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Guarding the Realm

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I'll tell you the tale as it happened, or at least as I saw it happen. Don't expect order or logic; I'm not a creature of either, and was never meant to be.

I was sitting on purple grass that evening in a part of the Labyrinth where I hadn't been for some time, a cluster of mountains striped crimson, ochre, and turquoise that towers above the clouds. It's so old that I no longer recall who I made it for—myself or one of the mortals that I had loved. I was beginning to wonder what strange impulse had brought me there when a child materialized at the foot of one of the mountains.

Eleven, maybe twelve. Far, far younger than the young people I pursue, but not too young to have a heart's wish. Blonde hair, curling at the ends, with an absurd bow atop her head that didn't suit her. A sailor dress and button-up boots, like something out of Victorian or Edwardian times; I'd run into children from that era before, as well as children in togas and shifts and spacesuits. It isn't as if the Labyrinth exists in linear time, after all.

Two things captured my attention instantly. First, she was very far from the beginning of the Labyrinth, and that was not at all to my liking. The Labyrinth guards my realm—and me—from the outside. If someone calls to me and asks me to exercise my power on their behalf, that's another matter. Once I make a wish come true, there is a certain...debt...owed, after all, and the doors between worlds open for a time. But I don't tolerate invasions if I don't have to.

The second was her scent, which I could taste on the air.

She smelled mostly of forgetfulness and disorientation—a bluish-grey spray coating memories filled to bursting with bubbles of greenness. Perhaps it's hard for you to understand what I mean by greenness. Picture joyous recollections distilled into succulent jewels that can be eaten and drunk, as refreshing as a goblin's goblet of melted snow on the hottest day, and then delicately spiced with cloves of stubbornness and roasted streaks of pride to prevent the taste of the memories from becoming bland.

That's greenness. It's a rare quality among humans. I don't meet many whose very joy lends flavour to the world, making it brighter and better. They almost never have heart's desires.

But as I watched (and smelled, and tasted), I became aware that the forgetfulness was melting away, leaving behind the sour tang of confusion and fear and...

Magic.

I had to know her now. I had to find out what power had brought her here. Not just for the safety of my subjects. For my own peace of mind.

So I transformed into an owl and flew to her side. Well, to a tree she was standing near as she gaped at a lake of emerald ice near the base of one of those riotously coloured mountains. A waterfall of boiling pearls in which floated chunks of flame flowed upward from the lake, emptying itself into a hole in the sky.

I did mention not being a creature of logic, did I not?

This close, I could tell that she had more magic with her than I'd realized. What it was I didn't know, but it reeked of electricity and dust and a stench of orange, obsequious greed that I did not like at all.

I lit on the ground, transformed back, and waited for her to realize that I was there, certain that it would not take very long. It never does.

A few minutes later, she glanced away from the waterfall, blinked, and then stared at me. I bowed slightly. Things may not end courteously, but it rarely hurts to begin that way.

"Who are you?"

Not particularly original, but it was what I wanted her to ask, so I couldn't exactly fault her for this. "I am Jareth, the Goblin King. And you are?"

"Polly Plummer."

They always give their names away so easily. I poked at the name to see what secrets it would surrender.

An image of London emerged. A walled garden, and...attics? Spaces between houses? Yellow and green rings that hummed, and a human man with dandelion-fluff hair and an oily smile. A forest that wasn't precisely a forest. And a dark-haired boy about the same age as Polly. Friend? Brother? I couldn't say. But Polly Plummer was becoming more interesting by the moment.

"Where am I?"

"The Kingdom of the Goblins." I raised one eyebrow. "As I said, I am the Goblin King. The question is, Polly, what brought you here?"

She looked as if she was about to cry—and as if she would die rather than do so. "Digory jumped into a pool in the Wood Between the Worlds. I thought I was following him. We were just exploring different worlds; how often does anyone get to do that? But I must've jumped in the wrong pool, because he's not here..."

It took some time before I got the full story about Digory's Uncle Andrew who had tricked Polly into taking a magic green ring that would leave her stranded between worlds forever, about the forest that blurred memories and stole names and the pond-portals that were as numberless as the stars, and about Digory himself, who had followed her to the Wood with a yellow ring that would let her return to their world—and a yellow and green ring of his own.

That explained the stink of greedy magic about her, if nothing else. The magic of some people befouls the air. I've known that since I was very young.

