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Hamlet and the Pirates

Chapter Text

He never was a strong boy. Sure, he engaged in casual fencing. He could lift Ophelia (well, then again, she barely weighed more than a book stack).

Hamlet did not truly expect to win the skirmish, did he? He had neglected the ranks in favor of word games and seats at plays. A delightful way to pass the time, but nothing useful. It’s almost funny that he grew up so weak. His halls were lined with tapestries of war and victory. His closet held a full set of armor, lovingly composed of bright silver plating, draped chain loops, and firm, reddened leather pressed with a foliage pattern.

He laughs to himself at the memory. Even aside from the absurdity of using adornment more fitting for a lady’s gown or a bed quilt, the particular type of leaf was factually incorrect. Five sickly fingers, the unholy child of mint and maple, it was sloppy and clearly had basis in neither Denmark nor the rest of the Lord’s earth. Thinking himself clever, he had pointed this out to his father back during childhood. If you’ve gone through all the trouble of commissioning me a suit to grow into, why not at least hire a lederer who knew his elementary botany? The king did not see this rationale. There is no use for botany among smiths. Even so, there is no use complaining about the factual accuracy of a decorative imprint. Appreciate the armor, Hamlet, you’ll use it some day.

Hamlet did not, in fact, use it. But then again, he never used Botany either. Unless you count the time he gifted Ophelia a colorful but otherwise uneventful novel on flowers.

He did, however, try it on once. Last year, during the spring transition from pessimistic snow to optimistic snow, he entertained Ophelia at a dinner with talk of his great skill in the military arts. Nearly swooning with the fantasy of it all, she begged him to show her his full uniform. He promised nothing, but did go to at least test the ensemble. He was, after all, finally tall and broad enough to support the shoulder plates. After a few awkward stumbles and knotted ties, he managed to array himself in the armor of a champion. Dashing indeed, Ophelia would be much pleased. Smug with the idea, he attempted a little strut around the room and promptly tripped himself. His legs were crossed awkwardly, the sword previously hanging from his side now weighed down upon his chest, altogether making an image not unlike a dropped marionette. The truth came flooding back and cleansed away his ego. Hamlet was no warrior, no dashing general, and to be honest, not much of a prince. The shame of the attempt was enough to keep him from inviting Ophelia back up that night.

Yet, time and time again, he toyed with the idea. He commissioned a former knight to tutor him in swordplay, met with a village thug in an attempt to learn to grapple, and even purchased himself a fine longbow with an intent to practice. He devoted adequate effort to each skill, and succeeded in moderation, but never managed to break from that adequacy. In fact, in the latter of these skills, he had nearly knocked a finger off. He had the skill of a village boy, perhaps a baker’s son with a hobby or a farmer with an occasional need for defense. Perhaps he would have been proud in those scenarios, but by conceivable stretch was he fit as a prince and to compare his skill to that of his father would be sacrilege. Hamlet was aware of this.
“Hamlet, come spar with Laertes for a moment!” could only be excused with “Ah, I’d love to but my hip is dreadful sore” so many times. The only consistent method to avoid exposures of his failure was studying. Not unlike his physical skill, his talent for arithmetic and literature was satisfactory at best. However, fortunately, though one can only aim blows at a dummy for so long before tiring out, a set of texts could be invested in for hours without pain or fatigue.

And thus, Denmark’s prince and sole heir to the throne gently managed to skirt the development of much practical skill at all. His charisma, even, was moderate and his romantic aptitude was untested beyond Ophelia, who could not help but shout praise at any small thing anyways.

And here he is, stuck in the shame of yet another folly. He is not a warrior. He is not an accomplished prince. Yet, when the meager danish passenger boat was latched onto by pirates, Hamlet was overcome by a fairytale desire to wave his sword, swing from the mast, and rescue the crew from peril. Folly! Folly a thousand times. Besides, what did it matter to him if those pirates had been successful? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, those insufferable sponges, would meet a quicker end. He himself would finally be blessed with a sinless Christian death and perhaps even be remembered as a hero. He could picture it now. Sweet Ophelia, sobbing over a corpseless grave, fingers shaking as she dressed it in lillies. He toyed with the idea that she’d be a virtuous lady and vow never to marry another. Fair Hamlet, they would say, young Hamlet, what a shame he was overcome in a selfless battle. What a delight to picture! But alas, he has foolish and boarded the ship in a fit of lunacy.

Unlike his stumbling incident concerning the armor, this mistake inflicted more than private shame. The pirates- English fellows- did not recognize his face but were quickly able to appraise the value of his fineries. Knee length calf-leather boots, gold-embroidered wool hoses, thick black cotehardie, and jewel-adorned leather belt were all seized by rough, salt-sticky hands. If in a lighter mood, he might have been able to find humor in the absurdity of ugly, worn, and bathless seamen arranged in the finery of a prince. He was not in such a mood and he did not find even a modicum of enjoyment in the scene. He was almost bitter at the unfairness of it all; if he was dressed in the cloth of a country citizen, the pirates almost certainly would not have made such a hurry to snatch every inch of fabric of his pale body. He did not deserve this. This was a travesty. Hamlet would have prefered it if they had taken his head.

His head, unfortunately, was fitted tight on his neck. His legs were pressed tightly together and, held by wrapped arms, pressed against his chest for both warm and an attempt at preserving modesty. Not that it actually mattered. He was in some sort of lower chamber, perhaps a closet of sorts. An elementary naval knowledge, perhaps, may have been a more useful skill to obtain than elementary botany, he notes to himself. Regardless of the formal name of his location, it was dark. No comfortingly so, like nights slept away next to Ophelia, but hatefully. The wood below him was coarse and surprisingly moist. There was a small stack of rope to his left, a thick hemp material unpleasant to the touch. Above him he could hear whisps of yelling in the informal tongue of englishmen, which managed to be as wet as the salt and coarse as the cord.

How many hours had he been here? Two? Eight? Hamlet longed for wine, pastry-wrapped meat, fine crumbled cheeses, hot mead, and snapped greens. These bastards did not even have the good will to deliver him a meal!

In a resurgence of pompous foolery, he resolved to demand such. What did he have to lose- all material belongings had already been seized. He began to shout, pointing the majority of his voice to the assembly above. Their mutterings momentarily stopped, and he could hear footsteps descend the stairs. His satisfaction at the granting of his request was interrupted by his recognition of those footsteps. That wasn’t just the clink of any heels. That was the clink of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’s heels. His shoes. What God-forsaken weevil has stuffed his foul toes into the boots, he knew not.

The door to Hamlet’s ship closet was yanked open. Was it even locked in the first place? He reprimands himself for not even bothering to check. The floor was unlit, but the man’s figure was unmistakable: Horatio. A smirk of confusion graced Hamlet’s face rather than a breath of release. Horatio was a scholar, and what’s more, a sensible man. For what reason would he be on this ship? Was the attack his orchestration? Of course, it all makes sense. Of course Horatio saw Claudius's order for execution- this was a rescue trip! Hamlet considered himself above the need of rescue a moment, but quickly conceded to its necessity. But what an elaborate plan, and how unusual for Horatio, a man who prefers the quiet of a dormitory and a bottle over even a jaunt on horseback.

Hamlet gathered his mind up and came to order of things, primarily greeting his friend.

“Horatio! Oh, Horatio. Ohh, what a complication this is! What is your method?”

