The princess bride, p.12
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       The Princess Bride, p.12

           William Goldman
 

  "For the last time I ask you. Please."

  "For the last time I tell you, I am sorry. No."

  "I gave my word the sword would be made," Yeste said. "I cannot make it. In all the world no one can but you, and you say no. Which means I have gone back on a commitment. Which means I have lost my honor. Which means that since honor is the only thing in the world I care about, and since I cannot live without it, I must die. And since you are my dearest friend, I may as well die now, with you, basking in the warmth of your affection." And here Yeste would pull out a knife. It was a magnificent thing, a gift from Domingo on Yeste's wedding day.

  "Good-by, little Inigo," Yeste would say then. "God grant you your quota of smiles."

  It was forbidden for Inigo to interrupt.

  "Good-by, little Domingo," Yeste would say then. "Although I die in your hut, and although it is your own stubborn fault that causes my ceasing, in other words, even though you are killing me, don't think twice about it. I love you as I always have and God forbid your conscience should give you any trouble." He pulled open his coat, brought the knife closer, closer. "The pain is worse than I imagined!" Yeste cried.

  "How can it hurt when the point of the weapon is still an inch away from your belly?" Domingo asked.

  "I'm anticipating, don't bother me, let me die unpestered." He brought the point to his skin, pushed.

  Domingo grabbed the knife away. "Someday I won't stop you," he said. "Inigo, set an extra place for supper."

  "I was all set to kill myself, truly."

  "Enough dramatics."

  "What is on the menu for the evening?"

  "The usual gruel."

  "Inigo, go check and see if there's anything by chance in my carriage outside."

  There was always a feast waiting in the carriage.

  And after the food and the stories would come the departure, and always, before the departure, would come the request. "We would be partners," Yeste would say. "In Madrid. My name before yours on the sign, of course, but equal partners in all things."

  "No."

  "All right. Your name before mine. You are the greatest sword maker, you deserve to come first."

  "Have a good trip back."

  "WHY WON'T YOU?"

  "Because, my friend Yeste, you are very famous and very rich, and so you should be, because you make wonderful weapons. But you must also make them for any fool who happens along. I am poor, and no one knows me in all the world except you and Inigo, but I do not have to suffer fools."

  "You are an artist," Yeste said.

  "No. Not yet. A craftsman only. But I dream to be an artist. I pray that someday, if I work with enough care, if I am very very lucky, I will make a weapon that is a work of art. Call me an artist then, and I will answer."

  Yeste entered his carriage. Domingo approached the window, whispered: "I remind you only of this: when you get this jeweled initialed sword, claim it as your own. Tell no one of my involvement."

  "Your secret is safe with me."

  Embraces and waves. The carriage would leave. And that was the way of life before the six-fingered sword.

  Inigo remembered exactly the moment it began. He was making lunch for them--his father always, from the time he was six, let him do the cooking--when a heavy knocking came on the hut door. "Inside there," a voice boomed. "Be quick about it."

  Inigo's father opened the door. "Your servant," he said.

  "You are a sword maker," came the booming voice. "Of distinction. I have heard that this is true."

  "If only it were," Domingo replied. "But I have no great skills. Mostly I do repair work. Perhaps if you had a dagger blade that was dulling, I might be able to please you. But anything more is beyond me."

  Inigo crept up behind his father and peeked out. The booming voice belonged to a powerful man with dark hair and broad shoulders who sat upon an elegant brown horse. A nobleman clearly, but Inigo could not tell the country.

  "I desire to have made for me the greatest sword since Excalibur."

  "I hope your wishes are granted," Domingo said. "And now, if you please, our lunch is almost ready and--"

  "I do not give you permission to move. You stay right exactly where you are or risk my wrath, which, I must tell you in advance, is considerable. My temper is murderous. Now, what were you saying about your lunch?"

  "I was saying that it will be hours before it is ready; I have nothing to do and would not dream of budging."

  "There are rumors," the nobleman said, "that deep in the hills behind Toledo lives a genius. The greatest sword maker in all the world."

