An in-house guard removed the prisoners in the paddywagon ahead of us
. There were three prisoners: two older men and a teenager who appeared terrified to the point of wetting himself.
We watched the guards around us carefully, how they conducted business. Those with the paddywagon did nothing. One of them remained with the wagon, where he sipped lifelessly from a silver flask; the other, the one who accosted Crissah, eventually mumbled, “I gotta take a crap,” and left.
The great gates to the prison swung closed, the guards outside locking us in. It was up to Bacco
to open them when the time came.
The guard handling the prisoners did so with the expected brutality, yanking them out by their shackles and waving a broadsword in their faces. “You make no trouble here, maybe we’ll feed ya once a day. Make trouble here, and you can rot in your cell for all we care. Understand?”
The old men nodded resignedly; the teen whimpered, his eyes wide. The guard saw this and smashed his free fist into the boy’s face, who fell in a heap on the ground.
“Get up! Get up!” bellowed the guard. “Get up or die where you lie!”
The boy struggled to his feet. His mouth was a river of blood. He crouched, ready for another hit. The guard laughed, as did the one on the wagon, who saw that all was well in hand and stalked off.
“Ain’t you a pathetic one. You’ll serve the bulls well,” the one handling him growled. “You’ll be their little carrot.” He acted like he was going to strike him again, making the boy fall again, at which point he threatened to cut off the boy’s head unless he was standing again in “two seconds! An’ the first one just passed!”
The kid scampered to his feet, his eyes wet with horrified tears, his mouth running red. He had indeed peed himself; I hoped the guard didn’t notice. He didn’t. Instead he snarled at them: “Youse three stand right there. If ya move, ya eat me blade!”
He came towards us.
He reached for the lock, jammed his key in it, jiggered it with increasing frustration, then angrily yanked it out. “Damn rusted lock!”
“Here, I’ve got it,” said Hindy, who jumped off the driver’s side and came up behind him. She put her key in the lock as the guard, eyeing her, said, “You ain’ familiar.”
She kept her face pointing away from him. In as deep and gruff a voice she could manage, she said, “Just do your job, why doncha?”
She pulled the lock open.
He dropped a big, meaty paw on her shoulder. “Youse a little small to be a guard, aintcha?”
She turned to face him.
Her face was the last thing he ever saw. She withdrew her dagger from his sternum as he collapsed at her feet. Incredibly, no other guards saw this; they had all left! Hindy pulled the paddywagon’s doors open. “Get him under the wagon! They won’t see him there!”
We piled out. Crissah freed her garter-strapped dagger with one smooth motion as she leapt through. The three prisoners standing next to the paddywagon ahead of us gawked, speechless. As we got the body under the wagon, one of the old men rasped, “Free us! Free us!”
The captain tore off his bandages and kicked the paddywagon’s bottom ledge. The force released a spring and a thin drawer flew open, in which were our swords. He grabbed the magnificent blade that was his, and threw us ours. “Before the guards get back,” he whispered fiercely, “free the boy!”
Hindy collected the keys from the dead guard and tossed them to me. I caught them and bolted around the wagon to the boy, who gaped as I approached. I hurriedly jammed candidate keys into the lock hanging across his chest. I was third-key lucky. The lock released and the kid threw off his chains.
“Th-Thank you,” he said. He spat blood at his feet.
“Shhhhhh!” Emeri motioned a stiff finger to her lips. “Someone is coming!”
Indeed, we heard footsteps sound out in an adjacent hallway. The problem was, this staging area had many hallways, all of them dark. The approaching guard could be coming from any of them.
“Free us!” whispered the men. “Free us and we’ll help you fight!”
The boy turned to me, his face one of frightened outrage. “Don’t!”he hissed as quietly as he could. “They robbed my family and killed my mother and framed me for it! They got caught trying to rob another family! Free them and you’re freeing killers!”
“Free us or we’ll call out!” threatened one. “And then where will you—”
Emeri came unnoticed up behind them and knocked the speaker unconscious with the pommel of her sword. Her blade flicked in the face of the other before he could blink. “Corner,” she ordered. “Move. Quickly!”
