The princess bride, p.19
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       The Princess Bride, p.19

           William Goldman
 

  "How can you be sure?"

  "Well, because we're together, hand in hand, in love."

  "Oh yes," Buttercup said. "I keep forgetting that."

  Both her words and her tone were a trifle standoffish, something Westley surely would have noticed had not a R.O.U.S. attacked him from the tree branch, sinking its giant teeth into his unprotected shoulder, forcing him to earth in a very unexpected spurt of blood. The other two that had been following launched their attack then too, ignoring Buttercup, driving forward with all their hungry strength to Westley's bleeding shoulder.

  (Any discussion of the R.O.U.S.--Rodents of Unusual Size--must begin with the South American capybara, which has been known to reach a weight of 150 pounds. They are nothing but water hogs, however, and present very little danger. The largest pure rat is probably the Tasmanian, which has actually been weighed at one hundred pounds. But they have little agility, tending to sloth when they reach full growth, and most Tasmanian herdsmen have learned with ease to avoid them. The Fire Swamp R.O.U.S. were a pure rat strain, weighed usually eighty pounds, and had the speed of wolfhounds. They were also carnivorous, and capable of frenzy.) The rats struggled with each other to reach Westley's wound. Their enormous front teeth tore at the unprotected flesh of his left shoulder, and he had no idea if Buttercup was already half devoured; he only knew that if he didn't do something desperate right then and right there she soon would be.

  So he intentionally rolled his body into a spurt of flame.

  His clothes began to burn--that he expected--but, more important, the rats shied away from the heat and the flames for just an instant, but that was enough for him to reach and throw his long knife into the heart of the nearest beast.

  The other two turned instantly on their own kind and began eating it while it was still screaming.

  Westley had his sword by then, and with two quick thrusts, the trio of rats was disposed of. "Hurry!" he shouted to Buttercup, who stood frozen where she had been when the first rat landed. "Bandages, bandages," Westley cried. "Make me some bandages or we die," and, with that, he rolled onto the ground, tore off his burning clothes and set to work caking mud onto the deep wound in his shoulder. "They're like sharks, blood creatures; it's blood they thrive on." He smeared more and more mud into his wound. "We must stop my bleeding and we must cover the wound so they do not smell it. If they don't smell the blood, we'll survive. If they do, we're for it, so help me, please." Buttercup ripped her clothes into patches and ties, and they worked at the wound, caking the blood with mud from the floor of the Fire Swamp, then bandaging and rebandaging over it.

  "We'll know soon enough," Westley said, because two more rats were watching them. Westley stood, sword in hand. "If they charge, they smell it," he whispered.

  The giant rats stood watching.

  "Come," Westley whispered.

  Two more giant rats joined the first pair.

  Without warning, Westley's sword flashed, and the nearest rat was bleeding. The other three contented themselves with that for a while.

  Westley took Buttercup's hand and again they started to move.

  "How bad are you?" she said.

  "I am in something close to agony but we can talk about that later. Hurry now." They hurried. They had been in the Fire Swamp for one hour, and it turned out to be the easiest one they had of the six it took to cross it. But they crossed it. Alive and together. Hand very much in hand.

  It was nearly dusk when they at last saw the great ship Revenge far out in the deepest part of the bay. Westley, still within the confines of the Fire Swamp, sank, beaten, to his knees.

  For between him and his ship were more than a few inconveniences. From the north sailed in half the great Armada. From the south now, the other half. A hundred mounted horsemen, armored and armed. In front of them the Count. And out alone in front of all, the four whites with the Prince astride the leader. Westley stood. "We took too long in crossing. The fault is mine."

  "I accept your surrender," the Prince said.

  Westley held Buttercup's hand. "No one is surrendering," he said.

  "You're acting silly now," the Prince replied. "I credit you with bravery. Don't make yourself a fool."

  "What is so foolish about winning?" Westley wanted to know. "It's my opinion that in order to capture us, you will have to come into the Fire Swamp. We have spent many hours here now; we know where the Snow Sand waits. I doubt that you or your men will be any too anxious to follow us in here. And by morning we will have slipped away."

  "I doubt that somehow," said the Prince, and he gestured out to sea. Half the Armada had begun to give chase to the great ship Revenge. And the Revenge, alone, was sailing, as it had to do, away. "Surrender," the Prince said.

