Perched on the ledge, Prince Hamlet stared down at me.
"You don't bow to your future King?"
"I considered. And then decided against it," I replied quickly. Perhaps a little too quickly. And yet I quickly spoke again,
"What are you doing here?"
He leaned a hip against the side of the battlement and crossed his arms.
"Considering things... and deciding against them."
"I meant, here. At Merchant Academy."
"Ah. That is the question. What am I doing here? What are any of us doing here, really?"
I looked skyward. My solitude had been interrupted and thus, ruined. Surely, I had given Beadie and Viola long enough by now. Was there some way to elegantly excuse myself from further nonsense?
"I suppose, if we are to be literal, I am here at the behest of the crown. To ensure the safety and suitability of this place for my bride-to-be." Prince Hamlet pushed away from the side wall and whipped his body forward on one foot. I lurched, my nerves jolting, thinking he'd miss and fall off the ledge.
But he caught himself on the other side, leaving all balance to one precarious foot. I exhaled, irritated. He was being careless on purpose. As if daring Fate to drop him off the side of the battlement, down to a painful death below.
"And how have you found Merchant? Safe and suitable?" I asked, as he thankfully placed his other foot down.
"I've found this place, every corner of it -- exceedingly depressing." Prince Hamlet raked one hand through his black hair. He stretched his other hand to the ledge wall, pressing his palm flat into the stone.
The wind whipped again. We stood still as it blew through us. I could have taken my leave at that moment but I didn't. I just watched him, curious. Without the theatrics, Hamlet radiated mostly sadness.
"I can't pretend to understand the obligations placed upon you by the King. But, even us non-royals have a duty to please our fathers."
"The King is NOT my father," he snapped. The palm he held against the wall curled into a fist and he punched it, cracking his knuckles against the stone.
I had forgotten. After his father's untimely death, his Uncle Claudius had married his mother Queen Gertrude and swiftly settled on the throne. Outside the King's Court, it appeared to be the proper decision. For the good of the country. But the outside and the inside of things could be very different.
"Apologies, your Grace --."
Hamlet twisted and punched the stone wall again. As he did, he yelled with such howling anguish that it echoed into the night sky. He reared his fist back once more.
"Oh, stop it," I said. "Do you mean to break your hand? Would that really help? I think not. Punishing self-pity gives you nothing in the end."
He hesitated, fist raised, boiling with anger and angst - and totally thrown off by my rebuke. He scowled,
"You're bold to speak such insolence to your Prince."
"You are not the only one to lose a parent," I said, choking on the last word. My throat felt desperate to close but I pressed on,
"My mother, only a few months back. While you teeter up there, punching at stone and tempting the winds to carry you off, notice that I am down here, feeling much the same. Barely enduring every moment that passes. Stabbing a futile dagger in the dark, willing myself not to just... completely dissolve from grief. You mistake insolence, your Grace. It is not insolence at all. It's understanding."
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When troubled Ophelia is found dead, four of her classmates are accused. With conviction and punishment a foregone conclusion, the girls - Portia, Beatrice, Viola and Desdemona - plot a daring escape in order to unravel the conspiracy behind the mur...