Rumo and his miraculous.., p.34
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.34

           Walter Moers
 

  She matched herself against opponents whose strength and ability she couldn’t gauge, and it was pure luck that she survived such confrontations. She waded through murky swamps pervaded by ominous scents and emerged unscathed because the creatures that inhabited them were too dumbfounded by her audacity to show themselves. She challenged death itself, but neither hunger nor thirst, teeth nor claws could defeat her. Rala had lost her respect, not only for death but also for life, because she had no one left worth living for.

  One evening she picked up a scent that seemed at once familiar and unfamiliar. The wind was strong and blew it away too quickly for her to identify it. In the twilight she spotted a fast-moving creature flitting from tree to tree and realised that she herself was its quarry. She loosed off an arrow, but her pursuer ducked so swiftly that it splintered against a tree trunk. Never having wasted one of her precious arrows before, Rala was annoyed and puzzled at the same time. What sort of creature could it be?

  She fired two arrows simultaneously, a technique that had never failed to kill in the past. But the creature did something more puzzling still: it plucked both arrows out of the air and, adding insult to injury, hurled them back with such force that they stuck in a tree just in front of Rala’s nose.

  She had never before encountered an opponent endowed with such reflexes, such strength and speed. Visibility steadily deteriorated as darkness fell. Having fired her last arrow in vain, Rala was left with only one choice: to confront her opponent face to face. They met in a clearing, close enough to look into each other’s eyes. The wind dropped at that moment, enabling them to identify each other’s scent, and they realised that there wouldn’t be a fight after all: their noses had told them they were brother and sister.

  The river

  The grey waters of the Wolper swirled around Rumo. They were below him, above him – everywhere. Cold as ice, they forced their way into his mouth, nose and ears. A steady roar filled his head.

  ‘I can’t swim,’ he thought.

  ‘What?!’ said Dandelion. ‘You can’t swim and you jump into a raging river? And you reproach me for—’

  ‘Where’s Rala?’

  ‘Rala? Who’s Rala?’

  ‘She’ll die!’

  ‘Who’ll die? You will, that’s for sure.’

  ‘Maybe, but Rala mustn’t!’

  ‘Start swimming.’

  ‘I can’t swim.’

  ‘Then do something about it!’ Dandelion yelled. ‘Swim!’

  ‘Rala …’ thought Rumo.

  ‘Rumo!’ Dandelion yelled. ‘Get moving! You’ve got to swim.’

  But Rumo didn’t answer.

  Rolv and Rala of the Forest

  After their reunion in the forest Rolv and Rala roamed the wild woods of Zamonia together. For a time they worked as guard dogs on a fruit farm that was regularly raided by thieves. The farmhands taught them to speak and the thieves stopped raiding the orchards at night, deterred by the Wolpertings’ ferocious barking. They moved on when the harvest was over. At some stage, when they had reached the south of the Zamonian continent, Rolv started talking about a Silver Thread he could see with his eyes shut. As time went by, Rala realised that this vision meant a lot to him, so they journeyed on in search of its source and eventually came to Wolperting City. They registered with the mayor, moved into a little house together, and went to school. Rolv found his Silver Thread in the shape of a girl Wolperting named Mara of the Mists. In other respects they led a normal life devoid of undue excitement.

  Until Rumo appeared on the scene.

  Rala was puzzled by the emotions that gripped her when this stranger blundered into the classroom. He behaved like an utter fool, asked stupid questions in class and tangled with Rolv, of all people. Above all, he treated her as if she were a block of wood, so why did she have these feelings for him?

  She was Rala of the Forest, the proudest, most high-spirited girl Wolperting in the city, with a host of admirers, but now this Rumo had come along and turned her world upside down. What gave him the right? He avoided her eye and company, gave her the widest possible berth in the playground and responded to her smiles with a low growl – indeed, he seemed positively to detest her. At the fair he’d almost fainted at the mere touch of her. What an idiot! But – and this was what perplexed her most of all – Rala could think of nothing and no one but Rumo. She wanted to live with him, grow old with him, die and dissolve into the cosmos with him when the world disintegrated.

