Rumo and his miraculous.., p.30
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.30

           Walter Moers
 

  ‘Yes, all right,’ said Rumo. ‘Can we begin?’

  ‘At once, but first I must extinguish the candle. As I already said, some miracles can only occur in the dark.’

  Nightingale blew out the candle, plunging the tent in total darkness.

  ‘In the meantime,’ he said, ‘I shall go and take a look at that Alpine Imp. If the creature’s genuine it would be a scientific sensation.’

  A chink of light appeared and blaring fairground music filled the air. Then the chink vanished, and darkness and silence returned. Nightingale had left the tent.

  For a moment Rumo toyed with the idea of simply disappearing. Then he remembered the professor’s ruined jacket and concentrated on the chest of drawers. It was strange, but he couldn’t see it with his inner eye. It had no smell and made no sound – not even a woodworm was munching away inside it. But of course, it wasn’t made of wood, it was supposed to be made of … He’d forgotten, but never mind.

  He deliberated. What name should he choose? His own, of course! Or should he? Did he really want to know his own future? What if it was extremely unpleasant? Perhaps he should think of Urs’s name, then he could surprise him by making a few predictions. But wait, that was it: Rala! He would eavesdrop on Rala’s future; then he’d know whether or not he played an important part in it.

  He tried to concentrate on the invisible chest of drawers. ‘Rala,’ he thought. ‘Rala …’

  Nothing.

  He tried again. ‘Raaala … R-A-L-A. Rala, Rala, Rala!’

  A light appeared in the gloom – a narrow strip of cold blue light that steadily widened into a glowing rectangle. A drawer had actually slid open!

  Rumo leant forward and peered inside. The blue glow seemed to make the darkness surrounding him even darker, as if he and the drawer were hovering in a starless universe of infinite size. He bent over it. Now he could see something. Was it a sculpture? No, it was … a metal coffin made of grey lead with copper fittings. Was this supposed to be Rala’s future? Then the curious scene came to life: the coffin was slowly opening. Rumo stared at it fixedly as the lid folded back in two halves like a double door. He could now make out a figure lying inside it. He peered more closely – and started back in horror: it was Rala! She didn’t move, just lay there stiff and silent. Was it all an illusion? The after-effects of his phogar trip? He was about to get up and leave these unpleasant surroundings when he heard a sob. Was it Rala? No, she was still lying motionless. Then he caught sight of another figure kneeling beside the coffin. It was himself! Yes, he was looking at himself kneeling in tears beside Rala’s coffin! Now he knew what the oracle was showing him: Rala’s death. The worst part was that he could tell the scene was set in the not too distant future. He and Rala were not grey and decrepit, but little older than they were now. The scene showed Rala’s imminent death.

  ‘No!’ Rumo cried desperately. He made a lunge for the drawer, but the darkness around him uttered a furious roar and the drawer emitted an icy blast that seemed to come from the depths of a tomb. Then it slammed shut.

  Silence.

  Rumo sat there in total darkness, weeping.

  The Kingdom of Death

  ‘She really is a genuine Alpine Imp,’ Nightingale muttered as he entered the tent. ‘The last of her kind – incredible! I shall have to purchase her.’ He lit the candle and saw Rumo kneeling on the floor in tears. Too embarrassed to speak for a while, he tidied some things away. At length he said, ‘You saw into the Kingdom of Death, didn’t you?’

  Rumo didn’t answer.

  ‘I’d like to be able to tell you it was all an illusion, a fairground conjuring trick, but you know better. You sensed it. The oracle isn’t malevolent or spiteful, it simply shows some random moment in the future, coldly and objectively. In your case that moment must have been particularly distressing. I’m sorry.’

  ‘I must go,’ said Rumo, rising to his feet.

  ‘Hey, wait, young Wolperting. You won’t do anything silly, will you?’

  Rumo headed in the direction from which he’d seen Nightingale enter. The professor hurried after him and caught him by the sleeve.

  ‘Wait a moment!’

  As if deprived of will-power, Rumo came to a halt.

  Negative infection

  ‘You can’t go out there like that, what would people think? More important, you can’t go through life like that; it would be too wretched for words. Let me take a little of the burden off your shoulders.’

  Nightingale seized Rumo’s paw and held it tight. His voice suddenly rang out in Rumo’s head.

  ‘What you’re now experiencing is a negative infection, also known as Nightingale’s Lightning Amnesia. The technique requires a great deal of practice. I doubt if anyone with fewer than seven brains could master it.’

  Rumo’s head started to spin. He clung to Nightingale’s hand.

  ‘Your distressing knowledge of the future will now be mine. I can cope with it. One of my seven brains will absorb it with ease and convert it into pure information. In a moment you’ll leave this tent remembering nothing. Many thanks for your help, but I’m afraid this discovery will have to be consigned to the Chamber of Unperfected Patents. People are not mature enough to handle the future – or not insensitive enough.

  ‘Even though you can never escape what you saw, it won’t prey on your mind until you actually experience it. Until then, young Wolperting, all the best.’

  Nightingale released Rumo’s paw and thrust him outside. The din, the smells, the pandemonium of the fair descended on him like a sudden hailstorm. He stood outside Nightingale’s tent completely dazed. Turning round, he read:

  Professor Abdullah Nightingale’s

  Zamonian Chest-of-Drawers Oracle

  An oracle. Just about the last thing he felt like right now. He was feeling nauseous. Where to now? Home, that’s where. Where was Urs?

  Choose your weapon!

  Rumo tottered along the tent-lined avenue. Phogars, ugh! What revolting things! He would never, ever, be talked into … A paw came down on his shoulder. It was Urs.

  ‘Rumo! I’ve been looking for you everywhere!’

  ‘I threw up.’

  ‘Me too! Four times! Know what’s so great about it?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘I’m stone-cold sober.’ Urs beamed and spread his arms. ‘We can start again from scratch! How about a few mouse bladders?’

  ‘You must be joking! I want to go home.’

  ‘Home? Now? And miss one of the greatest experiences of your life?’

  ‘What’s that, another ride on a ghost train? Another phogar?’

  ‘No, no, Rumo, the absolute highlight of the night. It’s my official duty as your municipal friend.’ Urs thumped himself on the chest. ‘First, though, I need something to eat. Come on.’

  Urs conducted him to the nearest mouse bladder stall and devoured another portion of mouse bladders while Rumo stood alongside, surveying the throng of revellers with an air of disdain. Then he remembered Rala and Rolv, and his spirits sank to their lowest ebb.

  ‘Pin your ears back, Rumo,’ said Urs. He belched. ‘We’re now coming to the ceremonial part of these proceedings. The great moment.’

  ‘Get on with it, then!’

  ‘Follow me.’

  Urs led the way – irritatingly slowly, it seemed to Rumo. They turned off down an alleyway where the noise was somewhat more subdued. Passing a flower stall, a lottery stand and a roast-chestnut vendor, they came to a big, dark tent with two torches outside.

  ‘You like reading signboards,’ Urs said eagerly. ‘Tell me what’s written on that one up there …’

  ‘Choose … your … weapon,’ Rumo read. ‘Choose your weapon.’

  ‘Precisely.’

  ‘What do you mean, precisely?’

  ‘It’s an invitation. You can choose yourself a weapon.’

  ‘I don’t understand.’

  ‘This is the Wolperting Weapon Tent!’ Urs announced solemnly. ‘You can go
inside and choose a weapon – your weapon for life, I mean – and I, as your municipal friend, am allowed to assist you. Don’t worry about the expense, it’s already settled. Every new Wolperting is permitted to select a weapon at his first annual fair. You know, civic rights and duties. This is one of your rights. It’s an ancient tradition – it dates back to Hoth’s day and—’

  ‘One moment!’ Rumo cut in. ‘You mean I can simply walk in there and choose myself a weapon? Why didn’t you tell me this before?’

  ‘I didn’t want to spoil our night out. I know you: once you’ve chosen the thing you won’t have eyes for anything else. All right, get in there!’ Urs propelled him towards the entrance.

  The interior of the tent was sparsely illuminated by a few torches. Around the sides stood some long wooden tables and several cabinets, and there was a massive iron table in the centre.

  Rumo scanned the arsenal on display. The tables were laden with heavy battleaxes, two-edged swords, balls and chains, and halberds. Elegant rapiers, graded according to length and tensile strength, reposed in wooden stands. Laid out on one of the tables were at least two hundred bows, many of them as long as Rumo was tall. There were racks of iron-bound clubs and cabinets filled with throwing knives, spears, foils, spiked throwing discs, knuckledusters, gutting knives and scythes. Heavy hammers designed to be chained to the wrist rubbed shoulders with single, double, triple or even quadruple crossbows, barbed switchblades and glass daggers from Florinth.

  ‘Weapons!’ Urs said distastefully. ‘Pooh!’

  ‘Heavens alive,’ said Rumo. ‘What a vast selection. How is one supposed to decide?’

  ‘By a process of elimination,’ Urs advised.

  Rumo toured the tables. Urs was right: a lot of the weapons could be ruled out right away. For instance, only barbarians used those spiked balls on chains. Halberds he considered ridiculously impractical – too big, too heavy and less of a help than a hindrance in confined spaces. Clubs and hammers: ideal weapons for clumsy great hunks like Yetis and Bluddums. Spiked throwing discs and daggers had their points but were secondary weapons; a sword was infinitely preferable. That narrowed the choice down to sabres, swords, rapiers and cut-and-thrust weapons in general. Rumo went over to the bows and crossbows. They were splendid pieces of equipment made of the finest woods and sinews, adorned and reinforced with precious metals. A crossbow or a bow and arrow enabled you to hunt and kill an enemy at a safe distance. On the other hand, a well-aimed sword or stiletto could kill just as effectively, and one could hardly parry a blade with a longbow. Ergo, it had to be a blade of some kind. Rumo went over to the sword.

  The sword

  Some hundred blades were lying higgledy-piggledy on the big black table top. Huge, two-handed broadswords for delivering sweeping blows, elegant Florinthian rapiers with needle-sharp points and decorative engraving, single-handed swords forged out of dozens of laminae, ordinary military swords ground on both sides, épées, Midgardian cavalry sabres, twin-bladed knives, scimitars with serrated blades. And a small sword of unusual conformation: the blade was slit down the middle like a snake’s forked tongue.

  ‘Take me!’ the sword said in a piping voice.

  Rumo jumped back in alarm. Had Urs whispered in his ear? No, Urs was standing beside a table on the other side of the tent, distastefully eyeing a ball and chain.

  ‘Take me!’ the sword repeated. ‘I’m the weapon for you.’

  Rumo stared at it in amazement.

  ‘Forget the other stuff,’ it said. ‘That’s just common or garden rubbish. I’m a work of art.’

  ‘What?!’ said Rumo.

  ‘What?’ said Urs. He glanced across at Rumo, but Rumo didn’t reply. He seemed to be examining a sword.

  ‘Don’t answer me aloud, answer me in your head if you don’t want to look like an idiot,’ said the sword. ‘The others can’t hear me.’

  ‘What’s the matter with me?’ thought Rumo. ‘Am I going mad?’

  ‘Not yet,’ said the sword, ‘but it could easily happen – once you’ve seen me in action. You wouldn’t believe the things I can do. I specialise in the impossible.’

  Rumo peered harder. No, the sword wasn’t moving. Where was the voice coming from?

  ‘It’s time you caught on: I’m a talking sword! Or rather, a sword with telepathic powers. The last word in modern weapons technology.’

  The voice wasn’t coming from outside, it was in his head.

  ‘That’s right, take your time, you’ll get there in the end. It isn’t every day one comes across a weapon endowed with reason. Actually, that’s a contradiction in terms, ha ha! No, seriously, I’m a blade made of sacred steel, forged to perfection and destined for your paw alone. Other Wolpertings wanted to take me, but I strongly urged them not to and they all complied. I advise you to do likewise.’

  ‘You want me to choose something else, you mean?’ Rumo queried in his head.

  ‘No, stupid! To listen to my advice!’

  ‘Who are you calling stupid?’

  ‘It would be stupid to turn me down, that’s all I meant. I’m a bargain.’

  Rumo was bewildered. Uncertainly, he looked across at Urs, who was idly feeling the blade of an axe. He didn’t appear to have noticed a thing.

  ‘Who are you?’ Rumo asked.

  ‘I’m poetry in motion! I’m a death wish in steel – the death being that of your enemies, of course, not yours! I’m your comrade in arms! I’m a fanfare ringing out over a corpse-strewn battlefield! I’m the triumphant cry of the victor pursuing his defeated foe! I’m—’

  ‘Where do you come from?’