"I wish I could stay and explore." She looked around, curiosity glowing in her eyes. "It's beautiful. Strange, but beautiful. But I daren't. I've got to find out where Digs is. He jumped into a pool and vanished, and I thought I'd picked the same one he did. But I guess I didn't."

"If you go back to the Wood and start wandering about, you'll get lost," I said plainly. "You said that all the trees and ponds were the exact same shape. And you might very well forget who you are again."

"I know." She scrubbed at one eye with a slightly grubby fist. "But I have to find him anyway."

I don't like leaving the Labyrinth, but there seemed to be very little choice. After all, the magician could always make more rings. And I had no doubt that if he learned anything from Polly or Digory, it would go very hard for my goblins. Not to mention that if Digory had managed to stumble into any other world, Ketterley could gain spells or weapons that I knew nothing about. (Armies I wasn't worried about—goblins can harass and outsmart armies easily—but spells and weapons can remain hidden a dangerously long time. And not everyone in my kingdom smells magic as I do.)

"I could come with you," I suggested. "There are ways of sheltering humans from the effects of in-between places like the Wood." Not permanently and not for long, but they do exist. "And I should very much like to meet Digory's Uncle Andrew. And take care of those foul rings."

For just a second, I caught a gleam of Oh, I should like to see that in her eyes. Then realization, or what she thought was realization, dawned. "But—you can't do that! You'd never find your way home!"

"Nothing can ever bar my way to the Labyrinth," I said emphatically. "Nothing. Time and distance are not obstacles; if I desire to be here, then I will be."

After that it was mostly a question of negotiating how we would travel together to the Wood. I ended up gripping her right hand while she plunged her left into a pocket containing a yellow ring. Moments later, we were emerging from a pool in the Wood Between the Worlds as a boy—some distance away, by the sound of it—shouted Polly's name over and over.

"Cease this," said the deep voice of a woman—a very familiar voice. "We are wasting time. Doubtless she has already returned to your homeland; we can meet her there."

Her? Here?

Before I could stop Polly, however, she had stepped from the pool and was yelling loudly, "I'm right here, Digs!"

A few moments later, Digory pushed his way back through the shrubbery. He probably looked extraordinarily relieved; he certainly tasted of it. (Raspberries, sunshine on autumn leaves, and the pure, liquid notes of a lullaby, if you were wondering what relief tastes like.) But most of my attention was focused on the woman following him.

She was impossibly tall and regally clad, with hair so black it seemed to eat the light, skin so white that a corpse would look colourful beside it, and her mouth so red as to seem bloodstained. And she was gazing at me with contempt and disdain.

"Who's she?" Polly whispered loudly.

"Queen Jadis of Charn," I said as I stepped from the pool, smiling as I did so because I knew full well that nothing, save the words I was about to speak, could possibly irk her as much. "Hello, Mother."

***

"Mother?" squeaked Polly. "She can't be your mother, Jareth! You said you were the Goblin King."

"I am the Goblin King," I retorted. Some things I know like my own breath. "I take after my father, that's all."

Though who exactly my father is has been a matter of conjecture for most of my life. Someone of high position from Faerie who could travel between worlds with ease—that is all I know. It might have been Oberon, or the Erl-King, or Amadaun, the Fool of the Queen of the Seelie Court. Personally, I plump for the Erl-King; he's noted for commanding goblins and, unusually for the Fae, he's fertile. (If he is my father, I have a nearly infinite number of half-sisters.)

Charnites, or at least the royal ones, like to know what they are dealing with. They never quite knew with me, and it galled them. They—and particularly Mother—let me know in myriad ways how displeasing this was. I had my own reasons for not returning to Charn, even for the briefest visit.

"You haven't asked me about Charn," Mother said, cocking her head to the side and speaking in a tone that I have ever and always loathed. You are disappointing me again, it says, but never mind, for I understand and I forgive you. She does not understand me and is, I think, incapable of forgiveness—something that I myself have more than a little difficulty with—but she is good at counterfeiting charm, if only to catch her enemies off-guard. I, on the other hand, possess the real thing.

That is, she is good at charming most people. Digory, for example, seemed to be more than half under her spell already. That might make things difficult. Polly, on the other hand, looked anything but enchanted.

"Why should he care about Charn?" she snapped. "He doesn't live there now!"

"Most people," my mother said sternly, "would care about the state of their planet."

