels, my friend.” It had felt like a goodbye, painful. When the time came for him to truly leave the goodbyes were simple, as if they were going to see one another the next morning for an adventure.

Thinking of this causes an uneasiness in his stomach and Snufkin recasts his line, agitated.

Later, after eating the one trout he’d managed to catch, he lies outside his tent stargazing. His mouth organ sits heavily in his pocket and thoughts of Moomin sit heavily in his mind.

He’s a vagabond, born tied to no place and no people. His parents--a Mymble with a sweet voice and lax interpretation of motherhood, and a lazy Joxter--did not smother him. It’s the nature of Snufkin’s to wander and seek solitude.

Before stumbling upon Moominvalley and the Moomin’s it was named after, he had been aimless, a rootless thing that drifted like the clouds. It had been a thing of chance, meeting the family. He didn’t abhor company, but it wasn’t a thing he searched for, and the sole reason he went up to the blue house was to ask for a fishing hook. 

A hippo-like creature wearing an apron answered the door and invited him in for tea. He was sent away with a full belly, a set of fishing hooks, and an eager new friend.

Moomin took an instant liking to him, and Snufkin would come to find it was the trolls nature to make friends with anyone. He himself felt no need for friends and thus had none. And although he first found Moomin too loud and exuberant, the child quickly wormed his way into his heart.

Spring flew by, and then summer, and suddenly it was fall. He’d never lingered somewhere so long. When Moomin found him packing up his tent he asked if he’d be back next spring. Snufkin surprised himself by nodding.

Every year since he’s returned to Moominvalley. To Moomin, he thinks, blowing into his mouth organ.

The time has passed slowly this year, and it’s with dawning fear he realizes he’s become trapped by his own fondness for his friend. All his life freedom is one of the few things near and dear to him, and he’s surrendered it.

Returning to Moominvalley is a thing he does out of obligation. The thought of Moomin waiting for him, worried and unhappy, is enough to make him feel sick. He who has never had a home finds himself now burdened with one.

Snufkin sighs, fidgeting, and glances to his tent. For years the burlap fabric propped up by sticks had been his only home. Wherever he was, all he needed for he had on him. His entire life fit into a sack. A pocket knife, a box of matches, thread, fishing line and hooks, a journal, a pencil, his pipe, tobacco, coffee beans, and dried food--this is all he had and all he needed.

Or it was. At this moment he has all these things, yet he does not have everything he needs to be happy.

Moomin is far away, and Snufkin doesn’t know when it began but at some point he left a part of his heart with the troll. Every winter he leaves Moomin becomes saddened in a way Snufkin thought childish. He always came back, there was no need for melancholy.

For the first time he’s experiencing things from the other side.

Snufkin’s lament is a sorrowful song that trickles into the night. As he falls asleep he pretends that Moomin is beside him, close enough they feel each others body heat. Close enough he could reach out at pet him.

He wakes up alone, and horribly lonely.

Days pass and Moomin lingers in the peripherals of his mind. His memory is a stone sunken in Snufkin’s belly, weighing him down when he was once detached. Free.

He sighs, cross with his low mood. The day is bright, the sky pale blue and clear for miles. A nice breeze murmurs through the forest, causing the leaves to dance. It is a day not meant for troubles.

On a day like this, in Moominvalley, he and Moomin might decide to climb the Lonely Mountains to search for unexplored caves. Little My would insist on going, of course, and Snorkmaiden might also join them. Sniff would agree to tag along after finding out Moominmamma had promised them lemonade and cookies when their journey was finished.

And there he goes again, wishing for something else when what he has is fine. Good, even. He’s got the forest to himself. No one to pester him or go stomping through his campsite, yelling for him.

Really, though, did he mind all that? Snufkin sighs again and takes out his mouth organ.

The song that comes out starts as a familiar one and turns into something entirely different. It’s a thing full of longing and sadness. Like a dancers broken feet.

A poorly timed illness makes Snufkin late by several days. As he nears Moominvalley he tries to convince himself he hasn’t been thinking about his friend anxiously awaiting his arrival. Moomin, dear, sweet Moomin, adores him thoroughly. And this fact rattles Snufkin’s nerves. No one is meant to be put on a pedestal and admired too greatly. Least of all him. As long as Moomin cares for him he’ll never be free.

