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Unemployed in Greenland

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Vizzini was no good.

He was short-tempered, mean, unfair, grandiose. He was not as smart as he thought he was, and he ate too much herring and smelled very bad sometimes. He also made fun of how much Inigo drank and called him unkind names.

Inigo knew he drank too much. But the liquor helped him ignore Vizzini and also quieted the clamor of unsatisfied revenge in his heart. True, he probably never would have signed on as Vizzini’s hired sword if he had not been absolutely blotto at the time. But it was not a terrible decision in retrospect, for two reasons:

First, Inigo got to travel the world with Vizzini, which very well suited his goal of leaving no stone unturned in his search for the six-fingered man who killed his father (and who, Inigo hoped, was at every waking moment preparing himself to die).

Second, if not for Vizzini, Inigo would probably never have met Fezzik.

Inigo had known he would love Fezzik from the moment he laid eyes on him, sitting all woebegone on that rocky, frozen beach, weeping loudly into his enormous knees. Yes, it was maybe not the most promising meeting, but sometimes you just knew.

But this is getting too much ahead of the story.

 


 

It began with a mermaid, which in Inigo’s experience was true of about 85% of all stories worth telling. When they met the mermaid, Inigo and Vizzini were on their way back to Guilder after a stint of espionage in Nova Scotia, taking passage on a Viking longboat. Inigo liked the Vikings very much. They made fun of Vizzini behind his back, and they were generous with their mead.

“Oh look,” Inigo said, “a mermaid!” He pointed over the railing at a young lady bobbing in the icy northern sea about fifty feet from the ship. She waved, so Inigo waved back. His father had taught him always to be polite with new people. “Hello, mermaid!”

“What have I told you about hallucinations?” Vizzini said impatiently, not looking up from the little book he was reading, which was titled How to Double-Cross Anybody and Get Away With It: A Definitive Guide to Consequence-Free Treachery.

“That they are not real,” Inigo agreed. “However, I am barely even a little bit drunk, so I think perhaps I am really seeing a mermaid.”

“Go sleep it off, you Spanish simpleton,” Vizzini said.

“Hullo,” said the mermaid, who had meanwhile swum much closer to the ship.

Vizzini shrieked and threw his book into the air. Inigo found it very satisfying.

“Are you here to collect the giant?” the mermaid asked.

Inigo looked at Vizzini inquiringly. Collecting a giant was not the strangest job they had ever had, and it was true that sometimes Vizzini did not bother telling Inigo what their next job was until they were already halfway through the doing of it. So, basically, Inigo would not be so surprised to learn that they were in fact here to collect a giant.

“Of course we are, what a stupid question,” Vizzini said.

“Oh, good,” the mermaid said. “The crying is starting to wear on my nerves. I keep bringing it fish to eat, but it just cries harder. Maybe you can make it stop. Or just take it somewhere else.”

“Obviously, that is exactly what we are going to do,” Vizzini said. “And where, precisely, is this giant of ours?”

“Over there,” the mermaid said, casually pointing in what seemed to Inigo to be a random direction filled with nothing but ocean and icebergs.

“Sylvie,” said a voice from behind them. Inigo looked up, and up, and up: the gargantuan, battle-scarred Viking sea captain had intoned the mermaid’s name as if it hurt his feelings just to speak it out loud.

“Oh,” the mermaid said awkwardly. “Hello, Erik. I…guess I didn’t realize this was your ship.”

“Yes,” Erik said, also terribly awkward. “It is. My ship. So.”

“So,” the mermaid echoed. She fidgeted. “How have you been, then? All right?”

Erik shrugged stiffly. “Pillaging,” he said. “You know how it is.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

A long, charged silence ensued. Finally, it was broken by Vizzini briskly clapping his hands.

“So!” he said. “Giant?”

“Vizzini, you have no romance in your heart,” Inigo muttered.

“Get over it, you pathetic sentimentalist,” Vizzini snapped. “It’s obvious that these two are never ever ever getting back together.”

Erik looked hurt, but Inigo noted that he did not argue. Neither did the mermaid.

“Yeah. Anyway,” she said dispiritedly, “your giant’s on the beach over there.” She pointed again in the same direction. “Bye, Erik. Tell your mother I say hello.”

“Bye, Sylvie,” Erik said. She disappeared with a flip of her crimson tail, leaving behind only a ripple in the surface of the ocean. Erik stared blankly at the sea for a minute and then turned heavily to Vizzini.

“Stopping at Greenland is extra,” he told Vizzini. “You did not mention it when we negotiated the fee for your passage.”

“How careless of me,” Vizzini said cheerfully. He dug around in his purse and produced a small gold coin, which he flipped at Erik. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

Inigo winced.

Erik glared at Vizzini and did not move, not even to bat a frosty blond eyelash. The coin bounced off his chest and hit the deck with a cheerful tink.

Inigo sighed and stooped to pick up the coin. He tucked it into Erik’s hand and gave his best “we men of action know that it is beneath us to throw this horrible little man overboard” smile. Then he went belowdecks to find more mead. Vizzini trotted after him.

“I can’t believe she fell for it,” he chortled.

“Fell for what?” Inigo asked, searching for a tankard.

“When I told her the giant was ours!” Vizzini crowed. “What a nincompoop! That aquatic know-nothing swallowed it all, hook, line, and sinker!”

“Perhaps a little on the nose, that last bit,” Inigo suggested.

“Oh, shut up,” Vizzini said.

“So it is not our giant after all?" Inigo said.

“Well, it is now,” Vizzini said. “As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu famously said, ‘finders keepers.’”

 


 

They reached Greenland that afternoon.

Inigo himself had never been to Greenland before, but he thought it was not likely that the six-fingered man was hiding there. In fact, it seemed impossible that any life of any kind could exist there.

Greenland had been named by a liar, or possibly by someone with color blindness.

“Sheesh,” Vizzini said, which for once was pretty much exactly the same thing Inigo was thinking. Everywhere was gray rocks, white snow, gray water.

Once, as a boy, Inigo had seen a giant. When he was small, the circus had come to Barcelona and Inigo’s father got wind of it somehow and took him to see. They rode four hours each way. It was the longest journey little Inigo had ever made, and he very tired and sore and hungry by the time they arrived there. But the circus was worth it. There were zebras and acrobats and a beautiful woman with a long beard who breathed green fire.

The giant came out last—she was the star of the show. She was thirty feet tall and had sky blue skin. Her tunic was made from the same striped canvas as the circus tents, red and white. When she smiled, her mouth was full of sharp teeth like pointed rocks. She picked up all the other circus people, one by one, and sat them on her outstretched arm. Then she picked up the ringleader and sat him on her head, and that was the end of the show.

“When I grow up,” Inigo told his father on the way home, “I am going to marry a giant.”

Many years later, he heard that the giant had died in a war in Finland. Inigo had been drinking with some Chinese mercenaries in a tavern in Florin when it came up. He had excused himself and gone to bed early that night, feeling somewhat more desolate than usual, which was saying something, as he was still in the first flush of raging grief back then, and it had not yet steadied into the steely, obsessive resolve he now relied on to get through the day.

It was not that he still planned on marrying the giant. That would be absurd, obviously. He was much too busy to marry, plus they didn’t know each other at all. It was just another piece of his childhood that met a bloody end, that’s all.

This apparent digression regarding the circus and the giant is relevant to the story because it explains why Inigo was scanning the shores of Greenland looking for someone who was twenty or thirty feet tall, and perhaps had bright blue or green skin. He was not looking for a man merely ten feet tall with ordinary beige skin and a shock of curly brown hair. Vizzini saw him first.

The giant was, as promised, sitting on the beach and weeping.

The ground around him was littered with fish bones. Inigo remembered the mermaid saying that she had brought the giant things to eat. The giant was, in fact, still clutching a mostly-eaten codfish by the tail. It dangled, forgotten, and bobbed gently as the giant cried. His tears had carved tiny little streams through the gravelly sand and trickled steadily down to the ocean. Inigo wondered how long the giant had been sitting on the beach. It seemed like he had probably been there a long time.

The giant’s sobs were deep and mournful, and they struck Inigo, one after the other, like little bolts from a tiny, woeful crossbow. It had been a long time since he had been able to spare any sorrow for anyone but himself, but he was shaken by the sight of this enormous mountain of a man crying with his arms wrapped around his drawn-up knees like a heartbroken little boy.

“Fantastic,” Vizzini said, rubbing his hands together gleefully. “He’s in no state to resist me.”

The giant wept as they dropped anchor, wept as they launched a dinghy, and continued to weep as Vizzini walked up to him, kicked him in the leg, and said, “All right, you’re my giant now, get up and go get in the boat.”

The giant responded not at all.

Vizzini kicked him again, harder, and then danced away, swearing and clutching at his foot. The giant’s crying only got louder, if possible.

“Perhaps I might—” Inigo said delicately.

“Yes, yes, you see if you can persuade this useless heap to make himself less useless,” Vizzini said. “This is what I have to work with: drunken, uppity Spaniards and unmovable, blubbering giants. It’s a miracle I don’t lose hope altogether.”

He tromped off down the beach, muttering to himself.

Inigo would have knelt down to pat the giant’s shoulder in comfort, but as it happened his head was about level with the giant’s even though the giant was sitting down and Inigo was standing.

“Why are you crying, my friend?” Inigo asked, putting his hand on one impossibly broad shoulder.

The weeping diminished a little; enough for the giant to choke out an answer.

“I’m unemployed,” he said, not looking up.

His voice was impossibly deep. It rattled Inigo’s bones, a bit.

Unemployed. Inigo looked around. It was a little hard to imagine who—or what—might be in a position to offer employment in this nightmare landscape. What had he expected?

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Inigo offered, rubbing his hand across the giant’s shoulder in comforting circles. It was like petting a very warm boulder. The man’s shirt was threadbare, and Inigo was suddenly quite aware of the heat pouring off him. It was a miracle, to be honest, that he had not frozen to death already.

“It’s all my fault,” the giant said, his words still muffled by his knees. “I was terrible at it.”

“Terrible at what?”

“Lifting things,” the giant said.

“Truly?” Inigo said, perplexed. He had never met anyone better equipped for lifting things in his entire life.

“With a crane,” the giant added. “I was a crane operator. But I was terrible at it. They fired me.”

Why anyone would give this man a crane when he could clearly outperform most kinds of machines all by himself struck Inigo as a mystery.

“So,” he guessed, “you came to Greenland?”

“No,” the giant said. He heaved a giant sigh. “I went to France.”

“And what did you do there?”

“I got fired again,” the giant said, and sniffled pathetically. Inigo moved his hand to the giant’s springy hair and gave it a reassuring pat. The giant tipped his head toward Inigo and leaned in a little, and Inigo kept up the patting.

“What were you doing?” Inigo asked.

“Painting the feathers onto tiny little clay statues of birds,” the giant said, “in a factory in Rouen.”

Inigo didn’t know what to say to that.

“The paint brushes were so small,” the giant added desolately. “And the statues were so fragile.”

Well, it was not actually so hard to imagine why a man with hands the size of wagon wheels might have been fired from that job. Inigo wondered instead how he managed to get hired for it in the first place.

“So you decided to give up altogether,” Inigo suggested, “and that is why you came to Greenland?”

“No,” the giant said, his voice tight with misery. “I came to Greenland to answer a wanted ad.”

Inigo looked around again. “An ad,” he said.

“An ad,” the giant echoed. “To be a penguin herder.”

Oh dear.

“Forgive me,” Inigo said gently, “but I have always been told that penguins are a thing of the South Pole, not the North.”

“Yes,” the giant said simply.

“Ah,” Inigo said. “And so you are once more unemployed.”

“Yes,” the giant said again. His shoulders heaved, as if he were he was thinking about starting up the crying again. He wrapped his arms around Inigo and pressed his face into Inigo’s chest. Inigo’s doublet immediately became very moist.

Vizzini came stomping back up the sand, still muttering to himself.

“Wrap it up, you miserable pile of excrescence,” he told Inigo. “We’re on a schedule.”

As little as Inigo cared about Vizzini’s happiness, it was very cold on the beach. He wanted very much to get the giant safely on board the ship and to give him something warm to eat. A man—even a very, very large man—could not live on cold, raw fish alone.

“I have good news for you,” Inigo told the giant. “This small, loud man has a job for you. I believe you will be very good at it. And the pay is not bad.”

“There’s no pay!” Vizzini interjected indignantly. “He’s a giant! Giants aren't even people.”

“The pay is not bad,” Inigo said, looking levelly at Vizzini across the giant’s head. “The pay is as not-bad as my sword is not-dull.”

“Oh for the love of Saint Abraham of Smolensk,” Vizzini muttered. “Fine.”

“It’s going to be okay, my friend,” Inigo murmured, still petting the giant’s hair. The giant raised his head and peered at Inigo with tear-swimming eyes. His face was broad and unlovely, and Inigo loved it immediately.

“Are we friends?” the giant asked, and Inigo felt the rumble of his voice square in his chest.

“No!” Vizzini said.

“Yes,” Inigo said at the same time. “Yes, we are.”