The princess bride, p.15
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       The Princess Bride, p.15

           William Goldman
 

  "He'll hurt me!" Fezzik said.

  "Life is pain," his mother said. "Anybody that says different is selling something."

  "Please. I'm not ready. I forget the holds. I'm not graceful and I fall down a lot. It's true."

  It was. Their only real fear was, were they rushing him? "When the going gets tough, the tough get going," Fezzik's mother said.

  "Get going, Fezzik," his father said.

  Fezzik stood his ground.

  "Listen, we're not going to threaten you," Fezzik's parents said, more or less together. "We all care for each other too much to pull any of that stuff. If you don't want to fight, nobody's going to force you. We'll just leave you alone forever." (Fezzik's picture of hell was being alone forever. He had told them that when he was five.) They marched into the arena then to face the champion of Sandiki.

  Who had been champion for eleven years, since he was twenty-four. He was very graceful and wide and stood six feet in height, only half a foot less than Fezzik.

  Fezzik didn't stand a chance.

  He was too clumsy; he kept falling down or getting his holds on backward so they weren't holds at all. The champion of Sandiki toyed with him. Fezzik kept getting thrown down or falling down or tumbling down or stumbling down. He always got up and tried again, but the champion of Sandiki was much too fast for him, and too clever, and much, much too experienced. The crowd laughed and ate baklava and enjoyed the whole spectacle.

  Until Fezzik got his arms around the champion of Sandiki.

  The crowd grew very quiet then.

  Fezzik lifted him up.

  No noise.

  Fezzik squeezed.

  And squeezed.

  "That's enough now," Fezzik's father said.

  Fezzik laid the other man down. "Thank you," he said. "You are a wonderful fighter and I was lucky."

  The ex-champion of Sandiki kind of grunted.

  "Raise your hands, you're the winner," his mother reminded.

  Fezzik stood there in the middle of the ring with his hands raised.

  "Booooo," said the crowd.

  "Animal."

  "Ape!"

  "Go-rilla!"

  "BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

  They did not linger long in Sandiki. As a matter of fact, it wasn't very safe from then on to linger long anywhere. They fought the champion of Ispir. "BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" The champion of Simal. "BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" They fought in Bolu. They fought in Zile.

  "BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

  "I don't care what anybody says," Fezzik's mother told him one winter afternoon. "You're my son and you're wonderful." It was gray and dark and they were hotfooting it out of Constantinople just as fast as they could because Fezzik had just demolished their champion before most of the crowd was even seated.

  "I'm not wonderful," Fezzik said. "They're right to insult me. I'm too big. Whenever I fight, it looks like I'm picking on somebody."

  "Maybe," Fezzik's father began a little hesitantly; "maybe, Fezzik, if you'd just possibly kind of sort of lose a few fights, they might not yell at us so much."

  The wife whirled on the husband. "The boy is eleven and already you want him to throw fights?"

  "Nothing like that, no, don't get all excited, but maybe if he'd even look like he was suffering a little, they'd let up on us."

  "I'm suffering," Fezzik said. (He was, he was.)

  "Let it show a little more."

  "I'll try, Daddy."

  "That's a good boy."

  "I can't help being strong; it's not my fault. I don't even exercise."

  "I think it's time to head for Greece," Fezzik's father said then. "We've beaten everyone in Turkey who'll fight us and athletics began in Greece. No one appreciates talent like the Greeks."

  "I just hate it when they go 'BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!'" Fezzik said. (He did. Now his private picture of hell was being left alone with everybody going "BOOOOOOOOOOO" at him forever.) "They'll love you in Greece," Fezzik's mother said.

  They fought in Greece.

  "AARRRGGGGH!!!" (AARRRGGGGH!!! was Greek for BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!) Bulgaria.

  Yugoslavia.

  Czechoslovakia. Romania.

  "BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

  They tried the Orient. The jujitsu champion of Korea. The karate champion of Siam. The kung fu champion of all India.

  "SSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!" (See note on AARRRGGGGH!!!)