The man grunted and clinked his way to the nearest corner, which was shrouded in darkness under the guard balcony overhead. He no longer looked as he did getting out of the paddywagon—a put-upon older man who just couldn’t understand what he’d done to deserve this grim fate—but had transformed into a hardened killer angling for an advantage. He went to say something cruel and threatening, I’m certain, but Emeri slammed the pommel into his temple before he could start, and he dropped in a heap at her feet.
Captain Montoya approached the boy, extra sword in hand. “Die here in fear,” he said, offering the weapon to him, which the boy took unsurely, “or live out there in freedom. Fight alongside me and you may join my crew.”
“Wh—Who are you?” asked the kid.
“That’s the Dread Pirate Roberts,” said Hindy, hurrying by, who added in a fierce whisper, “The corners! We’ve got seconds!”
The kid gawked. He did so for only the briefest moment, but in that glance I could see all his childhood fantasies flare to glorious life. With him in tow, we jammed ourselves into the corner nearest the corridor we thought the sounds of the bootsteps were coming from and waited.
The guard came through—the one who had gone to the bathroom. He looked around. He saw Crissah.
“What the hell—?” he yelled.
Her dagger flickered silver and gold in the dim light as she swung it up and around for his neck. He grabbed her arm before the blade could connect and yanked her into his broad chest. His smirking eyes crossed and he dropped unconscious to the hay-strewn ground still holding her arm. He fell half on top of her; I helped pull her free. I had slammed the pommel of my sword into his skull; I held the blade up, listening, as did the others.
We heard nothing save what was probably the muffled and distant snoring of dozens of prisoners down darkened halls. The guard’s yell hadn’t alerted anyone.
We hurriedly bound and gagged him and the other guard. We hauled them to the same corner as the killers and dropped hay on all of them, hiding them. Seven minutes had passed since the assault had begun.
Harshtree Prison was essentially a three-story rectangular box with a central courtyard over a dungeon. Where we were, the staging area, gave no indication whatsoever where we should start.
As it turned out, we didn’t really have much of a choice. All other ground-floor entrances leading to the cells were welded shut. The captain and Emeri and I hurried around to find out if any weren’t. The only one open to us was the one the guard had walked out of. I glanced down at its lock.
“It’s broken,” I noted. “No one has ever replaced it. This gate is permanently open!”
“I will lead,” said Captain Montoya. “Hindy, you’re right behind me. Two by two. A little space between each group. Paloni, where’s this Bacco?”
“Probably asleep,” I said.
“Do you know where the administrators sleep?”
“I do,” said Hindy.
“We need Bacco to help us find Fezzik,” I said. “We don’t have a choice in the matter.”
“Enough talk!” hissed Crissah, who had ripped her skirt up past her knees to give her legs freedom to move, and to keep cloth from getting in the way. “Let’s go!”
Very cautiously we stepped into the hallway.
“How long till the guards rotate?” asked the captain. “What did that ex-guard tell us again?”
“Twenty-five minutes by the clock,” she said. “Which means—” she pulled out a small fob watch from her brassiere and checked it—“we’ve got just over sixteen minutes before all hell breaks loose in here.”
I brought up the rear with the boy, who was so scared he was visibly shaking. “Come,” I said, taking a sure grip on his arm. He goggled at me. “Hold your sword like this—” I held mine up in a protective gesture. “Don’t be afraid.”
“Wh-Why are you here?” he asked.
“We’re saving a friend of the captain’s,” I answered as we hurried up the hallway.
“That’s really the Dread Pirate Roberts?”
“It really is.”
“I don’t want to die.”
He didn’t know what to say. “What’s your name?” I asked.
,” he said. “Rye
“Tell you what, Rye Morgny,” I said, “I’ll do everything I can to make sure you don’t die, if you do everything in yours to make sure I don’t. Deal?”
He’d lowered his sword again. I motioned again with mine.
The hallway ended at a T-intersection. Left was a short corridor that opened into a long balcony with cells to the right after fifty feet or so. Snoring came from that direction. To the right was another corridor, this one leading to stairs. A wooden sign hanging from the ceiling at their foot read: “CONSTABULARY.”
We hurried up them.
We stood in an office. A short hallway led off to the left, dark and threatening. An adjacent one, at a right angle to it, had various signs over closed doors.
