Hamlet laid on the marbled floor, the chilled temperature of the surface being the only thing that grounded him to reality for the fleeting time he had left (on this plane). The pain that had radiated throughout his shoulder, where the fatal blow had landed, it had been fading into obscurity with each passing second as the world deconstructed into abstract sensations. The pounding in his ears that could be ascribed to the poison flooding his system or his heart overloading in attempts to send purified blood through his body in a last defence; the air becoming suffocating rather than an invigorating essence as sign that this physical existence was slowly detaching itself from his being; the numb sensation travelling through his limbs with the occasional surge of static that was a reminder he was not yet gone.
One ray broke through the chaotic arrangement that was Hamlet’s current condition was Horatio’s presence. Among the throne room, that had quickly turned into a synthetic graveyard littered with the bodies of his family and foes, Horatio’s life force radiated among the dead. Then again, Horatio’s presence had always been a beacon to Hamlet. Amidst his self-inflicted madness, Horatio had been a port in a turbulent storm.
With cumbersome movements Hamlet altered his position on the unyielding floor, enabling him to view his faithful Horatio in the most flattering light from his restricted vantage point. If this were to be his last glimpse of the world, he wished it to be full of the incandescent light that Horatio cast out from his person. While his vision blurred at the edges Horatio remained fixed in the centre as he had always been, and Hamlet bestowed upon his companion the precious commodity of his final breaths. In all that he had been selfish beforehand, this was a meagre parting gift that Hamlet could give him.
‘I am dead, Horatio,’ he plainly decreed. For all the shrouded connotations of their previous exchanges, Hamlet found that death made him quick to the point and sparing with this words. Yet those that he wished to freely speak still evaded him, the oppression of their stations and the vices of the world not yet distant enough for him to feel the freedom necessary for such bold statements. Or perhaps his earlier bluster, at the sight of twenty thousand men marching to inane deaths, had been for naught and his paranoia plagued him still. It could be either but there was little time for reflection when time was so precious and so much had already been squandered.
When Hamlet finally raised his eyes to meet those of Horatio’s, where he saw his own hesitance and restraint reflected. He felt the connotations of this hit him greater than any physical blow of the injury that was to be his end.
‘But let it be. Horatio, I am dead. Thou livest, report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied,’ he instructed as a final plea. He could not bear the sorrow that had shadowed Horatio’s expressive eyes and his words were a poor attempt at deflection. The aura of mortality hung unspoken in the air while Hamlet’s words evaporated the moment they left human hearing, giving only a momentary reprieve from the imminent consequence of such a drawn out play of wits and cunning that had culminated in all embroiled in their plots being outmanoeuvred by their own mental dexterity. With such defeat, Hamlet could only take consolation in that Horatio remained unscathed by the folly of others. Though that was more in spite of him.
As old habits, even in the face of death, cling to one’s nature, Hamlet found himself victim to introspection for a fraction too long. If Horatio had not spoken to declare his intentions, then perhaps the scene may have played out differently. Hamlet could only be grateful that were not so. Horatio had sought out the cup that had claimed the life of his mother, intended for Hamlet himself, and grasped at the stem of the glass as a drowning man may cling to a rope cast overboard. The dread of such a sight paralysed Hamlet more so than the poison did.
‘As thou'rt a man, give me the cup. Let go; by heaven, I'll have't,’ he cajoled with as much charm as could be mustered in a pathetic position such as his. It appeared to be enough as Horatio stayed his hand for just a moment, enough for Hamlet to press on in his persuasion. Words filled the silence, though that’s all they were to be, filler, as the crux of his purpose was laid bare in a single statement that was concealed among his speech.
‘If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart…’ It was enough, Hamlet consoled, to think that if Horatio dropped the cup then his intentions were clear and his feelings were to be reciprocated. Selfish as Hamlet was, he could not bring himself to explicitly state his feelings only to have but moments to revel in the knowledge that Horatio was his equal in them. To know that, without the ambiguity of veiled speech, would only bring pain into his final moments. To know that the time they had spent in one another’s company could have been implemented for tenderer emotions than that of plotting revenge. They might have been unified in a different sense.
Even if this were still to be their end, one seduced by the promise of poison and another felled by a blade, then perhaps they could have perished as tragic lovers. In their current positions they were nothing more than companions or an unfulfilled promise at best. Given another play with a different set of performers that were less by life and more naïve to the ways of the world, their story could have been enacted differently. Days instead of death bringing them together.
The clattering of the cup to the ground was answer enough for Hamlet, eyes closing in acquiesce. It was too certain in Hamlet’s mind, of what light Horatio viewed him. It was ill-deserved, yet Hamlet accepted it all the same. Greedy in his last moments to find affection when the last few months of his life had seemed so lacking in it. If only he had been less guarded with the one man he had deeply trusted, then that may not have been the case.
In the disorientated state of declining vitality, Hamlet was not immediately aware of the pressure around his chest until he forced his eyes to open once more. His sluggish senses noted the absence of Horatio in his immediate line of sight and the change in position, but it was not until he felt the broken breaths of Horatio against his cheek that Hamlet become aware of their embrace. If he had more strength in him then Hamlet would have wound his arms around Horatio in return but the poison had robbed him of all movement. He was no longer an active participant of the world, merely an observer. But what a sight Hamlet saw, each line and curve of Horatio’s portrait to be studied at leisure in this suspended moment. For if death were to grant him one mercy, it would be to glimpse the future that may have awaited him past this finite hour.
Mercy or exquisite torture, either was applicable given the swell of conflicting emotion that rose in Hamlet’s chest and the inaction forced upon him to steal but one moment from death itself to satisfy his mortal urges. Of course, if it were not death who were to conspire against them then it would be fate, as it sounded as though all worldly destruction had arrived at the gates.
“What warlike noise is this?” Hamlet muttered with indignation, though immediate regret flooded through him as Horatio felt it his duty to move towards the entrance to sound out what it could possibly be. However, it only took a few moments of remembering the outside world and its consequences for them to understand what it could be, Horatio’s confirmation had not been necessary but it alleviated the dense atmosphere that had begun to form between the two of them. Still now there was so much unspoken, and they would not get the chance to discuss the occurrence between the two of them that had just passed.
‘O, I die, Horatio; the potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit’ Hamlet gasped, his elbow slipping against the polished floor as his strength sapped with each pulse of his heart that pushed the poison through his veins. Without Horatio’s support, he was helpless. There was little doubt to these being his final moments on this plane, often scorned but now mourned as he ruminated on all the possibilities that fleeting embrace had presented him. And still there were duties to consider even when the ultimate freedom was encroaching, trapping him moreso than he had ever anticipated by the constraints of time. There were orders to be given, missives to be ensured, and Hamlet entrusted them with the one man who stood by him even now, when it would be most difficult to witness this.
For all this selfishness, he was glad that his death would not be solitary, but his relief would be temporary to last only the seconds he had left, but the scar of this experience would be borne on Horatio’s mind for his remaining life. Hamlet wished it were a long and prosperous life. If only he could share in it.
With this breath, Hamlet felt his lungs dissipate and he was certain it was the final breath he would intake. So, he ensured he held it for as long as God was willing, locking eyes with the man across the room, paralyzed by the weight that bore down on him from the oppressive atmosphere of death that surrounded them. Horatio appeared so scared, afloat in a vast ocean that Hamlet was swiftly drowning in. As a final image, it was near enough perfection to see Horatio’s face and the softening of his features as the realisation of this moment dawned on him.
“The rest is silence.”