The princess bride, p.11
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       The Princess Bride, p.11

           William Goldman
 

  "There is probably a more logical explanation," the Sicilian said. "But since no one in Guilder could know yet what we've done, and no one in Florin could have gotten here so quickly, he is definitely not, however much it may look like it, following us. It is coincidence and nothing more."

  "He's gaining on us," the Turk said.

  "That is also inconceivable," the Sicilian said. "Before I stole this boat we're in, I made many inquiries as to what was the fastest ship on all of Florin Channel and everyone agreed it was this one."

  "You're right," the Turk agreed, staring back. "He isn't gaining on us. He's just getting closer, that's all."

  "It is the angle we're looking from and nothing more," said the Sicilian.

  Buttercup could not take her eyes from the great black sail. Surely the three men she was with frightened her. But somehow, for reasons she could never begin to explain, the man in black frightened her more.

  "All right, look sharp," the Sicilian said then, just a drop of edginess in his voice.

  The Cliffs of Insanity were very close now.

  The Spaniard maneuvered the craft expertly, which was not easy, and the waves were rolling in toward the rocks now and the spray was blinding. Buttercup shielded her eyes and put her head straight back, staring up into the darkness toward the top, which seemed shrouded and out of reach.

  Then the humpback bounded forward, and as the ship reached the cliff face, he jumped up and suddenly there was a rope in his hand.

  Buttercup stared in silent astonishment. The rope, thick and strong, seemed to travel all the way up the Cliffs. As she watched, the Sicilian pulled at the rope again and again and it held firm. It was attached to something at the top--a giant rock, a towering tree, something.

  "Fast now," the Sicilian ordered. "If he is following us, which of course is not within the realm of human experience, but if he is, we've got to reach the top and cut the rope off before he can climb up after us."

  "Climb?" Buttercup said. "I would never be able to--"

  "Hush!" the Sicilian ordered her. "Get ready!" he ordered the Spaniard. "Sink it," he ordered the Turk.

  And then everyone got busy. The Spaniard took a rope, tied Buttercup's hands and feet. The Turk raised a great leg and stomped down at the center of the boat, which gave way immediately and began to sink. Then the Turk went to the rope and took it in his hands.

  "Load me," the Turk said.

  The Spaniard lifted Buttercup and draped her body around the Turk's shoulders. Then he tied himself to the Turk's waist. Then the Sicilian hopped, clung to the Turk's neck.

  "All aboard," the Sicilian said. (This was before trains, but the expression comes originally from carpenters loading lumber, and this was well after carpenters.) With that the Turk began to climb. It was at least a thousand feet and he was carrying the three, but he was not worried. When it came to power, nothing worried him. When it came to reading, he got knots in the middle of his stomach, and when it came to writing, he broke out in a cold sweat, and when addition was mentioned or, worse, long division, he always changed the subject right away.

  But strength had never been his enemy. He could take the kick of a horse on his chest and not fall backward. He could take a hundred-pound flour sack between his legs and scissor it open without thinking. He had once held an elephant aloft using only the muscles in his back.

  But his real might lay in his arms. There had never, not in a thousand years, been arms to match Fezzik's. (For that was his name.) The arms were not only Gargantuan and totally obedient and surprisingly quick, but they were also, and this is why he never worried, tireless. If you gave him an ax and told him to chop down a forest, his legs might give out from having to support so much weight for so long, or the ax might shatter from the punishment of killing so many trees, but Fezzik's arms would be as fresh tomorrow as today.

  And so, even with the Sicilian on his neck and the Princess around his shoulders and the Spaniard at his waist, Fezzik did not feel in the least bit put upon. He was actually quite happy, because it was only when he was requested to use his might that he felt he wasn't a bother to everybody.

  Up he climbed, arm over arm, arm over arm, two hundred feet now above the water, eight hundred feet now to go.

  More than any of them, the Sicilian was afraid of heights. All of his nightmares, and they were never far from him when he slept, dealt with falling. So this terrifying ascension was most difficult for him, perched as he was on the neck of the giant. Or should have been most difficult.

  But he would not allow it.

