The princess bride, p.17
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       The Princess Bride, p.17
 

           William Goldman

  Now he mounted and was gone.

  It took him considerably less than an hour to reach the edge of the Cliffs of Insanity. He dismounted, went to his knees, commenced his study of the terrain. There had been a rope tied around a giant oak. The bark at the base was broken and scraped, so probably whoever first reached the top untied the rope and whoever was on the rope at that moment was three hundred feet from the peak and somehow survived the climb.

  A great jumble of footprints caused him trouble. It was hard to ascertain what had gone on. Perhaps a conference, because two sets of footprints seemed to lead off while one remained pacing the cliff edge. Then there were two on the cliff edge. Humperdinck examined the prints until he was certain of two things: (1) a fencing match had taken place, (2) the combatants were both masters. The stride length, the quickness of the foot feints, all clearly revealed to his unfailing eye, made him reassess his second conclusion. They were at least masters. Probably better.

  Then he closed his eyes and concentrated on smelling out the blood. Surely, in a match of such ferocity, blood must have been spilled. Now it was a matter of giving his entire body over to his sense of smell. The Prince had worked at this for many years, ever since a wounded tigress had surprised him from a tree limb while he was tracking her. He had let his eyes follow the blood hunt then, and it had almost killed him. Now he trusted only his olfactories. If there was blood within a hundred yards, he would find it.

  He opened his eyes, moved without hesitation toward a group of large boulders until he found the blood drops. There were few of them, and they were dry. But less than three hours old. Humperdinck smiled. When you had the whites under you, three hours was a finger snap.

  He retraced the duel then, for it confused him. It seemed to range from cliff edge and back, then return to the cliff edge. And sometimes the left foot seemed to be leading, sometimes the right, which made no logical sense at all. Clearly swordsmen were changing hands, but why would a master do that unless his good arm was wounded to the point of uselessness, and that clearly had not happened, because a wound of that depth would have left blood spoors and there was simply not enough blood in the area to indicate that.

  Strange, strange. Humperdinck continued his wanderings. Stranger still, the battle could not have ended in death. He knelt by the outline of a body. Clearly, a man had lain unconscious here. But again, no blood.

  "There was a mighty duel," Prince Humperdinck said, directing his comment toward Count Rugen, who had finally caught up, together with a contingent of a hundred mounted men-at-arms. "My guess would be..." And for a moment the Prince paused, following footsteps. "Would be that whoever fell here, ran off there," and he pointed one way, "and that whoever was the victor ran off along the mountain path in almost precisely the opposite direction. It is also my opinion that the victor was following the path taken by the Princess."

  "Shall we follow them both?" the Count asked.

  "I think not," Prince Humperdinck replied. "Whoever is gone is of minimal importance, since whoever has the Princess is the whoever we're after. And because we don't know the nature of the trap we might be being led into, we need all the arms we have in one band. Clearly, this has been planned by countrymen of Guilder, and nothing must ever be put past them."

  "You think this is a trap, then?" the Count asked.

  "I always think everything is a trap until proven otherwise," the Prince answered. "Which is why I'm still alive."

  And with that, he was back aboard a white and galloping.

  When he reached the mountain path where the hand fight happened, the Prince did not even bother dismounting. Everything that could be seen was quite visible from horseback.

  "Someone has beaten a giant," he said, when the Count was close enough. "The giant has run away, do you see?"

  The Count, of course, saw nothing but rock and mountain path. "I would not think to doubt you."

  "And look there!" cried the Prince, because now he saw, for the first time, in the rubble of the mountain path, the footsteps of a woman. "The Princess is alive!"

  And again the whites were thundering across the mountain.

  When the Count caught up with him again, the Prince was kneeling over the still body of a hunchback. The Count dismounted. "Smell this," the Prince said, and he handed up a goblet.

  "Nothing," the Count said. "No odor at all."

