The creature within the Oubliette was not of the Labyrinth.
That caused a flicker of interest.
The Master of the Labyrinth and King of the Goblins gazed into a crystal. How utterly delicious. A mortal girl dropped as neatly into the oubliette as a chicken into a sack. It was certainly not his doing, but he was hardly one to turn down such a pretty little gift.
Shadows wrapped around him and he stepped silently out into the darkness of the cell. The light cutting in through the tiny window high above was only enough to outline the girl. She was sitting in the pale square of light, wiping blood from her grazed fingertips with her skirt.
A pretty little thing, certainly.
“Well, well, well,” he murmured. “What have we here?”
He knew mortal girls, how they feared and quivered and cowered and begged. They always did at first, in the face of his majesty and power. Sometimes, it was amusing. Sometimes, it was tiresome.
This girl did nothing of the kind.
Tired blue eyes rose, the colour of forget-me-nots. “Not again,” she said quietly, then more firmly, “If there’s someone there, would you be kind enough to show yourself? I don’t want to have to find you in the dark.”
Jareth was intrigued. A snap of his fingers illuminated the sand-coloured walls of the room, crystal shards glittering like a thousand diamonds in the walls. His cloak spread, mingling with the shadows, and rippled in an impossible breeze.
“Ah.” She tilted her head, looking up at him. “Yes. Again.”
He folded his arms across his chest, forbidding. “You are the intruder,” he observed. “You have come to my domain and now, you act as if you have no idea who I am.”
She got to her feet, straightened her skirts, then curtsied. “I beg your pardon,” she said, “but that’s exactly it.” She offered a small, sheepish smile. “I was put here. I’m not sure where here is, or who you are.”
Jareth lifted his chin coolly. “You are in my labyrinth,” he said. “I am King of this domain.”
The young woman looked around the cavern that was her prison. “It’s very nice?” she offered, and Jareth’s mouth fell open in indignation.
“This isn’t all of it!” he said, his hands dropping to his hips. “This is just an oubliette! Hardly a fraction of it! My labyrinth is expansive! ”
“A large estate?” she murmured, and though her lips smiled, it didn’t reach her eyes. “I wonder why that’s always so important to men.” She curtsied again. “My apologies, your Majesty. I meant no offence.”
He refolded his arms. “As you are now my prisoner, perhaps you might answer my questions,” he murmured, watching her. She laced her hands together in front of her, met his eyes directly. A bold one, this. “Who put you here?”
“A witch,” the girl replied promptly. “I don’t know her name. She wouldn’t give it to me. I think she’s a Queen, where I come from.”
Jareth approached her, circling her in the patch of daylight, the shadows of his cloak writhing and squirming like living things. She barely shied back from him, only turning enough to keep an eye on his face. “And why would she cast you into my forgotten places?”
“You said this was an oubliette,” she said quietly. “A place to put people to forget about them. She’s using it for its purpose.”
He came to a halt in front of her, extending a fingertip to lift her chin, gazing down into her bright blue eyes. “Which brings us to the question of just why a Queen would want rid of you, little girl. You have no power that I can see. No magic. Nothing of value.” He smiled slightly. “A throne, perhaps? Or a kingdom she desires?”
“Because I cared,” she replied without rancour.
Jareth’s lips twisted. “Ah,” he said, drawing his finger back as if he were touching something dirty. “Love. And this Queen wants the object of your affection?”
To his surprise, the girl stared at him, then started to laugh, laughing so hard that she was shaking and had to brace a hand against the wall. “No. Oh, no. No, she wouldn’t want that, and nor would he. I think he would run across the world to avoid that. She wanted him powerless and weak.”
Jareth gazed at her. She was from a world where sorceresses could cast people into other realms, simply to be rid of them. It sounded like a most interesting world to visit, if only to see what manner of power could be gleaned from it.
“I can offer you your freedom,” he murmured, uncoiling a hand, a crystal coalescing on his fingertips.
The blue eyes narrowed. “And what’s the price?”
“Oh, come, come,” he said with a quiet laugh. “What makes you think there would be a price?”
This time, it was she who crossed her arms. “All magic comes at a price,” she said. “If you free me, what would my obligation be? Because I will not be bound in servitude again, and I don’t mean to be bound to a new master.” There was a tremor in her voice, a story untold. “I don’t want a new master.”
So she was some sorcerer’s pet, and she was still tied by some emotion to the man.
“If you show me your world,” Jareth murmured, imagining the power that must be ripe for the taking, “I will return you to your master.”
Her blue eyes fixed on him. “You can’t return what was cast away,” she said. “Free me, if you want, but I won’t show you the way to that world.” She smiled at him, calm and brave. “I won’t unleash another enemy on him.”
“You believe I have ill-intentions?”
She stepped closer to him, until her folded arms almost brushed his chest. “Let’s just say that I’m having a hard time trusting anyone magical just now.”
He brought the crystal between their faces. “Are you sure I can’t persuade you?” he murmured, letting the magic touch her mind as her eyes flicked to the crystal.
He could not see what brief glimpse crossed the shimmering surface, but it was enough to make the colour flee her face. She grabbed the crystal and hurled it at the wall. It shattered into liquid, trickling into a pool on the sandy floor.
“Don’t you dare to try and use him against me or me against him!” she said, pointing a shaking finger at him furiously. “You can offer me anything and I will never, ever help you get to that world. You have no power to make me do anything.”
Jareth laughed softly. “Now, really,” he said, lifting a hand to smooth a stray hair back from her cheek. “Is that any way to speak to your host?”
She stepped back, formal, straight-backed. “You made it quite clear, your Majesty, that I am your prisoner here,” she said. He gazed at her thoughtfully. No little damsel, this one. There was fire in the blood and in the belly, and she would have been a Queen. “If you have nothing else to do but prod me for information I will not give you, I would be obliged if you would leave me be.”
“And you would stay, in this oubliette, forever?”
She shrugged with a small, quiet smile that spoke of a thousand trials and tribulations. “It’s only forever,” she said. “Not long at all.”
Jareth laughed quietly, fading into the darkness, as the shadows swallowed the cave once more. “We shall see.”