  From the beginning, when as a child he realized his humped body would never conquer worlds, he relied on his mind. He trained it, fought it, brought it to heel. So now, three hundred feet in the night and rising higher, while he should have been trembling, he was not.

  Instead he was thinking of the man in black.

  There was no way anyone could have been quick enough to follow them. And yet from some devil's world that billowing black sail had appeared. How? How? The Sicilian flogged his mind to find an answer, but he found only failure. In wild frustration he took a deep breath and, in spite of his terrible fears, he looked back down toward the dark water.

  The man in black was still there, sailing like lightning toward the Cliffs. He could not have been more than a quarter-mile from them now.

  "Faster!" the Sicilian commanded.

  "I'm sorry," the Turk answered meekly. "I thought I was going faster."

  "Lazy, lazy," spurred the Sicilian.

  "I'll never improve," the Turk answered, but his arms began to move faster than before. "I cannot see too well because your feet are locked around my face," he went on, "so could you tell me please if we're halfway yet?"

  "A little over, I should think," said the Spaniard from his position around the giant's waist. "You're doing wonderfully, Fezzik."

  "Thank you," said the giant.

  "And he's closing on the Cliffs," added the Spaniard.

  No one had to ask who "he" was.

  Six hundred feet now. The arms continued to pull, over and over. Six hundred and twenty feet. Six hundred and fifty. Now faster than ever. Seven hundred.

  "He's left his boat behind," the Spaniard said. "He's jumped onto our rope. He's starting up after us."

  "I can feel him," Fezzik said. "His body weight on the rope."

  "He'll never catch up!" the Sicilian cried. "Inconceivable!"

  "You keep using that word!" the Spaniard snapped. "I don't think it means what you think it does."

  "How fast is he at climbing?" Fezzik said.

  "I'm frightened" was the Spaniard's reply.

  The Sicilian gathered his courage again and looked down.

  The man in black seemed almost to be flying. Already he had cut their lead a hundred feet. Perhaps more.

  "I thought you were supposed to be so strong!" the Sicilian shouted. "I thought you were this great mighty thing and yet he gains."

  "I'm carrying three people," Fezzik explained. "He has only himself and--"

  "Excuses are the refuge of cowards," the Sicilian interrupted. He looked down again. The man in black had gained another hundred feet. He looked up now. The cliff tops were beginning to come into view. Perhaps a hundred and fifty feet more and they were safe.

  Tied hand and foot, sick with fear, Buttercup wasn't sure what she wanted to happen. Except this much she knew: she didn't want to go through anything like it again.

  "Fly, Fezzik!" the Sicilian screamed. "A hundred feet to go."

  Fezzik flew. He cleared his mind of everything but ropes and arms and fingers, and his arms pulled and his fingers gripped and the rope held taut and--

  "He's over halfway," the Spaniard said.

  "Halfway to doom is where he is," the Sicilian said. "We're fifty feet from safety, and once we're there and I untie the rope..." He allowed himself to laugh.

  Forty feet.

  Fezzik pulled.

  Twenty.

  Ten.

  It wa
s over. Fezzik had done it. They had reached the top of the Cliffs, and first the Sicilian jumped off and then the Turk removed the Princess, and as the Spaniard untied himself, he looked back over the Cliffs.

  The man in black was no more than three hundred feet away.

  "It seems a shame," the Turk said, looking down alongside the Spaniard. "Such a climber deserves better than--" He stopped talking then.

  The Sicilian had untied the rope from its knots around an oak. The rope seemed almost alive, the greatest of all water serpents heading at last for home. It whipped across the cliff tops, spiraled into the moonlit Channel.

  The Sicilian was roaring now, and he kept at it until the Spaniard said, "He did it."

  "Did what?" The humpback came scurrying to the cliff edge.

  "Released the rope in time," the Spaniard said. "See?" He pointed down.

  The man in black was hanging in space, clinging to the sheer rock face, seven hundred feet above the water.

  The Sicilian watched, fascinated. "You know," he said, "since I've made a study of death and dying and am a great expert, it might interest you to know that he will be dead long before he hits the water. The fall will do it, not the crash."

  The man in black dangled helpless in space, clinging to the Cliffs with both hands.

  "Oh, how rude we're being," the Sicilian said then, turning to Buttercup. "I'm sure you'd like to watch." He went to her and brought her, still tied hand and foot, so that she could watch the final pathetic struggle of the man in black three hundred feet below.

  Buttercup closed her eyes, turned away.

  "Shouldn't we be going?" the Spaniard asked. "I thought you were telling us how important time was."

  "It is, it is," the Sicilian nodded. "But I just can't miss a death like this. I could stage one of these every week and sell tickets. I could get out of the assassination business entirely. Look at him--do you think his life is passing before his eyes? That's what the books say."

  "He has very strong arms," Fezzik commented. "To hold on so long."

  "He can't hold on much longer," the Sicilian said. "He has to fall soon."

  It was at that moment that the man in black began to climb. Not quickly, of course. And not without great effort. But still, there was no doubt that he was, in spite of the sheerness of the Cliffs, heading in an upward direction.

  "Inconceivable!" the Sicilian cried.

  The Spaniard whirled on him. "Stop saying that word. It was inconceivable that anyone could follow us, but when we looked behind, there was the man in black. It was inconceivable that anyone could sail as fast as we could sail, and yet he gained on us. Now this too is inconceivable, but look--look--" and the Spaniard pointed down through the night. "See how he rises."

  The man in black was, indeed, rising. Somehow, in some almost miraculous way, his fingers were finding holds in the crevices, and he was now perhaps fifteen feet closer to the top, farther from death.

  The Sicilian advanced on the Spaniard now, his wild eyes glittering at the insubordination. "I have the keenest mind that has ever been turned to unlawful pursuits," he began, "so when I tell you something, it is not guesswork; it is fact! And the fact is that the man in black is not following us. A more logical explanation would be that he is simply an ordinary sailor who dabbles in mountain climbing as a hobby who happens to have the same general final destination as we do. That certainly satisfies me and I hope it satisfies you. In any case, we cannot take the risk of his seeing us with the Princess, and therefore one of you must kill him."

  "Shall I do it?" the Turk wondered.

  The Sicilian shook his head. "No, Fezzik," he said finally. "I need your strength to carry the girl. Pick her up now and let us hurry along." He turned to the Spaniard. "We'll be heading directly for the frontier of Guilder. Catch up as quickly as you can once he's dead."

  The Spaniard nodded.

  The Sicilian hobbled away.

  The Turk hoisted the Princess, began following the humpback. Just before he lost sight of the Spaniard he turned and hollered, "Catch up quickly."

  "Don't I always?" The Spaniard waved. "Farewell, Fezzik."

  "Farewell, Inigo," the Turk replied. And then he was gone, and the Spaniard was alone.

  Inigo moved to the cliff edge and knelt with his customary quick grace. Two hundred and fifty feet below him now, the man in black continued his painful climb. Inigo lay flat, staring down, trying to pierce the moonlight and find the climber's secret. For a long while, Inigo did not move. He was a good learner, but not a particularly fast one, so he had to study. Finally, he realized that somehow, by some mystery, the man in black was making fists and jamming them into the rocks, and using them for support. Then he would reach up with his other hand, until he found a high split in the rock, and make another fist and jam it in. Whenever he could find support for his feet, he would use it, but mostly it was the jammed fists that made the climbing possible.

  Inigo marveled. What a truly extraordinary adventurer this man in black must be. He was close enough now for Inigo to realize that the man was masked, a black hood covering all but his features. Another outlaw? Perhaps. Then why should they have to fight and for what? Inigo shook his head. It was a shame that such a fellow must die, but he had his orders, so there it was. Sometimes he did not like the Sicilian's commands, but what could he do? Without the brains of the Sicilian, he, Inigo, would never be able to command jobs of this caliber. The Sicilian was a master planner. Inigo was a creature of the moment. The Sicilian said "kill him," so why waste sympathy on the man in black. Someday someone would kill Inigo, and the world would not stop to mourn.

  He stood now, quickly jumping to his feet, his blade-thin body ready. For action. Only, the man in black was still many feet away. There was nothing to do but wait for him. Inigo hated waiting. So to make the time more pleasant, he pulled from the scabbard his great, his only, love: The six-fingered sword.

  How it danced in the moonlight. How glorious and true. Inigo brought it to his lips and with all the fervor in his great Spanish heart kissed the metal....

  INIGO

  IN THE MOUNTAINS of Central Spain, set high in the hills above Toledo, was the village of Arabella. It was very small and the air was always clear. That was all you could say that was good about Arabella: terrific air--you could see for miles.

  But there was no work, the dogs overran the streets and there was never enough food. The air, clear enough, was also too hot in daylight, freezing at night. As to Inigo's personal life, he was always just a trifle hungry, he had no brothers or sisters, and his mother had died in childbirth.

  He was fantastically happy.

  Because of his father. Domingo Montoya was funny-looking and crotchety and impatient and absent-minded and never smiled.

  Inigo loved him. Totally. Don't ask why. There really wasn't anyone reason you could put your finger on. Oh, probably Domingo loved him back, but love is many things, none of them logical.

  Domingo Montoya made swords. If you wanted a fabulous sword, did you go to Domingo Montoya? If you wanted a great balanced piece of work, did you go to the mountains behind Toledo? If you wanted a masterpiece, a sword for the ages, was it Arabella that your footsteps led you to?

  Nope.

  You went to Madrid, because Madrid was where lived the famous Yeste, and if you had the money and he had the time, you got your weapon. Yeste was fat and jovial and one of the richest and most honored men in the city. And he should have been. He made wonderful swords, and noblemen bragged to each other when they owned an original Yeste.

  But sometimes--not often, mind you, maybe once a year, maybe less--a request would come in for a weapon that was more than even Yeste could make. When that happened, did Yeste say, "Alas, I am sorry, I cannot do it"?

  Nope.

  What he said was, "Of course, I'd be delighted, fifty per cent down payment please, the rest before delivery, come back in a year, thank you very much."

  The next day he would set out for the hills
behind Toledo.

  "So, Domingo," Yeste would call out when he reached Inigo's father's hut.

  "So, Yeste," Domingo Montoya would return from the hut doorway.

  Then the two men would embrace and Inigo would come running up and Yeste would rumple his hair and then Inigo would make tea while the two men talked.

  "I need you," Yeste would always begin.

  Domingo would grunt.

  "This very week I have accepted a commission to make a sword for a member of the Italian nobility. It is to be jewel encrusted at the handle and the jewels are to spell out the name of his present mistress and--"

  "No."

  That single word and that alone. But it was enough. When Domingo Montoya said "no" it meant nothing else but.

  Inigo, busy with the tea, knew what would happen now: Yeste would use his charm.

  "No."

  Yeste would use his wealth.

  "No."

  His wit, his wonderful gift for persuasion.

  "No."

  He would beg, entreat, promise, pledge.

  "No."

  Insults. Threats.

  "No."

  Finally, genuine tears.

  "No. More tea, Yeste?"

  "Perhaps another cup, thank you--" Then, big: "why won't You?"

  Inigo hurried to refill their cups so as never to miss a word. He knew they had been brought up together, had known each other sixty years, had never not loved one another deeply, and it thrilled him when he could hear them arguing. That was the strange thing: arguing was all they ever did.

  "Why? My fat friend asks me why? He sits there on his world-class ass and has the nerve to ask me why? Yeste. Come to me sometime with a challenge. Once, just once, ride up and say, 'Domingo, I need a sword for an eighty-year-old man to fight a duel,' and I would embrace you and cry 'Yes!' Because to make a sword for an eighty-year-old man to survive a duel, that would be something. Because the sword would have to be strong enough to win, yet light enough not to tire his weary arm. I would have to use my all to perhaps find an unknown metal, strong but very light, or devise a different formula for a known one, mix some bronze with some iron and some air in a way ignored for a thousand years. I would kiss your smelly feet for an opportunity like that, fat Yeste. But to make a stupid sword with stupid jewels in the form of stupid initials so some stupid Italian can thrill his stupid mistress, no. That, I will not do."

 
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