Rumo and his miraculous.., p.32
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.32

           Walter Moers
 

  And, needless to say, the pond had to contain a plump old carp of melancholy mien with which Ushan could, when the barometric pressure was low, conduct mute conversations about the futility of existence.

  Rule No. 5 for the creation of an ideal fencing garden

  à la Ushan DeLucca:

  Steps and stairs are indispensable

  Swordsmen like nothing better than to fight on stairs. There was a spiral iron staircase, a flight of rickety wooden steps leading up one side of a gable end and down the other, a stone staircase culminating in a tunnel, and some marble steps that ended in a void. But the finest stairway of all, which was constructed of ebony, led to the summit of a big oak tree in whose gnarled branches fighting could continue.

  Rule No. 6 for the creation of an ideal fencing garden

  à la Ushan DeLucca:

  Swordsmen fight anywhere

  Indoors or outdoors, in daylight or darkness, snow or rain, swordsmen had to fight in all conditions, and Ushan had taken great pains to equip his garden perfectly in this respect. Situated in the middle of the garden was a small house, or rather, a dummy house with only one door and no windows. It contained an ingenious little labyrinth with staircases that led nowhere and passages that turned out to be dead ends. This was where pupils were trained to fight in cramped conditions, in poor light or none at all.

  Behind the house was a walkway of burnished metal, lubricated with soft soap, for simulating combat on stretches of ice.

  Pupils were also taught to fence on the thunder sheet. A rectangle of sheet metal suspended from four trees, this emitted an ear-splitting din whenever you took a step. Ushan knew that acoustic disturbances could also affect the outcome of a contest.

  What else did his garden have to offer? The usual swordsmen’s dummies: wooden figures to be assailed with rapier or sabre. By virtue of the intricate machinery inside them, many of these contrivances could actually hit back.

  Finally there were the weapons: rapiers, sabres, épées, swords and cudgels of all kinds. These were stuck in the ground or embedded in tree trunks, suspended from branches or neatly arrayed in racks. Ushan DeLucca’s garden was a paradise on earth for lovers of fencing.

  Rule No. 7 for the creation of an ideal fencing garden

  à la Ushan DeLucca:

  No ideal fencing garden à la Ushan DeLucca exists

  Ushan would dearly have liked to incorporate some features of a more dangerous kind, but the fact that his pupils trained in the garden imposed certain limitations on him. He dreamt of pitfalls lined with spears, of lethal quicksands and carnivorous fish, of poisonous thorns and nests of Stranglesnakes. These visions were not, alas, compatible with the school syllabus, so he deferred them until his retirement.

  The duel

  Rumo was impressed by the garden’s refinements. He itched to vent his rage on Ushan in this fencer’s paradise. At the same time, however, he began to wonder if it was really such a good idea to challenge him on his own territory.

  Dandelion intruded on his thoughts. ‘Hey, you’re being pessimistic again. It’s the wrong attitude. You must think how you’re going to defeat him. How you’ll slice off his head, stick it on the end of a spear and carry it through the streets singing. How you’ll cut out his heart and—’

  ‘Hang on!’ Rumo broke in. ‘It won’t be that kind of victory.’

  ‘No?’

  ‘No. I only want to pay him back for what he did to me. And needle him a bit, maybe.’

  ‘I see. A pity, but never mind. How do you propose to needle him?’

  Not having given the matter any thought, Rumo hesitated. He’d never needled anyone before.

  ‘How about this? After we’ve cunningly disarmed him and he’s crawling around in the dust at your feet, you say, “Well, enjoying a taste of your own medicine, fencing master? Or should I say ‘ex-fencing master’, because I suppose I’m the new municipal fencing champion?”’

  ‘That sounds good!’ thought Rumo. He tried to memorise the words.

  ‘Or this: “Well, Ushan, you old soak, looks like you’ve had your—”’

  ‘Rumo!’ Ushan DeLucca’s voice rang out across the garden like a whiplash.

  Rumo gave a start. He turned to see his teacher hurrying towards him with resolute tread and a face like thunder. Ushan halted just in front of him and looked him full in the eye.

  ‘You wanted to fight me? Here I am. You begged me for a thrashing? At your service. Choose yourself a weapon.’

  ‘I already have one,’ said Rumo, brandishing Dandelion.

  ‘You prefer to fight with a cheese knife?’

  ‘Steady on!’ Dandelion protested.

  ‘This definitely isn’t your day, my boy,’ Ushan went on. ‘Sure you aren’t sick? Or did you indulge in some foolishness at the fair? Certain irresponsible individuals there have been selling illegal drugs to juveniles, so I’ve heard.’

  ‘I’m fine. I want to fight.’ Rumo was determined to get the business over.

  ‘That’s right,’ Dandelion whispered in his head. ‘Stand firm.’

  ‘Suit yourself.’ Ushan plucked out one of the many swords embedded in the ground beside them. ‘I’ll take this, if it’s all right with you. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer a weapon from my vast selection? They’re the finest blades in Zamonia.’

  ‘I’m sure,’ said Rumo.

  Ushan strode firmly on ahead. ‘We usually start off in the middle of the garden and see how the fight develops. Swordsmanship isn’t an exact science. We’ll have to see where chance takes us. It certainly won’t be far.’

  He halted in the midst of the felled trees. Dozens of massive logs were lying every which way, deep in grass and overgrown with moss and ivy.

  ‘My tree cemetery,’ said Ushan. ‘Be careful how you leap around on these logs, they can be pretty slippery.’ The gravity of the situation hadn’t diminished his concern for a pupil’s welfare. He turned, raised his sword and kissed the hilt.

  Rumo raised his weapon likewise, but he balked at kissing Dandelion.

  ‘On guard!’ said Ushan.

  ‘On guard!’ said Rumo.

  ‘On guard!’ whispered Dandelion.

  The two combatants brought their blades together with a crash. Sparks flew and Dandelion’s twin points vibrated like a tuning fork. They stood there with their weapons crossed.

  ‘Dandelion?’ thought Rumo. ‘What shall I do?’

  No answer.

  ‘What does he have in mind, Dandelion? Can you read his thoughts?’

  No answer.

  ‘Dandelion?’

  Ushan tapped Rumo’s weapon with the tip of his sword. ‘So you aren’t attacking right away, eh? You’ve learnt something since the last time. Very good.’

  Rumo hadn’t attacked because he was paralysed with indecision. What was the matter with Dandelion? Why didn’t he answer? He’d gone up against Zamonia’s finest swordsman armed with a forked knife because Dandelion had claimed to be able to predict his opponent’s every move, and now Dandelion had fallen silent.

  ‘Dandelion?’

  Still no answer.

  ‘Well, we could stand around like this all day,’ Ushan said, ‘but it wouldn’t achieve anything. I’d better open the proceedings.’

  He subjected Rumo to a Twin Attack, a standard item from his repertoire designed to impress beginners without undue effort. He let the sword dangle for a moment, loose-wristed, then slashed at Rumo from every angle – so swiftly that it seemed two blades were at work – and darted forward at the same time. Rumo retreated, but he parried the blows with equal rapidity. He was familiar with the Twin Attack and the corresponding defence. It was one of the first things Urs had taught him.

  ‘Dandelion!’ he thought. ‘Answer me! What does he plan to do next?’

  No response.

  Ushan stopped short, thwarted by Rumo’s well-rehearsed reaction, and promptly changed tactics. With a single bound he leapt on to a log and rained blows on Rumo from above.
r />   But Urs had known a simple response to that one too: Rumo went down on one knee, out of Ushan’s range, and aimed some scything blows at his legs that compelled him to perform a brisk dance routine. Ushan somersaulted backwards off the log and faced Rumo once more.

  ‘Been practising in secret, eh?’ Ushan panted. ‘Poor style, but quite effective. It reminds me of someone.’

  Rumo was still too bemused to realise that he was putting up a pretty good show against Ushan.

  ‘Dandelion?’ he thought desperately. ‘Where are you?’

  Still no answer.

  ‘All right, let’s stop this beginner’s nonsense and go all out,’ said Ushan. ‘We’ll see how that appeals to you!’

  The Raging Tornado

  His next routine was the Raging Tornado, in which the attacking swordsman rotated swiftly on the spot, alternately clockwise and anticlockwise, and delivered blows with maximum frequency. This wasn’t amateur’s stuff; it was a complicated procedure that called for a great deal of training. Steel rang against steel, several times a second, with a sound like a handbell tumbling down a flight of stairs. Continually forced to readjust his position by a flurry of immensely powerful blows, the opponent was thrown off his stride and deprived of any chance to launch attacks of his own. The fencing instructor advanced on his retreating pupil like a whirlwind, spinning as he came.

  ‘What do you do if a tornado bears down on you?’ Urs had asked when the Raging Tornado tactic came up for discussion in training.

  ‘No idea,’ Rumo had replied.

  ‘You take cover – if you can find any. It’s as simple as that. Defending yourself against a tornado is futile. Find yourself a stout roof and get beneath it. If you can’t find one it’s curtains.’

  A stout roof … Rumo continued to parry Ushan’s blows as he looked around for one. He caught sight of a massive wooden table. Did that count as a roof? No matter. He slipped beneath it and the metallic clatter ceased at once.

  Ushan was dumbfounded. He’d been compelled to break off his attack – by an act of cowardice. ‘Hiding under a table?’ he cried. ‘You call that swordsmanship?’

  ‘Is there any rule against it?’ Rumo retorted.

  ‘There aren’t any rules in swordsmanship!’

  ‘In that case,’ said Rumo, ‘I do call it swordsmanship.’ He stayed where he was.

  Ushan was completely thrown by this. He thrashed the table top with the flat of his sword. ‘Come out of there, or must I smoke you out?’ He bent down and tried to prod Rumo with his swordpoint, but Rumo, who had already emerged on the far side and leapt on to the table top, attacked him from above. Ushan sprang back out of range. For the first time in his career as a fencing instructor a pupil had forced him to give ground! Rumo jumped down from the table.

  Ushan stood straight as a ramrod with his blade lowered. The tip was ever so slightly trembling, Rumo noticed.

  ‘You’re a nice youngster,’ said Ushan, trying to sound conciliatory. ‘Let’s stop this before I really have to hurt you.’

  ‘Do you surrender?’ asked Rumo.

  ‘What?’

  ‘Do you apologise? I’ll spare you if you do.’

  ‘Are you insane? I’m giving you a chance to end this before things get out of hand. I could wound you.’

  ‘Or I you.’

  ‘Impossible.’

  Rumo was surprised by his own self-assurance. His sword had lost its voice, but so what? He needed no talking sword to put paid to a legendary but ageing swordsman. Urs had taught him the requisite fundamentals; the ambition he supplied himself. It was the way it had been in Ornt El Okro’s workshop. You didn’t need umpteen years of experience to make a chair; all you needed was guts.

  Ushan was pondering his future strategy. For a start, he would take it a bit easier. The youngster was welcome to wear himself out. The belief that one’s energy is inexhaustible was a misapprehension typical of the young. He would dance around instead.

  Rumo was thinking hard too. ‘Don’t go all out from the start!’ Urs had always told him. ‘It’s a typical greenhorn’s mistake to squander your energy before the balloon really goes up. Dance around a bit between times.’

  So Rumo and Ushan danced. They might have been performing a carefully rehearsed pas de deux as they cavorted across the fencing garden’s meadow, causing the sheep to bleat in alarm and the pigeons to take wing. Ushan casually beheaded a rose as they passed the rose arbour. Rumo tried to follow suit but missed.

  ‘Ha!’ Ushan exclaimed. ‘Practice makes perfect!’

  ‘I’m not interested in looking good,’ Rumo retorted, ‘only in winning.’

  The artificial ruin

  ‘It amounts to the same thing,’ said Ushan, coming to a halt. Rumo stopped fighting too. They had now reached the artificial ruin. ‘So you’ve also learnt to husband your strength,’ Ushan went on. ‘Who in Wolperting could have taught you that – apart from me?’

  Rumo didn’t reply.

  ‘What about fighting in a confined space? Have you mastered that yet?’ Ushan disappeared into the decrepit-looking building.

  Rumo reluctantly followed him inside. No, he hadn’t yet practised that with Urs. The conditions really were cramped: a small, windowless room, the ceiling so low that he had to duck his head, the only source of light two candles on the floor. Ushan wasn’t in there.

  ‘Ruuumo …’ he heard Ushan calling from somewhere.

