The princess bride, p.14
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       The Princess Bride, p.14

           William Goldman
 

  "Thank you," the man in black replied. "I have worked very hard to become so."

  "You are better than I am," Inigo admitted.

  "So it seems. But if that is true, then why are you smiling?"

  "Because," Inigo answered, "I know something you don't know."

  "And what is that?" asked the man in black.

  "I'm not left-handed," Inigo replied, and with those words, he all but threw the six-fingered sword into his right hand, and the tide of battle turned.

  The man in black retreated before the slashing of the great sword. He tried to sidestep, tried to parry, tried to somehow escape the doom that was now inevitable. But there was no way. He could block fifty thrusts; the fifty-first flicked through, and now his left arm was bleeding. He could thwart thirty ripostes, but not the thirty-first, and now his shoulder bled.

  The wounds were not yet grave, but they kept on coming as they dodged across the stones, and then the man in black found himself amidst the trees and that was bad for him, so he all but fled before Inigo's onslaught, and then he was in the open again, but Inigo kept coming, nothing could stop him, and then the man in black was back among the boulders, and that was even worse for him than the trees and he shouted out in frustration and practically ran to where there was open space again.

  But there was no dealing with the wizard, and slowly, again, the deadly Cliffs became a factor in the fight, only now it was the man in black who was being forced to doom. He was brave, and he was strong, and the cuts did not make him beg for mercy, and he showed no fear behind his black mask. "You are amazing," he cried, as Inigo increased the already blinding speed of the blade.

  "Thank you. It has not come without effort."

  The death moment was at hand now. Again and again Inigo thrust forward, and again and again the man in black managed to ward off the attacks, but each time it was harder, and the strength in Inigo's wrists was endless and he only thrust the more fiercely and soon the man in black grew weak. "You cannot tell it," he said then, "because I wear a cape and mask. But I am smiling now."

  "Why?"

  "Because I'm not left-handed either," said the man in black.

  And he too switched hands, and now the battle was finally joined.

  And Inigo began to retreat.

  "Who are you?" he screamed.

  "No one of import. Another lover of the blade."

  "I must know!"

  "Get used to disappointment."

  They flashed along the open plateau now, and the blades were both invisible, but oh, the earth trembled, and ohhhh, the skies shook, and Inigo was losing. He tried to make for the trees, but the man in black would have none of it. He tried retreating to the boulders, but that was denied him too.

  And in the open, unthinkable as it was, the man in black was superior. Not much. But in a multitude of tiny ways, he was of a slightly higher quality. A hair quicker, a fraction stronger, a speck faster. Not really much at all.

  But it was enough.

  They met in center plateau for the final assault. Neither man conceded anything. The sound of metal clashing metal rose. A final burst of energy flew through Inigo's veins and he made every attempt, tried every trick, used every hour of every day of his years of experience. But he was blocked. By the man in black. He was shackled. By the man in black. He was baffled, thwarted, muzzled.

  Beaten.

  By the man in black.

  A final flick and the great six-fingered sword went flying from his hand. Inigo stood there, helpless. Then he dropped to his knees, bowed his head, closed his eyes. "Do it quickly," he said.

  "May my hands fall from my wrists before I kill an artist like yourself," said the man in black. "I would as soon destroy da Vinci. However"--and here he clubbed Inigo's head with the butt of his sword--"since I can't have you following me either, please understand that I hold you in the highest respect." He struck one more time and the Spaniard fell unconscious. The man in black quickly tied Inigo's hands around a tree and left him there, for the moment, sleeping and helpless.

  Then he sheathed his sword, picked up the Sicilian's trail, and raced into the night....

  "HE HAS BEATEN Inigo!" the Turk said, not quite sure he wanted to believe it, but positive that the news was sad; he liked Inigo. Inigo was the only one who wouldn't laugh when Fezzik asked him to play rhymes.

  They were hurrying along a mountainous path on the way to the Guilder frontier. The path was narrow and strewn with rocks like cannonballs, so the Sicilian had a terrible time keeping up. Fezzik carried Buttercup lightly on his shoulders; she was still tied hand and foot.

  "I didn't hear you, say it again," the Sicilian called out, so Fezzik waited for the hunchback to catch up to him.

  "See?" Fezzik pointed then. Far down, at the very bottom of the mountain path, the man in black could be seen running. "Inigo is beaten."

  "Inconceivable!" exploded the Sicilian.

  Fezzik never dared disagree with the hunchback. "I'm so stupid," Fezzik nodded. "Inigo has not lost to the man in black, he has defeated him. And to prove it he has put on all the man in black's clothes and masks and hoods and boots and gained eighty pounds."

  The Sicilian squinted down toward the running figure. "Fool," he hurled at the Turk. "After all these years can't you tell Inigo when you see him? That isn't Inigo."

  "I'll never learn," the Turk agreed. "If there's ever a question about anything, you can always count on me to get it wrong."

  "Inigo must have slipped or been tricked or otherwise unfairly beaten. That's the only conceivable explanation."

  Conceivable believable, the giant thought. Only he didn't dare say it out loud. Not to the Sicilian. He might have whispered it to Inigo late at night, but that was before Inigo was dead. He also might have whispered heavable thievable weavable but that was as far as he got before the Sicilian started talking again, and that always meant he had to pay very strict attention. Nothing angered the hunchback as quickly as catching Fezzik thinking. Since he barely imagined someone like Fezzik capable of thought, he never asked what was on his mind, because he couldn't have cared less. If he had found out Fezzik was making rhymes, he would have laughed and then found new ways to make Fezzik suffer.

  "Untie her feet," the Sicilian commanded.

  Fezzik put the Princess down and ripped the ropes apart that bound her legs. Then he rubbed her ankles so she could walk.

  The Sicilian grabbed her immediately and yanked her away. "Catch up with us quickly," the Sicilian said.

  "Instructions?" Fezzik called out, almost panicked. He hated being left on his own like this.

  "Finish him, finish him." The Sicilian was getting peeved. "Succeed, since Inigo failed us."

  "But I can't fence, I don't know how to fence--"

  "Your way." The Sicilian could barely control himself now.

  "Oh yes, good, my way, thank you, Vizzini," Fezzik said to the hunchback. Then, summoning all his courage: "I need a hint."

  "You're always saying how you understand force, how force belongs to you. Use it, I don't care how. Wait for him behind there"--he pointed to a sharp bend in the mountain path--"and crush his head like an eggshell." He pointed to the cannonball-sized rocks.

  "I could do that, yes," Fezzik nodded. He was marvelous at throwing heavy things. "It just seems not very sportsmanlike, doesn't it?"

  The Sicilian lost control. It was terrifying when he did it. With most people, they scream and holler and jump around. With Vizzini, it was different: he got very very quiet, and his voice sounded like it came from a dead throat. And his eyes turned to fire. "I tell you this and I tell it once: stop the man in black. Stop him for good and all. If you fail, there will be no excuses; I will find another giant."

  "Please don't desert me," Fezzik said.

  "Then do as you are told." He grabbed hold of Buttercup again and hobbled up the mountain path and out of sight.

  Fezzik glanced down toward the figure racing up the path toward him. Still a good distance away. T
ime enough to practice. Fezzik picked up a rock the size of a cannonball and aimed at a crack in the mountain thirty yards away.

  Swoosh.

  Dead center.

  He picked up a bigger rock and threw it at a shadow line twice as distant.

  Not quite swoosh.

  Two inches to the right.

  Fezzik was reasonably satisfied. Two inches off would still crush a head if you aimed for the center. He groped around, found a perfect rock for throwing; it just fit his hand. Then he moved to the sharp turn in the path, backed off into deepest shadow. Unseen, silent, he waited patiently with his killing rock, counting the seconds until the man in black would die....

  FEZZIK

  TURKISH WOMEN ARE famous for the size of their babies. The only happy newborn ever to weigh over twenty-four pounds upon entrance was the product of a southern Turkish union. Turkish hospital records list a total of eleven children who weighed over twenty pounds at birth. And ninety-five more who weighed between fifteen and twenty. Now all of these 106 cherubs did what babies usually do at birth: they lost three or four ounces and it took them the better part of a week before they got it totally back. More accurately, 105 of them lost weight just after they were born.