I knew full well that she wasn't scolding me about a shared homeworld. What she really wanted was for me to express curiosity about her so that she could talk at length about herself. I didn't doubt that she would, eventually, but I decided that I did not have to provide her with an opening. So I remained silent.

She turned to me. "There was a war, you know."

I flapped a dismissive hand at that. I don't remember a time when Mother and her younger sister, whose name I was never permitted to speak, weren't squabbling over who should rule. Squabbles turn ugly fast when two witches are involved.

"She spoke the Deplorable Word," mumbled Digory . For the moment, all of the charmed trust that Mother can inspire seemed to fade from him, leaving his face and voice as colourless as driftwood. "Just one word, and everyone was dust. She showed me how it worked, too."

I stared. It wasn't as if I had cared for Charn for...who knew how long? It wasn't my home. And Mother would do anything to gain power, including, and I was not entirely sure this was hypothetical, devouring her own young and calling it an affair of state afterwards. But I couldn't see how destroying all of her subjects would ensure the safety of her throne. If you're the last one left alive, you aren't ruling anybody.

"But the people!" Polly gasped, her mind evidently travelling along the same lines as mine. "The ordinary people, the ones who hadn't done anything to challenge the crown! And the children, the birds, the animals—" She broke off and stared at Mother, who was not only sagging against a tree but who seemed to be having trouble breathing.

I didn't know why she was suddenly choking. Perhaps a full-blooded Charnite couldn't survive in the Wood, at least not for long. Perhaps the Wood didn't permit deadly magic-users to last long enough to travel between worlds. Perhaps it hadn't noticed me yet. The whys didn't concern me; I had more important things to think about. Such as keeping my realm from being invaded by a host of humans wearing magic rings.

Digory gazed at her, looking utterly helpless. "What are we to do?"

"Leave her," Polly said. "Ten to one she's only shamming. Come on!" She and, after a brief struggle, Digory walked over to a pool marked with a strip of red earth. I transformed into an owl with strong talons and perched on Polly's left wrist just as she and her friend both plunged their right hands into their right pockets.

It was our misfortune that Mother made a similar decision seconds before the children and I leapt into the portal, grabbing hold of Digory's ear.

***

Once we landed in Andrew Ketterley's study, I flew to the top shelf of a bookcase, weaving a don't-notice-me spell with each flick of my feathers and flap of my wings, and perched there. I had many things to say to Ketterley, but I was not going to say them in front of Mother. My kingdom was—and is—no concern of hers.

She harangued him for some time, refusing to believe that anyone of common blood could do magic...despite knowing that thousands of years ago, magicians and sorceresses who learnt from books rather than having magic running in their blood were the norm on Charn. She told him that she would permit him to serve her, which is not at all the way I would have put it. I've loved countless young people over the years—girls, boys, those who are both, those who are neither, and those like me who defy the limits of categories—and I always tell them the same thing: fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.

And I keep my word. Even when it breaks my heart, I keep my word.

I wondered how long Mother would keep hers. She seemed most impatient with his fear, berating him as if verbal lashings could drive it away. If someone insisted on cowering before me like that, I would at least have the decency to live up to expectations and be terrifying.

At last, however, she sent him off to obtain a flying carpet or a well-trained dragon to transport her about London so that she could obtain clothing and jewels before she started conquering the country. I could understand that. If you are going to conquer a nation, you might as well look glorious while doing so. Threatening Ketterley with spells that would make any chair he sat on feel like red-hot iron and any bed as if it was filled with ice if she saw even the smallest trace of disobedience was a bit crude, though. Disobedience, even mutiny, can be vastly entertaining. I should know, given what my subjects are like. (And if it isn't entertaining, there's always the Bog of Eternal Stench. Fire and ice are nothing compared to that.)

I was not surprised when Mother lost her patience a moment or two after Ketterley's departure and stalked after him. The children, apparently not wanting to be there when she got back, hastened out of the study.

The door was still swinging shut when I tried to change back to my usual shape.

I couldn't.

I can transform in any world, and have. Being in a world that was largely magicless wasn't the problem. No, something was interfering, and I suspected that the something was the mass of yellow and green rings lying on the tray on Ketterley's desk. Their magic, like their humming, was filling the air.

Fine. I could deal with this.

I fluttered down to the desk and began hunting about for a fancy box or jar. Something containing cigarettes or cigars would be the right size...ah, perfect. A small carved wooden box just big enough to grip in talons. It had short slim cigars in it, but emptying them out was merely a matter of picking the box up in my beak, turning it upside down, and shaking it. Then I tipped the tray this way and that way, causing some rings to slide into the box, and picking up the ones that fell off the tray onto the desk or floor with beak and talons. Apparently the rings only worked if touching human skin—or if someone was touching a human wearing one.

At last the box was full. I slid the lid shut with my beak, gripped the box with my talons, and took off for the Labyrinth.

As I said, I can always find it.

***

It took a while to unmake those rings. Flying between worlds and changing form once again, that took no time at all, but magical artefacts—even those made of otherworldly dust—are opinionated. These wanted to remain in ring form. I was just as determined that they should go back to being fine dry dust.

I can't tell you how long it took. I don't bother with human concepts of time unless I'm in a world where that matters or someone is running the Labyrinth. So perhaps it took eight shades of indigo, or a sea's worth of rain, or a scent of sandalwood plus a symphony of shouts divided by Hoggle. Time passed as I undid Andrew Ketterley's work. That's all I can tell you.

Niggling at me was the fact that even after I was done, there would still be four rings left, for Polly and Digory still had two each. I would have to persuade them to surrender the rings—or perhaps trade them for something equally valuable. A wish, perhaps. Or a dream.

Once the rings were dustified once more, I shoved the carved wooden cigar box into a sideways reality where I could easily get at it (though not so close that its magic would conflict with mine) and then flew back to Polly Plummer's London. I still had Ketterley to talk to, and I meant to make him not only forget how to craft such rings, but to make certain that he never even wanted to re-learn how.

I was not expecting to fly directly into a riot/street accident, or to see Mother brandishing a crossbar from a lamppost while sitting astride a cab-horse that she'd apparently flogged into a frenzy. Judging by the bleeding bodies on the cobblestones, she'd also bashed several humans over the head with the iron bar, and the angry crowd surrounding Mother was a heartbeat or two away from becoming a mob.

But the horse's state was what truly enraged me. Of course I've hurt my own people and many of the mortals who've fallen under my power. I'm a king. And I would no more expect Mother to be kind than I would expect my Labyrinth to transmogrify into a straight line.

But really, harming an ignorant animal? One not rightfully under her power? There's evil and there's tacky.

I flew forward and dug my beak into her shoulder. Hard.

She didn't drop the iron bar. But she did scream, and that was a delight. It also brought things to a halt briefly. And while the crowd jeered and threw rocks and Mother, sounding enraptured (despite my beak in her shoulder), announced that she would turn London into a wasteland like Charn, Felinda, Sorlois, and Bramandin, Digory bit her ankle and screamed, "Go!"

And a breath later, Mother, the horse, the children, the cabby, Ketterley and I were all standing in the Wood Between the Worlds. I saw what had happened; all of us had been gripping, biting, riding or leaning against each other, so that Polly's yellow ring had transported everyone. I was pleased to see that the horse—Strawberry, I heard the cabby call him—looked better and that Mother seemed far worse. The air in the Wood really did seem to be bad for her. What a shame.

I wasn't paying attention to what happened next, because the only one who moved was Strawberry; he nosed forward and began drinking water from one of the pools. Everyone else continued hanging on to whatever or whoever they'd been clinging to before we arrived. But, from what I gathered later, the children wanted to drag Mother back to Charn and dump her there. So when the horse started drinking from the pool, Polly and Digory donned their green rings once more. And almost instantly we were somewhere else…somewhere completely lightless. Even with my owl's eyes, I couldn't see the others. There was no light to see by.

Mother didn't help matters by proclaiming that her doom had come upon her and that this was Nothing. I could hear the capital letter. Mind you, she'd never mentioned being doomed before, so far as I knew, and I did think that Nothing would contain considerably less breathable air. But I'm hardly a stranger to melodrama, even though I generally prefer my own. So I didn't argue, unless you consider transforming back to my usual shape, which stopped me from biting her any longer, a reduction in melodrama and therefore an argument.

Then I felt about for an entrance to the Labyrinth—ah, there it was—and pulled some light from it. Fireballs here. Blazing candles from the palace ballroom there. And so on. Soon we were surrounded by a sea of floating lights.

Yes, I could have just as easily have walked in the Labyrinth and taken the children and the horse with me. Possibly the cabby as well? I hadn't decided. Maybe if Polly wished it. Digory hadn't said a word to me yet, and I couldn't tell if that was because crisis after crisis kept popping up or because he didn't want to. But Polly would be distressed without him—not quite a wish, but close—so I would save him. I can be generous.

But that still left the other two. I wouldn't have shrunk at abandoning Andrew Ketterley here; he could hardly make more rings in this near-void. The problem was that I didn't know what kind of magic he was capable of. He might yet be a threat, and if he was, I couldn't afford to leave him here to wreak who knew what kind of vengeance. Yet at the same time, bringing him to my kingdom would be foolhardy. And I had no way of knowing which was worse.

As for Mother, both choices were disastrous. I had never known her to remain powerless for long, and without something else to grasp her attention, she might well focus on where I'd been all this time. But bringing her to the entrance to my Labyrinth, even for a heartbeat, would be catastrophe. For Jadis of Charn never saw a kingdom that she didn't crave to conquer.

So I stayed where I was. At least I could provide some light here—and talk to Ketterley about the nature of his power.

But for some unfathomable reason, Ketterley found me unlike the human men that he knew—naturally, as I am the Goblin King—and therefore not at all to his taste. Complicating matters was Mother, who didn't intend to let her servant speak in private to anyone lest he slip away. She was under no illusions about his loyalty, it seemed.

I had just about decided that I would abandon them both here and let them plague each other until they died when something started singing a world into being.

***

I don't want to talk about that song.

All right. I will concede that most of the humans—the children and the cabby—thought that it was unbearably beautiful. Ketterley whined that it sounded like roaring; obviously the man was determined not to have any imagination. I stopped worrying about him as a magician right then and there. Magicians, wizards, sorceresses, whatever you want to call them, change their worlds constantly with their magic. Any magic-user who refuses to accept that change or its cause are happening isn't going to remain a magic-user for long. To quote a wise enchantress from a world not too far from mine, "Wizardry does not live in the unwilling heart."

So Ketterley was no threat. I suspected that, given half a chance, he'd dive back into his study and pretend as hard as he could that Jadis of Charn was merely a glamorous foreign woman with a passionate heart and a savage temper, and that everything he'd experienced outside of his own world had been nothing but a silly dream.

I could strengthen that impulse later if I wished. Right now it didn't seem pressing.

As for me, I loathed the song.

Not because it was a hex to me or mine. There was no harm, so far as I could tell, in a song that brought silver-voiced stars or trees or a bright sun into existence. What I detested was the sheer power in it—power fairly shouting that it could do harm if it considered harm necessary. It was like fire in the hands of a juggler. Difficult, brilliant, even artistic if done right. But at the back of your mind, you can't help thinking, "What if they aimed that fireball at me?"

And Mother? She hated the song and the singer. Or so I believe. I doubt if she flung an iron lamppost crossbar at the forehead of a gigantic singing lion out of friendship and affection. (It didn't leave so much as a bruise.)

She bolted for the trees. I doubted if that would last long; hiding isn't something Mother does well, and since this world was in the process of being born, I suspected that there were no Charnlike cities hereabouts. She would have to start all over again—and Jadis has always been a conqueror, not a creator.

Ketterley tried to follow her—no idea why, as the lion had no reason to be angry at him and wasn't paying attention to any of us, as it was still singing—and fell face-first into a small and extremely muddy brook nearby. When he stormed out, berating Digory yet again to take him home, I'd had enough and flew off. There had to be something else to see other than Ketterley being wearisome.

And so I flew west, far from the bright sun that was blinding my owl's eyes—away from the song that was causing beasts and birds to hatch from the earth as if it was a gigantic eggshell, past an immense waterfall (though not nearly so good as my upside-down one made of boiling pearls). I sped between mountains I was certain had been small hills earlier in the lion's concert and into a glacier-bound valley containing a sprawling lake that, from the air, seemed bright blue, until I came to a place that had no business existing in a world that had been created that same day.

It was a hill—a very steep one—whose top was encircled by a wall of green earth. Not much of a bar, to my way of thinking. Anyone can dig through a wall of earth, if only they've the tools, the time, the strength and the inclination.

And set in the earthen wall were a pair of golden gates. These attracted my attention, so I landed hastily, but certainly not clumsily on the ground before the gates. Inscribed on them in silver letters were these words.

