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THE CARNIVAL SAGA

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CARNIVAL IN VENICE

Sarah looked out through the hotel window and glanced at the sky. It was overcast but not raining. She had already realized that Venice in February was a rather chilly place, and she was very glad that she had brought her cashmere woolen overcoat along. "Maybe that's why they have their carnival at this dismal time of the year when it is neither winter nor spring," she mused. The ongoing carnival certainly provided the city with a glittering and slightly mad framework. The days and the evenings were full of events, beautiful parades, open air theater, special music and dance shows, art exhibitions and parties all over town.

Sarah was in Venice on a special scholarship attending courses on the Commedia dell'Arte Theater. It was really a dream come true. She had hardly been able to believe her luck when the application had gone through. Then came the hard part of convincing Dad and Karen that she was old enough to be on her own in Italy.

"Dad, I'm twenty years old, and I already have an independent life at college," she had persuaded her father.

It was trickier with Karen, who absolutely refused to even consider her going at first.

"You have never been abroad before. You can't compare it in any way with college here in the States."

"But, listen, I'm not going to be on my own. I'm going to attend classes, there will be other students and teachers," Sarah had pleaded.

Finally, her stepmother had given in but only after a lengthy contact with the international college, which organized the programs, and after herself choosing the student hotel where Sarah was to stay for her sojourn in Venice. Karen had also taken the initiative to contact the family of another student from Sarah's college, who was going to Venice at the same time, and it was agreed upon that the two girls should stay at the same hotel.

Sarah, who knew Frances only by sight before their leaving for Europe together, found that Frances was a quiet, dreamy and easygoing companion, and she didn't disturb Sarah in any way. Sarah also found that she enjoyed having someone in the foreign city to share her meals and evenings with, at least in the beginning. Soon enough Sarah had a lot of new student friends from all over the world, and both her days and evenings were by now very busy.

Sarah and Frances had already attended a couple of private parties in Venice, invited by Italians, who themselves were engaged in either the international college or the theaters in the city. It had been an exhilarating experience. As everyone's burning interest was the theater, the party often started out with a play enacted in the courtyard of an old house or palace. No other stage setting or props were necessary. Sarah saw "Romeo and Juliet" for the first time in such a surrounding, and it was pure magic.

In the beginning, Sarah had faithfully written home about everything that happened to her, but as the hectic weeks bore on, her letters became more and more summary; she certainly didn’t entertain her father and stepmother with accounts of parties that ended in the wee morning hours and if telling about an especially interesting museum or sight she had visited outside Venice, she didn't reveal that the visit had included an overnight in the country together with friends.

********************

This morning she had decided to go shopping before classes began. She had promised to find something special for Toby. Toby, now six years old, had been heartbroken when she left. Italy might as well have been the end of the world. He couldn't even imagine how far away it was; Sarah had had to comfort him endlessly, promising to call him and speak to him over the phone when she arrived in Venice, all to reassure him of that she was still alive.

"You are not going into the Underground again?" he had wailed in real fear.

And Sarah had felt a pang of uneasiness and fear herself. Since their joint adventure in the Labyrinth, she had come to feel very close to Toby, and she loved her little brother with a protective, almost motherly love. She felt as if she was the only one in the whole world, who was able to protect him from all the evil that lurked out there.

When Toby first had mentioned the Labyrinth and their ordeal there, Sarah had been greatly alarmed and confused. How could he remember anything about what had happened to him there? He was but a baby at the time? In the end, she accepted that Toby did indeed remember, and she concluded that the Labyrinth had put its eternal mark on Toby as well as on her. She also became aware of that it was only to her that Toby ever mentioned the Labyrinth. It was their secret not to be shared with anyone else.

Sarah wrapped her coat around her and grabbed her books and bags and left the hotel in a hurry. She didn't intend to return until later in the afternoon. It had started to rain after all, and she cursed herself for forgetting the umbrella. Maybe if she took refuge in her favorite church nearby for a little while until the rain stopped?

She had found this little church just by accident one day when — feeling the urgent need just to be alone for a while — she had ducked in there to avoid an unwanted encounter. It wasn't a place that tourists visited; hard to determine what style it was built in, rebuilt and redecorated countless of times, but it suited her needs for privacy. She could sit down in a corner, well hidden behind Gothic pillars and not be seen by anyone. At the altar, there was a beautiful statue of Maria with the Jesus child that, in a way, reminded her of herself and Toby. So she had made it a habit to go into this church almost every day just to collect her thoughts and to contemplate. Now she made her way cautiously through the aisle not to disturb the few worshippers, who were around at this time of the day, and she sank gratefully down on the bench and finally allowed herself to think about Jareth.

********************

Sarah remembered feeling so strong and exhilarated just after having returned from the Underground, reveling in the thought of having defeated him at his game. But after a while this feeling wore off and was replaced with a nagging uncertainty. She saw her friends Hoggles, Ludo and Sir Didymus often enough, but no one ever mentioned Jareth's name. Soon it became an obsession to her to know about him, to know what he was doing. She started to ask furtive questions but only got evasive answers.

When yet a year had passed, she confronted herself with the truth and admitted that Jareth was constantly in her mind, and she realized that he, in his own way, had defeated her. She was no longer dictating the conditions for their relationship — if there was a relationship worth mentioning.

Suddenly she started to feel his presence around her. She didn't see him or hear him, but she was absolutely sure of that he was around. And she would never forget the night when he finally reappeared.

It was an unusually dark and dismal night. A storm was raging outside, and she was alone with Toby in the house. Dad and Karen were away for the weekend visiting friends. Sarah felt anguish and anxiety and found it totally impossible to sleep. She had stayed up by the fire in the living room reading a book but couldn't concentrate. Finally, she threw the book aside and went to the window. The rain was pouring down outside. She put both her hands against the window pane and whispered fretfully

"Jareth?" — "Jareth, are you there? Why don't you show yourself to me?"

And at that very moment she could see him reflected in the glass.

She got so immensely scared that she lost her balance and fell to the floor. When she had recovered her composure, she looked around, and her eyes fell on a pair of black, high-heeled boots. As her eyes traveled upwards, she saw his legs covered in skintight black leather, a billowing cream-white silk shirt underneath his cape of black feathers, and finally she saw his face surrounded with his wild, spiky, shoulder-length, blonde hair. He regarded her coolly with an amused air, and his lips were curled into his ever-present mocking but gentle smile.

"Missed me?" It was more a statement than a question really.

"Why can't you leave me alone?" she cried out in exasperation.

"But really, Sarah," he laughed softly and lowered himself to her level, sitting down leaning back on his heels. "Don't you think that is a pretty wild accusation under the circumstances? What do you mean that I’ve done during the last year that has been such a bother to you? I must say that I have done nothing but kept away."

Sarah began to cry, "You are here all the time. I want you to leave me alone!!"

"Is that why you called me just now?" At which Sarah cried even harder.

Jareth tsked gently and began drying her tears with his gloved hand, and finally he brought out a big handkerchief in silk with lace trimmings, gave it to her and made her blow her nose. At last she calmed down enough to be able to look at him and talk to him.

"I can't stop thinking about you," she admitted at last and observed for a fleeting moment that her remark triggered an expression in his eyes that she couldn't interpret.

"Do you blame me for that?" he ventured cautiously.

"Yes," she said defiantly "I do think that you are doing this to me on purpose!"

He laughed softly. "You overestimate me and underestimate yourself."

When she looked as if she was starting to cry again, he rose to his feet, took hold of her gently but firmly, lifted her effortlessly in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. Sarah got frantic for a moment not knowing what he was about to do and began beating his chest with her clenched fists.

"Come, come now. Stop playing around. It is definitely time for bed," he admonished and secured her hands with one of his.

She relaxed at last and let him slip her between the sheets. He tucked the blanket around her and sat down beside her on the bed.

"I will never harm you, you must believe that," he murmured soothingly like a lullaby in her ear and began stroking her thick, dark hair.

Sarah felt drowsy and sleepy as a feeling of warmth emanating from him enveloped her. When he rose to leave, she felt panic again and reached out for him, grabbing hold of his arm.

"Please, don't go yet," she pleaded, and she could feel him hesitate for a fraction of a second.

Then he lay down beside her on the bed, on top of the covers. He put his arms around her. She permitted herself to let go and just indulge in his nearness, hiding behind the fact that she was almost asleep and no longer could be held entirely responsible for her acts. She nuzzled her nose into his silk shirt and deeply inhaled the scent of his skin. It was intoxicatingly sweet, and she started to tingle all over; that was the last thing she was conscious of before falling asleep.

When Sarah woke up next morning, she thought that everything that had happened to her the previous night had been a dream — until she found the silk handkerchief under her pillow. She had then to admit to herself that he had been there, in her room in her bed. The revelation left her shaky and bewildered. She waited for him to appear again the next night, but he didn't come. She heard nothing from him and saw nothing of him for several weeks, and she was despairing again.

Then, one brilliant sunny afternoon, when she sought relief from the sultry heat under the big trees in the garden, all of a sudden he was there, standing in front of her, looking as cool and unperturbed as ever. When she asked where he had been all the time since their last meeting, he merely stated that he had been busy, not elaborating on the subject. She felt a pang of jealousy and wondered to herself, whether he had been occupied with more zealous and silly young girls in his Labyrinth, who had wished away their brothers. But when she saw a faint knowing, wicked glimmer in his eyes, she got the uneasy feeling that he could read her mind, and she tried desperately to think of something neutral; she sought to get through to him, but he was absent-minded, haughty and rather unpleasant during the entire visit and when he left, she wondered dismally why he had shown up at all. The next days she was dejected and depressed, and Karen thought that she was ill and wanted her to see a doctor. Sarah refused however and crouched stubbornly like a wounded animal in her room, suffering through sleepless nights with hot, dry eyes, burning from unshed tears.

When she thought that she could stand no more of this and had to find a way to end it, he came to her room one night a week later and lay down beside her on the bed. For fear of him disappearing again if she made a false move, she didn't dare say a word, but merely turned towards him and touched his face, just to make sure he was real. She traced the outlines of his fine-boned features, feeling that he had shut his eyes and that his mouth was not smiling. He caught her hand and kissed her fingertips lightly. Then he wrapped his arms around her and sighed in her hair. The hard knot in her chest untied, and blood began to pulsate again through her whole body. She sank into her relief as if going down into a coma, and she almost instantly fell asleep without having uttered a word to him.

He came back to her during several nights like this. Sarah reached the point of not being able to go to sleep if he wasn't there, holding his arms around her. ‘He is becoming an addiction to me,' she thought to herself. Then he was gone again for more than a month before turning up the next time, on this occasion full of mocking glee and mischief.

So, Sarah saw a pattern develop, and she could do nothing of her own will to change it. Jareth came and went into her life just as he pleased. He didn't inform her about his comings and goings, and the mood he was in when he appeared, was totally unpredictable. Sarah became very apprehensive, never knowing from one moment to the other whether she was going to meet an ice-cold, wicked stare or a soft, amused gleam from his mismatched eyes; whether he was going to taunt and ridicule her or wrap his arms around her for comfort.

By the time her application for the scholarship went through around Christmas, Sarah hadn't been in contact with Jareth for over a month, and she didn't see him or hear from him before she left for Europe. In Venice, she was so busy with all new impressions and everything new happening to her that she didn't think about Jareth at first. But he gradually returned to her thoughts, and she started to wonder whether he knew that she was in Italy and decide after a while that if he was capable of reading her mind and appear and disappear at will, he must surely know that she was here by now.

A week earlier in a record shop in the center of Venice, she became acutely aware of his presence again. She had sauntered in there and was browsing through the CDs trying to find some soft and relaxing music that would help her go to sleep at night, when the shop assistant, at the request of a customer, put on a CD to be played over the shop's loudspeaker system. She instantly recognized Queen and their beautiful song "Who Wants To Live Forever?", and she felt as if something hard hit her in the chest. She knew with certainty that Jareth was around somewhere nearby and that he wanted to make his presence known to her. She couldn't explain to herself why she knew for certain that it was a message from him; she couldn't either have explained it to anyone else without sounding ridiculous. She just knew with every fiber in her body that it was so.

Since that day a week ago, she had had a fever in her body, a terrible unrest that made her look for him everywhere. Why didn't he show himself to her?

********************

Sarah opened her eyes again and looked up into the church ceiling, far above her head. She threw a glance at her watch and realized that she had been sitting there almost an hour, lost in her thoughts. She sighed and decided that she would have to postpone looking for presents for Toby to another day. If she didn't leave now, she would be late for class. She left the comforting stillness of the church and went out into the street. Luckily, it had stopped raining. She ran to catch the next vaporetto that would take her downtown.

Almost out of breath Sarah came running into the courtyard of the institution, where today's lecture was going to take place. She rushed up to the benches where the other students were already sitting waiting and dropped down beside Frances, who had kept a seat for her.

"You're late!" Frances whispered exasperated.

"Yes, yes, I'm sorry but I was delayed at the hotel" Sarah lied avoiding eye contact.

Class today was going to be a demonstration of how the Commedia dell'Arte Theater had made its influence over the Mime Theater, and a group of Italian mimes was going to enact a classic comedy from the Commedia repertoire in their own way. Signor Bertoldi, one of the teachers at the international college and their special instructor, moved in front of the group to introduce the actors and the play.

It proved to be a magical afternoon as the age-old story of love and deceit unraveled before them. Pedrolino was forever crying under a tree because his beloved Columbina only had eyes for the dashing Arlechino, who in his turn was only interested in how to get the most out of Pantalone before his employer Il Capitano found out that Arlechino was beating him to the fortune. Frances, who was particularly fascinated by Mime Theater, sat entranced through the performance and didn't observe Sarah fidgeting by her side. Although the show was interesting enough, Sarah couldn't concentrate, and she didn't take part in the discussion, which took place afterwards.

After classes, Sarah followed her friends to the canteen but found that she wasn't very hungry and only had some grapes for lunch. Frances admonished her and tried to persuade her to have some pasta, but Sarah couldn't even think of food just right now. Instead, she joined the discussion at a nearby table concerning the plans for the evening. ‘Anything' she thought mentally gritting her teeth ‘but staying in my room alone with my thoughts.'

Sarah finally made a date for later on in the evening and then realized that she felt exhausted. She excused herself and started for home. Frances cast a worried glance after her. Frances sensed keenly that something was profoundly disturbing Sarah at the moment, but as Sarah wouldn't confide in her, there was nothing that Frances could do to help her.

Sarah stepped off the vaporetto and went through the small, winding street, leading to the old beautiful building, housing the student hotel she was living in for the moment. A young family was managing the hotel and did it very efficiently. Sarah stopped at the reception to see if there were any mails or other messages for her, but her box was empty, and her heart sank again. Even if she wouldn't admit it to herself, she waited every day for a sign from Jareth, but none had come so far. She felt tears stinging her eyes, and she had to compose herself through pure will so as not to reveal to the young man, who smiled at her from behind the desk, how upset and unhappy she felt.

Sarah had her room at the top floor in the house, which meant that she had to climb four stairs every day, but she didn't mind; the view from her room was breathtaking, overlooking the canal and all the pastel-colored houses that lounged along it. Even before she reached the fourth landing, she could hear that the radio was playing in her room.

"For heaven's sakes," she burst out aloud, "I don't mind Gina turning on the radio when she is tidying up the room, but I would appreciate it if she could remember to turn it off when she is ready!"

Her steps echoed in the empty corridor, and abruptly she became aware of the music emanating from her room. David Bowie was singing "Loving The Alien." And just like in the record shop the other day, she froze in her tracks and felt the hair stand on end at the back of her neck, and she knew then without any doubt that Gina had nothing to do with this. She entered her room cautiously not knowing what to expect.

At first, the room looked quite normal to her; then she spotted the box on the bed and the large, cream-colored envelope on top of it.

Sarah approached the bed as if a cobra lay sleeping there. She picked up the embossed envelope and saw that it was adorned with a golden crown. She carefully eased out the card inside and read with rising alarm: "Prince Stefano di Corsari and his family would be greatly pleased to welcome Miss Sarah Williams to their home tonight for supper and dance at 9:00 p.m."

Sarah didn't know Prince di Corsari personally but like anyone in Venice, who had the slightest connection to the theater, she knew a lot about him. With his immense fortune, he had on his own fully restored an 18th century theater and without his support the season would be less glamorous to say the least. He sponsored guest-plays by the most fabulous actors and brought in whole foreign theater companies for the season. This year Theatre du Solei from France was due to give two great performances, all thanks to the Prince. The humble mention on the card of "supper and dance" was the understatement of the year. The huge party that was going to take place in Palazzo Corsari had been the talk of the town for weeks. Anyone of any importance would be there, and whoever that had received an invitation on this occasion could stop worrying about the rest of the season; every door would be open in Venice for her or him.

She put the card down and turned to the box. With trembling hands, she opened it. It contained a beautiful evening dress in black georgette silk. She could see at once that it was exquisitely cut, and it had no extra decorations. She gasped when she lifted the dress out of the box because beneath it lay a pair of black lace panties in tanga fashion. The lace work that adorned the front seemed to be handmade, and the back of the panties was — as this model requires — only a piece of silk string that held the panties secured between one's buttocks. They looked truly outrageous. She held out the dress in front of her to examine it. She could see that the front of the dress was only meant to cover the breasts, and it was kept in place with two silk straps that crossed themselves over one's back and were fastened to the skirt at the waistline. The skirt seemed to sway delicately at every movement. Sarah realized that this dress could not be worn with a bra or any other underwear, save perhaps for the tanga-panties.

Sarah laid the dress on the bed and sat down in her chair, drawing up her legs under her, hugging them as if seeking comfort from somewhere. She sat there unmoving for hours thinking of what to do; the velvet evening slowly enveloped the city and still she didn't move.

Finally, she got up.

"Okay Cinderella," she said to the room, "we might as well try these goodies on."

She undressed and hesitantly put the tanga-panties on, feeling the lace tickling her skin. Then she slipped the dress over her head and let it fall down over her body. It felt like a caress, and it could have been made for her; maybe it was. The scanty but beautifully cut front of the dress covered the better part of her breasts but not fully so. When she moved, and the heavy silk moved with her, the outline and roundness of her breasts became just barley and teasingly visible. She took the dress off again and started pacing the room. She knew already that she would go to the party. She felt compelled to.

Half past eight she threw herself in the shower and started getting ready in a fury. She had no time to properly dry her thick, dark hair but toweled it dry the best she could and stroked it wet and shiny away from her forehead and back behind her ears. She put on the panties and the dress, and she took her mother's small diamond earrings and no other jewelry, no watch, no nothing. Then she threw her cashmere overcoat over her shoulders.

"Okay Prince Charming," she addressed the room again through clenched teeth, "here we come!"

When she came down to the reception, the young man managing the desk called out to her. "The gondola you have ordered is waiting for you."

Nothing surprised her anymore.

********************

She left the hotel and went to its landing-place where the gondola waited.

"I want to go to Palazzo Corsari," she said, and the gondolier nodded as if he already knew that.

Venice by night was a magical place. Nothing seemed quite real anymore. Sarah felt as if she was stepping into a dream. The lights of the city had begun gleaming and were reflected in the water surrounding her. The sounds were subdued, and she could distinctly hear the gondolier's oar when he dipped it into the water. She sat alone in the sumptuous gondola and shivered in the dank, cold air. A slightly putrid smell from the canal-water blended with the salty breeze from farther out where the lagoon met the sea.

They left the busy main canals and turned into smaller, quieter waterways. In the distance, Sarah saw the huge Palazzo Corsari ablaze with lights. The palace had been in the Corsari family for several centuries and belonged to the jewels in Venice. Although it threatened to sink into the water like all other old buildings in Venice, it still had an air of vitality around it; maybe because it was still inhabited by people on a daily basis and didn't just function as a museum. The Corsari family had decided though to keep parts of the palace open a couple of days in the week for selected groups to enable the public to see some invaluable works of art.

When Sarah arrived at the landing-place in front of the palace, a servant approached her, helping her out of the gondola. She turned to the gondolier to ask him whether she should pay for the ride, but he had already left the quay and was heading towards the city, a black shadow against the illuminated water.

She made her way to the huge palace gates and followed the servant inside. A doorman, dressed in what seemed to be an original 18th century uniform, reached out to take her coat. If he had thoughts about her cashmere coat among all the full-length furs, nothing in his bland face showed that. She could have been the Queen of Saba for all he cared; he treated her as such. When she finally stood there in the vast entrance in her gorgeous and daring black silk dress, with her still wet hair and only the diamond earrings to adorn her and the air of total innocence about her, she was breathtaking and striking as lightning. She wasn't aware of this, and she didn't observe that people halted for a second on their way into the ballrooms just to look at her.

Another doorman, who guarded the entrance to the ballrooms, took her card and announced her name. Sarah hoped that the message was lost in the general din of the evening and that she could slip into this magic unnoticed. She could see a file of vast rooms, elaborately decorated, stretching out in front of her. The ceilings with huge chandeliers were so high above her head that the paintings up there were almost lost in the shadows. She advanced hesitantly and looked around for any familiar face in the crowd, but she didn't recognize anyone. She observed for the first time that people were staring at her, and she felt a shiver of discomfort. When she looked around again, she could feel them appraising her and trying to get into eye contact with her. She moved quickly farther into the ballrooms and hoped to find something to drink. She felt thirsty all at once. In the distance, she could hear live music and reckoned that the dancing was going on in one of the inner rooms. She looked at the crowd around her and saw that people were wearing just about any kind of costume tonight. She saw the most expensive and beautiful carnival costumes blending with sober evening wear and the most outrageous trash. Some were wearing masks but not everyone. She looked around once more searching feverishly for Jareth. She started to feel a quiet desperation. Where was he? Was he going to leave her here all by herself in this dream or perhaps nightmare?

Suddenly Sarah sensed his presence behind her back. She involuntarily drew her shoulders together as if expecting his hand there, but when he touched her, he softly traced his gloved fingers down her neck and over her shoulder until he reached one of the two tiny silk straps that held the front of her dress in place. When she instinctively wanted to lift her hand to her chest to keep the dress from falling off, she found that she was unable to move and stood frozen, slightly shaking.

"So, you made it after all," Jareth said. "Such a pity had you missed out on the best party of the season. Ah, and by the way, may I compliment you on your choice of dress? A carnival costume tonight would have made you appear just one in the crowd, don't you think so?"

Sarah found that she could move again, and she turned around to face him, making him let go of her dress.

She stopped breathing for a second when she finally confronted him. He was more beautiful and terrible than she remembered him. He was all dressed in black tonight; all the way from the exquisite handmade leather boots; the tights in black silk, looking as if they were molded on his muscular thighs and clinging like skin to his slim hips; the high-collared suede leather jacket carelessly unbuttoned to reveal the soft silk shirt with diamond buttons, open low to the waist. On his ivory-pale chest, the pendant shone almost indecently against all this blackness. His hair sparkled like a silver halo around his beautifully drawn pallid Fay features; shadows and light playing games over his aquiline nose and arched wild eyebrows; his savage and sensual mouth curved into a vicious smile as he sexily wetted his thin lips, for an instant revealing his pointed teeth. She finally lifted her head and looked into his mismatched diamond-hard eyes, one blue and one hazel, and it felt like an impact. He didn't look at her, he looked into her, and she felt as if she couldn't keep a single thing a secret to him.

"I didn't want to come, and I didn't choose the dress!" she blurted out, instantly recognizing how silly and contradictory that sounded under the circumstances and she blushed furiously.

Jareth curved his thin lips into the mocking smile she knew so well. Instead of commenting on the obvious he remarked demurely "However, here you are and more breathtaking than ever."

He let his eyes travel up and down her figure, and she felt it to be offending and an outrage more than an appraisal. He laughed softly and wickedly as if sensing her discomfort. Sarah was on the verge of biting him off with a pert remark when she caught site of the hunger in his dark, brilliant eyes, and a shudder of fear went through her. She knew that he had a purpose with the night ahead of them and she, groping around in the dark, could only smell the danger and guess at the consequences.

The King reached out one of his long slender gloved hands towards her, and Sarah took it. She glanced furtively at him as he languidly and gracefully made his way through the crowd. It was more a fluid movement than a purposeful walk. She had no trouble following him, and this added more than anything to the eerie feeling she had of acting in a dream.

The noise from the crowd sounded like a constant murmur, almost soothing in its monotony. The rooms, which they now passed through, were situated in a row facing the canal and opening out onto a large balcony through numerous windows. In spite of the number of people and all the burning candles — all chandeliers in the ceilings were lit by living candles — Sarah felt cold and shivered slightly.

"Yes, I agree that it is rather chilly tonight," Jareth observed. "Let me get you a glass of wine."

He looked around for a table with refreshments or perhaps a waiter that could help him out but since neither was at hand, he produced a beautiful antique Venetian glass with red wine out of thin air and offered it to her.

"It isn't poison or sleeping-drugs, whatever you might think," he added amusedly, seeing her apprehension.

Sarah drank the wine greedily and realized in an instant that she was both hungry and thirsty, not having had anything to eat since morning. The wine exploded in her veins, and she felt the warmth of it travel through her entire body in seconds. Her cheeks flushed slightly, and there was again a sparkle in her eyes when she turned to him.

"I am hungry too," she said almost in a childish way.

And then she blushed deeply as he leaned down to her and purred in her ear "Well, let's quench that hunger then."

He chuckled deeply in his throat as the innuendo hit home. It was a low, sexy sound, and she closed her eyes and shivered almost to the point of clattering her teeth when he took a strand of her still damp hair in his hand and put it in place behind her ear, sending tingling waves of electricity through her.

Sarah felt being cornered, and her temper rose. "Why do you always try to twist my words around?" she challenged him.

He raised his eyebrows in mock hurt. "Do I?"

Sarah was all exasperated by now, and she almost felt like hitting him as no argument in words seemed to penetrate his guard. Just when she was about to confront him, a party of dancing and singing people came tumbling into the room. It was a mixed bunch, some dressed in beautiful and expensive evening clothes like herself and others in elaborate and fanciful carnival costumes. The two young Italian men leading the dance spotted her and gave a shout of delight.

"Look, Look!! Isn't it ‘Little Black Riding Hood' all alone in the forest!" they chanted and began to circle around her in a mad prancing dance.

All the others joined in, and she found herself standing like a stalked animal in the middle of the ring that wavered and billowed around her ever faster.

"We cannot leave ‘Riding Hood' here at the mercy of the Wolf, we must save her, we must save her!" they sang, and one of the two leaders ventured forward and took hold of her. She looked frantically around for Jareth, but he was gone.

********************

Sarah found herself being swept away like a leaf in a storm. The whole party surged on into one of the vast ballrooms, where the old parquet floor was filled with dancing people, and the immense sofas almost collapsed under the weight of the twisting bodies lounging there.

The young Italian flashed a mischievous smile at her. "I'm Rafael," he informed her. "I've been watching you all evening. You are the most beautiful girl here tonight. Please tell me who you are ‘Riding Hood'."

"I'm Sarah," she smiled at last because he was utterly disarming.

Of course, she didn't believe his pledges — most likely he told every girl that he adored her when he met her — but right at this minute it didn't really matter. She let her guard down and relaxed.

"Sarah who?"

"Sarah will do for you," she laughed.

"Beautiful Sarah, are you hungry? We were just about to eat."

"You bet!" she grinned in earnest and shone up considerably.

Rafael motioned her to stay on the big sofa, where he had put her, and said that he would surprise her with a plate. Other men and women from the party presently came and joined her on the couch or on the floor in front of it carrying plates and wine glasses. A young woman dressed in lace and silk from the 18th century and with a classical carnival mask in front of her face sat down next to her. The woman removed her mask and fanned herself with it. It must have been rather hot and stuffy to wear that thing all evening. She was beautiful indeed, but Sarah found her older than she had expected. Her blonde hair and pallid features were flawless, but she had an air of maturity that one didn't expect to find before seeing her face. She smiled, when seeing Sarah, as if they already knew each other, and Sarah grew uncertain and immediately put up an inner guard.

Rafael came back with a plate loaded with all kinds of delicious things and landed it into Sarah's knee. He then turned to the woman sitting beside her and asked "Anna, shall I get you anything too?"

"Pretty, pretty boy," the woman called Anna smiled. "Yes please, but you can leave that champagne bottle here." She took the Dom Perignon from him and relieved him of some of the glasses that he was carrying.

Anna poured out champagne in two glasses and handed Sarah one.

"Your company," Anna said cautiously, "won't he be missing you?"

"He comes and goes," Sarah murmured evasively. "He will be back later on."

And uttering the words, she knew instantly that this was true. She knew deep down in her soul that Jareth would be back for her tonight, that he wasn't done with her yet. And as the truth dawned upon her, she felt a hot surge hit her stomach, and her knees went all weak. Luckily, she was sitting down.

After a while, Sarah felt heady with the champagne, and she went to the dance floor, unable to sit still anymore. The music was loud and made serious conversation almost impossible, a fact that Sarah welcomed since she didn't want to commit herself in any way this night. Rafael tried to maneuver her into a slow waltz, but she wriggled out of the attempt; she danced with strangers, men and women alike, keeping herself aloof and merely closing her eyes when she felt their hungry and greedy eyes travel her bare shoulders and back. Once or twice she caught sight of Anna, who didn't dance and still sat on the sofa in her beautiful costume and made conversation with whoever was at hand. Most of the time she talked to Rafael and Sarah could feel somehow that they were talking about her.

Then, for a fleeting moment, Sarah thought that she saw Jareth among the dancers. She almost stopped, alarmed, and her dance partner also made an abrupt halt, wondering what had happened. Sarah didn't listen to his anxious questions, but kept looking urgently for Jareth. Had he been dancing? — Who was he dancing with? And then Sarah got an extreme feeling of déjà vu. Without a word, she left her stunned dance partner standing alone on the floor and started to search for Jareth. She knew that she had been through all this once already — in the ballroom in the Labyrinth. She was enacting the ballroom-scene in reality! If this was real . . . She wasn't sure of anything any longer, but that somehow or other Jareth had staged the scene.

Sarah made her way through the dancers and crossed the threshold into another room. She thought she saw Jareth again and headed in his direction, but again she was mistaken. Her heart was now beating wildly, and she felt desperation and a wave of nausea swept over her. In bad need of fresh air, she approached one of the large open windows that left her access to the long balcony facing the canal. She was about to lean herself for support against the gilded window frame when she felt his hot breath on the back of her neck, and his arms encircled her slender waist in an iron-grip. He pulled her close, so close that she felt his pendant leaving marks between her shoulder blades, his whole body outlined against hers. She could feel every detail of him, from his hard thighs against hers and his naked breast through his almost unbuttoned shirt against her bare back.

"Enjoying yourself, Honey?" he whispered as he slowly traced her ear with the tip of his tongue.

She didn't trust her legs anymore and leaned against him for support as wave after wave of heat washed over her. Before she had time to collect herself and answer, he turned her around in his arms, and she saw his smiling mouth. The rest of his face was in shadows that didn't reveal the expression of his eyes. She could only see them glimmer at her in the dark.

"I want to finish the dance we once started, Sarah," he said, gently but firmly moving her out on the dance floor.

She moved with him but only at his will. She wasn't sure though that it was the dance in particular that he wanted to finish tonight. In the ballroom in the Underground, there had been a certain air of romance, which wasn't present here; here, the mood was filled with more frenzy, the pulse was beating stronger, the music was louder and he held her more tightly.

He was an expert dancer, and she only had to follow him; it was as if they were floating an inch above the floor, not touching the ground. She realized that he had removed his gloves when he pressed both his hands to her naked back. She flinched involuntarily as if burnt with red-hot irons. He entwined his fingers in the tiny silk straps of her dress that lay crossed over her back. Her eyes widened in apprehension as she envisaged that he was going to pull the straps down over her shoulders and expose her breasts. He grinned mischievously showing his feral teeth when he spotted the alarm in her eyes.

"No, no, dear Sarah," he cooed soothingly in her ear and then added teasingly, "of course I wouldn't dream of undressing you here in front of all these people. They don't deserve to be offered such a delight!"

Her eyes darkened as anger rose in her throat. Furiously she tried to free herself from his grip.

"My God," she hissed fiercely. "What am I to you? A toy? A thing?"

She managed to get an arm free, and she slapped his face. And regretted it almost at once because his face froze, and his eyes darkened. She flinched as if expecting him to hit her back.

"I don't hit women," he bit out barely audible through his clenched teeth.

Then he kissed her.

They had stopped dancing and were standing body to body in the middle of the dance floor in the surge of the crowd. He still held her with one arm tightly secured against his body. With his free hand, he took a hard grip over her neck and forced her to turn her face up to him. Then he sucked at her lower lip and bit her, just hard enough to make her cry out. He slid his tongue into her mouth gently and urgently probing every corner of it. He licked her lips and then covered her mouth with his, pressing his teeth against hers, devouring her. She shuddered and fell into him, grabbing hold of the soft leather of his jacket for support. Her entire body was on fire; a fire making its way relentlessly from her thighs over her belly and breasts to the beating pulses on her throat and finally reaching her swollen lips. She opened her eyes wide and looked at his face, austere and drawn, a mask of desire. Never in her life had she been kissed in such a way. It was lovemaking in itself. She reached out for him tentatively, responding, wanting to touch him everywhere, suddenly not getting enough of him. With a trembling hand, she traced the outline of his lips. He stood absolutely still, but she could feel him shaking too under her touch. He took hold of her hand and started kissing each finger in turn, finally licking her palm.

"What do you want from me?" she whispered.

His face softened, his eyes regained their mocking glitter, and his lips curled into a wolfish grin

"Why, you of course, all of you."

Before she could comment on that, not knowing whether he made a fool of her or not, he loosened his tight grip on her, but took hold of her arm, perhaps to support her because she stumbled slightly.

"Come," he added in a light voice. "There are things that I like to show you."

He took her with him towards a huge door in the ballroom that seemed to exit out onto a garden within the palace. In the corner of her eye, she became aware of that Rafael and Anna were having an argument. Rafael was gesticulating and evidently shouting something, and Anna put a hand on his chest and tried to calm him. When Jareth passed the group, still holding Sarah securely by the arm, Anna let go of Rafael. She turned to Jareth, curtsied and said in a low, pleasant voice "Good evening, Your Majesty." Jareth turned his face to her and made an elegant bow. But he didn't make any comments.

Sarah, however, felt a pang of uneasiness and insecurity and she whispered flustered "You know her?"

"I know many people here tonight," he remarked calmly, but he didn't elaborate on the subject and kept walking with easy grace towards the garden door.

They came out into what appeared to be an atrium, an outdoor enclosure in the middle of the palace. When Sarah looked up, she could see the stars glimmering above her. An aromatic and flowery smell emanated from the bushes and trees around them. Jareth didn't stop but kept walking towards a flight of steps leading down to yet another level. She could faintly hear the beat of heated music. The rhythm was sensual and throbbing. She caught herself thinking of the Rio Carnival instead of this one in Venice. He stopped before descending, released his hold on her arm and turned to her. It seemed as if he hesitated just slightly before entering the room below.

"Feel like playing games?" There was a malicious glint in his eyes, and the smile on his thin lips was more vicious than mocking now. "The stakes are so much higher this time than the last time we had a go at it, you realize that, don't you?"

He looked intently into her eyes as if seeking the answer there.

Sarah's heart was now beating so fast that she thought that he would be able to hear it. He reached out his hand and outlined the delicate curve of her breast that was revealed by the loose and heavy fall of the silk material, which made up the front of her dress. Her nipples hardened and she knew that it showed through the supple silk. He moved his hand yet again and touched her nipples, brushing over them. He might as well have put at torch against her skin because she felt the heat in her body exploding again like pain. She found that she couldn't, wouldn't, withdraw. His touch was achingly arousing and she squirmed under it; she knew and could see that none of this escaped him. His intent seemed to be deadly, and he was killing her with caresses. Lust, desire, naked hunger, all feelings played like light and shadows on his face and something else, extremely terrible and frightening, that she couldn't yet name, was there in his eyes. He scared her, he taunted her, and she wanted him so badly that she was shaking with the need.

"Not yet, my little one," he purred deep in is throat, as if reading her thoughts, and then he bent down over her, sought the tender spot behind her ear and placed a feathery kiss there, moving on to her earlobe that he took in his mouth and sucked on it, twirling his tongue around her diamond earring.

‘Why is it that I can't resist him?' she wondered in desperation. ‘I can't let him do this to me.' And to regain control of herself she broke free. He let go of her, but the smile on his mouth told her that he did it because it suited him and not because she forced him.

"Come, come," he urged again.

When they entered the room, Sarah could see beautiful young girls in elaborate silk dresses dancing in the center. They were swaying to the beat of the heavy music as if in a trance. The room was in semidarkness, and the rest of the guests seemed more or less to be part of the shadows. As the beat quickened and one girl in particular began to move her body in trashing convulsions, some of the men moved in around her and started to touch her everywhere. With quick, violent movements, they tore off the silk that covered her body, and she didn't seem to even notice that she was naked. They looked like at flock of vultures going down on their prey. She was now totally at their mercy. The men lifted the girl onto a table, pinning her down to it. They parted her legs and exposed her. Then one of the men opened his fly, brought out his engorged member and plunged it with a savage thrust into the girl who let out a wailing cry. With a few strokes, like an animal, he was done with her, and the others were now taking their turn to abuse her. The girl was rolling her head from one side to the other on the table, hardly conscious any longer. But after a while the nature of her cries started to change, the wailing turned to lustful moans, and she soon climaxed in total abandon.

Sarah cried out too and turned to Jareth, mouth still open now with a silent cry. He looked at her with fierce fathomless eyes.

"I want to leave!" she cried. "Please let me go, please let me leave this place!!"

He didn't answer but again took hold of her upper arm to keep her from running away.

"I hate you, I hate you!!" Sarah screamed and tried with all her might to free herself from his iron-grip. "Why do you want to show me this sordid and evil scene? Is it something that you enjoy?"

"Show you what?" He arched his eyebrows in mock surprise.

Sarah stopped in her tracks and turned abruptly to the dance floor, but the men and the ravished girl were nowhere to be seen. All confused by now and rage and fear mounting inside her, she whirled around yet again to face him

"How dare you use your evil tricks on me!" she shouted. "How can you be so cruel to me? What have I done to you?!"

For loss of words at last, she raised her free hand and began to hit him. He had no trouble though catching her hand in mid air and securing it to his chest. She tried to jerk her hand away, his skin burning her fingers.

"Ah, cruelty now, that's an interesting subject!" He flashed his eyes towards her and his voice took on an edge all of a sudden. "You can never be sure whether what happened out there on the dance floor was a trick of mine or not, can you? I use cruelty when it serves my purpose. Just like you do. You and I are very much alike, my dear Sarah, much more than you would like to admit."

"No, let me finish," he interrupted as she drew a breath and with flaming eyes and flushed cheeks wanted to contradict him.

"I know you better maybe than you know yourself. And I know, ever since our first meeting five years ago, that you have the potential for cruelty within you. You can be as cruel as I can be, I have already said that to you once before, and that is why we match each other so well. I knew then, and I know now that you would kill to protect what you think belongs to you and to get what you want. You once nearly killed me."

Sarah's eyes widened as she in a flash remembered the last moments of her stay in the Underground. She could see him so vividly in front of her, promising the world to her, to be her slave and to love her always, pleading with her to accept his terms and let go of Toby and how she had crumbled him with her words.

Her heart sank and a chill descended upon her ‘What is he going to do to me? Is this revenge for what I once did to him? Has he waited this long to destroy me?' The frantic questions kept swirling around in her head and made her dizzy with fear.

She started to draw backwards towards the wall trying with all her might to find a way to escape. With each step she took, he followed and then they were standing at the wall, she with her back to it and he covering her with his body so close that she could feel every inch of him, and his hot breath was on her face.

"I want to leave!" she cried again in anguish.

"No, you don't," he whispered silkily into her ear. "Don't lie to me. You can't lie to me; you know that, don't you?"

The rage and fear were almost choking her by now and it was fueled by the fact that she felt her body betraying her. He was so close, and the heat from him ignited her skin. As if sensing this, he pressed himself even closer to her, and she gasped and opened her eyes wide when she felt his arousal, his manhood growing hard against her belly. He swiftly bowed his head and kissed her hard on the neck, leaving a mark there; maybe wanting to leave his mark on her.

She finally felt something snap within her, and her legs buckled under her. She wanted to cry, to hit him, to run away from him, to cling to him and kiss him so much that it hurt and so that she could make him cry out in anguish and pleasure too. When he felt her fall, he lifted her in a swift, smooth movement and gathered her up in his arms. She took hold of him and buried her face against his neck, just above the high collar of his leather jacket, where his skin was all soft and exposed. He carried her out of the room hurriedly with quick, silent steps.

********************

He went upstairs in the palace, and the sound of the party and the music gradually subsided until all the sounds Sarah could hear was the echo of his footsteps against the marble floor in an endlessly long galleria and the furious beating of his heart in her ear. She could feel him clench and unclench his jaw, and he held her close to him in an embrace that was as gentle as it was brutal.

Suddenly he stopped and kicked a door open with his boot. He entered quickly, put her down on an enormous canopied bed and shut and locked the door behind them with a snap of his fingers.

The silence and stillness around them were deafening. She sat up at the end of the bed and looked at him standing in front of her, arms folded, his face in the shadows.

"Where are we?" she whispered. "We can't stay here, someone will find us."

"I can bring the Underground with me if I need to," he replied under his breath. "As far as the crowd downstairs is concerned, we don't exist to them just right now. No one knows where we are, no one will ever find us here."

"And no one will miss you," he added.

He slowly began to pace the floor in front of her. She could see him moving in the light from the big window, ablaze with moonlight. She felt like being in the presence of a huge wild animal, a black panther stalking its prey, and she started to shiver uncontrollably.

He moved closer to her, looming over her. She shrank back a little and tried to swallow her rising fears. Then he knelt in front of her to come level to her face. He moved closer to her body, gently caressing her legs, forcing them apart and all the while pushing her dress up towards her waist.

"Please don't hurt me," she said in a small voice.

"Shhh…" He put a finger on her lips. "I will never hurt you. I have already promised you that."

Then, in an agonizingly slow movement he pulled the tiny silk straps from her shoulders, let the heavy silk fall down to her waist and uncovered her breasts. She gasped as she felt the cool air against her skin, and then she cried out as he leaned in against her and took one of her nipples in his mouth. She wasn't prepared for the surge of exquisite pleasure that hit her when he started to suck her nipple and twist his tongue around it. Weakly she wanted to fall back onto the bed but he surprised her again when he took her other nipple between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed it hard. The blazing pain turned into excruciating pleasure, and her blood started to pound between her legs in rhythm with the raging beating of her heart. He immediately eased the pain with his mouth, blowing wet kisses all over her breasts.

He put an arm around her waist and drew her closer still towards his body, moving further in between her legs. She thought wildly that he must be able to feel her pulse and the oncoming rush of wetness below by now, since all that separated her mound from his naked breast, was the flimsy lace of the tanga-panties.

He continued to fondle her breasts with his free hand and his mouth, and she closed her eyes tightly and arched her back, closing the gap between them further, feeling an unexpected need not to lose contact with his supple fingers and soft lips. She heard a low sound from him, more like a vibration than a sound, as he feathered kisses and nibbling bites all over her bosom and stomach, leaving traces of his teeth on her breasts as he licked and sucked at them again.

He got to his feet at last and removed the dress from her. When she lost contact with his body and for a moment believed her free, she made a dash for the door as if by reflex. He had anticipated as much, for he caught her in a swift, merciless grip and secured her body against his with his strong arms as if trapping her in a vise.

"Where would you go?" he breathed softly against her mouth.

She stopped fighting and leaned panting towards him and then flinched as she got in touch with his rock-hard, throbbing erection.

He chuckled amusedly as she gazed up at him, eyes two dark liquid pools. "Yes, Honey, that is what you do to me."

She saw his smiling mouth, but when she looked into his smoldering eyes, they were not smiling. Instead, she recognized in them his carnal hunger, his terrible desire and craving for her, and she caught her breath with a hitching sound in her throat. Her skin went on fire, and she amazed herself with her need to touch him and began furtively to explore and caress him. He let out a deep shuddering sigh and threw his head back.

Then he bore down on her, savagely biting, kissing her neck just below her ear. She could feel his sharp teeth grating her skin, and she whimpered grabbing hold of his shirt for support, the pulse in her throat fluttering like a bird caught in a cage. He wrapped his arms around her and pressed her into is body so hard that the diamond buttons in his shirt and his pendant hurt her and left marks on her breasts. All the time she could hear him moaning low deep down in his throat, and he was still moaning when he started to kiss her. He forced her mouth open and filled it with his tongue. He licked and sucked her lips and bit her tongue. He licked her nostrils and her cheeks and then he covered her mouth again. It was as if he wanted to eat her alive. She tried to gasp for air, almost fainting by now.

He pushed her back onto the bed among the down-filled pillows, his weight pressing her down as he followed. She breathed raggedly, and her chest rose and fell in frenzy. He rolled to the side and put his hand on her belly and ran it over her in long, calming strokes and eventually her anxiety subsided. It was but a brief pause though, being in the eye of the hurricane as she was. His hand moved to the exquisite lace of the tanga-panties, and he began to finger the trimmings. He took hold of her and turned her around in the bed and played with the silk string of the panties, all the while tracing the supple roundness of her bare buttocks with his fingertips. She was squirming under his touch by now, fighting to turn around again, feeling utterly helpless in this position. She managed to face him again only to have him take a firm grip of the panties and rip them off her in one savage pull.

Now she lay completely naked in front of him, dark hair spilt like ink over the pillow, flushed cheeks and erect nipples, her eyes wild and pleading at the same time.

"I want you naked too," she whispered with a shaking voice and started to tug at his shirt.

He got on his knees in the bed and pulled off the jacket, the shirt and the pendant and exposed his smooth pale chest, where the muscles rippled under his soft skin with every movement he made. Then he kicked off his boots and removing his black tights, freed his achingly hard manhood. She opened her mouth slightly and took in the sight of him; he was so incredibly beautiful in his state of arousal. The throbbing between her legs was becoming almost unbearable, and she just had to touch him. She reached out her hand and put it around his velvet hardness. He groaned and involuntarily jerked, raising his hips to her hand. Then he gently removed her hand not wanting her to bring him over the edge just yet.

He stretched her out in the bed and began caressing her belly moving down to her mound, covered with dark springy curls. She gave a cry and tried weakly to stop his hand, but he parted her legs and began slowly but insistently to fondle her most private part, rubbing her wetness all over it, slowly inserting a finger in her throbbing tight channel as his thumb found her clit and began to flick it. She emitted small panting moans all the time and arched her back against his hand, dying if she lost contact with him. He then bent down over her and started licking her folds from the bottom and up until he reached her most sensitive spot. He took her clit in his mouth and flicked his tongue around it and inserted yet another finger into her. Sarah screamed now, a long wailing cry of need, and she frantically entangled her fingers in his hair as if to make him stop and end this terrible pleasure. Then she tightened, feeling her whole body contract around his fingers and orgasmed for the first time in her life. All the while he kept licking her and fondling her, kissing her thighs and biting the silky soft skin of her folds. Over and over again she climaxed as he brought her over the edge with the intense pleasure he gave her with his fingers and lips.

She opened her eyes as she felt him leave her body, and she moaned craving more. But he was only going to shift position so that he could kiss her mouth again. She feverishly started to move her hands over his body almost scared of herself now, wanting him so badly that she would die if he left her there unappeased. He looked down at her and saw the need and desire mounting in her eyes.

"Do you want it now?" he whispered huskily with a shaking voice, betraying his own need. She nodded, but he insisted "Say it, say that you want it. Say that you want me!"

"I want you, Jareth," she groaned "I want you, I want you! Please take me! Undo me! Kill me if you like! But give me the pleasure now!"

Then she heard a sound from him that was a mixture of a roar and a cry, and he took hold of her thighs and parted her legs so that she lay all open in front of him, and he entered her with one swift movement, pushing himself up to the hilt deep inside her. She cried when the pain hit her, and she couldn't help the tears sting her eyes. He immediately softened his strokes and started to kiss away her tears, one by one. He forced himself to lie almost still for a moment inside her, but as the pain lessened and was replaced by utter pleasure she dug her nails into his buttocks and pressed herself towards him.

"Kill me, kill me!" she hissed through clenched teeth, and he started to move inside her with long, furious strokes, filling her up to the brim, stretching her tender walls to the utmost, finding every sensitive spot within her, and when she started to tighten her muscles around him and spasm after spasm began to shake her, and when she screamed his name as the last control snapped, his whole body tensed and with an anguished groan he released himself and shot his seed deep into her again and again until he was all spent. Then he collapsed on top of her, and they lay quiet in the bed at last, sweat glistening limbs still entangled, the rhythm of their lovemaking slowing down, heart beating against heart, his head heavy on her breast and, in the end, an infinite solace seeping through their bodies, bringing them mercifully to oblivion.

********************

Sarah woke up, and she didn't know what time it was. There was no clock in the room, and she hadn't brought a watch. But the moon was gone, and the sky wasn't pitch-black any longer. She eased herself up in a sitting position and looked down at Jareth sleeping by her side, his arm over her body. She felt sore all over, and she blushed although she was alone but for her sleeping lover when she remembered their lovemaking. It was still a wonder to her that she had been capable of this abandon.

She gazed again at Jareth and realized that she had never really looked at him properly. He was certainly the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Never had she met with anyone where pure, raw sex, subtle eroticism, beauty, force, powerful evil and languid, easy grace blended and made up an entity in the way it did in him, making a perfect and unique being. Now she looked closely at him and found that when his eyes were closed and his face and body at ease, there was also something vulnerable about him. He looked almost fragile there in the bed beside her. She scrutinized his face closely for the first time. There were small lines at the corner of his mouth and finely drawn blue veins on his eyelids; she found that he had long dark eyelashes almost like a girl. His cheekbones were angular and pointed with the skin drawn tightly over them. This feature gave his face a sharp and rather austere look that was softened only by his sensual mouth, at rest for the moment, the mocking smile gone from his soft and sensitive lips. She couldn't help herself, but she wanted so much to touch him and very lightly she caressed his face and chest. He made a small sound and just turned a little, securing her closer to him with his heavy arm.

She mused about his words from yesterday. He had talked about cruelty, and she had feared his revenge. But surely he didn't hate her now? How could he have made love to her in that way if he hated her? He couldn't have wanted to destroy her, could he?

She turned her gaze towards the window and stared at it as the awful truth started to dawn on her.

He had destroyed her in a way. He had.

She continued to stare at the window now without seeing it anymore.

"I love him," she said in an anguished voice to the room. "I have loved him since I first met him five years ago."

Her thoughts trailed to the fatal day when she had carelessly invoked this fate on her without thinking twice. She had more or less blundered into his world and had had no inkling whatsoever that she was walking on quicksand the moment she set foot in the Labyrinth. "It's a piece of cake," she had said the way silly, unthinking girls would do, not having a clue about the consequences of their acts and their words. And with one gesture and one word she had turned everything around her into ashes. It was true, of course, that she had saved Toby that day, but it was her own fault that Toby had to go through the ordeal in the first place, and she knew that he wasn't unmarred by the experience. She couldn't blame Jareth if he wanted to destroy her after what she had done to him.

And he had bided his time. He had gradually stolen back into her life, and somewhere along the line she found that he was constantly in her mind and that she couldn't live without him in the end. The mere thought of him turned her inside into liquid fire, an ache in her heart and her guts.

What would become of her now? The idea of getting married to a nice, young man and go to live in Suburbia was a scorn under the circumstances. There wasn't even the slightest chance left for her ever again to lead what others might call a “normal” life. Whose baby would she have if she couldn't have his child?

As the width of the consequences of her situation gradually hit home, she was filled with the most heart-rending desolation and despair and she began to cry. She curled herself up around the excruciating pain and almost choked on her sobs, and the tears were streaming down her face. She could feel him wake up behind her, but she couldn't stop crying, she just tried to hide her face from him.

Jareth didn't say a word. He just took hold of her extremely gently and wrapped his legs and arms around her, drawing her back against his chest, cradling her like a baby. He bent down over her face and kissed her wet cheeks with small tiny kisses, trying in vain to comfort her. But she kept crying with tightly shut eyes, tears dropping on her breasts and his arms. Her whole inside was one terrible cramp, and she couldn't untie the knot. He began to rock her gently and whisper sweet nothings in her hair. Still, he hadn't asked a single question about the reason for her despair. But Sarah wasn't surprised. She knew that he knew, without asking any questions.

At last, the cramp inside started to dissolve and in the wake she began to shiver uncontrollably. Then she gave in and fell against his chest, still crying but the sobs weren't so loud anymore. He still rocked her and held her tightly to his body. She heard him murmur in her hair, and when he raised his voice a little, she could finally make out the words.

"I love you," he whispered with soft desperation. "I love you, I love you, I love you! I could die for you! I would kill for you if I had to!" And he repeated it over and over again like a mantra.

She raised her head and opened her eyes at last and looked at him, and he looked down at her. His eyes were so soft in the darkness that she could hardly see that they were of different color. Just barely could she make out the smoldering glimmer in their depths; a testimony to the fire within that he kept at bay. She opened her mouth to speak to him but no sound came, and tears began to flow from her eyes again. He licked her tears away and turned her gently around in his arms to face him.

"Shhh…," he murmured against her cheek. "Don't cry anymore. It's over. It's over. You needn't be afraid."

And then she felt him grow hard again. He bent down and opened her mouth with his tongue, and she let it happen. In her exhausted state, she was prey to any feeling. He lifted her up and pushed himself quickly and urgently inside, keeping her in his lap, facing him. He held her tightly around the waist for support because she was swaying in his arms as if all the bones in her body had turned to liquid. She moaned now with open mouth, panting as he was filling her with relentlessly hurried thrusts as if he couldn't wait for his release. They kept looking at each other with wild hunger, not wanting to miss a single detail of what the pleasure did to the other. He moved hard and uncontrolled within her now. She took hold of his head and locked her eyes into his when she felt him coming, and he let her see his face when pain and pleasure hit him and mingled there as he emptied himself into her, and she screamed as she dissolved in his fire; then she fell backwards onto the bed, his arms breaking her fall and there she lay, eyes now closed, still joined to him, his cock slowly calming down inside her and that was the most comforting feeling she had had during the whole night; could he stay within her like this, nothing evil would ever happen to her again she thought as she succumbed to sleep, putting her head at rest in his hands as he cradled her.

One more time before the morning broke he took her. She drifted to the surface of her sleep feeling him moving stealthily and silently inside her. She didn't want to wake up but indulged in laying almost perfectly still under him with closed eyes and let the sensation wash over her in waves, concentrating on the almost unbearable pleasure building up in her guts. He hardly moved at all but for the slow pressure of his huge hardness pulsating within her. Her body betrayed her when her muscles started to contract around him, but still she didn't open her eyes. She could feel him smile against her cheek when he realized that she was awake, and he buried his head at her shoulder purring softly and groaning with the pleasure as he found his relief, and the orgasm rippled through her body like tiny sparks of electricity.

********************

The bleak morning light filled the room when Sarah sat up in the bed with a jerk and found that she was alone. For a panicky moment, she wondered if Jareth had left her already. Then she turned her head and saw him standing by the window. He was dressed, and she silently got out of the bed, wrapping a sheet around her and went up to him. He was looking out over the grey canal, and he didn't immediately turn to her. When he did, his face was composed and guarded, but she could see that his eyes were weary and tired. He smiled though when he saw her approaching.

"Good morning, my little one," he said to her and gently caressed her cheek. Then he turned to the window again and sighed "It is time that I sent you back to your room by now."

She winced although she knew she must have to accept the inevitable. "When will I see you again?" she asked in a small voice.

"Soon" he answered not making another comment, and she wondered with a sinking heart what "Soon" meant to a man, who had lived in centuries already and for whom "Forever" was not long at all. He moved his now gloved hand in under her thick, heavy, dark hair and caressed the nape of her neck. He lifted his free hand gracefully in the air and at the top of his fingers a shimmering crystal unexpectedly materialized. He turned fully to face her, and she could see the embers of fire glimmer faintly deep down in his beautiful eyes. He composed his face once more, and she found herself looking at him almost in awe because he appeared before her like the true King he really was at that moment. He still held her by the neck in a firm but gentle grip as he brought the crystal to her face. It exploded in a white light that blinded her, and she remembered nothing more until she woke up in her own bed in her hotel room hours later.

********************

An insistent telephone signal cut through the silence and made her scramble out of bed, and she nearly fell to the floor not taking into account how exhausted and weak she really was.

"Sarah!" Frances shouted at the other end of the line. "I have been so extremely worried about you. What happened to you last night? You're not hurt in any way, are you?" she continued anxiously.

"I'm all right Frances," Sarah said in a voice that she hardly recognized herself. "I'm just so very tired. Could you please make my excuses to Signor Bertoldi and tell him that I am ill today but that I will try to come to class tomorrow?"

"Sarah, I'm coming over to your room." Frances sounded as if she wouldn't take no for an answer. "If you need a doctor or something I will have to arrange that." And before Sarah could protest, Frances had put down the phone.

Sarah moved on shaky legs towards the mirror in her room, she had to make sure in a hurry that she could show herself to Frances. She stopped almost bewildered in front of the mirror because it took a while for her to recognize herself in the image of the strange girl, who looked at her from the glass with big sad eyes that held shadows of passionate and violent images in their depths. She wore her plain cotton nightgown, but when she lifted it, she could see the marks of his lovemaking all over her body. She hastily covered herself and for safety's measure she wrapped herself up to the neck in her bathrobe, and then she fell down on the bed, because her legs didn't support her, and she began to shiver violently. That was how Frances found her some minutes later.

"Sarah won't you please tell me what has happened to you?" Frances insisted alarmed at the sight of her friend.

Sarah took Frances's hand. She knew that she must somehow reassure Frances and convince her that no real danger was at hand.

"Look Frances," she said weakly. "Just right now I can't tell you what has happened to me, and I'm not going to serve you any cock-and-bull-story about having eaten the wrong kind of oysters or anything like that. I need to rest today and then I will be fine. I promise you. I just need to sleep a little."

"You sound more as if you are trying to convince yourself rather than me," Frances sighed and put a hand to Sarah's forehead. "But, okay, I'll leave you here, and I will ask the reception to send you something light to eat and I will look in on you when I'm back in the afternoon."

Frances put a blanket over Sarah and remained sitting beside her for a while until she could see Sarah drifting off to sleep. Then Frances tiptoed quietly out of the room.

Hours later, when Sarah woke up of her own accord, she found a note by her bed from Frances saying: "You were sleeping when I looked in on you, and I didn't want to wake you up. Please call me as soon as you can."

On the table beside her bed was a plate with some chicken sandwiches and mug of tea. She brought the food with her and sat down by the window. The tea was cold, but it didn't matter. She ate the sandwiches in small bites, trying to think of nothing at all. She found that it felt good to eat, and she relaxed a little. Then she leaned against the back of the chair and tried to approach her thoughts.

She found that she at least could think of Jareth without starting to cry, but the dull ache in her heart and guts made her pant quickly when she with the utmost effort took hold of herself to keep the pain from seeping out into her entire body. It left her shaking for a long while.

She sat by the window for several hours contemplating her situation. In the end, she had to admit to herself that she couldn't solve the problems for the moment and decided to call on Frances. She needed someone to talk to. She put on a turtleneck sweater and a pair of jeans and went to look for her friend.

Frances was reading when Sarah entered, and she leaped to her feet from the bed and went straight up to Sarah and put her arms around her. Sarah put her head on Frances's shoulder and started to cry — tears that she thought she had exhausted long ago. Frances didn't say anything to her but just held her and stroked her head and hair. At last, the tears subsided and Frances sat them both down on the bed.

"It is someone you love, isn't it?" Frances asked. At which Sarah nodded silently as the tears welled up into her eyes again.

"I watched you for the last week," Frances continued, "and I came to the conclusion that your anxiety had to do with someone, who meant that much to you. You weren't listening to any of us, and you were constantly on the lookout for messages, calls and letters."

"Has he hurt you?" she added worriedly.

Sarah shook her head.

"Can you tell me about it?"

"Not all of it," Sarah sighed.

Then she tried to tell Frances about being constantly apprehensive and watching, about being at the mercy of someone, who came and went randomly in her life, about being in love with someone that she might not be allowed to live with. And maybe Frances couldn't take it all in, but it was a great comfort to Sarah to have her there to talk to.

********************

Sarah attended classes the next day. She and Frances had agreed on to tell anyone who asked that Sarah had taken ill during the evening in question and stayed in her room. As Frances corroborated the story, no one would question its authenticity.

It was good to work again, but Sarah's heart wasn't in it anymore. She couldn't bring herself to write home, which resulted in anxious telephone calls from Dad and Karen. She told them that she had a cold and would be all right in a couple of days. Anyway, her stay here was drawing to a close, and she would soon be going back to the States. The mere thought of that made her feel sick. She didn't want to go anywhere, and she didn't want to stay either. At nights, she lay in her bed listening to the silence, wondering if one could die from a broken heart.

She ran into Rafael one day at the Piazza San Marco. They greeted each other awkwardly. None of the bouncing vitality from the ball was present in Rafael today. He was very correct and guarded. She sighed inwardly and guessed that the stigma of her love was written all over her face.

Then she pulled herself together and decided to go out and look for the present to Toby that she had promised him. She couldn't very well come home without it. She went at first to the big department stores, but she didn't find anything that appealed to her and feeling rather tired and listless she turned to the smaller shops that had a variety of old and new things, hoping that she might become inspired there instead.

Finally, she stopped in front of a little antique shop. When peering through the window, she could see both books and toys and a beautiful Harlequin-doll caught her eye. ‘Well, that is something that I could really get him, isn't it?' she thought, Harlequin, or Arlechino as he is known in Italy, being one of the principal characters in the Commedia dell'Arte Theatre. She went into the shop and asked to have a closer look. She could see at once that it was a valuable piece of art and perhaps much too expensive for Toby, but she didn't care. She had set her heart on it.

"Could you please gift wrap it for me?" she asked the shopkeeper.

The little man was happy to oblige; she was his first customer for the day. When he went out into his store to look for some extra fancy paper, Sarah began to browse the shop. There were so many things crammed onto the shelves and tables that it was hard to move around. When she backed a little to get a better view of a painting, she accidentally knocked some books to the floor. She bent down to pick them up when one of the books opened up at her feet, and she stared down at the poem, written on its pages. It was in German and the title read "Erlkönig." She knew from literature classes in college that it was a poem by the world-famous German author Goethe, but never before had she thought about what the title might be, had Goethe been an English writer instead of a German. Then perhaps the title had read "The Fay King." She froze and stood staring at the book for what seemed an eternity. Then she felt Jareth's presence very strongly around her and she knew without any doubt that this was a message from him. She knew the poem very well, yet she read the chilling little piece again about the child, who died in his father's arms when the father tried to save his son from the Fay King.

‘Yes, it is true that also you are prepared to kill to get what you want,' she thought. ‘You have said as much to me, and I believe it to be true because I'm dying without you!'

When she leafed through the book, a note appeared between the pages. She caught it before it fell and looked at it with apprehension. It was a card in thick cream-colored paper and the calligraphy was unknown to her. It simply read "Don't be afraid. I will be with you soon!"

The shopkeeper came out and found her staring at the books and almost in tears, and he thought that she was alarmed because she had possibly caused damage to the books, and he tried to reassure her that no harm was done.

She only smiled and shrugged a little. "I'll have this book too," she said.

"Si signorina, would you want to have this one gift wrapped as well?" the shopkeeper asked and peered at her over his glasses.

"No, thank you," she answered, "it's not a gift; I'm buying it for myself." And she cautiously slipped the book into her bag.

When she left the shop and came out into the street, she found that she could breathe again for the first time in about a week. She now knew with certainty that his "Soon" also meant soon the way she figured time. Her body started to tingle all over.

"If I can't live without you, if I am dying without you, then there is no option for me, but to go and live with you, wherever you are," she said aloud.

People who went by looked curiously at her standing there in the street, hugging her bag to her chest and talking right out into the air, but Sarah didn't care. Without warning, she felt all weak and at the same time a great burden was lifted from her as she realized that there was but one choice.

And she started to run back to the hotel.

********************
To be continued in "INTERLUDE"

Chapter Text

INTERLUDE

At last the breeze of the night stirred the curtains and cooled her burning and moist face; it brought with it an intense fragrance of jasmine, mimosa and oleander blending with the strong and musky scent of their lovemaking that still filled the room.

He was heavily asleep with his head resting on her chest, and she had put an arm around him and caressed his neck. Both their bodies were glistening with sweat, and she had no intention of washing it off. She wanted to keep the scent of him on her body forever if that was possible. She put her hand around his penis, still half-swollen. It quivered in her hand, but he didn't wake up. ‘If I hold on to him like this,' she thought in an almost childish way, ‘he will not be able to disappear again.' She put a feathery kiss on his forehead and reveled in the thought of how she had triggered his climax and ecstasy with her lips and hands, the taste of his semen, salty and reminding her of almond, still in her mouth.

He was so heavy resting on her breast, and her arm was almost going numb but she didn't mind. She could have taken even more of his weight — anything to ensure her that his presence was real; that he was here with her tonight.

She wetted her dry lips and tried to close her eyes. Sleep wouldn't come though. She may have slept off and on for a while, but very lightly, and all the while her thoughts were roaming wildly in her head.

********************

Sarah's last meeting with Jareth in Venice had been a disaster and when contemplating the event and analyzing it afterwards, she had to admit that perhaps it wouldn't have turned out so wrong, had she only been prepared and not shown her doubt so clearly.

After she had received his message, hidden in the volume of poems, she thought that it would be a matter of hours — at most a day or two — before she would meet him again, but it didn't happen that way. The days went by, and suddenly she grew wary and uncertain. What was she about to throw herself into? Had she really thought about the consequences? How on earth would she explain all this to Dad and Karen — and to Toby?

When finally it was time to leave Italy and go back to the States in early April, she found that it was impossible. Frances tried to reason with her, but Sarah wouldn't listen.

"Frances, I can't leave before I have settled this issue. It's a matter of life and death to me!" she cried.

"Well, if you are not prepared to go now, you MUST talk to your folks back home and tell them so," Frances interrupted her vehemently.

"You can't expect me to make up some fake story about your whereabouts, and you know as well as I do that they will pin me down to the floor to get the details out of me, if I show up without you!"

Sarah hid her face in her hands and felt a wave of shame wash over her when confronted with Frances. She knew it was true. She had — consciously or unconsciously — wanted to let Frances take the blow and hide behind her.

"I'm sorry Frances," she said in a subdued voice. "Of course I won't let you take the confrontation. I can't change my mind though. I just can't leave right now. I will call Dad tonight and tell him. And I will tell him that I am invited to stay in Europe for a while. It is a lie, I know that, but I'm not giving you any more details for your own sake. When they ask you, and of course we both know they will, you can honestly say that you haven't heard anything more about my plans."

"I'm sorry too," Frances said, "I'm so worried about you, and I will not be able to hide that from your father and stepmother."

They hugged for a long time.

"Please, phone me or write to me," Frances added before they parted.

********************

When Sarah came back to her own room in the late evening with her head full of what she was going to say to her father over the phone, she walked right into Jareth. She was totally unprepared for his visit, and he almost scared her out of her wits. He didn't greet her in any way but walked in silence back and forth in her room, filling it entirely with his presence. His eyes were guarded, and he threw a cool glance at her now and then.

"I didn't expect you," she was flustered now, "I mean, of course I expected you but . . .” Her voice trailed off.

He curled his thin lips into a smile that didn't comfort her and said in his low, melodious voice, "You don't have to elaborate on your explanations, my dear; I know exactly what you are trying to say."

As always, when he "undressed" her mind and confronted her with her own naked image, she got furious with frustration. Why couldn't he leave her with just a shred of dignity?

"Do you think this is EASY for me?" she cried out. "I don't know what to do any longer. You leave me here stranded in the middle of a foreign city all alone. I can't leave and I can't stay. You tell me that you won't leave me. How shall I interpret that when I'm left alone all the time? I'm scared stiff of my future and what help do you offer me?"

As she was talking, tears started to run over her white face, and she clenched and unclenched her fists in impotent rage. He stopped his pacing and approached her. He took her face in both his hands and turned it up to him, and he looked her intently into the eyes.

"I'm never going to leave you, that is a fact, and you can interpret that as you like. In the end, you may not even like the idea, but I'm NEVER going to give you up to anybody else." He spoke to her in a calm but serious voice.

Sarah became quite still inside all at once, and she listened to him and became aware of the unfathomable depth that lurked beneath his words. She looked into his eyes, searching for the compassion that she knew he was capable of, and at long last his austere face softened, and he bent down and kissed her, brushing his lips over hers, gently licking the corners of her mouth and waiting for her to give in and open up to him. She closed her eyes and let him take possession of her mouth as she wondered in desperation why she had had to be the one that like a moth had flown right into his white burning fire. Was she going to die after all?

When she opened her eyes again, she could still feel him, but she could no longer see him. She cried out in anxiety and surprise. She felt him withdraw, and she tried frantically to hold on to him. When she turned around and for a moment confronted her mirror, she saw his image there, and she ran up to it and started hammering the glass with her fists.

"Don't leave me," she screamed. "Don't LEAVE ME!!"

"It's strange," he said with a wry smile, looking at her in amusement, "that after all these years, you haven't understood. And still you have said the words yourself. You should know what these words mean by now."

He was fading fast, and she could almost see nothing more of him than his burning mismatched eyes.

"Listen Sarah," he whispered urgently to her, "I'm never going to leave you, but I have no power over you. You must solve that riddle."

And with that remark he was gone.

She stood staring at the mirror for what seemed an eternity, then she slowly sank to the floor, and there she lay all night, not knowing whether she slept or not.

********************

When she came to her senses again, it was full daylight, and she felt as if she just barely had survived a terrible disease, all weak and shaking.

She thought about his last words and turned them over and over in her mind. Of course, she knew that she had said the words to him in the Underground when she claimed Toby, but what did he mean by bringing them up now? She had never felt more bereft of power than now, never more vulnerable and exposed than now, never more at his mercy than now, never more lacking a will of her own than now. What power did he mean that she possessed?

Numbly she managed to get up from the floor. ‘I should go home,' she thought, ‘but I can't make myself do it. At first, I have to sort this situation out somehow.'

She picked up the phone in her room and when connected to the Front Desk, asked to have an outside line. Then she dialed her home number. ‘It must be early morning in the States by now,' she thought, ‘I hope Dad is awake and that he will take the call. I don't think I could talk to Karen just right now.' She was lucky. After what seemed ages, she heard her father's faint voice on a very bad line.

"Sarah! How wonderful to hear from you!" She heard the joy in his voice. "When are you coming home? Shall I go to New York and pick you up?"

"Dad," she faltered a little, cringing before the lie she was going to serve him, "I have been invited to stay in Europe for a couple of weeks. I hope you don't mind my being away a little bit longer . . ."

There was a profound silence at the other end of the line. "Dad? Are you still there?" she asked anxiously.

"Funny, you know," her father said, "hadn't I known that it was you, I could have sworn I was talking to your mother. Your voices are so very much alike."

His comment hit her like a blow in the stomach. She nearly doubled over. She couldn't remember the last time when he talked to her about her mother. It must have been years since that happened. She didn't know what to say, but he continued as if almost talking to himself.

"She sounded just like that when she phoned from France and said to me that she wasn't going to come back — either to the States or to us."

"But Dad," she cried, "why do you say that? It isn't fair comparing me with Her in that way! Of course, I'm coming back. I'm just going to stay a little while longer, now that I'm here."

She stopped finding it almost unbearable to continue, not being able to make up any more lies and tangling herself into the ones she had presented already. She had to find a way to end the call and came up with yet another lie.

"Dad," she raised her voice, "the line is getting weaker all the time, a lot of extra noises, you know. I have to put the phone down now, but as soon as I know whether we are going to stay in Italy or not, I will call and let you know."

Then she closed the call and stood shaking beside the phone for a long while, repeatedly swallowing the bile that threatened to fill her mouth.

********************

Later on that day Sarah went out in the old city and wandered aimlessly about without any goal; she didn't want to do anything, see anything or meet anyone. She felt like a refugee from some terrible disaster. She stopped in a coffee shop for an espresso and some warmth — it was raining hard outside, and the winds were icy from north. She stayed at her table until a man came up to her and asked her in a low whisper, what she had to offer and her prices. She looked dumbfounded at him for a second; then she rose and left the table without a word. ‘Do I look like a prostitute?' she asked herself, ‘But why not? Maybe I should have stayed and found out what his unique obsession was.'

All of a sudden she found herself standing in a cul-de-sac by a small murky little canal, and she stopped as if this was the end of her journey. She stood unmoving, frozen, looking down at her image in the water. ‘It would be easy just to fall here,' she thought. ‘It would take ages before anyone missed me.'

"Don't," said a quiet voice behind her and someone gently took hold of her arm.

Sarah almost fell out of fright and turned around at the same time. There stood a strange, beautiful woman, whom she vaguely recognized from somewhere.

"I see that you don't remember me," the woman continued, "I'm Anna, and we met each other in Palazzo Corsari a little over a month ago."

Yes, now Sarah remembered and almost all too vividly.

"What do you want from me?" she asked, "How come we meet again just right here?"

She tried frantically to break free of Anna's grip, but the other wouldn't let go of her.

"Please trust me, I have come to fetch you and take care of you — and it seems I came at the very last minute — and if I say that Jareth knows I'm here, will that be enough for you to trust me?"

"Jareth," Sarah exclaimed, "what has he got to do with this? How do you know him?"

Anna smiled gently and said "So many questions. Please, please just trust me, and I will answer all of them in due course. It's vital now that we get you out of this terrible weather and that I can arrange for you to rest and gather strength."

Sarah felt then how exhausted she was, and she thought that going with Anna could at least not be worse than throwing herself in a canal. So she followed her out of the alley. Around the corner, a small covered motorboat was waiting, and the young man in charge carried her onboard and wrapped a blanket around her. Anna said something to him in Italian in a low voice and he nodded. Soon they were on their way, and Sarah shortly recognized her surroundings. They were evidently heading for her hotel.

Before she could open her mouth and ask why they were going there, Anna turned to her and said, "We are just going to pick up your things and settle whatever debts you have left there, and then we will leave. I even think that we will leave Italy, I'm tired of being here now. I thought for a moment that we could go to my flat in New York, but then again, that is a little too close to home for you just right now, and I can see that you need some time to sort things out before facing whatever awaits you there."

Sarah remained silent, wondering how Anna could know so much about her, but if Jareth was involved somehow, just about anything and any setup were possible; she should know that by now. So she closed her eyes, let go and settled back into the seat. She left it to Anna to do all the necessary practical things and she was asleep when Anna and her servant came back from the hotel with her luggage. She didn't even wake up when she was taken into Anna's house, and an elderly maid took off her clothes and put her to bed under an enormous eiderdown quilt.

********************

It was late morning when Sarah woke up, and she neither knew where she was or what day or time it was. She lay still for a while in the bed and listened to her frightened, beating heart and to strange noises from the strange house. Then she started to remember her meeting with Anna, and she sat up in bed only to see Anna sitting by the window reading a book. When Anna heard a movement from the bed, she turned and smiled.

"You have slept for ten hours, and I think that has done you some good after all. I will see to that you get something to eat and then I'll tell you about my plans."

She got up and went to the door and called out to an invisible servant, who soon brought a small breakfast tray.

Anna, who was dressed only in a silk kimono, sat down at the end of Sarah's bed and pulled her legs under her. She sipped on a large cup of coffee, and she remained peacefully silent while Sarah was eating. Sarah glanced furtively at her now and then. Anna looked younger today with her long blond hair falling loosely about her face and dressed in such an informal way. It was only when one looked her directly into the eyes and saw the depth of wisdom there that one could start wondering about her age.

Sarah drew up her legs under the comforter and put her arms around them as if seeking both comfort and protection. She looked at Anna, who now raised her gaze towards her, and they were looking at each other in silence for a while.

"You are very beautiful," Sarah said tentatively and Anna smiled and replied,

"So are you."

They looked steadily at each other again for a while, and then Sarah smiled too. Anna reached out a hand and lightly touched Sarah's forehead and Sarah rested her head on her knees and closed her eyes when Anna began to stroke her head as if comforting a frightened animal. It was something almost hypnotic about Anna's movements, and Sarah felt after a while that the cramp inside her body slowly dissolved.

"I'm so afraid," Sarah whispered at last.

"I know," Anna replied. "I know exactly how you feel, but hopefully it will all be better in a short while. The issues may not be solved right away, but you may be able to deal with them in a constructive manner at least."

"Now listen" Anna continued "to my immediate plans for us and tell me whether it will be all right with you. I thought of many places to go yesterday, but I finally decided that we will go home, meaning my home, if you don't mind that?"

"Where is your home?" Sarah asked.

"My home is in New Orleans." Anna smiled when she saw the expression of surprise in Sarah's face.

"But I thought you came from Europe," Sarah said taken aback.

"Living in New Orleans doesn't automatically make me American by birth, does it?" Anna laughed teasingly.

"Besides, New Orleans has a long "European" history. We had a foreign rule in Louisiana until 1803, remember? However, I assure you that I'm born in the city as well. I trust that New Orleans is at a safe distance from your home and that you don't know anyone there?"

At which Sarah replied with a "yes" and a "no" and it was settled that they would leave for New Orleans that very afternoon.

********************

Of the long flight, Sarah didn't remember much. She hated traveling that way and slept the better part of the journey. When they arrived in New Orleans international airport, it was evening, and stepping out into the warm night was a little bit of a shock after cold Venice. Although it was only April, there was talk of the first heat wave of the season and possibilities of thunderstorms. They were met by yet another of Anna's many servants — Sarah wondered how many they were all in all — a stately colored chauffeur, who only answered in monosyllables and raised an eyebrow when Sarah attempted to take care of her own luggage. He brought them safely into town — right to the heart of the city, the Old French Quarters — and he stopped in front of a small but graceful town house, situated in a quiet alley not far from the Ursuline Convent.

"Welcome to my home," Anna said and made a gesture towards the house.

"Is it all yours?" Sarah whispered incredibility creeping into her voice.

"Yes, it has been in my family for a very long time."

Anna ushered her through the big old oak-door and the next thing she knew, Sarah stood in a small inner courtyard filled with bushes of jasmine, mimosa and oleander. The noise of the city could hardly be heard here, only the hushed splash of a small fountain.

"I thought you should have the third floor with the good view and the balcony," Anna offered her. "I'll ask Aaron to take your luggage up there, and when you have freshened yourself a little, please come down to the garden, and we will have a drink before turning in for the night."

Anna was about to add something when the door to the house was opened and an old colored woman slowly made her way out into the courtyard.

"Miss Anna you're home!" the old lady called out in her wheezing voice.

"Celia!" Anna cried and rushed to meet her and threw herself into the offered embrace.

Sarah looked at them silently, observing that this was the first show of genuine emotions that she had seen Anna display, and she quietly eased her way into the house after Aaron, who carried her luggage upstairs, leaving Anna there to hug and be hugged, and suddenly Sarah felt extremely lonely.

She went down to the courtyard when she had washed her hands, and slumped into a wooden chair. ‘Jareth,' she thought, ‘you are chasing me around the world. Where will I end up and where ARE you?' She closed her eyes and almost instantly opened them again when she became aware of a light footfall nearby. A young beautiful girl approached her with a big silver tray balancing in her hands. The girl gingerly put the tray down on a table nearby and gave Sarah a big flashing smile. Anna appeared with a bottle of bourbon and a siphon.

"Let's do it the proper way, this first night," Anna said and poured her a small drink of bourbon and water.

Sarah rolled the sweet taste around her tongue and thought it suited the evening and the mood very well.

"I hope that you will be able to sleep after this long day," Anna continued. "If you need anything call for Georgina;" — she indicated the young girl, who was heading back towards the house — "she is sleeping in one of the rooms on the third floor, and she will attend to your every need."

"You have everything it seems, don't you? The whole world is at your feet," Sarah observed and cast a wondering glance in Anna's direction.

"No." Anna was quiet for a while. "I am poor in the sense that I lack the most essential things in life, but we shan't talk about that tonight. I will explain to you later."

They stayed in silence for a while with their drinks before saying good night and part company.

********************

Sarah learned Anna's story a couple of evenings later. They were sitting in the courtyard with drinks after dinner when Sarah asked, "How old are you, Anna?"

Anna looked at her for a long time before answering. Then she sighed deeply and said, "Had it been anyone else but you, I should have refused to answer or evaded the question, but since you have to know in the end because of Jareth, I will tell you. If ever there was a Gothic tale, my life is surely one," she added with a rueful smile.

"I was born here in New Orleans during the summer of 1792. My parents were refugees from the French Revolution. My mother hated it here in the delta. Not much land was permanently out of the water in those days, and people died like flies from malaria and other such diseases. Father was moderately successful in business, but of course he couldn't provide mother with all the luxury that she was used to. She was constantly wailing about everything she had lost. Then I was born, and she didn't look upon that fact as an improvement, I was told. In a fit of rage one day, she wished me away to the Goblin King. I have to say to her defense that she regretted her decision almost at once, but what was done couldn't be undone."

"At that time, Jareth's father was the Goblin King and I was saved to the life I'm living today by Jareth's mother. She took pity on me, maybe because I was the daughter she never could have — Jareth was her only child. She pleaded with Jareth's father to keep me in the form of a human, and he couldn't resist her tears in the end. So, I was never turned into a goblin, and I was to be allowed to walk the earth whenever I wanted. Already at this early stage in my "career" Jareth's father used me as a go-between because that is really what I still am. There are times when the Fay people cannot walk the earth freely and show themselves to whomever they wish, and that's the point where I — being born a human — come into the picture. They send me instead, like Jareth has done right now."

"Jareth's father took a great liking to me. He thought I would be the perfect playmate for his son. So I spent a lot of time with Jareth when we were growing up."

"Yes!" She held up a hand to stop Sarah from interrupting her when she heard Sarah take a deep breath. "I have slept with Jareth, of course I have. That was inevitable. But you needn't worry. It happened so very long ago, almost in another age. There is no other woman in his life now but you. He is consumed with you. And I have a love of my own, walking the earth, and I see him age slowly in front of my eyes."

A bitter note crept into Anna's voice.

"We age too, the likes of Jareth and the likes of me, but it literally takes ages. In the meantime, I'm also trying to persuade my love to come and share my life so that he could spend the half eternity with me that is at our disposal."

Sarah shivered lightly and felt a cold hand over her heart when hearing Anna's last words. She knew that they were also directed at her, telling her of Jareth's pursuit.

"My mother almost had a fit when I showed up several years later — it took a long time before I could bring myself to visit her. She thought I had come back for revenge and perhaps that was my initial idea. But she was already a broken woman when I saw her again. She had had another child after me, a boy, but he died and mother always looked upon that fact as her punishment for abandoning me. She left me a substantial fortune at her death and among other things, I bought this house. I needed a place where I could hide once in a while when I wasn't requested to go to the Underground."

Anna fell silent, and they both remained silent until Sarah, much to her own surprise, heard herself say, "My mother wished me away too in a sense." And then she began to cry.

Never before had she openly admitted to anyone, how immensely she grieved over the fact that her mother had chosen to leave her.

"My father thought he was talking to Her the other day when I called him, and I called to lie to him about the reasons for not going home. He said I sounded just like Her when She told him that She wouldn't come back to either us or the States."

Sarah cried so hard now that she could hardly talk. Anna didn't interrupt her, just looked intently at her.

"The worst part of it all," Sarah continued, "is that I UNDERSTAND Her for the first time in my life. I'm more or less exactly in the same dilemma. She had to make the awful choice of letting go of Her family or Her career. She chose to pursue the latter. I'm facing the choice of letting go of my family or the love of my life. I don't know what to do! I'm dying inside for having to make that choice!"

She turned her tearstained face towards Anna and formed her lips into the words "Help me!"

Anna rose from her chair and took hold of Sarah. She held her quietly until the tears had subsided.

"Why doesn't Jareth show himself to me if I mean that much to him? Hasn't he forgiven me for hesitating and stalling for time?" Sarah asked when she could talk again. "I don't know how many times I have called for him."

"Only if you don't have the slightest doubt in your mind about him, only if you believe fully in him, you can see him," Anna explained.

"But I don't doubt him," Sarah protested.

"Something deep down in you has put up a guard against him," Anna said. "I'm quite sure of that he is around. Of course, he can also will himself not to be visible. He is after all the Goblin King, and he is very powerful."

"Yet he said that he has no power over me . . ." Sarah's voice trailed off, and she looked warily around.

Anna poured out two more drinks and handed Sarah one. She sighed and raised her glass and smiled wryly.

"Here's to motherless children," she said, "it only shows that human nature will never change. What took place over two hundred years ago can still happen today. Not much comfort to be had from this fact though."

The first flash of lightning broke the sky in two.

"So, we're going to have a thunderstorm tonight," Anna observed, "I hope it clears the air, because it has been unbearably oppressive the last few days. Let's go inside."

********************

The humid air of the sultry night made it hard to breathe. Sarah lay naked on top of her bed, having thrown the covers aside. She could hear the muffled sounds of soaring traffic from the big city outside the house. The thunderstorm was now raging over the great lake nearby. She heard it only faintly but saw the flashes of lightning brightening the horizon. ‘I'm in a limbo and steadily falling,' she thought.

"Jareth," she moaned for the hundredth time, "Jareth, take pity on me and come to me. Haven't you forgiven me by now?"

She tossed around in the bed and felt the sweat covering her whole body. ‘If he were here, he would kiss and caress me,' she thought, and she wetted her fingers and began to squeeze her nipples. The moisture made her feel as if his mouth had just left them, and she couldn't resist continuing wetting and fondling them with her fingers. At the same time, she felt the heat in her sex, and she moved her hand to her cunt and pressed her hands to it, grinding herself against her hands. Her breath now came in small sharp intakes and little moans, and she rolled back and forth in the bed. She opened up the slit and hesitantly put a finger in the opening, and her juices instantly poured over her hand. Again she imagined that it was his finger probing her cunt walls, and she inserted two more, cramming herself relentlessly, tightening her muscles around them, sucking on them. She took the liquid of her juices and started to rub it around her breasts, squeezing them hard. Then she went for the swollen clit and began flicking it with her thumb. All the while she felt the heat building up inside her guts, begging for release, pulses beating heavily between her legs and her heart was hammering wildly.

"Jareth!" she groaned as she steadily approached her climax, and she began furiously working her sex, spreading her legs as if wanting to receive him in her arms and take him all in. At last she felt the muscles of her stomach tense and contract, and the blissful relief finally came. She screamed his name and opened her eyes wide.

And then she saw him standing by her bed, bent over her.

She couldn't stop the searing orgasm shaking her body, but when it was over, she hid her face in her hands, curled up and rolled away from him, hiding her shame. She felt the bed move as he crawled on it, and the next moment he encircled her in his strong arms and she felt his heavy weight. She heard him purr deep down in his throat, and then he whispered in her ear

"Why do you hide? You are the most beautiful one I've ever seen. You are the sexiest thing that ever happened to me, coming off on the mere thought of me."

She buried her head in the pillow and still wouldn't turn to him. He put his hands on her breasts and began to knead them gently.

"Oh God, I'm horny," he groaned, his mouth in her hair, "I want you so badly."

When she still refused to look at him, he brusquely turned her around in his arms and made her face him. His nostrils flared with excitement, and he had bared his pointed teeth as if prepared to bite her. Finally, she yielded and stopped fighting him and then the tears came. Something within her snapped and her long pent-up anguish gave away. His gaze softened, and he began to kiss her all over the face, licking her tears and her eyelids.

"Even your tears turn me on," he mumbled as his lips traveled over her cheek down to her neck.

He rocked her gently in his arms until she had stopped crying, and then he dried her cheeks and made her blow her nose.

"Tell me," he said softly.

She cleared her throat, but her voice was still a hoarse whisper, exhausted from crying.

"Anna said that I would have to believe in you beyond the shadow of a doubt, for you to appear to me. And I do, you know, I DO believe in you! I don't know how many times I have called for you since you disappeared in Venice and you didn't show up."

"When you call for me, you shouldn't call from here" — he touched her forehead — "do it from here" — he caressed her breasts — "or better still from here" — he put his warm heavy hand on her stomach and pressed it gently.

She gave a short gasp, as the heat from his hand spread within her. He let his hand remain for a while where he had put it and then slowly, as if by accident, he let his index finger travel farther down and slip into her wet cunt, exploring and probing her tender walls. Her hips bucked involuntarily, as he dipped yet another finger into her, and she let out a low moan. He pressed his palm firmly against her mound as he still worked his fingers inside her, and then he bent down and kissed her. His eyes remained open, and the soft and savage burning within them mesmerized her. He took his fingers from her opening and started to draw tiny wet circles around her swollen nipples. She shuddered at his touch and leaned back into the bed, exposing more of her body to him. She saw him smile, and she heard a low, soft chuckle from him, as if he couldn't hide how much he was enjoying the situation.

He kicked off his boots and untied the complicated knots in his soft linen shirt. With a groan, he rolled on top of her again and rubbed his naked breast against hers. Then he began to explore her with his tongue.

He licked her ear and then he moved down to the hollow of her neck, continuing his slow journey down between her breasts. There he made a halt to concentrate for a while on her nipples. Moving to the first one, he wetted it with his tongue and scraped his teeth over it, gently tugging at it until it was all stiff and swollen. Then he unhurriedly moved over to pay the same attention to the other one. She squirmed under him and mewled softly in answer to the mounting waves of pleasure.

He trailed a line of fire and desire over her body with his tongue, now dipping into her navel and circling it, then continuing down to her swollen vulva. He took her clit between his lips and sucked it in between his teeth and flicked his tongue over it with quick lashing strokes. At the same time, he again filled her cunt with his fingers, sliding them in and out of her in a frenzied movement. Her hips now undulated in rhythm with his hand and tongue, and her moans grow to high groans. When it seemed as if she was on the point of no return, he slowed down and wrapped his arms around her again, not permitting her to climax just yet. She closed her eyes and breathed in short staccato intakes. He kissed her ferociously with his mouth wet from her juices, and she could hear him moaning low as he pressed and rubbed his rock-hard erection against her stomach.

Then he sat up straddling her hips with his powerful legs and began to rid himself of his now disheveled clothing. She looked at him when he released his swollen cock and she watched his fingers stroke over it. There was still a mischievous smile in his eyes, although they were now veiled with carnal hunger, his face a mask of desire.

She was absolutely and totally focused upon the pleasure she was about to receive, nothing else in the world existed just right now. She raised her hips towards him and felt him guiding his cock closer to her wet opening, rubbing it gently and then sliding into her. She sucked in her breath at the first sensation of him entering her, and when she exhaled her whole body pushed a cry out of her. She arched upwards, meeting him, and wrapped her legs around his waist to enable him to enter her still deeper. He took a firm grip of her hips controlling the movements, still unhurried. She could feel him throb inside her, and she tightened her inner muscles around him.

He bent down over her and kissed her, licking his way all over her face, biting her lips, sucking on her earlobes. He moved his hands to her shoulders taking a firm grip of them and at the same time he changed the rhythm of his movements and began thrusting in and out of her in hard, long and quickening strokes. She rocked with him, and her gasps for breath turned into groans of pleasure. Then he almost withdrew, letting only the tip of his cock stay between her folds, and he brusquely turned her around, spreading her legs on either side of his hips. He fell on top of her and at the same time he savagely pushed his swollen thickness so deep inside her that she thought he would penetrate her womb. The new angel of penetration caused new sensations hitherto unknown to her. She cried out loud with his every thrust and almost lost her breath under his weight. He fully possessed her now, and he mastered her every reaction to the smallest detail. She felt the oncoming orgasm as an ache that slowly traveled her whole body. Utterly helpless as she was under him, she fought for some control over the situation and twisted in his arms. She managed to reach down between her legs and found his balls. She clasped her hand around them and fondled them ever so gently, fingering the base of his shaft where it entered her body. He sank his teeth into her shoulder and moaned and his now uncontrolled movements told her that he was approaching his climax too. At last she turned herself over to the awesome shudder that started at her toes and worked its way up to her scalp and shook her entire body, and at the same time she felt him contract and pulsate under her hand as he cried out and flooded her with his hot liquid. Then he collapsed over her body and they lay inert, totally spent. She could feel his heart beating heavily against her back, and their breathing was the only sound breaking the silence.

********************

Later on, in the early hours of the morning, he carried her to the bathroom. Georgina saw them, but scurried away quickly, hiding behind a curtain, not wanting to make her presence known. They stood in the shower holding on to each other closely, just letting the water pour down over their heads.

Outside it was raining, the thunderstorm having departed. He held her gently, close to his body. There was no desire between them for the moment, only a great contentment. It was cool and soothing and very relaxing. But soon enough Sarah started to shiver lightly with cold, and Jareth wrapped her in a bath towel and carried her back to her sleeping chamber.

"Let's sleep," he yawned stretching his body and flexing his muscles like a big cat, "God, I'm tired."

She moved close to him and wrapped a leg around his hips. "So, you're not leaving me now then?" she asked.

"No," he murmured in her hair, "I'm going to sleep here with you, and we're going to make a nuisance of ourselves, not leaving the bed until very late, and then we're going to have the most gorgeous breakfast in the garden, and then maybe we will make love again, and then I'm going to take you out for dinner."

"Oh, stop it!" She slapped him playfully on the chest. "You're just rambling now. By the way, what do you mean by taking me out for dinner? How could we go to dinner?"

"Of course we can go to dinner, why not, don't you have dinners in your part of the world?" She heard the mirth in his voice.

"I often go to dinner here in New Orleans. It's one of my favorite places in fact."

Her eyes darkened a shade. "Do you stay with Anna then on these occasions?"

His eyes narrowed to slits that glittered teasingly and mischievously.

"Oh, I believe my Honey is jealous," he mocked her gently and cradled her in his arms.

She sniffed and tried to maintain some dignity. But he laughed softly and drew her body against his with mild force until she relented and cuddled up to him.

"You needn't be," he murmured sleepily, lips pressed to her forehead, "it should indeed be beneath my Queen to be jealous of anyone or anything."

She heard him fall asleep and before she knew it, she slept too.

********************

When Sarah woke up, she was alone in the bed; she sat up and her heart began immediately to hammer in fear. She saw his note on the table beside the bed and snatched it. "I'm so sorry that I can't have the leisurely day with you the way I wanted, but an urgent matter has come up that can’t wait. However, I will come for you in the evening as I promised."

She stepped out of bed and went downstairs. The house seemed totally deserted. Then Georgina appeared and asked if she wanted breakfast although it was late morning.

"Where is everyone?" Sarah asked.

"Missy Anna is away with the car. She and the . . . gentleman left together. And Celia is visiting the convent. Me and Cook are here," Georgina concluded.

So, Jareth and Anna had left together. The demons of jealousy again tugged at her heart, and she felt very much deserted and left out.

She wasn't especially hungry but had something to eat after all. To occupy herself, she offered to help with the shopping and went to the French Market and was all happy for a while among the tables, overflowing with fresh fruit and vegetables.

In the afternoon when she had returned to the house, she wandered listlessly about, feeling as if she didn't belong anywhere and least of all here. Finally, she decided to find a book to read and went into the library. Her father had once said that a person's library told you more or less everything you wanted to know about its owner's character. There she came across an old album with snapshots. The pictures were old, prewar even, and it was so strange to recognize Anna in them. She knew with her mind that Anna was immensely old compared with earth-standards, but it was another matter to see actual proof of this fact.

She fell asleep among the books and woke up when someone lightly kissed her nose. Jareth stood bent over her chair, and it was already dark outside.

"What time is it? Where is Anna?" she asked.

"It is six o'clock in the evening and Anna hasn't returned," he answered. "I doubt if she will come back this night. But why worry about her? She will take care of herself, and I will take care of you and take you out to dinner."

He effortlessly lifted her from the chair and carried her upstairs. He put her down on the bed and stood in his magnificent black cape in front of her. His eyes were dancing with amusement.

"Of course, obviously I can't go out to dinner here, dressed like this. People would indeed wonder and tell me that Mardi Gras was over long ago. So, we have to decide where to go, and I shall dress accordingly."

Before she could answer, he quickly threw light into her eyes, and when she could see again, he stood in front of her in a smart Armani suit made of grey silk. The boots now reached his ankles instead of his knees, and his unruly hair was tied in a ponytail with a small leather band.

"However," he continued, "we may not want to go to a fancy French restaurant. Perhaps you prefer the excellent but shabby seafood joint in Algiers across the river?"

And he did another turn on the floor, and the next time she managed to open her eyes, he was dressed in tight and well worn jeans and an old but expensive linen shirt.

"Oh, stop it!" she cried and started to laugh. "You make me all dizzy!"

He stopped indeed and went up to her and took her face in his hands and looked at her with so much wild love in his eyes that she fell silent in awe.

"You know something?" he murmured in a low voice. "This is the very first time that I've made you laugh. The sound of your laughter is killing me."

And he bent down over her and kissed her with ferocious tenderness.

"If you don't let me go now, we will not make it to a restaurant at all," she teased him against his lips, and he reluctantly released her.

"By the way," she added, "I think I'm more tempted by the seafood joint than by the posh restaurant, so keep your jeans on."

She went to the closet and found a linen dress in off white that she thought suited the occasion. It didn’t seem expensive or fancy but flowed over her body like a caress or an extra skin. She could see in his eyes that it met with his approval.

They decided to have a drink in the garden before leaving. Sarah wanted to pour the drinks, but when she lifted the decanter, she found a little bit too late that it was too heavy for her. It slipped from her hands and hit the table just as Jareth was trying to save it and it broke in hundreds of pieces.

She saw at once that he had cut his hand, and she reached out for him and cried, "Oh, I'm so sorry, please let me take care of your hand," and she brought forth a handkerchief.

His reaction scared her violently.

"Don't!" he exclaimed with fury and fear in his face and his voice. "Don't touch me!"

He had almost bared his teeth, and she was backing away from him, trembling and white. He quickly put his hand to the small wound, and she saw it heal and disappear in front of her eyes. Then he exhaled with a deep sigh, and his face looked almost normal again; he went up to her and when she backed away, he got hold of her arm and drew her into his embrace.

"Please listen to me, I will explain it all to you, please, please stop trembling, I'm not going to hurt you."

At last she was at rest in his arms, and he turned her face up towards him so that he could look her into the eyes.

"You mustn't touch my blood," he whispered in a low voice. "My blood could change your life forever. If you get in contact with it, you will enter my realm and be an equal to Anna and the likes of her. That is how my mother gave Anna her long life. Anna came to her as a baby, I'm sure you know that, and my mother pierced her nipples until they started bleeding and made Anna suckle. I will not hide that I want you to come and live with me and share my life in all its details. But I will not trick you into it. It's a decision that I hope that you one day will make out of your own free will."

********************

Sarah was still shaking inside from the incident in the afternoon when they reached the restaurant, but she decided with an effort of willpower that this should not spoil her entire evening. She had set her mind to enjoy this rare occasion. Jareth chose lobster and a very dry white wine for them. The smoky bar was filled with people and the din was enormous, so they moved to a quiet corner, where the conversations faded to a constant murmur and blended with the sound of music from a nearby dance hall. Sarah wasn't very hungry but not bothered by the fact tonight. Jareth ate with a ravenous appetite, and she just marveled sitting across the table watching him. ‘This is happening in the middle of nowhere,' she thought. ‘It is an interlude, a lull in the storm. What has happened up until now is of no consequence and of the future we know nothing.'

"Come, come," he broke off her trail of thoughts, "you're not eating."

"Yes, I am, I'm eating you," she smiled and reached out to touch his hand, and he smiled too and let her explore his long supple fingers and the palm of his hand.

Later they went out onto the wooden balcony that faced the river and the still boisterous traffic there. The river never slept, and there was a constant movement of vessels traveling both upstream and downstream. Jareth rested his elbows on the wooden railing, and Sarah wrapped her arms around him from behind and moved her body close to him. A lazy evening breeze tugged at her skirt and her hair. He obviously enjoyed the contact with her because he leaned back a little to feel more of her breasts and stomach against his back. She smiled resting her head on his shoulder. The night was full of fireflies and mosquitoes, and one little beast flew past her eyes and landed on his neck close to a prominent vein. The sight of the small, lethal creature hypnotized her, and she didn’t breathe or move. At first, Jareth didn't seem to notice it, then he made an irritated gesture towards his neck, and the mosquito lifted reluctantly. In its wake, a drop of blood formed that slowly began to run down his neck. Totally mesmerized by now, she leaned into him, moving in extreme slow motion, and she caught the drop of blood on her tongue and licked it up.

At that very moment, something exploded within her and a searing pain shot through her body. He instantly stiffened and turned around at the same time. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her and before he could say anything she stammered,

"It is done. I have done it!"

And then she fell to the ground.

When she regained consciousness he was carrying her upstairs in Anna's quiet house, and she couldn’t see the expression on his face, hidden in the shadows, but she felt the rapid and hard beating of his heart. He put her down, rather roughly, on the bed and lit the lamp in the ceiling; she blinked in the glaring light and looked silently at his stern, beautiful face with white vibrating nostrils and a mouth set to a thin line.

"Why?" he bit out through his clenched teeth. "To spite me, to defy me, to play with me? Don't forget, you belong to me now!"

"Yes!" She was visibly shaking, but she rose to her feet confronting him.

"Yes, I belong to you now, forever I suppose, yet you have no power over me as I have no power over you and this time I understand why."

Her eyes were glimmering with a strange light, reflections of his light.

He went close to her and dug his fingers into her shoulders and shook her again as if words weren’t adequate for what was happening to them. Then he ripped the dress from her body and tore her underwear to shreds. He drew her naked body towards his, lifted her up and fell with her onto the bed. He rid himself of clothes with a flick of his hand, and then he rose to his knees spreading her legs wide apart. He held her hips hard while he entered her and filled her with brusque, urgent, savage strokes. She cried out, but she didn't fight him, knowing there was no stopping him now. As he tensed, and his whole body started to shake with violent spasms, he bore down on her neck and buried his teeth there, causing her excruciating pain, sucking and biting her as he released himself deep within her. Then he shuddered and his body slowly relaxed on top of hers, and she felt against her bruised neck that he began to cry when his tears flowed beneath her ear into her hair. She sighed deeply, and she wrapped her legs and arms around him and began to rock him, sensing his rage and sorrow; this time comforting him instead of the other way around.

"Forgive me," he whispered in her hair.

At last, the rhythm of his heart became steadier and his breathing more normal and he raised his head. He looked at her now with calm, serious and very dark eyes. Then he rolled off her and turned her around in his arms so that they lay facing each other. He put two fingers against the bruise on her neck, and she felt a strange tingling feeling as he made it vanish.

"In the beginning, after you had crumbled my world for the first time and left with Toby, I wanted to kill you," he began with a voice hardly audible.

"I watched you greedily through the years, biding my time, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. It thrilled me that you started to seek me out, never knowing what I had in store for you, and I liked the idea of how you became more and more addicted to my company up until the point when you wanted me to share your bed in all innocence. But I was totally unprepared for the exquisite feeling of having you in my arms sleeping in total trust of me. I lay awake the whole night just holding you and looking at you, and I was bewildered and furious at the same time. I had to come back for this sensation again and again until I realized that I wanted your company as much as you wanted mine, and I kept away, hating you for invading my life and breaking my guard."

"When you went to Venice I saw my chance. It would be so much easier to destroy you away from home, and Venice is a place I have many opportunities in. But first, I decided, I would have you. I had waited for it so long and my guts burned. I was consumed with the thought of your naked body beneath mine."

He closed his eyes for a moment, took her hand and pressed her fingers against his lips. She remained silent but moved her hand in a feathery caress, giving solace to his feverish face.

"Then I had you there, cornered in front of me," he continued warily.

"Never had I wanted anything so much in my whole life, as I wanted you then. But when I took possession of you, you took possession of me and again you broke me into thousand pieces. In a flash, I realized that you wanted and loved me more than you feared me. I had no power over you; I never have, because I have loved you ever since I set eyes on you. You defeated me already from the start."

He was silent for a while as if contemplating his last words; then he went on.

"I tried to keep away from you, but seeing your despair it was impossible. Yet I didn't know how you would react to the thought of sharing my life — by the way, I still don't — and I thought that you needed time to think and perhaps someone to talk to other than me, so I sent Anna to take care of you."

"Then I heard you calling, it was like a scream within me, and I had no option but to come to you. And I am still here although I fear that I will bring you more sorrow than happiness, and I don't know how the future will be solved. You have chosen, and it can't be undone. I don't know if you fully realize the implications of your choice, but . . . your will is as strong as mine, and I fear that there is a battle ahead of us."

She raised herself, resting on an elbow, and looked down on him. Then she started kissing him lightly all over the face; on his eyelids and nose, on his prominent cheekbones and lips, and she began feathering languid caresses over his neck and breast. He released his grip on her and fell back into the bed, and the cramps seemed to leave him at last. She sat up and moved both her hands over his body, feeling the softness of his skin and the hardness of his muscles beneath. Lower and lower her hands traveled over him until reaching the silver-golden hair at the base of his sex that began to swell at the touch of her fingers. He shivered with pleasure as she traced her fingers along his inner thighs, and he spread his legs as if begging for more touches, more caresses.

She replaced her fingers with her tongue and licked her way up his thigh until she reached his sack that she gently cupped in her hand. A groan escaped him, and she felt him twisting under her, but he didn't interfere with her explorations, evidently relishing playing the passive part for once. She moved her fingers to his now swollen, rock-hard cock and started tracing its full length, feeling the silk-soft skin, raking her nails over the hardness, making him squirm beneath her hands. Then she gingerly put her tongue to the tip of the sensitive head, lapping up the droplets of clear, salty liquid that had formed there. She took him into her hot mouth and sucked hard on him, letting her tongue dance over him. He couldn't help thrusting deeper, and she let him glide across her tongue towards the back of her throat. He trashed in the bed and the breath was pushed out of him as his stomach muscles tensed and his swollen cock was throbbing in her mouth. He clenched and unclenched his fists and arched his hips upwards, meeting her every movement. She lashed her tongue over the head with more and more frenzy. She added to his pleasure when she started stroking his shaft with her hand in rhythm with her sucking and licking. His moaning grew louder and his whole body jerked now, tensed to the maximum. Then he let out a wailing cry and exploded in her mouth, filling it with his hot cream that she lapped up and greedily swallowed, and he writhed a few more times as she milked the last drops out of him before letting him go; he fell back onto the bed, and she dropped down between his legs, her head coming to rest on his stomach. She felt the throbbing between her legs and her body yearned for satisfaction, but she smiled and thought ‘This one was for you only.'

She didn't know how long she lay on top of him, perhaps sleeping perhaps not, dreaming wild disturbed dreams just below the surface of consciousness. She broke the surface, because the need grew within her. She touched his soft penis with her hand and blow gently on it. He stirred, and she felt that he woke up. His hand came down and moved over her head and under her hair, caressing her neck. Then he sat up beside her, and he lifted her and turned her into his embrace. She eased her hand down between them finding his cock. He was already hard and her need was so great and urgent that she couldn't wait. With feverish hands, she guided him into her hot wetness, engulfing him, sucking his swollen flesh with her inner muscles. He caught her by the shoulders with strong hands, steadying her. Then he put an arm around her waist supporting her back; he moved his free hand to her hot and wet opening, seeking out her clit with his thumb. He worked it relentlessly in rhythm with the convulsive movements of their dancing hips. She held on to him as if a storm was wrecking her when her orgasm shook her and drained her, and although this was coupling out of pure need, her climax was the most fulfilling she had experienced. Sated, she let him stretch her out beneath him, and he pinned her arms to the bed and with gentle fury he satisfied himself, filling her with his juices. Then he lifted his head and looked down on her, and she saw him smiling in the dark.

"If this is your way of killing me softly, then I'm prepared to die a thousand deaths."

He stroked her hair and added tenderly "Don't you think that we should try to catch some sleep now? We need to rest a while."

"Tomorrow you will be gone again," she sighed exhausted, and the fatigue brought tears to her eyes.

"No," he replied softly, "I give you my word that I will be here when you wake up tomorrow. Will you promise me that you will try to sleep a little now?"

She nodded in silence, and he slid down into the bed and put his head to rest on her breast.

But sleep eluded her. In her thoughts, she tried to come to terms with her situation. ‘This is an interlude,' she repeated to herself, picking up the thread of thought from earlier in the evening. ‘The old life is over and the new hasn't begun, and I must somehow gather strength in this pause to be able to continue.'

At last the breeze of the night stirred the curtains and cooled her burning and moist face; it brought with it an intense fragrance of jasmine, mimosa and oleander, blending with the strong and musky scent of their lovemaking that still filled the room....

********************
To be continued in "LIVING HAPPILY EVER AFTER?"

Chapter Text

LIVING HAPPILY EVER AFTER?

Late in May Sarah was flying from Boston to New York. She was going to stay with Anna for a while at Anna's invitation and it felt like a relief to Sarah to be on her way at last, leaving the turmoil of her homecoming behind her. The more proper physical distance she could put between herself and her home just right now, the easier it was to think about what had happened.

********************

Anna had been the one to finally convince Sarah that it was necessary for her to return home. There could be no way of postponing facing her family any longer. Sarah had been very apprehensive about the fact, but Anna had tried to calm her and said that everything was going to be all right once she was there and that Sarah magnified her fears of confronting her father and stepmother. They wouldn't notice any visible difference about her, save perhaps for the fact that she had matured during her absence. Anna had also promised to call her the moment she came to her flat in New York, and she had informed Sarah that she intended to go there within two weeks time.

They had deliberately kept off the subject of Jareth.

The first meeting with her family was sweet enough. The moment she flew into her father's embrace, she felt with a pang in her heart how much she had missed him, missed all of them. Karen hugged her for a long time and marveled at how grown up and beautiful she looked. Toby wouldn't let her go. She had to pick him up and carry him and he wrapped his little arms around her, never wanting to release his tight hold of her neck. Finally, Karen managed to catch his attention when promising all of them coffee and ice cream in the garden and with a shout of delight he let go of Sarah and scurried out onto the terrace. It had been a beautiful and hot Sunday in May, and the garden was looking at its best.

Sarah could think with joy and happiness of the afternoon when everybody was busy opening the presents she had brought them from Europe and the excellent dinner her stepmother had prepared for her. She had been especially happy about the fact that Toby seemed extremely pleased with the Harlequin doll that she had bought for him. Toby kept it in his hand and wouldn't let go of it, not even to let his parents have a closer look.

But the day had drawn to a close and finally Sarah found herself alone in her room. She had stood unmoving for what seemed an eternity, listening to the silence. The room was so small, so clean, so innocent; it belonged to somebody else, someone who didn't exist anymore. She felt a mounting anxiety, and she looked around everywhere for signs of Jareth, but she couldn't feel his presence in any way. In the end, she decided to go to bed hoping to catch some sleep at least; this would certainly be the best medicine she could think of.

Sarah remembered falling asleep almost instantly, but she woke up in the hour between night and daybreak and found that she had been crying. She realized that she had been dreaming, but she didn't remember her dream. Her throat was parched and her mouth dry and she felt she had to get something to drink. She went to the bathroom situated on the same floor as her own bedroom. The house was extremely quiet; she didn't even hear her own footsteps in the corridor, although she knew that if one stepped carelessly, the old boards would squeak loudly enough. She opened the door to the bathroom and stared unbelievingly into a black void. Instead of the bathroom, she found herself looking at what appeared to be an underground passage. It was totally dark and triggered a memory long forgotten in her mind – the oubliettes in the Labyrinth. She screamed and screamed and fell to the ground, losing her conscience.

The next thing she remembered was being in her own bed in her own room with Karen sitting by her side looking down at her with great concern. Karen told her that she had found her on the bathroom floor and that her father was calling the doctor. Sarah remained silent shivering both from fever and fear.

The doctor thought she had caught the flu — this contagious disease was raging through her home town for the moment — and he prescribed a medicine to ease the effects of the fever and ordered her to stay in bed and not excite herself in any way. It was a relief to Sarah to stop pretending and show exactly what she felt at the moment, exhaustion and depression, and she calmed down inside. Toby came to keep her company, and that also took her mind off things.

"I've already had the flu," he said and looked quite pleased about the fact. "When you were away. So I can be with you. Mom and Dad can't, so I've got to look after you," he added with an air of importance.

She couldn't but laugh at him. He jumped up into her bed and snuggled up to her and whispered excitedly, "I've got a secret!"

He looked as if he could barely contain himself.

"I couldn't tell you yesterday because Mom and Dad mustn't know."

"So tell me now," she urged him, "I'm dying to know."

"I've seen him!" Toby breathed in her ear, his cheeks blushing with excitement. Sarah's eyes widened and the smile left her face.

"When! Tell me when he was here!"

Neither Toby nor Sarah had mentioned a name. They both knew of whom they were talking.

Just before her homecoming, in fact, the day before, Toby had met Jareth in the garden.

"I recognized him at once," Toby said, "and he said he was so pleased to see me again. And I thought it was nice too. It was fun being with him. I wasn't scared at all."

Sarah closed her eyes. She knew all too well how extremely charming Jareth could be if that served his purpose. It seemed as if Jareth and Toby had toured the house, Jareth evidently wanting to "survey the grounds" if one might call it that. Toby had been a little bit puzzled by the fact that Mom and Dad were nowhere to be seen. He was so sure of that they were still in the house, but they must have gone out into the garden or taken the car to run an errand or something. When they had looked the house over, they had moved outside again, and Jareth had lifted himself and Toby to the top of the highest tree in the garden.

"It was such FUN!" Toby exclaimed. "We were flying! And it was marvelous sitting in a tree looking down on everything and knowing that we couldn't be seen. He said that he would be back and that we could do some more flying then."

Sarah closed her eyes again and started to shiver; she knew she had to tell Jareth next time she met him that she would NOT accept that he contacted Toby without her permission.

Sarah recovered slowly, perhaps because she didn't try in earnest. She slept copiously and hardly had anything to eat at all. She heard Dad and Karen talking with worried voices outside her door. Dad mentioned college, and she knew what that meant as well. She had ruined a whole term being away for so long. She knew that she had to deal with that problem too but later, not today, later.

********************

Anna brought her out of her lethargy, moving into her life, playing the guardian angel yet again. Sarah was sitting in the kitchen sipping tea, when Karen called from the living room,

"There's a friend of yours calling from New York. I don't recognize her voice. Someone you met in Europe?"

Sarah could clearly hear the curiosity in Karen's voice. She quickly left the table, feeling the blood quicken in her veins and she rushed upstairs.

"I'll take the call in my room if you don't mind," she shouted from the top of the landing.

"You've been ill your stepmother said?" There was a cautious question in Anna's voice.

"Yes," Sarah replied, "but I'm almost out of it now, feeling quite fine in fact. So many things have happened, so many things that I don't understand and that nearly scared me to death," she continued hurriedly almost in one breath. "Please can I come to you and talk to you and hopefully you can explain. . ."

"Please, please Sarah," Anna interrupted her almost laughing now. "Catch your breath and let me get a word in too. I called to invite you down to New York, but if you're not well maybe we will have to postpone it?"

"No!" Sarah cried, "I'll come as soon as I can. There is just one thing I have to do first and that is to see my instructor in college. He has contacted me, and I must see him and discuss what needs to be done with my studies. I should have been back in college in early April at the latest, and now I've missed the term after Spring Break. But I will be with you after that visit since I'm on sick leave just right now until the end of June. Doctor said something about my blood tests not being quite all right and that he needed to check them over again. . ."

Sarah's voice trailed off and there was a brief pause.

"It's settled then," Anna concluded, "be sure to call me the minute you're on your way," and she gave Sarah her phone number.

********************

It was breathtaking to be with Anna again. Sarah suddenly felt all alive. Anna's apartment in New York was no disappointment either, and Sarah had learned by now to expect only the very best, knowing that Anna had the wealth to acquire what she wanted and also that she had had enough time to pick her choices. Anna lived in a penthouse at the top of a tall building looking out over the Hudson River. The penthouse had two stories, and there was a balcony attached to the top floor.

"You can also go out on the roof of the building if you want to," Anna said, "but you don't know who or what you might meet there. There are other people, who have access to the roof as well, and if you are scared of heights, I don't recommend it. I much prefer my balcony, which is safe and where I can be incognito."

The first night, at sunset when the shadows were getting longer and deeper when they were sitting out on the balcony with drinks, Sarah told Anna the incredible story about her meeting with her professor in college, this being the first of the many strange new things happening to her that Sarah wanted to discuss with Anna.

She had arrived in college being very apprehensive, mentally rehearsing a defense speech, but her teacher, Mr David, greeted her warmly and took her into his study and placed her in a comfortable chair. On his desk, there was a sizable volume of hand-typed papers. When Mr David left the room in search of coffee for both of them, she sat staring at the heap of papers, her mind suddenly going blank. She became aware of that the contents of this big essay slowly seeped into her consciousness, and she knew out of the blue that it was an essay written by her, concerning research she had made in Italy on the Commedia dell'Arte Theater and its influence on modern comedy; she knew how many pages it contained, and she could see the different photos she had included, and she felt at once extremely dizzy and cold sweat broke out all over her face. Mr David found her slumping in the chair, and he became extremely worried and alarmed.

"Oh, I know that you've been ill," he exclaimed, "perhaps you shouldn't have come so soon after all."

He rushed to get her a glass of water, and Sarah recovered a little after drinking some. She straightened in the chair and kept her silence. Better let Mr David do all the talking under the circumstances.

"Feeling better?" he inquired and continued almost at once. "At first, when you called from Italy and said that you wanted to do research for your paper there, I was very skeptical but seeing this result I must say that I'm very impressed indeed."

While he was talking, her mind acquired knowledge about the telephone call that she was supposed to have made to him.

"It is certainly well above average standard, and I'm going to give you a top grade for this work. As far as the rest of the finals go, it's hard to tell at this very minute how you will be able to cope, being on sick leave as it is. However, there will be a second chance to complete the finals at the end of June before Summer Break, and if you are well enough by then to pull it through, you would certainly benefit from it. In the meantime, I'll give you a list of books to read if you think you can handle that, and please feel free to contact me at any time if you need advice."

On this happy note, their meeting had ended, and she had left his office totally dazed and confused. All the way to the airport to catch her flight to New York, she kept repeating to herself, ‘Why? Why has Jareth done this to me?' And now she directed this question to Anna.

"Why? Tell me why?"

"I could only guess," Anna answered slowly, "but it is so hard to try to divine his motives. You will have to ask him yourself. And I'm quite sure you will," she added smiling when she saw Sarah's mouth settle into a thin line.

Then Sarah went on to tell Anna about all other disturbing things that had happened to her since her return home; how Jareth had contacted Toby, her dreadful experience in the bathroom and the mere fact that the doctor had given her a certificate of illness until the end of June when she actually didn't feel very sick at all.

"To me it sounds as if Jareth is the one stalling for time now," Anna mused.

She leaned forward and took one of Sarah's hands.

"I gather that what happened to you in the bathroom is really what disturbs you the most, that's true isn't it?" And Sarah nodded silently.

"However," Anna went on, "this is something that you will have to learn to live with. I do understand that it must have been a frightful scare. No one has prepared you in any way for what awaits you in the future."

"You see," she continued after a short pause, "this is part of your new life. I know of course what you decided to do when you were in New Orleans, and I also know that Jareth is furious with you for not thinking your situation over beforehand, although he asked you to."

At these last words, Sarah bowed her head and sighed deeply.

"I only wanted to be sure that I would not ever be parted from him again; that was all I was thinking of at the moment," she whispered.

"This new life means among other features that you can see things that ordinary people cannot see and go places where they cannot go. You can for example enter and leave the Labyrinth on you own, and you will be able to see all the creatures that live in there."

"But I don't want to go into the Labyrinth again," Sarah interrupted vehemently.

"But my dear," Anna looked at her with compassion, "you ARE already in the Labyrinth; it is all around you."

"What do you mean?" Sarah cried and stared at Anna in anguish. "I've been there! I know what it looks like!!"

Anna now held on to both of Sarah's hands as if trying to comfort her and calm her down.

"Sarah, when you first entered the Labyrinth you had certain ideas of what it would be like. You had read books and played fantasy games. Then of course the Labyrinth looked the way you expected it to look and so did Jareth's castle and the Goblin City and all the rest. But now you have to learn that the Labyrinth can look like anything, and you can't tell from one time to the other what to expect – a little like meeting Jareth, don't you think so? This is the heart and core and the meaning of the Labyrinth; no person will experience it in the same way."

When tears started to roll over Sarah's face, Anna gently caressed her cheek and said

"Come, come, I know you are a brave, young woman, you can manage, I know that. But I will help you out with some basic facts about moving around in the Labyrinth now that you are a part of it," she added.

"Let's start with paying a visit to the King, and then I will show you how to come and go there all by yourself."

********************

Anna remembered that she had an invitation to an art exhibition at the Guggenheim and said to Sarah that this would offer an excellent opportunity for them. Sarah decided to let destiny in the form of Anna just take its course. She handed herself over to Anna in complete trust that she would come to no harm. Anna dressed her in red lace, bringing out the blackness of her long thick dark hair and the absolute pallor of her skin. She put on a white dress herself and looked at the effect in the mirror.

"Dressed to kill," she laughed confidently.

Guggenheim Museum was filled with a throng of buzzing people, mingling up and down the famous sloping ramp and around the ground floor where the drinks were served and a small exhibition displayed. Sarah didn't know the artist, but found his few large paintings slightly alarming. They somehow reminded her of labyrinths, covered as they were with circular splashes of bold colors. When they arrived, there was a press conference going on and some TV-station recorded the session. Anna greeted a lot of people and introduced Sarah, but Sarah couldn't afterwards remember any names. The evening was a blur to her and deep down inside the anticipation grew when she thought about her coming meeting with Jareth.

Anna brought Sarah to the top of the spiraling ramp under the large glass dome. There she took Sarah by the hand and turned to her.

"You must concentrate now," she said. "Think hard of the Labyrinth or of Jareth and look around for any feature that's here now but wasn't present when we entered."

Sarah closed her eyes but didn't know what image to focus on since she didn't know what Jareth's castle or garden looked like today. Instead, she thought of him. Then she opened her eyes and looked around. At first, she couldn't see any difference at all. But after a while, she saw a painting on the wall that she hadn't seen before and that was quite different from the others.

"Yes," Anna said, "that's the opening. Let's go."

"But what will the others say?" Sarah inquired.

"They will not see us; even right now we are already invisible to them."

Anna led Sarah to the painting and touched it lightly. Sarah saw the painting sway open to the side just like a door. In front of them was the same dark passage that had scared her so much in her own bathroom a couple of weeks ago. This time she dared enter it holding on to Anna.

********************

Before Sarah knew it, she was standing in a lovely garden full of trees and bushes. It was night, but the air wasn't cold, and it was filled with the balmy scent of many flowers; Anna gently pressed her to move on and when the trees and the bushes cleared, the castle unexpectedly came into view. It was awesome and beautiful, but not looking like Sarah remembered it. This made her think more of an English 18th or 19th century castle, embedded in green foliage. They could see lights in the large windows on the second floor.

When they came near the entrance, Sarah felt someone tugging at her dress, and she looked around startled but at first she didn't see anyone. Then she looked down and realized that it was a little goblin, holding on to her skirt.

"Take you to the King," he said and unceremoniously dragged her along upstairs.

Anna followed behind. The entrance hall was huge and full of shadows, and silence enveloped them. The little goblin urged them upstairs. The second floor was elaborately decorated with antique furniture, paintings and carpets, all glowing in the faint light. They saw a door slightly ajar at the end of the large upper room, and they approached it. The little goblin had disappeared without a trace when Sarah looked around.

Anna pushed the door open and entered, taking Sarah by the hand, encouraging her to follow. They saw Jareth standing in front of a huge window in the dimly lit room. He was dressed in grey silk and black boots, and a small diamond chain kept a watch in place in one of his pockets. They advanced on the thick, expensive carpet almost without making a sound, yet he instantly turned around and gazed intently at them. Then a slow teasing smile curved his thin lips, and he raised his eyebrows.

"What an absolutely gorgeous pair you are," he greeted them, "looking like two beautiful witches out on mischief! Was it a nice exhibition? I almost had in mind going there myself, but I couldn't deny myself the pleasure of waiting for you to find your way here."

He left the window and began a slow tour around Sarah, who felt that she couldn't move. She tried to catch his eyes, but he wouldn't meet her gaze. Instead, he looked her up and down and made small appreciative noises.

"I hadn't realized how well red suits you," he murmured, "the color of blood."

Then he raised his head and made an almost imperceptible nod in the direction of Anna, and Sarah felt behind her that Anna silently left the room.

Jareth approached Sarah slowly and finally locked his mismatched eyes into hers, and she felt her stomach tighten. She clenched her teeth and thought that she would never get used to his different moods; that she would never get used to not knowing in advance what to expect when she met him. He hadn't touched her, yet the nearness of him burned her skin.

"You came here to ask me some questions, isn't that so?" He looked at her with cautious eyes as if he already knew what she was going to ask and had prepared the answers. Sarah made an effort to get out of his hypnotic stare and regain control over herself. She shook her head and went up to the window.

"You have visited Toby without my permission and without me being present," she ventured at last.

"Why should I seek your permission?" he asked behind her, "and what danger do you think Toby is subject to? As far as I know, nobody has wished him away again."

At which Sarah blushed furiously and kept her face turned away from him.

Then she whirled around and faced him.

"Why?" she asked. "Why did you "write" a paper in my name and send it to my instructor? I'm so humiliated and feel such a cheat!"

"It suited me," he answered coolly.

"Suited YOU?!"

She felt the heated anger in her throat. But before she could continue, he had approached her yet closer, and now he towered over her. His face was almost in shadows, but she could still see his mouth with lips tightly drawn over his teeth, and she could see his eyes glimmer at her in the semi darkness.

"It doesn't suit me that you flunk your work on account of me. Too much attention would be drawn to you on account of failure to complete exams."

"My work is MY work, and I don't want you to interfere with it," she interrupted.

"You seem to be forgetting that you belong to me now and the decisions, concerning what is best for you, are mine and mine alone." There was definitely an edge to his voice now.

"Don't defy me Sarah," he whispered as he bent down over her and brushed his lips over hers.

Then, before she had drawn her next breath, he was gone and the void he left was chilling.

Sarah looked around confused and scared and realized that Anna was in the room again.

"Come," Anna said, "we have to go back now."

Sarah followed her without a word. However great her anger was because of Jareth's intervening in her life, she yearned to be with him and had secretly hoped that he would have asked her to stay. Now she was being sent away like a little girl, being punished for bad behavior, and she clenched her teeth again and swallowed her tears of frustration.

The way out of the Labyrinth was of course not the same as the way in. That would have been too easy. Again Anna asked Sarah to concentrate on where she wanted to go, and as Sarah didn't want to go home to be alone with her thoughts, they decided to go back to the party.

"Be careful though," Anna said with a little laugh, "there is a Guggenheim in Bilbao and one in Venice as well, and if you're not concentrating properly, you might end up there instead. These things happened to me over and over again when I started to go in and out of the Labyrinth in the beginning."

********************

The days that followed were filled with different social occasions that kept both Sarah and Anna extremely busy. It seemed that Anna led a very hectic social life in New York in comparison to her rather quiet and secluded life in New Orleans. But then again, Anna had once said to Sarah that New Orleans was the place she went to when she needed to go into hiding.

In New York, Anna seemed to know all the right people to get into the right places, and Sarah followed her wherever she went, without asking questions. They attended fashion shows, went to theater premieres and charity balls. Sarah couldn't keep track of all new people she met. One or two of them seemed however to be special friends of Anna and these people she began to recognize. She felt though that Anna kept her at a small but significant distance from all these new acquaintances, and Sarah refrained from asking why, fearing that the answer might be that it was on a command from Jareth.

She constantly thought about Jareth and tried to understand his reasons and motives, and she realized now, afterwards, that her visit to him most likely was due to an order from him to Anna to take her there. Yet she still didn't understand why he should feel this need to completely dominate her life into the smallest detail.

When yet a week had gone by, Anna asked Sarah if she would mind being alone in New York for a couple of days. Anna had some urgent business in Europe, and she would be very happy if Sarah could stay in the penthouse in the meantime. Sarah didn't mind at all. It felt almost like a relief to have a weekend alone for a change after the hectic week that she had just lived through.

********************

Sarah followed Anna to the airport early Friday morning to wave goodbye, and then she returned directly to the penthouse. It was somehow an eerie feeling entering the now empty flat, which was so quiet that one could hear a needle drop to the floor. It almost seemed as if no one had ever lived there. To shake the feeling off, Sarah went to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. She contemplated calling Dad and Karen but in the end decided not to; she knew that they would immediately start to ask a lot of questions that she didn't feel like answering just right now. She thought with a smile that this was the second occasion on which she was alone in one of the places where Anna lived, and she remembered how she rather shamelessly had searched the house in New Orleans and been rewarded with strange peeks into Anna's past. After just a slight moment's hesitation, Sarah began exploring the flat, well aware of the fact that she pried into private domains. But since Anna hadn't locked any doors or drawers, maybe Sarah was secretly encouraged to do so? She knew deep down in her conscience that she looked for traces of Jareth within Anna's life. She also soon discovered that there was none to be found here and even traces of Anna herself were absent. The flat was in a way very anonymous. ‘Maybe because she entertains here,' Sarah thought, ‘she doesn't do that in New Orleans.'

Then she went up and out onto the roof for the first time. It thrilled and scared her. Up there among the roofs of the other skyscrapers with only the blue sky above her and the distant murmur of traffic way down below, it was like being in another and strange world. She couldn't keep herself from going to the edge of the roof and peek down on the streets far below her. Vertigo hit her almost at once and for safety's sake, she kneeled and held on to the frail railing before daring to take another look. The cars looked like matchbox toys, and the people milled about like ants on the sidewalks. When she felt the nausea well up in her throat again, she withdrew and sat down far from the edge near a ventilating shaft that rumbled quietly behind her. She saw traces of human activities around her when she looked closer. Near the opening to the stairs, which led into the building, was a small shelter with tools, and a chair was standing alone in the opening.

Sarah left the roof and returned to the flat. It was but a short flight of stairs from the roof to the penthouse entrance, and she didn't have to take the elevator. Once back in the apartment, she went out onto the balcony. She understood what Anna meant by saying that it was an entirely different feeling being on the balcony compared with the roof. The balcony was so constructed, the brim being very wide, that you couldn't look down over the edge. You could only look out and around you at the spectacular townscape and the busy river. Sarah drew a deep breath, and her stomach settled at last.

********************

She didn't yet know what she was going to do with her weekend and decided that she at least would like to go shopping all by herself. Shopping was indeed one of her favorite pastimes. In the famous shopping palaces, she felt like a kid in a candy store. She was amazed at the amount of luxury being offered everywhere and the abundance of it.

After having spent the better part of her afternoon in and out of stores and since it was now getting late, she felt like having a cup of coffee before going home, and she also wanted to rest her feet. She went into a small coffee shop not far from Bloomingdale's and ordered a large cappuccino. There were all kinds of people in the rather crowded place at rush hour, and Sarah didn't bother looking around at first. But then she heard a baby crying, and she saw a young mother at a table not far from the entrance. Her baby in the pram had started to howl in earnest, most likely because it needed a change of diapers. The mother kept looking at the door and didn't bother about her baby. Her eyes were glazed, she moved her hands restlessly, and there was an irritated frown between her eyes. Somehow Sarah got the notion that the mother was on drugs. ‘Some people just shouldn't have babies,' she thought with a sigh, and then she forgot all about the incident when leaving the coffee shop to have a last go at Bloomingdale's. She wanted to have one more look at the lingerie department.

When she was finally done with her shopping and reached the ground floor of the big department store, she heard a great commotion going on near one of the elevators. A woman was screaming and crying, and she heard the security guards talking rapidly in their walkie-talkies. A crowd had gathered, and Sarah joined to see what had happened. She instantly recognized the young mother from the coffee shop. In front of her was the now empty pram. Sarah stared at it and the mother and she involuntarily began to look around. People in the crowd kept gesticulating and shouting advice. One had seen the pram in the Ladies Room, at that time the baby was still in it. Another had seen it in the elevator, and then the pram was empty. The mother was incoherent and very clearly under drug influence by now. Sirens from police cars could be heard approaching.

Then Sarah saw the little creature with the baby in his arms, standing behind a pillar not far from the elevator. Her eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to shout, but not a sound escaped her. She realized with mounting fear and exasperation that she was the only one on the entire ground floor that could see the goblin with the child. ‘If I can't say anything,' she thought, ‘I can at least act,' and she started towards the pillar. But although she wanted to run, her feet wouldn't move faster than at a very slow, leisurely pace. The goblin caught sight of her, and he vanished into the pillar with the baby in his arms. Sarah's knees almost buckled under her. ‘I have to get away from here,' she thought wildly, ‘or they might start wondering about my reactions.' Somehow she managed to ease her way out of the now totally crowded lobby and well out on the street, she hailed a cab and headed back to the penthouse as soon as possible. She shivered visibly during the whole ride. The cabdriver kept looking at her in the mirror, but he didn't say anything, maybe he thought she was ill.

Back in the quiet apartment Sarah kept pacing the floor. She was still extremely upset, and she took a small glass of whiskey to try to settle her nerves. The sun had set and dusk enveloped the skyscrapers around her; she felt as if she couldn't breathe inside the flat and impulsively, she decided to go up on the roof. Up there it was almost quiet, and it was getting dark quickly. She could even see the first stars in the sky. Then she became aware of that she wasn't alone. She saw a man sitting in a chair by the tool shed; it was a young man in old and worn clothes and when he saw that she noticed him, he rose and started moving towards her. She immediately regretted her decision to go up on the roof and turned at once to go back to the flat but realized soon enough that she wouldn't make it to the stairs before he reached her.

"Hi," he said, "didn't expect such nice company here at this time of the day. No one usually comes here in the night except me. Wanna share a joint?"

He held out what looked like a sordid and partly crumbled stick to her. She shook her head and pressed her arms into her stomach as if this simple gesture could provide her with all the safety in the world she needed now. The stranger moved around her in circles, and she could hear him mutter to himself. Then he closed in on her, and she could feel his foul breath on her face.

"Should really try this stuff you know, it's the best," he insisted waving the now extinct joint in his hand.

Sarah backed and he stumbled after her.

"I just wanted some air," she pleaded in anguish, "can't you leave me in peace? I will soon go down, and you can have the roof to yourself again."

But he wouldn't leave her in peace. He kept repeating that she had but come up on the roof, now she couldn't just leave like that. Finally, she sensed danger in the air. He wouldn't let her go, and she started to move backwards towards the stairs and tripped and fell, not seeing where she was going. Just as she fell, and the sky came into her view, she saw the huge bird soaring in over the rooftop. It was a great, white owl, and it headed directly for the man, now bent over her. The man was totally taken by surprise and took a few steps back. The owl did a turn and returned in incredible speed for another attack. The man began to shout and gesticulate as if hoping to scare the bird away, and at the same time he was moving towards the railing without noticing it. Sarah started to scream at the same moment as the bird came in for the kill, lunging forward, hacking the man in the face and flapping the wings rapidly. Sarah hid her face in her hands not wanting to see the fall, but she would carry with her the memory of the scream, forever imprinted on her mind.

She didn't know how she got to her feet and down the stairs to the flat, but once inside she slammed the door shut behind her and the silence hit her like a blow; the only sound she could hear being her own wild heartbeats. She approached the stairs within the penthouse to go down to the second floor, but froze with her hand on the railing. In the darkness at the bottom of the stairs, she saw him standing.

He disengaged himself from the shadows and began to move slowly up the stairs, coming clearly into her field of vision. The black leather suit he was wearing looked like a second skin. He had folded his arms tightly over his chest. She became acutely aware of the non-human side of him. He seemed to vibrate from the excitement of the recent kill, the skin drawn tight over his prominent cheekbones and his nostrils white and flaring. He looked directly at her. His eyes and teeth glimmered at her in the dark. He was hauntingly beautiful and dangerously sexy, and she could feel his desire for her, focused on her like a beam of light.

"No," she moaned, "no, no. . ."

"Yes!" he whispered under his breath.

Mad with fear now and rising anger she made a futile dash down the stairs trying to get past him, but he caught her effortlessly. She wasn't going to give in that easily and decided to put up a fight. That evidently took him by surprise, and they both lost their balance and tumbled to the floor in the hall beneath the stairs. They fought silently for a while, all tangled up in each other's arms and legs, their wild breathing the only sound to penetrate the silence. She tried to bite him and scratch him but to no avail. Finally, he got hold of both her hands and pinned them to the floor above her head with one of his fists. When he now had control over her, he shifted his weight over her body. She tried to jerk her hands free, but he held on easily not even using any force. Her breath came in uneven gasps, and her heart was hammering against his chest. He looked down at her with half-closed eyes, dark with desire.

"You killed him!!" she managed at last between gasps of breath.

"Yes," he smiled, flashing his pointed teeth, "I killed him for you. I'm not going to tolerate anyone or anything threatening you."

She saw him lower his head towards her, and she was still fighting him, not wanting to give in, not wanting to be kissed now.

But he kissed her. His lips were surprisingly soft, yet unyielding. He moved his hot mouth over hers and sucked her lips, forced them gently apart and inserted his hard tongue into her mouth. The taste of him drove her mad, made her shiver all over and a hot wetness flooded her. As if sensing this, he moved a knee in between her thighs and pressed it against her throbbing cunt. She moaned another ‘no' in his mouth, and she felt him smile against her lips as he kept on sucking and gently nibbling her, planting small bites at the corners of her mouth, licking his way from her chin down to her throat.

She twisted under him, fighting both him and herself now, trying in vain to free her hands.

"And you took that baby too!" she sobbed.

He lifted his head and took hold of her chin with his free hand, steadying her face, forcing her to look at him. His smile was vicious now, and she could see both arrogance and mockery in his eyes.

"Don't tell me that has come as a surprise to you. That's what I do for a 'living,' remember?"

She cried now; angry tears that trickled into her hair. He kissed her again, now hard and unrelenting, bruising her lips, making her lose her breath and gasp for air. Then he bent down over her and moaned softly in her ear

"I want to take you! I'm going to take you for as long as I want, I'm going to make you ache for me!"

Still holding her arms pinned to the floor with one hand he unzipped her jeans and eased them off her, not heeding her protests. With his free hand, he started to explore her, gently cupping her sex in his hand, feeling how hot and wet she was and she cried harder, because she couldn't hide how aroused she was and how hungry she was for him; he bent over her again and when she heard the sound of silk being ripped to shreds, she realized that he had torn her blouse with his teeth. Her nipples hardened when he wetted them and the cool night air licked her bare breasts.

He hadn't removed any of his own clothes, and the leather in his jacket grated and burned her skin when he pressed himself against her. Her arms ached from being pinned to the floor, and finally he let go of them, but he didn't release her. Instead, he straddled her hips with his strong thighs, now having both his hands free. He bent down over her and began licking her all over her body just like a big cat and at the same time he gently pinched and tugged at her nipples until they throbbed with pain and pleasure, sending waves of pre-orgasmic twinges down to her swollen vulva. When he was sure of that she wasn't going to fight him any longer or try to run away, he eased up on his hold over her and increased his caresses and fondling. He caressed her slowly and unhurriedly with his hands, kneading her breasts, parting her legs, feathering unbearable touches to the inside of her thighs. She still cried, her face all wet from tears, but the crying was as much due to pleasure now as to the fact that he had defeated her; that she had to admit that she had given in to him in the end.

He played her like an instrument, kissing her, sucking her lips and tongue at the same time as he gently began to move his fingers ever so lightly over her body, hardly touching her at first, seeking out the points most sensitive to his touch. Her violent shuddering reactions to his caresses told him where to concentrate. He found an extra sensitive spot on the inside of her thighs, near her mound. When he stroked her there, she almost came for him. Moving over to the other thigh, he just accidentally brushed over her swollen sex, and she bucked her hips, trying to stay in contact with his hand, moaning when he moved on. He found that circling the contours of her breasts made her achingly aroused, and her nipples turned to hard buttons when he wetted them with his tongue and toyed with them. His hands became more urgent. He moved them tightly and hard over her ribcage until he reached her hips that he gripped pulling her body towards his. She could feel her inside melt when he kissed her stomach with open mouth, hot and wet, fucking her navel with his tongue. Then his hands moved on to her opening, lightly fingering the folds and then seeking out the clit that stood out hard between them; he started flicking his thumb rapidly over it, getting his hand soaked in her juices. He went down on her, licking her clean and then suddenly, savagely, he took her clit in his mouth sucking it hard. She started moaning incessantly, crying and moaning, and then she jerked violently as he inserted two fingers into her tight, hot wetness, finding the spot in the roof of her cunt giving the most pleasure. He massaged it with his fingers until she spasmed around him and came in a whitelight orgasm while he sucked and fondled her. He didn't let go of her until it had finished.

Then he got on his knees and freed his hard, swollen cock. She began to shiver when he spread her, opened her up. And the breath was sucked out of her when she felt his cock slide into her in one savage thrust, a groan escaping his lips. He deliberately fucked her slowly and deeply now, going just a little bit deeper and harder with every stroke, his hips moving at an unhurried pace. When she started to shudder helplessly, he thrust all the way in and buried his hardness in her, holding still while she came in a series of violent orgasms. And then she sensed that he too was near his climax. He gripped her hips tightly and painfully and pressed his pelvis in between her thighs, up against her cunt. Unmerciful in his savagery, he pushed himself so deep inside that it almost hurt and as he released in her, holding still again, his throbbing twitching cock filled her with hot burning liquid over and over again, and he screamed in pleasure and agony. Then he rolled off her body and fell on his back to the floor, ripping open his leather jacket, exposing his chest, blank with sweat. He turned to her immediately and gathered her in his arms, seemingly not wanting to leave her deserted in the cold. She finally put her arms around him and accepted being drawn into his embrace. The silence around them was deafening.

********************

Jareth finally got up from the floor. He lifted Sarah in his arms and carried her to the bathroom. With an impatient gesture, he removed his clothes and filled the Jacuzzi with warm water and slipped both Sarah and himself into it. He leaned back and closed his eyes, holding her above the water with one of his arms, cradling her close to his body. Sarah felt her aching muscles slowly relax in the gently bubbling water. She also closed her eyes after a while. They still hadn't said a word to each other.

‘If I try to talk or if he starts talking now, I'm going to cry,' she thought and felt the burning tears under her closed eyelids. It was as if she had conveyed her feelings to him without words, because he tightened his grip on her and started caressing her neck under the hair that flowed around her head in the water like seaweed. She tried to handle the outrage and the pleasure inside her at the same time, but it bewildered and scared her and she didn't know how. She could feel him clench his jaw, and his muscles tensed like wires in his body. All of a sudden he got on his knees in the water, and he took her by the shoulders and shook her.

"Look at me!" he shouted. "Look at me! Do you think you're the only one to be had in this relationship? Do you think I WANTED to fall in love with you? Oh God. . ."

He closed his eyes over his rage and desperation, and he locked her into his arms with a power that could have crushed her ribcage, hadn't he relaxed his hold on her a little when on an impulse she quickly moved her head towards his throat and kissed the beating pulse there. It took him by surprise and he fell with her into the water, kissing her hungrily all over her face. She tried to calm him down and started to move her hands lightly over his chest. She leaned into him and took one of his nipples in her mouth, gently sucking on it. Although he released his hold on her, it didn't calm him down. With a low moan deep in his throat, he threw his head back, and she felt his cock harden against her stomach. She hadn't realized how very sensitive to touch his nipples were and when she found that out, she couldn't have enough of them. Then she lathered her hand with soap and began to lightly finger and fondle just the head of his powerful erection. She knew she didn't have to apply any pressure, and she didn't have to rub his hard shaft to give him the almost unbearable pleasure, she was administering to him now; no big movements at all, just the tiniest most delicious touches. He let go completely and he could have sunk to the bottom of the jacuzzi, hadn't she stopped him. He didn't hold back but abandoned himself to the torture of her caresses, and he came almost instantly in the most violent orgasm she had witnessed; eyes tightly shut, mouth open with a silent scream and his cock twitching in her hand.

********************

They slowly crawled out of the water at last, totally exhausted physically and mentally. Sarah still couldn't talk to Jareth. She didn't realize until afterwards that she was in a state of shock. She had an incredible need to be close to him, to feel him, to touch him as if she could only communicate with him in this primitive manner for the moment. He seemed to understand this without words and didn't let go of her. With a graceful gesture of his hand, he procured clothing for them, a linen shirt and jeans for himself, a soft warm bathrobe for her, and he put a bottle of wine on the table and lit the fire in the fireplace. Had it been on a different occasion she would have delighted in his magic, but tonight she just accepted it as an obvious part of the proceedings. Then he cuddled up with her in the corner of the sofa, putting her in between his legs, drawing her body close so that she rested against his chest. She closed her eyes only to see the images from the roof behind her eyelids and hear the awful scream inside her head. With a start, she opened her eyes again and looked wildly about.

"Shhhh. . ." he whispered in her hair. "Everything is all right. I'm not going to let anything hurt you."

Panting in small gasps and with cold sweat covering her face, she fell back into his embrace. He managed to persuade her to drink some wine. It was good and sweet and quickened the blood in her veins.

Sarah slept a little in his arms and when she woke with a start it was past midnight, and she noticed that he had put on the TV and that he was watching "Casblanca" with Bogart and Bergman. She felt somehow that all violence had left the room, both the violence connected with death and the other kind related to sexual desires. She couldn't describe how she felt the difference, but the air was lighter to breathe and as she rested against his chest, she felt his warmth but he was not burning her with his presence. When he felt her stir he looked at her,

"Does the TV bother you?" he asked quietly.

"No," she answered, speaking for the first time in several hours, "how come you're watching TV?"

"It's very relaxing," he smiled at her in amusement, "don't you watch TV when you need to unwind?"

"Yes, but I didn't think you had TV in the Labyrinth."

"I have access to any kind of technical wonder I could wish for, you'll be amazed." His laughter was a low rumble in his chest.

He offered her some more wine and urged her to drink. Not having eaten anything since lunchtime, the wine went to her head, and she fell back against his breast again. He decided that she needed something to eat and said that he was going to hunt in the kitchen for whatever was there, but when he rose and untangled himself from her, she panicked and wouldn't let go of him. He looked patiently at her as if looking at a child that was particularly troublesome when prompted to go to bed. Then he picked her up and carried her out into the kitchen and put her down on the sink while he looked for food. She knew well enough that he could have set at table in front of her worthy of a king, but she also knew that it amused him to do things in "the standard way" as he sometimes referred to it. He found some cold chicken and coleslaw salad in the refrigerator and brought it to her. Sitting on the sink, she wrapped her legs around his waist and drew him close to her body. She let him put tiny morsels of food in her mouth and obediently drank the wine he offered her. Then, without any warning, she began to cry again. He didn't ask why and he didn't try to stop her. He let her rest her head against his shoulder, and he rocked her gently in his arms. When she had recovered a little, he lifted her in his arms again and carried her to the bedroom.

"You will have to sleep properly," he said.

She got frantic and locked her fingers in his shirt.

"Don't go, don't leave me," she cried in panic, "I can't bear to be alone, I'll die!"

He sighed and sat down on her bed. Then he removed their clothing, gently but firmly motioned her to lie down and slid into the bed close behind her, spoon-fashion, her buttocks curved into his hips. Not until he put his arm over her body, securing her in his embrace, did she fall asleep.

She woke with a slight start a couple of hours later with the echo of screams in her head. Her heart was fluttering fast, and she felt a great anxiety. It was still dark in the room, but when she could feel that he was still there behind her, she quieted down and relaxed with a sigh against him. He was sleeping, and she could feel his half-erect penis between her legs. She tightened herself around him and sensed the wetness in her sex that the mere contact with him triggered.

"I want you inside," she whispered, "take me."

She brought her hands down between her legs and touched him lightly, flicking her fingertips over the head of his cock and was instantly rewarded with feeling his erection grow in her hands. He stirred behind her, but she wasn't sure of whether he was awake or not. She lifted her free leg enough to manage to guide him into her throbbing cunt, sliding down over him, crying out softly when hit by the blissful feeling of being filled with him. His arm that had rested heavily over her came to life, and he moved his hand searchingly over her body, letting it come to rest over one of her breasts. His movements were lazy and sleepy, but he was definitely awake now. She felt him move closer to her, putting his lips against her shoulder, kissing her as he murmured hardly audible endearments to her. She couldn't see him, but she divined the catlike grin on his face. As he increased his rhythm and his strokes became more urgent and deeper, he took a firm grip of her hips, and she gave herself over to the oncoming orgasm as if letting go into a free fall. She fell and fell, into him into herself, closing her eyes, feeling him filling her with his juices, hardness and softness combined, urgency and relief at the same time. Part of her mind realized that she experienced falling from the roof but that she wouldn't touch the ground, being saved by his wings.

********************

The moment Anna walked into the flat, she realized that something fatal had happened. She went straight out to the balcony where Sarah was sitting, unmoving, with New York Times in her lap and staring unseeing out into the void. It was Sunday afternoon and the weather was sultry and oppressive, a storm looming over the city. Anna went up to Sarah and sat down in the chair opposite her. She had to touch Sarah to bring her out of her stupor.

"What's happened?" Anna asked anxiously.

Sarah turned her big sad eyes towards her and answered quietly in so many words, "Jareth has killed a man because of me."

They looked at each other in silence for what seemed an eternity.

Then Sarah proceeded to tell Anna about the abduction of the child — the incident that had started the chain of events — and she described in detail what had happened up on the roof. She left out her own encounter with Jareth in the penthouse later in the evening, that meeting being too private to disclose.

"And look here," she added opening the paper, "there is a little note on page 15 in New York Times about a man falling from the roof in the city and that they don't suspect any crime, the man being under drug influence. Then they go on with a short discussion about how the house-owners often neglect maintenance of such areas of their houses as roofs and cellars. That's all! And about the baby, not even a line."

She buried her head in her hands.

"What shall I do?" she whispered, not directing her question to Anna in particular.

They sat in quiet for a while again. Anna hadn't made any comments as if waiting for Sarah to speak and to come up with suggestions and solutions.

In the end however Anna said, "I've got a full week ahead, and you are welcome to come along as usual but if you don't feel up to it, I don't mind. You just do as you please. And of course you are free to stay as long as you like."

Sarah nodded but didn't answer.

However, Sarah joined Anna that evening after some hesitation. Anna was going to a small club in the Village where, by special invitation, she was going to attend a performance by a famous New York Underground rock group. Sarah thought that the music would deafen the voices in her head. Instead, it underlined her vivid imagination as if providing a soundtrack for what had happened to her. When they finally returned home and went to bed, Sarah had wild and scaring dreams that woke her up at intervals. The day broke, and she still hadn't slept properly. ‘Too late for sleeping pills now,' she thought. Then she sat up in bed and calmed herself, exerting a great amount of willpower. ‘I HAVE to solve this issue,' she thought. ‘It's cowardly to give in and wail about what is lost and cannot be undone. I have to go on from somewhere and take the consequences of what I have done and find a platform from where I can continue.'

She decided that she would do some very serious thinking and not shy away from any aspect of the problem, being it her own attitude or Jareth's. She also decided that she had to be alone to do this, absolutely and totally alone in an environment that was strange and unfamiliar to her, and she didn't want anything to distract her.

Sarah told Anna about her decisions and her plans the next morning, and Anna thought it was wise of her to pursue that line of action. Anna also gave her a key to the penthouse and said that Sarah could come back any time she wanted but that she would be happy if Sarah phoned her in advance, and Sarah agreed to do that.

********************

Sarah rented a car and headed west out of the city. She didn't know in advance where she was going, not knowing how far she could drive in a day. At first, she concentrated on the driving, it was long since she had been behind a wheel, and this simple action also took her mind off things. She stopped at small motels along the way and found that she slept dreamlessly during the nights out of sheer exhaustion. She didn't pick the motels where she stopped with care; she just took them as they came along. She didn't seek company but occasionally she could spend a couple of hours with the truck drivers over a shared dinner.

As the days went by, she found that she could start thinking about her problems without feeling the white, hot pain that had scorched her earlier. The car was an excellent place where to think she found. One morning, she reached the area of the Great Plains. She had never been there, and the beauty of the scenery took her breath away; she had never thought that the vast prairie could look like a green-golden sea with an endless sky above. She finally felt the urge to stop for a while and headed for the nearest small town and checked into its only motel. When asked how long she wanted to stay, she couldn't give a precise answer, but the owner didn't seem to mind, and he didn't show any curiosity about her. He asked her to pay in advance for a couple of days, and was content with everything when she did.

After a small and rather uninspired dinner, Sarah went to her room and for the first time since she had left New York, she had a faint feeling of Jareth's presence; she didn't see him though. She sat down on the porch outside her room and forced herself to face her situation, and she came to the conclusion that she loved Jareth without any reservations and that nothing either she or he had done, or could do in the future, would change this fact. She also recognized that she sincerely believed that Jareth loved her. But she admitted for the first time to herself that she had come to realize that this fact didn't make Jareth a better being, a "nicer" or more "good" person. She also realized that she would never be able to change him in this respect. Jareth had too much power in him for that. It came to her as a revelation that she couldn't judge Jareth with earth-standards. He simply lacked moral in the way she and her fellow humans interpreted that word. Not so that he was immoral. One could rather say that he was amoral in the sense of being unrestrained. He judged his actions only according to what was best for himself and therefore best for his kingdom and subjects. It was a question of pure survival and a non-human feature in him. Like a dominant lion, he was prepared to fight for his territory and his group until death. He had once said to her that he was prepared to kill for her and to die for her, and now she finally knew what that meant, to the exact word to be precise.

The evening slowly enveloped her. It wasn't cold, and she stayed yet another hour on the porch. There was more to face and contemplate, and she had set her mind to do it all tonight. She knew she had caused a terrible and irrevocable difference to her life when she had entered his world in the incident in New Orleans. She had done it with the same impulsiveness as when entering the Labyrinth, not thinking at all about the consequences, and she knew that Jareth was very upset with her because of this. He had implored her to be fully aware of her choices when she made them. She didn't exactly know all the details about her new life, but she had already been made aware of the hard consequences of her choice. Yet to come was to face the fact that she would most likely be very old compared to earth-standards, and eventually she would have to explain why to her family. However, it would take a considerable time before anyone would really notice, and she decided to postpone the confrontation concerning this issue with her family until later, at least she wanted Toby to be older before she told him.

********************

So sure was she that she had come to terms with all the problems and finally cleared her mind that she in earnest expected to find Jareth in her room when she went back in there. But the room was empty, and there wasn't a trace of him anywhere. She felt greatly disappointed and bewildered, and the old anxiety came back. ‘He must know by now that I desperately want to see him, that I miss him and long for him,' she thought.

"Jareth?" she called softly but she couldn't feel his presence in any way.

She somehow slept through the night, and after that followed two totally blank days. She sat in the bleak motel room as if paralyzed and couldn't bring herself to do anything. When the third night came, she knew she would be unable to sleep, and she cried in her distress. When she had recovered somewhat, an idea, a thought, started to form in her head. ‘If he won't come to me, I will go to him. There is nothing to stop me now. I can go into the Labyrinth on my own. At least I will be able to ask him face to face if he still wants me or not.' A fever seized her, and she dived into her memory to recall exactly how Anna had performed the transition. She remembered that she was to concentrate on Jareth and then look around for a feature in her surroundings that was new, that she hadn't seen or observed before. She closed her eyes and brought forth the mental images of him, and thought with great concentration about him for a long time; then she slowly opened her eyes. The room around her looked exactly as she had seen it earlier. She couldn't find any new features in there. She went out on the porch, and when she found nothing there, out into the small garden surrounding the motel. There, at the back of a small green patch, she found a little tool shed that she didn't remember from before. She approached the tiny, wooden hut with great care, and when she took hold of the handle to the door, it swung open silently, and in front of her was the hidden dark passage. She ran into it, fearing that the door might otherwise slam shut in her face.

It was night in the Labyrinth too. She shivered with fear and the garden she found herself in, didn't look as pleasant and inviting as it had done on her last visit. It looked sinister and scaring, dark and barren; the wind was sighing through the trees, and she stumbled forward, hoping that she would soon reach the clearing where she could see the castle. Finally, she got there, and she saw the castle looming in the distance. Also the castle looked different tonight and Sarah remembered what Anna had said to her about the Labyrinth forever changing its form and appearance. The castle was in total darkness, and she couldn't see a single light in any of the windows. ‘Suppose he isn't here at all?' she asked herself in anguish. ‘Suppose I have come in vain?' She couldn't linger in the cold but ran towards the entrance.

