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The Uninvited Companion

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One evening, sheltering from the cold winter rain, Snufkin found himself spending time in a local public house.

He wasn’t usually one for crowded and noisy places, but after a long while travelling in solitude, it was pleasant to sit by a roaring fire with a drink, letting the stories of strangers wash over you. While he preferred not to get too involved, there were always interesting people to watch at a bar, and some of them would have interesting tales of their own.

This public house was rowdier than most, despite the dreadful weather outside. It didn’t take long to see that there was one patron at the centre of this storm – a joxter. He had been seated at the bar either loudly talking or lounging sleepily (two very strange extremes), always melting either into the bar or into his nearest companion. He loudly promised drinks for everyone in the bar (saving Snufkin some hassle – he had no money of his own, after all), but Snufkin had never seen gold leave his paws. Instead he seemed to chatter and charm his way into getting a giggling fillyjonk or a red-faced whomper to fish in their own pockets.

It didn’t seem to matter – this was the type of charlatan that could remain very entertaining for a night, and escape the next morning before everyone sobered up enough to realise they’d been hoodwinked.

Snufkin couldn’t help but pay particular attention to every joxter he encountered. Although that was not often; they either very deliberately made themselves scarce for mystique, or there were sadly few of them in the world.

He watched because, very simply, he had strong suspicion his own father had been one. There were many differences between himself and joxter – he had no fur aside from that on his head and a little on his back paws, no tail, and his sense of smell was only so-so. The only joxter-ly thing about his body were his night eyes. And that could be from some other kind of parent.

No, no, what made Snufkin suspect as much was his hat and pipe. In the basket he’d been found in, his battered old hat had been bundled up in there, as well a catwood pipe. Both were the usual clothing of a joxter. Indeed, the joxter at the bar was wearing one such hat and smoking from one such pipe – a strong blend that Snufkin suspected wasn’t wholly tobacco.

So, he ended up watching. While the world was a big wide place and the chances of encountering the particular joxter who had fathered him slim to none, it couldn’t hurt to watch for one that was familiar.

“Another round, my friends!” the joxter at the bar declared, banging his empty tankard against the bar, “And I will tell you how I dove into the thrashing sea to save a beautiful young sea horse from a hungry Groke.”

There was much merry noises and fuss, and very little sense. The joxter looked to be enjoying himself enormously.

No, no, Snufkin decided. This joxter was most certainly not his father. He had heard that joxters enjoyed being the centre of attention – not for too long, and only on their own terms, of course - but Snufkin couldn’t help but imagine his own father would be less…tacky about it.

He finished his drink and set it down, standing up. It sounded as though the rain had stilled and wind had quieted – a good time to walk and find place to set up camp.

“Ah, that boy needs another drink!” the joxter shouted, “Barkeep, keep the young lad watered!”

Snufkin froze, feeling every eye on the bar on him. He tugged on his hat, self-conscious.

“No, thank you. I must be off,” he said shortly.

“Come on lad,” the joxter said, not so much hopping as lazily sliding from his barstool and sauntering over, as though all his locomotion was quite accidental, “There’s a long night of merriment to be had! Why, you –“

The joxter stopped, sniffing the air. He squinted, tail held high.

“Hm…do I know you, lad?” he said.

Snufkin shook his head, now just eager to be away. This was far too much attention from far too many strangers, and this joxter was drunk enough to be difficult. Best leave now before any claws came out. He hated a fight, and for all he was quick and clever he was not particularly strong, so rarely came out of them well. While this joxter was rangy and shorter than him, it was not a wise risk to take so close to spring. Moomintroll would have a heart attack if he returned to Moominvalley bloody and bedraggled.

“I’m sure I do, you smell –“

“Sorry, but I really must go,” Snufkin said, and stole away.

He breathed out as he escaped the bar, the patron roaring with laughter behind him. The city streets were still busy, despite the dark and wet. Moominvalley may sleep during winter, but the rest of the world charges horribly on. Fussy and miserable and occasionally wonderful and endlessly complicated.

Hm. Perhaps the beer had went to his head a little more than he thought.

No matter. The walk to find a good camping spot would clear his head.

As he walked, he couldn’t help but think back to the joxter in the public house. Or perhaps not that joxter, but joxters in general. Funny creatures who knew their own mind and didn’t care about those of others. Resistant to all authority, even when it was only sensible advice. Snufkin couldn’t say that was him from his toes to the tip of his hat, but there were certainly traits he shared and admired.

His father, though, he was certain, would be the finest sort of joxter. Not the petty sort that lollygagged in public houses. He had read about joxter gentleman thieves, who liberated goods and land from those who hoarded it, redistributing it according to need, not wealth. It was a rather fine idea, and though Snufkin would never, ever, even on pain of death admit it, he liked to imagine that was the kind of joxter his daddy – father had been.

It was silly to imagine, but he had been found in a basket (like Moses, as Sniff had observed, saying something sensible for once in his life) and that was rather grand in and of itself. Surely his parentage was just as grand.

Snufkin huffed a quiet laugh to himself, finding a spot on the river that would suit him just well. The haze of beer was thinning, and he was ready to set up his tent and get a good night’s sleep. The snow was thawing, spring was nearing, and he would be returning to Moominvalley soon. It was always a strange time of year – expectancy and excitement and nervousness all bundled up with the slight regret his solitude was coming to an end. There was almost always a moment where he considered staying away. Travelling further, perhaps even over the sea, but then Moomintroll’s sad face would pop into his head, and he’d find himself orienting back towards Moominvalley, like a compass pointing north.

Snufkin shook his head, putting the last of his fuel logs in place. It wouldn’t do to think of Moomintroll right now. He had made a rule to not think of him during winter. If he thought about Moomintroll once, then he would think about him twice, and then again, and then it would be hard to stop at all. No, no. It wouldn’t do – a Snufkin couldn’t be caged in, not even in his own head.

The kindling finally caught, despite the damp, and soon his fire was roaring. He would sit and think of philosophical things for a while before bed. And certainly not of absent fathers or sleeping moomins.

Something above him snapped.

Snufkin tensed, staying seated. He could feel someone watching him. A beast, perhaps. Or a bandit – this close to the city, they were unfortunately common. There was a knife in his boot, mostly for carving firewood or cutting rope, but it would help in a dire moment. Best hope it didn’t come to that.

He waited, paw near his boot, gazing out into the trees. Whoever was following him wasn’t relying on the darkness to cover them. That was unusual. Few snufkin had night-eyes like he did, so most assumed    that just crouching low at night was enough to conceal themselves from him.

A paw tapped him in the shoulder.

Snufkin whirled around, ready to fight, but the person bent out of the way. They were hanging by their tail from the branch above, light of the fire reflected in their huge eyes.

“Hahaha, sensitive sort, aren’t you, lad?”

Snufkin breathed out, sitting back down. The joxter from the public house – of course. He wasn’t sure why he was even surprised. He had said no to a joxter – of course he would follow him to make a nuisance of himself.

The Joxter dropped down to the wet floor on all fours, creeping closer to the fire. After a moment he flopped to his side, lounging in an irritating sort of way.

“Now, now, don’t be sore I got the drop on you,” he said, tip of his tail flicking from side to side, “Hmm, you’re even younger than I thought you were. Are you even old enough to drink?”

“Of course,” Snufkin said, sighing. So much for his quiet contemplation before bed. This was not the sort of company which would leave after being asked.

“Hah! Really! You don’t even have any fur on your face,” The Joxter said, sitting up, “Not that it bothers me – I think we should have kits drinking straight out the womb, really - but surely your Mamma be displeased.”

“I’m a snufkin – I haven’t got a mother,” he explained, irritated. The Joxter tilted his head.

“Really now? I thought you were a joxter like myself. You’ve the hat and build and smell,” he said, taking a pipe from inside his tattered coat, “Though, hm, yes, bit of this and that in you, I’ll bet. No matter! That’s most folk these days.”

“Right, well, I’m sure you have things to be getting back to?”

The Joxter barked out a laugh, lighting his pipe.

“Me? No, no, not a care or responsibility in the world! Very little to do but attend to whatever interests me. And I slept all day – energy to spare!”

“How lovely,” Snufkin said drily.

“So, what made you leave so quickly?” the Joxter continued, undeterred by Snufkin’s frosty attitude, “There was a beer on the bar with your name on it, and out you went to sit in perfect silence by a cold and dirty river.”

“I need to rest. Much ground to cover tomorrow.”

“Adventuring alone, are you?” the Joxter asked, and then tutted, “More fool you. When I was your age and adventuring, I always made sure it was with people. If it is with people, they can do all the hard and fussy work, and you can simply sleep and drink and enjoy the changing scenery.”

“I prefer,” Snufkin said, trying to stress each word as hard as he could, “To be alone.”

The Joxter grinned, showing a lot of teeth much sharper than Snufkin’s own, and breathed out a dark plume of smoke.

“Many say that, few mean it,” he said, as though this were some very astute observation. And then, “Hm, do you need any tobacco? Rare I see any snufkin sit without his pipe.”

Snufkin didn’t really need the reminder. He still got pangs of need for it, even after all this time.

“I gave it up, as it happens,” he said, shuffling away (the Joxter had somehow managed to put himself closer and was sniffing at him again).

“Ha! Gave it up! Whatever for?”

Snufkin found he couldn’t answer. Of course, everyone knew all the cleverest hemulen scientists now said that smoking was terrible for one’s health. And all the frettiest, fussiest fillyjonks were now putting rules and bans in place, making smoking ever more difficult to enjoy. His natural instinct, of course, had been to go against all these rules and smoke until his lungs turned black.

Yet last time he had been in Moominvalley, Moomintroll had learned of all the frightening things that could happen if one smoked too often. He had become rather fussy, in his desperately restrained way, and Snufkin could feel him fret every time he lit his pipe. Eventually he could bear it no more and decided the best thing to do would be to quit. He had gave away most of his tobacco (aside from his Sunday pouch), and stored his catwood pipe at the bottom of his rucksack, wrapped in a scrap of fabric from Moominmamma’s closet.

As much as Snufkin hated to admit it, he did feel like breathing came a bit easier lately.

None of this, he knew, would be appreciated by the Joxter. The more and more a joxter was told not to do something, the more they wanted to.

“Let me guess – all that fillyjonk silliness about health, hm?” he said, blowing a ring into the air, “There’s been so much of that lately. I’ve never enjoyed tobacco more, honestly. If you’d like to tell me how dreadful it is, that would really add my enjoyment to the evening.”

“I wouldn’t like to. In fact, I’m going to bed,” he said, standing, having quite enough of this stranger. Snufkin had dealt with strangers taking more interest in him than he was particularly interested in receiving or returning. It was always embarrassing and unpleasant. Yet that didn’t even seem to be the case here – the Joxter certainly didn’t seem like a stubborn suitor. He had no idea what this stranger wanted. All he knew was that he wanted him to go away as soon as possible.

“Wait, wait, little snufkin, don’t –“

“Good night,” he snapped, heading into his tent and closing it behind him.

He set aside his hat and cloak, toeing off his boots. On the other side of the tent, the Joxter had fallen still and silent. Snufkin hoped that was a good sign. People like him would take interest quickly, but lose it just as quickly. Within a few hours, the Joxter would wander off and find someone else to annoy. Hopefully someone a bit more receptive to his kind of nonsense.

Moreover, he hoped that the Joxter wouldn’t take it to heart. As much as Snufkin needed his space, he hated to hurt people’s feelings to keep it. His encounter with Teety-woo had taught him to try to be more patient.

He drifted off to sleep, thinking instead of the pale daffodil shoots that were already beginning to show.

--

There was someone patting at his cheek.

The dawn light was only barely peeking through, and Snufkin groaned as he came to. For a second, he thought it was perhaps Moomintroll coming to wake him for some kind of adventure, perhaps even Little My sneaking into his tent just to be a pest, and then he saw a pair of huge, familiar eyes staring at him. The memories of the previous evening hit him like a brick.

The Joxter was still here.

“Get out of my tent,” Snufkin said.

The Joxter opened his mouth and something fell onto Snufkin’s lap.

He sat up, taking it in his paws curiously.

Snufkin did not yell. Nor did he scream. Rather, he shrieked.

The Joxter had dropped a dead bird onto his lap.

The Joxter darted out of the tent, tail lashing behind him. Snufkin breathed out, calming down enough to observe the poor thing in his paws. Yes, this was indeed one of the lovely curly-birds roosting in the trees nearby, with its poor neck snapped and its pretty feathers soaked with blood.

The poor thing.

He left the tent to find the Joxter by a dying fire, contentedly grooming his arms.

“What is this?” Snufkin asked, holding up the bird.

“Breakfast,” the Joxter said, and then added, in a tone of great self-satisfaction, “I’m being generous and nurturing.”

“Breakfast is not normally dropped bloody into one’s lap while they sleep,” Snufkin said, groggy and snappish. He had no coffee yet, his head hurt a little from alcohol the previous night, and there were entrails all over his shirt. It was not a pleasant morning, and he thought he could be forgiven for rudeness. “And besides that, I don’t…I don’t really eat this kind of thing.”

He used to, but in recent years he had lost his appetite for hunting. It seemed so cruel and needless, when forests and rivers would offer so much more and better food, without slaughtering the lovely rabbits and birds that kept the woods so alive.

The Joxter paused, clearly surprised.

Really? What do you eat then?”

“Fish and…whatever I can forage, mostly. Nuts, berries, leaves,” he said, suddenly aware of the aching hole in his gut, “Jams and breads and pancakes and fruits…hm…”

Jams?” the Joxter repeated incredulously, “What sort of snufkin are you? Why, you practically sound like a moomin.”

Snufkin stiffened.

Well, yes, he supposed. He did spend more time among moomins than he did wandering and exploring and doing all the snufkin-like things that were his nature. Yet he hardly expected anyone would ever make the connection. He was, after all, still a snufkin through and through.

“Is that what moomins eat, then?” he said, trying to sound casual. The Joxter laughed, rolling onto his back and putting his paws behind his head.

“Oh, yes, have you never met any?” he said, tail lashing back and forth, “They’re actually enormous fun. Until they get married, that is. After that they get rather domestic and fussy and self-important and stop wanting to do anything interesting.”

Snufkin frowned, still facing away. True, Moominpappa used to have much more exciting adventures before he married, but surely his own Moomin wouldn’t do that. Surely they would still have their time together even after Moomintroll’s own nature took its course. Although, the shape of that future…well, there was likely little space for Snufkin in it. Snufkin tried not to think about that too much.

“It’s unwise to talk about species in generalisations,” he said.

“Oh yes, of course,” the Joxter said, and sat up, tail flicking, “We all do it though, don’t we? After all, we all have our own natures.”

“Hm,” Snufkin said because sometimes one could neither agree or disagree with something without causing an argument. In such cases, ‘hm’ was sometimes a perfectly sensible option. To extract himself further from the conversation, he turned away to take down his tent.

The Joxter immediately leapt up and darted past him, diving into the bush Snufkin had just laid the bird.

There was a sickening crunch and the Joxter returned, very content, with feathers around his mouth.

Snufkin sighed.

Normally, he would like to have a wash in the river in the morning. He’d taken to bathing regularly as he could during his travels this year. Every time he returned to Moominvalley, Moominmamma would take one sniff of him in the spring and immediately force him into the bath. Last year, she had kindly but firmly told him he smelled much too awful to come into the house and would need to bathe outside first. Little My had then not-at-all-kindly and far-too-firmly blasted him with a hose. He’d rather not repeat that.

Yet there was no way he was about to wash in front of the Joxter. He would certainly find some way to make it uncomfortable and irritating.

So, Snufkin packed everything into his backpack and began his walk along the shore, looking for a good place to cross the river.

Behind him, ambling as though it were just coincidence they were heading the same direction, the Joxter followed.

--

There was no escaping the Joxter. Snufkin attempted winding paths, hiking up steep hills and grappling down towering cliffs. He stopped and started and swam (most joxters hated water) and tried ignoring him and tried paying attention to him but nothing would make this strange man get bored and go away. He would think, briefly, that he had finally won his precious solitude and then the Joxter would dart out of a bush, wiggling mouse caught between his teeth, and start snacking on it leisurely by his fire.

He was still none the wiser on what this strange creature wanted.

“Dinner?” he would say, dropping another dead rabbit by the fire.

“Caught anything?” he’d ask, getting under Snufkin’s feet as he tried to fish.

“Are you sure you don’t know me?” he’d ask, sniffing at Snufkin as he tried to eat his stew.

“I’m bored. Must you sleep all night?” he’d say, patting at Snufkin’s face in the early morning.

Snufkin was tired. He had not bathed. There were blood strains on his cloak, paw prints on his hat, and a great deal of fur had managed to find its way into his sleeping roll.

The next time the Joxter insisted on slinking into his tent, he snapped.

“That’s quite enough! I have been very patient, but my space is my space, and I do not believe I gave you permission to enter it!” he said, shoving the Joxter out of his tent, “I will be sleeping until I decide to wake up tonight! After that, I demand to be alone! Return to wherever you came from and leave me be!”

The Joxter landed on his back, catching his hat with a paw, fur standing on end. Snufkin huffed and turned back in, closing the tent behind him firmly.

He lay back down, breathing out. He knew it was quite rotten to shout so angrily at someone who didn’t intend anything awful, but he couldn’t help it. This was quite absurd.

Outside the tent, all was still and silent. Snufkin closed his eyes, hoping desperately the Joxter would leave.

There was an enormous shredding noise and Snufkin looked to see the Joxter’s claws raking through the tent.

“I think it’s getting warm enough to sleep without a tent, don’t you?” he said with infuriating casual jolliness, “Why not try sleeping in a tree like a joxter? Terribly comfortable when you get used to it.”

“Augh!” Snufkin said and leapt up. A few shreds of his tent landed in his hair. He seized his hat with one paw and his boots with the other. Poor Snufkin was at the end of his rope, and so he did the only thing he could think of - he began to run.

Spring had not yet come, but Snufkin was ready to return to Moominvalley. He would run barefoot and bare-headed until he got to the shelter of Moominhouse. The Moominhouse was a good sight more secure than his tent, after all, and there was Moominpappa’s gun to consider – that would surely scare the Joxter away. And then Moominmamma would make hot cocoa and Moomintroll would sit with him quietly, not asking endless questions and sniffing him and dropping dead animals in his lap.

“Where are you going, lad?” the Joxter called behind, following.

Snufkin ran faster, so fast that it was not long until he saw the pale blue tower of Moominhouse on the horizon. You may think that no snufkin could run so far so fast. That was usually true, but if you think so you clearly have never had to contend with a strange man who won’t leave you alone. For that, you are lucky.

Snufkin wrenched the door open and threw himself in, slamming it closed behind him. Moominhouse was still and silent – upstairs, the moomins were all still in their winter hibernation. Snufkin panted, his lungs burning.

“Moomintroll!” he called up the stairs, “Moomintroll, I’m here!”

There was a creak on the floorboards, and relief hit Snufkin so hard it was like sinking feet-first into a hot bath. At the top of the stairs, Moomintroll emerged, bleary-eyed and with fur sticking in every direction.

“Snufkin?” he asked sleepily, ambling down the stairs, “Am I dreaming again? Shall we have another sky-picnic?”

“No, Moomintroll, you’re quite awake and so am I,” he said, “Now listen closely –“

“Snufkin!” Moomintroll gasped, “You’re covered in blood!”

“Yes, yes, indeed,” Snufkin continued impatiently, “Now you must listen – there is a scoundrel following me and –“

“A scoundrel?” Moomintroll repeated, fussily grabbing every inch of Snufkin he could reach, “Are you alright, Snufkin? Did he hurt you?”

“No, no,” he said, “This isn’t my blood –“

“If there is a body, I will help you hide it,” Moomintroll said seriously.

“No –“

“What’s all the fuss, dear?” said a gentle voice. Moominmamma came downstairs with a lamp in her paw, still in her pyjamas.

“Snufkin has killed a man and we will need to hide the body,” Moomintroll said plainly.

“Oh my,” she said, eyes widening for a second, before she looked at Snufkin in his poor bedraggled state, “Well, we shall need the good shovel. I think I have an old tablecloth I would be happy enough to part with too.”

“No, the scoundrel is still at large,” Snufkin interrupted, “And he is almost certainly following me.”

“Well, don’t worry, Snufkin,” Moomintroll said gallantly, putting an arm around Snufkin’s shoulders, and then continued in a tone that sounded awfully like Moominpappa’s, “I will make certain no harm comes to you under my roof.”

Oh, Moomintroll does seem to be enjoying playing protector, Snufkin noted with a smile. This amusement and fondness fell away a second later to be replaced by irritation (he could take care of himself perfectly well after all), and he shooed Moomintroll’s paw from his shoulder.

“Of course. Why don’t you tell us about this scoundrel, and I'll pop the kettle on,” Moominmamma said.

“Yes, yes, what dreadful thing did he do, Snuff?” Moomintroll asked.

Snufkin paused.

“He ripped my tent.”

“How rude!”

“And caught me food.”

“…Hm?”

“And – and, well, he kept trying to talk to me when I wanted to be left alone.”

Moomintroll and Moominmamma both stared at him.

“Anything else, dear?” Moominmamma prompted gently.

“Well…not really, but he was very annoying,” he said, and sat down at the kitchen table, setting his hat and his boots down.

“What kind of creature was he?”

“A joxter,” he said, “An old one, with a red hat and dark fur.”

“Hmmm,” Moominmamma said, in the tone of every mother who knows something you don’t (and most mothers do), “Well…Snufkin, dear, sometimes when someone is being bothersome, it is because they very very much want you to like them, but do not know how to do it.”

“Snufkin still needs his space!” Moomintroll said hotly, “If they don’t understand that, then they don’t understand Snufkin and don’t deserve for him to like them.”

“Right you are, dear,” Moominmamma said, pouring tea, “But some people learn those sort of lessons rather slowly.”

“Far too slowly, if you ask me,” Snufkin huffed, accepting the tea.

There was a scratching at the door. The three of them fell silent and stared at it.

“The scoundrel is here,” Moomintroll whispered, immediately seizing hold of Moominmamma’s rolling pin from the counter, “Don’t you worry, Snufkin, he shan’t get past me. I’m a braver moomin than I’ve ever been, and Mamma has taught me all her tricks.”

“Don’t hurt him too badly, dear,” Moominmamma remarked, sipping her tea.

Before Snufkin could quite get control of the situation again, Moomintroll was charging towards the door with rolling pin clutched in his paw like a cricket bat. Snufkin followed, trying to figure out what to say, but as Moomintroll threw open the door, there was nobody there.

They stared at the empty doorstep for a second, both feeling rather embarrassed, when there came more scratching and rattling behind them.

“The window!” Moomintroll said, and there the Joxter was – picking the lock on the kitchen window with his claw. He pulled it open and tumbled in, pipe still clenched between his teeth. Moominmamma moved her tail out of his way.

“Ha! There you are, my boy! Sheltering in Moominhouse, hm?” the Joxter said, and then his gaze fell on Moomintroll, “Moomintroll, old friend, you haven’t aged a day!”

Moomintroll swiped at him with the rolling pin. The Joxter leaned out of the way, as though he expected no other welcome.

“Ah, you aren’t still angry at me for that whole nonsense, are you?”

“What is he talking about, Moomintroll?” Snufkin asked.

“I have no idea!” Moomintroll shouted, still swinging at the Joxter, “Now keep still so I can batter you! Mamma, grab him!”

“Mamma?” the Joxter repeated, and Moomintroll caught him across the face. He fell, tail flying up and hat flying off. Moominmamma shifted her chair back so he could hit the floor uninterrupted.

“What is all this fuss!”

“Pappa, there’s a scoundrel in the house!” Moomintroll shouted, looking as though he were deciding whether or not to take another swing at the Joxter or not.

“A scoundrel, eh!” Moominpappa said, intrigued, “Well, I will be right there to defend my home and my – oh.”

Moominpappa’s face fell.

“Moomintroll!” the Joxter said, sitting up, one side of his face already beginning to bruise badly enough both Snufkin and Moomintroll winced.

“So, this is your boy, eh? Wields a rolling pin just like his Mamma!” he said, as cheerful as someone who had not just lost a tooth.

Moominpappa sighed, like he regularly awoke to his son beating a strange man on his kitchen floor with a rolling pin, and simply wished it weren’t so frequent. His gaze slid over to Snufkin, standing bare-foot and hatless and feeling more and more bewildered by the second.

“So, Snufkin, I see your father introduced himself at last, eh?” he said, and shook his head, “Jolly good, been long enough.”

“My father?” Snufkin repeated.

“Ha ha, I knew it!” the Joxter said, “So you’re the result of that lovely little week the Mymble and I had! I knew you smelled familiar!”

 “Oh, please don’t tell us about the week again,” Moominpappa muttered.

“At least not in front of the children,” Moominmamma added, “Tea, Joxter?”

“Why that would be delightful Moominmai – Moominmamma,” he said, leaping up to the counter. He crept along and tucked himself into the sink, looking as though he were about to take one of his many, many naps./p>

“You’re my father?” Snufkin said, feeling as though that hadn’t been explored near enough. He would deal with being the Mymble’s son, and all the implications of that, later.

“Oh dear,” Moomintroll said, going very pink across the snout, “Well…I wouldn’t have hit you near as hard if I’d known that.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Snufkin said, not sure whether to be relieved there was a reason or further infuriated by the farce of it all.

“Can’t say I was totally sure myself,” he said, making himself at home in the sink, “Besides, I thought it would be funny to see how long it took you to work it out.”

Snufkin stared at the joxter in the sink. He was a small and smelly creature. He was rude and lazy and messy and almost pathetically silly, and not at all like the dashing rogue Snufkin had imagined his father to be.

Yet he supposed things were rarely as we imagine them. For instance, he had tea rather than cocoa, Moominpappa had not seized his gun, and Moomintroll had done just about everything but sit quietly. Yet he would not trade them for the world. And he supposed he could not trade the Joxter. Perhaps with enough time, he would not want to either.

“So quiet. What are you thinking, lad?” the Joxter said, and began to light his catwood pipe. Exactly the same kind Snufkin had been found with.

Snufkin sat back down at the kitchen table.

“The stories you were telling at the public house, please,” he said, “More honest versions, if you will.”

He glanced across at Moominpappa, who perked up at mention of story-telling.

“I believe between the two of you, we may be able to get to the truth of the matter.”