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 (9 page)

BOOK: Such Sweet Sorrow
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He leaned back a little, his arms still tight about her. “Juliet, do you remember how you came to be here?”

She nodded, and swiped at her face. “I was in the piazza,” she began, and a frown creased her forehead. “There was no one I knew. No one. And I couldn’t find my way home. Everywhere I turned…blackness.”

Romeo thought of the terrified woman he’d seen fleeing the shade. If Juliet had experienced just a fraction of that panic…but he could not think of that now.

“Do you remember how you got to the piazza?” he asked gently.

She smiled—a part of her that had remained unchanged by death, untouched by the underworld. How he had missed her smile, so wide and bright, each perfect tooth like a pearl, her eyes shining like dark jewels flecked with gold. “Don’t be stupid, of course I know! I’ve walked the same way every day with my nurse, since I was a child. Down the Via Palermo, across the bridge, unless it’s market day, then we take the via Francessa…”

As she spoke, a troubled veil fell over her features. “But no…that seems so wrong.”

He’d thought that facing her and admitting to his part in her cousin’s death would be the most difficult conversation of their lives. He could never have imagined this one.

“My love. My heart,” he began, taking one of her hands in his and squeezing it tightly between them. “Do you remember Tybalt?”

“My cousin?” the smile returned, slightly dimmed, no less brilliant in Romeo’s eyes. Then it froze, all the beauty turning to sadness. “But he’s dead. Isn’t he dead?”

“Yes. He is dead. For that I am so terribly, terribly sorry.” He waited for some indication that she remembered the circumstances of her beloved cousin’s demise, but she only looked more confused. He had to continue. “You remember how it happened?”

“You killed him.”

He had hoped to never again see the horror in her expression that he had seen that awful night. He’d thought nothing could ever hurt him so.

“Is that why you’re in hell with me?”

He’d been so wrong.

“Walk with me, Juliet,” he said, his throat parched and dry. “We have much to discuss.”

Chapter Eight

So this place is not hell, then?” Juliet’s voice held a plaintive mixture of terror and disbelief that she didn’t like the sound of. But everything he’d told her as they’d walked through the darkness had muddled her head. Valkyrie? Corpseways? A Danish prince? It had sounded like the ravings of a maniac. “It’s as though I’ve awoken from a dream into a nightmare.”

No, more than that, she felt as though she’d woken from death, into hell, no matter what Romeo might have called it.

His hand found her sleeve, then her fingers, and he squeezed them to reassure her. At least, she thought it must be Romeo. He looked so different than she remembered. He looked older, gaunt. His hair was shorn close to his scalp, and silver threads jabbed up here and there, like short needles. Had the world beyond the grave done this to him? He’d been all of seventeen years old when they’d met, two years older than she…how long had passed since then?

“I still can’t believe you’re real,” she admitted, reaching out one had to touch his pale, drawn face.

He flinched from her touch, her fingertips managing only to graze his cheek. “Come on. Our work is not half yet done.”

“Who is this that we’re looking for?” she asked, trailing along in the darkness. She supposed it was rather silly to object to finding this friend of his. After all, she was dead; there was precious little for her to spend her time on. But some of her happiest times had been alone with Romeo, and now they were alone together, possibly for eternity. Did he not see it for the paradise it was? Why would he wish to fetch someone to share it with them?

“Hamlet. He’s the prince of Denmark, actually.” A flush rose to Romeo’s cheeks, and for a moment he reminded her of the youth he’d been when they’d first met. “He came with me. He didn’t want to. If there is any chance he might still be alive, we must find him. Otherwise, we may never get back.”

“Get back?” To the racks, and the cold, howling chasm she’d been captive in?

“To Midgard. The real world.” He paused, looking this way and that in the darkness, but there was as much nothing on either side of them as there was ahead and behind. “Home.”

Return to the real world? The thought made Juliet doubtful and sick. Every moment she remained in the afterlife, she felt more a part of it. Being dead had only just begun to feel right. Ridiculous as she knew it would seem to him, death seemed comfortable and safe in comparison to the haphazard order of living.

“I don’t belong there,” she reminded him softly, pleading with every fiber of her soul, the only thing she had left to herself. But she knew it was a plea that would go unanswered, as she could not put it into words and she doubted he would allow himself to hear it. “It can’t be good for the natural order of things for a once dead girl to suddenly spring back to life. Where is my body? How long have I been away?”

He would not meet her eye. “A long time. Months. Your body has rotted away by now. But I believe you can step through the corpseway and rejoin me in the mortal world.”

“How do you know this?” She wasn’t sure she even wanted a body. Her old one had given her so much trouble. She had been beautiful, but her beauty had drawn men who’d had wrong intentions. Her figure had blossomed before she’d understood the difference between childhood and womanhood, and she’d been ill-prepared to defend herself from the boys she’d once played with as friends. If that was all her body could do for her, she might as well remain a spirit.

