Rumo and his miraculous.., p.56
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.56

           Walter Moers
 

  ‘How much further to the theatre?’ asked Rumo.

  ‘Only a little way,’ said Ribble. His voice had taken on a solemn note. ‘We’re already in the vicinity of a historic spot.’

  ‘What historic spot?’ Yukobak demanded.

  ‘You’ve got a surprise in store, Yuko,’ Ribble replied. ‘Just follow me.’

  He plodded on ahead down a tunnel faced with red marble. It was pleasantly cool and the water flowing along it was clear. They took the opportunity to rinse off some of the grime, then marched on. Suddenly Ribble came to a halt.

  ‘This is the spot,’ he said in a tremulous voice. He pointed to a place on the floor immediately beneath a shaft with an iron ladder running up the side.

  ‘What’s so special about it?’ said Yukobak. ‘I can’t see anything.’

  ‘That’s the air shaft you fell down as a child, Yuko. This is where I found you, more dead than alive, under a pack of Plague Rats. They would have eaten you alive.’

  ‘No!’ cried Yukobak. ‘Really and truly?’ He gave a sob.

  ‘Yes, this is where our fate was decided. And now fate has brought us back here. That shaft leads to your family mansion.’

  Ribble turned to Rumo.

  ‘You can climb up there. The shaft comes out in the grounds of the Yukobak mansion. There’s a big black door in the wall leading to the street. Turn left, then right at the next intersection and you’ll find yourself outside the Theatre of Death. You’ll recognise it by the wall of black skulls that surrounds it. The prison housing most of the prisoners is just across the street.’

  ‘Thanks,’ said Rumo. ‘You’ve both been a great help.’

  He went to the foot of the ladder.

  ‘Tell me something,’ said Ribble. ‘You’re a Wolperting on the loose. What makes you think you’ll be able to roam around up there for longer than two minutes without causing a riot?’

  ‘I’ll find out when the time comes.’

  ‘You still don’t have a plan, do you?’ said Yukobak.

  Rumo shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to climb the ladder.

  ‘He’s gone,’ Yukobak said after a while.

  ‘Yes,’ said Ribble.

  ‘About time too, the lunatic.’

  ‘He saved your life!’ Ribble protested. ‘And he kept his word. He could have taken us with him.’

  ‘He took us prisoner!’

  ‘Our people abducted his whole tribe – and they’re in the process of butchering them.’

  ‘He’ll die,’ Yukobak said.

  ‘So will they all.’

  They exchanged a long, silent look.

  ‘They’ll probably nab him before he’s gone ten yards,’ Ribble said. ‘A Wolperting running around loose? He’ll stick out like a sore thumb.’

  ‘And all for the sake of a casket!’

  ‘Yes. Romantic nonsense.’

  ‘Well, we did what we could.’

  ‘Yes, we did.’

  ‘It had to end somewhere.’

  ‘Yes, here at this romantic spot,’ said Ribble, ‘where one great friendship began and another ended.’

  They both gave a sob.

  ‘If we’d gone with him we could have pretended he was our prisoner,’ Ribble went on. ‘We could have escorted him safely to the theatre.’

  ‘With us he’d have found it child’s play to get into the prison.’

  ‘A piece of cake.’

  They fell silent again.

  ‘Think he’s reached the top by now?’ asked Yukobak.

  ‘I’m sure he has,’ Ribble replied.

  ‘We’d better be quick, then!’

  They both scrambled up the shaft.

  ‘Rumo!’ they called in unison. ‘Wait for us, we’re coming with you!’

  Hel, a city without a sky, without clouds or stars. A colourless, sunless city filled with unpleasant smells. Even its architecture made Rumo feel uneasy. Nothing but squat, humpbacked, horned, scaly, menacing shapes. House fronts like hideous faces, doors like gaping mouths, windows like empty eye sockets, everything grey and black. Grimy, tattered garments dangled from lines suspended between the buildings like the corpses of hanged men. Hollowed-out Vrahok carapaces, weirdly illuminated from within, served as living accommodation. Here and there volcanic fumes belched from yawning holes in the ground.

  ‘What a hideous place,’ Rumo whispered. ‘Is this really where you live?’

  ‘It’s where we used to live,’ Yukobak replied. ‘We’d actually succeeded in escaping from this hell-hole, but then we ran into someone called Rumo and now we’re on our way to perdition because we’ve left the rest of our wits in the sewers.’

  ‘I didn’t force you to come with me.’

  ‘No, but a little thank-you wouldn’t come amiss.’

  Rumo and his companions were pretending to be a prisoner plus escorts. The Wolperting led the way while Yukobak, who had borrowed his sword, urged him on and Ribble, marching along like a soldier, brought up the rear. Their first objective was the jail beside the Theatre of Death. According to Yukobak, it wasn’t too heavily guarded.

  ‘The streets are remarkably empty,’ said Ribble. ‘The theatre is probably staging a spectacular fight of some kind.’

  They marched past a row of houses whose numerous windows, dimly illuminated by black candles, displayed sets of false teeth of every conceivable size. Whenever people came their way, Yukobak and Ribble strove to make an exceptionally martial impression and Yukobak prodded Rumo in the back with his sword.

  ‘Keep going, prisoner!’ he barked. ‘No false moves!’

  ‘Don’t overdo it!’ Rumo hissed. ‘That sword is sharp.’

  ‘Shut up, you miserable scum of a Wolperting!’ Yukobak growled.

  ‘Ssh!’ said Ribble. ‘We’re there. That’s the prison.’

  Rumo, who was holding his paws together behind his back as if handcuffed, inspected the big black building. Grim and unadorned, it had no windows and only one entrance. An ideal prison.

  ‘How many guards?’

  ‘That depends,’ Ribble whispered. ‘Sometimes just two, sometimes a dozen – they only have one door to guard, after all. It also depends how many men they need at the theatre. The prisoners in here are old and feeble, so they don’t pay them much attention. Shall I?’

  Rumo nodded.

  Ribble knocked on the door.

  ‘Who is it?’ growled a deep voice.

  Xugo and Yogg

  ‘Er, Blibber and Kokubak of Friftar’s secret police!’ Ribble called. ‘We’ve captured a stray Wolperting who probably escaped from here.’

  ‘No one’s escaped from here,’ said another deep voice. ‘No one ever does.’

  ‘Don’t you want to give him the once-over at least?’

  ‘No.’

  Ribble thought for a moment. ‘Your names?’

  ‘Xugo and Yogg of the prison guard. Why do you want to know?’

  Yukobak held up two fingers. Only two guards.

  Rumo nodded again.

  ‘So that I can report you to Friftar,’ said Ribble. ‘You’ll be charged with, er, failing to assist the secret police.’

  The door opened a crack. Standing inside were two heavily armed Bluddums.

  ‘That’s a young Wolperting,’ said one of them.

  ‘He must have escaped from the theatre,’ said the other. ‘We only have the oldsters in here.’

  ‘May we come in?’ asked Yukobak. ‘We need some proper chains. This is only a makeshift job and he’s a dangerous brute.’

  The Bluddums opened the door, grumbling, and Yukobak and Ribble pushed Rumo inside. By the time they followed him into the dimly lit guardroom, Xugo and Yogg were lying senseless on the floor.

  ‘You were quick,’ said Yukobak.

  ‘No,’ said Rumo, ‘Bluddums are slow.’ He surveyed the room. A wooden table, three chairs, a rack of weapons. Massive double doors, bolted.

  ‘The prisoners are in there,’ said Yukobak. ‘Your friends.’

>   When Rumo unbolted the doors and flung them open, he was met by a pleasant and familiar smell for the first time since setting foot in Netherworld. It was the scent of Wolpertings – lots of them.

  Urs under escort

  For days now, the door of Urs’s cell had been opened only so that some bread could be tossed in or his pitcher of water refilled. Today was different. Behind the warders stood a whole squad of Copper Killers, ready to escort him into the arena.

  As in the case of his previous fights, he was conducted into one of the ante-rooms and allowed to choose a weapon. Having decided on a handy broadsword with a double-edged blade, Urs waited for the gate to open and admit him to the arena, where half a dozen heavily armed soldiers or a ravenous Troglobear would probably be waiting for him.

  Ever since his fight with Evel the Octopus, Urs had felt that his talent for swordsmanship imposed an obligation on him. Every opponent he dispatched was one less potential killer of Wolpertings; that was his cruel logic.

  This time, however, instead of being sent into the arena to fight as soon as he’d chosen his weapon, Urs was made to wait. He waited for hours, so it seemed, while the din from the arena and the auditorium drifted in: the clatter of swords, the roaring of wild beasts, the spectators’ applause. There seemed to be considerably more supporting bouts than usual and he kept hearing Friftar’s nasal voice delivering long-winded speeches during the intermissions. Urs grew more and more uneasy. He sensed that the Theatre of Death had something very special in store for him.

  The reunion

  When Rumo saw all the prisoners in the big hall, he had a strange feeling of déjà vu. He was reminded of the moment on Roaming Rock when he entered the Demonocles’ larder, drenched with blood, to release the captive Hackonians. Once again he was greeted like a ghost and once again no one spoke at first.

  The hall was huge and only sparsely illuminated by jellyfish torches. Most of the prisoners were sitting on the floor, but some were standing together in little groups. There was no furniture, just blankets and palliasses. Rumo recognised many faces in the dim light: teachers from school and craftsmen of his acquaintance, most of them elderly Wolpertings, but also a few Zamonians of other breeds. Oga of Dullsgard was sitting on a straw mattress, staring at him in disbelief. ‘Rumo?’ she said. Her face had lost all its stern authority.

  Rumo spotted the mayor, Jowly of Gloomberg. He was sitting with his back against a wall, gazing at him as incredulously as the others.

  ‘Rumo?’ he said. ‘Why have they put you in here? Is something wrong with you? Are you ill? Wounded?’

  Rumo knelt down in front of him.

  ‘Nobody sent me. I came to release you.’

  The mayor pricked up his ears. ‘But … Weren’t you taken prisoner?’

  ‘I was in Nurn Forest when they raided Wolperting. The city was deserted when I returned. There was a big hole in the ground where the Black Dome used to stand. I followed you down here.’

  ‘Have you any idea what this place is?’ the mayor asked. ‘Where are we?’

  ‘This is Hel, the capital of Netherworld,’ Rumo told him. ‘They drugged you and brought you here. Do you know where Rala is?’

  ‘Not here, anyway. What do you plan to do?’

  ‘I think it would be best if I freed the other Wolpertings first. They’re held prisoner in a place known as the Theatre of Death. I’ll come back with them and we’ll all fight our way out of the city together.’

  ‘I like your plan,’ said the mayor. ‘Perhaps that’s what you’re best at, making plans.’

  ‘No,’ said Rumo, ‘it certainly isn’t, but listen: I’ve got two allies who grew up in this city. One of them I’ll take to the theatre, the other will remain outside for your protection and pretend to be guarding you. Keep quiet until we return.’

  ‘I’ll see to it,’ said Jowly.

  ‘Good. Inform the others.’ Rumo rose and the mayor proceeded to spread the promising news.

  Rumo was just leaving when a low voice stopped him in his tracks.

  ‘Rumo? Is that you?’ it asked from the shadows. He had to screw up his eyes to make out two figures seated against the wall. One was exceptionally big and bulky, the other exceptionally small and puny.

  ‘Is Rumo here?’ asked the puny little figure, opening its eyes. They were big and round and shone in the dark like two moons. Incredulously, Rumo took a step nearer. Volzotan Smyke and Professor Kolibri were sitting there.

  Rolv arms himself

  Rolv had gathered, if only from the demeanour of the soldiers who fetched him from his cell, that he was in for something out of the ordinary. They treated him with the utmost caution – indeed, with respect. This was partly because of his prowess in the theatre. Rolv was known as the crazy ‘artist of death’ who could be in several places at once.

  His strategy was unchanged: he would try to take the insane little king hostage and exchange him for the release of Rala and the other Wolpertings. It simply meant that he had to be faster than the Copper Killers’ crossbow bolts.

  Having been conducted to the table with the weapons on it, he put on three belts instead of one. One he buckled round his waist, the other two round his shoulders. Then he loaded them with two swords, six knives and four spiked metal throwing discs. A small axe completed his arsenal. This being the day he had longed for most and dreaded most, he wanted at least to be adequately equipped for it.

  From Murkholm to Hel

  After Smyke had finished reading Professor Ostafan Kolibri’s lighthouse log, the Murkholmers captured him in a most bizarre manner. At first they merely formed a silent, motionless circle round the lighthouse and Smyke simply remained inside. Suddenly, however, the Murkholm trombophone orchestra struck up. Its weird music caused the dense, dark fog enclosing the lighthouse to swirl round so violently that it pressed up against the big picture window and made it bulge inwards in an ominous way. At this, Smyke lost his nerve and surrendered.

  The Murkholmers then escorted him – still in silence – to a building where, for several days, he was imprisoned in one room with Professor Ostafan Kolibri, who made a mentally deranged impression, and seven other captives, all of them Midgardian dwarfs.

  The dwarfs were also in a state of temporary dementia as a result of being gradually poisoned for weeks by the fog. They believed themselves to be considerably more numerous than they actually were, and it wasn’t long before Smyke felt he was locked up not just with seven of them, but with several dozen.

  Then, one day, the door of their prison opened. Escorted by a dozen brutal-looking Bluddums among whom Smyke was surprised to see Kromek Toomah, Zorda and Zorilla from The Glass Man Tavern, they were conducted through dense fog to a cave beside the sea. From there, by way of a labyrinthine system of stalactite caves, they descended deep into the ground and eventually, after a long and arduous march, reached Hel. They were attacked three times en route by huge, predatory insects resembling a cross between a spider and a moth, and three of the Bluddums lost their lives. Once in Hel, Kolibri and Smyke were classified as second-class prisoners and consigned to the prison near the theatre. The professor had regained his sanity, so they were at last able to resume their scholarly conversations, though not in the conditions they would have preferred. Then, not long ago, the prison had filled up with Wolpertings. Smyke had questioned them about Rumo, but in vain. They all knew him but had no idea of his whereabouts.

  And now Rumo had re-entered Smyke’s life in much the same way as he had stumbled into that cave on Roaming Rock while still an inexperienced youngster.

  Many questions, one riddle

  ‘Smyke?’ Rumo exclaimed in amazement.

  ‘Who else?’ Smyke replied, baring his shark’s teeth in a grin. ‘You Rumo, me Smyke.’

  ‘Hello, Rumo,’ said Kolibri.

  ‘Hello, professor,’ said Rumo. ‘I see the two of you have met up again.’

  ‘It’s a very long story,’ Smyke said. ‘I’ll save it for later. How did you get
to Netherworld, my boy? What brings you here?’

  ‘I’ve come to rescue my fellow Wolpertings.’

  Kolibri’s eyes glowed. ‘You mean you aren’t a prisoner?’ he asked.

  ‘And you’ve managed to get here all the way across Netherworld and Hel?’ said Smyke. His grin widened. ‘Your presence fills an old friend’s heart with hope.’

  ‘Roaming Rock was a different kettle of fish,’ Rumo told him. ‘That was just an island teeming with monsters. This time it’s a whole city.’

  Smyke raised several index fingers. ‘One grows into one’s work,’ he said.

  ‘Do you have a plan?’ asked Kolibri.

  ‘Not really,’ Rumo confessed.

  ‘Then you’ve come to the right people,’ said Smyke. ‘We’ve got five brains between us.’

  ‘I have to go to a building called the Theatre of Death,’ Rumo said. ‘That’s where the other Wolpertings are held prisoner. Will you come with me?’

  ‘I will,’ said Smyke. ‘Professor?’

  ‘A little exercise would do me good.’

  ‘All right,’ said Rumo, ‘let’s go.’

  ‘One more thing.’ Smyke gripped Rumo with one of his little arms. ‘Did you discover the answer to my riddle? What grows shorter and shorter the longer it gets?’

  ‘Oh,’ Rumo replied, ‘that was easy. The answer, of course, is “life”.’

  Smyke grinned. ‘Of course,’ he said.

  Ushan feels rejuvenated

  Ushan DeLucca had never been in better shape. Even as the soldiers escorted him down the stairs, he knew that his feats of arms in the arena would far surpass any he’d been able to perform there on previous occasions.

  There was no weather in Netherworld, and the intoxicating sensation this induced in him was growing stronger every day. Down here he was spared all the meteorological conditions that had made him so tired and torpid, weak and depressed, on the surface. Down here he was experiencing a resurgence of the physical strength he had last possessed in his youth.

 

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