Rumo and his miraculous.., p.38
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.38

           Walter Moers
 

  ‘Mine too, sister!’ said Krasko.

  Bisko nodded. ‘I never saw a clearer one. Clear as glass, it was!’

  Posko gathered her robe around her. ‘Well, we saw what lies ahead of you and we’ve jointly decided …’

  ‘Go on?’

  ‘… not to tell you about it.’

  ‘What!’

  ‘Believe me,’ said Posko, ‘it goes against the grain, professionally speaking.’

  ‘On your way, youngster,’ cried Bisko, ‘or we’ll have to sew our lips shut!’

  Rumo felt cheated. ‘But I thought it was your job to predict the future.’

  ‘Kill them!’ Krindle pleaded.

  ‘Predicting nice things, that’s our job,’ said Krasko. ‘Let me give you an example. I once told a Grailsundian bricklayer he’d be crushed to death by a load of bricks – the very next day, on his own building site. What did he do? He steered clear of it and took the day off. Then he became restless and went for a walk. One thing led to another, and at some stage he found himself outside the building in question. There weren’t any bricks around to fall on anyone and his mates asked him to lend a hand if he wasn’t doing anything. All the bricks had already been laid, so what could go wrong? He entered the building site and at that moment – crash! – a load of bricks came hurtling down, out of the blue, and landed on top of him. No one ever discovered where they came from.’

  Krasko raised her spindly forefinger. ‘What I mean is, we can foresee the future but not influence it. That’s a curse, not a blessing, and that’s why we only predict nice things – because we feel responsible for the bad things once we’ve said them out loud.’

  ‘It’s even worse if people actually hold us responsible for them,’ Bisko said darkly. ‘Ugglies have been burnt at the stake before now.’

  Rumo drew his sword. ‘That’s right!’ said Krindle. ‘High time you cut off their ugly heads!’

  ‘Listen,’ Rumo said impatiently. ‘I never asked you to look into the future; you insisted on doing so. Now I want to know what you saw. Don’t compel me to use force!’ He brandished his blade in the air.

  The Ugglies hastily retreated. They gathered round again, put their heads together and did some more whispering. Then Posko stepped forward.

  ‘Very well, we’ll offer you a compromise. We’ll foretell your future, but we’ll disguise our prophecies a bit. And change the order in which they occur.’

  ‘All right,’ Rumo said with a sigh, replacing the sword in his belt.

  Posko began. She gazed skywards and raised her arms above her head. ‘You will enter a forest of legs!’

  ‘Is that your favourite prophecy?’ asked Rumo. ‘That’s the second time you’ve told me.’

  ‘Then it’ll happen again, damn it!’ Posko snapped. ‘And this time the legs’ll be longer!’

  Krasko stepped forward. ‘You will walk across a lake dry-shod and cross swords with Living Water!’ she cried dramatically.

  ‘I’m damned if I’ll walk across a lake, dry-shod or not,’ said Rumo. ‘I can’t swim.’

  Now it was Bisko’s turn to step forward. ‘You will seek the heart of Death on Legs,’ she said solemnly, ‘but you will find it only in darkness!’

  ‘Hm,’ said Rumo. ‘That was really well disguised.’

  ‘One more thing,’ said Posko. ‘You may be a hell of a fellow with your sword and so on, but you don’t know the first thing about girls.’

  Rumo flushed. ‘Was that another prophecy?’

  ‘No, just a general observation.’

  ‘Go now, youngster,’ said Posko, ‘and be quick about it! Bad things are in the offing. We can’t say more. Beware the Vrahoks!’

  ‘Vrahoks?’ said Rumo. ‘What are Vrahoks?’

  ‘Hold your tongue, Posko!’ Krasko hissed.

  ‘Go, youngster. Go!’

  ‘Be off with you!’ cried Bisko.

  The Ugglies went into a kind of frenzy. They overturned the cauldron with a concerted effort, and the yellow mush seeped into the ground. Then they proceeded to gather up their odds and ends and load them on to the handcart. Rumo paid them no more attention. He strode off without another word.

  Far too quiet

  ‘What was all that about?’ Dandelion asked when they had gone some way. ‘Rather unprofessional of them.’

  ‘I told you,’ said Krindle. ‘We should have cut off their ugly heads.’

  Rumo was walking fast. He wasn’t really worried, but it couldn’t hurt to put on speed. Those scarecrows had dashed his spirits.

  The sun was already low in the sky by the time he reached the brow of a hill from which Wolperting could be seen in the distance. Scraps of glowing red cloud were drifting over the city. Rumo paused to take scent. He shook his head in surprise, then sniffed again. There was an acrid, thoroughly unfamiliar smell in the air. And it was quiet – far too quiet, as Prince Sangfroid would have added. At this range his sensitive ears should have detected the noises of the city. A ringing anvil or tolling bell.

  ‘Anything wrong?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘I don’t know. It’s so quiet.’

  He could make out the city wall, which was already bathed in shadow, and one of the great gates. No one was going in or out, no one crossing the drawbridge over the moat. That was unusual too. Rumo paused again and shut his eyes.

  The Silver Thread – it wasn’t there any more!

  He broke into a run.

  ‘What’s the matter?’

  ‘Rala has gone.’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘She isn’t in the city. I can’t detect her scent.’

  ‘Perhaps she’s gone for a walk outside the walls.’

  ‘Perhaps she’s dead,’ remarked Krindle.

  ‘Krindle!’

  ‘These things happen, that’s all I meant. A terrible accident. A brutal murder …’

  ‘Krindle! Please!’

  The portcullis was lowered, but there was no sign of a sentry. Rumo’s cries went unanswered, so his only recourse was to climb one of the watchtowers. He squeezed through a loophole, descended the stairs and entered the city. Not a Wolperting to be seen. The street just inside the city wall, usually such a hive of activity, was deserted. Rumo felt sick, the acrid stench was so strong.

  ‘Where has everyone gone?’

  ‘Maybe there’s something on. An assembly or something.’

  ‘Maybe they’re all dead,’ Krindle suggested helpfully.

  Rumo combed the streets. Not a single Wolperting came his way. There were no signs of life, no sounds, no familiar smells. Most of the front doors stood open and one or two window-panes were smashed. Whether or not these were traces of a fight, Rumo saw no blood, no dead or wounded. It looked as if the inhabitants had quit the city in a hurry.

  Hoth Street was deserted. Rumo’s front door was ajar. He raced up the stairs and flung open the door of Urs’s room. It was empty. No signs of a struggle there either. All the furniture was in its usual place, but the acrid smell was omnipresent.

  Rumo ran through the deserted streets to Rala’s house. He halted several times, convinced that someone was following him, but it was only the ghostly echo of his own footsteps.

  Rala’s house: deserted.

  The school: deserted.

  Ornt’s workshop: deserted.

  City Hall: deserted.

  Rumo criss-crossed the entire city, searching every street, every alleyway, every square. He shouted for Urs, for Rala, for Ornt – for anyone. ‘Hello, hello?’ he called, but there was no response. It was as if everyone in Wolperting had vanished – as if they had dissolved into this foul miasma. In the end he abandoned the search.

  ‘I expect they’re all dead.’

  ‘Krindle! Why do you keep saying that?’

  ‘These things happen to cities. Demonic armies attack them and carry off the inhabitants. I’ve seen it often enough.’

  ‘But this was a city full of Wolpertings,’ Rumo muttered wearily. ‘The toughest war
riors in Zamonia with the finest fortifications imaginable. No army could have taken this city, however strong.’

  ‘You see?’

  ‘Any city can be taken, it’s just a question of how.’

  ‘Where’s the Black Dome?’ Rumo said suddenly. He came to a halt, looking thunderstruck.

  ‘Where’s what?’

  They had reached Black Dome Square. It was empty. The dome had disappeared and in its place was a huge, round, gaping hole in the ground.

  ‘The Black Dome has gone. There used to be a big building here. It’s vanished.’

  Rumo drew his sword and walked slowly over to the hole. All that could be seen where the mysterious dome had stood was a dark chasm with thin wisps of vapour rising from its depths, as if the earth itself had been rent asunder.

  Rumo cautiously approached the edge of the chasm and held his sword poised above it. Below him was a yawning abyss, a dark, circular shaft with a flight of broad stone steps spiralling into its depths. The acrid stench stung his nostrils and made him feel faint. Black and white sparks danced before his eyes. He swayed for a moment, right on the lip of the murky crater, then managed to step back.

  ‘Good heavens!’ Dandelion exclaimed. ‘What’s that?’

  ‘Netherworld,’ replied Krindle.

  And here the drawer marked R closes for a while.

  Having shown you so many things, both good and evil, it needs a short rest.

  Before it opens again, please consider this:

  Are you prepared to follow Rumo into another world?

  A world of darkness teeming with dangers?

  Are you really brave enough?

  Watch, then, because the drawer is opening again!

  Look inside – deep inside!

  spent a long time wandering aimlessly through the city. The acrid stench had driven him away from the chasm that had once been spanned by the Black Dome, but there was nowhere he could have found peace of mind. Every house, every street and square reminded him of the city’s inhabitants, of his friends and his own kind. Above all, everything reminded him of Rala. He was in shock. His mind refused to accept what his senses told him: that the whole of his existence had vanished without trace from one moment to the next. He dared not halt and come to terms with the silence that had taken possession of the city. Even his footsteps on the cobblestones – even his laboured breathing and the sounds he made when opening doors and searching deserted rooms – were preferable to this dismal and depressing silence.

  It was long after nightfall by the time he recovered his composure. He felt ashamed of having wasted so much time roaming aimlessly around, so he set off for Ornt El Okro’s workshop. There he found all he needed: a pitch-pine torch and a tinderbox, some dried meat and a water bottle. He stowed the meat in his pouch, filled the water bottle and secured it to his belt, picked up the torch and the tinderbox, and returned to Black Dome Square.

  ‘What do you have in mind?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘Are we going to do some killing?’ asked Krindle.

  ‘We’re going on a journey,’ said Rumo.

  The acrid, biting smell had almost disappeared by the time they got to the square. Rumo lit his torch, stationed himself on the rim of the chasm and held it over the edge.

  ‘The Black Dome. It hasn’t disappeared after all – it’s still there!’

  Rumo circled the hole, illuminating the sides with his torch. The Black Dome had divided into six equal segments and sunk into the ground like retractable knife blades. ‘The Black Dome isn’t a building or a monument, it’s a gateway!’

  Now that the acrid smell had evaporated, Rumo could shut his eyes and take scent. The Silver Thread was there again! Thin and tremulous but clearly perceptible, it snaked down the huge shaft and disappeared into its gloomy depths.

  ‘What do we do now?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘Climb down there,’ said Rumo, drawing his sword.

  The Blood Song

  The spiral staircase was so wide that a whole army could have marched down it. The flat stone slabs of which it was constructed were slimy in places. There must have been thousands of steps leading down into the earth’s interior – an impressive architectural achievement.

  Rumo had underestimated the depth of the shaft. He had gone a considerable way down it when his torch suddenly went out, plunging him in total darkness.

  ‘I can’t see a thing any more,’ he said.

  ‘That’s bad,’ said Dandelion.

  Krindle groaned. ‘One false step and we’ll reach the bottom quicker than we’d like.’

  ‘I can usually see with my eyes shut,’ Rumo said. ‘But only if there are sounds. Everything’s so silent down here.’

  ‘Then you’d better make some sounds yourself,’ Dandelion suggested.

  ‘How do you mean?’

  ‘You could sing, for instance.’

  ‘I can’t sing,’ said Rumo.

  ‘Nonsense. Some people sing better than others, but anyone can.’

  ‘I don’t know any songs.’

  ‘I do,’ said Krindle.

  ‘You know a song?’ Dandelion said incredulously.

  ‘You bet I do! I know any number of songs. We used to sing them in battle.’

  ‘Oh dear! Still, anything’s better than nothing. What’s your favourite?’

  ‘The Blood Song.’

  ‘Sounds delightful.’

  ‘I could sing it first and Rumo could sing it after me.’ ‘I suppose there’s no alternative.’ Dandelion sighed. ‘All right: one, two, three …’

  ‘Blood!’ sang Krindle.

  ‘Blood?’ Rumo queried.

  ‘Don’t ask questions, just sing!’

  ‘Bloood!’ Krindle sang again.

  ‘Bloooood!’ croaked Rumo.

  ‘My goodness,’ Dandelion exclaimed, ‘you really can’t sing.’

  ‘Well, are we going to sing or aren’t we?’

  ‘Yes, of course.’

  ‘Once again: Bloood!’

  ‘Bloood!’ Rumo sang loudly and discordantly. He shut his eyes.

  ‘Bloood! – Bloood! – Bloood! – Bloood! – Bloood!’ came the echo.

  Rumo’s inner eye saw the shaft become suffused with a ghostly, wavering green glow that faded and eventually went out.

  ‘It’s working,’ he said. ‘I could see the echo.’

  ‘Splendid! Carry on.’

  ‘Blood, blood!’ Krindle sang fervently.

  ‘Blood must spurt and blood must flow!

  Blood, blood!

  Let blood gush from every foe!

  Blood, blood!

  Blood as far as eye can see.

  Blood to all eternity!’

  ‘Blood, blood!’ Rumo repeated half-heartedly.

  ‘Blood must spurt and blood must flow!

  Blood, blood!

  Let blood gush from every foe!

  Blood, blood!

  Blood as far as eye can see.

  Blood to all eternity!’

  Rumo had clamped his eyelids shut. He could make out every detail in the subdued green glow that filled the shaft – every step, every block of stone in the walls. He resumed his descent.

  ‘Swing the sword with all your might,

  cleave your foe from head to heel,

  let your blade his innards bite,

  lay them open with cold steel.’

  ‘Swing the sword with all your might,

  cleave your foe from head to heel,

  let your blade his innards bite,

  lay them open with cold steel.’

  ‘Blood, blood!

  Blood must spurt and blood must flow!

  Blood, blood!

  Let blood gush from every foe!’

  ‘Blood, blood!

  Blood must spurt and blood must flow!

  Blood, blood!

  Let blood gush from every foe!’

  ‘Swing your axe, behead the Troll,

  let him not his fate escape!’

  ‘What?!
Dandelion exclaimed indignantly.

  ‘In the dust the wretch shall roll,

  with his gory neck agape.’

  ‘Swing your axe, behead the Troll,

  let him not his fate escape.

  In the dust the wretch shall roll,

  with his gory neck agape.’

  ‘Here’s another song for you!’

  ‘At last!’

  ‘Brains, brains!

  Cleave the skull and out they seep!

  Brains, brains!

  Killing’s fun and life is cheap!’

  ‘Ugh!’ said Dandelion.

  Still singing, Rumo descended ever further into the interminable shaft, guided by the faint green light of the echoes. Steps were missing here and there, or separated by gaping cracks, or covered with evil-smelling slime or moss, but the staircase itself had been carefully constructed. It spiralled down into the ground for miles.

  Rumo was growing hoarse and Krindle’s monotonous Demonic songs were getting him down as well as Dandelion. He was about to suggest calling a halt when the staircase levelled out. It led through a huge stone gateway and into a tunnel. Opening his eyes, Rumo saw a faint blue glow that seemed to be coming from the far end.

  ‘We’ve reached the bottom,’ he said. ‘I can see a light.’

  ‘A light?’ said Dandelion. ‘Where would a light be coming from, so far below ground?’

  ‘We’d better take a look,’ said Rumo.

  The floor of the tunnel, too, was covered with puddles of stinking slime. Water dripped from the roof, which was invisible in the darkness overhead. Occasional squeaks could be heard in the gloom, possibly made by rats or bats. The blue glow at the end of the tunnel became brighter with every step.

  ‘This is a curious place,’ said Rumo. ‘I wonder who was responsible for it all?’

  ‘Positively creepy, I call it,’ said Dandelion.

  On emerging from the tunnel, Rumo lost his sense of balance for a moment. He was standing on a rocky plateau from which a series of terraces led down into an immense valley of blue-black rock dotted with murky pools and wreathed in delicate wisps of luminous mist. Hundreds of feet overhead loomed a stone ‘sky’ from whose monstrous great stalactites water dripped incessantly. The whole landscape was bathed in shimmering bluish light.

 

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