The man responded with a particularly un-Horatio-like grunt.

He stumbled over the word, clearly confused by the name. "Hor....ratio....Hor? Whore? You dare to call me Whore? Watch your mouth, boy….”

Oh. That’s not Horatio, most definitely not Horatio. Just another wet-tongued Englishman. And a most uneducated one, at that! Clearly one unversed in roman history, evident by his utter ignorance of the simple name “Horatio.” Though, Hamlet admitted, his unintentional pun centered on the name was amusing. Now, to take on a shade of arrogance or complacency? Escalate to an argument, lift voices into shouts and draw attention, or attempt to befriend the man? Hamlet couldn’t bring himself to inflict spite on a man whose visage so devilishly mirrored that of the true Horatio. By God, even his short beard was alike! A wonderful little adornment of stubble, kept that way due to favor of style rather than failure of growth. It had a nice texture. It reminded him of grass, or frost even….

Before he could gather his consciousness into the present (damnation be given to his wandering mind!) he found himself stroking the Englishman’s face and, a moment after, found his neck encircled by the Englishman’s hand.
Masking his embarrassment, Hamlet responded with an assumed tone of princely authority.

“What is the aim of these hands, do you wish to seize my head?”

The englishman shot a look of dismissive contempt whose strength was clear even through the dim air. With his silence as encouragement, Hamlet pressed further.

“No? Would you consider it better for taking if it was that of a maiden?”

The bearded man was finally provoked by this statement. He pushed Hamlet against the dirty wooden wall but released no verbal statement.

“So that’s a no on the taking? Even for a rogue seaman?”

This, finally, led the man to a response. He opened his mouth ready for a fitting retort and emitted a quick “I…”. His mouth closed again and its openness was replaced tight-pressed lips. He contemplated adding another statement, but declined, preferring to merely maintain the composure of mild intrigue blended with annoyance. Hamlet’s shoes clapped the wood as the man turned and left. He remembered to lock the door this time.

Hamlet pressed his legs closer together and did not even consider demanding his boots back.

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As time passed, Hamlet’s hunger increased. The urge was more of a desire for fair treatment than simply food: getting a meal was not as important as getting these moldy men to follow his commands. He tapped the damp floor with his foot as he meandered through thoughts. He could probably knock down the door and walk upstairs by himself. After all, how strong could the weathered planks be? He scratched the wall with his index finger and, to his satisfaction, left a dent. Soft wood. He could definitely knock the door free. Or, he would simply hurt his hand and end up cursing his overestimation yet again.

Suppose he did manage to leave the small cell. He was perfectly capable of walking, as he was neither bound nor wounded. However, he lacked arms. His clenched his fist in memory of the narrow dagger he so often held. It wasn’t sharp much, likely due to his constant fiddling with it and its improper use as a wall-engraving tool. It has never killed anyone but boredom, but it had a satisfyingly cold metal handle and it carried the impression of danger. How much more intimidating he would look if he held it now! And how less dull this stay would be.

So, no knife then. He wondered which of the damned pirates had it. Hamlet frowned to himself, imagining the harms they were inflicting on it. Handling it with dirty, oily hands perhaps. Throwing it at walls and scratching the jeweled handle. Using it to flay a bloody fish on a sloppy board. Such desecration would not stand! Upon this thought, he resolved that its rescue was imperative.

Less haste, less haste. Suppose he did managed to march his way up the steep stairs and demand his dagger back? What man in his right mind would grant him this request? Who would give a weapon to a prisoner? It didn’t matter that the dagger lacked actual utility- it was no less of a dagger. And a valuable one, at that.

He sighed loudly, half hoping that one of the men would hear him and rush to his side. Anything to cut the boredom. Not to mention the joys of attention.

As expected, however, no one heard and no one came. Hamlet returned to his plot formulation. The dagger rescue is out of the question. Likewise, he doubted they would return his clothes at a simple demand. His princehood, as indicated by his treatment so far, meant nothing to them. This was not a game that could be played off authority alone.

Could he bargain with them? What did he have to offer? All material possessions had been seized. And what in the way of skills? There was nothing of interest to teach them. His father was right that studying leaves was a useless skill.

In a bout of jest, he imagined that scenario- offering to teach one of the englishmen about Danish trees in exchange for the return of his riches and his freedom. Pirates sitting in a circle like attentive schoolchildren as he pokes his hands around, attempting to create visuals through gestures, talking with animation. And imagine them listening! The tales that would cause! “Prince tames a crew of english rogues with tales of how to tell a hornbeam from a hickory.” The amusement of this thought temporarily muted his foul mood.

The rest of his talents- theater, literature- were likewise as useless. As this realization returned him to his bitterness, Hamlet continued the conception of his thoughts.

The sum of authority and talents amounted to nothing of use. Hamlet directed his attention to dredging memories of past occurrences where he had power to convince.

There was the past weeks in which he feigned madness quite well. Ophelia, Polonius...they all were convinced. But the pirates, how would they react to this? Surely not with sympathy. And even more surely, they would not return his dagger.

Ophelia, sweet Ophelia, she believed he was a brave warrior of sorts thanks to his convincing lies and theatrical displays. If she were a man, she would have immediately understood that he could not truly be a soldier, as he spent all his time at home or university and none at “training.” But she was not a man, she was a young and foolish girl of age nineteen. She played the role of a lady marvelously. Her cheeks were high on her face, softer and less pointed than that of Horatio but none less lovely. Her embroidered dresses always had small flowers tucked into the seams in the summers. It amused him, finding petals of pansies left in his room in mornings.

She took things at their best. All of his outbursts, all of his forgetfulness, every harm against her he inflicted was happily forgotten, cleared by her tremendous urge of affection. She did deserve someone better, perhaps. He never apologized, could never bring himself to do to her. Hours spent kneeling over sins could cleanse his soul, nights cursing himself could unbottle his regret, but no action of his was ever taken to fix mistreatment of her. He never needed to. She was too in love to ever bother to choose another. Her tears tried within minutes. What need was there for apologies? None. He could feel no remorse.

Now, however, in the stomach of a rancid ship, his situation seemed less certain. It was very likely that he would not return. Young Ophelia would surely be unable to handle this. Hamlet considered if he cared or not. How was she taking the death of her father? They were never overly close. She was a jewel to be protected, a remnant of her mother, and not much else. She followed his expectations with childlike obedience, as expected. He did love her, Hamlet had no doubt, but it was his form of love that he contemplated. She did not love all of her father's requests, especially that to ignore Hamlet. He didn’t approve of what the Prince was doing to her. He didn’t consider the Prince a viable match. What high standards! Who better to fill a lady than an heir to a throne? He was correct, though. Hamlet had no intention to wed Ophelia. She was sweet, but one cannot live off sweets alone. Meat, bread...there must be something else to the meal. Things that she could not offer him.

More importantly, she was too easily molded. Anything he willed, she would bend to it. Hamlet recalled his first time in her lap, her first time in his room. She took no convincing- she was thrilled simply at the idea of being with him. He could ask her for anything and she could oblige with ease.

If only the pirates adored him such! Then, the reclamation of his belongings would be no more difficult than the brush of a hand or the transmitted idea of a kiss. Kissing one of these englishmen, though, would be no flowery delight. They were filthy, many of them aged, most of them with an unkempt beard. Well, not all of them. But most.

