The princess bride, p.22
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Princess Bride, p.22

           William Goldman
Download  in MP3 audio

  "Not good enough," said the Prince. "I want the Thieves Quarter emptied and every villain jailed until I am safely on my honeymoon." Yellin did not nod quickly enough, so the Prince said, "State your problem."

  "My men are not always too happy at the thought of entering the Thieves Quarter. Many of the thieves resist change."

  "Root them out. Form a brute squad. But get it done."

  "It takes at least a week to get a decent brute squad going," Yellin said. "But that is time enough." He bowed, and started to leave.

  And that was when the scream began.

  Yellin had heard many things in his life, but nothing quite so eerie as this: he was a brave man, but this sound frightened him. It was not human, but he could not guess the throat of the beast it came from. (It was actually a wild dog, on the first level of the Zoo, but no wild dog had ever shrieked like that before. But then, no wild dog had ever been put in the Machine.)

  The sound grew in anguish, and it filled the night sky as it spread across the castle grounds, over the walls, even into the Great Square beyond.

  It would not stop. It simply hung now below the sky, an audible reminder of the existence of agony. In the Great Square, half a dozen children screamed back at the night, trying to blot out the sound. Some wept, some only ran for home.

  Then it began to lessen in volume. Now it was hard to hear in the Great Square, now it was gone. Now it was hard to hear on the castle walls, now it was gone from the castle walls. It shrunk across the grounds toward the first level of the Zoo of Death, where Count Rugen sat fiddling with some knobs. The wild dog died. Count Rugen rose, and it was all he could do to bury his own shriek of triumph.

  He left the Zoo and ran toward Prince Humperdinck's chambers. Yellin was just going when the Count got there. The Prince was seated now, behind his desk. When Yellin was gone and they were alone, the Count bowed to his majesty: "The Machine," he said at last, "works."

  PRINCE HUMPERDINCK TOOK a while before answering. It was a ticklish situation, granted he was the boss, the Count merely an underling, still, no one in all Florin had Rugen's skills. As an inventor, he had, obviously, at last, rid the Machine of all defects. As an architect, he had been crucial in the safety factors involved in the Zoo of Death, and it had undeniably been Rugen who had arranged for the only survivable entrance being the underground fifth-level one. He was also supportive to the Prince in all endeavors of hunting and battle, and you didn't give a follower like that a quick "Get away, boy, you bother me." So the Prince indeed took a while.

  "Look, Ty," he said finally. "I'm just thrilled you smoothed all the bugs out of the Machine; I never for a minute doubted you'd get it right eventually. And I'm really anxious as can be to see it working. But how can I put this? I can't keep my head above water one minute to the next: it's not just the parties and the goo-gooing with what's-her-name, I've got to decide how long the Five Hundredth Anniversary Parade is going to be and where does it start and when does it start and which nobleman gets to march in front of which other nobleman so that everyone's still speaking to me at the end of it, plus I've got a wife to murder and a country to frame for it, plus I've got to get the war going once that's all happened, and all this is stuff I've got to do myself. Here's what it all comes down to: I'm just swamped, Ty. So how about if you go to work on Westley and tell me how it goes, and when I get the time, I'll come watch and I'm sure it'll be just wonderful, but for now, what I'd like is a little breathing room, no hard feelings?"

  Count Rugen smiled. "None." And there weren't any. He always felt better when he could dole out pain alone. You could concentrate much more deeply when you were alone with agony.

  "I knew you'd understand, Ty."

  There was a knock on the door and Buttercup stuck her head in. "Any news?" she said.

  The Prince smiled at her and sadly shook his head. "Honey, I promised to tell you the second I hear a thing."

  "It's only twelve days, though."

  "Plenty of time, dulcet darling, now don't worry yourself."

  "I'll leave you," Buttercup said.

  "I was going too," the Count said. "May I walk you to your quarters?"

  Buttercup nodded, and down the corridors they wandered till they reached her suite. "Good night," Buttercup said quickly; ever since that day he had first come to her father's farm, she had always been afraid whenever the Count came near.