A memory, nebulous and watery, swam to the surface of her mind. Everything was fuzzy and out of focus. She saw the ceiling of the crypt, heard the weeping of her mother.

“Where did they bury me?” she asked, though she suspected the answer.

“Just outside of the cemetery walls, in unconsecrated ground.” His voice was choked with emotion. “I was so weak, I couldn’t do anything. I would have tried, Juliet. I thought I might move you back to the tomb some night, but I lost my nerve every time. I didn’t want to dig you up and see you that way.”

Buried in unconsecrated ground. Perhaps that was how she’d found herself in the hell she’d been confined to. “Are you still banished from Verona?”

Romeo shook his head. His voice was hoarse with fatigue and sorrow, but they walked on as he answered. “Upon my recovery, the prince of Verona lifted the banishment. He said that in my state, I was a threat to no one.”

That would have hurt her prideful beloved more than any blade could have. She did love him, but her love was not blind. There was a streak of childish bravado in him that could not be denied. It had been the aim of all Montagues to be intimidating to the other citizens; anything the family had ever gotten, they’d claimed through fighting.

Still, his fighting had brought him here, beyond the gates of hell, and all for her. Juliet’s eyes filled with tears. “How does my nurse fair?”

“Poorly,” Romeo admitted reluctantly. “She grieves you and blames herself for her part in this. But she could not have known the outcome when she delivered you to the church that day.”

“And my mother? My father?” Juliet’s parting with them had been bitter, but she had not meant it to be. She’d quarreled violently with them, when her father had decreed she marry Paris. She’d thought that someday, perhaps years after she’d faked her demise and been reunited with her banished love, she might return to Verona and make peace.

“They are…subdued.” There was a curl to Romeo’s lip as he spoke. He had nothing but disdain for her parents, for her entire family, a disdain that had been bred over decades of feuding. “The prince of Verona declared peace, and our families seem content to abide. For now. But it has only been a few months since the declaration.”

“So it was the poison, and not time, which has done this to you?”

“The poison aged me as well as time ever hoped to,” Romeo responded with a rueful chuckle that died on his lips. “The days I have left will be filled with you. I will cherish every one, even if they’re all spent here.”

If she’d had a heartbeat, it would have stopped at those words. He had come to this bleak and dismal place to stay with her, if he could not return home. Though she could not clearly imagine what that home felt like, or why it should be important to her now, she did appreciate the depth of that sacrifice.

A sound drifted to them through the darkness, an insubstantial whisper like a coil of smoke on the air. In the soundless black, the faraway tune amplified with each step. It was a nursery rhyme, in a language Juliet didn’t understand. As she listened, the words took shape, melding one unknown word into a known one, until she took their meaning clear as day.

She clutched her head and doubled over, a dizzying sensation momentarily putting her off her balance. But that was absurd! Souls didn’t have balance.

They probably didn’t have a language, either, she reasoned to herself. Perhaps that was why she understood the song.

“Juliet!” Romeo gripped her wrists and pulled her up, concern welling in his dark eyes. “Are you all right?”

“I’m going mad,” she said with a shake of her head. “Forgive me, I think a bit of madness can be excused, given the state I’m in.”

“Listen, it’s coming from that direction.” Still holding one of her wrists, Romeo pulled her after him. With every step, the voice came closer, the words of the song pushing Juliet toward the precipice of insanity.

And will a not come again? And will a not come again? No, no he is dead. Go to thy deathbed, He never will come again, His beard all flaxen white with snow, All flaxen was his poll. He is gone, he is gone. And we cast away moan, God ha’ mercy on his soul!

“It’s me.”

The voice came from behind them, and Juliet shrieked, clutching Romeo’s doublet. The man who’d crept up behind them was fair of hair, his eyes wide and haunted. For a moment, Juliet had mistaken him for a ghost.

“Hamlet.” Romeo reached out to him, his excitement for the man’s appearance evident in his features, but the pale man shrank violently from his touch as if burned by fire. What had occurred between them, she wondered, to inspire the brotherly concern in Romeo’s eyes?

He turned back to her. “Something is wrong with him.”

Juliet studied the prince, willing her death-clouded mind to take in anything unusual about him. In her experience, the more powerful a man, the more soft and old he was. This was not the case with Prince Hamlet, who was as fit as Romeo—or, as Romeo
been, before the poison had made him leaner—, with a handsome, straight nose and eyes as blue and glittering as…

As nothing Juliet had ever seen before. There was something unnatural in them, a presence that would have made Juliet cold all over, were she not deceased.

“She’s talking about me, in her songs. She’s telling me something…something I don’t want to hear.” He covered his ears, his eyes still swirling with eerie blue light.

Like the corspeway. Juliet tugged Romeo’s sleeve. “Some spirit has possessed him. Look into his eyes.”

Romeo wetted his lips, his expression still and grave. “Hamlet…something has happened to you. You have to come with me. I have Juliet. We can leave now.”

“I can never leave,” Hamlet moaned pitiably and covered his eyes. “Not having seen what I’ve seen. Not knowing what I’ve done.”

“What have you done?” Juliet asked.

Hamlet dropped his arm, his eyes meeting hers. Slowly, the glittering blue in his unfurled into water shadows that slowly reached for Juliet and Romeo. The shadows became claws of woven light, reaching out to swipe at their eyes. Romeo dodged, but Juliet stepped into the misty hands, letting the power wash through her.

Her vision went over all watery, as though someone had dumped a bucket over her head. As Nurse had done, during her baths as a child. Something in Juliet’s soul pulled oddly at that memory. The remembrance of her mother’s weeping hadn’t stirred anything in her, but somehow the feeling that Nurse was near, caring for her, made her feel…safe, until her vision cleared, and she remembered she was not a child having a bath in her warm, safe room, but a shell, a broken soul drifting through Hell, lost for all eternity.

“Do you see her?” Hamlet asked, pointing to the figure of a woman standing in a pool of black water. Her voluminous white gown fell heavily from her shoulders, as though it were pulling her down. She seemed unconcerned by it, holding out a length of her skirt as a basket for a heaping mound of wildflowers. As she sang, she tossed the blossoms onto the surface of the water. A time or two, she reached up to pat a bloom into the copper curls that framed her face and cascaded down her back.

“Ophelia,” Hamlet said, the name almost a prayer on his lips.

Beside them, Romeo looked about, his forehead creased with confusion. “I see no one.”

“There’s a girl,” Juliet explained, taking a step toward her.

“Don’t!” Hamlet restrained her with a hand that gripped Juliet’s arm like a vise. “You can’t go near her. I’ve tried. Over and over again, I’ve tried. She drowns. Every time you touch her, she drowns.”

“Do you know her?” Juliet had dreamed all manner of horrible dreams as she’d slept in Sheol. Was this another? Or had the blue mist brought her into Hamlet’s dream, as well? “Is she someone you knew, who died?”

“No, she cannot be dead. I saw her only just…” he shook his head. “She is in Midgard. She is safe. This is just some witchcraft, made to drive me mad.”

“What is this sorcery?” Romeo wandered around them. “What are you seeing, that I cannot?”

“The source of the song,” Juliet explained patiently. “Hamlet, what happens after she drowns?”

“I tried to save her,” he babbled. “But she’s too heavy. Her clothes drag her down, they… they would drag me down too. I have to let her go.”

“I cannot fight an enemy I cannot see,” Romeo told Juliet, his helplessness evident in every word.

“Perhaps she’s not your enemy.” Juliet took a step toward the girl, then another, and another. Her feet touched the water, and the depth beneath the girl’s feet changed. Ophelia plunged down, clawing at the water that swallowed her and covered her face.

“Save her!” Hamlet pleaded, for he didn’t see the trick that it was.

He’d helped Romeo, and in doing so, he’d freed her. For that, Juliet owed him this, no matter how unpleasant the act might seem.

As she approached the mad girl, Juliet’s dead heart and fractured soul saw the true intent of the apparition. She was meant to drive the prince insane, to prevent him from leaving the Afterjord. That made it easier to reach into the water for the drowning girl. Juliet followed her down, held her firmly under even as she thrashed and struggled to keep her head above water.

“What are you doing?” Hamlet shouted, his hands balled to fists he beat against his thighs as he doubled over. He screamed, despondent, while Romeo backed away a step, two steps.

Juliet knew what he saw; his two companions driven to madness by a force invisible to him. But to Juliet, it seemed so simple. Romeo and Hamlet were real, living beings. They felt fear, projected it. It brushed across Juliet’s soul like a cat’s tongue, rough and clammy. But this thing before them was only a shade. A trick, playing on their earthly thoughts like so many harp strings.

When she straightened, her arms did not drip with water. “None of it is real, Hamlet.” She turned to Romeo. “It’s a trick.”

“But how did you know?” The mist was slowly lifting from Hamlet’s eyes, and he gripped her upper arms with an intensity that would have caused her pain, could she have felt it.

“I just…knew.” She shrugged off his touch. “I could see the emptiness around her, just as I can see the souls in the two of you.”

Hamlet turned to Romeo, who still looked bewildered. “Your beloved is a valuable tool, blessed with insights to which neither of us are privy.”

“She isn’t a tool.” Romeo’s jaw jutted forward as he ground his teeth. “She is my wife.”

“Wife?” How had she forgotten so significant a detail? A memory stirred, still attached to her soul by golden threads that wove tighter as she concentrated. “Oh yes. Yes, the man, with the tonsure…”

“Friar Laurence,” Romeo prompted, a queer expression on his handsome face. “Juliet, do you truly not remember?”

BOOK: Such Sweet Sorrow
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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