It took longer than Jareth had planned, but he was glad to see Ondine awake and sitting on the throne steps in the great chamber when he entered with Princess Lily. She was still in her night attire, but she didn’t seem to mind. The royal family had retired from the room. It didn’t take long for King Thornbell to emerge from some back chamber. He looked pleased to see his daughter and Jareth.
“How did negotiations go?” King Thornbell asked as he approached them.
“Fantastic, father” Lily said with her undying smile. She was clinging to Jareth’s elbow with one hand and in the other a scroll was proudly presented to the king. “I negotiated a quarterly supply of food with King Jareth.”
“Oh very good, very good” King Thornbell said. He took the scroll and looked it over. “You are becoming quite skilled at this, my dear. You’re dismissed for now. Thank you dear.” Lily curtsied and ran off with a giggle. He rolled up the scroll and looked at Jareth. “I hope she was satisfactory, King Jareth.”
“Yes” Jareth said with a nod.
“Pity it couldn’t have been us negotiating, but perhaps next time” King Thornbell said with a leering smile.
“Perhaps, King Thornbell” Jareth said with a smile. He looked past the king at his guard. “I see your healers were able to help her out.”
“Oh yes, she was not far from death” The king said. They walked over to Ondine and Jareth squatted down to check her out. He tilted her face left, then right. “I checked on her when she was with the healer. It was a simple, but obscure curse. She should be able to speak without any issue.”
“Thank you” Jareth said standing up. He reached out his hand for Ondine and she stood up. “She is one of my favorite guards.”
“Are you her guardian by chance?” King Thornbell asked. Jareth cocked an eyebrow and gave the king a questioning gaze. “My son, Nettle, is looking to marry.”
“The Parliament Guard is not allowed to marry” Jareth said. He touched Ondine’s caramel waves in a proprietous manner. “It is unfortunate, Your Majesty. She would fetch a good price.”
“That she would” Thornbell agreed. He let his gaze linger on her form and in return Ondine risked a glance at Jareth. He flashed a smile and let it remain as he turned to Thornbell.
“Perhaps this year you can join us for the Solstice festivities” Jareth suggested. “Bring your lovely family. I’m sure they would just love the Goblin Market.”
“Oh, that would be delightful” Thornbell said with a sudden glee.
“I must leave for now, Your Majesty” Jareth said. “Thank you again for your kindness.”
“You are welcome any time, King Jareth” Thornbell said with a large smile. He looked at Ondine and nodded; a gesture that she returned.
“I look forward to seeing you at the Solstice” Jareth said. He felt great relief when a guard led them back to the main entrance. He felt even better when the heavy door shut and they were allowed to return to their full size. As soon as they were over by the horses he spoke. “Ondine? Are you alright?”
She nodded. Jareth gestured for her to speak. She faced away from him before answering. “Yes.”
They both stilled, but nothing happened around them. There were no flowers burst up from the snow or trees with new buds. Birds didn’t fall from the sky as new seedlings. Ondine turned to Jareth with happy surprise.
“I can talk” Ondine said. Jareth smiled back at her and she burst forward, breaking all protocol, hugging the king. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Saddle up” Jareth urged. He helped her up onto her saddle before mounting his horse. “I believe we can take a trail a few miles down this road that will connect us to the main route.”
They were off, leaving the strange pixie kingdom in their wake.
Jareth and Ondine stopped when they reached the trail that Jareth had spoken of. Ondine was quickly changing into warmer clothes. She pulled on a pair of her usual trousers and thick socks.
“What was that about a treaty with the pixies?” Ondine asked. “I thought we were only stopping at Grousloge for your political tidings.”
“It was an impromptu treaty, one easily fulfilled” Jareth replied. Ondine tugged her boots on, already feeling warmer. She pulled a few items from her saddle bags and started changing her top layers. “It had to be done in order for them to agree to their assistance.”
“I waited for nearly an hour” Ondine said. She was tugging on one of the ugliest bras Jareth had ever seen. He looked away, allowing her some privacy. The pixie’s bandages were wrapped around her midsection, they hadn’t gone unnoticed. “How long were we there?”
“Two and a half hours or so” Jareth said off-handedly. “I’m sorry if King Thornbell made you feel uncomfortable. Pixies just work a little differently than we do.”
“I trusted you” Ondine replied as if it answered any lingering questions or doubts. When Jareth glanced back at her, he saw that she had slipped a shirt on and was currently pulling her light gambeson on.
“Let’s get going, warrior woman” Jareth called to her. The wind had picked up and he was chilled. “It’s cold and I think we should get moving. We can stop at Carrington House again.”
“Yes, Sire” Ondine replied. She threw her cloak on and managed to mount her horse without much difficulty.
The ride was not the most pleasant, but Jareth and Ondine barely noticed. Jareth was satisfied that his guard was free from her curse and Ondine was happy to be alive. The sun rose in the morning sky and the winter songbirds began to sing. The wind made their cheeks pink and their fingers ache.
“I want you at the Solstice celebration” Jareth finally said. Ondine nodded. The horses headed up a slight hill and in the distance came a familiar sight. The lump of bear was still in the road, though it had been pushed to the road edge. A man was crouching by the carcass and stood up when he saw the riders in the distance. He too looked familiar.
“Keenan” Jareth growled. The large man mounted his horse and kept his distance, allowing the bear to be the marker he didn’t cross. Jareth and Ondine slowly headed down the road and stopped twenty feet from the bear.
“I was sure I killed you” Keenan said.
“And we, you” Jareth replied. “Get out of our way or we will make sure that we finish the job.”
“I still have a bounty to collect” Keenan said loudly. He watched Ondine pull a knife from a saddle bag. “Watch yourself.”
“If its money you desire, miscreant, I can pay you more than what is being offered” Jareth said. Keenan’s saddle creaked and he produced a dagger. He looked as if he was considering the possibilities before him. The horses snorted as they waited.
Keenan pointed his blade at Ondine. “How did you survive?”
“You’re not as good as you think you are” Jareth said quickly. When Keenan looked at the king he found him twirling crystal balls in one hand. He smiled and guffawed.
“Some kind of magic, I presume” Keenan said. He looked back at Ondine. For being a thorn in his side, she wasn’t half bad in the looks department. Jareth leaned over to Ondine and whispered something to her. She nodded. “We’ll get to it, I presume.”
“It’s funny how little you know about me” Jareth jeered. Without hesitation, he threw a crystal at the half-troll. The crystal transformed into a peach and splattered against Keenan’s raised arm. Two more followed, one hitting him in the chest and another in the side of the head.
“What the heck?!” Keenan shrieked. There was one more that flew into his forehead. It was exactly what was needed. Peach juice dribbled down his face, some getting into his mouth. “Peaches?!”
Keenan pushed the fruit from him and stopped in mid-shake of his cloak where a splattered peach had ended up. Something felt off. His head spun a little and his vision began to get fuzzy. It felt like it took a long time to turn his head to see the two riders. A shiny crystal hovered near him. His gaze drifted for a moment. He could barely register the screaming woman, but he did feel a sudden jolt of fear.
Jareth and Ondine watched as Keenan and his horse were enveloped by the crystal. They floated on the cold air, beyond the trees, and beyond the range of vision.
“Where will he end up?” Ondine asked.
“Does it matter?” Jareth asked. Ondine put her knife away and shook her head ‘no’. “Come. I’m getting cold.”
The Carrington House put them in the same room they were in before. Jareth was still not pleased with the small bathroom, but this time he didn’t mind quite as much. When they had arrived, Jareth had insisted on a hot shower. When he emerged, he pulled on fresh warm clothes. Ondine was lying on her bed staring at the ceiling.
“Everything alright?” Jareth asked.
“Yes, Sire” Ondine said automatically. Jareth sat down next to her. He knew the look that was on her face. She was in the midst of compartmentalizing her feelings. He was no stranger to it.
“It’s not easy having such a great change to deal with” Jareth said softly. “There was once this girl who ran my Labyrinth. She had wished her brother away.” Ondine watched Jareth speak, but remained silent. “There was something about her, something…” Jareth fluttered his fingers in the air. “I’m not sure, actually. Have you heard the story? I know that I was the laughing stock at many courts for a few seasons.”
“Yes, Sire” Ondine said softly.
“It took time to deal with it” Jareth told Ondine. He gave her knee a pat with one hand. “You’re going to feel better soon. Perhaps the other guards will have a feast in your honor or some such thing.”
A tear rolled from her eye to the mattress and she brushed it away. There was an onslaught of thoughts that were attacking her in a barrage. Ondine took a deep breath and sat up. “I should get cleaned up.”
“Did I say something upsetting?” Jareth asked. Ondine got up from the bed and grabbed her things.
“I’m not upset” Ondine said. “I’m just not looking forward to earning back the Parliament Guards’ trust.”
She disappeared into the tiny bathroom and Jareth could only sit there thinking about her words and new predicament. Surely, the other knights in the Parliament Guard would accept her fully now. She was free from her curse and no longer a threat. What kind of burden could she possible be? Jareth stood and gazed out the window. Night had not yet fallen, but he was certain that he was hungry. A thought entered his brain on that note, she is their gardener. Jareth speculated that this one fact could prove troublesome.
Conjuring up a crystal, Jareth knew what he would say before he realized it. His father’s face appeared in the crystal.
“Son?” King Yulen asked. He put on a straight face and looked quizzically at his son through the crystal. “This is unexpected. What is the trouble?”
“Oh, no trouble father” Jareth said. “I need to ask you something. Something important.”
“That sounds like trouble” King Yulen replied. Jareth tried not to scowl too much.