  "Iocane," the Prince replied. "I would bet my life on it. I know of nothing else that kills so silently." He stood up then. "The Princess was still alive; her footprints follow the path." He shouted at the hundred mounted men: "There will be great suffering in Guilder if she dies!" On foot now, he ran along the mountain path, following the footsteps that he alone could see. And when those footsteps left the path for wilder terrain, he followed still. Strung out behind him, the Count and all the soldiers did their best to keep up. Men stumbled, horses fell, even the Count tripped from time to time. Prince Humperdinck never even broke stride. He ran steadily, mechanically, his barrel legs pumping like a metronome.

  It was two hours after dawn when he reached the steep ravine.

  "Odd," he said to the Count, who was tiring badly.

  The Count continued only to breathe deeply.

  "Two bodies fell to the bottom, and they did not come back up."

  "That is odd," the Count managed.

  "No, that isn't what's odd," the Prince corrected. "Clearly, the kidnapper did not come back up because the climb was too steep, and our cannons must have let him know that they were closely pursued. His decision, which I applaud, was to make better time running along the ravine floor."

  The Count waited for the Prince to continue.

  "It's just odd that a man who is a master fencer, a defeater of giants, an expert in the use of iocane powder, would not know what this ravine opens into."

  "And what is that?" asked the Count.

  "The Fire Swamp," said Prince Humperdinck.

  "Then we have him," said the Count.

  "Precisely so." It was a well-documented trait of his to smile only just before the kill; his smile was very much in evidence now....

  WESTLEY, INDEED, HAD not the least idea that he was racing dead into the Fire Swamp. He knew only, once Buttercup was down at the ravine bottom beside him, that to climb out would take, as Prince Humperdinck had assumed, too much time. Westley noted only that the ravine bottom was flat rock and heading in the general direction he wanted to follow. So he and Buttercup fled along, both of them very much aware that gigantic forces were following them, and, undoubtedly, cutting into their lead.

  The ravine grew increasingly sheer as they went along, and Westley soon realized that whereas once he probably could have helped her through the climb, now there was simply no way of doing so. He had made his choice and there was no changing possible: wherever the ravine led was their destination, and that, quite simply, was that.

  (At this point in the story, my wife wants it known that she feels violently cheated, not being allowed the scene of reconciliation on the ravine floor between the lovers. My reply to her--

  ***

  This is me, and I'm not trying to be confusing, but the above paragraph that I'm cutting into now is verbatim Morgenstern; he was continually referring to his wife in the unabridged book, saying that she loved the next section or she thought that, all in all, the book was extraordinarily brilliant. Mrs. Morgenstern was rarely anything but supportive to her husband, unlike some wives I could mention (sorry about that, Helen), but here's the thing: I got rid of almost all the intrusions when he told us what she thought. I didn't think the device added a whole lot, and, besides, he was always complimenting himself through her and today we know that hyping something too much does more harm than good, as any defeated political candidate will tell you when he pays his television bills. The thing of it is, I left this particular reference in because, for once, I totally happen to agree with Mrs. Morgenstern. I think it was unfair not to show the reunion. So I wrote one of my own, what I felt Butt
ercup and Westley might have said, but Hiram, my editor, felt that made me just as unfair as Morgenstern here. If you're going to abridge a book in the author's own words, you can't go around sticking your own in. That was Hiram's point, and we really went round and round, arguing over, I guess, a period of a month, in person, through letters, on the phone. Finally we compromised to this extent: this, what you're reading in the regular type, is strict Morgenstern. Verbatim. Cut, yes; changed, no. But I got Hiram to agree that Harcourt would at least print up my scene--Ballantine has agreed to do the same, and now that this is back with Harcourt they've taken it up again, too--it's all of three pages; big deal--and if any of you want to see what it came out like, drop a note or a postcard to Jelenka Harvey at Harcourt Trade Publishers, 15 East 26th Street, New York City, and just mention you'd like the reunion scene. Don't forget to include your return address; you'd be stunned at how many people send in for things and don't put their return address down. The publishers agreed to spring for the postage costs, so your total expense is the note or card or whatever. It would really upset me if I turned out to be the only modern American writer who gave the impression that he was with a generous publishing house (they all stink--sorry about that, Mr. Jovanovich), so let me just add here that the reason they are so generous in paying this giant postage bill is because they fully expect nobody to write in. So please, if you have the least interest at all or even if you don't, write in for my reunion scene. You don't have to read it--I'm not asking that--but I would love to cost those publishing geniuses a few dollars, because, let's face it, they're not spending much on advertising my books. Let me just repeat the address for you, ZIP code and all:

  Jelenka Harvey

  Harcourt Trade Publishers

  15 East 26th Street

  New York, NY 10010*

  and just ask for your copy of the reunion scene. This has gone longer than I planned, so I'm going to repeat the Morgenstern paragraph I interrupted; it'll read better. Over and out.

  ***

  (AT THIS POINT in the story, my wife wants it known that she feels violently cheated, not being allowed the scene of reconciliation on the ravine floor between the lovers. My reply to her is simply this: (a) each of God's beings, from the lowliest on up, is entitled to at least a few moments of genuine privacy. (b) What actually was spoken, while moving enough to those involved at the actual time, flattens like toothpaste when transferred to paper for later reading: "my dove," "my only," "bliss, bliss," et cetera. (c) Nothing of importance in an expository way was related, because every time Buttercup began "Tell me about yourself," Westley quickly cut her off with "Later, beloved; now is not the time." However, it should be noted, in fairness to all, that (1) he did weep; (2) her eyes did not remain precisely dry; (3) there was more than one embrace; and (4) both parties admitted that, without any qualifications whatsoever, they were more than a little glad to see each other. Besides, (5) within a quarter of an hour, they were arguing. It began quite innocently, the two of them kneeling, facing each other, Westley holding her perfect face in his quick hands. "When I left you," he whispered, "you were already more beautiful than anything I dared to dream. In our years apart, my imaginings did their best to improve on your perfection. At night, your face was forever behind my eyes. And now I see that that vision who kept me company in my loneliness was a hag compared to the beauty now before me."

  "Enough about my beauty," Buttercup said. "Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I've got a mind, Westley. Talk about that."

  "Throughout eternity I shall do that very thing," he told her. "But now we haven't time." He made it to his feet. The ravine fall had shaken and battered him, but all his bones survived the trip uncracked. He helped her to her feet.

  "Westley?" Buttercup said then. "Just before I started down after you, while I was still up there, I could hear you saying something but the words were indistinct."

  "I've forgotten whatever it was."

  "Terrible liar."

  He smiled at her and kissed her cheek. "It's not important, believe me; the past has a way of being past."

  "We must not begin with secrets from each other." She meant it.

  He could tell that. "Trust me," he tried.

  "I do. So tell me your words or I shall be given reason not to."

  Westley sighed. "What I was trying to get through to you, beloved sweet; what I was, as a matter of accurate fact, shouting with everything I had left, was: 'Whatever you do, stay up there! Don't come down here! Please!'"

  "You didn't want to see me."

  "Of course I wanted to see you. I just didn't want to see you down here. "

  "Why ever not?"

  "Because now, my precious, we're more or less kind of trapped. I can't climb out of here and bring you with me without it taking all day. I can get out myself, most likely, without it taking all day, but with the addition of your lovely bulk, it's not about to happen."

  "Nonsense; you climbed the Cliffs of Insanity, and this isn't nearly that steep."

  "And it took a little out of me too, let me tell you. And after that little effort, I tangled with a fella who knew a little something about fencing. And after that, I spent a few happy moments grappling with a giant. And after that, I had to outfake a Sicilian to death when any mistake meant it was a knife in the throat for you. And after that I've run my lungs out a couple of hours. And after that I was pushed two hundred feet down a rock ravine. I'm tired, Buttercup; do you understand tired? I've put in a night, is what I'm trying to get through to you."

  "I'm not stupid, you know."

  "Quit bragging."

  "Stop being rude."

  "When was the last time you read a book? The truth now. And picture books don't count--I mean something with print in it."

  Buttercup walked away from him. "There're other things to read than print," she said, "and the Princess of Hammersmith is displeased with you and is thinking seriously of going home." With no more words, she whirled into his arms then, saying, "Oh, Westley, I didn't mean that, I didn't, I didn't, not a single syllabub of it."

  Now Westley knew that she meant to say "not a single syllable of it," because a syllabub was something you ate, with cream and wine mixed in together to form the base. But he also knew an apology when he heard one. So he held her very close, and shut his loving eyes, and only whispered, "I knew it was false, believe me, every single syllabub."

  And that out of the way, they started running as fast as they could along the flat-rock floor of the ravine.)

  WESTLEY, NATURALLY ENOUGH, was considerably ahead of Buttercup with the realization that they were heading into the Fire Swamp. Whether it was a touch of sulphur riding a breeze or a flick of yellow flame far ahead in the daylight, he could not say for sure. But once he realized what was about to happen, he began as casually as possible to find a way to avoid it. A quick glance up the sheer ravine sides ruled out any possibility of his getting Buttercup past the climb. He dropped to the ground, as he had been doing every few minutes, to test the speed of their trackers. Now, he guessed them to be less than half an hour behind and gaining.

  He rose and ran with her, faster, neither of them spending breath in conversation. It was only a matter of time before she understood what they were about to be into, so he decided to beat back her panic in any way possible. "I think we can slow down a bit now," he told her, slowing down a bit. "They're still well behind."

  Buttercup took a deep breath of relief.

  Westley made a show of checking their surroundings. Then he gave her his best smile. "With any luck at all," he said, "we should soon be safely in the Fire Swamp."

  Buttercup heard his speech, of course. But she did not, she did not, take it well....

  A FEW WORDS now on two related subjects: (1) fire swamps in general and (2) the Florin/Guilder Fire Swamp in particular.

  (1) Fire swamps are, of course, entirely misnamed. As to why this has happened, no one knows, though probably the colorful quality of the two words together is
enough. Simply, there are swamps which contain a large percentage of sulphur and other gas bubbles that burst continually into flame. They are covered with lush giant trees that shadow the ground, making the flame bursts seem particularly dramatic. Because they are dark, they are almost always quite moist, thereby attracting the standard insect and alligator community that prefers a moist climate. In other words, a fire swamp is just a swamp, period; the rest is embroidery.

  (2) The Florin/Guilder Fire Swamp did and does have some particular odd characteristics: (a) the existence of Snow Sand and (b) the presence of the R.O.U.S., about which, a bit more later. Snow Sand is usually, again incorrectly, identified with lightning sand. Nothing could be less accurate. Lightning sand is moist and basically destroys by drowning. Snow Sand is as powdery as anything short of talcum, and destroys by suffocation.

  Most particularly though, the Florin/Guilder Fire Swamp was used to frighten children. There was not a child in either country that at one time or another was not, when misbehaving very badly, threatened with abandonment in the Fire Swamp. "Do that one more time, you're going to the Fire Swamp" is as common as "Clean your plate; people are starving in China." And so, as children grew, so did the danger of the Fire Swamp in their enlarging imaginations. No one, of course, ever actually went into the Fire Swamp, although, every year or so, a diseased R.O.U.S. might wander out to die, and its discovery would only add to the myth and the horror. The largest known fire swamp is, of course, within a day's drive of Perth. It is impenetrable and over twenty-five miles square. The one between Florin and Guilder was barely a third that size. No one had been able to discover if it was impenetrable or not.

 
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