Come in by the gold gates or not at all,
Take of my fruit for others or forbear,
For those who steal or those who climb my wall
Shall find their heart's desire and find despair.

The words changed shape as I read them—Charnish first, then a half dozen human languages, then High Goblin.

Well. I hadn't come for any fruit, for myself or anyone else. And finding my heart's desire and despair at the same time was an unappealing notion. As for climbing the wall…I'd flown a long way while transformed, and my whole body ached. Climbing was out of the question.

At the same time, I hungered to get into that garden—not because I had any business there, but because I didn't. Perhaps that made me a fool, for what I could glimpse of it through the gate said that it was a private, carefully kept place and had been for a long time.

But the world had only been created that day.

I wondered if the garden was like some parts of my labyrinth—crumbling, decrepit and ancient beyond reckoning, and yet quite often something I had just crafted out of nightmares and fear—and knew I would not be able to rest until I'd investigated it.

I placed both hands on the gates' bars. "Jareth the Goblin King wishes to come in."

No response from the gates. They remained firmly locked.

Sighing, I endeavoured to speak politely, as I had earlier with Polly. "Please? I'm not here to steal anything. I just want to learn about the garden. And have a nap."

Can you call it a moment of hesitation when seemingly inanimate and locked gates remain closed? It certainly felt that way. All I can say is that when I released the gates and started to turn away, they soundlessly swung open.

I walked through, bowing slightly to one gate and then the other as I did so, a prince greeting two other princes.

There was no question as to what fruit the inscription was talking about; a massive tree filled with silver apples stood in the center of the garden. Each apple was like a small moon, casting light into evening shadows.

I glanced about. Yes, it was getting on towards evening. And I'd flown across an entire country that day. I would need rest soon. But first I needed to satisfy my curiosity.

I walked away from the apple tree as fast as I could. Not that I mind giving in to temptation—it's one of my favorite entertainments—but the alluring scent and the light-giving nature of the silver apples were too obviously a trap. So I wandered off to the northeast section of the garden and was soon surrounded by luminescent teal-green flowers shaped like claws, and trees with blossoms of literal fire.

I fell asleep wrapped in the smells of plums, chocolate and wild coriander.

***

I woke at dawn, ravenously hungry and feeling that something was about to go wrong again.

But for some reason, going back the way I'd come seemed, if not impossible, unwelcome. Every plant I'd seen the day before was against the idea. Nor could I simply slip into the Labyrinth and be at the gates, if that was what I wished. I ended up climbing the trees, which was no pleasure, and didn't arrive at the gates until Mother and Digory were well embroiled in an argument. Seemed that the singing lion had sent Digory on the back of a flying horse—was that the cabby's old roan? It looked like it—to fetch a silver apple that would guard Narnia, the country we'd seen created, from evil. Unfortunately, the worst thing in Narnia had already eaten one of those apples; she claimed that they were the apples of youth and that she would never age. Now she was trying valiantly to convince Digory to give such an apple to his dying mother or eat one himself. Or both, perhaps.

I wanted to shout at him not to listen. I didn't think that he wanted to be eleven or twelve forever, and I truly doubted that he wished his mother to endure despair everlasting, if she lived. But I could neither speak nor stir. I was as silent and motionless as stone.

At last Digory saw through Jadis's false solicitude for his mother, called her on it and then flew off with Polly on the flying horse. I would have applauded if I could.

" Go then, fools," she cried after them. "Think of me, Boy, when you lie old and weak and dying, and remember how you threw away the chance of endless youth! It won't be offered you again."

With that, she turned and—still not looking toward the gate near which I was standing—headed toward the north slope of the hill. To anyone who didn't know her, she would have seemed to be retreating.

But I had been a child on Charn. I knew the rules. If you seemed to be beaten, you only retreated far enough to annihilate your opponent. And here, in this new, vibrantly magical world, Charnite magic might well work better than it ever had. And that included the Deplorable Word. Could it blast the children and their world to pieces? If she waited until the lion left, would speaking the Deplorable Word leave Narnia a burnt-out cinder?

I knew little of Narnia, but what I'd seen had been beautiful. I didn't like the idea of it growing under such a threat. And while Earth was not my home, I would miss it and its people if it were gone.

I was in no shape to battle Mother physically or magically. I could not confront her directly. But, fortunately, I did not have to.

I reached into my Labyrinth and pulled out four crystalline wishes shaped like glistening bubbles. One apiece for Polly, Digory, the flying horse, and the cabby. Normally I'd have them make the wishes, not me, but there was no time for that.

I tossed Polly's in the air. "I wish that the witch Jadis may forget the Deplorable Word utterly, and never be able to remember it, relearn it, or learn or use any similar world-destroying spell."

The wish trembled, transformed into something like a clear hooded cloak, and then sped toward the Witch—it was better, I decided, if I didn't think of her as "Jadis" or "Mother" any longer—briefly shrouding her before sinking into her head and body and vanishing.

Digory's came next. "I wish that all of her spells will be breakable in at least one way, and always in a way that she does not expect or plan for." That spell, which resembled splintered iron, enshrouded her and sank into her as the memory charm had. Once more, she gave no sign of noticing.

A third wish, this one for the cabby who seemed to love the land so much. "I wish that there will always be at least one portal or door between this world and the world of humans, and that no evil person will ever be able to find it or use it for conquest, invasion or profit." An army or band of robbers might stumble through it by accident, but no one from Narnia's world could invade any other reality and no one from Polly's world could conquer or exploit Narnia. And the Witch would never be able to find her way out of her prison.

But then there was the fourth wish, and I didn't quite know what to do with it. I could have wished that Digory's mother would be well, I supposed, but that felt settled, or at least as if it would be soon. And since this was a wish for a Talking Animal—one who would undoubtedly be staying here—I felt that somehow the wish should have less to do with hampering the Witch's powers and more with making Narnia a richer place. A corner, at least, where goblins and their king would not be unwelcome.

Except—this wasn't properly my land. Hampering my mother's powers was personal; ensuring that the land remained safe despite her was a royal obligation. But building part of my kingdom here in another's realm would have been…not wrong. I don't care about right and wrong. But rude. I'd have been most offended if someone had tried that with me.

I leaned against the gate and tried to figure out what to do.

"You do not need to wish for that. If you wish for a place for your people here, you may build a corner of your Labyrinth."

Between one breath and the next, the lion was there. I was not surprised to discover that he spoke, either.

"The question, of course, is where to put it," the lion continued. "For everywhere that you can see from here will one day have a name and a people, and I know them all." He gazed at me intently, as if hoping I'd got his message.

Everywhere I can see, I thought. Air, mountains, lake, trees. If rivers, oceans and deserts had been visible from here, I would have wagered that one day that would all have people as well.

Then I had it, and smiled. "What about an underground kingdom? One with rivers of flame"—that would probably help keep invaders out—"and hot living jewels?"

There was more—bright fields in the depths, shadowy caverns in the shallows, and a river like a stained glass window bisecting it all—but it all seemed to spring into my mind as I spoke those few words. At the same time, I pictured my goblins—"gnomes," the lion called them, but I decided that they would answer to either—big and small, feathered and furred, horned and tusked, male and female, both and neither and everything in-between, just as they were back home.

I still am not certain if I described my vision of that corner of the Labyrinth aloud or if the lion took the images directly from my head. But moments later, we were standing in the land of Bism, surrounded by new (and, it seemed to me, very happy) goblins.

"As you have sought to hamper the Witch's power," the lion whispered in my ear, "your people—though unplanned-for—will always hamper evil magic-users in ways unlooked-for and unexpected, simply by being themselves. Do not forget this."

And with that, he vanished, and I was left in the Labyrinth in Bism. I had a fine time exploring that…over and over again, both before I returned to my usual home and afterward.

But time—which, as I've said, is not like human time—has passed here in the Labyrinth, and in Narnia as well. Despite the spells that I laid on her so many years ago and which still remain today, the Witch has gained considerable power over snow and ice and stone. All the humans who once lived in Narnia are dead, fled or both, and none of Narnia's neighbors seem inclined to battle, much less assassinate, the Witch, lest she turn her lethal attention on them.

And Aslan the lion is gone, and no one knows where.

There is not much that a Goblin King who commutes from one branch of his kingdom to another can do. My power lies among my people and the humans who want me to fulfill their wishes. And right now, there are no humans in Narnia.

But that fourth wish—the one I never made on Fledge's behalf—still remains.

And yesterday I heard Hoggle telling the story of the prophecy of Cair Paravel to some young Bismians. They're still talking about it today.

Perhaps I should toss that wish to one of them—just to see how their wish would hamper her.

Just to see.