  She thought of him at night, too. She’d always had wild and wonderful dreams, usually of Tallon and their hunting trips in the forest, but Rumo now haunted her nocturnal world and behaved little less strangely there than in real life.

  One night Rala dreamt again of Tallon the Claw. It was a very remarkable dream, because Tallon could speak. He was sitting on a log with the fatal arrow lodged in his heart.

  ‘Listen, my girl,’ he said, ‘and listen carefully, because in life I was never able to say anything except your name. But now I’m dead and I can tell you this: Everything has changed. This Rumo, this idiot who keeps blundering through our lovely dreams – I wondered what he was doing in our forest, so I asked him. Well, “asked” isn’t the word. I had to torment him a little to get at the truth, but at last I wrung it out of him. Sit tight and listen to this: He’s crazy about you – hopelessly infatuated! He doesn’t dare tell you, so his spirit goes wandering when he’s asleep at night and insinuates itself into your dreams. Have you ever heard of such idiocy?’

  Tallon slid off the log to the ground and lay there, looking just as he had when he was dying.

  ‘Listen, Rala,’ he went on in a tremulous whisper. ‘I couldn’t utter any dramatic last words when I was close to death, but now that I can speak I’d like to make up for lost time.’ His voice became even fainter.

  ‘I’m only a stupid bear and I don’t know the first thing about such matters, but if you want my opinion, you must take the initiative. You must hunt him down and lay him low.’ Tallon gave a final groan and his head sagged. Rala awoke in tears.

  Although she didn’t believe in dream messages, she was obsessed from then on with a single thought: How could she lay Rumo low?

  And then she’d seen him making for the bridge over the Wolper.

  Rumo hadn’t spotted her. He looked moody and ill-tempered – in fact, he was talking to himself. Rala followed hard on his heels, stalking him the way she used to stalk game in the forest and flitting from one piece of cover to the next. When she saw that he meant to cross the bridge, a plan took shape in her mind. A dangerous, extremely risky plan, but she felt it was time to give death another chance. Her idea of how to put Rumo’s love to the test was not only simple but hare-brained: she would throw herself into the Wolper. If he jumped in after her – if he risked certain death for her sake – she could be sure of his love. She spared no thought for what would happen afterwards, or how the two of them would extricate themselves from the raging torrent. That didn’t enter into her plan. After all, danger was an integral part of it.

  The colours of death

  Unlike Demonocles, Wolpertings didn’t believe that they would rise into the clouds after death. They believed that death would spell total inactivity. Although aware that they would inevitably die some day, they didn’t speculate on what would happen thereafter. Rumo was doubly surprised, therefore, when he lost consciousness and found himself in a world that seemed familiar to him. It was a vast panorama of luminous shapes, of hitherto unknown colours and endless streamers of light, which reminded him of the world of his inner eye.

  ‘Aha,’ he thought, ‘so this is what it’s like when you’re dead. It’s like seeing things with your eyes shut.’

  He was being swept along by a river of pulsating radiance. The colour of the river, it suddenly occurred to him, was xulb, and gommish clouds were racing across the zabrine sky overhead. Amazingly enough, he knew all the names of these peculiar colours by heart.

  He could swim, what was more. N
o, he himself wasn’t swimming; he was being borne along by this river, which shared none of the unpleasant characteristics of the Wolper. It wasn’t noisy but quiet, not cold but warm, not turbulent but calm.

  ‘I’ll simply go with the flow,’ he thought. Everything had suddenly become so easy and simple and lovely, so painless and unproblematical. He was no longer plagued by anger and doubt, by fear and the torments of love.

  Fighting the water

  When Rala dived into the Wolper the first thing she noticed was that the water was appreciably colder and flowing considerably faster than she’d expected. Above all, it was heavy. It soaked into her clothes and hair, seeped into her boots and dragged her down into the depths. Last but not least, it was noisy. Its monotonous roar drowned every other sound and thwarted her romantic plan to cry for help. Having pictured herself drifting serenely along like a beautiful victim of drowning, she was now being swept away and submerged like a scrap of paper.

  She had already drifted under Wolper Bridge without managing to attract Rumo’s attention when he happened to look over the parapet just as a violent eddy carried her briefly to the surface. Rumo dived in without a moment’s hesitation. Rala saw him plunge into the river before she herself was swept away by the current.

  ‘He loves me!’ she thought. ‘He followed me to certain death without a second thought!’

  Surfacing for a moment, she saw Rumo, too, break surface. His body was inert. Whirled around by the current, he was making no attempt to hold his own against it. It was clear that he’d lost consciousness.

  ‘Rumo’s drowning!’ she thought.

  They continued to drift along in the middle of the river. It hadn’t occurred to Rala that Rumo would lose consciousness, that the current would be so overwhelmingly powerful, and that fate would this time treat her with such indifference. She cursed herself for having devised a childish, romantic scheme that had put Rumo in the direst danger – Rumo, whose life was more precious to her than her own.

  ‘You must try to swim!’ someone shouted.

  A number of Wolpertings had gathered at the river’s edge. They were leaning over the embankment or keeping pace with the raging torrent by running along it in great agitation.

  Swim? What nonsense! Rala couldn’t swim – no Wolperting could. It was just about as unthinkable as learning to fly by jumping over a precipice.

  ‘Try to swim!’ another Wolperting shouted from the bank.

  Why was it so unthinkable? Rumo’s life was at stake, not to mention her own, so why should she let this atavistic fear of water prevent her from at least giving it a try?

  ‘You must swim!’

  But how did swimming go? Rala remembered the hunter she’d watched swimming in the river before she killed him. He had stretched out his arms and shovelled the water behind him, and the movement of his legs had reminded her of a frog.

  She was dragged under again. Pebbles and dead branches smote her in the face, and once she hit her head so hard on a massive rock that it almost knocked her out. When she finally regained the surface she saw Rumo floating along nearby, but upside down. All that protruded from the water was one of his boots.

  The Wolpertings on the bank were brandishing long sticks and coils of rope. By now, Rala and Rumo were nearing the outskirts of the city, where the current was not quite as strong and the river was unenclosed by an embankment. Their agitated fellow citizens had ventured unusually close to the water’s edge.

  Trying to keep her head above the surface, Rala extended her arms, shovelled the water behind her and simultaneously imitated the leg movements of a frog.

  Sure enough, she made a little progress in Rumo’s direction. She repeated her movements with all the strength and speed of which a Wolperting was capable, again and again. To her astonishment she noticed that the river was losing its power over her body. She herself determined when her head was above or below the surface, when she drew breath and when she submerged. So that’s how you swim, she thought: You fight the water.

  She had already grasped Rumo’s boot. She continued to paddle with one paw, and her powerful strokes brought her closer to the bank, where the spectators were trailing long branches in the water and holding out their arms. At last she managed to seize the shaft of a pitchfork. Hauled ashore, she dragged Rumo’s inert body out of the water.

  Rumo, feeling detached and remote from everything, was drifting along on the silent billows of death. Would he continue to drift like this for evermore? He didn’t care, he would accept whatever happened, because anyone who had accepted death was past being afraid of anything.

  He looked up at the sky, with all its weird and wonderful new colours: kelf, gromian, opem, glab, ivolint and – suddenly a familiar colour – silver! Yes, the Silver Thread was quivering overhead, near enough to touch. It had a voice as it did in his dreams, but it wasn’t singing this time; it was speaking, firmly and loudly:

  ‘Rumo! You’ve got to breathe!’

  Breathe? Why should he have to breathe now he was dead? He’d just broken the habit.

  ‘Rumo!’ the voice said again. ‘Breathe! You’ve got to!’

  ‘I can’t breathe any more,’ he thought. ‘I’ve forgotten how.’

  ‘Rumo!’ cried the voice, angrily now. ‘I order you to breathe!’

  Rumo felt a sudden sharp pain in his nose.

  Ouch!

  A pain like that didn’t belong in this peaceful new world of his. Rumo’s eyes filled with tears. He uttered a sob and started to breathe.

  He opened his eyes.

  Someone was bending over him. He blinked, then saw that it was Rala. Several other Wolpertings were crowding around behind her.

  ‘She punched him on the nose,’ said someone.

  ‘It worked, though. Incredible!’

  ‘He’s alive.’

  ‘Rala can swim,’ said someone further away.

  Rala mopped Rumo’s face and looked at him as if she expected him to say something special. He stared back uncomprehendingly. Then he vomited into her lap.

  The talk of the town

  Rala can swim!

  The news spread through Wolperting with the rapidity of a forest fire. It travelled from house to house, street to street, district to district, until, within the space of an afternoon, the whole city knew it: Rala can swim!

  The inhabitants were no less dumbfounded by the news than they would have been if told that Rala could fly. None of them would ever have thought it possible that one of their number could learn to swim. Swimming – if performed by a Wolperting – verged on sorcery.

  Where Rumo was concerned the news had an unpleasant postscript. In full it ran: Rala can swim, and Rumo is a stupid idiot for falling into the Wolper and having to be fished out by a girl.

  Nobody mentioned that he had thrown himself into the river to rescue Rala or described how she had really got there. No, the false version of the story was recounted again and again until everyone believed it.

  That, at all events, was the state of affairs as reported by Urs to Rumo while he lay face down on his bed and vomited brown Wolper water into a bucket.

  Rumo continued to be dependent on Urs’s information for the next few days. He was feeling so groggy that he hardly left his room for a week. While he was slowly recovering, Rala’s reputation enjoyed a meteoric rise. The streets of Wolperting rang with her name: Rala, the swimmer. Rala, the wonder girl. Rala, who can walk on water. Rala, fearless saviour of a moronic non-swimmer – and so forth. It was almost too much to bear.

  Rumo felt it might have been better if he’d remained in that multicoloured, luminous limbo and gone on drifting for ever. He would then have been spared the items of news brought him during his convalescence by Urs, Axel and the other two triplets: that the municipal theatre’s amateur players were rehearsing a drama entitled Rumo’s Rescue; that the City Hall authorities were thinking of erecting a monument or renaming the river in Rala’s honour; that she was giving swimming lessons in the ponds outside th
e city walls, her example having shown that overcoming your deep-seated fear of water and learning a few simple movements were all you needed to do in order to be able to swim.

  Even when Rumo was back on his legs, he scarcely dared to leave his room. He no longer went to school, shirked his civic duties and avoided the cabinetmaker’s workshop for days. He slunk through the side streets at night for a breath of fresh air, but that was all. The whole city was in league against him. Ushan DeLucca lay in wait for him in fencing lessons and Rala in class, and he could well imagine how Rolv, Vasko and the others would taunt him.

  On one of his solitary nocturnal walks he came to Black Dome Square. The great building stood there, its dark bulk gleaming in the moonlight like a memorial to all the world’s unsolved mysteries. Rumo went over, leant his back against the cold surface and looked up at the stars. The sleeping city was utterly silent. This, he thought, would be the ideal moment to steal away and shake the dust of Wolperting off his heels.

  The whole city loved Rala, so why was she unhappy? Because, even though Rumo owed her his life, he was still behaving like an idiot! It was incredible. Hardly had she hauled him out of the raging river and summoned him back to life when he opened his eyes, puked all over her trousers, stood up and walked off without a word of thanks. What ought she to have done, confess her love in front of everyone? No thanks, she would sooner enjoy a bit of hero worship.

  Rala can swim!

  It sounded good, she thought – better, anyway, than Rala can knit! They had fêted her in the streets all day long, and the mayor had given a banquet in her honour that night.

  The following day half Wolperting had begged her for swimming lessons. It was a duty she couldn’t evade. She began by giving lessons to a number of physical training instructors and helped them to select their most promising pupils. Within a few days almost everyone in Wolperting could swim – apart from a few chronically hydrophobic individuals and Rumo.

 
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