Rumo and his miraculous.., p.8
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.8

           Walter Moers
 

  Ever since his confinement in the cage, however, Rumo had enjoyed a diet that was the envy of the other inmates of the cave. The one-eyed monsters brought him buckets of cool rainwater, freshly caught fish, lobsters, crabs and crayfish, plucked seabirds and seal meat. Although he felt rather embarrassed, Rumo wolfed the lot. He had recently developed an insatiable appetite and could have gone on eating without a break. It was as if his body converted every meal into bigger muscles, additional teeth, or a centimetre’s growth. He devoured slabs of whale blubber, half sharks and once, even, an octopus tentacle almost as big as himself. The Demonocles, who rejoiced at his appetite, laughed and prodded him with sticks to test his reflexes, and the bigger and stronger he grew the more their eyes shone with undisguised voracity.

  A group of eight Demonocles regularly visited the cave to check on Rumo’s progress. They were the floating island’s chieftains, the strongest and most ferocious of all their kind. Rumo had been watching them for some time. They evidently possessed privileges that ranked them above the rest of the one-eyed giants. They were entitled to pick out the finest titbits and possessed cages of their own in which they kept and fattened wild beasts that no one else could touch. They had lately taken to visiting Rumo several times a day and tossing live fish through the bars. He wolfed them without a qualm – in fact, he devoured them ravenously. The masters of the island registered this with an evil grin, delighted by the wild dog’s willingness to eat live food like themselves. They proceeded to discuss something in their raucous language – something that highly excited them, to judge by the way their voices trembled with greed and saliva oozed from the corners of their mouths. Finally, they thumped one another on the chest until the cave rang. Among the Demonocles, not that Rumo knew it, this was a sign of pleasurable anticipation.

  The giants’ pecking order

  The Demonocles of the island spent most of the time vegetating. They either hammered away at the rocks with primitive stone tools or lay around in the sun, staring at the sea or the clouds, which they believed to be flying mountains on which they would dwell when they died. The remainder of the time they devoted to sleeping or eating.

  There was no kind of government on Roaming Rock, the Demonocles weren’t advanced enough for that. Mentally, they were on a par with cave men who had just discovered fire but didn’t really know what to do with it. All the man-made objects on the island – the cages, chains and clubs – were the proceeds of forays ashore. It was one of the island’s greatest intellectual feats to have grasped how a looted padlock and key worked. The Demonocles believed that the sun was the eye of a one-eyed giant who held a bowl of water in which floated Roaming Rock and a few other islands. That was their conception of the universe.

  The island witnessed occasional stirrings of something akin to social life, for instance when two Demonocles had chosen the same place in the sun or the same live prey for supper. They usually got down to business right away. It wasn’t pleasant to watch two Demonocles fighting. Tactics didn’t come into it. All that mattered were strength and brutality coupled with stamina and an ability to soak up an exceptional amount of punishment. The giants fought without even considering the possibility of ducking or taking evasive action. They simply smote each other in the face until one of them fell dead, because a Demonocle remained on his feet for as long as he possibly could. That was how the group of eight chieftains had fought their way to the top in the course of time: by having tougher chins and being able to dish out more punishment than the average Demonocle. They were the rulers of the island, but their administrative activities were confined to evicting other Demonocles from the best places in the sun or snatching the choicest titbits from under their noses. They also led raiding parties ashore and claimed the best items of plunder for themselves. Their notions of rulership and authority were no more well-defined than that.

  Smyke’s forebodings

  Meantime, Smyke remained at the bottom of the pool and continued to excrete his vile-smelling slime. The giants’ drumming, which had grown louder by the day, was audible even down there as a series of rhythmical vibrations. If Smyke’s prognosis was correct, the Demonocles would soon be in a feeding frenzy. The cave’s stocks of food had dwindled in recent months and they were becoming less choosy. Smyke’s chances of survival improved with every drop of stinking slime he produced.

  But his current problem was of a different nature. He had to overcome a fear that had steadily grown in the course of his sojourn on Roaming Rock and was now almost paralysing him: the fear of emerging from his pool. In order to tell Rumo his plan he would have to leave the protective slime and make his way over to the cage. The very thought of it made him feel sick. It was fear that weighed Smyke down like a ten-ton anchor.

  That night Rumo had a dream. His dreams had become more and more vivid and terrifying since he’d been in the cage, and most of them concerned the Demonocles. They often showed the one-eyed giants entering the cave en masse for a final bloodbath, and Rumo had to watch them – powerless because he was either chained up, imprisoned in the cage, or simply unable to move – until they eventually fell on him too.

  But this dream was different. He was free, he was on dry land, and he was trotting across a field of tall grass beneath a cloudless sky. High in the air above him hovered the Silver Thread whose presence he had first sensed back on the farm. And he was gripped by an indefinable emotion, a feeling of unbridled anticipation. He couldn’t tell what it portended, but he sensed that it was the finest thing life would ever have to offer him. Not that he knew it, Rumo was dreaming of love.

  Feeding time

  Next morning Rumo was roused by someone kicking the bars of his cage – not an unusual form of awakening. A doltish-looking Demonocle was standing outside with a dead seal in one great paw and a cudgel in the other. He thrust the seal through the bars and tested Rumo’s reflexes by prodding him with the cudgel. He wasn’t one of the chieftains, so he performed this chore sullenly and unenthusiastically, well aware that he wouldn’t get a share of such a prize delicacy. Rumo growled, the Demonocle turned away and resolved to console himself by devouring a plump Marsh Hog, so he plodded off towards the pigsty. A second Demonocle entered the cave, yawning, and strode resolutely towards the pigsty – clearly, he also felt peckish for some squealing piglets. The island gave a lurch just as they got there, throwing them off balance, and they collided.

  They snarled angrily at each other. The first Demonocle raised his cudgel, but a fist crashed into his face. Before he could recover from the blow a second punch caught him full on the jaw. He tottered backwards, stumbled and fell flat on his back. His opponent, who was on him in a flash, punched him unmercifully, again and again, until he lay still. Then, grunting with exertion, he dragged him out of the cave.

  Smyke had been covertly watching this brief but barbarous contest from his pool. He wondered whether the Demonocles were cannibals who ate their dead. They were certainly voracious enough to render this a possibility. Most of the one-eyed giants had a very low tolerance threshold and were capable of flying into a rage at the drop of a hat. This was the moment Smyke had yearned for most ardently and feared most intensely. An opening had presented itself, and unless he seized it the chance would be gone for ever. The time to act had come.

  Smyke leaves his pool

  Rumo stared in surprise at Smyke’s pool. Strange sounds – revolting gurgles and squelching noises – were issuing from it, and the water was sloshing and splashing in all directions. Panting, cursing and groaning, Smyke emerged from the ooze, hauled himself over the edge of the pool and crawled across the cave. He made straight for Rumo’s cage, leaving an oily trail of olive-green slime behind him. This remarkable spectacle was watched in silence by all the other inmates of the giants’ larder.

  Rumo stood up and poked his nose through the bars. Smyke was panting hard by the time he reached the cage.

  ‘Listen carefully … I don’t have much time … If the Demonocles catch me out here
’ Smyke looked at Rumo and drew a deep breath. ‘I’m scared.’

  Rumo nodded.

  ‘But I’ve got a plan I’d like to tell you about.’

  ‘All right.’

  Smyke outlined his plan. It was outrageous. It was totally insane. It sounded like a grisly fairy tale, a bloodthirsty dream of revenge – and it had absolutely no prospect of success. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘what do you think?’

  ‘I’ll try it,’ Rumo replied.

  ‘Great. Now listen: I’ve taught you all I know about fighting, but practical experience of fighting is another matter. That you’ll have to gain by yourself. I’m sure it’ll come quite naturally. Simply let it flow, like—’

  ‘I know,’ Rumo cut in. ‘You’d better get back into the pool now. It’s too dangerous.’

  ‘One more thing! It’s the most important point of all – the whole key to my plan!’ Smyke clung to the bars and Rumo pricked up his ears. ‘There’s something you should know about Demonocles’ tongues, my boy …’

  Blood lust

  Rumo had now been imprisoned in the cage for so long that he’d abandoned his attempts to escape unaided. He no longer rattled the bars or chewed the padlock. When not eating or sleeping, he simply sat there in idleness. The most he ever did was pace restlessly to and fro, to and fro, in the confined space. His mouth had stopped hurting some days ago and his ravenous hunger had also subsided. He contented himself with smaller helpings, and became more and more choosy as regards the food the Demonocles tossed him through the bars.

  In recent days the motion of Roaming Rock had steadily increased in violence, as had the thunder of the waves that broke against it. The floating island seemed to be labouring through heavy seas. Chaos reigned in the cave. The surviving Hackonians hung limp in their chains, their helpless bodies striking the walls like bell clappers. The piglets started biting each other, and the few remaining wild animals roared and rampaged in their cages. The stinking water in Smyke’s pool slopped over the edge and flooded the cave.

  The Demonocles appeared to have reached the climax of their festivities. The sound of their instruments, their shouts and singing, filled the tunnels and caverns of Roaming Rock. Worst of all, they visited the cave three times more often than usual.

  Rumo was clinging to the bars of his cage and, for the umpteenth time, going over the various phases of Smyke’s plan – there were only two – when three Demonocles came blundering into the cave. They were dead drunk, to judge by the blood with which they were smeared from head to foot.

  For a while they staggered aimlessly to and fro, sniffing the contents of their larder. One of them slipped on Smyke’s slime and measured his length on the floor of the cave, much to his companions’ amusement. Stung by their raucous laughter, the angry giant crawled over to the pool and thrust his arm into it, doubtless intending to punish Smyke by devouring him. Rumo clung to the bars of his cage, transfixed.

  The Demonocle fished for his prey in the ooze, cursing, but Smyke was not to be caught so easily and kept slipping through his fingers. Suddenly there was a terrible crash. A huge wave must have struck Roaming Rock, because the floor of the cave gave a violent lurch and inundated the giant with slime. The other two burst into a terrible roar of laughter. Really infuriated now, the dripping Demonocle bent over the pool and punched downwards in the hope of connecting with Smyke’s submerged form. One of the other Demonocles remembered why he had come and seized a Hackonian. He simply wrenched the dwarf away from the wall without removing his chains, tearing off one of his spindly arms. The Hackonian screamed like a stuck pig, kicking and struggling with his little legs and one remaining arm. This attracted the attention of the third Demonocle, who strode up and grabbed one of the unfortunate victim’s legs. Thoroughly incensed by this, the other giant gave a menacing roar and tugged at his supper. His competitor hung on to the leg and hauled on it in a frenzy, ripping the Hackonian in half. This enraged the Demonocles even more because their lifeless quarry, being past screaming and struggling, was worthless to them. The dwarf had made a terrible escape from an even more terrible fate. The disappointed giants hurled hoarse reproaches at each other while their companion continued to fish for Smyke.

  Rumo’s blood began to boil and red lights danced before his eyes. He shook the bars of his cage, growling and barking like one of his wild ancestors. The Demonocles looked over at the furious Wolperting, puzzled at first, then amused, then with gluttony written all over their hideous faces. Saliva oozed from the corners of their mouths and their eyes shone with greed, but they dared not break the taboo and lay hands on their chieftains’ property. They tossed the remains of the Hackonian heedlessly aside and stood there swaying, seemingly hypnotised by the sight of the frantic Wolperting.

  Rumo redoubled his efforts. He rampaged wildly back and forth, charged the door of the cage with his shoulder and rattled the bars until the hinges creaked. His behaviour was infectious. The other imprisoned wild animals roared and snarled in imitation of Rumo’s attempts to escape.

  All this din and commotion sent the Demonocles into a feeding frenzy. They lumbered over to Rumo’s cage and kicked and shook the bars like maniacs. They had no key, but they were determined to break open his prison by main force. Using every ounce of their strength, they tried to wrench the door off its hinges. Rumo lay flat on the floor of the cage and gave a low growl. All he could see was iron bars and straining bodies. His view of the cave was blotted out by furry black bodies and faces contorted with greed. The cage was built entirely of iron, but it was only a matter of time before the hinges gave way under the combined onslaught of three mountains of muscle. There was a sudden thud and one of the frenzied Demonocles stopped short, staring at Rumo glassy-eyed. Then he collapsed, restoring Rumo’s view of the cave. Eight more Demonocles were standing there, one of them with a lump of rock in his hand. It was the rulers of the island.

  There followed a short, extremely one-sided fight in which the two surviving drunks came off worst. A flurry of punches on the jaw left them breathing their last on the ground.

  Rumo realised that this wasn’t a normal tour of inspection. The moment of truth had come. He didn’t make a sound and lay quite still when the giants opened the cage, seized him and dragged him outside. He was behaving just as Smyke had instructed.

  The chieftains were surprised and rather disappointed by his lack of resistance. They punched him in the ribs and tweaked his ears as they carried him along the torchlit tunnels, but he moved as little as possible.

  Cold rain lashed his face when they manhandled him into the open air.

  The keen sea breeze was a relief after the fug and stench of the cave and he drew it deep into his lungs. The sky was obscured by inky blue clouds, flashes of lightning and flying spray. It was Rumo’s first glimpse of the exterior of Roaming Rock, whose jagged peaks protruded from the sea like the towers of a city sinking beneath the waves. Ablaze in the mouths of many caves were the fires beside which the Demonocles warmed themselves and played their diabolical music.

  The banqueting table

  Rumo was carried out on to a rocky plateau with a rough-hewn circular slab in the middle. Stained dark-red with the blood of countless meals, this was the chieftains’ banqueting table. Several Demonocles were seated on the boulders nearby, beating drums or blowing seashell horns as they watched the ritual unfold with avid, envious eyes. The chieftains laid Rumo down on his back on the slab. Four of them held his legs while a fifth positioned himself behind his head. The latter raised his arms to the sky and bellowed at the clouds. The Demonocles interpreted the answering peal of thunder as a sign of divine approval: their banquet could commence. The one-eyed monster behind Rumo’s head bent over him, opened his jaws and prepared to sink his yellow fangs in fresh, live meat.

  Rumo uses his teeth

  Rumo’s nostrils were assailed by the metallic smell of cold blood mingled with a frightful stench: the kind of mouth odour that results from decades of dental neglect. The giant was co
nvinced that his victim would start to struggle and scream as soon as the first sinews and nerve fibres were ripped from his body.

  But Rumo opened his jaws too. For the first time ever, he bared his full armoury of teeth – an array of weapons such as only a Wolperting possessed: eighty-eight incisors, canines, bicuspids and molars, all brand-new, snow-white and as flawless as freshly glazed china.

  They shimmered faintly in the semi-darkness, because a Wolperting’s teeth contain a small proportion of phosphorus. The long fangs and tiny abraders were arranged in one, two or three rows. The eye-teeth were shaped like fish-hooks, the molars looked as if they’d been scattered with sparkling diamond dust, the incisors were as sharp as cut-throat razors. There were also other kinds of teeth, thin as needles and almost invisible, that occupied the spaces between the bigger ones.

  This mouthful of biting implements seemed to have been designed by an expert weaponsmith, for woe betide anyone who ended up between a Wolperting’s jaws! The Demonocles uttered envious grunts and ran their tongues experimentally over their own neglected tusks. The four who were holding Rumo instinctively tightened their grip. The dog could show off his fangs as much as he liked; he was harmless as long as they held him down, and each of the one-eyed monsters was far superior to Rumo in physical strength. Meanwhile, the Demonocles on the nearby pinnacles of rock were working themselves into a frenzy, dancing, yelling, drumming and blowing agonisingly discordant fanfares on their seashell horns. For a second or two a dazzling shaft of lightning lit up the plateau as bright as day, instantly followed by an ear-splitting tattoo on the impatient sky god’s celestial drum.

  The Demonocles blinked, momentarily dazzled by the glare, and almost imperceptibly relaxed their grip. Rumo decided that the time had come to fight back. He did something that was anatomically impossible under the circumstances: he turned his head, seemed to stretch his neck to twice its normal length, and bit the wrist of the giant who was holding his right forepaw. It happened so swiftly that no one saw a thing. The Wolperting’s immaculate teeth were stained with blood, the giant released Rumo’s foreleg with a yell and held his arm in the air. Blood spurted from a dozen tiny puncture wounds.

 
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