  In Mongolia his parents died. "We've done everything we can for you, Fezzik, good luck," they said, and they were gone. It was a terrible thing, a plague that swept everything before it. Fezzik would have died too, only naturally he never got sick. Alone, he continued on, across the Gobi Desert, hitching rides sometimes with passing caravans. And it was there that he learned how to make them stop BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!ing.

  Fight groups.

  It all began in a caravan on the Gobi when the caravan head said, "I'll bet my camel drivers can take you." There were only three of them, so Fezzik said. "Fine," he'd try, and he did, and he won, naturally.

  And everybody seemed happy.

  Fezzik was thrilled. He never fought just one person again if it was possible. For a while he traveled from place to place battling gangs for local charities, but his business head was never much and, besides, doing things alone was even less appealing to him now that he was into his late teens than it had been before.

  He joined a traveling circus. All the other performers grumbled at him because, they said, he was eating more than his share of the food. So he stayed pretty much to himself except when it came to his work.

  But then, one night, when Fezzik had just turned twenty, he got the shock of his life: the BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!ing was back again. He could not believe it. He had just squeezed half a dozen men into submission, cracked the heads of half a dozen more. What did they want from him?

  The truth was simply this: he had gotten too strong. He would never measure himself, but everybody whispered he must be over seven feet tall, and he would never step on a scale, but people claimed he weighed four hundred. And not only that, he was quick now. All the years of experience had made him almost inhuman. He knew all the tricks, could counter all the holds.

  "Animal."

  "Ape!"

  "Go-rilla!"

  "BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

  That night, alone in his tent, Fezzik wept. He was a freak. (Speak--he still loved rhymes.) A two-eyed Cyclops. (Eye drops--like the tears that were dropping now, dropping from his half-closed eyes.) By the next morning, he had gotten control of himself: at least he still had his circus friends around him.

  That week the circus fired him. The crowds were BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!ing them now too, and the fat lady threatened to walk out and the midgets were fuming and that was it for Fezzik.

  This was in the middle of Greenland, and, as everybody knows, Greenland then as now was the loneliest place on the earth. In Greenland, there is one person for every twenty square miles of real estate. Probably the circus was pretty stupid taking a booking there, but that wasn't the point.

  The point was that Fezzik was alone.

  In the loneliest place in the world.

  Just sitting there on a rock watching the circus pull away.

  He was still sitting there the next day when Vizzini the Sicilian found him. Vizzini flattered him, promised to keep the BOOOOOOOOOOOS away. Vizzini needed Fezzik. But not half as much as Fezzik needed Vizzini. As long as Vizzini was around, you couldn't be alone. Whatever Vizzini said, Fezzik did. And if that meant crushing the head of the man in black...

  So be it.

  BUT NOT BY ambush. Not the coward's way. Nothing unsportsmanlike. His parents had always taught him to go by the rules. Fezzik stood in shadow, the great rock tight in his great hand. He could hear the footsteps of the man in black coming nearer. Nearer.

  Fezzik leaped from hiding and threw the rock with incredible power and perfect accuracy. It smashed into a boulder a foot away from the face of the man in black. "I did that on purpose," Fezzik said then, picking up another rock, holding it ready. "I didn't have to miss.
"

  "I believe you," the man in black said.

  They stood facing each other on the narrow mountain path.

  "Now what happens?" asked the man in black.

  "We face each other as God intended," Fezzik said. "No tricks, no weapons, skill against skill alone."

  "You mean you'll put down your rock and I'll put down my sword and we'll try to kill each other like civilized people, is that it?"

  "If you'd rather, I can kill you now," Fezzik said gently, and he raised the rock to throw. "I'm giving you a chance."

  "So you are and I accept it," said the man in black, and he began to take off his sword and scabbard. "Although, frankly, I think the odds are slightly in your favor at hand fighting."

  "I tell you what I tell everybody," Fezzik explained. "I cannot help being the biggest and strongest; it's not my fault."

  "I'm not blaming you," said the man in black.