  "It will not happen."

  "SURRENDER!" the Prince shouted.

  "DEATH FIRST!" Westley roared.

  "...will you promise not to hurt him...?" Buttercup whispered.

  "What was that?" the Prince said. "What was that?" Westley said.

  Buttercup took a step forward and said, "If we surrender, freely and without struggle, if life returns to what it was one dusk ago, will you swear not to hurt this man?"

  Prince Humperdinck raised his right hand: "I swear on the grave of my soon-to-be-dead father and the soul of my already-dead mother that I shall not hurt this man, and if I do, may I never hunt again though I live a thousand years."

  Buttercup turned to Westley. "There," she said. "You can't ask for more than that, and that is the truth."

  "The truth," said Westley, "is that you would rather live with your Prince than die with your love."

  "I would rather live than die, I admit it."

  "We were talking of love, madam." There was a long pause. Then Buttercup said it:

  "I can live without love."

  And with that she left Westley alone.

  Prince Humperdinck watched her as she began the long cross to him. "When we are out of sight," he said to Count Rugen, "take that man in black and put him in the fifth level of the Zoo of Death."

  The Count nodded. "For a moment, I believed you when you swore."

  "I spoke truth; I never lie," the Prince replied. "I said Iwould not hurt him. But I never for a moment said he would not suffer pain. You will do the actual tormenting; I will only spectate." He opened his arms then for his Princess.

  "He belongs to the ship Revenge," Buttercup said. "He is--" she began, about to tell Westley's story, but that was not for her to repeat--"a simple sailor and I have known him since I was a child. Will you arrange that?"

  "Must I swear again?"

  "No need," Buttercup said, because she knew, as did everyone, that the Prince was more forthright than any Florinese.

  "Come along, my Princess." He took her hand.

  Buttercup went away with him.

  Westley watched it all. He stood silently at the edge of the Fire Swamp. It was darker now, but the flame spurts behind him outlined his face. He was glazed with fatigue. He had been bitten, cut, gone without rest, had assaulted the Cliffs of Insanity, had saved and taken lives. He had risked his world, and now it was walking away from him, hand in hand with a ruffian prince.

  Then Buttercup was gone, out of sight.

  Westley took a breath. He was aware of the score of soldiers starting to surround him, and probably he could have made a few of them perspire for their victory.

  But for what point?

  Westley sagged.

  "Come, sir." Count Rugen approached. "We must get you safely to your ship."

  "We are both men of action," Westley replied. "Lies do not become us."

  "Well spoken," said the Count, and with one sudden swing, he clubbed Westley into insensitivity.

  Westley fell like a beaten stone, his last conscious thought being of the Count's right hand; it was six-fingered, and Westley could never quite remember having encountered that deformity before....

  Six

  The Festivities

  THIS IS ONE of thos
e chapters again where Professor Bongiorno of Columbia, the Florinese guru, claims that Morgenstern's satiric genius is at its fullest flower. (That's the way this guy talks: 'fullest flower,' 'delicious drolleries'--on and on.)

  This festivities chapter is mostly detailed descriptions of guess what? Bingo! The festivities. It's like eighty-nine days till the nuptials and every high muckamuck in Florin has to give a 'do' for the couple, and what Morgenstern fills his pages with is how the various richies of the time entertained. What kind of parties, what kind of food, who did the decorations, how did the seating arrangements get settled, all that kind of thing.

  The only interesting part, but it's not worth going through forty-four pages for, is that Prince Humperdinck gets more and more interested and mannerly toward Buttercup, cutting down even a little on his hunting activities. And, more important, because of the foiling of the kidnapping attempt, three things happen: (1) everyone is pretty well convinced that the plot was engineered by Guilder, so relations between the countries are more than a little strained; (2) Buttercup is just adored by everybody because the rumors are all over that she acted very brave and even came through the Fire Swamp alive and (3) Prince Humperdinck is, at last, in his own land, a hero. He was never popular, what with his hunting fetish and leaving the country to kind of rot once his old man got senile, but the way he foiled the kidnapping made everybody realize that this was some brave fella and they were lucky to have him next in line to lead them.

  Anyhow, these forty-four pages cover just about the first month of party giving. And it's not till the end of that, that, for my money, things get going again. Buttercup is in bed, pooped, it's late, the end of another long party, and as she waits for sleep, she wonders what sea Westley is riding on, and the giant and the Spaniard, whatever happened to them? So eventually, in three quick flashbacks, Morgenstern returns to what I think is the story.

  ***

  WHEN INIGO REGAINED consciousness, it was still night on the Cliffs of Insanity. Far below, the waters of Florin Channel pounded. Inigo stirred, blinked, tried to rub his eyes, couldn't.

  His arms were tied together around a tree.

  Inigo blinked again, banishing cobwebs. He had gone on his knees to the man in black, ready for death. Clearly, the victor had other notions. Inigo looked around as best he could, and there it was, the six-fingered sword, glittering in the moonlight like lost magic. Inigo stretched his right leg as far as it would go and managed to touch the handle. Then it was simply a matter of inching the weapon close enough to be graspable by one hand, and then it was an even simpler task to slash his bindings. He was dizzy when he stood, and he rubbed his head behind his ear, where the man in black had struck him. A lump, sizable, to be sure, but not a major problem.

  The major problem was what to do now?

  Vizzini had strict instructions for occasions such as this, when a plan went wrong: Go back to the beginning. Back to the beginning and wait for Vizzini, then regroup, replan, start again. Inigo had even made a little rhyme out of it for Fezzik so the giant would not have problems remembering what to do in time of trouble: "Fool, fool, back to the beginning is the rule."

  Inigo knew precisely where the beginning was. They had gotten the job in Florin City itself, the Thieves Quarter. Vizzini had made the arrangements alone, as he always did. He had met with their employer, had accepted the job, had planned it, all in the Thieves Quarter. So the Thieves Quarter was clearly the place to go.

  Only, Inigo hated it there. Everybody was so dangerous, big, mean and muscular, and so what if he was the greatest fencer in the world, who'd know it to look at him? He looked like a skinny Spanish guy it might be fun to rob. You couldn't walk around with a sign saying, "Be careful, this is the greatest fencer since the death of the Wizard of Corsica. Do not burgle."

  Besides, and here Inigo felt deep pain, he wasn't that great a fencer, not anymore, he couldn't be, hadn't he just been beaten? Once, true, he had been a titan, but now, now--

  ***

  What happens here that you aren't going to read is the six-page soliloquy from Inigo in which Morgenstern, through Inigo, reflects on the anguish of fleeting glory. The reason for the soliloquy here is that Morgenstern's previous book had gotten bombed by the critics and also hadn't sold beans. (Aside--did you know that Robert Browning's first book of poems didn't sell one copy? True. Even his mother didn't buy it at her local bookstore. Have you ever heard anything more humiliating? How would you like to have been Browning and it's your first book and you have these secret hopes that now, now, you'll be somebody. Established, Important. And you give it a week before you ask the publisher how things are going, because you don't want to seem pushy or anything. And then maybe you drop by, and it was probably all very English and understated in those days, and you're Browning and you chitchat around a bit, before you drop the biggie: 'Oh, by the way, any notions yet on how my poems might be doing?' And then his editor, who has been dreading this moment, probably says, 'Well, you know how it is with poetry these days; nothing's taking off like it used to, requires a bit of time for the word to get around.' And then finally, somebody had to say it. 'None, Bob. Sorry, Bob, no, we haven't yet had one authenticated sale. We thought for a bit that Hatchards had a potential buyer down by Piccadilly, but it didn't quite work out. Sorry, Bob; of course we'll keep you posted in the event of a breakthrough.' End of Aside.)

  Anyway, Inigo finishes his speech to the Cliffs and spends the next few hours finding a fisherman who sails him back to Florin City.

  ***

  THE THIEVES QUARTER was worse than he remembered. Always, before, Fezzik had been with him, and they made rhymes, and Fezzik was enough to keep any thief away.

  Inigo moved panicked up the dark streets, desperately afraid. Why this giant fear? What was he afraid of?

  He sat on a filthy stoop and pondered. Around him there were cries in the night and, from the alehouses, vulgar laughter. He was afraid, he realized then, because as he sat there, gripping the six-fingered sword for confidence, he was suddenly back to what he had been before Vizzini had found him.

  A failure.

  A man without point, with no attachment to tomorrow. Inigo had not touched brandy in years. Now he felt his fingers fumbling for money. Now he heard his footsteps running toward the nearest alehouse. Now he saw his money on the counter. Now he felt the brandy bottle in his hands.

  Back to the stoop he ran. He opened the bottle. He smelled the rough brandy. He took a sip. He coughed. He took a swallow. He coughed again. He gulped it down and coughed and gulped some more and half began a smile.

  His fears were starting to leave him.

  After all, why should he have even been afraid? He was Inigo Montoya (the bottle was half gone now), son of the great Domingo Montoya, so what was there in the world worth fearing? (Now all the brandy was gone.) How dare fear approach a wizard such as Inigo Montoya? Well, never again. (Into the second bottle.) Never never never never again.

  He sat alone and confident and strong. His life was straight and fine. He had money enough for brandy, and if you had that, you had the world.

  The stoop was wretched and bleak. Inigo slumped there, quite contented, clutching the bottle in his once-trembling hands. Existence was really very simple when you did what you were told. And nothing could be simpler or better than what he had in store.

  All he had to do was wait and drink until Vizzini came....

  FEZZIK HAD NO idea how long he was unconscious. He only knew, as he staggered to his feet on the mountain path, that his throat was very sore where the man in black had strangled him.

  What to do?

  The plans had all gone wrong. Fezzik closed his eyes, trying to think--there was a proper place to go when plans went wrong, but he couldn't quite remember it. Inigo had even made a rhyme up for him so he wouldn't forget, and now, even with that, he was so stupid he had forgotten. Was that it? Was it "Stupid, stupid, go and wait for Vizzini with Cupid"? That rhymed, but where was the Cupid? "Dummy, dumm
y, go out now and fill your tummy." That rhymed too, but what kind of instructions were those?

  What to do, what to do?

  "Dunce, dunce, use your brains and do it right for once"? No help. Nothing was any help. He never had done anything right, not in his whole life, until Vizzini came, and without another thought, Fezzik ran off into the night after the Sicilian.

  Vizzini was napping when he got there. He had been drinking wine and dozed off. Fezzik dropped to his knees and put his hands in prayer position. "Vizzini, I'm sorry," he began.

  Vizzini napped on.

  Fezzik shook him gently.

  Vizzini did not wake.

  Not so gently this time.

  Nothing.

  "Oh I see, you're dead," Fezzik said. He stood up. "He's dead, Vizzini is," he said softly. And then, with not a bit of help from his brain, a great scream of panic burst from his throat into the night: "Inigo!" and he whirled back down the mountain path, because if Inigo was alive, it would be all right; it wouldn't be the same, no, it could never be that without Vizzini to order them and insult them as only he could, but at least there would be time for poetry, and when Fezzik reached the Cliffs of Insanity he said, "Inigo, Inigo, here I am" to the rocks and "I'm here, Inigo; it's your Fezzik" to the trees and "Inigo, INIGO, ANSWER ME PLEASE" all over until there was no other conclusion to draw but that just as there was now no Vizzini, so there was also no Inigo, and that was hard.

  It was, in point of fact, too hard for Fezzik, so he began to run, crying out, "Be with you in a minute, Inigo," and "Right behind you, Inigo" and "Hey, Inigo, wait up" (wait up, straight up which was the way he ran, and wouldn't there be fun with rhymes once he and Inigo were together again), but after an hour or so of shouting his throat gave out because he had, after all, been strangled almost to death in the very recent past. On he ran, on and on and on until finally he reached a tiny village and found, just outside town, some nice rocks that formed kind of a cave, almost big enough for him to stretch out in. He sat with his back against a rock and his hands around his knees and his throat hurting until the village boys found him. They held their breath and crept as close as they dared. Fezzik hoped they would go away, so he froze, pretending to be off with Inigo and Inigo would say "barrel" and Fezzik right quick would come back "carol" and maybe they would sing a little something until Inigo said "serenade" and you couldn't stump Fezzik with one that easy because of "centigrade" and then Inigo would make a word about the weather and Fezzik would rhyme it and that was how it went until the village boys stopped being afraid of him. Fezzik could tell that because they were creeping very close to him now and all of a sudden yelling their lungs out and making crazy faces. He didn't really blame them; he looked like the kind of person you did that to, mocked. His clothes were torn and his throat was gone and his eyes were wild and he probably would have yelled too if he'd been their age.

 
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