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in the morning

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See, what I told you before about saying "please" was true. It intrigued Roberts, as did my description of your beauty. Finally, Roberts decided something. He said, "All right Westley, I've never had a valet, you can try it for tonight. I'll most likely kill you in the morning." Three years he said that. "Good night Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning." It was a fine time for me. I was learning to fence, fight, anything anyone would teach me.

-The Princess Bride, 1987


Ursula turns her face to the sky and tries not to tremble. The splinters of her battered ship dig sharply into her hands, but she pays them no mind, the cool edge of a cutlass at her throat far higher in her list of priorities. Slowly, she looks back at her captor, praying that the fear in her eyes does not show.

 

The pirate captain, conqueror of her small ship, raises an eyebrow coolly. “You’re in charge, here?” she asks. “You don’t look it.”

 

Ursula swallows thickly, and the tip of the sword pierces her skin. “I am Ursula, the crown princess of Guilder,” she replies, the words scratching against the weapon. “This is my vessel.”

 

“Huh,” the captain muses. “Well, it is unfair for me to know your identity if you don’t know mine. You are about to be murdered by the Queen of the Seas; some may consider it an honour.” She half-curtsies, weapon never wavering, a wicked grin forming on her face and shaping her words.

 

The princess blinks slowly, looking up at the pirate. “Don’t draw it out,” she pleads. “If you are to kill me, at least kill me quickly.”

 

Hero will be devastated. Hero will sob until her chest aches. Hero will miss her terribly, just as much as she would, were their situations reversed.

 

The pirate freezes, caught off guard. “What?” she asks. “No last words? No plea for mercy?”

 

Hero will be fine. Hero will survive. Hero will move on and live in joy.

 

“No,” says Ursula. Then, she hesitates. “Or, perhaps-- could you give me just ten minutes to write a letter?”

 

The captain frowns. “That’s all?” she asks. “Isn’t that a bit boring?”

 

Ursula shrugs. “You’ve killed every person on this ship,” she says. “Begging will not save me from their fate.”

 

“Just say I were to give you ten minutes,” the pirate begins after a moment of hesitation. “Who would you write to?”

 

“My best friend,” answers the princess. “My beloved.”

 

“You would spend the last moments of your life saying goodbye to this person?”

 

“She is the person that means the most to me. I love her with all that I am,” Ursula explains. “Why would I not?”

 

“And what is her name?” the pirate asks.

 

“Hero.”

 

The cool edge of the blade disappears suddenly, and Ursula closes her eyes and waits for the blow. I’m sorry, Hero, she thinks. The splinters dig further into her palms.

 

The strike never comes.

 

After an age, Ursula opens her eyes slowly and finds the sword replaced with the pirate’s hand. She eyes it warily.

 

“I won’t bite,” the pirate grins, other hand resting easily on her sheathed sword. “I’m careful to stay away from people in relationships.”

 

The princess doesn’t comment on that.

 

“Why?” she asks.

 

The pirate laughs, a gleeful, cruel sound. “You amuse me,” she says. “So write that letter, and I’ll decide whether to send it after I kill you.” The hand remains. “Quickly, now, before I grow tired.”

 

Ursula takes her proffered hand, letting the pirate pull her to her feet. She smoothes out her skirts, wincing, and keeps her eyes fixed carefully on the horizon as she steps around the bodies of her servants-- her friends, the people she had been celebrating with earlier in the evening. By the time she finds her cabin, she is shaking.

 

When she finds a quill, Ursula can barely hold it still, and the words she writes are wavering and scratchy, made more so by the flickering candle she writes by. The pirate stops her just as she signs her name, and she looks over the letter quickly. There is so much she couldn’t fit in, so many words she wanted to say but knew she couldn’t in such a short amount of time.

 

“Well?” the pirate asks, adjusting her mask slightly. “Is that all?”

 

Ursula nods. “All I could fit in the time that I had.” She begins to fold the paper, scanning the table for her seal, but the pirate snatches it from her hands.

 

“I would like to see what you have written,” she shrugs at Ursula’s cut-off cry. “It’s not every day I let a victim say goodbye.”

 

Ursula waits as the pirate reads the letter, gripping her dress with shaking, splintered hands. She realises some of the blood had to have smeared on the paper, and hopes it will not be too distressing for Hero.

 

The pirate hums thoughtfully. “‘Always and forever’,” she reads. “A lovely sentiment, but a tad unlikely, considering your predicament, princess.”

 

The words sound wrong and forced on her lips, but Ursula forces her sudden anger down. “It would not be a love letter between us if I did not say it at least once,” she says instead, and the pirate adjusts her mask again. It looks as if she is scowling beneath the dark cloth.

 

“This is unacceptable,” she says finally, and Ursula’s heart races.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

The pirate sighs. “I can feel your affection through this, but it is your last goodbye. A last goodbye must be more dramatic than this.” Her hand tightens around the paper, and Ursula wants to reach out and stop her. “Perhaps it was the time you were given. Just ten minutes? How in all the circles of hell would anyone be able to write a last goodbye in ten minutes?”

 

“It is better than nothing,” Ursula defends, hoping with all her heart that the pirate will still send it.

 

“Perhaps, perhaps.” The pirate begins to pace. After a few steps, she stops. “Tell me, princess, how terribly do you want recognition? Fame? infamy?”

 

Ursula frowns. “I don’t,” she answers automatically, unable to see how the concepts she despises most are relevant to her death.

 

The pirate appraises her. “Well. It’s obvious you are in no state to write your goodbye tonight. You are tired; perhaps your mind will be clearer in the morning.”

 

“What?” Ursula asks after a beat, the word strangled by her shock. “You aren’t killing me?”

 

The pirate shrugs one shoulder, screwing the letter into a ball. “This ending is just too unsatisfactory,” she explains, turning out of the cabin. “Besides, I’m not in the mood for murder anymore. I’ll just kill you tomorrow.”

 

Ursula hurries after her, the words swirling around her mind in a confused mess. Perhaps, she thinks, looking up at the stars, just perhaps, I will survive the morning. She holds onto that thought, wraps it in all the shreds of hope she can muster, and buries it deep in her heart.