Rumo and his miraculous.., p.18
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.18

           Walter Moers
 

  Rounding a corner, they were abruptly confronted by a scene that thoroughly surprised Rumo. Two Wolpertings lay sprawled on the cobbles, locked together in an unmistakable effort to throttle each other. A group of young Wolpertings had gathered round, but none of them made any attempt to separate the adversaries. On the contrary, they were egging them on.

  ‘What’s going on?’ asked Rumo.

  ‘Unarmed combat training,’ Urs said dismissively. He halted outside a building distinguished from the rest by its size and ornate façade.

  ‘This is City Hall. I’ll take you up to the mayor’s office. Wipe your feet and mind how you answer his questions. He’s got no sense of humour at all.’

  Jowly of Gloomberg

  ‘What’s your name?’ The mayor was seated behind a plain wooden desk, studying some papers. To judge by the bags under his eyes and his melancholy gaze, there was a St Bernard among his ancestors. His fur displayed innumerable folds and bulges, and there was a notch in the centre of his massive cranium that suggested he’d been hit with an axe in the far-distant past.

  ‘Rumo.’

  The mayor looked up for the first time.

  ‘Trying to make a fool of me, are you? Didn’t they tell you I’ve no sense of humour? I asked your name.’

  ‘My name is Rumo.’

  The mayor pushed the papers aside and eyed him sympathetically. ‘Like the card game?’

  Rumo shrugged his shoulders.

  ‘And your surname?’ asked the mayor.

  Rumo had no idea what a surname was.

  ‘You’ll be assigned one in due course. So your name is Rumo, poor boy. Never mind, pleased to meet you. My name is Jowly of Gloomberg. You may call me Your Honour.’

  Rumo nodded.

  ‘What are you good at?’

  Rumo thought for a moment. ‘Fighting,’ he said.

  The mayor gave a mirthless laugh. ‘So is everyone else in this place. You might just as well say “I’m good at cocking my hind leg.” All Wolpertings are. I meant, what are you good at apart from fighting?’

  Rumo pondered this question for quite a while, but nothing occurred to him.

  ‘Do you have a trade?’

  Rumo racked his brains. Was picking up scents a trade?

  ‘Are you a blacksmith? A carpenter? A compositor? A cook?’

  Rumo shook his head.

  ‘What about this?’ The mayor pointed to his mouth. ‘Are you good at speaking?’

  Another shake of the head.

  ‘So you can’t do anything at all.’

  Rumo had an urge to tell him about his prowess on Roaming Rock, but that would have sounded conceited.

  The mayor cleared his throat as though about to deliver an official speech. ‘No Wolperting can do absolutely nothing. I’d go so far as to say that all Wolpertings are capable of doing something exceptionally well – it’s just that they have to discover what it is. Many find out very early on, many very late in life and many never at all. That’s their bad luck, but even they had a talent for something. They never discovered what it was, that’s all. Such is my philosophy – not a particularly sophisticated one, but then, I’m not a particularly good philosopher. I’m just a particularly good mayor.’

  Rumo was shuffling impatiently from foot to foot.

  ‘Wolpertings can do more than fight. It’s simply that the word has still to get around. We’re working on this – we’re going to see to it that Wolpertings become sought after as something other than bouncers and bodyguards. Some day we’ll be renowned for our intellectual abilities as well. We’re excellent chess players.’

  Rumo was becoming uneasy. The interview was lasting longer than he’d hoped. What was chess? He wanted to fight, not play games.

  ‘What do you intend to do with your life, my boy?’

  Rumo didn’t understand the question.

  ‘What’s your aim in life?’

  ‘I’m looking for the Silver Thread.’

  The mayor cast his eyes up to heaven. ‘So are we all, youngster, but there are a few other things in life. For instance, er …’ He stared hard at the table top as if it bore a written record of the meaning of existence. ‘Oh well, you’ll cotton on sooner or later, eh?’ He laughed woodenly. ‘Right, let’s get the formalities over.’

  He opened a drawer and took out a sheet of paper.

