The princess bride, p.13
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Princess Bride, p.13

           William Goldman
 

  "I'm sorry, my hearing sometimes fails me; it sounded like you said you squeezed rocks."

  "To make my wrists strong. So I could control the sword. Rocks like apples. That size. I would squeeze them in each hand for perhaps two hours a day. And I would spend another two hours a day in skipping and dodging and moving quickly, so that my feet would be able to get me into position to deliver properly the thrust of the sword. That's another fourteen thousand hours. I'm down to fifty-eight thousand now. Well, I always sprinted two hours each day as fast as I could, so my legs, as well as being quick, would also be strong. And that gets me down to about fifty thousand hours."

  Yeste examined the young man before him. Blade thin, six feet in height, straight as a sapling, bright eyed, taut; even motionless he seemed whippet quick. "And these last fifty thousand hours? These have been spent studying the sword?"

  Inigo nodded.

  "Where?"

  "Wherever I could find a master. Venice, Bruges, Budapest."

  "I could have taught you here?"

  "True. But you care for me. You would not have been ruthless. You would have said, 'Excellent parry, Inigo, now that's enough for one day; let's have supper.'"

  "That does sound like me," Yeste admitted. "But why was it so important? Why was it worth so much of your life?"

  "Because I could not fail him again."

  "Fail who?"

  "My father. I have spent all these years preparing to find the six-fingered man and kill him in a duel. But he is a master, Yeste. He said as much and I saw the way his sword flew at Domingo. I must not lose that duel when I find him, so now I have come to you. You know swords and swordsmen. You must not lie. Am I ready? If you say I am, I will seek him through the world. If you say no, I will spend another ten years and another ten after that, if that is needed."

  So they went to Yeste's courtyard. It was late morning. Hot. Yeste put his body in a chair and the chair in the shade. Inigo stood waiting in the sunshine. "We need not test desire and we know you have sufficient motive to deliver the death blow," Yeste said. "Therefore we need only probe your knowledge and speed and stamina. We need no enemy for this. The enemy is always in the mind. Visualize him."

  Inigo drew his sword.

  "The six-fingered man taunts you," Yeste called. "Do what you can."

  Inigo began to leap around the courtyard, the great blade flashing.

  "He uses the Agrippa defense," Yeste shouted.

  Immediately, Inigo shifted position, increased the speed of his sword.

  "Now he surprises you with Bonetti's attack."

  But Inigo was not surprised for long. Again his feet shifted; he moved his body a different way. Perspiration was pouring down his thin frame now and the great blade was blinding. Yeste continued to shout. Inigo continued to shift. The blade never stopped.

  At three in the afternoon, Yeste said, "Enough. I am exhausted from the watching."

  Inigo sheathed the six-fingered sword and waited.

  "You wish to know if I feel you are ready to duel to the death a man ruthless enough to kill your father, rich enough to buy protection, older and more experienced, an acknowledged master."

  Inigo nodded.

  "I'll tell you the truth, and it's up to you to live with it. First, there has never been a master as young as you. Thirty years at least before that rank has yet been reached, and you are barely twenty-two. Well, the truth is you are an impetuous boy driven by madness and you are not now and you will never be a master."

  "Thank you for your honesty," Inigo said. "I must tell you I had hoped for better news. I find it very hard to speak just now, so if you'll please excuse me, I'll be on my--"

  "I had not finished," Yeste said.

  "What else is there to say?"

  "I loved your father very dearly, that you know, but this you did not know: when we were very young, not yet twenty, we saw, with our own eyes, an exhibition by the Corsican Wizard, Bastia."

  "I know of no wizards."

  "It is the rank beyond master in swordsmanship," Yeste said. "Bastia was the last man so designated. Long before your birth, he died at sea. There have been no wizards since, and you would never in this world have beaten him. But I tell you this: he would never in this world have beaten you."

  Inigo stood silent for a long time. "I am ready then."

  "I would not enjoy being the six-fingered man" was all Yeste replied.

  The next morning, Inigo began the track-down. He had it all carefully prepared in his mind. He would find the six-fingered man. He would go up to him. He would say simply, "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die," and then, oh then, the duel.

  It was a lovely plan really. Simple, direct. No frills. In the beginning, Inigo had all kinds of wild vengeance notions, but gradually, simplicity had seemed the better way. Originally, he had all kinds of little plays worked out in his mind--the enemy would weep and beg, the enemy would cringe and cry, the enemy would bribe and slobber and act in every way unmanly. But eventually, these too gave way in his mind to simplicity: the enemy would simply say, "Oh, yes, I remember killing him; I'll be only too delighted to kill you too."

  Inigo had only one problem: he could not find the enemy.

  It never occurred to him there would be the least difficulty. After all, how many noblemen were there with six fingers on their right hands? Surely, it would be the talk of whatever his vicinity happened to be. A few questions: "Pardon, I'm not crazy, but have you seen any six-fingered noblemen lately?" and surely sooner or later, there would be an answering "yes."

  But it didn't come sooner.

  And later wasn't the kind of thing you wanted to hold your breath for either.

  The first month wasn't all that discouraging. Inigo crisscrossed Spain and Portugal. The second month he moved to France and spent the rest of the year there. The year following that was his Italian year, and then came Germany and the whole of Switzerland.

  It was only after five solid years of failure that he began to worry. By then he had seen all of the Balkans and most of Scandinavia and had visited the Florinese and the natives of Guilder and into Mother Russia and down step by step around the entire Mediterranean.

  By then he knew what had happened: ten years learning was ten years too long; too much had been allowed to happen. The six-fingered man was probably crusading in Asia. Or getting rich in America. Or a hermit in the East Indies. Or ... or...

  Dead?

  Inigo, at the age of twenty-seven, began having a few extra glasses of wine at night, to help him get to sleep. At twenty-eight, he was having a few extra glasses to help him digest his lunch. At twenty-nine, the wine was essential to wake him in the morning. His world was collapsing around him. Not only was he living in daily failure, something almost as dreadful was beginning to happen: Fencing was beginning to bore him.

  He was simply too good. He would make his living during his travels by finding the local champion wherever he happened to be, and they would duel, and Inigo would disarm him and accept whatever they happened to bet. And with his winnings he would pay for his food and his lodging and his wine.

  But the local champions were nothing. Even in the big cities, the local experts were nothing. Even in the capital cities, the local masters were nothing. There was no competition, nothing to help him keep an edge. His life began to seem pointless, his quest pointless, everything, everything, without reason.

  At thirty he gave up the ghost. He stopped his search, forgot to eat, slept only on occasion. He had his wine for company and that was enough.

  He was a shell. The greatest fencing machine since the Corsican Wizard was barely even practicing the sword.

  He was in that condition when the Sicilian found him.

  At first the little hunchback only supplied him with stronger wine. But then, through a combination of praise and nudging, the Sicilian began to get him off the bottle. Because the Sicilian had a dream: with his guile plus the Turk's strength plus the Spaniard's s
word, they might become the most effective criminal organization in the civilized world.

  Which is precisely what they became.

  In dark places, their names whipped sharper than fear; everyone had needs that were hard to fulfill. The Sicilian Crowd (two was company, three a crowd, even then) became more and more famous and more and more rich. Nothing was beyond or beneath them. Inigo's blade was flashing again, more than ever like lightning. The Turk's strength grew more prodigious with the months.

  But the hunchback was the leader. There was never doubt. Without him, Inigo knew where he would be: on his back begging wine in some alley entrance. The Sicilian's word was not just law, it was gospel.

  So when he said, "Kill the man in black," all other possibilities ceased to exist. The man in black had to die....

  INIGO PACED THE cliff edge, fingers snapping. Fifty feet below him now, the man in black still climbed. Inigo's impatience was beginning to bubble beyond control. He stared down at the slow progress. Find a crevice, jam in the hand, find another crevice, jam in the other hand; forty-eight feet to go. Inigo slapped his sword handle, and his finger snapping began to go faster. He examined the hooded climber, half hoping he would be six-fingered, but no; this one had the proper accompaniment of digits.

  Forty-seven feet to go now.

  Now forty-six.

  "Hello there," Inigo hollered when he could wait no more.

  The man in black glanced up and grunted.

  "I've been watching you."

  The man in black nodded.

  "Slow going," Inigo said.

  "Look, I don't mean to be rude," the man in black said finally, "but I'm rather busy just now, so try not to distract me."

  "I'm sorry," Inigo said.

  The man in black grunted again.

  "I don't suppose you could speed things up," Inigo said.

  "If you want to speed things up so much," the man in black said, clearly quite angry now, "you could lower a rope or a tree branch or find some other helpful thing to do."

  "I could do that," Inigo agreed. "But I don't think you would accept my help, since I'm only waiting up here so that I can kill you."

  "That does put a damper on our relationship," the man in black said then. "I'm afraid you'll just have to wait."

  Forty-three feet left.

  Forty-one.

  "I could give you my word as a Spaniard," Inigo said.

  "No good," the man in black replied. "I've known too many Spaniards."

  "I'm going crazy up here," Inigo said.

  "Anytime you want to change places, I'd be too happy to accept."

  Thirty-nine feet.

  And resting.

  The man in black just hung in space, feet dangling, the entire weight of his body supported by the strength of his hand jammed into the crevice.

  "Come along now," Inigo pleaded.

  "It's been a bit of a climb," the man in black explained, "and I'm weary. I'll be fine in a quarter-hour or so."

  Another quarter-hour! Inconceivable. "Look, we've got a piece of extra rope up here we didn't need when we made our original climb, I'll just drop it down to you and you grab hold and I'll pull and--"

  "No good," the man in black repeated. "You might pull, but then again, you also just might let go, which, since you're in a hurry to kill me, would certainly do the job quickly."

  "But you wouldn't have ever known I was going to kill you if I hadn't been the one to tell you. Doesn't that let you know I can be trusted?"

  "Frankly, and I hope you won't be insulted, no."

  "There's no way you'll trust me?"

  "Nothing comes to mind."

  Suddenly Inigo raised his right hand high--"I swear on the soul of Domingo Montoya you will reach the top alive!"

  The man in black was silent for a long time. Then he looked up. "I do not know this Domingo of yours, but something in your tone says I must believe you. Throw me the rope."

  Inigo quickly tied it around a rock, dropped it over. The man in black grabbed hold, hung suspended alone in space. Inigo pulled. In a moment, the man in black was beside him.

  "Thank you," the man in black said, and he sank down on the rock.

  Inigo sat alongside him. "We'll wait until you're ready," he said.

  The man in black breathed deeply. "Again, thank you."

  "Why have you followed us?"

  "You carry baggage of much value."

  "We have no intention of selling," Inigo said.

  "That is your business."

  "And yours?"

  The man in black made no reply.

  Inigo stood and walked away, surveying the terrain over which they would battle. It was a splendid plateau, really, filled with trees for dodging around and roots for tripping over and small rocks for losing your balance on and boulders for leaping off if you could climb on them fast enough, and bathing everything, the entire spot, moonlight. One could not ask for a more suitable testing ground for a duel, Inigo decided. It had everything, including the marvelous Cliffs at one end, beyond which was the wonderful thousand-foot drop, always something to bear in mind when one was planning tactics. It was perfect. The place was perfect.

  Provided the man in black could fence.

  Really fence.

  Inigo did then what he always did before a duel: he took the great sword from its scabbard and touched the side of the blade to his face two times, once along one scar, once along the other.

  Then he examined the man in black. A fine sailor, yes; a mighty climber, no question; courageous, without a doubt.

  But could he fence?

  Really fence?

  Please, Inigo thought. It has been so long since I have been tested, let this man test me. Let him be a glorious swordsman. Let him be both quick and fast, smart and strong. Give him a matchless mind for tactics, a background the equal of mine. Please, please, it's been so long: let--him--be--a--master!

  "I have my breath back now," the man in black said from the rock. "Thank you for allowing me my rest."

  "We'd best get on with it then," Inigo replied.

  The man in black stood.

  "You seem a decent fellow," Inigo said. "I hate to kill you."

  "You seem a decent fellow," answered the man in black. "I hate to die."

  "But one of us must," Inigo said. "Begin."

  And so saying he took the six-fingered sword.

  And put it into his left hand.

  He had begun all his duels left-handed lately. It was good practice for him, and although he was the only living wizard in the world with his regular hand, the right, still, he was more than worthy with his left. Perhaps thirty men alive were his equal when he used his left. Perhaps as many as fifty; perhaps as few as ten.

  The man in black was also left-handed and that warmed Inigo; it made things fairer. His weakness against the other man's strength. All to the good.

  They touched swords, and the man in black immediately began the Agrippa defense, which Inigo felt was sound, considering the rocky terrain, for the Agrippa kept the feet stationary at first, and made the chances of slipping minimal. Naturally, he countered with Capo Ferro which surprised the man in black, but he defended well, quickly shifting out of Agrippa and taking the attack himself, using the principles of Thibault.

  Inigo had to smile. No one had taken the attack against him in so long and it was thrilling! He let the man in black advance, let him build up courage, retreating gracefully between some trees, letting his Bonetti defense keep him safe from harm.

  Then his legs flicked and he was behind the nearest tree, and the man in black had not expected it and was slow reacting. Inigo flashed immediately out from the tree, attacking himself now, and the man in black retreated, stumbled, got his balance, continued moving away.

  Inigo was impressed with the quickness of the balance return. Most men the size of the man in black would have gone down or, at the least, fallen to one hand. The man in black did neither; he simply quick-stepped, wrenched his body erect, con
tinued fighting.

  They were moving parallel to the Cliffs now, and the trees were behind them, mostly. The man in black was slowly being forced toward a group of large boulders, for Inigo was anxious to see how well he moved when quarters were close, when you could not thrust or parry with total freedom. He continued to force, and then the boulders were surrounding them. Inigo suddenly threw his body against a nearby rock, rebounded off it with stunning force, lunging with incredible speed.

  First blood was his.

  He had pinked the man in black, grazed him only, along the left wrist. A scratch was all. But it was bleeding.

  Immediately the man in black hurried his retreat, getting his position away from the boulders, getting out into the open of the plateau. Inigo followed, not bothering to try to check the other man's flight; there would always be time for that later.

  Then the man in black launched his greatest assault. It came with no warning and the speed and strength of it were terrifying. His blade flashed in the light again and again, and at first, Inigo was only too delighted to retreat. He was not entirely familiar with the style of the attack; it was mostly McBone, but there were snatches of Capo Ferro thrown in, and he continued moving backward while he concentrated on the enemy, figuring the best way to stop the assault.

  The man in black kept advancing, and Inigo was aware that behind him now he was coming closer and closer to the edge of the Cliffs, but that could not have concerned him less. The important thing was to outthink the enemy, find his weakness, let him have his moment of exultation.

  Suddenly, as the Cliffs came ever nearer, Inigo realized the fault in the attack that was flashing at him; a simple Thibault maneuver would destroy it entirely, but he didn't want to give it away so soon. Let the other man have the triumph a moment longer; life allowed so few.

  The Cliffs were very close behind him now.

  Inigo continued to retreat; the man in black continued advancing.

  Then Inigo countered with the Thibault.

  And the man in black blocked it.

  He blocked it!

  Inigo repeated the Thibault move and again it didn't work. He switched to Capo Ferro, he tried Bonetti, he went to Fabris; in desperation he began a move used only twice, by Sainct.

  Nothing worked!

  The man in black kept attacking.

  And the Cliffs were almost there.

  Inigo never panicked--never came close. But he decided some things very quickly, because there was no time for long consultations, and what he decided was that although the man in black was slow in reacting to moves behind trees, and not much good at all amidst boulders, when movement was restricted, yet out in the open, where there was space, he was a terror. A left-handed black-masked terror. "You are most excellent," he said. His rear foot was at the cliff edge. He could retreat no more.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll