Karen paused, even as she and Sarah's dad were on their way out the door to her father's all-day conference, to ask her yet another time, "Are you sure you'll be okay, Sarah?"
It was the same question she had asked at least twenty times over the last several days. Sarah assured her that she and Toby would both be fine, repeating her same answer. "I have that art project I want to work on. I'm already set up in the living room, Toby's asleep in the playpen down where I can watch him and he has those toy cars he loves so much. All the windows are open so that paint fumes should be fine. I have the number of the hotel and all the other emergency numbers in my pocket so I can call if anything happens. Me and Toby will both be fine."
"If you're sure…" Karen almost-frowned nervously in that way she did so that she didn't develop lines on her face. Sarah found her stepmother artificial in a way that she could never really like but at the same time Karen was so clearly sincerely trying to be nice. They were both really trying.
It was actually a bit embarrassing how well she got along with her father and stepmother.
Nine months ago now, Sarah had traveled through the Goblin King's Labyrinth and confronted Jareth and her own spoiled desires in order to fix the mistake she had made by wishing her brother away. After that, Sarah had been determined to be calm and mature. And, above all else, careful with her words.
It had worked for about a week.
Her adventures in the Labyrinth had been a learning experience, all right, but they had all happened in a handful of hours. It would take significantly longer, with even more abrasion, for the lessons learned to truly manifest in the real world.
At least she had managed to be withdrawn and moody rather than loud and bratty for the first week. But the following weekend, when she had been asked to baby-sit for an evening again, she, her father, and Karen had gotten into a three-way screaming match after she had flatly refused. At its peak, she had yelled, "What if I mess up again and Toby gets hurt!"
Sarah had again felt that chill terror and gut wrenching guilt that had besieged her when she had raced through the Labyrinth. The stunned expression of her father's and Karen's faces let her know they saw the terror on hers.
She had wondered if they were going to question her about the "again" part of her statement. Instead Karen had given her a hug and just held her while murmuring, "it's okay, it's okay" over and over gain until Sarah had stopped trembling.
There had been obvious silent communication going on over her shoulder between her father and Karen but Sarah had ignored it to just luxuriate in being held for a bit.
That evening's plans had been canceled and they had spent the evening talking about what it meant to be responsible for someone else and making a list of all the things that could go wrong and then what to do in case of each. Sarah had decided not to mention "wished away to the goblins" but had added "kidnapped" to the list.
Her dad and stepmother's weekly evenings out were also canceled for the immediate future, replaced by family evenings playing together with Toby. Her father had also found and registered her for weekend workshops in everything from basic parenting skills to emergency medical response, CPR and CPR for infants.
While Sarah was more than pleased to learn these skills, it was the combination of distraction from her own fantasies and the chaperoned playtime that finally let her relax. It was reassuring to realize that she really didn't hate her little brother or wish he'd go away.
By the time two months had passed from her trip through the Labyrinth, when Karen had carefully asked if Sarah felt up to being responsible for Toby for a few hours, Sarah had been able to say "yes."
And it had been okay.
As the weeks passed, it continued to be okay until she actually enjoyed the evenings she had control of the house and could take care of Toby while hanging out with whatever friends from the Labyrinth were available.
Karen had also apparently decided that all of Sarah's bratty behavior from the preceding two years was due to being scared. She never said so but now always seemed to be trying to make up for disciplining Sarah for her behavior rather than being understanding of it.
Sarah didn't quite have it in her to forsake the moral high-ground offered and admit that only the last fight had been about being scared. Everything before that was just being spoiled and desperately in need of discipline. She had felt powerless, like her words and actions didn't matter and thus neither did controlling them. It had been a shock to discover that they could matter a great deal. But now that she had discovered the necessity of self-control, life had become much more harmonious. Karen and her dad were being extra kind and solicitous to make up for their perceived faults, and Sarah was being careful and courteous to prevent a repeat of her very real previous fault.
So, if Karen was worried this morning about leaving her alone for a whole day, Sarah found herself equally protective of her stepmother's sensibilities and reassured her as many times as necessary. "I'll be fine. Toby will be fine. You guys go and have fun. When you get home tonight, you can admire my art project and move Toby up to your room."
"If you're sure…"
Her dad rolled his eyes and glanced pointedly down at his watch behind his wife's back.
Sarah grinned at him and then spontaneously hugged Karen. "Go, go. You don't want Dad to be late for the first session."
And Karen smiled that pleased, surprised, and wondering smile she had every time Sarah displayed any overt kindness to her.
"Shoo." Sarah waved them out the door.
Then finally she could focus on her art project.
She had been perfectly honest, this time, about wanting to work on her art project. This was going to be a non-Labyrinth day. There was Great Art to create. She had planned out the whole process ahead of time, so with the blank canvas on the easel in front of her, she didn't even hesitate.
First, the clear lavender sky covered the top half of the canvas. It was spread on smoothly and the red-orange sun was added while the lavender was still wet. The edges of the sun smeared into the sky as if it were too bright to look at clearly.
It was a hot place with a beautiful merciless sky with nary a cloud to give shade or shelter.
The sky done, though, the canvas was left to dry.
"Excellent. Now, Toby, we get breakfast." Sarah spoke mostly to herself, as was her habit. It was remarkably nice to have Toby and the house to herself. It made her feel all grown up, in a good way. But it was still pretty quiet and she hummed as she made herself some toast.
The house was hers for nearly fifteen hours before her dad and Karen would return. It was a perfect opportunity to paint the landscape assigned in her art class. It didn't have to be a particular landscape, it could be real or imaginary—she had asked about that—but she had to use at least two materials other than paint to give the painting texture. Mr. Stanley had demonstrated by painting a tree and then pressing bits of real bark into the paint while it was still wet and could act like glue as it dried. Sarah had spent the days since the assignment was given planning exactly how to create the image she wanted.
The image itself was hardly a decision at all. She had thought briefly of trying to show the Labyrinth, but that was too foreign and complex for her to really get right. Instead, she was going to paint a land she had never actually been to but which she dreamed of sometimes.
With the sky finished, she mixed the paint to make up the soil. It was very rich soil, a dark brown, almost black, but with silver glitter mixed in, creating texture along with glints of reflective light. Careful to get the exact right color, she fell into the same daydream that had consumed her for months now.
Aside from the restructuring of her relationship with her dad and stepmother, most of her friends, classmates, and teachers didn't seem to notice anything much different about her. She still daydreamed and was still decided in her opinions. It was from the inside that everything was different.
She still daydreamed, but her daydreams were less about her own grand adventures and somehow more about the kingdom to the west of the Labyrinth. She had not even glimpsed it in her previous travels, hadn't heard even a whisper of its existence until after she had won her escape. But Hoggle had mentioned going for day trips to the Land of the Near Endless Plains to the west for some soil for his more fragile flower gardens. Others went there in the early spring to sift the soil for silver.
It was a kingdom with no king and no population but rich soil and a sea of near endless grass plains, with a single high point of red rock jutting up, with a carved spiral staircase going down up it and a carved throne waiting at the very top.
She had never been there, had never even heard a particularly good description of it, but she felt like she knew it by heart. There were no characters, no happenings, and their absence created an aching void where the plot could be, but the land itself was vivid in her mind. She knew that there were tunnels dug underneath the ground. They created a complex filigree of paths, only touching the surface here and there for light. It was not a maze, for there were no dead ends and no traps, just a latticework of paths going everywhere and nowhere.
A stranger would be lost and found, both. Always in the tunnels, always able to reach the surface at need, and yet, never knowing quite where they were within the tunnels or even on the surface, as both spread out near endlessly in all directions.
Sarah was not a stranger, though, and knew those tunnels better than the back of her hand. She was carefully mapping their path on the canvas, when she heard footsteps on the stairs.
Footsteps not in her imagination: in her house.
She whirled around and then just stared.
It took a moment for Sarah to believe her eyes. This might have had to do with the fact that the Goblin King was walking down the staircase in her house. He was just as wildly beautifully improbable as ever. His hair a wild conflagration, his skin a warm ivory, and magic flickering around him like sparks from a fire. Alternately, her surprise might have had to do with the fact that the goblin king, in all his ornate black and silver garb with small goblins peaking out from beneath the cape, was carrying an infant wrapped in a pink shawl tucked in the crook of one arm. After the moment of shocked disbelief had passed, she decided it was best to deal with the situation immediately and try to figure it out later.
A quick glance reassured her that Toby was still safe in his playpen. With that worry aside, she moved to stand between Toby and Jareth, scowling at the later. "What are you doing here? I thought I'd seen the last of you."
"I see your manners haven't improved any." Jareth continued his saunter down the stairs. He was smirking. "And whatever made you think you wouldn't see me again?"
"How about the fact that I got through your little labyrinth and said the right words to get Toby back? That pretty much told me that you were going to go away." Jareth scowled and Sarah actually found herself smirking. It was like a weird seesaw, she thought: if they were in the same room, one of them would be scowling and the other smirking.
"You ran my Labyrinth, but your words were anything but 'right.' You don't even know what you did, do you? We stood at the heart of the Labyrinth, at the seat of my power, and I offered you everything I was in exchange for everything you were."
"And I turned you down."
"No. You. Did. Not." The lines and planes on his face stood out harsh and eerie, even more inhumanly sharp than usual. "You didn't answer my question. Instead, in a land where words have power, you made yourself my equal in rank and equal in will. I offered you the position of my mistress and you made yourself my queen-elect."
Sarah blinked uncertainly. "Oh."
"Well, now you can do your part and help out. Here." And the baby was pushed into her arms. "Take care of him for a few hours."
"Er. Aren't you supposed to be trying to take babies away rather than leave them behind?"
"How good of you to notice. But you're already babysitting so I might as well use you since I'm rather busy at the moment. Just keep track of him for the next thirteen hours and go back to doing whatever it is that you were doing like a good girl." And he was walking away.
"Hold it right there, buster!" Sarah was back to scowling and, sure enough, when Jareth turned back with an inquiring look he was wearing a smirk. "Let's go back to the queen-elect bit. What exactly does that mean? And what do you mean that I didn't answer the question. And just what is going on?"
Jareth gave a long-suffering sigh and looked like he would have rolled his eyes if such an action weren't beneath him. "I did mention that I'm busy, didn't I? But just for you," he raised a hand and a twist of the wrist a crystal appeared. "It will show you… events. If you dare." Still smirking, he tossed it to her.
Holding a strange baby in one arm, a wet paintbrush clutched in the other hand, and watching a crystal of dubious safety coming towards her, Sarah stepped to the side to avoid it. Then she remembered that Toby was behind her. Whirling around woke the baby in her arms who started crying, which only momentarily distracted Toby from the crystal he had caught and was now happily enthralled with. Sarah fought the urge to scream.
"Never again. I'm just not made for babysitting. I'm cursed or something." She cast a quite glare at where Jareth had been but he had already vanished without a trace.
"As soon as Dad and Karen come home, I'll tell them that's it. No more babysitting for me." She set the paintbrush down on a piece of loose newspaper and set the wailing baby down on a cushion in the playpen.
"I'll get a job, I'll pay for a different babysitter. But not me. No. But right now, I need to get through this. Okay. Deep breath and get to it."
Getting the crystal away from Toby was less than pleasant but luckily the crystal was too large for him to really grasp and slippery. Although dealing with two crying babies was enough to make her swear off kids forever. Then she unwrapped the new baby and discovered that she not only didn't know his name, but also didn't know his species.
"Okay," she kept up her running monologue. "Lets see what you are. Mostly human. Sort of. At least I hope you eat human foods cause that's what I'm serving for lunch."
He did seem to be mostly human. His eyes were mismatched, much like Jareth's, and his hands and feet made her wonder what Jareth's looked like without gloves and boots. The baby's hands and feet were a bit avian, which were remarkably cute with their small, soft claws. She stroked one foot gently and it curled around her finger in a light fist. "You really are quite cute, aren't you, chickadee. Hmm. And what are these?"
There were faint markings on his face and back. At first glance they looked like either dirt or bruises but a closer inspection and a quick rub with a damp swab seemed to show as birthmarks. In patterns, in colors like green and purple.
"Okay, not really all that human." At least a pacifier kept him silent.
Left to his own devises Toby had also stopped crying and started playing with his toy cars again.
Sarah sat back on her heals, and took careful stock of the situation. Jareth was nowhere in sight. Toby looked fine, if a bit disgruntled. Baby Chickadee seemed fine. The crystal was where she could see it but the kids couldn't reach it. And her paint was drying. "Damn it."
"Okay, first thing first," she told herself and got up. "The painting first, then figure out the crystal. Then consider lunch. Okay. I can do this."
She did, although it was harder to get lost in the work. She wanted to get the tunnels just right, and she had already started, but she now wished that she had changed the perspective on the picture. She was looking at the Land of Near Endless Plains from the east, looking west. It meant that the Labyrinth with its cool gray walls were behind her, unseen but very much a presence. It would be easy enough to change it, add a grey line against the horizon, and make up some different pattern of tunnels in order to make the imagine appear to look east. But it would have felt fake and she wanted this to be just right.
She decided to ignore the increasing likelihood that she was going insane. Really on the scale of insanity, an obsession with a fantasy world was much better than seeing people who weren't there, and she'd been hiding the fact that she saw goblins for months. Instead she focused on getting the pattern of tunnels just right, with the glittery paint tracing the tunnels, smaller and smaller as they went back towards the horizon, and a more matt paint for the spaces of solid ground.
When it was finished, she was quite pleased. It was a perfect map, as if someone had somehow removed the first five feet of ground across the entire land.
It was lovely enough that she almost thought of just leaving it like that. Consider it finished. Half of the canvas bright as light; the other half dark as night. Of course her teacher probably wouldn't even recognize it as a landscape. Plus, she had the rest of the day and a double handful of gold beads yet to use.
In the mean time, this layer had to dry and she had two kids and a crystal to deal with.
And possibly a Goblin King, too, with his rather unnerving statements.
Lying down on the floor, she spoke to the ceiling, "Okay, Sarah, you are sure in a mess now."
For a long, long moment she just lay.
But she was young and energetic and she could deal with anything, even goblin kings. She levered herself up and grabbed the crystal. Nothing happened when she touched it, which she took to be a good sign. A careful inspection revealed nothing particular, it looked and felt like a clear crystal ball.
"It will show you events," Jareth had said. Events. So.
Sarah considered her options, then finally shrugged. Nothing risked, nothing gained. She spoke aloud in a clear command, "Show me the most recent wish that gave a baby to the goblins."
An image came from the depths of the crystal, as if somehow the crystal were very deep inside. The image pulled at her eyes, pulled at her mind until she had to struggle to remain in her living room rather than fall into the lavish throne room before her. Never looking away from the image in the crystal in her right hand, she reached out with her left hand and grasped the leg of her easel. The edges of the square post cut into her hand, but it helped her.
In the throne room, there were dozens of people in elaborate dress lining the walls, but they were easily ignored. It was the three main characters, the queen on her silver throne, and the two warriors, a man and a woman, before her. They were beautiful enough to make Sarah's heart ache. They were perfection and Sarah was glad that they couldn't see her. Even the thought of being in their presence made her feel ugly in comparison. It took an effort of will to continue even to watch.
The lady held in her arms an infant wrapped in a delicate pink shawl that Sarah recognized. They were all beautiful as graven images of angels. Beautiful and untouchable. Looking at them, she realized that these were the fae of the old tales, not fairy, but faerie. Beautiful and merciless.
The man spoke with utter dispassion, "My queen, I come before you with my wife and the child of my wife to request an annulment of my marriage. Upon the escape of our regiment from the Goblin King's masquerade trap, my lover Roselyn was discovered to be with child. We married and celebrated the thought of a child. Now, I discover the child has the Goblin King's eyes."
Looking at them all, all three with their serene faces, aloof and emotionless, Sarah wondered if she was the only one here shocked by the revelation.
"Indeed, show me the child."
The child was displayed to the queen who merely glanced at it before looking away.
"Very well. I hereby annul this marriage and the first child of Roselyn is declared no subject of faerie. Lady Roselyn's punishment for the crime of introducing a cross-species child into the fae court is pardoned due to her past service as a warrior in my guard. This is my decision and it is final."
"Thank you, my queen." The man bowed and then backed away until he disappeared into the crowded audience.
"Thank you, my queen." The woman sunk into a curtsey but the queen put out a hand to stop her retreat.
"What will you do with the child?"
The queen spoke calmly but finally a hint of emotion crept into the mother's face. Then like the first crack in a dam, rage burst out. "What will I do? I will return it!" The baby was practically dropped on the floor and the mother stepped back. "I wish the Goblin King would take this child away!"
And the room fell into dead silence. Sarah hadn't even realized that soft music and low conversations had been creating background noise until it all suddenly stopped. Even the queen looked horrified.
And then there was Jareth.
He looked magnificent. The others might be beautiful, but they were as untouchable as the stars. In comparison Jareth was vibrant and flamboyant in his flaws. He put all of their perfection to shame. Plus, she felt a hint of malicious delight; the sparks he was giving off were leaving small singed marks on the clothes of those nearest to him.
Surprisingly, he wasn't smirking. Instead he looked honestly surprised. "You give me a fae child?" The question was nearly incredulous.
"Fae? Do you call that thing fae?" The woman pointed a sharp finger at the infant. "You had no right to leave me with your child."
A snap of teeth was the first hint that the Goblin King had not come unescorted. Suddenly the fae woman, and Sarah looking on, noticed the half dozen small goblins crowded around their king, little more than bits of fur with eyes and teeth.
The woman quickly retracted her hand. Jareth ignored the interaction in order to crouch down and lift the infant up into his arms. The child cooed at him.
"I had the right to do whatever I wanted. Your battalion invaded my land, intent on my death. I captured you. You were mine to do with as I wished. Trapping you for a few centuries in a masquerade was lenient. If you were with child, that's your doing, not mine."
"It's your doing, if it's your child!"
Jareth laughed in her face. "You think this child is mine? Did you get so lost in the masquerade that you didn't know your own lovers?"
Roselyn flushed. "I had thought I did, but you are a master of illusion and the child has your eyes."
Jareth laughed again, more than a little mocking. "We share the same eyes certainly. For he is a child conceived in place rife with wild magic. He is filled to overflowing with it, but he is fae, it will drain from him eventually. It takes more than that for any permanent change."
"It's temporary?" The woman's voice quavered in relief.
The queen finally spoke, "He's pure fae?"
And the man who had abandoned them stepped forward again, "He's my son?"
Sarah snorted in contempt at the man. Jareth seemed to feel the same way but he ignored the man and turned a rather amused look towards Sarah herself.
She felt her eyes widen, and she gripped the easel leg all the harder. She wasn't even there and it was in the past. On the other hand, Jareth had an admitted ability to manipulate time and she was watching with his crystal. The mind boggled at the possibilities, but Sarah decided that one thing was clear: there would be no spying on Jareth using this method.
"He's my son!" The man repeated and actually seemed ready to take the child from Jareth's arms despite the goblins growling at him.
"He was your son, certainly." Jareth smiled cruelly. "But you gave him up. You cut yourself of from him and his mother. And his mother, with sole guardianship, wished him away not ten minutes ago."
The man jerked back as if slapped.
"Lady Roselyn," Jareth continued, "you should know the rules. You, and you alone, have thirteen hours to find the babe at the heart of the Labyrinth. After that, he'll stay there. Forever."
Jareth laughed. Even as he faded out, the babe still tucked into the crook of his arm, his laughter stayed to echo faintly behind him.
The last image of the throne room became more distant, swirling like smoke in the crystal, and finally left the crystal clear as glass.
"Well, that was interesting," Sarah spoke into the silent house. Then she began uncurling her hand from the easel leg. "And, ouch."
Her poor hand was quite cramped and she rubbed it as she thought. She really wanted to see how Roselyn was coming on running through the Labyrinth, but was distinctly disinclined to use the crystal again. She supposed it was just like Jareth to make such a useful tool a trap for her. Nothing is quite what it seems after all.
She snorted to herself. A cliché. She might as well say there's no such thing as a free lunch. Which there really wasn't because now she was going to have to make up a lunch for herself, for Toby, and possibly for Chickadee, whose name she still didn't know. And calling him Roselyn's Baby would be a bit too ominous.
"Okay, Toby, what would you like for lunch? I'm thinking grilled cheese sandwiches what do you think? With applesauce on the side, I think. Surely a fae baby can eat applesauce."
"Applesauce is fine." Jareth said directly behind her.
"Aargh!" Sarah shrieked.
Toby clapped at the entertainment, and Chickadee's gurgle was probably a laugh, too.
"Why are you sneaking up on me?" The glare/smirk ratio, she noticed, was still one-to-one.
"I'm just checking up on the babe. The last time I saw you babysitting, you didn't do so well, after all. Wound up wishing the child away. Tsk, tsk."
Sarah gritted her teeth. "If you don't trust me, then you shouldn't have given me the baby. And for that matter, what is the baby's name?"
"I have no idea what the baby used to be called, what are you calling him?"
"You don't know the name of the baby you took?"
"Why should I?"
Sarah thought about arguing the point, then decided it just wasn't worth it. "Chickadee. I've been calling him Chickadee."
"Chickadee. Hmm. It's got a certain rhythm to it. And what did you learn from your little observation of his parents?"
Sarah was beginning to wonder if Jareth was bipolar or had ADD or something, maybe multiple personalities. That would be just her luck, stalked by a powerful fae king who alternated between teasing her and trying to trap her in eternal subjugation.
"I learned that most fae have about as much emotion as a statue."
"And about as much common sense, too. As if I would let a goblin child go to a fae court."
"Um." Sarah said. "Aren't you, well, aren't you fae, yourself?"
"I? My dear girl, have you lost what few wit you might once have had? Does the fact that I'm the GOBLIN king not tell you anything?"
Sarah glanced around at the little goblins exploring the living room and glared at one that seemed intent on riffling through her paint box. It seemed to understand the threat and scampered back to hide in a fold of Jareth's cape. "But you can't be a goblin! You're nothing like the goblins!" Plus, it was just too creepy to contemplate, given her secret pleasure in ogling him.
Jareth looked every bit as taken aback as she was, though. "Of course I'm not like the lesser goblins. If I were, they wouldn't surround me so. As king, I'm stronger than most and my court is large with even the greater goblins attending me once in a while."
"Okay, that made absolutely no sense to me. Lesser goblins? Greater goblins? And don't they follow you around because you're king?"
Jareth looked at her as bemused as she was surely looking at him. "I'm king because they follow me. Not the reverse."
"Okay," Sarah said, and thought, this day just gets weirder and weirder. "Okay, I'm going to make lunch, if you explain to me what exactly the differences between the fae, the greater goblins, and the lesser goblins, then I'll make you a grilled cheese sandwich, too."
Jareth looked bemused. "Very well."
Then there was a bit of jostling around as they both wanted to keep an eye on Toby. Unfortunately, Sarah had to look through the fridge and then face the stove, so couldn't see the living room, and Toby in the kitchen made a beeline for Jareth with arms raised to be lifted. She decided that having Jareth hold Toby was probably the lesser of evils when compared to not being able to see her brother at all or what the other goblins were doing with him.
Jareth smirked, of course. Sarah scowled, of course. Chickadee was cooed over by a whole set of the little goblins that Sarah now guessed were lesser goblins.
She got bread, butter, cheese, a tomato, and, after a moment's reflection, some bacon out of the fridge while listening to Toby chattering happily away to Jareth. She had started heating up the frying pan when she finally asked, "Well, the explanation?"
"The fae have static magic. Their magic is all crystallized, stagnant, and disconnected from the world around them. They are what they are, and they don't change. It's quite easy to trap them, for instance because their magic always stays the same. Goblins, on the other hand, are wild magic. And wild magic changes from day to day."
"Okay, that makes sense. You were certainly a lot more appealing than any of them." She spoke without really thinking, which really, she told herself, she should have learned better by now. Especially when dealing with Jareth. She could practically feel the smugness radiating off of the Goblin King behind her back. She focused on frying the bacon.
Jareth laughed behind her, but then continued. "Goblins come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities, as your trip through the Labyrinth should have shown you."
"But there are really three types of goblins: lesser goblins, goblins, and great goblins. Regular goblins have a certain amount of magic, and use it to live their lives. Their magic might fluctuate from day to day, a little more now, a little less then. Never so little they die, never so much they accomplish anything much. Lesser goblins have so little magic that sometimes they just dissipate. Vanish like a puff of smoke in the breeze."
"Mm." Sarah removed the bacon and started on the sandwiches. "And greater goblins?"
"We are the opposite of lesser goblins. We have an excess of power. We can actually perform magic rather than just live it, and we can support some lesser goblins."
"So you're supporting all of those goblins that are currently peering into my trash can."
"These certainly, but I am not just a greater goblin, I am Goblin King. I support everyone in the Labyrinth. And the Labyrinth itself to a certain extent."
"Oh." Sarah carefully removed Toby's sandwich from the grill, removed the crust, and cut the remaining into quarters along the diagonal. Finally she turned around to really look at Jareth. He was back to playing with Toby, tossing him in the air and catching him, but she got the distinct impression that he was also watching her out of the corner of his eye. She wondered why he was telling her all of this, even though she knew the answer, because she hoped for a different answer. Maybe. Did she want him to be talking to her, in her kitchen while she cooked, because she was his queen-elect?
She turned back to work on Jareth's sandwich and her own just in time to smack a lesser goblin with the spatula to keep it away from the bacon. "If goblins and fae magic are so different, then how can you turn a fae child into a goblin?"
"Wild magic is infectious. Thirteen hours as the focus of wild magic and a child will be tainted. And once wild magic is there, it grows."
Jareth got the next two sandwiches. He wolfed them down, but disappeared when her back was turned making another sandwich. She ate her own sandwich while Toby finished up his.
Afterward they went outside in the yard for Toby to play while Sarah spoon-fed Chickadee applesauce.
They were still there when Jareth appeared again an hour later, a warm presence like a fire against her back.
"Shouldn't you be painting?"
"What do you care?"
She could hear the fabric of his cape shift as he shrugged. "I wouldn't want your painting to be delayed merely for Chickadee's sake."
She snorted in disbelief then wondered whether it was becoming a habit to snort and, if so, reminded herself to stop it. "I have plenty of time. I have another, um, eight hours."
"No, you have another seven hours before the babe's time is up, and I expect his mother will get here sooner. Probably by several hours."
Sarah finally turned to him in order to properly stare in disbelief. "She's what? Why is she coming here? No, forget I asked that question, why is Chickadee really here?" Jareth opened his mouth to answer but Sarah interrupted him before he could even begin. "And don't say because I was already babysitting."
Jareth looked down his nose at her, as if he would never dream of using such an excuse. "Where else would I take him?"
"How about the heart of the Labyrinth? Which is, I might remind you, where you told Roselyn you were putting him."
"Indeed, the Heart of the Labyrinth. It is where I put him. Not, you might note, the center of the Labyrinth."
Sarah could feel herself pale. "The heart."
"You knew I was in love with you. You had known all along. You told Toby about it before you wished him away, remember?" His voice was vicious.
"I, I knew, yes, but I didn't really think about it. I mean, I don't exactly have a lot of experience with love."
"No, not a lot of experience with love, but apparently a talent for using it to manipulate and get what you want." He castigated her.
Sarah bit back her immediate response to that, and took a deep breath. "Yes, well, I've had a few more examples with that than I'd like, and you're no exception. You gave me what I asked for only when it would get you what you wanted. And now, if I don't have time, then yes, I do need to get back to painting."
She called Toby to her, carried him into the house, plopped him and Chickadee into the playpen ignoring his complaints, and stared at her canvas. It was time for the distant grass. It was a golden brown, the paint easily mixed and a certain amount of gold glitter added in order to save time applying it after the fact. Even without adding the glitter separately, she had still intended to spend hours on the grass. Each strand had to be painted individually, layering them over each other, as a thick sea of grass hiding the dark ground.
She ignored Jareth standing behind her although she could sense he was still there. She didn't even flinch when he spoke, although he did so with a tone that she didn't quite recognize. "Indeed. I tried to manipulate you and it failed. But do you know how it failed?"
Painting the grass over the map she had made of the tunnels, she was careful to avoid putting grass on the spots where the tunnels opened up to the surface. In the finished product, it would be create texture in the sea of grass and perhaps a hint of the mysteries lying below.
"Because my will is as strong as yours."
"Your will is as strong as mine, yes, yes, you said as much. And your kingdom is as great, and maybe that wasn't true but it was possible. It could be made true. But, in the center of my power, in a land where words are power and what's said is said, do you recall what you did then?"
"I said, "you have no power over me." I beat you and won Toby back."
Sarah winced, but at least her brush stroke didn't falter. She knew that there was power and then there was power and even at the time it had seemed a piece of pure bravado to say he didn't have power over her. It's why she always had trouble remembering that line. It was so blatantly false.
"Magic is based on words and those words shape reality. What's said is said. And then you lied. You spoke a lie so paradoxical that my own castle tore itself to pieces trying to make it true."
Jareth paced back and forth behind her, his cape swirling in the corner of her eye at each turn-around. "I have power over you and I had it then, too. I could have used that power and changed you into something different; something no longer effected by me. But that would have just demonstrated the power that I held. So for a paradox my kingdom shattered for that brief minute and you managed to slip out through the cracks before it could settle back again."
"Ah." Sarah thought about it but then shrugged. "That means I won. I mean, I got Toby and I got out. So it's over."
Jareth snorted. "You got the prize, you got out, but you did not win. That particular race is over, but we are most certainly still in competition."
"But I got Toby back." She was perilously close to wailing.
"But you lied about my lack of power." He responded with a mocking wail of his own, "the game isn't the same thing as the prize. You should have either broken out or broken down."
"As my grandmother used to say, "should" bakes no bread."
"Listen to me, little girl: You fed your blood to a creature of my land, you ate fruit from my land, you dreamt the dream that I sent you and you dreamt it of me. You gave me so much power, you should have been my willing slave."
"Then why aren't I?" She snarked, although she did seriously want to know the answer.
"Because every single time you gave me power," Jareth growled, "you became that much stronger. You should have outgrown me. Before you, two kinds of people ran the Labyrinth. Those who grew themselves beyond my power, who grew so that they could no longer slip so entirely into dreams and thus could not be held within them. And those who dissolved completely into my world and never remembered how to leave again. That's how the game works. That's how its won or lost."
Sarah considered this. She had gotten out of the Labyrinth just fine, thank you very much, but she still had friends there and, had she dared to risk it, rather thought she was perfectly capable of returning. Anyway, "which of those counts as winning?"
"What?" Jareth actually looked taken aback.
"They both sound like losing to me. Either I can't get into my dreams or I can't get out again."
"I win by trapping you in the Labyrinth. You win by escaping it."
"But I did escape it."
"No, because I can still get to you. Every time you started to separate yourself from the Underground, you did something or another to give me more power to tie you back. Look at your Kingdom, Sarah!" He waved at her painting. "You made us equals, Sarah. I didn't even need to tie you back that last time, I just watched as the Near Endless Plains spread out from my western border."
"Then we're at a stalemate. The game is still over."
"I'm a creature of wild magic, Sarah, and you are my equal. And there can be nothing stale about wild magic. You may have made us equals, but the proof of our equality is in the struggle."
"Tell me this, is Toby safe?"
"Toby is safe from me as long as no one wishes him away again. Although he's a good lad and I'd take him in a second if he becomes available again."
"You can choose?"
"Of course." Jareth smiled a surprisingly sweet smile. Then he crouched in a pool of silk and feathers at the edge of the playpen to talk to Toby while ignoring her completely.
It gave her the opportunity to continue working on her painting without distraction and she finally got the distant grass done. Then, of course, she needed to work on the stone monolith at the center of the land, a spiral staircase wending its way up to an elaborately carved throne. It created a solid vertical stripe, almost but not quite piercing the sun above.
The colors of the stone were more subtle than any other part of the land. The stone was red, not as bright as the sun nor as dark as the ground, and textured with a bit of fine sand, more rough than the dirt but finer than the grain. It was quite hard to achieve and she had to add a bit of glue into the paint and then paint the bulk of it really fast. It would be worth it, though. She wanted it perfect. It was the one part of the entire painting that gave a sense of scale to the land. In the vastness of the land, the monolith was a detail.
With Jareth singing quietly in the background and Toby trying to sing along, Sarah focused on the throne. She didn't even notice that she was humming.
First, each step of the spiral staircase was lit and shadowed properly, but even after completing that she continued adding shadows. Her first conception of the throne itself had been a rough chair shape, but now she added more detail with carved animals and plants covering it.
After she'd covered the entire throne, even using her smallest brush, she started working her way down the tower. She was a third of the way down the tower, adding little swirls and decorative images when she realized how much time she was taking. Hours had passed.
And yet, Jareth was still there, playing with Toby on the floor.
For a moment she wondered if this was what it was like to have a boyfriend. From some of her friends experience, the answer was no. No boyfriend was this accommodating to babysitting. Jareth appeared to genuinely enjoy it.
She paused just to watch. She wasn't sure how long she'd been watching before Jareth turned and caught her at it. Deciding that the best defense was a good offense, Sarah attacked. "Shouldn't you in the Labyrinth right now, dealing with Roselyn rather than hanging out here?"
Jareth raised an eyebrow and looked amused. "She's in the forest. She'll probably make it into town in about an hour as long as she doesn't trip any of the traps laid out for her. And I have no particular interest in flirting with her." He smiled at Sarah a bit too avidly.
Sarah shivered. "How do you know she's in the forest? You've been gone for hours. She could have gotten through already."
"It's my Labyrinth. As long as she's in it, I can track her."
"You can sense anyone in the Labyrinth?"
"Of course. I am the Goblin King and my magic supports the Labyrinth. Part of me extends through the Labyrinth. You, for instance, were somewhat tricky to pinpoint, but you felt good. Like a caress against that part of me. It was… pleasant."
The Goblin King seemed almost calmed by the thought. He was like a jungle cat, wild and vicious, that still liked being scratched behind the ears, but was not by that tamed. No, never tamed as suddenly he rose up from the floor to tower over her and snarled, "but do not go around kissing my people!"
Sarah blinked. It was a blink, she told herself, not a flinch. But she did accept that it had taken an effort of will to not step back. She had not stepped back and she swore to herself that she never would. Her voice did not even shake when she looked him directly in the eye and asked, "Why not?"
The barely restrained violence was in his voice when he answered, "Because I offered you everything I was and everything I had for you love and you ignored the offer. Do not go offering your love to some lesser image or minor part of me. You will take everything or nothing."
Sarah pressed her lips together in displeasure and glared. Before she let fly with a torrent of anger another thought stopped her cold. Her face relaxed and her eyes widened with dismay. "Is Hoggle a lesser goblin? Does he depend on your support?"
Sarah could hear the pain in her own voice at the thought and wondered if the Goblin King could, too. He probably could, because he didn't taunt her. "No. He is self-sustaining. In fact, he lived the majority of his life much further away. Only after his wife and children were eaten by a dragon did he come to my castle looking for a position."
Sarah stared. "His wife and children?"
Jareth merely raised an eyebrow at her.
"I didn't know he had been married or had had children. He never told me."
Jareth shrugged. "He doesn't like to talk about it."
"Why did you tell me this?"
"Why should I not?"
Sarah stomped one foot and felt like nothing more than a five-year-old trying to get an adult to understand. It was not a feeling she liked, feeling small and silly and immature despite being certain of her own position as right. "Because you should respect his wishes on the matter!"
Jareth looked honestly startled. "You jest?"
Sarah rubbed the bridge of her nose. One of her teachers did that when he was particularly frustrated and it seemed an elegant and speaking gesture. She rather thought she would try to acquire the habit. With Jareth around she would no doubt have the opportunity to practice. A lot.
When she looked at him again it was as if she saw him for the first time. She looked at him and saw not a character from a story or an opponent to be defeated, she saw a creature of wild magic who was not and never would be human.
"Dinner." She decided it was definitely time to think of something else. "It's dinner time."
He smirked. Apparently he knew, or could guess, that she was studiously avoiding saying anything before thinking it through. She thought about scowling in response but decided that it was a stupid seesaw and she wanted off. So Jareth didn't exactly follow human social mores; that should not have surprised her. The fact that he didn't even realize what some of those social mores were, that she might admit to being surprised by. At least admit to herself.
"Dinner is chicken soup. It's already made, so I hope those chickens in your castle mean that you eat them rather than just keep them for pets."
"And what makes you think I wouldn't eat my pets?" Jareth smiled with sharp teeth, and Sarah rolled her eyes.
It wound up being a remarkably nice dinner, just as it had been a remarkably nice afternoon. Sarah wondered how she had gone from thinking of Jareth as The Bad Guy to thinking of him as an opponent. However it had happened, she did think of him that way now. Their one competition was over, another would probably begin soon, but for now, he was competing with someone else. It was pleasant having a truce between them.
Afterward she started working on the grass in the foreground. Even though it was taller than most people, the grass barely covered any of the monolith. The tops of the grain brushed only the seventh step, leaving the majority to rise above.
Most of the dark soil was covered with grass, the tunnels only visible along the bottom few inches of the canvas when a wind swept through the house and Jareth abruptly stood up.
"Roselyn is scrying for you. She made it to the castle and has discovered that the heart is elsewhere. She'll be here soon."
"Can she find us?" Sarah could hear a tremble in her own voice. She clenched her fists and raised her chin. She was not going to be scared.
"Well, she can find you." Jareth smirked. Then he put Toby back in the playpen next to the sleeping Chickadee and walked away.
"Wait one minute! You're just going to leave?" She glared and wished that looks could kill because then Jareth would be dead, dead, dead. "After leading her here, you're going to leave."
"Why not?" He seemed amused.
Sarah carefully took a deep breath because she absolutely refused to even think that she needed someone else to protect her, much less Jareth. Nor would she admit that Jareth's abandonment hurt. She had had a good afternoon, she had enjoyed talking with him over meals, she had enjoyed listening to him sing all afternoon.
Maybe he saw something in her face that she wouldn't admit to because for the first time he actually looked serious.
He walked back to her and carefully cupped her cheek with one hand, moving slowly so that she could have stepped back if she had chosen to. "Remember, your Kingdom is as great as mine."
Then he kissed her once, lightly, on the lips, and when she blinked he was gone.
She could still feel his gloved hand on her cheek.
Jareth was gone, Roselyn was coming, and she was sick and tired of her painting.
"My kingdom as great. Yeah right." She muttered to herself. "My kingdom of daydreams and paint. Fah."
Just to get it finished, she got out the gold beads that she had long planned to use as the finishing touch and started sticking them to the top of the grass in the foreground, giving each a line of golden seeds.
For good measure, she scattered a few on the visible ground at the base of the canvas, since she had given up on covering that part in grass. Maybe this was where someone from other kingdom came to try to harvest the gold. Who knew? Who cared?
"It's done. I say so, so it must be so." Sarah declared. "You want to see it, Toby?"
"See it?" Toby wanted to know.
"Sure thing, Tobes."
She picked up Toby against one hip. Then on impulse she scooped Chickadee up in the other arm so that he could see it too. At least he could see this before his mother came and took him back to that darned cold emotionless court that had rejected him.
Toby "ooh"ed and "ah"ed and said it was great. She looked at it and felt better. It was okay. But more than that, it was outside of her head. The land that had been her focus for so long in her head was suddenly physically manifested, even if it was only a picture. She felt comfortable with that.
The sky was light and bright and deep as eternity. The sun was red and hot. The grass of gold, as high as a grown man's head, seemed to wave in a breeze. The golden seeds chimed as they hit each other, a constant song playing in the background. And the single spar of red stone standing straight, overlooking it all.
"Your kingdom as great." Sarah could hear Jareth as if he whispered in her ear. "But what of your will?"
"My Will is as Strong as Yours," she said, "and my Kingdom as Great."
As she spoke, her kingdom filled her whole vision, it was like falling into one of Jareth's crystals except rather than a trap, this was coming home. And suddenly she was there. She, Toby, and Chickadee all perched on her throne, overseeing her land, facing the wall of grey Labyrinth wall far off in the distance.
"Wow. Sarah. This your place?"
"Yes, Toby. This is my place. My kingdom. Do you want to go explore?" Because Sarah knew this land, knew it better than anything else, and knew that she would always be able to find her brother, as long as he was in her land.
"Yeah. First, though, we should get down from here so you can run through the grass."
Getting down turned out to actually be something of a pain. The spiral staircase came right to her feet when she was sitting on the throne, so that was easy enough, but it never got very wide and was quite steep. And her arms started to hurt from holding both children for so long. Once they were finally down, she was glad enough to set Toby down to run off and play while sitting down herself on the bottom steps and holding Chickadee in her lap.
This was her kingdom. It extended from the Labyrinth to the horizon, a practically endless sea of golden grain fields. Really, she was going to have to come up with a new name for it fast because Land of the Near Endless Plains was simply too much of a mouthful. She lay there in the center of her kingdom with Chickadee in her arms and Toby playing nearby and relaxed her body as her mind whirled.
This was her kingdom.
The lack of populace was an ache, but that would not last for long. She could sense some fairies, little, lovely, and vicious, were playing amongst some of the grain at the border where the field abutted the Labyrinth. There was some sort of creature that she couldn't identify lurking in the far north, happily munching on the golden seeds. And in her arms was Chickadee, squinting his whole face against the light, but looking around with interest. In fifteen minutes he would be her first subject, because the thirteen hours would soon be up and she was only just feeling Roselyn racing through the grass.
"Toby. Come here. It's almost ready to go home, again." Sarah called out, knowing that Toby would hear her.
He came running back with a handful of golden seeds. "These are good to eat."
"Yes, they are. Do you like it here?" Toby was delighted to tell her all about it, and she let his chatter wash over her.
Roselyn might have made it if she weren't racing quite so fast, if she didn't fail to see the tunnel opening before she fell down it, if she didn't get lost in the tunnels, then have trouble getting back to the surface again.
The mother of the child made it… almost in time. She burst through the last of the grass before the stone staircase just as time ran out.
She burst through, a look of triumph on her face, and then the clock sounded.
At first it seemed like distant thunder, but Sarah could feel it echoing through her bones, and it repeated itself. Twice, thrice, she found herself counting.
Roselyn froze when she heard it, and Sarah knew that was exactly the wrong thing to do. Toby seemed to realize something was wrong because he stopped talking and moved to hug Sarah's leg.
Four. Five. Six.
When Sarah had rescued Toby and the clock had started chiming, she had leapt for him, because nothing mattered more than getting to him in time and there had still been those few seconds left.
Seven. Eight. Nine.
Roselyn stayed frozen, and in thinking Chickadee already lost, she lost him. She stared at her lost son, but Sarah was distracted by a speck in the sky flying in from the west. It was an owl.
Ten. Eleven. Twelve.
They counted the chimes together. Chickadee shivered in Sarah's arms, blinking his two-toned eyes up at her.
"Is it over?" Toby asked, still clutching her leg.
"Almost. The game is over, Toby, but we still need to work out the prizes. Because I don't think a full-grown fae can become a goblin, not like an infant fae. Is that right, Roselyn?"
Roselyn turned dull eyes towards her and Sarah thought she looked more like a statue than ever. "That's right."
"Then what do you plan to do now? Go back to the fae court?"
And Roselyn actually laughed with enough bitterness to make Sarah wonder if they were mistaken and a suitably unhappy adult fae could be infected with wild magic after all. "I am doubly exiled from the court. First for being thought to introduce a cross-species child to the court, and second for losing a full-blood fae to another kingdom."
"You can still do magic, can't you?"
"Much good it will do me without a home to call my own, never to see my own child again."
Sarah couldn't help but feel the fae was being a tad bit overly melodramatic but she supposed it was only to be expected. She shouldn't expect anyone else to have the same ruthless competitiveness that Jareth had and that she herself was acquiring.
"When does a fae child reach adulthood? At what point would you no longer have had the ability to wish him away?"
"Twenty years old,"
The fifteen-year-old Sarah's eyes widened a bit at this before she caught herself. "Very well. Then here is my offer. You have my permission to live, as an exile, within the Land of the Near Endless Plains." She felt Jareth appear behind her, but ignored him for the time being. "And, if you decide to do so, I will leave Chickadee in your care, although he is my subject from this point until he reaches twenty years of age, at which point I will discuss matters further with both you and with him as two adults."
Roselyn looked at her with startled hope. "Yes, I'll accept. If, I mean, if that's acceptable to you, Goblin King." She spoke over Sarah's shoulder.
"Sarah is queen here."
"Yes. Of course, your majesty."
Sarah barely managed to avoid rolling her eyes at the interaction. She placed Chickadee in Roselyn's arms. "It's not going to be easy, you know. The Endless Plains are nearly deserted, and while you might be able to trade at one of the Goblin fair's, those can be tricky places."
"I know. I was a warrior in Her Majesties army before I found myself with child. I will so succeed that in twenty years, you will make me a subject as well, your majesty."
Sarah winced. "Well, good luck to you."
Roselyn curtsied to her and then to Jareth and then walked off into the surrounding grasses.
"Home now?" Toby asked.
"Almost done, Toby. Just a little more adult talk and then we can go home."
Sarah remembered thinking the same thing once upon a time. She almost wished it was still true. Instead she finally turned to Jareth and asked, "What would have happened if I had said 'yes' back in the staircase room last year?"
"I would have kept you with me always. I would have prized you beyond words."
Sarah glared. "That's all very nice, but what does it mean? Would I have been queen by your side, or merely prized possession?"
Jareth actually looked sulky and turned away without answering.
And a faint mutter was heard, "mistress. You would have been my beloved mistress."
"And IF I accept you now, what position would I be accepting?"
Still turned away his voice was back to its regular certainty. "Wife."
"Is the wife of a king automatically a queen?"
It was like pulling teeth. Really. "And why not?"
He swung around and stalked back to her so that he could look sneeringly down into her face. "Do you think yourself capable of ruling a kingdom? Your kingdom is a field. You have a population of two and you needed my help to deal with them. Now you want to rule My kingdom? A rowdy population of magic users in a land that stretches as far as the eye can see, and you want to be made responsible for them? The politics and treaties with other lands, do you think yourself ready to negotiate them?"
"Then come and be my wife and lover, your children my heirs, your pleasure, my desire."
"No." Sarah stared up at him and ignored the fact that one of the reasons for saying no was that she was just too young. His sense of time was already completely skewed and she didn't want to deal with it. She wondered vaguely if he even understood the concept of age, beyond the baby vs. adult labels. There were other reasons to turn him down. "I'm not ready to be a queen, as you just said, and I won't be in any relationship where I'm not an equal partner."
Which was true, for all that it would have been a big fat lie five minutes earlier. There was a real difference between fantasy and reality, even with magic in the mix. She had always fantasized about some perfect prince sweeping her off her feet and taking care of her forever after. Equality had never been an issue. But as nice as the fantasy was, it did not translate into reality at all well. She refused to have one more person tell her what to do.
"That's your final answer?" There was a flat quality to his voice and Sarah wondered again what it must be like to have a heart be somewhere else, be someone else. But there was nothing she could do about it that she was willing to do.
"That's my answer right now."
He settled into the stillness of a predator seeing prey and she lifted her chin to stare back at him, refusing to flinch.
"Your answer right now."
"You know the game isn't over until you either submit or conquer. You have to make a choice eventually."
"But not right now."
"It hurts, to have your heart in one place and everything else somewhere else." The goblin king shrugged, his voice disinterested. "I thought I was going to die at first. Or maybe just go insane. But I am a creature of wild magic and we are ever adaptable. But it still hurts."
Yes, Sarah realized that it probably did hurt. And, she found, she didn't want him to hurt because of her. But she wasn't going to be forced into anything she wasn't ready for, either. She spoke with a matching disinterest, "You always knew I could be cruel."
She stepped backwards thinking about her house and felt the walls settle in around her. She was home again.
However, rather than a dramatic exit, Jareth had somehow managed to come with.
"Well, then. Let the games continue." His lips curled up into a smile she didn't quite understand, his eyes had a fire behind them, and her heart seemed to stutter.
A wind suddenly came in through the open windows, the curtains ruffled, and he was gone in a flutter of wings.
As the air settled down into stillness again, Sarah let her heart get back to normal as well. Then she walked over and closed the windows. Clearly she was a novice when it came to dramatic exits. She'd need to practice, and it looked like she'd have plenty of opportunities.
The games, after all, were still ongoing, her will was as strong as him, her kingdom as great, and they each held a certain amount of power. Life was certainly going to be interesting. She was fifteen right now. She had another twenty years before her one and only subject could either be released or added to. That should give her enough time to get things right.
Plans circled in her head as she bounced Toby on her knee.
An hour later, her dad and Karen returned.
She finally came out of her thoughts when the door opened.
"Hello, Sarah, how did your day go?"
"Pretty good, Dad. How was yours?"
"Oh my goodness, is this was you did today? It's gorgeous." Karen sounded surprised as she looked at the painting.
The surprise could work out to be something of an insult but Sarah decided she didn't mind. The painting had been wonderful when she had originally finished it but her use of it as a portal had done something more to it. Given it an extra vibrancy.
"It's so real and so fantastic at the same time. If this is what you see when you read those fantasy books of yours then I can see why you like them."
Sarah blinked. Maybe she could actually find common ground with Karen rather than just get along with courtesy. They had both been trying so hard for so many months to be nice to each other and Sarah had tried to be ordinary and understanding for Karen. Now it seemed like Karen just needed the proper introduction to the fantastic in the world.
"Thank you, Karen. It's just one scene in a whole world." Sarah paused and wondered if she was doing the right thing. "This is the Land of Near Endless Plains. I, I have a few other sketches. If you'd like to see them, I could show you."
"I'd like that." And Karen gave her another one of those painfully hopeful smiles of hers that sort of made Sarah want to curl up into a little guilty puddle due to how annoying she must have been pre-Labyrinth. Sarah ignored the feeling and smiled back.
"I would, too, honey. This painting is beautiful," her dad added warmly. "Maybe you should think of art schools after high school. You could really go far with this."
"Thank you, Dad." And her dad just didn't get it, Sarah thought rather wryly. It wasn't about making money; it was about a whole kingdom stretched out inside of her. "But I'm currently thinking I want to go to college and study government and politics."
There was, after all, a whole kingdom waiting for its queen, and possibly a neighboring kingdom too, whose king wouldn't be too unhappy about acquiring a consort.
When she was ready.