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A Doll Fit For A King

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On a day long ago, when the Goblin King was still just a skinny scrap of a Goblin Prince – one with rumples in his tunic and scrapes on his knees, no less – he found himself the butt of his schoolmates' jokes. His good friend, Nahele, was often teased for his greenish hair, and Hydd for the budding satyr's horns on his forehead; Jareth had taken part in the ribbing himself on occasion, though never with any true malicious intent. However, when the taunts finally turned to him, there was no hat nor hood with which he could hide his shame. His abnormalities lay within his very face, in the form of a row of hateful, jagged teeth, and a pair of ugly, mismatched eyes. How the young Goblin Prince hated them. On that particular day, after he had fled from his classmates' jeers, his mother had found him in the foulest of moods, red in the face and glaring daggers out of his small window.

After the inevitable scolding for almost setting his room on fire – for in his ire, he had already caused the heavy curtains to smoulder – she had listened to his woes with a sympathetic ear, and with that sympathy came a mother's wisdom. He was a handsome lad, she told him – not only in her eyes, but in those of a dozen lovesick schoolgirls who always arrived early for their lessons in the hope of stealing a seat nearby their young prince, and perhaps a glimpse of his sharp-toothed smile. He was observant, so his mother told him, and he was clever and quick-witted. There was nothing that escaped his notice – no target that could escape his grasp once he had set his sights on it, mismatched eyes and all. His uneven smile would one day be that of a great and noble ruler, capable of charming even the most cantankerous of his peers within the High King's court. One day, those mismatched eyes of his would see an entire kingdom kneel before him.

In all the years since Jareth had taken the throne, those curious eyes of his had seen much. They had witnessed times of war and times of peace, of grief and of greatest joy. They had watched the turning of endless seasons, and the growth of a prosperous kingdom under his rule. They had discovered places and sights far beyond even those of his wildest boyhood dreams – and, after so very long, after so many years of heartache and searching, they had finally found the other piece of his soul: the woman who would one day become his wife. How his eyes had followed her on their wedding day, dressed in ivory lace and looking for all the world like an angel given mortal form. How they had misted over with easy tears as they looked upon his beautiful daughter, Sonia, for the very first time.

Yes, those mismatched blue eyes of his had witnessed so, so much in their many years. Therefore, it was a terrible shame that, given the choice, Jareth was ready to stick pins in them, rather than remaining in his current predicament a single second longer.

The weary Goblin King's trivial tale of woe begins, as the most twisted of tales are wont to do, on a day like any other – a crisp December morning, to be precise. The kingdom has been graced with a fine dusting of snow overnight, and as Jareth stands at his chamber window to admire the view, he is presented with a picturesque sight worthy of any mortal greetings card. Within the royal castle, however, the scene is far less charming.

No!” comes the aggrieved scream of the castle's youngest, loudest resident. “I want you here, Mummy! I don't want you to go!”

“Mummy has to go, sweetheart. You know I won't be long. You can be my big, brave girl for a while, can't you? And until I get back, you'll have the best time with Daddy-”

“I don't want Daddy!”

The fractious screech is followed by a torrent of harsh, braying sobs, each one a test of Jareth's patience. Their only daughter, usually such a bright and sunny child, has been nothing more than a pint-sized demon for the past few days. She screams, she cries, and she clings to her mother at all times like a stubborn and soggy limpet, covering the despairing Goblin Queen in a crust of snot and frustrated tears. Sonia's change in demeanour isn't entirely without cause; with numerous Christmas celebrations fast approaching, and a league of meetings to keep her busy well into the new year, said queen certainly has her work cut out for her in making sure all of the preparations are in place.

After a massive cock-up with the annual Yuletide Ball invitations – courtesy of a drunken would-be messenger – and the resulting last-minute scramble, Sarah's attentions have been spread far too thin. There is only so much the exhausted queen can do to keep both family and kingdom happy, and only so much her king can do to take her place. Her annual Christmas visit Aboveground has been pushed back and then pushed back again, until the day itself is almost upon them. She has some serious shopping to do, but Sonia just won't let her go. At the tender age of four, it's clear that the small princess is just too young to understand that her mother won't be gone forever. It's also quite plain that Sarah has finally reached the end of her patience in trying to explain it.

“Sonia,” she says, in what is almost her sternest voice, “you're being ridiculous now, sweetheart. I have to go. It's only for a couple of hours-”

As Sonia's lower lip wobbles and she draws in breath ready for her next wail, Jareth finally decides his ears have suffered enough.

“Why don't I go instead?”

At once, two sets of eyes – one wide and almost too wary to hope, the other red-rimmed and wet, their mismatched pupils almost trembling with emotion – turn on him. Eager to maintain the unexpected ceasefire, Jareth makes his move, slipping one arm around his wife's waist while his other hand ruffles his daughter's silky blonde hair. “She obviously needs her mother, love, and you need a break from all of the organising. Stay home. Stay with her, for once. Play and just let yourself be silly for a while, instead of taking on even more stress. I'll take care of whatever needs to be done Aboveground.”

He knows at once that his suggestion was the right one. Relief all but gleams in his queen's deep green eyes. A fun afternoon spent together, whilst never exactly relaxing, will be just the thing to recharge the batteries of both mother and daughter. The idea obviously appeals, but as always, Sarah is hesitant to simply give in and take the easier path.

“Jareth, there's only two days left until Christmas. Shopping will be a complete nightmare. Wherever you go to get … the thing … it's going to be a bloodbath up there. Are you sure you're up for it?”

Convinced he has made the right decision, the Goblin King smiles and presses a kiss to her cheek. “Of course. Just leave it all to me.”

Oh, the foolish things we do for love – or at the very least, to escape from our loved ones for a few hours.

Jareth quickly comes to realise that the miniature banshee he has left at home is nothing compared to the masses of screaming brats, young and old, that he encounters Above. After morphing into existence in a dark alleyway, hidden from mortal eyes behind a set of fragrant rubbish bins, pushing his way out into the Christmas crowds is harder than first expected. He finds himself elbowed and cursed at, his feet stomped upon more than once as he tries to get his bearings amidst all the noise and bright lights of the high street. Every step, every square inch of grimy, slush-slicked pavement he treads is one he must fight for, jostled along as he is by countless other last-minute shoppers, none of whom seem to know or care a whit that cold and bitter royalty walks among them. Jareth suffers the indignity in silence, the collar of his heavy black peacoat turned up against the icy weather. The scowl set upon his face will remain frozen there until he is safely back Underground.

The festive spirit he has heard so much about does not burn quite as brightly in the hearts of mortals as he has been led to expect. In the case of certain individuals – namely, the one who knocks him, stumbling and swearing, into a steaming pile of dog shit – it seems to have been completely extinguished. As the Goblin King seethes and growls, and scrapes the foul muck off his leather boots, he struggles to understand how humans can be so callous when their day of loving and giving is almost upon them. He might be more open to the irony of it all if he hadn't been left with its mess, and the almighty need to hurt someone. As it is, he's glad his assailant has long since disappeared into the crowd – for both of their sakes. An ancient and extremely unpleasant curse loiters on the tip of his tongue as he fights his way past shopping bag-toting halfwits and box-wielding barbarians to reach his destination.

The toy store itself is but another chamber of the same hell, but at least it's a warmer one. Here, the noise he has endured outdoors increases tenfold, and the humans he encounters seem to care even less for the well-being of others. No sooner has he crossed the threshold than he finds himself in the path of what appears to be a rogue pack of shrieking prepubescent boys, who make his near trampling earlier seem insignificant. There is no apology when they almost knock him down, nor a single backward glance to be seen. Jareth is forced to settle for glaring after them, and contemplating an unscheduled supply run to stock up on condoms. Only the thought of his small family's happiness keeps him on track. He feels a whole new level of admiration for his queen as he tries not to buckle under the many annoyances of her world. Under the mocking glow of a million twinkling fairy lights, his ears under constant barrage by a never-ending loop of warbling Christmas 'hits', Jareth makes a valiant stomp onwards towards the dreaded doll aisle.

The gift has to be a special one. One of Sarah's prerequisites for having a child in the first place was that said child would be brought up to know the best of both their worlds – something Jareth has always both agreed with and obliged. As Sonia has grown, she has been taught just as much about the curious world Above as she has about the Underground. So far, she has cherished every last 'human' addition to her toy chest; her vast collection of stuffed animals in a range of questionable colours would impress even the most seasoned cryptozoologist, and she adores her various tinker toys, building blocks, and that bane of naked feet everywhere known as Lego bricks. This year, however, she is to receive the crown jewel of any young girl's toy collection: her first ever Barbie.

Sarah received her first doll at the same age of four, so she tells him – an innocent time when things had been far happier at home, despite her own mother's extended absences, and her father's progressively longer chats with the pretty lady next door. Her eyes take on a strange, warm light whenever she speaks of that old doll, and how she had loved acting out her wishes and dreams in a land of make believe with her. Jareth knows just how much this new gift will mean to his wife, as well as their daughter. It has to be perfect. It will be perfect.

With this vow to himself at the forefront of his brain, he shoulders his way through the aisle, doling out half-hearted apologies and cold stares in equal measure. The crowd parts for him, at least somewhat, and he takes in the many options on sale around him with growing dread. He will never admit to being out of his depth, but with at least a thousand grinning plastic faces looking down on him, painted eyes all seeking out his approval, he knows Sarah would have been far better suited for the task at hand. She would know if faerie wings or mermaid tails fit this 'perfect' doll criteria.

After several minutes of searching, Jareth is still none the wiser, and all of the rainbows, puppies and so-called fashionistas are making his head spin. He picks up what appears to be an optician playset and wonders whether assigning the doll a set profession is the wisest idea at this early stage; he scoops up a generic pink princess doll and ponders if it would be too cliché a gift. He feels the bone-jarring jolt of a shopping trolley against his spine, and speculates on all the dark and unpleasant things he'd like to do to its operator.

Finally – blessedly – he sees her. The braying of the herd around him fades away in light of this new discovery, and Jareth feels the beginnings of an honest to gods smile curling his lips. There's not a shred of doubt left in his mind – he's found her, at long last. The doll is another princess, this time dressed in fine green velvet and tiny, glittering beads, and with her dark, flowing hair and regal elegance, she reminds him of his queen at her finest. She has Sarah's clear green eyes as well, and in his eyes, that is all that matters. Sonia will be sure to love a doll that is so much like her mother to look at. Jareth is certain that Sarah will also appreciate the brunette addition to their household, given that their daughter has inherited all of his light colouring. She's more than lovely, and most definitely what he has been searching for.

Jareth pulls the toy fully off the shelf and into his protective embrace, casting a wary eye upon the woman who has taken to jostling his right side almost incessantly. He keeps the doll cradled to his chest as he mentally plots out the simplest route through the crowd to make payment, and exactly how quickly he can barge his way towards the exit doors without being mistaken for a common thief.

Just as he is about to leave the blasted aisle behind for good, a flash of silver catches his eye, and with his cursed love of all things that glitter, Jareth hones in on it at once. Behind the protective glass of a display case, partially obscured by the smeared fingerprints of the day's many small admirers, is a doll that makes the one in his arms seem almost inadequate. If the brunette beauty he holds is a princess, then the blonde one behind the glass is surely her queen. She is displayed to perfection beneath a bright white spotlight, the raised white platform she stands upon slowly rotating to show her off at all angles. The silver, full-skirted ball gown she wears is exquisite, covered in sequins and diamonds that, although presumably fake, cast off a pleasing sparkle all the same. She is stunning, and best of all, her pale blue eyes and golden hair are almost a perfect match for Sonia's.

Jareth's eyes narrow as he considers. One finger – mercifully gloved – rises to touch the greasy glass as so many before him have already, and he circles the doll's face, contemplating her serene smile. Sarah has said much about the love between a girl and her first doll; surely, their sweet, compassionate daughter – current hellish behaviour aside – has room enough in her heart for two? Or would an additional doll be too much, killing that special magic between toy and babe?

This heavy layer of thinking serves as armour, dulling the Goblin King's rightful rage when he feels a hand – an actual hand – pawing and then clutching at his royal person. When he glances to his right, he sees that the woman from earlier – she of the sharpened elbows and lack of situational awareness – has moored herself to his side once again. Her fingers rest far too comfortably upon his coat sleeve. Her eyes flit between his face and that of the doll.

“Yeah, I know what you're thinking. She's gorgeous, but she's an expensive one, isn't she?” she chuckles. “Are you thinking of getting her for a kid, or a collector?”

Jareth decides to bury his annoyance in order to bend the woman's ear. “A child – my daughter. This is to be her first Barbie doll, actually.”

The woman beams at him. “Aww, that's so sweet – a really special Christmas this year, then. Is it a surprise, or did she ask for a particular one from Santa Claus?”

“It's a surprise. Her mother wants her to have one, just like she had when she was a girl.” He raises up the brunette doll he holds for the stranger's inspection. “I chose this one because she looks the most like her mother … but this one …” He gestures a hand at the display case, allowing the other doll's beauty to speak for him. By his side, his new-found confidante nods her understanding.

“She's special, all right.”

“Indeed … but perhaps she's too special? I don't wish to have the other doll be overshadowed – I know that's important to her mother, too. I'd like her to have both, but I also want her to love them both.”

The woman's smile deepens as she looks at him. “Huh. Not many dads get that – the bond a girl has with her first dolly. You want my advice, though? Get both. Little girls have a lot of love in their hearts to give. You let her see that brown-haired one first and she's sure to fall head over heels – especially if she's got the looks of her mama. And this one-” Her head cocks to one side, and she pauses to give the glass a gentle tap. “Well, every girl likes to play at being a princess.”

Jareth grins. “Oh, she's definitely a princess.”

A warm chuckle greets his claim. “Exactly. And Daddy will get to be her Prince Charming when he gives her the two best dolls in the world. Buy both, and don't you worry about her finding a good home for the pair of them.”

“Thank you, I think I will. And seeing as you've been rather helpful today, let's see what we can do for you …”

“Oh, I-”

Jareth pats the hand that still holds his arm – nothing more than a simple gesture of friendship to most. A casual onlooker would be blind to the subtle flow of magic that passes between them – the pale silver smoke that slips out from beneath the woman's thick winter coat and into Jareth's waiting palm. Never one to remain in debt to another, the Goblin King has stolen the woman's most secret heart's wish, held it within his sphere of power, and placed it back within her chest within a matter of moments. He knows that the woman will return home to her family that evening with fresh hope for the future, and there will be laughter at the dinner table again. Later that night, she and her husband will make love for the first time in many months, sweet and unhurried, and maybe, just maybe, all may seem right with the world once more.

Basking in the satisfaction of a well-executed business transaction, the Goblin King seeks out the appropriate box containing the silver doll. He slips past his now slightly dazed companion with two boxes now in hand, certain he has displayed more than enough of that tiresome 'Christmas cheer' that Sarah is always talking about, at least for one day. He slides back into his customary scowl as he pushes his way through the crowd, pleased to see at least one misbehaving child shrink back from his mere presence. Underground, his wife and child are his life, his oxygen, often capable of turning him into quite the simpering fool with nothing more than a glance; up here, in the midst of commercial madness, a jolly Christmas Elf he most certainly is not.

By the time he reaches the tills, every queue is at least ten poor, tortured bastards deep, the piped-in music has looped around yet again to that dreadful Wonderful Christmastime song, and the decibel level of the surrounding shoppers has reached rage-inducing new heights. Rather than drowning the whole lot of his problems in Bog water, the Goblin King swallows down his pride and shuffles to the end of the nearest line. He wonders if maybe, just maybe, he will have time to sink a swift pint at one of the many ale houses within the Goblin City before he returns to the castle. The gods know he won't be coming back Above until at least the January sales have ended.

Of course, the stress and indignity of that cold, grey day are banished to distant memory when Christmas morning finally dawns, and he gets to see his daughter's sweet smile.

The three of them – father, mother, and beaming daughter – lay sprawled upon a thick grey rug before an open fire, toys and torn scraps of wrapping paper scattered all around them, and laughter in the air. Both king and queen are impressed with just how quickly the young princess is managing to plough through her mound of presents. There are various oohs and aahs, and plenty of joyful squeals, kisses, and cries of thanks as she uncovers a wide selection of gifts from both Under and Aboveground. The pile of bags and boxes steadily shrinks, until finally, only two more gifts remain.

“Open the one with the red wrapping first, darling,” Jareth instructs, chuckling to himself as his daughter hastens to obey. He rolls onto his belly and rests his chin on the backs of his hands, and watches as Sonia's small mouth falls open when she comes face to face with the brunette Barbie – the one who looks so much like Sarah. The Goblin King's smile stretches from ear to ear as his daughter's tiny fingers trace the doll's perfect face through her packaging.

“She's so beautiful, just like Mummy! I love her!”

When Jareth meets his wife's eyes, he is proud to see that they gleam with emotion, and perhaps even an unshed tear or two. Smiling, he reaches out for her hand and brings it to his lips, gracing her palm with a soft kiss. Sarah responds by cupping his cheek and leaning down to brush his mouth with hers.

“Thank you,” she says, soft enough for only the two of them to hear.

“Any time,” he replies, and means it. For them – for her – he will endure anything, retail and Paul McCartney's Christmas warblings included.

He pushes himself up onto his knees so that he may take her into his arms. Warmth seeps into his soul as her fingers card through his hair, and she presses her lips more firmly against his. Jareth smiles against her mouth, and after a quick glance to make sure Sonia isn't looking, he palms Sarah's arse, squeezing her through the white silk pyjama bottoms she wears. He knows she's bare beneath them. Sarah hums against his lips, half in protest, half in pleasure. She manages to sneak in a quick grope of her own before shifting to face their daughter again, a grin on her lips.

“Last one now, monkey,” she says, stretching out her body with a little yawn, and giving Jareth ample opportunity to wind his arms around her from behind. “Then we'll get you some breakfast. Waffles sound good?”

“Okay, Mummy.”

The queen and her king share a chuckle. It's clear even their daughter's favourite breakfast can't compete with the mystery of her last present. Jareth presses a kiss against Sarah's neck and then rests his chin atop her shoulder, watching as Sonia drags the gold-wrapped gift onto the rug then proceeds to tear into it.

When she finally uncovers the beautiful blonde queen in all her regal finery, her eyes positively sparkle. “Daddy,” she whispers.

Jareth, midway through sneaking a subtle handful of his wife's breast, pauses. “Come again?”

“Dad-dy,” Sonia repeats more slowly, then giggles as she smiles down at her new toy. One stubby fingernail circles the doll's face through its plastic packaging, stroking across the crown of its golden head, and then tapping right between its painted eyes – that pale blue, highlighted by a brush of silver eye shadow. “It's you, Daddy,” she says, with the firmness that only a young and perhaps slightly spoiled princess can muster. “Look, she's got your glitter and everything! And her dress is so pretty!” Her bright little smile only widens as she lifts up both her new dollies, one box in each hand, to make their official introductions. “Queen Mummy and Queen Daddy!”

Sarah covers her mouth to hide a smile. Jareth only sighs. “I suppose I'll take it.”