Rumo and his miraculous.., p.11
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.11

           Walter Moers

  Kromek would never have believed, even in his wildest dreams, that a prince could go bankrupt. He had envisioned himself as a military instructor at the age of 180 and a retired war veteran at 250, yet here he was, unemployed at 35. Together with the other Bluddums he lynched the prince and carried his head around on a spear for an hour or two. This didn’t get them their jobs back, however, so they split up and roamed Zamonia alone or in groups.

  Kromek set off into the blue with a fellow veteran named Tok Tekko. For some years they scraped a living as highwaymen and paid duellists. Then Tok was so badly mauled by savage forest werewolves that Kromek had to bury him alive, that being the only way of preventing people mauled by werewolves from turning into werewolves themselves. Thereafter Kromek trudged on alone, waylaying any travellers unfortunate enough to cross his path and stealing their money and provisions. One day, having penetrated ever deeper into south-west Zamonia, he came to a crossroads and wondered aloud which direction to take. Then he heard a voice.

  ‘Kromek Toomah,’ said the voice.

  ‘Huh?’ said Kromek.

  ‘Snrt fints. Mmfi dratbla.’

  Kromek Toomah scratched his head. He hadn’t understood a word apart from his name, and no wonder. The fact of the matter was, he was in the process of going insane. Not that he realised it, of course, he was suffering from a hereditary mental disorder quite commonly found in Bluddums. This condition, which caused metabolic disturbances in the brain, had chosen to attack him at that particular moment. A relatively predictable disease with fairly typical symptoms, it made its victims hear voices and commands or music from other planets. Having rotated on the spot for several days, barking madly, they would sometimes return to normal for months on end. What had happened at the crossroads that day was that the disease was trying to formulate its first commands. Kromek stood there for the next three days, barking like a dog, rotating on the spot and endeavouring to make sense of the unintelligible gibberish in his head. Then, all of a sudden, the voice became crystal clear and said, ‘I command you to build an inn here.’

  ‘Who are you?’ asked Kromek.

  ‘I am, er, The Glass Man,’ said the voice.

  As far as Kromek Toomah was concerned, that was reason enough for him to build an inn – a thoroughly favourable outcome to the disease, because many of its victims received far stranger orders, some of them bloodthirsty in the extreme. In Kromek’s case his sick brain had laid the foundations of a comparatively healthy business, because inns were always in demand, especially in such outposts of civilisation.

  Zorda and Zorilla

  By his standards, Kromek Toomah was in a fairly stable mental state when Smyke and Rumo approached his inn – Rumo growling and walking on all fours, as instructed. Having had his last attack three weeks earlier, the innkeeper could look forward to two or three months’ normality. He had recently acquired some regular customers in the shape of two Bluddums named Zorda and Zorilla, who had found him after his last seizure. To his horror, Kromek had discovered that some shameless bandits had taken advantage of his helpless, deranged condition and looted his storeroom in the interim. That was why Zorda and Zorilla dropped in every day, just to see that all was well. They had quickly become a permanent feature of The Glass Man, eating and drinking a great deal, and playing cards all the time. They insisted on putting everything on the slate, so their bill was mounting steadily.

  Zorda and Zorilla were in an irritable mood, unlike Kromek, but they took care not to show it. On their first visit to The Glass Man a few weeks earlier, Kromek had been standing behind the counter, barking. To begin with they had merely found this amusing. Then, when they helped themselves to the wine barrel without being asked to pay, it had dawned on them that the innkeeper was completely incapacitated. They sat down, drank his wine, ate his roast pork and waited. After a couple of hours Kromek started to rotate on his own axis, still barking. They watched him all night, egging him on and getting disgustingly drunk. When they awoke next morning Kromek was still behind the counter, whimpering now. They proceeded to ransack his storeroom and bear off its contents to their lair. Kromek recovered his wits just as they returned to the inn to complete the job, so they put on an act and blathered something about some bandits who had taken to their heels at the sight of them. Kromek thanked them effusively, and Zorda and Zorilla now visited The Glass Man every day, waiting for him to start barking again.

  But Kromek’s mental condition remained stable. He carefully noted every drop of wine and morsel of food they consumed, and made a corresponding mark on his slate. Zorda was now toying with the idea of settling matters in the time-honoured fashion and braining Kromek with a wine jug. That was how he had solved most of the problems in his life. The only trouble was, the innkeeper was a tough nut, a war veteran and still in good shape, so the outcome of such a course of action was anything but predictable.