  Not Fezzik.

  His first afternoon he gained a pound. (Since he weighed but fifteen and since his mother gave birth two weeks early, the doctors weren't unduly concerned. "It's because you came two weeks too soon," they explained to Fezzik's mother. "That explains it." Actually, of course, it didn't explain anything, but whenever doctors are confused about something, which is really more frequently than any of us would do well to think about, they always snatch at something in the vicinity of the case and add, "That explains it." If Fezzik's mother had come late, they would have said, "Well, you came late, that explains it." Or "Well, it was raining during delivery, this added weight is simply moisture, that explains it.") A healthy baby doubles his birth weight in about six months and triples it in a year. When Fezzik was a year old, he weighed eighty-five pounds. He wasn't fat, understand. He looked like a perfectly normal strong eighty-five-pound kid. Not all that normal, actually. He was pretty hairy for a one-year-old.

  By the time he reached kindergarten, he was ready to shave. He was the size of a normal man by this time, and all the other children made his life miserable. At first, naturally, they were scared to death (even then, Fezzik looked fierce) but once they found out he was chicken, well, they weren't about to let an opportunity like that get away.

  "Bully, bully," they taunted Fezzik during morning yogurt break.

  "I'm not," Fezzik would say out loud. (To himself he would go "Woolly, woolly." He would never dare to consider himself a poet, because he wasn't anything like that; he just loved rhymes. Anything you said out loud, he rhymed it inside. Sometimes the rhymes made sense, sometimes they didn't. Fezzik never cared much about sense; all that ever mattered was the sound.) "Coward."

  Towered. "I'm not."

  "Then fight," one of them would say, and would swing all he had and hit Fezzik in the stomach, confident that all Fezzik would do was go "oof" and stand there, because he never hit back no matter what you did to him.

  "Oof."

  Another swing. Another. A good stiff punch to the kidneys maybe. Maybe a kick in the knee. It would go on like that until Fezzik would burst into tears and run away.

  One day at home, Fezzik's father called, "Come here."

  Fezzik, as always, obeyed.

  "Dry your tears," his mother said.

  Two children had beaten him very badly just before. He did what he could to stop crying.

  "Fezzik, this can't go on," his mother said. "They must stop picking on you."

  Kicking on you. "I don't mind so much," Fezzik said.

  "Well you should mind," his father said. He was a carpenter, with big hands. "Come on outside. I'm going to teach you how to fight."

  "Please, I don't want--"

  "Obey your father."

  They trooped out to the back yard.

  "Make a fist," his father said.

  Fezzik did his best.

  His father looked at his mother, then at the heavens. "He can't even make a fist," his father said.

  "He's trying, he's only six; don't be so hard on him."

  Fezzik's father cared for his son greatly and he tried to keep his voice soft, so Fezzik wouldn't burst out crying. But it wasn't easy. "Honey," Fezzik's father said, "look: when you make a fist, you don't put your thumb inside your fingers, you keep your thumb outside your fingers, because if you keep your thumb inside your fingers and you hit somebody, what will happen is you'll break your thumb, and that isn't good, because the whole object when you hit somebody is to hurt the other guy, not yourself."

  Blurt. "I don't want to hurt anybody, Daddy."

  "I don't want you to hurt anybody, Fezzik. But if you know how to take care of yourself, and they know you know, they won't bother you anymore."

  Father. "I don't mind so much."

  "Well we do," his mother said. "They shouldn't pick on you, Fezzik, just because you need a shave."

  "Back to the fist," his father said. "Have we learned how?"

  Fezzik made a fist again, this time with the thumb outside.

  "He's a natural learner," his mother said. She cared for him as greatly as his father did.

  "Now hit me," Fezzik's father said.

  "No, I don't want to do that."

  "Hit your father, Fezzik."

  "Maybe he doesn't know how to hit," Fezzik's father said.

  "Maybe not." Fezzik's mother shook her head sadly.

  "Watch, honey," Fezzik's father said. "See? Simple. You just make a fist like you already know and then pull back your arm a little and aim for where you want to land and let go."

  "Show your father what a natural learner you are," Fezzik's mother said. "Make a punch. Hit him a good one."

  Fezzik made a punch toward his father's arm.

  Fezzik's father stared at the heavens again in frustration.

  "He came close to your arm," Fezzik's mother said quickly, before her son's face could cloud. "That was very good for a start, Fezzik; tell him what a good start he made," she said to her husband.

  "It was in the right general direction," Fezzik's father managed. "If only I'd been standing one yard farther west, it would have been perfect."

  "I'm very tired," Fezzik said. "When you learn so much so fast, you get so tired. I do anyway. Please may I be excused?"

  "Not yet," Fezzik's mother said.

  "Honey, please hit me, really hit me, try. You're a smart boy; hit me a good one," Fezzik's father begged.

  "Tomorrow, Daddy; I promise." Tears began to form.

  "Crying's not going to work, Fezzik," his father exploded. "It's not gonna work on me and it's not gonna work on your mother, you're gonna do what I say and what I say is you're gonna hit me and if it takes all night we're gonna stand right here and if it takes all week we're gonna stand right here and if it--"

  S

  P

  L

  A

  T

  !!!!

  (This was before emergency wards, and that was too bad, at least for Fezzik's father, because there was no place to take him after Fezzik's punch landed, except to his own bed, where he remained with his eyes shut for a day and a half, except for when the milkman came to fix his broken jaw--this was not before doctors, but in Turkey they hadn't gotten around to claiming the bone business yet; milkmen still were in charge of bones, the logic being that since milk was so good for bones, who would know more about broken bones than a milkman?) When Fezzik's father was able to open his eyes as much as he wanted, they had a family talk, the three of them.

  "You're very strong, Fezzik," his father said. (Actually, that is not strictly true. What his father meant was, "You're very strong, Fezzik." What came out was more like this: "Zzz'zz zzzz zzzzzz, Zzzzzz." Ever since the milkman had wired his jaws together, all he could manage was the letter z. But he had
a very expressive face, and his wife understood him perfectly.) "He says, 'You're very strong, Fezzik.'"

  "I thought I was," Fezzik answered. "Last year I hit a tree once when I was very mad. I knocked it down. It was a small tree, but still, I figured that had to mean something."

  "Z's zzzzzz zz zzzzz z zzzzzzzzz, Zzzzzz."

  "He says he's giving up being a carpenter, Fezzik."

  "Oh, no," Fezzik said. "You'll be all well soon, Daddy; the milkman practically promised me."

  "Z zzzz zz zzzz zz zzzzz z zzzzzzzzz, Zzzzzz."

  "He wants to give up being a carpenter, Fezzik."

  "But what will he do?"

  Fezzik's mother answered this one herself; she and her husband had been up half the night agreeing on the decision. "He's going to be your manager, Fezzik. Fighting is the national sport of Turkey. We're all going to be rich and famous."

  "But Mommy, Daddy, I don't like fighting."

  Fezzik's father reached out and gently patted his son's knee. "Zz'z zzzzz zz zz zzzzzzzzz," he said.

  "It's going to be wonderful" his mother translated.

  Fezzik only burst into tears.

  They had his first professional match in the village of Sandiki, on a steaming-hot Sunday. Fezzik's parents had a terrible time getting him into the ring. They were absolutely confident of victory, because they had worked very hard. They had taught Fezzik for three solid years before they mutually agreed that he was ready. Fezzik's father handled tactics and ring strategy, while his mother was more in charge of diet and training, and they had never been happier.

  Fezzik had never been more miserable. He was scared and frightened and terrified, all rolled into one. No matter how they reassured him, he refused to enter the arena. Because he knew something: even though outside he looked twenty, and his mustache was already coming along nicely, inside he was still this nine-year-old who liked rhyming things.

  "No," he said. "I won't, I won't, and you can't make me."

  "After all we've slaved for these three years," his father said. (His jaw was almost as good as new now.)

 
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