  ‘From Demon Range.’

  ‘And how did you get here?’

  ‘Are you ready to hear my story?’

  Rumo cast another glance at Urs, who was aiming a crossbow at some invisible enemies. ‘Yes, go ahead.’

  History of a Demonic Sword

  ‘Dwarfsmiths forged me out of ores mined from Demon Range. I’m an alloy of petrified Demons’ brains and minerals from outer space – an explosive combination, my friend. My blade yearns to do battle, my—’

  ‘What are these demons of yours? I want no truck with demons.’

  ‘Er, they’re good Demons, naturally – Demons of the first water. The thing is, there was this battle between good and evil Demons in Devil’s Gulch. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.’

  ‘No, I haven’t.’

  ‘You haven’t? Well, never mind, it doesn’t matter. It was all to do with this, er, Golden Apple that was supposed to make anyone who carried it invisible and … Anyway, we fell out over this stupid apple, one insult led to another, blah-blah-blah, and, before you could say knife, a pitched battle broke out – you know how it is. Demons’ innards were spurting in all directions. It was the biggest bloodbath for … well, for quite some time. The battle went on for a year. Springtime came and we hacked off each other’s arms. Summer came and we skewered each other with spears. Autumn came and we riddled each other with arrows. Winter came and—’

  ‘Yes, yes,’ Rumo thought impatiently. ‘Can’t you make it a bit shorter?’

  ‘All right. Nobody really won and in the end we were all dead, ha ha! Then we were buried in Demon Range. They laid us to rest in a subterranean cave. Can you imagine? All those dripping stalagmites – or should it be stalactites? No matter. Anyway, there we lay for thousands of years, turning to stone with the water dripping on our heads: plip, plop, plip, get it? Then suddenly – CRASH! – this meteor slammed into the mountains and crushed us all, creating the largest and most productive mine in Zamonia.’

  ‘Your corpse was crushed by a meteor?’

  ‘Yes, a gigantic meteor composed of iron straight from outer space. The result was a mixture of rock and cosmic iron, and embedded in it the crushed remains of some top-grade Demons, you follow me? Then came the miners, who dug out this splendid super-ore from outer space, the finest iron ore in Zamonia, if not the entire world. They kept coming across petrified Demons’ corpses and
, being superstitious and anxious to propitiate the Demonic spirits, they forged a sword in honour of every corpse they discovered. They took the Demons’ petrified brains, pulverised them and sprinkled the powder into the molten meteoric iron. And that’s the origin of the legendary Demonic Swords. No idea why we’re capable of thought. It must have something to do with the stuff from space. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Yoo-hoo, I’m a Demonic Sword!’

  Rumo felt a heavy paw on his shoulder. He uttered a startled cry.

  ‘Man, oh man,’ said Urs. ‘That thing must appeal to you. You’ve been gawping at it for ages.’

  ‘I’ll take it,’ said Rumo. ‘That’s my chosen weapon.’

  Having left the weapons tent, Urs and Rumo allowed themselves to be swept along for a while by the jostling, shoving throng.

  ‘Why did you settle on that toothpick?’ Urs demanded. ‘You could have picked a hundred-layered sword of finest Florinthian steel, or something similar.’

  Rumo decided to keep his secret to himself. ‘What next?’ he asked, to change the subject.

  Urs paused for thought, but only briefly. ‘We’ll drink a tankard of mulled ale. Or two. That would be a fitting conclusion to an eventful day. What do you say?’

  Rumo nodded. A drink he could handle. He was genuinely thirsty.

  A rude awakening

  Even in his dreams Rumo could hear fairground music blaring and see a grotesque procession of stilt walkers and Vulpheads, Ugglies and dwarfs. He also saw Rala kissing and holding hands with Rolv. Vulpheads seized him and adorned him all over with painless scars, Urs kept falling headlong and threatening him with a bagful of mouse bladders. Then he dreamt that the little creatures living between his teeth had moved into his brain, where they erected a city just behind his eyes and between his ears. They banged and sawed away, tossed stones around and battered his skull with sledgehammers. They forged a demonic bell out of meteoric iron and hung it in his auditory canals. Then they began to toll it.

 
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