  He made his way into the next room, which was even smaller and lit by only one candle. Some garden tools, rakes and besoms, were propped against the wall in one corner.

  ‘Ruuumo …’

  Into the next room. This one was totally unilluminated and there, with his back to the wall, stood Ushan DeLucca. He was lurking, an almost invisible figure, in the gloom. Eager to beat him to it, Rumo attacked him head-on. Their blades met. But no, it wasn’t steel that Dandelion’s blade encountered. There was a clatter and Ushan’s figure collapsed in a shower of broken glass. Rumo had attacked his own reflection in a mirror.

  ‘Ruuumo …’

  Clearly, the sole purpose of this building was to frighten and infuriate pupils so much that they rushed blindly from room to room, only to be ambushed somewhere in the dark. So Rumo tried to keep calm. He ascended a creaking flight of stairs. Very slowly he entered the room at the top. It was in total darkness, but his sense of smell, which was now in operation, told him that it was empty. Careful not to stumble, he stole cautiously across the uneven floorboards, took one long, slow stride forward – and trod on thin air.

  He turned a somersault and landed on his back, but the slope was so steep that he promptly turned another. He fell head over heels down the darkened chute and collided with a wooden door, which opened under his weight. Dazzling daylight greeted him as he came tumbling out of a hatch at the back of the house and landed in some tall grass.

  ‘Feels good to be out in the fresh air again, eh?’ Ushan DeLucca had been waiting for him. He was standing amid the daisies, eating an apple.

  Rumo scrambled to his feet.

  ‘Had enough at last?’ Ushan enquired. ‘Shouldn’t we simply leave it at that? Hm?’ There was an expectant note in his voice.

  No, Rumo wouldn’t have stopped for anything in the world. Every fibre of his being yearned to continue the fight.

  As for Ushan, he had to admit that he would have been disappointed if Rumo had given up at this stage.

  ‘I’d prefer to fight on,’ Rumo said politely.

  ‘As you wish,’ said Ushan. Relieved, he tossed the apple core away. ‘Well, think of this as a swordsman’s fairground filled with different attractions. What shall we do next? Fight on the ice track? Duel on a staircase? The choice is yours.’

  ‘Let’s just carry on as we were,’ Rumo suggested. ‘Swordsmanship isn’t an exact science. Let’s see where chance takes us.’

  ‘He actually thinks he can beat me,’ thought Ushan, secretly amused. ‘Ah, the boundless self-confidence of youth!’

&
nbsp; Rumo launched a lightning attack. Ushan parried it and retreated. A second onslaught followed, even faster and more ferocious than the first. Ushan retreated still further. He couldn’t afford to let this youngster dictate the tempo.

  The fencing tree

  Ushan danced backwards, steadily making for the stairway that led up into the great oak tree. He darted up the first few steps with Rumo in hot pursuit, then turned to hold him off. Slowly and deliberately, he backed up the stairway step by step, alertly parrying Rumo’s blows as he went. Sure enough, the youngster was falling into his trap. When Ushan felt the first leaves tickle the nape of his neck, he leapt boldly off the stairway and on to a massive branch.

  ‘Follow me,’ he said, ‘and I could cut you to ribbons. You could never jump across, land, find a foothold and defend yourself at the same time. So I’ll take a breather.’ He drove the tip of his sword into the thick bark at his feet.

  ‘Thanks,’ said Rumo and jumped across. His feet had scarcely landed when Ushan plucked his sword out of the branch and showered him with blows. Each of them could have been lethal, but Ushan was only going through the motions. Meanwhile, Rumo was striving to retain his balance. Ushan lowered his blade.

  ‘A word of advice: Never accept a favour in combat and never grant one either. Reserve your charity for other occasions.’

  Rumo glanced around. He was in a tricky position, but the tree was equipped with ropes and leather handholds that offered plenty of scope for climbing, swinging and hanging on. He clung to a branch and lashed out at his opponent. Ushan countered, and for a while the battle raged this way and that.

  Ushan had tailored the tree to his own requirements and provided it with a multitude of cunning refinements that had driven many a pupil to distraction before now. He seized a rope, cried ‘Hoppla!’, swung himself over a thick branch, and disappeared into a dense mass of foliage. Rumo cautiously followed.

 
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