“How many administrators sleep here?” the captain asked.
No one had an answer.
“Then we take one hostage and force him to tell us where Bacco is. Hindy, let’s go.”
The captain and Hindy hurried to the first door down the dark hallway. It was on the left. Hindy grasped the doorknob, turned it. It wasn’t locked. They disappeared inside.
A muffled groan issued from it. Ten seconds passed. The administrator appeared, Hindy’s sword at his bare back.
“D-Down here,” he grunted. “He’s this one. Now please—” he turned to look at Hindy—“please just let me—”
He fell unconscious to the floor. Captain Montoya, responsible for the man’s condition, looked down at him, then hurried to the indicated door.
And hell, which wasn’t supposed to break loose for another thirteen minutes, decided to get an early jump on the action.
Two guards suddenly came bellowing up the stairs at the same moment that two administrators threw open their doors, weapons at the ready. The admins were dressed ridiculously in bedclothes, but it was obvious that they were grizzled veterans of violence and didn’t give a damn how they looked.
I pushed the kid aside to protect him. The guards (one of them had been with the first paddywagon) were closest to me. They saw me and bullrushed me.
Crissah was at my side instantly, dagger in one hand, sword in the other. The guards caught her feminine figure for just a moment, long enough for me to strike. I felled the first with relative ease. The second went after Crissah, bellowing, “ALERT! ALERT! WE’RE BEING ATTACKED! ALERT!”
Crissah parried his onrush expertly, stepping out of the way with a vicious downstroke that left him bleeding from his sword hand. Another stroke cut the hand off completely. He stared at it lying at his feet while shrieking at the top of his lungs before she drove her dagger into his neck like an angry, swooping wasp. He fell to the ground gurgling.
The other administrators were dead as well. They had seen Hindy and Emeri, but not the finest swordmaster in the land, who withdrew his blade from the back of the last one before turning and sweeping into the room where Bacco was supposed to be.
Rye Morgny had peed himself again. He cowered in a darkened corner and cried, “I can hear more coming! MORE ARE COMING!”
“Hindy! Emeri!” I called. “Check those two doors!” Were there administrators behind them just waiting for their chance?
We no longer bothered trying to be quiet. Emeri, with a hard kick, busted the first door open, then shouted: “Empty!”
Hindy did the same to the second, but she said, “It’s storage! No one’s in here!”
Captain Montoya emerged from the third seconds later, Bacco leading at swordpoint. The captain’s eyes were wide as saucers. He said, “This is Bacco? No! No! It can’t be! This is … Vizzini!”
“I … I told you already, I’m Vizzini’s identical twin brother!” cried Bacco, obviously scared out of his mind. “I’m not Vizzini; he’s dead! He’s dead!”
Everyone on the Revengehad heard of Vizzini. He was the little pimple who had taken a commission by Prince Humperdinck to kidnap and kill Buttercup, who at that time was the prince’s lukewarm fiance. It had all gone along swimmingly until Inigo Montoya, who with the giant Fezzik Vizzini had hired to help carry out his dastardly deed, noticed a singleship in hot pursuit, which was captained by none other than the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, Captain Westley. Inigo Montoya, already a very skilled swordsman, was bested by Captain Westley, whom Montoya referred to as “The Man in Black.” No one knew, including us, his crew, that Captain Westley and Buttercup had a history, that they were in love. Westley, just like that, was gone. We had no idea where he had gone off to, or why. When we heard of the downfall of Prince Humperdinck (who was killed in this very prison not long after), we knew. “The Man in Black,” our captain, had killed Vizzini on his way to rescuing Buttercup. Bacco, who was crewing on the Revenge at the time, never told us that he had a brother, let alone an identical twin.
It all clicked for me then. Had Vizzini been successful with his plans, Bacco would have sold out the Revenge
in the tumult sure to follow as Florin
and Guilder prepared for all-out war. There was almost certainly no other reason why we didn’t know of Vizzini’s existence!
“You ass boil!” I shouted, and advanced on him.
Bacco’s eyes widened as I drew near.
“Stand down, Paloni,” ordered the captain. “We need him.”
“Only long enough to find out where Fezzik is!” I roared. Hindy and Emeri nodded agreement. They too looked like they were ready to skewer him, even though they hadn’t been on the Revenge when Vizzini was alive.
“That doesn’t give me much of a reason to tell you which cell he’s in then, does it?” simpered Bacco.
Captain Montoya gave him a dark grin, then shined it my way. “Paloni, cut off his hand.”
“Gladly,” I said, and raised my sword.
“All right! All right!” cried Bacco. “He’s in cell 24! Cell 24! I swear!”
“More are coming!” yelled Rye Morgny from the stairwell. “I can hear them!”
“Where’s cell 24?” demanded the captain. “Where are the keys to free him?”
“I’ll take you there,” squeaked Bacco. “I can guarantee your safety. I—I’ve got the keys. They’re in my room. Let me get them. Ouch!”
I had stuck the point of my sword in his Adam’s apple. A bead of blood formed on his neck, ran down it.
“Take him, Paloni, and make haste,” ordered Captain Montoya. “For each trick he tries to play, or that you suspect he is playing, remove one of his fingers.”
“Hurry!” cried Rye. “Hurry!”
“Move,” I snarled. Bacco turned and scurried back into his room, my sword poking into the back of his neck.
I was sorely tempted to kill him right there, and to hell with the consequences. That’s how angry I was. Bacco had made some excuse after Prince Humperdinck had been arrested and charged with treason; he had disembarked at the very next port we put in at, as I recall, hurrying off ahead of the rest of the crew and disappearing like the rat he was. We had all thought it odd at the time, but had discounted it. Bacco was odd. It was who he was. We expected nothing more of him, and so forgot the incident forthwith.
He rushed to his desk, just visible in the dark, and grabbed a ring of keys. “I can guarantee your safety,” he said, “but only if you take me with you.”
I brought my sword down on the ring, which slammed back down on the desk. The blade was tantalizingly close to his middle finger.
“You won’t survive without me, Duncan,” he said snakily. “There are guards sympathetic to your cause. I knew you would come. They are willing to look the other way—provided, of course, that I signal them. If I don’t signal them, you won’t make it out of here. The guards at the entrance gate are sympathizers. But unless I signal them, you’ll never leave this place alive.”
I’m no swordmaster like the captain, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to handle a blade. I flicked the tip of it into his finger and gave it a nice cut. He dropped the keys and I fed my blade through the ring and flipped them to my free hand.
“Signal the guards,” I said, just able to hold on to my temper, “ and you get to live. Don’t signal the guards, or give them the wrong signal, and this prison is your tomb. I’ll see to it personally. Move it.”
Bacco, middle finger in his mouth, scampered out of his bedroom.
Guards were at the stairwell.
“To the front,” I ordered Bacco. “Give the signal.”
We pushed him to the landing. The guards rushed up the stairs, broadswords at the ready. They stopped when they saw him.
He gave them a single nod. Glaring, they turned and descended out of sight.
We followed Bacco down the stairs into the dark hallway. Rye Morgny was in the middle of our group, his sword held protectively as I showed him. He was a liability, no doubt about it; but I wasn’t about to leave him to the grim fate of this prison. He reminded me of myself when I was his age, which couldn’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen years old.
Hindy had taken control of Bacco. She had shackled his wrists behind his back from a pair she found in storage. Bacco went to complain, and then to leer, at her, but a swift and shallow cut along his cheek silenced him. He was bleeding from at least three minor wounds and complained bitterly about how he was being treated.
I don’t know how he had arranged Fezzik’s escape with one set of guards and not another. Something didn’t smell right. I was about to ask when we came upon the first of the cells. Some of the inmates had woken; they stared silently at us from the gloom within them. I thought they might make a lot of noise, but none of them spoke. I thought of the guards again, and what they had probably done to them. I didn’t doubt if many of them had no tongues in their mouths. In any case, all of them were malnourished and hopelessness reigned in their eyes. I felt badly for them—even knowing that some, perhaps most, were actual criminals: killers and kidnappers and rapists.
“Here,” grumbled Bacco.
“Fezzik? Fezzik, are you in there?” asked the Captain frantically. “Fezzik!”
We couldn’t see inside the cell. But then a tremendous face emerged from the gloom, pressed itself to the bars.
“Inigo,” said the giant. “My friend …”
The captain was speechless, and I knew why. His friend looked like a great big skeleton. It was obvious he was starving. When the captain spoke, his voice was choked with rage.
“Keys,” he said.
I handed them to him.
“Which key is it?” he asked menacingly. He didn’t look at Bacco; and when Bacco hesitated for half a second too long, Captain Montoya’s blade, as though with a mind of its own, flicked out and up, too fast to follow, and cut off the lower third of the lobe of his right ear. The flesh flew through the dark and stuck to the blocks next to Fezzik’s cell.
“That one! The one you’re holding!”shrieked Bacco, whose ear bled freely down his neck. Captain Montoya placed the key into the lock and turned it. The lock released with a loud click, and we hurried to open the cell door, which squeaked and groaned loudly.
“Can you walk?” asked the captain of his friend. “Do you need help?”
“I will be all right,” said Fezzik. His accent was heavy and unknown to me, and I had trouble understanding him. “I am hungry, Inigo.”
“I know, I know, my friend,” said the captain. “We will eat the moment we’re away from here and safe from capture. Come, come …”
Fezzik emerged fully from his cell, and I shrank within myself. He truly was a giant. I felt even more outrage overcome me: there was no way he could’ve been comfortable in that confined space.
“Captain,” I said, “I submit to you that this little piece of rotting meat be held accountable for what has happened to Fezzik.”
I brought my glare to Bacco, who looked completely put out, as though he had no idea what I was going on about.
“He’s alive because of me!” he spat. “I saw to it that he got extra rations! He’d be dead were it not for me!”
“We don’t have time to argue,” insisted Hindy. “It’s obvious we’re being allowed to be here, but I don’t doubt that the Florin
authorities have been notified. It would be in this snake’s best interest if they were!”
“Agreed,” Emeri and I said at the same time. Rye Morgny simply stood there, gawking.
“Fezzik, after you …” said the captain. “Paloni, see to the administrator. Run him through at the first sign of trouble.”
“If you do that, you’ll die in here!” hissed Bacco, pressing his bloody ear into his shoulder.
The captain was suddenly in his face, sword point poking into his chin. “I do not fear death! If today I die freeing Fezzik, then I died in a noble pursuit. Are you ready to die with me?”
Bacco had no answer, or was too terrified to give one. Captain Montoya held his icy gaze on him for a moment, and once again I felt a thrill shoot through me, one that told me unequivocally that I was a full participant in the golden age of the Revenge. This captain was nothing short of spectacular.
We hurried back through the dark hallway. Not a peep came from the inmates as they watched us pass. Probably the entire prison was watching, or trying to watch, what was happening, but none dared call out. That’s how oppressive and horrible this place was.
We got to the stairs and hurried down them, then ran through the hall to the gate with the broken lock. Back in the staging area, we released the horses from our paddywagon, then did the same to those on the one that preceded us inside. It took some doing getting Fezzik on a horse; we had chosen the largest one for him; and now it looked like a mere pony. I had no idea how it could handle his mass, even as emaciated as it was.
Captain Montoya insisted Bacco ride with him. With everyone mounted (Hindy and Emeri shared a steed; Rye got his own), Bacco gave his signal, which involved a complex whistle. It was loud, but I doubted it was loud enough to be heard through those huge, thick gates, and said as much. Once again I suspected a trap, and glanced nervously around. But nothing happened. Instead the gates creaked, then cracked open.
We held up.
Indeed, it was a trap.
At least fifteen guards and a dark man in a cloak waited just outside. He spied the captain and chuckled menacingly. “Well, well,” he said. “Inigo Montoya, isn’t it? Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dynatis Rugen. My father was Count Rugen of Florin
. You slaughtered him, and I am here to slaughter you.”
Bloody Bacco was grinning.
Dynatis Rugen dismounted, withdrew his sword. “At my command,” he said, “kill all of them except the administrator.”
He raised his blade. Archers surrounding us pulled back on their arrows, and swords came up at the ready.
At that moment the three guards standing in front of him fell to the ground, arrows protruding from their bodies. They twitched and died.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” a voice called out from the impenetrable forest. “You’re surrounded. Drop your weapons now, NOW!—”
“Kill them all!” shouted Dynatis Rugen, who had backed up a dozen paces and appeared ready to run for safety. “Kill them now!”
It all happened in the blink of the eye. Hindy and Emeri jumped off their steeds, swords at the ready; Crissah turned her horse and rushed the nearest guard, who tried to cut her down before falling himself, headless. Rye Morgny stayed on his horse, which began bucking. I didn’t see what happened to him; an arrow whizzed just past my head, cutting it just over my ear. My horse went to buck me off, but I dismounted before it could, sword raised. Fezzik appeared too weak to move, and looked like he didn’t care if he died this night. He made a large target, so I went to defend him, but stopped in surprise, for that’s where Rye Morgny was. He had taken command of his horse with what I can only say was expert grace and brought it around to block Fezzik’s front. He held up his blade as I had shown him, his eyes raw saucers.
Arrows felled four or five more guards, but it was clear that Dynatis and his men weren’t surrounded. There were maybe two or three men out there in the dark, no more. The voice that had sounded out was familiar. I think we all figured out who it was at the same moment.
We killed all who rushed us. We glanced around for Bacco, but he had run off. We turned to locate the captain and gawked.
He was completely surrounded. Dynatis Rugen, like Bacco, had also run off. His horse snorted and wheeled about looking for him.
We went to help the captain, but it was too late. The guards—there were six of them—closed in, blades held high and murder in their gazes. Captain Montoya, sword at the ready, lowered his chin.
I’ll never forget the display I witnessed then if I live to be a hundred. I could sense the confidence in our new captain. The guards didn’t; or if they did, they ignored it. Either way, it was their undoing. They had the captain of the Revenge dead to rights, and were almost certainly thinking of the fame and fortune waiting for them when word got out that it was they who killed him.
They rushed him all at once, and then just like that three of them were lying at his feet. He had skewered them with a silent, swishing, spinning swiftness that beggared belief.
The three remaining bellowed in rage and rushed him hacking like woodsmen. I watched the sword hand of one fly through the air; and then the head of another; the third, sensing his fate, dropped his blade and fell to his knees and pleaded for his life. The captain slapped his face with his bloody blade and said, “Tell the wimpling Rugen
if I see him again, he’ll be just as dead as his father. And if I see you again …”
He didn’t finish the sentence.
“Run,” he ordered.
The guard sprang up and hopped over the bodies of his fallen comrades and fled into the deep and dark night under the boughs of HarshtreeForest
The men who had “surrounded” us were none other than Sam Racer and his two sons, who, without our knowledge, had followed us here and hidden in the forest ready to help if we needed it—which we most certainly did.
We found Bacco on his side in a ditch some ways on, whimpering uselessly. He couldn’t get up. I thought Captain Montoya would kill him, but Fezzik stayed his hand.
“He fed me extra once every two weeks,” he said. “He didn’t have to. Let him live, Inigo.” He smiled at Bacco. “Thank you, Bacco,” he said with absolute sincerity.
Bacco still had shackles on, his arms restrained behind his back. “I helped you!” he shrieked at the captain. “Without me that incomprehensible mountain of flesh never would have escaped! Without me he would be dead! Free me! Help me up and free me!”
“Throw him the keys,” the captain said, then turned back to Bacco. “Free yourself, and help yourself. But you will not come with us. You tried to double cross us. I knew you would. You and your friend Rugen
… you’re cowards. Certainly, you are no longer worthy to be a crewmember of the Revenge
, if you ever were.”
Hindy threw the keys. They hit with a gravelly clang by Bacco’s side. He glared up at us, his brow glistening with sweat, his face twisted in frustrated anger.
That’s where we left him, shrieking after us at the top of his voice. It was a full mile before we couldn’t hear him anymore.
We met the Revenge
back at TaurdustPort.
It sailed in two hours after we got there. The diggers found three small chests full of Guilder gold, enough to make us all rich men ten times over. We celebrated by feeding Fezzik (his appetite that night would become the stuff of legends) while pulling up anchor as quickly as we could and getting the hell out of there before Florin officials caught wind of our whereabouts. But not, of course, before saying good-bye to Sam Racer and his sons and giving them a generous portion of the booty in heartfelt thanks.
Fezzik was safe; so too was the young man named Rye Morgny.