Rumo and his miraculous.., p.17
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.17

           Walter Moers
 

  Forest Pirates, a Werewolf, a Minotaur and a Stranglesnake

  It would be an understatement to say that Smyke’s and Rumo’s further progress through South Zamonia was uneventful, because they encountered no less than four different hazards: a five-strong band of Forest Pirates, a rabid Werewolf, a mummified Minocentaur and a Nocturnal Stranglesnake.

  Compared with previous events, however, these encounters followed a rather unspectacular course, even though Rumo left the Forest Pirates with several nasty compound fractures, buried the Werewolf alive (head downwards, of course), converted the Minocentaur to vegetarianism and strangled the Nocturnal Stranglesnake in the middle of the night.

  The travellers also had a number of peaceful encounters: for instance, with a party of Druids in search of the legendary Wandering Egg, which was reputed to meditate; with an impudent ferryman who attempted to charge them so exorbitant a fare for ferrying them across Loch Loch that it amounted to criminal extortion (he eventually took them free of charge); and with vast numbers of harmless sheep and cattle, and the equally peaceable shepherds and cowherds who populated the broad, tranquil grasslands of southern Hackonia.

  When Rumo and Smyke had already penetrated deep into south-west Zamonia, Smyke was unusually silent at breakfast one morning. He sighed over every mouthful and was wearing a morose expression, which Rumo could only attribute to their meagre meal. They were sitting in the midst of a wide expanse of grassland grazed bare by sheep, gnawing some raw turnips.

  ‘Listen, Rumo,’ Smyke said suddenly. ‘The time has come.’

  Rumo cocked his head.

  ‘The time for what?’

  ‘For us to go our separate ways.’

  ‘What! Why should we do that?’

  ‘For various reasons. In the first place it’s time, that’s all. The longer I stay with you the further out of my way I go. I want to return to civilisation. I want to see big cities and meet new people. Instead of that I’m following you ever further into this godforsaken wilderness.’

  Rumo couldn’t think of a suitable rejoinder.

  ‘And another thing,’ Smyke went on. ‘I’m not blaming anyone because I honestly don’t know whose fault it is, but danger seems to have dogged us ever since we met. Hadn’t that occurred to you?’

  ‘There have been a few excitements lately,’ Rumo admitted.

  ‘Which may be all right from your point of view, my boy. You’re young – you take it all in your stride – but I hanker after a little peace and quiet. We should each go our own way from now on.’

  ‘I’m going my own way.’

  ‘I know, and that’s the last and most important reason. That’s why I’m going to change direction. You’re bound for Wolperting, and I’ve no business there.’

  ‘You know where I’m going?’

  ‘Of course. All intelligent Wolpertings go to Wolperting sooner or later.’

  ‘Why not come with me?’

  ‘You’ll see why not when you get there.’

  ‘But where will you go?’

  ‘I’ll head north-west, more or less, and make for some big city. Florinth, maybe.’

  Rumo nodded.

  ‘All right, my boy, let’s not overdo our farewells. We’ve had some really grand times together. Perhaps we’ll meet again.’

  ‘I’m sure we will.’

  ‘Don’t be too sure, Zamonia is an immense continent. Let me give you some advice to take on your way. If anyone asks who you are, say I’m Rumo the Wolperting. That’ll impress them, even if they’ve never seen a Wolperting before.’

  ‘All right,’ said Rumo, getting to his feet.

  ‘How about a last riddle?’ asked Smyke.

  Rumo shrugged. ‘Why not?’

  ‘Then listen: What grows shorter and shorter the longer it gets?’

  ‘No idea.’

  ‘I’m counting on you to answer that question if we meet again.’

  Their actual leave-taking was considerably less dramatic than one would have expected in the case of two friends who had been through so much together. It was mainly owing to Rumo’s natural reserve that they limited themselves to a handshake and then went their separate ways.

  The source of the Silver Thread

  Rumo had but a single aim: to follow the Silver Thread to its source. He was interested neither in the countryside nor in its inhabitants. Without Smyke in tow he could at last ignore the world as he thought fit. He jogged along for hours on end, allowing himself very few breathers. If he stopped to eat at all it was only to munch some raw vegetables or freshly picked fruit. He avoided inns and villages, and at night he would make for a small wood in which to curl up and grab a few hours’ sleep.

  Sometimes he was afraid the Silver Thread might suddenly snap or disappear. Then he would shut his eyes and breathe a sigh of relief, because the thread was still there, becoming stronger and brighter with every day, every week that went by.

  When he awoke one morning Rumo saw that the Silver Thread had been joined by others – by scents like those he remembered from his days back on the farm: woodsmoke and fresh bread, cattle and oats, dung and hay. But there were still other scents that resembled his own. Those he found very puzzling.

  At dusk that day Rumo reached the summit of a vine-covered hill from which he could look far out over the undulating landscape. In the midst of it, traversed by a river and enclosed by a massive wall, stood a city. He shut his eyes and breathed in deeply through his nose. The Silver Thread and all the other coloured threads led straight down from the sky and lost themselves in the maze of buildings and streets. This could only be the city of which Smyke had spoken. It could only be Wolperting.

  Rumo had reached his destination.

  Wolperting – if cities could speak – would probably have greeted a passing traveller as follows:

  ‘Hello, stranger! Are you a Wolperting? No? Then get lost! Yes, push off, vamoose! Don’t even dream of entering this city! Are your intentions peaceful? Very well, walk round me once, take a look at my excellent fortifications and then move on. Tell everyone what an impregnable and uninviting, well-guarded and dangerous impression Wolperting made on you. Thanks and goodbye for evermore!

  But if your intentions are hostile, stranger, you’d be wiser to cut the heart out of your ribs right away, because that would be a merciful death compared to what awaits you if you attack me. Do you see my fortified towers? Do you see the Wolperting aiming his double crossbow at your head through that loophole? No, of course you don’t, he’s far too well concealed. Besides, soon you won’t see anything at all because a pair of arrows will have transfixed your eyes. But you can see my big black gates, can’t you? No, you fool, that’s not wood, that’s solid Zamonian cast iron, so you may as well pack up your battering ram. And you see those thin tubes protruding from my walls? If, by some improbable chance, you manage to cross the moat under a hail of arrows, my elaborate sprinkler system will shower you with a natural secretion obtained from Ornian Etchworms – even a single drop could eat its way right through you from your skull to the soles of your feet. You’d be lucky if an arrow cut short those few seconds of agony, but I never waste arrows on principle! But don’t let that deter you from attacking me, stranger! I can hardly wait for you to sample my catapults and poisoned spears, my arbalests and cauldrons of boiling pitch, my burning arrows and throwing axes. Or my walls themselves. They look quite normal, don’t they? It should be child’s play to scale them in view of the big gaps between them, don’t you think? Yes, but when you’re about halfway up they’ll begin to move and you’ll say to yourself, Hey, what’s going on? But by then it’ll be too late for questions, because many of the blocks of stone will have slid forwards and many backwards. Then they’ll start to revolve, and it’ll dawn on you that you’ve ended up in the biggest mincing machine in Zamonian military history. You can still jump, of course – it’s only a fifty-foot drop to the pointed iron stakes that have just emerged from the ground beneath. So come on, stranger! Come an
d meet your end!’

  But cities cannot speak, so nothing was said to Rumo as he approached the city gates. He crossed the bridge over the moat and paused in front of the massive portcullis protecting the city’s western entrance. He was so determined to get inside that he would, if necessary, have attacked it with his bare paws.

  ‘Who goes there?’ the gatekeeper called from above. Rumo couldn’t see him, but he could hear which loophole he was hiding behind.

  ‘I’m Rumo the Wolperting,’ he called back, loud and clear. He debated how long it would take him to scale the wall, squeeze through the loophole, put the gatekeeper out of action, climb down the other side and lose himself in the bustling streets beyond. At a rough estimate, thirty or forty heartbeats.

  ‘You’re a Wolperting? In that case come in!’ the gatekeeper called cheerfully. He operated some well-oiled machinery that almost silently raised the portcullis far enough for Rumo to slip beneath it. Then the grille descended again.

  Rumo’s ‘municipal friend’

  Rumo was inside the city. A Wolperting emerged from the tower that must have housed the gate machinery. At least a head shorter than Rumo, he was wearing grey leather trousers, a cowhide waistcoat and a pair of black buckskin boots. He shook hands with the newcomer and said affably, ‘Welcome to Wolperting.’

  Having briefly eyed him up and down, Rumo nodded and walked on. The gatekeeper hurried after him.

  ‘Hey!’ he called. ‘Not so fast, my friend. You can’t just waltz in like this. Rules are rules.’

  ‘I’m no friend of yours,’ Rumo growled pugnaciously. Smyke had coached him for combat, not for social chit-chat.

  ‘Aren’t you? Suit yourself, but I’m a friend of yours, whether you like it or not. I’m Urs, your municipal friend.’

  Rumo strode on with Urs at his heels. He could see Wolpertings on all sides. Dozens of them were walking the streets and there had to be many more elsewhere – their scent was overpowering.

  ‘All new arrivals are assigned a municipal friend, it’s the law,’ said Urs. ‘It helps them to overcome their initial feeling of strangeness. If you weren’t a Wolperting I’d be your municipal enemy. Anyone who isn’t a Wolperting and manages to get this far is assigned a municipal enemy. If you weren’t a Wolperting we wouldn’t be having this friendly chat. I’d have wrung your neck and catapulted you into the moat. But in the first place you wouldn’t have got inside and secondly you’re a Wolperting. So I’m your friend, understand? What was your name again?’

  Rumo came to a halt. He shut his eyes and looked for the Silver Thread, but all he could see was a tangle of coloured strands. The smell of his own kind was too overpowering for him to pick out an individual scent.

  ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ Urs demanded. ‘I didn’t get it the first time.’

  Rumo opened his eyes. ‘My name is Rumo,’ he replied.

  ‘Rumo? No kidding? You’re really called Rumo?’ Urs grinned. ‘Did anyone ever tell you it’s the name of a card game?’

  ‘Yes, they did,’ said Rumo. ‘I’m here because I’m looking for something.’

  ‘I know,’ said Urs. ‘You’re looking for the Silver Thread.’

  Rumo was taken aback. ‘How did you know?’

  Urs grinned again. ‘We all are, aren’t we?’

  ‘You mean you’re also looking for the Silver Thread?’

  ‘Yes. No. That’s to say, all in good time. Come on, simmer down. You’re at home now.’

  Rumo did his best to relax. This Wolperting meant him well, he could sense it.

  ‘I can sleep here, you mean?’

  ‘Better than that. You can stay here – in fact, you can live here. But as I said, all in good time. First you must call on the mayor. That’s the way things are done around here. Come on, I’ll take you to him.’

  Hoth

  ‘Who built this place?’ Rumo asked Urs as they made their way through the narrow streets.

  ‘Nobody built Wolperting. Somebody must have, I mean, but no one knows who. It’s like this: several hundred years ago a Wolperting named Hoth visited this area and found the city as it is today, complete with walls, houses and streets. The gates were open, but there wasn’t a living soul inside. Legend has it that the moment Hoth approached the city a pigeon and a bee tried to fly through the open gates. The pigeon was transfixed by a hail of automatically fired arrows and the bee by a poisoned needle. Hoth thought for a bit, then walked through the gateway holding a shield over his head – he was brave but no fool. Nothing happened, so he concluded that the place belonged to him.’

  ‘I see.’

  ‘Well, that’s the legend, but it all happened a good while ago, so who can tell for sure? All this Hoth worship gets on my nerves a bit, to be honest. Hoth here, Hoth there, Hoth Street, Hoth High School, Hoth Bakery, the Grand Hoth Jubilee? Hoth, Hoth, Hoth! What would Hoth himself have thought? I mean, he breezed into the city – what was so great about that? If I’d passed by a hundred years ago, everything here would be called Urs. Can you imagine it? We’d now be walking along Urs Street, not Hoth Avenue.’ Urs sighed.

  ‘You talk a lot,’ said Rumo.

  Urs ignored this remark. ‘Who cares? Anyway, I think it’s great that the city’s defences still function as well as they did in the legend. I mean, we may not have any needles and arrows capable of shooting down bees and pigeons, but we can take good care of ourselves, get it? I wouldn’t like to be the person that tried to invade our fine city.’

  ‘I understand.’

  ‘All right, let’s obey the rules. I’ll take you first to the mayor and then to your new lodgings.’

  The ‘other’ Wolpertings

  The further into the city they progressed, the more the streets were thronged with Rumo’s distant relations. All were short-horned dogs that walked on their hind legs. Some had menacing jaws like bull terriers or massive rib cages like Rottweilers, others displayed the slanting eyes of a Nordic husky or the pendulous jowls of a boxer. Rumo saw wolves and greyhounds, dachshunds and Alsatians. Many even bore a resemblance to foxes. There were also some that resembled Rumo himself and others that looked like Urs, but they all emitted the same reassuring scent. Rumo’s nose told him that they were his own kind.

  ‘Bowls you over, doesn’t it?’ said Urs. ‘The scent, I mean. It makes you feel at home right away. Safe and snug. We’re all the best of friends here.’

  But there was another distinction Rumo found thoroughly perplexing. There were Wolpertings and Wolpertings – for the moment, he couldn’t put it any better than that. Some Wolpertings smelt like himself: wild, canine and unthreatening. Others smelt wild, canine and – what, exactly? They smelt nice. Very nice, in fact. Much better than the first category. They smelt … more interesting. In other respects they differed from their own kind only in the most discreet way. Their clothes were identical – leather trousers, waistcoats, jerkins or fur jackets, linen shirts – but somehow they fitted them better. Their eyes were different – bigger, more lustrous, more mysterious. Above all, their movements were more graceful. Although their characteristics appealed to Rumo, something about these other Wolpertings made him feel rather nervous of them. What could it be?

  Urs gave him a sidelong look.

  ‘Well, how do you like our girls?’

  ‘Girls?’

  ‘Yes, our girls. What do you think of them?’

  ‘What are girls?’

  ‘You’re kidding!’

  ‘What are girls?’ Rumo asked again.

  ‘Oh boy, you really are wet behind the ears, aren’t you? You honestly don’t know what girls are?’

  Smyke had never said anything about girls. Rumo was beginning to dislike the subject.

  ‘You’re in luck, my friend, I’m Wolperting’s leading expert on girls – in fact, I’m the authority on them. I can teach you all you need to know, but more of that later.’ Urs chuckled in a way Rumo didn’t like.

  Girls … He made a note of the word. It sounded nice.

/>   Rumo noticed something else. Many of the Wolpertings – the overwhelming majority, in fact – were armed. They wore hatchets in their belts or crossbows strapped to their backs, but mostly they carried cut-and-thrust weapons such as daggers, swords and sabres. Others strolled around armed only with books or loaves of bread, and many carried little square boards with checkered patterns. It was a city filled with mysteries.

  They came to a river flanked on either side by walls. It was fast-flowing and looked deep and dangerous.

  ‘That’s the Wolper,’ Urs explained. ‘As you can see, our river is enclosed by walls. There’s a reason for that.’

  ‘Wolpertings can’t swim,’ said Rumo.

  ‘Aha, so you know that. You don’t know what girls are, but you know you can’t swim. Ever been near any water?’

  Rumo nodded.

  ‘Several citizens get drowned every year and always in the summer. Although it’s against their natural instincts, they simply want to know what swimming’s like. We can do plenty of things, but there are two we’re no good at: flying and swimming.’

  They walked on through the narrow streets, Urs in the lead with Rumo, peering around and nervously sniffing the air, at his heels. Smyke would have liked the city if he’d been allowed to enter it. There were plenty of those taverns he was always raving about. Wolpertings sat at wooden tables outside them, eating and drinking or poring over their checkered boards. There were shops, cobblestones, brick buildings, milling crowds, noise, music and smells of all kinds. And those other Wolpertings, many of whom glanced at Rumo in an enigmatic way.

 
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