  "I'm sure he'll come," the Count said; he was privy to all the Prince's plans, and Buttercup was well aware of this. "I don't know your fellow well, but he impressed me greatly. Any man who can find his way through the Fire Swamp can find his way to Florin Castle before your wedding day."

  Buttercup nodded.

  "He seemed so strong, so remarkably powerful," the Count went on, his voice warm and lulling. "I only wondered if he possessed true sensitivity, as some men of great might, as you know, do not. For example, I wonder: is he capable of tears?"

  "Westley would never cry," Buttercup answered, opening her chamber door. "Except for the death of a loved one." And with that she closed the Count away and, alone, went to her bed and knelt. Westley, she thought then. Do come please; I have begged you in my thoughts now these many weeks and still no word. Back when we were on the farm, I thought I loved you, but that was not love. When I saw your face behind the mask on the ravine floor, I thought I loved you, but that was again nothing more than deep infatuation. Beloved: I think I love you now, and I pray you only give me the chance to spend my life in constant proving. I could spend my life in the Fire Swamp and sing from morn till night if you were by me. I could spend eternity sinking down through Snow Sand if my hand held your hand. My preference would be to last eternity with you beside me on a cloud, but hell would also be a lark if Westley was with me....

  She went on that way, silent hour after silent hour; she had done nothing else for thirty-eight evenings now, and each time, her ardor deepened, her thoughts became more pure. Westley. Westley. Flying across the seven seas to claim her.

  For his part, and quite without knowing, Westley was spending his evenings in much the same fashion. After the torture was done, when the albino had finished tending his slashes or burns or breaks, when he was alone in the giant cage, he sent his brain to Buttercup, and there it dwelled.

  He understood her so well. In his mind, he realized that moment he left her on the farm when she swore love, certainly she meant it, but she was barely eighteen. What did she know of the depth of the heart? Then again, when he had removed his black mask and she had tumbled to him, surprise had been operating, stunned astonishment as much as emotion. But just as he knew that the sun was obliged to rise each morning in the east, no matter how much a western arisal might have pleased it, so he knew that Buttercup was obliged to spend her love on him. Gold was inviting, and so was royalty, but they could not match the fever in his heart, and sooner or later she would have to catch it. She had less choice than the sun.

  So when the Count appeared with the Machine, Westley was not particularly perturbed. As a matter of fact, he had no idea what the Count was bringing with him into the giant cage. As a matter of absolute fact, the Count was bringing nothing; it was the albino who was doing the actual work, making trip after trip with thing after thing.

  That was what it really looked like to Westley: things. Little soft rimmed cups of various sizes and a wheel, most likely, and another object that could turn out to be either a lever or a stick; it was hard to tell.

  "A good good evening to you," the Count began.

  He had never, to Westley's memory, shown such excitement. Westley made a very weak nod in return. Actually, he felt about as well as ever, but it didn't do to let that kind of news get around.

  "Feeling a bit under the weather?" the Count asked.

  Westley made another feeble nod.

  The albino scurried in and out, bringing more things: wirelike extensions, stringy and endless.

  "That will be all," the Count said finally.

  Nod.


  Gone.

  "This is the Machine," the Count said when they were alone. "I've spent eleven years constructing it. As you can tell, I'm rather excited and proud."

  Westley managed an affirmative blink.

  "I'll be putting it together for a while." And with that, he got busy.

  Westley watched the construction with a good deal of interest and, logically enough, curiosity.

  "You heard that scream a bit earlier on this evening?"

  Another affirmative blink.

  "That was a wild dog. This machine caused the sound." It was a very complex job the Count was doing, but the six fingers on his right hand never for a moment seemed in doubt as to just what to do. "I'm very interested in pain," the Count said, "as I'm sure you've gathered these past months. In an intellectual way, actually. I've written, of course, for the more learned journals on the subject. Articles mostly. At the present I'm engaged in writing a book. My book. The book, I hope. The definitive work on pain, at least as we know it now."

  Westley found the whole thing fascinating. He made a little groan.

