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The roar of the king's revels fades mercifully as Horatio staggers out into the corridor, where the guards stand with precisely angled pikes and carefully blank faces. They are used to this, much more than he is, and he knows from experience it's no use asking them what they think. Claudius might be a fool in his own way, but his own way does not include hiring guards that are less than perfectly loyal.

He'd meant to write a report tonight. More rumours of troop movements, Fortinbras' army growing larger by the day, and far too close to Elsinore for comfort. Horatio's comfort, anyway. The king thinks nothing of it -- or if he does, drowns his fears in wine. Like tonight. Another damned revel, and no good reason for it.

Horatio catches himself against the wall, leans his forehead on the cool stone until he's sure he won't vomit. Not the king's doing, not this time; Horatio took that first glass of his own will. Fortifying himself for another night in his room, writing letters he will never send.

Troop movements, restlessness in the countryside, rumours that Laertes will return. Any issue neglected by the king. He writes these things down because Hamlet would want to know them . . . but one cannot simply address a letter to Hamlet, in England and expect it to reach the man. Not even if the king's men were not searching all mail packets for signs of treason. And what good would it do, if Hamlet received them? He is exiled, and not likely to return, not while his former comrades stand guard over him like pair of royal mastiffs.

Exiled -- leaving Horatio here in Elsinore, chronicler of Denmark's last, fatal disease. We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart, Hamlet had said; he's learned the lesson all too well. But he cannot depart. He is the only man here still loyal to the Prince of Denmark, who ought to be the king.

Sound echoes down the cold voids of the corridors, a thin, desperate thread weaving through the clamour of debauchery. Ophelia's madness is the one thing Horatio cannot make himself commit to paper, even if it will never be sent.

Bitterness wells up in him like bile. Whether he writes or not, what does it matter? Hamlet is gone, and this show of faith changes nothing.

But Horatio is too loyal to give up. He would drink poison for the man; he can do this. Using the wall as support for his careful, uncertain steps, he leaves warmth and light and corruption behind, and goes to write another letter.