He had kissed a man before.

In his youth, there was a jester. A man talented in comical delights and costumed in gaudy yellow and orange. In the absence of his father and the business of his mother, Hamlet was mainly left to him to be taken care of. He attributes his sharp wit and love for puns to these days, an educational enhancement not many had the privilege of absorbing. He very closely loved him, and he loved Hamlet as well. He knew him like a Christian. And, often, he would kiss him upon the lips.

Yorick did not last very long. His father, for some reason, found fury at him after watching him with Hamlet. It is not certain what exactly he told or to whom, but within a few days several men led the jester to the gardens and there put a knife through his head. There wasn’t much blood at all and the body was buried within a few days, in the back lot behind the church. His mother told him it was the lot for unvisited deaths, ones who would not be remembered with flowers and songs nor would they be spoken of much afterwards. There was no coffin, no gravestone. His death was listed as a suicide. It’s an odd method of death, being dragged by forceful arms and held still by forceful hands, but if the king said that was the scenario of his death, it must be so.

Hamlet only wondered why, if this was Yorick’s choice, did he not let it happen with more calm and acceptance? Why fight like a trapped beast if he was eager for it? The logical conclusion is that there is something about the nature of life, that, once committed to losing it, it fights back with bitter agony. A concept he dreaded having to discover. Though typically heavily present, the concept was not the subject of his thought aboard the boat.

But yes. Kissing as a form of persuasion. Works on Ophelia, likely would have worked on Yorick. Horatio, it would not work on him. Horatio was a man too firm, too resolute to have his ambitions changed by a passionate display. Would these pirates, these englishmen be as firm? Absolutely. Thus, it is not a valid option. No amount of tangled arms and softened mouths could help him reclaim his freedom and, more importantly, his super cool knife.

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The ship continued to bob on the ocean, gently enough to withhold from inducing sickness but strong enough to bother Hamlet. To make matters worse, there was no cheese or meat in his stomach. No knife on his belt. And no boots on his feet. Again, he pulled his legs tight against his chest, more out of an effort to preserve heat than modesty.

Fear was not an issue. What could they do? Kill him? Possibly. He would thank them greatly for that favor. Hamlet let his mind for a moment drift to considering the prospect. He’d die a hero, a tragic life lost to english ruffians, mourned by the people. Ophelia would toss flowers to the ocean! Perhaps Claudius would give a speech. Ha.

Was torture a possibility? No, no. There is no need. Hamlet, not being any true form of military commander nor political figure, had little information of value, he decided. Well, aside from memory of arithmetic charts and botanical diagrams, of course. Of course, they could hurt him out of sheer boredom. Peel back his finger skin with a paring knife. Crack his leg like a branch underfoot. Unlikely. If these men cannot even spare the time to feed him, what time would they have to waste in a bloody show? None.

What would they do with him, then? Would he be made a member of the crew? No, never. Hamlet was too weak and too resistant to a life of stench and stale foods. A pirate’s life would suit him no better than a mouse as a guard dog.

So, that’s it then. Hamlet decided to himself that a short, quick death was the only logical outcome. He would be kept in this hull until his usefulness was seen as void in their eyes, then he would be promptly disposed of. He wondered if he would feel the same unexpected terror as Yorick did. Would he fight death, or kiss it and embrace it with joyous arms? An intriguing mystery, but not one he was eager to answer. And what after death? Would the lord deem him fit to ascend, or would he find himself immediately in the Earth’s fiery bowels? Perhaps there is a third option, that he could walk the lands occasionally like his father…

His father!

When he winds up in purgatory, or hell as he’s often been told, he’d encounter his father. How could he explain the situation? Yes, dear father, I know I was supposed to avenge you, but I got bored and bled to death on a pirate ship instead. Look, see, crabs are eating my body on the seafloor!

Oh, he’d be furious. No matter which end of divinity Hamlet ends up in, the fury of his father would make it hell.

Well, that settles it then. No dying with pirates. He must get back to Elsinore, and he must finish his task. What a pity, too, since ducking a blade is far harder than embracing it. And how could he reasonably be expected to win a fight with an empty stomach?

Well, Hamlet, thinks to himself, he can simply kill all the pirates. More of a fantasy than a plan, but a course nonetheless. Alas, he learned nought of the nautical knowledge. Keep one of these englishmen to sail it, then! Yes. Exactly. Perfect plan, definitely, no way it could fail.

Ah! But better yet! Befriend that pirate in advance, so that not only will he comply with the request of guiding the vessel back to Denmark, but could perhaps also accompany him in the slaying of the rest of the crew members.

Now, to choose which one. A dumb fellow, clever enough to steer a ship but dull enough to ensure no chance of mutinous revelations. An outcast, perhaps, that would be useful. Someone who is already half willing to take revenge on his other members.

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The hardest part about charming someone, for Hamlet, was simply the fact that he was Hamlet. To order his friends;

Ophelia. The young girl he was raised alongside with as a child. A lovely, fair thing. Her attraction to Hamlet? Perhaps royalty, but mainly looks. He was not overly tall, but the length of his legs proved flattering. The length of his fingers, as well. Long, thin things, not like the tendrils of a spider by any means, but closer to the trailing tails of a fish, gentle for drifting up and down bodies. Length, in other regards as well, proved very desirable for Ophelia. His light hair, like straw some said and like butter said others. Ophelia said it made him look like a zinnia. His eyes were blue, she decided after close inspection, but of a fainter shade and almost entirely overridden by the dark ring formed by his eyelashes. His nose was sharp, his lips were thin enough to purse and thick enough to kiss. Perhaps the most prominent aspect of his face was, rather, the absence of an aspect- a beard.

Combined with the overall softness of his complexion, he gave off a rather womanly air. He was often praised for looking almost entirely female, and found jest in the game of trying to fool the guards as a child. Personally, he hated this about himself, but it was not entirely a curse. His college’s theater delighted in this skill, as they were able to finally have someone half-convincing to fill the role of a princess, or a daughter, or whatever else they might need that no firm, gruff peer could adequately portray, even in spite of his relative lack of talent. It enabled him to make the close, perhaps more than close, acquaintance with a few, perhaps more than a few, of these classmates as well. Seemingly, everyone but himself adored it. Ophelia, lying next to him, would stroke his face, forehead to chin, and coo over its softness. As much as this peeved him, he would passively ignore it; any occasion that left him and Ophelia lying quietly together would be one of recently inflicted fatigue.

