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 (4 page)

BOOK: Such Sweet Sorrow
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A guard stepped into their path at once, and Hamlet called ahead, quickening his pace, “No, no. Let them through, by order of Prince Hamlet.”

Un principe
?” Romeo spat on the ground. “Is this a trick? I’ve come to fight you, and you choose here? So a guard can stick a sword into my back after I stick mine into your belly?”

“Horatio, this is Romeo,” Hamlet responded in the travelers’ language, which both he and Horatio had studied at university. Hamlet searched his vague memory of the night before. “And his friend here is a friar.”

“Friar Laurence,” the holy man said, his eyes still on the guard at his post. “I beg of you, your highness, forgive my companion’s impertinence. His thoughts are much confused, shrouded as they are in sorrow.”

Romeo shot the friar a glance, as though he objected to the apology.

“Don’t worry,” Hamlet said, managing a cheerful smile. “I didn’t come here to fight you. Or punish you for your impudence, though it has been noted. I seem to remember that the two of you were on a quest?”

“I am,” Romeo answered, nodding past Hamlet to the figure of Horatio behind him, silently demanding an explanation.

“Romeo, Laurence, this is my closest friend and advisor, Horatio.” Hamlet tilted his head, studying the paleness of Romeo’s face, the deep circles beneath his dark eyes. He suspected it was more than just fatigue from travel that weakened the Italian…more than just sorrow for his lost love. “For example, he just now advised me not to duel you, for fear that I would not win. Looking at you, I think you got the better end of his advice, wouldn’t you say?”

A muscle in Romeo’s cheek twitched, but he did not flare to angry threats, as Hamlet had supposed he might. Instead he pushed down the cowl of his cloak. The sunlight set deep amber in his short black hair, and it seemed unusual for a body so frail looking to be crowned with such color. “I am ill. It is not a plague, do not fear for yourself. I was poisoned, and I am long in recovering.”

“Poisoned?” Hamlet filed this strange coincidence with the others. “Who poisoned you?”

It might have been too personal a question, for the young man made a face like someone biting into a particularly bitter fruit. “I did.”

“Excuse me?” Hamlet was certain he had not heard correctly. Young noblemen—and Romeo’s impudent bearing and fine sword testified to his nobility—rarely took up poisoning themselves as a sport. If Romeo had willingly drunk poison, he’d been mad, or truly despondent.

The young man was looking less like Claudius’s spy by the minute.

“I poisoned myself,” Romeo admitted through clenched teeth.

With a glance at Horatio, Hamlet smiled at the two Italians. “Gentlemen. I welcome you to Elsinore. I believe we have much to talk about.”

Chapter Three

I do not like this,” Laurence remarked for the third time as they treaded across a checkerboard floor.

“This way, this way,” the prince called over his shoulder as he cut a swath through the courtiers who assembled there.

Romeo kept his eyes straight ahead, ignoring the groans of disgust he and Laurence left in their wake. The courtiers were all finely dressed and heavily perfumed, and the only thing that had perfumed Romeo’s long-worn travel clothes had been the alehouse floor where he and Laurence had slept.

“Be calm, Friar. Who would harm two pilgrims in a strange land?” Romeo crossed himself quickly, hoping their piety would be noted by the people turning up their noses all around them.

He’d come too far on his quest to reunite with his true love to be done in by a group of courtiers.

The man who walked with the prince spoke rapidly, close to the Prince’s ear, and Romeo could not make out what they talked of. The barriers of language and volume made it too difficult, but Romeo believed he understood what was happening in front of them. The prince had invited them inside, and his advisor didn’t like it.

Well, that set him on equal footing with the prince, didn’t it?

What kind of a prince spent his nights in ale houses, utterly unprotected? There had been no guards around him, no elaborate disguise. He hadn’t covered his pale blond hair or obscured his face, which bore what seemed to be a permanent expression of disdain. Perhaps everyone in the north looked that way, and they couldn’t tell each other apart.

Furthermore, what sort of castle was kept in the disarray the prince had brought them to? In the room they entered, books and papers covered every available surface. Some stacks stood waist high, and precious volumes splayed open on the floor. Trenchers of untouched food lay rotting beside the door, and half-eaten loaves of bread grew stale sitting about on desks and chests. There was a pile of clothing beside the wardrobe, and rivulets of candle wax had frozen beneath their sconces on the walls.

“Pardon,” the prince’s advisor said in halting Italian. “The prince was not expecting company.”

“The prince himself invited us,” Romeo said pleasantly, but he narrowed his eyes.

“Yes, I did,” Hamlet interrupted, brandishing a sheet of parchment, which he handed over to Romeo. “I wanted to hear more about this quest of yours. Specifically, the poison.”

Frowning, Romeo quickly scanned the page. “I don’t understand—”

“It is a list of poisons commonly used by assassins in Europe and as far away as China. If you could so kindly point out to me what you poisoned yourself with, and tell me the antidote—”

“That’s what this is about?” Romeo snapped angrily. “The poison?”

Hamlet blinked his icy blue eyes.

When he did not speak, Romeo crumpled the parchment in his fist. “I’m no apothecary, I know nothing about poisons.”

“Neither did the apothecary who sold you your poison, or it would have worked.” The prince rubbed his chin. “This is troubling. I thought I might be able to help you in your quest, but if you cannot help me—”

“How the hell would you help me?” It was wrong to speak to a prince that way, Romeo knew well enough. The prince of Verona would have had him flogged for such impudence. But they had come so far, and for nothing. All the while Juliet was trapped in a dark and lonely death. They stood at the seat of a dead king, as the witch had told them, and still they’d received no answers. Now this spoiled, heartless cur was making a game of his quest?

A change came over Hamlet’s features. A moment before, he’d been a pompous, irritating boy. He now looked a dangerous man, with dangerous thoughts and the wealth and status to back them up. Romeo wished he had not spoken so rashly.

Though he expected that the prince’s next words would be something like, “take him to the dungeon,” instead, Hamlet gestured to a chair piled high with books. At once, Horatio swept them onto the floor, and Hamlet lifted his chin, saying, “I have been rude. Please sit down, Romeo. I would like you to tell my friend Horatio the tale you told me last night.”

It was not a story he wished to share, not in front of this young man who would likely mock it, but he’d already been impertinent, and he did not wish to offend the prince further. “I was heartsick, and I wanted to die.”

“Heartsick?” Hamlet made a sharp noise that Romeo supposed served as a laugh. “A man who looks like you? I doubt you want much for feminine company.”

“It was not lack of feminine company, in general, that made me heartsick,
your highness.

Hamlet’s eyes flared in recognition. “Oh, yes. Your beloved. You mentioned that last night.”

Friar Laurence stooped down close to Romeo’s ear. “Please. You need this man’s help. Be cautious. Tell him what he wishes to know.”

Faced with the wisdom of his friend and the prospect of another dead end, Romeo could see no other option than to acquiesce. If he was going to tell his tale, he should start at the beginning. “I was banished from Verona for killing a man.”

The advisor, Horatio, went wide-eyed and pale. Perhaps he’d never been in the presence of an actual murderer before. Romeo ignored him. “He was a kinsman of my bride, Juliet.”

Just speaking the name sent a stab more deadly than any blade through his heart. It seemed wrong, that he should share this story with strangers, when Juliet did not live to protect her half of it. Would she want these men to hear it? “We had married in secret, and she would have been forced to forsake her vows to me to marry another, but…”

“She killed herself?” Hamlet finished for him.

That was so much simpler than what had happened, it seemed an insult not to tell the rest, the foolish coincidences that had conspired against them. There was no way to make these young men understand the brilliance of the light that had been extinguished with Juliet’s death. They could not miss the joy of her smile, or her soft breath against their skin. Perhaps a skilled bard could weave such magic from simple words, but Romeo was far more skilled with sword than pen. When Friar Laurence started to speak, though, Romeo covered him with his own voice. “Yes, that was the way of it.”

“And you poisoned yourself in your grief.” Horatio was taller and leaner than his royal companion, with golden hair and a nose that was just slightly too large to be handsome. He’d been tapping his lips with steepled index fingers as he’d listened, but now he crossed his arms, studying Romeo’s face intently. “But someone saved you?”

“It didn’t take.” Romeo could still taste the bitter poison on his lips sometimes, at night, when he lay in darkness like that of the tomb. “I appeared dead for a few hours, then, as my mother wept over my body, I began to stir.”

“Why did you kill your wife’s kinsman?” Horatio asked in the silence that fell over the room like a shroud.

Hamlet waved a hand, indicating Romeo’s act of murder didn’t concern him. Somberly, the prince spoke almost to himself, “That is the beloved you speak of bringing back from the dead. What do you think, Horatio?”

“I don’t think he’s lying.”

“Lying?” The word left Romeo on a barren whisper. “Who would lie about such a thing?”

“Italian spies,” Horatio suggested.

Before steel could be drawn, Hamlet stepped between his advisor and the chair upon which Romeo sat, ready to spring. “I thought before that you were a spy, sent by my uncle. You see, last night, when you spoke of seeking the seat of a murdered king… you have found it. I thought perhaps my uncle had sent you, to test my suspicions.”

“Why do you believe differently now?” Although Romeo bristled at being branded a spy and assassin, he also felt relief and elation at the confirmation of the strega’s promise.

Hamlet leaned down, his hands braced on the arms of the chair Romeo occupied. “In my life, I have seen all manner of performers, from traveling minstrels to the bawdiest playhouse players, and never once have I believed a declaration of love as I believe in the story you’ve just told. If you have been sent here by my uncle, then your art of deception is truer than any I’ve ever seen, and I should not feel the smallest amount of shame at being drawn in, should you ultimately prove false and murder me.”

If Hamlet had been anyone else in the word, he would have had a stiletto in his gut already for accusing them of being spies and insulting Romeo’s honor. But looking into the prince’s eyes, Romeo saw a mad desperation he could not help but pity. Whatever had happened to this young man, it had been severe enough that he would invite two suspected assassins into his quarters for…

What had he called them here for?

“You said you could help us,” Laurence reminded Hamlet, his gentle voice a thunderclap that broke the quiet tension of the room. “Perhaps you could tell us how? And why on earth you would wish to?”

“I wish to,” Hamlet began, slowly straightening, “because I have recently been called upon to avenge a murder, and to protect a doorway separating the land of the living from the realm of the dead. I’m not entirely sure how factual either of those statements are, as they were told to me by the ghost of my father.”

Romeo’s heart thundered against his ribs so furiously he was certain his bones would break. “A doorway—”

“Between the land of the living and the realm of the dead,” Hamlet repeated wearily. “I understand how mad it sounds. I wasn’t sure I could trust the apparition that came to me in my father’s face. I was told—as was all of Denmark—that King Hamlet had been bitten by a viper and died. Then my father’s ghost appeared to me and warned that he had been murdered by his own brother, Claudius, who sits on my throne in my stead.”

“You want to be king?” Romeo wondered how much of
story was false, and his doubt turned to shame. The prince had believed a tale of witches and convoluted suicide. Romeo owed it to him to take him at his word.

“No! That would be horrible. Far too much responsibility. What I want is for my father to be king. As I can’t have that, though, I must either accept his murderer on his throne, or take on the crown myself.” Neither choice sounded appealing, the way the prince spoke of them.

“That still doesn’t answer my question, your highness,” Laurence reminded them both. “With deepest respect, I must ask… why would you help Romeo seek his beloved?”

“Because I don’t know what’s beyond the doorway.” Hamlet shrugged as though it were perfectly clear, and he was astounded at the foolishness of the strangers before him. “I’m supposed to protect it, and that’s all very well. But I don’t know what it is, and I’m not certain how I can protect it without that knowledge. I can take you to it, you can go through, save your Juliet, bring her back through the portal and report back to me.”

“How do you know it works that way?” Horatio asked. He had been silent for a long time, and it occurred to Romeo that the prince’s companion rarely spoke, unless it was to impart something crucial. He went on, “You’ve never been through the portal. How do you know Romeo can come back? How do you know he could bring back the girl?”

“I stuck my head in,” Hamlet argued. “It came out again. And my father’s ghost was able to traverse the corpseway. I see no reason that it might not work exactly as I’ve described.”

All the while they had traveled on this quest, Romeo had desperately wished to hear just such an offer laid out so neatly for him that it would be impossible to resist. But considering the source, the slightly

Laurence had asked him where he would put his faith once he lost it again. It seemed he had only one choice; this strange prince who’d spoken at length about spirits and death in an alehouse, and who now offered help so nonchalantly in matters of raising the dead.

to save Juliet.

Hamlet’s voice lowered, and his posture became very severe indeed. “You must swear a vow of secrecy, upon your very heart’s blood. You must swear that you will never tell another living soul what I show you. Your friend the good Friar too. And you must swear to me that you will report back all that you see and hear after you’ve fulfilled your quest.”

“I make no oaths but those I swore unto my God.” Laurence drew himself up stiffly. “But you may trust my discretion.”

“And mine, so long as you promise that no harm will come to my friend while I am gone.” Romeo glanced to Laurence “I would not ask you to put your mortal soul in peril by testing the laws of nature.”

Hamlet stared at them in stony silence for the space of a breath, then a too-bright grin transformed his face. “Excellent! Then you must follow me!”

Under normal circumstances Hamlet would have waited for nightfall to venture back to the tunnel. Though, on second thought, he wasn’t sure there were “normal circumstances” for raising the dead.

Hamlet was relieved that it was this Italian, and not himself entering the corpseway to investigate. The spirit had warned Hamlet of dire powers and secrets no mortal should know, and those warnings were very troubling. But they didn’t give Hamlet very much to go on. How was he to protect the corpseway? Could it be destroyed? Where did it lead?

He’d looked through it only briefly, before his father’s ghost had pulled him back with a mighty wind and the roaring fury of a tempest. He’d loomed over Hamlet, an unearthly version of the earthly king’s anger, and made Hamlet swear he would never step foot though the portal.

But what if something beyond the shimmering blue gate would help to overcome King Claudius? How was Hamlet to protect something he knew nothing about?

Now he had Romeo, the Italian murderer, to find all this out for him. If he returned, that was. If he did not, Hamlet reasoned, it was surely better to be trapped in the beyond with the love of one’s life than separated from her by the mere act of living.

“You cannot seriously be contemplating sending him through the portal!” Horatio hissed in the torchlight. “You have no idea what you’re doing, or if he is your uncle’s spy. This entire proceeding is a farce, and you’re leading them directly to the corpseway that your own dead father told you to keep secret!”

BOOK: Such Sweet Sorrow
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