The princess bride, p.24
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       The Princess Bride, p.24

           William Goldman
 

  Yellin shook his head.

  "Am I wrong, do you think, to go to any lengths, then, to protect her?"

  Yellin shook his head again. The Prince was driving him crazy with his stories of the Guilder infiltration. Yellin had every spy he'd ever used working day and night and not one of them had come up with anything about Guilder. And yet the Prince insisted. Inwardly, Yellin sighed. It was beyond him; he was simply an enforcer, not a prince. In fact, the only remotely disturbing news he'd heard since he'd closed the Thieves Quarter that morning was within the hour, when someone told him of a rumor that the ship of the Dread Pirate Roberts had perhaps been seen sailing all the way into Florin Channel itself. But such a thing, Yellin knew from long experience, was, simply, rumor.

  "I'll tell you, they are everywhere, these Guilders," the Prince went on. "And since you seem unable to stop them, I wish to change some plans. All the gates have been sealed to my castle except the front one, yes?"

  "Yes. And twenty men guard it."

  "Add eighty more. I want a hundred men. Clear?"

  "A hundred men it will be. Every Brute available."

  "Inside the castle I'm quite safe. I have my own supplies, food, stables, enough. As long as they cannot get at me, I will survive. These, then, are the new and final plans--jot them down. All five-hundredth-anniversary arrangements are canceled until after the wedding. The wedding is tomorrow at sunset. My bride and I will ride my whites to Florin Channel surrounded by all your enforcers. There we will board a ship and begin our long-awaited honeymoon surrounded by every ship in the Florin Armada--"

  "Every ship but four," Buttercup corrected.

  He blinked at her a moment in silence. Then he said, blowing her a kiss, but discreetly, so Yellin couldn't see, "Yes yes, how forgetful I am, every ship but four." He turned back to Yellin.

  But in his blink, in that following silence, Buttercup had seen it all.

  "Those ships will stay with us until I deem it safe to release them. Of course, Guilder could attack then, but that is a chance we must risk. Let me think if there's anything else." The Prince loved giving orders, especially the kind he knew would never need carrying out. Also, Yellin was a slow jotter, and that only added to the fun. "Excused," the Prince said finally.

  With a bow, Yellin was gone.

  "The four ships were never sent," Buttercup said, when they were alone. "Don't bother lying to me anymore."

  "Whatever was done was done for your own good, sweet pudding."

  "Somehow, I do not think so."

  "You're nervous, I'm nervous; we're getting married tomorrow, we've got a right to be."

  "You couldn't be more wrong, you know; I'm very calm." And in truth, she did seem that way. "It doesn't matter whether you sent the ships or not. Westley will come for me. There is a God; I know that. And there is love; I know that too; so Westley will save me."

  "You're a silly girl, now go to your room."

  "Yes, I am a silly girl and, yes again, I will go to my room, and you are a coward with a heart filled with nothing but fear."

  The Prince had to laugh. "The greatest hunter in the world and you say I am a coward?"

  "I do, I do indeed. I'm getting much smarter as I age. I say you are a coward and you are; I think you hunt only to reassure yourself that you are not what you are: the weakest thing to ever walk the earth. He will come for me and then we will be gone, and you will be helpless for all your hunting, because Westley and I are joined by the bond of love and you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords."

  Humperdinck screamed toward her then, ripping at her autumn hair, yanking her from her feet and down the long curving corridor to her room, where he tore that door open and threw her inside and locked her there and started running for the underground entrance to the Zoo of Death--

  ***

  My father stopped reading.

  'Go on,' I said.

  'Lost my place,' he said and I waited there, still weak with pneumonia and wet with fear until he started reading again. 'Inigo allowed Fezzik to open the door--' 'Hey,' I said. 'Hold it, that's not right, you skipped,' and then I quick caught my tongue because we'd just had that scene when I got all upset about Buttercup marrying Humperdinck when I'd accused him of skipping, and I didn't want any repeat of that. 'Daddy,' I said, I don't mean anything or anything, but wasn't the Prince sort of running toward the Zoo and then the next thing you said was about Inigo, and maybe, I mean, shouldn't there be a page or like that in between?'

