Rumo and his miraculous.., p.10
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.10

           Walter Moers
 

  Suddenly there was a violent jolt. Rumo slithered across the floor and the giants went crashing into the walls. For a moment they were as startled as the chieftains had been by the thunderbolt on the rocky plateau, and Rumo decided to exploit this distraction as before. Heedless of his smarting eyes and nose, he sprang up and made straight for the crackling sound of a torch. Before the Demonocles could react he had snatched it from its holder. The nearest giant recovered his wits and made a move in Rumo’s direction – the creaking of his knee joints was clearly audible. He raised his weapon, a short iron chain composed of massive links that jangled in Rumo’s ears. He also made the mistake of blinking his only eye. To Rumo it sounded like a lizard closing and opening its gooey mouth. He thrust the torch straight at that juicy sound, and a bestial scream, accompanied by a noise like frying fat, told him that he had hit the target fair and square. The torch stuck fast in the blinded Demonocle’s eye socket and went out with a hiss, but his blood-curdling screams went on and on. His companions seemed paralysed by this cold-blooded act. Their ferocious determination and voracity evaporated in a flash – the flying ghost had come to life again! Rumo, who had already snatched the second torch from its holder, located the screams and doused it in the sightless giant’s gaping mouth.

  This spectacle was too much for the others. They milled around in panic, blocking their own escape route by all trying to squeeze through the narrow exit simultaneously.

  Rumo took the last torch from the wall and thrust it into their confused, jostling mass of bodies. One of them caught fire. The sparks from his fur set two more ablaze and within a few seconds they were all burning fiercely. A couple of them managed to squeeze through the gap and ran screaming along the tunnels like torches on legs. The others rolled around on the floor of the cave, desperately trying to put out the flames. Rumo paid them no more heed. He leapt over their burning bodies and out of the cave.

  The escape

  The screams had started again. They were issuing from many throats and they sounded even more desperate than before, so Rumo was still alive and busy completing Phase 2 of the plan. Smyke decided that it was time to organise an exodus from the cave.

  ‘Listen, folks,’ he called. ‘It looks as if the island has run aground. I advise you all to leave this accursed cave as fast as possible and make your way down to the water’s edge. Don’t be afraid of the Demonocles, they’ve got enough on their plates. When you get outside, simply dive into the sea and swim for it. Land can’t be far away. Better to be eaten by sharks than by those one-eyed monsters.’

  The terrified Hackonians hadn’t stirred since the island ran aground. Now they pulled themselves together and made for the exit.

  ‘Incidentally,’ Smyke called after them before they disappeared down the tunnels, ‘your saviour’s name is Rumo. You ought to make a note of it.’ Then he, too, made for the exit.

  Rumo tottered along Roaming Rock’s subterranean passages. The shower of sparks in front of his eyes had subsided – all he occasionally saw were red and white specks – but he still wasn’t capable of smelling anything. His warlike exertions had taken their toll: he was tired, injured and unsteady on his legs. He heard an unidentifiable crackling sound, possibly from a discarded torch, to judge by the shadows dancing along the walls of a side tunnel. Rounding the bend, he caught sight of three Demonocles. Armed with clubs and stone axes, they were standing mutely over the smouldering corpse of one of their number. The surprise factor was equally great on both sides. The giants would probably have found Rumo easy meat in his present state, but he merely growled and bared his bloodstained teeth, and they turned and ran off. He staggered after them in the direction of the cool breeze that was wafting along the tunnel towards him.

  Will-o’-the-Wisp Bay

  Rumo emerged on to the rocky plateau and looked at the sea. The storm had abated and the horizon was illuminated by the first rays of the rising sun. To the west, a thick blanket of inky-blue clouds still hung low over the water, but the rain had stopped. A few hundred yards away Rumo could see land, bare sandstone cliffs and little beaches. Several Demonocles and Hackonians were swimming ashore. Swarms of luminous insects were dancing above the sea, their busy hum filling the air.

  Some more dwarfs emerged from the cave behind Rumo. Having respectfully squeezed past him, they jumped off the rocks and into the sea. Someone had released the red gorilla, which suddenly appeared beside the bloodstained Wolperting. After giving him a long look, it too jumped into the sea. Rumo was left on his own.

  He looked down at the water, and the sight of the choppy waves turned his legs to jelly. The dry land was near and the water couldn’t be very deep. There were no sharks in sight – they were probably feasting far out to sea – but they weren’t the reason for his deep-seated fear.

  ‘You can’t swim, can you?’

  Rumo knew who had spoken without turning round. Volzotan Smyke came crawling out of the tunnel behind him.

  ‘No,’ said Rumo, ‘I can’t.’

  ‘No Wolperting can,’ said Smyke. ‘No need to be ashamed, it’s hereditary. You’re lucky I’m still here. Climb on my back.’

  Rumo did so. The Shark Grub’s body felt soft but firm beneath him as he clung to its plump curves. Smyke slithered down the almost vertical rock face like a raindrop trickling down a window-pane. Rumo hung on even tighter and dug his heels into Smyke’s yielding blubber.

  ‘It rather embarrasses me to be able to do this, but it’s something I’ve inherited from my disgusting marine ancestors,’ said Smyke, whose body was making hideous squelching noises as it slid down the rock. He glided smoothly into the sea and Rumo involuntarily drew up his legs as the sea water wetted his feet.

  ‘As soon as we’re ashore I shall seek out the most decadent company I can find,’ said Smyke. ‘I intend to live in the lap of luxury and sophistication. I yearn for sofas and sedan chairs, gilded columns and marble floors. Nature I want to see only in the form of well-tended gardens or oil paintings. I never want to set eyes on the sea again. Or, if I do, only from afar – from the terrace of my summer palace, as I gaze at it with distaste through my telescope.’

  The insects dancing overhead glowed with crystalline colours of every shade. It looked as if it were raining diamonds – the very air seemed to be on fire. ‘Springtime,’ said Smyke. ‘Those are will-o’-the-wisps on their mating flight. The miracle of love, my boy! We appear to have landed in Will-o’-the-Wisp Bay; it’s the only place where so many of those creatures are to be found. You’ve another reason to be thankful: we’ve run aground on the shores of Hackonia. You’re back home, so to speak.’

  Like a bloated swan, Smyke glided through the gentle swell past panting Hackonians and frantic, doggy-paddling Demonocles. Swimming among them was the red gorilla, which was propelling itself leisurely along on its back with sweeping movements of its arms. The sun had almost risen and the will-o’-the-wisps humbly extinguished themselves. They formed a long, humming, flying carpet and headed off, as if attracted by magnetism, towards the dazzling orb on the horizon.

  The first Demonocles had reached land and were running wildly along the shore. Many were already scaling the sandstone cliffs.

  ‘I can’t guarantee those pea-brained monsters have learnt their lesson,’ said Smyke, ‘but I’m sure they’ll treat other life forms with greater respect in the future. All the same, I wouldn’t like to bet on it. Ah, land at last!’

  He splashed another few yards through the surf and stopped. ‘You can get off now. It’s only knee-deep here.’

  Rumo slid off his back and promptly began to wash. The bloodstained water ran down him in discoloured streams, reddening the sea at his feet. One by one, the last Hackonians waded ashore and plodded past him in silence with their heads bowed, a bedraggled procession of dwarfs.

  When his fur was white at last, he too went ashore.

  Ashore at last

  Smyke crawled across the beach, grunting with delight as his plump body dug a circular fu
rrow in the sand. He let the grains trickle through his little fingers. ‘Land!’ he cried. ‘Terra firma! I still can’t take it in.’

  Rumo raised his head and sniffed the air. His nose was still dripping and it would be some time before it regained its sensitivity, but it was functioning, albeit to a very limited extent. He shut his eyes.

  The wisps of scent were paler and more tenuous than usual. Everything seemed to be covered with a thin film, but he could smell the sea, the moist sand, the nearby fields of grass. And up there, fluttering high above the other wisps, wasn’t that the Silver Thread? Yes, there it was again. It was very much thinner than before, but he could definitely see it – it was no dream. His inner eye had lost sight of it for a while, that was all.

  Smyke’s voice broke in on his thoughts. ‘What do you intend to do now? Are you going back to the Hackonians?’

