His requests did stretch the resources, almost all-encompassing, of the sound-archive. But that is part of the game.
First he asked to hear Fortinbras’s belch. The one at the end of the interminable coronation carouse. There was no use denying it: despite tireless scrubbing, new rushes on the floor of the hall, the aromatic salts expended on the long tables and logs in the chimney, the death smells persisted. They hung sweet and rancid in the corners and by the tower stairs. There had been too many corpses. Was it six, was it seven? Fortinbras the King found it hard to remember. A woman’s carrion among them, bloated and waxen, with the scent of burnt almonds on her twisted lips. The surviving folk, royal cousins and courtiers, had been pleasant enough. Caps lifted, knees bent to the new monarch. General sentiments of relief. And now the King’s chambers were being thoroughly aired, the arras taken down and replaced by more cheerful hangings. Still, the feast had not been unblemished. There was the thin, faintly hysterical child on the balcony, troubling the military fanfare – plain lads out of Norway, not those Danish luteners and players on elaborate pipes, most of whom had, anyway, taken to their heels at the first cannon shot. Flitting among them in her pale, nearly transparent gown. A younger sister, or so the King had been informed, of one Ophelia, drowned. And there was the good Horatio, solemn as a blind horse. Assuring the new sovereign of his insightful fidelity, of his imminent retirement, telling him that the great and dread events of which he, Horatio, had been humble witness, must be memorably noted. Horatio to Fortinbras, in a hushed, dulcet tone; the King having to strain his battle-deafened ears to catch the man’s desolate, incessant drift.
The wines had been heavy, and the herring. Dawn could not be far off. Even through the thick walls and battlements, Fortinbras the son of Norway could sense the changing rasp of the sea when dawn approaches. He was bone-tired. Almost envious of the dead prince, who had always seemed to him like a master of sleep, and of the secrets which sleep breeds. Fortinbras belched. It was a loud, cavernous belch. From the inmost of his drowsing, armoured flesh. It was a sound the courtiers would not forget. Thunderous and replete with the promise of a simpler tomorrow.