  Two new customers

  ‘An exceedingly good day to you, gentlemen.’ Smyke’s melodious bass voice jolted Zorda out of his violent daydream. ‘I trust I’m permitted to enter?’

  Smyke and Rumo surveyed their surroundings. Although primitively furnished, The Glass Man fulfilled the basic requirements of the innkeeper’s trade. There was a makeshift bar nailed together, some rickety chairs and tables that had clearly been improvised out of tree stumps, and two broached barrels, one of beer and the other of wine. A half-charred Ornian Marsh Hog was sizzling on a spit over the open fire. Smyke had often dreamt of such a spectacle in his pool on Roaming Rock.

  The startled Bluddums turned to stare at the door. Zorilla instinctively reached for his ball and chain, which was lying under the table, and Kromek gave such a start that he knocked a glass off the counter. Customers were rare enough in this wilderness, and the taproom of The Glass Man had certainly never been patronised by such a strange pair. Zorda and Zorilla had never seen a Wolperting before, let alone a Shark Grub. Kromek, on the other hand, had seen a Shark Grub on at least one occasion, because Prince Hussein Banana had temporarily employed one as his minister of war. This specimen bore a strong resemblance to the war minister, but then Shark Grubs probably all looked alike. As for Rumo, Kromek surmised that he was a wild mongrel.

  Smyke undulated over to the bar while Rumo remained near the door.

  ‘I trust you’ll permit us to warm ourselves beside the fire for a few minutes,’ said Smyke.

  Kromek gave a reluctant grunt. ‘Something to drink?’

  ‘I fear not, alas. My dog and I are on a strict diet for, er, health reasons.’ Smyke’s gaze lingered on the wine barrel. His mouth watered as all the memories garnered by his taste buds and the gustatory nerves in his gums transmitted themselves from his brain to his salivary glands. Memories of vintage Grailsundian Burgundy. Of the velvety aftertaste of Ornian Rosé. Of chilled Florinthian Chardonnay quaffed at the height of summer. Of tannin, and delicate acidity, and the hint of oak imparted by ageing in the wood. Of ruby-red Midgardian Port, which caressed the tongue like silk. It was three years since Smyke had drunk a glass of wine, smoked a phogar, or eaten roast meat.

  ‘All right, but make it quick,’ growled Kromek Toomah, bringing Smyke down to earth with a bump. ‘This is an inn, not a waiting room.’

  Smyke wobbled over to the fire and inhaled the scent of roast pork. Big blisters were swelling and subsiding beneath the joint’s blackened skin. Now and then one would burst and deflate with a faint whistle, and blobs of mingled fat and meat juice would fall into the fire, where they hissed and turned into steam. As soon as one of these appetising little clouds rose to Smyke’s nostrils, his four stomachs began to bubble like a marsh in hot weather. Sewage gas forced its way through his intestines, which squeaked like a litter of mice, and sheer culinary excitement made him let off a mighty fart.

  Kromek Toomah was afraid his peculiar customer would fall on the roast pork like a ravening wolf, so he made sure his crossbow was in its proper place beneath the counter. One false move and he would nail that fat maggot
to the wall.

  Meanwhile Rumo continued to stand waiting just inside the door. He registered the prevailing tension with all his senses. He could smell the cold sweat of fear, hear hearts racing. No one in the room – himself included – was behaving naturally. To him, everything smelt wrong, and that had nothing to do with his scorched nose. Smyke was doing his utmost to sound amiable, but even his voice was trembling with duplicity. With an effort he transferred his gaze from the roast pork to the two Bluddums.

  ‘May one ask what card game you’re playing?’

  ‘Rumo,’ said Zorda.

  Smyke chuckled. ‘Ah, rumo, my favourite game.’

  Rumo itched to say something, but he obeyed the rules and limited himself to a low growl.

  ‘You should keep that mutt on a lead,’ Zorilla said ungraciously.

  ‘He won’t bite you.’

  ‘Funny, that’s what all dog owners say,’ said Zorilla, and Zorda gave an evil chuckle.

