Testament

Shay Sheridan

Shakespeare ~ Hamlet, a story of Horatio, after the events of the play.
There will be time, they say, after




After the blood is blotted and the spilled wine mopped up, once the gallery's been put to order again, then they'll come for him, and hear the story.

But then there's the funeral to prepare for, and the mass – several of them, in fact, because it wouldn't seem proper to have Hamlet's casket in the same chapel as Claudius', would it? Certainly, that wouldn't be right, given the circumstances (not that he's told them yet what those circumstances were, but he's been assured that will come in due course). And of course there's the question of the Queen – do they lay her in the ground with her first husband, or her last? And poor Laertes: he's been shuffled aside to rot while the royals are taken care of. They'd better bury him, too, near Ophelia and their father, before all of Elsinore gets wind of him. All this death, with all the necessary preparations, must of course take precedence over explanation.

And when that's over, there's the transition of authority to Fortinbras, who's busy setting up his court, and hasn't the time to meet with him, no matter how long he lingers in the anteroom, waiting to begin his tale: "Hamlet was Prince of Denmark, and he was wronged by his uncle Claudius—"

Weeks go by.

Horatio grows tired of sitting in the gilded chamber, awaiting Fortinbras' leisure. He has time to notice subtle changes, like how the ornaments the late Queen so loved are being replaced by shields and armor. Young Fortinbras is a warrior king, not used to fussy decorations, and Horatio suspects he's melting down the gold to put in his coffers. Horatio doesn't really care; all he'd like is the time to tell the new king Hamlet's story. An afternoon will do. Two hours, or even one.

A quarter hour might suffice.

The story, so fresh in his mind in the aftermath, has begun to fray around the edges, details disappearing. What was it Hamlet said about the pirates? What did Claudius do with Laertes? so Horatio begins to write it down in a small journal, so that the details that remain do not disappear as well. He works at it, carefully parsing his words, crossing out those that do not convey the exact truth of each event. The journal is filled with thousands of words by the time he is done.

Two months pass. Four. Five.

Horatio no longer waits in the anteroom, but attempts to catch Fortinbras in other places – the stables one day, on his way to dinner the next. But the new king's entourage steps between them, and he cannot approach. He waves the journal in Fortinbras' direction, but no one pays him any attention.

Spring becomes summer, and summer fall, and Horatio no longer attends the court. He's taken to visiting the cemetery to sit by Hamlet's grave. They've buried him near his father, but not too near – more like an obscure corner of the royal plot. He sits for hours, half a day some times, and says not a word. But his heart is full, and his mind, too, and he tells the story of what happened to himself, over and over, beginning Hamlet was Prince of Denmark, and he was wronged, until he has it memorized, word for word, event by event, emotion by emotion.

On Hamlet's birthday, Horatio comes to the grave with his dagger out, prepared to kill himself. After all, he's failed in his promised duty; he doesn't deserve to live. But he can't bring himself to drive the dagger through his own heart, because he doesn't deserve his rest. His duty's not yet done.

A year to the day after Hamlet dies, Horatio is summoned to the court. He steps into the hall where Fortinbras waits, seated comfortably on the throne. "So," the king says, "Horatio. It's time we put things in order. Our people deserve to know the truth, isn't that so?"

"Indeed, my liege," Horatio says, the weight falling from his heart. "In fact, sir, I have written—"

"It's our understanding," Fortinbras continues, "that the late king was murdered by his stepson."

"Nay, my liege, that's not—"

Fortinbras opens a scroll. "It has been documented that Prince Hamlet, said stepson, was a madman, but for some reason, probably out of his mother's misplaced affection, was allowed to roam freely. Apparently he was of murderous intent, as is verified by our cousin England, who notes in this letter that while there, the prince orchestrated the death of innocent companions, and undertook an invasion of Denmark with pirates."

"No, sir!" Horatio rises, and the king's attendants take a step closer, hands on the hilts of their swords. "He never—"

"Also," continues Fortinbras, as if he has not been interrupted, "apparently Hamlet was engaged in an incestuous relationship with his mother – disgusting, that! – and also murdered a trusted advisor whose daughter the prince had despoiled." Fortinbras hands off the document. "I'm sure you can corroborate this, as you were his confidante…though we are prepared to accept that you are not implicated in his plot. I hope our trust is not misplaced?"

Horatio stares, but says nothing.

"In any case, as the Queen bore no other children and the late King Claudius with his dying breath named us his heir, we believe there is no need for further investigation. Wouldn't you agree?"

Horatio remains mute. An attendant steps to the door and opens it.

"Well, then," says Fortinbras. "You are dismissed. With our thanks."

Horatio buries the journal in Hamlet's grave. There's no need, after all, for a document that will never be read. He sits by the prince's side for hours, his hand upon the earth, until he no longer feels the chill of the wind, until his hands are so numb they feel warm. And then he tells his story. It is very short, requiring only a handful of words.

"Hamlet was Prince of Denmark," Horatio says, "and he was loved."


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