The princess bride, p.20
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       The Princess Bride, p.20

           William Goldman
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  It was only when they found him funny that he found it, though he did not know the word, degrading. No more yelling. Just laughter now. Laughter, Fezzik thought, and then he thought giraffeter, because that's all he was to them, some huge funny thing that couldn't make much noise. Laughter, giraffeter, from now to hereafter.

  Fezzik huddled up in his cave and tried looking on the bright side. At least they weren't throwing things at him.

  Not yet, anyway.

  WESTLEY AWOKE CHAINED in a giant cage. His shoulder was beginning to fester from the gnawing and digging that the R.O.U.S. had done into his flesh. He ignored his discomfort, momentarily, to try and adjust to his surroundings.

  He was certainly underground. It was not the lack of windows that made that sure; more the dankness. From somewhere above him now, he could hear animal sounds: an occasional lion roar, the yelp of the cheetah.

  Shortly after his return to consciousness, the albino appeared, bloodless, with skin as pale as dying birch. The candlelight that served to illuminate the cage made the albino seem totally like a creature who had never seen the sun. The albino held a tray which carried many things, bandages and food, healing powders and brandy.

  "Where are we?" from Westley.

  A shrug from the albino.

  "Who are you?"

  Shrug.

  That was almost the entire extent of the fellow's conversation. Westley asked question after question while the albino tended and redressed his wound, then fed him food that was warm and surprisingly good and plentiful.

  Shrug.

  Shrug.

  "Who knows I'm here?"

  Shrug.

  "Lie, but tell me something--give an answer. Who knows I'm here?"

  Whispered: "I know. They know."

  "They?"

  Shrug.

  "The Prince and the Count, you mean?"

  Nod.

  "And that is all?"

  Nod.

  "When I was brought in I was half conscious. The Count was giving the orders, but three soldiers were carrying me. They know too."

  Shake. Whispered: "Knew."

  "They're dead, that's what you're saying?"

  Shrug.

  "Am I to die then?"

  Shrug.

  Westley lay back on the floor of the giant underground cage watching as the albino silently reloaded the tray, glided from sight. If the soldiers were dead, surely it was not unreasonable to assume that he would eventually follow. But if they wanted his erasure, surely it was also not unreasonable to assume that they had not the least intention of doing it immediately, else why tend his wounds, why return his strength with good warm food? No, his death would be a while yet. But in the meantime, considering the personalities of his captors, it was finally not unreasonable to assume that they would do their best to make him suffer.

  Greatly.

  Westley closed his eyes. There was pain coming and he had to be ready for it. He had to prepare his brain, he had to get his mind controlled and safe from their efforts, so that they could not break him. He would not let them break him. He would hold together against anything and all. If only they gave him sufficient time to make ready, he knew he could defeat pain. It turned out they gave him sufficient time (it was months before the Machine was ready).

  But they broke him anyway.

  AT THE END of the thirtieth day of festivities, with sixty days more of partying to enjoy, Buttercup was genuinely concerned that she might lack the strength to endure. Smile, smile, hold hands, bow and thank, over and over. She was simply exhausted from one month; how was she to survive twice that?

  It turned out, because of the King's health, to be both easy and sad. For with fifty-five days to go, Lotharon began to weaken terribly.

  Prince Humperdinck ordered new doctors brought in. (There was still the last miracle man alive, Max, but since they had fired him long before, bringing him back on the case now was simply not deemed wise; if he was incompetent then, when Lotharon was only desperately ill, how could he suddenly be a cure-all now, with Lotharon dying?) The new doctors all agreed on various tried-and-true medications, and within forty-eight hours of their coming on the case, the King was dead.

  The wedding date, of course, was unchanged--it wasn't every day a country had a five hundredth anniversary--but all the festivities were either curtailed entirely or vastly cut down. And Prince Humperdinck became, forty-five days before the wedding, King of Florin, and that changed everything, because, before, he had taken nothing but his hunting seriously, and now he had to learn, learn everything, learn to run a country, and he buried himself in books and wise men and how did you tax this and when should you tax that and foreign entanglements and who could be trusted and how far and with what? And before her lovely eyes, Humperdinck changed from a man of fear and action to one of frenzied wisdom, because he had to get it all straight now before any other country dared interfere with the future of Florin, so the wedding, when it actually took place, was a tiny thing and brief, sandwiched in between a ministers' meeting and a treasury crisis, and Buttercup spent her first afternoon as queen wandering around the castle not knowing what in the world to do with herself. It wasn't until King Humperdinck walked out on the balcony with her to greet the gigantic throng that had spent the day in patient waiting that she realized it had happened, she was the Queen, her life, for whatever it was worth, belonged now to the people.

  They stood together on the castle balcony, accepting the cheers, the cries, the endless thunderous "hip hips," until Buttercup said, "Please, may I walk once more among them?" and the King said with a nod that she might and down she went again, as on the day of the wedding announcement, radiant and alone, and again the people swept apart to let her pass, weeping and cheering and bowing and--

  --and then one person booed.

  On the balcony watching it all Humperdinck reacted instantly, gesturing soldiers into the area where the sound had come from, dispatching more troops quickly down to surround the Queen, and like clockwork Buttercup was safe, the booer apprehended and led away.

  "Hold a moment," Buttercup said, still shaken by the unexpectedness of what had happened. The soldier who held the booer stopped. "Bring her to me," Buttercup said, and in a moment the booer was right there, eye to eye.

  It was an ancient woman, withered and bent, and Buttercup thought of all the faces that had gone by in her lifetime, but this one she could not remember. "Have we met?" the Queen asked.

  The old one shook her head.

  "Then why? Why on this day? Why do you insult the Queen?"

  "Because you are not worthy of cheers," the old woman said, and suddenly she was yelling, "You had love in your hands and you gave it up for gold!" She turned to the crowd. "It is true what I tell you--there was love alongside her in the Fire Swamp and she dropped it from her fingers like garbage, and that is what she is, the Queen of Garbage."

  "I had given my word to the Prince--" Buttercup began, but the old woman would not be quieted.

  "Ask her how she got through the Fire Swamp? Ask her if she did it alone? She threw love away to be the Queen of Grime, the Queen of Muck--I am old and life means nothing to me, so I am the only person in all this crowd to dare to tell truth, and truth says bow to the Queen of Feculence if you want to, but not I. Cheer the Queen of Slime and Ordure if you want to, but not I. Rave over the beauty of the Queen of Cesspools, but not I. Not I!" She was advancing on Buttercup now.

  "Take her away," Buttercup ordered.

  But the soldiers could not stop her, and the old woman kept coming on, her voice getting LOUDER and louder and Louder! and louder! and LOUDER and LOUDER! and--

  Buttercup woke up screaming.

  She was in her bed. Alone. Safe. The wedding was still sixty days away.

  But her nightmares had begun.

  The next night she dreamed of giving birth to their first child and

  ***

  Interruption, and hey, how about giving old Morgenstern credit for a major league fa
ke-out there. I mean, didn't you think for a while at least that they really were married? I did.

  It's one of my biggest memories of my father reading. I had pneumonia, remember, but I was a little better now, and madly caught up in the book, and one thing you know when you're ten is that, no matter what, there's gonna be a happy ending. They can sweat all they want to scare you, the authors, but back of it all you know, you just have no doubt, that in the long run justice is going to win out. And Westley and Buttercup--well, they had their troubles, sure, but they were going to get married and live happily ever after. I would have bet the family fortune if I'd found a sucker big enough to take me on.

  Well, when my father got through with that sentence where the wedding was sandwiched between the ministers' meeting and the treasury whatever, I said, 'You read that wrong.'

  My father's this little bald barber--remember that too? And kind of illiterate. Well, you just don't challenge a guy who has trouble reading and say he's read something incorrectly, because that's really threatening. 'I'm doing the reading,' he said.

  'I know that but you got it wrong. She didn't marry that rotten Humperdinck. She marries Westley.'

  'It says right here,' my father began, a little huffy, and he starts going over it again.

  'You must have skipped a page then. Something. Get it right, huh?'

  By now he was more than a tiny bit upset. 'I skipped nothing. I read the words. The words are there, I read them, good night,' and off he went.

  'Hey please, no,' I called after him, but he's stubborn, and, next thing, my mother was in saying, 'Your father says his throat is too sore; I told him not to read so much,' and she tucked and fluffed me and no matter how I battled, it was over. No more story till the next day.

  I spent that whole night thinking Buttercup married Humperdinck. It just rocked me. How can I explain it, but the world didn't work that way. Good got attracted to good, evil you flushed down the john and that was that. But their marriage--I couldn't make it jibe. God, did I work at it. First I thought that probably Buttercup had this fantastic effect on Humperdinck and turned him into a kind of Westley, or maybe Westley and Humperdinck turned out to be long-lost brothers and Humperdinck was so happy to get his brother back he said, 'Look, Westley, I didn't realize who you were when I married her so what I'll do is I'll divorce her and you marry her and that way we'll all be happy.' To this day I don't think I was ever more creative.

  But it didn't take. Something was wrong and I couldn't lose it. Suddenly there was this discontent gnawing away until it had a place big enough to settle in and then it curled up and stayed there and it's still inside me lurking as I write this now.

  The next night, when my father went back to reading and the marriage turned out to have been Buttercup's dream, I screamed I knew it, all along I knew it,' and my father said, 'So you're happy now, it's all right now, we can please continue?' and I said 'Go' and he did.

  But I wasn't happy. Oh my ears were happy, I guess, my story sense was happy, my heart too, but in my, I suppose you have to call it 'soul,' there was that damn discontent, shaking its dark head.

  All this was never explained to me till I was in my teens and there was this great woman who lived in my hometown, Edith Neisser, dead now, and she wrote terrific books about how we screw up our children--Brothers and Sisters was one of her books, The Eldest Child was another. Published by Harper. Edith doesn't need the plug, seeing, like I said, as she's no longer with us, but if there are any amongst you who are worried that maybe you're not being perfect parents, pick up one of Edith's books while there's still time. I knew her 'cause her kid Ed got his haircuts from my pop, and she was this writer and by my teens I knew, secretly, that was the life for me too, except I couldn't tell anybody. It was too embarrassing--barber's sons, if they hustled, maybe got to be IBM salesmen, but writers? No way. Don't ask me how, but eventually Edith discovered my shhhhhh ambition and from then on, sometimes, we would talk. And I remember once we were having iced tea on the Neisser porch and talking and just outside the porch was their badminton court and I was watching some kids play badminton and Ed had just shellacked me, and as I left the court for the porch, he said, 'Don't worry, it'll all work out, you'll get me next time' and I nodded, and then Ed said, 'And if you don't, you'll beat me at something else.'

  I went to the porch and sipped iced tea and Edith was reading this book and she didn't put it down when she said, 'That's not necessarily true, you know.'

  I said, 'How do you mean?'

  And that's when she put her book down. And looked at me. And said it: 'Life isn't fair, Bill. We tell our children that it is, but it's a terrible thing to do. It's not only a lie, it's a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it's never going to be!

  Would you believe that for me right then it was like one of those comic books where the lightbulb goes on over Mandrake the Magician's head? 'It isn't!' I said, so loud I really startled her. 'You're right. It's not fair.' I was so happy if I'd known how to dance, I'd have started dancing. 'Isn't that great, isn't it just terrific?' I think along about here Edith must have thought I was well on my way toward being bonkers.

  But it meant so much to me to have it said and out and free and flying--that was the discontent I endured the night my father stopped reading, I realized right then. That was the reconciliation I was trying to make and couldn't.

  And that's what I think this book's about. All those Columbia experts can spiel all they want about the delicious satire; they're crazy. This book says 'life isn't fair' and I'm telling you, one and all, you better believe it. I got a fat spoiled son--he's not gonna nab Miss Rheingold. And he's always gonna be fat, even if he gets skinny he'll still be fat and he'll still be spoiled and life will never be enough to make him happy, and that's my fault maybe--make it all my fault, if you want--the point is, we're not created equal, for the rich they sing, life isn't fair. I got a cold wife; she's brilliant, she's stimulating, she's terrific; there's no love; that's okay too, just so long as we don't keep expecting everything to somehow even out for us before we die.

  Look. (Grownups skip this paragraph.) I'm not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending, I already said in the very first line how it was my favorite in all the world. But there's a lot of bad stuff coming up, torture you've already been prepared for, but there's worse. There's death coming up, and you better understand this: some of the wrong people die. Be ready for it. This isn't Curious George Uses the Potty. Nobody warned me and it was my own fault (you'll see what I mean in a little) and that was my mistake, so I'm not letting it happen to you. The wrong people die, some of them, and the reason is this: life is not fair. Forget all the garbage your parents put out. Remember Morgenstern. You'll be a lot happier.

  Okay. Enough. Back to the next. Nightmare time.

  ***

  THE NEXT NIGHT she dreamed of giving birth to their first child and it was a girl, a beautiful little girl, and Buttercup said, "I'm sorry it wasn't a boy; I know you need an heir," and Humperdinck said, "Beloved sweet, don't concern yourself with that; just look at the glorious child God has given us" and then he left and Buttercup held the child to her perfect breast and the child said, "Your milk is sour" and Buttercup said, "Oh, I'm sorry," and she shifted to the other breast and the child said, "No, this is sour too," and Buttercup said, "I don't know what to do" and the baby said, "You always know what to do, you always know exactly what to do, you always do exactly what's right for you, and the rest of the world can go hang," and Buttercup said, "You mean Westley" and the baby said, "Of course I mean Westley," and Buttercup explained patiently, "I thought he was dead, you see; I'd given my word to your father" and the baby said, "I'm dying now; there's no love in your milk, your milk has killed me" and then the child stiffened and cracked and turned in Buttercup's hands to nothing but dry dust and Buttercup screamed and screamed; even when she was awake again, with fifty-nine days to go till her marriage, she was still screaming.

  The third nightmare
came quickly the following evening, and again it was a baby--this time a son, a marvelous strong boy--and Humperdinck said, "Beloved, it's a boy" and Buttercup said, "I didn't fail you, thank heavens" and then he was gone and Buttercup called out, "May I see my son now" and all the doctors scurried around outside her royal room, but the boy was not brought in. "What seems to be the trouble?" Buttercup called out and the chief doctor said, "I don't quite understand, but he doesn't want to see you" and Buttercup said, "Tell him I am his mother and I am the Queen and I command his presence" and then he was there, just as handsome a baby boy as anyone could wish for. "Close it," Buttercup said, and the doctors closed the door. The baby stood in the corner as far from her bed as he could. "Come here, darling," Buttercup said. "Why? Are you going to kill me too?" "I'm your mother and I love you, now come here; I've never killed anybody." "You killed Westley, did you see his face in the Fire Swamp? When you walked away and left him? That's what I call killing." "When you're older, you'll understand things, now I'm not going to tell you again--come here." "Murderer," the baby shouted. "Murderer!" but by then she was out of bed and she had him in her arms and was saying, "Stop that, stop it this instant; I love you," and he said, "Your love is poison; it kills," and he died in her arms and she started to cry. Even when she was awake again, with fifty-eight days to go till her marriage, she was still crying.

  The next night she simply refused to go to sleep. Instead, she walked and read and did needlework and drank cup after cup of steaming tea from the Indies. She felt sick with weariness, of course, but such was her fear of what she might dream that she preferred any waking discomfort to whatever sleep might have to offer, and at dawn her mother was pregnant--no, more than pregnant; her mother was having a baby--and as Buttercup stood there in the corner of the room, she watched herself being born and her father gasped at her beauty and so did her mother and the midwife was the first to show concern. The midwife was a sweet woman, known throughout the village for her love of babies, and she said, "Look--trouble--" and the father said, "What trouble? Where before did you ever see such beauty?" and the midwife said, "Don't you understand why she was given such beauty? It's because she has no heart, here, listen; the baby is alive but there is no beat" and she held Buttercup's chest against the father's ear and the father could only nod and say, "We must find a miracle man to place a heart inside" but the midwife said, "That would be wrong, I think; I've heard before of creatures like this, the heartless ones, and as they grow bigger they get more and more beautiful and behind them is nothing but broken bodies and shattered souls, and these without hearts are anguish bringers, and my advice would be, since you're both still young, to have another child, a different child, and be rid of this one now, but, of course, the final decision is up to you" and the father said to the mother, "Well?" and the mother said, "Since the midwife is the kindest person in the village, she must know a monster when she sees one; let's get to it," so Buttercup's father and Buttercup's mother put their hands to the baby's throat and the baby began to gasp. Even when Buttercup was awake again, at dawn, with fifty-seven days to go till her marriage, she could not stop gasping.

 
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