The princess bride, p.35
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       The Princess Bride, p.35

           William Goldman
 

  Fezzik shivered even more.

  "Do you want a hint?" Inigo shrieked as the boat began to splinter.

  Still the shivering.

  "He's a hero," Inigo went on.

  Fezzik would have none of it, put his head in his hands.

  "What could he be afraid of?" Buttercup cried out.

  "Fezzik," Westley shouted into Fezzik's ear. "Are you afraid of the sharks?"

  Even worse shivering. And a shake of the head.

  Now the whirlpool was starting to spin them.

  "Is it the sucking squid?"

  Still worse. And another shake of the head.

  Now the whirlpool began to pull them down.

  "Is it the sea monsters?"

  More shivering, more shaking.

  And Westley, aware that they had next to no chance of survival the way things were going, cried, "Tell me!"

  Fezzik buried his head in his hands.

  And then from Westley, the loudest shout of all: "Nothing is worse than sea monsters. What are you so afraid of?"

  Fezzik raised his great head and managed to look at them. "Getting water up my nose," he whispered. "I hate it so much." And then he buried his head again.

  The boat was shattering by this time. In the final moments they clung to the remnants and Westley said, "I am too weak for the task, Inigo you do it," and Inigo said, "I am a Spaniard--I do not hold another man's nose," and Buttercup, not for the last time, heard herself say, "You men," and then as the whirlpool had them in its power, she took both of her hands and clamped them over Fezzik's nose.

  THE WHIRLPOOL KNEW from the first it had them, it had not lost a battle in centuries, not since a soldier coming home from the Crusades caught it at a remarkably calm time, managed to slip almost past, was but a few feet from One Tree's shore before, exhausted, he collapsed backward and the whirlpool made no mistakes this time, just kept him down at the bottom longer than it had ever kept anyone, before releasing its grip, letting him float up toward where the sharks waited.

  The sharks were waiting this day, too, excited, four to shred, and they swam just at the outskirts of the whirlpool, watching as the bodies sank. Fezzik made no resistance whatsoever, did nothing 'til he was certain Buttercup's grip was solid. The whirlpool took them under, sped them down, on their way to the bottom and Fezzik let it happen, hoping only that the others could hold their breaths longer than they ever had, and soon he could feel the bottom of the sea. It was not deep here, whirlpools did not love deep water, and Fezzik bunched his giant body and shoved down with his mighty legs, shoved harder than he ever had before. As soon as his body began its upward trajectory, he started with his arms, his great tireless arms, windmilling them with more ferocity than the whirlpool had ever known, and it did what it could--increased its roar, swirled more savagely--but the arms would not stop, nothing could make them stop, and the chains held, and the others were unconscious from the battle, but Fezzik knew, as soon as he surfaced at the far end of the whirlpool, that Inigo had been right with his rhyme, he was definitely not a zero, not this day of days....

  They were still chained when they reached the shore of One Tree, and they stayed that way for two days, all of them motionless, near dead from wounds and torture and exhaustion. Then they unchained themselves and, staying close together, began to explore their new home.

  ***

  Me, obviously, and I'm sorry, but you don't want to read ten pages on vegetation. (Morgenstern's tree fixation scores again. His point here is that One Tree being pretty close to Eden is what all of Florin could be if only people didn't chop everything down.) The four get their strength back slowly. Buttercup nurses them and Fezzik takes care of food, cooking and cleaning the fish that was most of their diet. (Buttercup one day has nothing special going on so she makes him a gift for his nose-- a clothespin. Well, Fezzik goes nuts, he's so happy. It fits perfectly, he's never without it, etc., etc., and armed with that, Fezzik becomes the scourge of the area, swimming all over, fighting sharks and sucking squids--tastes like chicken, I thought the more squeamish among you would be glad for that bit of info--bringing his catch of the day back for food.) Anyway, this section ends with the moon high, perfect night, very romantic, all that. Inigo and Fezzik are off in their tents dozing, Buttercup and Westley sitting alone by a flickering fire.

  ***

  "YOU KNOW, we've only kissed," Buttercup said, staring at the embers.

  "Of course," Westley replied.

  Not getting the answer she expected, Buttercup tried again. "We've certainly had more than our share of adventures, no one can deny it. And true love ... to have that, we must be the most blessed of creatures."

  "Surely the most blessed," Westley agreed.

  "But," Buttercup said then, trying for frivolity, "thus far, the unalloyed fact that shines out is this: we have only kissed."

  "What else is there?" Wesley asked. He touched his lips lightly to her cheek, sighed. "Surely there could be nothing more."

  This was somewhat disingenuous on his part, because he had been King of the Sea for several years and, well, things happened.

  "Silly lad," she told him, smiling. "I have enough knowledge for us both. Of course I should, considering all those classes in lovemaking I took at Royalty School." She had taken the classes, but since Humperdinck had instructed her professors to teach her nothing whatsoever, Buttercup, though she smiled, was terrified.

  "I am anxious for your teachings to begin."

  She looked at his perfect face. She thought that, more than anything, she wanted this to go as it had in her heart. But what if she failed? What if she was just another case of big-talk, little-do and eventually he would tire of her, leave her? "I know so much it is hard to be sure just where is the best place to begin. If I go too fast, raise your hand."

  He waited and when he saw the helplessness in her eyes he realized he had never loved her quite so much or so deeply. "Will you try not to laugh at me?"

  "I would never embarrass a beginner such as yourself. It would be cruelty itself to mock your ignorance when I, of course, am totally wise."

  "Do we begin standing up or lying down?"

  "A very good question, that," Buttercup said quickly, not having the least notion what else to say. "There is great controversy as to which."

  "Well perhaps it would be wise to cover both contingencies. Why don't I get a blanket in case lying down carries the day?" The blanket he brought and spread for them was soft, the pillow softer still.

  "If we were to lie down," Westley said, lying down, "would we start close together on the blanket or far apart?"

  "Again, great controversy," she replied. "You see, one of the problems with knowing so much is one sees both sides of questions."

  "You are very patient with me and I appreciate that." He held out a hand for her. "We could do this: we could try lying close together on the blanket and experiment, more or less."

  Buttercup took his strong hand. "My professors were all in favor of experimenting."

  They were very close on the blanket now. The breeze, seeing this, knowing what they had been through to reach this moment, thought it might be nice to caress them. The stars, seeing this, thought it might be nice if they dimmed for a while. The moon went along with the whole notion, slipping half behind a cloud. Buttercup still held his hand. She wondered for a moment if it would be wise to stop now, tell truths, try again another evening. She was about to suggest that, but then she looked deeply into his eyes. They were the color of the sea before a storm and what she read in them gave her the strength to continue....

  ***

  Want a shocker? Willy liked that scene. I remember when my father read The Princess Bride to me, I hated the kissing stuff. I told him before I read it he might find it a little short on derring-do, so maybe that helped. His only question after was what kind of 'things' happened when Westley was King of the Sea? I answered that if Morgenstern had wanted us to know, he would have told us. (He bought it. Phew.)

 
Anyway, you will probably not be surprised to learn the obligatory nine months flew by pretty fast and....

  ***

  "I THINK SUNSET would be a lovely time," Buttercup said. "I think he would like that, opening his eyes to the world at that moment. Yes, sunset it shall be."

  She was speaking at breakfast to the others, and they all agreed. In point of fact, since none of them had the least experience with birthing, they could hardly argue. And no one could argue with Buttercup's handling of herself. She had blossomed in the nine months since she and Westley first made love, had dealt with her situation with a serenity remarkable in one so young. True, the first months brought a touch of morning sickness, and, yes, it was discomforting. But all she had to do to banish it was look at Westley and tell herself she was bringing another such as he into the universe. And poof, the sickness was in retreat.

  She knew their firstborn would be a boy. She had a dream the first month that it would be so. The dream recurred two more times. And after that she never doubted. And she behaved throughout as if this were the most normal of human conditions. You swelled, certainly, but that didn't stop you from your regular life, which in her case often consisted of helping Fezzik cook, helping Inigo mend his heart, walking and talking with Westley, discussing their future, where they would settle, what they might do with the rest of their lives considering that the most powerful man on earth was out to kill them.

  After the meal, she was ready. Westley had made her a special birthing bed, the softest straw and pillows softer still. It faced west, and he built a nearby fire, and he had kettles boiling with pure water. An hour before sunset, when her contractions were but five minutes apart, he carried her to the bed and set her gently down, and sat alongside her, massaging her. She was so happy, as was he, and by the time the sun was starting to set the contractions were but two minutes apart.

  Buttercup stared at the sun and smiled, took his hand and whispered to him, "It's what I always wanted most on earth, bringing your son into life at such a time, with you beside me." They were both so happy, and Westley told her, "We are one heartbeat," and she kissed him softly and said, "And will always be."

  During this, Inigo was fencing with shadows, excellent practice if you had no proper opponent to play with. Westley, of course, was superb, and they had spent many happy hours slashing away at each other. But now, as sunset ended, Inigo made ready to stop soon and go welcome the baby.

  Fezzik usually watched them, or Inigo alone when that was the case. But not this night. He was hiding on the far side of One Tree's one tree, the sky-topper. And he was holding his stomach and trying not to groan and be a bother, but the truth was this: for the strongest man on earth, for a man who earned his living inflicting pain, Fezzik was squeamish. He could handle blood as well as the next fighter, when it came from an opponent. But he had asked Westley and Inigo what was it going to be like, when Buttercup's son was born, and though neither of them were expert, they both indicated there might be some blood as well as other stuff.

  Fezzik rolled on the ground as the phrase "other stuff" went through his bean. There was a Turkish word that described such things--byuk. Fezzik held his stomach and thought byuk over and over. He knew, from looking at the stars overhead, that the boy was shortly to arrive.

  But, by midnight, they knew something was wrong.

  The contractions were but a minute apart as they looked out at the sun's afterglow--but that is where they stayed. At ten they were still as before, and Buttercup would have handled it quietly, as she had the preceding hours--

  --but at midnight her back began to spasm. She could withstand that; Westley was beside her, what were spasms? She was settling in for a long visit with them--

  --until the pain crept from her back to her hips, found one leg, then both, set them on fire--

  --the blaze in her legs was the beginning of her torment.

  Her color faded but she was still Buttercup and she was lit by the glow from the flames. She was still, then, something to see.

  It was not 'til dawn that they saw what the pain had done to her.

  Westley stayed alongside, rubbed her back, massaged her legs, toweled her perspiring face. He was wonderful.

  By noon, they knew something was very much wrong.

  Fezzik rumbled over, took a look, ran back and hid in his spot, helpless. Inigo grabbed the six-fingered sword and fought with the breezes until he realized the sun was going down again and they were into the second day.

  "I don't want you to worry," Buttercup whispered to her beloved.

  "Nothing unusual so far," Westley replied. "From all I've heard, thirty hours is perfectly normal."

  "Good, I'm glad to know that."

  When the next dawn came and she had clearly begun to weaken, she managed to say, "What else have you heard?" and Westley said, "Everyone agrees on this: the longer the labor, the healthier the baby."

  "How lucky we shall be to have a healthy son."

  By the second sunset, it was only about survival.

  Fezzik sobbed behind the tree as Westley counseled with Inigo. They spoke evenly--but terror was starting to circle about them. "I don't know of such things," Inigo said.

  "Nor do I."

  "I've heard of a cutting that can save the life. You cut the woman somehow."

  "And kill my beloved? I would kill whoever tried."

  Just then Buttercup cried out and Westley ran to her, dropped beside her. "...I'm sorry to be ... such a bother..."

  "What caused the scream?"

  Buttercup reached for his hand, held it so tight. "...my spine is on fire..."

  Westley smiled. "How lucky we are. Once that happens with the spine, well, that's a clear signal that our son is about to be born."

  "The spine is nothing, not when you get used to it. I have had real pain, when I heard Roberts had killed you. That was hard to deal with. I suffered then. But this--" She tried to snap her fingers but her body was not obeying her. "Nothing."

  "Inigo and I were just talking about where to go once we are a family. You remember how before I left your father's farm I was thinking of America? That still seems a good notion to me, what do you think?"

  She whispered, "America?"

  "Yes, across the ocean somewhere, and do you know when I first loved you?"

  "...tell me..."

  "Well, we were young and you had just berated me terribly, called me a dullard and a fool as you did in those days: 'Farm Boy, why can't you ever do anything right? Farm Boy, you're hopeless, hopeless and dull and you'll never amount to anything.'"

  Buttercup managed a smile. "...I was horrible..."

  "On your good days you were horrible, but you could be much worse than that, and when the boys started coming around you were at your worst. One evening when they had all gone away and I was in the barn brushing Horse and you came out, humming and silly and said, 'I can have any boy in the village and lah de dah,' and I went to my hovel and I said to myself, 'That's it, you can keep those idiots for all I care, I am gone,' so I packed my belongings and I started out of the farm and I looked up at your window and I thought, 'You will be so sorry for humiliating me because I will come back here someday with all the wealth of Asia, good-by forever.'"

  ". ..you really left me...?"

  "That was the theory. But the reality was this: I turned and took a step toward the gate and I thought, 'What value has all the wealth of Asia without her smile?' And then I took another step and thought, 'But what if that smile comes and you not here to see it?' I just stood by at your window and I realized I had to be there in case your smile happened. Because I was so helpless when it came to you, I was so besotted by your splendor, I was soooooo ecstatic to be near you even though all you did was insult me. I could never leave."

  She smiled the sweetest smile she could manage.

  Westley gestured for Inigo to come closer. "I think we've rounded the corner," he whispered.

  "I can see that," Inigo whispered back.

 
But they were living on hope and they both knew they were, and Westley held her so gently as her breathing grew increasingly weak. Inigo patted Westley on the shoulder as one comrade does to another, nodded that all was going to be well. And Westley nodded back. But Inigo in his heart knew this: it was soon to be over.

  And behind the tree, Fezzik, alone, gasped, because he knew this: he was suddenly not alone anymore. He began to try and fight it, because something was invading him, invading his brain, and the Lord only knew his brain could use a little help, but Fezzik struggled on because when you were invaded, you never knew who was coming along for the ride, a helper or a damager, someone good, or, more terrifying, someone who wished anguish. Fezzik's mother had been invaded the day she met his father, for she was far too shy to approach him and flirt the way Turkish lasses were supposed to do in those days, so she just stood aside while the other village girls swooped him up. And she wanted Fezzik's father, wanted to spend her life with him, she knew that but she was helpless so she scuffed away, leaving the field to the braver girls--but then the invasion came and suddenly Fezzik's mother was brassy, and her temporary new tenant gave her confidence to do wonderful things, so back she went to join the other village flirts, and she outdid them all, with her flaunting smile and the wondrous way her body moved. At least it did that day, and Fezzik's father was smitten with her and even though the invader left that evening, they got married and his mother was so happy and his father only wondered as the years went on, wondered whatever happened to that glorious brazen creature who had won his heart....

  Fezzik could feel his power going as the invader took control. His last thought was really a prayer: that please, whoever you are, if you harm the child, kill me first.

  And by the fire Westley held Buttercup all the more tightly and said words of optimism, and Inigo always replied in the same tone.

  Until that awful fiftieth hour of Buttercup's labor when Inigo could lie no more and said the dreaded words: "We've lost her."

  Westley looked at her still face and it was true, and he had done nothing to save her. Not once in all of his life, except when he was in the Machine, had he ever let tears visit, not even when his beloved parents were tortured in front of him, not once, never, never the one time.

  Now he fauceted. He fell across her, and Inigo could only watch helplessly. And Westley wondered what was he going to do until he died, because going on alone was not possible. They had battled the Fire Swamp and survived. If he had known how it was going to end, Westley thought at that moment, he would have let them die there. At least that way they would have been together.

 
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