The princess bride, p.21
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       The Princess Bride, p.21
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           William Goldman

  From then on, the nightmares became simply too frightening.

  When there were fifty days to go, Buttercup knocked, one night, on the door to Prince Humperdinck's chambers. She entered when he bid her to. "I see trouble," he said. "You look very ill." And so she did. Beautiful, of course. Still that. But in no way well.

  Buttercup did not see quite how to begin.

  He ushered her into a chair. He got her water. She sipped at it, staring dead ahead. He put the glass to one side.

  "At your convenience, Princess," he said.

  "It comes to this," Buttercup began. "In the Fire Swamp, I made the worst mistake in all the world. I love Westley. I always have. It seems I always will. I did not know this when you came to me. Please believe what I am about to say: when you said that I must marry you or face death, I answered, 'Kill me.' I meant that. I mean this now too: if you say I must marry you in fifty days, I will be dead by morning."

  The Prince was literally stunned.

  After a long moment, he knelt by Buttercup's chair and, in his gentlest voice, started to speak: "I admit that when we first became engaged, there was to be no love involved. That was as much my choice as yours, though the notion may have come from you. But surely you must have noticed, in this last month of parties and festivities, a certain warming of my attitude."

  "I have. You have been both sweet and noble."

  "Thank you. Having said that, I hope you appreciate how difficult this next sentence is for me to say: I would die myself rather than cause you unhappiness by standing in the way of your marrying the man you love."

  Buttercup wanted almost to weep with gratitude. She said: "I will bless you all my days for your kindness." Then she stood. "So it's settled. Our wedding is off."

  He stood too. "Except for perhaps one thing."

  "That being?"

  "Have you considered the possibility that he might not now want any longer to marry you?"

  Until that moment, she had not.

  "You were, I hate to remind you, not altogether gentle with his emotions in the Fire Swamp. Forgive me for saying that, beloved, but you did leave him in the lurch, in a manner of speaking."

  Buttercup sat down hard, her turn now to be stunned.

  Humperdinck knelt again beside her. "This Westley of yours, this sailor boy; he has pride?"

  Buttercup managed to whisper, "More than any man alive, I sometimes think."

  "Well consider, then, dearest. Here he is, off sailing somewhere with the Dread Pirate Roberts; he has had a month to survive the emotional scars you dealt him. What if he wants now to remain single? Or, worse, what if he has found another?"

  Buttercup was now even beyond whispering.

  "I think, sweetest child, that we should strike a bargain, you and I: if Westley wants to marry you still, bless you both. If, for reasons unpleasant to mention, his pride will not let him, then you will marry me, as planned, and be the Queen of Florin."

  "He couldn't be married. I'm sure. Not my Westley." She looked at the Prince. "But how can I find out?"

  "What about this: you write him a letter, telling him everything. We'll make four copies. I'll take my four fastest ships and order them off in all directions. The Dread Pirate Roberts is not often more than a month's sail from Florin. Whichever of my ships finds him will run the white flag of truce, deliver your letter, and Westley can decide. If 'no,' he can speak that message to my captain. If 'yes,' my captain will sail him here to you, and I will have to content myself somehow with a lesser bride."

  "I think--I'm not sure--but I definitely think, that this is the most generous decision I have yet heard."

  "Do me this favor then in return: until we know Westley's intentions, one way or another, let us continue as we have, so the festivities will not be halted. And if I seem too fond of you, remember that I cannot help myself."

  "Agreed," Buttercup said, going to the door, but not before she kissed his cheek.

  He followed her. "Off with you now and write your letter," and he returned the kiss, smiling with his eyes at her until the corridor curved her from his sight. There was no doubt whatsoever in his mind that he was going to seem too fond of her in the days ahead. Because when she died of murder on their wedding night, it was crucial that all Florin realize the depth of his love, the epochal size of his loss, since then no one would dare hesitate to follow him in the revenge war he was to launch against Guilder.

  At first, when he hired the Sicilian, he was convinced it was best that someone else do her in, all the while making it appear the work of soldiers from Guilder. And when the man in black had somehow materialized to spoil his plans, the Prince came close to going insane with rage. But now his basically optimistic nature had reasserted itself: everything always worked out for the best. The people were infatuated with Buttercup now as they had never been before her kidnapping. And when he announced from his castle balcony that she had been murdered--he already saw the scene in his mind: he would arrive just too late to save her from strangling but soon enough to see the Guilderian soldiers leaping from the window of his bedroom to the soft ground below--when he made that speech to the masses on the five hundredth anniversary of his country, well, there wouldn't be a dry eye in the Square. And although he was just the least bit perturbed, since he had never actually killed a woman before with his bare hands, there was a first time for everything. Besides, if you wanted something done right, you did it yourself.

  THAT NIGHT, THEY began to torture Westley. Count Rugen did the actual pain inducing; the Prince simply sat by, asking questions out loud, inwardly admiring the Count's skill.

  The Count really cared about pain. The whys behind the screams interested him fully as much as the anguish itself. And whereas the Prince spent his life in physically following the hunt, Count Rugen read and studied anything he could get his hands on dealing with the subject of Distress.

  "All right now," the Prince said to Westley, who lay in the great fifth-level cage; "before we begin, I want you to answer me this: have you any complaints about your treatment thus far?"

  "None whatever," Westley replied, and in truth he had none. Oh, he might have preferred being unchained a bit now and then, but if you were to be a captive, you couldn't ask for more than he had been given. The albino's medical ministrations had been precise, and his shoulder was fine again; the food the albino brought had always been hot and nourishing, the wine and brandy wonderfully warming against the dankness of the underground cage.

  "You feel fit, then?" the Prince went on.

  "I assume my legs are a little stiff from being chained, but other than that, yes."

  "Good. Then I promise you this as God himself is my witness: answer the next question and I will set you free this night. But you must answer it honestly, fully, withholding nothing. If you lie, I will know. And then I'll loose the Count on you."

  "I have nothing to hide," Westley said. "Ask away."

  "Who hired you to kidnap the Princess? It was someone from Guilder. We found fabric indicating as much on the Princess's horse. Tell me that man's name and you are free. Speak."

  "No one hired me," Westley said. "I was working strictly freelance. And I didn't kidnap her; I saved her from others who were doing that very thing."

  "You seem a reasonable fellow, and my Princess claims to have known you many years, so I will give you, on her account, one last and final chance: the name of the man in Guilder who hired you. Tell me or face torture."

  "No one hired me, I swear."

  The Count set fire to Westley's hands. Nothing permanent or disabling; he just dipped Westley's hands in oil and brought a candle close enough to set things bubbling. When Westley had screamed "NO ONE--NO ONE--NO ONE--ON MY LIFE!" a sufficient number of times, the Count dipped Westley's hands in water, and he and the Prince left via the underground entrance, leaving the medication to the albino, who was always nearby during the torturing times, but never visible enough to be distracting.

  "I feel quite invigorated," the
Count said as he and the Prince began to ascend the underground staircase. "It's a perfect question. He was telling the truth, clearly; we both know that."

  The Prince nodded. The Count was privy to all his innermost plans for the revenge war.

  "I'm fascinated to see what happens," the Count went on. "Which pain will be least endurable? The physical, or the mental anguish of having freedom offered if the truth is told, then telling it and being thought a liar."

  "I think the physical," said the Prince.

  "I think you're wrong," said the Count.

  Actually, they were both wrong; Westley suffered not at all throughout. His screaming was totally a performance to please them; he had been practicing his defenses for a month now, and he was more than ready. The minute the Count brought the candle close, Westley raised his eyes to the ceiling, dropped his eyelids over them, and in a state of deep and steady concentration, he took his brain away. Buttercup was what he thought of. Her autumn hair, her perfect skin, and he brought her very close beside him, and had her whisper in his ear throughout the burning: "I love you. I love you. I only left you in the Fire Swamp to test your love for me. Is it as great as mine for you? Can two such loves exist on one planet at one time? Is there that much room, beloved Westley?..."

  The albino bandaged his fingers.

  Westley lay still.

  For the first time, the albino started things. Whispered: "You better tell them."

  From Westley, a shrug.

  Whispered: "They never stop. Not once they start. Tell them what they want to know and have done with it."

  Shrug.

  Whispered: "The Machine is nearly ready. They are testing it on animals now."

  Shrug.

  Whispered: "It's for your own good I tell you these things."

  "My own good? What good? They're going to kill me anyway."

  From the albino: nod.

  THE PRINCE FOUND Buttercup waiting unhappily outside his chamber doors.

  "It's my letter," she began. "I cannot make it right."

  "Come in, come in," the Prince said gently. "Maybe we can help you." She sat down in the same chair as before. "All right, I'll close my eyes and listen; read to me."

  "'Westley, my passion, my sweet, my only, my own. Come back, come back. I shall kill myself otherwise. Yours in torment, Buttercup.'" She looked at Humperdinck. "Well? Do you think I'm throwing myself at him?"

  "It does seem a bit forward," the Prince admitted. "It doesn't leave him a great deal of room to maneuver."

  "Will you help me to improve it, please?"

  "I'll do what I can, sweet lady, but first it might help if I knew just a bit about him. Is he really so wonderful, this Westley of yours?"

  "Not so much wonderful as perfect," she replied. "Kind of flawless. More or less magnificent. Without blemish. Rather on the ideal side." She looked at the Prince. "Am I being helpful?"

  "I think emotions are clouding your objectivity just a bit. Do you actually think that there is nothing the fellow can't do?"

  Buttercup thought for a while. "It's not so much that there's nothing he can't do; it's more that he can do it all better than anybody else can do it."

  The Prince chuckled and smiled. "In other words, for example, you mean if he wanted to hunt, he could outhunt, again for example, someone such as myself."

  "Oh, I would think if he wanted to, he could, quite easily, but he happens not to like hunting, at least to my knowledge, though maybe he does; I don't know. I never knew he was so interested in mountain climbing but he scaled the Cliffs of Insanity under most adverse conditions, and everyone agrees that that is not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish."

  "Well, why don't we just begin our letter with 'Divine Westley,' and appeal to his sense of modesty," the Prince suggested.

  Buttercup began to write, stopped. "Does 'divine' begin de or di?"

  "Di, I believe, amazing creature," the Prince replied, smiling gently as Buttercup commenced the letter. They composed it in four hours, and many many times she said, "I could never get through this without you" and the Prince was always most modest, asking little helpful personal questions about Westley as often as was possible without drawing attention to it, and in this way, well before dawn, she told him, smiling as she remembered, of Westley's early fears of Spinning Ticks.

  And that night, in the fifth-level cage, the Prince asked, as he was to always ask, "Tell me the name of the man in Guilder who hired you to kidnap the Princess and I promise you immediate freedom" and Westley replied, as he was always to reply, "No one, no one; I was alone" and the Count, who had spent the day getting the Spinners ready, placed them carefully on Westley's skin and Westley closed his eyes and begged and pleaded and after an hour or so the Prince and Count left, the albino remaining behind with the chore of burning the Spinners and then pulling them free from Westley, lest they accidentally poison him, and on the way up the underground stairs to ground level the Prince said, just for conversation's sake, "Much better, don't you think?"

  The Count, oddly, said nothing.

  Which was vaguely irritating to Humperdinck because, to tell the absolute truth, torture was never all that high on his scale of passions, and he would just as soon have disposed of Westley right then.

  If only Buttercup would admit that he, Humperdinck, was the better man.

  But she would not! She simply would not! All she ever talked about was Westley. All she ever asked about was news of Westley. Days went by, weeks went by, party after party went by, and all Florin was moved by the spectacle of their great hunting Prince at last so clearly and wonderfully in love, but when they were alone, all she ever said was, "I wonder where could Westley be? What could be taking him so long? How can I live until he comes?"

  Maddening. So each night, the Count's discomforts, which made Westley writhe and twist, were really sort of all right. The Prince would manage an hour or so of spectating before he and the Count would leave, the Count still oddly silent. And down below, tending the wounds, the albino would whisper: "Tell them. Please. They will only add to your suffering."

  Westley could barely suppress his smile.

  He had felt no pain, not once, none. He had closed his eyes and taken his brain away. That was the secret. If you could take your brain away from the present and send it to where it could contemplate skin like wintry cream; well, let them enjoy themselves.

  His revenge time would come.

  Westley was living now most of all for Buttercup. But there was no denying that there was one more thing he wanted too.

  His time...

  PRINCE HUMPERDINCK SIMPLY had no time. There seemed to be not one decision in all of Florin that one way or another didn't eventually come heavily to rest upon his shoulders. Not only was he getting married, his country was having its five hundredth anniversary. Not only was he noodling around in his mind the best ways to get a war going, he also had to constantly have affection shining from his eyes. Every detail had to be met, and met correctly.

  His father was just no help at all, refusing either to expire or stop mumbling (you thought his father was dead but that was in the fake-out, don't forget--Morgenstern was just edging into the nightmare sequence, so don't be confused) and start making sense. Queen Bella simply hovered around him, translating here and there, and it was with a shock that Prince Humperdinck realized, just twelve days before his wedding day, that he had neglected to set in motion the crucial Guilder section of his plan, so he called Yellin to the castle late one night.

  Yellin was Chief of All Enforcement in Florin City, a job he had inherited from his father. (The albino keeper at the Zoo was Yellin's first cousin, and together they formed the only pair of nonnobles the Prince could come close to trusting.)

  "Your Highness," Yellin said. He was small, but crafty, with darting eyes and slippery hands.

  Prince Humperdinck came out from behind his desk. He moved close to Yellin and looked carefully around before saying, softly, "I have heard, from unimpe
achable sources, that many men of Guilder have, of late, begun to infiltrate our Thieves Quarter. They are disguised as Florinese, and I am worried."

  "I have heard nothing of such a thing," Yellin said.

  "A prince has spies everywhere."

  "I understand," said Yellin. "And you think, since the evidence points that they tried to kidnap your fiancee once, such a thing might happen again?"

  "It's a possibility."

  "I'll close off the Thieves Quarter then," Yellin said. "No one will enter and no one will leave."

 
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