  Rumo opened his eyes and looked at the departing dwarfs, who were going home to their looted and devastated farmsteads.

  ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’m going that way.’ He pointed in the direction of the fluttering Silver Thread.

  ‘Good,’ said Smyke. ‘I’ll accompany you for a while, if you’ve no objection.’ He looked Rumo up and down. ‘The first thing we must do is get you something to wear.’

  Rumo looked down at himself. The morning sun was beginning to dry his fur.

  ‘To wear?’ he repeated. ‘Why?’

  Volzotan Smyke bared his teeth in a grin. ‘We’ll soon be entering civilisation. You’re a grown-up now, my son.’

  Smyke and Rumo took advantage of the daylight and remained on the move all day. Sunlight, the open sky, an unobstructed view, the countryside, clouds – it took them a while to get used to these obvious things, and although they were back on dry land the ground still seemed to sway around like a floating island. Smyke bombarded Rumo with umpteen questions as they made their way across the sand dunes. He propelled himself along like a caterpillar, with the upper part of his body erect and the lower part advancing in a series of rhythmical undulations. To Rumo’s surprise they made good progress, although Smyke needed to rest considerably more often than a Wolperting.

  Most of Smyke’s questions concerned Rumo’s battles in the labyrinth on Roaming Rock. How had the Demonocles fought? What methods, what instinctive tactics, had Rumo employed? As for Rumo’s account of the episode in which he’d been temporarily blinded, Smyke insisted on hearing it again and again.

  By evening they had reached a spot where the flat coastal plain gave way to sparsely wooded hills. There were also some bushes and shrubs from which a few berries and nuts could be picked, and they even found a tree laden with sour little apples. Rumo didn’t care what he ate. After what had happened on Roaming Rock he preferred to feel hungry rather than full up. It was almost as if he’d eaten enough for a lifetime in the Demonocle chieftains’ cage. The mere act of eating would always remind him of those bestial one-eyed giants, and he disliked the feeling of repletion and the lethargy that accompanied it. Sleeping and eating would never be among his favourite occupations. He preferred to be alert and hungry.

  Smyke, on the other hand, indulged in culinary fantasies as soon as they lay down to sleep in a small copse. In him the fresh apples had aroused an almost uncontrollable craving for some decent food. He had suppressed this while on Roaming Rock, but now they were back on dry land, and to Smyke dry land meant lush pastures in which sleek cows munched the juicy grass that augmented their fat reserves and filled their udders with rich milk from which one could ladle delicious cream for use in the most sumptuous gateaux … and so on and so forth. Smyke’s powers of imagination were almost inexhaustible. Eventually, in the midst of describing a dish in which stuffed mouse bladders played a central role, he quietly went to sleep.

  Rumo, too, enjoyed a really good night’s sleep for the first time for ages. He dreamt that the Silver Thread was floating above fields of golden-yellow wheat. It had a voice this time, but the voice didn’t speak; it hummed a strange and enchanting melody.

  Civilisation

  The district Rumo and Smyke explored the next morning was threaded with numerous rivers and streams. Rumo would have found it quite impossible to wade through anything deeper than a waist-deep stream, so Smyke’s ability to swim more than compensated for the many rests they had to take for his sake.

  The water had transformed the whole area into a paradise. The berry-laden bushes, rhubarb plants, apple trees and flowers that grew everywhere attracted creatures of all kinds. Bees hummed, birds darted after insects, and the place abounded in rabbits, partridges, deer, ducks and pigeons. Rumo could easily have killed one of the deer or rabbits, which showed little fear, but – much to Smyke’s vociferous regret – his memories of the Demonocles would have made that seem like sacrilege.

  After half a day’s march the countryside became flatter and more monotonous, the rivers rarer, the tracks more frequent and well-trodden. Here and there, isolated farms could be seen on the hilltops, and the scenery was dominated by fields of grain and fenced-in pastureland instead of woods and wild meadows.

  ‘Can you smell that?’ asked Smyke.

  Of course Rumo could smell it, even with his dripping nose. For some time now the air had been filled with the unmistakable aroma of roast pork. Rumo had tried to ignore it, because it was mingled with several other rather unpleasant smells. He could detect tobacco smoke and sweat. And horse dung.

  ‘Somebody’s doing some serious cooking somewhere,’ Smyke said in a tremulous voice.

  ‘Three of them. Over there behind the hill.’ Rumo pointed in the direction from which he was receiving this information. Smyke put on speed.

  In a dip beyond the hill, at the intersection of two tracks, stood a gloomy building rather inexpertly knocked together out of rough-hewn timber. The beams were crooked, the windows triangular, the gables absurdly askew. Smyke could now smell it too, that blend of cold ashes, burnt fat and stale beer. Only one type of building smelt that way.

  ‘An inn,’ he gasped, licking his lips. Tethered beside a drinking trough outside the building were two farm horses with black coats and white manes.

  ‘There are some Bluddums in there,’ Smyke whispered. ‘At least two of them. Only Bluddums ride plough horses without saddles. That makes at least three including the innkeeper.’

  Rumo nodded. ‘Three of them. All unwashed.’

  Smyke thought for a moment.

  ‘Listen,’ he said at length, ‘I’ve a favour to ask – one that probably won’t appeal to you.’

  Rumo pricked up his ears.

  ‘When we go inside I’d like you to walk on all fours.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘It’s a combat tactic I call the surprise element. You’re bound to find it useful.’

  ‘Hm.’ Rumo recalled how he’d entered the twelve Demonocles’ cave on all fours. That hadn’t been such a good idea.

  ‘Don’t say a word when we get inside – not a word, understand? I’ll do the talking. At some point I’ll leave the room for a minute or two. All you have to do then is listen carefully to what’s said. There are two possibilities: it’ll be either something good or something bad. If it’s bad, give me a sign when I come back. Paw the ground with your right foreleg. The rest will come by itself.’

  Rumo nodded and went down on all fours.

  The Glass Man Tavern

  There’s a story attached to every building. The story can be more exciting or less, depending on who lives there. If a house is occupied by a Hackonian farmer the probability is that he keeps his garden well weeded and pays his taxes regularly, so the story of his house will be relatively uneventful. If the occupants are werewolves, on the other hand, they spend the day in sealed coffins in the coal cellar, and at night, when the coffins creak open, scenes of unparalleled horror unfold. Thus, Zamonian buildings are associated with all kinds of stories. This one is the story of The Glass Man Tavern.

  Kromek Toomah was a second-class Bluddum, which meant that he was
regarded as badly off, even for a Bluddum. At some stage – nobody knew exactly when, because no self-respecting historian would ever have wasted time on the history of their breed – the Bluddums had established a fairly simple class system designed to distinguish between not too badly off and very badly off Bluddums. However, it soon turned out that the borderline between moderate and abject poverty was fluid and hard to define, so this class system lapsed into oblivion as time went by. All that needs to be said here is that if the yardstick of the old class system had been applied to Kromek Toomah it would have been necessary to invent a third class.

  Of all the inhabitants of Zamonia endowed with the power of speech, the Bluddum was regarded as the life form with the least well-developed social instincts. Most Bluddums pursued occupations in which oafishness and insensitivity were not only tolerated but indispensable. They became bouncers or mortuary attendants, infantrymen or fairground boxers, slaughtermen or executioners. Anyone lacking the qualifications even for those jobs opened an inn like Kromek Toomah.

  Kromek hadn’t always been an innkeeper. He had embarked on a comparatively respectable career by Bluddum standards, having joined the private army of Hussein Banana, the Ornian princeling, at the age of ten. A veteran of twenty-five years’ service, he had taken part in all of Hussein’s frontier wars, losing four toes, one eye and two fingers in the process. His body bore 114 large scars and countless smaller ones. He was also deaf in one ear, having fired too many cannon, and suffered from occasional spasms in the spine where a poisoned arrow had struck him.

  None of this would ever have induced Kromek to change his occupation. No, fate and the economic situation were responsible. One day Prince Hussein had paraded his troops and announced, ‘Men, I’m bankrupt! Sorry not to have any more welcome news to impart, but my treasury is empty. Those confounded flame-throwers, which persisted in firing backwards, cost a fortune to develop, and our attack on Florinth has not been crowned with the success its strategic brilliance deserved. In short, men: You’re dismissed!’

 

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