The princess bride, p.26
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       The Princess Bride, p.26

           William Goldman
 

  On the sixth stair, Fezzik put his arm around Inigo's shoulder. "We'll go down together, step by step. There's nothing here, Inigo."

  To the fifth step. "There has to be."

  "Why?"

  "Because the Prince is a fiend. And Rugen is his twin in misery. And this is their masterpiece." They moved to the fourth step.

  "That's wonderful thinking, Inigo," Fezzik said, loud and calmly; but, inside, he was starting to go to pieces. Because here he was, in this nice bright place, and his one friend in all the world was cracking from the strain. And if you were Fezzik, and you hadn't much brainpower, and you found yourself four stories underground in a Zoo of Death looking for a man in black that you really didn't think was down there, and the only friend you had in all the world was going quickly mad, what did you do?

  Three steps now.

  If you were Fezzik, you panicked, because if Inigo went mad, that meant the leader of this whole expedition was you, and if you were Fezzik, you knew the last thing in the world you could ever be was a leader. So Fezzik did what he always did in a panic situation.

  He bolted.

  He just yelled and jumped for the door and slammed it open with his body, never even bothering with the niceties of turning that pretty green handle, and as the door gave behind his strength he kept right on running until he came to the giant cage and there, inside and still, lay the man in black. Fezzik stopped then, relieved greatly, because seeing that silent body meant one thing: Inigo was right, and if Inigo was right, he couldn't be crazy, and if he wasn't crazy, then Fezzik didn't have to lead anybody anywhere. And when that thought reached his brain, Fezzik smiled.

  Inigo, for his part, was startled at Fezzik's strange behavior. He saw no reason for it whatsoever, and was about to call after Fezzik when he saw a tiny green speckled spider scurrying down from the door handle, so he stepped on it with his boot as he hurried to the cage.

  Fezzik was already inside the place, kneeling over the body.

  "Don't say it," Inigo said, entering.

  Fezzik tried not to, but it was on his face. "Dead."

  Inigo examined the body. He had seen a lot of corpses in his time. "Dead." Then he sat down miserably on the floor and put his arms around his knees and rocked back and forth like a baby, back and forth, back and forth and back.

  It was too unfair. You expected unfairness if you breathed, but this went beyond that. He, Inigo, no thinker, had thought--hadn't he found the man in black? He, Inigo, frightened of beasts and crawlers and anything that stung, had brought them down the Zoo unharmed. He had said good-by to caution and stretched himself far beyond any boundaries he ever dreamed he possessed. And now, after such effort, after being reunited with Fezzik on this day of days for this one purpose, to find the man to help him find a plan to help him revenge his dead Domingo--gone. All was gone. Hope? Gone. Future? Gone. All the driving forces of his life. Gone. Snuffed out. Beaten. Dead.

  "I am Inigo Montoya, the son of Domingo Montoya, and I do not accept it." He sprang to his feet, started up the underground stairs, stopping only long enough to snap commands. "Come, come along. Bring the body." He searched through his pockets for a moment, but they were empty, from the brandy. "Have you got any money, Fezzik?"

  "Some. They pay well on the Brute Squad."

  "Well I just hope it's enough to buy a miracle, that's all."

  WHEN THE KNOCKING started on his hut door, Max almost didn't answer it. "Go away," he almost said, because lately it was only kids come to mock him. Except this was a little past the time for kids being up--it was almost midnight--and besides, the knocking was both loud and, at the same time, rat-a-tatty, as if the brain was saying to the fist, "Hurry it up; I want to see a little action."

  So Max opened the door a peek's worth. "I don't know you."

  "Aren't you Miracle Max that worked all those years for the King?" this skinny guy said.

  "I got fired, didn't you hear? That's a painful subject, you shouldn't have brought it up, good night, next time learn a little manners," and he closed the hut door.

  Rat-a-tat--rat-a-tattt.

  "Get away, I'm telling you, or I call the Brute Squad."

  "I'm on the Brute Squad," this other voice said from outside the door, a big deep voice you wanted to stay friendly with.

  "We need a miracle; it's very important," the skinny guy said from outside.