The door seemed to be overpoweringly heavy, but it opened easily enough when she touched it. The huge entrance hall was empty and dimly lit, deep shadows filling the corners. She hastened upstairs but also the great hall on the second floor was empty and in semi darkness. She was so scared now that her whole body was shivering and her teeth clattered; she thought she heard a sound and turned quickly, but nothing moved behind her. Then she went into the room where she had encountered Jareth on her last visit, but also this room was empty and quiet. She paused for a moment to catch her breath and contemplate on what to do next. The only sound she could hear was her own heartbeats. Then she saw the opening, partly hidden behind a curtain, at the end of the room. It seemed to be a staircase leading upstairs. She entered the stairs without hesitation; there wasn't really any other place where she could go now. The stairs opened up onto a small landing, and she could see only one door at the end of the corridor. She approached it cautiously and opened it and stumbled into a large room, beautifully and expensively decorated. She saw the canopied bed and she finally saw him and she realized that she had entered his bedroom. He had his face turned away from her, and he seemed to be sleeping; she slowly went up to the bed and just stood there beside it, her arms pressed into her stomach and her head bowed, her whole body in anguished cramp. But he turned his head, and she felt that he was wide awake and had been so all the time. He reached for her and took a firm grip of her hip and drew her towards the bed.

"What took you so long?" he asked softly.

When she continued to stand rigid by his bedside, he got up and stood before her naked, and he looked at her for a while. There was nothing erotic about his nakedness at this moment; he looked almost regal in a way that she couldn't describe, reminding her of a Greek statue, his pale skin faintly luminescent in the moonlight that shone through the window. Then he came very close to her, and he pulled her into his embrace. She cried out, a cry of genuine pain, as if something had finally broken inside her. She threw her arms wildly around him as if she was drowning, and he was the only one that could save her. Her knees began to shake and gave away, and he lifted her up in his arms and laid her down on the bed. He kneeled beside her and started to remove her clothes. When he had undressed her, he once more took her into his arms and again she cried out. He stroked her hair and whispered soothingly in her ear

"It's over. Don't cry my darling, don't cry."

At last she began to unwind, the warmth emanating from him slowly seeping into her. She knew that no place on earth — either on the ground or under it — felt more secure to her than being in his arms. It had always been like that, right from the start, from the moment he had shared her bed for the first time up until now. She felt she could lie close to him forever, in contact with his soft skin, feeling his heartbeats, and the world could collapse outside for all she cared. She felt that she wanted to explain about her journey and all the thinking she had done in the meantime, but before she could open her mouth, he lightly put a finger over it and whispered

"Not now, we will talk later, perhaps tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."

And she stopped trying and rested her head on his breast, nose and mouth in close contact with his skin so that she could taste him and inhale his scent. She finally felt the blissful sleep wash over her, and she didn't resist it. Soon she slept like a baby in his arms, and he lay looking at the window over her head with dark, soft, peaceful eyes.

She surfaced a couple of hours later to the sensation of feeling his lips brush searchingly over hers and his already powerful erection pressing into her stomach. She opened her eyes wide, and a delicious ripple of anticipation traveled through her whole body, and she moved closer to him and put her hands at the small of his back pressing him into her body. When he felt that she was awake he rolled her over on her back and covered her body with his.

"I can't help it," he murmured against her mouth. "I can't be this close to you not wanting to possess you. I want to have you," he groaned licking her mouth before kissing her.

She met him halfway and tentatively inserted her tongue in his mouth. He continued kissing her for a long time, tasting her, feeling her, probing her. She felt her nipples harden and ache with the need to be touched, and she got hold of one of his hands and moved it down to her hot and wet sex.

"I'm going to make you go mad with desire," he whispered. "Until you come. I want to see you come."

"We can be two to play this game," she whispered back to him and raked her nails gently over his chest, toying with his nipples on the way down to his crotch.

He arched his back in pleasure exposing as much of himself to her caresses as possible. Then they melted together again touching, licking and biting everywhere. He sat up in the bed and turned her around so that she had her back against his chest, and the whole front of her body open for his hands to explore. He gently cupped her breasts and squeezed them until she moaned. Then he ran his fingers over her ribcage down to her wet cunt. He dipped two fingers into her, moistening them, and moved them in lazy circles around her opening, gently flicking her clit as he moved over it. Her breath came in small moans now, and she squirmed under his delicate touches. When she started to come he put his fingers back into her and gently but insistently pressed them against the roof of her cunt, while he rubbed her clit with his thumb. She came in a long, sweet, undulating orgasm that never seemed to end, and then she fell exhausted into him.

When she had recovered a little, she turned around in his arms and looked up at him and into his teasing eyes.

"It's not fair that you should have all the fun," she said and cradled his hard cock in both her hands.

She put her tongue to the purple head and applied tiny licks to it, catching the clear drop of liquid that formed there. His hips involuntarily moved with her every touch, but he didn't want to come just yet, so he caught her hands and rolled around in the bed with her and she found herself trapped beneath him again.

"Oh, you're such a bastard!" she exclaimed laughing, but he silenced her with his hot mouth, devouring her, pressing his teeth against hers.

Then he teased her with his hardness just probing the entrance of her sex. It drove her wild, and she dug her fingernails into his back, trying to make him enter her at last. Instead, he withdrew a little and started running his hands hard over her whole body. He squeezed her breasts and the soft flesh at the inside of her thighs, fingers moving close to her opening, but never touching it. He tugged at her nipples and bit them just hard enough to make her cry out in pleasure and pain. She was a shivering aching blur of desire for him now, and she didn't want to wait any longer.

"Take me," she gritted through her teeth. "Take me!"

She looked wildly into his face, at his beautiful smiling mouth and his hooded, unreadable eyes burning with a strange light. Then he slid into her. It wasn't a hard thrust, just a very soft and gentle movement but it drained her of all fury and made her go totally weak, consumed with liquid fire. Helpless in her throes of pleasure she exploded in a series of orgasms. He held on to her shaking body, moving inside her very slowly and deliberately. At last she fell back in the bed all spent. He hadn't come yet and seemed to enjoy prolonging his own sweet torture. He kept his huge erection in her throbbing cunt, while she slowly drifted to the surface of her consciousness. And when she moved her hands searchingly over him, wanting him again, not getting enough of him, he slowly and lazily began to increase his rhythm, filling her with long, heavy strokes. It felt as if he could go on like this forever. But in the end his desire for relief overpowered him. He moved one of his hands in between them, down to her cunt, and teased her clit while he fucked her, hard and fast now. She rode the wave with him, melting into the sexy sensation of feeling his need for her. Then he almost stopped, and they were suspended in mid-air for a millisecond. His body went rigid and pushed a high, sharp cry out of him and his eyes rolled back into his head before he closed them tightly. He impaled her with his swollen cock, and she felt it stiffen and pulse inside her, filling her again and again with hot, wet liquid. His relief was hers too, and she let the final shuddering orgasm flood her before they came to rest at last. She fell asleep with his cock securely buried inside her, not wanting to let go of him.

When she woke up the next time, the daylight filled the room. Her heart skipped a beat in initial fear, because she didn't recognize her surroundings at first. She looked in wonder at the tasteful furniture and the beautiful paintings on the walls, and then she remembered where she was and immediately turned her head to search for him. Her heart and body were filled with instant joy when she found him sitting in the bed beside her, his back turned to her. She was so used to finding him gone in the mornings that she almost doubted her eyes, and she had to touch him ever so lightly to feel that he was real. He put his warm heavy hand on her, caressing her body gently. But he didn't turn around. She sensed with a short jolt of alarm that he wasn't relaxed, but concentrated and tense.

"Stay with me," he said in a hardly audible voice, "at least for a little while. Try me out, give me a chance."

She stopped breathing for a fraction of a second while the thoughts rushed through her head. This was the first time ever that he had pleaded with her. Whatever he had wanted from her he had taken, with or without her consent.

"Yes!" she whispered breathlessly and reached out and touched his hand.

She saw a slight movement of the muscles in his back as if he slowly exhaled. Then he slipped into the bed, in between her legs, and put his head to rest on her stomach. She was never to see the expression on his face.

********************

Finally, they couldn't put off getting out of bed any longer and she yawned and stretched her limbs, feeling that she ached all over although not unpleasantly so.

"I'm hungry," she said, "feed me."

She heard him chuckle low deep down in his throat, and then he lifted his head and looked at her at last.

"There is an old saying," he said, "that you have to take what's coming to you, if you choose to lie down with lions, but no one ever mentioned the lioness!"

Then he got them out of bed and found a long silk robe for her to slip over her nakedness and chose a silk shirt and black tights for himself.

"I thought that we might have breakfast in the library. It's one of my favorite places in the palace," he said.

She nodded prepared to accept anything he proposed and feeling a thrill within her when she thought about all the new things about him and around him that she was going to discover.

He took her by the hand and led her out of the room into the corridors that were like little labyrinths in themselves. It would take ages before she was to find the way on her own in this maze she thought. They passed the great hall on the second floor, this place she recognized at least, and then he opened a door that she hadn't observed before and pushed her gently inside the huge library. She had never seen a place like this before in her life. The ceiling was made of glass, and she could see the heaven above her. Then she looked at the room itself and saw the endless high bookshelves. How far they stretched and how large the room was, she couldn't tell. Some shelves contained books that seemed to be extremely old, and other shelves harbored literature of a seemingly younger date. She stopped in her tracks and voiced a silent ‘Oh' in surprise. He laughed and shook her gently.

"Come, come," he urged her on.

She noticed that they followed a passage between the shelves furnished with a red carpet on the floor and stored that piece of information in her mind. It might come in handy, should she ever lose her way in here.

They went farther into the room, and unexpectedly she found them standing in what appeared to be a rotunda. At least it was a round clearing in the room without shelves and books. Then she saw an old man at the desk. He was dressed in a long robe, somewhat looking like an old monk. He rose when they entered and made a deep bow in front of Jareth.

"Master," he said, "I have been informed that you wish to take breakfast in the Orangerie. It's waiting for you."

Then he bowed in the direction of Sarah and murmured

"Your Ladyship is most welcome to the Library."

Sarah was all confused by now and didn't know what to do, so she merely inclined her head and kept her silence. She observed that the old man had a feather-pen in his hand but on his desk was the latest model PC.

"This is Ibn Ben Akbar," Jareth informed her, "he has been in charge of this library for as long as I can remember. I think he came here during my father's reign. Am I correct?" he addressed the old man.

The librarian merely bowed again, and he didn't comment on the information concerning the hundreds of years that he had apparently spent among his books. Instead he pointed to his desk and said

"Master, when you have time, there are two new books that have arrived today. They are essays in the field of chemical warfare. Let me know when you are ready for them."

"Thank you Ibn, I will," Jareth answered, and then he turned to Sarah and the mischief was dancing in his eyes now.

"Do you think that I'm allowed any days off in this place?"

Then he brought her along to a room adjacent to the library, which evidently was the "Orangerie" that Ibn had mentioned. Sarah found that it was a greenhouse full of orange trees with glass walls permitting a view out into the garden beyond. There awaited them a sumptuous breakfast. They had their meal in silence for a while, and then Jareth answered her unspoken questions.

"Whatever you would like to know, can be found in there," he made a gesture towards the library, "good or bad, necessary or superfluous. My so called Black Cabinet, for example, containing forbidden literature, would make the Vatican green with envy."

He looked intently at her now.

"You may not understand today why I wanted to show you this room first of all, but you will soon. I consider it the most valuable item in the whole palace."

"Apart from you of courses," he added and grinned at her.

Sarah blushed and inclined her head trying to sort out all the various impressions that had poured over her.

More immediate, commonplace and little problems surfaced though, and she lifted her head and looked anxiously at him.

"What about the car and my luggage?" she asked, all at once remembering what she had left behind in the motel.

"It's all taken care of," he replied calmly.

Then she drew her breath wanting to put all her worries, her thoughts and her explanations in words to him, but again he put a finger to her lips and smiled softly.

"Not today. You needn't explain anything. Maybe we will talk about it tomorrow or perhaps the day after tomorrow."

********************
If one looks to the proper timeline this story continues in "Fandango Rock." However, it's impossible to understand that chapter without taking part of the prequels. Thus, I invite you to go further back in time and read what happened to Jareth before Sarah came into his life. The next story in line is therefore prequel number one, "THE MOST FORBIDDEN."

Chapter Text

THE MOST FORBIDDEN

The girl sat huddled behind the lace screen and looked impassively at the couple writhing on the bed. She turned her head slowly and looked at the colored woman who just had entered the room with a bucket of water in her hand. The girl showed no surprise or fear when she discovered the woman. She merely smiled secretly and mischievously and put a finger towards her lips as if prompting both herself and the woman to remain silent. Then she loosened a hairpin and her mass of golden hair fell about her shoulders. She broke the hairpin in two and tested the sharpness of the broken ends. When satisfied with the result, she lifted a doll that she had kept hidden in her lap and put the sharpest part of the broken pin with a savage thrust into the back of the doll. The result of her action was startling. The man on the bed, who until now had been totally concentrated on the woman beneath him, cried out loudly and fell on his back in the bed. He acted as if being hit by a spear or a sword and seemed to be in great pain. All the time he kept shouting. The prostitute scared out of her wits, rolled off the bed and tried to crawl under it. The girl now laughed silently and the colored woman in the doorway still couldn’t move, frozen to the floor in pure dread. When the commotion threatened to expose the girl, she quickly rose to her feet and gathered up her silk skirt to be able to move faster, and she ran out of the room past the colored woman who now turned to watch her flight. In the corridor the girl turned again, smiled and put a finger to her lips. Then she headed towards a heavy curtain and disappeared into its folds.

This was Celia’s first meeting with Anna and although the incident took place nearly two hundred years ago it remained as vivid in Celia’s mind as if it had happened yesterday.

********************

The next time they met, the girl came looking directly for Celia.

It was a late night some days after the previous occasion. Celia had finally ended her day's work and stumbled into her small bedchamber in the attic. In the flickering light of the candle, which she held in her hand, she saw the girl sitting on the bed. Celia nearly dropped the candle to the floor out of fright, and she managed to get the door shut as quickly as possible.

“Mademoiselle!” she whispered fiercely, “You is in the servants' quarters now. You mustn’t stay here. If your mother or sister is one of them women working in this house, I beg of you to go to their rooms. Madame would kill me for sure if she found you here!”

“You needn’t be afraid,” the girl laughed confidently, “I belong to no one here, and no one will find out that I am visiting you in your room.”

 Celia, who had now recovered somewhat from the shock, started to feel anger. “Now, if you don’t belong to anyone in this place I must wonder what kind of family you have that can let you run around like this in the middle of the night.”

The girl stopped smiling and her brilliant blue eyes were suddenly veiled with an emotion that Celia couldn’t interpret.

“I’m not prepared to discuss my family situation with you at present,” she answered and Celia was somewhat taken aback because although the girl seemed to be around fifteen years old, her way of expressing herself indicated that perhaps she was older.

They were both silent for a while. Then the girl rose from the bed and went up to Celia and put her hand lightly on the woman’s arm.

Please, don’t be angry with me,” she pleaded. "Let's be friends. I promise that I won’t get you into trouble.”

“I really need to get to know you,” she continued after a brief pause, “you see, I know for sure that you are very well versed in the art of Voodoo.”

If Celia had been frightened earlier, it was nothing compared to the nauseating sinking feeling that welled up in her now. Her knees started to shake and she stumbled and had to hold on to the bedpost for support.

“How do you know that?” she whispered hoarsely.

But the girl just shook her head lightly as if indicating that she wasn’t prepared to reveal this fact at the moment. They were interrupted by sounds from the other servant girls who entered the small corridor to reach their rooms.

Celia was shaking visibly now and the girl turned to her and said in a low voice, “I’m leaving you now. I realize that it would be dangerous to stay, but I’ll be back at a more convenient time. By the way, I’m Anna and I already know that you are Celia.”

“Please, please, let’s be friends,” the girl repeated, “and don’t be so scared, your secret is safe with me.”

Celia buried her face in her hands for a moment but when she looked up the next minute, the girl Anna had disappeared without a sound and without a trace.

********************

Celia lay in her small bed and stared dry-eyed and sleepless into the ceiling. Her mind was in complete turmoil after the girl’s disappearance. Anna’s words had torn the well-hidden memories from the depth of her mind and brought them to the surface. Celia had believed herself safe in this place but now she wasn’t so sure any more.

Like her mother before her Celia was a slave servant belonging to the woman who ran the whorehouse. Celia thought she could have done worse. Madame was most of the time kind to her, and the girls needed her services and tried to ensure them by giving her some extra money and favors. However, she must admit that she had started to feel the strain of her years by now, getting on forty as she was.

Nothing out of the ordinary would have happened in Celia’s life, had it not been for the untimely and violent death of her mother. Two of the customers who regularly visited the house, two plantation owners, took a fancy to her mother because she was a singularly beautiful woman, but when her mother refused to give in to them, they first raped her and then accused her of witchcraft. They managed to get her hanged. At that time, Celia was only ten years old. She later found out about the circumstances concerning her mother’s death, and she swore to take revenge on the two molesters. To obtain her goal, she went out into the bayou to seek out an old woman, famous for her skills in Voodoo, and there she learnt all there was to know. She put a dreadful and secret spell on the two men, and they both died within a year. No one did suspect or connect Celia to what happened. As the years passed by, she thought less and less about the incident, and she never again used her special knowledge. How on earth was it possible that the strange girl Anna could know her secret, unless perhaps Anna was the result of Voodoo herself? Celia knew then that she would have to find out; that she would have to get to know Anna better.

Anna on the other hand had no doubts whatsoever that she would see Celia again and come to know her well indeed. She felt very pleased about having managed to establish contact with her at last. She also felt very pleased about the fact that she had finally succeeded in practicing Voodoo although still on a very crude level. It also meant that her efforts to cajole Ibn Ben Akbar in the Library into bringing her the right books with the right kind of knowledge had paid off in the end. The most immediate problem now consisted in where she could meet Celia without drawing attention to both of them. She realized that she couldn’t go on seeing her in the brothel, eventually they would be discovered by either Madame, one of the girls or even one of the customers. That was much too risky to even try. With an inward sigh she wished for the hundredth of time that she could make herself invisible using pure willpower the way Jareth could. . .

********************

Anna’s relationship to what could now be called her family was complicated. Although she couldn’t possibly remember living in any other place than here in the palace, she knew that she was an outsider. She knew this as soon as she became aware of her surroundings and how she related to its inhabitants, but she was still too young to understand why. She soon observed that there were a lot of things that she couldn’t do if she compared herself not only with Jareth but also with the other numerous members of the large Fay court that lived in the palace. She also vividly remembered the day when she was told about her status in so many words.

Anna must have been close to five years old and Jareth subsequently almost eleven. Anna talked about Eavan and referred to her as Mother. Jareth looked seriously at her and stated calmly that Eavan was his mother but not hers. He also told her that Conaill was his father but not hers. She withdrew and became very quiet for a while.

“Then you are not my brother,” she said to which he nodded silently.

She thought that he was playing a game with her, and she didn’t understand what it was all leading up to. Yet, as the moments passed, it dawned upon her that perhaps he was telling her the truth after all, and the world around her collapsed.

“What am I then?” she screamed.

“You are a human,” he answered, “and you come from Above.”

Anna still didn’t understand a thing. He might as well have compared her with something worse than the goblins. She started screaming in earnest now. Soon the rooms and the corridors outside were filled with nursemaids and Eavan’s personal attendants, and at last Eavan herself entered the room. Eavan tried to approach the screaming girl, but Anna withdrew huddling into a corner and Eavan turned to Jareth.

“What have you done? What have you said to her?” she asked in a low stern voice.

“I’ve told her the truth,” he confronted his mother defiantly. “Father said the other day that he proposed sending her Above in an errand and then she must know, mustn’t she?” he continued.

Anna refused to calm down and talk to Eavan and her attendants. Instead she hid behind Jareth and remained hidden behind his back until the commotion was over, and only the two children and Eavan were left in the room. Then she finally ventured forward and accepted that Eavan embraced her.

“You are much too young to be told all these facts now. The only thing that you need to know is that I love you very much. I haven’t carried you in my womb, but I have bled for you, I have fed you and I have fought for your life.”

“And you,” she turned again to Jareth, “I sometimes think you have all the bluntness of your father! Believe me when I say that the last words concerning any errands Above at this stage have not been said.”

As Eavan had promised, Anna was spared this time, and another four years would pass before the issue was brought forth again.

However, the damage was done and nothing would ever be the same again in Anna’s life. Without commenting on the fact she stopped calling Eavan her mother, Conaill her father and Jareth her brother. When talking about them to other people she referred to them as her relatives. She still adored Eavan and showed her how much she loved her, but Eavan wasn’t a person to cuddle up to. Her cool beauty and serene personality didn’t inspire that kind of closeness or whispered confidences.

It was easier for Anna to define her present relationship to Conaill because the new facts didn’t alter much in how they related to each other. Anna had always found him distant, forbidding, powerful and frightening, and what she now knew about him and later would find out didn’t alter this basic opinion. She had always tried to keep out of his way. That wasn’t so hard since he rarely noticed her and their paths, at least until now, seldom crossed.

She withdrew almost completely from confrontations with the other Fay courtiers, now better understanding why some of them clearly showed their condescending attitudes when she was mentioned.

“She is merely a human,” she could overhear, “what would you expect under the circumstances.”

She turned to Jareth and chose him to be her guardian, her confidant, her protector and her friend. Although he was of an age when a young man would consider a much younger girl a total bother to have around, he accepted her choice with good grace, without bargaining, without comments and as the most natural thing in the world.

Every new thing or situation in life from now on – being it wonderful or sinister – Jareth and Anna confronted together. He often treated her as a younger brother and demanded much of her, and she tried to rise to the occasion and not be ‘girlish’ or squeamish. There were moments though when she just wanted to feel the security of his nearness or to be comforted when everything felt particularly black and depressing, and he accepted being there for her at these times too. Many were the nights when Eavan silently stole into the children's rooms when she thought them fast asleep only to find Anna’s room and bed empty and two golden heads, side by side, on Jareth’s pillow in his bed. Eavan then often stood watching them quietly for a long time, listening to their sound and even breathing before clearing her face of foreboding anguish and sorrow and leave them to their peace.

Jareth also taught Anna about the world outside the Underground. He showed her the wonderful thing about living in the Underground and thus to have the whole world at her feet in an instant. She learned to ride in Ireland where Conaill and Jareth kept a huge stable with the most magnificent horses. She learned to hunt in the endless almost pristine forests between Poland and Ukraine. She learned to swim off the island of Crete in the Greek archipelago. Eavan however frowned upon these haphazard visits to different parts of Europe. There was a war going on at the time on this continent, and although Jareth was already a master of disguise, they might still run into trouble, being as young as they were.

Anna was nine years old when Conaill decided that he wanted her to perform a duty for him in the city of New Orleans. Her going there was preceded by a heated discussion between Eavan and Conaill; Eavan still thought that Anna was much too young for such a venture.

“But that is the whole point,” Conaill argued, “no one will suspect a small child, and no one will look for her in particular.”

In the end Conaill ruled through his decision and Anna was told that she was to slip a message in a basket of a certain servant at the market on a certain day. She felt very nervous about the whole thing, not the errand in particular, but the prospect of possibly letting Conaill down by failing to perform her duty the way he wanted it done. These thoughts gave her sleepless nights.

I’ll go with you.” Jareth offered, "It'll be fun, I assure you.”

“But I’m supposed to be alone so as not to draw attention to myself,” she answered.

“They will not spot me,” he laughed confidently.

Anna’s face was smeared with dirt, and she was dressed up in a goblin woman’s old dress. The Fay courtiers laughed and said to each other that Conaill evidently had finally decided to turn the girl into a goblin after all. Anna pretended that she hadn’t heard them. When it was time for her to leave the Underground and enter the city, Jareth joined her and before her eyes he transformed himself into his owl-form. She had heard about the fact that Jareth also could show himself as a bird, but she had never seen him perform the transition before. She felt a pang of envy at his seemingly endless possibilities. Then he perched himself securely on one of her shoulders, and thus they left. On the market in New Orleans no one looked closer at the young Gypsy girl with a bird on her shoulder. The Gypsy children always had some animal around, being it a monkey or a bird. Anna had no trouble spotting the servant in question since she knew whom to look for, and she slipped the note into the basket without any problems. Then they hastily returned to the Underground. Not until Anna was back in her own room and her whole body started to shake, did she realize how frightened and tense she had been all the time.

********************

To learn about the real facts concerning her early life and heritage, Anna however turned to a completely different source.

Most of her time these days was spent learning and reading in the huge Library, situated in the center of the palace. She didn’t think it was boring or time uselessly spent, because she had already realized that it was vital to learn as much as possible if she was to survive here at all. She knew that Jareth studied too, but they were never in the Library at the same time. Anna suspected that he learned totally different things and probably much more.

Because of their intense studies, Anna also had to accept seeing less and less of Jareth. Days could pass when she wasn’t in contact with him at all. When she saw him, she realized that he was burdened with new responsibilities and that he was maturing fast. She felt an aura of power growing around him, a much subtler and intangible power than the kind surrounding Conaill. But it was there. She could also see its effect on the Fay court. People had started to treat him with a new kind of respect. Even the warlords, who usually only talked to Conaill and took their advice from him, started to seek Jareth’s company, and they competed with each other to be of service to him.

Jareth’s new status cast a small reflection on Anna as well. Since it was a well-known fact that she was Jareth’s favorite she found that she too was treated with respect, and that people noticed her all of a sudden. The courtiers evidently found it worthwhile to engage in conversation with her although she was still very young.

Yet, Anna was lonely. She understood that childhood was over and that she never again would have this total access to Jareth’s person she had indulged in for so many years. However wonderful it was when he was around and focused only on her, these occasions grew rare. She also realized that it was inevitable that the nature of their relationship must change when they stopped being children. Although they were still young, he was a man now as she was a woman, and she was well aware of that neither Conaill nor Eavan looked upon them as a pair for the future.

To silence the anguished voices in her head and heart who kept asking what was to become of her in the future, Anna dived into intense studies and that brought her in better contact with Ibn Ben Akbar who was in charge of the Library. Ibn, who had patiently guided her through her early learning sessions, now found that he enjoyed her company as well. Anna was intelligent and a quick learner and when challenged with her outpour of questions and her endless curiosity, Ibn went out of his way to find the most interesting material for her to read.

It looked as if he almost waited for her to come into the Library in the mornings. He would greet her with one of his perfect bows and say, “Good morning Milady, look what I’ve found for you today!”

Ibn had had trouble with what to call Anna. He knew that she wasn’t of royal blood, yet that she was Eavan’s Chosen and therefore belonging to the royal family. He had started by calling her ‘My gracious young lady’ but soon found it much too long and cumbersome to utter whenever he addressed her. Later on he shortened his phrase to ‘My gracious lady’ and when that also seemed too long it was brought down to ‘My lady’ which was finally polished off into the title he presently used ‘Milady.’

“Why can’t you just call me Anna?” she had asked him once. He had looked appalled at her and rolled his eyes. “Oh Milady, that would NEVER do!”

When Anna was seventeen years old and just shortly before the time she encountered Celia, she stumbled upon a vital piece of information in the Library that would forever change her life. She found out that Ibn was the Keeper of the Ledger. She had of course known about the existence of the Ledger for a long time — everyone in the palace did — but she had always thought that Conaill kept it himself. The Ledger was a continuous record of everything that happened in the Underground. It was updated daily. Nobody knew for how long it had been updated, how many volumes it contained or indeed where it was kept. Anna happened to come to the Library early one morning. She entered very silently and without making her presence known. She saw Ibn from afar at his desk. He had an enormous book in front of him in which he wrote quickly and ardently. When he became aware of her, he rose as usual and greeted her in his normal fashion. However, he closed the book at the same time and lifted it up, evidently to store it away. Curious as she was, she had to ask about the book and he explained calmly and patiently that he was updating the Ledger. She didn’t dwell on the subject at that moment, but later on in the day, when she had finished her studies, she started to think about the incident. ‘So, the Ledger was kept in the Library!’ It dawned upon her then that the detailed record of her own entry into the Underground must be found in one of these books, dated some seventeen years earlier.

The knowledge entered as a fever in her blood. She knew then that she had to get hold of this information. She didn’t yet know how to go about it, but she would never rest until she had found out the truth.

If only she had had Jareth’s skills in magic, then it would have been easy for her to immobilize Ibn just long enough to get hold of the book. Yet, she didn’t want to involve Jareth in this particular enterprise. She had to solve the issue herself. All magic she could perform on her own account consisted in entering and leaving the Underground. Almost all people of Fay descent could perform at least some basic magic, but not everyone had the powers of Conaill and Jareth. She knew that Ibn, like herself, was a human when he was brought to the Underground a long time ago. Therefore, he would not be skilled in magic and he would also be vulnerable to almost any kind of magic directed against him.

At this point in her reasoning Anna started to think of Voodoo. She had heard a lot about this strange, fascinating and possibly black magic when roaming around New Orleans on her now frequent errands in that city. If other humans could obtain this knowledge and become powerful sorcerers, so could she.

Without further ado Anna then started project ‘Seducing Ibn.'

At seventeen Anna was already a very beautiful young woman with an abundance of golden hair and intense blue eyes. She was also very charming and when she concentrated, focusing her attentions to obtain a goal, she could be alarmingly persuasive and seductive. It was all yet very unintentional, but one could tell that she would master this particular skill of magic very soon.

Anna started to pay special attention to Ibn, trying to figure out what he liked. Black Arabian coffee in the morning for example was such an item. He couldn’t divine how she had managed to obtain this luxury, and she didn’t inform him about her visits to the new coffee house in New Orleans where it was supplied. Most probably it was brought there in exchange for some favor by one of the pirates that regularly visited the city. She started to ask questions, and she had him tell her all he knew about Voodoo in New Orleans. In particular she wanted to know about any person who practiced Voodoo and where they could be found. She managed to get Ibn to bring her the best books on the subject that the Library could offer, but after reading all of them, she realized that she had to meet a living sorcerer and that she had to practice on live subjects. She would never learn otherwise. Among other pieces of information that Ibn supplied her with, he told her Celia’s story. Anna knew then instantly that she had found the perfect link she needed to get into contact with the secret world of Voodoo in New Orleans.

********************

The next time Celia and Anna met was down by the river where the women regularly did their washing. Celia didn’t recognize Anna at first, not until she looked into her vivid blue eyes. Anna was dressed in a plain sun-bleached cotton dress, and her hair was braided. She toiled together with the other women with her clothes, and they worked side by side for a while before anyone spoke.

“We can’t meet here,” Celia whispered at last.

“I know,” Anna answered in an equally low voice, “I came to find out if you know of a better meeting place.”

“You come tomorrow night to Jeanne La Villiere. She lives in the Bayou Saint Jean in a houseboat, and you’ll have to go there all by you’self,” Celia murmured before they parted. Anna nodded.

If Anna had experienced trouble finding her way out into the bayou in the night, she didn’t mention it. When Celia arrived, Anna was waiting on the shore where she had moored her boat. They could see the houseboat in the distance.

“I’ll talk to her first,” Celia said and they started their silent march along the shoreline. When they were within hearing distance from the boat Celia called out and a young Negro boy appeared on deck. Celia talked rapidly for a while to him in the local patois, and he finally lowered an old gangway for them to come onboard. He took them to the other side of the deck, near the opening to the quarters below, and they stopped in front of the old wizened, colored woman sitting there.

"Bonne Nuit Jeanne,” Celia greeted her. “Voila la jeune fille.”

Celia indicated Anna who stood impassively behind her. Jeanne La Villiere looked from one to the other for a long time before speaking. Then she turned to Celia, addressing her in fluent English with just a hint of a French accent.

“You have nothing to fear from her,” she said. She has not come to use your secret against you. She knows your secret for sure, I cannot tell how just yet, but I will find that out. She has an aura of power around her that I do not recognize.”

Then she turned to Anna, “Child, why are you here? What can I do for you?”

“I have come to learn the art of Voodoo,” Anna answered in a low voice. “Where I am living, I badly need this skill. It might mean the difference of surviving or not.”

The old woman smiled a little and looked intently at her. “I will agree to that you cannot disclose anything about your whereabouts this first evening. I understand that you are scared. However, if we are to work together, you will have to let me know all about you. There is no other way it can be done.”

Anna blushed because she felt that Jeanne was reading her thoughts. She drew a deep breath.

“Since this idea was mine from the start and since there is no turning back, I might as well tell you now.”

Both Anna and Celia sat on the deck in front of Jeanne, and Anna started to tell her story to the two women. Only once did Jeanne show a reaction and that happened when Anna mentioned Conaill’s name. Jeanne knitted her brows, and a fleeting air of apprehension clouded her face for an instant. When Anna had finished they were all silent for a while. At last Jeanne sighed loudly.

“The power of Conaill the Goblin King is beyond me to match. However, what I can teach you will be of use to you in a confrontation with any other person. Your trouble isn’t starting or ending with him I hope?”

“No, no,” Anna hastened to answer, “he doesn’t care about me, we hardly see each other. What I want the most is to get hold of the Ledger in the Library so that I can learn of what happened to me when I came to the Underground. I wasn’t born there; I must have been brought there. I want to know who my mother is.”

She wondered though why all of a sudden she felt the sweat on her forehead turn icy.

“The path to the full learning in this skill is long. It is not anything you will pick up in a fortnight. Are you prepared to undergo this arduous training?” Jeanne asked and Anna nodded silently. Then she added after a moment’s hesitation:

“There is something I wonder if you could do for me right away, something I need to learn very quickly. I need to be able to veil my thoughts and to cloud my path so as to keep people from reading my mind and see where I’m going.”

The old woman smiled again. “I cannot teach that to you in a hurry, but I understand why you might need this protection, so I will put a spell on you myself.”

Jeanne rose from her chair and approached Anna. She put her bony hand on Anna’s forehead and started to chant in a foreign language. Anna didn’t understand a word of what was said, but the rhythm of the chant made her drowsy and soon she fell down on the deck. How long she lay there she didn’t know, but she came to her senses when Jeanne called out her name in a loud voice, and Anna sat up feeling strangely refreshed. Thus ended her first lesson in the art of Voodoo.

********************

Jeanne La Villiere might have considered Conaill but certainly not Jareth. His powers weren’t known to her yet.

A short while after Anna’s first visit to Jeanne she ran into Jareth one evening when she came back to the palace. He seemed to have been waiting for her, because he caught her in the dark narrow stairs leading up to her rooms. No one else was around. Anna hadn’t counted on meeting anyone, and he scared her violently.

“Come with me,” he said soothingly, but he took a firm hold of her arm, “I want to talk to you.”

She followed him in silence to the part of the palace he now occupied. Once inside his rooms, he sat her down in front of the fireplace and locked the door behind them.

“Why is it that you haven’t told me anything about these nightly excursions of yours?” he asked in a deceptively soft voice.

And for the first time in her life Anna felt a chill traveling her spine when confronting him, and she divined what it would be like to have him as an adversary.

“I’m evidently not supposed to read your thoughts or know where you’re going because part of that information is very unclear,” he continued.

When she still remained silent looking down at the floor, he shook her lightly by the shoulders as if to bring her out of her reverie.

“Don’t you understand that I’m worried about you?” he asked.

“Yes, I understand that,” she whispered at last, “but this has nothing to do with you, it concerns something I want to find out, that I desperately need to find out.”

“Everything that concerns you also concerns me, don’t you realize that?” he went on with a slight note of irritation in his voice as if talking to an especially stubborn child.

She sighed, resigned, as tears started to well up in her eyes, and she lifted her face towards him and looked directly into his mismatched eyes.

“You have been so far away lately and been occupied with so many new things that I doubted that there was room for me anymore in your life,” she said. “Apart from that I have always felt at a disadvantage among the Fay people here. They all have endless skills and possibilities and I have nothing to match. I simply need to learn some magic to get around in this place. That is the matter in a nutshell.”

“You still haven’t told me what it is that you need to know so desperately,” he broke off.

“I want to know where I come from, I want to know who my parents were and why I ended up here at all,” she answered at last, and a note of bitterness crept into her voice.

“Sister,” he said softly, using the old endearment for the first time in twelve years, “don’t you think that we want you here when we have fought so hard to keep you safe and tried our best to shield you from any danger?”

She thought in agony that she could take his anger so much better than his compassion, and she started to cry although she didn’t want to. He caressed her cheek with infinite tenderness and wiped her tears away.

“This much I know about your coming here,” he said. “You were most likely wished away to the Goblin King and Father took you the way he does in such cases. However, Mother pleaded with Father not to turn you into a goblin and in the end he gave in. She took you in her care and secured you with long life and your human form.”

“Did Conaill want to turn me into a goblin?” she cried out.

“It’s nothing to be upset about,” he interrupted, “that’s what the Goblin King has to do when a child is brought to him. That’s what I have to do when I become King. Don’t blame him, blame your mother. Or don’t blame anyone until you know the full reasons behind her act.”

Finally, Anna quieted down and regained her composure, but she turned to Jareth and pleaded, “Don’t keep me from going to Jeanne. It means a lot to me and I promise that I will not shield my thoughts from you, and I will let you know when I intend to visit her, please Jareth please!”

At last he promised that he wouldn’t stop her as long as she told him when she was going.

********************

Jeanne La Villiere had been right when she predicted that it would take time for Anna to learn the art of Voodoo. Five years later, Anna managed for the first time to put a distant spell on a person not needing to be in personal contact, not needing the help of personification through a doll, but merely by her words and thoughts. She felt great exhilaration when she had succeeded. Jeanne was getting very old and frail now, and Anna counted herself lucky to have been able to benefit from seeing her at all for such a long time. During the years, she had also grown very close to Celia, and her feelings were returned she knew. In Celia she at last found the mother she had been seeking her whole life, someone who provided shelter, confidence and comfort all at the same time.

Anna would have wanted to tell Jareth all about what she had accomplished, but she had to wait because both Jareth and Conaill were heavily occupied for the moment because of the great unrest in the world. This year - 1814 - the Napoleonic wars were raging all over the European continent, Napoleon himself exiled to Elba, and in America the British fleet was heading towards New Orleans.

Anna couldn’t wait though to practice her new skills on what she had intended them for in the first place; to get access to the Ledger. She started to practice magic on Ibn, little by little. First, she wanted to see if he would respond at all. She made him forget his keys on the table one day, and she managed to keep him from locking certain bookcases when he left one evening. She was indeed very successful and decided to try something more daring. She persuaded him to show her where the Ledgers were kept and by what system they were stored. She made him unaware of her presence and followed him unnoticed when he locked up the Ledgers for the day.

At last Anna felt ready to try in earnest to get hold of the book she needed, and she made Ibn leave the Library without his keys and without having locked away the Ledger in question. Then she withdrew to the most secret corner of the Library where she could have a light burning without being seen from the outside. She had to leaf through the old pages with Ibn’s tight and fluent handwriting until she reached August of 1792. There she found the entry she was seeking.

“The woman Marie de Beauvoir (in the margin Ibn had put her address with small letters) had wished away her child, a girl, and the head goblin Mordwak brought it to Conaill,” Ibn wrote. “Marie de Beauvoir regretted her wish almost immediately, and she was offered the customary chance to try to solve the Labyrinth within thirteen hours but she failed, being very awkward (Ibn had underlined the word) as if she were in trance. Conaill brought the girl to the castle, but when Mordwak was to take it down to the goblins, Eavan entered the hall where all the councils were held. She said that she had heard about the girl, and that she wanted to see her. No one dared contradict Eavan, and she went to Conaill and took the baby. Later Eavan told Conaill that she wanted to keep the girl. Eavan and Conaill argued heatedly about the issue, but in the end Eavan had her will. To give the girl a long life equal to the Fay, Eavan pierced her nipples and let the girl suckle her blood and she called her Anna (again Ibn had underlined the word) since this name was embroidered on the baby’s clothes.”

That was the whole entry. Anna let the book rest in her lap and stared out into the darkness wondering what tragedy that was hidden beneath the meager words. This didn’t answer why her mother Marie de Beauvoir – a mother who had given her a full name – had found it necessary to wish her away in the first place. She took a note of the address. Of course she wouldn’t know if Marie was still living there, but she would have to start somewhere. She put the Ledger away and locked up and later she slipped the keys back to Ibn. The next morning he would go about his business without noticing that anything different had taken place the previous day.

Anna couldn’t sleep that night but kept thinking of all the aspects of the little entry. ‘So, those who wished away their children were offered to get them back by trying to solve the Labyrinth.’ In the early morning hours she got up and went to the Labyrinth. She had visited it in Jareth’s company, so she knew the shortcuts, but it was a rather long time since she had been there, and she needed to see it again considering her new knowledge.

She soon found that she wasn’t alone. A young girl was running around there trying in vain to find her way. Anna’s stomach turned when she saw the anguish of the other. She couldn’t help picturing her mother trapped in this awful place like a fly on flypaper. She fled from the darkness and hoped fretfully that she wouldn’t meet Conaill or any of the goblins. She wouldn’t manage that just right now.

Instead she ran away to the city in a hurry, desperately needing Celia’s company.

********************

New Orleans in the fall of 1814 was a city seething with unrest and rumors. The ongoing war against the British made the situation very precarious. Nobody knew with certainty how far the British fleet had advanced. Some said that it was anchored off Lake Borgne already, and some said it would take days before it would be sighted in the Gulf. Soldiers and fortune seekers had poured into town, and citizens of means debated the issue concerning the defense of the city heatedly. Some thought it better to give the town up to the enemy rather than have it ransacked. Others pledged that they would defend it street by street if necessary. General Andrew Jackson had arrived on the scene and was trying hard to make an army out of the scattered and unkempt forces that was at his disposal.

Anna had put on a plain dress and hid her hair under a hat so as not to draw attention to herself, and she was running quickly through the streets taking care not to be caught in the crowd. Twice she had to cross the street to get out of the way of the soldiers who were swarming all over the sidewalks.

She had planned to enter the brothel from the kitchen side, the way she had done it so many times before. To reach the small staircase that led into the attic where Celia’s room was situated, this was the easiest approach. When she turned the corner though, she froze and looked alarmed at the spectacle in front of her. The house was on fire and girls, servants and customers were running around the place screaming. She couldn’t see Madame, and she couldn’t see Celia among the servants. Although extremely frightened by now, she didn’t hesitate a second but threw herself in the middle of the commotion trying in vain to get a coherent word out of anyone. Nobody had seen Celia, and Anna was told that the fire had started when a couple of the soldiers had started fighting over a girl with one of the regular customers.

Coughing from the smoke and trying to shield her watery eyes, Anna searched among the bodies lying on the sidewalk and behind the house, and finally she recognized her badly burnt friend. Celia lay beside her employer, and Anna could see in an instant that Madame was dead. Beside the two bodies one of the kitchen boys sat crying. She didn’t know whether Celia was still alive or not but decided to get her out of the danger zone first before doing anything else. She grabbed the boy by the shoulder and shook him lightly. When he looked up at her she concentrated all the power she had learned to master during the past years into her eyes and bore her gaze into him.

“Help me move her,” she whispered with a voice hoarse from smoke. “We’ll bring her over to that small shed in the garden. You will have to stay with her until I come back with more help. Do you understand? You shall stay with her!”

He nodded slowly, mesmerized by her eyes. Then he lifted Celia in his arms and carried her to the shed. Anna watched in anguish. Celia seemed lifeless. If she wasn’t already dead she would most likely be dying. When the boy had hidden with Celia in the shed, Anna started running towards the secret opening to the Underground.

Inside the castle, she ran up the stairs to the Great Hall. She hadn’t planned where she was going or whom to see, but when she stood outside the doors to the Council Room, she knew that she had to address Conaill as the matter concerned life or death. No one but he could solve an issue of that magnitude. Without hesitation she threw the big doors to the Council Room open and entered. Conaill was in session with the warlords and everyone fell immediately silent when they saw her. Her clothes were burnt and disheveled. The fire had scorched her hair, and she bled from a small wound in her forehead. Yet, she didn’t seem to be aware of her appearance. When no one spoke a word, she hid her face in her hands and kneeled on the floor.

Conaill rose and with a gesture of his hand he motioned the council to leave the room. When they had left and silence fell around them she heard him say, “Get up from the floor. You are no servant in this place. Look at me and tell me what has happened!”

But Anna didn’t get up from the floor. Instead she crawled over to his feet and put her head against them.

“Please, save her for me,” she whispered, “I’ll do anything for you. You can turn me into a goblin if you like. . .”

“Rise!” he said in an even sterner voice and finally she got to her feet, and they stood looking at each other for what seemed an eternity, suspended in time.

They stood so close that she could almost feel his breath on her face, and their eyes were locked into each other’s. It dawned upon her that this was the first time ever that he looked her into the eyes; that he looked at her at all. He, who had taken her away from her mother, who had threatened to turn her into a goblin, who had ignored her since Eavan had pursued her will and she was to remain a human. His face was so much harder and stronger than Jareth’s, yet she saw traces of Jareth in him. His jaw was set and his savage mouth a thin line and she observed that his eyes were steely grey with flecks of gold in them. It was in a way a forbidding face, and she wondered fleetingly if compassion could ever alter his features and bring softness to any part of it. Yet, surprisingly, he was the first one to turn down his gaze.

“So be it,” he said in a lower voice. “I’ll save her for you.”

Anna felt her knees give away, and she took hold of his arm to steady herself. It was a strange feeling to experience that he was warm to the touch — it would have been more natural, had he been icy cold. He caught her easily when she fell. She could have been made of feathers. At the same moment she heard Jareth’s voice as he entered the room,

“Leave this to me. I’ll go; I know where the woman is.”

“You have my permission,” Conaill answered.

No one had asked for explanations, no one had mentioned any names but in this company that wasn’t necessary.

********************

When Anna regained consciousness she was in her own bed and Eavan stood bent over her.

“Celia!” Anna cried out in anguish.

“Shh. . .” Eavan interrupted her. “Jareth has brought the woman to the palace and I will do what I can for her. She is alive but just barely. Stop thinking about her. She is in good hands. Right now we have to take care of you. You are in a very bad shape and I’m going to give you something to sleep on.”

Eavan, who had vast knowledge of healing, slipped a hand in under Anna’s neck and lifted her head. She brought a glass to Anna’s lips with a strong-smelling brew and made her drink it. Anna soon felt drowsy, and before she knew it she had fallen asleep.

The days that followed were a hazy blur. Anna remembered only fractions. Once she became aware of that Jareth lifted her up and carried her to the sofa when her bed was made. A late night she clearly heard voices above her head – possibly Eavan’s and her first sorcerer’s – saying,

“She will have to sleep just a little bit more to reduce the fever. She will have passed the crisis in a few days.”

She surfaced to consciousness an early morning only to see a large shadow looming over her bed. The faint light from the window made it impossible for her to see the person clearly but she divined that it was a man, and her fevered brain thought she recognized Conaill although she couldn’t understand why he would be in her room at this hour.

“Conaill?” she whispered in a voice hardly audible, but the shadow didn’t move or answer and she soon fell asleep again.

Eventually Anna recovered, and as soon as she could stand on her feet, she demanded to see Celia.

“Yes, you may,” Eavan said to her, “but you must remember that Celia is very weak. She has large wounds and she has lost a lot of blood. Then there is another matter. We have saved Celia’s life. However, neither I nor Conaill or Jareth are capable of giving life. We are no gods. The only way to save her was to prolong her life. She has now the same status as you have, and she will grow old together with you.”

Eavan smiled and caressed Anna when she saw the light in Anna’s eyes. “I know that you won’t mind, but I suppose that you will have to break the news gently to Celia and wait until she is strong enough to accept the truth.”

It wasn’t so hard to tell Celia about her new life as Anna expected. When Celia could sit up in bed and talk to her, Anna told her in the gentlest possible way.

Celia merely smiled, took one of Anna’s hands, kissed it and said, “I belong to you now, My Precious, of course I shall be with you always.” As if this was the most natural thing in the world.

Anna, on the other hand, was determined to achieve that Celia should live in the city she was used to. It would be hard for her to fit into the life of the palace, and in the end she would perhaps suffer from being cut off from everything that meant ordinary life to her. Anna also had a plan within the plan. She had already decided that she wanted a house in New Orleans where she could withdraw when she wanted to be away from the Underground for a while. Now she could start arranging for a home in the city for her and Celia.

She got help from an unexpected source.

One afternoon when Anna had retired to her rooms to alter some clothes to fit Celia – everything Celia had been wearing was destroyed by the fire – Conaill entered unannounced. He cast a glance at her and greeted her formally. Then he went up to the windows, his back towards her. Anna let her work rest in her lap and watched him silently wondering with an uneasy feeling of dread what he might want of her. He had never before visited her in her room, or so she thought. She was still very uncertain about the shadow of a man she remembered from her fever nights.

“The woman Marie de Beauvoir – evidently he couldn’t bring himself to say ‘your mother’ – is still alive, but she is not living any longer at the address you picked up in the Ledger in the Library,” he said noncommittally.

Anna blushed furiously and hid her face in her hands although he hadn’t turned around to look at her. What a fool she had been, thinking that she could keep her schemes in the Library a secret to him!

“After becoming a widow, she moved to a small property in the centre of the town. She is poor and sickly after having lost her son to the malaria,” he continued in the same even voice.

Anna looked up not believing her ears. In so many words he was telling her of the deaths of her father and an unknown brother! She started rocking back and forth in agony and she cried now, not trying to hide it from him. He finally turned around to face her. He didn’t comment on her tears and he didn’t comfort her, but he approached her chair and slipped a large envelope into her lap.

“The house she is living in belongs to me,” he said almost inaudibly, “and I’m giving it now to you.”

 She stopped crying instantly and turned her tearstained face towards him, and they looked at each other again in silence for several minutes. Then he left the room without having uttered another word.

********************

It was with great apprehension Anna went to visit the house, she now owned, and to possibly meet her mother. She had thought so much about this meeting so many times during her life that when it actually was going to happen, she didn’t have any feelings left of either rage or sorrow. She felt tired and empty instead. She had however dressed up for the occasion in a flowing silk gown. When she arrived at the house she found it to be a small graceful townhouse very well situated in the centre of the city. She thought instantly that Celia would be happy here and so would she be, later at least. . .

Anna knocked on the heavy door and a maid let her in. She introduced herself as the new proprietor and informed the maid that she had come to call upon Madame de Beauvoir to discuss the new terms under which the lady in question would be allowed to continue to live in the house. The maid hardly dared to look at her, and evidently her arrival was known and dreaded. When she entered the living room on the ground floor she saw the woman sitting in a wheelchair by the window. Her mother couldn’t have been more than around forty years old, yet she looked aged and ill. Anna stood still for a moment thinking that this might have been her home.

“Good morning Mother” she said in an even voice.

The woman by the window gave a violent start and almost fell out of her chair. She stared in horror at Anna, and Anna could see disbelief and later recognition creep into her mind and eyes.

“You will never imagine how many times I have tried to visualize this meeting, and now I have no words left to say to you. The fact remains that you abandoned me when I was a baby infant and although you regretted your choice, you didn’t manage to win me back. Somehow I understand that you must have had nightmares about this as long as I have.”

“Yes,” Anna continued thoughtfully, “I have wanted revenge, but it seems so futile now. The thing that grieves me the most is that I never got the possibility to get to know my father. He has died I understand.” Anna fell silent and her mother hadn’t uttered a word.

“I will let you live in this house for as long as you need,” Anna went on after the brief silence. “I have a few conditions though. A servant of mine needs a roof over her head. I want her to occupy the left wing of this house. If you leave from here before you die, I demand that you will see to that any family record, still in your possession, is handed over to me. When I myself will move into this house, I will try to get to know as much about my family as possible. I realize that you find it impossible to talk to me today but I will be back and hopefully you will have recovered from the shock by then.”

Then Anna left her stunned mother and went out in the fresh air again. She felt the emotional strain and started to shiver. The meeting had left a hard lump of pain in her chest, and she wondered if she could ever really forgive and go on.

There were other matters to settle this day however, and Anna went to see a lawyer. She wanted to make her will although she had no idea of how long she would live. She wanted to make sure that Celia was provided for whatever might happen. Anna also paid a certain sum of money to the estate of the woman, known throughout New Orleans as ‘Madame,’ to obtain the legal ownership of Celia. At the same time she signed a statement that she would later give to Celia setting her free forever. When all this was done Anna felt a great relief at last and she observed as she walked through the streets that it was peaceful in the city and that each and everyone seemed to be rejoicing. She soon found out that the small army under General Andrew Jackson had won a great victory over an enemy vastly outnumbering the home forces in size, and that the city and even the Union were saved hereby.

********************

When Anna returned to the castle it was late night and almost unnaturally quiet. She met no one apart from the guards by the door. She tiptoed up the stairs to the Great Hall on the second landing. She had to cross this vast room to reach the staircase at the other end leading up to the private apartments. When she was halfway through the hall, the door to the nearby Council Room was suddenly opened. In the doorway she saw a shadow of a man, and she knew instantly that it was Conaill standing there. The moonlight shone through the large windows in the room behind him, and she couldn’t see his face. She froze to the floor, and her heart started to hammer against her ribcage. Then awareness hit her like a hard slap on the face. She knew all of a sudden, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he wanted her. He didn’t move, and he didn’t utter a word, yet she could feel his longing for her as something tangible touching her, and she began to tremble. A low moan escaped her, and she started to back towards the staircase. He remained standing motionless and silent in the doorway when she turned and rushed the last few steps to the stairs. When she reached her rooms at last, she fell to the floor and lay there for several minutes feeling the taste of blood in her mouth.

The next few days were an agony. Anna didn’t know where to hide. She knew that doors didn’t present an obstacle to Conaill. If he wanted to come to her room he would turn up there no matter what means of magic she would use to try to stop him. Yet, she huddled in her room and in the Library not knowing of any other place where to go. She tried to shield as much of her thoughts as possible thinking not only of Conaill but also of Jareth and most of all of Eavan. What would Eavan do if she knew?

Three nights later, she encountered him again. She had lingered in the Library, hating the thought of going to her rooms, the only available means of reaching them leading through the Great Hall on the second landing. In the end she was so tired that she almost stumbled and fell, and she had no option but to leave her hideaway. It was very dark outside, and she needed a light. She remembered she had seen some candles in the Orangerie, the beautiful winter garden in glass, adjacent to the Library. She went there and roamed through the shelves when all of a sudden she became aware of his presence behind her back. She slowly turned and saw him standing not far away. This time he went up to her, but he still didn’t talk. She stood rigidly, clasping her hands behind her back, and he didn’t take hold of her. Instead he bent down towards her. Then she felt his lips cover hers, searchingly and surprisingly soft. He tasted of wild honey and something else that drove her mad. She couldn’t help opening her mouth to him and let him enter it. He licked her lips and then he inserted his tongue into her mouth, and she sucked on it. He still didn’t take her into his arms, and she still held on to her hands in cramp behind her back. His kiss deepened and she could feel his fangs when he pressed his teeth against hers. He bit her lips and drew blood, yet it didn’t hurt. At last he broke the spell with a deep sigh, and she tore herself away sobbing and fled through the Library to her rooms.

********************

The coming days Anna couldn’t feel Conaill’s presence in the castle and when she furtively asked about him, she was informed that he was in Ireland for the moment and wasn’t expected back for at least a week. She felt as if she had been allowed a breathing space, and she used the time to try to come to terms with her situation. What made matter so hard for her was that she knew that he would always be able to seek her out. She felt so utterly helpless. If she closed her eyes she could feel his lips on hers and the terrible sweetness of his kiss, and her whole inside melted in the fire. She thought that the experience would have left marks on her for everyone to see. Most of all she feared what would happen if Eavan found out. She used up several sleepless nights to think of a solution to the problem of keeping Eavan out of what had happened. And how would Jareth react? She cried and cried but that didn’t solve any issue.

In the meantime Celia had recovered insofar as she could move to her new home. Anna had explained about the house and that her mother occupied half of it. Anna also told her that she had been very strict in her terms about the apartment that Celia was to use.

“It’s yours,” Anna said, “and don’t let anyone move you out of it. In case there is any trouble, you can tell them that I will come and live there too, off and on. And I mean it. It is vital for me, Celia, that I have somewhere to go where I can feel some safety. When my mother is gone - we will outlive her you know - we shall have the whole house to ourselves.”

Before Celia left, Anna overheard a conversation between Celia and Eavan. Eavan seemed anxious to know if Celia were able to take good care of Anna.

“I must be absolutely sure,” Eavan persisted, “that you on no account will leave Anna.”

“Your Highness,” Celia answered, “you needn’t ask. Of course I will stay with Anna until my dying day.”

That answer seemed to give Eavan peace of mind.

With Celia gone, Anna had no excuse to avoid her own problems and gradually she worked out a plan that to its content was deadly. She realized that all the actors in the drama which was about to unfold were indeed in danger of death. Not that she could inflict a deadly wound to any of the other participants, being a human as she was, but Conaill, Eavan and Jareth were all capable of killing each other as well as of killing her.

As there was no shelter for her either Above or in the Underground, Anna thought that she would have to perform an act so repulsive to Conaill that he would turn away from her in disgust and that would cloud the real issue to Eavan so effectively that she wouldn’t suspect the truth. Her plan involved Jareth. She didn’t know what his reaction would be and everything depended on what he would do. It was as if she had to take a leap over the edge of a cliff blindfolded.

********************

The days went by alarmingly fast, and Anna knew that time was running out. Late one evening she went to the part of the palace that Jareth occupied, and she entered his rooms and went up to the fireplace. She felt cold to the bone and the fire warmed a little at least. Jareth wasn’t there when she came, and she had planned it that way. She knew he was in council in Conaill’s absence. She didn’t know how long she stood there alone before she heard him enter. She didn’t turn around but realized that he stopped for an instant before advancing into the room. Then he was by her side, and she could see him out of the corner of her eye.

“To what do I owe this infinite pleasure?” he asked cautiously. She divined the almost imperceptible but sharp edge to his voice.

She turned to face him. He evidently wasn’t going to make this easy for her, but she hadn’t counted on that either. She looked at him with tired eyes, and there was no smile on her face. He searched her face keenly, and he didn’t smile either. He still waited for her to answer.

At last she pulled herself together, “I want you to sleep with me,” she said almost breathlessly.

He raised his eyebrows. Although he kept the bland look on his face, she could see his nostrils whiten, and that he clenched and unclenched his jaw. His brilliant eyes darkened slowly, and he moved closer to her.

“What a strange proposal from one looking as if she is going to a funeral, and what makes you think that I would like to do that?”

“Because that would give you powers that might make it possible for you to challenge Conaill,” she said almost inaudibly.

“So, it has nothing to do with what you might feel about me? Or I about you for that matter? It’s strictly a business transaction?”

He circled her now as if stalking his prey. She tried desperately to keep him from noticing how she shivered inside, and she kept following him with her eyes.

“Is this attitude something that you have picked up at your frequent visits to a certain house in New Orleans?” he continued relentlessly.

“Let’s say that I need you to sleep with me,” she ventured at last with an unsteady voice.

“Why?” he asked and when she didn’t answer he went on, “Well, we’re certainly not talking about the kind of need that one usually connects with lovemaking.”

She closed her eyes and wondered in agony when he would stop tormenting her. She knew deep inside that he knew. There wasn’t a thing that she had been able to keep from him during their whole life together. He had always read her like an open book. She opened her eyes in desperation at last and fastened her gaze on him. Then she slowly started to unbutton her dress and when she had finished she let it fall to her feet, and she stood naked in front of him. He had stopped circling her, and she heard him draw his breath in a small sharp intake. It almost sounded like a low cry. Then he moved very close to her, and she had to lift her face to look into his eyes and she saw pain, rage and desire in them. He took her into his arms and carried her to the bedroom and put her down on the bed. He kicked off his boots and stretched himself out beside her. Resting on an elbow he looked down on her in silence for a while. Then he slowly bent over her and started kissing her. She closed her eyes. She couldn’t help feeling and seeing Conaill in front of her although she had promised herself that she would refrain from comparisons. He broke free almost immediately from her, and he slapped her face. The sharp sting of his hand made her open her eyes wide with fear. He gripped her face hard and wrenched it close to his own.

“Don’t for one minute think that you can pull that one on me,” he hissed through his clenched teeth. “There is only going be the two of us in my bed tonight, you and me! Look at me and keep your eyes open when I make love to you!”

Then he took possession of her mouth again, and she looked into his smoldering eyes as he bit her lips and licked her; when he forced his tongue into her mouth and twisted it around hers, tasting her, drinking her. With a jolt inside she felt the heat starting to pound dully in her guts. She knew then that she wasn’t going to get away with detaching herself from the act. He was determined to get under her skin, and she would not be able to stop him.

His eyes and his mouth were savage, but his supple hands made exquisite and subtle love to her at the same time. He bit her hard on the neck causing her to bleed, but his hands traveled over her body drawing almost unbearably arousing caresses around her breasts and over her stomach. He gently forced her legs apart and started feeling her sex, probing her sensitive folds, inserting two fingers into her cunt as if testing her moistness. She heard herself moaning now, and she lifted her arms and drew his body closer to hers. He pressed his fingers against her cunt walls, and at the same time he started to circle her clit with his thumb. She had to give herself over to the orgasm that his relentless action forced on her, but it was too quick and left her unappeased. She saw a devilish grin break on his face when he became aware of that he had rendered her helpless with his attacks.

“You will have to beg me,” he whispered.

He removed his clothes and rolled on top of her pressing his swollen member into her stomach. He sought out her breasts sucking them and biting her nipples gently. When they were all wet from his kissing he blew cold air on them making them achingly hard when they puckered. She tried to get hold of his hard cock to make him enter her, but he removed her hand and looked tauntingly at her again.

“Beg me,” he repeated and sat up in the bed beside her.

She was so exhausted now that tears started to run down her face. She groaned and curled herself up in cramp. He started fondling her buttocks and inserted yet another finger into her, caressing the inside of her cunt. She moaned incessantly now.

“Please,” she whispered.

“I can’t hear you,” he replied.

She turned her face towards him and screamed, “Please! Can’t you put an end to it?”

“I didn’t start this game!” he burst out with passionate anger but he turned her around and spread her legs and with a quick and savage stroke he entered her at last.

She gave a wailing cry when he caused her pain and to ease it she pressed him even further into her tight wetness. She moved under him with feverish undulating movements, determined to make them both come quickly, but he pressed her down into the bed and steadied her.

“I set the pace,” he whispered against her mouth.

And he wrapped his arms around her, securing her body against his and his rhythm was slow and sensual when he glided in and out of her. Finally, she let go and stopped fighting him, and the cramp in her body dissolved. She felt a sweet heat starting to burn in her cunt, and it traveled to every beating pulse in her body. The orgasm started like a freezing chill, a tickle all over her skin. Then wave after wave of contractions rocked her guts until she could take no more, and she let herself be shattered, broken to pieces. When she started to feel the bliss of her relief he pushed savagely into her and stopped there for a fraction of a second before his body tensed, and he shot his seed into her, and he kept filling her until he was empty at last. Then he let his body slowly relax between her thighs.

Anna lay very still looking up at the canopy over the bed. She held him in her arms, and she could feel his heartbeats slow down to normal pace. They lay in silence, too exhausted to keep on fighting for the moment. Then she slowly motioned him to roll over on his back in the bed, and he complied lazily. However, she sat up beside him and straddled his hips. He opened his eyes, and she saw a fleeting moment of surprise in them, yet he remained still under her, perhaps curious to know what she was about to do next. She gently caressed his chest and put her right hand over his heart. Then she pressed her nails into his skin. She didn’t apply much force, yet she drew blood from him. She could see that he now attempted to get up from under her but he couldn’t move. She had nailed him to the bed. He opened his eyes wide and met the challenge in hers.

“I invoke upon you that you one day will fall helplessly in love with somebody over whom you have no power. I invoke upon you to suffer through love. I invoke upon you that no magic in the world will secure you her love. It will be for her to decide whether she wants to share your life or not,” she whispered and there was no rage or malice in her voice, just sorrow. “And mind you,” she added, “I will be around to watch!”

Then she let go of him, and the blood on his chest vanished. He looked at her thoughtfully and put his hands over her hips drawing her down towards him. Then he gave a deep sigh.

“Yes, I know. You will be around to watch,” he said slowly watching her fall asleep on the pillow beside him.

When he was sure that she was in deep sleep he gathered her in his arms with the most infinite gentleness. He put his cheek to hers and closed his eyes over his pain. Then he got out of the bed and carried her to her rooms.

********************

The next few days were like a lull before the storm. Anna felt that Conaill hadn’t returned. She kept out of the way of Jareth, and she only got evasive answers when she inquired about Eavan’s whereabouts. She had a strong sense of an oncoming disaster as if given a hurricane warning but not knowing how fast the storm was moving in her direction. She went to the Library, but even Ibn seemed affected by the strange situation. He was busy updating on several new books and clearly showed that he had no time to engage in small talk. He was absent-minded and seemed worried. The garden outside the palace was beautiful but unearthly quiet. Even the goblins seem subdued and scurried out of her way when they spotted her. To escape the oppressive atmosphere, she fled to Celia.

It was another kind of strange feeling to enter the town house and feel for the first time that she entered a place she could call home. She pushed the big oak doors closed behind her and stood for a while in the little courtyard listening to the silence and the splash of the small fountain. She cast a furtive glance over at the part of the building her mother occupied, and she thought she saw a curtain move but she couldn’t be sure. She didn’t stop to find out but hurried into Celia’s apartment. Celia, who still couldn’t move around in her usual speed due to injuries, limped to greet her, a big white smile breaking her dark face in two.

“Oh, Miss Anna, you is here at last!” Celia cried and hugged Anna to her ample bosom, and Anna felt safe and comforted for the first time in many days. She heaved a big sigh and closed her eyes.

Anna had seen to that Celia had help in her house since it would take time before Celia could manage on a full scale again, if ever. However, Celia ruled her little household with stern hands keeping both the kitchen boy and the parlor maid busy.

Celia had an excellent dinner prepared and afterwards they sat on the porch in the last rays of sunlight.

“Something worryin’ you Child?” Celia asked scrutinizing Anna’s face.

Anna smiled a little. She sometimes forgot that Celia was a mighty sorceress too and had been so for a long time. It was hard to keep secrets from her too.

“I don’t want to talk about it tonight if you don’t mind,” Anna answered. “I want to know how you manage instead,” she added.

Celia then told her of her meetings with Anna’s mother.

“The poor soul,” Celia said and wiped her eyes.

Anna wasn’t really surprised that Marie had turned to Celia because Celia inspired confidences, and Marie must have realized that Celia was the perfect and perhaps only link for her to Anna.

Marie had told her the whole story beginning with her escape from France and the French Revolution and about the journey to America and New Orleans. Marie hadn’t been able to bring much of her family’s fortune with her, just a couple of pieces of jewelry, but she soon found herself a husband among the settlers and could at least count on being provided with the bare necessities of life. Anna’s father, Paul de Beauvoir, was a trader and was doing moderately well. Marie soon learnt that there was no luxury to be expected and no glamour in her new life. She confessed to Celia that she was complaining most of the time over what she had lost. Her poor husband tried to do his best, but all in all she had given him a hard time. Then Anna was born and Marie thought it very inconvenient because they didn’t even have a house of their own to live in at the time but rented an apartment. Anna had been a difficult child, crying most of the time, and in a fit of rage one day, overtired as she was, Marie had wished away her child to the Goblin King. She got frantic when she realized that she really had lost her baby and tried with all her might to get it back. But the thirteen hours in the Labyrinth proved too much for her, and the Goblin King scared her to death. So Anna was lost to her. To Paul, Marie said that Indians had taken her child, and he sent a search party out into the bayous to look for Anna. Eventually Marie got another child, a boy, but he was sickly from the start and he didn’t survive the malaria he caught early. Marie looked upon his death as her punishment for having abandoned Anna. Paul had died a couple of years ago. He was wounded on an expedition to Canada to obtain furs, and the wound never healed.

“Now,” Celia concluded,” she only wants to make peace with you before she dies. She has rheumatism and malaria and she is very poorly.”

Anna contemplated Celia’s words. She still found it almost impossible to speak to her mother, but she consented to see her off and on at least.

“Celia, you must understand that I cannot command a feeling of forgiveness. She has ruined my whole life, and she is a stranger to me. But I promise that I will try to get to know her a little.”

Anna stayed with Celia until the unrest inside started to eat her up. She knew then that she had to go back and face whatever awaited her there. Celia seemed very worried about Anna, but she kept her promise not to try to discuss the matter until Anna herself brought the subject up. However, Anna decided to leave without talking to Celia. She left late at night trying to slip away unnoticed. She didn’t see Celia behind the curtains on the second floor observing her when she hastened over the courtyard to the big oak door.

********************

The palace was eerily quiet when Anna returned, and she went to her rooms without meeting anyone. The next morning she couldn’t bring herself to go to any of the halls where the court met daily. She stayed in her rooms and ordered some simple food to be brought to her there. She knew without asking that Conaill was back. She also knew that Jareth was still in the castle. She was uncertain about Eavan however, and that worried her. She couldn’t feel the aura of Eavan anywhere. Anna decided that if she got no sign from Eavan during the day, she would have to go and look for her. She felt that she needed desperately to talk to Eavan.

In the late evening it started to rain, and Anna noticed how different everything looked all of a sudden. She observed that she could see the Labyrinth from her window. Usually it was hidden by the lush foliage in the garden close to the palace. Even the garden seemed sinister tonight, and she felt scared and lonely. She went to bed determined to try to obtain some news about Eavan in the morning, and she fell into a troubled sleep.

She woke up when someone ripped the bed-curtains to the side and bent down over her. She gave a violent start and sat up and she recognized Conaill immediately. He grabbed her by the shoulders and tore her out of the bed.

“Whore!” he shouted at her, and his face was so close to hers that she could see the gold on fire in his eyes in the light from the flashes outside the window.

“Yes, I am, true isn’t it?” she shouted back at him. “I’ve been on sale from the beginning haven’t I, to be bargained over and with!”

“I want to kill you!” he screamed. “I want to kill you!!”

“Yes, why don’t you?” she gasped. “You should have killed me from the start, it would have been so much easier and better, wouldn’t it?!!”

With a groan that rose to a roar he slammed her into the wall behind her and pressed her body against it, lifting her up so that she had to wrap her legs around his waist to keep him from crushing her. He tore her thin linen to pieces and exposed her breasts, and then he freed his huge erection with a swift movement of his hand and impaled her with it. She let out a high sharp cry and tried to push him away, grabbing hold of his head, entangling her hands in his silver hair. He sank his teeth into her breast, and she screamed again. He fucked her hard and fast now, showing no mercy, oblivious to whether he caused her pain or not. Yet, she came before him in a shattering orgasm that made her choke on her gasps, and he exploded within her when she contracted violently around him, and he flooded her with his hot semen. Then his knees gave away, and he fell with her to the floor.

They lay still entangled in each other’s arms and legs when she started to cry. She howled in pain and he drew her close, but she fought him like a wild animal. She hit him, she scratched him and when he caught her hands and pinned them to the floor, she tried to kick him. Not until he rolled on top of her and covered her with his body did she give in, and she began to shiver uncontrollably in the cold.

At last silence fell. She still cried but without a sound now. He bent down and kissed her. He licked her face wet from salty tears, and he sucked long and hungrily on her lips and her tongue.

“I did it for her” she sobbed against his mouth. “I did it for Eavan, so she wouldn’t find out.” He lifted his head and looked down on her.

“Eavan!” he said. “Most likely she was the first one to suspect anything at all. She knew long before I even set eyes on you. She may well have known from the beginning when she fought to keep you here.”

“But why didn’t she leave me to the goblins then?” Anna cried in exasperation. “Why didn’t she have me killed?”

“Why, you ask why?” He laughed bitterly. “She fell in love with you of course like all the rest of us. We’ve never had a girl growing up in the Underground before. You have complained about your lack of power in this place, you don’t seem to know of the terrible powers that you do possess.”

“She also wanted to test me, I know,” he continued after a brief pause, “and I fell head first in the pit she had dug.”

He managed to get up from the floor, and he lifted her to the bed. He blew life into the extinguished fire in the fireplace. Thoughtfully, he traced the open wound on her breast he had caused with his fangs, and he healed it with his finger. The wound left a tiny scar on her otherwise flawless skin. She looked silently at him with her tired eyes, red from crying. Then she stretched out her hand towards him and eased it inside his jacket putting it to rest on the warm skin of his stomach. He closed his eyes and started to shiver.

“You burn me,” he murmured, and he fell on the bed beside her.

She ripped his jacket open and exposed his heaving chest. Then she bent down over him and her long golden hair fell around her face onto his bare skin when she started to kiss his stomach and his hard muscular belly exposed through his still open pants. He groaned low and put his hands around her shoulders, and he drew her close. She rolled on top of him and traced the scars on his chest wondering about the story behind each and everyone. She nuzzled her head in by his neck and sucked on the golden ring in his earlobe. She almost paralyzed him with her caresses. He lay with closed eyes under her, quietly moaning and holding on to her. Then he took her face between his hands and sought her mouth in hunger and need once more.

She helped him remove his clothes, and she let him enter her again; this time with deliberation and strong softness. He moved within her with long lazy strokes as if caressing the inside of her cunt making up for the pain he had inflicted upon her earlier. He kissed her breasts, and his tongue drew circles of wet fire around her nipples. Of his fangs she felt nothing. She didn’t want to come. She wanted this to go on forever, and he seemed to understand that. He was prepared to give her all the time in the world. To prolong the sweet torture, she glided off him and had him turn over on the back so she could study all of him in the flickering light from the fire. She looked at his cock, wet from her juices and hard from wanting her. She greedily took it into her mouth and let her tongue play over the head of his erection. He moved involuntarily, and he groaned with the growing pleasure.

“Oh Lord, fuck me!” he whispered and thrust even deeper into her mouth.

But she wasn’t prepared to release him yet. She fell back into the bed and spread herself for him, and he sought out her clit between her silken folds and played gently with it. She soaked him with her wetness and started to move in rhythm with his hand. When she felt the liquid fire starting to burn within, she motioned him to enter her again. He sat her up between his thighs, steadying her, so he could get at her clit while he fucked her. He fondled her with relentless gentleness, letting his hands roam all over her, cupping and kneading her breasts, playing with her clit. He put his fingers in her mouth, and she sucked her juices off them. Then he brought her tighter and closer to his body and started to move faster. She threw her head back and moaned in small gasps with open mouth wrapping her legs around his waist. Her body tensed, she had no control over it any longer, and with each of his rhythmic strokes she felt herself coming nearer and nearer to the point when she would implode; cease to exist for a second. Her whole consciousness was concentrated on the movements of his cock and his fingers when she finally came. It was a long, long orgasm, starting slow, filling her with white light. Then she descended and relaxed into the hot wet darkness of the pounding blood inside her body. He stretched them out on the bed not pulling himself out of her just yet. He kept stroking her back under her hair with his strong warm hands, and he covered her lips with his hot mouth not getting enough of her. She could feel that he was still hard, and he was still hungry for her.

She almost drifted off to sleep while he kept pushing his throbbing hardness gently in and out of her. He had laid his head to rest on her breasts, and he suckled her nipples like a baby. It was the most sensual and sexual feeling she had ever experienced. Whenever he put pressure on her nipple with his tongue she felt a contracting twinge of wanting in her womb.

“I can’t stand it much longer,” he moaned in a whisper.

She smiled for the first time during the night and opened her thighs wide for him and let him sink to the hilt inside her. Before he could increase his rhythm to launch his final attack on her, he started to shudder and his whole body tensed when the release that he couldn’t hold back came at last. He buried his face between her breasts and let himself go helplessly. She closed her eyes and arched her back slightly to receive him. She milked him dry contracting her strong muscles around his twitching cock, letting her guts drink the hot liquid he offered. Then she sighed and felt the contentment fill her, and they found peace in each other’s arms for a short moment in infinity.

Hours later, when the dawn was about to break, when they had tasted each other fully several times and were exhausted, he put a deep sleep over her. He lay watching her for a long time. Then he bent down over her and kissed her softly. Had she been awake she would have looked at him in wonder because he was crying for the first time in his life, tears streaming down his face. Then he slowly dematerialized and vanished from her room.

********************

When Anna woke up she was alone and she was immediately hit by a strong feeling of imminent disaster. She stumbled out of bed and stood on shaky legs for a moment holding on to the bedpost. She listened to the sounds of the castle and heard an eerie wailing that sounded like someone crying. Then she realized it was the wind blowing through the palace. She dressed and went down to the Great Hall. She found herself all alone and all the doors were open to each and every room surrounding the hall, but she saw light coming from only one of them, the Council Room. She entered the room as if in trance not knowing what to expect or what awaited her. She saw a figure of a man standing in front of the large windows, and she recognized Jareth. When he became aware of her presence he slowly turned around and Anna was stunned by the icy aura of power that emanated from him. Without realizing what she did, she sank into a low reverence before him.

“Good morning Your Majesty,” she whispered.

He greeted her with a formal bow. Then he said, “They are both gone, both Eavan and Conaill.”

Anna looked up at him and a cry broke from her lips, and she knew that it was her own wailing she had heard earlier carried by the wind. Then she turned and ran out of the Council Room, and she didn’t see the compassion in his eyes.

Anna ran to the part of the palace that Eavan and Conaill had occupied, and she found all doors open and all furniture crushed and broken to pieces as if a flood had rushed through the rooms. None of the numerous servants were to be seen, not even a guard was in sight. Anna cried out again and left the disheveled apartment. Then she fled from the palace, out into the garden and out of the Underground, and she stumbled through the streets of the city to reach the only haven, the only sanctuary left, Celia’s arms.

********************

Celia screamed in alarm when she found Anna lying lifeless on the ground of the little courtyard. She called for help and so great was the commotion that also Marie de Beauvoir and her servants were alerted. They all helped to carry Anna into Celia’s house and put her down on Celia’s bed.

Anna hovered between life and death for almost a month. She didn’t want to live but the longevity that she had been given was keeping the flicker of life burning within her with a withering flame. The forces that had caused her collapse were however strong enough to kill her. Celia almost constantly watched over Anna. Although Anna didn’t respond and acted like a zombie the short moments she was awake, Celia continued to talk to her as if she really listened and understood what was said. Celia told Anna long stories like her own mother had done, stories with their origins in Jamaica and in Africa, and she sang lullabies and rocked Anna in her arms. It happened that Marie de Beauvoir came to the room but she didn’t stay long. It seemed to give her pain to acknowledge that Celia played the part in Anna’s life that should have been hers.

The first sign that Anna was returning to life came when Celia woke from a short slumber late one night and heard Anna cry. She cried with huge sobs but it was the first reaction she had shown for almost a month, and Celia laughed out loud. She went over to the bed and took Anna into her arms the way she had done so many times before.

“My Honey Child,” she cooed, “everything will be all right. Don’t you cry no more.”

“I don’t want to live,” Anna whispered brokenly. “Please let me die.”

“No My Precious,” Celia answered, “you will not die. You will not want to die, believe me.”

Celia nursed Anna back to life, slowly but surely. When Anna started to eat properly, she soon regained her strength, and she could sit in the shade in the courtyard among the blooming mimosa and oleander. She even accepted the company of her mother and started to ask furtive questions about her family. Most of all she wanted to know about her father. She regretted that there was no painting of him that she could see, but of course that would have been a luxury that Paul de Beauvoir could not afford. Marie tried to describe him as accurately as possible. As the weeks went by, Anna gradually lost her totally negative attitude towards her mother although she still was very reserved in Marie’s company.

One night, Celia woke up when Anna stumbled into her room. Anna was crying hard, and she threw herself into Celia’s arms.

“What’s the use? What’s left for me?” she sobbed. “Celia, you and I are of the same kind now. You can help me to die. Won’t you please help me?”

“Now Child, I don’t want to hear such rubbish from you,” Celia admonished her trying to sound stern but not succeeding very well. “I’ve told you. That you do not want to die. I will tell to you that I have met them booth, the two men.”

Anna stopped crying immediately and sat up.

“You have met them?!” she exclaimed. “When and where? Why haven’t you told me?”

“You have been much too unstable until now to be told,” Celia answered. “About the man Conaill I mustn’t tell anything about my meeting with him. He made me promise that. And I will be sorry if I break that promise. But I can tell you that he is alive. The younger one, Jareth, I found in your room one night. He didn’t scare me. I was very sure that he would be good to you. He said that he wanted to see for himself that everything was all right with you,” Celia concluded.

Somehow, Anna was greatly comforted by the thought that Jareth’s intentions towards her were good and that he had felt the need to check on her himself. And Conaill was alive. He was alive somewhere out there. . . Of Eavan there was no news. Anna wondered if Eavan were the one who had died. Eavan, who had known all the time, who had triggered the disaster and done nothing to prevent it. Was she still alive?

When she was finally summoned, Anna was ready to go. One day, the parlor maid brought her a letter. She recognized Jareth’s handwriting at once. ‘Your presence in the palace is requested this night,’ he wrote without elaborating on the subject. Anna told Celia that she had to go and that Celia needn’t be frightened. Anna would return and if that didn’t happen right away, she would let Celia know of her plans.

“You see Celia,” Anna said, “this place is the one I will always return to, and I want you to be here when I come. Sometimes I will have to be away now and then, performing some duty connected to the Underground, but I will always come back to you.” They hugged and Anna left.

********************

Anna entered the palace as if she were a queen returning from a long absence. She had dressed in one of her most beautiful dresses made of golden silk with an abundance of handmade lace. She slowly advanced into the Great Hall, and she greeted old friends and enemies with equal bland courtesy. Her face was impenetrable, not even her eyes revealed what she really thought anymore. The whispers that had started when she made her entrance soon died out and people met her with awe and respect.

Anna saw Jareth from afar. He was dressed in black silk and had a flowing cape over his shoulders. His beautiful face was almost translucent and his Fay features were more prominent than the last time Anna had seen him; the aquiline nose sharper, the skin drawn tighter over his high cheekbones and his thin lips settled into an ironic, slightly mocking, smile. He had an air of immense powers around him, and his mismatched eyes were fastened on her with a penetrating gaze. When she came face to face with him she made the most exquisite reverence in front of him and bowed her head. She didn’t rise until he reached out his hand to her and motioned her to.

“It is very good to see you again,” he said, “and in such good health.”

A sumptuous dinner was served, and Anna took great care to be an observant and interested guest at the table. She laughed and entertained her company, and she danced afterwards with several of the courtiers. Later on in the evening Jareth approached her telling her that he had a matter to discuss with her and he brought her to one of the windows.

“I want you to go to Vienna,” he said. “Napoleon is in St. Helena and Paris is no longer the centre of the world. The focus is now concentrated on Vienna and we need to establish us there. I have bought a property in the city and I want you to supervise this new ‘embassy’ of ours. I want you to get yourself into the emperor’s court and I want reports of what is going on there.”

“Likewise,” he continued after a brief pause, “I’m interested in Venice. This city has of old a very important position between Western Europe and the Balkans. If you feel like going there and look for a good property, you have my permission.”

She inclined her head accepting his commands and said that she would leave the next day.

********************

Late, late that night, when the formal evening was over, Anna came to Jareth’s room. He showed no surprise but merely lifted the silk covers so that she could slip into his bed beside him. She shivered and instantly huddled into his embrace. They lay quiet for a while just resting in the nearness of each other.

“Have you heard anything about Eavan?” she wondered.

“No,” he answered slowly. “It worries me, but I’m not surprised on the other hand. Mother was always the expert when it came to shielding her thoughts and cloud her path. I was never able to read her mind. I wonder sometimes if anyone could. Father certainly couldn’t.”

“I did it for her,” Anna whispered in an echo of her own words to Conaill. “I did it because I thought I could keep the truth from her.”

“Yes, I know,” he answered quietly. “You don’t have to explain. I know everything.”

She started to cry against his neck.

“He is alive,” she sobbed. “He is alive out there.”

“I know,” he repeated and he drew her close to his body.

“Why did you spare his life?” she asked when she managed to speak again.

“Because he left of his own free will. I didn’t have to force him,” he answered evasively.

She knew that he would never ever admit to that he let Conaill go because of her.

“You know where he is, don’t you?” she asked after a brief pause.

“Yes,” he answered without making another comment on the subject.

She knew that she shouldn’t but she couldn’t help asking anyway.

“Can’t you please tell me?” she whispered.

He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. “No, I can’t do that, you know the rules as well as I do. Please don’t ask me again.”

“Yes, I know the rules,” she said in an unsteady voice and she started to cry again. He groaned low and wrapped his arm around her even tighter, and she didn’t see the anguish in his eyes.

Yes, Anna knew the rules. She had given her virginity to Jareth, therefore she belonged to him. He was now the only one having power over her and the one to decide about her destiny. Every decision concerning her life from now on, being it good or bad, was his to make. Conaill had also known the rules, yet he had broken them and taken her, thereby committing a terrible outrage. Not only had he betrayed his wife, he had taken the woman his son claimed to be his. Thus, Conaill had forfeited his life, and Jareth could pursue him till the farthest corner of the earth and until the end of time.

“I’m going to keep looking for him,” she said defiantly. “I don’t care what you do. You can kill me if you like. I don’t want to live anyway!”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” he murmured in her hair. “Of course I’m not going to kill you.”

“But if I want to die?” she persisted.

“No, you don’t. You don’t want to die,” he answered soothingly and reminded her of Celia.

In the end she quieted down out of sheer exhaustion.

She rested her head on his shoulder. Then she put her mouth against his cheek. “Brother,” she breathed almost inaudibly. “Sister,” he answered in a whisper against her lips.

And then they started to make violent and urgent love to each other. He rolled her silk linen up under her chin and exposed her body and moved his hands feverishly over her breasts and stomach. She tore his shirt open and went in a fury for his nipples, tugging at them and biting them until he cried out. He forced her legs apart and entered her swiftly with one hard thrust, and she arched her back meeting his savage need, digging her fingernails into his back. There was no subtlety about this coupling. They worked liked raging animals to reach the moment when the knotted muscles and the knotted nerves would snap at last, and their sweaty bodies seemed more engaged in a fight than in lovemaking. When she finally felt that she was about to come she whimpered and put her hands to the small of his back forcing him even further inside, and he buried himself in her cunt and didn’t even try to hold back the discharge that his orgasm unleashed. They reached the coveted moment when their bodies gave away, and the solace of fulfillment flooded them. Exhausted and panting he fell on top of her, and she lay unmoving under him.

Only slowly did he disengage himself from her, but he turned her over on the side and moved up close behind her and wrapped his arms around her again.

“Oh God, I needed that,” he whispered against her cheek, and although she felt like crying again she smiled involuntarily.

“I’ll give you a better one in a little while, a sweet one to suck on,” he cooed in her ear.

“You’re still tense,” he remarked after a brief pause. “Let go and accept that I’m here for you. I’m not your enemy and I don’t want to harm you. I’m on your side, remember?  I always have been.” 

She fought with her tears, and her body was almost rigid with the effort. He held her in an iron-grip, but she found it so hard to give in.

He started to caress her back with long languid movements, touching her everywhere. He eased his fingers in between her buttocks and went for her vulva, already hot and wet. He fingered it with small teasing movements before inserting two fingers in her from behind. At the same time he moved his free hand around her body and cupped her sex. He held her securely, tightly, applying caresses to her most sensitive parts ever so lightly but with increasing intensity. She tried to breathe evenly but it was hard and every breath she took came with a little groan.

“Let go,” he whispered again. “Give yourself up to me. You can’t even guess at the pleasures that I’m capable of giving to you. Taste me and maybe you’ll have a notion,” he teased her gently and bent over her and licked the corner of her mouth.

She couldn’t help smiling again. He had always been a master in the art of persuasion and as time went by he constantly perfected his skills. She threw her head back against his shoulder and felt the fire ripple like a shudder of emotion over her skin. She was hot and she was in heat, and she began to move her body in rhythm with his caresses. She felt a growing hunger for him, and she started to thrash in his arms. Soon her groans turned to cries of need. That didn’t seem to disturb him. He kept a steady pace, but his hands became harder and more urgent.

“I want to come,” she pleaded, “I want you inside. Make me come!” She cried out of wanting now, losing all inhibitions.

“Yes, I’ll make you come. I want to watch you. But you have to give in to me,” he murmured silkily into her ear.

“Let go!” he said for the third time and finally she turned herself over to his hands.

She fell back against his body, spreading herself for him and she let him work her swollen sex into a frenzy, and she screamed and screamed when the waves of her orgasm came crashing in over her. Before she had recovered fully he turned her over on her back and crawled between her legs. His erection was rock hard, pointing towards his stomach and he fondled it lightly and teased her with it, circling his cock around her opening, wetting it in her moistness. Then he entered her still throbbing cunt with the utmost deliberation and eased himself into her hot inferno and she came one more time, feeling his thickness filling her up. He gripped her then over the hips, tightly and almost painfully, and he held her hard while he fucked her, pinning her to the bed with his heavy savage thrusts. He bent down over her and kissed her, thrusting his tongue into her mouth in rhythm with his strokes. Then she felt him stiffen and his cock started to pulse deep inside her, and he pressed his teeth against hers and moaned his pleasure and agony into her mouth as he released himself.

Long afterwards their bodies were still shaking. When Anna tried to move an arm or a leg she trembled, and he still lay on top of her gently purring into her ear like a big cat. She knew then that she would never be able to resist him or to shut him out. If he chose to make love to her in this way he would always manage to render her totally helpless. Maybe that’s what he wanted to prove to her. He would always be under her skin, be a part of her, no matter what she wanted or felt. He rolled off her at last and they lay face to face in the big bed. She reached out for him acknowledging his presence in her life, and she regained her total trust in him, the trust that had carried her through her childhood. He touched her face with the softest possible caresses, and she could see in his dark eyes that he understood what she felt and was content with it.

Then they hugged close all of a sudden and looked out into the dark room. They held on to each other almost looking like two children lost in the woods, staring out into the darkness, wondering with dire anticipation and dread what the future might hold in store for them.

********************

To be continued in “THE INDIAN BRACELET”

Chapter Text

THE INDIAN BRACELET

Dedication:

I dedicate this chapter to Meghan, because she believed in Anna even before reading about her.

 

One would think that it would be something to strive for — to be able to live in two worlds at the same time — but Anna wasn’t inclined to agree after having tried it out for so many years now. Instead she thought that it sometimes gave her a slightly schizophrenic attitude towards life.

Anna had been very bewildered and uncertain about her situation when she started to travel the world obeying Jareth’s commands. She had lived the better part of her life until that point in the security of the Underground world, always relying on an escape into this sanctuary, should the situation begin to burn her feet. Now she had to start to rely on her own means of solving the problems she encountered. Of course there was always the possibility for her to run to Jareth in the end, should the problem turn out to be life threatening, but she promised herself to use this last resort only if matters proved absolutely impossible for her to come to terms with.

She was tempted in the beginning to use the easy ways out, the shortcuts she was used to. When she started to live Above among the humans for longer periods, she often found herself on the verge of slipping through the Underground to transport herself quickly from one point to the other, the way she had done it so many times before. She realized however that this was no longer possible in all situations. If she wanted to appear ‘normal’ to her new acquaintances, she would have to abide by the rules governing their lives. Only in utter emergencies would she use this facility now, and she would have to prepare carefully if having to rely on such a way of escape. She would have to leave her human friends and go away to a place where she wasn’t known to anybody, and where no one would miss her if she suddenly disappeared.

Likewise she had to carefully hide that her senses of hearing and seeing were so much sharper than that of the ordinary human. She had no trouble picking up a normal conversation between people at a considerable distance and even through walls and closed doors. She could divine and read the aura a person emitted and therefore determine that person’s state of mind and general health. She could hypnotize and put a person under a spell, and she could invoke a curse on anyone or anything around her. All these skills she had to use with great care in her new life and only when absolutely needed.

Then there was the question of how both Anna and Celia appeared officially and to strangers. Although their relationship was close to mother and daughter and both owed her life to the other, they realized that it wasn’t possible to let the new surroundings know anything about this fact. When traveling they always showed up as master and servant so as not to cause suspicions and unnecessary questions. The only place, where they fully relaxed and met each other on true and equal ground, was the house in New Orleans, and Anna had decided to make this place her safe haven. She didn’t entertain her new friends there, and none of them knew that her home was in New Orleans.

A crucial point in the new routines came when Anna had to decide what to do with the problems caused by their longevity. She realized that they couldn’t go on living in the house, however inconspicuously, without finally arousing suspicion. The neighbors saw them often enough and would start to wonder about the young girl who never grew old and the older servant who never died. She didn’t find a solution to this problem on her own, so she decided to consult Jareth about it. He told her that it hadn’t been a frequent problem during the years. Usually the humans connected to the Underground either stayed there forever like Ibn Ben Akbar in the Library, or they were used for a specific mission and didn’t have to be in contact with the world Above for more than a limited time. Thus, the problem simply didn’t have to occur. Jareth had decided though that he wanted Anna to be his eyes and ears Above, at least until he decided otherwise, and he agreed to that the problem had to be solved. He also told her that former rulers of the Underground – he carefully refrained from mentioning his father’s name – had been using a method involving making a person anonymous, like wiping a slate clean. It meant that both Anna and Celia had to come to the Underground to be put to sleep for a certain time. During this interval their former ‘history’ was removed and when they re-entered the world Above no one would recognize them and associate them with the previous inhabitants of the house. Anna was apprehensive about the method but she acknowledged that she didn’t have much choice.

The first time she had to go through this cleansing of the past, she had a hard time relaxing. Jareth reassured her that she would feel nothing that could be experienced as pain or hurt. She was just to turn herself over to him in complete trust. He put her to rest in the bed himself, and he sat by her side talking soothingly to her, caressing her forehead, mesmerizing her with his eyes. When she started to feel drowsy, he materialized a beautiful crystal at the top of his fingers which he slowly rolled over her face and body. It felt cool and pleasant to the touch.

“You are going to have the most wonderful sleep,” he whispered and finally she drifted off.

When she woke up, she felt enormously refreshed and happy and it didn’t seem as if she had slept for a long time at all. She tried to remember if she had had any dreams. However, no details were clear to her, and she only experienced a feeling of great contentment, adding to the pleasure she felt about everything already. Jareth came to her room and asked her if she felt good, and she had to agree.

“A lovely breakfast awaits you,” he tempted her smiling.

“How long have I been sleeping?” she asked.

“Well, not as long as the Sleeping Beauty,” he answered, “but long enough.”

She learned later that both she and Celia had been gone from Above for roughly ten years according to human standards. In the meantime their house had been guarded by goblins, invisible to human eyes.

********************

This first time of absence had occurred when Anna’s mother Marie had died in 1824, that incident being a natural breaking point in a manner of speaking. It wouldn’t seem out of the way to anyone, who had come to associate Anna and her household to the New Orleans residence, if she left it after her mother’s death.

Anna wasn’t at all prepared for the trauma that Marie’s death proved to be to her, not so much because of grief as of feelings of guilt. Anna had never been able to come to terms with her relationship to her biological mother. Celia had reproached her and tried to make Anna see that Marie had been young and vulnerable when she lost Anna to the Goblin King. Maybe Marie would have acted differently, had she had a support in her situation as a young mother in a foreign country where only the hard and ruthless survived. Still, Anna couldn’t forgive, and now when Marie was finally dead, Anna was hit by the most awful feelings of guilt for having not tried harder. Under the circumstances, it almost felt like a relief to retreat to the Underground for a while and put her worries and doubts on Jareth’s shoulders for a moment. She felt totally drained of strength. The long sleep and the opportunity to make a fresh start worked like a recharge of all powers of life, and she regained her will to live again.

Anna eventually came to look on these moments of rest and recharging as something vital and necessary in her life if she were to be able to go on living at all. She realized that she could burn herself out otherwise, and she now looked forward to them and jokingly talked to Celia about her ‘holidays’, the only moments nowadays when she would be totally free of responsibility. She had wondered during the years what means Jareth used to recharge himself, and she had asked him once, but he had smiled and said that he couldn’t reveal that secret to her.

********************

So, between these moments of rest, which was the condition for her future, Anna led a daring and hectic life wherever Jareth’s whim took her in the world. Moreover, it was a world of great unrest.

The first decades of the 19th century saw the modern Europe emerge. The fall of Napoleon and his empire left a wake of power in the continent that every state tried to fill to their best intentions. All the same, the result of their fight was indeed very different. Austria, an enemy of France for centuries and of old totally dominating the centre of Europe, was steadily losing its grip over the situation, when both Italy and Germany started to form their own destinies. In Italy it all happened faster than in Germany. By the mid century an Italian state was emerging, cutting itself lose from Austria with the help of France. In Germany that wouldn’t happen until a couple of decades later. In France, the new Emperor Napoleon III again challenged Austria trying to boast France as the most advanced economy on the continent and meddling in the affairs of Italy and Sardinia. England having had to give up the battle to keep its influence over the States, now had turned to enlarge its empire on other continents. Yet, none of the states, being it a new or an old one, seemed to be prepared for the most spectacular events that took place during this period. The revolutionary movements in 1830 and 1848 shook the fundaments of the states to the bone. They sent indeed a shudder of fear through the establishment of what the masses of people were capable of if driven too far and oppressed for too long. The eternal and internal squabble over power also made the European states practically blind to the rising unrest in the United States and the consequences that would emerge out of this conflict.

********************

Anna couldn’t resist accepting an invitation going to Paris in late 1860. The city was the seething focal point of Europe for the moment and the season was in full swing. She came from London, where she among other things had visited the World Fair in 1859. There she had also met the influential French diplomat who had implored her to join him in France. Since it was in Jareth’s interest too to learn what was going on in the French Imperial court and Anna was curious about the newly rebuilt splendid Paris, it was an easy choice. She knew of course that the diplomat, a young count belonging to a noble and old family in France, had an amorous interest in her, and she played coldly on the fact that his infatuation with her would open the necessary doors.

Anna had no qualms about using her beauty and body if that served her purpose. She was an extremely beautiful and alluring person by now, looking as if she were around 25 years of age. Her pallid skin was flawless; her mass of blonde hair looked like spun gold, and her brilliant blue eyes were shrouded in mystery and temptation. She sometimes thought with amusement on what she called her school and her days of learning – the brothel where she had once met Celia. All her skills in seduction and the means she used to keep herself unattached and aloof while offering her body to a stranger, she had learnt there.

Love was a word that Anna didn’t use any more. She had painstakingly buried her feelings so deep inside that she thought she could get by without getting into contact with them again. But of course that wasn’t true. When she stumbled upon something that brought back the memories to the surface again, be it something she saw or heard, Conaill was almost present before her in that very moment, and the memory of him was a scorching white-hot pain, almost unbearable to endure. She succumbed to the onslaught, which left her shaking and crying and sick to the soul. Celia tried to comfort her but it was in vain. Anna rested in her arms with closed eyes, unmoving for hours.

In London she got hold of a new and potent drug that had just been brought there from the new colony in the Far East, Hong Kong. It was called opium and promised to solve all the problems, alleviate all pain and ensure her a dreamless sleep. She vividly remembered when she came back to the house she lived in for the moment, carrying the poison securely in her hand. It was late night, and she hadn’t more than entered her rooms when she stumbled into Jareth. He was livid with anger, and his face was almost translucent with fury. He took hold of her and drew her so close that his mismatched eyes were the only thing she saw.

“Give it to me!” he ordered sternly.

She pretended not to know what he was talking about and cringed trying to work herself out of his iron grip. Yet, his hands clasped her wrists like handcuffs.

“Give it to me instantly!” he repeated and when she still didn’t want to obey him, he let go of her hands but motioned a blow in the air towards her which hit her, paralyzing her, and made her open her hands and drop the glass vial to the floor.

He bent down and picked it up and it disappeared in his hand. She started to scream and she fell down on her knees.

“You have no right to do this to me!” she cried.

“If I want to sleep until I’m unconscious that is my business. Why do you interfere? What do you care about my feelings? Let go of me!”

“I have every right to interfere and I must interfere when you are about to hurt yourself. You belong to me and I decide what is good or bad for you. Don’t you ever forget that!” His voice vibrated with rage.

She crumbled to the floor in front of him and started sobbing in her utter despair.

“I want to die,” she whispered hoarsely. “What a punishment to let me live like this. What have I done to deserve it? What have I done to all of you?”

He kneeled, coming level to her. Then he gathered her in his arms. He lifted her up and carried her in silence to the hidden entrance to the Underground, and he brought her with him to the palace and to his rooms, eerily quiet in the night.

He held her in his arms the whole night. He rocked her and caressed her, and he let his strength and warmth seep into her, trying with all his might and power to will her to gather courage to go on. She finally fell asleep and she woke later, still securely gathered in his embrace, and the first thing she saw was his soft and peaceful eyes; the sky reflected in one of them and the earth in the other.

“Feeling better?” he asked.

She nodded. Tears filled her eyes but she didn’t cry, and he brushed his lips over her face.

“Promise me that you will never ever try to drug yourself out of a problem or a situation again,” he said. “It doesn’t solve a thing. It only makes matter worse. If you can’t cope, come to me instead. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to you; that I’m here for you forever. Promise me now, won’t you?”

She nodded again. Yet, she started to cry all the same, but it was silent tears running over her face, and he licked them gently away. Then he put his hand on her forehead and made her go into a deep sleep, and when she woke up hours later she was back in her house in London.

She kept her promise to him. When the moments came when she couldn’t endure the pain any longer, she ran through the darkness and sought him out. In wordless agony she fell into his arms, choking on her tears, and he showed no surprise when he saw her. He gently wrapped his presence around her, and he took her and made lazy, soft and sensual love to her all through the night until she was physically exhausted, and the pain had finally gone. They rarely talked to each other on these occasions. Once or twice she could whisper “Is he still alive?” and he would nod in answer.

********************

In Paris she was received like a queen. In the city, which was under its greatest reconstruction ever, the old centre being torn down to give place to the new and spacious boulevards, the count had evacuated a whole house not far from the Imperial palace on her account. He had filled the house with everything from new furniture to servants and even a chaperone — an elderly aunt — that he thought would be necessary for her if she were to appear at the Opera or any of the theaters. She wasn’t yet introduced in any of the prominent families or at the court. Anna couldn’t help smiling at his youthful eagerness and enthusiasm when he showed her all this. He reminded her very much of a child setting up his first dollhouse.

The count had rented a box for her at the Opera, and she went there almost every night, knowing that she herself was as much a spectacle to see for the hungry public as the ballet or the opera on program. She knew she was the gossip of the town for the moment and that everyone was dying to meet the wealthy heiress from New Orleans, this being her present ‘history.' One night, the count managed to have her introduced to the Empress. In the first intermission, she received summons to the Empress’s box, and she went there with her chaperone. The count was not present himself; that wouldn’t have been proper since they were not related. The Empress was mildly curious and talked with Anna for a rather long time. They talked about New Orleans and the reconstruction of Paris. Before Anna left the box, she received an invitation to a soirée later on in the week, and she sank to the floor in one of her most exquisite reverences, being secretly happy that she had had time to practice this special skill many times before.

When she left the Empress and returned to her own box, a strange transition took place. It was as if she had become visible all at once to the people in the Opera. Everyone wanted to greet her and talk to her, even total strangers, and she got more invitations to balls and soirées than she could manage. The count came to her box, flushing with excitement. He could now stay there for the rest of the evening, and he showed himself off like a proud peacock to the rest of the public, knowing how much envy he triggered at that moment. Anna smiled in secret, not minding at all to appear as his price.

********************

The soirée at the palace proved to be a rather sumptuous affair. An opera singer was to entertain and apart from that the evening consisted of being introduced and seen talking to the right people. Anna was considered very lucky to have been invited, and she was even introduced to the Emperor Napoleon himself. She didn’t inform him that she had overheard his council concerning the Sardinian affairs. Long before he entered the salons, she had heard him through the walls. She knew that he gave his strong support to the future Italian King Victor Emanuel although that meant a confrontation head to head with Austria. When at last she managed to withdraw from the soirée, she hastened back to her house and informed her servants that she was retiring for the night. Instead, she locked her bedroom doors and slipped silently through a painting on the wall and hurried to meet Jareth to give him the information she had gathered. He pondered her news in silence for a while.

“I’m most interested in what is going to happen to Venice,” he said. “If they mean to include it in the coming new kingdom, we will have to prepare for the changes. But there is nothing we can do for the moment but wait and listen.”

“By the way,” he continued, “news has reached me from the States today. There is a strong possibility that the South will break out of the Union if Abraham Lincoln were to be elected president. Is this fact mentioned at all in the councils in Europe, I wonder?”

Anna answered that she hadn’t heard anything in particular as of yet, but she thought that it was discussed in England at least. The news filled her with apprehension, and she thought instantly of Celia left in New Orleans.

On the 18th of March 1861 the news reached Anna that the United Kingdom of Italy had been proclaimed. She also heard that just a couple of days earlier, on the 11th of March to be precise, the southern states of America had formed the Confederation, thereby leaving the Union. She contemplated the situation, but decided that she wouldn’t have to take action as far as Venice was concerned. Venice still belonged to Austria, and nothing in its present status had changed. Anna thought however again with great worry of Celia, residing in their house in New Orleans, and Anna feverishly longed to return home. She must remember to ask Jareth if it would be possible for her to go back to the States now.

It became hard for Anna to concentrate on the intrigues of the court life in Paris. To the count she could easily say, that she was worried about her family back home, and this would indeed be the truth. To complicate matters, a friend of the count, a young nobleman from the same circles, started to court her ardently to the great dismay of the count. In the end the two men got into a heated argument, and Anna received the information that a duel was to take place. She saw her opportunity and informed them both that she on no account would accept that they fought a duel over her, and that she intended to leave for the States immediately. They on the other hand couldn’t withdraw from their joint challenge, and she left Paris and headed for Calais and Dover in late May that year, saying that she would catch the ship for the States from Southampton.

That was however not the way she intended to travel. She left with all her luggage, but in Calais she sent it ahead of her to England to be forwarded to the States from Southampton as planned. Anna herself however remained in Calais. She stayed at a small inn, and during the night she shed the clothes and other things which had belonged to the lady who had moved around in the courts in Paris. She transformed herself into a plain woman in old and worn clothes. No one looked at her twice when she slipped out of the inn in the late night and disappeared into the small streets of Calais. Not far from the inn she eased through a door to a wagon shed, and she was gone from human eyes for good.

********************

Jareth wasn’t present in the castle when Anna came. She was informed that he was in the Labyrinth, and she definitely didn’t want to seek him out there. The Labyrinth was the only place in the Underground that she hated and even feared. It represented all the darkness which was unquestionably combined with the Underground world. She didn’t want to know what Jareth was doing there, and she even contemplated continuing directly to New Orleans, but decided after some hesitation that she would stay the night in the castle after all. There were things that she had to discuss with Jareth before going ‘home’.

“I trust you’ve had a pleasant night?” he inquired blandly when they met the next morning. There was just a hint of mockery in his eyes telling her that he was fully aware of why they hadn’t seen each other last night.

“Now, I would like to know why you are back already and evidently on your way to New Orleans?” he continued when she didn’t answer.

She then proceeded to tell him about the duel in Paris and her anxiety on behalf of Celia all alone in the house in New Orleans and a war underway in the States. He frowned and started pacing the floor and eventually commented on her departure from France.

“I don’t like it when you draw attention to your person in this manner,” he said to her.

“I really didn’t do that on purpose,” she defended herself. “I didn’t encourage the second man when he started to pay attention to me. We had decided that I should concentrate on the count and so I did. I can’t help it if I attract attention even if I’m trying to keep a low profile.”

“God forbid and help us all when you decide not to,” he replied and curved his lips into an ironic smile.

She looked at her feet and pretended that she hadn’t heard his last remark.

“I hope that you won’t keep me from going to Celia?” she asked instead.

“I can’t say that I’m overjoyed at the thought of having you there at this very moment, but I suppose that I can’t keep you from going. What will you do?” he added.

“That depends on what’s going to happen. If the war will move to our doorstep, I might have to take Celia with me and come here. I really don’t know. . .” Her voice trailed off, betraying how worried she felt.

“We will let the issue rest for a while then,” he concluded, “and I will permit you to go there.”

********************

As always, it was with great exhilaration that she entered the little courtyard to her house in the centre of New Orleans. It was still very early in the morning and the dawn hadn’t broken. She often preferred to come home in this manner, not drawing undue attention to herself. It was very peaceful and quiet, yet she immediately sensed that something was vitally different this day. She couldn’t pinpoint the cause of this effect. It was as if a strange personality or person had entered the house somehow. She thought however that the new situation they all were living in must be to blame for everything feeling so different. She didn't have much time to brood over this issue. Before she knew it, Celia had flung the doors to the house open and rushed out into the courtyard to hug her. It didn’t help if Celia were fast asleep when Anna would arrive or if Anna tried to move over the courtyard like a ghost, Celia would always wake up when she sensed Anna’s presence.

They spent all morning in the kitchen telling each other of what had happened during the months they’d been apart. Celia wanted to know every piece of gossip from the French court, and Anna wanted to hear about how the city prepared for the conflict. When they at last had satisfied their curiosity, Anna went a tour around the house the way she usually did when she came home. After her mother’s death she had redecorated the whole house and allotted both herself and Celia more space, each one of them now having a whole landing at her disposal. She had also turned the whole ground floor into a space where she housed living room, library and dining room. When she came to the library to open the windows and let some fresh air in, she sensed again this strange disturbing feeling of faint danger, and her heart started to beat. She stood for a long time listening to the silence but no other sound but her own heartbeats disturbed it, and in the end the feeling slowly vanished. She didn’t feel it anymore and a couple of days later she had forgotten all about it.

During these early days of the war, it was easy to look upon the sequence of events as a romantic adventure. Everyone was so sure of winning and that the unpleasant fighting would soon end. Anna started to make herself useful as all the other women in the city did. She joined a group of ladies who intended to learn to nurse the wounded, and she also spent time organizing rallies to bring in boots and clothing. Then the first reports of skirmishes started to drop in, and soon news circulated all over town about the first major contest between the two armies which had taken place in Virginia. It was described as a great victory for the South and really boasted the moral. Anna thought it was awful to hear that around 4.700 men had died. Little did she know that in a short while everyone would consider this a moderate figure.

As summer turned to fall, it started to become clear to everyone that the conflict was not going to be solved easily or quickly. The strategy of the Union started to show. The Federal forces aimed at getting control over the big river system and to split up the Confederation. They also set about blockading the southern ports. In February of 1862 the South learned what heavy causalities meant when around 17.400 men were reported killed at Fort Donelson and nearly 23.800 at Shiloh, both battlefields in Tennessee. Between the two battles Nashville fell to the Union forces. This fact left the residents of New Orleans stunned. The war had suddenly come very close to their homes. The parties, balls and rallies that had kept them busy during the fall and around Christmas stopped, and people started to think about securing their property and perhaps even leave the city. Shortly after the Federal victory at Shiloh in early April the two forts that guarded the entrance to New Orleans from the sea were put under heavy siege and fire. When it was all clear that the forts couldn’t keep the Union forces from sailing up the river to the city, New Orleans surrenders without fighting and bloodshed and the most important town in the Confederacy was lost.

The northern army descended upon the city, and the city received it and swallowed it in silence. No one knew at that time that the stern military rule invoked upon them would last for fifteen years, fifteen hard and dreary years when they all would have to learn just to endure. The eternal and indolent city itself was not to come to much harm. No army could conquer her. Fifteen years later, many of the northerners would be hard to single out from the original citizens, having been assimilated and neutralized and simply digested by this living structure by the river mouth.

********************

Anna thought seriously about leaving New Orleans with Celia. As they had an opportunity to do so, why not take advantage of it after all? Yet, it wasn’t going to turn out that way. Something happened before Anna could decide on leaving. Something that would forever change her life yet again.

When the news came that everyone would have to be prepared for military inspections and the possibility of confiscation of valuable property, Anna thought like her neighbors that she would hide the most expensive items in her house rather than give them up. She went from room to room for a survey. When she came to the library, she became aware again of a strange feeling of danger. She entered the room cautiously, but she couldn’t see anything that was out of the ordinary at first. Then she spotted something on the window sill that she hadn’t put there herself and that she didn’t recognize. It was an Indian leather bracelet adorned with small blue beads. Somebody had used it for a long time because it was well worn and almost frail in parts. She took it in her hand to examine. Yet, she dropped it almost at once because it burned her fingers. She stared at it in alarm and bent down to look at it. Even before she came close to it again, she knew. She knew that this was something that Conaill had worn close to his body. She called out for Celia in a loud voice. Celia came rushing, fearing that Anna had hurt herself or was being attacked by someone. Yet, when she saw Anna standing by the window, looking at the piece of leather, Celia stopped short in her tracks, and she buried her face in her hands.

“Celia!” Anna cried again. “You know about this? If so, you have some explaining to do!”

“I don’t understand it,” Celia mumbled confused as Anna went up to her and took her by the shoulders.

“He has been here!” Anna said shaking Celia lightly. “When was he here, tell me, I must know!”

Celia lifted her head and looked gravely at Anna. “He said himself that I mustn’t tell you that he’d been in the house. He made me promise not to tell! So why leave this for everyone to see? I don’t understand,” Celia repeated.

“Celia, just now I am not caring about what’s been said between you, I only want to know when he was here last,” Anna implored her.

Celia sat heavily in a chair and motioned Anna to sit too. Then she started to tell Anna about Conaill’s visits to the house.

It wasn’t long after he had been exiled from the Underground that Conaill showed up at the house for the first time. He made Celia promise for fear of her life not to reveal anything about his visits to Anna. The house had once belonged to Conaill, and he evidently still had access to it in his own way. As the years followed, he showed up from time to time to inquire about Anna and to see her.

“See me?” Anna whispered with a shaking voice.

“Yes, when you was sleeping,” Celia answered and Anna covered her face with her hands and moaned.

Conaill had told Celia a little about what he had occupied himself with, but no details. Much of the time he had traveled the world and made his living as a mercenary soldier. He had said with a short laugh that there wasn’t a continent left that he hadn’t fought a war in. The last time he had shown up, was just a couple of days before Anna’s return to the house. He had come to tell Celia that he had enlisted in the Civil War on the Confederate side.

“I’ve never been able to resist a losing cause,” he had remarked with a wry smile.

Anna looked up when Celia had finished. She went up to her and shook Celia by the shoulders again.

“Then you must know where he is now. You must know which unit he enlisted with and where they are. You must know, tell me, you’ve got to tell me!!” Anna shouted in agony.

Celia started to cry and so did Anna, and they cried in each other’s arms for a while before finally calming down enough to be able to talk in a rational way again.

Yes, Celia knew where Conaill had enlisted. He had said that he didn’t much fancy the large anonymous battalions and that he intended to join one of the smaller cavalry brigades or partisan rangers as they were also called. They were small very mobile and deadly units which specialized in guerrilla warfare, constantly harassing the Union forces that dared out of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and their other camps and small enclaves along the river. Most of the time the partisans were hardly distinguishable from the civilians, as they had to supply clothing, weapons and horses by themselves. Today they could be just anywhere between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Anna ordered Celia to go into the city at once to find out as much as possible concerning the whereabouts of the partisans.

“I don’t care what means you’ll use to get hold of the information I want, just get it and get it now,” Anna urged her.

When Celia had gone, Anna slumped in a chair in the library and stared numbly at the walls and the bookshelves in the room. She tried to come to terms with what had happened and make plans for what to do next. ‘I will have to go and search for him. There is nothing else left for me to do,’ she thought. ‘No matter the cost,’ she added mentally. She knew that she traveled best alone. She couldn’t make herself totally invisible the way Jareth could, but she could become very inconspicuous, blending into the background being hardly noticeable at all. Her over-perfect hearing would aid her when she would have to travel among strangers who were perhaps enemies. One more thing was painfully clear to her. She wouldn’t involve Jareth in this quest if she could help it and that meant that she couldn’t use any of the facilities that the Underground offered her. She would have to abide by the human rules if she were to solve this issue. 

She lifted the small and worn leather bracelet. It didn’t burn her any more but it felt almost warm to the touch, like human skin. She pressed her lips against it. Then she put it on her arm and tied it securely to her wrist, intending to keep it on and never take it off again, no matter the circumstances.

********************

It was late evening when Celia returned hours later. It hadn’t been easy to find what she wanted. She couldn’t go around asking questions openly about the Confederate army without arousing suspicion. Her good hearing and her skills in reading people's minds had helped her in the end. She could tell Anna that the special unit that Conaill belonged to, had last been seen near Donaldsonville roughly halfway upstream to Baton Rouge. Anna brought out the large map she kept in the library and pondered it for a long time. It was a treacherous part of the river area to travel. That much she knew. It was a swampy and marshy land and could sometimes be flooded by the river. Yet she thought that the harsh terrain also would offer her protection. She could envisage that the enemy operating in these surroundings would most likely try to stick to the new railway and the river and not dare out into the marshland if they could prevent it. When Celia saw Anna with the map in her hand, Celia’s eyes widened and she tugged at Anna’s sleeve.

“You don’t fancy going there, I hope?” she whispered. Anna merely looked at her.

“But you can’t!” Celia cried. “Even if they don’t kill you, they can hurt and cripple you and even take you for prisoner!”

“Do you seriously think that I could just sit here doing nothing, knowing that he is within reach?” Anna asked.

“And by the way,” she continued, “not a word, not a single breathed syllable to Jareth if he seeks you out while I’m gone.”

“You mean, I’m to stay here while you go out in this wilderness?” Celia protested.

They had a long heated argument, and it took a while for Anna to convince Celia that she was best protected if she traveled alone, thus having the chance to blend into the background and not draw attention to herself.

When Celia had reconciled herself to the fact that Anna was going to leave in search for Conaill, Celia tried to help as much as she could. It was all too clear that one of the most difficult parts of the quest was getting out of the occupied city. Celia rallied her contacts and managed to ensure Anna a passage on a small boat which was to cross Lake Pontchartrain in the middle of the night. The lake had proved to be the best way of escape. It was hard for the Federal forces to keep guard in the delta at every bayou and every little river, emptying itself in the great lake. Celia also advised Anna to dress simply and usefully. She brought her a jacket and a knee-length skirt in supple and soft skin. The dress looked as if it had been made for an Indian woman to begin with. Anna roamed the attic and found a pair of riding boots and a hat under which she hid her blonde hair and which shaded the better part of her face. Anna also decided to take her small French pistols, and she had Celia go and find ammunition for it. Apart from the gun and some money Anna traveled very light. No idea to burden herself with a lot of luggage. The horse she needed, waited for her at the secret landing place on the northern shore of the great lake. She had been told as much.

Anna tried to rest a little before it was time to leave in the middle of the night, but she found no peace of mind. Her thoughts roamed endlessly around Conaill – sometimes in doubt and despair of what might have happened to him during the time they’d been apart and sometimes in feverish longing for him. She however never doubted for a second that she would manage to find him.

Celia brought her some food before her departure, and Anna forced herself to eat a little although it felt almost impossible to down anything at all. Celia watched her like a hawk and didn’t leave the table until Anna at least had tried to taste some of the dishes.

Then the moment came. Anna hugged Celia in silence for a long time, and she heard Celia whisper something in a language she didn’t understand. Yet, Anna could gather that Celia put a spell over her as an extra measure of protection. Celia didn’t often use her special skills, but evidently she thought this was an occasion worthy of her powers. Anna accepted this as gift, and she didn’t ask to have the vocation explained to her. Then Anna slipped out into the night and out of the little courtyard, and she almost immediately became one with the shadows. Soon she was lost to human eyes and minds when she on light feet headed towards the lake.

********************

The passage took a much longer time than she had expected. She had found the boat and two young colored men in charge of it at the meeting place Celia had pointed out to her. She had given the specific password to ensure the men of that she was indeed their intended passenger. They didn’t question her reasons for being out in the middle of the night alone. They had promised Celia to take her across the lake, and they were content with that. They kept the boat in the flooded vegetation close to the shoreline and moved silently and stealthily in the water. No one uttered a word. Anna started freezing although it wasn’t very cold but tried her best to hide it. Several hours later, when dawn was about to break, they ventured into the mouth of a very small river and eventually hit the shore. An older colored man awaited them. He stood so very still in the bushes that it took Anna a while to spot him. The men greeted each other quietly and the older one turned to Anna.

“You’ve better come with me,” he said. “You can’t travel in daylight anyway.”

Anna looked up at him with alarm in her eyes. What he said meant that she was going to lose a whole day.

He spotted her apprehension and added, “If your life is dear to you, there is no other way but to travel at night.”

She agreed then to follow him, and they all started in silence into the woods.

Soon enough they reached a small wooden hut well covered with tree branches, and they all entered the cramped space. It took a while to become used to the semi-darkness inside, but no one intended to light any candles or fires.

The old man turned to Anna. “I’m Joseph and these two are my sons,” he said. “I knew Jeanne La Villiere a long time ago, and I also know Celia. That’s why you are here today.”

Anna looked at him in wonder. It was strange hearing anyone mention Jeanne’s name again after all these years, but in a flash she realized that the old man standing in front of her most probably was the very young boy who had lived with Jeanne on her houseboat. That had happened 47 years ago and the man looked to be around 60, so it could be right. As if he too was skilled in reading minds, he started to smile a little, looking at her and he nodded slowly.

“Yes,” he said, “you are right.” Then he turned to his sons. “You two should start worrying about getting the horse here. We will need them tonight.”

When the boys had left the hut, Joseph made Anna sit on the floor, and he gave her dried meat and bread to eat. Strangely enough Anna was ravenous with hunger now and everything tasted good, even the lukewarm water that Joseph gave her to drink. Then he started to talk to her about the journey ahead of her.

“Should it have been ordinary times, it would not have taken you more than two days in the saddle to reach Baton Rouge. That is of course if you would keep riding without any stops for a full eight hours a day or so. It is roughly 80 miles between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and half that measure to Donaldsonville,” he began. “But since these are troubled times and you are out on an errand that mustn’t be revealed, you can only rely on a comparatively safe journey if you travel in the evening and the early morning. Since you are not familiar with the surroundings, I don’t advice you to travel in the middle of the night. And you must keep out of the ordinary roads. The area between the lake and Baton Rouge, is swarming with little bands of soldiers, both Federal and Confederate, and they are engaged in constant fighting more or less. Don’t count on help from any civilian. The civilians in the area are ‘friends’ one day and ‘enemies’ the next. Not out of their own choice, mind you. When the soldiers – and that goes for both armies – hit upon the civilians they force them for fear of death to take sides. This war isn’t a pretty sight, lady.”

“Was there ever one?” she asked quietly.

He shook his head and continued. “Celia has told me that you are looking for the Mad Irishman.”

Anna gave a start and her eyes widened. ‘Is that how Conaill is known these days?’ she thought.

“Captain Conell O’Conaill was last seen in the vicinity of Donaldsonville,” Joseph went on, “that is right. He and his men are camping in Confederate territory on a deserted plantation for a couple of days because their commanding officer, Major Templeton, is wounded. They will most likely want to let him die in peace and bury him instead of trying to bring him to Camp Moore across the river. He wouldn’t survive that journey.”

Anna shuddered when hearing Joseph’s calm voice describing the hardships of war. He then proceeded to inform her of the route in great detail, and he had even drawn a rudimentary map on a piece of paper for her. She kept memorizing his description throughout the afternoon, and she asked about the conditions of the small roads he advised. He also gave her dried meat, bread and water to take along for three days and told her to be careful with the water and not drink to excess. He also reminded her not to make any fires unless it was absolutely vital; only if she had to boil water to make it drinkable.

The rest of the afternoon Anna slept to gather strength for the night, but she had a troubled sleep with haunting and vivid dreams. When she woke up later it was already dusk, and the two boys had returned. Anna went to look at the horse and immediately warmed to it. It was a chestnut mare with a quiet temper.

“You had better leave now,” Joseph said and she agreed.

They all shook hands, and she mounted the horse, and she was on her own.

********************

They worked in good unison, Anna and Chestnut. She had decided to call her horse by that name. Anna soon realized that she could leave it to Chestnut to find the best path as long as Anna kept track of the proper direction according to Joseph’s advice. It darkened quickly and soon the woody marshland around her felt impenetrable, yet she pushed on a little hoping to find a clearing soon. Then she heard voices in the distance and she stopped, calling out softly within her mind to Chestnut to stand still and not make a sound. Her heart beat furiously against her ribs and it almost distracted her. She heard a lot of voices talking at the same time, but she couldn’t make out what was said. She gathered that it was a military unit of some distinction passing by on the main road, not far away from her. When she observed that the voices grew weaker, she believed that they were leaving the area after all. She breathed again but felt a little bit shaken from the experience and decided to camp for a couple of hours as it was very dark now anyway.

She found a sheltered spot under a big tree and rolled herself up against the still warm trunk and felt comforted by Chestnut's presence. She even dozed off for a little while and woke up a couple of hours later when Chestnut gently nudged her as if telling her that it was time to get on the road again. The darkness wasn’t pitch-black any longer, and Anna really felt the urge to push on to put some distance behind her. As the dawn slowly broke, she became aware of the surrounding landscape. They moved in the outskirts of the woodland, and Anna could see fields and houses in the distance. Only, the houses were burnt skeletons of buildings, and the fields were dry and unkempt. She didn’t see a single soul around, yet she felt watched by apprehensive eyes and quickly moved into the forest again.

Anna moved deeper into the woods when the sun had risen. She looked for a brook where she could water Chestnut, and where they could rest. She found what she was looking for at last and stayed in the shelter of bushes and trees the whole day. It was a rest that wore her out in a way since she wanted to move on soon, but she remembered Joseph’s advice and forced herself into inactivity. She tried to figure out how long she had traveled and came to the conclusion that if nothing happened that would stop her journey, she would reach the outskirts of Donaldsonville tomorrow morning.

Anna was right in her calculations, and when she sensed the bustle of the nearby town she moved away from it and stayed near a deserted farm the whole day. There was a well on the premises which still could be used, and she was grateful for being able to supply Chestnut with fresh water. When the dusk fell she moved out on the road again, now heading directly for the plantation that was reported to be the camp where Conaill and his men had last been seen. She hoped that they were still nearby and hadn’t been forced to move on. If that were the case she didn’t know what to do, however, it was no use brooding over problems that hadn’t happened yet.

********************

It was near midnight when Anna and Chestnut stopped, hearing the distant sound of voices. Anna could divine that a group of men was not far away. As she knew she was on the right path to the plantation, she concluded that this must be Conaill’s group of men. She stopped for a while and closed her eyes trying to calm the beating in her body. ‘What will he do when he sees me?’ she asked herself. ‘Suppose I will put him into peril by coming here?’ Well, it was too late to turn back now, and she motioned Chestnut to move slowly ahead.

At last Anna saw the burnt and destroyed building in the distance. She could see that the men had made a campfire in the courtyard. It was rather quiet. Only a few of the soldiers were on guard. She didn’t sense Conaill’s presence here and gathered that he slept elsewhere, most likely in the building itself somewhere. She dismounted and motioned to Chestnut to remain hidden in the shrubbery while she dared up towards the house. She saw the young guard at the backdoor, and she stopped in her tracks in the shadows. She stood for a long time motionless and concentrated and directed her thoughts towards him, mesmerizing his mind not to observe her. After what seemed ages he moved yawning and left the door for a short moment to take a drink of water. She used the space of time to move into the building soundlessly.

Nothing felt real anymore and she moved over the floor, looking for doors as if in a dream. She whispered his name trying to sense where to look for him. Then she knew that he was nearby in the undestroyed part of the building. She went to the door which seemed to lead there, and she opened it slowly.

Conaill was standing at the far end of the room in front of the fireplace and when the door opened he turned around in a deliberately slow motion until they faced each other. He was still imposing to look at but leaner and more youthful than she remembered. He narrowed his eyes to gleaming slits, and she saw the muscles moving in his face and on his neck when he clenched his jaws tightly. He showed no surprise at all seeing her. They remained looking at each other for an eternity in silence, then she slowly went up to him. She unbuttoned the soft leather jacket she was wearing, exposing her breasts and when she reached him she opened his jacket too, and she slipped her hands over the hard muscles in his chest before she pressed her nakedness towards his. He gave a low sharp cry and almost lost his balance. Then he drew her close to his body in an almost suffocating embrace.

“Say my name,” she whispered in agony. “You never once said my name.”

“Anna!” he breathed almost inaudibly. “Anna!!”

Then he groaned and started kissing her like a man dying of thirst, drinking her, eating her, tasting every part of her mouth, sucking on her tongue and her lips. She tried to break free to breathe in between, but he wouldn’t let her. He bruised her lips and inserted his tongue into her mouth and filled it for her to taste. She now shivered in his grip, and she licked up every scent that emanated from him; that of horses, tobacco, weapon grease and possibly even blood and the indefinable something that was only him and that drew her wild and weak. He undid her hair and buried his hands in it. Then he fell with her to the thick carpet on the floor in front of the fireplace. With frenzied hands he moved her leather skirt up above her hips, exposing her, prying her legs apart. He unbuttoned his trousers and freed his throbbing erection and he entered her, not caring to indulge in any subtle foreplay. Yet, he slid into her without force, gently and softly and she sighed with her whole body when he filled her up. For a short while they just lay there joined to each other, then he started to fuck her urgently and feverishly. He buried his face against her neck and pressed his fangs towards her beating pulses. He didn’t bite her, but she could feel the sharpness of his teeth grating her skin. ‘If he were to kill me tonight, I wouldn’t mind,’ she thought in a daze. She arched her back meeting his every thrust and she mewled quietly and incessantly, now in hunger to be satisfied. Relentlessly he brought them both to the pitch. When her orgasm started to shake her, he raised himself on his arms to be able to look at her and with his eyes locked into hers he stiffened and succumbed with a wailing cry to the spasms that wrenched the semen out of his body, flooding her. Then he sank down over her with a deep sigh, and she felt his body relax against hers, enabling him to move yet deeper into her, coming to rest with his still stiff cock securely buried inside her.

She held him in her arms, and she started to cry with huge sobs as her muscles and nerves snapped at last and left her shivering in the wake of the tension. He rolled around with her on the floor so she came to rest on top of him, and he tightened his embrace and he caressed her back and kissed her face.

“Don’t cry,” he said soothingly in a low voice. “Don’t cry my Darling, we have no time for tears.”

She quieted down after a while, and she was able to look at him at last. He was smiling, his white teeth glimmering at her in the semi-darkness of the room. He lifted her right hand and started gently to finger the leather bracelet which she had tied around her wrist.

“When I realized that I had lost it,” he said, “I knew that I was going to see you again. It was just a matter of when and where. I didn’t think though that you would be mad enough to come out here.”

“Do you honestly think that I would be able to stay in the house doing nothing, knowing that you were so close?” she asked and he laughed teasingly at her.

She sat up beside him and looked in wonder at him, not getting enough of him. She reached out and traced the features of his face as if memorizing them with her fingers. He closed his eyes, caught her hand and pressed it against his mouth. Then he moved it to his heart that she could feel vibrating in his chest.

“How long have we got before you have to move on with your group?” she went on.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “Perhaps not more than this night.”

She covered her face with her hands and started to cry again. “How do you know, have you been summoned to move already?” she persisted.

“Listen,” he said, “this has nothing to do with my present situation. You wouldn’t be here in the first place, hadn’t Jareth agreed to it.”

“Jareth!” she exclaimed in alarm but he continued.

“Permitting you to come here and see me is something very extraordinary coming from him. If this also means that he will consider being lenient, showing us mercy in the end, I don’t know. But it is at least a breakthrough, a move in the right direction. It has given me hopes for the future.”

He sat up beside her and took her into his arms again. He had her back against his chest so that he could freely move his hands over her breasts and stomach. Now it was her time to close her eyes and give herself over to the almost unbearable caresses of his hands. Yet, the thought of Jareth being behind this meeting was a disturbing feeling in the back of her mind. She had tried so hard to cope with the situation without involving Jareth. Now it looked as if he had been holding on to the strings all the time, perhaps following her every move.

“Don’t think about him just right now,” Conaill soothed her. “There is nothing you can do to spite him anyway. By the way, I know that you have put a spell on him. Was that a wise thing to do?”

“Of course I had a purpose,” she mused, “but it wasn’t what you think. I didn’t do it to antagonize him. I want him to experience love the way humans do, not in the omnipotent way that a Goblin King would. I want him to feel the agony of hell, facing a possible refusal and the sweetness and pleasure of heaven when feeling accepted and loved for his own sake only. I want him to experience the utter fragility of feelings like love and hate. There is such a small difference between the two. I want him to know that no magic in the world will help secure the love of the one he has chosen. He will have to beg for her love and he will worship the ground she is walking on. He is not ready for it yet, it hasn’t happened. But it will soon.”

“You might as well be talking about me now,” he murmured in her hair. “Not until I met you did I become aware of living. And I have lived for centuries already. They don’t count any longer. When you happened to me, I was thrown down into an abyss, and I’ve been made to wander endlessly around the world in search for you ever since. The brief moments I’ve been able to come to the house just to look at you and touch your face have been the moments that have kept me alive. But I don’t complain over my fate. Every second with you is a second of life, and I’m ready to crawl for them, to beg for them.”

She closed her eyes in agony when listening to him, and tears ran over her face. He dried them gently away with his fingers and rocked her in silence for a while in his arms.

The fire had almost died but the night wasn’t cold. They heard almost nothing from the men out in the courtyard, only some muffled commands when they changed guards out there.

“How did you manage to get by the man posted at the door?” Conaill asked.

Anna then told him how she had put a spell over the young soldier so that he wouldn’t notice her.

Conaill chuckled with low laughter and remarked, “You against an army! I wouldn’t bet on the outcome of that confrontation.”

She laughed too for the first time this night. He rose from the floor and fetched a bottle of wine and a glass.

“I only have one glass. We have to share it,” he said. She liked that idea very much and the wine warmed her and made her inside melt sweetly. He went to the small camp bed and fetched a pillow that he put under her head.

“The bed isn’t very comfortable,” he added. “We might as well stay on the carpet.” He let his hand glide over the soft surface. “A piece of luxury left in this pile of rubbish.” He put his army coat over her and rose again.

“Shortly before you arrived tonight Major Templeton died,” he informed her in an even and calm voice and she looked at him gravely. “In a way one can say that he died a couple of days ago, having been in a coma for the better part of our stay here.”

He was silent for a while and then he continued after the brief pause. “The major was a good soldier and a good man. He was totally dedicated to what he fought for, and I did nothing to take him out of his convictions. He died all the happier, believing that he shed his life for a worthy cause. We will bury him tomorrow, but I’ll go and check on him to see that everything is alright in the room, and I will also have a look at your horse.”

“Do you know where I left her?” Anna inquired and he nodded.

Anna couldn’t rest on the floor when Conaill had left her. She got up and went about the room, examining every item that belonged to him. She fingered his clothes, feeling the coarse material and taking in the scent they signaled to her. She examined the books and weapons that he kept on a table by the camp bed. She lay down on the bed and wrapped the dirty sheets around her and closed her eyes. There she still lay when he returned. He went up to her and looked at her for a long time in silence. Then he removed his clothes and lay down in the bed and covered her with his body. He was heavy and he was already very hard. She moved a little under him, feeling how he pressed and rubbed his swollen member against her belly, groaning in desire. Then he withdrew a little and resting on an elbow he started to trace the outlines of her body like a blind man. His fingers moved around the hollow at the base of her neck and continued their journey down to her breasts. He wetted his fingers and traced intricate patterns all over them, brushing over her erect nipples, giving them quick, sharp and almost painful squeezes that made her cry out.

Then he bent down over her and sucked at her breasts with long forceful and yearning licks. It brought her to a state of total frenzy, shivering with heat and unappeased lust. He took her hand and guided it towards his swelling cock, and she greedily took hold of it and rubbed herself against it. His breath came in short, low groans now and it was visibly hard for him to control himself, but evidently he had decided not to give in to the torture just yet. His hands, now harsh and hot, continued their way down over her body. He brushed his fingers through the curls covering her mound and she gasped when he inserted them into her vagina to feel her moistness, wetting them and licking them clean. He moved her thighs apart and caressed the inside of each with light teasing touches. Fiery shudders of emotion curled over her skin, and she felt like giving herself up for good to him, to make him do whatever he wanted with her body. He jammed three fingers into her, pressing them to the roof of her cunt and circled her clitoris with his thumb at the same time. The frenzied movements of his hand when he pressed his fingers together, trapping her in a vise of pleasure, were too much for her and she came in a violent orgasm, shuddering helplessly in her throes. When she screamed he eased up on his hold over her and contented himself with lightly fingering the silken folds of her vagina, getting his fingers soaked in her juices. All the while she held his hardness in her hands, and she didn’t let go of him.

When she came to her senses again, she started to apply gentle and sensual caresses and strokes to his twitching cock, pressing it in between her breasts.

“Harder!” he groaned between his clenched teeth, throwing his head back impatiently.

“It won’t feel any the better if I do it harder,” she whispered, a teasing smile hidden in her voice.

Instead, she closed her eyes and fondled his erection with wet fingers and relentless softness and now and then she licked him, starting at the base and moving all the way up to the purple head. He choked on his gasps when he came all over her hand and her breasts, and he fell back into the bed shivering violently. Then they licked each other clean and she curled herself up in his arms and fell into a brief light sleep.

When she woke up again, she found him standing by the window, looking at the sky where the dawn was slowly breaking. He had put on his trousers again and tied back his silver hair with a small string of leather. When he heard her move he turned and went up to the bed. He took his shirt and put it over her shoulders and caressed her face.

“I share you with him,” he said without anger or passion in his voice, “and that is part of my punishment.”

She opened her eyes wide and looked at him in astonishment. Before she could say anything he continued.

“I know that you are sleeping with him now and then. He has made sure that I am to know.”

She looked at him with despair in her face.

“He is all I’ve got now,” she said at last. “There is no other living soul but him who knows my whole story. He is the only one being able to comfort me when pain is too much for me.”

“Shh,” he soothed her, “I’m prepared to share you with the devil if I have to. I’m not reproaching you. I know what you are going through. I know that you wouldn’t have survived without him.”

“It would all be so much easier if this were an issue only between him and me,” he continued after a brief pause. “Then he could measure out a proper punishment for me, make me go through Dante’s hell or something for the next couple of centuries. But it isn’t an issue only between him and me. The outrage has happened between you two.”

“But how can you say that!” she exclaimed and got out of the bed. “He has always protected me and taken care of me and I trust him completely. I’ve lived all my life with him. He is my first memory from my childhood days.”

“I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that he loves you in his own way,” he replied. “No one will ever replace you in his life, you are much too special to him for that to happen. That also makes the outrage worse in a way and makes me wonder when, if ever, he will forgive you.”

“But what have I done?” she cried.

“You have taken advantage of him and used him to further you own interests,” he answered.

“But how?” she whispered.

“Think!” he urged her. “You played him out on the chessboard like a pawn to spite me and to confuse Eavan. You didn’t turn to him because you wanted him in the first place. You wanted to use him. Now he owns you, all of you, and make no mistake about it, he will assert his rights in time. This is why I wonder so much why he has permitted you to come here. I also wonder why he has accepted the spell you’ve put on him. Maybe he is just curious to know what is going to happen. He could easily have defused it, rendered it harmless, he is powerful enough to do it, but he didn’t.”

She kept looking steadily at him and she was very pale now. Then she closed her eyes, bowed her head and buried her face in her hands. He went up to her and took her into his arms, and she rested her head against his shoulder.

“Between the two of you, you’re going to kill me in the end,” she whispered wearily and he drew her closer into his embrace, comforting her.

Then he abruptly lifted his head in alarm and looked at the window. She felt his body stiffen and at the same time she sensed the danger too; the smoke of heavy fire.

“What’s happening?” she cried anxiously.

“That’s what they do, the farmers, when they don’t want their fields and cattle to fall into the hands of the enemy. They set fire to it all!”

He had started to put on his clothes in a hurry, and he motioned her to get dressed too.

“Stay here,” he ordered. I will go to the men and pick out the ones I trust the most and send the rest of them on their way to Camp Moore in Tangipahoa. We will have to bury the major quickly. Then we have to leave too.”

“But isn’t there anything I can do to help?” she asked frightened.

“Just right now I want you to stay here and do nothing. I’ll come and fetch you when everything is ready,” he said in a low stern voice, and she recognized in him the man used to give commands and who expected to be obeyed.

When Conaill had left, Anna started to dress. Then she went about the room, collecting his personal things so that nothing vital would be forgotten when they would leave. She went up to the window, but she couldn’t see much from there. She heard however how Conaill got his men on their feet and conveyed command to a lieutenant who was to bring the unit safely to Camp Moore. She also heard him call out for three men who were to stay with him for the burial. No one questioned his orders, and she heard the bustle when they all collected their belongings and made their horses ready.

Soon the yard outside the destroyed house was quiet and empty and at the same time the smoke started to bother Anna’s eyes and lungs. She was very frightened by now, and she wanted to get out of the room. She also kept thinking about Chestnut. Was the mare still around or had she run off the premises in fright? When Anna thought that she could take no more of this, Conaill returned and motioned for her to follow him. He collected his weapons and some personal things, and they went out into the courtyard. The three young soldiers were nowhere to be seen, and Conaill explained to her that they were digging the grave near the big tree in front of the house. He ordered her to get the horses ready, and she ran to the shrubbery to see what had happened to Chestnut. She found that Conaill had moved the mare to the primitive shelter where he kept the other horses. To her relief the animals seemed to be in good shape although the commotion and the smoke alarmed them. She saddled all five horses and left them in the shelter. Then she went searching for Conaill again. When she came to the front of the house the young men stopped digging and looked at her in wonder.

“Her name is Anna, and I would trust her with my life if I had to. That’s all you need to know for the moment,” Conaill said when he appeared in the doorway with the body wrapped in sheets in his arms.

The soldiers returned to their task in silence although they stole furtive and curious glances at Anna in between. Soon however the major was buried. Conaill said a prayer, and they were all silent for a minute. Then there was no more time for reflections and ceremony. They had to leave quickly now.

********************

A short distance from the plantation, Anna became aware of the magnitude of the fire. It was looking like a wall of flames over the northern horizon. Conaill motioned the group to stick together and follow him. They were traveling in daylight, and most likely they weren’t the only ones running away from the burning fields by now. He wanted them to get into the comparative safety of the woods not far away to the South. They rode at full gallop, the hoofs of the horses thundering against the hard and dry ground.

They encountered the enemy when entering the woods. Conaill spotted them first, and he even had time to fire his rifle before Anna understood that a group of Federal soldiers was in front of them. There was a short exchange of fire before the Federal group turned and hastened in the other direction when two of their men seemed to have been wounded. It happened so quickly that it was almost unreal. Conaill shouted harshly to all of them to get into cover as soon as possible.

At last they reached the shadowy woodland and could slow down a little. Conaill ordered them to stop and he approached them.

“We have to decide what to do and outline some sort of strategy before continuing,” he said turning to the young soldiers. “I have to bring this lady to New Orleans and if you don’t want to follow me, you should immediately join the others at Camp Moore now.”

“With respect sir,” one of them answered – Anna had learned by now that he was called Charlie – “if you don’t mind, we would like to follow you. I speak for Laurence and Craig too,” he added indicating the other two.

“So be it then,” Conaill concluded.

Charlie turned to Anna and bowed respectfully. “That is if the lady won’t mind either.”

“Of course I won’t,” Anna smiled, “on the contrary.”

So it was decided then that they all should continue south towards New Orleans.

They moved slowly and stealthily ahead during the day so as not to arouse any undue suspicion. Charlie took the first turn to scout at the head of the group. Laurence and Craig took up positions on each side of Anna and Conaill formed the rear. They didn’t encounter any other group of people and when it was late afternoon Conaill decided that they would take a rest. They hadn’t been out of the saddles since early morning, and everyone was weary and tired. They found a brook to water the horses and they sat in the shade of bushes and shared the dried meat and bread they had been able to bring along.

They rested for a couple of hours. Anna lay close to Conaill; she didn’t care what the others might think about her. Time was too short and precious to bother about that. And Conaill let her stay there wrapped in his arms.

They started again just after sunset. Laurence, who was familiar with the country, now headed the group. Although it was dark, Anna soon began to recognize her surroundings. She had been on this road only a couple of days before, following Joseph’s map. With Laurence’s knowledge of the path and in spite of the difficulties that they might run into, they dared continue through the night. When they reached a road that Anna knew led down to the great lake and Joseph’s hut, Conaill ordered all of them to stop. He motioned to the three young men to remain where they were while he took Anna to the side out of hearing distance from the others.

“I will have to leave you here,” he said calmly, but she could see the effort in his face with which he controlled himself.

“I can’t bring you into the city myself. Although I’ve been there several times already, we are not prepared for it this time, and I don’t want to risk the boys' lives.”

“You don’t have to explain,” she answered. “It is no issue.”

“Can you manage on your own from here?” he asked.

“Of course I can, don’t worry,” she smiled a little.

He dismounted and lifted her out of the saddle, and he threw his arms around her in a wild and almost painful embrace.

“Goodbye my Love,” he whispered. She broke down and started to cry.

“When will I see you again?” she wailed.

“I don’t know, but I think soon,” he answered wearily. Then he kissed her ferociously, and she kept crying. “Don’t cry my Love,” he said again. “Think that this is only the beginning, think that this is hope.”

Then he lifted her in the saddle again and gave Chestnut a light slap on the back, setting her into motion. Anna couldn’t bear turning around. Blinded by tears she let Chestnut pick the way and soon she was all alone in the forest.

********************

Anna reached Joseph’s cottage in the early morning. She was tired to the bone and lay down on the furs on the floor. She wasn’t at all worried that Joseph wouldn’t turn up. She knew that they used the hut when on fishing expeditions and most likely they fished a couple of times a week. She also sensed Celia’s presence. She had felt it during the whole journey. Maybe that was Celia’s spell; to be able to follow Anna and know where she was all the time. Anna was certain that Celia knew that she had reached the lake by now and in this feeling of security she fell in an exhausted sleep.

When she woke up Joseph stood bent over her, and Anna smiled with relief.

“So your ladyship is back,” Joseph bantered. “It is good to see that you have come to no harm. I will bring you to the city tonight, so you will just have to stay put here today.”

“I don’t mind,” she replied. “I’m so tired I could hardly move anyway. By the way, Joseph, there is another matter. I have fallen in love with Chestnut and I want to buy her. Is that possible?”

“Yes, that can be arranged,” Joseph said. “However, I can’t bring her along tonight in the boat of course. But I’ll get her to the city for you. Don’t you worry.”

“How shall I arrange for payment for you?,” Anna inquired. “I’ll discuss that with Celia,” Joseph concluded. “Don’t you worry,” he repeated.

Anna stayed in the hut the whole day. She just lay on the floor unable to move. She knew she was at the end of her tether somehow. When the night fell, Joseph had to help her down to the river and put her into the boat. She couldn’t sit up so he laid her down and tucked some furs around her. She had no idea of how long they were on their way. She descended off and on into her private unreality. She was awake when they reached the city, and she heard Celia’s voice talking rapidly and urgently to Joseph. Then she was put in a carriage and covered with sheets of linen.

She didn’t remember anything more until she was home and in her bed. A terrible vivid dream of burning fields and a burial figured in her nightmare. When she looked down into the newly dug grave Conaill was lying there. She sat up in the bed and screamed and screamed until Celia came running to her to comfort her endlessly. She dared hardly fall asleep because of the horrible dreams that invaded her, and she was almost delirious with exhaustion and fever. One night when she woke up bathing in cold sweat, Jareth was sitting beside her on the bed. He looked at her with great concern, and there was not a trace of his usual irony and mockery in his face.

“How come you are here?” she whispered. “You hate me. I know that you do.”

“Shh,” he said quietly. “You don’t know what you are talking about.”

He stroked her forehead with his cool hand and brought her some water to drink.

“I’m contemplating taking you with me, so that I can get you some proper care.”

“No!” she cried. “I want to stay here!”

“You are indeed the most difficult patient,” he said. “If I let you stay here, will you promise to take the medicines I will order for you?”

She calmed down a little and nodded. Then she took his hand and put it to her cheek.

“I’m so sorry,” she breathed and her voice broke.

“Don’t be,” he answered caressingly. “There is nothing to be sorry for, believe me, everything is going to be so good in the end. Now you will have to rest and get well, and I promise that you will have a dreamless sleep.”

********************

Anna eventually recovered but she was listless and depressed, and she didn’t want to do anything. Only the news from the front and the ongoing war seemed to catch her interest, and she often sent Celia out in the city to get more detailed information concerning the movements of the different units. There was no news of Conaill. Anna didn’t know whether he was still in the vicinity or not. It was as if he and his men had vanished into a cloud of smoke on the battlefield. Celia said that they’d have to resort to asking the King about news concerning Conaill but Anna protested vehemently.

“Don’t you dare ask Jareth anything behind my back!” she shouted and immediately regretted her words and the tone of her voice. “Forgive me, Celia,” she cried, “I don’t know what the matter is with me. I can’t cope with anything anymore and everything seems to irritate me. I didn’t mean to shout at you.”

Celia sighed and patted her on the back. “You should go to the King and make peace with him,” she murmured. “He is here so often to look at you and I think he is worried about you.”

“Why do you think that I have a score to settle with him and when is he here?” Anna asked with a shaking voice.

“He comes and goes at liberty,” Celia answered. “Most of the time he is invisible to you. He shows himself only to me.” This piece of news didn’t serve to hearten Anna’s spirit.

The Indian bracelet began to puzzle Anna as well. She noticed that it felt warm to the touch sometimes, warmer than it should normally have been from the contact with her skin. She even woke up one night feeling the heat from it, and she started to wonder what connection this unpredictable behavior could have to Conaill. She was absolutely certain that the strange phenomenon emanated from him. When she started to pay attention to the bracelet, she also found that it changed appearance. There were days when the blue beads shone with a very intensive light and other moments when they seemed just dull and dirty to look at.

********************

Then at last something happened that brought Anna great joy. One morning when she woke up and looked through the window, she saw Chestnut standing in the courtyard peacefully munching on the flowers in the pots on the porch. Anna leaped from the bed and rushed downstairs.

“Celia,” she cried. “Look who is here!”

“Yes, My Honey Child, she came this morning,” Celia laughed.

“Is Joseph still here? He must be waiting for his money?” Anna continued.

“It is taken care of. Joseph is gone since long. He didn’t dare stay on.”

Anna didn’t linger to listen to Celia’s explanations. She was much too eager to meet Chestnut to see if the mare recognized her. She went out into the courtyard and slowly went up to the horse. Chestnut turned her beautiful head towards her and nudged her with the nose and that was all Anna needed to feel and know. She threw her arms around the horse’s head and rubbed her cheek against the soft fur. Chestnut stood still and let herself be cuddled and caressed, showing with ease that she regarded herself a part of the household now. Anna spent the rest of the morning reorganizing the wagon shed to make room for Chestnut. Then she went out riding although they could only move within the boundaries of the city.

Only late that night did it occur to her that Celia hadn’t given her a proper answer to the question concerning the payment for the horse. She must remember to ask her in the morning. Anna felt light of heart for the first time in many days and almost refreshed although it was a hot night in the middle of the summer. Sleep eluded her though, and she lay looking at the fireflies in the dark. Then all at once she observed that the Indian bracelet on her arm glowed with a faint bluish light, and she sat up in the bed alarmed. She had never seen anything like it before. She touched it, but it didn’t burn her this time. When she looked up again, she saw Conaill standing at the foot of the bed, and she opened her mouth to cry out. He was at her side in a second though, putting his fingers on her lips. She remained silent, but she swallowed hard and had to reach out and touch him to make sure that he was real and not a wishful thinking out of her imagination. Yet, he was real enough, and he was warm to the touch. He lifted her from the bed and hugged her close to his body.

“What are you doing here?” she asked in a low voice.

“I’ve just come into town with some bare necessities,” he replied and she could hear that he was smiling.

“What kind of necessities?”

“Rifle ammunition,” he answered laconically.

She gasped. “You mean that you have been smuggling? How dare you do that, what if you were caught?” she cried anxiously.

“There are rumors that the Confederates will try to recapture Baton Rouge and if they succeed, the idea is that a simultaneous uprising within New Orleans will take place,” he explained.

“And I’ve come for some bare necessities too,” he continued.

She looked at him in wonder and confusion.

“You,” he replied and he laughed in her ear.

“You’re absolutely out of your mind,” she reproached him. “No wonder they are calling you the Mad Irishman!”

“But you wanted me to come, didn’t you?” he purred against her cheek, and she closed her eyes and turned weak in his arms.

He lay down with her on the bed and removed her linen and undid his jacket and trousers.

“There is an expression for it in French,” he murmured with his hot mouth close to hers, “Le Repos du Guerrier, The Warrior’s Rest. Please, I need to rest here with you or I’ll perish. Please, take me into your arms and let me rest my weary body against yours. Please, let me enter you and rest my yearning inside of you.”

She encircled him with her arms and opened up her thighs for him and guided his hard throbbing member into her tight hot cunt, and she contracted her muscles around him until he moaned and gasped at the same time. Her hips undulated in a slow rhythmical motion, and she let her cunt pull at his cock, sucking hard and languidly at it. He lay on top of her, but he had turned himself over to her completely, and he just held on to her, quietly moaning all the time. When he started to come, he gave a high wild cry and he pushed himself deep inside her, rigid in his release; only his twitching cock was moving violently within her with the explosions of seed that pulsated out of him. Then, with a deep sigh, he sank down over her in a slow movement, coming to rest on her, the soldier’s rest he had come for.

She kept him in her embrace and she lay looking at the ceiling without really seeing it, being totally concentrated on him, listening to his breathing and his heartbeats. He reached out and clasped her right wrist and covered the bracelet with his hand.

“As long as you keep it on, I will be able to come to you and you will be able to see me,” he said slowly.

“Oh Lord, don’t let everything depend on this threadbare little thing!” she cried in anguish.

“Don’t worry,” he answered. “It is almost as tough as I am.”

“Already when I encountered it the first time, I realized that I had to keep it on forever, and I will part with it only over my dead body,” she reassured him.

When he loosened his grip over her arm, she looked at the slender piece of leather-work. It looked very normal just right now, and it was hard to visualize that it had lived a life of its own just a short while ago.

“Before you came, it shone with a blue light,” she said.

“That is something I’ve never seen,” he mused. “It is a part of me, and I don’t know what happens when I’m parted from it.”

Anna kept the knowledge in her heart though. She rose from the bed and went up to the window.

“It’s a full moon tonight,” she said. “How are you going to be able to leave without being seen?”

“Do you doubt my powers that much?” he laughed from the shadow of the room. “I can still do a pretty good disappearing act if I have to.”

“Can you stay a little while longer then?” she asked almost inaudibly.

She heard him get up and approach her from behind, and the next second she felt his lean warm body close to hers and his hands that started to caress her. She leaned back against him and let him take possession of her. He turned her around in his arms and lifted her up, and she wrapped her legs around his waist and held on to him. He let her sink down on his erection, and she threw her head back and clenched her teeth and shivered with pleasure. He carried her to the bed and laid them both down without slipping out of her. She indulged in his heavy weight over her body and arched her back to meet his thrusts. He took his time as if he had an abundance of it. He leisurely caressed her, kissing her breasts and face with an open hot mouth. He nibbled at her lips with his fangs but he didn’t hurt her in any way. He gently licked her ears and made her freeze all over with excitement and lust. Then he lowered himself over her and eased his hands in under her. He grabbed her buttocks and pressed her body into his, and his movements within her became rhythmic and urgent. He buried his head by her neck and fucked her hard, yet he didn’t release himself until she had come this time. She did at last, suspended in time she broke into pieces, falling apart, exposing to him how she hungered for him and crying out loud when he satisfied her, being totally shameless in her wanting of him. He smiled and his whole body exhaled slowly when he let go and filled her up with hot liquid.

Afterwards they lay facing each other quietly talking, occasionally caressing each other. Time was too short and precious for sleep. Anna felt the old anxiety return. Soon he would be gone, and she would start worrying endlessly.

“What is going to happen now?” she asked.

“I’m not altogether certain where they will send us, but I have a feeling that we are going to be part of the campaign to recapture Baton Rouge,” he answered.

“There isn’t much use in looking farther ahead. Neither you nor I know what the future has in store for us. I have signed on with the Confederate army until the end of this year. After that I have no immediate plans. You see, like you, I’m to a certain extent subject to the whims and decisions of Jareth. I’m not at a liberty to do whatever I like and choose and go wherever I want to. You must remember that I walk this earth only by his consent.”

“Jareth, again,” she murmured. Then she added because she had to know, “Can you be killed?”

“No, not if you think of the action I’m engaged in. It is also unlikely that I can be taken prisoner, I’m still good at escapes. But I can be wounded and crippled. The only one being able to kill me before my time has run out is of course Jareth.”

She buried her face by his neck and thought in agony that there was little comfort in what he had told her. He sensed her fear and held her closer.

“But everything isn’t the same anymore,” he whispered. “I can meet you, I can see you and I can touch you.”

“That intensifies my agony, because now I expect you to turn up, I expect to see you and if I won’t, what hell awaits me then?” she replied and started to cry.

He held her then in a hard and tight grip.

“I’m going to fight for you,” he said. “I’m not going to give you up, ever.”

