Rumo and his miraculous.., p.37
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.37

           Walter Moers
 

  The toad shook itself, uttered a last cacophonous croak and hopped off. A Unicornlet climbed down the tree head first and continued the story in a piping voice.

  ‘Thinking and growing was all I did. At first my thoughts were of nothing but pain and revenge, probably because I’d inherited them from those who had been hanged. A tree could hardly avenge anyone, however, so I steered my thoughts in other directions. I’d been fertilised by many different brains belonging not only to warriors but to men of peace, to the physicians and scientists, poets and philosophers who had been the first to be strung up during the Age of Injustice. I thought of everything, in fact.’

  The Unicornlet darted back up the tree and disappeared into a knot hole. Its voice, which now sounded hollow, might have been coming from the bottom of a well.

  ‘I grew below ground as well, sending my roots deep into the earth. Branches don’t interest me as much – they’re more for fresh-air fiends and bird lovers. Hey, if I asked you what was the most immobile living creature in existence, what would you say?’

  ‘No idea,’ said Rumo.

  The Unicornlet reappeared. It stuck its head out of the knot hole and said, ‘Well, you’d probably say a tree, possibly even an oak tree. We’re supposed to be the epitome of stability, reliability, imperturbability, et cetera. That’s all nonsense! We’re really the most mobile living creatures in existence. We’re always on the move – always and in every direction: upwards, downwards, north, south, east, west! We’re never still. We stretch out and expand, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, root by root, annual ring by annual ring. Oak trees are really the finest symbols of mobility, but people insist on misinterpreting us. It’s no fault of ours.’

  In two bounds the Unicornlet leapt out of the knot hole and landed on a branch with its bushy tail in the air.

  ‘My roots reach deep, deep down – deeper than the roots of any other tree. I could tell you where the most productive diamond deposits and veins of gold are to be found. I know where the finest white truffles grow by the sackful. I know where fabulous treasures lie buried.’

  The Unicornlet spread its forepaws.

  ‘And my roots are still growing. Do you know why Nurn Forest is situated on a hill? The hill consists entirely of roots, that’s why. My roots.’

  The little creature performed half a dozen swift leaps and disappeared into the upper branches of the oak tree. Rumo gazed about him in dismay. Then a mole came burrowing out of the ground at his feet and took up the thread.

  ‘I realise that most people react to the word “geology” as they would, let’s say, to the words “carpet weaving”: boring old soil and rock. But then, most people have no roots. You’d be amazed how exciting it is to send your tentacles snaking down through geological strata towards the centre of the planet. It’s like leafing through a book written by the earth itself. Full of secrets! Full of surprises! Full of mysterious marvels!’ The mole scooped a load of earth out of its burrow.

  ‘I made some incredible discoveries. For example, light gushing from the rock in a subterranean cave like water from a spring and plunging into a lake filled with luminous air! I came across fossils that would make your ears flap, my young friend. I found a crystallised jellyfish a thousand feet in diameter and inside it the half-digested remains of a huge dinosaur – which itself contained a half-digested creature whose appearance defied description. A whole army of palaeontologists could subsist on my scientific findings.’

  ‘Isn’t it time you came to the point?’ asked Rumo. ‘If there is one.’

  The mole burrowed into the ground head first, scooped another few loads of soil out of its hole and disappeared.

  The Twin-Headed Lambchick fluttered around Rumo’s head and perched on his left shoulder. One of its heads said, ‘Yes, yes, I won’t bore you with the geological details, because they pale into insignificance – utter insignificance, you understand – beside the greatest discovery I made during my explorations down below.’

  ‘One day,’ the second head went on, ‘when I’d grown my roots to a depth of several miles, they broke through a layer of ice. It formed the roof of a cavern of vast dimensions. You realise what this means?’

  ‘No,’ said Rumo.

  ‘It means,’ the two heads said, speaking in unison, ‘that this entire continent is merely a roof, a canopy concealing another, deeper world!’

  ‘Netherworld!’ hooted the Cyclopean Owl from the branches of the Nurn Forest Oak. ‘Netherworld!’

  The Twin-Headed Lambchick emitted a startled squawk and fluttered off.