  My father started to close the book.

  'I'm not fighting; please, don't close it.'

  'It is not for that,' he said, and then he looked at me for a long time. 'Billy,' he said (he almost never called me that; I loved it when he did; anybody else I hated it, but when the barber did it, I don't know, I just melted), 'Billy, do you trust me?'

  'What is that? Of course I do.'

  'Billy, you got pneumonia; you're taking this book very serious, I know, because we already fought once about it.'

  'I'm not fighting anymore--'

  'Listen to me--I never lied to you yet, did I? Okay. Trust me. I don't want to read you the rest of this chapter and I want you to say it's all right.'

  'Why? What happens in the rest of this chapter?'

  'If I tell you, I could accomplish the same by reading. Just say okay.'

  'I can't say that until I know what happens.'

  'But--'

  'Tell me what happens and I'll tell you if it's okay and I promise if I don't want to hear it, you can skip on to Inigo.' 'You won't do me this favor?'

  'I'll sneak out of bed when you're asleep; I don't care where you hide the book, I'll find it and I'll read the rest of the chapter myself, so you might as well tell me.'

  'Billy, please?'

  'I gotcha; you might as well admit it.'

  My father sighed this terrible sound.

  I knew I had him beaten then.

  'Westley dies,' my father said.

  I said, 'What do you mean, "Westley dies"? You mean dies?'

  My father nodded. 'Prince Humperdinck kills him.'

  'He's only faking though, right?'

  My father shook his head, closed the book all the way.

  Aw shit,' I said and I started to cry.

  'I'm sorry,' my father said. 'I'll leave you alone,' and he left me.

  'Who gets Humperdinck?' I screamed after him.

  He stopped in the hall. I don't understand.'

  'Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end, somebody's got to get him. Is it Fezzik? Who?'

  'Nobody kills him. He lives.'

  'You mean he wins, Daddy? Jesus, what did you read me this thing for?' and I buried my head in my pillow and I never cried like that again, not once to this day. I could feel almost my heart emptying into my pillow. I guess the most amazing thing about crying though is that when you're in it, you think it'll go on forever but it never really lasts half what you think. Not in terms of real time. In terms of real emotions, it's worse than you think, but not by the clock. When my father came back, it couldn't have been even an hour later.

  'So,' he said, 'shall we go on tonight or not?'

  'Shoot,' I told him. Eyes dry, no catch in throat, nothing. 'Fire when ready.'

  'With Inigo?'

  'Let's hear the murder,' I said. I knew I wasn't about to bawl again. Like Buttercup's, my heart was now a secret garden and the walls were very high.

  ***

  HUMPERDINCK SCREAMED TOWARD her then, ripping at her autumn hair, yanking her from her feet and down the long curving corridor to her room, where he tore that door open and threw her inside and locked her there and started running for the underground entrance to the Zoo of Death and down he plunged, giant stride after giant stride, and when he threw the door of the fifth-level cage open, even Count Rugen was startled at the purity of whatever the emotion was that was reflected in the Prince's eyes. The Prince moved to Westley. "She loves you," the P
rince cried. "She loves you still and you love her, so think of that--think of this too: in all this world, you might have been happy, genuinely happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, not really, no matter what the storybooks say, but you could have had it, and so, I would think, no one will ever suffer a loss as great as you" and with that he grabbed the dial and pushed it all the way forward and the Count cried, "Not to twenty!" but by then it was too late; the death scream had started.

  IT WAS MUCH worse than the scream of the wild dog. In the first place, the dial for the wild dog had only been set at six, whereas this was more than triple that. And so, naturally enough, it was more than three times as long. And more than three times as loud. But none of this really was why it was worse.

  It was the scream from a human throat that made the difference.

  In her chamber, Buttercup heard it, and it frightened her, but she had not the least idea what it was.

  By the main door of the castle, Yellin heard it, and it also frightened him, though he couldn't imagine what it was either.