  "He visits here sometimes--that must be your mistake. But his name is Yeste and he lives in Madrid."

  "I will pay five hundred pieces of gold for my desires," said the big-shouldered noble.

  "That is more money than all the men in all this village will earn in all their lives," said Domingo. "Truly, I would love to accept your offer. But I am not the man you seek."

  "These rumors lead me to believe that Domingo Montoya would solve my problem."

  "What is your problem?"

  "I am a great swordsman. But I cannot find a weapon to match my peculiarities, and therefore I am deprived of reaching my highest skills. If I had a weapon to match my peculiarities, there would be no one in all the world to equal me."

  "What are these peculiarities you speak of?"

  The noble held up his right hand.

  Domingo began to grow excited.

  The man had six fingers.

  "You see?" the noble began.

  "Of course," Domingo interrupted, "the balance of the sword is wrong for you because every balance has been conceived of for five. The grip of every handle cramps you, because it has been built for five. For an ordinary swordsman it would not matter, but a great swordsman, a master, would have eventual discomfort. And the greatest swordsman in the world must always be at ease. The grip of his weapon must be as natural as the blink of his eye, and cause him no more thought."

  "Clearly, you understand the difficulties--" the nobleman began again.

  But Domingo had traveled where others' words could never reach him. Inigo had never seen his father so frenzied. "The measurements ... of course .. . each finger and the circumference of the wrist, and the distance from the sixth nail to the index pad ... so many measurements ... and your preferences ... Do you prefer to slash or cut? If you slash, do you prefer the right-to-left movement or perhaps the parallel? ... When you cut, do you enjoy an upward thrust, and how much power do you wish to come from the shoulder, how much from the wrist? ... and do you wish your point coated so as to enter more easily or do you enjoy seeing the opponent's wince? ... So much to be done, so much to be done ..." and on and on he went until the noble dismounted and had to almost take him by the shoulders to quiet him.

  "You are the man of the rumors."

  Domingo nodded.

  "And you will make me the greatest sword since Excalibur."

  "I will beat my body into ruins for you. Perhaps I will fail. But no one will try harder."

  "And payment?"

  "When you get the sword, then payment. Now let me get to work measuring. Inigo--my instruments."

  Inigo scurried into the darkest corner of the hut.

  "I insist on leaving something on account."

  "It is not necessary; I may fail."

  "I insist."

  "All right. One goldpiece. Leave that. But do not bother me with money when there is work that needs beginning."

  The noble took out one piece of gold.

  Domingo put it in a drawer and left it, without even a glance. "Feel your fingers now," he commanded. "Rub your hands hard, shake your fingers--you will be excited when you duel and this handle must match your hand in that excitement; if I measured when you were relaxed, there would be a difference, as much as a thousandth of an inch and that would rob us of perfection. And that is what I seek. Perfection. I will not rest for less."

  The nobleman had to smile. "And ho
w long will it take to reach it?"

  "Come back in a year," Domingo said, and with that he set to work.

  Such a year.

  Domingo slept only when he dropped from exhaustion. He ate only when Inigo would force him to. He studied, fretted, complained. He never should have taken the job; it was impossible. The next day he would be flying: he never should have taken the job; it was too simple to be worth his labors. Joy to despair, joy to despair, day to day, hour to hour. Sometimes Inigo would wake to find him weeping: "What is it, Father?" "It is that I cannot do it. I cannot make the sword. I cannot make my hands obey me. I would kill myself except what would you do then?" "Go to sleep, Father." "No, I don't need sleep. Failures don't need sleep. Anyway, I slept yesterday." "Please, Father, a little nap." "All right; a few minutes; to keep you from nagging."

  Some nights Inigo would awake to see him dancing. "What is it, Father?" "It is that I have found my mistakes, corrected my mis-judgments." "Then it will be done soon, Father?" "It will be done tomorrow and it will be a miracle." "You are wonderful, Father." "I'm more wonderful than wonderful, how dare you insult me."

  But the next night, more tears. "What is it now, Father?" "The sword, the sword, I cannot make the sword." "But last night, Father, you said you had found your mistakes." "I was mistaken; tonight I found new ones, worse ones. I am the most wretched of creatures. Say you wouldn't mind it if I killed myself so I could end this existence." "But I would mind, Father. I love you and I would die if you stopped breathing." "You don't really love me; you're only speaking pity." "Who could pity the greatest sword maker in the history of the world?" "Thank you, Inigo." "You're welcome, Father." "I love you back, Inigo." "Sleep, Father." "Yes. Sleep."

  A whole year of that. A year of the handle being right, but the balance being wrong, of the balance being right, but the cutting edge too dull, of the cutting edge sharpened, but that threw the balance off again, of the balance returning, but now the point was fat, of the point regaining sharpness, only now the entire blade was too short and it all had to go, all had to be thrown out, all had to be done again. Again. Again. Domingo's health began to leave him. He was fevered always now, but he forced his frail shell on, because this had to be the finest since Excalibur. Domingo was battling legend, and it was destroying him.

  Such a year.

  One night Inigo woke to find his father seated. Staring. Calm. Inigo followed the stare.

  The six-fingered sword was done.

  Even in the hut's darkness, it glistened.

  "At last," Domingo whispered. He could not take his eyes from the glory of the sword. "After a lifetime. Inigo. Inigo. I am an artist."

  The big-shouldered nobleman did not agree. When he returned to purchase the sword, he merely looked at it a moment. "Not worth waiting for," he said.

  Inigo stood in the corner of the hut, watching, holding his breath.

  "You are disappointed?" Domingo could scarcely get the words spoken.

  "I'm not saying it's trash, you understand," the nobleman went on. "But it's certainly not worth five hundred pieces of gold. I'll give you ten; it's probably worth that."

  "Wrong!" Domingo cried. "It is not worth ten. It is not worth even one. Here." And he threw open the drawer where the one goldpiece had lain untouched the year. "The gold is yours. All of it. You have lost nothing." He took back the sword and turned away.

  "I'll take the sword," the nobleman said. "I didn't say I wouldn't take it. I only said I would pay what it was worth."

  Domingo whirled back, eyes bright. "You quibbled. You haggled. Art was involved and you saw only money. Beauty was here for the taking and you saw only your fat purse. You have lost nothing; there is no more reason for your remaining here. Please go."

  "The sword," the noble said.

  "The sword belongs to my son," Domingo said. "I give it to him now. It is forever his. Good-by."

  "You're a peasant and a fool and I want my sword."

  "You're an enemy of art and I pity your ignorance," Domingo said.

  They were the last words he ever uttered.

  The noble killed him then, with no warning; a flash of the nobleman's sword and Domingo's heart was torn to pieces.

  Inigo screamed. He could not believe it; it had not happened. He screamed again. His father was fine; soon they would have tea. He could not stop screaming.

  The village heard. Twenty men were at the door. The nobleman pushed his way through them. "That man attacked me. See? He holds a sword. He attacked me and I defended myself. Now move from my way."

  It was lies, of course, and everyone knew it. But he was a noble so what was there to do? They parted, and the nobleman mounted his horse.

  "Coward!"

  The nobleman whirled.

  "Pig!"

  Again the crowd parted.

  Inigo stood there, holding the six-fingered sword, repeating his words: "Coward. Pig. Killer."

  "Someone tend the babe before he oversteps himself," the noble said to the crowd.

  Inigo ran forward then, standing in front of the nobleman's horse, blocking the nobleman's path. He raised the six-fingered sword with both his hands and cried, "I, Inigo Montoya, do challenge you, coward, pig, killer, ass, fool, to battle."

  "Get him out of my way. Move the infant."

  "The infant is ten and he stays," Inigo said.

  "Enough of your family is dead for one day; be content," said the noble.

  "When you beg me for your breath, then I shall be contented. Now dismount! "

  The nobleman dismounted.

  "Draw your sword."

  The nobleman unsheathed his killing weapon.

  "I dedicate your death to my father," Inigo said. "Begin."

  They began.

  It was no match, of course. Inigo was disarmed in less than a minute. But for the first fifteen seconds or so, the noble was uneasy. During those fifteen seconds, strange thoughts crossed his mind. For even at the age of ten, Inigo's genius was there.

  Disarmed, Inigo stood very straight. He said not a word, begged nothing.

  "I'm not going to kill you," the nobleman said. "Because you have talent and you're brave. But you're also lacking in manners, and that's going to get you in trouble if you're not careful. So I shall help you as you go through life, by leaving you with a reminder that bad manners are to be avoided." And with that his blade flashed. Two times.

  And Inigo's face began to bleed. Two rivers of blood poured from his forehead to his chin, one crossing each cheek. Everyone watching knew it then: the boy was scarred for life.

  Inigo would not fall. The world went white behind his eyes but he would not go to ground. The blood continued to pour. The nobleman replaced his sword, remounted, rode on.

  It was only then that Inigo allowed the darkness to claim him.

  He awoke to Yeste's face.

  "I was beaten," Inigo whispered. "I failed him."

  Yeste could only say, "Sleep."

  Inigo slept. The bleeding stopped after a day and the pain stopped after a week. They buried Domingo, and for the first and last time Inigo left Arabella. His face bandaged, he rode in Yeste's carriage to Madrid, where he lived in Yeste's house, obeyed Yeste's commands. After a month, the bandages were removed, but the scars were still deep red. Eventually, they softened some, but they always remained the chief features of Inigo's face: the giant parallel scars running one on each side, from temple to chin. For two years, Yeste cared for him.

  Then one morning, Inigo was gone. In his place were three words: "I must learn" on a note pinned to his pillow.

  Learn? Learn what? What existed beyond Madrid that the child had to commit to memory? Yeste shrugged and sighed. It was beyond him. There was no understanding children anymore. Everything was changing too fast and the young were different. Beyond him, beyond him, life was beyond him, the world was beyond him, you name it, it was beyond him. He was a fat man who made swords. That much he knew.

  So he made more swords and he grew fatter and the year
s went by. As his figure spread, so did his fame. From all across the world they came, begging him for weapons, so he doubled his prices because he didn't want to work too hard anymore, he was getting old, but when he doubled his prices, when the news spread from duke to prince to king, they only wanted him the more desperately. Now the wait was two years for a sword and the line-up of royalty was unending and Yeste was growing tired, so he doubled his prices again, and when that didn't stop them, he decided to triple his already doubled and redoubled prices and besides that, all work had to be paid for in jewels in advance and the wait was up to three years, but nothing would stop them. They had to have swords by Yeste or nothing, and even though the work on the finest was nowhere what it once was (Domingo, after all, no longer could save him) the silly rich men didn't notice. All they wanted was his weapons and they fell over each other with jewels for him.

  Yeste grew very rich.

  And very heavy.

  Every part of his body sagged. He had the only fat thumbs in Madrid. Dressing took an hour, breakfast the same, everything went slowly.

  But he could still make swords. And people still craved them. "I'm sorry," he said to the young Spaniard who entered his shop one particular morning. "The wait is up to four years and even I am embarrassed to mention the price. Have your weapon made by another."

  "I have my weapon," the Spaniard said.

  And he threw the six-fingered sword across Yeste's workbench.

  Such embraces.

  "Never leave again," Yeste said. "I eat too much when I'm lonely."

  "I cannot stay," Inigo told him. "I'm only here to ask you one question. As you know, I have spent the last ten years learning. Now I have come for you to tell me if I'm ready."

  "Ready? For what? What in the world have you been learning?"

  "The sword."

  "Madness," said Yeste. "You have spent ten entire years just learning to fence?"

  "No, not just learning to fence," Inigo answered. "I did many other things as well."

  "Tell me."

  "Well," Inigo began, "ten years is what? About thirty-six hundred days. And that's about--I figured this out once, so I remember pretty well--about eighty-six thousand hours. Well, I always made it a point to get four hours sleep per night. That's fourteen thousand hours right there, leaving me perhaps seventy-two thousand hours to account for."

  "You slept. I'm with you. What else?"

  "Well, I squeezed rocks."

 
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