Rumo and his miraculous.., p.35
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.35

           Walter Moers
 

  Where he was concerned, Rala could afford to bide her time. She had her hands full at present and Rumo couldn’t hide himself away for ever. He would reappear at school sooner or later; then she would resume the hunt, dog his footsteps and finally lay him low – she had sworn it by the name of Tallon. All in good time, though. First she would savour her fame for a little longer. After all, she was the very first heroine Wolperting had produced. She couldn’t believe that her life would have any greater excitements to offer.

  Urs can swim

  ‘I can swim!’ Urs announced one evening as he stuck his head into Rumo’s room with a towel draped over his head and shoulders.

  Rumo was sitting on his bed, tying up a bundle.

  ‘I’m leaving Wolperting,’ he said.

  ‘What?’

  ‘You heard.’

  ‘You’re taking a little trip? Waiting for this Rala hysteria to die down and then coming back? Letting the dust settle? Good idea.’

  ‘No, I won’t be coming back.’

  ‘But where will you go?’

  ‘No idea. Time will tell.’

  ‘You came here because of Rala and now you’re leaving because of her. Very logical!’

  ‘What else can I do? I’m the laughing stock of the entire city, thanks to her.’

  ‘She saved your life.’

  ‘I wanted to save hers.’

  ‘It doesn’t matter what you wanted. You’d be dead now, but for her.’

  ‘That might be preferable.’

  ‘Look at it any way you like, you’re in her debt. You can’t just run off like this.’

  ‘I can do as I please.’

  ‘Of course you can, but—’

  ‘But what’s the alternative?’ Rumo sounded genuinely desperate.

  ‘There’s only one thing to do in a situation like this: consult the oracle.’

  ‘The oracle?’

  ‘Ornt El Okro. He’s got an answer to every question.’

  ‘Ornt? The cabinetmaker, you mean?’

  Ornt El Okro in demand

  No one in Wolperting, not even the mayor, could say when Ornt El Okro had first arrived in the city, so it was assumed that he’d always been there. He was an expert cabinetmaker, but that talent wasn’t the main thing that distinguished him from his fellow citizens. Ornt was exceptionally good at giving advice. His advice was sometimes right and sometimes wrong, but it always sounded, at the moment when he gave it, as convincing as the thunderous voice of a sacred oracle. So convincing did it sound that even those he’d wrongly advised in the past kept coming back for more. The mayor came to consult him on administrative problems, the school principal on educational matters, chefs on their menus, girls on their tribulations with boys. And in one respect they all behaved the same way: they acted as if Ornt’s advice was the last thing they’d come for. They turned up with a broken chair, or a drawer in need of gluing, or a broken comb. Then, while Ornt was repairing the damage, they would stroll around the workshop talking about the weather and this and that until – sure as thunder follows lightning – they came out with something like: ‘Oh, er, by the way, Ornt, tell me, er, I’ve got a friend (girlfriend/colleague/assistant chef) who’s faced with the following problem …’

  Ornt would listen, light his pipe, pace up and down, grunt several times, knock his pipe out, refill it, get it going again and wreathe his head in clouds of blue smoke. From these his voice would issue, sounding as reassuring and confidence-inspiring as the rumble of a cask of the very finest century-old Florinthian wine being rolled down a wooden ramp by Trappist monks. ‘Hm, yes, well … I’m the last person to give anyone advice, as you know, but the way I see it, your friend might do worse than …’

  There would follow a spontaneous recommendation, coupled with some advice on the best way of putting it into practice. People didn’t come to see Ornt because they believed he would advise them correctly. They consulted him because he relieved them of something they feared even more than the prospect of their own funerals: the need to make a decision.

  The oracle

  ‘Oh, er, by the way, Ornt, you know my friend Urs? Well, he’s having problems with a girl …’

  Ornt listened, filling his pipe with great deliberation. Rumo spoke in a hurried, agitated voice. He recounted the whole story from beginning to end, said ‘I’ several times instead of ‘Urs’ and croaked rather than spoke, his throat was so dry.

  ‘Hm, yes, well … I’m the last person to give anyone advice, as you know, but … What was your friend’s name again?’

  ‘Urs.’

  ‘Er, yes, Urs. First, I’d ask him the following question: When did you last do something really exceptional for this girlfriend of yours?’

  ‘What do you mean? That’s to say, I can imagine that, er …’

  ‘Urs?’

  ‘Yes, that Urs might ask you the same question.’

  ‘That he might wonder what a girl would consider exceptional, you mean? Well, for instance, a diamond wrested from the clutches of a giant, or the still beating heart of a Werewolf in a golden bowl. That sort of thing.’

  ‘What? Where would I – I mean, where would Urs get them from? Anyway, are girls keen on such things?’

  ‘Their exact nature is unimportant. The gift could be an old pebble or a rusty doorknob. What matters is the element of danger associated with it.’

  Rumo thought a while. ‘I don’t understand – er, as Urs would probably say.’

  ‘Now stop this Urs nonsense! The whole city is gossiping about you and that girl. You’re crazy about her, my boy – in fact, you’ve even got her name carved on your arm: Rala. One can see it when the wind blows your fur the wrong way.’

  Rumo instinctively grasped his biceps.

  Ornt grinned. ‘I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the best jokes in the city have been told at your expense in the last few days.’

  ‘It hadn’t escaped me,’ Rumo growled.

  ‘The thing is, you owe her something. She saved your life. You can’t just waltz up and propose to her – quite apart from the fact that you wouldn’t dare to.’

  If Rumo had known their conversation would take such an unpleasant turn he wouldn’t have got involved in it. Urs and his daft ideas! He couldn’t wait to sneak out of the city.

  ‘In this situation there’s only one answer,’ said Ornt.

  ‘You mean there is an answer?’

  ‘Yes. You need a Threefold Token.’

  ‘A what?’

  ‘Something that will win her heart, pay off your debt to her, and restore your reputation in the city. Three problems. For that you need a Threefold Token.’ Ornt held up three fingers.

  ‘I still don’t see what you’re getting at.’

  ‘Listen: What if you gave her a gold ring, let’s say? That would be a single love token, but it wouldn’t be good enough, of course. A gold ring you’ve forged yourself would be a twofold love token – more personal but still not spectacular enough. So how about a ring you’ve forged from a gold nugget wrested from the claws of a seven-headed Hydra? That would be a threefold love token: valuable, personal, and acquired at the risk of your life.’

  ‘You mean I’ve got to find a seven-headed Hydra?’

  ‘That was only an example. There aren’t any Hydras hereabouts. It doesn’t have to be a ring, either. A diamond, a rusty doorknob – it doesn’t matter what, as long as you risk death to get hold of it.’

  ‘You’re asking me to present Rala with a doorknob?’

  Ornt frowned. ‘You really are slow on the uptake, my boy.’

  Rumo hung his head.

  ‘What I mean is, it’s got to be associated with something you’re particularly good at.’

  ‘Fighting?’

  ‘No, woodcarving.’

  Rumo deliberated. ‘What should I carve?’

  ‘I can think of something.’

  ‘What? Tell me!’

  Ornt cleared his throat. ‘A casket made of Nurn Forest oak. With t
he leaf of a Nurn inside it.’

  Rumo knew that Nurn Forest was somewhere near Wolperting. It had been the scene of the legendary battle of which Smyke had told him, but he knew little more about it than that.

  ‘Cabinetmakers consider Nurn Forest oak to be the finest wood in Zamonia. It’s also the rarest, because only a few daring souls have ever managed to make off with some. It’s guarded by the fearsome Nurns, so they say.’

  ‘What are Nurns?’

  ‘No idea. Leaf creatures, timber ghosts – no one knows for sure. Nurn leaves are reputed to be blood-red. Some say the Nurns are insects made of wood. Others claim they’re carnivorous plants that can walk.’ Ornt gave a wry smile. ‘They’re said to have resin in their veins instead of blood. At all events, Nurn Forest is supposed to be swarming with the creatures. That’s why so few people enter it and why a piece of Nurn Forest oak is worth more than any diamond.’

  ‘I see.’

  ‘If you brought some back and, being as skilful as you are, carved a casket out of it, it would be a gift of a very special kind. But if you also managed to steal a Nurn leaf and put it inside, everyone would know you’d acquired that gift at the risk of your life. It would be at least as valuable as a golden casket filled with diamonds and captured from an army of Werewolves.’

  Rumo was delighted. Ornt really was an inspired adviser. ‘How long would it take me to get to Nurn Forest?’

  ‘A day or two. One thing, though: If you meet anyone on the way I should let them know what you have in mind. The word will soon get back to Rala. If you really mean something to her she’ll be worried sick about you. Then you’ll return in triumph and – tadaa! – present her with the casket. She’ll be knocked sideways!’

  Rumo jumped up. ‘Then that’s what I’ll do!’ he cried.

  He hugged Ornt, gave him a dramatic farewell wave from the doorway and hurried out.

  For a while Ornt sat there in the kind of daze that always overcame him when someone had used him as an oracle. He spouted ideas like a fountain, together with detailed instructions on how to put them into effect. This phase was usually followed by a brief spell of relaxation during which Ornt sobered up and tried to recall what advice he’d given.

  He had advised Rumo to go to Nurn Forest.

  He had advised Rumo to cut a piece of Nurn Forest oak.

  He had advised Rumo to carve a casket out of it and put a Nurn leaf inside.

  Ornt El Okro leapt to his feet. Had he lost his wits? He might just as well have advised Rumo to fill his pockets with stones and jump into the Wolper.

  He peered out into the darkness.

  ‘Rumo!’ he shouted down the deserted street. ‘Rumo, wait! Where are you?’

  But Rumo had already left the city.

  Nurn Forest

  Nurn Forest was situated on a hill, an almost perfectly circular eminence about a mile in diameter. It was densely wooded, and at its highest point, visible from afar, stood the Nurn Forest Oak. The latter’s dark, leafless branches jutted into the sky, taller than any other tree.

  Rumo had walked for three days and three nights, almost without rest or sleep. He had encountered no one on the way, only a few wild wolves that had prowled around him for a while and then slunk off. He put his hand on the hilt of his sword when he finally entered the forest and began to climb the hill.

  ‘What forest is this?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘Nurn Forest,’ said Rumo. He hadn’t exchanged a word with Dandelion since the episode on the bridge.

  ‘So we’re on speaking terms again, are we? Man, that’s a weight off my mind!’

  ‘Hmph!’ said Rumo.

  ‘Hmph!’ said Dandelion. ‘He actually said “Hmph!” to me! What joy! Nurn Forest, eh? What are we doing here?’

  ‘We’re going to get ourselves a piece of Nurn Forest oak, so I can carve a casket out of it. For Rala.’

  ‘Aha, woodcarving. Sounds great. A nice, peaceful occupation. I’m good at woodcarving.’

  ‘The place is swarming with Nurns, so they say.’

  ‘Nurns? What are Nurns?’

  ‘No idea. I’m told you’ll know one when you see one.’

  ‘Pretty quiet here.’

  Too quiet … That’s what Prince Sangfroid would probably have said in the same situation, thought Rumo. The whole forest seemed to be holding its breath. He shut his eyes for a moment while slowly ascending the hill. His nose could detect a lot of small forest creatures, probably asleep. That apart, nothing but the harmless scents of the forest: resin, pine needles, rotting wood.

  Opening his eyes again, he tried to visualise what designs he would carve on the casket.

  ‘One of them must definitely be a heart,’ Dandelion suggested.

  ‘Hmph,’ thought Rumo.

  ‘And animals – cute, cuddly little animals. They’d look great on a casket.’

  ‘I was really thinking of dragons,’ Rumo retorted. ‘Dragons and serpents and so on.’

  ‘Oh, sure,’ said Dandelion. ‘Why not a few spiders and bats while you’re at it? Rats, too. Big, fat ones. There’s nothing girls like better than a big, fat—’

  ‘Psst!’ Rumo had halted and raised his head. Above them, borne by eight withered branches, was a canopy of red leaves.

  ‘Red leaves?’ he thought.

  ‘Red leaves?’ echoed Dandelion. ‘Is it autumn already?’

  The branches were stirring almost imperceptibly – flexing a little like the legs of an insect.

  ‘A Nurn?’ Dandelion whispered.

  ‘Yes,’ thought Rumo.

  He was puzzled because he hadn’t smelt the creature. Its scent mingled unobtrusively with that of the mouldering leaves.