********************

Not long after Anna’s meeting with Conaill, news reached New Orleans that the Confederate army had tried to recapture Baton Rouge in early August and failed in their attempt. Anna heard or saw nothing of Conaill, and she waited in vain for news about him. In the end she came to the conclusion that she had to start to occupy herself with something rather than sit in the house, staring at the walls, being eaten up from the inside by her fears and agonies. She knew that it wasn’t necessary for her to remain in the city to meet Conaill again. She could meet him anywhere in the world – if it suited Jareth of course. She started to feel an urge to talk to Jareth and try to find out how he related to what had happened. Why had he permitted them to meet? Was this just another of his whims and would she ever see Conaill again? Conaill had talked about the outrage she had done. Would Jareth forgive her or would he revenge himself on her? She realized after a while that the true agony she felt concerned Jareth rather than Conaill. Her life depended on Jareth. If he were intent on destroying her, she couldn’t go on living. She understood all at once what it meant when Celia had implied, that it was necessary to ‘make peace with the King.' At least it was necessary to talk to him.

Anna went to seek Jareth out late one sultry evening in August. For a change she found a lot of people and creatures around at that time of the day. Maybe the hot weather brought out the Fay courtiers and the Goblins in the garden. Not much relief from the heat was to be found though. Anna avoided meetings since she didn’t fancy engaging herself in small talk. She looked for Jareth in the usual places; in the Council Room, in the large Gallery on the second floor with a view over the garden and finally, when she didn’t find him there either, she used the secret stairway up to his private quarters, but his bedroom was empty too. She started to feel uncertain and confused. It had never happened before that she was unable to find him when she wanted him. In the end she went to the Library to see whether Ibn would be able to tell her where to find Jareth.

Ibn looked up from his desk and his large pile of books.

“Ah, Milady!” he exclaimed. “I was expecting you. The Master has told me to expect you this evening.”

Anna pressed her lips together to a thin line. It unsettled her that Jareth always seemed to be one step ahead of her.

“Yes,” she answered, “I’m looking for him. That is true. Where can I find him?”

“The Master has said that if you want to see him, you shall seek him out in the Labyrinth.”

Ibn seemed to be conveying his news with relish. Anna paled and turned around to hide from him how upset and afraid she felt all at once. She knew that Jareth was fully aware of that she hated the Labyrinth. Why would he force her to meet him there?

She went out into the garden in the quickly fading daylight and sat on a bench. She felt very miserable. It would be just as bad to turn back and leave without seeing him. She knew she would be in constant agony if she missed the opportunity to talk to him now. At last she rose, and she went farther into the garden to the secret opening leading into the Labyrinth. She stood in front of the tall hedge for a long time before slipping through the branches.

The Labyrinth was very quiet this night, and it was all dark in there. She looked up at the sky, but no stars brightened it. The air was oppressive and she feared that there might be a thunderstorm later on in the night. She stood still and listened for sounds that might give her a clue to where in the Labyrinth Jareth was hiding. She remembered from her childhood, when she and Jareth had explored this place together, that she had felt exhilarated to roam around in there in his company. How much fun they had experienced in those days. He had taught her the shortcuts, and she had learned to look for specific signs which would reveal to her where to seek out anyone visiting this great maze. At last she became aware of the sound of feet against gravel. She heard it coming from a source directly in front of her but at a rather great distance. If she were right Jareth was at the other end of the construction, not far from the oubliettes. She started to make her way across the Labyrinth, carefully avoiding slipping into the traps on the way. Halfway through, she heard someone crying, and she stopped dead in her tracks. So, he wasn’t alone in this awful place! Then of course the sound of feet might belong to the other person. As Anna had no other clue, she continued in the direction she had chosen.

She made a great detour around the Bog of Eternal Stench even if it took extra time. She wouldn’t even risk getting her feet wet in it. In the woods she as always marveled at the trees covered with diamond dust, but she refrained from looking around and hurried on, well aware of the danger of stopping for too long in there. She had heard stories of people who never had made it beyond this enchanted place in the deadly maze. About an hour later, she reached a clearing with a good view of the surrounding landscape, and she became aware of the goblin Mordwak, who guarded one of the entrances to the oubliettes. She hid behind a large stone and waited and watched. Mordwak being the Head Goblin, was trusted with taking the abducted children to the castle. She knew that he had carried her there too, and she always kept out of his way if she could manage that.

“The thirteen hours are almost up.”

Anna gave a violent start when Jareth’s soft voice unexpectedly whispered in her ear. She turned around and found him standing behind her. He was dressed in black and had he stayed in the shadows, she might not have observed him at all. His eyes gleamed at her in the dark, and the air around him was menacing in a way that she couldn’t describe.

“Why?” she asked. “Why do I have to meet you in here? You know how I absolutely hate this place!”

“There are a lot of things we have to do, that we don’t like,” he answered noncommittally. “Such a lot of things.”

Then he went up to the edge of the cliff and looked down on Mordwak.

“Open up the door and let her out,” he ordered.

Mordwak smiled and that wasn’t a pretty sight. He pushed some stones to the side and revealed a hole in the ground.

“You in there,” the goblin growled, “you can come out now!”

Amidst the cloud of dust on the ground a young woman appeared. Her pale face was covered with dirt, and dried tears and she shivered visibly.

“My baby?” she wailed falteringly.

“I’m afraid that your thirteen hours are up, my dear,” Jareth said calmly.

Then he turned to Anna, who also was shaking now.

“Is she pretty enough for me? Shall I take her perhaps?” he asked with a pleasant smile.

Anna’s eyes widened and she stared unbelievingly at him. Then she fell to his feet and put her head against them. Once she had kneeled this way to Conaill too, but that was in another life, eons ago.

“Please let her go,” she sobbed. “I know I been brought here tonight because I might have offended you. Punish me then, but don’t take it out on her. Please let her take her baby and go!”

The blood was pounding so hard in her ears that it took a while for her to become aware of the silence around her. At last she heard him speak.

“Your imagination is playing very hard and vivid tricks on you tonight, isn’t it?”

When she lifted her head, she saw that they were alone and nothing revealed that anybody else had been there. She crumbled in front of him again, and she couldn’t get to her feet. She didn’t know whether the incident had taken place, if it were any magic performed or if it were indeed her guilty conscience playing her a trick, and she didn’t care to find out. The result of the outrage was the same anyway. She lay crushed in front of him. He bent down over her and gently lifted her to her feet, and he steadied her when she was about to fall again.

“I didn’t choose to come and live in this place,” she said. “Somebody else chose for me.”

“But you have made other choices since then,” he answered without looking at her.

“Will you let me run for those choices for thirteen hours too?” she whispered and tried to catch his eyes. “I have been running for my life for over one million thirteen thousand hours already.”

He didn’t answer; instead he turned to her and reached out for her right hand. When she saw that he had spotted the Indian bracelet and clasped his hand over it, she cried out and tried to withdraw her hand with all her might, but he held on to her wrist with a relentless grip. A flash of lightning illuminated the sky and it was as if a spotlight all of a sudden focused on his stern and beautiful face. She shivered out of fear and exhaustion now.

“We mustn’t let you lose this, must we?” he said with deceptive concern in his soft voice.

She stared at him and in her eyes knowledge dawned.

“Oh my God,” she gasped, “you put it there! You put it on the window sill for me to find!”

And she wailed and was about to fall on the ground again, had he not held on to her hand and arm. Still he made no comment, instead he traced his hand over the worn and dilapidated piece of leather and in the wake of his fingers a beautiful golden bracelet formed in white and red gold, studded with diamonds. The golden bracelet covered and encased the one in leather and shielded it completely.

Anna lifted her eyes and looked him straight in the face.

“Jareth,” she asked, “do you love me?”

That wasn’t at all what she had meant to ask; the words just tumbled out of her, but once said, she didn’t take them back.

“Of course I do,” he answered lightly. “You are very dear to me.”

“I don’t mean it in that way,” she insisted, “I want to know if you love me.”

He didn’t answer this time. Instead he looked at her calmly with unfathomable and unreadable eyes. He bent his head a little and scrutinized her, and there was a small smile at the corners of his mouth. Her heart was beating furiously and in his face she thought she could read the question, ‘Do you really want to know?’ Then he went up to her and took hold of her, and he lifted them both from the ground. She knew that he could fly – both in his present form and in that of a white owl – and that he also had transported her quickly from one point to another, but always after he had rendered her unconscious. This time he didn’t, and it was a breathtaking experience flying over the great maze in his arms. He motioned the windows to his rooms to open and he landed on the floor without losing his balance.

They remained standing on the floor for a long time without moving and speaking. Anna felt how utterly tired she was. There wasn’t much force or resistance left in her now. She tried to keep standing upright although her knees were shaking. Then he came very close to her, and she bent her head backwards to be able to see his face. He was hauntingly beautiful to look at; his mismatched eyes fully concentrated on her, his nostrils slightly shivering and an almost imperceptible tremble over his thin lips. Outside the thunderstorm was raging, and it had started to rain. The open window shook in the outbursts and the floor became wet around their feet.

Then he closed the gap between them, and she felt the heat from him burning her when he came in contact with her. The sensation shot through her as if the lightning from outside had hit her. She wasn’t going to contest his powers, she had seen enough of them tonight, and she longed to give in, to give up and to give herself over to him the way she had done it so many times before.

“I acknowledge your power over me,” she said slowly and quietly.

He didn’t answer but put a finger under her chin and lifted her face towards his and looked quizzically at her as if he hadn’t heard or understood what she was saying.

“I acknowledge your power over me,” she repeated almost inaudibly.

“So you keep saying,” he replied in an equally low voice. “It is something I already know.”

Then he fell silent again as if waiting for her to continue.

She lifted her eyes towards him then and with tears running over her face she whispered brokenly, ”I love you.”

And it was no lie. She loved him and she loved Conaill and sometimes she couldn’t tell them apart. That was her guilty secret. Sometimes they were one and the same to her. She saw in his eyes that no detail of her surrender had escaped him and none of its implications. Then he bent over her and he started kissing her softly and savagely, sending shivers of wanting through her. He seemed intent on killing her softly.

He started to undress her. She knew that he could have done it with a flick of his hand, but evidently that wasn’t what he wanted tonight. He moved leisurely and was taking all the time in the world as he slowly unbuttoned her blouse and eased it down over her bare shoulders.

“Conaill says that you have made sure that he knows you are sleeping with me,” she heard herself say.

“You seem to be forgetting that you have put the weapons in my hand yourself,” he answered unperturbed as he moved the blouse down to her waist and exposed her breasts.

He grabbed the thin material with one hand and locked her arms with it. She felt utterly helpless, but she lifted her head in defiance.

“Does it please you to humiliate me and is it a whore you want?” she asked him with a shaking voice.

He brushed his hand over her erect nipples and smiled. “The evaluation of the situation is solely yours,” he answered lightly.

But at the same time she could see the flashes of lightning reflected in his eyes and how they seemed to ignite his fury. He came very close to her again, and she could feel the material in his coat brush painfully over her bare breasts.

“Would you have wanted me to kill you both back then?” he asked through his clenched teeth. “I could easily have done that, don’t tempt me!”

With one savage move of his hand he ripped the blouse off her. She gasped and felt her arms smarting from the pain. She tried to wrench herself free from him but he held her tightly to his body as if he had trapped her in a vise. Only when she stopped fighting, did he ease up on his hold over her. She rested her head against his shoulder and regained her breath, trembling and gasping.

“Forgive me,” she whispered. “How have you been able to keep me on all these years, to keep me alive, to care for me and protect me if you haven’t forgiven me?”

She lifted her face and searched in anguish for the answer in his eyes and flinched when she looked into them. For a short second his face was naked and his eyes unprotected, and she shuddered and remembered his unspoken question; ‘Do you really want to know?’ She lifted her hands and took hold of his head and they started to kiss as if dying if not being able to satisfy each other. He pressed his teeth against hers and he bit her, drawing blood from her lips. She licked his nostrils and bruised his mouth. Then they let go and stood trembling, facing each other for an eternity before he lifted her up and carried her to the bed.

He lay down with her and she found that he had now removed all of their clothes. He lay on his back with closed eyes, and he had drawn the silk sheet over them to cover their nakedness. He didn’t say a word, and he made no attempt to take her into his arms. She looked at him in wonder and alarm, suddenly realizing how hurt and upset he really felt, and she didn’t know how to approach him. He even turned away from her, facing the wall, without having talked to her. She lay beside him in the bed and cried silently, tears running down into her hair. There seemed no way they could come to terms with each other tonight. She put her hand on his back, but he didn’t react. Eventually she cried herself to sleep.

When she woke some time later in the night, she felt him moving over her body, in between her legs and he entered her, not asking permission.

“Jareth!” she moaned softly and gathered him into her arms.

He felt hot and feverish, and his urgency expressed his great need. She eased her hand down between their bodies to feel his cock where it plunged into her cunt and to cup his sack in her hand. He groaned; it was almost a wailing sound and it scared her.

“I love you!” she breathed in his ear and this time it was easier to say it. “I didn’t mean to hurt you but I was hurt too,” she went on, not knowing exactly what she was saying in the delirium she experienced right now.

He didn’t answer, seemed oblivious of her, forcing himself in and out of her like a maniac. She could feel with rising anxiety how he locked himself in cramp, and at last he tore away from her with a muted roar of frustration and anger. He rolled off her and fell back into the bed and closed his eyes. Sweat was streaming over his face and body. She lay shivering by his side for a moment. Then she faced him and pulled him close to her body, and he didn’t turn away. His wet and hard cock poked her in the stomach, and she took it in her hand. She made him rest his head on her breasts and for a long time she just held on to his throbbing hardness, feeling it soften and listened to his breathing slowing down. When she felt him go heavy on her arm, she knew that he had relaxed at last.

She must have fallen asleep again for a while, because she surfaced and became wide awake when he lifted her out of the bed and carried her to his bathroom. He poured some water into the tub and started to wash the sweat off her body with careful measured movements. She washed him clean too and meanwhile they kept their silence.

Then he took her by the hand and returned to the bedroom. Still hand in hand they went up to window and stood looking at the garden glistening with water in the moonlight after the storm.

“Why is everything so impossible?” she said at last.

He shook his head. Then he lifted her hand and kissed the palm of it. She turned, still holding on to him, and tugged at his hand feeling a little bit cold now, and he followed her back to the bed. He laid her down and stroked his hands hard and tight over her body. Then he removed the golden bracelet from her wrist and put it on the table beside the bed. The little leather bracelet beneath the jewelry was still wet from the washing and she blew on it to make it dry.

“What if it broke to pieces?” she asked anxiously.

“It won’t,” he reassured her. “Conaill must have told you how tough it is.”

“The Indian Bracelet is mine to give away or take back,” he continued after a while as he stretched himself out beside her. “I got it initially from the first person that I saw die. She was so immensely old already when I became aware of her the first time. She was Mother’s Nanny and she had nursed generations before Eavan came into her care. She was an old Indian woman of Pueblo descent and although she must have lived close to a century with Mother’s family, she still had a hard time to make herself understood. I was just a child when I met her the first time, and she scared me a little. But she had a wonderful way with children and Mother later told me, how she once had entered my room and found me asleep with my head in the old woman’s lap while she was singing her old strange songs to me. Shortly before you came to us – I must have been around five years old - Nanny approached me and calmly said that she was going to die shortly. She said she was very content with the message that her forefathers had brought her, because she was feeling so tired these days, and she wanted to go home. I didn’t really know at that moment what dying was. She tried to explain it as disappearing from view but not from mind. Then she took out the little bracelet from the folds of her dress and handed it to me. She said that if I ever needed to keep track of someone important, I could give that person the bracelet to carry and I could always find that person, no matter where in the world he or she might be at the moment. Then she left me as if she had completed a mission, and she went to her room, lay down on her bed and she died during the night. When I saw her in the morning, she already looked like a mummy.”

Jareth was silent for a while. Then he sighed and continued. “When I exiled Father from the Underground, I felt that it was necessary to know where he was going, and I asked him to carry the bracelet. And he did, until I took it from him to give to you. By then Conaill had carried it for so long, that the leather was imbued with his personality, and this is why you can see him when you wear the bracelet. But you must remember that it is still mine and I can take it back when I need to do so.”

“Oh Jareth!” she cried out. “Everything in my life is at your mercy, isn’t it? I feel so utterly helpless.”

“And how do you think that I feel?” he asked low and furiously and turned to her. “Having you at my mercy. Do you think I want that?"

She hid her face in her hands and wailed quietly. He bent down over her, and she felt his cheek brushing close to hers when he buried his face by her neck. Yet, he didn’t stay with her. Instead he abruptly left the bed and went up to the window again. There he stood in silence for a while, breathing deeply. She got the notion that he was fighting with himself. Then he turned around and faced her. She could barely divine his features in the dark room, only lit by the moonlight.

“But tonight you are mine, and I am at your mercy,” she heard him say.

He sauntered slowly back to the bed across the room, his hips moving with predatory grace; one perfectly fluid movement, strong and graceful, sensual and erotic. He was danger, beauty and sex all in one. With a soft growl, like an animal, he caught her wrists and pinned them over her head to the bed. And then he was on her, his weight on her. He looked at her with half-closed eyes parting his lips slowly, expectantly, and she could feel him appraising her. He moved his body slowly over hers, pressing his semi-erect cock against her stomach. He bent his head towards her, quietly whispering in her ear of his intentions and desires, the smile present in his soft voice.

She began to tremble, knowing now not to expect any mercy or restraint from him although his violence tonight would be of the softest and most deceptive kind. She felt his tongue lick along her lips demanding entrance, covering her mouth with his spit as he gently moved his lips over hers. She closed her eyes and opened up to him, savoring his wetness.

He cupped her breasts and flicked her pointed nipples with hard fingers until she pleaded with him. He suckled her like a hungry baby, pulling the swollen nubs between his lips, occasionally letting his teeth close gently over them, tugging at her. She shuddered when the intense erotic pleasure hit her mixed with pain; a little bit sharper with each bite but incredibly sexy. She heard herself moan and she heard his low chuckle as if he just became aware of what he was doing to her.

Then he took one of her earlobes between his teeth, and his tongue traced the contour of the ear before dipping in, letting her divine what he was about to do to her. He let his tongue dance over her body, slowly moving down over her breasts, fucking her navel, sucking on the soft skin of her belly, bruising her with his teeth. He spread her knees with his thighs, and she felt his fingers probing deep between her folds. Her hips bucked involuntarily as he started to finger her and she choked on her breath when he dipped first one finger then another into her, spreading her wide, gently massaging the walls of her cunt. He moved down over her body, closing his lips over her clitoris, sucking it in between his teeth, making her groan high as his fingers continued sliding in and out of her.

He stretched himself out on top of her again, covering her body. His erection was now rock-hard against her belly. She felt it throbbing and twitching as if he could barely contain himself from thrusting hard and violently into her. He moaned quietly, his head falling to her shoulder as he continued to finger her, his hand dripping wet from her juices now. He started to rub her clitoris in delicate circles and she twisted and turned under him as if trying to escape from the almost unbearable pleasure he was inflicting upon her.

Above her, his eyes stared hungrily into hers, glazed with lust.

He lowered himself onto her, moving in between her legs, the tip of his cock gently caressing her swollen folds. She was unbelievably wet, and she arched her body up towards him, grinding herself against his hardness not wanting to prolong the torture any longer. She wanted him inside, and she wanted him now. He moaned involuntarily, a low sexy moan, as he finally let his thick penis slide into her, forge into her, spreading her in deep, deep penetration. She was so wet that there was hardly any friction at all. All she could feel was the immense thickness of him filling her up, sinking into her until the hard head of his cock hit the very core of her body.

Unprepared, he cried out in pleasure at the incredible tightness of her hot throbbing sheath, encasing him in muscular softness. As he kept thrusting in and out of her in slow and sensual rhythm he moved his hand to her breasts, pinching her nipples hard until they throbbed with pain and she gasped and wailed at the same time. Then he eased his hand down between their bodies, searching out her wet and swollen sex, locking the achingly sensitive clitoris under his thumb as he fingered her furiously towards an orgasm. Her body rocked in unison with his rhythm now, and her cunt kept clenching and unclenching around his cock in increasingly violent spasms as she approached her climax. Her muscles tensed and almost froze when she came and he didn’t stop. He groaned and kept on. And she came and came, again and again.

When the blood stopped pounding in her ears she let her head roll back towards the pillow, looking up at him, flinching when meeting his gaze. She saw steely eyes. She saw an aquiline nose sharp enough to cut, white flaring nostrils, a sensitive mouth with just a hint of a cruel smile curving the lips. She tried to look away, escaping his all-knowing appraisal of her, but he put a finger under her chin and forced her to meet his eyes.

“Don’t look away from me," he commanded in the softest possible voice. “I want to be looking into your eyes when I come.”

He didn’t give her any time to recover. He plunged deeply into her and started fucking her with a frenzy, with hard heavy thrusts. He gripped her hair with one hand, drawing her head back, exposing her neck to his raking teeth and sucking lips. With savage fury he drove his thick hardness in and out of her. She cried in earnest now, trying to stop him, at the same time inflamed by the raw friction of his penis inside her sore vagina. Whether she wanted it or not, she entered that moment when everything froze. Involuntarily she wrapped her legs around his waist and drew his body close, grinding herself against his pubic bone. And then she peaked, succumbed under the blinding pleasure. She arched her back and cried out a strangled cry as her thighs tightened convulsively around him, and her cunt began to throb in a feverish rhythm. She became aware of that he was no longer thrusting into her. He held his hot twitching cock buried deep within her. She felt his shaft stiffen, and she knew that he was about to spend his seed. He locked in spasm, bent over her, as he started to empty himself, his hot semen pulsing up the thickness of his rigid member, gushing into her, filling her, burning her with his sweet bliss. Then she felt his discharge wet her thighs, overflowing, and trickle down between her buttocks, pooling on the sheet underneath them.

Finally, his cock stopped its frantic twitching and pumping, and he slowly eased out of her. And then the fury subsided. And then the relief.

********************

When she woke up the next morning she was alone in the bed. ‘Of course,' she thought, ‘I didn’t expect anything else.’ She couldn’t even remember the last morning, if there ever was one, when she had been allowed to wake up together with him. She gingerly touched her sore body and weakness filled her when memories of the previous night surfaced in her mind. She knew though that when she saw him the next time, he would be wearing his mask again, and he would never ever admit to that she had been able to break his guard and see his true face for an instant.

“Oh, God,” she murmured. “I suppose he left me alive only to remember – and for Conaill to be aware of.”

Yes, she was certain of that fact. She looked down on the fragile threadbare little piece of leather that was the Indian bracelet, and all of a sudden she wanted to remove it. With rising alarm, she found that she couldn’t untie the knot any longer, no matter how hard she tried. She looked at it again with despair now, realizing that she was a prisoner to it. Jareth had tied it to her and through it he could see her wherever she went, and she could see Conaill and Conaill could most probably see her – and Jareth. She couldn’t think of a more devilish and cruel plan, and she buried her face in her hands and started to cry.

“Between the two of you, you are going to kill me in the end,” she whispered sobbingly, repeating herself.

Eventually she managed to get out of the bed and get dressed. She put the bejeweled bracelet on top of the small leather band and slowly left the bedroom. When she came to the Great Hall she found it empty and the doors ajar. She stood still for a moment listening intently. Then a gush of wind soared through the room, and she became aware of his presence although she couldn’t see him. She felt him lift her hair from her shoulders and his lips that brushed over the nape of her neck.

“Show yourself to me,” she cried out. “Talk to me! Forgive me! What shall I do to make you forgive me? I didn’t scheme to use you in the first place. I just didn’t know how to solve the dreadful problem with Eavan and Conaill at the time. I was so young and I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. You rule over my life and my death. Isn’t that enough for you?” She started to cry.

Then she heard his voice very close to her ear. “I have forgiven you, a long time ago, contrary to his belief. That is not the issue any longer. It is HIM that I haven’t forgiven!”

Anna felt a chill travel down her spine at his words and a deeper fear entered her. Did this mean that he was going to use her to destroy Conaill for good? She frantically looked around, but she still couldn’t see Jareth. His lips touched her again, on the mouth this time, and she trembled. Then he was gone and there would be no more answers this time.

Was Jareth and enemy or an ally? She knew that she had to accept that he was her lover, but that didn’t answer any questions. That could truly mean just anything. Did Conaill know that Jareth perhaps was out to kill him? She almost succumbed under all anxious questions and worries. She knew she needed much time to think her situation over, lick her wounds and prepare for the future. She longed desperately to be back with Celia in the security of Celia’s age-old wisdom and comfort.

“She will help me, she will help me to clearly see the truth again,” Anna kept whispering. Then she gathered her skirts and ran towards the entrance of the Underground, not getting there fast enough. Beneath the gold on her wrist the Indian bracelet burned her skin.

********************

Now, it's time to continue where "Living Happily Ever After?" left off. Now it's the time to move to the present yet again and head for "FANDANGO ROCK."

 

Chapter Text

FANDANGO ROCK

The sound in the expensive bar was a muted buzzing, almost soothing in its monotony. Sarah leaned back in the chair and lit a cigarette. She took some greedy pulls at it and inhaled the smoke, experiencing the light-headed feeling of vertigo when the nicotine hit the bloodstream. Toby was late but it didn’t really matter. She enjoyed sitting here waiting for him, secretly studying the crowd, knowing that she had all the time in the world. It amused her to be in this particular bar. It was Toby’s choice and he had eagerly told her that all the people who mattered in New York frequented it, and that he was just dying to go there although he really couldn’t afford it. She let her eyes roam over the men at the bar counter – no women were standing there – and indulged in comparing them. Although they all were seemingly casually dressed, she could at once spot the expensive origin of their clothes. ‘There is a difference between trash and trash,’ she thought, ‘especially if the trash is made by Ralph Lauren.’

Then, all at once, she felt a wave of fear and nausea wash over her. At first, she couldn’t understand why, but then her eyes focused on a man standing at the end of the counter, slowly swirling a tumbler between his long fingers. She could only see part of his face since he was turned away from her, but she now looked intently at this tall, lean figure; his shoulder-length blond hair, tied together with a small leather band, the worn but expensive leather jacket, drawn tightly over his broad shoulders, the supple wool in his trousers and the soft Italian leather boots on his feet. She was certain that she didn’t know him, yet cold sweat broke on her forehead, and she wondered frantically why he inspired such a reaction in her.

The arrival of Toby distracted her. She saw him standing hesitantly in the entrance, and she made a small gesture to one of the waiters, making him aware of that her guest had arrived. The young man hurried up to Toby and pointed at her table. Toby’s face broke into a broad grin, and he hurried up to her. She noted out of the corner of her eye the envious and surprised glances the women bestowed upon him as he passed on his way up to her. He was indeed a very handsome young man with an abundance of dark hair, and his deep tan stood out nicely against his dazzlingly white shirt. He beamed with joy as he bent down over her and kissed her cheek.

“Smashing!” he hissed between his teeth. “I’ve been wondering the whole morning if you could make it here or not.”

She caressed his face and smiled up at him, well aware of the many eyes that were focused on them for the moment.

“Sit down, Toby,” she laughed, “the women in the bar are ready to eat you alive.”

He looked around embarrassed and disconcerted but also self-consciously. Then he glided down on the sofa beside her. She knew that he was already one of the most sought after on his campus. Sometimes she worried a little about him, hoping that he didn’t let all the tempting opportunities lure him away from his studies, but so far she had heard nothing but that he had top marks in his chosen subjects.

She ordered some white wine and soda water for them. When she placed her order she threw a furtive glance up at the bar counter but noticed that the stranger wasn’t there anymore. She hadn’t seen him leave.

While they waited for the wine to arrive, Sarah thought that she would take the opportunity to go to the Ladies’ Room and she left Toby at the table. She was conscious of that she still looked for the unknown man as if she expected to meet him anywhere in the bar, but he was nowhere to be seen. Most likely he had left. She was still shaken and puzzled by the experience, and she couldn’t understand why he had invoked such a feeling of fear in her. The Ladies’ Room was empty and that was a relief. She was not in the mood to talk to anyone. She washed her hands and started to better her makeup. At that moment, she heard the soft hiss of the door, and when she turned her head, she saw him approaching silently over the tiled floor.

She wanted to run; she wanted to scream and her eyes widened in fear. Yet, she didn’t move but remained frozen to the floor. He looked at her with amusement in his eyes. When he came closer she could see that his hair wasn’t blond but silver white and when he stopped in front of her and she finally could survey all details of his face, she saw that his eyes were grey with flecks of gold in them. With a sinking feeling she let her eyes devour him. He wasn’t Jareth, but she could see Jareth in him. He stood silently in front of her and let her have her look, and he smiled gently at her. When he opened his mouth to speak, she saw his pointed teeth, some so sharp that they could well pass for fangs. Then she finally knew who was standing in front of her. This must be Conaill, Jareth’s father. She had never encountered him, but she had heard many stories about him.

“We need to talk,” he said in so many words in a low, soft voice. Yet, the sound of it made her hair stand on end.

“How do you know who I am and what is there to talk about between us?” she countered with an unsteady voice.

Before he could answer, the inevitable happened. Two young women entered the premises. Conaill instantly acted within the situation, evidently aiming to take the edge off it. He moved up towards Sarah and put his arms around her. It wasn’t uncommon in places such as this that lovers were found in the restrooms - more common than not in fact.

As if acting their part in a play, the two girls started to giggle and one of them laughed, “Hey, you two, can’t you wait until you get home or something?”

Then they tumbled into one of the empty toilet booths still bubbling over with mirth and embarrassment.

“It would look more natural if you put your arms around my neck,” Sarah heard him say.

She lifted her head and stared at him wildly, shaking with fear and excitement at the same time and as if mesmerized she lifted her arms and embraced him. He was so near now that she could see the gold dancing in his eyes. They were still full of mockery. He moved in on her, and she felt his hard hips pressing into her stomach, forcing her body gently but relentlessly up against the sink. Sarah didn’t know what triggered her, but she felt totally helpless against the power directed towards her. She was the one that turned her head and sought him out for the kiss. The craving to touch him and be touched by him was almost unbearable now. She took his upper lip between hers and sucked on it, licking up the wild taste that was him and it drove her mad. She put her tongue in his mouth and felt his fangs when he pressed his teeth against hers and devoured her. He withdrew his head for an instant, and she could see that he wasn’t unmoved by what was happening between them. The gold in his eyes had ignited and burned with a slow terrifying fire. His nostrils trembled, and he had bared his teeth in cruel passion. She knew, without doubt, that if he insisted she would lie down exposing herself to him on the floor just right now, not caring if there were people around to watch. Shamelessly she moved her legs apart allowing him to press even further up against her body. She felt the throbbing heat of his erection now as he ground his pelvis slowly against her. It was ten years since she last had had a man’s body this close to hers, and the pent up tension exploded. She bent her head backwards, and he kissed her neck fiercely, scraping her skin with his sharp teeth.

“Oh my God!” he whispered almost inaudibly, “You are one beautiful woman. He was right!”

His voice brought her abruptly back to reality. She opened her eyes and looked dazed at him. Then she put her hands to his shoulders to push him as far away as possible. Yet, she met no resistance. Graciously he stepped aside and in his eyes she could see an expression as if he were content on having accomplished his mission, would have done what he came for. The gentle mockery was back in his eyes, and she shook with the outrage. When she was about to lunge for him, he took a step back and started to vanish from her sight.

“I’ll be seeing you,” he said, “I still need to talk to you.”

Then, suddenly, he was gone. Sarah started to cry and rushed out of the restroom into the dark corridor. She leaned heavily against the wall, shaking and trembling as if she had a seizure, and there she stayed until she was sure that her feet would carry her again.

When she re-entered the bar she saw the impatient Toby still at their table. He must of course have wondered what had taken her so long. Yet, when he saw the expression on her face he became very serious.

“What is it?” he exclaimed anxiously when she reached him. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Maybe I have,” she croaked in answer. Toby’s eyes widened. He was the only living soul who had any knowledge of her story.

“Have you seen HIM?” he asked.

“No,” she said slowly, “the other one.” When Toby’s face remained a question mark, she added, “Conaill, his father. I don’t know who is the most frightening.”

Then she started to cry again and Toby hastened to offer her something to drink to calm her down. They were after all in a place where dramas weren’t supposed to be enacted in full public view.

Sarah sat very still beside Toby on the sofa for a very long time. She didn’t hear the voices of people talking around her. She listened to the pulses hammering in her ears, and she listened for the sound of another voice. It was as if a fever had entered her blood, and she kept shaking constantly. She was aware of imminent danger but not the cause of it. She couldn’t see the pair of eyes that opened and focused upon her from afar; a pair of mismatched eyes that stared at her in whitening fury. Then another pair of eyes saw her, blue intense eyes that looked at her with anguish and fear.

With the inevitability of a Greek Tragedy, a drama was about to unfold when the actors hit the stage and engaged in the ritual, age-old dance between the predator and the prey. . .

********************

Sarah couldn’t stay at the bar; she didn’t enjoy sitting there anymore. She felt exposed and vulnerable and only longed for the comfort and security of her home. Toby understood, and if he were sorry for not being able to stay, he didn’t show it. Instead he ordered a cab for them and took her back to her flat in Soho in Lower Manhattan.

“I’m so sorry, Toby,” Sarah said. “The day you come here and everything has to turn into a nightmare.”

“Why did he make himself known to you?” Toby asked, but she shook her head. She just didn’t know. She couldn’t even guess.

Not to spoil Toby’s weekend entirely, she called a colleague and arranged for him to pick up Toby and his friends and take them to “Vulture’s Garden”, a downtown disco. It wasn’t hard to persuade Toby to go, and she wanted to be alone anyway.

Sarah took a sleeping pill and a glass of whisky, perhaps not the best of combinations, but she really needed the reassurance that sleep wouldn’t elude her this night. She fell asleep at last without any problems on that prescription, but just a couple of hours later she woke up in the middle of the night. This time she wasn't able to defend herself against the excruciating pain that hit her unawares. She went up to the windows and looked out on the glimmering streets, now wet from rain and shining in bright neon, and she put her forehead against the cool glass and let the tears stream down her face.

“Whose fault was it?” she asked out into the night. “Was it me that couldn’t compromise or was it him that took everything for granted or was it her that couldn’t tell me the truth?”

********************

Sarah knew deep down inside that she had always looked for traces of Anna’s life within Jareth’s and vice versa. Even if she hadn’t admitted it consciously, she knew this to be true when she finally had to face facts. She couldn’t begin to understand why she had this feeling of discomfort whenever Anna showed up in the Underground, Sarah’s new and pristine Garden of Eden. Anna had been so good to her, taken care of her and helped her in every possible way. Why should it not feel right that Anna came here too? This was after all her home. However, when Sarah became aware of that Anna was in the palace, she secretly hoped that it would be a short visit this time and that Anna wouldn’t stay for days on end. Sarah recognized jealousy when she experienced it. She felt her heart grow cold like a small little stone when she saw with what joy Jareth greeted Anna and the radiance that beamed from Anna when she ran up to meet him. They hugged and laughed and were totally unaware of Sarah’s presence for a short while. Sometimes there was no laughter but just the greeting, and Anna flew into Jareth’s arms as if that had been the most natural thing in the world.

Then came the night when Anna came running, upset and full of anguish, being in a very bad state, and Jareth went to her room and stayed there all night. Sarah couldn’t sleep. She lay tossing and turning in the big bed and listened to the endless silence and hoped that his footsteps would finally materialize outside the door. At last she couldn’t stand it any longer, and she left the bedroom and slipped out into the corridor. She tiptoed up to the door that led to Anna’s rooms and stopped outside. There she stood for a long time, her heart beating so loudly that she thought it could be heard even inside the room. No sound escaped from in there, and she knew she just had to find out what was happening. Carefully she eased up the door and entered without a sound. If Jareth became aware of her presence he didn’t show it. He was sitting on Anna’s bed with his back against the bedstead holding her. Anna had closed her eyes, and sweat covered her face and body. She kept on a steady moan and seemed practically unconscious. Now and then Jareth took a linen cloth and wiped Anna’s face. When Sarah didn’t move Jareth finally looked up and he fastened his steady gaze on her. Sarah shivered slightly because his eyes were worried and cold. He didn’t say anything, but she got the feeling that he wondered what she was doing in the room. Sarah contemplated offering her help, but all of a sudden she felt totally superfluous and she turned in panic and fled.

The next morning when Sarah woke up, she found Jareth standing by the window with his back towards her. He threw a quick glance in her direction when he became aware of that she was awake, but he didn’t turn around.

“You needn’t be jealous,” he said quietly, “you must understand that there has to be a rather special relationship between Anna and me, considering. We have after all lived together for centuries and as Anna wasn’t born to it, like me, it is very painful for her at times. Dreadfully painful. Without me she would surely have died long ago and she is totally dependent on me to go on living. We are not immortal you know, we only have more time on our hands.”

Sarah blushed and felt scolded like someone who had misbehaved. ‘It’s unfair!’ she thought. ‘I only want to know, I only want to be informed, that’s all.’

Jareth turned around and faced her and flashed his eyes towards her.

 “Unfair!” he exclaimed – Sarah bit her lips furiously, she always forgot that he could read her thoughts if he wanted to – “And I AM telling you, I AM explaining. What more do you want? Don’t question my judgments, I warn you!” he added.

Sarah felt exasperation and despair coming on. Now she had made him angry too.

Later when she was alone she mused over what had happened, and she wondered if his reaction after all wasn’t a sign of guilty conscience. Why would he react so vehemently to a wish from her to be told? This was their first major disagreement, and she felt at a loss over how to deal with it. She wanted to forgive and forget, but Jareth didn’t meet her halfway as she would have expected. He merely acted as if nothing had happened at all; as if there definitely could have been nothing to either forgive or forget.

Sarah decided to let the incident pass then and not seek confrontation, but whatever she tried to tell herself, deep down inside her soul she knew that something had changed forever and nothing would be quite the same again.

********************

Sarah found that the undercurrent of anxiety which was now omnipresent in her life, gave an extra dimension to it. When she had decided to stay with Jareth she had felt so sure of his love and of eternal bliss. She had been riding on a wave of triumph, believing that she was the one who had drawn the longest straw; the one who secretly dictated the conditions. Now she knew that all this was an illusion, a great sham. Never ever had she in any way dominated Jareth, never ever would she be able to foretell his moods, guess what he was thinking or planning. In a flash he again became distant, dangerous and alluring. She became almost obsessed with the thought of forcing his guard, of unmasking him. It was all futile of course.

When she couldn’t get at Jareth, Sarah tried to corner Anna. That proved equally hard. Although Sarah could enter and leave the Underground as easily these days as Anna had always been able to do, Anna always seemed to be one step ahead of her. Wherever Sarah looked for her, she got the message that Anna had just left or that no one knew when she was expected back. Sarah tried to ask the various residents of the Underground about Anna, but no one seemed willing to disclose any facts, most likely out of fear for Jareth’s wrath, should he find out.

The feeling of nightmare closed in on Sarah eventually. She ran in circles, in her own private Labyrinth. At nights, she closed her eyes and let herself tumble into oblivion, seeking Jareth out in the dark, making frenzied love to him, hardly exchanging any words with him. And every morning she woke alone in her bed.

One night or rather one early morning, when sleep had eluded her for hours, she caught herself thinking of Toby for the first time in ages, and she thought of him with rising anxiety and fear. She had an intense feeling of danger around Toby, and at the same time she experienced reaching a limit of sorts. Without thinking twice, she got up from the bed, dressed in whatever clothes she found in the closet, rummaged around in boxes and bags for her passport and money and having found it, left the palace running as if running for her life.

She entered the world Above in downtown Manhattan. She walked the streets for hours until her feet wouldn’t carry her anymore. Then she stepped into a hotel and paid for a room for a couple of nights. New York was a place where no one asked embarrassing questions, and she was left alone at last. The only time anyone raised an eyebrow was when she wondered what year it was and found out that she had been gone for over five years according to Earth standards.

********************

There was no time to withdraw and contemplate her own fate. Sarah still had the most nauseating feeling of danger and disaster whenever thinking of Toby, and as soon as she could manage she threw herself over the phone to call home. She was well aware of that it would undoubtedly be a controversial phone-call since she had been gone for such a long time, but that was something that concerned only on her, meaning possible trouble, proving to be hard to explain. Whatever had happened to Toby must come first.

It was therefore with a feeling of anticlimax and renewed worry that she listened to the strange unknown voice at the other end when the call was answered. She asked for her parents and when there was an awkward silence at the other end, she asked for Toby. He should be eleven years old by now, and he would surely be able to talk coherently on the phone. Then she heard him in the background and how he snatched the phone away from whoever was at the other end.

“Oh, Sarah!” he screamed, “I said to them that I knew you would come home. You must come here, now!!”

“Toby, honey, please tell me what has happened,” she broke off, now shaking so hard that she could hardly hold the phone and sit upright.

“Mummy and Daddy are gone! They are dead, Sarah, they crashed in the car! Sarah you must come here. You must come home!” And he started to cry pitifully.

For a moment the world turned black around Sarah, and she almost fainted. Only the thought of the distraught Toby at the other end made her go on. She managed to establish contact with the unknown grown-up who was evidently taking care of Toby for the moment and found out that it was a social worker from the community. Sarah learned that her father and Karen had died the day before on their way home from Boston. It had happened on the highway. No other car was involved in the accident. It looked as if the driver, her father, had lost control over the car. Sarah informed the woman that she would be home in the afternoon taking the first flight available to go there.

********************

So it was to a funeral that Sarah returned. The aftermath with the division of the estate and other formal duties proved to be a long and tough period. It took almost a month before she finally had time to sit down in silence and think about her own situation as well as Toby’s.

It had been a tearful reunion with Toby, but she also felt the enormous relief he experienced in seeing her. Her new responsibilities made her somehow forget her own grief. There would have to be a time for that later. Toby showed her a pile of letters from all over the world and covering all five years, which were supposedly written by her. It wasn’t the first time that she stood in front of a hoax like that. She remembered well how Jareth had produced practically a whole book for her at the university to cover up for her absence after the Venice incident. She chose however not to tell Toby anything about it. His grief and confusion were hard enough to bear without mixing Jareth’s tricks into the situation. The letters anyway told of international work for the UN in different parts of the world. ‘What a nice career I’ve had,’ she mused with a scowl.

Now, when she had to decide about their future, she also decided that she would tell Toby the truth. He was entitled to know and she didn’t doubt that he would understand. He had actually done so from the start, even when he was very young. Sarah was right in her calculations. Toby didn’t seem very surprised at all when Sarah told him that she had been in the Underground all the time, and he also understood the importance of keeping silent about this knowledge.

“Of course I understand that,” he sniffed, “we’ve always kept that our secret. You can trust me.”

Then he wanted to know more. He wanted to know what the Underground looked like today and what Jareth was like and many more things. Sarah tried to answer to the best of her ability.

Having taken Toby in her confidence, everything seemed easier to manage somehow. Toby accepted that Sarah arranged for him to go to a boarding school. Although he didn’t shout with joy over the idea, he understood that Sarah must find work somewhere to support them. They had both inherited rather well, but Sarah said that there would be no question of living off this money. This was to be kept for later and in Toby’s case for his university education. Sarah wasn’t worried about placing Toby in a boarding school. She knew him to be an extremely likable and easygoing young boy and that he never had had trouble striking up new friendships. She proved right in her assumption. It was almost hard to persuade Toby to come home for Thanksgiving, since he was invited everywhere.

With Toby taken care of Sarah felt the need to sort out her own life at last. She started looking for work in New York’s world of theater, seeking an opportunity to get a foot in somewhere to work with props and scenery. She pulled on some of the acquaintances from the time she had stayed in New York together with Anna, and she did it without remorse or regret. This was a question of surviving. In the end she got work on a temporary basis with one of the independent theaters off-Broadway. This proved to be a stroke of luck. The show that year was a great success from the start, and Sarah found that her name all of a sudden was mentioned in important circles.

This was now ten years ago, and today Sarah was a well-known stage director and much sought after in her field of work. She could choose to her liking these days.

Only one thing troubled her and was the web of her nightmares. Not once during all this time had she heard a word from Jareth or Anna; seen a trace of either of them. True that she hadn’t tried any magic of her own. She had deliberately kept off even the thought of looking for any entrances to the Underground. All the same, she had been so sure of that Jareth would look for her and try to get her back that his absence almost seemed an insult. The silence scared her more than anything. As the years went by, she was lulled into some sort of feeling of security. Perhaps she could look upon the Underground as a closed chapter in her life? She noticed however that her longevity was still a present feature. According to Earth standards she would be around her middle thirties, and she looked no more than twenty-five. She refused to think about the problem though. It would be time enough to deal with it later, she thought.

But the feeling of security had broken like thin glass and shattered in her face as Conaill had emerged from the shadows and brought the whole sinister Underground with him. She was scared now, so scared.

********************

The shrill sound of the telephone brought Sarah out of her reveries, and she hastened to answer it. She looked at her watch and realized that it was past midnight and she thought that perhaps Toby had forgotten his keys or didn’t have enough money for a taxi. Yet, when she picked up the phone she stiffened and felt her heart miss a beat.

“Hello,” the voice said, “you know as well as I do, that I could be in your flat right now without being invited, but believe me, I’m not out to scare or embarrass you. I need urgently to talk to you and would you accept that I called on you and came to you flat?”

When Sarah had regained her voice she whispered in the phone, “Are you calling from nearby?” And when he confirmed that, she added, “All right, you can come up for a while. The code to the entrance doors is 9532. I live on the 10th floor.”

“I know all this,” he answered, “you don’t have to tell me. I will be with you in a couple of minutes.”

She shuddered at his answer, feeling utterly helpless. Yet, the mere thought of him made her blood quicken and although she constantly shivered now, it wasn’t all out of fear.

Some minutes later – they seemed like eons of time and like flashes of lightning simultaneously – her doorbell chimed. She went to the door and stood in front of it hesitating, knowing that he was on the other side of it. Then she clenched her teeth and opened the door. She saw his great looming shadow against the dim light in the corridor outside. They stood in front of each other in silence. Then she stepped aside to let him enter into her apartment. He instantly filled it with his presence, and she almost regretted having agreed to see him. He turned to her and reached for her hand. She couldn’t withdraw it, and she didn’t want to. He brought it to his lips and feathered a kiss on it, and she felt so weak that she thought she would faint on the spot. Then he smiled and she saw his white teeth glimmer in the dark.

“He said that you were very beautiful.” he commented, “He didn’t exaggerate.”

“He?” Sarah let the question hang in the air.

“Jareth, of course,” he filled in, “but you know that already.”

They moved slowly, as if in a solemn dance, into the front room, where the doors to the balcony were still open.

“I know that you are Conaill,” she said. He merely nodded. She still stood in the middle of the floor, seemingly at a loss of what to do next and finally he gently nudged her.

“Let’s sit down and have a drink or something. You will feel so much better then.”

She blushed a little, being angry over that her embarrassment showed so clearly, but she followed his advice. She poured them a glass of whiskey. Then they finally sat on the sofa.

“Why are you here?” she asked at last. “What do you want from me?”

“Haven’t you ever wondered why you haven’t seen or heard from Jareth since you left the Underground?” he asked with a short sigh. She nodded bewildered and he continued, “You have been powerfully protected. There is magic that can even keep a Goblin King away.” Her eyes widened in astonishment, but before she had time to make any comments he continued quickly. “It all has to do with the Great Outrage of course. Has anyone ever told you the full story?” At which Sarah slowly shook her head.

“The feud between Jareth and me has been going on for a very, very long time,” Conaill began. “If you measure time according to Earth standards it must be a couple of centuries. We don’t look upon it that way. We just think of it as a very long time. The First Outrage, the one that set the ball rolling, was committed by my wife Eavan, Jareth’s mother. When Anna was brought to the Underground, Eavan saw her and fell instantly in love with her. She wanted this baby girl, and she was prepared to do anything to keep her, even challenge me and all existing rules and traditions of our world. I gave in, I was never able to contest Eavan, and she had her will. Anna was to remain a human although Eavan endowed her with long life.”

“I didn’t care much about it at the time,” he continued. “I had other things on my mind then, keeping my realm together, keeping the feuding warlords at bay, and I didn’t have time to occupy myself with one more baby or one less. Yet, I think that Eavan knew from the start that what she had done could only bring disaster, and I believe that the Elders also told her so. I never got the chance to ask her myself. Therefore I was totally unprepared for what awaited me when I finally became aware of Anna and confronted her face to face. I fell in love with her in a terrible all-consuming way. I was eaten alive with this feeling, and I couldn’t help myself. I knew that Anna was in love with me too, but the whole idea of it scared her almost to death – and I don’t blame her. She tried to solve this problem in her own way. She figured out that if she did something so utterly revolting to me that I would turn away from her, Eavan would be thrown off the scent. Anna didn’t know that Eavan was the one who had triggered the events, and that Eavan was fully aware of the consequences. Anna turned to Jareth and gave herself to him. She gave him the most precious gift any woman can give a man, her virginity. Jareth was aware of the game that was being played, and of course he could have stepped aside at that moment, but the temptations became too much for him. He couldn’t resist Anna, and he couldn’t resist the option that in a flash was opened up to him; the possibility and the means to challenge me.”

Conaill fell silent for a moment. He turned the glass around in his hand and looked intently at it as if some answer awaited there. Sarah didn’t speak either. She held her breath, afraid that if she spoke, Conaill wouldn’t be able to pick up the thread again. She leaned over however and replenished his glass. He looked up as if brought out of deep thoughts. Then he continued his story.

“In our world there are some unbreakable rules. By giving herself to Jareth, Anna had given him more or less total power over her. She belonged to him – and still belongs to him – in a sense that makes your so-called marriage here on Earth seem like a flimsy and hastily prepared union. When I found out what she had done, I wanted to kill her at first. But instead I took her. I thought that if I were to perish, I would at least have had her once. By doing so I committed the Second Outrage. I had taken something that belonged to my son, and I had betrayed my wife. Therefore I had to leave the Underground and Jareth could – and still can – pursue me until the end of time and to the farthest corner of the Universe.”

Sarah was very pale now, and she couldn’t take her eyes off Conaill’s stern face.

“So, I was evicted from the Paradise and all my powers and all my belongings were scattered. Eavan had already left, and I haven’t seen her since. If she is still alive, I believe she is with her Elders. Since then I have been made to wander this Earth. After a while it suited Jareth to let me come in contact with Anna. I still don't know if he did that out of some sort of twisted compassion or to enhance my pain. I would bet on the latter. He has made sure that I’m fully aware of, that he can take Anna whenever he wants. Moreover, he has made sure that she loves him too. She is torn apart and I’m made to suffer hell. But don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t part with the opportunity of seeing Anna for anything in the world. I’ll accept any pain and any hardship for it.”

“Anna wasn’t totally helpless though. Early on she had studied magic and by the time all this took place, she was already a powerful sorceress. She put a spell on Jareth – and this is where you come in the picture, my dear.”

Sarah gave a violent start and her eyes widened with fear.

“Anna invoked on Jareth that he one day would fall in love with a woman over whom he had no power. In front of her he would be as helpless as any man from Above. None of his tricks, none of his magic would help him in the end. He could only beg for her love and it would be up to her, if she wanted to live with him or not. I don’t really know why Jareth accepted the spell, because he is powerful enough to render it harmless. But he hasn’t.”

Sarah covered her face with her hands and she started to cry silently. Conaill didn’t seem to notice but continued as if relentlessly pursuing his line until all was revealed.

“You decided to try to live with Jareth, and he wanted that very much to happen and to be a success. But he wasn’t prepared to let you into the secrets, to open up the closets and let the skeletons out, and this is where he made his mistake. You on your hand weren’t prepared to live on those conditions and you left. Anna who was almost killed by her guilt in bringing this about and knowing what means and measures Jareth would resort to, either to get you back or to destroy you, then put a powerful spell over you, shielding you from his view.”

“What has she done? How has she managed to do that without me noticing anything?” Sarah whispered hoarsely.

“Anna is an expert of what is called Clouding the Path. That means making anyone or anything invisible. There is a catch though and it’s her tough luck that someone like me knows all the tricks in the trade,” and Conaill smiled for the first time in the evening.

Sarah couldn’t even begin to pretend that his smile comforted her in any way or made things feel lighter or easier.

“You see,” he said and leaned forward, “I want an end to this, I’ve reached MY end of the rope. If you don’t appear on stage again, nothing will happen. You are the only one that can trigger any of us participants into action again. The catch that Anna has put into her little invocation this time is that you can’t become visible unless I will be able to make love to you!”

Sarah dropped her glass on the table and it smashed into a thousand little gleaming pieces, and she rose so quickly that she overturned a nearby chair. She went up to the balcony and stood looking out into the New York night without seeing a thing. Her heart was beating so violently that she thought he must be able to hear it. Her thoughts were raging through her head; frantic, angry, fearful, helpless and outraged thoughts.

She heard him rise too and he said with his low, soft voice, “Don’t worry, this doesn’t fall under the category of rape. Anna has made it very clear that your participation has be one of totally free will. Nothing else counts. She is so sure of both me and you that she thinks it’s a foolproof concept. I’m going to leave you now. We will talk later.” And when she whirled around he was already gone.

********************

Sarah didn’t sleep that night. She sat for a long time on the sofa looking at the table with the shattered glass. A couple of hours later she went to her bed and lied down on top of it. Her mind was almost blank. She kept thinking of nothing in particular. She studied the pattern of the wallpaper, looked at the silhouettes of the high buildings outside the window, and wondered if Toby wouldn’t come back soon. Around five o’clock in the morning she went into the bathroom and she stared unbelievingly at the image in the mirror. She didn’t recognize herself. She looked into the vacant hollow eyes. Then at last, the pain started to work itself up through her, traveling with her blood to every inch of her body. She gasped and lost her balance, and she fell to the floor. With shaking hands she held on to the toilet bowl and retched. Afterwards she crawled back into the bedroom and managed to make it to the bed before she passed out.

Toby woke her up around noon. She became aware of someone shaking her shoulders. She saw his worried face above her, but it took a while before his voice got through to her.

“Sarah, what’s happened?! Have you been in an accident? Has someone hurt you? My God! You look like a ghost!” he cried.

She sat up in bed finally, and although she felt weak still, she also felt more composed than she would have expected. She took his hands and put them between hers.

“Things will be better,” she whispered, “they will!” It almost sounded like a mantra.

It was a stroke of luck for both of them that it was Saturday, and neither of them was expected to turn up anywhere during the day. When Toby had prepared a late, light breakfast for both of them, Sarah started hesitantly to explain to Toby about the previous night. She knew instinctively that she couldn’t tell him all, but she revealed as much as to the fact that she, and most likely he too, had been shielded from Jareth’s view through Anna’s manipulations. Sarah had reason to believe though, that this spell no longer worked and that she would eventually have to confront Jareth again. As she expected, Toby immediately rose to the occasion and declared in the firmest possible voice that he wouldn’t allow ANYONE or ANYTHING to threaten and harm her. Sarah smiled a little and nodded her head inwardly. This was the reaction she had waited for and the one that must be prevented at all costs.

“Toby,” she said and put a fair amount of stern seriousness into her voice, “whatever happens next you must PROMISE me not to take any action before I say so. Promise me?” she added when he looked away sulkily.

Finally, he nodded affirmation at last.

********************

The next weeks Sarah thought that she saw Conaill on several occasions, but when she checked closer it turned out to be someone else. It made her feel frustrated in a strange sort of way. It really irritated her immensely. She even caught herself looking for him in crowds and in restaurants and bars; places she thought he would frequent. Yet, he eluded her. She also wondered how much of her that was visible to Jareth now. Still she couldn’t divine any action from him. He didn’t feel close, and there was no communication of any kind. She remembered from the time when he had started to visit her that he left little significant signs for her to interpret, showing her that he had his attention focused on her; like moving the objects on her vanity table, writing in her diary, putting a flower or a note in her books. However, none of this was present for the moment.

She had thought a great deal of what Conaill had told her. Sometimes she got flaming mad when she recalled his words. ‘What did they all think they were? Omnipotent gods or what? Looking on her as a sort of object? Something that could be exchanged for something else, that was better wanted, more eagerly wanted, more greedily wanted even?’ In moments of truth she realized that her vanity was hurt as well. Conaill wanted to trade her in for Anna. Jareth had wanted to live with her but not looked upon her as an equal with whom one shared all, the good and the bad, the secrets. She cursed them all bitterly at such moments, but she also recognized a growing need to put matters to a head.

Then one busy Friday afternoon, when she was running down the streets to reach the theater in time, being very late, she saw him at a street crossing. The traffic lights had turned to red and forced her to stop. When she looked out over the crowded streets all of a sudden she saw him. He was riding a big, black Harley Davidson, and he glided almost soundlessly up towards the curb where she was standing. She looked at him and met his eyes; there was no mistaking him for someone else. He flashed a teasing smile towards her. Then the traffic lights changed and with a roar of the powerful engine he sped down the street and was gone from view. The incident left her shaking and upset, and she was very absent-minded when she arrived at the show.

After that she saw him several times in the busy New York traffic, not every time as close as the first, but he usually made sure that there was some sort of contact between them. It happened that Sarah cried out of frustration when she got home. She wanted to smash and threw things around her, wanted to hit something or someone. . .

She dreamt about him now. Dreams that made her wake up in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat.

The night she finally caught up with herself was also a Friday night. Sarah had attended a fashion show in one of downtown’s larger discos. It had been a very social occasion indeed. A lot of influential and smart people were there, and it was a good opportunity to see and be seen. She had dressed accordingly, chosen to really stand out in a very particular way. She wore a lady’s suit in black with a tight, short skirt and a jacket clinging to her body. She wore it without a blouse and a bra, and her naked body was alluringly visible against the formal cut of the jacket. Shimmering black stockings and very high-heeled shoes completed the outfit. She knew she was stunning to look at, and she wanted to draw attention to herself. It had also been a very rewarding evening. She had almost pocketed a deal with a Hollywood director. There were just a few details they needed to discuss further. She didn’t want to stay for the after-party and left all by herself.

It was a warm night, and she felt like walking a bit. There would always be time to take a taxi later. Her mind was on the coming production, and she was very happy with all the opportunities it opened. The traffic wasn’t very intense for the moment. The weekend was near, and the big city had been emptied of people who had fled elsewhere for their recreation. He caught her totally unawares when he rode his bike up towards her and stopped just in front of her. She froze in her tracks and stared at him. He didn’t say a word, just looked intently at her with his gold-shimmering eyes. She clenched her teeth and her hands, and she closed her eyes for a moment. Then she went up to him, mounted the bike behind him, quickly putting her arms around his body and buried her face against his back and the worn leather jacket that he wore.

“Take me home,” she bit out, barely audible.

But he heard her, and she felt his stomach muscles tighten under her hands when he brought the big machine into action. Without a word he headed out into the traffic, moving through it at breakneck speed. The scent of the leather jacket blended with that of his own, and she closed her eyes and tasted it, her heart beating violently now against his back.

He parked carelessly near the entrance of her house, and when he got off the bike he took her by the arm. It wasn’t a hard grip, but she felt that she would never be able to wrench herself free of it. They stood for a while waiting for the elevator to reach the ground floor. He didn’t look at her, and he still hadn’t said a word. The elevator arrived at last and they entered. When it started moving upwards he finally turned towards her, closing in on her, slowly, cautiously. Then he eased his warm hand inside her jacket and cupped one of her breasts, gently flicking his thumb over her nipple. He never took his eyes off her, forcing her to look at him. She heard a low moan and realized after while with a shock that she was listening to herself. With his free hand he drew her body close to his, fondling her buttocks, pressing her belly into his hips and his throbbing, rock hard erection. She started to shiver and had he not held her so close, she would have fallen to the floor. He bent down over her and opened her mouth with his tongue, licking her chin and nose, pressing his fangs against her teeth, then all of a sudden brutally sucking her lips, biting her, eating her, fucking her mouth with his tongue. She grabbed him by the neck so as not to lose her balance. When the elevator stopped she couldn’t move her shaking legs, so he lifted her up and carried her to her apartment door. She was about to mention the keys in her handbag when she found that he had transported them both inside the flat. Gently he put her down on the floor and let go of her.

They stood panting in front of each other in the dark hall, not moving, not talking. Then he was with her again, close by. He opened up her jacket, exposing her breasts, caressing her hard nipples with the palms of his hands. She reached out and went for the thick leather belt in his jeans.

“Hurry!” he groaned low, “I can’t wait, I can’t wait!”

They fumbled in frenzy with each other’s clothes not getting them out of the way fast enough. He tore his fly open and took her hand, guiding it towards his velvet hardness. She closed her fingers greedily around it as he hitched up her skirt around her waist and let his hard, hot hands roam over her belly and buttocks. He hooked two fingers in the lace of her tiny panties and ripped them off her in one go. She cried out, but she spread her legs to let them fall to the ground, and he lifted her up and let her glide down on his throbbing cock. She wrapped her legs around his waist, and he carried her into the bedroom. He held her in an iron grip close to his chest, his leather jacket open now too and sweat streaming down over his naked breast. He fucked her furiously and in total abandon, mindless of her pleasure or pain, and he came violently in her. She felt the discharge pulsate out of him in throbbing waves, and then his knees gave away, and he fell with her onto the bed. She felt them falling and falling, his heavy body on top of hers. He sank down over her, into her, and his semen trickled out of her, wetting her thighs, pooling beneath her on the sheet. She felt a pang of disappointment of being left behind, deserted. Yet, before she could say anything, he moved his head up against her neck and she felt him smile as he kissed her, his lips soft and hot against her skin.

“Don’t worry, Honey,” he whispered, “I just had to do this, I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t wait, but the rest of the night is yours, I promise.”

He sat up in the bed and surveyed them and the mess of clothes and bedspreads. He took her into his arms and laughed happily and at last she couldn’t help but join him. Gently he removed her suit and rolled down her stockings. Then he freed himself of his jacket and jeans.

“Shower?” he asked. She shook her head and almost closed her eyes.

“No, not just yet, I haven’t even got around tasting you. It's my turn now to have my way.”

She curled up against him and started licking his chest. He fell back into the bed bringing her down with him and she heard him groan involuntarily, a sexy, low groan, sounding like a lion’s purr.

Then he started to caress her. Unhurriedly he moved his strong, warm hands over her body, trying to find out what pleased her the most, marveling over the silky texture of her skin. There was magic in his fingertips, and he made her freeze and burn all over. He gathered her up in his arms again and buried his face between her breasts and began sucking her nipples. He suckled her like a hungry baby, teasing her nipples with his sharp teeth. She opened her mouth but no sound came; she was mindless with pleasure.

He was very hard again, and she took his cock and guided it in between her legs, squeezing them together around him, making him groan again as he started grinding himself against her hot opening. She was very wet by now, and he wanted to feel her up. Softly but insistently he forced her legs apart and went for her swollen cunt. A strangled cry escaped her tight throat, her nails digging into his back, as his fingers slipped between her inner lips and found her wet clitoris. He pressed his thumb against it in little circling motions and he dipped first one finger into her, then another, spreading them wide as he gently massaged the walls of her cunt.

“Oh God!” she panted, “oh God, oh God, fuck me!”

And then she came under his hands, helplessly shivering in his arms, crying, screaming the pent up screams from ten years of loneliness and emptiness. Before she had time to recover, he rolled over her and began to kiss her passionately, then buried his mouth in her neck as he slid effortlessly and wetly into her. Her cunt made a soft sucking sound as he pushed his hardness into her, and she clenched her muscles around it, making him moan into her neck.

She felt tension mounting again when he increased speed and drove in and out of her in a fury now. She threw her head back, arching up against him when a series of violent orgasms crashed down on her. Her legs tightened convulsively around him and her sheath began to throb in hot, rhythmic pulses, living a life of its own. He lost control then. He stopped moving and froze with an anguished moan, just pressing his cock as far inside her tight vagina as he could while he squirted his seed deep into her wet and silky clenching tightness, burning her with his hot fluid, raking her neck with his teeth, groaning her name.

Later, much later, when she slept on his arm and daylight was beginning to break, he looked down on her and gently caressed her face.

“You don’t know it yet,” he whispered, “but you are the strongest of us all. You are my ticket to freedom, lady!” Then he looked up and threw a glance around the room and his smile became defiant.

“Look at us now! I know that you see us. See her! Look at her! Isn’t she just lovely? Wouldn’t you die to be in my place just now?”

And he laughed as he started to dematerialize and soon he had vanished from her bed and her room for good.

********************

With almost meticulous care Sarah banished her experience of the previous night in the darkest corners of her memory. For days, she refused to even think about it, and when she allowed herself to, she decided that it all had been a dream. She slept fitfully and was restless and absent-minded during the day. Eventually and inevitably she started to look for Conaill again, but he had vanished completely. She didn’t feel his presence in any way, and she didn’t see even a glimpse of him and his big black motorcycle in the traffic where she had spotted him before. When she had to admit to herself that he had gone, she succumbed to a deep depression. She felt used and abandoned. As usual, she added in her mind. He had only wanted one thing from her; he had taken it and gone.

However, other things started to happen around her, and she was not to enjoy any peace of mind. One night when she slept very lightly, just beneath the surface of consciousness, she saw someone standing in her room, not far from the bed. It was just a shadow at first and she thought she was dreaming, but then the shadow moved and the moonlight from the open window fell on a face that she recognized all too well. Ten years had passed, yet Jareth hadn’t changed much, maybe his features were even sharper and whiter than she remembered, but he was still hauntingly beautiful to look at. If she were caught by his mismatched eyes they would mesmerize her completely. She stared for what seemed an eternity at his face. He didn’t move and he didn’t speak. When she closed her eyes and opened them again, he had disappeared from view. The incident left her fearfully afraid. She felt his wrath as a laser beam, cutting right through her, and she was left with a nauseating feeling of helplessness and exposure.

So, he had found her at last again.

The day that followed was a day of great unrest. She didn’t know what to do. There was no possible way of escape in this case. She could try to hide just about anywhere on earth; he would find her quickly anyway. At last she phoned Toby and asked about the possibilities of coming to see him. Would he perhaps have any time that he could take out in form of a short holiday and perhaps spend with her? She didn’t explain the reason for wanting to see him, but she knew she couldn’t hide the anxiety in her voice. Toby also responded with alert to her plea. He was very sensitive to her moods, and he knew that she wouldn’t have called unless it was very important to her. He said that he would ask his supervisor at the first opportunity and that he was almost sure of getting his application granted.

“Anyway," he added, “do come here as quickly as you can. I’ll find a way somehow.”

She knew that going to Toby wouldn’t really solve any problems, but she just didn’t want to be alone right now. She wanted the comfort of company, and she wanted someone around that understood every aspect of the problem; someone who needn’t have all the explanations. Perhaps it was selfish of her to burden him with her problems, but on the other hand he was part of them from the start.

Sarah could have gone by air but she wanted time to think and brought out her car. She drove all night up to the vicinity of Toby’s university. She didn’t want to seek him out there – she had the inkling that she might in some way embarrass him – but preferred to wait for him in the nearby town. When she checked into the small hotel, she got a feeling of déjà vu, and without really knowing why, she involuntarily started to look around for secret openings. When she realized what she was doing and pulled herself together willfully, she wondered if she were the one starting to long for a contact or if the Underground and Jareth were calling for her. It disconcerted her and she was still in a troubled mind when Toby came to meet her.

“I want to go to New Orleans,” she told Toby. “If I’m lucky I’ll meet Anna down there. And if she isn’t there at least Celia is, and I have a feeling that she could explain a lot to me.”

“But why?” Toby countered, “What’s the good in it? What have you to gain on pursuing this line? I thought you wanted out?”

Sarah smiled a little at all his questions and put a hand on his arm. “Above anything else I want peace of mind,” she said as if that would explain everything.

********************

They took turns driving down south. Sarah still didn’t want to go by air. She could rest for long stretches because Toby loved to drive her little fast sport car. She also found that she slept better in the car than in the hotel-beds along the way. It was as if the road – from nowhere to anywhere – were safer than the hotels and the realities they represented. She had started to dream these very realistic dreams where Jareth appeared before her, constantly moving towards her, never speaking, but with an air of urgency around him that nailed her to the spot and kept her from running away. She didn’t know how much in these dreams that were real and how much that was triggered by her fevered mind.

The little house in the centre of New Orleans looked as peaceful as ever; as if it had been put under a spell and was preserved from a time long gone by. When Sarah and Toby had entered the small courtyard and the heavy oak door had closed behind them, they might as well have been in another century. And perhaps that was the truth about this place. It really belonged to another time and so did the inhabitants.

Anna wasn’t there, but that didn’t surprise Sarah. Instead she turned to Celia and asked her, pleaded with her, to explain Anna’s part in Jareth’s life and why this issue still mattered and caused so much trouble.

Sarah was not a little surprised in seeing Celia. She remembered the woman well from the time she had spent in the Underground, and she had before her eyes a mental picture of a happy, jolly person, full of life and warmth. The person in front of her had now aged immensely during the ten years that had gone by. Not only did she look old and wrinkled, but she seemed to be ailing as well.

“Yes,” Celia answered her unspoken question, “I’m tired and I’m ill and I really want to leave this time. I’m so weary. Nothing amuses me anymore. I don’t know any person whom I can relate to. I just don’t feel at home here anymore. I long to go back to my own time, to my friends, to my home. To be true, I really want to die.”

“What has Anna said about that?” Sarah inquired.

“Oh, Anna knows,” Celia murmured. “She also knows that time is running out.”

Then Celia carefully and with so much detail as she could muster explained the full story of Anna’s involvement in Jareth’s life. Her story left Sarah in a dismal and frightened mood. She could verify to herself that the main features of the story corresponded with what Conaill had told her although this time she got the story from Anna’s point of view, as seen and understood by Celia. ‘What power could she use to confront this force that moved towards her with the inevitability of destiny? If she were to believe all that Celia had told her, they would all be doomed.’

Sarah and Toby stayed on in New Orleans for another week, Sarah hoping in vain that Anna would turn up. Yet, no sign of life came from Anna and eventually Sarah got restless. She said to Toby that they might as well go back to New York. Nothing more could be done here and she had got what she came for. Total information. Anyway, Sarah longed to start work again. Work would prove to be a good narcotic for the mind. She knew that from experience, and they left the next morning.

********************

In New York the season was drawing to its close and the ending was always hectic. Everyone wanted to consolidate their position, ensure work and connections for the next season and generally say good-bye to each other for the summer break. Sarah threw herself head first into this turmoil, accepting as many invitations to parties that she could manage and spent endless sessions in meetings with the theater board to make sure that at least some of her ideas carried through to the platform where the decisions were made. It all kept her very busy. Her schedule was filled for almost 24 hours, and she dropped dead into her bed at nights and slept dreamlessly. Just the way she wanted it.

Sarah was much in demand and considered being an asset to every party. In the end she had to choose between the events. She chose the classy ones and the ones where she knew the interesting people would gather.

She had firmly tucked away the darker sides of her life into a tight little closet. She was determined to live in the present and in daylight. Sarah dated a lot the way New Yorkers do. Sometimes she ended up in someone’s bed, but it was always after a careful choice. She indulged in being unattached, reveled in it. Conaill, Anna and Jareth were far away and she wanted to keep it that way.

Only occasionally did the darkness hit her, often late at night when she had returned home after a wild party and the quiet closed in on her. Then it could happen that she slumped on the sofa, closing her eyes, letting the hot black wave wash over her, and the loneliness scorched her soul, and the tears rolled down her cheeks unchecked.

********************

This particular evening Sarah was very late. The meeting with the theater board had taken ages, and there had been heated discussions on next season’s repertoire. Sarah had wanted much more of modern European drama and the producers, holding tightly to their money purses, would only settle for known cards; for what had proved to be sure successes in the past. She had accused them of only looking at the economical side of the productions and not at all at the artistic values to be had from an experimental theatre; an eternal confrontation as such.

It was especially annoying tonight when she had a date and had meant to leave earlier to go home and prepare herself for it. Now she was in a hurry and irritated too. She snapped at her secretary for not being ready with the letters for signatures before she left and grabbed her cashmere overcoat, flinging it around her shoulders. She cast a brief glance at her face in the mirror to check if it passed inspection and for a fleeting moment she thought she saw a shadow behind her. Yet, when she turned around to catch whoever intruded on her privacy, no one was there.

Sarah went out into the large corridor and pressed the buttons to call an elevator. There were about 10 elevators at this office level and at least 5 of them reached the ground floor where the parking lot was situated. She was in a hurry to get to her car. Sarah saw a group of board members emerge at the end of the corridor and not wanting to share any elevators with them, prolonging the fruitless discussions, she moved to the far end. She noted with joy that an elevator was coming her way, and nobody was going to join her ride.

Music of the usual flat endless quality poured over her from everywhere in the elevator, and the light was pleasantly dimmed. All the same, before she reached the next level, the elevator all of a sudden came to an abrupt stop. It shook and started and stopped again. Then the music died and the lights went out.

“DAMN!” she cried in exasperation. “Damn, damn!! Not tonight, don’t do this to me!” She fumbled along the walls in the direction of the buttons where she knew she could get at the alarm.

Then, on her way towards the control panel, her hand hit something soft and in a split second she realized it was a human form she had touched, someone’s arm or breast. And she screamed and screamed.

A hand covered her mouth. She tried to scream again, but now not a sound escaped her. Before she could move, she heard a soft voice, barely audible, that spoke to her with smooth unrushed calm which cleared all thoughts of escape from her head.

"Don’t move and you won’t get hurt," the voice said. The voice she recognized all too well.

“You like elevators, don’t you? Personally I find it one of the most ingenious inventions of later. I like the thought of being suspended here between heaven and hell in a manner of speaking. Being in nowhere, missed by no one.”

He talked caressingly and there seemed to be an amused smile in his voice. She backed away from him only to hit the wall close by. The small space suffocated her.

“That you could sink so low!” she exclaimed with vehemence. Before she could continue he broke off.

“Low? I have no intentions whatsoever to pass off as a noble person, a gentleman if you like. I solely resort to the means that gives the most satisfaction - both in general and specific sense,” he added with a small sinister laugh.

Sarah felt the sweat break on her forehead and damned her weakness. She didn’t want to succumb to panic just because she was enveloped in total darkness. Yet, she asked with a voice that she tried to keep steady,

“Couldn’t you possibly turn on the light? It’s so much easier to talk to someone I can see.”

He didn’t answer her. Instead the lights in the ceiling started to flicker hesitantly and in the dim light he finally appeared in view.

She divined his graceful, slender form in front of her with long, lean limbs and something about his presence that was strong and unearthly. She saw him move silently towards her, stepping into the meager light. She gasped, wanting to close her eyes suddenly as if seeing him blinded her. He was still very beautiful, and he was terrifyingly sexy in a fierce inhuman way.

She found she couldn’t lower her gaze, couldn’t take her eyes off him. She saw an abundance of silver-golden hair of a soft silkiness that couldn’t be mortal. She saw pale, perfect skin. She saw diamond hard mismatched eyes that seemed to burn into her like laser beams. She saw sharp, pointed, canine teeth beneath the most sensual lips. His body was lean and muscular. Finally, he had come so close that he could reach out and touch her and she made a small whimpering noise. She couldn’t speak any longer.

“However, what I had in mind for tonight is so much more suited for the darkness. Not because of the nature of the act but because some senses of the body react with enhanced sensitivity when the eyes cannot guide the brain. I’m very sure that you will agree with me. I always have the utmost experience in mind when it comes to what I can do for you, my dear.”

He smiled indulgently at her and stroked her chin calmingly. Then, before she could contradict him or react in any other way, he blindfolded her with a piece of silk that suddenly appeared in his hands. She gave a plaintive cry and lost her balance and fell to the floor. She sensed that he lowered himself beside her because his breath was hot against her ear when he whispered,

“Be a very good girl and I won’t hurt you.”

The weight of his knee in her upper back was the next sensation she felt. Fighting for air, she tried to remain still, hoping that he would be swift about his business at least – whatever he had in mind. She knew though that prayers tonight were mere words.

He chuckled softly as he turned her around. She tried to steel herself against what was coming, but his weight was on her, and suddenly she realized how much stronger he was.

His hand moved slowly to her throat. First he caressed it gently, then slowly he wrapped his fingers around her neck, pressing his fingertips and thumb into the sides of it tightly. She felt the deliberate urgency in his grip, and it scared her. Then he bent over her and kissed her. He took his time. Slowly but relentlessly he pressed his teeth against hers and forced her mouth open, inserting his hard slim tongue, vibrating with a life of its own, against hers. He sucked on her lips and licked her chin, and she shuddered from the assault. Yet, she abandoned herself to it, not knowing in what other way she could react. When he found that she didn’t resist him any longer, his lips softened and his tongue caressed her with wet hotness. With alarm she felt the blood starting to pound in her veins, in her throat and in her guts.

As he released her mouth, he leaned close to her, his voice a harsh whisper.

“Know that I will touch you... Know that I will take you.”

One hand went down her body resting on the curve of her left hip, drawing up the hem of her skirt, exposing her thighs. The other hand entangled itself in her hair, undone by the struggle. Surprisingly soft lips touched hers now.

The hand on her hip moved in beneath the thin fabric of her panties and went to her neatly trimmed sex. A slender finger slowly rubbed across her clitoris and sent lightening through her body. It slipped easily into her wet cunt. Against her will she began to whimper and moan into his mouth that covered hers.

All the same, he left her body just as the fever was starting to shake her and weaken her resistance. With a jolt of fear she felt him position himself on his knees between her thighs, spreading them outward. She felt her body opening up to him and started shivering.

The next sensation was the icy edge of a steel blade that crept up her thigh as he slid the edge of a knife under the elastic lace that rested on her hip, slicing upwards and cutting it in two, then moving to the rest of the garment that now hung loosely on the other side of her body. With a swift movement of the hand he removed the lacy fragments. Then he proceeded to cut up the front of her dress. It fell disheveled from her body, and when the cool air hit her naked skin, she knew she was now fully exposed to him.

Panic seized her and she started to struggle violently to regain control over her body; to get on her feet again. But he put the cold blade of the knife gently on her throat and pressed her down again on the floor.

“Lie still. Don't make me hurt you."

His voice was calm and unhurried with just a trace of menace in it. Yet, she obeyed instantly, terrified. He bent down and kissed her, hard, bruising her.

She almost felt agony now trying to visualize what he was going to do to her. Fear but also growing excitement made her shake uncontrollably, and she kept swallowing the bile that constantly threatened to fill her mouth. Yet, the only thing she felt was the edge of his tongue, tracing a fine line along the edge of her jaw to her chin, stopping briefly to hover above her lips, then moving around to her ear lobe. She expected to feel his teeth sinking into her flesh at any moment, but his movements remained unhurried and soft. The uncertainty made her prey to her own feelings, totally defenseless against the raging flood of blood that entered her veins and raced through her body; the body now betraying her; starting to respond to each caress of his tongue on her skin.

The tongue kept moving lower, now sliding up and down between her breasts. Moving to first one nipple, circling it, his teeth scraped around it, tugging it upwards then releasing it, letting it stiffen and become swollen. She heard herself moan as he moved to the other one repeating himself, and then she heard a soft, low chuckle as if he were appraising what he was doing to her.

Again he broke off what he had started, and she felt him kneel between her thighs.

"I'm not done with you yet," his soothing voice softly said to her. Again she waited in agony for his next move, all nerves on the outside of her skin.

She could however never have expected what was to happen next when she felt the steely bite of something being tightened around her clitoris. Sucking in her breath, she bit her lips, trying not to cry, but the pain was intense, almost overwhelming, and she couldn’t prevent the high, tiny cry breaking the silence as she felt the cold metal biting into her body.

"Lie very still. You will understand soon."

The whisper was still soothing and she tried to relax her body, but the pain wouldn’t subside. Her hips pushed down against the floor as if to draw away from the steely teeth that held her most sensitive spot in its grasp, but there was no escaping it.

"Lie still."

It was a command now, and she lay there waiting, tears wetting the blindfold and streaming down her cheeks.

Tugging gently at the clamp, he slipped his free hand between her folds, inserting his fingers, first one and then adding two more, spreading them wide and caressing the walls of her cunt as he tugged at the clamp in time with each thrust.

She could feel her whole womb pulsing with the throbbing of her clitoris, caught in the vise, but at the same time the massage of his deft fingers inside her caused another wilder pulsation. Tightening herself around his fingers, she concentrated less on the clamp and more on his caresses and soon her moans matched his thrusts as she lay there.

"Now you are beginning to understand," he laughed low. "Tiny amounts of pain increase the pleasure. And as soon as you accept this, you’ll see what will happen."

Then, he removed the blindfold and she had him in view just above her face, the gleam in his half-closed eyes mesmerizing her as he smiled wickedly at her.

“Know that I recognize what I see,” he whispered. “I see that you want me, I see that you want this, I see that you are dying for fulfillment.”

Then he opened up his clothes and brought out his hard, engorged manhood.

She cried out as he inserted his penis inside her. Not waiting for her to adjust to his size, he went deeper. Lifting her body off the floor, he continued his attack. Leaning forward slightly, he rested his weight on the palm of one hand as the other slid between them, tugging at the clamp in time to his thrusts, bringing her a mix of the most intense pain and pleasure she had ever felt in her life.

"Let go..." he whispered each time pain and uncontrollable desire washed over her, overcame her."Give in to me!"

He gripped her then, tightly and painfully and as she began to come in a violent series of orgasms, he followed, bending to her and holding her hair in his hand, kissing her throat. She felt his hot fluid inside her, burning her with sweet, blissful torture, and his teeth raked her neck, sinking, without causing her pain, into her skin. He came again and again, thrusting deeply inside her, filling her womb, marking his territory. Owning her.

Then, all at once, he wasn’t there any longer. A terrible chill enveloped her, and she found that she could move her arms and legs again without restraint, and she found her voice again but only to emit a harsh, pitiful moan. She managed to crawl on to her knees, and she heard his voice faintly all around her in the cramped space.

“Don’t defy me Sarah. Punishment worse than death will be yours, if you do.”

With a jolt the elevator started to move again, and the lights started to flicker in the ceiling. With a painful croaking the machine began its descent. She scrambled to her feet on shaking legs, shedding the torn clothes, wrapping the soiled cashmere overcoat tightly around her body. She cried out again when she met her image in the mirror not believing what she saw there. Not believing the disheveled woman to be herself. The elevator didn’t stop at any level before it reached the ground floor, the car parking. Fresh, cold air hit her when the doors opened and she stumbled out. There were other customers on their way up to street level who saw her emerge and looked away in embarrassment, wondering about the state she was in, believing her to be a hooker or a drug pusher. She didn’t look at them on her way to the car. Her legs shook as she felt the clamp still tug at her clitoris, her mind reeling back to the events moments before.

He hadn’t removed it. And she hadn’t either.

********************

Sarah didn’t know how she managed to reach her home. She was alone when she entered the building and very grateful for the fact that none of her neighbors were present to see her.

She couldn’t well walk the ten flights of stairs up to her apartment. There was nothing else to do but to resort to the elevator. She forced herself in there and stood crouching and shivering in a corner for the whole ride, crying now behind her hands, wondering if she would ever again be able to use an elevator without feeling this panic.

She finally stumbled into her safe haven. When she had managed to close the door behind her, her knees gave away and she fell to the floor. She crept towards the bathroom, only one thought in her mind, keeping her going. ‘I want to clean myself, I want water on my body.’ Yet, she couldn’t manage to get up from the floor, once in there. She grabbed hold of the edge of the Jacuzzi, but she still couldn’t force herself into an upright position. Helplessly she fell down again on her back, and now she remained there exhausted. She looked longingly at the shower, but she couldn’t reach it. She started crying again and resolved that if she could possibly remove the clamp, she could crawl into the shower. She reached down and touched the metal vise but the pain and the pounding of her blood only brought back the fierce experience and she didn’t know whether she would succumb to the pain or the reminiscence of utter pleasure. So, she gave up and lay sprawled on the floor as if someone had thrown her there.

Sarah didn’t know for how long she lay there. She wasn’t conscious all the time. Later, much later, she heard footsteps in the hall. Someone was in the apartment with her and a terrible panic washed over her. She tried to scream but her voice was a mere whisper. Then the invisible visitor called out her name.

“Sarah!” Anna’s voice cried in anguish and before Sarah could answer, Anna had entered the bathroom and stood bent over her. “Oh, my God!” Anna moaned and then they both started to cry. Anna knelt on the floor and removed the dirty overcoat and took Sarah into her arms.

“Water,” Sarah whispered. “Shower, please.”

Anna dragged her to her feet and pulled them both into the shower. She started the hot jet and let it pour over both of them. Her dress became soaked but she didn’t seem to mind. She had closed her eyes and held on to Sarah with tight arms. Sarah eventually stopped shivering and rested her head on Anna’s shoulder and they stayed for an eternity in the hot, soothing stream.

********************

When Sarah woke up, finally surfacing to reality, it was morning and it was eerily quiet. She lay in her bed between clean sheets and she was wearing an old faded cotton linen. She lay very still and listened to the silence for a while. Then she looked out into the room. On her night table she saw her jewelry and between the rings and bracelets she found the clamp. She widened her eyes and looked transfixed at the metal device. She had never looked properly at it and she now greedily reached for it to examine it. It was beautifully made in white and yellow gold. It was quite heavy and very cold in her hand.

Sarah had no memory whatsoever of removing the clamp. So. . . she had to deduct that Anna had done it.

Before Sarah could analyze her feelings in view of this discovery, Anna silently stole into the room. She had wrapped herself in one of Sarah’s bathrobes and gathered her long, blond hair in a bun at the nape of her neck. Anna noticed that Sarah was awake and she tiptoed up to the bed and stood looking at Sarah for a long while. Then she bent down over her and slipped her long, slender fingers through the black mass of Sarah’s hair. There was an immense sorrow in her eyes.

They remained silent while Anna got into the bed too and gathered Sarah in her arms. They were silent for a long, long time.

“I’m so sorry,” Anna whispered at last. “I don’t know how to begin to tell you how sorry I am. Had I known what would be the result of my actions I would rather have tried to kill myself.”

“Please, don’t blame yourself so,” Sarah answered. “I don’t think what happened could have been prevented.”

Sarah took hold of Anna’s right arm, letting her hand slip down until it reached the blackened, threadbare and dirty little piece of leather that Anna wore; the Indian Bracelet. Anna followed her movement with her eyes and nodded slowly.

“It is true that I love Jareth,” Anna said at last. “But not through any will of my own but as a result of Jareth having decided that I should do so. I have come to the conclusion that he has put this punishment on me for having invoked a spell on him.”

Sarah didn’t comment, but she heard the echo of his voice in her head ‘Don’t defy me. Punishment worse than death will be yours, if you do!’ She shuddered in silence, her heart sinking, wondering what he would have in store for her.

“My real love, my only true love, is Conaill,” Anna continued. “The only thing I want in the world is to be with him forever. And if that can’t be achieved in any other way, then I’ll try to die with him. Although it can take a long time yet, before I can bring that about. I thought I had made such a foolproof solution to all problems when I shielded you from view, using Conaill as a key to my plan. I forgot to count him in. I forgot his terrible powers to seduce and then everything was in vain. You were totally exposed and I HATED you for having had him, for having been in his arms for a whole night. I ran and ran to spare me the blinding pain of confronting you. Well, I‘ve got my punishment for that too.”

Sarah sat up in the bed at last and took hold of Anna forcing her to turn up her face.

“Perhaps Jareth found me quicker through Conaill’s manipulations, but I’m very certain that Jareth would have done so after all in the end, in spite of you. And don’t say that you hate me. I know you don’t. Jealousy is such a devouring feeling. I have been jealous of you too, you must know that. Please let’s put it behind us. We can’t undo what’s happened anyway.”

They had a long quiet day together, keeping silent, listening to music. They cooked a small dinner and had some wine to drink and just lounged in front of the TV. Sarah deliberately hooked off the phone and closed down the PC. She didn’t want to be disturbed that day at all.

Anna stayed for another night and in the morning, when she was about to leave, Sarah took her hands and looked her sternly in the eyes.

“Please, answer me when I call for you the next time. It might really be very vital that I can get hold of you.”

“Yes, yes, you don’t have to remind me again. I will come to you if you need me.” Anna said with remorse in her voice. “I might need you too,” she added.

Then they hugged and said good-bye.

When Anna had left, Sarah stood for a long time immobile in front of the balcony door. She mused over the fact that she hadn’t been able to bring herself to ask Anna about the clamp. She knew somehow that Jareth used the clamp to tie her down, the way he had done with Anna when it came to the Indian Bracelet. Sarah wondered why he needed to literally capture them and bind them to exert his powers. Yet, she knew it would be impossible for her to get rid of it on her own.

********************

The next few days Sarah found it impossible to go to work. She phoned the theatre and made excuses. Then she shut herself up in her apartment and brooded in silence like a caged animal; her moods swaying between white anger, blue sorrow and red yearning, all feelings equally painful. She exhausted herself completely.

At certain moments she believed everything was wasted, all that she had built her relationship with Jareth on, turning to dust in her hands. Other times she had wild hopes that something could be salvaged after all. In the dark night she just pitied herself and cried in her loneliness. In the bleak early hours between night and dawn she screamed for him, shouting that she knew he could hear her.

However, in the end a precarious calm settled within her and she emerged from her chosen seclusion and went back to work. Sarah pretended that she had seen the last of him and that he had left her life forever, but deep down inside her, she knew that this wasn’t so. She hadn’t stopped waiting for him to appear; she still kept a look out for him; she repeated to herself what she wanted to say to him when she saw him.

One night when she woke up about three in the morning, she sat up in bed and said aloud to the room,

“Why am I sitting here waiting for him to move? The next move on this checkerboard is mine!”

She remembered the last time she had sought him out and how bewildered and scared she had felt then. Afterwards she had realized that he had kept calling for her although she hadn’t understood that at the time. Calling for her to come and stay with him on his terms. He might be calling this time too, she really didn’t know that, but the outcome of this meeting was written in the stars. She found with surprise that she could suddenly visualize looking him into the eyes without fear, not cringing before his gaze.

********************

So, Sarah started looking for the secret openings to the Underground again. She did it casually and not in any planned way at all. If she happened to enter a place unknown to her, she would take her time to look around for any possible suggestion, but she didn’t go around seeking day and night in a frenzy. She was surprised at her own calm in view of all that had happened. She even questioned her state of mind. Maybe she just tried to defend herself pretending that she didn’t care.

She found what she was looking for a couple of weeks later in the attic of the theater. ‘Appropriate,’ she thought, surveying the corner behind a lot of old paintings where there was a small door that couldn’t serve any proper purpose. She didn’t enter this time but thought that she would prepare herself in a better way before going to her meeting.

Next night she returned to the closed and silent theater and let herself in. It was always an eerie feeling being in the building at night, so busy during day- and playtime and perfectly dead after hours. She went up to the attic and lit the electric torch she had brought along. Yes, the door was still there and she approached it cautiously. Sarah couldn’t help her heartbeats quickening but noted that this emanated more from excitement than fear. She slowly turned the handle to the door, and it opened soundlessly. A rush of air met her and brought scents and memories. She looked long at the dark passage before she entered.

It was so strange walking the known paths again, especially since they looked all different tonight. She didn’t let this alarm her. She knew that it was one of the features of the Underground; that it never looked quite the same and a lot depended on the mode you were in. It was early summer here too, but the flowers looked listless and artificial. Yes, indeed, it all looked like a stage and everything in sight were fake and props. Had it actually been so all the time?

She walked until the castle came in sight and stopped as usual to marvel at it. Yet, also the castle looked like a painted façade, more unreal than ever. She wondered about having considered it beautiful once. Tonight it only looked drab. She went through the garden up to the front doors and looked around for any guards. There was none in sight. Not a single goblin to be seen. She cast a glance over at the library glass walls, but no light stole out from there. No lights were visible on the second floor either. Yet, she knew that he was there, inside his castle. She entered and stood still in the great hall for some minutes, listening to the hardly audible sounds from the old building. Then she started to climb the stairs to the second landing to gain access to his chambers. No one stopped her on her way.  However, as she moved farther up she became aware of a tingling feeling all over her skin, as if she were electrified and her heart started to beat furiously, realizing now that she wasn’t so unmoved by the event as she pretended to be after all.

She entered his rooms without knocking and asking for permission. The enormous windows facing the Labyrinth were open and the chilly night air swept over the floor. She looked around in bewilderment for a second. Then she saw him materialize in front of her, suspended in the air, on his way into the rooms from the outside through the open window.

“You could have let me know that you intended to pay me a visit,” he said when he had landed, “so that I could have prepared a more lavish welcome. Something befitting a Queen.”

She could sense that he was very cautious, trying to interpret her mood and possibly divine the reason for her coming to see him. She went up to him and circled him slowly, the way he had sometimes done with her in the past. Then she looked him over calmly.

“I didn’t want any lavish welcomes,” she retorted, “it’s fine this way.”

“And so much to prefer over chance meetings in elevators,” she added.

He quickly looked up and she saw that he was instantly on his guard, evaluating the situation, guessing that she was on a warpath. His eyes narrowed and a sinister smile curved his beautiful mouth. ‘Ah, you’re seeking confrontation, are you?” the look in his eyes told her.

“How invigorating!” he said aloud and laughed low, a sexy sound deep in his throat.

She blushed and bit her teeth together and tried to remain calm. After all, she had started out so well.

She took a tour around the room in silence. He stood still, waiting for her to finish or launch the next attack, yet following her every movement with his eyes. At last she came to a full stop just in front of him. She looked into his eyes without flinching.

“Are you happy here?” she asked. She saw that he was somewhat taken aback by the question, not expecting that.

“Happiness is such a relative emotion. I don’t measure my life in feelings,” he answered.

“But you must know at least if you like it here or not?” she insisted. A small frown creased his forehead and she observed that she had gained a point and that it unsettled him that she was pursuing this line of questioning.

“Like or dislike,” he said, “I don’t put these values to my being in this place.”

“You’re lying,” she answered simply.

“Why should my welfare all of a sudden be so important to you that you have to come here in the middle of the night to ask me that?” he challenged her from another angle.

“Because I’ve reached a point when it is necessary for me to know who you really are,” she replied and locked his gaze into hers.

“You have taken my body, and you have taken my soul, and you have invaded every aspect of my life. And I don’t know if you are out to destroy me or to save me, and if so, save me for what?”

Her voice had started to tremble both from anger and tears. She didn’t know how long she would be able to stand her grounds. The mockery had gone from his face and he looked at her with an icy fierceness that she couldn’t interpret. It could be both love and hate gleaming with fury in his mismatched eyes.

“You have no right to demand explanations or question my judgments,” he exclaimed. “Don’t forget that I own you!”

“No!” she broke off. “You don’t! You just THINK that you do!”

He made an involuntary charge for her, and she heard a sound from him reminding her of the low growl from a large animal.

“Yes,” she cried, tears now streaming down her face, “hit me if you like if that makes you feel any better!” and she hid her face in her hands.

She stood alone for what seemed ages, wrapped up in her pain and tears before she felt him move in towards her and take her into his arms. She sensed him draw a deep trembling breath. Then he tightened his grip around her with an almost suffocating violence. She trembled in his arms and heard his faint moaning above her head. Neither had uttered a word.

At long last he brought his hand to her chin, lifting her head, forcing her to look at him. His brows were knitted, and he had bared his teeth in a grimace of pain. He kept searching her face for some kind of answer. Tears still wetted her cheeks and with infinite tenderness and the lightest of touches he kissed them away. Exhausted and spent she rested against his chest and wondered again and again why it was so hard to live with him, why it wasn’t enough to just love him, why they constantly had to hurt each other so much.

He lifted her head again; this time to kiss her and his trembling hunger almost scared her. His lips were brutal and he forced her mouth open with his teeth, biting her, sucking her tongue, licking her all over her face. Then he started to tear at her clothes and remove them with feverish haste. When she was naked he lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bed. He fell with her, still in his arms, down on the pillows and covered her with his body. She untangled her arms and legs and wrapped them around him, pressing his body so close to hers that the buttons in his thin silk shirt bruised her breasts. She tugged at his shirt and the belt in his trousers and he let go of her and rolled on his back, letting her undress him.

Then she lay down on top of him and slid down his body, burying his raging erection between her breasts, grinding herself into him, feeling him jerk with her every movement. He threw his head back and convulsed, letting himself go with total abandon, letting his seed flow all over her body. Not a sound came over his lips during the whole act.

After a while, she sat up in the bed beside him and expectantly caressed his thighs. He opened his eyes and looked at her. He took her hand and guided it towards his still swollen member and she fondled it lightly, letting it grow again in her hand. They still remained silent as if words could only be harsh and hurting, and they could only express their love for each other in actions. He took her to the shower and cleaned her up, letting his soapy hands dance over her body, finding every spot that made her weak with yearning for him. When she could take it no longer she dragged him down with her on the floor and urged him to enter her swiftly and hard. She wrapped her legs around him and pressed her hands to the small of his back, keeping him there, wanting to swallow all of him, not getting enough of him, milking his throbbing erection into giving her the lasts drops of him, wailing high when she finally came, the only sound that broke the silence.

Later, in the hour of the wolves, between night and dawn, she woke up and sat up beside him in the bed. The faint moonlight from the windows enabled her to look at him closely. He seemed to be asleep, but with Jareth you never knew for sure. She let her hand rest on his back and marveled at the smooth, dry and warm feeling of his skin.

“Come and live your life with me,” she whispered. “You once asked me that question and I dared to try at least. Now it is my time to ask. And let go of them. Let them go and find their own peace and freedom. Don’t you think that Conaill and Anna have suffered enough for the crime of loving each other and having invaded your space in the course of that action? If you do, you will find freedom yourself. The Goblin King lives in a palace that is a sham. He has ugly companions in the form of small, mean trolls. What can these horrible creatures enrich your life with? What do you gain by total and endless control? Does that make you happy? Does that give quality to your life? Leave this horrible place and come and live with me. There you will be Jareth the Magic Being. Because you will not lose your magic in my company. That will always be part of you.”

He hadn’t moved while she was talking, and he still seemed to be sleeping deeply. Yet, she felt it in her bones that he had heard her message and understood it.

She quietly slipped out of the bed, dressed hurriedly and left the castle without looking back. When she reached her home she went out on the balcony to look at the rising sun and she stayed out there all morning listening to her beating heart. Her whole life, her whole existence, her whole reason for being was at stake now. She had entered it all in the gamble. Now she could only wait.

********************

For Sarah the next few days were like living in limbo. There was no past, no future, nothing to wish for, nothing to long for. Only the now existed and now was an agony of waiting. She went to work, she was extremely pleasant to each and everyone around, answered courteously any questions and tried to help in every possible way, but she wasn’t there. Her friends called and took her out to dinner. She laughed and praised the food and ate with good appetite, but she wasn’t there. Those very close to her, like Toby, started to become worried. Toby called several times and only got strange stereotype conversation out of her. She just wasn’t there.

This agony ended abruptly a Sunday afternoon when she was on her way home. Already from afar she spotted the huge Harley Davidson parked outside her house. Her heart took a leap, and she wondered in alarm what Conaill was doing there. She hadn’t seen him since the fatal night. When she came closer she saw that he wasn’t alone. Anna was there with him! And Sarah started to run. She was out of breath when she arrived, and she was given no opportunity to say a word because Anna threw herself into her arms and laughed and cried at the same time.

“I can’t believe it,” Sarah gasped at last. “It’s true then?”

Anna only nodded and continued to hug Sarah. At last Conaill rose from the bike and went up to them. He gently detached Anna from Sarah and steadied her. Then he also went up to Sarah and took her into his arms. Sarah smiled and felt his warmth envelop her. He was indeed irresistible, and again she felt how powerful his charm was.

“I love you,” he said, “I love you for what you have done and I always will. Whatever you might ask of me. I’ll do it for you.”

He bent down over her and kissed her fully on the mouth. Anna protested but it was laughter in her voice. Finally, Conaill let go of her. Sarah looked at the two of them and she noticed that Anna no longer carried the dilapidated bracelet. It could be true then that Jareth had set her free.

“What will you do now?” Sarah asked.

“We don’t know yet,” Anna replied. “First of all, we will go down to New Orleans and attend to Celia. I think she is in a bad condition and we need to talk. Then we’ll see. But don’t worry. We will keep you posted.”

Then they mounted the bike and waved to her and Sarah saluted them. She could hardly see them now for tears, blurring her vision. She looked for them as long as possible. They mingled in the traffic, and soon they were gone.

When she entered her apartment, she half expected to see Jareth there, but the rooms were empty. In her bedroom another surprise awaited her. As soon as she entered, she observed that the objects on her night table had been moved. The box where she had kept the bejeweled clamp was empty. She stood for a long time looking at it without moving. So, he had listened after all. It looked as if he had set them all free after all. Yet, he hadn’t come and the agonizing waiting wasn’t over yet. That night she couldn’t keep the emotions away. Shaking from the experience she cried most of the time until she fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion.

********************

When Sarah thought that she was at the end of her tether the knots untied at last. She had gone to the cinema to distract herself a little. When she returned home late at night she found the lights in the hall burning. Her heart skipped a beat, and she stole into the living room. Almost instantly she saw him standing by the open balcony door, looking out over the city, his back turned towards her. She couldn’t speak and she didn’t dare to move. He was dressed in a soft Irish wool sweater, made of finest material and with the most intricate pattern, and a pair of supple black leather pants. He was barefoot.

Finally, she could tell that he was becoming aware of her presence. Yet, he didn’t turn until she called out his name softly.

“Jareth?” she whispered almost inaudibly. She noticed then in a flash that he was so tense that he made her think of a coil spring under pressure. At long last he turned around and faced her. She felt then as if she were in the presence of a wild, proud and scared animal. She knew she must act with the utmost caution so as not to scare him away, and her heart went out to him. Being here meant being on unknown territory. That much she knew. Very slowly she started to approach him.

“Let me touch you,” she said and reached out her hand towards him.

He didn’t move but he didn’t recoil, and finally she was standing close to him. She put both her hands on his chest, and he let her do it. Then she put both her arms around him and hugged him close to her. He closed his eyes, and she could see how weary he was.

“We needn’t talk just right now,” she whispered in his ear. “That can wait until later. Come to the kitchen with me and let’s have something to eat.”

He followed her without any comments and obediently sat in the chair she pulled out for him. She took some wine and bread from the refrigerator and sat on the table in front of him. He took a sip from his glass and put it away again. Her heart was beating so hard now that she thought that he must hear it. He drew the chair closer to the table and suddenly he gathered his arms around her waist, moved in between her legs and pulled her body close to him. Then he lay his head down in her lap and there he stayed with his eyes closed. Sarah didn’t know for how long they sat there.

At last she gently nudged him; directing him to stand up and she took him by the hand and went to the bedroom. There she undressed both of them and took him to bed. He gathered her in his arms again and fell instantly asleep with his head on her shoulder.

Next morning when she woke up, he was gone.

********************

That he had left again didn’t alarm Sarah. She knew and understood that whatever ordeal he had to go through, he had to do it on his own. She was quite confident that she would see him again soon.

And she wasn’t mistaken.

About a week later, she woke up one morning and heard that someone was in the flat with her. She sat up in the bed with a beating heart, wondering if Jareth had come back or if she were prey to an intruder. Soundlessly she slipped out of the bed and tiptoed out into the living room but it was empty. She heard someone moving around again and realized that the noises came from the kitchen. Slowly she crept over to the kitchen door, and there she stopped in her tracks. A jolt of fear shook her because she didn’t recognize the stranger, casually picking at her cherries in the fruit bowl with his back turned towards her. However, after the initial fear and when she realized that she had seen some of his clothes before — the leather pants and the wool sweater – she felt confusion instead. The stranger was carrying Jareth’s clothes, but he also had a tweed jacket carelessly thrown over his shoulders, and he had a hat pulled deep down over his forehead. And his hair was short! She looked mesmerized at the thin slender neck as if she had never seen it before and a terrible yearning to touch it overcame her and made her tremble and weak. When she grabbed hold of the door to steady herself, he quickly turned around. She saw his smiling mouth with its pointed teeth and she knew that Jareth was standing in front of her even before he pushed the hat back from his face and looked at her with eyes full of glee and mockery.

“You’ve cut your hair,” was the only thing she found to say and forgot to close her mouth.

He laughed and went up to her, put a finger under her chin and seized the opportunity to kiss her still open mouth, lightly and teasingly. She inhaled his scent and shivered.

“Talk to me!” she said with growing desperation and took hold of his arms. “You haven’t talked to me since the night I came to the castle!”

“I love you,” he said. “Is there anything else that you need to know?”

“Oh, DO be serious!” she replied with impatience.

“I AM serious,” he countered. “I’ve never been more serious in my life.”

He threw his arms around her and held her tightly, almost painfully, close to his body. She buried her face by his neck and listened to his heartbeats. Then she felt all strength drain away from her, tension snapping at last, and hadn’t he held on to her she would have slumped to the floor. He felt her stagger and quickly lifted her. Then he slowly carried her to the sofa in the living room and put her down carefully.

“What am I to do with you?” he asked, caressing her face.

“Stay with me!” she called out in anguish and started crying.

“Shhhh. . .” he whispered. “I AM here. I can’t come any closer than this.”

But I want you to stay,” she continued stubbornly, tears streaming down her face. “Don’t leave me, just don’t leave me.”

“Shhhh. . .” he said again and wiped her tears away. “Last time it was you who left, remember?” he added softly. “You have to believe in me, in us, if this is going to work. I can’t promise that I can change overnight. And you are not the easiest person to get along with either.”

He smiled teasingly at her and stroked a finger over her nose. She eventually stopped crying, but she was too exhausted to move. He removed his hat and jacket and slid down in the sofa beside her, pulling up the sweater over his chest, letting her come in contact with his warm skin and there they lay for several hours, sometimes sleeping, sometimes in companionable silence.

********************

In the evening when they finally got hungry, Sarah took Jareth to the local neighborhood restaurant, an Italian place with delicious food. Ever since her visit to Italy, Sarah had loved the Italian kitchen. This was also a modest and quiet place. She knew almost every guest in there since they were regular customers like herself. Usually she was on her own, so more than one eyebrow rose inquisitively when she entered with Jareth in her tow, and she could see that they wondered. Her favorite waitress even whispered to her asking where she had secured this gorgeous catch! It amused her immensely.

After dinner and when they still had a bottle of Chianti to kill, he started telling her how he had gone on a visit to Ireland.

“I wanted to know what had happened to Mother, to Eavan,” he said.

“But surely it must have been possible for you to obtain that information before?” Sarah asked in surprise.

“No,” he replied, “that was one of her conditions when leaving. That no one from the Underground ever would be able to search for her or find her. So, I wasn’t free to go there until now. The Elders, whom I talked to, told me that she had died many years ago and that this was her own choice. When chaos finally hit her, she had lived for many years with remorse and guilt over having destroyed Conaill’s life and their life together and she lost her will to live.”

He fell silent and Sarah tentatively touched his slender hand on the table.

“I’m so sorry for you,” she said quietly. “I can well understand that you hoped to meet her and considering that Conaill is alive and well, it wasn’t an unreasonable wish.”

When he remained silent she added, “That means that Conaill is free to marry Anna should he want to. Do you intend to tell him so?”

His face became dark and hard for an instance and his eyes took on an icy gleam. For a fleeting moment Sarah felt a sensation of alarm. The subject of Conaill and Anna was evidently still too raw to approach. Jareth looked away.

“I’ll leave it to you to tell them,” he remarked, making her aware of that he knew of their last meeting and the promise to keep in contact.

Sarah wisely refrained from answering.

********************

When they returned to the flat it was already late night. Somehow Sarah didn’t want to turn on the light in the hall. She remained standing in the semidarkness and stretched out her hand and touched Jareth. He was on his way into the living room but stopped in his tracks and turned to her.

“There are things that I just have to ask you,” she murmured.

She talked so low that he had to approach her and ask her to repeat herself. Then he smiled. She could only see his mouth in the faint light that stole out from the kitchen.

“Ask away.” She could hear the amusement in his voice.

This made her feel even more ill at ease, but she had brooded over her questions the whole evening and she knew she had to ask him eventually.

“You must realize that I by now have heard most of Anna’s story and one thing that I cannot understand is why you accepted that she put a spell on you, a curse involving your meeting with me. Why did you?” she asked.

He sighed. “I was young and arrogant. I thought that her magic wasn’t strong enough to harm me. And then, I must admit it, I was not a little curious to know what she was talking about. She had mentioned feelings and sensations that I knew nothing of, and I thought that I perhaps had something to learn. Then I met you, and not until that moment did the whole width of what she had inflicted on me became clear.”

“It sounds as if you are talking about some kind of disease,” Sarah protested with her usual flare of temperament.

He laughed and shook his head. “Well, that’s a rather apt description, if you don’t mind. Furthermore it’s incurable.”

“Oh, STOP teasing me!” she cried out and lifted her hands in the air as if she intended to hit him. He took hold of her and secured her against his chest.

“Calm down,” he grinned at her. “What shall we do with this temper of yours? Well, you’ve got an answer at least. Satisfied?”

“I suppose I will not get a better one,” she murmured.

“Then I wondered about the Underground,” she continued tentatively. “What has happened to the place, is there anything left of it?”

He was silent for a long while this time.

“I’m not going to tell anything about that matter.”

She didn’t see his face but heard how serious his voice had become all at once.

“I will eventually,” he continued, “but not just right now. The less you know about it, the better it is.”

Again Sarah felt the fleeting feeling of danger, as if she had suddenly observed a bottomless hole on the ground, close to her feet. Everything wasn’t such an idyll as she would have hope for or pretended it to be. She knew then that this wasn’t going to be easy; that she needed all her courage, all her willpower and all her patience to make Jareth stay in her life.

“Do you intend to live here with me,” she asked finally and now her voice trembled.

“Would you want me to?” he countered and in his question there was the indication of danger again. What he meant was ‘Do you dare?’

“Yes!” she whispered fiercely.

“Well, I had intended to,” he said lightly.

She exhaled very slowly and tried to stop shivering.

“That is of course if you will put up with me coming and going for a while in the beginning. There are such an immense amount of things that I have to do first. I have properties and business all over the world and I have to consolidate that ‘empire’ to start with.”

His tone was still very light and slightly bantering, but she heard his weariness beneath it. She put her arms around him and drew him close to her.

“I’ll give you a key then,” she whispered smiling. “You’ll better start learning how to use one.”

Then she wanted him to go to bed with her, and she took him by the hand, but he gently disengaged himself and told her that he would follow in just a minute. Sarah felt turned down somehow and lost her confidence. She tried bravely not to show this to him and quickly disappeared into the bedroom, not stopping to find out where he went. She sat on the bed and huddled. ‘What if he can’t come to terms with life here with me?’ she asked herself in anguish. ‘What if he will find it unbearable, even if he likes to be with me?’ Again she recognized that there was an immense struggle ahead of her, should she make a success out of this. ‘Would she stand for it?’ That was also a question to consider. She fought against her desperation and disappointment and the tears that threatened to well up into her eyes. ‘I just can’t cry over everything,’ she tried to admonish herself. ‘Then I would do nothing else.’

She fell into a listless sleep at last. The stress of the day taking its toll, and she didn’t know how long she had been sleeping when she felt him slip into the bed behind her. His long slender fingers felt warm to the touch when he put his hands around her shoulders and pulled her close to his body. Then he removed her night gown in one single fluid movement and cried out softly when her naked skin came into contact with his. He was already very hard, and he pressed his erection into her lower back. She gasped as she felt a surge of power, almost like electric lightning, travel her veins. She stirred and wanted to turn around, but he wouldn’t let her. His hands were busy exploring her as if her body was unknown to him, and he would have to find every secret it harbored. He turned her around in his arm eventually and he gently held her head in both his hands, scrutinizing her face as if that were new to him too. He spread his lips slightly and extended his tongue, using it to rub lightly across her lips and in between them. She opened her lips a little, allowing the tip of his tongue to enter her mouth, almost cautiously and ever so lightly.

She could feel the urgency of his movements now. His erection grew huge against her belly. She could feel it throbbing against her, begging to thrust into her. He slowly moved his hands towards her sex, his fingers delicately opening her lips, searching for the wetness. He moaned quietly, his head falling against her shoulder as he fingered her; his fingers now dripping wet as he found what he was searching for.

He moved his body over hers then, letting his stiffness brush between her legs and he started to kiss her as he slowly entered her. She moaned into his kiss as she gave away to the pressure, to the sensation of his sliding within her, filling her up. He found an unhurried rhythm, sweet and relentless at the same time and she caught on, lulled by the warmth he had wrapped over her with his body. This was a closeness she had never known, the slow graceful dance of two bodies, working each other into a need never felt before.

Sensitive to the beating pulsing waves within her, heralding her orgasm, he adjusted his rhythm to her as if it were vital to him to come together with her this time. At the moment when she threw her head back, opening her mouth in a high cry and contracted in a deep heavy throb around him, enough to send him over the edge, he buried his face against her neck, holding on to her like someone drowning, pushing as far inside her as he could, releasing his hot, sweet fluid there.

As he sank down over her body coming to blissful rest with his head against her breasts, she encircled her arms around him, wildly, primitively protective. He looked up at her with unfathomable eyes, and she was again reminded of that she had agreed to take a stranger into her care, for the moment cajoled into surrender, content with lovemaking. He was here on his own terms, but she was determined to make him stay. He was the only thing she had ever wanted out of life, and she wasn’t going to let him go this time.

Later, when he slept, she slipped out of the bed and went up to the balcony door that was open onto the night sky.

“I want your child!” she whispered exultantly. “I’m ready to bear your children!”

********************

To be continued in "PARADISE LOST"

Chapter Text

PARADISE LOST

– Mutual Betrayal –

 

Dedication

I dedicate this chapter to KBates. She may not read it. Moreover, if she will do so, she may not even like it. That is however not the issue here. Without her, this whole construction of a story would have remained in its Sleeping-Beauty-hibernation comfortably buried under a huge layer of dust. Through her intervention, I got the motivation to finish the story finally. This time I know how it will end and this time I will not consider any other options but my own.

 

********************************

 

Black and white, dark and light, yin and yang – they are said to complement each other all through the universe. Black holes swallowing our galaxies and stars with an incredible force and speed and turning matter into anti-matter have just been discovered out there in space. Then there is the Underground versus the Above. One can’t exist without the other it seems. One is the mirror of the other, and if one is missing the other must perish.

This Sarah found out when trying to change these vital, delicate and unseen balances.

When she had time to reflect on the issue later, she reproached herself for putting too much confidence in her own importance. Perhaps it was so that she had been told one time too many that she was the one with the Power and consequently all and everyone must have to conform in the end. It was a bitter awakening though.

At first, she only fleetingly noticed that Jareth was so unpredictable. He was away for hours on end, and when she met him again he had no good explanation for his whereabouts or rather – to be precise – he didn’t want to account for them. He had said that he had a lot of things to attend to, and if she pressed for details he either ignored her or with some edge to the voice, declared that he wasn’t used to having to account for each and every second of his life. It was Sarah’s firm belief that all these Jareth’s different reactions were due to the fact that he was living outside his normal sphere and surroundings. She also tried to remind herself of that it was all a “test” – that he had agreed only to “try out” her way of living. In spite of everything, she was truly confident that her love would help him to find his place in his new environment with the ease with which he had coped with everything so far. After all, he had been the omnipotent King of the Underground and as such, no situation would be unknown to him.

The first sign that alarmed her in a deeper sense was the absence of personal belongings in his wardrobe and drawers. It can be argued that she had no business invading his personal sphere in the first place. All the same, one day when she felt like doing a bit of house cleaning and washing up – yes – perhaps playing the “good housewife," she later admitted to – she went to look for shirts and other clothes to add to her own in the washing machine. She found however only an overcoat in his wardrobe and two unopened new packets of shirts in one of the drawers. Nothing else.

Late that night she met him in an Italian diner at the corner of their street. It was an appointment they had agreed on – she had been working all day in the theater and he was to come back from a trip abroad that had lasted two days. He sauntered in half an hour after her own arrival; the hat dipping deep over his face, which remained in the shadows, and hands thrust deep into his pockets. She smiled what she thought was a radiant smile and was therefore a bit put off when he asked

“What is the matter? Bad news?”

Her mood fell rapidly, and she couldn’t find anything proper to answer.

“No, no! Everything is all right. What should be the matter?”

“I’m the one asking," he retorted patiently as if talking to a child.

She turned her gaze down, and she felt utterly confused and disconcerted all of a sudden.

“But tell me," he insisted, “something must clearly be the matter, you look as if you have just buried a near relative. I’d much rather you told me, you know.”

Luckily, a waiter just approached their table and she grabbed for the opportunity to order wine and get a moment’s respite to gather her wits about her again. Then she noticed that he had brought no luggage – and yet he said that he had been on a trip for two days.

“I see, you wonder about my suitcase” he said calmly, and she blushed as always when reminded of that he could read her thoughts at leisure – still.

“I didn’t want to carry it around here, so I sent the driver up to the flat with it," he said lightly. Then he laughed softly.

“Why on earth this intense interest in my luggage? Is that’s all you worry about? I doubt that.”

“No," she admitted at last. “It’s not the only thing. I was to wash a couple of things this afternoon and then I found out that you have nothing in your wardrobe or drawers..."

Her voice trailed off. He shoved the hat back from his face at last and confronted her, looking calmly at her with interest in his eyes.

“Let’s say I’m not one for having many things at any place. Why fill up the drawers? If I need something, I can still procure it in my own way. It’s just a bother – all these things that humans surround themselves with.”

Yet, his answer and explanation didn’t calm her or satisfy her curiosity, and he hadn’t commented on the fact that she had been through his private things without asking permission.

Later that night, he stayed in the library when she approached to say that she was going to bed. He seemed absent-minded and she had to ask him twice if he wouldn’t join her.

“You go,” he said, “I have some things to attend to, don’t wait up for me.”

The distance in his voice hit her like a cold slap. She was so taken aback by his refusal that she couldn’t even find a reply. What was the matter? What had happened? Something had happened during the two days he had been away and NOW he didn’t want to tell her about it! She lay staring at the ceiling in the huge bed they shared, thoughts roaming in her head like scared butterflies. An hour later he came into the bedroom. She felt the bed sway lightly under his weight. He didn’t move towards her though and he didn’t stretch out a hand to touch her. Long after he had fallen asleep, hearing his even breathing at her side, did she lay wide awake, staring out into the dark with burning eyes.

**********

Sarah realized after a while that she stopped asking awkward questions. Sometimes they were on the tip of her tongue but the moment she was on the verge on confronting him, she mentally stopped and kept the question to herself. It was as if she didn’t want to know; dreaded the knowledge and what would be behind it all. Jareth was his sunny best at this period; full of fun and inventiveness. He really went out of his way to surprise her, make her feel wanted and showered attention over her. It was just these odd moments when she caught him unawares and saw the laughter and light fade from his eyes. His gaze became distant, and he wasn’t there. He was far, far away, somewhere where he didn’t allow her to follow him. These moments scared her, and yet she couldn’t bring herself to ask him about them.

One evening, Sarah was alone in the flat, preparing to go to the theater. She always watched the show a couple of times in the beginning after its official opening. She wanted to see if all the moments and details in the stage-set worked the way it was intended. Jareth had gone alone to watch the Marinsky Theater’s guest performance of the Swan Lake. He said that it was an occasion not to be missed. He remembered vividly when seeing one of the first performances of this ballet in Moscow, a long time ago. He was interested in seeing what changes it had undergone, he said. Sarah fidgeted at her dressing table. She would very much have loved to see the Swan Lake too, and she was contemplating whether to skip her own show tonight and join him by surprise. She might not get a seat beside him, but there was always a seat for her in any of New York’s theaters. That was the way it worked everywhere. In her own theater, there was always a box kept for fellow guests. It would be fun to surprise him. She started to put on makeup. She needed so little in fact. Her features were still quite flawless and the quality of her skin like pale porcelain. She would just add a touchup to the eye shadow and lashes and the contours of the lips. She closed her eyes for a little while, resting them, taking the opportunity to think of what dress to choose for the occasion; one that would go well in a formal setting such as a classical Russian ballet. Then, all of a sudden she felt a cold draft around her shoulders and she shuddered instinctively and opened up her eyes in alarm and alert. For a fleeting second then, she thought that she saw Jareth in the mirror! And it was the old image! It was Jareth with long, wild, white unruly hair and Jareth in tight, black garments, softly glimmering with diamond dusts. He was almost transparent, the focus centered on his somberly burning eyes that bore into her with dark passion. She missed a heartbeat and turned around in a flash, but Jareth certainly wasn’t there. The room was totally empty. She started shivering uncontrollably. Her hands went icy cold and cold sweat broke out all over her. Even if wave after wave of nausea washed over her, she couldn’t rise from the chair just yet. When she finally managed to do so, she stumbled out into the light and warm kitchen to get a drink of water. She also took a small whisky to steady the nerves. Why?! What was happening to her? Was it her own mind that played tricks on her? Or was it Jareth…the unpredictable one. But if so? What was he up to?

Sarah threw herself over the telephone to call her theater. Once connected, she told the woman in the ticket counter to convey the message that she wouldn’t come tonight. She pleaded illness and hastily rang off. Then she ran into the bedroom and rummaged through the wardrobe, snatching the first dress that looked reasonably fitting. There was no time to waste now. It was a matter of quickly getting to the New York City Ballet in Lincoln Center where the performance was taking place. She felt absolutely compelled to find out whether Jareth was there or not.

But he was there. Sarah remembered Jareth telling her of getting a ticket in one of the boxes on the first row to the left. She arrived at the Ballet Center in time for the first intermission. Through one of the doors on the ground floor, she could easily locate him. Tonight, and as far as she could see, he was the Jareth she had become costumed to since he had come to live with her, a smart, well-dressed and beautiful man with nothing in either his looks or appearance to be associated with foreign and sinister origins. He was all dressed in black – that might be the only detail to be noted – even his silk shirt for the evening was black with small diamond buttons to adorn it. She ran upstairs to catch him before he went out into the lounge, and she met him – breathless – in the door. He looked at her with pleasant surprise and there was nothing in his demeanor to suggest that it didn’t suit him to see her there without previous notice.

“Why now!” he exclaimed with laughter hidden in his voice. “And I thought you were toiling away with your setup downtown. To what do I owe this infinite pleasure?”

She couldn’t tell him this of course. She could not tell of seeing him as the King again in her mirror.  As the evening bore on and she let herself be enchanted by the exquisite performance of the dancers, she became more and more convinced of that her brain had played her a trick.

**********

The incident with the mirror faded slowly but steadily from Sarah’s mind. For a time she looked searchingly both at Jareth, the mirror in her dressing room and for any sign that suggested that there were abnormal things going on in her surroundings. Her vigil became less and less apprehensive. It therefore caught her totally unawares when he suddenly disappeared from the flat without a trace.

When Sarah woke up one morning, Jareth just wasn’t there, and not only so – he had come and gone for many times and with an absence that lasted several days – however, this time there was nothing left of him in the flat. This time the wardrobe and the drawers were really empty, and no little detail suggesting that another person but herself occupied the flat was to be seen. This time she panicked. She ran around the flat in a delirium, opening and shutting doors, pulling at empty drawers and calling out his name, crying and screaming. In the end she had exhausted herself and sank trembling down on a chair in the kitchen. What would she do? Call the police?  ‘My fiancé, who isn’t a real human being, has just disappeared, could you help me find him?’ They would take her away and lock her up some place from where she would never emerge again. She clasped her hands as if thus forcing herself to take a grip on the situation and impose her will on it. The question was if there were any means by which she could find out what had happened, or if she would have to sit around and wait until he, or anyone he sent along, would take pity on her and give her some information. She deducted that somehow or other the Underground – the sinister black Underground – was involved in this. Where would he go but there? The question was why.

The feeling of that there were certain things she could do on her own, kept Sarah from losing her mind. She took out pens and papers and started to jot down all the different means, tricks and details she had used in the past to get into contact with the Underground. She remembered the places around the city where she had located the unobtrusive doors to the other reality. She recalled the things she had had to say and perform in order to obtain a direct link to the minds on the Other Side, and – yes – she thought about Anna and Conaill, the two people she knew who emanated from this dark realm but could walk the earth just as she could. If anything else failed, she would have to try to get into contact with them.

**********

However, before Sarah could put her intentions into action, something new happened that threw her deeper into despair.

Later that morning when she had calmed herself enough to form an idea of what needed to be done, she realized that she had to eat before she fainted of hunger and that she needed to get dressed if she intended to go out into the city. The mere thought of just sitting unoccupied in the flat, felt for the moment to be the worst choice of all. So, she went out into the kitchen to get some coffee and a piece of bread. Absent-mindedly, she switched on the radio as she always did in the morning to catch the latest news and weather before starting the day. There was a news-report of sorts going on she noted at the back of her mind while routinely busying herself with what to eat and drink. It seemed to be some sort of “breaking-news" and certainly not the ordinary news-report which was broadcasted every full hour. Then, without consciously being aware of it, she started to pay attention more intently to what was said. She heard the reporter talking of the happenings “in the park.” When he turned to what was evidently a bystander he asked if anyone had seen traces of the children who had disappeared from the playing-ground in a matter of just ten minutes. There was a heated discussion going on. They all talked at the same time, but Sarah got the details, little by little. When she stood there in the kitchen, frozen to the floor, she saw the incident unfold before her inner eye. She envisaged the two mothers who met daily in this place; how they shared the vigil over their children and how this special day, they had been distracted by an old man who had seemed to be in distress and had needed water and help. They had thought that he was ill or hurt, and for a moment their attention was focused on him instead of the children. One of them had run to get some water, and the other had occupied herself with the mobile phone to get hold of an ambulance. It concerned only ten minutes. The high screaming and crying of a child made them switch focus again, only to find that two of the three children were gone. The one left behind sat on the ground in total distress and nothing coherent was to be gotten out of the little boy but broken sentences concerning “the little, ugly man.” Of the old man, the one who had caught their attention and made them forget about the children in the first place, there was at this point not a trace to be found.

The reporter talked at this stage with the police officer in charge. The Police had immediately started a thorough search in the park and closed several gates out of it. Everyone assumed that it was the joint action of a gang of kidnappers. Several parents said that they would never take their children to the park again and demanded better protection. It was a very heated discussion and the accusations for keeping bad watch and not putting enough personnel on patrol, hailed down over the authorities. Yet, Sarah had stopped listening. She didn’t need to follow the broadcast any longer. For her there was only one explanation, and it glared her in the face and burned her mind with whitening pain. ‘How COULD he?? After all that had happened between the two of them, after all the vows of leading a new life and adopting new standards and morals?!’ It was incomprehensible. She started feverishly searching in her mind to remember incidents and traces of happenings that could tell her of when it might have started. She couldn’t be fully sure of the date or time, however. Some of Jareth’s actions had always been shrouded in deviance and were often meant to be so diffuse that they could be interpreted in more ways than one.

It was Sunday and more quiet than usual. No particularly large crowds were expected to show up at the theater either; at least not until shortly before the performance in the night. During daytime, however, there was no rehearsal to take place and no work in the studios. Sarah would be almost alone in the building if she went there now, and that was her plan. She remembered a little door in the attic of the building, which she had used on a previous occasion, when wanting to go to the Underground. She was convinced of that it was still there, and she had after all been endowed with this special magic: to come and go into that place by her own free will.

Sarah arrived at the theater in a fever. She was so impatient to get to the opening that would lead her to Jareth that she could hardly make herself stop by her own room to see if any mail or messages waited there. All the same, in the end she thought better of it. There might even be a message from him, but her room looked the way she had left it – a turmoil of activity and unfinished projects. She hastily closed the door on it, not wanting to engage in what waited for her in there. Instead she took the inner elevator up to the attic landing and let herself quietly into the premises. Although she believed herself to be alone up there, she tiptoed in the passages and small openings as if afraid of letting an unseen observer know of her whereabouts. Soon she entered the large vaulted room where the big props were stored. At the end of it in a corner, she could spot the unobtrusive little door supposedly leading to a small broom closet.  She approached it cautiously and tried the handle. It was easy enough to turn and the door swung open without noise and resistance. She stared unbelievingly for a full minute at the old and dusty brooms which crammed the space in the closet. There was nothing in there to suggest that the opening had once led further on into a secret pathway to another world.

Sarah felt the taste of blood in her mouth, and she slowly sank to her knees. Did this mean that she no longer had access to the Underground and Jareth? Did it mean that Jareth did not want to see her anymore and had cut her off from the possibility of reaching him through a will of her own?

Sarah had no idea of how long she sat there immobile, but at last she got to her feet trembling with pain and exhaustion now; the muscles in her legs cramped and her hands were cold with the remnants of sweat. She left the building in a daze and wandered about the streets for a couple of hours before she finally went into a café for something to drink and to rest her weary bones a bit. It was warm in there. She felt her spirits come to life again and that she was able to start to think about her situation and problems. However, she hadn’t been sitting for a long time with her coffee and sherry before she felt someone tap her lightly on the shoulder. She gave a start and turned quickly around. For a fleeting second she hoped and thought that Jareth had sought her out at last. She was utterly disappointed though. There stood a very old man in a nondescript overcoat and a battered old hat. ‘Oh, can’t the owner keep the beggars out on the streets,’ she thought with irritation. Then she discovered that he looked at her with intelligent and slightly amused eyes, and when she looked even closer she observed that he did not convey the message of being a beggar at all.

“May I sit down for a while?” he asked politely in his old and wheezing voice, and before she had time to comment on his proposal, he had already pulled out the chair and gingerly eased himself down on it.

“There is plenty of room in this bar otherwise,” she retorted cautiously. "Is there anything special you want from me?”

“You are a wise woman, my dear,” he answered seemingly without heeding her cold approach. “Yes, indeed, there are things I need to talk to you about.”

She stiffened then lightly when the rush of knowledge flooded her blood, and she knew that he came from There. Perhaps was he even sent by Jareth?

“No,” the old man smiled and creased his wrinkly face in millions of small lines, “the King has not sent me. My mission here though concerns him as well as it concerns you, my beautiful lady.”

When Sarah didn’t answer or comment on this message, he started slowly to talk. She listened intently with dread to what he had to say, and her heart sank as the implications became clear in the end.

“You see," he began. "It is neither for him nor you – nor me or even the ones who have sent me – to set the rules that govern the Universe. They are laid down by forces that are of much greater magnitude, and they encompass all that is Here and on the Other Side. The whole idea is built upon the fact, that for every exponent which we can envisage in the present Universe, there is a hidden image that is not visible to the human eye or even mind. It is few persons granted to live and see both sides – you are one of them. But that does not mean that you are then at a liberty to disregard the rules or to change them. Instead, you must realize that these rules are very rigid and that you shall be among them who will see to that they are not broken or made invalid. The whole structure of this architecture was disturbed when the King fell in love in a way the humans do – and in a human woman – you. He started then to doubt his powers and to look at things in another way. His notions of right and wrong changed in a major way.”

“Was that so wrong?” she interrupted, “It can’t but have been for the better, if he realized what the fundamental of right and wrong is?”

“Oh, the King knows the difference well,” the old man replied. “That is not the issue; he started to doubt his role. He wanted to be like you, he began to set your standards above his own and thus giving you power over him, making you the one who set the pace; the one who was in charge of the rules and had the possibility to change them. Consequently, he came to face a great conflict. Because, you see, whether you will acknowledge the fact or not, the Underground plays a very important part in the life of everyone. How else shall there be a certain way to distinguish bad from good, right from wrong and rewards from punishments?”

From that point on, Sarah’s mind started to drift into her own thoughts, and she heard only marginally what the old man said when he continued to develop his theories. Instead, she focused on the one piece of vital information which he had set before her. Jareth could not – or would not – ever be her equal. Jareth could not be a human, living on human conditions – ever. Had he thus left her for good? What was to become of them? Was there a future for two persons like them, who lived on separate sides of a fence? An endless row of questions swirled around in her head and filled her with nausea. Did he even love her still, if he had chosen to support his old role in the balance between good and evil in the Universe?

Then uproar and anger filled her.

“Is all this HIS ideas,” she turned and faced the old man, “or have YOU in some way persuaded him to make his choices? I was a girl among girls in his Labyrinth, but then something happened to change my role and I managed to step out of the maze and enter into a new phase. Perhaps that doesn’t suit you?”

She saw a small smile on his face and even compassion in his eyes. He stretched out his hand to touch her, but she didn’t want to be touched by him and recoiled in dismay. He didn’t insist but bowed slightly over the table, as his voice took on a softer quality, almost inaudible to her.

“We cannot impose our will on the King, he makes his own decisions, but as any wise ruler he listens to advice. He has sought the wisdom of the Old Council in the matter finally when it was quite clear that he was so torn apart, that it was a danger for that he would dissolve and perish. And perhaps it was high time that he did so because we could see that he had become almost transparent.”

This last remark shot through Sarah’s mind like a bolt of lightning. ‘Yes!! It was true. That was precisely the word she had been searching for; the quality she had wanted to apply to him these last weeks in her company. He had almost faded into the background. He had been unreachable in a strange sort of way. He had acted as if he wasn’t there anymore. He had not really listened to her. And finally, now, he HAD disappeared.’

“What will happen now?” she asked at last and looked at the old man in bewilderment.

“You wonder about your own role? Yes of course you do,” he filled in for her. “I cannot tell you. That is beyond me to envisage. The King has not mentioned you in so many words in our discussions. We guess then that you are vital to him in many ways still, and that the dilemma you represent is not solved yet. We guess that he will confront you sooner or later and that the outcome of this meeting is clouded for us in all its details.”

Sarah closed her eyes for a brief second to shield her pain from him. When she opened them again however, she was alone at her table. He had disappeared as quietly as he had turned up. Out of habit she looked around the room to see if she could spot the entrance he had used, but the walls were as closed to her as her own mind was at the moment.

**********

The months that passed after this encounter were like an interlude. Sarah went around in a daze and couldn’t really concentrate on anything. She went to work and tried to drown herself in it. She did overwork almost every day and answered stingily and full of irritation to the furtive questions on her health and general state of mind. Not even the colleagues, whom she trusted the most, got a coherent answer out of her. One evening, Toby came to call on her. She was greatly surprised by his visit and felt joy for the first time in months, seeing him.

“Oh Toby!” she cried. “How wonderful to see you. Why didn’t you call in advance to let me know that you intended to visit me?”

“I wanted to come unannounced,” he said, “forgive me for that, but the agitated mails, phone-calls and letters made me think that I needed to get an impression of exactly how “bad” it all is. And I didn’t want to give you the opportunity to tidy away the traces of all that is bothering you in advance.”

He now looked at her sternly and with great concern. She had placed him in her sofa in the drawing room, and now she silently eased herself down beside him. His young and handsome face looked more boyish than usual now when it held an expression of anxiety and worry.

“You know,” he continued, “they have been telling stories suggesting that you’ve got some serious illness that you won’t tell me about. We’ve never had any secrets between us. And at certain times you’ve been the only person I have had to rely on. There hasn’t been anyone but you. So, if they are right and you are ill, then I MUST know about it!”

She covered her face with her hands and shuddered lightly.

“Oh Toby,” she said again. “I’m sorry, I’m really so sorry. It’s been awfully careless and egoistic of me not think about you. You are right in a way – it is like a kind of illness, and sometimes I think I’ve got it so bad that I’ll never be cured again.”

Then she started to tell him about how Jareth had left her and the reasons why. She told him of her encounter with the old man who mostly likely was a representative from the Old Council in the Underground – the little “beastly old man” as she called him – and how he had made it clear to her that Jareth had formed his decision after taking advice from this association of old members of that world beyond.

“I don’t know if he loves me anymore,” she sobbed. “Not once since all this happened, have I felt that he has been near, and I don’t have any means any longer to go to the Underground myself. All doors are closed to me.”

Mutually, and not really discussing it in detail, they decided on taking a joint holiday. Sarah called her work and said that she needed some vacation and that she would use the leftover days from last year for this cause. Toby had come down to New York on a mid-term break, and instead of going traveling with his friends, the way he usually did when off studies, he decided to use all the time he had left to be with Sarah in her flat.  At first, Toby didn’t bring the talking back to the great present worry in Sarah’s life. He seemed relieved and happy enough over that she wasn’t prey to any bodily harm. But gradually and inevitably, the topics of conversations honed in on the center of pain and enigma.

“Couldn’t this be the best thing that happened to you?” Toby ventured over coffee in the kitchen, one morning. “I mean, this would be the grand moment for you to untie the leash. You could be free! Think of it!”

“You are so naïve,” she murmured. “Don’t you realize that I can never be totally free? He’d be a part of me forever. There isn’t a place on earth where I could hide from him, if he set his mind on finding me.”

“You have told me once that you were the one who won the victory in the Underground," Toby reminded her, “doesn’t that mean something? You came out with all trumps on your hand and had Him dance after your pipe? Wasn’t that the idea?”

“Well,” she smiled a bit at his way of summing up the situation. “This isn’t the kind of fairy-tale with a happy ending. Somewhere along the line, it became quite clear that I was no match for the terrible forces which are harbored within this person. Being in the focus of love of the King of the Underground is as gruesome an experience as being the target of his hate and intentions of destruction. You must remember that I’ve given myself to this man and in his world. This means forever. There are no divorces in the Underground. And I will be his, whether he chooses to make use of his prerogative or not. If he chooses not to, I might as well rot in hell for all he cares, you know. That is the way it works.”

Her voice broke but she didn’t start to cry. That fact remained at the back of her mind like a sort of enlightenment. ‘So, I’ve even grown too old to cry over my miseries and my failures, now,' she thought to herself. ‘Is this the way it feels to grow old and let age and time mellow all blows?  Of starting not to care any longer? Am I falling out of love?’ Somehow, this disturbed her more than anything else.

**********

This was the precise moment when Sarah made up her mind to go to New Orleans to see if she could get in contact with Anna and Conaill. If any person or persons would be able to help her, these two were the only ones.

**********

As always, it was a shock to leave cool and cold New York to step out into the warm turmoil of New Orleans. Sarah mused on that she would never quite get over the feeling of coming to another country when she entered the city by the river mouth. Perhaps it was true too; that it was another country although much was familiar on the surface. New Orleans was careful to keep its roots intact no matter which winds blew or which rulers invaded.

Since she didn’t know if Anna’s house was inhabited for the moment and if so who stayed there, Sarah got a hotel room for a couple of days. It was better not to take anything for granted. She might not want to live in the house either close to any of its occupants but would prefer to keep a certain distance, not in the least with a view to her own present situation. She felt the need to be cautious without really understanding why. However, since she had come this far already relying on her instincts, she followed them this time too.

Sarah went to the house in her second evening in the city. The little street no longer had any traffic passing through. It had been a cul-de-sac for many years already. It was as quiet as always, and the rumble of the seething city seemed all at once so far off. She remembered vividly her first visit to this place – that the feeling of being in another world was so infinitely strong here. Yes, to be in another century too. Out of time. Perhaps on the doorstep to the Underground? It should be – but was it still?

The big oak-door swung silently open to her furtive touch, and she entered the small courtyard. At the middle of the stone-paved closing, the little fountain splashed as peacefully as ever. Not another sound could be heard now. Sarah stood still for what she experienced being an eternity and just inhaled the atmosphere, attentive to any clue that might give her guidance to the knowledge whether the place was inhabited or not. Then she heard the inner door open and light footsteps approaching her.

A young mulatto girl emerged from the shadows of the lilac bushes and stopped before her.

“Madame,” she said in a low and pleasant voice, “you are expected and would you please follow me.”

“Who is expecting me?” Sarah had to ask, but the girl just smiled and motioned her to follow.

Inside the building, there was a sweet coolness and a faint smell of lavender. Again, Sarah had the powerful feeling of not being in the present century at all. The girl brought her upstairs and into a drawing room on the first landing. There by the window in a big chair, Sarah could divine the small and shriveled frame of the old woman and proprietor or the house, Celia.

Sarah tried her best in hiding her shock and alarm at seeing Celia but the other turned to her, smiled and greeted her.

“I have been expecting you since long. I know why you are here and don’t be alarmed over seeing me. My days are slowly – and I must say happily – running out. I’m not allowed to leave just yet though. It seems that my presence is needed and wanted for yet some missions. Do sit down and let me have a look at you.”

Celia pointed with a shaking hand at a chair close to her own. Sarah sank down on the chair and looked closer at Celia. There was an air of great peace over the old woman, as if nothing more could touch or trouble her. Somehow, this fact comforted Sarah more than any words would.

“Yes,” Celia said, answering the unspoken question. “I’m alone here for the time being. Anna is in the Underground for rejuvenation and tending to her own business.”

Sarah lowered her gaze for a second. ‘So, Anna is with Jareth!’ Her heart sank and she felt faint all of a sudden. She knew she couldn’t shield her emotions from the old woman, yet she turned away her gaze.

“And Conaill is in Ireland for the moment,” Celia continued. “As you know, he has interests there since long.”

“Since you know why I am here,” Sarah said at last with an effort, “you must know that Jareth has left me and that I can’t get into contact with him for the moment. I guess he is keeping away. “

Sarah started then to tell Celia of all that had happened to her in the last few months; of her exhilaration over living with Jareth on her own terms, of how he gradually had faded out of her view and his final departure. She also told Celia of her meeting with the old councilor and his explanations to Jareth’s reasons for leaving her. She ended by facing Celia, hearing herself say

“I do need desperately to get into contact with him again. If nothing else to find out if he still loves me. I need to find out what it will take for us to pick up living together again and on what terms.”

“Are you really sure of that these are you motives?” Celia inquired and peered at Sarah out of the corner of her eye. Sarah stopped in her tracks and looked disconcerted at the old woman.

“Why of course! That is the only thing in the world that I would want just right now!” she exclaimed vehemently.

“I am not so sure, as you are,” Celia smiled. “If this were your true wish, would he be out of your reach then?” she added.

Sarah fell silent and stared at the floor in utter dismay.

“Could it not be that you harbor a feeling of having lost the initiative and that you are fighting on un-equal ground? I know of the contest of power between the two of you. However much you both have loved in earnest, you have always been contesting over which one of you that shall have the initiative and the power. It has been so from the start. And yes – I know that not all of it is your doing, but that some of the prerequisites were laid out before you even entered into his world. Yet, that doesn’t count in the end, does it? What is love? Is it not giving up oneself to the loved one instead of claiming domination?”

Sarah looked at Celia in despair, for the first time facing the nature of her obsession. Because she knew that she was possessed by Jareth, on HIS terms. The way HE loved her had come to color and determine the way she loved him in return. And HE would always claim and fight for keeping the initiative and to be the one who laid down the rules.

Later that evening, when Sarah was back in her hotel room, she re-lived the moments in the old house again and again, hearing Celia’s kind and low voice telling her about the nature of her love and giving her an idea of what she was up against. Sarah had wandered around in the house and seen the rooms she had once visited, now empty and looking almost anonymous; yet at a certain moment, in the dusk of the quiet bedroom, she thought for the first time in months that she felt Jareth’s presence. Her heart missed a beat and she stood totally still for a couple of minutes, eagerly listening out into the darkness. Yet, he didn’t appear and he didn’t speak to her. Before leaving the house and when saying goodbye to Celia, she couldn’t refrain from asking at last

“He visits you, doesn’t he? You still see him?”

Celia had patted her hand, trying to comfort her.

“Yes, I see him all the time; there has never been a moment when he has ever tried to conceal himself to me, even if he has chosen to remain invisible to others.”

So, perhaps…Perhaps he had been in the house that night. Perhaps he had been in the room watching her. Sarah felt a burning chill travel her skin, not knowing whether to be afraid or to be filled with confidence at the thought.

In the bleak early hours of the morning, when sleep had eluded her all night, she arrived at a decision which had been at the back of her mind during the whole of the previous evening, but which she hadn’t really dared to confront. Knowing now that Anna was in the Underground with Jareth and most likely for some time, Conaill was on his own. He had once said to her that she was welcome to contact him should she ever encounter any trouble or problem she couldn’t solve herself. He had said that he owed her his life and his happiness. Maybe he was the only person who could bring some sense and order into the chaos that reigned within her now. He was after all part of both worlds. He belonged on both sides.

**********

The flight over to Dublin was an ordeal for anyone who hated flying as much as Sarah did. The best deal she could get was 14 hours, meaning that she would lose almost a day just in traveling. Since there were no alternatives however, she settled on the fastest and best connection she could get hold of. That meant that she would leave New Orleans that very same morning around 11.00 AM. Before leaving, she had made a frantic dash for Celia’s house yet again. She would have to know of course where in Ireland to look for Conaill, and she was certain of that Celia would have all the information she needed. When Sarah arrived at the house, it was unusually quiet and she had to knock on the heavy oak door twice before she could hear anyone stirring inside the house. The young mulatto girl who opened up for her, smiled shyly as she handed an envelope to Sarah and before Sarah had time to utter a word she said

“Miss Celia said to turn this over to you; she says it’s all you need. Miss Celia can’t see you today."

Then the girl proceeded to shut the door again, mission accomplished, and Sarah was left standing on the doorstep feeling slightly dumbfounded.  On the way out to the airport, Sarah had opened the envelope, which only contained one line of information: “Caherdaniel, County Kerry, Ireland." Later, during the flight, she had asked the stewardess for a map of Ireland and after a thorough search, she found the little place in the furthermost southwest corner of the island. It could as well be Land’s End. Outside would only be the great Atlantic Ocean. Sarah prayed silently for that it was a small place. Then she would be able to find Conaill there without having to search for him during several days.

When Sarah arrived in Dublin it was just passed noon and she felt as if she had been on her feet for two days without sleeping properly. Yet she was all elated and not inclined to heed the sensible advice that her brain tried to convey to her; to stay a day in Dublin just to rest. She felt as if her life depended on, if she could get to the goal of her journey and she couldn’t accept any delays. She hurried over to the desk for car rentals and inquired about the means of getting to Caherdaniel during the day. She was told that the trip would take her around five or six hours if she allowed herself a stop during the way – and that she would be there before the evening. Would she want a hotel reservation too?

“No,” Sarah said. “I prefer finding something when I get there. I don’t know the place and I don’t know what will suit me. Since the tourist season is over, I guess it won’t be impossible.”

So, with a map, GPS in the car and her small bag, she set off for the south of Ireland.

As Sarah left the bustling city behind and soon found herself in more peaceful surroundings, her mood started to settle too. The frantic feeling within began to subside, and she could feel the pulse getting more even and calm. The tiredness finally caught up with her. She pushed on however, still determined to go all the way today. She passed by Limerick not wanting to make a detour by going into that town but stopped just south of it in smaller place. Tea and a sandwich at the local pub refreshed her. She looked curiously around the main street at the low buildings with vivid colors, a feature that she would find later to be common to most small Irish towns. The atmosphere was peaceful and busy at the same time. There wasn’t much sun out today on this rather gloomy day in early October, but so far she had not encountered rain. She hoped she would reach Caherdaniel without running into a storm. South of Killarney she finally entered the Iveragh peninsula, and knew that it would only be a matter of an hour or so before she had reached her goal. She saw the sea for the first time, or rather the Kenmare River Bay. For the last hour of her journey she drove along the coast with the landscape rising towards the mountains to her right and the undulating coastline to the left. It was wild and beautiful to look at although the darkening sky was lead grey and low clouds started to release their burden of rain over her. At last she saw the signs pointing towards Caherdaniel, and she could now spot the town in the distance. At that moment though she was also totally spent and rather than entering the town at this point, she stopped at a nearby B&B with a view over the valley below, the town and the sea. That would indeed have to do for the night. She found that her legs were shaking when she stepped out of the car, and she had a metallic taste in the mouth. At the small reception, the lady looked sympathetically at her.

"My, oh my, I can see that you have been stressing to get here today. A bite to eat will do you good. If you want to, there is a small meal served in the morning-room, nothing fancy – you can see the door over there – leading to it.”

Sarah wasn’t sure that a whole meal would be the best presently but decided to bring along a cup of tea to her room. On the way from the desk to the stairs she passed the small bar and came face to face with a poster on the wall. AUCTION it said and continued to give information on the auction of the yearlings that was to be held traditionally at – she couldn’t pronounce the name properly – farm over the weekend, starting at 1.00 PM on both Saturday and Sunday. She read the sign over and over again her brain being a bit numb now, but slowly it dawned on her where she would find Conaill. Yes! Without a doubt, she would find him there!! Tomorrow she would ask directions how to reach this place. Tomorrow, not now. The only thing of importance now was sleep. Abundance of it. Inside the room she dropped the bags on the floor, gingerly set down the tea mug on the table by the window and fell onto the eiderdown cover of her bed and that was the last thing she remembered that night.

**********

Next day, Friday, Sarah went to take a look at the small town of Caherdaniel. It was quietly busy since it was the last day of the week, and everyone wanted to get ready for the upcoming weekend. There was no trace whatsoever of Conaill, but she hadn’t expected to find him there. Sarah was quite content with the thought that she would find him among the horses tomorrow on Saturday. She had already asked at the reception on how to get to the place in question. She was clear over that it meant heading north a bit, and near Sneem she would have to leave the main road and go to the left up on the mountain slope where she would find the big farm whose English name was evidently Clover Hill. ‘Fitting under the circumstances’, she thought.

Later that day, she went down to the sea – the real sea. She took the car and drove all the way to Lamb’s Head. The clouds were low, and the wind had whipped up foam at the top of the incoming tide. She shivered a bit in the chill and thought that she might have to investigate in something warmer if she were to be out all the next day. On the way back she bought a woolly sweater and a pair of sturdy walking boots.

**********

Sarah hadn’t expected that so much people would be at the auction, but the place was bustling. Close to the main farm building, a big tent was raised and she could hear music, laughter and a general din from that direction. A bit farther away she could see the clearing where the auction was to take place. She also spotted a fenced-in enclosure where the horses were to be displayed. As the auction hadn’t started yet she headed for the tent and before even starting to search, she spotted him at last. Conaill was a tall and lean figure and stood out in any crowd. She saw him standing in an animated conversation with two men, gesticulating with a tumbler in his hand. He was dressed in worn jeans, an old, soft leather jacket, a thick Irish sweater and a pair of supple riding boots. He wore his silvery hair tied back with a leather band in his usual manner. Sarah felt faint for a second knowing that she had reached her goal. A flood of warm blood surged through her and made her aware of her heartbeats. She started to approach him quietly, not knowing what she would say when she reached him. She didn’t have time to figure anything out because suddenly he turned around and faced her. It was as if he had felt her nearness already and reacted to it immediately.

“Why Sarah!!” he exclaimed. “What on earth are you doing here at the end of the world? Don’t tell me that you’ve come all the way just to see me?”

Conaill bared his white pointed teeth in a wolfish grin. He quickly excused himself to his company and went up to her. She was totally at a loss for words for an instance. Because it was true, of course – she HAD come all this way just to see him but she couldn’t tell him that just right now. Furthermore, she had an inkling of that he knew that it was true. He bent down towards her and brushed his lips over her cheek in a greeting, yet the mere touch of him made her shiver. As if he knew, he took a light hold of her upper arm to steady her. She knew she had to get into control again, or she would make a spectacle of herself. So she faced him and laughed.

“Conaill dear, it’s lovely to see you – and yes – I have a reason for it. But please, I don’t want to talk about it today. It seems that this place has so much fun to offer, I love to enjoy it with you.”

He smiled again and accepted her explanations as if all this were the most common thing in the world; that she would have traveled all the way from the States to see him and then refrain from disclosing why. She caught him looking at her unawares with intense eyes where the gold flickered in the grey like remnants of fire, kept at bay.

Conaill brought Sarah along to his company and introduced her.

“You have to see the horses before the auction. It’s a beautiful lot this year. There is a young filly I’m interested in. Let’s see if you are of the same opinion.” 

A man accompanied them over to the stables. Sarah later learned that he was Conaill’s stable master, Stuart O’Mara.

“I’ve stabled two horses here with the good grace of the owner,” Conaill explained. “I bought them in August over at Tralee when I took part in the races there and I mean to take all of them back with me now after this auction. There will finally be room in the stables now.”

Sarah looked at him as questions started to pile up inside her.

“Take them “back." Where is that precisely?”

His eyes narrowed into two glimmering slits, and he smiled wide again.

“Back is where home is, or rather one of the homes. I haven’t told you much about my Irish connections, have I?”

When she didn’t answer but still faced him with curious eyes, he continued

“It’s such a long story – losing itself in the myths even – I shan’t tell you today, maybe another time. However, for the moment I’m staying in the Grey Mansion up in the hills between Kenmare and Killarney. I have the big stables over there, so it has been suitable.”

Sarah looked at him, remembering well that she had been told about the horses he had always kept in Ireland, but she hadn’t known up until now that it was an ongoing business and evidently on quite some scale. Apart from that, indeed, she didn’t know much about his Irish connections save the fact that Anna had told her once that he was of Irish descent.

The strong, good, warm smell of horses greeted them when they entered the stables. Conaill sauntered with quiet steps along the boxes until he reached his destination. Sarah marveled over how quietly he could walk; it was as if he moved an inch above ground at times. His presence didn’t seem to disturb the horses either. Everything around them was calm and still.

“Here she is,” he whispered, “isn’t she a beauty?”

Sarah approached cautiously and peered into the box. Then she inhaled quickly and deeply. Yes! It was the most perfectly beautiful animal that she had ever seen. The young mare was silvery grey in a way that made her almost luminous. When Conaill stretched out his hand towards the horse, she came up to the box-door and offered him her soft muzzle without fear.

“She’s going to be mine,” he said with a low voice that all of a sudden vibrated in a way that Sarah hadn’t heard before. The sound of him made her vibrate too. She knew – the way she had known the first time she met him, ages ago now – that she wouldn’t be able to resist him, should he choose to focus his attention on her. Likewise, the filly stood quite still and let herself be caressed by him, acknowledging him as her master. “At any cost,” he added.

As was expected, it was a fierce bidding over the young mare – Clover Hill’s Sorcha. Conaill had to get into a tight contest with a man who seemed as intent on getting the filly as he was. In the end – and after the fortune he had envisaged – Sorcha was his. The proprietor of the Clover Hill Breeding was of course very happy about the high price and offered a round of champagne. It went fast to Sarah’s head, and she felt even more out of touch with reality than before. It was as if just anything could happen from now on. In the middle of the celebrations and the general turmoil in the tent, Conaill leaned close to her to make himself heard.

“Where are you staying now?” he asked.

“At a small B&B just outside and above the town. It’s quite small and convenient.”

“You will come and stay with me?” It was a question but more pronounced as a statement. Yet, there was a question in his eyes.

“Oh, I’d love to of course, if it won’t inconvenience you,” she answered.

“Good!” he concluded and turned around looking for Stuart O’Mara. When he spotted him, he raised an arm to call the attention of the other.

“Stuart, Sorcha is all yours to attend to and I’ve got a favor to ask of you. I had in mind taking the other two horses out for the afternoon before we return. The day is still early and the weather is fine and I fear that they haven’t had much of exercise due to lack of time in view of the upcoming auction. I propose that we will go for a ride during a couple of hours, and then we’ll meet here before leaving for home. Would you be kind enough to go to Miss William's pension, settle her bill and pick up her things?”

He proceeded to take out some cash from a pocket inside his jacket, before either Stuart O’Mara or Sarah had had time to open their mouths.

“That is,” Conaill continued as if not heading the protests he thought might come and as if not wanting to be interrupted, “if you” – he turned to Sarah – “don’t mind having the landlady pack up your things?”

“Ohhh..."Sarah began all confused and then, “I don’t think …. I mean, I don’t mind…. I mean…"and she looked helplessly at Conaill, who had started to chuckle now; it was a laughter that she didn’t hear at first but saw in his face and the shaking of his shoulders.

“It’s settled then!”

Sarah could hear the mirth in his voice now. She observed too that the sturdy stable master blushed under his ruddy features and flustered something inaudible before he took off as swiftly as possible so as not to be subject to any more playful chicaneries from his superior.

Sarah did know how to ride. At first, when everything was in the beginning and the world at the Other Side was all new to her, she didn’t of course, but she had had to learn to do it. If she were to follow Jareth all over the place wherever he would choose to go, riding had proved essential. Along the line, Sarah had lost her fear of horses and started to love the animals and to ride. Now, she followed Conaill with great anticipation back to the stables. She thought quickly of yesterday and the morning today; little had she anticipated that she would be out on horseback this afternoon. They went into another section this time and Conaill brought her up to the two boxes where he kept the horses he had bought in Tralee. These two were fully grown and of a lovely deep shade of brown, both of them.

“They are brother and sister from the same lot,” Conaill explained. “Lovely animals which I intend to use for breeding in fact. Will you want to take the mare?”

So it was decided and he helped her mount. He took a firm grip over her slim waist and simply lifted her up on the horse. She closed her eyes for a brief second, because she wasn’t sure of if she could stand the hard softness of his hands on her body, even if it was only for such a short time and only for lifting her up in a saddle. If he were aware of her reactions, he didn’t show it.