  All the hundred Brutes and fighters flanked by the main door heard it too, and, to a man, they were bothered by it, and they talked it over for quite a while, but none of them had any sound notions as to what it might have been.

  The Great Square was filled with common people excited about the coming wedding and anniversary, and they all heard it too, and no one even made the pretense of not being scared, but, again, none of them knew at all what it might have been.

  The death scream rose higher in the night.

  All the streets leading into the Square were also filled with citizens, all trying to crowd into the Square, and they heard it, but once they admitted they were petrified, they gave up trying to guess what it might have been.

  Inigo knew immediately.

  In the tiny alley that he and Fezzik were trying to force their way through, he stopped, remembering. The alley led to the streets that led to the Square, and the alley was jammed too.

  "I don't like that sound," Fezzik said, his skin, for the moment, cold.

  Inigo grabbed the giant and the words began pouring out: "Fezzik--Fezzik--that is the sound of Ultimate Suffering--I know that sound--that was the sound in my heart when Count Rugen slaughtered my father and I saw him fall--the man in black makes it now--"

  "You think that's him?"

  "Who else has cause for Ultimate Suffering this celebration night?" And with that, he started to follow the sound.

  But the crowds were in his way, and he was strong but he was thin and he cried, "Fezzik--Fezzik--we must track that sound, we must trace it to its source, and I cannot move, so you must lead me. Fly, Fezzik; this is Inigo begging you--make a path--please! "

  Well, Fezzik had rarely had anyone beg him for anything, least of all Inigo, and when something like that happened, you did what you could, so Fezzik, without waiting, began to push. Forward. Lots of people. Fezzik pushed harder. Lots of people began to move. Out of Fezzik's way. Fast.

  The death scream was starting to fade now, fading in the clouds.

  "Fezzik!" said Inigo. "All your power, now."

  Down the alley Fezzik ran, people screaming and diving to get out of his way, and in his footsteps Inigo kept pace, and at the end of the alley was a street and the scream was fainter now but Fezzik turned left and into the middle of the street he went and he owned it, no one was in his way, nothing dared block his way, and the scream was getting just so hard to hear, so with all his might Fezzik roared, "QUIET!" and the street was suddenly hushed and Fezzik pounded along, Inigo right behind, and the scream was still there, still faintly there, and into the Great Square itself and the castle beyond before the scream was gone....

  WESTLEY LAY DEAD by the Machine. The Prince kept the dial by the twenty mark long long after it was necessary, until the Count said, "Done."

  The Prince left without another look at Westley. He took the secret underground stairs four at a time. "She actually called me a coward," he said, and then he was gone from sight.

  Count Rugen started taking notes. Then he threw his quill pen down. He tested Westley briefly, then he shook his head. Death was not of any intellectual interest to him at all; when you were dead, you couldn't react to pain. The Count said, "Dispose of the body," because, even though he couldn't see the albino, he knew the albino was there. It was really a shame, he realized as he mounted the stairs after the Prince. You just didn't come across victims like Westley every day of the year.

  When they were gone, the albino came out, pulled the cups from the corpse, decided to burn the body on the garbage pyre back behind the castle. Which meant a wheelbarrow. He hurried up the underground stairs, came out the secret entrance, moved quickly to the main tool shed; all the wheelbarrows were buried back at the rear wall, behind the hoes and rakes and hedge trimmers. The albino made a hissing sound of displeasure and began to pick his way past all the other equipment. This kind of thing always seemed to happen to him when he was in a hurry. The albino hissed again, extra work, extra work, all the time. Wouldn't you just know it?

  He finally got the barrow out and was just passing the false and deadly supposed main entrance to the Zoo when "I'm having the devil's own trouble tracking that scream" was spoken to him, and the albino whirled to find, there, there in the castle grounds, a blade-thin stranger with a sword in his hand. The sword suddenly flicked its way to the albino's throat. "Where is the man in black?" the swordsman said then. He had a giant scar slanting down each cheek and seemed like no one to trifle with.

  Whispered: "I know no man in black."

  "Did the scream come from that place?" The fellow indicated the main entrance.

  Nod.

