A missing scene from The Princess Bride
This is a quick "back-story" of sorts to that glorious bad guy, Prince Humperdinck. It was inspired by William Goldman's comment in the explanation of Buttercup's Baby, at the end of The Princess Bride: "…there was all kinds of stuff, some of it wonderful, I got rid off… Example: How the King and Queen went to Miracle Max because they had somehow given birth to a monster (Humperdinck), and could Max change that? Max's failure is what led to his firing, which in turn, caused his crisis in confidence..."
There is only one beautiful child in the world, and every mother has it.
Throughout her life, Alexandra had watched new mothers cooing over their tiny, chubby, squirming bundles, listened as they boasted of pretty eyes and rosy cheeks; she nodded in agreement to all of her friends that, yes, her child was clearly like no other. But she had never truly understood the instant adoration that a mother feels for her child.
Now, however, as the months passed and her belly swelled with life, Alexandra knew, with absolute and unquestionable certainty, that her son, the heir of King Lotharon and Queen Alexandra of Florin, would be more beautiful than life itself.
She was wrong.
That was not to say that the young prince Humperdinck was an unattractive child; on the contrary, his hair was thick and dark, his arms were solid and strong; he would clearly grow into a handsome, mighty young man.
However, Alexandra saw nothing of his splendour. When Humperdinck was placed gently into her arms for the first time, she saw only his eyes, and she sobbed. For looking back at her were eyes as dark as death, cold and empty like a starless night.
Lotharon scolded her behaviour. "He is our son, Aly," he soothed; it was a nickname used only in private, and she tried to take comfort from its familiarity. (Unfortunately, she was plagued by the memory that the last time he had called her 'Aly' was when he had promised that the child in her womb would be great and kind and perfect.) "He is our child, and he needs us."
Alexandra didn't bother to point out that her husband had only once held Humperdinck in his young life, on the day of his birth, and never again. Perhaps he, too, had seen the haunting darkness behind their son's eyes.
Years passed, and young Humperdinck grew, as the kingdom had known he would, into a striking lad, full of energy and curiosity. But as the child grew, the mother weakened. Her golden hair turned lifelessly dull, and shadows took permanent residence beneath her eyes. She withdrew from the kingdom and simply observed the world, and her Humperdinck, with despair.
She watched as he became shrewd and cunning; he begun to tell lies, spread rumours; he even blackmailed the chef for biscuits and cakes (she never did discover what deep dark secret he held over the sweet man). But the day that Alexandra saw her little boy killing one of the castle guard-dogs with his bare hands was the day she realised she had stood by for far too long.
"We need Miracle Max," she whispered to Lotharon that night. She had expected an argument, but was to be proven wrong, for her husband merely nodded.
They took Humperdinck to the castle's miracle man early next morn. (Miracle workers had only recently become regarded as a respectable profession; before this, ill people sought the help of tailors—they repair clothes; why not people?) Miracle Max listened to their concerns, nodding wisely all the while. Then he and his witch took the boy to his hut beyond the city's Great Square, promising to return within the week.
Seven days later, the witch Valerie returned alone. "He needs a little more time," she pacified calmly. "Five days. He'll be done then."
On the evening of the fifth day, the witch was back. "My mistake," she claimed "I underestimated the work. But he's nearly done. Your boy will be back in six days."
The sixth day came and went, and then the seventh. On the tenth day, when Lotharon was preparing to fetch the lad himself, Miracle Max and his witch trudged back to the castle with Humperdinck in tow. The boy's dark head was bowed in silence.
"Well?" Alexandra urged. "Did you… fix him?"
Valerie reached over and gripped the miracle man's arm with quiet encouragement, and Alexandra's breath stopped.
"I did all I could think of," he whispered. "Hexes, spell work, charms and potions. All with ingredients of the highest quality, and incantations of most superior origins. But…" He sighed so deeply his entire body trembled. "Your boy can't be fixed with any miracle… He is, and always will be, a monster."
Lotharon wrapped his arm around Alexandra's waist, but she did not need his support; she would cry no more tears.
"Get out," she hissed. The elderly couple gaped; Valerie gathered enough courage to enquire tentatively, though not without a hint of anger, if Max was to be fired.
"No," Alexandra replied coldly. "Not officially. It would panic the kingdom to know that we were without a miracle worker. But know this!" She pulled away from her husband and stood nose to nose with the white-haired man. "You have failed here, Max. And the moment my husband finds our city a capable replacement, be it years or decades from now, there will be no place for you in Florin. Now get out."
She turned to leave, but stumbled inelegantly; Lotharon's firm hold was the only thing that kept her from hitting the floor. But she paid him no heed, for at that very moment, her heart had been pulled from her chest in one cruel blow.
At that very moment, her son—her one and only child—had looked at her with his empty ice-black eyes, and he smirked.
Alexandra was dead by the following week. She had suffered for so long, living only for her husband, her people, and (God save her) for her son. But the fact remains that no one, be she a royal Queen or a loving mother, can live without her heart.
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