  It obviously hadn’t noticed him. All its attention was focused on a little white owl roosting on a branch nearby. The drowsy bird was having a hard time keeping its eyes open.

  The Nurn was in hunting mode. It rocked gently to and fro on its eight stiltlike legs as it neared the unsuspecting owl, which must simply have thought it a tree swaying in the wind.

  The Nurn emitted a sudden snarl, the owl gave a start and spread its wings, but a tentacle had already darted from the red foliage – a thin green tendril that wrapped itself round its prey like a whiplash and dragged it off the branch. Before the owl could utter a sound it had vanished into the leaves. The Nurn’s swaying became a little more pronounced and crunching, lip-smacking noises issued from its interior. With a hollow ‘Plop!’ the owl’s gnawed skeleton fell from the foliage.

  ‘Good heavens!’ whispered Dandelion. ‘A carnivorous plant!’

  Rumo decided to avoid a confrontation with the Nurn. It was an utterly unfamiliar, unpredictable creature and he hadn’t the faintest idea how to deal with it. Its leafy body was well out of reach overhead and he didn’t know what the monster was capable of. The gurgling noises he could hear suggested that it was busy digesting the owl – probably a good moment to make himself scarce.

  He scanned the ground for rotten branches in case he inadvertently trod on one. Very cautiously, step by step, he stole along until he was between two of the swaying legs. Then he trod on a Leafkin.

  A Leafkin was simply a little Nurn – an infant Nurn, so to speak. Superficially it resembled a rust-red leaf. It was only when you turned it over that its eight spindly little legs came to light. What proved Rumo’s undoing was that Leafkins could cry out. The tiny creature’s shrill, piping squeak was loud enough to alert the adult Nurn. The latter howled like a gale blowing down a chimney, its timber joints creaked, its legs bent at the knee, the canopy of red leaves moved lower. Rumo was suddenly enveloped in a mass of yellow tendrils. Before he could draw Dandelion, dozens of these tentacles had wound themselves round his arms and legs and hoisted him into the air. He found himself suspended between the Nurn’s legs. Then his bonds began to tighten as if the monster meant to slice him up like cheese.

  Another tentacle darted down and wrapped itself round his neck. It tightened until he couldn’t breathe and
his eyes were bulging from their sockets.

  ‘Use your teeth,’ thought Rumo. His jaws closed with a snap, he jerked his head back, and red blood spurted from the lacerated tentacle. With a snarl the Nurn relaxed its grip and Rumo fell to the ground.

  The monster groaned horribly and retracted its tentacles. Blood dripped from the red foliage. Rumo jumped up in a flash and drew Dandelion from his belt, but he didn’t have the sword in his hand for long. Almost at the same moment he sustained a violent blow on the back of the head: the Nurn had kicked him from behind with one of its stiltlike legs. Everything went black, his limbs refused to obey him, and Dandelion fell into the leaves. Rumo reeled around like a blind man.

  The Nurn drew back another of its legs and kicked him in the back. Rumo fell headlong. The monster reared up and uttered a howl of triumph over his prostrate form.

  ‘I’m here!’ cried Dandelion. ‘Just behind you!’

  Rumo reached behind him and seized the sword with both hands.

  ‘Watch out, it’s going to kick you again!’

  Rumo rolled aside and the kick went astray. The tip of the leg buried itself deep in the forest floor and lodged there. The Nurn snarled and strove to tug it out, staggering to and fro, back and forth. Rumo seized the opportunity to regain his feet.

  ‘Run for it!’ cried Dandelion, but Rumo made no attempt to do so.

  The Nurn had freed its leg at last. It rotated on the spot, taking aim at its adversary. Rumo stood beneath it with his sword at the ready. The monster took a few lurching steps to the rear and they watched each other closely for several seconds.

  ‘What do you plan to do?’ enquired Dandelion.

  ‘Now I want a Nurn leaf,’ said Rumo.

  The Nurn emitted a menacing snarl like the one that had preceded its attack on the owl. Long skeins of blood were oozing from its body and staining the forest floor red. It made a few indecisive movements, lifted various legs in turn, flexed its six hind legs and levelled the tips of the front two at Rumo. Then it struck with all its might.

 
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