  "I'm retired," Max said, "anyway, you wouldn't want someone the King got rid of, would you? I might kill whoever you want me to miracle."

  "He's already dead," the skinny guy said.

  "He is, huh?" Max said, a little interest in his voice now. He opened the door a peek's worth again. "I'm good at dead."

  "Please," the skinny guy said.

  "Bring him in. I'm making no promises," Miracle Max answered after some thought.

  This huge guy and this skinny guy brought in this big guy and put him on the hut floor. Max poked the corpse. "Not so stiff as some," he said.

  The skinny guy said, "We have money."

  "Then go get some great genius specialist, why don't you? Why waste time messing around with me, a guy who the King fired." It almost killed him when it happened. For the first two years, he wished it had. His teeth fell out from gnashing; he pulled the few loyal tufts from his scalp in wild anger.

  "You're the only miracle man left alive in Florin," the skinny guy said.

  "Oh, so that's why you come to me? One of you said, 'What'll we do with this corpse?' And the other one said, 'Let's take a flyer on that miracle man the King fired,' and the first one probably said, 'What've we got to lose; he can't kill a corpse' and the other one probably said--"

  "You were a wonderful miracle man," the skinny guy said. "It was all politics that got you fired."

  "Don't insult me and say wonderful--I was great--I am great--there was never--never, you hear me, sonny, a miracle man could match me--half the miracle techniques I invented--and then they fired me...." Suddenly his voice trailed off. He was very old and weak and the effort at passionate speech had drained him.

  "Sir, please, sit down--" the skinny guy said.

  "Don't 'sir' me, sonny," Miracle Max said. He was tough when he was young and he was still tough. "I got work to do. I was feeding my witch when you came in; I got to finish that now," and he lifted the hut trap door and took the ladder down into the cellar, locking the trap door behind him. When that was done, he put his finger to his lips and ran to the old woman cooking hot chocolate over the coals. Max had married Valerie back a million years ago, it seemed like, at Miracle School, where she worked as a potion ladler. She wasn't, of course, a witch, but when Max started practice, every miracle man had to have one, so, since Valerie didn't mind, he called her a witch in public and she learned enough of the witch trade to pass herself off as one under pressure. "Listen! Listen!" Max whispered, gesturing repeatedly toward the hut above. "Upstairs you'll never guess what I got--a giant and a spick."

  "A giant on a stick?" Valerie said, clutching her heart; her hearing wasn't what it once was.

  "Spick! Spick! A Spanish fella. Scars and everything, a very tough cookie."

  "Let them steal what they want; what do we have worth fighting over?"

  "They don't want to steal, they want to buy. Me. They got a corpse up there and they want a miracle."

  "You were always good at dead," Valerie said. She hadn't seen him trying so hard not to seem excited since the firing had all but done him in. She very carefully kept her own excitement under control. If only he would work again. Her Max was such a genius, they'd all come back, every patient. Max would be honored again and they could move out of the hut. In the old days, the hut was where they tried experiments. Now it was home. "You had nothing else pressing on for the evening, why not take the case?"

  "I could, I admit that, no question, but suppose I did? You know human nature; they'd probably try getting out without paying. How can I force a giant to pay if he doesn't want to? Who needs that kinda grief? I'll send them
on their way and you bring me up a nice cup of chocolate. Besides, I was halfway through an article on eagles' claws that was very well written."

  "Get the money in advance. Go. Demand. If they say no, out with them. If they say yes, bring the money down to me, I'll feed it to the frog, they'll never find it even if they change their mind and try to rob it back."

  Max started back up the ladder. "What should I ask for? I haven't done a miracle--it's what, three years now? Prices may have skyrocketed. Fifty, you think? If they got fifty, I'll consider. If not, out they go."

  "Right," Valerie agreed, and the minute Max had shut the trap door, she clambered silently up the ladder and pressed her ear to the ceiling.

  "Sir, we're in a terrible rush, so--" this one voice said.

  "Don't you hurry me, sonny, you hurry a miracle man, you get rotten miracles, that what you want?"

  "You'll do it, then?"

  "I didn't say I'd do it, sonny, don't try pressuring a miracle man, not this one; you try pressuring me, out you go, how much money you got?"

  "Give me your money, Fezzik?" the same voice said again.

  "Here's all I've got," this great voice boomed. "You count it, Inigo."

  There was a pause. "Sixty-five is what we've got," the one called Inigo said.

  Valerie was about to clap her hands with joy when Max said, "I never worked for anything that little in my life; you got to be joking, excuse me again; I got to belch my witch; she's done eating by now."

  Valerie hurried back to the coals and waited until Max joined her. "No good," he said. "They only got twenty."

  Valerie stirred away at the stove. She knew the truth but dreaded having to say it, so she tried another tack. "We're practically out of chocolate powder; twenty could sure be a help at the barterer's tomorrow."

  "No chocolate powder?" Max said, visibly upset. Chocolate was one of his favorites, right after cough drops.

  "Maybe if it was a good cause you could lower yourself to work for twenty," Valerie said. "Find out why they need the miracle."

  "They'd probably lie."

  "Use the bellows cram if you're in doubt. Look: I would hate to have it on my conscience if we didn't do a miracle when nice people were involved."

  "You're a pushy lady," Max said, but he went back upstairs. "Okay," he said to the skinny guy. "What's so special I should bring back out of all the hundreds of people pestering me every day for my miracles this particular fella? And, believe me, it better be worthwhile."

  Inigo was about to say "So he can tell me how to kill Count Rugen," but that didn't quite sound like the kind of thing that would strike a cranky miracle man as aiding the general betterment of mankind, so he said, "He's got a wife, he's got fifteen kids, they haven't a shred of food; if he stays dead, they'll starve, so--"

  "Oh, sonny, are you a liar," Max said, and he went to the corner and got out a huge bellows. "I'll ask him," Max grunted, lifting the bellows toward Westley.

  "He's a corpse; he can't talk," Inigo said.

  "We got our ways" was all Max would answer, and he stuck the huge bellows way down into Westley's throat and started to pump. "You see," Max explained as he pumped, "there's different kinds of dead: there's sort of dead, mostly dead, and all dead. This fella here, he's only sort of dead, which means there's still a memory inside, there's still bits of brain. You apply a little pressure here, a little more there, sometimes you get results."

  Westley was beginning to swell slightly now from all the pumping.

  "What are you doing?" Fezzik said, starting to get upset.

  "Never mind, I'm just filling his lungs; I guarantee you it ain't hurting him." He stopped pumping the bellows after a few moments more, and then started shouting into Westley's ear: "WHAT'S SO IMPORTANT? WHAT'S HERE WORTH COMING BACK FOR? WHAT YOU GOT WAITING FOR YOU?" Max carried the bellows back to the corner then and got out a pen and paper. "It takes a while for that to work its way out, so you might as well answer me some questions. How well do you know this guy?"

  Inigo didn't much want to answer that, since it might have sounded strange admitting they'd only met once alive, and then to duel to the death. "How do you mean exactly?" he replied.

  "Well, for example," Max said, "was he ticklish or not?"

  "Ticklish?" Inigo exploded angrily. "Ticklish! Life and death are all around and you talk ticklish!"

  "Don't you yell at me," Max exploded right back, "and don't you mock my methods--tickling can be terrific in the proper instances. I had a corpse once, worse than this fella, mostly dead he was, and I tickled him and tickled him; I tickled his toes and I tickled his armpits and his ribs and I got a peacock feather and went after his belly button; I worked all day and I worked all night and the following dawn--the following dawn, mark me-- this corpse said, 'I just hate that,' and I said, 'Hate what?' and he said, 'Being tickled; I've come all the way back from the dead to ask you to stop,' and I said, 'You mean this that I'm doing now with the peacock feather, it bothers you?' and he said, 'You couldn't guess how much it bothers me,' and of course I just kept on asking him questions about tickling, making him talk back to me, answer me, because, I don't have to tell you, once you get a corpse really caught up in conversation, your battle's half over."

  "Tr ... ooooo ... luv..."

  Fezzik grabbed onto Inigo in panic and they both pivoted, staring at the man in black, who was silent again. " 'True love,' he said," Inigo cried. "You heard him--true love is what he wants to come back for. That's certainly worthwhile."

  "Sonny, don't you tell me what's worthwhile--true love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. Everybody knows that."

  "Then you'll save him?" Fezzik said.

  "Yes, absolutely, I would save him, ifhe had said 'true love,' but you misheard, whereas I, being an expert on the bellows cram, will tell you what any qualified tongue man will only be happy to verify--namely, that the f sound is the hardest for the corpse to master, and that it therefore comes out vuh, and what your friend said was 'to blove,' by which he meant, obviously, 'to bluff'--clearly he is either involved in a shady business deal or a card game and wishes to win, and that is certainly not reason enough for a miracle. I'm sorry, I never change my mind once it's made up, good-by, take your corpse with you."

  "Liar! Liar!" shrieked suddenly from the now open trap door.

  Miracle Max whirled. "Back, Witch--" he commanded.

  "I'm not a witch, I'm your wife--" she was advancing on him now, an ancient tiny fury--"and after what you've just done I don't think I want to be that anymore--" Miracle Max tried to calm her but she was having none of it. "He said 'true love,' Max--even I could hear it--'true love,' 'true love.'"

  "Don't go on," Max said, and now there was pleading coming from somewhere.

  Valerie turned toward Inigo. "He is rejecting you because he is afraid--he is afraid he's done, that the miracles are gone from his once majestic fingers--"

  "Not true--" Max said.

  "You're right," Valerie agreed, "it isn't true--they never were majestic, Max--you were never any good."

  "The Ticklish Cure--you were there--you saw--"

  "A fluke--"

  "All the drowners I returned--"

  "Chance--"

  "Valerie, we've been married eighty years; how can you do this to me?"

  "Because true love is expiring and you haven't got the decency to tell why you don't help--well I do, and I say this, Prince Humperdinck was right to fire you--"

  "Don't say that name in my hut, Valerie--you made a pledge to me you'd never breathe that name--"

  "Prince Humperdinck, Prince Humperdinck, Prince Humperdinck--at least he knows a phony when he sees one--"

  Max fled toward the trap door, his hands going to his ears.

  "But this is his fiancee's true love," Inigo said then. "If you bring him back to life, he will stop Prince Humperdinck's marriage--"

  Max's hands left his ears. "This corpse here--he comes back to life, Prince Humperdinck suffers?"

&nb
sp; "Humiliations galore," Inigo said.

  "Now that's what I call a worthwhile reason," Miracle Max said. "Give me the sixty-five; I'm on the case." He knelt beside Westley. "Hmmm," he said.

  "What?" Valerie said. She knew that tone.

  "While you were doing all that talking, he's slipped from sort of to mostly dead."

  Valerie tapped Westley in a couple of places. "Stiffening," she said. "You'll have to work around that."

  Max did a few taps himself. "Do you suppose the oracle's still up?"

  Valerie looked at the clock. "I don't think so, it's almost one. Besides, I don't trust her all that much anymore."

  Max nodded. "I know, but it would have been nice to have a little advance hint on whether this is gonna work or not." He rubbed his eyes. "I'm tired going in; I wish I'd known in advance about the job; I'd have napped this afternoon." He shrugged. "Can't be helped, down is down. Get me my Encyclopedia of Spells and the Hex Appendix."

  "I thought you knew all about this kind of thing," Inigo said, starting to get upset himself now.

  "I'm out of practice, retired; it's been three years, you can't mess around with these resurrection recipes; one little ingredient wrong, the whole thing blows up in your face."

  "Here's the hex book and your glasses," Valerie puffed, coming up the basement ladder. As Max began thumbing through, she turned to Inigo and Fezzik, who were hovering. "You can help," she said.

  "Anything," Fezzik said.

  "Tell us whatever's useful. How long do we have for the miracle? If we work it--"

  "When we work it," Max said from his hex book. His voice was growing stronger.

  "When we work it," Valerie went on, "how long does it have to maintain full efficiency? Just exactly what's going to be done?"

  "Well, that's hard to predict," Inigo said, "since the first thing we have to do is storm the castle, and you never can be really sure how those things work out."

  "An hour pill should be about right," Valerie said. "Either it's going to be plenty or you'll both be dead, so why not say an hour?"

 
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