Moominpapa led the way along the beach with his lantern, a concerned Moominmama following close behind. They had been searching for hours, but found no trace of Thingummy and Bob, or Moominmama's missing handbag. Wherever the two runaways had gone, they sure were determined not to be found and forced to surrender the King's Ruby. Only problem was, out here in the dead of night, they were sitting targets for the Groke, currently hunting them down.
"Thingummy! Bob! Where are you?" called Moominpapa, "Come on out! It isn't safe!"
"Please, dears!" called Moominmama, looking worried sick, "We're not going to hurt you! Please, the Groke will get you out here!" No answer. But then, suddenly, Moominpapa noticed something through the light of his lantern.
"Footprints," he said to his wife, examining the pair of tiny footprints in the sand, so small, they could only belong to Thingummy and Bob, "It's them, dear."
"Oh, thank the Booble!" exclaimed Moominmama. It seemed they'd found them in the nick of time.
Following the trail, they came to the entrance to a cave overlooking the beach. Moominpapa smiled.
"The Muskrat's home," he said, realising the obvious, "So that's where they've been hiding! No wonder we couldn't find them."
The Muskrat was a wise old philosopher, another of the Moomins' weird neighbours, who lived in Moominvalley. Unlike other people however, the Muskrat had no house or owned any property of any kind, always regarding any materialistic wealth, as he called it, such as personal belongings, as foolish and pointless.
"That old grump has been hiding them?" asked Moominmama in disbelief, "I thought the Muskrat didn't care much for visitors."
"Yes, but he isn't the type to turn them away either," said Moominpapa, approaching the cave entrance. Sure enough, they heard its occupant's voice from within.
"It's me, Moominpapa, Mr Muskrat," called Moominpapa, "You used to live under our bridge, before the flood. Do you remember me?"
"My memory is as good as ever," replied the Muskrat dryly, "So what is your business here?"
"My wife and I are looking for two young elves with a black handbag who might have come this way," explained Moominpapa, "Have you seen them?"
"I most certainly have," came the Muskrat's reply, "In fact, they let themselves into my cave and are currently cowering in the corner behind me." Moominpapa and Moominmama exchanged looks.
"May we come in and talk to them, please?" asked Moominmama, "We promise not to be long."
"Time has no meaning to me," said the Muskrat glumly, "One's time in this world always comes to an end sooner or later. Enter if you may, or go away."
The Moomins entered the cave, not noticing the rapidly worsening chilliness in the air and the frost, signifying the Groke's presence...
Not too far away, Martin and his group were running as fast as they could towards the beach, hoping they were not too late. They had already found a trail of frost and frozen grass, which the Groke had left behind in her wake, indicating she too was heading straight towards the beach. No doubt that was where Thingummy and Bob were hiding with the Ruby.
Making their way down to the beach, they saw the Groke's trail again, fresher down here, pointing in the direction of a rocky alcove further along the shore, where Moomintroll had said the Muskrat's cave was. And, to their greatest horror, two more sets of footprints, which were Moominpapa and Moominmama's, could be seen alongside, heading in the same direction. They were being stalked! Sure enough, just up ahead, they saw the tall outline of the Groke, her back turned to them, approaching the cave. Moomintroll gasped.
"Oh, no! Mama! Papa...!"
"There's no way we can get to that cave before the monster does," said Martin, holding him back, "We need some way to distract her, stall her long enough to outrun her." He turned to Snork, Sniff, Snufkin and Little My.
"I need you lot to string yourselves out along the top of the slope overlooking the beach. Then I want you to distract the Groke, so that she slows down. Use any way you can think of; throw stones, call her rude names, anything you can think of." Most of them nodded without hesitation; Sniff however was indignant.
"You want to use us as bait for that monster?!" he shrieked, eyes popping, "Are you crazy?"
"Then, are you volunteering to outrun her instead?" asked Martin, who would be getting the most dangerous part of this job, along with Moomintroll.
"Then shut up and get moving!" he urged him, "And remember, don't take any stupid risks. The second the Groke starts coming for you, you get out of there!" He turned to Snorkmaiden.
"Snorkmaiden, you go back to the house and get some help. We might need backup." Thankfully, she didn't object and turned to leave, but not before kissing Martin on the cheek and then doing the same to Moomintroll.
"Please be careful. All of you."
Snufkin, Snork, Sniff and Little My hurryingly took up positions along the edge of the slope. Snufkin was the first to make his move. Picking up a pebble he tossed it in the direction of the Groke, hitting her square on the ear. Startled, the creature turned to see what had happened, narrowing her eyes at the sight of Snufkin. How dare that young hoodlum pummel her with stones! She began making her way towards him, intent on teaching him a lesson. Snufkin calmly held his ground.
"Come and get me, you ugly monster!"
Looking over the Groke's shoulder, he watched Martin and Moomintroll run right past her unnoticed. It was working! His mission complete, just before the Groke could reach him, Snufkin turned tail and disappeared into the trees. The Groke didn't bother continuing the chase; she had bigger fish to fry...or rather to freeze.
Further down, she was intercepted by Snork, who got her attention by shining the light of his lantern in her face. Naturally attracted to all sources of light and warmth, the Groke made a beeline for Snork's lantern, only for the quick-thinking inventor to dim his light at the last moment and flee. As for Sniff, the second the Groke caught sight of him, he turned tail and ran.
Losing interest in all of them, the Groke continued on her way to that cave, where she could sense her stolen ruby was. But that was until she ran into Little My. Without warning, she was attacked by a shower of mud pies the little Mymble had prepared just for her. Little My roared with laughter as one found its mark right in the Groke's face.
"Like my surprise, Groke?" she taunted the monster from the top of the slope, "What's the matter? Can't talk, you walking, ugly lump of ice-cream? No wonder your people chucked you out! Who could stand the sight of you?" Unfortunately, she was playing with fire.
The Groke was beyond furious. That was the last insult she was going to take! She would show her tormentors, who had robbed her and made fun of her miserable existence, some real terror! She made her way towards Little My, intent on giving that little pimple a taste of her own medicine. Little My continued to mock her, watching her get closer.
"You can't catch me, you fat old fridge!" she chanted, blowing raspberries at the Groke and pulling rude faces at her, "You can't catch me... Ah!"
In the midst of her fun, she wasn't watching her step. Losing her footing, she tumbled down the slope and right into the path of the Groke. Frantically, she tried scampering back up to safety, but the slope was too slippery. Before she knew what was happening, the Groke had her cornered. Little My gulped. This time, she was in real trouble...
Outrunning the Groke, Martin and Moomintroll ran as fast as they could towards the Muskrat's cave. They knew they only had a minute or two before the Groke realised what they were up to and then she'd be upon them. Scampering up the rocks, they dashed into the cave.
Inside, they came to a small cavern, which served as the Muskrat's humble dwelling, empty, except for a frayed old hammock which served as a bed. The Muskrat, like most of the inhabitants of Moominvalley, wasn't human, but rather a fat, furry creature resembling a giant walrus with thick greying whiskers. He hardly registered the arrival of the two newcomers, lost in his own faraway thoughts. And standing nearby were their parents, towering over Thingummy and Bob, who were holding Moominmama's handbag protectively between them.
Caught those little rascals red-handed, I see, thought Martin with a frown.
"...We Moomins are accepting of anyone we welcome into our house," Moominpapa was saying, looking very cross, "But we do not tolerate thievery! You give back Moominmama's handbag at once, or we go straight to the police!"
"No!" retorted the pair defiantly, still clinging firmly to Moominpapa's handbag, where, they knew, the King's Ruby was hidden. "King's Ruby ours! We keep!"
"Please, my dears," said Moominmama, trying to reason with them in a more sympathetic manner, "We have no interest in the King's Ruby; just give me back my handbag and you can come back with us to Moominhouse, where you'll be safe." But the pair remained stubbornly defiant.
"Well, in that case, you have two options," said Martin, stepping forward, "Arrest for theft, or face the Groke's wrath. Personally, I can't think of a dumber way to throw your lives away." He turned to his step-parents.
"The Groke's coming. She's right outside on the beach! We have to get out of here right now!"
At the mention of the Groke coming, Thingummy and Bob were absolutely terrified. Trembling and their eyes popping out of their heads in fear, they shrunk back against the cave wall. But this time there was nowhere to go. Sure enough, the familiar chill in the air filled the cave, announcing the Groke's arrival. She was right outside the cave. Too late to run...The sound of her angry grunting gave Moomintroll goosebumps.
"Please, help us!" squealed Thingummy and Bob, thinking this was surely the end, "Don't let her get us!"
"As you sow, so shall you reap," said the Muskrat from his hammock, speaking for the first time. Martin couldn't help but be amazed by how calm and indifferent their host was, given the circumstances; here they were, trapped inside a cave with the wolf at the door, and he acted as if he hadn't a care in the world, as per his philosophy. "You stole from the Groke; and a thief is king until he's caught."
"A bit too late to come back crying to us," added Moomintroll, rolling his eyes at the pair. Thanks to those two idiots, now they were all in deep trouble. But Moominmama, still sympathising for Thingummy and Bob, spoke to her husband.
"We can't let the Groke have them, dear," she pleaded with him, "We have to do something!"
"The only thing we can do is give her back the King's Ruby while we still can," said Martin, stating the obvious. He turned toward the mouth of the cave, where the Groke was waiting. "I'll go outside, to see if she's still willing to bargain."
"Dear, are you sure this is safe?" asked Moominmama with concern, "Maybe I should go..."
"The Groke didn't freeze me solid the first time," Martin pointed out, "Besides, she'll need me warm-blooded and fleshy to be able to come back and bring her the ruby."
Cautiously approaching the mouth of the cave, he saw the Groke standing outside on the rocks, waiting for him. Martin cautiously approached her. Thankfully, she made no move to attack him. In fact, she seemed relaxed, almost confident. What was she doing? And what was that thing she was holding under her arm? As she stepped into the moonlight, Martin realised with horror what it was.
Clutched in her massive hand by the hair was a frozen-stiff Little My. Her eyes were wide with terror from when the Groke's cursed touch had frozen her solid, her mouth still open in a silent scream. The Groke pointed at her captive, then in the direction of the cave. The message was pretty clear: either they handed over the Ruby at once, or else Little My would bite the dirt, or in this case, the ice.
"The Groke's got Little My!" cried Martin, dashing back into the cave. Moomintroll and his parents were alarmed at the news. Little My may be a pain at times, but she was still one of the family.
"Oh, my goodness!"
"We have to hand over that Ruby right now, or she's done for!" He turned to Thingummy and Bob, "Give me that handbag. Now!" The pair however were hesitant, still unwilling to give up their one and only treasure.
"I can't believe you two!" exclaimed Moomintroll angrily, "We went through all this trouble to find you and now you'd rather leave Little My to the mercy of the Groke over a ruby? You should be more grateful than that!"
"I don't see what all the fuss is about," muttered the Muskrat, still sitting as if he hadn't a care in the world, "Jewels are useless anyway, just like all materialistic wealth. What's the point of owning something if it can't truly be yours forever? You'd only be plagued with the fear of losing it, having it stolen, or eventually having to part with it. Why do you think I choose not to own property?"
"The Ruby was never yours to begin with," explained Moominpapa, "The Groke accidentally dropped it from the top of her mountain."
"We found it!" the duo half-screamed. "It's ours!"
"Yes, you found it, but it's still not yours," said Moomintroll, "It's the Groke's and you're robbing her!"
"The King's Ruby will bring you nothing but trouble," Moominpapa pointed out, "You don't deserve to be saddled with such a horrible thing; let the Groke take it back with her where it belongs."
At last, that seemed to get through to Thingummy and Bob, who slowly handed over Moominmama's handbag, albeit half-heartedly. Moominmama opened it and pulled out the gleaming King's Ruby. Taking it, Martin hurried back outside, where the Groke was waiting for him.
The Groke held out her large black hand for Martin to pass her the Ruby, whilst keeping a firm grip on the turned-icicle Little My with the other. Martin passed her the Ruby and took Little My into his arms. He winced at how cold she was; it was like pulling her out of a vat of liquid nitrogen. She wasn't moving, displaying no signs of life, like a statue. Martin felt his anger rise.
"You killed her. You killed her!" he shouted furiously at the Groke. Any sympathy he had felt previously for this supposedly misunderstood creature that had once been human like him had vanished; right now, all he wanted was to spring at that fiend that had murdered his friend and rip her apart with his bare hands!
The Groke just stood there in silence, as if reconsidering. Obviously she could tell how distressed this young man was by the state of his friend. Not that she cared one bit about Little My, who had mocked and insulted her, but Martin at least had had the decency to return her precious ruby. Even after being a monster for so long wasn't enough to suppress what little humility remained within her heart.
Holding out the King's Ruby, she placed it over Little My's frozen body, which Martin was cradling in his arms. The Ruby began to glow a fiery red. Martin watched petrified, wondering what she was doing. His eyes went wide, noticing the reflection on the Ruby, which, he realised, was the Groke's; only rather than that of a monster's, it was a young woman's – Mora's, still frozen in eternal youth after three hundred years, albeit in reflection only. No wonder the King's Ruby was so important to her.
Pressing the Ruby over Little My's heart, the ice engulfing her began the melt. Stiffened limbs slackened, colour returned to her face and her body temperature rose back to normal. Within seconds, the Ruby had worked its magic; Little My lay in Martin's arms, unconscious and her clothes all damp from the melted ice, but otherwise thoroughly defrosted and breathing. She was going to be all right.
Her task complete, the Groke nodded curtly one last time and turned to depart for the Lonely Mountain. The people of Moominvalley would finally find their peace again, although, somehow, Martin felt they hadn't seen the last of her. He muttered his thanks, watching her leave, until she disappeared into the night and was gone.
By that time, the Moomins had come out, anxious to find out what had happened. They all gasped at the sight of Little My in Martin's arms.
"Thank the Booble!" exclaimed Moomintroll, realising she wasn't frozen solid, "What happened? What did the Groke do to her?"
"Froze her like an ice lolly, that's what," explained Martin, causing everyone present to gasp in horror, expecting the worst, "But then, she thawed her when I gave her back the Ruby. Guess she took pity on her at the last moment." The Moomins were absolutely gobsmacked; why would a terrible monster like the Groke take pity on Little My, when she could have just left her frozen forever in revenge for stealing her Ruby?
Moominmama took Little My into her arms. Taking a handkerchief from her handbag to use as a towel, she tenderly dried her off. Pretty soon, she came round.
"Wh-...where am I?" groaned Little My, her memory a total blank. Slowly, it all came back to her. Her expression gave way to fury, "Where's the Groke? Wait till I get my hands on her and I'll...Ah-choo!"
"Take it easy, Little My," said Moominmama, cradling her like a baby, much to Little My's embarrassment, "You need rest, dear." She clearly hadn't been harmed, other than perhaps a nasty cold, judging by her rapid sneezing.
At that moment, Snorkmaiden, Snork and Snufkin came running, followed by the Inspector, whom the former had summoned for help.
"Is everybody all right, Moominpapa?" asked the Inspector, looking wearily around with his lantern, as if expecting to see the Groke lurking somewhere in the shadows, "I heard the Groke was about to attack you...!"
"We're all just fine, Inspector," Moominmama reassured him, "Just a little shaken perhaps."
"And the Groke?"
"The Groke's gone, Inspector," said Martin, "She got what she wanted and now she's gone for good. We can all breathe now." The Inspector was most impressed.
"Congratulations, young Mr Park," he said, shaking Martin's hand, "I don't know how you did it, but you've done Moominvalley a great service by ridding us of that terror! You deserve a medal for your courage!"
