Unease was to be expected when you arrive to find the king, the queen, and the prince lying dead on the floor, with but one man to explain the carnage. Perhaps, a voice whispered in Fortinbras' ear, Horatio had planned it all.
Fortinbras glanced down the long table. It was the funeral's dinner reception, and all the courtiers and visiting nobles had been gathered to mourn the court's recent losses and discuss the future of the kingdom. The room was darkening with the setting sun, and flickering candlelight seemed to make the faces of his guests even livelier. At the far end of the table Fortinbras could see two gentlemen he didn't know in a heated debate, smiles on their faces and hand movements exaggerated. One of the lesser nobles had excused himself, and the women who had been sitting on either side of him leaned their heads together and where whispering, with the occasional smile hardly concealed by a raised handkerchief. Horatio, sitting not far from Fortinbras, was describing his friendship with Hamlet in dramatic, lachrymose terms to several ladies in revealing gowns, who hung on every word.
Rather boisterous for a funeral, thought Fortinbras. He raised his goblet to smell the spiced wine and looked over its rim at his guests. There was something strange about this court, he decided. Something devious just beyond comprehension, hiding in plain sight. He had the feeling since shortly after he arrived. Of course, unease was to be expected when you arrive to find the king, the queen, and the prince lying dead on the floor. But this went beyond tragedy. Something uneasy was afoot.
Horatio. He was acting strangely for a young man who had just lost his best friend. It wasn't just flirting with the ladies; that could be explained away by the surprising amount of wine he had just consumed, and, after all, drinking was a traditional activity of the young and alone. But in Fortinbras' experience, intelligent young men rarely bask in the reflected glory when their bosom friend becomes a martyr. If everything he had heard about the relationship between Horatio and Hamlet were true, Horatio would not have told the tragic and dramatic tale of Hamlet's heroic revenge so soon. He would have waiting, and perhaps told Fortinbras in private, and only after much cajoling. Instead of discretion, he seemed to enjoy the attention his friend's demise afforded.
They haven't told me the whole truth, though Fortinbras. All of the people who died killed each other? It seemed rather convenient. And there were pieces of Horatio's story that did not completely add up. When Hamlet killed Polonius, why did he hide the body? If he did indeed kill Polonius, and afterwards killed both his childhood friends without restraint, then why did he not revenge his father sooner? So much of Hamlet's motivations could only be explained by Horatio's retelling. Had Horatio even been friends with Hamlet? Or had he embellished upon the story of his death to promote his own future in court?
Fortinbras thought back to the tale Horatio had spun about the web of treacheries that had brought down Hamlet and his family. There were very few events that did not rely on Horatio's word, he realized. He thought back. The play, which the entire court saw. That certainly happened, unless everyone was lying. Hamlet certainly left Denmark and then returned shortly later. There were many witnesses to his journey. Ophelia died, although weather by drowning or some other means was uncertain. Hamlet and Laertes dueled, as witnessed by the whole court. However, the events after the first few bouts could be disputed, as chaos has ensued with the arrival of Fortinbras and his court. What had really happened?
Even more importantly, what was the motivation behind these events, whatever the true events were? Who was seeking revenge, and for what original sin? These questions were answered only by Horatio's barely believable account.
Fortinbras contemplated his goblet for another minute, then set it down and studied Horatio. He was now describing his prowess with a blade, taking a sip from his cup after every other sentence. As a leader, Fortinbras had learned to trust his instincts. They told him now to distrust this man who was sitting before him. He was charismatic and intelligent. He could easily be manipulative; perhaps Horatio was not as blameless as he professed to be. Hamlet would naturally have been drawn to him; everyone was. Perhaps Horatio somehow manipulated the situation for his own benefit. Or worse- he could easily have killed one of the people in the room that night and found it simpler to blame the murder on Hamlet.
Or perhaps, a voice whispered in Fortinbras' ear, he planned it all. He could be the mastermind behind all of the recent deaths, manipulating the nobles against each other from his humble position as school fellow of the prince's. One would need to be brilliant, devious, and creative to think of and perfectly execute a complicated plan. But yet it would be so simple. Similar manipulations were part of Fortinbras' everyday life. If Horatio indeed had pulled this off, he wanted him as an ally.
The most brilliant part, of course, was that no one would ever know. With all his characters dead, the stage cleared of any trace of the play, Horatio was safe. If one thing he said was true, it is that he was the only one who could tell Hamlet's story now.
"Gentlemen, Ladies," Fortinbras stood and raised his glass for the toast. He looked down the long table as his guests stood. "To Claudius. To Gertrude, Hamlet, and Laertes. To Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. May we remember them always as the tragic heroes in a tale of noble revenge. To the dead!" He raised his glass, and the nobles repeated 'the dead' and drank.
Fortinbras looked at Horatio, whose bright eyes scrutinized him from beneath dark brows. He was clearly not drunk. It was just another ruse. As everyone else sipped from their goblet, Fortinbras gave Horatio a knowing look, and raised his glass again in a silent toast to Horatio's cunning. Horatio gave a sudden, amused smirk, and reciprocated by raising his glass to Fortinbras. They had an understanding. "To the future" he said.
Fortinbras smiled and drank deeply. With an ally like this, the future would indeed be interesting.
A/N: When I first read Hamlet, my favorite part was where all the characters died at the end and Horatio alone remained alive. Horatio was the only character I could relate to throughout the story. He was a good friend, compassionate, intelligent, and seemed genuinely concerned for his friend. He is portrayed as the sole person who remains untouched by the treachery and sin around him.
But seriously, if you walked in to a room, saw four dead bodies on the floor and one young man standing who said they all killed each other, you'd be a bit suspicious, yes? Even more suspicious: the young man happens to be extremely smart and tells a story where he's the 'good friend' character as well as the only person who didn't commit a significant crime of some kind.
With this little idea I went through the plot of Hamlet and picked out all the things that definitely happened, and constructed a general plotline for how Horatio might have been at the root of all the problems and decided to modify events in his retelling. I might someday write that plotline up in a "confessions of Horatio" type story.
I'd love to hear what you think! Reviews are much appreciated.