  ‘Listen,’ Smyke said gravely, ‘I won’t try to fool you. How could I? I’m not wearing any clothes and I don’t have any luggage with me, so it’s obvious I don’t have a bean.’

  The two Bluddums gave a grunt of disappointment.

  ‘But I’d like to play a hand with you. I’ve a suggestion to make. You see that wonderful Wolperting? He’s one of the wild specimens, and I’m sure you know how much in demand they are as watchdogs, especially with the farmers around here. A Wolperting has fetched a thousand pyras at auction before now.’

  The Bluddums looked dubious. Then they noticed the horns on Rumo’s head.

  ‘That’s a … a Wolperting?’

  ‘One thousand pyras. That’s for a normal Wolperting, but this one is something else. Wolpertings are very stubborn creatures – they can’t really be tamed, as I’m sure you know – but this one obeys to order. Watch this.’ Smyke looked at Rumo. ‘Sit! Go on, sit!’

  Rumo went on standing there and flattened his ears, looking offended. The Bluddums laughed.

  ‘Sit!’ Smyke repeated in a thunderous voice. He gave Rumo a piercing look. Rumo reluctantly accepted the challenge in Smyke’s gaze and sat down on his haunches with a growl.

  ‘You see!’ Smyke said triumphantly. ‘A trained specimen – a genuine rarity. A creature without a will of its own. An obedient tool in the hands of its owner. But be careful! In the wrong hands a Wolperting can be misused – it can become a dangerous living weapon! You’d have to promise me only to use him for peaceful purposes.’

  The Bluddums leant across the table looking interested.

  ‘What good is it to me if the beast obeys you?’ Zorda demanded. ‘I might win him, but it wouldn’t mean he’d do what I say.’ For a Bluddum, this was an extremely intelligent objection.

  ‘He’ll, er, obey anyone I entrust with authority over him,’ Smyke replied. He waved one of his little arms in Zorda’s direction. ‘There, now you’re in charge of him. Give him an order.’

  ‘What, me?’

  ‘Yes, go on. Any order you like.’

  Zorda thought hard, then started to grin. He turned to Rumo.

  ‘All right, roll in the dirt!’

  Rumo couldn’t believe his ears. He cocked his head and narrowed his eyes.

  ‘Like hell he’ll obey anyone! He didn’t even understand what I said.’

  Zorda and Zorilla laughed. Smyke gave Rumo another look – a look of entreaty this time, not of insistence. Rumo gathered that learning this new combat technique required self-control and, worse still, a readiness to humiliate himself. That came harder to him than fighting ten Demonocles.

  ‘Tell him again,’ said Smyke. ‘He understood you all right – he’s a bit slow on the uptake, that’s all.’

  ‘Go on, you stupid mutt, roll in the dirt!’ yelled the Bluddum.

  Rumo lay down on his side and rolled to and fro on the dusty taproom floor. Wood shavings and bits of fluff became lodged in his fur.

  ‘That’s more like it,’ said Zorilla.

  Smyke sat down at the table.

  ‘In that case, gentlemen, if you’ve no objection …’

  Zorda tossed him the pack of cards.

  ‘You deal. We’ll allow you a hundred pyras’ credit on the dog. If you lose them he’s ours. Minimum stake ten pyras.’

  ‘That seems fair enough,’ said Smyke, shuffling the pack.

  Rumo foils the double crossbow

  ‘What, rumo? Rumo again?’ snapped Zorilla, throwing down his cards. ‘This fat slob has all the luck! I ask you, six rumos on the trot!’

  Barely an hour had gone by and Smyke was the richest person in The Glass Man. He had bet his entire stake six times and won every game. Zorda and Zorilla were cleaned out – they’d been playing on Kromek Toomah’s credit for the last two hands.

  Smyke decided that it was time to carry out the test he’d planned. He rose and turned to Kromek. ‘Where can one, er …?’

  Kromek laughed. ‘Outside. Find yourself a tree.’

  Smyke undulated to the door, throwing Rumo a conspiratorial glance as he went. Rumo continued to do what he’d been doing the whole time: he lay on the filthy taproom floor and pretended to be asleep.

  ‘What are we going to do?’ asked Zorilla. ‘He’s cleaned us out completely.’

  ‘We could hit him on the head with the wine jug,’ Zorda suggested. ‘In the usual way.’