  "And the throat it came from? I need this man, so be quick!"

  Whispered: "Westley."

  Inigo reasoned: "A sailor? Brought here by Rugen?"

  Nod.

  "And I reach him where?"

  The albino hesitated, then pointed to the deadly entrance. Whispered: "He is on the bottom level. Five levels down."

  "Then I have no more need for you. Quiet him a while, Fezzik."

  From behind him, the albino was aware of a giant shadow moving. Funny, he thought--the last thing he remembered--I thought that was a tree.

  Inigo was on fire now. There was no stopping him. Fezzik hesitated by the main door. "Why would he tell the truth?"

  "He's a zookeeper threatened with death. Why would he lie?"

  "That doesn't follow."

  "I don't care!" Inigo said sharply, and, in fact, he didn't. He knew in his heart the man in black was down there. There was no other reason for Fezzik to find him, for Fezzik to know of Rugen, for everything to be coming together after so many years of waiting. If there was a God, then there was a man in black waiting. Inigo knew that. He knew it. And, of course, he was absolutely right. But again, of course, there were many things he did not know. That the man in black was dead, for one. That the entrance they were taking was the wrong one, for another, a false one, set up to foil those, like himself, who did not belong. There were spitting cobras down there, though what would actually come at him would be worse. These things he did not know either.

  But his father had to be revenged. And the man in black would figure out how. That was enough for Inigo.

  And so, with an urgency that would soon turn to deep regret, he and Fezzik approached the Zoo of Death.

  Seven

  The Wedding

  INIGO ALLOWED Fezzik to open the door, not because he wished to hide behind the giant's strength but, rather, because the giant's strength was crucial to their entering: someone would have to force the thick door from its hinges, and that was right up Fezzik's alley.

  "It's open," Fezzik said, simply turning the knob, peering inside.

  "Open?" Inigo hesitated. "Close it then. There must be something wrong. Why would something as valuable as the Prince's private zoo be left unlocked?"

  "It smells of animals something awful in there," Fezzi
k said. "Did I get a whiff!"

  "Let me think," Inigo said; "I'll figure it out," and he tried to do his best, but it made no sense. You didn't leave diamonds lying around on the breakfast table and you kept the Zoo of Death shut and bolted. So there had to be a reason; it was just a matter of exercising your brain power and the answer would be there. (The answer to why the door happened to be unlocked was really this: it was always unlocked. And the reason for that was really this: safety. No one who had entered via the front door had ever survived to exit again. The idea basically belonged to Count Rugen, who helped the Prince architect the place. The Prince selected the location--the farthest corner of the castle grounds, away from everything, so the roars wouldn't bother the servants--but the Count designed the entrance. The real entrance was by a giant tree, where a root lifted and revealed a staircase and down you went until you arrived at the fifth level. The false entrance, called the real entrance, took you down the levels the ordinary way, first to second, second to third, or, actually, second to death.)

  "Yes," Inigo said finally.

  "You figured it out?"

  "The reason the door was unlocked is simply this: the albino would have locked it, he would never have been so stupid as not to, but, Fezzik, my friend, we got to him before he got to it. Clearly, once he was done with his wheelbarrowing, he would have begun locking and bolting. It's quite all right; you can stop worrying; let's go."

  "I just feel so safe with you," Fezzik said, and he pulled the door open a second time. As he did it, he noticed that not only was the door unlocked, it didn't even have a place for a lock, and he wondered should he mention that to Inigo, but decided against it, because Inigo would have to wait and figure some more and they had done enough of that already, because, although he said he felt safe with Inigo, in truth he was very frightened. He had heard odd things about this place, and lions didn't bother him, and who cared about gorillas; they were nothing. It was the creepers that made him squeamish. And the slitherers. And the stingers. And the ... and the everything, Fezzik decided, to be truthful and honest. Spiders and snakes and bugs and bats and you name it--he just wasn't very fond of any of them. "Still smells of animals," he said, and he held the door open for Inigo, and together, stride for stride, they entered the Zoo of Death, the great door shutting silently behind them.

 
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