  "I think pain is the most underrated emotion available to us," the Count said. "The Serpent, to my interpretation, was pain. Pain has been with us always, and it always irritates me when people say 'as important as life and death' because the proper phrase, to my mind, should be, 'as important as pain and death.'" The Count fell silent for a time then, as he began and completed a series of complex adjustments. "One of my theories," he said somewhat later, "is that pain involves anticipation. Nothing original, I admit, but I'm going to demonstrate to you what I mean: I will not, underline not, use the Machine on you this evening. I could. It's ready and tested. But instead I will simply erect it and leave it beside you, for you to stare at the next twenty-four hours, wondering just what it is and how it works and can it really be as dreadful as all that." He tightened some things here, loosened some more over there, tugged and patted and shaped.

  The Machine looked so silly Westley was tempted to giggle. Instead, he groaned again.

  "I'll leave you to your imagination, then," the Count said, and he looked at Westley. "But I want you to know one thing before tomorrow night happens to you, and I mean it: you are the strongest, the most brilliant and brave, the most altogether worthy creature it has ever been my privilege to meet, and I feel almost sad that, for the purposes of my book and future pain scholars, I must destroy you."

  "Thank ... you..." Westley breathed softly.

  The Count went to the cage door and said over his shoulder, "And you can stop all your performing about how weak and beaten you are; you haven't fooled me for a month. You're practically as strong now as on the day you entered the Fire Swamp. I know your secret, if that's any consolation to you."

  "...secret?" Hushed, strained.

  "You've been taking your brain away," the Count cried. "You haven't felt the least discomfort in all these months. You raise your eyes and drop your eyelids and then you're off, probably with--I don't know--her, most likely. Good night now. Try and sleep. I doubt you'll be able to. Anticipation, remember?" With a wave, he mounted the underground stairs.

  Westley could feel the sudden pressure of his heart.

  Soon the albino came, knelt by Westley's ear. Whispered: "I've been watching you all these days. You deserve better than what's coming. I'm needed. No one else feeds the beasts as I do. I'm safe. They won't hurt me. I'll kill you if you'd like. That would foil them. I've got some good poison. I beg you. I've seen the Machine. I was there when the wild dog screamed. Please let me kill you. You'll thank me, I swear."

  "I must live."

  Whispered: "But--"

  Interruption: "They will not reach me. I am all right. I am fine. I am alive, and I will stay that way." He said the words loud, and he said them with passion. But for the first time in a long time, there was terror....

  "WELL, COULD YOU SLEEP?" the Count asked the next night upon his arrival in the cage.

  "Quite honestly, no," Westley replied in his normal voice.

  "I'm glad you're being honest with me; I'll be honest with you; no more charades between us," the Count said, putting down a number of notebooks and quill pens and ink bottles. "I must carefully track your reactions," he explained.

  "In the name of science?"

  The Count nodded. "If my experiments are valid, my name will last beyond my body. It's immortality I'm after, to be quite honest." He adjusted a few knobs on the Machine. "I suppose you're naturally curious as to how this works."

  "I have spent the night pondering and I know no more than when I started. It appears to be a great conglomeration of soft rimmed cups of infinitely varied sizes, together with a wheel and a dial and a lever, and what it does is beyond me."

  "Also glue," added the Count, pointing to a small tub of thick stuff. "To keep the cups attached." And with that, he set to work, taking cup after cup, touching the soft rims with glue, and setting them against Westley's skin. "Eventually I'll have to put one on your tongue too," the Count said, "but I'll save that for last in case you have any questions."

  "This certainly isn't the easiest thing to get set up, is it?"

  "I'll be able to fix that in later models," the Count said; "at least those are my present plans," and he kept right on putting cup after cup on Westley's skin until every inch of exposed surface was covered. "So much for the outside," the Count said then. "This next is a bit more delicate; try not to move."

  "I'm chained hand, head and foot," Westley said. "How much movement do you think I'm capable of?"

  "Are you really as brave as you sound, or are you a little frightened? The truth, please. This is for posterity, remember."

  "I'm a little frightened," Westley replied.