Horatio, Horatio was an even close friend than Ophelia. They met in Wittenberg. Hamlet spent most of his time thinking, wandering, and venting his stream on emotions on any unfortunate ear whose owner was in rest long enough to be a target. Horatio, a diligent student of philosophy, a lover of books more than women, filled the majority of his day sitting in solitude fondling pages that he dreamed would reveal the inner intricacies of his world. He never found what the Romans of old poured their veracity into, but he did manage to find a highly dramatic and emotional young man who seemingly was unacquainted with the concept of listening. Rather than shunning these outpourings, Horatio actually found interest in the words of Hamlet. The excessive emotions and thoughts of this prince, however dismissed by others, managed to hold delightful relevance to his studies. Horatio managed to connect his readings to life. Hamlet managed to find someone who could listen and think, think logically that is, a skill he tragically lacked all too often. Hamlet loved Horatio. A man possessing the perfect amount of kindness, rationality, and steadfastness of heart. Horatio likewise cared for his friend; a enthusiastic, expressive boy who, although clearly a beacon for disaster, was impossible to draw attention from. However, unlike Ophelia and his peers at school, his relationship with Horatio never dipped into the realm of sweat. This was no matter, as Hamlet had a satisfying and unending variety of other acquaintances for that purpose. In fact, he felt relief at this. Horatio was proof that there existed at least one person in the world who valued and aided him entirely without the motive of his looks. As long as such a person exists, Hamlet was assured that he did indeed have relevant value beyond his legs and hair.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Friends, yes, but not entirely. They never left for Wittenberg. In fact, they never really left Elsinore at all. He met them before college, in his early youth under the instruction of a teacher. Though initially under individual tutelage, his mother held concern for his social nature and persuaded his father to incorporate Hamlet in a larger class. This proved to be of little difficulty; what challenge would a prince have in chatting amongst other elites? A proper prince, his mother argued, must also be equipped to befriend and associate with his subjects. There was a woman Claudius was acquainted with, not a woman of God by any means, rather a woman of bawd. A woman burdened or blessed with two young boys of different fathers, perfectly close to Hamlet’s own age. His uncle, in an apparent effort to please this odd woman, lobbied to have her boys be the commoners selected to accompany Hamlet in his education.

They suited the role well, and he never knew them as anything but equals until a later age. Even so, their foolery was not hidden. They learned with diligence, but only acquired the sense of nobility and thus neglected the development of well, sense. They delighted in velvet clothing, in having purses full of coins, in the creamed desserts the kitchen would prepare. They were in love with the court, with the throne, with Elsinore as a concept. At the passing of their mother, they felt comparingly small distress as they through their coming of age had come to cleave their identities. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were not sons, were not brothers, were not born of misplaced seed. They were two gentlemen, noses purposefully tilted upwards, hands clenched, minds entirely devoted to the bidding of the royals. So yes, they were Hamlet’s friends. Or, rather, they were friends to a Prince, the concept of a Prince, entirely indifferent to the man currently positioned in that role.

They had deteriorated. Never having a mind of their own, they became nothing but confused, strings ready for Claudius to play, dogs led by his commands. They were no longer the giggling, excitable children he once learned to play with. Everything that was Rosencrantz, that was Guildenstern, had become lost. Drifted away and unrecoverable. It pained Hamlet to see them change so under the rule of his uncle. Much like watching your favorite horse fall to illness or a bowl of fine fruit fall resistanceless to mold, their rot was revolting not only in itself but as a disgrace to what had once been. It pained Hamlet to feel a memory pass across his mind, a joke they once shared, then to look up into the eyes of one of them and to see naught but glassiness, hunger, hunger like a starving animal whose stomach could never be satiated. It is true that one cannot blame a wolf for perusing meat, but can a human help guard themselves against the temptation of a devil’s promise? Hamlet did not hesitate in signing for their deaths. They were nothing, nothing but lost and stolen, living reminders of change that simply had to be eliminated. They had likewise become dangerous, much alike the rotting fruit which, when consumed, poisons its possessor. Could anyone tolerate such a presence? Hamlet could not.

So, there it was. His four friends. Love for his body, love for his mind, and love for his power. One of which ought to apply aptly to the pirates.

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Hamlet had killed only once in his life, and not by design.

Polonius was not a man of evil. He was no upstanding soul, rather a foolish one, and had no irreplaceable value aside from fulfilling the role of Father to Ophelia. Hamlet had no particular attachment to him, aside from his constant presence inevitably earning him a place in many childhood memories. There perhaps even was a little bitterness. How quickly and without mourning did the old man transition from service for the king to service for an usurper! Did he have no moral qualms at all? Did the old king mean nothing to him?

This passiveness was not a new trait of Polonius's.

A dozen or so years ago, when Hamlet was a child, his father was oft away in battles and his mother in her chamber. This is not to say that his days were infested with loneliness: Laertes, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern all served as fitting playmates. Still, he was blessed or cursed with an abundance of unstructured time, especially at nights. After a nurse or maid would retire him to his room, the young prince would sneak out and into the library, a leather-feeling, rot-smelling, wisdom-lit room of quietude. Still too young to fully digest the texts, Hamlet would perch himself on couches, on stools, on encyclopedia piles and reach eagerly for the shelves. Once a book was acquired, he would fondly flip through it then, within a consistent span of a few minutes, lose the firmness of his attention. He would then shift between more books, or perhaps absentmindedly lie on his back and kick his feet at the paneled walls.

On many such nights of bibliographic entertainment, he could peek through the door and see Uncle Claudius wobble through the halls. His manner would be somewhere between a dying stag’s falter and a fawn’s fresh discovery of pace. Hamlet often found himself giggling quietly at this image, always careful to retain emphasis on “quiet” lest the man would hear him and consider himself mocked. It only took one incident to destroy this eventless trend. One particular autumn night, with the air at that rarely pleasant blend of summer mush and winter’s sharpened edge, he found himself a bit too mirthful. The boy’s laughter did not escape the dulled ear of Claudius. The man stumbled quickly over to the library door, radiating off enough alcohol to sanitize a sewer and cursing his brother’s name enough to make even a knave ashamed. Old King Hamlet was off at war again, but the younger of that name served as a suitable receptacle for his anger. Claudius always did take more than he was entitled to.

Is it a sin to be passive? No. If that was the case, Hamlet himself would have been personally dragged to hell already by Satan’s finest demons. Definitely not a sin in itself. But is passivity a sin if it induces one to feign ignorance? To open one’s ear to the pleadings in confidence from a young child, then to close one's mind from action. Is neglecting to order a cease deemed just as sinful as being the ignitor? This is a fair question for the Almighty, one neither Hamlet’s passion nor the books of Horatio could ever find a resolution to.

Nevertheless, these thoughts were nothing but inconsequential. He did, at least, feel a sense that Polonius's fate was fitting. The man’s carelessness failed to protect Hamlet. Hamlet, in his own carelessness, likewise did the man ill. There were some differences, of course. Hamlet, for one, is still mostly alive. Polonius, meanwhile, is well grounded in death. Hamlet’s actions were entirely accidental and without hated towards the man- he truly did think it was Claudius behind the tapestry. Polonius’s’ own choice against Hamlet, though not as grave, was done quite willingly with full knowledge of ongoing consequences. Whether he was driven by contempt or simple laziness is not known, but consciousness cannot be denied. The deeds of each cannot fully be equated, but Hamlet does find comfort the ironic, albeit twisted, sense of justice. Or, if not true humor, meanly a way to assuage a modicum guilt’s biting teeth.

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Days had passed, perhaps weeks. Hamlet groaned in annoyance and decided to lay, curled, on the wood to nap. He let his face press against the wood and recoils instantly at its fishy grime, returning to his previous sitting position in contempt.

A knock on the door to his wooden closet, cell, hole. Hamlet sits up at attention and makes sure to tilt his head upward slightly, ready to present an air of absolute disapproval. Again, it was the Horatio-looking sailor. In direct response, Hamlet pulls himself into a standing position and immediately crumples back down on the account of the ocean’s natural dance. “You!” he yells, stumbling to regain a respectable position, “you’ve left me here for weeks! Months! Years! Without food. How dare you? Is this how you treat a prince? Have you no respect? Are you intent on killing me through starvation because I assure you, I could get the job done much faster with my knife.”

The man responds with a laugh. “It was early morning when we put you down here, noon has not yet even passed. If weeks passed, wouldn’t you be dead already? Come, I brought food.” He hands a bowl of small bones, each holding both a morsel of flesh and the attention of flies. Hamlet's face crumples at the sight.

The man’s face shifts from insulted fury to something akin to amusement. He clicks his tongue. “Do not yell, little prince, I assure you this is enough to fill your mouth for now. ‘Haps you’re accustomed to eating from the laps of princesses, but on this ship you’re granted spare fish. Hurry up and finish, you’re wanted upstairs.”

Hamlet will not take any more disrespect, he decides. The bowl drops too the floor, with a little less pizazz than Hamlet hoped for, and its contents scatter, a little less explosively than Hamled hoped for. At least, he decided, the pirate had called him a prince. Better than any other title at the moment.

The man wraps his fingers around Hamlet’s wrist. His fingers, ingrained with coarse dirt and the slimness of said dirt mixing with sweat, immediately cause Hamlet to recoil. His pen-holding, plant-poking, hair-combing strength is, not surprisingly, easily overcome by that of the rope-pulling, sword-gripping, fight-winning man, and thus his half hearted attempt at resistance is easily overcome. Hamlet is led upstairs with only the negligible resistance of a toddler refusing to go to bed. Each step, though accepted without anymore attempt at struggle, is a small blow to the prince’s pride.

Up on the deck, it is quite cold. Especially for someone whose clothes have been confiscated on the account of their exquisite finery and high value. The wind carries the smell of stale spirits- both alcoholic and living. No gulls toss their chatter down from the sky. The silence is instead filled with the scrape of breeze across his ears and air ruffling through the sails, not unlike that of a bedsheet being shaken out. These noises, combined with the soft rise and collapse of the ocean surface, are breathed in by Hamlet like the scent of dinner wafting in from a kitchen to a hungry stomach. The wind in Denmark wrapped around him in the same way. Nothing seems far apart. For a moment, perhaps-

With a firm shove to the shoulder, Hamlet was brought to his knees.

“Mayhew!” a human voice adds to the muttering of the wind. At this call, both Hamlet and the pirate by his side looked up. The commander of this attention was a man. He was slightly shorter than Hamlet, but with a broader stance and thicker body. Accentuating this mass- which, whether the product of strength or abundance, made Hamlet feel like a twig amongst trees- were a pair of thigh-length boots, worn to the point that their original color had become unrecognizable, and an incredibly gaudy purple tunic without even a stitch of gold adornment. Most important to Hamlet, however, was that a certain Danish dagger lay attached to this man’s hip.

“Yes, cap’n?” responded the man with his grip on Hamlet.

“Have you fed the prince?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Barely,” Hamlet interjected, in a low voice. Upon seeing that he had become the subject of their vision, he continued in a slightly more confident tone “if you men intend to call me a prince, will you not also feed me as one? Unless the princes of england happily salivate over fish rinds, you’ve been horribly undeserving me.”

Mayhew did not respond.

The captain did not either. For a moment, at least, before he began to laugh. Shoving Mayhew aside, he squatted next to Hamlet. “Little prince.” He put his arm around him. “Fish are abundant here. Better food- bread, ale, meats..- those must be trade for. Or taken. Did they not teach you this back in Denmark?” The captain flashed a glance at Mayhew, at which he too finally laughed. “Precious things, that’s how you get ‘em. Trade, with money- earning-wise, is what I mean. Or you take it. Understood? And- I’ll warn y’ now little prince- if you try to steal something on my ships, I’ll know. I’ll know fast. And you’ll be hurt. You’ll be hurt real well. Do you understand me, little prince? You better had start earning then, since that’s, that is the only way. Understand me?”

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Hamlet rolled over in his hammock, which hung under Mayhew’s. A few eyelashes with attachment issues had come loose and drifted into his left, refusing to exit despite his silent pleas. His back was sore as well. Sleeping on such a vessel, in such company, had not done well for his posture. He could have gone on for ages with unvoiced complaints- his fingernails had grown too long, his hair too greasy. His skin, much to his disgust, had taken on the same salt-grime as the rest of the crew. If he was in Denmark, all these would have been simple fixes. A bath with boiled water, warm and prepped with soap, especially. The eye-irritant, which normally would have been the simplest to fix with a rub of his hand, went unaddressed on account of his bound arms.

It was a stupid decision. Death was a cancellation of his promise to his father, but it was likewise a cancellation of life aboard such a horrid ship. At least Denmark had maids, cleaned garments, pillowed beds, aged wines, bookshelves, and soap. There was never enough soap aboard the ship. Hamlet doubted that, even if he returned, all the soap of Denmark would not be enough to clean the dirt, salt, and fish off of him. Gladly he would retake the embraces of his mother or the light conversation of Ophelia. The sounds of the wind and the sound of the waves, within the company of England’s outcasts, were mockeries, not sisters, of those of Denmark. His years at Wittenberg’s astronomy lectures proved no help to him. The stars, perhaps kindly, refused to disclose his distance from home and Horatio. To Hamlet, however, the distance seemed more than could be measured in nautical miles.

Yes, it was foolish. But to the prince, taking a dive in the ocean seemed like the most pleasant possibility. Even if he had no intent to swim. And how splendidly it went! Hamlet had received not a soft drift to sleep, but a sharp yank from the seas, right back aboard the horrid ship and its company of degenerate englishmen, right back into his role. He no longer wanted his dagger. It was no longer his. Nor did he want his boots. They had become too filthy anyways. He wanted a release, whether it be to the arms of God or of Denmark. Denied this, his reward was bound hands, which seemed more of an insult than a legitimate security measure.

“Mayhew” he whispered. “Mayhew.” Hamlet lightly kicked the hammock above him. Its occupant stirred.

“Mmmmhhhff”

“Mayhew are you awake?”

“If this is about your damn hands being itchy again….” Mayhew grumbled and rolled to his other side. “This better be important.”

“Do you want kill the captain?”

At this, the pirate finally woke up.

“On account of you being his first mate, is it not true that you could easily assume his position? You could be a better captain. You ought to be full aware of his foolish he is, refusing to take me back to Denmark. You two both alike know I am a prince and worth a great sum in ransom. You could be captain easily. You could get that ransom and I could return. Really it is a great economic decision for you-”

“Hamlet” Mayhew shouted as loud as one could whisper. With this, he arose from his hammock to stand close to Hamlet and maintain a quieter voice.

The prince smiled at being addressed by his own name. Better than any other title at the moment.

“There are other men on this ship. They will not take lightly to such a suggestion. I could never take his position. I don’t want to either. He is a fine leader and runs a fine ship. I care not for the wealth you promise.”

“...what do you care for.” Perhaps he pressed too far, for Mayhew did not respond immediately.

“A woman.”

“Those are in abundance at ports, are they not? In which case, the wealth I promised could quite indeed apply to your pursuit.”

“A woman, not a wench. And a specific woman in fact, prince.”

Mayhew paused, intent to be finished with the bothersome conversation and return to sleep, but Hamlet’s curious stare provoked him against that course.

“Margaret. Left her in England. Dammed country wasn’t too fond of me after the death of her husband, so I left it. And her. Shouldn’t have left her. Or maybe I should have. Maybe should have taken her with me. Not on this boat, though, not here. Captain wouldn't like that. Bad luck to have a woman aboard. You see though lad? How would your Danish gold get my Margaret back? It wouldn’t. I can’t go back to England. Even if I did, grew my hair out long ‘n all, looked different, it’s been six years now. If I go back now, leave my position here, and find her married off to some other dalcop, now, I might be the one try’n to take a swim in the waves here.” he let out a laugh in a manner not unlike air escape a squeezed pouch, a buildup of pressure manifested in a desperate gasp.

“Her husband?”

“Don’t you fret, little prince, it was quite his fault when he walked into his sword. I reckon his eyes had gone bad. If they had worked right, he wouldn't have kept on bruising such a lovely lady and would’ve avoided the blade. His fault entirely, couldn’t see a damn thing, that man.”

“Oh.”

“You have a woman of your own back home?” Mayhew reclined back into his own hammock, eager to distance himself from both Hamlet and the depth the conversation had turned.

“Yes” Hamlet replied briskly, equally eager to back out of his side of the discourse.

“You want to get back to her too, hmm?”

“No, or, well, perhaps. Mayhew, you would still love Margaret if she had gone and found herself a new gentleman in your absence, if she was no longer yours? If I may assume so?”

“I figure so. Unlikely he even suits her well enough. He’d be gone upon my return.”

“I had a woman.” Hamlet confessed. “But as of late I have not been truly present in myself, and she has sought comfort elsewhere. I turn to her and am greeted not by her smile but by the present shadow of another man. I urged her at last to leave me, marry the man or depart to a nunnery. I will not deny to myself that I still love her, though I denied it to her.”

Mayhew had no response. Perhaps he had fallen asleep again. At this possibility, Hamlet kicked his hammock again to reawaken him.

“I’m not asleep you fool, stop kicking me.”

“Mayhew, I have much to attend to in Denmark. Her aside. Please. If I cannot return to them, at least let me send a few letters to them. Let me pen them. At the next docking, I beg of you, leave the crew and set your feet on a path to Elsinore. They will reward you greatly. We are fond allies of England. Perhaps you can be pardoned. I cannot guarantee you will find your Margaret again, but at least my beloved know of my fate. You will find nothing but luxury in my house and treatment fonder than what this ship can bestow upon you. Let me a sliver of last happiness and let yourself a chance at recovering your own.”

“I’ll consider it.” Mayhew rolled back over and soon resumed his light snore.

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Upon the death of his father, Hamlet dismissed himself from Wittenberg for the set out period of a few months. It seems peculiar, but I found myself unable to scan texts as well without him there, sitting at my side, head on my shoulder, peering at the pages and asking unceasing questions about the nature of the text, of my life, of his life, and whatever else happened to flow through his mind. Whereas my days were once occupied with walking through trees, him practicing German and myself practicing Danish, hearing him laugh when I so often misremembered words, in his absence I could find nothing but sleep to fill them. Wittenberg became nothing but a decaying fruit in my palm. I attended the school merely because of my father’s status as a professor, and thus it was my default residence. Fortunately, Denmark’s new transition of government proved a reasonable explanation for my venture there; I will observe the political process as a close associate of a member of its royalty.

I will not lie, I have little interest at all in politics. Even less so when they involve more drunkenness and drama than lawmaking and philosophy. However, to Wittenberg and my father, love for the court scene is far more permissible an excuse than love for a prince.

I will also admit that this went much more poorly than I anticipated. Seeing Hamlet garmented in black and speaking of his own death was nothing abnormal for him. However, seeing him so clearly distraught and full of hatred was quite painful. Additionally, I expected Denmark to be a place of at least mild order. King Claudius is a revolting man and, if Hamlet were not so intent on doing it himself, I would be tempted to take his murder into my own hands. Murder can not be too hard. I have delved into enough herbological and chemical documents to know a good portion of poisons, ranging from pestersome to deadly. I did craft my own vial of one once and, with permission of one of Wittenberg's kitchen maids, used it as an execution method for one of their meat pigs. It worked. I disposed of the vial but kept the texts.

Queen Gertrude, meanwhile, has been quite good to me. She lost the love of her son after she remarried. I do not blame Hamlet for being cross with her. As she grew farther from him, she grew closer to me. I suppose that, without loving King Claudius and without her son to dote on, her affection had to be redirected.. It is rather cold to dwell in the space between the buried death of her beloved and feared death of her son. Though the only similarities I share with Hamlet are my education, age, and sex, I apparently made quite a sufficient stand-in son for her.

After Hamlet’s departure, she began to talk to me more briskly and straightforward than ever, like one desperately unloading a memoir.

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Gertrude had always been a pretty girl. With the yellow-white hair of the north, skin like a cloud, and a smile like the dawn. The great King Hamlet asked for her hand within a month of knowing her, back when she was but a young princess. In the walls of Elsinore, she learned what existed of the world. The pattern of spirals that snail shells grew in. The exact way to conduct a meeting of lords. How someone can be both a ruthless warrior and loving man. Within the span of her first five years as Denmark’s newest queen, she by her own personal merit was far more capable of conducting court than the King’s own brother. Between her wisdom and the technical knowledge of the King’s assistant Claudius, Denmark was maintained and fostered in good hands while the King was out in battle.

She did indeed miss King Hamlet on his militant excursions, often lasting several months. To keep her company was her young son, Prince Hamlet. With his blond hair, curious nature, and thin arms he was far more alike her than her husband. The two of them were nearly inseparable. She opted to teach him to read herself, rather than delegate the responsibility to a tutor. He grew up quite well. He was charismatic, beloved by both the populace and the court.

The King’s brother never did take well to the loss of his role. He considered it absurdity that King Hamlet appointed his wife over his brother to serve in his absence. By the time the young Prince had gotten old enough to be promised his own position, again above himself, Claudius could no longer drown his desires in wine. Within a week, the King was dead, and dead men hold no power.

Likewise, dead men’s wives hold no power. Nor do thier sons. In fact, considering Claudius’s continued hatred of both her and her son and the absence of the King, Gertrude feared they would soon be holding plots in the church cemetery. Fortunately for her, the beauty of her youth had not yet left her. Nor had Claudius’s taste for women. It was not hard to place herself as the eye of his desire, easier yet to declare her love for him, and nearly automatic to quickly move into a marriage with him. One that her son never understood the rationale behind.

Polonius likewise had his own concerns. How could show loyalty to a King who hated the man he was so closely associated with? Would King Claudius see Polonius as an individual self, or merely the assistant of King Hamlet?

His son had been especially close to King Hamlet. Whereas the prince had prefered libraries over battlefield, Laertes found passion in art of the sword and strategy of battle. The death of King Hamlet was enough to give Elsinore a bad taste to him, the halls held nothing for him but the broken path of a desire life. Claudius could not help Laertes, and Laertes could never become what King Hamlet had promised to him. He could, however, trade in his armor for sedation in Paris.

His daughter likewise was too attached to the Hamlet family. King Claudius had no love for Prince Hamlet. Polonius knew full well that the prince was merely another position of power disrupting Claudius’s shift of the kingdom into new kinghood. A few crumbs leftover from King Hamlet himself. How Claudius planned to dispose of the prince, he knew not. Nor did he want to. He had no love for the boy himself- he was bothersome as a child and still rude once grown- but likewise did not relish in stories of death and blood. The major concern for his daughter was whether she, too, will be caught up in the deletion of Hamlet. Or, if she survives it unharmed, if the loss of her fiance would break her spirit too far.

The clear solution was to remove her loyalty to Hamlet and reposition her as a servant of King Claudius. Convincing her to cease her love for the boy was not hard, largely in credit due to his own erratic and cruel behavior. Likewise, convincing her to view King Claudius as a fair, good king was no hard stretch. The only difficulty came in seeking what use the King would have for such a girl. She had no intelligence or skills to speak of, beyond typical womanly chores. She was fair enough, but no more than his wife. She was, however, over twenty years longer. Furthermore she could bear him an heir, while that capability had long since left Queen Gertrude. To him, it was a solid plan and easily executable. Unfortunately for him (but better off for the rest of us) it never fully came to fruition.

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Hamlet had spoken very fondly of Ophelia back in Wittenburg. Before they fell into being lovers, they had been childhood friends. She was much less orderly than her older brother and much more inclined to abandon her nurse in favor of counting flowers with a prince. Before they knew any better, they would lovingly assign names to each sort of blossom they could find. The daisy was simply the egg flower. Corymbia ficifolia, her favorite, she would dub lady with the wild hair on account of its bold, uncombed tendrils. Nothing would escape their childish daydreaming. The clouds, especially, were unspared. How could they be, when they so closely resembled a man, no- a horse, no- that one looks like tree...

Left unsupervised, they would wade waist-deep in the cold shoreline of Elsinore. Ophelia would giggle knowing how the maids would disapprove of her good dress becoming salt-soaked and her braids becoming undone.

As they grew older, consequences for skipping a day of lessons became stricter, wet garments became more difficult to hide. This was easily circumvented by leaving them ashore, a solution that neither Hamlet nor Ophelia were ever much opposed to. The ocean can easily muffle secrets passed in reluctant voices.

I myself had never been in the ocean until these past months in Elsinore. In fact, I had never even learned to swim, as there has never been much reason to submerge myself in any water deeper than a stream. I had expected Hamlet to be equally as excited to run to the ocean. He confessed to me, however, that he had not swam in it for years. It is foolish, perhaps, to have expected him to still behave in the same childish way around the water that he once had- the hilarity of knowing how annoyed Polonius would be about their excursion, the thrill of being alone with Ophelia. He is twenty years old as of now- of course he does not enjoy the same things.

Nevertheless, he gladly obliged my request to learn to swim. It quickly became apparent that I was terrible at the action, especially in the face of the turbulence of the tides that day. My embarrassment at this failure, perhaps, was worth it under the justification that he seemed to find it highly amusing, my panicked flopping and gasping for air. I had not seen him laugh much, as of late, and the sight was truly all I needed. He did not care much that his garments got dirty in the salt.

I still think back occasionally to his stories of warm summer evenings, cool fall mornings, with Ophelia under the whims of the ocean. Who is better than the ocean when it comes to holding two souls close, playing with them, demonstrating her deadly whims by entertaining them with subtle movements. To what extent does she reach? The ocean is not a resident of Denmark, nor of England, and rather than bragging of her vastness merely offers acknowledgments of her superiority. The ocean has lived longer than any man, explored more than humans can document, and witness the passing and coming of life as a god would. She is exactly the same in Denmark, in England, in France. She only shows different faces.

Ever since I have met the ocean that day, I desire few more than to be at peace in her tides the same way my lord Hamlet once was. I want to run across her shores, feeling the impact of my soles on the tousled sand, the sun's ever-reflected glare warming me while the wind brings counteractive cold, and perhaps a Prince at my side. I surely would not care about the inevitable salting of my clothes and dishevelment of my hair.

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I had never witnessed death before. Plato’s contemplation on the topic, the near poetic descriptions of mythological underworlds, and the fresh chicken on the table have been the only knowledge of mortality I had ever desired.Though I have read deeply into Heaven, I fear I may be closer to hell by what I have heard preached, and the thought alarms me perhaps more than I am willing to allow myself to philosophize.

Only a few weeks ago, I had my first encounter with it though indirect. I was sitting at the chair in the bedroom I was granted, looking through a botanical text. I had heard quite a lot about the quality of Elsinore’s records of natural sciences and I was not intent to neglect them. The margins of this particular set were filled with little doodles of leaves and flowers. In truth, I did not bother to read the words themselves but rather passed my time tracing the tips of my fingers across the tiny ink sketches, recalling perhaps the hand that originally penned them.

Hamlet opened my door without a knock. His deep eyes were far more watery than they had any right to be, though short of actually raining. His hands and a good portion of his sleeves were soaked brownish red. A quick and reassuring examination of these hands let me know that the blood was not his own and, while relieving to know he was without injury, provoked some great concern. He did not speak to me. I do not think he needed to. His jittery hands told me more than any half-formed expression could. I did not need details. Perhaps it is improper to hug a grown prince the way one would a child. Perhaps it is, but a certainty is that I do not care. I washed the blood of his hands, swapped his stained shirt for one of mine, and provided him a blanket. It was rare to ever see him so quiet. He stayed quiet for the rest of the night. Passages read aloud from the botanical text, the warmth of the blanket, and the steadiness of my embrace did calm thos jitters, however. Likewise nothing silenced my concern as to the source of the blood, but I had a greater care at the moment.

I accidentally did drift to sleep, however. When I awoke, Hamlet was gone. I dressed myself properly, ventured out into the main halls, and received news. Polonius’s body was found upon the shores outside the castle.

There are some things a prince can avoid jail for. I am of the opinion that a well-spoken prince could in fact evade hell if he so desired. No sway, however, could be held over Claudius. Hamlet, it was decided, would be sent to England promptly. I did not get to visit him again or say my parting words in the two days it took to arrange his passage. My english was never as good as his. I spent those two days practicing it as best I could. I spent the nights praying to a god, one that I doubt is font of either of us . Elsinore, like Wittenberg, now held nothing for me.

The only point I had to be thankful for was the insignificance of Polonius to me. From accounts of Hamlet, he was no great man. I had barely knew him personally and had nothing to mourn. No one, it seems, gave him much thought. King Claudius ordered a swift, unadorned funeral. No one bothered to wear black. Even his own daughter, from what Hamlet has told me, was never much fond of him at all. The primary consequences of his death were not in complications of grieving, but rather more like the the swaying of a tree as its base is hewn away. I did not, however, expect the tree to fall so heavily.

Ophelia, no longer constrained by her father’s will, came to me. I am not entirely sure why. We had been politely introduced, I had dined with her, but surely I was not the closest to her. I was, however, the closest thing to Hamlet she had, and thus perhaps I served as a fitting emotional surrogate. She spoke frantically, of the prince himself, of her father, and of, surprisingly, the king. It is from her ravings that I acquiesced the truth of her separation from Hamlet. Her loyalty and love for him had not been replaced (as he suspected), only her nights had. She suspected pregnancy at the hands of this new duty but did not intent to bear it. With Polonius out of the way, she did not intend to continue her previous role. How could I explain to Hamlet what the arrangement had been, how her separation had been the fault of Polonius and the king? He had already come to terms with his (erroneous) image of her having found a better, more charming man. It seemed almost cruel to tell him, but I resolved to.

I will admit that I know very little about women. I have no sisters. I have never had a trade of romance with a woman. However, that night, I found myself quickly thrust into the intimate knowledge of one's life. Ophelia, was in hysterics, speaking of a position I knew very little of, of a life I could not even pretend to understand. My classes had come to a failing point for me, as none of them could instruct a single way to aid her. Her life, tumultuous, plagued by men acting in ways I was unaware of, was so far separated from my own, and yet too tragically connected. What do I say to her? How would I- how would anyone- find the words to console a lady to which such things had been done? Surely there is a way. Surely, Gertrude would have had composed better words. I had fancied myself a wordsmith and a scholar of the page, but not a single learned poem helped my tongue find an adequate sentence. Can any stanza, truly, turn back time? Can an end-rhyme and a repetition undo the sins of a king? No. And neither can they guide the tongue of a student. I am sorry, Ophelia, that I did not speak better. I inquired if she asked to depart from Elsinore in search of a more kind environment. She declined. I offered her a knife I had, thinking perhaps she herself desired peace through murder, like the Prince had. She declined.

I knew she loved flowers. I did not know what more to offer her than the botanical text I had. This, she happily accepted.

She left, humming fragments of a half-formed tune, the book tucked under her arm.

I wish I had offered her more.

Chapter Text

Mayhew folded the letter several times until it was small enough to fit alongside his sword within his hilt. A much more secure place than tucked into his belt, especially when contact with rain would spoil the legibility of the ink. Hamlet did not mind that he wore his boots. This particular pirate had grown more palatable and worthy of them over the length of his stay onboard. Perhaps as well, he decided, they would serve as proof of the messenger’s legitimacy.

“Now..better not be you commanding your Danish knaves to kill me, hmm?”

“Of course not.”

Mayhew grumbled, not entirely free from suspicion. “Alright then. Elsinore. Tell the door I’ve got a message for Henry.”

“Horatio. Message for Horatio.”

“Message for a certain Horatio then. And they’ll pay me nicely for aiding you now? This isn’t a Danish trickery?”

“Of course not.”

At this Mayhew grew rather frustrated and lay a heavy hand on Hamlet’s shoulder. “Be serious now. Lest I decide to toss this letter into the ocean instead. Will they help me as you claimed, lad?”

“Of co-”

“And please say something besides ‘of course’ now.”

“Absolutely.” Hamlet offered him a small smile. He found it amusing how they two of them had gone from near-hatred to near-friendship, now bound merely in near-trust, which he supposed is better than no-trust.

Mayhew descended off the ship into the small boat latched alongside, untied it, and began his course to the nearest possible shore. Hamlet returned to his hammock to reach the swiftest possible sleep.

Chapter Text

Laertes had returned from war and, as I was told by the Queen herself, asked solely for blood and a gravestone labeled “HAMLET.” I do not blame him or hold anger against him. The man who this much-desired grave was intended for, my Prince, did indeed send Laertes to a dirt hole heaven’s gate. The heart does not care why the man was sent to eternal rest, but merely that he was, and he should not have been. It was Hamlet whose sword pierced his heart, and it is Hamlet who must feel the same metal chill. A look into Laertes’s bloodstruck, shadow-framed eyes told me that no compassion could pierce this desire, and no simple man such as I could fracture it away. The man himself will wither away sooner than his urge for revenge will. I could only hope that this would be the case.

My fear for the Prince was interrupted by news from the court- a messenger had shown up, asking for a certain “whuartatio.” He had wildly unpleasant brown hair, shoulder length, and the saplings of a beard to match. He had the stagger of a drunk man and the eyes of someone woken up far too early in the morning. Most importantly, however, he had a pair of exquisite leather boots. Hamlet’s leather boots.

“Where did you get those?” I snapped. Perhaps I was too rude to him. Oh well. “Those boots were the property of Danish royalty.”

“Mmmmmphhf, and I took them off the legs of Danish royalty.”

I am not a violent man. But the anger at the thought of what could have befallen Hamlet nearly motivated my arm to form a punch.

“Relax, mister. I’m a friend of that ‘Danish royalty’ of yours.” He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his arm. “Hamlet, yeah? You know that name?”

Yes. I know that name.

“Well this Hamlet fellow, this, well, Hamlet, he had me deliver a letter for you. Told me I’d be damn well rewarded for it, too, so, so you make sure of that now, that I, he promised me all I could ask for.”

“If you have helped him, I owe you his life and thus mine, sir.”

He nodded, as this answer satisfied him, and removed a tightly folded square of parchment from a hilt on his hip, and handed it to me. “You’re the Horatio he talked so often about, lad?”

“That is indeed what they call me.”

“I’d say by the looks of you, you deserve better. That man has more complaints than the ocean has rain.” He giggled softly at his own statement, as if it were a joke.

I unfolded the paper tenderly, like a mother tucking her child into bed, yet eagerly, like a man seeing food after a week without. Nothing at that moment could ever be more precious to me than the words of Hamlet, the knowledge of his wellbeing and survival. The letter itself was remarkably brief, which surprised me concerning its content. Its deliverer confirmed to me the truth in Hamlet’s account. I did for a moment hope that he was not actually captured by pirates, and that mention was merely another one of his ravings. But, alas, he wrote the entirety of the letter with sincerity and not a hint of foolishness. Come to me, he wrote, as quickly as if you were running from death itself. Ever the morbid one, Hamlet. Even if his play of insanity had been dropped, his obsession with death had not. I will admit that fear of death did, for once, seem a fitting thing to mention in the letter. A man could very well die at sea. A man could even faster die at sea when pirates are present. And, a man who knew nought when to hold his tongue? Well, such a man is practically on his wait to Saint Peter already.

I am not proud to admit how scared and alarmed I was. I thank the Lord himself that none besides me and this sailor were present to witness my frantic breakdown. I am not an overly emotional man, and for that I pride myself. However, in those halls, bombarded with the news of Hamlet’s newfound danger, I could not prevent myself from letting emotion override me. I yelled. I paced. I yelled at God, at the sailor, at the walls. To no avail, of course. The englishman, named Mayhew he claimed, proved to be quite the necessity. He cooled my fit with the news that, although Hamlet was unhappy, he was on relatively good favor with the ship’s captain, and thus under no real threat to his mortality. The ship, it turned out, was not far at all off the coast of Denmark.

I am not proud of my actions. I had nothing to pay this man with, and King Claudius and Queen Gertrude were not to know of this recent development. I did, however, have the keys to both Hamlet’s chambers and Elsinore’s library. A custom suit of armor Hamlet never used, two books, and several fineries from the Prince’s wardrobe fetched me enough money to both pay the sailor for his efforts and contract a fisherman to take me to the ship. I am not a thieving man. However, I knew Hamlet well enough to know that he would miss his life more than a bit of leather. To be completely honest, if asked, he would say otherwise, with such a low value he places on himself. Perhaps it was selfish, then, wishing to bring his life and body back to Denmark and out of the hands of pirates. I did know from his letter, at least, that he highly desired to see me again. I believe that desire was stronger than his desire to keep a volume of dull latin text. Or, at least, I do hope it was. I apologize to Elsinore for my theft. Punishment for that crime, to me, is lesser in grief than the punishment of leaving Hamlet to his marine death.