Rumo and his miraculous.., p.31
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.31

           Walter Moers
 

  He woke up. It was the midday chimes of the City Hall clock that had roused him, and merciless sunlight was streaming through his open bedroom window. His head was buzzing like the beehive hats of the Beesters from Honey Valley. Groaning, he got out of bed.

  He’d never woken up feeling so shattered, not even after his fight with Rolv. His tongue felt as if he’d left it in a bucket of ashes overnight, his teeth, tongue and gums seemed to have sprouted fur. The blood throbbed painfully in his skull and there was a roaring in his ears like surf. Had he fallen ill for the first time in his life?

  Rumo tottered over to the window. Some young Wolpertings were kicking up a din in the street below. Couldn’t they talk a little more quietly? He picked up the water jug and drained it in a few gulps.

  He tried to remember. The fair. Rala, naturally. Urs. Mouse bladders. Rolv – ouch! A sharp pain in his left ear. Rolv and Rala holding hands – that hadn’t been a bad dream. What else? The Ugglies. That phogar – ugh! He promptly felt sick again at the thought of it. The ghost train. What else? What else?

  ‘Good morning!’ a cheerful voice exclaimed inside his head. ‘Did you sleep well? You must have, the way you were snoring.’

  He noticed only now that there was a sword lying on his table.

  Choose your weapon!

  Of course, the weapons tent. Had he really chosen this grotesque little sword? Another sharp pain, this time in the right ear.

  ‘I’m genuinely sick,’ Rumo said to himself. ‘Sick in the head. I’m hearing voices.’ He sat down on the bed with his paws over his ears.

  ‘Lost your memory?’ said the voice in his head. ‘Too much mulled ale? It’s me, your chosen weapon!’

  Mulled ale … Yes, the last thing he could remember was the mulled ale stall. All those tankards he’d poured down his throat on an empty stomach. Drunk for the first time in his life! Yes, he could remember crawling around on all fours like a wild Wolperting. He felt ashamed.

  ‘What about the Painless Scars Tent?’

  Was that his own voice? A warning voice in his brain? Painless Scars?

  ‘Brush aside the fur on your left arm and see what’s written there, ha ha!’

  Mechanically, Rumo complied. He brushed the fur aside – and froze. Someone had carved something into the skin, leaving a painless scar. It was a crimson heart with a word in the middle:

  Rala

  There was a knock. Urs came in without waiting for an answer. He was looking all in and carrying a pot of coffee.

  They sat there in silence for a while, sipping their coffee.

  ‘I’m afraid I did something terribly stupid last night,’ Urs muttered. He parted the fur on his arm. He, too, had acquired a painless scar. It read:

  Mouse Bladders

  Rumo laughed.

  ‘It isn’t funny. I’ll have to go around with it till the day I die.’

  Rumo held out his own arm. ‘That’s nothing. Take a look at this!’ He showed him the tattoo. This time it was Urs’s turn to laugh.

  ‘What am I to do?’ groaned Rumo.

  ‘Propose to her, of course.’

  ‘Stop it! Rala is Rolv’s girlfriend. I wanted to forget her, and now this! It’ll remind me of her all my life!’

  ‘Rala is whose girlfriend?’

  ‘Rolv’s,’ Rumo growled. ‘They hold hands.’

  ‘Why shouldn’t they? They’re siblings.’

  ‘They’re what?’

  ‘Brother and sister. Twins from the same litter, actually. That’s very rare with Wolpertings. Hadn’t it ever struck you that they have the same surname: Rolv and Rala of the Forest?’

  ‘Twins?’ Rumo said wonderingly.

  ‘Yes, the miracle of life – a double helping of it. They look nothing like each other, but some twins don’t.’

  Rumo’s heart gave a leap. So Rala and Rolv were brother and sister! He couldn’t help laughing again. His headache was gradually subsiding.

  ‘Well, you are in a good mood this morning. That’s twice you’ve laughed. More than you usually do in a month.’

  Rumo put his arms round Urs and gave him a hug – by far the biggest display of emotion he’d ever shown him.

  Dandelion

  Rumo was in high spirits. Rolv and Rala were siblings – splendid! His headache had disappeared completely, like that strange voice in his head. His sense of balance was still impaired, but that too was gradually improving. He marched through Wolperting to show off his new weapon to all and sundry. Being able to dispense with a scabbard because of the slit in the blade, he’d stuck the sword in his belt. That way, everyone could see it: Rumo’s first weapon. He paused outside the tailor’s shop to inspect himself and his sword in the big mirror beside the door.

  ‘Snazzy, huh?’

  Rumo gave a start.

  ‘You’d better get used to it. That’s the way I sound.’

  It all came back in a flash. The talking sword. The buried demons. The meteor. It hadn’t been a dream!

  ‘Yes, it’s a crazy story, no wonder you thought you were losing your mind. Be thankful it isn’t a metabolic disorder of the brain. If it were you’d have to spend the rest of the day barking or talking backwards or something, ha ha!’

  ‘This is terrible,’ thought Rumo. ‘I mean, fancy hearing a sword jabbering in my head all the time!’

  ‘Don’t be like that! You chose your weapon. It was a sacred act, a bond between flesh and steel! We’re partners for ever, you and I! What’s your name, by the way? Mine is Dandelion.’

  ‘Dandelion?’ asked Rumo. ‘Like the flower?’

  ‘I was thinking more of the origin of the word. It’s French: Dent-de-lion, lion’s tooth. Something sharp and dangerous. You mean there’s a flower of the same name?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘A poisonous flower?’

  ‘No. You can even make a salad out of it, I believe.’

  ‘What nonsense!’ Dandelion fell silent for a while. ‘What do they call you at home?’

  ‘Rumo.’

  ‘Like the card game?’ ‘Yes.’

  ‘Ha ha ha!’

  Rumo continued to study his reflection. Yes, the sword suited him. It talked a bit too much, that was all.

  ‘Hi there, Rumo!’

  ‘Hi there, Dandelion!’

  Rumo walked along the street with Dandelion. Three girl Wolpertings whom Rumo knew from school were coming the other way. He gave them a clumsy wave. They giggled and waved back.

  ‘Rumo and his new knife,’ said Dandelion. ‘No wonder they stared!’

  ‘Knife, did you say? I thought you were a sword.’

  ‘Knife, sword – the borderline is pretty vague …’

  ‘Just a minute!’ Rumo halted. ‘Yesterday you claimed to be a mighty Demonic Sword.’

  ‘Did I say Demonic Sword? Well, I meant knife. Yoo-hoo! I’m a mighty Demonic Knife!’

  Rumo walked on. ‘It’s not the same,’ he said.

  ‘That spiel of mine yesterday was sales talk, stupid! Have you any idea how long I’d been lying there? Yesterday was my twenty-fifth annual fair. I mean, I’m a knife! What fool would choose a knife when he could have a battleaxe or a sword? I had to think of something.’

  Rumo paused again. ‘You mean you bamboozled me?’

  ‘What? No! Hey, all I did was use a bit of persuasion so you’d make the right choice at last – which you did. That proves I was right, doesn’t it?’

  Rumo failed to follow Dandelion’s reasoning. ‘You said you were a sword and now you’re only a knife.’

  ‘Well, I mean, what’s the difference between a knife and a sword – between a big knife and a little sword? Where do knives stop and swords begin? Who can say? I certainly can’t.’

  ‘Go on lying to me and I’ll chuck you in the river!’

  ‘Hey, don’t do anything rash!’ Dandelion’s voice took on a deep, solemn note. ‘This is a great moment, don’t profane it! You and I, partners in battle! A Wolperting’s arm plus a steel blade capable
of thought – could there be a greater or more dangerous weapon?’

  Rumo pondered this.

  ‘Er, let’s say you were blinded in battle – stranger things have happened! With me in your fist you could go on fighting – with your eyes shut.’

  ‘You mean you can see?’

  ‘In all directions, but don’t ask me how.’

  ‘I can see without eyes myself. With my nose. With my ears.’

  ‘You can?’

  ‘In all directions, but don’t ask me how.’

  ‘Aha. Hm. All right, another point: I can not only read your thoughts, I could read an opponent’s. I would know all his manoeuvres in advance.’

  ‘Is that true?’

  ‘It’s true … true … true …’ the voice murmured hypnotically in Rumo’s head.

  ‘Hey, hang on,’ cried Rumo, ‘that’s another of your tricks.’

  ‘No, I can prove it to you!’

  ‘How?’

  ‘How? Yes, how …? Wait, I’ve got it! Do you by any chance have a score to settle with someone?’

  ‘I certainly have.’

  ‘Does he possess a sword or something similar?’

  ‘Plenty of them. He’s the best swordsman in the city.’

  ‘All the better. Now listen. If we teach the fellow a lesson together, will that convince you we’re partners for life?’

  ‘Perhaps.’

  ‘Then take me to him.’

  The fencing master

  Ushan DeLucca was feeling fine. Having just risen from his bed after twelve hours’ refreshing sleep, he’d consumed a whole pot of coffee and breakfasted on eight fried eggs.

  ‘It’s grand, simply to be alive!’ he thought. ‘I feel like an ice-cold shower followed by a brisk workout in my fencing garden.’

  This was far from being Ushan’s usual state of mind. He was known to be not only the finest swordsman in the city but subject to the most extreme mood swings. There was no medical reason for these moods. Their origin was meteorological: Ushan DeLucca was peculiarly sensitive to weather conditions.

  ‘What sort of day is it going to be, Ushan?’ people would ask him as he walked through the city. Ushan would put a paw over his eyes, stick his nose in the air, sniff and say, for example, ‘There’s a barometric low over the Zamonian Ocean. It’s moving eastwards in the direction of a barometric high centred on Zamonia itself, but it doesn’t yet show any tendency to skirt this to the north. The isotherms and isotheres are behaving as they should. The air temperature bears a normal relationship to the annual mean, the temperature prevailing in the coldest and warmest months, and the aperiodic monthly variation in temperature. The water vapour in the air is at maximal buoyancy and humidity is low. In other words, it’s going to be a fine day.’

  And one could safely stake the whole of one’s worldly wealth on the accuracy of that forecast.

  Ushan found the slightest change in the weather a terrible affliction. He felt as if electrical storms were raging through his cerebral cortex, as if his eardrums were being pierced by red-hot needles and his eye sockets filled with boiling water. The purple pouches that blossomed beneath his eyes seemed to be laden with lead shot, his forehead became a mountain range of melancholy furrows. When the barometer registered extremely low pressure, his face contorted into such a tragic mask that people felt like bursting into tears at the very sight of him and his pet cat took to its heels, hissing and snarling. On such occasions Ushan found life pure agony and yearned for death. His first wife, Urla DeLucca, née Florinthiana, had left him because she couldn’t endure his erratic moods any longer.

  ‘He spends the whole time sitting on the windowsill on the top floor of our home, talking to the urn in which he wants his ashes buried,’ she’d testified before the mayor when suing for divorce. ‘It drives me round the bend because I’m afraid he’s going to jump at any moment. As for that face of his! He’s a nice enough fellow when the sun’s shining, but I can’t take any more of this. I mean, I got to know him in the springtime, but when autumn came …’

  Today, Ushan couldn’t have felt better. Zamonia was in the middle of a stable high-pressure area, the sun was shining, and there was scarcely a breath of wind. He was sitting high up in his tower overlooking the fencing school, leafing through the latest circular from the Zamonian Fencing Instructors’ Association. The doorbell rang. Ushan gave a start – he wasn’t expecting visitors. The school was closed today because of the annual fair. He opened the window and looked down. Rumo was standing below. Rumo of Zamonia.

  ‘Hello, Rumo!’ called Ushan. ‘This is an unexpected pleasure. What can I do for you?’

  ‘I’ve come to challenge you to a duel.’

  ‘Eh?’

  ‘I’ve come … You heard what I said!’

  ‘Are you out of your mind, youngster? Is this a schoolboy prank? Are your classmates hiding round the corner and laughing themselves sick?’

  ‘I’ve come to challenge you to a duel,’ Rumo repeated gravely.

  Ushan could see the whole area from his tower. There was no one in sight but Rumo. ‘Go home, Rumo,’ he called. ‘We’ll see each other in class.’ He shut the window. The youngsters always got out of hand when the fair was in progress. Shaking his head, he resumed his seat.

  The doorbell rang again.

  Ushan flung the window open.

  ‘What is it now?’

  ‘I’ve come to challenge you to a duel.’

  ‘I don’t duel with my pupils. Go away!’

  ‘Then you’re a coward.’

  ‘All right, so I’m a coward. Push off!’

  Ushan really was in a good mood. Under normal circumstances he would long ago have gone downstairs and given Rumo a hiding with the flat of his sword. He shut the window again.

  ‘He won’t play,’ thought Rumo. ‘What now?’

  ‘What is his weak spot?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘His weak spot? I don’t think he’s got one.’

  ‘Everyone has.’

  ‘Not him. He’s Ushan DeLucca, the finest swordsm—’

  ‘You mean his name is Ushan DeLucca? Like that brand of rum? Ha ha! That’s great!’ Dandelion chuckled malevolently.

  ‘What’s so great about it?’

  ‘Well, it’s like being called Booze-Bottle! Or Egg-Nog! There must be a reason.’

  Rumo still didn’t get it.

  ‘Listen, ask him the following …’

  Rumo rang the bell for a third time. The window flew open.

  ‘Oh well,’ Rumo called, ‘I suppose there’s nothing to be done. Perhaps it’s just too early in the day. Perhaps you’re still too sober to fight.’

  Ushan stopped short. ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘Oh, nothing. Perhaps you simply haven’t taken enough Dutch courage on board to fight me. Sorry to have bothered you.’

  Rumo turned to go.

  ‘Stay there!’ Ushan drew himself up, straight as a ramrod. His tone was sharp and authoritative. He threw the key down.

  ‘Meet me in the fencing garden.’

  Ushan DeLucca’s fencing garden

  Were there a heaven for the exclusive use of aficionados of the art of fencing, it would have looked like Ushan DeLucca’s fencing garden, which was conceived in accordance with seven rules. Ushan had designed it himself, worked on it for ten years and helped in its construction. Having considered it almost complete for the past two years, he now confined himself to maintaining it with the aid of a couple of gardeners.

  While waiting for his fencing master, Rumo strolled round the garden and admired the ingenious diversity of its various features. He knew the seven rules for constructing an ideal fencing garden à la Ushan DeLucca from the latter’s book, Swordsmanship.

  Rule No. 1 for the creation of an ideal fencing garden

  à la Ushan DeLucca:

  Fencers like to move around

  This apparent platitude was actually the basis of the fencing garden. Fencers like moving around in the widest variety of
ways. That, for example, was why Ushan had erected an unfinished stone wall that traversed the garden like an ancient ruin and was now picturesquely weathered. The wall was low enough to leap on to, narrow enough to require a good sense of balance and long enough to accommodate two swordsmen.

  Ushan had also transported tree trunks of different sizes into the garden and allowed them to become overgrown with vegetation. He had commissioned Ornt El Okro to build some massive tables – for some reason swordsmen like to jump on to tables when fighting – and dug pits and trenches. He had even excavated tunnels and erected wooden beams for climbing on and swinging from on ropes.

  Rule No. 2 for the creation of an ideal fencing garden

  à la Ushan DeLucca:

  Swordsmen are vain

  The garden was equipped with a number of large mirrors in which Ushan and his pupils could watch themselves shadow-fencing. Countless candles supplied atmospheric lighting for duels at night and capes hung ready to hand from clothes horses, for swordsmen in combat look best when attired in flowing capes, especially red velvet ones. For the vainest of the vain, gilded rapiers and épées were available.

  Rule No. 3 for the creation of an ideal fencing garden

  à la Ushan DeLucca:

  Swordsmen love danger

  So as to intensify his fencing garden’s hazards and dangers, Ushan had incorporated numerous hidden traps: nooses and holes in the ground designed to trip swordsmen up, branches that sprang back and hit them in the face, pitfalls that suddenly yawned beneath their feet, concealed wires strung between trees. He devised additional hazards every day, and his ingenious gardeners were under orders to go on constructing new obstacles of whose location and function he himself was ignorant.

  Rule No. 4 for the creation of an ideal fencing garden

  à la Ushan DeLucca:

  Swordsmen are hopeless romantics

  There had, of course, to be a bower of blood-red roses for swordsmen to decapitate with their blades as they danced past, likewise a pond inhabited by a black swan and spanned by a picturesque bridge for them to duel on in fine weather. There was also a lush meadow filled with grazing sheep that provided a peaceful contrast to the combatants.

 

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