  "Let's get to it then," Fezzik said, and he dropped his rock and got into fighting position, watching as the man in black slowly moved toward him. For a moment, Fezzik felt almost wistful. This was clearly a good fellow, even if he had killed Inigo. He didn't complain or try and beg or bribe. He just accepted his fate. No complaining, nothing like that. Obviously a criminal of character. (Was he a criminal, though, Fezzik wondered. Surely the mask would indicate that. Or was it worse than that: was he disfigured? His face burned away by acid perhaps? Or perhaps born hideous?) "Why do you wear a mask and hood?" Fezzik asked.

  "I think everybody will in the near future" was the man in black's reply. "They're terribly comfortable."

  They faced each other on the mountain path. There was a moment's pause. Then they engaged. Fezzik let the man in black fiddle around for a bit, tested the man's strength, which was considerable for someone who wasn't a giant. He let the man in black feint and dodge and try a hold here, a hold there. Then, when he was quite sure the man in black would not go to his maker embarrassed, Fezzik locked his arms tight around.

  Fezzik lifted.

  And squeezed.

  And squeezed.

  Then he took the remains of the man in black, snapped him one way, snapped him the other, cracked him with one hand in the neck, with the other at the spine base, locked his legs up, rolled his limp arms around them, and tossed the entire bundle of what had once been human into a nearby crevice.

  That was the theory, anyway.

  In fact, what happened was this:

  Fezzik lifted.

  And squeezed.

  And the man in black slipped free.

  Hmmm, thought Fezzik, that certainly was a surprise. I thought for sure I had him. "You're very quick," Fezzik complimented.

  "And a good thing too," said the man in black.

  Then they engaged again. This time Fezzik did not give the man in black a chance to fiddle. He just grabbed him, swung him around his head once, twice, smashed his skull against the nearest boulder, pounded him, pummeled him, gave him a final squeeze for good measure and tossed the remains of what once had been alive into a nearby crevice.

  Those were his intentions, anyway.

  In actuality, he never even got through the grabbing part with much success. Because no sooner had Fezzik's great hands reached out than the man in black dropped and spun and twisted and was loose and free and still quite alive.

  I don't understand a thing that's happening, Fezzik thought. Could I be losing my strength? Could there be a mountain disease that takes your strength? There was a desert disease that took my parents' strength. That must be it, I must have caught a plague, but if that is it, why isn't he weak? No, I must still be strong, it has to be something else, now what could it be?

  Suddenly he knew. He had not fought against one man in so long he had all but forgotten how. He had been fighting groups and gangs and bunches for so many years that the idea of having but a single opponent was slow in making itself known to him. Because you fought them entirely differently. When there were twelve against you, you made certain moves, tried certain holds, acted in certain ways. When there was but one, you had to completely readjust yourself. Quickly now, Fezzik went back through time. How had he fought the champion of Sandiki? He flashed through that fight in his mind, then reminded himself of all the other victories against other champions, the men from Ispir and Simal and Bolu and Zile. He remembered fleeing Constantinople because he had beaten their champion so quickly. So easily. Yes, Fezzik thought. Of course. And suddenly he readjusted his style to what it once had been.

  But by that time the man in black had him by the throat!

  The man in black was riding him, and his arms were locked across Fezzik's windpipe, one in front, one behind. Fezzik reached back but the man in black was hard to grasp. Fezzik could not get his arms around to his back and dislodge the enemy. Fezzik ran at a boulder and, at the last moment, spun around so that the man in black received the main force of the charge. It was a terrible jolt; Fezzik knew it was.

  But the grip on his windpipe grew ever tighter.

  Fezzik charged the boulder again, again spun, and again he knew the power of the blow the man in black had taken. But still the grip remained. Fezzik clawed at the man in black's arms. He pounded his giant fists against them.

  By now he had no air.

  Fezzik continued to struggle. He could feel a hollowness in his legs now; he could see the world beginning to pale. But he did not give up. He was the mighty Fezzik, lover of rhymes, and you did not give up, no matter what. Now the hollowness was in his arms and the world was snowing.

  Fezzik went to his knees.

  He pounded still, but feebly. He fought still, but his blows would not have harmed a child. No air. There was no more air. There was no more anything, not for Fezzik, not in this world. I am beaten, I am going to die, he thought just before he fell onto the mountain path.

  He was only half wrong.

  There is an instant between unconsciousness and death, and as the giant pitched onto the rocky path, that instant happened, and just before it happened, the man in black let go. He staggered to his feet and leaned against a boulder until he could walk. Fezzik lay sprawled, faintly breathing. The man in black looked around for a rope to secure the giant, gave up the search almost as soon as he'd begun. What good were ropes against strength like this. He would simply snap them. The man in black made his way back to where he'd dropped his sword. He put it back on.

  Two down and (the hardest) one to go...

  VIZZINI WAS WAITING for him.

  Indeed, he had set out a little picnic spread. From the knapsack that he always carried, he had taken a small handkerchief and on it he had placed two wine goblets. In the center was a small leather wine holder and, beside it, some cheese and some apples. The spot could not have been lovelier: a high point of the mountain path with a splendid view all the way back to Florin Channel. Buttercup lay helpless beside the picnic, gagged and tied and blindfolded. Vizzini held his long knife against her white throat.

  "Welcome," Vizzini called when the man in black was almost upon them.

  The man in black stopped and surveyed the situation.

  "You've beaten my Turk," Vizzini said.

  "It would seem so."

  "And now it is down to you. And it is down to me."

  "So that would seem too," the man in black said, edging just a half-step closer to the hunchback's long knife.

  With a smile the hunchback pushed the knife harder against Buttercup's throat. It was about to bring blood. "If you wish her dead, by all means keep moving," Vizzini said.

  The man in black froze.

  "Better," Vizzini nodded.

  No sound now beneath the moonlight.

  "I understand completely what you are trying to do," the Sicilian said finally, "and I want it quite clear that I resent your behavior. You are trying to kidnap what I have rightfully stolen, and I think it quite ungentlemanly."

  "Let me explain--" the man in black began, starting to edge forward.

  "You're kill
ing her!" the Sicilian screamed, shoving harder with the knife. A drop of blood appeared now at Buttercup's throat, red against white.

  The man in black retreated. "Let me explain," he said again, but from a distance.

  Again the hunchback interrupted. "There is nothing you can tell me I do not already know. I have not had the schooling equal to some, but for knowledge outside of books, there is no one in the world close to me. People say I read minds, but that is not, in all honesty, true. I merely predict the truth using logic and wisdom, and I say you are a kidnapper, admit it."

  "I will admit that, as a ransom item, she has value; nothing more."

  "I have been instructed to do certain things to her. It is very important that I follow my instructions. If I do this properly, I will be in demand for life. And my instructions do not include ransom, they include death. So your explanations are meaningless; we cannot do business together. You wish to keep her alive for ransom, whereas it is terribly important to me that she stop breathing in the very near future."

  "Has it occurred to you that I have gone to great effort and expense, as well as personal sacrifice, to reach this point," the man in black replied. "And that if I fail now, I might get very angry. And if she stops breathing in the very near future, it is entirely possible that you will catch the same fatal illness?"

  "I have no doubt you could kill me. Any man who can get by Inigo and Fezzik would have no trouble disposing of me. However, has it occurred to you that if you did that, then neither of us would get what we want--you having lost your ransom item, me my life."

  "We are at an impasse then," said the man in black.

  "I fear so," said the Sicilian. "I cannot compete with you physically, and you are no match for my brains."

  "You are that smart?"

  "There are no words to contain all my wisdom. I am so cunning, crafty and clever, so filled with deceit, guile and chicanery, such a knave, so shrewd, cagey as well as calculating, as diabolical as I am vulpine, as tricky as I am untrustworthy ... well, I told you there were not words invented yet to explain how great my brain is, but let me put it this way: the world is several million years old and several billion people have at one time or another trod upon it, but I, Vizzini the Sicilian, am, speaking with pure candor and modesty, the slickest, sleekest, sliest and wiliest fellow who has yet come down the pike."

  "In that case," said the man in black, "I challenge you to a battle of wits."

 
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