  Zorilla agreed. ‘All right, we’ll play another hand. Afterwards, get up and refill the jug. When you come back, sneak up behind him and smash it over his head.’

  ‘He’s a maggot. You can’t tell where a maggot’s head begins and ends.’

  ‘It was your idea! You must hit him hard enough, that’s all. If he’s still budging after that, I’ll finish him off with my ball and chain.’

  ‘But the jug goes on your bill,’ Kromek growled from behind the counter. He had overheard every word.

  ‘We’ll sell the Wolperting, or whatever it’s called, and split the proceeds three ways,’ said Zorda. Privately, he thought, ‘As for you, you barking idiot, you’ll be the next to get a jug on the head. Then we’ll burn your lousy joint to the ground.’

  ‘We’ll drag that fat slob into the woods. The werewolves will do the rest.’ Zorilla said this in an undertone, because the front steps were already creaking under Smyke’s weight.

  Rumo pretended to be stirring restlessly in his sleep. He whimpered faintly and scratched the floor with his right forepaw.

  Just as Smyke was oozing past Zorda, he did something Rumo would never have believed him capable of. Quick as a flash, he drove his head into the back of the Bluddum’s neck and Zorda crashed forward on to the table top. His head collided with a dice cup and catapulted it into the air. Zorilla reacted quickly. He jumped up, brandishing the ball and chain he’d concealed beneath the table. Kromek took cover behind the counter, the dice cup went skittering across the floor and shed its contents: a double six.

  Rumo added to the general confusion by rising on his hind legs. ‘Drop that!’ he commanded Zorilla.

  Zorilla was impressed. His chin sagged, giving Rumo a good view of the ruined teeth in his lower jaw, but he didn’t drop his weapon. He raised it in both hands and began to whirl it round his head. The iron ball whistled ominously as it rotated. Zorilla backed away from the table, but Rumo darted beneath it and between the Bluddum’s legs before he’d grasped that the Wolperting wasn’t there any longer. He reared up behind Zorilla, gripped his wrist and wrenched it downwards. The chain wound itself round the Bluddum’s neck, the ball circled him three times, getting closer and closer, and hit him on the head. Stunned by his own weapon, Zorilla crashed to the taproom floor, sending up a little cloud of dust.

  The innkeeper came out from behind the counter holding a double crossbow. He pointed it at Rumo and cried, ‘Get out, the two of you, and be quick about it!’

  ‘You’ve forgotten to cock the thing,’ said Smyke.

  Kromek stopped short. Feverishly, he proceeded to fiddle with the cocking mech

  A mechanical weapon was a novel challenge for Rumo. Smyke had told him a lot about the various kinds of crossbows, the way they worked and the speed at which their bolts travelled. This one was a Grailsundian double arbalest with two bows of eight-layered birchwood, reindeer-gut strings, a wrought-iron stock, and a trigger mechanism such as only officially certified watchmakers were permitted to manufacture. The bolts were made of compressed reeds twisted like ropes and armed with notched bronze tips. This lent them the requisite spin in flight and enabled them to penetrate solid brick.

  Click! went the crossbow. Kromek aimed it at Rumo again.

  ‘Get out of here, both of you!’ he yelled.

  ‘What would you say to a little wager, Kromek Toomah?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘What! How come you know my name?’ Startled, Kromek lowered his crossbow for an instant.

  Smyke reeled off his details. ‘Sergeant Kromek Toomah, weight three hundred and fifty pounds, height eight foot three inches, forty-seven decorations for gallantry in the face of the enemy, artilleryman, hard of hearing. I raised your pay three times, had you forgotten?’

  Kromek looked bewildered. Could this really be the ex-minister of war?

  ‘When we were encamped outside Florinth,’ Smyke went on, and his voice took on a crisp note, ‘Prince Hussein proposed to send the Fourth Division – of which Sergeant Kromek Toomah was also a member – to attack the palisades, although everyone knew the Florinthians were waiting for them with boiling pitch – we could smell it from our camp. I persuaded the prince to break off the siege, don’t you remember?’

  Smyke had been saving this appeal to Kromek’s emotions until now. He had recognised the Bluddum immediately. Kromek was somewhat older and heavier, but his face still wore the moronic expression typical of a born warrior faithful unto death. Smyke gave a mocking smile and extended two of his little arms as if about to embrace him.

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