“It’s about Lady Stone” Jareth said. The king looked ready for his son to have a tantrum or something akin to that. “I rather like her and I was wondering—“
“Like her?” King Yulen repeated. “That daft woman is a killer! She can’t even talk!”
“I was wondering” Jareth continued. “If you would allow her to join my forces. Remove her from the Parliament Guard.” King Yulen rubbed his chin. “She’s not a killer, as you think.”
“She killed members of the Parliament” King Yulen replied. “She’s lucky that no one killed her.”
“It was a blasted curse, Father!” Jareth argued. He watched the older man lean back. “She’s cured. We fixed it.”
“Then she should stay with the Parliament” Yulen said firmly.
“She’s nothing but their gardener” Jareth said. His ears strained and he heard the water turn off. “She can’t produce food as she did before and there will be issues with the others. I can feel it.”
“You can ‘feel’ it, huh?” Yulen said unimpressed. Yulen looked away for a moment, then back at Jareth. “I’ll get back to you.”
The crystal went dark and Jareth felt irritated. He tossed the crystal away. Outside, the snow shimmered in the last hours of the sun. When Ondine finally came out from the bathroom he turned to her and smiled.
“I have some news” Jareth said with a smile. “How would you like to come work for me?”
“What?” Ondine asked. She toweled off her hair and moved to sort through her things.
Jareth held out a crystal to her as soon as she stood up and turned to him. “It’s an offer. It’s a version of your knighthood dream.”
Ondine stared at the crystal before her. It looked ordinary, as any crystal ball should. She didn’t see anything special reflected in orb. She knew about the Goblin King and his powers; she didn’t reach for the crystal.
“What are you offering exactly?” Ondine asked. Worry was spread over her face and Jareth’s reflected concern.
“I’m offering you the position of my top knight, my personal guard at the Labyrinth” Jareth said. “We would come up with a title for you, of course.”
“I am a knight in the Parliament Guard, Your Highness” Ondine replied. “I cannot just leave. It is not allowed, unless King Yulen allows it, as he is the patriarch of your family.” Jareth looked hurt. “Surely, you know that, Sire.”
“Would you accept it?” Jareth asked again. Ondine clasped her hands together. It was a great temptation.
“Only if it was allowed, Sire” Ondine finally replied. Jareth flicked the crystal away and gave her a small smile.
“I’ve inquired about it” Jareth admitted. “We are friends aren’t we?”
“I believe we are” Ondine said.
“It would bring me great pleasure to have a personal guard who is not only fierce and valiant, but also my friend” Jareth admitted. Jareth turned and pulled on a vest to make himself look a bit more presentable. “I need something to eat.”
“Yes, Sire” Ondine said pulling on a knit sweater. It was a sweater meant for work with loose half-sleeves and large buttons. She pulled her boots on and tied her belt around her waist.
After ordering their meals of roasted lamb and herbed potatoes, Ondine broke the silence. She sipped at her ale and took a deep breath.
“May I ask you a question?” Ondine asked. Jareth nodded and sipped at his own ale. “Whatever happened to that girl you spoke of earlier?”
“She…well I’m not sure, to be honest” Jareth replied. “I watched her for a short while after she left, but I had things to take care of. I couldn’t watch her forever.”
“Did she hurt you?” Ondine asked. Jareth’s lips tightened and he sat back in his chair. He only leaned forward to sip his ale. Ondine glanced around, hoping that their food would appear soon. “I’m sorry, Sire.”
“I’m over her” Jareth said firmly. Ondine nodded and took a long drink from her mug. With a light pop a crystal appeared before Jareth. Across the table, Ondine could see nothing in the clear orb.
“I have discussed it with Sir Richard” King Yulen told Jareth. “If she returns without the curse, she will be tried for the deaths of her fellow knights.”
“I understand, Your Majesty” Jareth said with a nod. Without warning or a good-bye the crystal popped and was gone. “It seems, Lady, that we are both black sheep among our families.”
Jareth rolled his wrist and a crystal appeared. He set it on the table in front of Ondine. It was a silent offer. Ondine stared at the crystal until the food arrived. They are in silence that was neither welcomed nor awkward.
“Well?” Jareth finally asked. The server took away their empty plates and left them with apple hand pies.
“I will be your personal knight?” Ondine asked. “Not a gardener?”
“Of course” Jareth replied. “You will act as an advisor, as my Earl Marshall. Proper kingdoms have court officials.”
Ondine slid her hand towards the crystal and let her fingers brush against the delicate glass. It felt as if she crushed it. In her hand lay a heavy gold brooch with an owl and the Chouette family crest. The crest was painted with enamel.
“Lady Ondine Stone, Earl Marshall” Jareth said with a smile.
NOTE: I must end it here so I can get ready for NaNoWriMo. If you would like to use my characters please do so, just give me some credit...and please let me know. I'd love to read your work.