Standing at the top of the valley brings an honest smile to his face and he walks just a little bit faster towards the bridge he sets up camp next to.

He sits on the railing and plays what he has come to call Moomin’s song. Little My and Sniff race towards him, shouting. A glance is all they get of his attention. The redheaded girl curls up on his leg like a cat and Sniff grins. He plays.

Moomin’s have better hearing than most, and his late night whistles and early morning mouth organ songs have never failed to rouse the troll before. He’ll be scrambling down his ladder any moment, come running to envelop Snufkin in a hug only Moomin can give.

The window remains shut.

“Where’s Moomin?” Snufkin looks to his friends and they drag him inside the house, talking over one another.

Moomin and Snorkmaiden are still in bed, their breathing barely visible. The sight of them sharing a bed causes a twinge of something Snufkin will not acknowledge as jealousy.

Little My shouts into the boy trolls ear to no avail. “What if they don’t wake up?” She looks to Snufkin, a rarely heard vulnerability wavering her voice.

He won’t say it aloud, but Snufkin shares his sisters fear.

Mustering a smile he tells her he’s sure that won’t happen. It’s a lie. They both know it, but it’s a lie they want to share.

“Snufkin…” Moomin groans, snout crinkling.

They all collectively gasp and lean in, waiting. Nothing happens.

“He’s talking in his sleep.” Someone says, and Snufkin isn’t sure who it is because he’s too stunned by his friend dreaming about him. Heat rises to his cheeks, tentative hopefulness flutters in his chest. He knows Moomin cares for him, is attached to him. But dreaming about him? Calling out for him? Perhaps his friend thinks of him more than he realized. 

He shakes his head, pushes these ponderings aside. Moomin is his best friend, and Snufkin is the person he prefers over all others. That’s enough, he tells himself. It’s selfish to want more.

Snufkin and Little My follow his hunch into the Witch's Forest, led by a fuming Alice.

The witch's apprentice confronts her grandmother about the Moomin’s extended hibernation and in the end it’s a spell on his mouth organ that wakes the trolls.

Relief consumes Snufkin as Moomin runs towards him, arms open wide. He’s soft and warm and Snufkin squeezes him tightly. When Moomin pulls away, smiling, Snufkin returns the gesture. Tells himself that he does not feel empty without the toll in his arms.

It’s a lie.

Spring is in full swing and the Hemulin scours the valley searching for new flower species. Snorkmaiden and Little My also take to frolicking in the colorful bloom, collecting bouquets and weaving flower crowns. Snufkin is on a stroll to nowhere in particular when he spots them doing just this.

“What are you doing, Moomin?” He asks, peering over the trolls shoulder.

“Making daisy chains with Snorkmaiden and Little My.” His tongue sticks out and his brow furrows as he struggles with the mangled, half formed chain.

“These aren’t daisies, Moomin!” Little My shouts.

“Flower chains,” Moomin amends, shooting a glare at the girl. It doesn’t faze her, of course, no kind of irritation ever dissuaded Little My’s antics.

Snufkin sits cross legged beside his friend, mouth parting.

“Good job, Moomin!” Snorkmaiden says before he can speak. “Try weaving them a little less tightly, though.” She turns her attention to Snufkin, smiling brightly. In her blonde hair is a pink flower, and he can see why Moomin fancies the girl. She’s of his own kind and beautiful, good-hearted beneath her vanity. “Good morning, Snufkin! Do you want to learn how to make daisy chains, too?”

“They’re not daisies!” Little My repeats.

“No thank you.” Snufkin says politely, and Snorkmaiden is none the wiser to the jealousy that hides behind his neutral expression. She goes on her way and he exhales the tension that had crawled up his shoulders.

“Snufkin,” Moomin holds out a flower crown, uneven and wilted under his fussing. “I, uh, do you want it? For your hat?”

He accepts it, mouth agape for a moment. “Thank you,” he says finally.

On a whim Snufkin picks a white flower and leans over. Ties the steam loosely around Moomin’s ear.

Moomin looks at him like he’d hung the moon.

Snufkin’s low whistle has Moomin scrambling down his ladder in minutes. Moonlight glints off his fur as he descends with a quickness his size shouldn’t allow. The troll trots after him excitedly, asking no questions.

Crickets sing from unseen spots and creeps shuffle beyond their sight, either too small to see or so shy they were invisible.

They walk in semi-darkness to his campsite. Snufkin lies on the grassy slope leading to the river and Moomin does the same.

“Shooting stars.” He explains.

Silence over takes them. Silver streaks race across the navy-blue sky. He’s traveled the world, found a few universal truths. One of them being that the night sky is most beautiful in Moominvalley. Nowhere else do the stars shine brighter. And he's not a man of superstition--he believes what he sees for himself--but if wishing on a star was ever to work it would be on a star seen from Moominvally. 

This in mind Snufkin breathes in the honeysuckle perfumed air, closes his eyes as he makes a wish.

A while later Moomin reaches for his hand, holds it in his own. Snufkin squeezes and Moomin squeezes back. He wants to ask why. What this means.

His mouth seems sewn shut. And really, why spoil the moment?

Spring bleeds into summer and heat bears down on Moominvalley. Snufkin seeks Moomin’s company more and more. No one mentions it.

No one except Little My.

“He doesn’t love her, you know.” She announces brashly, strutting onto his campsite. Snufkin can’t hide his shock.


“Moomin.” Little My kneels in the shallows, peering into the water.

“You’re going to scare the fish.”

“Aren’t you going to ask who he doesn’t love?”

He feels his mouth harden into a frown. “No.”

“Snorkmaiden.” Little My’s hand plunges. She snatches a fish from the water and tosses it onto the river bank. “He doesn’t love her. Not like that.”

“What are you going on about?” Snufkin adjusts his hat needlessly.

“Well I thought you’d want to know.”

“Who Moomin loves is none of my business. Nor is it yours.”

“It is your business.” She insists. “Because he loves you.”

Snufkin would like to say this announcement didn’t cause him to fall from the bridge railing, but that isn’t the truth.

“What?” He cries, bobbing to the surface.

“You sure are dense.” Little My shakes her head. “Do you love him? I mean, I know you do, but are you going to do something about it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Snufkin trudges ashore.

“You do to!” Little My runs after him. “You’d be stupid not to know Moomin loves you.” He whirls around, stern words rising from the back of his throat. The girl’s fierce glare lodges them there. “Don’t be an idiot, Snufkin. We have Sniff for that.”

She leaves him there, dripping wet and full of uncertainty.

Snufkin takes things as they come. Everything is temporary--good or bad, everything shall come to pass. How could he let Moomin love him when he knows he can’t be there for him? He’s a vagabond, a wanderlust stricken creature. Who was to say he’d always return to Moominvalley? Or return Moomin’s affections?

It would be kinder to end things before they began, and yet Snufkin can’t bring himself to tell Moomin he doesn’t have feelings for him. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t ever breach the subject. As long as they didn’t talk about it he wouldn’t have to lie. Wouldn’t have to break a heart he wants to protect.

As it turns out, it’s not up to Snufkin.

Trips to the beach are a normal summer occurrence, and he thinks nothing of it when Moomin invites him along. On the seashore Snorkmaiden and Little My dig up shells. Sniff builds what he claims will he the world’s ‘most impressive sand castle’. Or at the very least the best one Moominvalley has seen for a good long while.

He and Moomin sit at the bathhouse steps that lead into the sea. Waves lap at Moomin’s feet, dangled lower than Snufkin’s. Salt invades their nostrils. Gulls cry overhead. A particularly strong wave sprays them with foam. Wordlessly Snufkin tugs off his boots and shirt, dips his bare feet into the swelling water.

Sunlight glimmers on the waves. Moomin’s hand finds his again. Snufkin opens his mouth to speak. He doesn’t get the chance.

“I’d very much like to kiss you. If that’s okay with you.” Moomin stares at him, waiting. His blue eyes are flecked with green, Snufkin notices then. Green and hints of amber.

He nods.

The kiss is clumsy. Awkward. It’s the first time either has kissed, and Moomin has to angle his head to accomplish the task. They pull away after a few seconds and Moomin leans right back in to nuzzle Snufkin’s face with his snout. It’s incredibly affectionate, more so than the kiss.

They turn back to the ocean, still holding hands.

Snufkin isn’t sure who moves first, but they shift closer to one another and their bodies seem to slot together perfectly. His arm rests on Moomin’s shoulders and Moomin’s curls around his waist.

He suddenly doesn’t have any questions about what they are. What they could be.

With Moomin beside him everything makes perfect sense.