  The Count jotted that down, along with the time. Then he got down to the fine work, and soon there were tiny tiny soft rimmed cups on the insides of Westley's nostrils, against his eardrums, under his eyelids, above and below his tongue, and before the Count arose, Westley was covered inside and out with the things. "Now all I do," the Count said very loudly, hoping Westley could hear, "is get the wheel going to its fastest spin so that I have more than enough power to operate. And the dial can be set from one to twenty and, this being the first time, I will set it at the lowest setting, which is one. And then all I need do is push the lever forward, and we should, if I haven't gummed it up, be in full operation."

  But Westley, as the lever moved, took his brain away, and when the Machine began, Westley was stroking her autumn-colored hair and touching her skin of wintry cream and--and--and then his world exploded--because the cups, the cups were everywhere, and before, they had punished his body but left his brain, only not the Machine; the Machine reached everywhere--his eyes were not his to control and his ears could not hear her gentle loving whisper and his brain slid away, slid far from love into the deep fault of despair, hit hard, fell again, down through the house of agony into the county of pain. Inside and out, Westley's world was ripping apart and he could do nothing but crack along with it.

  The Count turned off the Machine then, and as he picked up his notebooks he said, "As you no doubt know, the concept of the suction pump is centuries old--well, basically, that's all this is, except instead of water, I'm sucking life; I've just sucked away one year of your life. Later I'll set the dial higher, certainly to two or three, perhaps even to five. Theoretically, five should be five times more severe than what you've just endured, so please be specific in your answers. Tell me now, honestly: how do you feel?"

  In humiliation, and suffering, and frustration, and anger, and anguish so great it was dizzying, Westley cried like a baby.

  "Interesting," said the Count, and carefully noted it down.

  IT TOOK YELLIN a week to get his enforcers together in sufficient number, together with an adequate brute squad. And so, five days before the wedding, he stood at the head of his company awaiting the speech of the Prince. This was in the castle courtyard, and when the Prince appeared, the Count was, as u
sual, with him, although, not as usual, the Count seemed preoccupied. Which, of course, he was, though Yellin had no way of knowing that. The Count had sucked ten years from Westley this past week, and, with the life of sixty-five that was average for a Florinese male, the victim had approximately thirty years remaining, assuming he was about twenty-five when they started experimenting. But how best to go about dividing that? The Count was simply in a quandary. So many possibilities, but which would prove, scientifically, most interesting? The Count sighed; life was never easy.

  "You are here," the Prince began, "because there may be another plot against my beloved. I charge each and every one of you with being her personal protector. I want the Thieves Quarter empty and all the inhabitants jailed twenty-four hours before my wedding. Only then will I rest easy. Gentlemen, I beg you: think of this mission as being an affair of the heart, and I know you will not fail." With that he pivoted and, followed by the Count, hurried from the courtyard, leaving Yellin in command.

  The conquest of the Thieves Quarter began immediately. Yellin worked long and hard at it each day, but the Thieves Quarter was a mile square, so there was much to do. Most of the criminals had been through unjust and illegal roundups before, so they offered little resistance. They knew the jails were not celled enough for all of them, so if it meant a few days' incarceration, what did it matter?

  There was, however, a second group of criminals, those who realized that capture meant, for various past performances, death, and these, without exception, resisted. In general, Yellin, through adroit handling of the Brute Squad, was able to bring these bad fellows, eventually, under control.

  Still, thirty-six hours before the sunset wedding, there were half a dozen holdout left in the Thieves Quarter. Yellin arose at dawn and, tired and confused--not one of the captured criminals seemed to come from Guilder--he gathered the best of the Brute Squad and led them into the Thieves Quarter for what simply had to be the final foray.

  Yellin went immediately to Falkbridge's Alehouse, first sending all save two Brutes off on various tasks, keeping a noisy one and a quiet one for his own needs. He knocked on Falkbridge's door and waited. Falkbridge was by far the most powerful man in the Thieves Quarter. He seemed almost to own half of it and there wasn't a crime of any dimension he wasn't behind. He always avoided arrest, and everyone except Yellin thought Falkbridge must be bribing somebody. Yellin knew he was bribing somebody, since every month, rain or shine, Falkbridge came to Yellin's house and gave him a satchel full of money.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll