The princess bride, p.9
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Princess Bride, p.9

           William Goldman
 

  HE WAS RINGING down the curtain on an orangutan when the business of the King's health made its ultimate intrusion. It was midafternoon, and the Prince had been grappling with the giant beast since morning, and finally, after all these hours, the hairy thing was weakening. Again and again, the monkey tried to bite, a sure sign of failure of strength in the arms. The Prince warded off the attempted bites with ease, and the ape was heaving at the chest now, desperate for air. The Prince made a crablike step sidewise, then another, then darted forward, spun the great beast into his arms, began applying pressure to the spine. (This was all taking place in the ape pit, where the Prince had his pleasure with many simians.) From up above now, Count Rugen's voice interrupted. "There is news," the Count said.

  From battle, the Prince replied, "Cannot it wait?"

  "For how long?" asked the Count.

  C

  R

  A

  C

  K

  The orangutan fell like a rag doll. "Now, what is all this," the Prince replied, stepping past the dead beast, mounting the ladder out of the pit.

  "Your father has had his annual physical," the Count said. "I have the report."

  "And?"

  "Your father is dying."

  "Drat!" said the Prince. "That means I shall have to get married."

  Three

  The Courtship

  FOUR OF them met in the great council room of the castle. Prince Humperdinck, his confidant, Count Rugen, his father, aging King Lotharon, and Queen Bella, his evil stepmother.

  Queen Bella was shaped like a gumdrop. And colored like a raspberry. She was easily the most beloved person in the kingdom, and had been married to the King long before he began mumbling. Prince Humperdinck was but a child then, and since the only stepmothers he knew were the evil ones from stories, he always called Bella that or "E. S." for short.

  "All right," the Prince began when they were all assembled. "Who do I marry? Let's pick a bride and get it done."

  Aging King Lotharon said, "I've been thinking it's really getting to be about time for Humperdinck to pick a bride." He didn't actually so much say that as mumble it: "I've beee mumbbble mumbbble Humpmummmble engamumble."

  Queen Bella was the only one who bothered ferreting out his meanings anymore. "You couldn't be righter, dear," she said, and she patted his royal robes.

  "What did he say?"

  "He said whoever we decided on would be getting a thunderously handsome prince for a lifetime companion."

  "Tell him he's looking quite well himself," the Prince returned.

  "We've only just changed miracle men," the Queen said. "That accounts for the improvement."

  "You mean you fired Miracle Max?" Prince Humperdinck said. "I thought he was the only one left."

  "No, we found another one up in the mountains and he's quite extraordinary. Old, of course, but then, who wants a young miracle man?"

  "Tell him I've changed miracle men," King Lotharon said. It came out: "Tell mumble mirumble mumble."

  "What did he say?" the Prince wondered.

  "He said a man of your importance couldn't marry just any princess."

  "True, true," Prince Humperdinck said. He sighed. Deeply. "I suppose that means Noreena."

  "That would certainly be a perfect match politically," Count Rugen allowed. Princess Noreena was from Guilder, the country that lay just across Florin Channel. (In Guilder, they put it differently; for them, Florin was the country on the other side of the Channel of Guilder.) In any case, the two countries had stayed alive over the centuries mainly by warring on each other. There had been the Olive War, the Tuna Fish Discrepancy, which almost bankrupted both nations, the Roman Rift, which did send them both into insolvency, only to be followed by the Discord of the Emeralds, in which they both got rich again, chiefly by banding together for a brief period and robbing everybody within sailing distance.

  "I wonder if she hunts, though," said Humperdinck. "I don't care so much about personality, just so they're good with a knife."

  "I saw her several years ago," Queen Bella said. "She seemed lovely, though hardly muscular. I would describe her more as a knitter than a doer. But again, lovely."

  "Skin?" asked the Prince.

  "Marbleish," answered the Queen.

  "Lips?"

  "Number or color?" asked the Queen.

  "Color, E. S."

  "Roseish. Cheeks the same. Eyes largeish, one blue, one green."

  "Hmmm," said Humperdinck. "And form?"

  "Hourglassish. Always clothed divineishly. And, of course, famous throughout Guilder for the largest hat collection in the world."

  "Well, let's bring her over here for some state occasions and have a look at her," said the Prince.

  "Isn't there a princess in Guilder that would be about the right age?" said the King. It came out "Mumcess Guilble, abumble mumble?"

  "Are you never wrong?" said Queen Bella, and she smiled into the weakening eyes of her ruler.

  "What did he say?" wondered the Prince.

  "That I should leave this very day with an invitation," replied the Queen.

  So began the great visit of the Princess Noreena.

  ***

  Me again. Of all the cuts in this version, I feel most justified in making this one. Just as the chapters on whaling in Moby-Dick can be omitted by all but the most punishment-loving readers, so the packing scenes that Morgenstern details here are really best left alone. That's what happens for the next fifty-six and a half pages of THE PRINCESS BRIDE: packing. (I include unpacking scenes in the same category.)

  What happens is just this: Queen Bella packs most of her wardrobe (11 pages) and travels to Guilder (2 pages). In Guilder she unpacks (5 pages), then tenders the invitation to Princess Noreena (1 page). Princess Noreena accepts (1 page). Then Princess Noreena packs all her clothes and hats (23 pages) and, together, the Princess and the Queen travel back to Florin for the annual celebration of the founding of Florin City (1 page). They reach King Lotharon's castle, where Princess Noreena is shown her quarters (1/2 page) and unpacks all the same clothes and hats we've just seen her pack one and a half pages before (12 pages).

  It's a baffling passage. I spoke to Professor Bongiorno, of Columbia University, the head of their Florinese Department, and he said this was the most deliciously satiric chapter in the entire book, Morgenstern's point, apparently, being simply to show that although Florin considered itself vastly more civilized than Guilder, Guilder was, in fact, the far more sophisticated country, as indicated by the superiority in number and quality of the ladies' clothes. I'm not about to argue with a full professor, but if you ever have a really unbreakable case of insomnia, do yourself a favor and start reading Chapter Three of the uncut version.

  Anyway, things pick up a bit once the Prince and Princess meet and spend the day. Noreena did have, as advertised, marbleish skin, roseish lips and cheeks, largeish eyes, one blue, one green, hourglassish form, and easily the most extraordinary collection of hats ever assembled. Wide brimmed and narrow, some tall, some not, some fancy, some colorful, some plaid, some plain. She doted on changing hats at every opportunity. When she met the Prince, she was wearing one hat, when he asked her for a stroll, she excused herself, shortly to return wearing another, equally flattering. Things went on like this throughout the day, but it seems to me to be a bit too much court etiquette for modern readers, so it's not till the evening meal that I return to the original text.

  ***

  DINNER WAS HELD in the Great Hall of Lotharon's castle. Ordinarily, they would all have supped in the dining room, but, for an event of this importance, that place was simply too small. So tables were placed end to end along the center of the Great Hall, an enormous dr7afty spot that was given to being chilly even in the summertime. There were many doors and giant entranceways, and the wind gusts sometimes reached gale force.

  This night was more typical than less; the winds whistled constantly and the candles constantly needed relighting, and som
e of the more daringly dressed ladies shivered. But Prince Humperdinck didn't seem to mind, and in Florin, if he didn't, you didn't either.

  At 8:23 there seemed every chance of a lasting alliance starting between Florin and Guilder.

  At 8:24 the two nations were very close to war.

  What happened was simply this: at 8:23 and five seconds, the main course of the evening was ready for serving. The main course was essence of brandied pig, and you need a lot of it to serve five hundred people. So in order to hasten the serving, a giant double door that led from the kitchen to the Great Hall was opened. The giant double door was on the north end of the room. The door remained open throughout what followed.

  The proper wine for essence of brandied pig was in readiness behind the double door that led eventually to the wine cellar. This double door was opened at 8:23 and ten seconds in order that the dozen wine stewards could get their kegs quickly to the eaters. This double door, it might be noted, was at the south end of the room.

  At this point, an unusually strong cross wind was clearly evident. Prince Humperdinck did not notice, because at that moment, he was whispering with the Princess Noreena of Guilder. He was cheek to cheek with her, his head under her wide-brimmed blue-green hat, which brought out the exquisite color in both of her largeish eyes.

  At 8:23 and twenty seconds, King Lotharon made his somewhat belated entrance to the dinner. He was always belated now, had been for years, and in the past people had been known to starve before he got there. But of late, meals just began without him, which was fine with him, since his new miracle man had taken him off meals anyway. The King entered through the King's Door, a huge hinged thing that only he was allowed to use. It took several servants in excellent condition to work it. It should be reported that the King's Door was always in the east side of any room, since the King was, of all people, closest to the sun.

  What happened then has been variously described as a norther or a sou'wester, depending on where you were seated in the room when it struck, but all hands agree on one thing: at 8:23 and twenty-five seconds, it was pretty gusty in the Great Hall.

  Most of the candles lost their flames and toppled, which was only important because a few of them fell, still burning, into the small kerosene cups that were placed here and there across the banquet table so that the essence of brandied pig could be properly flaming when served. Servants rushed in from all over to put out the flames, and they did a good enough job, considering that everything in the room was flying this way, that way, fans and scarves and hats.

  Particularly the hat of Princess Noreena.

  It flew off to the wall behind her, where she quickly retrieved it and put it properly on. That was at 8:23 and fifty seconds. It was too late.

  At 8:23:55 Prince Humperdinck rose roaring, the veins in his thick neck etched like hemp. There were still flames in some places, and their redness reddened his already blood-filled face. He looked, as he stood there, like a barrel on fire. He then said to Princess Noreena of Guilder the five words that brought the nations to the brink.

  "Madam, feel free to flee!"

  And with that he stormed from the Great Hall. The time was then 8:24.

  Prince Humperdinck made his angry way to the balcony above the Great Hall and stared down at the chaos. The fires were still in places flaming red, guests were pouring out through the doors and Princess Noreena, hatted and faint, was being carried by her servants far from view.

  Queen Bella finally caught up with the Prince, who stormed along the balcony clearly not yet in control. "I do wish you hadn't been quite so blunt," Queen Bella said.

  The Prince whirled on her. "I'm not marrying any bald princess, and that's that!"

  "No one would know," Queen Bella explained. "She has hats even for sleeping."

  "I would know," cried the Prince. "Did you see the candlelight reflecting off her skull?"

  "But things would have been so good with Guilder," the Queen said, addressing herself half to the Prince, half to Count Rugen, who now joined them.

  "Forget about Guilder. I'll conquer it sometime. I've been wanting to ever since I was a kid anyway." He approached the Queen. "People snicker behind your back when you've got a bald wife, and I can do without that, thank you. You'll just have to find someone else."

  "Who?"

  "Find me somebody, she should just look nice, that's all."

  "That Noreena has no hair," King Lotharon said, puffing up to the others. "Nor-umble mumble humble."

  "Thank you for pointing that out, dear," said Queen Bella.

  "I don't think Humperdinck will like that," said the King. "Dumble Humble Mumble."

  Then Count Rugen stepped forward. "You want someone who looks nice; but what if she's a commoner?"

  "The commoner the better," Prince Humperdinck replied, pacing again.

  "What if she can't hunt?" the Count went on.

  "I don't care if she can't spell," the Prince said. Suddenly he stopped and faced them all. "I'll tell you what I want," he began then. "I want someone who is so beautiful that when you see her you say, 'Wow, that Humperdinck must be some kind of fella to have a wife like that.' Search the country, search the world, just find her!"

  Count Rugen could only smile. "She is already found," he said.

  IT WAS DAWN when the two horsemen reined in at the hilltop. Count Rugen rode a splendid black horse, large, perfect, powerful. The Prince rode one of his whites. It made Rugen's mount seem like a plow puller.

  "She delivers milk in the mornings," Count Rugen said.

  "And she is truly-without-question-no-possibility-of-error beautiful?"

  "She was something of a mess when I saw her," the Count admitted. "But the potential was overwhelming."

  "A milkmaid." The Prince ran the words across his rough tongue. "I don't know that I could wed one of them even under the best of conditions. People might snicker that she was the best I could do."

  "True," the Count admitted. "If you prefer, we can ride back to Florin City without waiting."

  "We've come this far," the Prince said. "We might as well wai--" His voice quite simply died. "I'll take her," he managed, finally, as Buttercup rode slowly by below them.

  "No one will snicker, I think," the Count said.

  "I must court her now," said the Prince. "Leave us alone for a minute." He rode the white expertly down the hill.

  Buttercup had never seen such a giant beast. Or such a rider.

  "I am your Prince and you will marry me," Humperdinck said.

  Buttercup whispered, "I am your servant and I refuse."

  "I am your Prince and you cannot refuse."

  "I am your loyal servant and I just did."

  "Refusal means death."

  "Kill me then."

  "I am your Prince and I'm not that bad--how could you rather be dead than married to me?"

  "Because," Buttercup said, "marriage involves love, and that is not a pastime at which I excel. I tried once, and it went badly, and I am sworn never to love another."

  "Love?" said Prince Humperdinck. "Who mentioned love? Not me, I can tell you. Look: there must always be a male heir to the throne of Florin. That's me. Once my father dies, there won't be an heir, just a king. That's me again. When that happens, I'll marry and have children until there is a son. So you can either marry me and be the richest and most powerful woman in a thousand miles and give turkeys away at Christmas and provide me a son, or you can die in terrible pain in the very near future. Make up your own mind."

  "I'll never love you."

  "I wouldn't want it if I had it."

  "Then by all means let us marry."

  Four

  The Preparations

  I DIDN'T EVEN know this chapter existed until I began the 'good parts' version. All my father used to say at this point was, 'What with one thing and another, three years passed,' and then he'd explain how the day came when Buttercup was officially introduced to the world as the coming queen, and how the Great Square of Florin Cit
y was filled as never before, awaiting her introduction, and by then, he was into the terrific business dealing with the kidnapping.

  Would you believe that in the original Morgenstern this is the longest single chapter in the book?

  Fifteen pages about how Humperdinck can't marry a common subject, so they fight and argue with the nobles and finally make Buttercup Princess of Hammersmith, which was this little lump of land attached to the rear of King Lotharon's holdings.

  Then the miracle man began improving King Lotharon, and eighteen pages are used up in describing the cures. (Morgenstern hated doctors, and was always bitter when they outlawed miracle men from working in Florin proper.)

  And seventy-two--count 'em--seventy-two pages on the training of a princess. He follows Buttercup day to day, month to month, as she learns all the ways of curtsying and tea pouring and how to address visiting nabobs and like that. All this in a satiric vein, naturally, since Morgenstern hated royalty more even than doctors.

  But from a narrative point of view, in 105 pages nothing happens. Except this: 'What with one thing and another, three years passed.'

  Five

  The Announcement

  THE Great Square of Florin City was filled as never before, awaiting the introduction of Prince Humperdinck's bride-to-be, Princess Buttercup of Hammersmith. The crowd had begun forming some forty hours earlier, but up to twenty-four hours before, there were still fewer than one thousand. But then, as the moment of introduction grew nearer, from across the country the people came. None had ever seen the Princess, but rumors of her beauty were continual and each was less possible than the one before.

  At noontime, Prince Humperdinck appeared at the balcony of his father's castle and raised his arms. The crowd, which by now was at the danger size, slowly quieted. There were stories that the King was dying, that he was already dead, that he had been dead long since, that he was fine.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll