Osrick, having brought the challenge, departed, and Horatio turned to Hamlet.
“You will lose this wager, my lord,” he said.
“I do not think so. I have been practicing hard since Laertes left for France, and I believe I can beat him.”
“Do not fear. It is hardly a fight to the death. It is a duel for sport, for competition.”
“Then there is no shame in turning it down.”
The prince looked at him, and noted the drawn look about his face, and how his forehead was furrowed in a frown that quite distorted his features. “I do believe you are truly afraid, Horatio.”
“If you will not forego the fight, let me fight it for you,” he begged.
At that, Hamlet mirrored his frown. “I cannot. I have accepted.”
“Claudius, your mother’s husband, has chosen a champion to fight against you. Why may you not choose a champion to fight against his?”
He placed one hand on Horatio’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes. “If I were to choose a champion, Horatio, it would certainly be you. But I have agreed to do this.”
“Then we will tell them you are not fit. You are ill, you are mad, you are…”
“Do not dream of it. If I am to lose now, then at least I will not lose later. And if I do not lose now, there is always the possibility of losing later. What happens will happen one day.” He spoke earnestly to his friend, but the troubled look did not leave Horatio’s face. “Let it be.”
“No.” Horatio’s jaw jutted forward in his determination. “If you do not allow me to fight it for you, I shall inform them that you are not well enough to fight, and insist that it is postponed.”
“Everything I have done has been postponed.” Hamlet strode away, frustrated. “Every action I take is postponed until it is too late. Why should this follow that pattern?”
But Horatio offered no explanation for his uneasy feelings. “Please. Allow me to be your champion.”
Hamlet hesitated, and walked back over to his friend, clasping his upper arm as he searched Horatio’s face for his reasoning. Finding nothing there, he sighed. “It goes against my better judgement, but perhaps there is reason for your apprehension. I consent—but you must promise me, Horatio, that you will not allow yourself to become endangered.”
“I would do nothing for you that you would not do for me,” Horatio replied, and left the room. As his footsteps retreated, Hamlet looked down at the floor.
“That, my friend, is what worries me so.” But he spoke only to empty air.