  ‘Netherworld!’ the owl repeated in a low voice. ‘Make a note of that name! We’re moving about on a thin layer of fragile ice beneath which lurks another, darker, more evil world!’

  The owl swivelled its head round a full ninety degrees and back again. Then it opened its single watery, bloodshot eye and fixed Rumo with a piercing gaze.

  ‘Believe me, I never cease to regret having sent my inquisitive roots down so far. But for this discovery my life would be more carefree. Ever since then I’ve felt as if the earth may open up beneath my feet and engulf me at any moment.’

  The owl regurgitated a few pellets, spread its wings and flew off with a whirring sound.

  A leaf-coloured Sylvanosnake lowered itself from the branches right in front of Rumo, gazed at him hypnotically, and lisped, ‘That was my story and my story is my message. You may cut off a piece of wood now, if you wish. I badly need pruning in any case.’

  While Rumo was proceeding to cut off the branch, the snake crawled around in the leaves at his feet and watched him with interest.

  ‘A casket for your sweetheart …’ it hissed. ‘Well, well! I imagine you’re a great success with the ladies, a well-built youngster like you.’

  Rumo blushed. ‘I’m not, to be honest.’

  ‘Come, come, you ladykiller!’ said the snake. ‘Carving a casket out of Nurn Forest oak? How romantic can you get! You’re a crafty one, I must say.’

  ‘It wasn’t my idea.’

  ‘Ah,’ said the snake, ‘false modesty. So that’s your game, is it? Still waters run deep, et cetera. I’ll bet your still waters drown the girls in droves!’

  ‘It’s me that’s done the drowning up to now,’ Rumo growled, doggedly hacking away at the branch.

  ‘You’re all right, youngster,’ said the snake. ‘You aren’t a show-off, or you’d have told me how you killed the Nurn.’

  ‘You know that?’

  ‘I know everything that happens in my domain – and a lot more besides, my friend. I’ve had a lot of time to think, so if there’s anything you want to know, ask away.’

  ‘Many thanks,’ said Rumo, ‘but no.’

  ‘Really not? Nothing on your mind?’

  Rumo reflected. ‘Wait, yes, there is something …’

  ‘Out with it.’

  ‘What grows shorter and shorter the longer it gets?’

  ‘Life, my friend, life!’ replied the snake. ‘That was too easy.’

  Rumo felt an utter fool. Of course! He could have thought of that himself.

  ‘You should have asked me where to find the biggest hoard of buried treasure.’

  ‘Thanks, but I’ve got all I need.’ Rumo tugged at the branch and snapped it off.

  ‘Ouch!’ said the snake. ‘Still, you couldn’t carve a casket for your sweetheart from finer wood.’

  ‘This was really generous of you,’ Rumo said. ‘I’m afraid I must be going now.’

  ‘A pity,’ the snake said with a sigh. ‘I enjoyed our little chat. All the best, then. Perhaps we’ll meet again.’

  ‘You never know,’ Rumo said as he plodded off with the branch under his arm. ‘Many thanks.’

  ‘Watch out for those confounded Nurns!’ the snake called after him. ‘Oh, by the way, what’s her name?’

  Rumo turned. ‘Whose name?’

  ‘Your sweetheart’s, of course.’

  ‘Rala.’

  ‘Rala … Pretty name. What’s yo
urs?’

  ‘Rumo.’

  ‘Rumo? You mean like—’

  ‘The card game, yes, I know.’

  ‘That’s funny.’

  ‘Very funny,’ Rumo said sullenly.

  The casket

  ‘What is it now?’ Krindle growled. The Demonic Warrior seemed to be still in shock after his resurrection, because his response to every minor annoyance was irritable in the extreme. After leaving Nurn Forest, Rumo had sat down on the grass, got out his sword and set to work on the branch. Darkness was falling.

  ‘We’re caaarving a caaasket,’ warbled Dandelion, who was artistic by nature. ‘A caaasket for Rumo’s sweetheart.’

  Krindle sighed.

  With a few well-aimed blows, Rumo cut the branch to the requisite basic shape, a slab of wood the size of a brick. Then he sawed off a flat lid and patiently hollowed out the slab. Having tongued and grooved the edges so that the lid would slide open and shut, he started on the fine work.

  He adorned the sides and back of the casket with stylised foliage and tendrils, roots and bark, and on the front he carved a half-relief of Yggdra Syl, the Nurn Forest Oak, from memory. He modelled every twig and leaf with the greatest precision. On the branches and among the roots he carved the various creatures through which the tree had communicated with him: the Cuddlebunny, the Unicornlet, the Cyclopean Owl, the snake, the raven, the toad, the mole, and the Twin-Headed Lambchick. Dandelion assisted him with artistic advice to the best of his ability.

  ‘What’s all this fiddle-faddle?’ Krindle demanded impatiently as Rumo conjured a Unicornlet’s ear out of the wood with the tip of his Demonic Sword. ‘Was that really why I died, so as to wind up carving sentimental gewgaws?’

  ‘Love is stronger than death,’ said Dandelion.

  ‘Like hell it is!’ snapped Krindle.

  Click, click! Some tiny splinters of wood went flying, and in their place appeared some cross-hatching the thickness of a hair. Dandelion waxed positively ecstatic.

  ‘More to the left! Whoa! Half a millimetre to the right! Whoa! That’s it! The tip of that root could do with a few more finishing touches … Yes, there. Now!’

  Click! Another splinter detached itself from the workpiece. It was little bigger than a grain of dust, but the artistic effect was remarkable.

  ‘You’re very good at this,’ Rumo said approvingly.

  ‘Details are the secret of all true art,’ said Dandelion. ‘I don’t think much of grand gestures.’

  ‘I do,’ growled Krindle. ‘Three heads lying in the snow at a single stroke, that’s my idea of art. How much longer is this childish nonsense going to take you?’

  Rumo went on carving far into the night. He had lit a fire and sat down close beside it. Much to Krindle’s disgust, he and Dandelion kept thinking of minuscule improvements.

  Eventually, Rumo decided that the casket was finished. He eyed it appraisingly. It was by far the best piece of work he had ever produced. He inserted the blood-red Nurn leaf, slid the lid shut and stowed the casket in the pouch attached to his belt. Then he lay down to sleep.

  Unpleasant smells

  Rumo reached the environs of Wolperting after a three-day walk. He patted his pouch to reassure himself that the casket was still there. Genuine Nurn Forest oak. Hand-carved, with a Nurn leaf inside it. A powerful threefold love token calculated to win the heart of any girl.

  ‘We should do this more often,’ said Dandelion. ‘Carve pretty things, I mean. I’m fond of creative activities.’

  ‘I’m not!’ Krindle grunted.

  ‘We could open a studio of our own: “Rumo and Dandelion, Artists in Wood. Caskets and Love Tokens of all kinds.” It couldn’t fail.’

  ‘Shut up a moment! I heard something!’

  Rumo had come to a halt and was straining his ears. The hilly terrain was sparsely wooded and strewn with boulders the size of houses. A knee-high pall of mist floated between the withered pine trees.

  ‘Something dangerous?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘Ah, danger!’ Krindle sounded hopeful. ‘Will we have to defend ourselves? Will we have to do some killing?’

  ‘There are three of them. I know that scent, but where from? They aren’t Wolpertings. They smell unpleasant. Not dangerous, just kind of mouldy.’

  ‘Damnation!’ Krindle exclaimed. ‘But we can kill them all the same. For smelling mouldy, I mean.’

  ‘We can surprise them at least,’ said Rumo. ‘They’re beyond that big boulder in the dip down there.’

  Zigzagging between the rocks, he stole down the hill as silently as the mist itself. The smell of mildew grew stronger as he rounded the grey colossus in the hollow. Other unpleasant smells were also detectable. He drew his sword for safety’s sake.

  ‘Kill …’ Krindle whispered softly.

  ‘Toadshit!’ cried a shrill voice in the mist. ‘Where’s the toadshit?’

  ‘How should I know?’ another voice retorted curtly. ‘Use the rotting larks’ tongues. They smell roughly the same.’

  Rumo came out from behind the boulder. ‘Hello there!’ he said.

  Posko, Krasko and Bisko, the three Ugglies from the annual fair, spun round and stared at him as if he’d caught them red-handed. They were standing round a black, cast-iron cauldron in which some kind of evil-smelling broth was simmering. Behind them stood a large handcart piled high with all manner of alchemical equipment.

  ‘It’s you!’ cried Posko, levelling her forefinger at Rumo. ‘You!’

  ‘What are you doing here?’ Krasko croaked, glancing nervously at Rumo’s sword. ‘Is this a raid? We’ve nothing that could possibly interest anyone who isn’t an Uggly.’

  Rumo stuck the sword in his belt. ‘I simply happened to be passing,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know it was you. Forgive the intrusion.’

  ‘You!’ cried Posko. ‘I know your future! You’ll enter a forest of legs, but you’ll defeat the monster they belong to! You’ll converse with trees and animals!’

  ‘I already did,’ said Rumo.

  Krasko cackled with laughter. ‘What a genius! She can foretell the past.’

  Posko thrust out her chin. ‘Pah!’ she snorted.

  ‘Would you really like to know your future, youngster?’ asked Bisko. ‘We’re just making some tarotic soup. We were going to bottle it, but it’s best when fresh, of course. How about it?’

  ‘Er, no thanks, I’m in a hurry. I won’t keep you any longer.’

  Rumo waded through the mist on his way past the Ugglies.

  The smell alone was reason enough to quit the scene as fast as possible.

  ‘So you really wouldn’t care to learn something about your Silver Thread?’ Bisko said artfully. ‘You seemed pretty interested in it at the fair.’

  Rumo stopped short. He thought for a moment.

  ‘I don’t have any money on me.’

  ‘It’s on the house,’ Krasko tittered. ‘Because you didn’t attack us.’

  ‘All right,’ said Rumo. ‘What about my Silver Thread?’

  ‘Not so fast,’ said Bisko. ‘We aren’t magicians, you know.’ Her companions laughed wearily at this old chestnut.

  ‘First we must finish the ceremony,’ said Posko. ‘Where’s the toadshit?’

  ‘I already told you: we don’t have any toadshit. Use those confounded larks’ tongues!’

  Posko removed some slimy slivers of meat from a glass jar and tossed them into the seething cauldron. A sulphurous yellow cloud of steam arose. Rumo recoiled a step and the Ugglies broke into a dramatic, croaking chorus:

  ‘Failure or prosperity,

  untold wealth or bankruptcy,

  perfect health or malady,

  wisdom or insanity,

  which of them will come your way?

  Will it dawn, your lucky day?

  Will the future you dismay?

  Time will tell, but who can say?

  We Ugglies can. We look straight through

  the mists of time, so do not rue

  our
prophecies. They’ll all come true.

  We see them in our bitter brew!’

  Krasko looked at Rumo and said, ‘All we mean is, what will be, will be and there’s nothing anyone can do to—’

  ‘I understand,’ Rumo said impatiently. ‘Now could you …’

  The Ugglies bent over their seething mush.

  Rumo shuffled from paw to paw. Why, he wondered, did he allow their hocus-pocus to unnerve him? Urs had probably been right. It would have been better to give the Ugglies a wide berth.

  They were now poring over the cauldron as though mesmerised.

  ‘They’re deliberately keeping you on tenterhooks,’ Dandelion whispered.

  ‘We ought to kill them,’ muttered Krindle.

  ‘Well?’ Rumo asked the hideous trio. ‘How does it look?’

  The Ugglies awoke from their trance. They exchanged meaningful glances and startled exclamations.

  ‘Phew!’

  ‘Wow!’

  ‘Well, I never!’

  Then they put their heads together and started whispering.

  ‘Well?’ Rumo demanded brusquely. ‘What is it?’

  Posko was nudged to the fore by the other two.

  ‘Listen,’ she said gravely. ‘This is something we’ve never come across before in all the years we’ve been practising our profession. We had a vision of your future – a crisp, clear-cut, highly detailed vision with none of the usual mistiness or blurring. It was definitely the clearest vision of my career.’

 
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