They descended towards the road and crossed it close to Sneem. From there it wasn’t far down to the beach. The tide was out, and mile after mile of wet sand and shrubby grass stretched out before them.

“Let’s head south a bit!” Conaill shouted in the strong wind.

Then he gave her horse a playful slap which set it in motion with a high neighing. At the same time he crouched in the saddle as if ready for a leap while he dug the heels of his boots in the horse’s sides.  They shot forward both of them, catapulted into a race, and the wind and the speed took Sarah’s breath away. She couldn’t distinguish the hammering of blood in her ears from the thundering hooves, drumming up a storm of sand behind them. They kept the pace until the horses started to lather. Then they slowed down into a more leisurely trot. Sarah’s cheeks were flushed from the ride, and she felt totally exhilarated. Conaill sat up in the saddle, sighed deeply and closed his eyes. She took the moment to look closely at him. He was very beautiful to look at. She couldn’t deny that. The skin was drawn over his prominent cheekbones and his mouth, for the moment in rest, had a weary kind of softness about it. He looked wild with his hair now loose around his head. At that moment, he turned and opened his eyes ─ the shimmering grey eyes with flecks of gold in them ─ and focused his gaze on her. He knitted his browses and searched her face for a second. It was a searing experience; he looked right into her. She had to look away and the magic of the moment evaporated as fog in sunshine. He laughed happily beside her.

“Look over there,” he said. “I think they’re having some kind of get-together down at the beach. I’m curious to know what it’s about.”

They turned towards the group in the distance, and it wasn’t long before music drifted with the wind in their direction.

Shouts of “Fàilte” greeted them and when Sarah dismounted, a beer-mug was thrust in her hand. While greeting everyone, they got to know that it was a birthday celebration and weren’t late to join in. A lively bonfire spread warmth in the wind and lamb chops were roasted on skewers in the heat. A rather motley crew of a band played happy tunes, not always to the key, but no one seemed to mind. Some couples were even dancing. Sarah kept at the outskirts of the circle and just enjoyed being there not asking to understand too much of what was happening. Conaill stood in the middle of a circle and talked animatedly about something to fascinated bystanders. He talked rapidly in Irish and Sarah couldn’t understand what he said, but she had an inkling of that he described the auction to his listeners, something they would appreciate most likely. She started to feel tired – it had been such an immense day so far – and soon she would have to tell Conaill that they must be getting back before nightfall. They mustn’t forget that there was another ride ahead of them. To the place, Conaill called home. At that moment, the band went into a softer mood and started on an old Eric Clapton tune. Sarah had heard it a couple of times, but she couldn’t recall the title presently. Conaill stood in front of her all of a sudden and he leaned down towards her.

“What are you doing here by yourself? Come and take part in the fun. I want to dance with you, this is a soft melody. We can’t go wrong with that.”

He took hold of her, not taking no for an answer. He bent his head towards hers and then she heard him sing softly in her ear

“Isn’t it a pity, isn’t it a shame? How we break each other’s hearts and cause each other pain…

It was like having a big bumblebee humming in her ear. All the commotion around her subsided and floated away in the distance, and she felt her knees give away. But it was as if he had anticipated this, because he took her in a strong grip and drew her close to his body. He was warm to the touch and she inhaled greedily all that was him, salt, horses, leather and that which was only him. Without contemplating, she let her arms steal around him under the jacket, under the thick sweater. He had nothing on beneath it, and her fingers touched his dry warm skin. She was weary and bewildered and she rested her head on his shoulder while he kept them dancing and while he still hummed soft music in her ear. He held her so close that nothing of the outline of her body would escape him. And she felt his body too, all of it, the hard muscles in his chest and thighs, his strong arms and hands that held her in a tight, yet soft grip and the warmth from his groin.

“You are very tired,” she heard him say at last. “We must get back now. Can you manage that?”

She disengaged slowly from him and nodded. They said profuse good-byes and started on the journey back. They rode in silence and rain started to fall softly.

Up at Clover Hill, Stuart O’Mara waited for them. He seemed to have all details under control. Sorcha was boxed already in a transport car. Boxes for their horses were ready and waiting for them, and O’Mara had parked her rental car beside the entrance. Sarah looked at the car a bit confused. ‘Yes, of course, she had had a car too – in that other life that ended sometime this morning.’ Conaill and O’Mara talked rapidly to each other for some minutes. Then Conaill came over to her.

“Listen, we will do it like this. Our stable crew will leave with the horses now as soon as they are ready. You and I will go in my land rover and Stuart will drive your car. I will not let you drive tonight. It isn’t long – not more than an hour – but the roads are treacherous when we come up in the hilly part.”

She did not contest him but followed obediently over to the land rover whilst O’Mara headed for her car.

The darkness fell around them as they went north along the coast towards Kenmare and Killarney. They didn’t talk and Sarah was too tired even to try. Before they reached Muckross, they left the main road and took off, up into the hills to the right. Soon they were enveloped by a rather thick forest, and Sarah had lost all sense of direction. However, before it was totally dark outside, the thicket cleared and all of a sudden the mansion came into view, partly hidden in trees and bushes. The moon had come out and shone a silvery light on the grey building. It looked like a stately home from mid 19th century with a forest of chimneys at the top, small turrets in between, trellised windows, small balconies and a big, solid oak door. Uninvited, the thought entered her mind that she could vividly feel and understand what the young storyteller in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” would have felt when she first encountered Manderley, seeing the mansion for the first time in the night.

The entrance was a large hall where the ceiling lost itself in shadows. The massive stone floor was tiled in black and white and the walls were decorated with pillars and tapestry in faded colors. Men and women came from several doors at the same time as if on a given signal. Sarah later understood that they were the servants of the house. Lights were lit and orders given on getting the sleeping chambers heated for the night. Conaill gently touched her arm.

“While the bedrooms are getting ready, come with me and have a small supper. It will be nothing fancy, but a glass of wine and just a little something will do you good.”

She wasn’t very hungry, but followed him nonetheless, not wanting to cause trouble or discussions at this moment. He was right though. The wine did her good, and she had some cold meat and bread to go with it. It seemed as if none of them really felt like talking tonight. She guessed that Conaill was tired too. His faced had turned grave, and he looked at the walls as if not really seeing them but looking at something beyond.

A woman with a lamp in her hand entered the dining room. She told in a quiet voice that the room for the lady was prepared and would she like to take possession of it? Yes, indeed, Sarah felt that she desperately needed to be alone at last after this day. She had such an immense number of impressions to sort out. She went up to Conaill and touched his shoulder. He looked up and put his hand over hers. She could have sworn that he was about to say something, but instead he just wished her a formal Good Night. She followed the servant with the lamp upstairs and into a smaller chamber, which also had a ceiling far above her head. A huge canopied bed took up the better part of the room and Sarah looked at it in wonder. ‘Where are we?’ she thought. ‘I’ve totally lost the sense of the 21st century. Am I dreaming already?’ She found her things that O’Mara had picked up from the B&B. The little bags looked so small and out of place in this room. She took the lamp from the lady who wished her a good night. The woman also told her that if she should feel cold in the morning hours, she could draw the curtains around the bed.

Finally, Sarah was alone, and she felt a major vertigo seizing her. She sat down on the bed for support and wondered what she had gotten herself into and not a word had she yet told Conaill about the true reason for coming here. It was as if this matter had sunk to the bottom of her conscience and drifted into a state of unimportance. ‘Tomorrow,’ she mused. ‘Tomorrow I’ll deal with it. He must wonder about me turning up like this without giving notice in advance.’ Then another thought hit her with full impact. She had run away from New Orleans about three days ago and not given a word of warning to Toby. He must be frantic by now, not knowing where she was. There was no immediate danger when her work was concerned. When going to New Orleans, she was still using vacation days, but she must get in touch with Toby. She brought out her mobile phone and calculated that it must be early evening in Boston by now, a good moment to call. Toby answered right away, and he didn’t seem at all upset because of not hearing from her.

“You just went to New Orleans the other day, so I didn’t expect to hear from you until after the weekend. Where did you say you are at the moment? Ireland??!”

His happy and calm but curious voice made all her fears go away instantly. Her heart stopped beating violently and her breathing became lighter. She realized that so much had happened the last few days that her sense of time and reality was slightly distorted. She told Toby that she had gone to Ireland on the spur of the moment, wanting to get away and using up her vacation. That sounded reasonable enough and she didn’t have to disclose the real reasons. After the phone call with Toby, she felt better. She went up to the old delicate washbasin that was placed in an alcove on an equally delicate table. No modern facilities here, but it didn’t so much matter. There was fresh water in the matching jar and she could wash her face at last. She went on an inspection tour of the room, finding out that her window faced a large clearing which was fenced in. She guessed that this enclosure was the place where the horses were kept in daytime. At last she stood by the door and she listened out into the silence on the other side. Not a sound could be heard that suggested that other people occupied the house, no voices, no footsteps. Vaguely, at the back of her mind and in thoughts she dared not confront, she knew that she listened for Conaill’s footsteps. All the same, she didn’t hear him outside in the corridor at all. Maybe he didn’t sleep in this part of the large building. Finally, she went to bed, totally exhausted, and she fell asleep the instance she put her head on the pillow.

**********

It was true; Sarah did feel better next morning. She went out into the corridor, trying to locate a bathroom but found none. She wondered what to do when she spotted the long cord by the door in her room. It certainly looked like one of them old things to pull to alert the servants of her need of assistance. She might as well try it. And yes! It worked! Just a couple of minutes later a young girl appeared.

“You rang, Madam?” she said.

Sarah laughed and told her about the bathroom. The girl eagerly brought her along the corridor. Through a small door which Sarah hadn’t observed they entered a part of the landing that seemed to occupy several bathrooms and wardrobes. Happily Sarah chose one and marveled in delight at the interior decorations. The theater set director woke up inside her and took notice of everything. It was a huge room to be a bathroom with a window facing a garden with beautiful flowers. A big bathtub took up the center of the floor. It stood alone there in majestic proportions, resting on lion’s feet. The washbasin over at the wall had big gold faucets and here at last was running water. The toilet was of the old-fashioned kind which came with a cord to pull to empty water into the bowl. At the opposite wall there was a shelf with a huge number of flowerpots and the flowering was abundant. She loved the room instantly and thought that she could stay there for the rest of the day. Yet, a long, nice bath finally triggered her appetite and she went in search for food.

The butler showed her to the so-called Morning room. She could smell fresh bacon and strong coffee already at a distance and she felt hungry like a wolf. When she entered, she found Conaill sitting at the table with a large cup of tea in front of him and he was quietly reading the newspapers. When he saw her he grinned and went up to greet her.

“Ready for a new day, I can see that,” he murmured.

The he left her to take her breakfast in peace and quiet. She had many questions on her tongue, but sensed that he wasn’t in a talking mood but a bit reserved this morning. She hoped intensely that he didn’t regret, taking her along to his home. Perhaps it was just so however – Sarah was quite sensitive to the issue by now – that he didn’t want her to start talking about the reason for her coming here. She had a very strong feeling of that he did what he could to avoid the subject to be brought up. She wasn’t quite clear of why it was so but accepted the fact, knowing that sooner or later he would give a signal that he was ready to listen. Most likely was the origin to his reluctance that he already knew what it was all about. Like everyone who came from the Other World, he possessed the singular capacity to read other people's minds and thoughts, a terrible power if used in the wrong way.

Sarah let the small cloud pass and went out into the sunshine because the sun was indeed shining this morning. She discovered with a great surprise that the back of the old mansion bordered on a beautiful lake, a lake in the middle of the forest land, reflecting the sky above like a peaceful eye. It was a very beautiful surrounding for this silent house, brooding over its mysteries. She continued her discovery tour in the garden and the stables and paid a special visit, keeping a respectful distance, to Sorcha in her new home. O’Mara was introducing her to one of the fenced-in spaces where she was allowed to roam on her own. It was too early yet for her to be together with all the other horses. She would have to settle in, before O’Mara could mix them.

Sarah didn’t meet up with Conaill until late in the afternoon. He came from his quarters, all wet in the hair after a shower and with a fresh, white linen shirt carelessly tucked into his jeans. He smiled at her, and there were no guards at this moment in his face or behavior. He brought her along to the library and offered her some precious old Irish whisky. Then he went up towards the old window with his back towards her and stood there for a little while in silence. She waited for him to begin to talk, because she sensed that he had something to tell her which might be of importance.

“I didn’t come to Ireland this time without reason either,” he began. “I can of course come here at any time and in any way I please because I belong here, and I live and have lived a great part of my life here. My ancestors are Irish too. They can be traced back into mythical times. I don’t know the earliest origins; I only know them as fairy-tales nowadays. But it is a fact that some of my ancestors have been High Kings of Ireland and been very mighty men. My branch of the family went its own way of course, but when that happened I don’t know either. I just know of the tales of the so-called Mighty Fight when my forefather lost a battle against an older brother and was sent into exile. Instead, he took his family and went to the Other World where he became as powerful and potent as the brother who had defeated him. But the price was a high one to pay, as we all know.”

“I like it down here in the South,” he continued as he turned around and faced her, “it is very pleasant and easy, but it is not really my “country.” I belong in the North. My roots are there. Today this land is called county Donegal, but when my ancestors lived there it was known as Tir Conaill – The land of Conaill. Now all this land is divided and defeated. Part of it is not even under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland. But I still own an island up there, just west of Arranmore.”

Sarah looked with apprehension at him because now his face was grave, and she could sense that whatever he had to tell wasn’t easy to reveal.

“I have not visited this place since Jareth sent me away, here to the Above,” he sighed at last.

 So, there! The name was finally mentioned. The forbidden name of the One who was always present. Sarah looked down at the floor while Conaill continued to talk.

“Now I’ve been allowed to visit the island finally, and it is not solely a decision made by Jareth. The Council of the Elders has had their say too I’ve heard. But the conclusion of their joint decision is that I will be allowed to go there. And I must. Because Eavan is buried there and I have never been allowed to visit her grave before. I need to do that,” he finished and raised his head to meet her eyes.

She opened her mouth to say something, but he quickly raised a hand to interrupt her and went up close to her. She looked into his stern face and now steely eyes.

“Forgive my flippancy,” he said with a great effort.

“Flippancy?!” she echoed in confusion.

“I’ve known all along that I have to undertake this journey, long before you entered the auction yesterday,” he smiled ruefully. “But you came like something godsend, and I could forget about my ordeals for a whole day. I should of course have refrained from asking you to come here since I have to leave tomorrow myself.”

“No!" she exclaimed. “Don’t be sorry for that at all. I would have been devastated, had you not invited me to come and stay with you.” She started to blush, listening to her own words.

“Check Mate,” she murmured and wasn’t sure that he had heard her. Then she looked up at him and put her hand on his chest, ever so lightly.

“Please let me come along, I promise not to be in the way. I understand that you need to make this final visit on your own, but if I may, I would love to go with you as far as you will allow.”

He started to laugh softly.

“You are rather devastating when you set your heart and mind to it.”

Another truth hit her all of a sudden.

“Oh, you would of course rather go there with Anna! How silly of me!”

But he stopped her before she could continue.

“I may be able to go there, but Anna can’t. Out of obvious reasons. Jareth may have allowed it, but the Elders would not have it. In fact, Anna has never visited Ireland with me.”

Sarah digested this news in silence. However, it was understood and agreed on without any further discussion that she should accompany him on the journey at least as far as Burtonport, the port with ferry service to Arranmore Island.

**********

Sarah spent the next morning going into Killarney to leave her rental car at a depot there. She wouldn’t need it presently, and should she need a car later she would have to locate another rental depot. After all, she wasn’t going to a total wilderness. At least she hoped not…  

Sarah welcomed the opportunity to be on her own for a little while. She had insisted on going to Killarney by herself and that she would wait for Conaill to pick her up later for their joint journey up north. Driving up there would take between seven and eight hours she had been told. It all depended on how many stops they needed to make and that they mustn’t start too late. She still only carried a couple of small bags and was happy for that no extra luggage weighed her down. She left the Grey Mansion well before noon and it was agreed on that she should wait for Conaill to pick her up in the land rover outside the rental depot by 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

While driving into Killarney Sarah listened to the weather reports and realized that the first autumn storm was heading their way. Most likely, it would hit the northwest coast of Ireland in the evening. She wondered if Conaill had heard the news. She would have to ask him if this changed any of the plans.

In the meantime, she mused over the situation. What game were they silently and in agreement playing? If she looked at herself with objectivity, she would have to confess that the woman she saw in the “mirror” was stark, raving mad. Chasing all the way over the world to go in search for another woman’s man, agreeing to follow him in a goose-chase all over a strange and unknown country, conceding to participate in a quest where she wouldn’t be able to follow him all the way, since he was going to the belated funeral of his first wife. She almost stopped thinking there. It was somehow combined with pain to continue…  But she forced herself a bit further. Another strange feature here was that Conaill had agreed to play his part in this game without so much as a question to its validity. What were HIS motives? Luckily, she arrived in Killarney and the business with the car took up all her mind.

Sarah was sitting on a bench outside the rental depot, dangling her feet in the air when she saw the land rover turn around the corner. Her heart took an extra leap out of unpremeditated joy. Conaill let her into the car and looked equally happy seeing her. One would have thought that they hadn’t seen each for several days. Perhaps it was all about that neither of them had been totally sure of that the other was to keep the promise and stick to the plan. Without further ado, they headed north towards Limerick on a road that was now familiar to Sarah; she had driven this distance only a couple of days ago. They talked of plenty of things during the ride, nothing of real importance. Sarah was very curious about Ireland as such and asked quite a number of questions, and they discussed the country, its history and its culture. It was very interesting and the time passed quickly.

After Limerick it was however new territory to cover, and after a short tea-break Sarah took over the wheel. They had decided on taking turns, making the trip easier that way and perhaps reducing the time spent on the road. It was going to be easy enough to drive for a while. Good, solid main roads, passing Galway and Sligo before they reached the coast again. After that, Conaill would do the driving all the way up to Burtonport when they reached the more intricate coastal roads.

It had started to rain and Sarah reminded herself of that she must ask Conaill about the upcoming storm she had heard about in the news. He nodded and knitted his brows slightly.

“If we push on a bit, we might still arrive in time to get a boat to take us out to my island. There is of course no regular ferry service to this place," he said.

They changed seats, and Sarah adjusted herself to the land rover. She didn’t mind driving that vehicle at all; it was actually rather fun. Conaill settled down beside her in the seat next to her, pushed his weathered cowboy hat down over his forehead and closed his eyes as if intending to go to sleep. But he didn’t. Instead, he shot a glance at her from the corner of his eyes and said

“Tell me.”

And she knew what he meant.

"Jareth has left me,” she began simply, and saying it this way, right out into the open without any explanations, threw a harsh light over the reality. For the first time tears came to her eyes.

“Shhh…”he said softly and put a warm hand on her arm to make her loosen the tight grip over the wheel.

She squeezed it so hard now that one might fear that she was about to drive right out into the fields.

“Take a deep breath,” he soothed her.

She was able to continue then to tell him of how Jareth had gradually vanished from her life, all without giving further notice, and how she had understood that he had taken up all parts of his previous life, abducting children and everything. She couldn’t understand how he could do all this after what they had been through together, after all the promises they had made and after the fresh start.

“I’ve failed somewhere along the line,” she lamented. “I was proven to be inadequate in the end.”

“You are much too harsh on yourself,” he said in a low soothing voice. “But I do understand how you feel. You mustn’t really blame yourself. NO ONE would have coped with this situation, and least of all you. You see, Jareth is a very pragmatic person when it comes to all that concerns his own person. The only thing that really counts then is what is best for him. That has nothing to do with loving or not loving. It is a primeval instinct that is built into him. At all costs, he must survive. It’s into the genes and nothing will change this. He knows that if he perishes, not only will HE disappear but so many other creatures will disappear with him, and like a lion king he will always look at what is best for his flock and his territory. This is his first concern, above all. Jareth’s problem is that he is involved in a happening that no King of the Underground has gone through before him, keeping his position and keeping his status. I am the best example of this. The moment I let Anna into my life, I was doomed. There wasn’t an earthly possibility for me to maintain my position. But Jareth has managed so far to be intact – and mind you – I am not talking here about the moral aspects of this. I talk of the pure survival here.”

“So! He wanted to try it out. He really wanted to try it your way, because you meant a lot to him.”

Sarah noticed that he talked in past tense and it was as if a chill swept over her body.

“It proved to be too much for him. The demands on him from the establishment in the Underground, was in the long run stronger. All from the Council down to the smallest goblin depend on HIM for their survival. You might argue that everything would have been for the best, had all of the Other Side perished. But I’m not so sure. Like Celia, I permit myself to doubt that. The “good” Jareth you wanted to create with abducting him from his “evil” world would not have worked. He would have turned out to be a monster that would have destroyed you.”

“Then there is something else that you must take into account when it comes to Jareth. He will NEVER be prepared to give over the initiative to anyone else. He will always be in command. We will all be pawns in his game, and he will always play us out against each other to suit his ends. So try not to mourn about this, the way you do now. You are the most headstrong person I’ve met, and I know that the game isn’t up yet. I think there will be several more turns to this story before it is ended.”

Conaill fell silent and Sarah still fought with her tears, which at times blurred her vision so much that she had a hard time seeing the road in front of her.

“Drive to the side,” Conaill said and sat up in the seat beside her. His voice was a command, and he expected to be obeyed.

When she saw a possibility of turning into a parking pocket, she drove in there and stopped the car. She started to tremble, and he had to loosen her hands from the wheel. He stepped out of the car and went over to her side, opened the door and lifted her out and put her down on the ground. Then he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close, comforting her with his mere presence. He rocked her gently without saying anything. At last she stopped shivering and her breath became more even.

“Better?” he murmured in her hair, and she nodded.

He asked is if he should take over the driving, but she said that she was capable of going on for the stipulated time, and they took their seats again and continued their journey for another hour in silence.

**********

In Bundoran, just north of Sligo, they made a stop for Conaill to take over the wheel but also to have something to eat. It was now half past six in the evening, and they had reached the sea again, entering the area of Donegal Bay. Although the bay was moderately shielded from the worst of the rage of the Atlantic Ocean, the sea was wild and the heavy rain almost made it impossible to see anything of the spectacular view at all. Sarah could see that Conaill was worried now. Evidently, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. In the pub where they stopped for a meal, the locals shook their heads when Conaill inquired about the situation and wondered if there were any ferries or boats at all going for the islands this evening. Even if it could be almost fearful to continue the journey under the circumstances, Sarah couldn’t help looking at the landscape with awe and fascination. The rugged coastline reminded her of Scotland but also of Iceland. Here, close to the coast, no trees were growing and only where the vegetation had a space out of wind and water ─ forever beating on the coast in the ongoing battle between the cliffs and the ocean ─ could plants be seen that weren’t just creeping along the ground. They drove on in silence now. Sarah could see out of the corner of her eye that Conaill had clenched his jaws and was fixing the road ahead with his eyes. His face was forbidding and she didn’t venture into small talk.

An hour later, they were close to Dungloe and Conaill said that he had to make a phone call. They stopped at a pub, and Sarah remained in the car while he went about his business. When he came out again, she could see that he was very upset, and he looked as if he were almost in a rage. He stood for a while outside the car, and she could see him banging his fists into the front of it. She had no idea of what had triggered this and was afraid of asking, but she had to know.

“Conaill, what has happened?” she asked furtively when he entered the car again.

“We won’t make it tonight,” he answered through his clenched teeth. “I’ve phoned my connection close to Burtonport, but the last boats out today left the harbor around three in the afternoon. After that no one has dared out in this weather.”

“But does it matter so much?” she asked. “A day more or less wouldn’t mean the end of the world for you, would it? I mean, you are under no obligation to keep appointments or anything like that?”

But Conaill didn’t answer. He started the car again, and they went on in the stormy night until they reached a small inn not far from the coast. It was a grey, weathered building, huddling behind some large rocks, looking as if it clung to the ground for fear of being blown away. He hid the car behind the building, and they brought out their luggage. Entering the house and shutting the door behind was like entering a deafening silence when finally the roar of the storm could reach them no longer. A small and bent woman approached them, and she took Conaill’s hand and bowed over it. He bent down over her in turn and gave her a brief hug. Sarah realized then that they had arrived among friends, and that this must be the contact he had talked about. They talked in Gaelic language in low voices. Finally, the old woman lifted her head and peered at Sarah. Then she motioned to Sarah to follow and brought her along a small, winding corridor to a low door. Behind it was a room, sparsely furnished and with no extra decorations to enhance the impression. The walls were of grey wood and on the floor were sheepskins to keep the chill out. In the middle of all this stood a big bed, also of grey wood. The splendidly bolstered bed linen in it shone with almost indecent whiteness. As Sarah took all this in, the old woman retreated behind her and Sarah found herself alone at last.

**********

She had a hard time coming to rest this evening. The stormy weather outside, Conaill’s terrible mood and the general feeling of being lost in space in a place which didn’t feel quite real; all gave her a great unrest. Yet, at last she fell into a weary sleep with vivid dreams.

She woke with a start, not knowing what time it was since it was still dark, but she was aware of that she wasn’t alone in the room. Then she saw a looming shadow above her, and she sat up in the bed with a jerk. Shocked, she realized that it was Conaill standing there. He moved forward, quickly and stealthily, and he grabbed her over the shoulders, digging his fingers into her flesh and dragged her out of the bed. She stood shivering in front of him, and in the little light that entered the room through the grimy windows she could finally see his face. His eyes bore into her with a light of their own, the skin was drawn tight over his cheekbones and his mouth was half open so that his sharp teeth were revealed, glimmering like daggers in the wane moonlight.

“I ache for you,” he whispered and his voice was vibrating with unsaid violence and passion. “Feel it! Feel me!”

He grabbed her hand and pressed it towards his bone-hard erection. She gasped and took a step back, but he caught her and pressed her body towards his.

“My God,” he exclaimed under his breath, “why did I wait so long? If I wanted to, I could have had you there and then on the stable floor when you first came into my view; you were ready for me then. Why did I wait? Why did I wait?!!”

He grabbed a fistful of her long black hair in his hand and forced her to turn her face up to him. Then he went down on her with his wild, hot mouth. He tore at her lips, and his hot breath was all over her face. She yielded and fell against his body, opening up to him with a shiver. He halted his wild assault for an instance. She gazed right into his face and saw his mouth tremble. Then he bent down over her and started to kiss her, burningly soft this time, his lips moving around hers, sucking at her lips with yearning, licking the inside of her mouth with his tongue, mumbling into her mouth, drinking her mouth, biting her lips. At last, he broke away and she gasped for air. He bent over her again and buried his face against her neck and she heard him moan. It almost sounded like sobbing. She lifted her arms then and put them around him and drew his body close. When he felt her respond, he tightened his grip around her and fell with her on the big bed.

He tore impatiently at her linen, needing her naked body under his hands soon, soon. He tore at his own clothes too and freed himself from them. Although it was almost freezingly cold in the room now in the middle of the night, his skin was fever-hot. She took the heavy weight of his body when he rolled over her, cradling her head in his hands. Urgently he moved in between her legs and ground his hips and his aching hardness into her soft stomach. He looked into her eyes, and she devoured the helpless wanting and mad desire in his face. His eyes rolled back behind his eyelids when he pushed himself inside her. There was no stopping him now. She knew that, and she didn’t want to. She knew that he had to find release for this terrible, pent up emotion before she would even be able to talk to him. He shuddered but lay still as he slowly and relentlessly eased his huge cock into her. Then he closed his eyes and dug his fingers again into her shoulders as she felt how he started to empty himself in her with short, spasmic twitches. She contracted her tightness around him and heard him groan with pleasure and relief. Then finally, he lay still on top of her.

“No," she whispered in his ear when he made a motion to withdraw from her and roll off her. “I’d die of cold if you would leave me now.”

He opened his eyes, and she saw his gaze soften with laughter and heard him chuckle – it was a sort of rumbling sound in his chest. Instead, he pulled up the big eiderdown bolster over them, while he slid to her side and put his strong, warm hand over her stomach. She felt a jolt inside when he touched her. Her body tingling with anticipation now.

“I have to get a heater for this room,” he grumbled, “I can’t make love to you under this heap of a cover. I need to see you when I touch you.”

He got out of bed, carefully seeing to that she wasn’t exposed and slipped out of the door, moving like a big silent cat. He returned just a few minutes later.

“Thank God for that electricity was installed here a couple of years ago,” he muttered as he groped his way along the wall to find the socket.

She saw the radiator start to glimmer in the darkness, looking like a big red grin. He hurried quickly back into the bed. Freezing after having run naked in the corridors, he huddled up to her and scooped her into his arms. Soon enough the room was heated and he eased the covers down, so much that he could look at her in the light of the grey early morning. Then he bent down to kiss her again, slowly, delicately this time. He traced his long fingers around her face and cupped her chin, holding her, gently caressing her skin. Slowly his hand moved down her neck, over her shoulders, down her arms and her sides. He pulled her hips towards his, and the feeling of his hard cock made her ache for to have it inside her, an ache that spread like a hot delicious pain through her stomach and down to her hot wetness.

His warm hand continued its journey downward, over her hips and down her thighs, exploring her flesh, feeling the soft skin between her thighs, on her stomach, on her back. His lips brushed over her breasts, gently touching her nipples, softly moving over her skin. She squirmed in delight and could hardly lie still under his hands, also urgently feeling now that she wanted to share in the lovemaking, that she also knew how to inflict these unbearably wonderful caresses, that it was also her turn to take the initiative.

She gently caught his hand in the air and turned him over on his back. He flashed his eyes towards her, the golden spots in them almost liquid now. Then he closed them as he accepted her dominance over him, a smile slowly curving his lips, just barely revealing the sharpness of his fangs. She might as well have bedded a large, unknown, wild animal. 

Her hand roamed over his skin, savoring the hard muscles that lay beneath. Then, her hand slid down his chest, over his hips, down the sides of his naked thighs. With her fingers just barely touching his skin, she brought her hand around the inside of his thighs, massaging his balls lightly as her fingers moved up to his throbbing cock. She bent down quickly, taking him in her mouth, rolling her tongue all over the head. As his cock slid out of her, she grabbed it with two hands, massaging it in the wetness from her mouth.

He leaned in against her, his breathing hot and heavy on her shoulder, his hands trembling on her skin with every stroke she applied to his cock, groaning high now, wrapping his arms around her again, burying his face in her dark hair, raking her neck with his sharp teeth. She gently put his cock between her thighs, wrapped her arms around him and began to masturbate him with the soft skin of her thighs. Their chests were glued together, with only her pelvis gently rocking back and forth, making his cock slide between her legs, barely touching the hot wetness of her sex.

He buried his face deeper into her neck, barely suffering her exquisite torture. The feeling of his hard cock touching her sex, teasing her, almost triggered her first orgasm. Then she felt that she couldn’t wait any longer. She had to have him inside her, now. She pushed him over on his back and looked at his magnificent manhood just waiting for her. Slowly she climbed on top of him, her sex poised right over the tip of his large erection.

She lowered herself slowly onto his member, savoring the feeling of him filling her up. As her cunt wrapped itself around the base of his shaft, she threw herself forward, kissing him, her tongue probing his mouth, sliding his cock in and out of her wet hole. She pulled herself upright, so that she was riding his cock, filling herself up with his hardness, balancing herself with one hand on his chest.

Every detail of the scene was wrapped in sensuality...the contrast of her white slender hands on the muscular tan of his chest, her round breasts bouncing in every direction, the flutter of his eyelids every time he felt his cock slide into her cunt, his shimmering hair in a halo around his face. She closed her eyes, savoring the feeling of every inch of his cock going so deep that the tip bumped against her cervix, making her moan with wild pleasure.

He caught her arms and pulled her forward, pressing her breasts against his chest, seeking her mouth with trembling lips. She slid her fingers delicately up his arms. Then she secured his hands and pinned them to the bed beside his head. He struggled against her, thrusting his cock into her, all the time moving harder and faster, their muscles straining against each other. Despite her superior position, he overpowered her and rolled them over, forcing her to submit to him, trapping her wrists with his hands, probing her mouth with his tongue, licking her lips and nostrils. She arched her back upwards now for his every thrust, not getting enough of him, turning liquid inside, hot molten lava.

She fucked him frantically, the muscles in her arms burning in pain. She tried to hold off her orgasm until she would feel that he was about to release himself, making them come together. Yet, he switched position slightly, angling his cock upward, finding that most sensitive spot in her vagina and she lost all control. Her body began to spasm, exploding uncontrollably in pleasure. As she came in a violent series of waves, she sent him over the edge. He leaned over her, slipping his hands under her ass as his hips worked his cock in and out of her in a rage. Then he stiffened with a low growl as he sank his sharp teeth in her neck, filling her, again and again, burning her with his hot creamy seed. 

He collapsed on top of her, his hands slowly releasing their grip over hers, his breathing, harsh and jagged, slowing down. She lay still underneath him, her eyes wide open, in shock at the intensity of the orgasm. Then she touched his face ever so lightly with her fingers, tracing the outline of his mouth. He took one of her hands in his and feathered a kiss into her palm. She didn’t know for how long they were laying there before he slowly eased himself out of her and covered them with the eiderdown bolster to keep the chill out. He groped for her hand under the cover, and thus they fell into a brief sleep.

**********

When Sarah woke up again it was fully light outside, and she could see Conaill standing by the window, checking the weather no doubt. She stole out of bed and tiptoed up to him. When she had reached him, she put a hand on his back and her face against his shoulder, tasting his skin. He turned slowly, not surprised at seeing her. He must have heard her coming after all. He opened his arms for her and she sought out his embrace like one seeking shelter from the storm. He rocked her gently and all the warmth that his body possessed soon enveloped her. His mere presence was soothing and the anxiety she had felt when getting out of bed, started to subside. It was as if nothing evil or harmful could ever happen to her as long as he held her close.

“Don’t be afraid,” he murmured quietly in her hair. “Everything will be all right. In the end, everything will be good. Trust me, believe me.”

She said nothing because he had answered her silent questions. He put a hand under her chin and gently lifted her face towards his. He had a soft smile on his lips and in his eyes.

“You love Jareth,” he said, “and you love me – and I love Anna – and I love you. Terribly complicated, isn’t it?” and his eyes narrowed to two teasing slits and the smile on his mouth broadened, revealing just the glimmer of his fangs. “I’ve been thinking about it. Maybe we aren’t four entities but only two…That would explain a lot.” 

Then he sighed and the pressure of his arms increased just a little, the nature of his embrace changed slowly to one of yearning and desire.

“Just at this very moment, I wouldn’t trade you for anything in the world.”

She felt his member stir against her thighs, and he adjusted slightly so that he could press it against her stomach. He moved back and forth against her in a slow leisurely pace, increasing the pressure just a little each time. Then he threw his head back in a violent motion and shuddered lightly. She felt a trembling heat starting to burn in her body, emanating from her center, from her stomach and hot sex. He eased a hand down between their bodies and cupped her mound, inserting a finger furtively into her vagina.

“Oh God!” he breathed in her ear, “You’re so wet! I’ve got to have you, I’ve got to!”

He lifted her up on his strong arms and lowered her gingerly down on his now fully erect penis. She gasped when she let herself be filled up by him and secured her position by wrapping her legs around his waist. He leaned them both against the rough wooden wall so that he would have at least one hand free. Then he feathered caresses over her breasts and stomach as he started to thrust into her, harder and harder. He worked up a furious pace at last and she had by now lost her breath and her sense of reality. Everything was swimming before her eyes. Her body went all heavy in his arms and the sensation of being impaled on his cock, increased her terrible pleasure. His hand found its way down to her clitoris, rubbing it in furious small circles. She let out a high wail and exploded over him, shuddering, jerking and contracting around him. He took an iron grip around her waist, both to steady her and to get his own maximum impact. He crouched and shivered uncontrollably when he started to eject his hot fluids into her. For every spurt he thrust deeper and deeper into her, inflicting pain as well as the most exquisite pleasure, and finally he was spent and he let them slide to the floor when his knees finally gave away.

**********

They had a marvelous appetite that morning. Sarah couldn’t deny that. The sat in the kitchen while the old woman prepared a hearty breakfast. She had greeted them calmly in the morning. If she by any chance had heard any of the commotion last night, she didn’t reveal that fact with so much as an expression in her face. Sarah looked closer at her. Her instinct told her that the woman somehow belonged in the Underground context. She reminded Sarah very much of Celia although she seemed to be older still. Although Sarah didn’t understand Irish, let alone the variety that the woman used, she had a feeling of that it was an ancient form of the language. Conaill hadn’t so far ventured as to tell her any details of this person, but that didn’t alarm Sarah in any way. She knew that if it were of any importance to them, he would eventually tell her.

The weather was still rough but not as fierce as yesterday. The winds were about to subside, but the sea still had a heavy swell. Most likely, there would be no question of going anywhere until the early evening. They had to consider the tide as well. While Sarah rested a bit after breakfast, Conaill left the house to go about a boat that would take them to the island later that day. In silent consent they had agreed on that Sarah would accompany him out to the island after all.

Sarah slept fitfully. Although she was totally exhausted – the night had out of obvious reasons not provided any rest really – she was greatly agitated and felt apprehension and fear. Scrutinizing her reasons, she came to the conclusion that she feared what might wait for her there in this unknown place. An island far out into the ocean – it was almost as going into the Other World again – perhaps it was, and Conaill would leave her to go to the grave of Eavan. Also that thought chilled her. She only knew of Jareth’s mother the little he and Anna had told her, and Eavan had to Sarah almost become a mythical entity. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that she was dead. Had she wanted to, she could have been alive today too, like Conaill and Jareth, but she had chosen to go, dying out of broken heart Celia had told her. Yet, Sarah remembered that Anna had said to her that Eavan was the first one to know about the role Anna would play in Conaill’s life. Why, if so, had she chosen to let it happen? Sarah had no answer herself, and she knew that she could not ask Conaill. It was a knowledge he would have to part with, out of his own free will.

Conaill came back from his missions some hours later. He came into her small room and lay down beside her in the bed. He took her into his arms and held her close. She could feel him fall asleep. His arm became heavy and his breathing even and calm, but his rest didn’t last for long. Soon, he opened his eyes and searched her face.

“You mustn’t be afraid,” he said again. “Whatever will happen out there, all will be well in the end. You must believe that.”

Sarah was all of a sudden certain of that he knew of what would – or could – happen when they got there. He was still part of the Other World; he was still a King of the Underground, although now in exile and roaming the earth. He still had powers that no earthly being could fathom.

**********

When the dusk fell in the lead-grey October evening, they were prepared to leave. Conaill went up to the old woman and said something to her in a low voice. She bowed again over his hand, and this time Sarah could see that she kissed it reverently. Outside the small house, Conaill turned to Sarah.

“I have told her that the car will remain here. There is no need to take it to the island, we will not use it there and here it is perfectly safe.”

Then they started to walk towards the small harbor. Sarah could see already at a distance that the harbor was full of small fishing boats. Some had recently returned and others had been moored there for the full day. They were approached by a young boy who greeted Conaill with a deep bow. He guided them towards the end of the pier where the waves and the tide now showered the old stone construction with salty foam. There, a fishing boat waited for them and the skipper cast off as soon as they had come onboard. Sarah stood for a long while looking at the coast of Ireland disappearing in the distance, and after a short while they were engulfed by the darkness and the sea. It was hard for her to understand how fishermen could navigate in these waters. It would be daunting even for those with very good knowledge of the treacherous grounds and small islands, a very dangerous undertaking indeed. The blinking radar on the small bridge was the only light active on the boat, and it looked like an inhuman eye, peering out into the void. The young boy turned up beside her after a short while. He brought along a steaming mug with tea which she thankfully accepted. Several hours passed and the journey was monotonous. Conaill was on the bridge with the skipper, and she didn’t want to disturb them.

Close to midnight, Sarah heard Conaill call her at last. He brought her up on deck and pointed out into the distance. To Sarah’s eyes all was pitch-black at first, but as her eyes became used to the darkness she could discern a looming shadow ahead of them. After yet a couple of minutes she also detected the lights from the small lighthouse which marked the entry to what must be some kind of harbor. Her heart started to beat violently, and she tried to the best of her ability to hide from Conaill how nervous she was. Soon enough they had come into the shelter of the island and the winds were hardly felt any longer.

As Conaill and Sarah disembarked, Conaill offered the skipper to stay the night with his crew, but the skipper said that he was on his way to the fishing-banks now, having lost a full day as it was. He thanked very much for the offer but wanted to be off as soon as possible. They took leave of each other, and the skipper turned around and headed towards the sea. The thud of the engines was heard for yet a while after the boat was engulfed by the darkness. Then there was a massive silence for a while; not one single sound could be heard, and Sarah looked around to see if any sign of human activity could be detected. Just as she was to turn to Conaill to ask what was going to happen, she heard the sound of hoofs and men calling out to them. Three riders, bringing along an extra horse, entered the circle of light and raised their arms, calling out greetings in Gaelic before dismounting. Conaill turned towards her and explained that these were men from the castle and that they had been advised of his arrival but not that he came with company. Conaill smiled when conveying this last part of information and added

“You’ll have to ride with me. I wouldn’t have trusted you on a horse on your own in the dark anyway. One has to know the ways around here. It can be tricky also in broad daylight."

The men looked at Sarah in wonder and greeted her with some stiffness in awkward English. However, there wasn’t time to lose on ceremonies and etiquette in the dark. Conaill lifted Sarah up in the saddle and mounted behind her. It was the greatest comfort possible to feel his warm body behind hers. Without him, she wouldn’t have undertaken the journey in the first place.

They presently rode in silence, moving upwards all the time. Sarah wondered if they were on a slope of a mountain perhaps. She heard the men behind them talking to each other in low voices. Then the road seemed to level out, and they were at the crest of a ridge. Then Sarah saw the lights in the valley below. There weren’t many of them; but in contrast to the darkness she had been traveling in for the last hours, this looked like the most glorious set of lights she had seen. They made the contours of the castle visible, and Sarah could see that this certainly not was a romantic place from the 19th century like the Grey Mansion. This was a forbidding piece of stonework, looking like a fortress. Most likely, it had also served as one for many centuries. The group now started their slow decent towards the valley.

The old castle looked even more uninviting when Sarah could see it at a closer distance. The big turret, which dominated the construction, looked menacingly massive. No windows could be seen breaking up the surface of the evenly hewn stones; only small openings which would enable a soldier to fire at any attacker below. They entered through an enormous door which it took two men to close behind them. The impression from the courtyard was slightly more pleasing. Here Sarah could see windows on the walls, windows with light in them, and several servants came through the doors at once, taking care of horses and luggage.

“I agree to,” Conaill mused with a crooked smile, “that it is not as alluring as the Grey Mansion. However, this is “home” to me whether you like it or not. This is where I grew up, very, very long ago.”

He brought her hand to his lips in an old-fashioned greeting.

“Welcome, to my castle” he bowed ceremoniously.

Yet, Sarah also saw the glint in his eyes and knew that he was getting the better of her awestruck appearance, and she smiled with him as they entered the inner sanctum.

The fireplace in the big hall was so huge that it could harbor two men, one standing on the shoulder of the other, and twelve men in a row. Two enormous logs smoldered here and fired the whole room with warmth. It was indeed needed in the chilly night. Servants entered with trays full of food and wine and set them down on a nearby table. Conaill made a small nod and motioned with his hand that he would need no extra service. They could help themselves to whatever food and drink they wanted, and the men and women disappeared through the doors as silently as they had entered.

“Come,” he whispered as if the huge space around them, didn’t invite to any loud talk. “Let’s sit by the fire.”

He brought the trays over to the huge bearskin that was sprawling in front of the fireplace. The sweet wine exploded in Sarah’s veins, and the warmth traveled her whole body. It felt as God-given, the warmth, and for the first time during the whole of the evening she relaxed. She lay down and stretched herself out on the bearskin almost leisurely at last.

“You know how to present yourself in the best possible way, I won’t deny that. I should have known what a temptress I brought along,” he lamented in mock and chuckled low.

Then his face grew serious, and he looked past her at something unseen in the distance.

“I will accompany you to your rooms soon. But I won’t stay with you tonight. Believe me when I say, that it is a choice I’d rather not make, but it is one I can’t refrain from.”

Sarah nodded and touched his hand to let him know that she understood. If he were to visit Eavan’s grave tomorrow, it would not be fitting to do so, coming directly from a lover’s meeting with another woman. His servants wouldn’t look too kindly on such a performance either. Sarah didn’t ask about tomorrow. There was really no point in doing so. There would be no explanations. They day would have to carry its own burden.

Come what may.

**********

When Sarah woke up next morning, it was an unusual stillness in the air. On a table by the large window was a tray with hot tea and home-baked bread. All was warm and it couldn’t have been placed there more than a few minutes ago. She enjoyed it immensely, sitting in the deep window recess looking at the courtyard beneath her. There was some activity, but nothing out of what might be considered extraordinary in this place. Sarah decided that she had to know more about her surroundings. Last night she hadn’t been able to see or understand much of what the place looked like. She thought that she might ask for a horse so that she could get a bit farther than just around the building.

Adjacent to her room was a place for her to wash and dress. Contrary to the Grey Mansion, no running water was to be found in this place inside the castle but a huge jar with fresh water stood at a table beside an equally huge porcelain basin. She did the best she could, washing and dressing, and soon she entered the premises. Outside in the courtyard, she asked a stable boy if she could have a horse saddled, and he hurried away to comply. No questions asked. The door to the inner yard was open, and she could ride out of the castle without disturbing anyone.

Well outside, Sarah saw that the castle was situated on a small island in an equally small lake that seemed to be at the very bottom of the valley. She also saw mountains, wherever she looked. This surprised her, because she had thought that she would see the ocean somewhere in the distance. She thought she recognized the road they had taken last night from the crest and down here and she ventured on a trip up there to see what the view from this place would offer her.

The horse was a complaisant old one and evidently knew the route up to the top of the hills without prompting, and Sarah soon found herself up on the crest with a magnificent view of the whole island and the surrounding ocean, now almost at peace. The sun was out, shining on the glittering waves. It seemed to be treacherously peaceful. She got a much better idea of the structure of the place from up here. It was then abundantly clear to her why this place had served as a secret stronghold for so many centuries. When looking at it from above, she realized that the island must be the remnants of an extinct volcano, the crater now filled with old debris and serving as the floor of the valley below. From the sea, no one would imagine that the island harbored a fortress and perhaps in the old days, even an army with ships at its disposal. At low tide, there must be plenty of caves at the base of the mountain, where one could hide both boats and supplies. She looked down at the castle again. From up here no sign of life could be detected. Beyond it and beyond the small lake it was situated in, she could see a luscious forest that stretched itself well over the crater-floor up on the hillsides opposite her. Somewhere in that forest was situated the burial place of Eavan. She mused over the fact that Conaill had grown up in a place which once was a volcano. Maybe there was a meaning to all this. To his ancestors – especially the one who had broken with his family and gone to the Other World – this was maybe the natural and perfect entrance to the Underground. Suddenly she felt a chill as if the sun were hidden behind clouds. Yes, undoubtedly the Underground was very near here.

On the way down, she started to think about Conaill again. Where was he now? For how long was he going to be away? She hoped to see him again before the day was over. Somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to think any further than the end of this day. Her mind was blank when it came to tomorrow.

With the winds dying down, the clouds came rolling in and soon it began to rain. She was thoroughly wet when she came back to the castle and slipped into the big hall. The fire was lit again in the fireplace. She welcomed the opportunity to get both herself and her clothes dry without having to disturb anyone about it. She huddled herself up in front of it and wondered if she dared ask anyone for something to eat and drink. Before she called however, she noticed the tray on the table where everything she might ask for could be found. She guessed it all was by an order from Conaill, and she smiled at the thought. Now that she didn’t have to bother about it, she realized how tired she was, and she lay down on the bearskin, close to the fire and fell in deep sleep.

**********

When she woke up again, the room was almost dark. The fire had died down and the logs were consumed. Only embers glimmered faintly in the long shadows. She had no idea of how long she had been sleeping and what time it was. She was in pain all over and very stiff; she could feel that when trying to move. Finally, she managed to turn over on the side – and her eyes fell on a pair of black slender boots, handmade, out of the most exquisite Moroccan leather. She stopped her movements and stared at them and the knowledge slowly dawned on her. She lifted her head and looked up, letting her eyes travel along the tall, thin figure, looming over her in the semi-darkness, taking in the black dress, fitting so tightly over the body that it looked like a second skin and revealed more of the taught muscles than it shielded them. Finally, her eyes had reached the halo of wild silver that surrounded his head and she looked into his somberly burning mismatched eyes that gleamed towards her in the dark.

“Mmmmm..." He hummed lightly. “I was just about to light a candle to see if you might be awake after all. You have slept for SUCH a long time and it was all getting SO tedious.”

“Jareth!” she exclaimed, “For how long have you been here? When did you come? Why are you here?”

“Tsk, tsk..."he clicked his tongue lightly. “ So many questions at the same time. Does it really matter?”

Then he slowly lowered his body to reach her level, sitting back on his heels, the way she remembered that he used to do, eons ago in another life when he came to her room, uninvited at nights.

“Enjoyed yourself?” he tilted his head just slightly and his eyes took on a quizzical yet hooded look.

She sat bolt upright in front of him, and her cheek flushed.

“What do you mean?” she exclaimed. “Enjoyed..."her voice trailed off as the expression in her eyes changed from one of wonder to one of unbelief and fright.

“Well, it certainly looked so to me,” he continued in his most silky voice, now tainted with just the smallest hint of apprehensive disquiet about it.

Terrible anger, hurt, shame and guilt flooded her then and almost choked her as the full impact of his words penetrated her, like a smooth, soundless, icy blade of a Toledo sword.

“You, BASTARD!” she shouted. “You, MONSTER!! You were there all the time, watching us, weren’t you?!”

Then without thinking, she went for him, lunging forward with fingers like claws aimed for his face, his beautiful marble-white face. Yet, before she had even completed the thought in her mind, he had caught her hands in mid-air, not with any considerable force, just merely closing his long slender fingers around her wrists. He rendered her completely powerless in a second, and she fell down on the bearskin in front of him.

“And my father has always had SUCH a hard time resisting temptations. Mmm…. It has always been like that..."he mused as if talking to himself, caressing her with his voice full of delicate menace.

“Yet, I can so well understand you," he continued with mock sympathy. “I know since long of the terrible powers of persuasion that he possesses. I know of no woman on earth who would be able to resist him, should he focus his full attention on her.”

Sarah had regained some of her posture and managed to sit up again, facing him. She then noticed the tension in his body; like a coiled spring, he was ready to lash out. She realized that he wasn’t as unperturbed by the situation as he would like to maintain, and she felt that she had gained a hair’s breadth of ground.

“Do I detect a note of jealousy?” she whispered as her eyes narrowed.

He looked intensely at her and laughed low, his thin sensual lips, curving into an enigmatic smile.

“You seem to forget that nothing here happens without my consent. I’m the one laying down the rules.”

‘Yes,’ she thought in confusion again. ‘That was quite true.’ Conaill had said something to the likes just a day or two ago – ‘Then there is something else that you must take into account when it comes to Jareth. He will NEVER be prepared to give over the initiative to anyone else. He will always be in command. We will all be pawns in his game and he will always play us out against each other to suit his ends.’

Sarah lifted her head with a jerk and moved closer to Jareth.

“What is it that you want then? You just like to watch us fuck? Is that it? There’s always been a voyeur in you, hasn’t it?”

He had also moved closer and his face was so near now that she could feel the vibrations from him, although he looked at her with treacherously pleasant iciness and breathless malignity.

“You flatter yourself, my dear," he retorted calmly. “If it were all about sex, I could either have taken you directly to my chambers or sent you out on the streets to fornicate with whatever goblin that came in your way.”

She winced and turned her face away, but he lifted his hand and touched her chin, and with the merest pressure of a finger he made her look at him again.

“Tired of the game already?” He lifted an eyebrow in an elegant inquiry and his voice, now lower and closer, was smooth, sensual and silkily venomous.

She knew then that she was fast approaching the edge, and that there wouldn’t be much ammunition left for her to fight with. Her eyes filled with tears, and her voice broke into a whisper.

“You left me...You had come to stay...At least you said so...And then I got the testimonies to that you were back into all that evil again, abducting children...After all we had promised each other...You let me down..."

She fell silent as her tears trailed over her cheeks into his hand which still held her chin.

“If so," he breathed, “it was mutual betrayal, wasn’t it? You couldn’t wait to find out if I had anything in store for us, if my plans for us involved something else. It seems you didn’t have the patience.”

‘Patience...’she thought. ‘How many months have passed by since the last time I saw you? But it is of course only seconds of an eternity for you.’

“I wanted the best for us, do you doubt that?” she said aloud.

“Don’t you mean that you wanted what was best for YOU?” he retorted softly.

“Doesn’t it count for anything at all that I was the one who won the fight in the Underground, ages ago? I thought that meant that my ideas about life and love would have some bearings on our life together in the future?”

Her eyes flashed again amidst the tears, and now he lifted his hand, slowly caressing her cheek, drying the tears as they kept falling. His face took on an expression of savage softness and cruel sweetness.

“You think you won over me that time, way back when? And what good did that do to you then? You will never win over me. Haven’t you understood that yet?”

“Wouldn’t you EVER consider playing a FAIR game?” she sobbed.

“Honey,” he cooed, “life just isn’t fair. I so much wonder why you have always maintained that notion, what is your basis for comparison?”

“And you have the nerve to come here and talk about plans for us,” she continued. “That’s easy to say in retrospect.”

“I can’t reveal my plans for you – not now, not any longer.”

At his last words Sarah started to shiver inside. There was something ominous and definitive about the way he talked, and this time she didn’t doubt him. What he had just said frightened her more than anything he had implied previously. She scrambled to her feet and staggered towards the window.

“I want to die,” she wailed quietly. “I can’t live this life; I can’t compete with all of you. You are killing me.”

She didn't know then that she was an echo of Anna from a very long time ago when Anna had had to acknowledge Jareth’s power over her.

“You won’t die, I won’t let you” said his voice behind her.

She hadn’t heard him moving, but he was there, so close all of a sudden. He turned her around in his arms and secured her tightly against his chest. Smooth, strong, supple arms wrapped around her and his tense body shamelessly thrust against hers, conveying lethal chill, complex dark sensual yearning and whitish pain and anger. She stopped breathing for an instance and focused on his face. There was no return. No escape. No doors to run through. No way out.

He kept holding her close for what seemed like an eternity, and she found that she rested against him for support. Her knees were trembling, and she still fought with the tears that threatened to choke her. All the while, she heard his heartbeats hammering inside him, pulsating in his veins reaching his hands and his stomach. It was a furious sound; his anger was palpable.

“I’m so shaky,” she whispered weakly at last, “please let me lie down for a minute or I’ll faint on you.”

He looked at her, his face now without its mask of malice, and he gingerly sat down of the bearskin on the floor, bringing her with him, resting her head on his arm, supporting her with the other. He looked out into the room, above her head, beyond the walls, and when she opened her eyes and tried to contact him, she could see that his eyes were dark and full of weariness. It was as if the emotions had consumed him and drained him of energy. Somehow, this small implication of that he was on the verge of giving up on her or them frightened her more than anything else had done this evening.

“Jareth, we should talk,” she whispered.

“What about?” he asked lightly but with a small edge to his voice.

He didn’t lower his gaze to look at her.

“Isn’t everything already said?”

She closed her eyes and bit her teeth together. It was as if his rage were transferring over to her. She tugged at his sleeve to force him to focus his attention on her.

“Look here, you claim that you are the one that set all this up. Could you tell me then, what you actually are accusing me of?”

“I’m not into accusations,” he retaliated icily, “I’m merely stating a point. You don’t trust in me.”

“And how am I meant to do that?” she went on vehemently. “You aren’t exactly giving me any chances, are you? And if all this is about infidelity in the end, I could ask you about Anna. Haven’t you slept with her? Don’t you love her?”

“Oh come now!”

He flashed his eyes towards her, almost blinding her with a firework in blue and green.

“Even you must admit that whatever happened between Anna and me, took place hundreds of years ago.”

“I don’t believe you!” she bit out through her teeth, “I think you still love her!”

He smirked a little and a vicious light danced in his eyes.

Hmm...well,” he murmured. “I do of course. I love Anna and you love Conaill, and I love you and you love me. We shall make a nice foursome in the fandango for four! So, you will want to make me believe that all your actions hitherto are directed towards me as a sort of revenge?”

Again she felt a great apprehension when she heard an echo of Conaill’s voice from the other day. ‘You love Jareth – and you love me – and I love Anna – and I love you. Terribly complicated, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking about it. Maybe we aren’t four entities but only two…That would explain a lot.’ Sarah had learned by now that any setup was possible when it came to Jareth and his schemes. Not that she believed that they were two sides of the same coin, but there was a meaning in the fact that both he and Conaill’s had made a point of this feature, she was sure of it, although this meaning was still clouded to her inner view.

“You staged this scenery,” she shouted. “You must have had some action in mind. Could it possibly be that you wanted to test us, to see if all your ruminations were true after all? Could it be that you were to follow in the footsteps of your mother Eavan who couldn’t refrain from trying the patience of the gods by testing the love and fidelity of Conaill once?”

But Sarah hadn’t counted with the reactions of Jareth in mentioning the name of his mother. He flew to his feet, and in fear and apprehension so did she.

“Don’t you ever again use the name of my mother in such a context!” he hissed, and his voice was so low now, that it didn’t seem to emanate from him but from anywhere in the room.

Sarah started to retreat, backing away from him, unconscious of doing so, holding up her hands in front of her, not knowing where to escape, not knowing what would happen. She winced when she hit the wall behind her and he was looming in front of her at the same instance.

Then, in the fury, the split second of all-consuming frenzy he moved in on her, seizing her, clasping his mouth over hers, pressing his teeth towards hers, biting her.  He tore away from her only to look at her, to drown in her eyes, wide open in shock and pain; to look at her bruised mouth. Then he lowered his head again and brushed his lips over hers, barely touching her.  Subtly he inserted the tip of his tongue between her lips and sucked on them. His touch was intoxicatingly sweet, beguilingly sensual and charged with innuendoes of violence, passion and burning lust. She heard someone moan, faintly she heard it, until she understood that she listened to herself. He had calmed himself but only on the surface. She could see that he was trembling and in a terrible state of agitation. He took a step back, and with the most delicate touch and with infinitely slow movements he started to unbutton her blouse. He let it fall to the ground, and equally slow and gracefully he undid the belt around her waist and eased the rest of her clothes off her. Then he turned her around in his embrace and drew her close, having her back resting against his chest and stomach. She could feel the hotness of his bare skin, when he tore his dress open, and his throbbing cock pressed against her back. She started to tremble and would have fallen to the ground, had he not held her so close. All energy and defiance drained out of her now. When he focused his raw power on her, she couldn’t but submit. She felt filled with liquid fire and a yearning for him that made her shake with dread and anticipation.

Yet, it wasn’t with rage or cruelty that he attacked her. Instead, he started inflicting the most exquisite caresses to her skin, fondling her with his long, slender fingers which he wetted from time to time, making his firm touch on her skin seem more delicate, more controlled. He started to slide his hand across her breasts and stomach, moving down over her hip, across her thigh and toward her hotness. She shivered now, on the verge of collapse. The muscles in her thighs were shaking, her breathing was labored, and the fire inside her was raging. When he parted the lips of her sex, his fingers gently massaging her clitoris, circling her hole, she had to grab onto his free arm and lean against him for support. Her fingernails bit into his arm as he slowly fingered her, every touch driving her wild with desire. Without being able to check herself, she exploded into orgasm. He leaned over, his lips brushing softly against her neck as the heat swelled in her sex, slowly radiating outward to her extremities. The hours of constant tension, the doubts, the excitement, were finally released. Even as the orgasm was fading, she still could not hold herself upright. They both sank down to their knees, his hand still buried between her legs. He wouldn’t let her rest, and she parted her legs a little more so that he could get in closer. He leaned forward and nipped her right ear gently. She shuddered, her body responding with a sudden flood of moisture. The tempo of his fingers intensified again, urging her on, one leg lifted to open her up completely to his touch. She lifted her arms and wound them around his neck as they knelt, pressed up against each other. Then he shifted slightly and sank two long fingers into her, all the way into her, again and again, with absolutely no resistance, each time with a little more force and a slight touch of possessiveness. He crooked his fingers and rubbed the walls around them searching for her sweet spot, and found it a moment later when she jerked convulsively up against him. He steadied her as he focused in on that sensitive spot. Her legs widened aggressively, spreading apart and urging him silently to move faster. He stroked her then, with increasing firmness, listening to every moan, feeling every shudder and every seductive move of her hips. Her muscles tightened and her arms locked around his neck as he pushed her a little closer to the edge. He could feel her body straining as she reached for her climax. More, just a little bit more.

"Faster," she whispered hoarsely, trying to find her voice. "More! Faster!"

He complied, moving in on her with frenzy now, spearing her with his furious fingers. She was right on the edge; her hands were tingling and going completely numb; she could feel the immense heat rising in her sex, and she screamed out her orgasm when it washed over her, jerking, contracting around his relentless hand and finally she slumped to the floor. There she lay unable to move, completely motionless except her heaving chest. He slid his fingers out of her soaking wet cunt and licked them clean. Then he stood up above her, his dark figure filling her whole vision, his enraged cock standing erect out from his body. He picked her up with one, swift, smooth movement, brought her over to the fire and laid her down on the bearskin in front of the fireplace, coming to rest beside her.

After a while, she could open her eyes again and she looked up into the ceiling, so far beyond her that it lost itself in the shadows up there, giving her an unreal feeling. She slowly turned her head and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He had closed his eyes and lay seemingly at rest and ease beside her. Only his bone-hard erection belied that fact.

She sat up and laid her body on top of his, savoring the feel of his skin on hers. She gently kissed him across the shoulder, up his neck, across his face. She paused at his lips, gently sucking on his bottom lip, before continuing across his face. She looked at him now when she had his face so near. His eyes were still closed and a smile hovered sensually around his sensitive mouth. He lifted his hands and started gently to caress her back, enveloping her body in his touch. She could feel the adrenaline of arousal building up in her system again, making her crave his touch all the more. The muscles in her stomach were quivering, causing her breath to come in short waves. He opened his eyes then and burned her with the fiery liquid of his gaze. He rolled her over onto her back, his muscular frame hanging over her. Balancing himself on one arm, he caressed her breast, her stomach, her thigh. His hand moved in slow circles across her thigh towards her cunt, teasing her with every brush of his fingers against her hot wetness.  His hard cock, brushing lightly against her thighs, made her desperate for having him inside her. He spread her legs apart then and moved in between them, hovering above her an instant, letting her feel the cold air against her wet crotch, before he slowly lowered himself over her and into her. She arched against him with a silent moan as the blunt tip of his cock spread apart her inner lips and forced its way into her wet vagina. Slowly, ever so slowly he pushed. Closing her eyes, she could feel every muscle stretch inside; feel every millimeter of his skin rub against her sensitive entrance. The motion of his fingers on her clitoris as well as the pressure inside her, worked up a tight, throbbing tension and a strange kind of madness that came from the very slowness of the whole thing; a strong longing to push up at him and an equal desire to be made to wait for her pleasure.

He pushed a third time and sank his cock almost all the way in. With the last thrust, he was buried in her; his pubic bone pressed heavily against her mound, his cock engulfed in her warmth and wetness.

It felt as if his cock were spreading her hips, his balls pressed against her as he held himself driven hard within her. She lifted her hips against the thrust of his thick cock, seeking to impale herself completely on his hot hard shaft. He drew back, and she tried to move her hips with him, so that his cock couldn't withdraw. He plunged back into her then, making her grunt as his hips drove his throbbing erection into her cunt again. And again, and again he drove into her. She kept thrusting her hips back against each violent stroke, clenching the walls of her cunt to hold him in her. He grabbed her hands and pinned them to the floor above her head as he savaged her body, working her towards a divine frenzy as she started to tense around him.

Her dry whisper begged him for release now from the building ache, a mix of pleas and moaning at his body’s response. His thrusts quickened and with it, her sharp need for them. Then everything froze, and she was released when mindless pleasure crashed down on her. She arched her back, a strangled cry on her lips as her legs tightened convulsively and her sheath began to contract in hot, rhythmic pulses. He was no longer thrusting into her. He held his thick, swollen cock buried deep within her as she wrapped her legs around him to hold him and keep him there; his seed throbbed up the thickness of his shaft and spurted into her depths. He breathed her name as he came. Finally, his cock stopped its frantic pumping and he slowly withdrew.

Side by side they lay there. The singing of the pulses dying down and the chill touching their wet bodies. He wrapped the bearskin around them and moved close to her. Neither of them spoke, as if words would shatter the fragile intimacy and nearness they had found at last, and words would only tear at the wounds again. With his head on her arm, she fell asleep at last. Lost into oblivion. He looked at her then and searched her quiet face with brooding eyes. His face had lost all the suave malice of earlier and he looked sharper and older all of a sudden, weariness and apprehension leaving their mark on his forehead and in his eyes. The fire died slowly in the huge fireplace.

**********

When Sarah woke up it was freezingly cold in the big hall and a grey eerie light trickled through the windows. She was all alone, and she felt an immense fright over the fact that she hadn’t been made aware of when, why or how Jareth had left. She listened with her heart in her mouth for sounds in the castle, but there were none. It was all so quiet. And where was Conaill? Thinking about what he had set out to do, shouldn’t he have been back already yesterday? What if he had? Had he seen Jareth? The questions leaped around in her head, making her dizzy. What if she were all alone here? How would she be able to leave this island? Fighting to bring reality and normality back into her life, she hoped frantically for that her mobile phone at least would be working here. Could she only get into contact with Toby she knew that she would have a chance to return to the real world again after this brush with the Underground.

This thought comforted her a bit and enabled her to get up from the floor at last. She found her clothes and hastened to dress. What if a servant would enter the hall to look for her or wanting to air and clean the room? It would not do for her to run around naked in there. What would people think? She went around the room as a prisoner, measuring the space, debating endlessly what to say when Conaill returned. If he returned? She came to the conclusion that she would tell him the truth. Why try to deny it or cover it up? At last she came to stop in front of the enormous mirror that adorned the center of the wall opposite the fireplace. She stood looking at herself for a moment without looking close or with attention. Yet when she did, she all of a sudden moved very close to the glass. She stared at the woman in there on the other side, not understanding and not recognizing. Yet it must be her in there. When she moved her head, so did the woman in the mirror. But the Sarah in the mirror was carrying a small dilapidated leather band around her left wrist. She could see that clearly now, but when examining her own hand nothing out of the ordinary could be detected. She went even closer to the mirror and held up her arm in the light. Could it be...? Oh yes...! Her heart sank. This must be the Indian Bracelet! Jareth had put the bracelet on her arm, so that he would keep track of her wherever she would go in the world from now on. Did that also mean that he would send her into exile as he had done with Conaill and Anna before her? She screamed and clasped her hand over her trembling mouth.

Sarah remained frozen in front of the mirror for an eternity as an even more horrifying truth dawned on her. She looked long and searchingly into the eyes of the Sarah on the other side and without a doubt she knew that she was pregnant. She would not be certain of course until a month had passed, but she knew that the tests were only going to be a formality, a confirmation. Slowly she started to back from the mirror, moaning soundlessly.

Who was the father of her child?

 

********************

To be continued in "WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER?" - Epilogue, yet to be published 

Chapter Text

WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER?

- An Epilogue -

Silence can be deafening. When life around you implodes, it’ll literally break your ears although you may not divine the actual sound. The sound is in your heart and brain.

To Anna the vacuum which the news from Donegal in Ireland created made her lose her balance and step into her own private labyrinth – a maze of rumors, half-lies, half-truths and assumptions which couldn’t be verified by anyone or anything. It was a true nightmare. She knew that she would have to approach Jareth to get some background and answers although she was well aware of that he might not want to disclose anything at all to her at this point.

Anna ran through the endless row of rooms, one giving access to the other, all silent and spacious. She looked for Jareth, eyes darting from corner to corner, and her ears tuned to the smallest of sounds. He was nowhere to be found in the official part of the palace; she realized this after a while and made her way through small and unobtrusive stairways and doors to his private quarters. There, at the far end of the eternity it had taken her to search for him, she found him standing in front of the huge window facing the immense maze that lay in the centre of the construction, this window being the only one in the whole place where the Labyrinth could be clearly surveyed in its entirety. From behind, he looked like a statue and his back signaled un-invitation to a degree that anyone but she would have turned and fled.

“Jareth!” Anna exclaimed. “Is it true that Sarah is pregnant?!”

He turned around and the expression in his face was at the same time malicious, deathly hostile and suavely bland.

“Yes, my dear, it is quite true.”

She exhaled slowly, carefully, as if thus trying to keep her equilibrium. Willfully she stood erect in front of him. He stepped down from the window and came up close to her.

“And of course, you know who the father is?” she breathed almost inaudibly.

“No!” It was an exclamation as well as a statement. “Had it been any other man involved in this quest, I could have found out easily, but not now. Not with Conaill in the picture.”

Anna flinched and tried desperately to maintain her posture and her cool. She couldn’t meet his eyes though. Those terrible eyes that bore into her with relentless fury. She sensed that he was about to continue to talk to her, but he checked himself and merely studied her closely for a second.

“So, when could you find out then?” she continued sullenly.

“When the baby is born,” he answered lightly and stretched out his thin, long fingers to rearrange a strand of her blond hair, forcing her at the same time to lift her head and look at him.

“But if YOU can’t find out, maybe I can!” Anna cried defiantly. “I can go and talk to her! I can confront her! She will know! I’m certain of this!”

“No, you can’t” he broke her off, dryly and quietly. “Through her pregnancy, she is for the moment protected from the likes of US.”

He stressed the last word and looked directly at her again. Her face fell, and a deathly pale appeared over her features. She looked at him in disbelief and dismay, opening her mouth to contradict him, but he silenced her with a short gesture.

“You don’t quite understand, do you? Not yet anyhow. But you will in time.” He murmured now, as if talking to himself more than to her.

A feeling of great unease filled Anna then. His words were ominous and she sensed with all of her mind that he knew things about this which he wouldn’t disclose to her. She knew too that she dreaded knowing.

There they stood in front of each other; two slim, eerily blond creatures, outlined by the moonlight that had just reached the tall window and now shone into the room with a cold and revealing light. They stood in silence for what seemed an eternity, and none moved.

At last Anna shook herself out of the stupor and touched Jareth’s arm.  He took her hand for a brief moment.

“Go now” he said at last, quietly and noncommittally, and disengaged himself from her turning around in one swift and flowing movement and went past her out of the room into the darkness beyond.

Anna hesitated for a fraction of a second, wanting to follow him, perhaps to press him for more details, but she felt at the same time that this would be impossible. He had closed himself to her and the matter for the moment. From him she wouldn’t obtain any more information. Could she get it from somewhere else?

**********

During the night, in her room, Anna continued to scrutinize the situation. How could it have reached this point in the first place? Had SHE done anything to bring it about? Had Jareth? Or was it Conaill? Or Sarah herself for that matter? Anna’s thoughts flew in all directions as she tried to make head and tail out of the rumors and facts that had reached her. True – that she had spent an unusually long time in the Underground for this session of rest and rejuvenation, but this had happened before during the span of the more than two hundred years which she had been forced to live in this manner. Never before had it even occurred to her that her absence might result in Conaill turning to another woman in this manner. Of course there had been other women in his life. That she knew well – especially for the long periods they had been kept apart – but none who had played any vital part in his life. So why had this happened now? And why with Sarah?! Out of all people?!

When the first of the morning light seeped through her curtains, Anna knew that she had to get some rest if she was to get through the days that lay ahead; days that would mean frantic search and endless inquiries. She also knew that she would not get any help from Jareth in this matter. Why he had excluded her this time from taking part in his schemes and plans, and the manner with which he had done it, was also a riddle to her. Did he blame her for something? And, if so, what…

Apart from anything else, Anna was quite aware of the seriousness of the situation. She knew it had dealt a blow to Jareth of a magnitude larger than any before. This wasn’t just a conflict. This could be a question of life or death in the end. Something had happened which threatened the very core of his existence and he would have to master all his strength, skill and cunning to deal with it.

Not that fate hadn’t thrown challenges at Jareth before. She wondered at times about how he had met them and what he had thought of the issues. He had never discussed it with her other than conveying facts. He had never expressed his feelings over the loss of those who were near and dear to him – if that now was a possible concept. Not even this was clear to her, come to think of it. He had after all lost his mother when he was fairly young, and his father had ceased to be his “father” the moment he chose to expel Conaill from the realm of the Underground. Conaill was now more of an equal to him in another sense than a close relation. He was competing on equal terms and thus a more dangerous adversary than Conaill, the King of the Underground, had ever been. 

What had she missed out on? Was it for example possible that Conaill had tired of sharing her with Jareth the way it had always been for years and years? Thinking unsentimentally about it, Anna couldn’t blame him, if so. She didn’t think that it was a question of conscious revenge from Jareth’s side; she knew him too well to attach that feature to him. However, although a lot of human time stood still in their lives, it DID however move forward, and what this movement meant in Conaill’s case, she didn’t actually know. But most of all, Anna thought about Sarah. Which came as a surprise to her. Anna would have imagined that her thoughts would concentrate on Conaill, but Sarah had moved into the foreground and Anna looked at her with burning, tired and teary eyes, feeling a huge amount of guilt. Because she knew without anyone telling her that she was responsible for Sarah taking part in this drama in the first place. Had she not thrown Sarah into the arms of Jareth, nothing of this might have happened in the first place.

Anna wondered too with mounting anxiety why she didn’t hear anything from Conaill. As far as she could understand and imagine, there was no serious conflict between them. She couldn’t be sure however because she didn’t know what had happened, when he visited Eavan’s grave at long last. Something might have happened there of which she knew nothing for the moment. Sometimes, late at night, she could get this terrible urge to try to reach him over the phone. She knew that this wouldn’t be impossible. Unlike Jareth, Conaill lived on Earth and under the conditions governing lives there. She knew for example that his home, the Grey Mansion, had telephone-lines.  In the end she refrained from trying though. If she called him, what would she say? She thought she couldn’t bear being met by a cold, non-committal and estranged voice which would pose more questions than answers maybe.

In the end however, the forced inactivity and lonely wait for something to happen ate Anna up from the inside.  She knew she would have to make an active effort and she would have to go for answers and explanations herself. Above all she needed someone to talk to; a person who perhaps had better and vaster knowledge than herself. She needed to see Celia.

When Anna’s decision was made, she started feverish and hasty preparations to leave as soon as she could manage. She planned to go to Grand Central Station where she had her own personal and favorite travel shop to get hold of the fastest possible transfer from New York to New Orleans. They had never let her down before, and she relied on getting something for the early evening or possibly later on in the night the very same day. She took her chance on this and packed a small bag and brought it along as she left.

**********

Since it was close to Christmas, the Grand Central was more than busy. Even in an ordinary day this was a place which never slept and never lost its momentum. Just as Anna had hoped for, she got a ticket for an early evening flight and when that was settled she found that she had enough time to grab a bite to eat before getting on the transfer to the airport. She wasn’t very hungry and just headed for the nearest coffee shop. At the bar counter she ordered a small salmon sandwich and a cup of coffee and settled on the small and rickety chair in front of her meager meal. A kind of lull settled her mind, and she exhaled slowly. Sipping her coffee, she let her eyes travel the counter and the small shop without really looking for anything or anyone. Before she knew it or had time to react to fence off anyone invading on her privacy, she sensed that someone slipped down on the chair just to her left. She opened her mouth to protest and say that there was no need to crowd the space – there was indeed plenty of room in the small café for everyone – when she realized with alarm and confusion that it was Conaill who had joined her at the bar counter; Conaill in his old and worn leather jacket and with his silvery hair tied tightly at the back of his head; his eyes a bit more weary than she had seen them the last time and the furrows in his face perhaps a bit sharper and deeper.

At first, he didn’t look at her but addressed the waiter to order a coffee and a small whiskey for himself. Then he turned to her and surveyed her with bland curiosity and caution. They looked at each other in an eternity of silence. At last he spoke.

“No,” he said flatly.

“Use your brain,” he added with certain tenderness and some measure of impatience when seeing the frantic questions which filled her eyes.

 “Come now. Of course I can’t have any children. If you only try to think a bit beyond your own upset and jealousy you must understand that Jareth would never have exiled me from the Underground and sent me out into the world with the possibility to reproduce myself. Just imagine. I haven’t exactly lived in celibacy, you know. Hundreds and hundreds of little half brothers, potential “kings” all of them. No, my dear, I will never be able to offer you a child. I can offer you a lot, but not that. And believe me; I think I grieve more over this than you do presently.”

“But Jareth has told me that he doesn’t know who is the father of Sarah’s child,” Anna interrupted him.

“For once I’m in the total Know and he isn’t,” Conaill retorted with a rueful smile. “Jareth is still not sure of my possibilities and the powers I may still maintain. As much as he controls the world we live in, there are things which are beyond his reach after all.”

“Yes, I did help Sarah out if we can call it that,” he continued.

“I once came to her for help and she helped me. Now it was my turn to do the same for her. I opened the doors for her and I gave her access to Jareth’s person again.”

“Yes, I took Sarah to the island because I know that it’s the only place where Jareth couldn’t hide and not see her. This is the place where I could flush him out. I knew it was inevitable. Sooner or later they would have made contact and I brought this about. I preferred disarming him rather than having her face him in full armor.”

Conaill stopped speaking and looked down on the counter and he remained silent for a long time. Anna could see that he was battling with himself to say what was next on his mind. Finally, he turned around to fully face her and he grabbed her by the shoulders.

“But we are free, Anna. Finally we are boundlessly free! Now it’s up to you to make your decisions. I invite you to come and live with me in the Grey Mansion in Ireland and make a home there with me. You are free to come to Ireland and live there with me now.”

“You have however some decisions to make for yourself first. If – when – you come, you must understand that you by that moment will have shed all of your previous life. You will have to be on your own. You will have to rely only on yourself. No more running to Jareth when things are getting tough. You are no longer bound to him. He has let you go for good even if you can’t feel it just right now. And if you will want to share the rest of our lives together it must be as a free woman with a free will. I will accept nothing else. Even if I’d die out of broken heart, I will no longer share you with anyone else. So if I see you again, if you will come, I will know that you have made your decision and that you have come for me only. Do you understand?”

With these last words, Conaill started to dissolve in front of Anna’s eyes. When he was gone, she finally let out a shuddering sigh and looked around only to observe that no one seemed to have noticed or cared, and she realized that she was the only one who had seen him.

**********

Anna had decided to sleep all the way down to New Orleans but Conaill’s word kept milling in her mind, constantly craving her attention, and she had no rest at all for the remainder of the journey.

Anna was in no way prepared for what met her when coming home. The house was more quiet than usual and to her alarm she found Celia to be weaker and more ill than she had expected. The young servant girl kept in the background, hardly visible, as if on her way somewhere else already and Anna was upset over the way Celia was neglected and left to herself.

“Don’t fear,” Celia whispered. “It is a choice of my own. I want her to have left when I die.”

“Stop talking rubbish!” Anna cried. “You are not going to die. I won’t let you!”

But Celia merely smiled and caressed her hand.

“I know when my time is up. And believe me, I’m not sorry to go. I wish for that everything could have been different for you, but what will happen to you is now beyond my influence. I will want you to know though how happy I am over that you have come home; that you will be with me tonight. Thank you for this dear, sweet girl. Thank you for everything…” Celia’s voice trailed off as Anna soothed her forehead with a damp linen cloth.

“I expected also you to come,” Celia whispered almost inaudibly after a short silence and smiled.

“What do you mean?” The great disquiet in Anna’s words was all too clear. “Me too??”

“Not so long ago, Sarah was here.” Celia replied.

“How much more of this plot has been going on behind my back? Is there more to know?!” Anna stormed in rage, but Celia put her wizened hand on Anna’s arm.

“Child,” she said, “what is happening, is happening and you must know that all this is far beyond either you or me to influence now.”

“Do you mean to tell me that I have to sit here and look at things falling apart around me without doing anything to stop it? Don’t you realize that I’m losing Conaill? And by the way, YOU seem to know a lot about it, why haven’t you told me? Through others and partly through Jareth I’ve learned of Sarah’s visit to Ireland and I only know few and terrible details.”

“Anna, you of all people should know that I’m not at liberty to reveal ANYTHING of what I know or have known in the past. I’m bound by silence and the most severe rules of obedience. That is the price I’ve had to pay all these years to be able to continue to be in your presence and to survey you. I have been asked to display total loyalty.”

Celia’s features displayed more animation than she had shown in many years.

Anna listened to her in silence but her worries grew. She realized that the situation was graver than she had imagined and worse things would happen than those that had already occurred. She stopped asking questions, and without words now she slid to the floor and put her weary head on Celia’s lap. Celia started to soothe her with feathery caresses, and Anna heard her quietly sing a very, very old lullaby in Creole. Anna remembered the song which brought back vivid memories of days of old, and for the first time in her life she got a sinking feeling that made her lose her bearings. She fathomed with both mind and body that she was over two hundred years old, if the time was measured the way it was done on Earth, Above.

During the night, when Anna kept wake over Celia, the old woman started to talk in broken sentences mostly to herself. Anna didn’t understand what she was saying. Much of what Celia said was in her very old Creole patois, the language she had used in her own youth over two hundred years ago. Suddenly however, she seemed to be present. She took hold of Anna and focused her old eyes on the other.

“Anna, you must claim your freedom,” Celia whispered in a surprisingly strong voice, now giving echo to the words of Conaill from the previous night.

“If you want a life with Conaill, you will have to fight for him. No other person will be there to help you. Your days of relying on Jareth are over. You will be on your own.”

Then Celia fell back on the pillows and sank into her delirium again.

In the early morning hours, just before dawn, Anna felt Celia’s hand tremble in hers. She heard the rasping breath of the dying woman in the last effort, and then Celia was gone. So quietly as if the spirit just had to shake itself effortlessly free to leave the shriveled shell. Anna didn’t cry. She just sat there holding on to Celia’s hand for another hour before she could move again. Then she covered the calm and motionless face with the fine linen sheet and slowly left the room. The house was deserted now. The servant girl had left sometime during the night and no one remained. Anna went from room to room, not really knowing what she was looking for, stopping here and there to look at an item and letting memories of past happenings unfold before her eyes like a film. At last she was back in Celia’s room again. The decision had taken from in her head by then. Anna knew without the shadow of a doubt that she would never live in this house again. It would not be her home with Conaill or anyone else for that matter; it would never serve as a refuge any more. With Celia it had died. That was true beyond questions.

“I will bury you here,” Anna said quietly out into the room. “I’m sure of that you would have wanted that. This has been your place and when you are no longer here, it must perish too.”

Anna went into the garden to make sure she knew where to find the opening that would enable her to return to the Underground. When having satisfied herself of that it was still present in the old shed in the garden, she brought a huge heap of dry leaves and branches indoors and piled them on top of each other in the living room. Then she set fire to it all. She stood for a moment looking at the flames which now started to lick the walls and the curtains. Then she slipped outdoors again, carefully locking the door behind her to delay the moment when the fire alerted the neighbors. Anna vanished soundlessly through the opening to the Other World, now invisible to any human eye.

**********

Sarah felt peace in her mind for the first time in months, feeling almost happy or at least a great elation. Her steps were light when she descended the stairs and went out into the streets. Now, at last she was totally sure. Now, there was no doubt in her mind. Now, she had seen the tiny, tiny creature who was to be her unborn child for the first time in her life, having undergone the first ultra-sound examination, and she was flooded with tenderness and a great need to protect this little being that was growing inside her. She slipped into a nearby diner to get herself a cup of tea and a doughnut. Well, the baby wouldn’t object to anything sweet, she hoped. However, from now on she would have to think of what to eat and drink and not be careless any longer.

The weeks that had led up to this moment had been turbulent to say the least. Getting back home had been the easiest part of the whole procedure when she thought about the events in retrospect. To anyone else it might have been the ultimate stress, but Sarah hadn’t experienced it in that way.

Left alone during a late October storm in the gloomy castle on the island outside Arranmore on the Irish west coast, it came as a relief to her when she was approached by what seemed to be the man in charge of the place in Conaill’s absence. The next morning – the morning after the shattering events – when she went in search for something to eat at last, the overseer met up with her and in a quiet and grave manner asked permission to speak to her. Sarah sat down on a chair and prepared to listen to him. He told her that he had been commissioned to see to that she was to get back to her home. He declared briefly without going into details that his master – due to unforeseen developments – was unable to attend to the matter himself. It was however Conaill’s wish that she should return immediately to New York and not wait for him. He would eventually get into contact with her. The overseer had then ordered a boat to come as soon as possible to take her to Burtonport from where she would be able to go to Dublin by either train or air.

Sarah had felt relief when accepting that someone had taken charge over the events and that she had been forced to leave the state of dreamlike nothingness. She felt certain in her mind that Conaill wasn’t evading her – she relied on her inner feelings here, because she knew that she was sensitive to the atmosphere in this place to the extent where she could smell treason or betrayal in the air. No, things he couldn’t have counted on must have happened and they might well have to do with the appearance of Jareth last night. She also longed desperately to get back into the world she knew and out of this place which more and more looked like a major gateway to the Underground. Most likely it had served as such for Conaill and his family for hundreds of years; she guessed as much. She wasn’t unhappy seeing the island disappear in the fogs of the sea, and she welcomed the sight of the little port in Burtonport which to her weary eyes that day looked like the height of modern civilization. Well ashore, she went immediately about getting a flight back to the States. Her ticket included an open return, and she booked herself into a flight for New York by the late evening the very same day and left by train for Dublin. It would take around four to five hours and still give her ample time to pick up the ticket and arrange for a safe trip back home.

It was also a simple and non-eventful journey and well inside her own flat, it felt as if she hadn’t been away at all; as if the last ten days would only have been a dream. Even the flowers in the pot on the kitchen table were still alive, and nothing in the refrigerator was necessary to throw away. At first, all this brought relief to Sarah but after a certain time, she started to fidget. Unease and anxiety filled her, and she listened inside her for any sign of changes. She listened too for signs of life from either Conaill or Jareth but the silence that encountered her was massive.

Then, in November, Sarah missed her period and an anticipation that she hadn’t counted on, started to grow inside her. She ran to the pharmacy to get a pregnancy test and could hardly contain herself, waiting for the answer to show up. And yes, of course, there was no doubt about it. She had to confess to herself that she had never been in doubt. It was good though to get the proof finally.

The results, however, made her face new problems and she had to sit down and think about her situation in earnest. First of all, she thought of Toby. She felt that he was entitled to know, as he had been kept aware of everything that had happened from the moment she invited the Underground into their lives. She sent an email to him with brief news to start with and asked him to contact. Could he by any chance come to New York to see her, or was it better that she went to Boston? He answered promptly that he would arrange going to New York over the weekend but other than that, he didn’t comment the news.

Toby came on a Saturday afternoon, and Sarah gave him an extra tight hug of welcome. She was very glad to see him. Toby, her only living relative today. The only one, who knew what her life was really like.

He grinned all over his face when seeing her.

“You don’t exactly look unhappy!” he exclaimed after having searched her face with anxious eyes.

“I guess not,” she smiled a bit ruefully. “I would lie if I claimed to be. But don’t let that fool you into believing that I take lightly on my situation. I know what I’m up against. At my work, I can continue unnoticed for maybe another month or so, but in the end I won’t fool anyone of course. And I’m fully aware of that all of the comments and questions I’ll get, of course will be concerning the absent father. And there is no way I’ll be able to truthfully explain that to anyone…” she concluded as her voice trailed off.

“I get that” Toby broke her off. “And there is no point in lying to anyone either. I guess your point of view would be that this is nobody’s business but your own. But you must have thought about how to manage this, haven’t you? I mean, ever since you started to expect this line of happening? Since you’re healthy and all that, you can go on working for several months yet, but the question will be, will you want to DO that in the first place? Be around for the side-glances, the furtive questions, the sneers and all that? If you quit now, you wouldn’t have to bother explaining to them. Question is of course what to do instead. You must have a job. We’re not bad off economically, but we don’t own a fortune.”

“Oh Toby,” she murmured and smiled, “I hear that you talk of “US” – you must understand that I will NEVER expect you to share into my miseries and problems in that way. I will never burden you with it.”

“Come on sister!” he laughed happily. “Haven’t we shared everything until now? We could sell some of the shares we got in inheritance. That wouldn’t tap the sources too much I think. What do you say? Would it be enough for you to keep you going for a couple of months until you could find something suitable? Perhaps that opportunity won’t come until after the baby is born, but you could start looking and we could plan for the upcoming year, to get you through that. What do you say?” he repeated eagerly.

Sarah started to cry and left poor Toby all flustered and upset. She showed him though that it was tears of relief and happiness. Happiness over having someone so wonderful to rely on in moments of crises and happiness over that she would be able to concentrate on the baby without fear of the consequences and the pressure her situation at the theater would subject her to.

“I’d sell this flat in New York. We still have the house outside Boston,” she reminded him. “I will go and live there. Of course we still know a lot of people in the neighborhood, but not as closely as we did those years ago when we all lived there. And the “nosy” ones can be led to believe that I’m widowed. I won’t be eloquent about it after all. I’ll keep to myself and since it’s close to Boston, we can see each other more regularly.”

“Swell!” Toby was really catching on to the development now. “We don’t have any time to lose. How many months in advance do you have to give notice at your job?”

“If I remember it rightly, I got three months to do it,” Sarah replied and made a small grimace of dismay. “But I guess I could get my doctor to verify, that I need to get out of work earlier.”

“Well, hand in your notice already on Monday to start with, and I’ll enter an ad in the papers to get the flat on the market. Start packing Sis!”

Sarah laughed. “Toby, your enthusiasm is getting the better of me. Leaving me breathless. But yes, I will start to prepare as soon as possible.”

And so it was decided.

It was in the following week in early January that Sarah saw her doctor for the first time and went through the ultra-sound examination, the first time she saw the tiny figure of her baby, and the moment when everything took shape in earnest in her mind. Facing reality and consequences and feeling how she would grow with the responsibilities.

**********

Packing up and evacuating the flat in New York was combined with surprisingly few feelings for Sarah even if it happened to coincide with Christmas and the turn of the year. She realized that this place had only been a station in her life and had nothing of permanence about it. Perhaps it was also so that from the moment Jareth had disappeared from it, the charge had left it too. Toby called every day to get the latest reports on answers to their ad and admonished her not to let anyone come and see it until they were both present. He told her that he was due down again next weekend. Sarah dutifully took the calls as they came and booked visits with several interested parties for Sunday afternoon. In the meantime she packed her small belongings. It was another source of amazement to her; so little she had felt like keeping in this place. She had contracted a moving firm to take the lot up to the house in Wakefield.

On Sunday, with Toby present, Sarah received a group of possible buyers and let them have a look around and ask as many questions they wanted. Many took them for a pair and neither Sarah nor Toby felt like taking them out of the illusion. It was clear, already from the start that there would be no problem getting rid of the flat in a hurry; the question was rather what price they would manage to get for it. During the following week Sarah was engaged in several negotiations concerning the price and there was even an impromptu bidding over the telephone with three parties involved.  At last it was settled, however. Sarah was very satisfied with the price. She phoned Toby the same evening to give him the good news. She told him at the same time that they were in no hurry to touch any of their source money since what she got in the deal, would serve her for an ample time.

At her job, Sarah was met with confusion and questions. No one could understand why she felt the need to leave in the middle of the season, and she only replied that problems with her health had turned up and forced her to reconsider her situation and at least take some time off. Reluctantly they believed her in the end, since she seemed totally determined to leave as soon as that was possible.

If leaving New York wasn’t combined with a lot of emotion, coming back to Wakefield was. Again Sarah wasn’t prepared for the storm of thoughts and feelings that rushed through her when she turned the key in the lock and let herself into the house that had once been her whole world. It was so quiet in there that she could clearly hear her own heartbeats. She had been in fear of finding it derelict but Toby used it ever so often, especially over weekends when he wanted to get away from campus life. Moreover, since the drive from downtown Boston to Wakefield was a fairly short one, he could easily manage the ride whenever he felt like it. Toby had told her that he had only used the downstairs area, and she could see that his old bedroom was still occupied with his things. The drawing-room was also furnished and kept in order as well as the kitchen. She needed only to let in the air and the feeble January sunshine to make it feel good again, but then she furtively stole up the stairs. The doors to all the rooms up on that landing were open to let the air circulate freely, and she went hesitantly into what had once been her own room. There she remained on the doorstep for a long time, looking at the little room, at the small bed and the shelves where some of the dolls and books were still to be seen. It was as if a hand squeezed the blood out of her heart, and feeling faint she sat down on a chair. In here, she had met Jareth once; it was so very long ago. It had all happened in another life. She tried to think of him, to feel if he was present. Yet, his presence where nowhere to be felt and she surprised herself with finding it hard to imagine his features, as if he was blurred by a veil or the fog from the nearby lake. She actually couldn’t see him any longer! It was a very strange feeling to experience after having lived for ages already with his image burned into her eyelids. At last she shook the feelings off and rose. This would be the good room for the baby maybe, but she wouldn’t want to live here again herself. Instead she decided to use the main bedroom which had belonged to her parents. No trace of them was left here. All that remained had been tidied away after the funeral. There was just a big bed, a night table and a large wardrobe in there now. It would suit her fine. She opened all the windows on the second floor too and gazed out in the garden which Toby had kept moderately clear, and out into the distance where the surface of the Lake Quannapowitt glittered in the winter sun like a mirage.

**********

Sarah was seized by a great amount of energy. She went about cleaning the house from top to bottom, scrubbing floors and cleaning windows, buying new bed linen, cutlery, plates and glasses, tidying away the autumn leaves off the lawn in the garden, repairing the letterbox and seeing to that the electricity in the cellar worked again. When Toby came to visit on her first weekend back home, he was mighty upset with her.

“Listen sister!” he admonished and tried hard to sound severe. “I let you loose here in solitude, and you turn the place upside down. Shouldn’t you think about your condition?”

She laughed happily for the first time.

“Silly you! Pregnancy isn’t an illness, it’s a totally natural state and I know I will fell better later on, if I move about a bit now. Stop chastising me and come into the kitchen. I’ve prepared a wonderful meal for you.”

Toby couldn’t hide that he was happy to see that she was in such a good mood, and he started to relax in earnest. Although it was early January, the weather was pleasant and they could have coffee after dinner on the porch which was facing south and the sun. They talked for a while on practical details. Toby wanted to know if she had found a doctor again in town. She would need to see one regularly. Sarah said that she had contacted the office of their old family doctor and the new doctor, who had now taken over, had nothing against taking her on as a patient. He was young and enthusiastic and seemed very pleasant and helpful. To him she had told her story in a manner bordering on the truth. She knew she would have to rely on him in the future in situations where total trust might be a vital issue. She had told him that she had met a man while on vacation and found herself pregnant when coming home. This was the truth, but of course she didn’t elaborate on the background. She made a point of that going through an abortion would not be according to her faith which was why she had decided to keep the child. She also had told him that she knew of what living in a small community meant, and that she counted on his discretion to keep her “secret” since she posed as a widow in wider circles. He had replied that whatever was said between them would stay within the four walls of his office, and that her comments would not even be entered in the general file which was to be kept in the secretary’s office. They would only be available among his private notes on his computer.

“It took a burden off my mind,” Sarah concluded. “From my point of view, I’m settled here and if no complications will arrive later on – God forbid – I can prepare myself for my baby now in what will hopefully be peace and quiet.”

“Peace and quiet, yes” Toby interrupted. “I meant to ask you about that. We haven’t really talked about it, have we?”

Sarah looked down on her hands while folding them as if containing her secrets and her life in that grip.

“I know what you mean. And of course I can’t be sure of anything. Not with persons like Jareth, Anna and Conaill in the wings. But still. I can’t really describe the feeling, but it is as if I can’t feel any of them at all for the moment. They are just not here. I have even had a hard time visualizing what they look like. It is all very strange. My only guess it that it has something to do with my present state.”

“Haven’t you asked yourself who the father is, or do you know?” Toby ventured furtively at last.

Sarah looked at him with dark and weary eyes.

“It is a constant presence in my mind – that question – have no doubt about it. I guess though that I can’t do anything to find out until the baby is born and even then, it will be hard. Can you imagine me tracking Jareth and Conaill down and securing blood tests from them for analysis?” She made a small grimace.

They talked no further on the subject that afternoon but enjoyed each other’s company, and Sarah felt that it was all too soon when Toby had to leave again before the dusk fell and made driving precarious.

When left alone to herself, Sarah went into the bedroom and stopped before the mirror. She stood there for a long time, lost in thought, and the smile had left her face, leaving her weary and insecure. Sarah might have fooled Toby but not herself. She tried looking at her future but could only see into the dark tunnel that offered no light at the end. What was to become of her? How was she to find out who was the father of her child? Would she want to find out? Would it help to find out? She looked at the now barely visible and threadbare remnants of the Indian Bracelet, only visible to her in the mirror. She understood that Toby couldn’t see it since he hadn’t commented on it. It was much less visible now than it had been when she discovered it in Ireland. Did this also mean that she was as hard to envisage to Jareth as he was to her? There was no end to her anxious questions.

**********

Sarah moved about the house, carefully, a bit clumsy due to her weight, stopping now and then to breathe and to feel the child move within her. It was swelteringly hot outside in early July. The seven months that had passed since her coming home, had seemed to be an endless entity at first. Yet, before she knew it, she could all of a sudden envisage the end. Sarah he tried to look beyond the crucial point but it was hard. She knew however that it would soon be a reality, and she would have to start thinking of how to manage her life and that of her baby. She really had to admit that the prospect scared her. Sarah knew positively nothing of what awaited her when the baby was born. The birth itself didn’t scare her although it was a first for her. She had had marvelous support from her doctor, all through her pregnancy. She had been allowed to visit the hospital and in detail go through what was to happen to her. Sarah had been promised pain-relief if that was necessary, and she had been promised not to be left alone. This last feature had been a decision by the doctor. He knew that no husband would show up during the event, and none would come later either. Toby had of course promised to show up after the birth, but Sarah didn’t want to burden him with too much responsibility. He was after all a young man with other interests in his life. He had recently fallen in love with a beautiful co-ed down at the university, and he wasn’t to be reached much for the moment. Sarah was therefore eternally grateful for the doctor’s decision. Someone would be with her all the time. Someone who wouldn’t know of the dark forces that threatened Sarah and her baby but nonetheless, by sheer presence, would act as a sufficient shield for her.

**********

Sarah’s time came about a week later. She was well taken care of and went into her great experience and ordeal with confidence. Although it took time giving birth to her first child, she never lost her belief in that all would be good in the end. A son was born to her some twelve hours later and it was as if all the pain, tiredness and fear evaporated as fog in sunshine – she almost forgot that it had been there – when she held her baby in her arms for the first time. It was an incredible feeling, only marred by the absence of the invisible one. Sarah tried to be brave about it, but couldn’t help feeling the intense sense of loneliness too and she hid her tears as she closed her eyes.

As he had promised, Toby came later, all beaming with pride and joy.

“He looks like me!” he cried out and laughed and Sarah nodded.

“Yes, perhaps just a little.”

It was true that her son reminded her a bit of Toby when he was a baby.

Sarah had a hard time coming to rest in the night. All the foreign sounds in the hospital magnified in the darkness, and suddenly she was filled with an intense fear. She HAD to see her baby. She would not accept that he slept in the ward for the newly born. Sarah wanted him here with her. She sat up in bed and started calling for the nurse who anxiously came running to her side. The nurse thought of course that Sarah was ill out of some reason or other, but Sarah got on her feet and got hold of the nurse and explained that she urgently wanted to see her son.

“I want to see the hospital priest too!” she demanded. “I want my son to be baptized tonight!”

The nurse thought of course that Sarah was overwrought by her experience and suffered a post-natal depression which wasn’t uncommon. Sarah wouldn’t let herself be silenced though.

“I demand to see the priest!” she insisted. “I won’t rest until I do!" And she started crying.

The poor nurse was beside herself too now and in her bewilderment she thought that the best thing really was to let Sarah see the priest. After all, the priest was there to calm everyone down and seeing him wouldn’t harm either the mother or the child. So, she called the front desk to ask for the priest to come to the room. This made Sarah a bit more at ease, but she continued to ask for her son and at long last the nurse went to fetch him.

The priest, a young man, looking more like a student than a revered father, entered the room and came up to Sarah in her bed. She sat up holding her sleeping baby close to her body.

“My dear,” said the priest soothingly, we are all here to help you. You mustn’t be afraid. Your son is a lovely and healthy young boy, and there is no illness that will threaten his life. So, please tell me what you are so afraid of.”

“Father,” she whispered quietly, “I can’t tell you of all the uncertain and fearful things out there which threaten my son and me. But you HAVE to believe me. I’m not hysterical and I’m not mad, I just want my son to be taken into the custody of God tonight. He – we – need that protection.  I don’t think that either he or I shall die before long – but other things, beyond your imagination, do threaten us, so please, please, do this for me. For us!”

“But won’t there be others who will be sorry not to have been able to take part in this joyful ceremony?” the priest asked. “Haven’t you thought of the christening in a church?"

“Yes, father, I have indeed,” Sarah replied. “But I now urgently feel inside that it cannot wait.”

The priest stopped arguing with her then. He was surely not there to stop her to ask for the protection of God and to keep her son from being taken up in God’s community. He asked the nurse if she would like to serve as a witness, to which the nurse complied readily. Then the priest made a small altar out of a table and went to fetch his little bag where he kept all the necessary items. They took a crystal bowl and made a baptismal font out if it. They poured fresh water into it over which he said a small prayer, the way he did when preparing for a baptism in emergency.

“Have you thought of a name for your son?” the priest inquired.

“Yes!” Sarah smiled for the first time during the night. “He shall be baptized William after my family and especially my father but I think I will call him Liam for short. I think he would like that later on when he grows up.”

Thus, it happened that William – Liam – was baptized in the night of the day he was born and he slept peacefully through the ceremony and only woke up afterwards being hungry. Sarah thanked the priest, putting all her heart in her voice, making him believe that it was an occasion of joy, and he was then convinced of that this had all been for the best. He blessed them and left them to their peace which came to Sarah at last after this long, long day.

**********

Not until she came home, did Sarah realize how tired she was. The smallest effort wore her out and the constant wake over the baby, feeding it at regular hours, also in the middle of the night, made her almost lose track of night and day. She had had the most ambitious schedule for what to do and accomplish when coming home, only to find out that none of this was feasible in the end. At times, she felt almost depressed. Her doctor comforted her though, telling her that her reactions were very normal and the best thing she could do was to ignore them as issues, accept that she felt tired and give herself a lot of rope and time. Eventually she started to feel better. Sarah had social visits at home from new acquaintances, new friends she had picked up during the time of her pregnancy. She felt as if the social pressure tried hard to incorporate her in the proper system so to speak. As July wore on and entered into August, Sarah felt life return within her and she took part in the development of her son with great curiosity, pride and joy. The urge to work around the house and the garden came back, and she went about decorating the small bedroom – once her own – for Liam. She wanted it to be ready for the moment he would move in there when he no longer would sleep in her room.

Presently Liam slept in a small cot in Sarah’s room, and she could sit on her bed and look at him for hours, watching how he fell deep into sleep or see when the flutters of his eyelids told her that he was about to return to her from his dreams.

One evening in mid August, Sarah heard over the radio that bad weather was expected. It could almost be looked upon as the foreboding of the coming autumn. She mused over the passing of the time, how quickly everything had happened. She also thought of putting some protection over the cherry tree. It would be hateful if all the berries perished in the storm, now that the old tree carried an abundance of them.

“There’s going to be rain and thunder,” she cooed to Liam who answered with a lot of pealing noises. “But you needn’t be afraid, Mummy is here."

She took care though to shut the window and move his bed away from the vicinity. Just as a precaution. The clouds hid the moon in the late evening and the first heavy drops of rain started to batter on the window pane shortly afterwards. Not long after this development, the TV stopped sending. That made Sarah feel ill at ease. Was it really that bad? She had anticipated bad weather but not a hurricane. Then the light in the lamp in the ceiling started to flicker and went out with a buzz. At the same time she observed that the refrigerator in the kitchen below stopped its constant murmur and silence enveloped her. The silence within, as a contrast to the raging storm outside. She stood in the room for a long time wondering if there was anything she should do, but came to the conclusion that she wouldn’t improve her situation by trying to call Toby or the neighbors. Better just try to ride it out.

It therefore came as a terrible shock and fright to her when the window in the bedroom broke, and glass splitter and rain spread over the floor in cascades. She rushed up towards the cot where Liam had now started to cry, but found to her incredible dismay that she could hardly move. Her movements were elongated in time as if in ultra slow motion. Then she saw him materialize in front of her eyes, wrapped in his enormous big cloak of black feathers and the white hair sparkling around his white face, only the mismatched eyes shining with the brilliance of any color.

“Jareth…”she just breathed the name, and he focused his burning eyes on her.

Then it dawned on her that he might have come to abduct the child! Yes! That was it! He had come to take Liam away! And when this notion took form in her head, she received a supernatural strength from within. She had no idea of where it came from; only that she was prepared to fight for her child with her life at stake if that was necessary. Then she found that she could move again. Resisting him with her will, she moved up towards the baby and placed herself between Liam and Jareth. Sarah was shaking as if she stood in the middle of the storm, and she stared at Jareth with her defiant eyes, not being aware of that tears had started to run over her cheeks now. She saw that he didn’t touch the ground; he was floating in the air just above the floor. She had no idea of how long this lasted, it could have been minutes, it could have been hours; whatever happened, happened outside time.

Then Sarah saw Jareth stretch out his hands towards the baby, but she became aware of that it was an impotent gesture. She knew then that he couldn’t reach Liam or touch him, and at that very moment she watched Jareth transform into the big white owl. She lifted a nearby chair and used as a weapon, pointing it at the bird. In a rush of adrenaline she drove it towards the broken window and forced it out into the night, and in a bright and fearful flash of lightning, which split the cherry tree in two, it disappeared finally into the darkness.

Sarah slumped to the floor beside the cot, and at that very moment the electricity started working again. The house was filled with a cacophony of noise in an instant. The light went on in the ceiling, the answering-machines in the telephones started talking, the refrigerator came to life with a shudder and the radio started booming, all at the same time. Liam cried and cried, and Sarah lifted him out of the bed and crawled out into the bathroom and into the furthermost corner in there. Pressed to the wall and with her baby clutched to her chest, she remained sitting there for a very long time. When she tried to move, a wave of nausea washed over her and she had to bend down over the toilet to retch violently. Liam had fallen asleep at last against her breast, most likely out of sheer tiredness, and she didn’t want to wake him up. Yet, she knew urgently that she had to act now. There was no time to lose. She knew of course that no place in the house was safe any longer; that hiding in the bathroom was just a gesture. Should he want to find her, he could do so wherever she tried to hide. In her distress she knew she had only one escape and only one person left to turn to – Toby – her precious young brother who was the only living being who had shared entering the Other World with her and managed to get back Above again. It was true that she had once thrown Toby into the terrifying entity of the Underground and caused both his and her demise. Now, he was the only feeble shield left for her to hold against the rage of Jareth the Goblin King.

On shaking knees she stumbled out into the house again and got hold of a telephone.

Yet, when Sarah heard Toby’s voice was at the other end of the line it was full of concern and strength as if he had suddenly risen to the occasion. 

Not spilling time on any formal preliminaries, he asked:

“What has happened? What danger are you in? Let me know at once!”

Although Sarah was almost incoherent, she did her best to describe the awful happening to Toby.

“I think, that he wanted to take my baby away from me” she whispered with a shaking voice. Then she started to cry hard and loud. Toby did his best to reach her and get coherent messages conveyed to her. At last she calmed down so much that she could finally listen to him.

“Get yourself over here as soon as you can. There is no time to waste. Just pick up what you need the most and leave the rest behind. I will have everything prepared for you when you come.”

“But where shall we live? Where can I go?” Sarah protested. Where will you find space for a mother with her baby in your present situation?”

“Leave that to me. I have possibilities here,” he cut her off. “I will also tell you that contrary to all of you – you, Anna, Conaill, Celia and all the rest of them – I don’t fear Jareth. He can’t touch me. I’m the only person outside his reach. Yes, you once put us in terrible danger – there is no denying that – but you also saved me and by doing so you made certain of that nothing from that Other World could ever harm me again although I will never be free of the memories.”

Sarah listened in wonder to Toby, and his voice and words made her pick up courage again. Was this the final twist of fate? She had indeed sacrificed a huge amount of her life to save him. Was it for this moment then?

Knowing that she had to face an ordeal of a journey full of uncertainty and peril, Sarah forced her own feelings and reactions into the background and merely concentrated on the absolute present. Carrying Liam close to her body – she wouldn’t let him out of her sight for even a second now – she went into the cellar to get some cardboard to put over the bedroom window which had been destroyed in the storm. She couldn’t leave the house open like that after all. With hammer and nails she sealed the window for good. She didn’t know when she would see this house again. Yet, she was certain of that she would. She would live here again eventually but when was still in the clouds.

**********

Anna was also in the process of departing. She had finally decided that she would take the plunge and go to Ireland to see if she would meet Conaill there – meet him and convince him of that she was in earnest when she proclaimed that HE was the one she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She wasn’t sure of if it was too late already, but in all her life she had been taking risks and put everything at stake so why would it be different now? Especially now when she felt that her life was in the balance.

Anna’s nights had been more or less sleepless after her return from New Orleans. She had spent hours trying to penetrate her memories and her decisions. She wanted to know when she had gone blind and how easy it had been to just follow the unconscious stream and not put up any fight against Jareth. She sighed and grieved over lost time and opportunities. Now she was however on her way to Dublin, and there was no return.

Reality came back into Anna’s life when she landed in Dublin. She had traveled forward in time going from the States to Europe, so leaving the JFK in New York around 9 p.m. for a journey of roughly 7 hours, meant arrival in Dublin at 8.30 a.m. the next day. She stumbled out of the plane into the glaring summer morning light and could see nothing for a moment or two. Then she put herself together and entered the check-in to formally arrive. Anna had no idea of whether Conaill was at home or not. She hadn’t cared to find out. She knew though that if he wasn’t at home, his overseer Stuart O’Mara would most likely be there. She had already formed an idea of what she would say to him; something about passing through and could she possibly stay a night or two? Hesitantly she approached a phone box and lifted the receiver.

It wasn’t a long phone call. Somehow it seemed as if Stuart O’Mara had waited for her to contact, and after some courteous preliminaries he frankly offered to come and pick her up. It would take him a couple of hours to drive to Dublin and he suggested that she could take a room at the airport just for the day to freshen up and lie down a bit while waiting for him to come along. That seemed to be a splendid idea since Anna was almost delirious suffering from jet lag and exhaustion as she was.

O’Mara arrived in the afternoon and by then Anna had slept almost dreamlessly for the duration of her stay. She couldn’t bring herself to make conversation to O’Mara and it seemed as if he understood and just made practical comments to her concerning their voyage. They made their way south in almost complete silence. The radio was on, and its constant murmur and music filled the car with soft noise.

When they arrived the night had fallen, and Anna saw the house lit up by lights from within for the first time. It gave the old house and its surrounding garden and eerie and magic appearance. O’Mara bid her formally welcome and told her that he would call Conaill tomorrow to let him know of her arrival. O’Mara wondered too if she was hungry and when she shook her head, he offered her a glass of wine instead. They sat down at the table, and he decanted an old bottle of wine which, when poured out, tasted divinely. She had no idea of what kind of wine it was, but there was something magic about it no doubt. She felt light of heart all of a sudden as if worries and problems were lifted from her shoulders. They didn’t talk much and soon Anna felt that she needed to lie down and sleep. Again, sensing her mood and her feelings even before she tried to explain them, O’Mara rose from the chair and motioned her to follow him. They went upstairs, using the long magnificent marble stairs up to the second floor where all the private rooms were situated. Having brought her to her quarters, he turned around and left her standing in the middle of the room.  She looked towards the window and the silvery moon that was rising above the treetops. She felt the turmoil of emotions deep down inside but was determined not to let it surface tonight. Tonight was a moment of peace, and it was not to be disturbed. Tomorrow must take care of itself.  

At last Anna shook herself out of the stupor and went up to the big, old-fashioned bed. Finally, she let her tension wash away. With it the tears threatened to fill her eyes again, but she swallowed firmly and said aloud to the room:

“I shall face it all tomorrow, please God, just let me rest tonight.”

Then she went to bed.

**********

The next morning Anna woke up early, still not adjusted to the time-shift and jet lag. Opening up the windows, she heard the birds singing and the air was wonderfully fresh.  It was a beautiful July morning and the sun had already evaporated all the webs of the night and turned any weary, uneasy dreams into dust. She went in search of a bathroom and found a small one that belonged to her private quarters. She knew there existed marvelous, big and splendid bathrooms further down the corridor – she had seen them on her way to her bedroom last night – but it wasn’t necessary to go there this morning.

After having dressed quickly and simply, Anna went on her first tentative inspection tour into this strange and unknown territory. She admitted to herself that she was very curious about the Grey Mansion. If she was really going to live here, she might as well make herself acquainted with the old house. She felt ravenously hungry having not had anything decent to eat for more than twenty-four hours. There must be a sumptuous kitchen in a house such as this. She went in search for it.

It was a huge, old-fashioned kitchen, as large as any ballroom almost, with a set of beautiful shelves along the walls, covered with the finest bone-china. She saw plates, cups and other items there which would be sufficient to serve at least forty-eight persons at the same time, and an enormous AGA-stove resided majestically on the wall opposite the door. Yet, there were modern facilities too which must have been added later like two microwave ovens and two enormous refrigerators and freezers. There was also a good sized dishwasher beneath the kitchen sink. In the middle of the room there was a big, sturdy and well-worn oak-table, where several dishes of breakfast including both tea and coffee were tempting her with delicious smells. Before she moved towards the table, a young girl entered the premises and when seeing Anna made a slight start. The girl curtsied briefly and looked down at the floor in confusion.

“I’m sorry if I startled you. Yesterday when I arrived, Mr O’Mara told me that I could pick up some breakfast here,” Anna hastily explained.

“Oh Madame!” the girl whispered with obvious discomfort. “You shouldn’t eat in the kitchen!”

“But I don’t mind,” Anna laughed. “I won’t be in your way though, so I’ll get what I need and I’ll be out of here in a jiffy.”

And now the girl laughed too and together they helped to fill a tray for Anna, which she brought along to the garden, facing the lake on the back of the mansion. The air was totally still, and there was a powerful scent around her of all the flowers in full bloom in the middle of summer. It promised to be a hot day, and Anna concentrated on the fragrant tea and the toast and eggs she had brought along. The lake reflected the sky as if it were made of glass and Anna looked beyond it over at the other side where the woods made a powerful and somewhat somber background to the sunny scene. She was reminded of that this place, far away from the main roads, was a refuge after all.

**********

At first, Anna expected Conaill to turn up before the day was over, then the next day and the next; but he didn’t come and no one seemed to worry about his absence or give any information about when he was to return. She was left very much to herself. There were no other guests, and Stuart O’Mara was very busy with his daily work. Anna saw him now and then in the late afternoon or the evening when they would share a meal together. Also these occasions were silent ones mostly. She felt as if she was tested somehow, and the outcome and verdict weren't altogether clear yet. She accepted it and went about finding out as much as she could about the house in the meantime. She also took long rides on horseback in the surrounding woodland. There were huge areas which didn’t seem to be populated at all around the house. She was later told that a lot of land came with the property and that Conaill had chosen to leave it pristine. With a sting in her heart, Anna remembered her long rides with Jareth in her youth when they explored the forests of Europe together. One day, she also ventured into Kilarney which was the nearest larger community. She borrowed one of the land rovers of the estate and took the drive into town. Also this ride made her aware of how isolated The Grey Mansion really was. It certainly didn’t invite impromptu visits.

**********

Then, one very late night – Anna had already retired to her quarters – she heard a muffled turmoil in the inner courtyard. She slipped out of bed and went up to the window. Through the grills she could see the men arrive and the servants carrying luggage and packages into the house from the big car. She listened to her heartbeats. They were so loud at the moment that she felt she heard hammers beating on her eardrums. The commotion lasted for about half an hour. Then the house was enveloped in the quiet of the night, yet again. Anna remained standing by the window. Then she went up to the door, listening in vain to any sound from the outside, but nothing disturbed the silence of the night. Then her heart missed a beat, and she uttered a low cry as if she had been fighting with an invisible adversary. She slipped out into the gallery outside her private rooms. The moonlight shone through the huge windows which adorned one side of this gallery and reflected in the enormous mirrors that were set up on the other side to catch and play with the light. It looked endless, this sumptuous corridor of glass and reflections. She started to move towards the other end of it, where it lost itself in the shadows, and a while later she started running as if haunted by un-seen pursuers. At last she stopped in front of the huge door which led into Conaill’s rooms on this landing. Her fear and apprehension left a metallic taste in her mouth. She faltered for a moment, but then she turned the handle down and entered the rooms which she had only seen briefly a couple of times. The door to his bedroom was closed and no light beneath it betrayed that he was awake. Yet, she couldn’t halt now having come this far. It would be the ultimate defeat if she did. So she closed her eyes as if the sight that would meet her in there would blind her and opened the door every so quietly.

Yet, Conaill hadn’t been asleep. However furtively she moved, he must have heard her already when she opened the outer doors because he was standing in the middle of the floor when she entered. She was thrown off balance for a second by this encounter, having hoped to find him asleep and thus having had the possibility, after all, for an escape if courage failed her. She stopped as if nailed to the floor.

“I… I heard that you had come back…”she began haltingly. Then she stopped, finding no more words, just staring at him with wide-open eyes.

He moved up towards her so that she could finally see his face in the semi-darkness of the room. He had narrowed his gold-gleaming eyes to two glimmering slits and his face was full of passion, yearning, pain and rage; repressed emotions playing havoc behind his half-closed eyelids and trembling lips. Then he took hold of her head and bent it backwards, holding her in a vise as he descended his mouth over hers. His violent kiss sent her reeling towards him, and she grabbed hold of his half-open nightgown for support, finally coming in contact with his burningly hot skin. He wrapped an arm around her and pressed her into his body as if he longed for her to melt into him. With a hand still entangled into her hair, he forced her to look at him. He looked directly into her eyes and locked her gaze as he again sought her lips and she let it happen, opening up her mouth to him, drowning in the fearful sensation of succumbing to his passion and her longing for him. Through the kiss, as he now gently probed her mouth with his tongue and explored the softness of it, she watched the fierceness melt away from his eyes, only to be replaced by a softly burning glow of sensuality and tenderness, as if knowing that she would have a much harder time resisting seduction than any display of power.

She let her head fall back, spreading her long, golden hair over his arm when he bent down to kiss her neck. His teeth found her most sensitive skin and nipped sharply. She gasped and shivered as the soft rasp of his tongue swept down her neck to the cleft between her breasts, leaving a trace of fiery wetness in its wake, making her shudder in an awakening arousal that no reason at this point could suppress. He moved her over the floor up towards a wall for support, shedding his already open gown on the way, getting both his hands free, wedging his knees in between her thighs and went for the buttons in her nightgown. Slowly, delicately and with trembling measure he started to undo her dress, exposing her full breasts. She felt her nipples harden from the cool night air and the excitement of being object of sensual attention.

He lifted his head then and looked at her again. It was as if he needed to take in what he was about to devour; skin taut over his high cheekbones, nostrils flaring and lips parted, just barely revealing the sharpness of his teeth. He bowed over her again, brushing his cheek against the tempting mound of her breast. She whimpered slightly as he took a nipple in his mouth, closing his teeth around it, biting her, licking her. The fiery ache that shot up through her body from the jolt lifting her guts, made her go totally weak in his arms. She inhaled sharply as the intense pleasure mixed with mild pain raced through her, and she arched up towards him with a muted cry. He went for the other nipple and secured her against the wall to keep her from falling down. She felt the moisture flood between her legs now and he must have felt it too, because he forced her legs to open further and pushed his free hand between their bodies, sliding it in between her warm, wet lips and shoved three fingers right up inside her in one smooth motion. She gasped helplessly and let herself sink down on his fingers for a brief, hot moment before he withdrew, turning her around in his arms. He bent slightly at the waist, leaning her backwards, his hard twitching cock now prodding her buttocks. Again he reached for her moist mound, and she tilted her head back and squeezed her eyes shut, totally concentrated on the pleasure he inflicted on her. Her breath was sucked from her body as she felt his fingers opening her, spreading her, diving into her slit again, moving smoothly, unhurriedly through the juices, which now flowed over his hand in expectation of his touches. Silkily long strokes between the swollen lips from the entrance of her vagina to her hard, erect bud of desire. Long strokes at first, shortening now around her clitoris, his fingers circling her button, rubbing in diminishing circles around its sensitivity, making her raise her hips against his hand; her knees separated wider to offer herself to his touch, her hot glistening lips spread apart between his fingers. She heard him moan low in her ear, a soft, low, sexy moan of desire, and she abandoned herself to the ripple of orgasm that started to build up in her body. With a high wailing she let it wash over her, riding on his fingers, thighs twitching uncontrollably, knees shaking, only kept from sliding to the floor by his strong arms. She rested against his body and felt how aroused he still was, his skin all aglow with trembling yearning, moving his hardness rapidly between her buttocks now, all wet with his pre-cum. He pressed himself into her and bit her neck, permitting himself a brief release, coating her back with his juices. Then he sank to the floor, bringing her down with him.

Shuddering in the aftermath, they lay staring for a moment up in the ceiling of the room; then he turned over on the side, resting on one arm, taking her in with a gaze that traveled slowly all over her spent body. He smiled then and started to caress her gently, wiping her body with what he could find at the moment, the nightclothes, which were spread around them on the floor. He took a hard grip over his still engorged erection and squeezed it and let his head fall back on his shoulder. A shiver went through him and she knew that he wasn’t appeased and that he wanted more, but that he was prepared to wait for reaching that climax of full satisfaction and fulfillment almost forever now; that he wanted to milk every ounce out of this moment until it was spent.

When they could breathe again, he carried her over to the bed and laid her down there, following heavily, securing her close to him with one arm over her body. But there was no rest in him. He went urgently for her mouth again, taking control of it, sucking and pulling and licking her hard and quick all over. His tongue seduced hers, assaulted hers, sucked hers into his mouth with a greedy possession. She lost her breath in his passion and tried in vain to gain a bit of control over the situation, but he gave her little time to react. Until she with gentle but insistent hands started to rub his bone-hard cock against her stomach and between her hands. The he gasped and fell back into the bed. He closed his eyes and she heard him moan low, deep down in his throat. Her fingers curled tighter around the warm hardness of his now twitching cock, her thumb beginning to swirl over the smooth tip, spreading the pre-cum in circles. She bent down over him and brushed her lips over his raging erection, lapping up the salty droplets he offered, milking him, darting her tongue into the tiny hole. Slowly she let him slide across her tongue, gently cupping his sack as she savored him, tracing veins and shape as he slid in and out between her lips. He pulled on her hair, he twisted, he moaned. The muscles in his stomach stood out, his erection straining against her grip. But he halted her, gripping her wrists, and turned them both around in the bed, not wanting her to bring him to an orgasm just yet. Instead he moved brusquely in between her legs and thrust himself into her, sliding urgently and effortlessly all the way into her hot furnace, crying out in pleasure at the incredible tightness of her vagina which encased him in muscular softness. She was so wet that there was no friction at all. He exhaled slowly and sank down over her, resting on his elbows, taking her head in his hands, turning her face up to him. He lay still between her legs, their heartbeats the only sound to disturb the silence. They remained there, suspended in time for an eternity in slow motion, each drawing as much pleasure as was possible out of the moment. She felt his cock twitch restlessly within her and the sexy feeling was almost unbearable; she answered with locking her muscles around him, making him groan again.  He started to move within her then, slowly, just barely violating her, and he buried his head at her throat, raking her skin with his teeth. She wrapped her arms around him, pressing her fingers into the hard muscles of his back, arching up against him with small, almost inaudible cries. She let her fingers run smoothly over his back down to his buttocks, holding on to him as if at all cost preventing him from escaping. Slowly, ever so slowly he pushed. Closing her eyes, she could feel every muscle inside stretch to accommodate him, feeling every millimeter of his hardness filling her up, probing deep into her. He worked up a throbbing tension in her, which made her wild and filled with a strange kind of madness that came from the very slowness of the whole thing; a strong longing to push up at him and an equal desire to be made to wait for her pleasure. She drew up her knees to make him sink even deeper into her, and he moved his arms under her legs to support her, resting on his elbows, he lifted his head so that he could see her; her sweat-glistening body, her fair hair spread over the pillow in ringlets, her face contorted with the pain of pleasure. He stopped moving then to live through the sensation of feeling the tension snap within her and the series of deep, trembling spasms in her vagina that clenched and unclenched his erection in the wild sensation of climax. She tried to scream but lost her voice and only opened her mouth wide and closed her eyes that filled with tears. That was more than he could take; with a groan sounding like a sob he threw his head back and released himself. She wrapped her legs around his waist as she felt him starting to pulse within her, gushing into her, emptying himself into her. He fell down over her body in the wake of his last frantic twitching, shuddering, shivering. At last he was done. She listened to his furious heartbeats slowing down and tasted blood on her tongue, having bitten her lips so hard that she had drawn blood. With shaking hands she comforted him, and he fumbled to get hold of a cover to draw over them when the chilly night-breeze moved the curtains at the window.

Tears started to run over her cheeks.

“Forgive me,” she whispered. “I’ve been soo selfish…”

“No, no!” he interrupted with a low and hoarse voice into her ear. “It is I, it is WE that shall ask for your forgiveness. You didn’t ask for any of this. What have we done but wreaked havoc in your life?”

Clumsily, as if his whole body ached, Conaill rolled off her, but he took her immediately into his arms and whispered small nothings into her hair and ears, feathering her with small kisses, trying to make her stop crying. Anna exhausted herself though; it was a relief to cry too, a relief she needed badly, tears she hadn’t shed since before Celia’s death. She wondered if it was possible to cry for her life’s companion now, at last. She couldn’t really understand the mechanism and how it worked. At last the tears subsided, and she let herself be lulled and cradled by his warmth, the softness of his touch and the humming vibrations of his voice in her ear. When he found that she had quieted down in the end, he lifted her up and carried her into the small bathroom adjacent to his sleeping chamber and got them both a hot shower, holding on to her under the streaming, steaming water. She closed her eyes and rested her head against his shoulder and felt like being born again, baptized into a new life.

Refreshed and dry, he carried her back to the bed and propped himself up against the huge pillows, taking her into his arms, her back towards his chest. She relaxed against him as he drew the covers over them.

Anna then found her voice and started to tell Conaill of Celia’s death. She told of how she had found the feeble and dying woman in the old, deserted house. She went on about the long, last night and of Celia’s last words before the end. Anna described the deafening silence and how she walked from room to room to remember all that had happened in this house. Finally, she let Conaill know of how she had set fire to the place and left before anyone had taken notice.

“You know,” Anna mused. ”I found this to be the first decisive action I’ve taken to close a chapter in my life. I’ve lived for so long already and I’ve taken decisions over time but not one which has meant a closure of a kind. With Celia gone, there are things which will never happen in my life again, and I’m both sad and elated over the prospect because it has been so long since I’ve experienced that there is a beginning beyond the horizon.“

“I thought I had lost you. I thought that your patience had run out finally. I’m full of weariness and hope in front of the future and I hope that I can stay here with you.”

“I thought I had lost you too,” Conaill answered. “I felt as if I had nothing left to fight Jareth with. In the end it all depended on you. In no way whatsoever could I influence you to come and live with me. In no way could I contact you or persuade you to make any decisions. I was bound by total silence. It has been the longest period in my life – and mind you, my life has been soo long! To sit and wait for a sign of life from you. To get into fever when I was made aware of that you were finally on your way. To suffer each and every day through the hell of not knowing what to expect and not knowing either if we have a future or if the shadow of Jareth will forever be between us.”

He shuddered and hugged her close.

“I do believe though that we are free at last. If it wasn’t so, you wouldn’t be here. My love, let’s make the best of our future now. There are so many things I’d like to show you, so many things we can finally do together now. Above all and as the first and most important thing of all, I want to marry you. I want us to be an entity in the eyes of the law as well, as we are to dwell here on Earth, Above, for the rest of our lives. So, what do you say?”

She looked up at him in surprise and smiled for the first time.

“Yes, yes!” She cried exultantly and she started to laugh and cry at the same time when she realized that there was to be a future after all. Truly and in earnest.

**********

Sarah arrived in Boston with Liam on her arm and only a small suitcase in her hand. She felt destitute, despondent and bereft of everything. Hadn’t Toby been there to meet her she would have lost all courage but he was there and he enveloped her with warmth and strength.

“Look here,” Toby said urgently to her. “Time has been short and I’ve only been able to come up with a temporary solution. It’s the best I can do for the moment. I have no illusion of any kind though that if Jareth want to force the sanctuary I’m going to offer you, he will most likely be able to do so. For the moment however, it’s better than nothing.”

Toby packed Sarah and Liam and their luggage into his car and headed out of the city. It didn’t prove to be a long journey though and shortly he left the main road and headed towards a woody area with smaller farms and buildings. At the end of the road there was a stately old building with an air of institution around it.

“Yes,” Toby replied to Sarah’s unspoken question. “This old house has been a home for women in need of protection since before the war now. It’s run by the church, and I hope you will feel at least taken care of and the relief of having people around which can help you to guard Liam and give you some rest. I know it isn’t a foolproof solution but it is better than nothing. You can stay here while I will try for other possibilities.”

“Thank you, Toby,” Sarah nodded. “I know of course that this will not keep Jareth out, should he want to contact me, but it might at least give him second thoughts. Most of all I appreciate to have someone to help me guard Liam so that I can sleep myself and recover.”

Sarah found that they were expected when they arrived. They were greeted by an elderly lady with kind and understanding eyes. She declared that Toby had already made her aware of Sarah’s need for protection although he hadn’t gone into details. After formalities Sarah was shown to her rooms in the west wing of the building. She found with delight that she could occupy two rooms, and although they weren’t too large it gave her a feeling of space.

Toby didn’t stay long after Sarah had settled in. He had a lot to do and wanted to leave for the city before it got dark. They hugged and said goodbye, and then Sarah was on her own.

Just before dinner was to be served the lady in charge knocked on Sarah’s door and asked if Sarah wanted to have a tour of the building. Sarah agreed with delight. It would be easier to live here if she knew what the institution looked like and how it was meant to work. Sarah learned that it was the remaining building on a formerly large estate which had been a farm during the 19th century. It was today only sparsely furnished but one could well imagine that it had once been a beautiful home to a family. The lady explained that together with Sarah she housed today ten women in need of shelter. They used to see each other at the common meals, but apart from that everyone kept to themselves. At dinner Sarah met the other women, and they greeted each other formally. The dinner was however a very quiet affair, and Sarah didn’t have an appetite. She more or less sat through the meal. Coffee or tea was served in the salon afterwards, but Sarah didn’t stay but retired to her rooms feeling tired and weary now. The young girl who had looked after Liam in her absences rose, curtsied and left in silence.

Sarah went up to the cot and looked at her sleeping son. Again the haunting question of Liam’s origins came to her mind. At the beginning she had been so sure of that Conaill was the father but since she hadn’t heard from him or didn’t feel his presence or nearness, she had started to doubt this now. Jareth, on the other hand, had made contact, and she felt that he was nearby somehow, not far away at all. She mused over the fact but also over Jareth himself. Deep down she was convinced of that he didn’t mean to harm her fatally. As always, he was most likely out to ascertain and manifest his overall power.

“What shall I do to give you a good life?” Sarah whispered to the sleeping Liam. “I wonder if my capabilities will be enough for this daunting task? Everything was in a way so much easier when I was alone and only had to worry about myself. Now I’m vulnerable, weak and weary and at the same time you need me more than ever. I’ll fight for you until I die though. That goes without question.”

She tenderly touched his plump and rosy cheek. Then she tiptoed to her bed at the other corner of the room.

**********

It was mid August and still very hot outside. The days were uneventful to start with though. Yet, Sarah was restless and bored and worried all at the same time. To make the days pass, she roamed the library where there was an assorted array of books left by other inmates. They stood on the shelves in no particular order, and she picked up one which was a small history over the place and the old farm. She found this to be interesting enough, and she used it as a map when she went out in the garden and the surrounding woodland where she could see the remains and traces of what once must have been great activity. Thus, she kept the days going and felt more and more as if she were in a limbo. Impatience and uncertainty started to fill her mind, but the web of silence and inactivity was like a drug which kept her from being able to take hold of her life again. This state of inertia was not to last forever though.

The second time Jareth made contact he came with caution and silence.

Sarah was about to retire for the night one evening and roamed her bedside table for the book she was currently reading when a small envelope fell out of it and on to the floor. She immediately recognized his hand writing and smiled a little at his customary mode of addressing her.

“I urgently need to talk to you,” he wrote. “Don’t be alarmed. I won’t hurt you.”

“If it is all right with you, I will come by tomorrow night. If you agree, put a light in your window,” he added.

Sarah spent most of the night wide awake, her thoughts flying around like scattered leaves. Resignedly she didn’t fight the worry. Answers would come in time. She couldn’t hurry the events by fretting over them. The next day she went about her business as if she were a zombie. Most of the time she kept to herself and tried not to draw attention to herself. She retired early to her room and hesitantly lit a candle which she put on the wind sill. The silence around her was almost palpable.

Sarah sensed Jareth materialize before she saw him. He slowly emerged out of the shadows by the door and a faint light surrounded him. She mused over the fact that she would never become used to meeting him after a long absence. She looked at his pallid features and noted that the lines in his face were more marked than earlier. He was dressed in one of his black outfits in soft Moroccan leather clinging tightly to his supple body. His mismatched eyes looked calmly and coolly at her, and his thin lips were curled into a gentle smile. His expression was guarded, and nothing on the surface revealed any turbulence or passion.

“So, I may enter?” he asked slowly and she nodded in silence.

Jareth looked around the room cautiously as if sizing up the possibilities of unexpected alarms but everything was peaceful and quiet. Then he fastened his gaze on the cot where Liam was fast asleep and the expression in his eyes softened.

“I’ve come to visit my son,” he observed quietly.

“And you are sure?” Sarah whispered under her breath.

“Yes, I’m sure,” he retorted. “I’ve just recently had a conversation with my father.”

Sarah straightened her back and brazed herself involuntarily, not knowing what was to come.

“True enough,” Jareth continued seemingly without heeding Sarah’s obvious discomfort. “I once exiled him from the Underground and sent him out into the world without the possibility of reproducing. Yet, I had to be sure. When it comes to Conaill, he will never ever be totally under my power, jurisdiction and control. He is much too powerful himself for me to be able to control fully. Also, when the issue concerns YOU – he turned to her and nailed her to the wall with his eyes – I had to be extra sure. You are special since you are My Chosen One and being singled out in this manner will both give you powers but also make you vulnerable.”

When Sarah drew her breath and signaled that she wanted to interrupt him, he motioned her to remain silent and to listen to what he had to say.

“This will sound like a fairy tale partly,” he began and added after a short pause. “And in a way it is. When I look at my father at that time and period in his life, I’m looking at a person out of a saga, out of a fearful tale of good and evil. I know today that this happening in a wider sense desperately also concerns me, yet I have detached myself from it too. I guess on account of being able to survive.”

“I have to tell you of Eavan. You only know bits and pieces, and you won’t understand the consequences until I explain this vital part. You know that she was Conaill’s wife once and that she was my mother. But you don’t know that she was also a human in the beginning and came from Above. Like you. Like Anna. You see, so are the rules in the Underground. The King cannot mate with one of his own, and he cannot mate with a fairy. The result would only be another fairy and thus someone who can’t act on Earth, who can’t make the necessary teleportation, who can’t be seen by persons living on both sides. To enable that to happen, the King must mate with a human woman.”

“Eavan was not a child when she was given to Conaill. She was a beautiful young princess who was the price in an intricate web of power, warfare and machinations. So were the times then. No girl had a value of her own. She was only looked upon as part of a system and a family. She was in her teens. Ready to bear children as the men in power concluded. What they didn’t know was that Eavan left the love of her life back on Earth when she was forced to marry Conaill. He didn’t know about it then either, and later – when she revealed this to him – it was already past redemption. She aroused his interest and he was of course pleased when she gave birth to a son, but her coldness towards him, soon drove him away towards other women and other activities. He buried himself in politics and anything that would further the realm and kingdom. Eavan often said that she wanted another child – she hoped for a girl – but he has revealed to me that he couldn’t bring himself to sleep with her again. Not after knowing that she had loved another and counted him for nothing. That hurt his pride terribly.”

“It was therefore not surprising to Conaill, when Eavan pleaded with him to keep Anna as her child and let Anna remain human. And Conaill gave in to Eavan’s wishes, thinking it was just a whim of hers. And after all, why not humor her? That was what he thought. Little did he know what she had in mind, and the full knowledge didn’t dawn on him until he was finally allowed to visit Eavan’s grave a year ago.”

“Conaill has told me of this strange meeting. He said that he had hoped for to get into some sort of contact with Eavan and a meeting also happened as if in a dream.  He met the persons who guarded the grave, and he was told – through a medium – that Eavan had expressed a wish to talk to him. The guards gave him a strong potion of a hallucinatory drug. He experienced that he was soon outside his body and had entered into another reality. Then and there he could hear Eavan’s voice.”

“Eavan told him that she had indeed wanted him to suffer the fate of total degradation. At the same time, however, it was a test. Should Conaill resist the temptation she had prepared for him, she might consider approaching him to make peace between them again.  But as we all tend to do there, down in the Underground, she was solely focused on her own plans, feelings and end results. In the wake of her actions, she forgot about Anna. She forgot that Anna had a will of her own and that Anna had the capacity to use it too. However, finally it became clear to Eavan that Anna’s scheming vis-à-vis Conaill was connected to Anna’s feelings for me. Anna had a deep inner yearning for me but also a wish to hurt me on account of the power I asserted over her. Eavan then faced the horrible truth that she was literally handing Conaill to me on a plate; it was however at that point too late to stop the wheels Eavan had set into motion. With alarm and dread she got knowledge of the curse Anna had inflicted over me, and she realized the consequences. As she had wished, Conaill was dethroned and thrown into exile. But Eavan also knew that she had spread so much more evil, sorrow and danger in the lives of everyone and even in the life on an unborn human – you – than she had ever planned for in advance. For this she now wanted to be forgiven; without this release, she would never have peace in her grave.”

“And the forgiveness she needs is yours,” Jareth continued. You are the only one who can break this vicious circle, once and for all. . . “ 

Jareth fell silent for a moment before he continued.

 “Eavan told Conaill that I would have a son by you! So you see that perhaps it will be possible for me – for us – to have a future after all.”

Sarah sat at the edge of the small chair and dared hardly breathe or swallow to break the precious, vulnerable silence which filled the room after Jareth’s last words.

Suddenly he moved and fell on his knees on the floor in front of her. Sarah flinched but still didn’t utter a word. She looked intently at Jareth’s white face now beneath hers and searched his burning eyes for answers and explanations.

“Look at me,” he bit out between his teeth. “Here I am in front of you, on my knees in front of you, just as she predicted. And I’m begging for your love, your unconditional love and I have nothing to offer you but myself. In front of you I have no power and I have no past. But I have a future to offer you. We are set free. Do you understand the implications of our child? He is our ticket to freedom.”

“Don’t you also feel that living forever is bondage? What will we do with life if it has no purpose and no future? But now it has. I will want to die with you. Now we can, finally we can. Could I ask of you to Accept My Hand in Death?”

Sarah now also sank to the floor so that she came face to face with him. With infinite tenderness she gathered him into her arms. He rested his head on her shoulder then, and she could feel that a deep sigh escaped him. For a moment she was scared of that he would vanish on her but he didn’t. She rocked them both in silence for a moment. She felt love and a huge sadness at the same time knowing that life had taken on a new guise, and that nothing would ever be the same again.

“You must understand, you must see, don’t you, that I love you!” she exclaimed at last. “I always will. Until the end of time! I DO love you. I love you so very much! I would want to hope for a future too. Yes, I will want to die with you in the end!”

At her last words, he buried his head on her shoulder again, keeping his tortured eyes from her. But she turned in his arms, facing him, taking hold of his head, forcing him to look at her.

He gripped her then tightly and he sighed as if all the days of expectation could be exhaled in one deep breath and he hugged her as a drowning man would do, sobbing into the feverish kisses he now showered on her face. At last the turmoil subsided, and they came to rest in each other’s arms.

“Are you sorry over what happened to you?” Jareth asked suddenly. “You could have had such a different life, hadn’t you become involved with me. When the curse once was put on me it wasn’t decided that you would be the One. That happened later and partly through the doors which your mother opened when she disappeared out of your life. In a way one could say that she left you for the Goblin King to take. She left you with untold stories, dreams and dissatisfaction. She left you with possibilities and total drama if you will. She provided the door for me to enter through. That is how it happened.”

“No, I can’t be sorry over the past,” Sarah retorted. “I can’t undo it. I knew from the moment you took me and had me the first time in Venice what lay ahead of me. What a terrible battle it would be.”

An extreme fatigue and vertigo overcame Sarah when the revelation and its implications finally caught up with her. Wordlessly Jareth opened his arms to her and caught her in one swift, soft movement before she fell. He carried her over to the bed and laid her down. He stretched himself out beside her in the bed and folded her in his arms. The bed was small, and she was instantly reminded of their first ever night on top of her bed in her childhood’s bed chamber an eon ago, but worry took hold of her when she felt that he was about to move and leave her.  

“Please, don’t go. Not just yet. I can’t bear being alone and lonely tonight,” she murmured under her breath.

Yet, he heard her and arrested his actions and sank back on the cover beside her. For a fraction of a second he seemed to hesitate, but then he languidly lowered himself onto the bed, stretched himself out like a big, black cat and with a hardly audible sigh he came to rest just behind her.

She nuzzled up to him and closed her eyes tightly, for the first time feeling the hard knot of tears in her throat. If Jareth felt or understood that she was crying, he made no movement as to acknowledge the fact but remained close to her in the bed, quietly residing there, but wrapped up in his own thoughts.

**********

Sarah didn’t really know if she woke up or continued dreaming in that grey hour in the morning, when it is neither night nor day – the wolves’ hour – as she became aware of that Jareth had moved his body on top of hers, covering her, while feathering small but insistent kisses all over her face. She felt him vibrating in a way that could have made him lucent, had he wanted to. She was quite certain of that he was aware of that she had woken up, but he didn’t betray any knowledge of the fact. His arousal set her on fire and made her burn in a way she hadn’t done for ages now. She couldn’t remember the last time when a touch to her body sent her reeling with lust, the way he managed to manipulate her now. It had been so long, so long since he had shown that he wanted her in this way. It must have been before he left her flat in New York for good. All this seemed to be part of a dream now, a dream shattered in millions of pieces and which could not be reconstructed again. She sobbed out loud at the thought which pierced her heart and opened the wound again. He answered with a low growl, fed with so much anger and pain at the same time that it silenced her as much as his now violent kisses did.

Resting on an elbow to get a better view of her and to get a hand free, he removed her linen and exposed her breasts to the humid night air. The small room was suffocatingly hot now, this August night, yet she shivered as wave after wave of burning chill traveled her skin. She reached out and touched his chest, visible through the half-open jacket. The sweat on his skin made him shimmer in the semi-darkness. With a constrained yet measured movement he removed their clothes and devoured her nakedness with narrowing eyes. She had no idea of if she was to expect violence or mercy from him. She didn’t know if the trigger-feelings were anger, pain, hatred, love or just lust. She knew nothing, and she wanted to know nothing. He eased an arm around her body and forced her hand to touch him, to cover his erection. And when she responded by starting to caress him with the most delicate touches, he let his head fall to her breast, and she heard his shallow breathing as if every move and movement wrenched his guts out of him. She spread herself for him, inviting his hands and fingers to touch her everywhere, shamelessly guiding them to the most sensitive points, groaning high, wailing in answer to his assaults. She wiped the sweat off his body and licked her fingers, she painted small circles with her wet tongue in and around his ears, she cupped his hard cock in her hands and gently kneaded it between her fingers, lubricating it in its own juices and her saliva. He sank his sharp teeth in her shoulder as he ejaculated in her hands. This was not release, however. Still bone-hard, he split her legs open and eased himself into her seething wetness, her vagina already contracting around him, as if she couldn’t contain herself either, but felt the terrible need to succumb to the onslaught of orgasm. Resting on his arms, he watched her face greedily as she went into her throes of climax, as if he could drink her fulfillment with his eyes. Then he permitted himself to relax in her arms and she couldn’t separate his heartbeats from her own. Yet, it was only a moment of peace – resting in the eye of the storm. She could feel that although he rested on her body and had sunk deep into her womb, his muscles were still tense beneath his skin and his erection still engorged within her. He wasn’t ready with her yet.

“Are you satisfied now?”

She wasn’t certain of that he really whispered it or if she just thought she heard him say so. She shook her head and writhed beneath him in mindless pleasure as he started to move in and out of her in long, leisurely strokes. The only thing that mattered just right now was him inside her; she could think of nothing else. Nothing but this mattered. She mewled in discontent when he withdrew for a second but accepted to be turned around in bed and entered from behind. For all that she cared, he could enter her in any orifice he chose. She would let him abuse her in any way he wanted. He held her in a firm grip; hands clasped around her breasts as he increased his pace and worked her in a fury. She felt him shudder and heard him groan in the effort to keep his own orgasm at bay, fixed on having her come before him. But when she let herself loose and screamed and screamed as if being ripped apart, he could not control himself. He stopped moving in midair and she felt him lock up in a spasm so violent that she thought he would squeeze the life out of her as his cock relentlessly poured his hot liquids into her. She had the feeling of that they both stopped breathing for a second, and then she experienced the bliss. The primeval bliss of fulfillment, his last shudders on top of her, telling her that he was done, spent, emptied, quiet at last.

**********

Sleep eluded Sarah, however. She lay in bed in Jareth’s arms and looked out into the room, trying to form her thoughts around what had happened. She felt a lightness of heart, like a kind of deliriousness, and she didn’t try to be coherent. One moment she thought of practical things, the next of Liam, and the next even of the future children she wanted to have. The thoughts of the future flooded her as if a gate had opened, and she let them wash in over her. She looked at the sleeping presence beside her, at the peace that was apparent over his delicate features. And she felt a deep yearning for him again, this time a feeling not mixed with need to fight him at every moment but to join him on equal ground. It was a physical need of him she couldn’t quench. Furtively she stole around in the bed so that she faced him and she moved close to him. Her hands fluttered over his body, feeling the soft heat of his skin. Her breasts ached with need to be touched, and she brushed his mouth with one of her hardening nipples. He stirred in the sleep and fumbled for her, sucking the nipple into his mouth and arching slightly up towards her. She felt his member harden against her thighs, and she began massaging him slowly but insistently. She watched his trembling eyelids and knew that he was awake, but didn’t want to acknowledge the fact just yet. She guided him into her wet tightness and slipped her arms around him.

“Haven’t you had enough yet?” she heard him murmur sleepily in her ear.

She shook her head as he rolled heavily over her and into her. With a contented sigh she received him and not going after any firework sensations this time, but only to be satiated deep down inside, she wrapped her legs around him as well and rocked gently in unison with him until she felt his member stiffen and starting to eject his fluids into her. Then she lay back and let the frissons of pleasure which the orgasm triggered wash over her, not fighting, not resisting, enjoyed being taken completely, yearning only for to become one with him.

The grey morning light seeped in through the curtains and found them falling asleep at last, deeply, dreamlessly.

 Once again he had ascertained his rights over her and she knew that if she didn’t belong anywhere else, she belonged with him and to him. Whatever the future might have in store for them.

**********

When the morning lights finally seeped in through the threadbare curtains, they were both wide awake listening to sounds from the unfamiliar house.

Jareth moved stealthily behind Sarah and turned her around in his arms.

“I will soon have to leave,” he said. “I don’t know when we will see each other again but I want you to go back to your house. It is a good house to live in. You grew up there and so did Toby. William will have a good childhood there too.”

“Moreover, it’s the safest place I can think of for the two of you just right now,” he added.

“From anyone but you, you mean?" Sarah filled in.

She could feel him smile rather than watch or hear him do so.

“Well, if you put it that way,” he admitted a bit grudgingly.

“But I have to be sure where we stand at this point,” she insisted. “To me it is impossible that Liam should grow up elsewhere. I cannot imagine what his life would be like if he was deprived of an ordinary childhood.”

“I agree with you that Liam must grow up Above with you, just like any boy on Earth,” Jareth assured her.  “He must learn to have confidence and freedom before facing what is to come. Gradually he will learn what is ahead and hopefully he will be prepared then. Better prepared than me I hope. I do hope that our son will have inherited more from you than from me. That way he will hopefully make better and wiser decisions than me.”

“I know you think I’m exaggerating, but I really need to be ensured of that he will succeed me in time and in the best possible way.”

Saying this, he bowed down over her and briefly touched her cheek with his lips. It was as if the morning breeze brushed past her, hardly a touch at all.

Then Jareth rose from the bed and went up to the cot. He lifted the little boy out of it. Liam showed no surprise or fear but started to gurgle and happily reached for a strand of Jareth’s silver hair. Jareth laughed softly and let the boy have his way. It was a moment of extreme stillness and radiance, and Sarah felt as if she could hardly breathe or make a noise that would shatter the intimacy of their encounter.

With Liam still on his arm, Jareth went up to Sarah. With his free arm he hugged her close too and so they stood in the middle of the room for what seemed an eternity. Then Jareth handed the boy over to Sarah and took a step back. He fastened his brilliant, mismatched eyes on her; eyes which now shone with an intense bright light.

“Soon...,” he whispered, and then he started to dissolve in front of her eyes. Presently he was one with the wind which set the curtain by the window into motion. Then he was gone for good.

**********

Later that afternoon, Sarah got in contact with Toby. She let him know, at least in parts, of what had happened and of her decision to go back home.

“So,” Toby asked. “You are satisfied with the fact that Jareth is the father of your son?”

“Yes,” Sarah answered. “I’m fully content with this fact now. Nothing in my mind or body protests and the best proof is perhaps Liam’s own accepting of Jareth. There is a great bond between them already. I am satisfied,” she repeated.

A couple of days later Toby came to fetch Sarah and Liam. They thanked the lady in charge of the refuge center profusely for her generous help. Then they headed for Wakefield again, homebound.

It was early September when Sarah was back home again. The trees in the garden were full of ripe and luscious fruit and the grass needed cutting. There was no shortage of work to be done, especially since some of the windows, which had been broken in the last storm about a month ago, were still only insufficiently repaired. Toby insisted on her having permanent help around the house now. Together they searched for a young woman who would agree to live in the house and help Sarah with the more taxing household duties. They found a young widow who was more than happy for the offer and who also loved working with children. Toby felt great relief when this detail was arranged to everyone’s satisfaction. Since Sarah was officially posing as a widow herself, the arrangement would be easy to accept for her neighbors too.

Left to herself at last, Sarah started to think about the immediate future. She knew that she would not go back to New York and her hectic life there which involved long late hours in the theaters. However, she thought it would be a waste of talent not to use any of her experience in her coming life.  As time passed, she started to form an idea of creating theater decorations and stage sets in a workshop of her own and use the means of Internet conferences to show and discuss her work and progress while the work developed. She would only have to go to New York once or twice a month at the most. Thus far in her plans she contacted her best collaborator in her old working place to present him with the ideas. He was very happy to hear from her to begin with and very much elated with her plans. They arranged for him to visit her home a week later and discuss the future . Her friend was taken by surprise when he saw Liam for the first time.

“So THAT was your secret!” he exclaimed and joined in her laughter.

Sarah told him as much as he needed to know of her present status. She admitted to him as she posed as a widow for convenience but also disclosed that the father of the child wasn’t present in her life for the moment. She didn’t delve into further explanations and said that she trusted him to guard her secret which he agreed to do of course.

Sarah now had a life at last, and tried to settle in to it the best she could. More than she could have expected, it demanded a lot of her. Even if she had help at home, she had to adjust to the fact that there was another being in her life now; one that demanded her full attention and input. In this situation it was a very good idea that she could work at home and choose the hours she could set aside for this at her own liking. Her days were thus very busy and kept her from thinking too much of her own situation, but her nights were troubled and weary. It was as if all thoughts she hadn’t allowed herself to think and analyze during the day came back as dreams in the night. She dreamed vivid, scary, elated and disturbed dreams were all the contestants came back to haunt or guide her further on. Conaill appeared in them but always together with Anna. Sarah concluded then that they had been reunited and were to live together for keeps. The thought comforted Sarah more than she could describe and took a burden off her shoulders. The guilt she had felt towards Anna after her confrontation with Conaill a year ago slowly seeped away, and she thought less and less about them and they slowly faded from her dreams. Instead a figure emerged from the shadows and to begin with it was as figure without a face. Sarah was greatly distressed at first and often woke up in the early mornings with sweat on her forehead and with a beating heart. Yet, as the nights wore on, Sarah realized that the figure hadn’t come close in this manner to hurt her. Then Sarah divined that it was a woman searching her attention and one vivid night she faced the revelation that it was Jareth’s mother Eavan who wanted to contact her. At this moment Sarah wasn’t sure of that she still dreamed or if she now was fully awake. Later on Sarah could recall, that she started to talk to Evan.

 “I feel that you are here,” Sarah called out furtively. “I think I’ve felt that you have been close before. I want you to know that I’m so confident over what I’m doing now. I know that it is right. And I want you to know that I’m so sorry for you. I know that you suffered, like me, like Anna too, and I want you to rest in peace with my forgiveness. I hope that both Conaill and Jareth will allow me to visit your grave once, up there in the north on the island. It would bring me peace too.”

After this happening, Eavan stopped visiting Sarah’s dreams and Sarah concluded that her message was received.

The days, months and even years now started to evolve around them. It was uneventful enough and that suited Sarah fine. Her greatest happiness was watching Liam grow up. He was a wonderful, healthy, somewhat mischievous and unpredictable young boy. Sarah really saw traces of Jareth in him, and it delighted her.  As long as Liam was a baby, Sarah didn’t feel that Jareth attempted to visit them. Once or twice she got the feeling of that he had been visiting their house in her absence, but it was all very insubstantial and vague. She didn’t pursue the matter.

However, at long last Jareth showed up one day. Sarah had gone for a walk with Liam in the nearby park. It had been raining in the morning, but it seemed to clear up. Eventually the fog evaporated around her feet as a ray of sunlight penetrated the clouds. Precisely then, she heard the heavy flashing of a bird nearby and she looked up in the sky, shielding her eyes from the sun. And there it was, the great bird, the great white owl. With a beating heart she looked at it in silence. There was no mistake to be made. She recognized Jareth when she saw him. She looked down on Liam in the pram and smiled at him.

“Look!” she said and pointed towards the bird which had now settled on a tree top. “I think that your father has come to pay you a visit.”

Liam lifted his small arms up in the air as if he wanted to touch the bird, and Sarah laughed softly. Then she turned back and started for home. When they got there she could see that Jareth was already in the house, waiting for them. He stood near the window much in the manner she had seen him in her life for the first time. The light from behind ignited his silvery hair and his long black mantle was still billowing in the air as if he had just landed on the floor. He smiled wide when seeing them enter, and Sarah felt elated and happy in a way she hadn’t felt it for many years now. Wordlessly they entered into each other's arms and hugged for a long time. Only the impatient Liam brought them back to the present.

Sarah left Jareth and Liam much to themselves that afternoon. She remembered from the days when Toby was just a young boy that he had had a great time together with Jareth who had a way with children she hadn’t seen in many men. She realized that it was a part of his nature. Sarah smiled when she heard pealing laughter from upstairs, and when Jareth finally came down Liam was fast asleep, exhausted from the exhilarating experiences of the afternoon. Jareth hadn’t talked to her, and he still remained silent. He took her in his arms again and looked at her intently. Then he kissed her passionately and softly before he departed and dissolved.

Then one day not long after Jareth’s first visit, Sarah happened to pass by the mirror in the hall. She stopped and looked closer at her own image. Yes! It was true! She hadn’t been mistaken then when spotting two vital differences. At first, she noticed that the threadbare Indian Bracelet was gone! Somewhere, sometime during the last twenty-four hours she had lost it. Moreover, when she looked more intently and scrutinized her face in the mirror, she saw for the first time that there were small, unobtrusive strands of grey in her otherwise pitch-black hair. Also, if she looked close enough, she thought she spotted small but certain lines in her face. She had started to age again!

At that moment, Sarah began to believe that she had a future after all. Time had started running again in her life, and eventually there would come an end. She knew that Jareth would come and go in her life as usual for some time to come, at least until the boy had grown up and could be trusted with the Knowledge. Then at last, Sarah would go and stay with Jareth for what would be the rest of their lives. Forever.

THE END