Rumo and his miraculous.., p.33
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.33

           Walter Moers
 

  Where had his fencing master gone? Rumo could scent him, but Ushan, concealed by all the greenery, kept changing his position.

  ‘I shall now proceed to kill you seven times over, my boy,’ whispered Ushan.

  ‘Carry on!’ Rumo retorted.

  ‘One!’

  Ushan’s blade darted from the leaves, aimed at a point midway between Rumo’s ears.

  ‘Two!’

  This time the blade came from below, passing close beneath his armpit.

  ‘Three!’

  The blade stopped a hair’s breadth from Rumo’s left eye and promptly withdrew into the leaves. He seemed to be fencing with the tree itself, from which blades were sprouting everywhere.

  ‘Four!’

  Ushan tapped Rumo’s chest with his swordpoint, just over the heart. He chuckled in his place of concealment.

  ‘Five! Six! Seven!’ Rumo cried furiously, slashing at the foliage three times in quick succession. Hundreds of severed leaves went fluttering down. Ushan could now be seen crouching on a branch, looking as startled as a puppeteer whose curtain has been wrenched aside.

  ‘Those twigs will take a year to grow back!’ Ushan said reproachfully. ‘Have a little more respect for an innocent tree!’

  Rumo lunged at him. By the time his leading foot had trodden on a piece of bark that emitted a suspicious creak it was too late: a branch lashed him in the face and chest. He swayed for a moment, flailing his arms, then toppled over backwards and fell into the long grass below.

  ‘Disaster always strikes from an unexpected quarter!’ Ushan jeered from overhead as Rumo struggled to his feet with a groan. The fencing master climbed down off his branch, there was another creak and he looked up just in time to see a bulging leather punchbag come swinging out of the dense foliage. It struck him in the chest with a dull thud, lifted him off his feet and sent him sailing through the air. He landed in the grass a few feet from Rumo.

  Rumo tottered over to Ushan to see if he was still alive. Ushan sat up and stared at him, glassy-eyed.

  ‘That was a surprise gift from my gardener,’ he said, feeling his chest for broken ribs.

  ‘Disaster always strikes from an unexpected quarter,’ said Rumo.

  Groaning, Ushan got to his feet. ‘If I’d known what an unalloyed pleasure this would be,’ he said, leaning on his sword, ‘I wouldn’t have been so reluctant to cross blades with you. I haven’t had as good a fight since … yes, since my last duel with Urs of the Snows. Do you know him?’

  Rumo looked away.

  Ushan levelled his sword at him. ‘Aha, so that’s the answer! We’ve been practising in secret, have we? I thought Urs had renounced cold steel for good.’

  ‘We use wooden swords.’

  Ushan lowered his blade with a grin. ‘All right, youngster, don’t you agree with me that this would be a suitable moment to end these proceedings? We’ve both had some fun, you’ve learnt something and you’ve shown me what you’re made of. From now on I shall treat you with respect in class.’

  ‘Do you surrender?’

  Ushan put his paws on his hips. ‘I don’t believe it! You mean you still haven’t had enough?’

  ‘You told me never to accept a favour from an opponent. I don’t want preferential treatment; I want to beat you.’

  ‘You stubborn little brute!’ cried Ushan.

  Rumo took guard.

  The Wrist-Slapper

  Ushan deliberated. Tempers were now running so high that serious injuries might result. It was his duty as a teacher to bring this affair to a swift conclusion, but how? With a Two-Handed Slice? That could split an opponent’s skull in half – far too dangerous. A Grim Reaper? This horizontal blow owed its name not only to its scything motion but also to the fact that it spelt certain death – too risky. Wait … A Wrist-Slapper – that was it! That was how he’d defeated Urs of the Snows, who had never touched a blade since. It was a powerful and, as a rule, immensely effective blow that only a few expert swordsmen had mastered, but it wasn’t lethal. That would bring Rumo down to earth and ensure that he attended classes with due humility from now on.

  Delivered with the flat of the blade and great force, the Wrist-Slapper was an extremely painful blow on the opponent’s sword arm. It had to strike the appropriate nerve without damaging it, thereby paralysing the arm for a considerable time. Rumo would have to spoon up his soup left-handed for the next few days. Ushan attacked.

  ‘Oho,’ thought Rumo, ‘he’s trying a Wrist-Slapper!’

  Urs, who had often told him about the Wrist-Slapper, seemed positively obsessed by it. He had devised an effective defence against the blow and, more than that, a method of humiliating anyone who delivered it. He had practised this with Rumo for days on end.

  Rumo began by doing what Ushan expected of him: he allowed himself to be manoeuvred into the required position and obediently left his forearm undefended. Ushan took a swing at it – and slapped thin air. Rumo had whipped away his arm, simultaneously transferring his weapon to the other paw in a Simple Changeover. Thrown slightly off balance, Ushan received a swingeing blow on the ear from the flat of Rumo’s sword. Urs called this the Wrist-Slapper Riposte.

  Ushan’s head rang like a bell and his ear felt red-hot. Tears sprang to his eyes.

  ‘Best regards from Urs!’ said Rumo. He couldn’t help grinning. The needling process was going well!

  Ushan stood there like a first-year student who had just been slapped by his teacher. This youngster was more than a pupil, he decided; he was a fully fledged opponent. No more allowances for youth and inexperience, no more schoolmasterly solicitude. It was definitely time for a Multiple DeLucca.

  Ushan plucked a second sword from a wooden rack. Leaning backwards slightly with both blades levelled from the hip, he slowly retreated in a defensive posture so as to lure Rumo out of his shell.

  ‘You mean you now need two weapons to deal with me?’ asked Rumo.

  Needling was fun, he told himself. ‘Two swords versus a cheese knife?’

  He launched several fierce attacks. Ushan parried them two-handed.

  The Multiple DeLucca

  The first phase of a Multiple DeLucca, a tactic devised and perfected by Ushan himself, required the swordsman to fight with two weapons and then suddenly discard one. For no apparent reason Ushan hurled his left-hand sword into the air.

  Numerous variations of the Multiple DeLucca could be performed. There was the Triple, the Quintuple, the Octuple, the Seventeenfold and the Twenty-Twofold. It all depended on how often the weapon turned over after being thrown into the air.

  One turn, two, three, four, five …

  Meanwhile, fighting on the ground continued. Rumo redoubled his attacks now that Ushan had discarded one of his weapons.

  Six, seven, eight, nine, ten …

  Ushan stopped retreating and tried to stand his ground against Rumo’s onslaught. It was important not to let him force the pace.

  Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen …

  Twenty-eight rotations were the most Ushan had ever achieved. This feat had been necessary because he was fighting the reigning champion of Zamonia, Atrax Xarta III. One of the most nerve-racking duels in his career, it had matched him with an opponent who required special measures. Like Rumo.

  Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five …

  It was particularly important, when performing the Multiple DeLucca, to ensure that your opponent forgot all about the discarded weapon. The higher you threw it, the more often it rotated; and the harder you fought in the meantime, the greater the chances that this complicated ploy would succeed.

  Ushan now attacked, drawing on his full range of skills. Rumo was bombarded with cuts and thrusts from all angles and directions, delivered at a speed he had never encountered before. It escaped his notice that he was being driven round in a circle.

  Thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two …

  Reaching its apogee
, Ushan’s sword slowly rotated for the last time.

  Thirty-five …

  Ushan had never before thrown such a high DeLucca. The sword came to a stop in mid air, then plummeted earthwards, heavy hilt first.

  The essential thing at the conclusion of a Multiple DeLucca was to be back where it had started. Skilfully manoeuvred there by Ushan, he and Rumo were on that exact spot. Rumo was far too preoccupied to notice the portent of disaster bearing down on him from above. With mathematical precision Ushan’s second sword landed in the midst of this hurricane of cuts and thrusts, flying sparks and whirling blades. To Rumo’s astonishment, Ushan caught it by the hilt in front of his nose. Suddenly confronted again by two weapons instead of one, Rumo stopped short. His sword arm remained immobile for a fraction of a second and Ushan seized his opportunity. Clamping Rumo’s blade between both of his, he levered it out of his grasp with one swift, irresistible movement. The self-styled Demonic Sword went flying across the fencing garden and embedded itself, quivering, in the trunk of a silver birch.

  ‘Ouch!’ said Dandelion inside Rumo’s head.

  Ushan held his swordpoints to Rumo’s throat. The duel was over.

  ‘Now go home,’ said Ushan. Without wasting a second glance on his defeated opponent he stuck his swords in the ground and left the garden with his cloak fluttering behind him. ‘And don’t forget your cheese knife!’ he called before disappearing into the house.

  Suddenly it all came back: the headache, the befuddlement, the stale taste in his mouth. Rumo felt as if he had just woken up with a monumental hangover. He was wandering aimlessly through the side streets of Wolperting. Fairground music could be heard in the distance.

  ‘Well, how did it go?’ Dandelion asked suddenly.

  Rumo was too flabbergasted to be angry. ‘Dandelion? Where have you been all this time?’

  ‘No idea, to be honest. I must have passed out or something. Did you know that swords can faint? Neither did I, ha ha! I only came round when I stuck in that tree. Did I miss anything?’

  ‘You fainted?’

  ‘Yes, right at the start of the fight. His sword came whistling towards me and we met with a terrible crash …’

  ‘You left me in the lurch,’ Rumo protested. ‘You talked me into that business and passed out at the crucial moment!’

  ‘Heavens, how callous of you, I’m still in shock! That was my very first fight, for goodness’ sake. I didn’t know everything happened so quickly. Phew, the speed of it! Can you imagine what it feels like, crashing into another blade? Did you see the sparks?’

  ‘Call yourself a sword!’ Rumo said scornfully. ‘You’re a joke!’

  ‘I’m a knife!’ Dandelion said peevishly.

  ‘Oh, so you are a knife after all.’

  ‘What of it? Do you think that means I’ve got no feelings?’

  ‘A knife with feelings! A knife that passes out! Just what I need in a fight. A tent full of weapons and I had to pick you! I might as well go into battle armed with a tulip. Do you know what you are? You’re just a—’

  Dandelion’s confession

  ‘Shall I tell you what I really am? Shall I? All right, I will!’

  Rumo came to a halt.

  ‘The truth is,’ Dandelion said in a quavering voice, ‘I’m not a Demon’s brain at all, I’m a Troll’s brain. A Troglotroll’s brain! There, now you know.’

  ‘You’re a Troll?’

  ‘Certainly. A common or garden Troglotroll – a cave dweller. I never wielded a sword in my life. I was mining lapis lazuli in a mine shaft in the Demon Range when that stupid meteor came crashing down. The most awe-inspiring weapon I ever held in my hands was a geologist’s hammer. The meteor made such a mess of me, they must have mistaken me for a Demonic Warrior and poured my brain into the sword. At least, that’s the only explanation I can think of for how I got into this confounded thing.’

  ‘You mean you aren’t even a Demonic Warrior? You’re only a Troll?’

  ‘I used to be.’

  ‘Better and better. First of all a mighty Demonic Sword and now just a Troglotrollian Toothpick. That settles it! I’m throwing you into the river.’

  ‘What?!’

  Rumo strode on.

  ‘Hey, where are you going?’

  ‘To the Wolper. I’m going to throw you in.’

  ‘Rumo! Don’t be rash!’

  Rumo didn’t reply. He was making for the bridge.

  ‘Rumo! Rumo? You can’t be serious!’

  No response.

  ‘Rumo! Don’t do anything you’ll regret!’

  Rumo strode on regardless.

  ‘Rumo? Listen to me, Rumo! I bungled it, for heaven’s sake! I made a little, wholly unrepresentative mistake! It was my first fight! Calm down, we can discuss this quietly later!’

  Rumo had reached the northern end of Wolper Bridge. Dandelion’s voice was drowned by the roar of the river.

  ‘Rumo! It’ll never happen again, I give you my word of honour! I won’t let it. Are you listening to me, Rumo?’

  Rumo went over to the parapet and looked down at the rushing waters of the Wolper. He dangled Dandelion over the edge.

  ‘Rumo!’ Dandelion shrieked. ‘This isn’t funny any more!’

  ‘You’re right,’ said Rumo. ‘It isn’t.’

  He took another look at the river. Something was drifting past on its turbid surface. A bundle of clothes? No, a Wolperting! He could even make out the face. It was Rala’s!

  Without a second thought, Rumo stuck Dandelion in his belt and leapt over the parapet into the raging torrent.

  Rala’s story

  The long journey that ended with Rala’s immersion in the icy waters of the Wolper had begun at the farm where Niddugg the Bluddum had beaten her senseless before her brother’s eyes. It was a journey from one perilous state, in which she had been more dead than alive, to another. Death had been her constant companion, her unseen attendant and lover, ever ready to enfold her in its chill embrace. Her journey had acquainted her with friendship, but also with hatred and vengeance, with the thrill of the chase and the pleasures of flirting with danger. She had learnt to speak and walk erect, and she had been reunited with her brother Rolv, but the best thing she had encountered on her journey was the love of Tallon the Bear God.

  Once Niddugg the Bluddum was convinced that he had beaten Rala to death, he dragged her supposedly lifeless body into the forest as a sacrifice to the Wild Bear God in whom he believed. As soon as he had laid her down among the leaves and returned to his farm to give Rolv a thrashing, the Wild Bear God appeared.

  Tallon the Bear God

  His name was Tallon – Tallon the Claw, to be precise. He was wild and a bear, yes, but he wasn’t a god. Tallon was as far from being a god as anyone could be. He wasn’t particularly bright, he was lazy, he possessed no supernatural powers, and he was as mortal as any other creature in the forest. He lived on the scraps the superstitious peasants threw out to placate him when he roared in the night. Tallon would eat anything – cold potatoes, apple peel, stale bread, mouldy cheese, even dead dogs – just as long as he didn’t have to hunt his own food.

  Tallon trotted over, sniffed the little puppy’s body and promptly decided not to eat it under any circumstances. Why not? Because it was still alive. Tallon knew nothing of the Demonocles, still less of their predilection for live food, but instinct told him that he was one of the Zamonian life forms which firmly rejected any form of nourishment that was still moving.

  Yes, Rala was still alive. As for her name, she got that from Tallon, who nursed her back to health and brought her food and lulled her to sleep with the only two syllables he could articulate: Rala – Rala – Rala.

  She recovered from her serious injuries remarkably quickly, reached the fast-growing phase, and became big and strong. Not as big as Tallon, but strong enough to go hunting with him, for now that he had a foster-child to feed he no longer shrank from killing his own food. Rala, he thought, should have something better to eat
than kitchen waste and dead dogs. Besides, he had noticed that the exercise did him good and he lost a few pounds, so hunting became his and Rala’s main interest in life.

  One day they scented an unusual quarry. Having run it to earth in a snow-covered clearing, they saw that it was a hunter. Not just any hunter, but the one who had caught Rala and Rolv and sold them to Niddugg. Rala knew this from his scent when they came face to face.

  The hunter was carrying a long stick in his right hand and a short stick in his left. Having put the two together, he seemed to point them at Rala and Tallon. Suddenly the short stick flew through the air and struck Tallon in the heart. He sank to the forest floor, growled ‘Rala’ for the last time, and died. The hunter had meantime produced another short stick and was pointing it at Rala. She felt like charging at him and tearing out his heart for what he had done to her, Rolv and Tallon, but something commanded her to do the opposite: to restrain herself, take cover and let the hunter go. She complied: she went down on all fours and disappeared into the forest. The hunter lowered his sticks and went on his way.

  But not alone, for Rala followed him. She surreptitiously dogged his footsteps, never breaking cover. She watched him hunting and studied the way he handled his sticks. She became his shadow, his secret alter ego. She discovered how he lived, how he ate, when he took the sticks with him and when he left them behind. And one day, when she thought she knew all there was to know about the hunter, she confronted him. He had laid aside his clothes and sticks, and was swimming in a river. He took fright when he spotted Rala on the bank, because he realised that his time had come. Rala picked up the sticks, took aim at the hunter and shot him in the heart. His agonised cries filled the forest and the river turned red. Rala had proved herself an excellent marksman with bow and arrow at the very first attempt.

  Rala defies death

  From that day onwards Rala enjoyed an unusual relationship with death. She had no fear of it because she had already conquered it once, and she now knew how to visit it on others.

 
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