"It was nothing really, Inspector, but thank you," said Martin, starting to feel embarrassed by all this praise. He hoped he wouldn't have to explain about Thingummy and Bob, who were huddling behind Moominmama, still shaken by their frightening experience. The last thing they needed was to get those two into the law's bad books for starting all this trouble in the first place. Either way, they'd learned their lesson good and proper.
Snorkmaiden hugged Moomintroll tightly and kissed him on the cheek, "You're so brave! I was so worried about you! Thank the Booble you weren't hurt!" Moomintroll blushed beetroot red.
"I think we could all use a hot drink and crumpets after all this excitement," said Moominmama, "Let us get back to Moominhouse so I can put the kettle on to boil."
Soon, they were all safely back indoors, sipping mugs of hot chocolate by the fire. It may be early summer, but after such a close encounter with the Groke, one would take some time to get used to being warm again. Little My certainly thought so, as she sat in her chair, wrapped in a blanket and with her feet in a bucket of warm water. She would probably be spending the following week in bed with a cold and wasn't looking forward to it one bit.
Moominmama took the steaming kettle off the fire and poured hot water into the bucket, accidentally scolding her.
"Ow!" screamed Little My indignantly, "Are you trying to boil me?!"
"Why all this grumbling, Little My?" asked Moomintroll, raising an eyebrow in amusement, "After all, you've proven you're totally indestructible!"
"Yes, our indestructible Little My," added Moominmama with a smile. Martin was sure they'd never hear the end of it.
"Is the King's Ruby really gone then?" asked Sniff, looking terribly disappointed. He had been hoping that they might end up keeping the Ruby in the end, a notion that was totally shattered when Martin had informed them that he'd returned the Ruby to the Groke, who had departed with it. An entire fortune, lost forever. Martin nodded.
"Yup, and good riddance to it," he said, "That thing was nothing but trouble."
"It could have fetched us so much money," Sniff grumbled on, "Oh, what did you have to give it back?" Across the coffee table, Thingummy and Bob were muttering something along the same lines.
"To save Little My's life for a start!" retorted Martin hotly. The little Mymble shot Sniff a dirty look. Sniff fell silent, realising he'd gone a bit too far. Of course he'd never trade Little My for the King's Ruby, no matter how greedy he was.
"Money and wealth doesn't buy you true happiness, Sniff," said Moominmama calmly, "Like the Muskrat said, in the end, wealth is only your greatest misery. You'll find your friends and family are your greatest treasure alone."
"Hear, hear," said Martin, raising his mug of hot chocolate to congratulate his step-mother. Of all those present, he had discovered the true value of family and friendship in more ways than one, probably more that anyone who'd ever lived. Personally, he wouldn't trade the Moomins for all the money in the world.
Thingummy and Bob departed Moominvalley only a few days after their final run-in with the Groke. Although initially devastated at losing what would have been their prized ruby, they eventually accepted that Moominmama was right; there were much better things in life than wealth, one of them being their newfound friendship with the Moomins.
Moominmama had packed a king-sized lunch for them to eat on their way home, which they carried in their now empty suitcase. The pair thanked them all repeatedly for their hospitality, and promised to visit again soon, to which the Moomins were eagerly looking forward to. The only possible exception was Little My, still recuperating upstairs, who blamed the duo for landing her in bed with a cold in the first place.
"Goodbye, Thingummy! Goodbye, Bob!" waved Moomintroll and Snorkmaiden together, watching the pair depart, carrying their noticeably heavier suitcase between them. "Come back anytime!"
"Just don't bring us any more stolen rubies," called Martin, half-jokingly, "Maybe you should try sampling rare flower seeds instead. Moominmama loves those."
They watched as Thingummy and Bob followed the footpath, until they were gone over the top of the hillside. Another exciting adventure had drawn to a happy close. Martin couldn't help but wonder how many more grand adventures were there in store for him and his friends? Life in Moominvalley would continue.
Author's note: Another chapter up! As always, I apologize for the delay, but work has been dragging on late into the summer this year because of Covid. Enjoy and please review!