Read Such Sweet Sorrow Online

Authors: Jenny Trout

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Fairy Tales & Folklore, #General, #hamlet, #fairytale retelling, #jennifer armintrout, #historical fantasy, #romeo and juliet, #Romance, #teen

Such Sweet Sorrow (2 page)

BOOK: Such Sweet Sorrow
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Chapter One

It was the perfect night to encounter a ghost. The stars did not deign to be seen in the moonless and cloudy sky. The crashing waves against the cliffs of Elsinore may as well have been the clawing fingers of a spectral sea hoping to catch an unwary soul and pull them down, down, into the depths.

And it was fantastically cold.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, bundled his cloak tighter around his shoulders and blew on his fingers to warm them. Above his hiding place against the earthen berm that surrounded the keep, Elsinore loomed, a darker black against the impenetrable night sky. In the daylight, it was a majestic castle, with ornate spires reaching toward the heavens. At night, it looked like a forest of daggers and sharp teeth stabbing and tearing deep furrows in the clouds.

“Are you about?” a voice hissed in the darkness. Wisely, it did not call out a name.

Hamlet answered, “Here,” and waited for some sign of Horatio’s approach. He hoped his friend did not slip and tumble off the tall berm. Hamlet had lived at Elsinore his entire life and still he found navigating the grounds in the dark a dangerous prospect.

When two hooded figures brushed close by him, he knew how his friend had made safe passage. “You were supposed to come alone.”

Horatio pushed his hood back, his face a lighter blue than the blue-black night. The man beside him pushed his cloak down, as well, his chain mail haubergeon clinking softly.

“This is Bernardo,” Horatio explained in low voice. “The man who first saw it.”

Bernardo dropped to one knee, his hands clasped around the hilt of his sword. “My prince.”

“Get up, get up.” This wasn’t the time for courtly manners or identification. “Show me where.”

“Yes, your highness. Yes, this way.” Bernardo gestured, but it was lost to the darkness. “Begging your pardon, but I’ve heard rumors about your affliction—”

“You shouldn’t listen to rumors,” Hamlet scolded. The kingdom had been rife with speculation about the prince’s affliction lately. Some whispers, that Hamlet was mad, or in league with the devil had obviously come from King Claudius and were meant to harm Hamlet. Others were merely foolish, suggesting the prince had the power to read thoughts and control the weather, and linked the storms that raged over the seas to his tempestuous moods. Some held a stroke of truth, if not the entire portrait; that Hamlet possessed a rare gift that allowed him to see the souls of the departed.

It was not rare, he’d discovered, for others to see the spirits that plagued him. After all, this lowly guard had spotted a ghost during his nightly travails. But Hamlet had never met another soul who could hear the dead, though he doubted any would admit to such a thing, at the risk of sounding mad or being accused of witchcraft. When Hamlet saw a ghost drifting among the living, that soul could speak to him, and unfortunately they all seemed to recognize this talent.

Hamlet kept his gaze on his feet, or where he estimated his feet might be. This was not a night for secret doings. On the morrow, his uncle, the newly crowned king, would marry Hamlet’s mother. The merry mood of the kingdom had not affected Hamlet; to the contrary, his demeanor grew more sour by the moment.

“Although, this rumor is one you may find proves true,” Horatio supplied unhelpfully, to soothe his friend’s surliness.

Hamlet tried to disguise his curse whenever possible—which had, so far, been his entire life. Only Horatio knew the truth. At the university, all manner of spirits had plagued Hamlet’s wakeful nights, and he’d finally confided in his friend. Still, the ability to see and communicate with ghosts wasn’t the sort of thing he liked to broadcast. Bad enough being a prince, everyone wanted something from him sooner or later.

But a prince who could speak to the dead, who seemed to pull specters from the abyss under his own power…

His father had once warned him that a king who ruled with fear would die in fear himself. How could anyone not fear a king who seemed to command spectral elements? When Hamlet was restored to the throne—the throne his uncle had stolen from him—he wanted to be loved for his good works, as his father had been, not dreaded by a resentful court who would find one way of replacing him or another.

The group of three made their way across a narrow wooden bridge that spanned the long, marshy drop. From there, they descended a short, rickety stair to a door so well hidden that even Bernardo could not find it on his first try. Once the watchman opened the door and ushered them inside, the sound of the raging sea was muffled by the thick bedrock of the cliffs.

“We met outside the castle, on a night like this, to go back inside?” Horatio muttered.

“I do not need my uncle’s spies following me,” Hamlet reminded him. Especially if the apparition they sought was who the guard claimed. The ceiling in the corridor was low, and dripping with moisture. Musty dampness scented the air, like the breath from some long-unopened tomb. The moonless night outside had been ink black, but the tunnel was darker. Hamlet groped along the sharp rock walls with clawed fingers, trying in vain to control his panicked gasps.

“Steady, your highness.” Horatio knew of Hamlet’s other affliction—his fear of close, inescapable places.

“There, your highness! There!” Bernardo whispered frantically.

Ahead of them, a light pierced the darkness. Only a mote of shimmering blue at first, it grew, swirling larger and larger, until Hamlet finally understood that his eyes had tricked him; the thing was not small at all, but far away. The tunnel wound on and on through the cliffs beneath the castle. The very thought of such a dreadful labyrinth made Hamlet’s heart beat a frightful tempo, but he took a step forward, and another, as the apparition approached him.

“Your highness, you mustn’t!” Bernardo warned, but Hamlet paid him no mind.

“This ghost is the reason you brought me here, is it not?” With one hand stretched out toward the specter and the other feeling along the rough wall, he forged ahead. “If it is my father, I will speak to it.”

“And if it isn’t your father?” Horatio warned, his voice sounding very far away in the dark. “You said yourself that spirits can deceive.”

“Only if you let them.” He drew closer to the apparition. The light took shape, a shroud of luminous blue falling over features that were at once familiar and strange. The high, pointed crown atop the king’s noble brow was unmistakable, as were his strong profile and broad shoulders. He was like a bust carved of mist, for his chest ended in wisps of blue. His eyes, as blank and pale as a statue’s, still stared, somehow, at his son, the prince.


Hearing ghosts speak was one of Hamlet’s least favorite parts of the curse. The sound was like the worst winter wind howling through a haunted night, mingled with the screams of the damned and chimes like breaking glass. He knew that behind him, Bernardo and Horatio would cover their ears. For the living not afflicted with Hamlet’s strange ability, the voices of the dead were no more than the howl of a chill wind and a sensation of dire foreboding. Though Hamlet could make sense of the words, the rasping, sorrowful gasps still grated down his spine, filling him with dread.

One long tendril of glowing mist beckoned like a finger, and the apparition drifted away.

“Hamlet, don’t!” Horatio called. “You’ll be lost in the caves.”

Hamlet ground his teeth. “If I am, then I suggest you and your man Bernardo come find me.”

Putting aside all thoughts of dying trapped in the belly of the earth, Hamlet followed the shade, his rational mind warring with the grief that twisted his heart. His father had died only months ago. Until the last few days, the castle had still been in mourning for him. But by Claudius’s declaration, the black shrouds and grim court dress had been banished. Though the courtiers were eager to abandon their sorrow and please their new king, Hamlet’s grief for his father was so fresh that he woke in the mornings forgetting, only for a moment, that the king was gone.

The spirit drifted wordlessly, drawing Hamlet deeper and deeper into the cliff below the castle. The sounds of Horatio and Bernardo were lost now, and Hamlet hoped the men still followed at a distance. He’d lost track of the twists he’d taken, the turns when the opening of a new tunnel would make itself known with a blast of cool air and the stink of fetid sea water. Ahead, a glimmer of the same strange blue as the specter flickered in the darkness. He drew closer to it, and soon the shaft of eerie luminescence lit the tunnel like a cold sun, lengthening Hamlet’s shadow and highlighting the absence of one where the ghost stood. With a tendril of mist taking the shape of a skeletal finger, the ghost of his father pointed, and Hamlet turned the corner.

There, crackling and spitting like blue hell fire, a huge stone portal, oval like an eye turned on its side, radiated with the promise of menace and salvation. A freezing wind that rivaled even the most bitter seaside winter blew through the surface of the portal, which rippled with waves of light like water. All along the stone frame, ancient runes covered in mold and lichen spelled out words in a language Hamlet doubted any living person could decipher.

Wetting his lips, Hamlet resisted the urge to plunge his hand into the beckoning void. “Well,” he said to the ghost, unable to tear his gaze from the looming opening, “This is wondrous strange, indeed.”

The kingdom was alive in celebration, from the lowliest peasant to the highest born lord. The king himself, the murderous, traitorous king, held a wedding gala that put every past celebration in the castle of Elsinore to shame.

Hamlet might have enjoyed it, if he’d bothered to attend. Instead, he hunched over his cup in the lowest, dirtiest alehouse in all of Denmark, far from the shadow of Elsinore’s cruel spires, to forget all he had seen and heard in that fearful tunnel below the keep.

It was true that Hamlet had disliked the marriage between his mother and his father’s brother, on moral and religious principles. That had been
the ghost of Hamlet’s father had spoken such ghastly secrets. Things Hamlet could not put out of his mind, no matter how many taverns he visited, or how long he avoided his royal family and duties.

Revenge my murder
, his father had said, the words hollow on the screaming wind of his spectral voice.
Protect the corpseway.

The corpseway, the unearthly portal that divided the realm of the living and the dead, would be a powerful tool in the hands of a king with a noble soul. But in the hands of a vile ruler such as his uncle…

A devastating one.

Hamlet had been living atop it his entire life, with no notion that it existed; perhaps it was to blame for his affliction. Even if it wasn’t, he finally understood his father’s repeated warnings to avoid the caverns below the keep. If young Hamlet had found the portal, his curious nature might have rendered him dead Hamlet, the lost prince.

It was testament to his father’s greatness as king that he had not used the portal to his own ends…but how King Hamlet had known about the corpseway remained a mystery that maddened his son. Had his father shared his gift? Why hadn’t he told him? These were answers Hamlet sorely needed, but his father’s spirit had vanished before he’d thought to ask them.

The existence of the corpseway did not trouble Hamlet half so much as his father’s charge to avenge him. For though Hamlet had never believed his father had been poisoned by a snake bite—and as a result, he’d taken numerous and paranoid precautions against assassination in the months after the king’s death—he’d also never suspected that the king’s own brother could be implicated in a murder so foul.

Yet the spirit had insisted:
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.

Not only was Hamlet charged with hiding the secret of the corpseway from his treacherous uncle, but he’d also agreed to regicide and treason. Though he’d fantasized about the joy he would feel in sending his father’s assassin to hell, those fantasies had not ended with Hamlet’s own neck on the block, an event that would certainly come to fruition should his uncle catch wind of Hamlet’s oath to avenge his father’s death.

And spirits, even familiar spirits, could not always be trusted.

The bench on which he sat rocked as new occupants took up the space beside him. Someone brushed his arm and upset his cup.

Mi scusi.


Hamlet lifted his head, squinting at the fellow. Young, about Hamlet’s own age. Like Hamlet, he was tall and handsome, but his hair was black as a raven’s feather, where Hamlet’s was pale gold. The stranger’s eyes were dark, and there they also differed, as they did in build; Hamlet wondered if the other young man’s slenderness was a result of starvation or sickness.

“What are you doing here?” Hamlet asked, leaning his cheek on his hand, elbow propped firmly against the long wooden table he slumped over. “You sound strange.”

“Because I am a stranger.” The Italian was in a surly mood, despite his pretty appearance. Next to him, an older man in monk’s robes with a monk’s tonsure shorn into his hair cast his furtive gaze about the alehouse, as if waiting for sin or vice to assail them from every corner.

Figuring he might have better luck with a man of the cloth, Hamlet slurred, “Don’t worry, father. No one would dare trouble you here. We may be fierce Northerners, but we do have religion.”

The friar responded in a rolling babble that took Hamlet a moment to decipher. When he did, he replied in the same tongue, “Ah, Italians are you? I never much cared for the language myself, but it is terrifically easy to rhyme.”

“We did not come here for a language lesson,” the handsome one snapped in his native speech. His hair was shorn quite short, and he ran a hand over it in a self-conscious gesture that suggested he might not be so surly and forbidding as he wanted people to think. “Kindly mind your own business.”

“I’m not in the business of minding my own business. Not anymore. Bad things happen when people mind their own business.” Hamlet had come to the tavern to drink away his dark thoughts, not invite new ones in. But the strangers were so intriguing, he could not help but think of them as a portent; after all, how many foreigners found their way this far north, with no clear purpose for being there? Speaking to his father’s ghost had made him both suspicious and curious at once. “You didn’t come here for a language lesson. What did you come here for?”

BOOK: Such Sweet Sorrow
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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