  ‘Once you’ve signed this form you’ll be a citizen of Wolperting. That will entitle you to free board and lodging. You’ll also have the right to attend school and use our library without charge. Your civic duties will be as follows …’

  Rumo switched off, as he always did when someone lectured him on a subject other than fighting. The words congealed into a monotonous, meaningless series of syllables.

  ‘Sign here.’

  ‘Huh?’

  ‘Your name. Sign here.’

  ‘I can’t write.’

  ‘I guessed as much. Most new arrivals can’t. In that case you’ll have to bleed.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Anyone who can’t write has to bleed. Here!’ The mayor handed Rumo a big pin. ‘Prick yourself. The thumb bleeds best.’

  ‘Just a minute,’ thought Rumo, ‘what am I doing here?’ Hadn’t something just been said about duties? It would be wrong to commit himself to something that imposed duties on him. He’d only just escaped from captivity. He wanted to explore Zamonia and sample a life of freedom. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to stay in Wolperting. There were lots of Wolpertings here, granted, but Smyke had said there were some in every big city. Besides, he wasn’t so dead set on the company of his own kind. It suited his nature better to pursue a loner’s existence. He wanted to find out about the Silver Thread; then he would move on.

  The mayor grunted impatiently. ‘So you need convincing?’

  Rumo wasn’t sure. No, he thought, I’d sooner move on.

  ‘There are two reasons for staying here, fighting for one.’

  Rumo pricked his ears. ‘What about it?’

  Combat techniques

  ‘We’ll teach you it at our school. Real fighting, I mean, not these stupid scuffles any Wolperting is good at. It would be foolish of us not to promote and cultivate that aptitude. We have the finest instructors in hand-to-hand combat. There are courses in shadow-boxing, wrestling, kick-boxing, night fighting, axe wielding, ball and chain, crossbowmanship, archery, Far Eastern aerial combat, blind knife throwing, fighting with three weapons at once. Et cetera, et cetera.’

  ‘You teach fighting with weapons?’

  ‘Reluctantly, yes, but it’s necessary sometimes. On this dangerous continent it would be naive to suppose that we can get by with our fists alone, especially when we’re Wolpertings and every highwayman thinks he has to test his mettle on us. The fencing master at our school is no less a person than Ushan DeLucca!’ The mayor’s voice took on a dramatic note. ‘Ushan DeLucca is the finest exponent of the épée in all Zamonia! And of the rapier! And of the foil! And of the sabre! He’d beat all comers with the truffleplane too, if he had to. He’s the finest fighter with anything that has a blade.’

  Rumo was suddenly galvanised.

  ‘If I went to this school, would he teach me swordsmanship?’ Smyke had told him a great deal about that dangerous form of combat.

  ‘Among other things. You’d also learn reading, writing, arithmetic, chess, the heroic sagas, and a little Zamonian literature. Dental care too, of course. But fighting has pride of place at our school. The weekly curriculum includes thirty hours of self-defence alone.’

  Rumo picked up the pin.

  ‘One moment!’ said the mayor. ‘I still haven’t told you the second reason.’

  Rumo pricked up his ears.

  ‘The second reason is, you’ll only find your Silver Thread here in Wolperting.’

  Resolutely, Rumo pricked his thumb and anointed the form with a few drops of blood.

  ‘Those two reasons are enough to convince any Wolperting,’ the mayor said with a grin. ‘It would sa
ve me a lot of time if all you young shavers could read. I’d write everything down on a slate and hang it above my desk. Then I could dispense with all this palaver.’

  No. 12 Hoth Street

  Rumo’s lodgings were at no. 12 Hoth Street, the little half-timbered house he shared with Urs and three other young Wolpertings: Tobby, Axel and Obert, triplets of collie extraction, who gave him a warm welcome. His own room was small but fully furnished: his first bed, his first chair, his first table, his first fireplace. Rumo looked out of his first window. Wolpertings of both categories, the some and the others, were strolling past below, chatting and laughing together. He stretched out on the bed and wondered if he had made the right decision. Still wondering, he fell asleep surrounded by the reassuring noises and smells of a civilised environment that didn’t contain a single natural enemy. The last time Rumo had slept as long and as soundly was in his little basket at the farm.

  Coffee and clothes, right and duties

  The next morning Urs came to escort Rumo to school. He knocked on his door laden with a bundle of clothes, some bread and a pot of coffee. They breakfasted at Rumo’s table.

  ‘What’s this?’ asked Rumo as he sipped the hot beverage.

  ‘It’s coffee.’

  ‘Coffee,’ Rumo repeated. He liked the drink. It made you feel alert, not sleepy or full up.

  ‘Oh, by the way, before anyone else mentions it, your things reek of Bluddum.’

  ‘I know.’

  ‘It isn’t a very popular smell in this place. Better put on something else before we go to school. I’ve brought you a few things of Axel’s. He’s about your size.’

  Rumo was only too pleased not to smell of Bluddum any more. The garments – trousers, waistcoat and boots – were of black buckskin and fitted him as perfectly as Urs had predicted.

  On the way to school his ‘municipal friend’ tried to explain as briefly as possible how life in Wolperting was organised. The community functioned thanks to a complex system of rights and duties in which money and laws played little part. The only law was: ‘Those who fail to fulfil their duties forfeit their rights and must leave the city.’ The system was supervised by the mayor and a few dozen city councillors, all of them respectable old Wolpertings to whom derelictions of duty could be reported and who then acted accordingly. Civic duties included school attendance, sweeping the streets, shovelling snow in winter, weeding the municipal vegetable gardens, working on the communal farms, chopping firewood for the sick and feeble, kneading dough for the municipal bakeries and medical duty at the hospital. The city’s inhabitants were assigned these tasks in accordance with an annual rota worked out by the mayor’s office. Another duty was to defend Wolperting to the death if some enemy took advantage of the city’s hospitality to launch an attack from outside – not that this had ever happened to date. In return, citizens were entitled to free board and lodging, free schooling, and free use of Wolperting’s public library and sports and medical facilities. They also had the right to attend the big fair held annually just outside the city gates and were provided with pocket money for this purpose. The municipal exchequer derived an abundant income from the sale of agricultural products to other cities in the region. You could go to a bakery and collect your daily bread ration free of charge, but you got some funny looks if you tried it twice the same day. Try it a third time and the baker would hurl his shovel at your head.

  Urs explained all this to Rumo as they walked to school. Rumo thought it sounded like a fair bargain. It entailed hard work and a disciplined way of life, but after all, he would be taught to fight with lethal weapons. For that he would have handled the whole of Wolperting’s refuse collection by himself.

  ‘That’s the fire station.’

  Urs was pointing out various places of interest as they passed them.

  ‘That’s the municipal butcher’s. The finest black puddings in Zamonia, my friend.’

  ‘That’s the theatre.’

  ‘The theatre?’

  ‘Yes. Culture and all that. Know what I mean?’

  ‘No,’ said Rumo.

  ‘And that’s a public convenience.’

  Rumo stared at it uncomprehendingly.

  ‘You can have a quiet pee there. Into a bucket. It stops everyone peeing in the street.’

  ‘Why shouldn’t they?’

  ‘Hey, a good thing you asked. It’s prohibited here. This is a civilised city, not the jungle, understand? We Wolpertings are as fond of peeing as our ancestors, but we pee into buckets that get emptied. Think what it would be like if everyone relieved themselves in the street! Think of the mess! Better get that straight if you want to remain a citizen of this place!’

  Public convenience, Rumo memorised.

  ‘That’s the Black Dome over there.’

  They were crossing a square with an impressive building in the middle – the biggest Rumo had ever seen. It was a vast hemisphere that looked as if it had been carved out of a single chunk of black rock.

  ‘What’s inside?’

  ‘No idea. Nobody knows. There’s no entrance, not even a window. No one ever goes in or comes out. We call it the Black Dome because it’s a dome and it’s black. That’s all we know about it. People have attempted to make a hole in the thing. They broke a few pickaxes and that was that. It may be a monument erected by the former inhabitants, or something of the kind. Look, there’s another public convenience.’

  ‘Another?’

  ‘Our city has more of them than anywhere else in Zamonia. And here we are at the school.’

  School

  The school was the biggest building in Wolperting, bigger even than the Black Dome, and situated at its highest point. Its granite walls and towers were reminiscent of a fortress, an impression accentuated by the fact that it was built on a rock. It was cool and dark in the labyrinthine passages along which Urs conducted Rumo. They were filled with young Wolpertings who strolled around or stood together in groups, talking and laughing. Rumo never guessed that the moment when he entered the classroom with Urs would transform his life completely. Had he decided to turn his back on Wolperting instead of going to school, his existence would have followed a different course. A less adventurous and dangerous one, perhaps, but also less happy, for awaiting him in this classroom was the object of his long-standing dreams. It contained the thing that had spurred him on – the thing whose true nature was still unknown to him: this classroom contained his Silver Thread.

  Rumo began surveying the form as a whole. He saw twelve young Wolpertings gazing at him intently from behind their battered, scribbled-on desks. Next he saw the teacher, a thickset, rough-haired Wolperting wearing a monocle and a chalk-smeared sweater, who was standing in front of a blackboard covered with unintelligible signs. Finally, he saw her.

  Rala.

  He didn’t know, of course, that her name was Rala – he didn’t even Rala know she was a girl, still less what girls actually were, but despite his embarrassing state of ignorance he instinctively sensed that she was the reason for his long trek to Wolperting. He shut his eyes for a moment, then he saw it. Stronger and brighter than ever before, the Silver Thread was flowing back and forth between him and her.

  Rumo opened his eyes again. He reeled sideways and had to cling to the doorpost, or he would have fallen flat on his back, the way he had when he first encountered the Demonocles.

  The other pupils tittered, the teacher looked perplexed. Urs swung round. ‘Come on,’ he hissed, ‘don’t run out on me now!’

  Rumo tottered forward and bumped into him, triggering another outburst of hilarity.

  ‘Great entrance,’ whispered Urs. He turned to the teacher and raised his voice. ‘This is a new boy, sir, officially registered as such by the mayor. I’m his municipal friend. Address: no. 12 Hoth Street. Pardon the interruption.’

  Then he went out, but not before muttering ‘Pull yourself together!’ to Rumo as he passed him. The door slammed and Rumo was alone with a dozen strangers, half of whom
were different.

  ‘What’s your name?’ asked the teacher.

  Here we go again, thought Rumo. ‘Rumo,’ he said.

  ‘Like the card game?’

  Rumo sighed. ‘Yes, sir.’

  Smirks all round.

  ‘Rumo what?’

  Huh?

  ‘Your surname?’

  My surname? The mayor had mentioned that. Rumo remained tongue-tied. He was starting to sweat. The others giggled. He had never expected to find himself in such an unpleasant situation in peaceful surroundings populated by his own kind.

  ‘We all have surnames here,’ the teacher explained. ‘For example, my forename is Harra. I come from the Midgard area, so my full name is Harra of Midgard.’

  The other pupils were whispering together.

  Rumo debated feverishly. Where did he come from? Hackonia? He couldn’t be sure, and besides, Hackonia was a stupid surname. Where else had he been? Roaming Rock? Great! ‘Rumo of Roaming Rock’ would send everyone into fits of laughter.

  Impatient murmurs were coming from the back of the class.

  Where did he come from?

  ‘Hurry up!’ someone called.

  He had a flash of inspiration. If there was one thing he could be sure of about his origins, it was that. ‘My full name’, he said, ‘is Rumo of Zamonia.’

  The startled silence that descended on the classroom was broken by a young Wolperting with terrierlike features. ‘Why not Emperor of Florinth while you’re at it?’ he demanded. ‘Or Ruler of the Universe?’

  Laughter.

  ‘That’s enough, Rolv!’ snapped Harra of Midgard. ‘Well, why not? Rumo of Zamonia … It’s a nice name.’

  Rolv gave Rumo an impudent grin. The laughter subsided.

  ‘You can sit at the back, Rumo. Follow the lesson as best you can. We’re just doing the heroic sagas. I’ll explain everything later.’ The teacher indicated a vacant place at the back of the class.

  Still feeling bemused, Rumo sat down.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment