The Underground, a fae land with several names and a great many kingdoms, was entering its winter season. Snow gently fell from the billowing clouds, creating a dreamy landscape. The Labyrinth, one of the many kingdoms, looked dormant with snow filling the passageways and topping the high walls. The creatures that spent their lives within the maze portion of the kingdom could be found shoveling snow from their homes and collecting wood for their fireplaces. The Goblin City, the capitol of the Labyrinth, was caught somewhere between quaintness and filth. While the higher places were capped in lovely white snow, the narrow streets were simply dirty slush. Shopkeepers and restaurant workers were busy setting up winter lanterns and various decorations to celebrate the seasonal change.
The castle was capped in white and frost gently covered the towers. Inside, the castle was warm, as always, and bustling with activity. Maids were cleaning, the kitchen staff was busy preparing foods for later, the groundskeepers were busy maneuvering the snow, and the king was 30-hours into paperwork around a new treaty, guaranteeing a new alliance for the Labyrinth between the goblins and the small coastal kingdom of Grousloge, home to a mélange of fisherman, a small navy, merchant pirates, glassblowers, brewers, and artists. The treaty was initially for trade, but the alliance would be crucial. Grousloge controlled the port towns in the region and its navy was strong. It was also one of the only places to mine for musgravite, a grey gemstone held in high regards for its rarity. The people of Grousloge, mostly fae, refrained from mining the gems due to the harsh conditions involved in the process. Goblins, on the other hand, were adept at mining for anything.
King Jareth tossed his quill down and sat back. He was exhausted, even more so when he rubbed his face. Candles in his study were dripping wax onto the glossy wood floor and the king’s prized symphony plant had fallen into a quiet sleep after hours of its strange aetheric melodies. Jareth glanced at the frosted windows and sighed. The snow had been falling for a fortnight. Winter was a hindrance for him. He couldn’t travel very far in his owl form in the winter due to a lack of insulation. He had been cursed with the barn owl transfiguration when he opted for stealth and speed as a youth. Snow always reminded him of this fact.
He let out a breath he had been holding and looked at the papers before him. He could barely focus on the words. He reached for the tea press sitting at the corner of his desk and found it empty.
“Of course” Jareth whispered to himself. He stood up and stretched. A jaunt to the kitchens would do him some good. How long had he been sitting now? He took the press and his mug with him.
His study was in a high tower. It allowed him to view the capitol and surrounding lands, have flight access, and to be securely away from most of the goblins. The creatures made up the majority of his subjects and he respected them, but at times their jovial nature was too much for him. As a member of the Chouette family, a royal Fae family who mainly ruled two of the great forests of the Underground, Jareth was hardwired for the need for “alone time”, solitude.
Jareth descended the stairs and passed through various rooms in the tower until he came to a gentleman’s parlor at the tower base. It had been designed, by a previous king, for entertaining male guests with masculine parlor games and drink. Jareth barely had time to think, let alone entertain guests at his castle. The room was clean, thanks to the castle maids, but untouched and disregarded.
Quietly, he gracefully hurried through the hallways and down two flights of stairs until he made his way to the kitchen. The goblins that he passed barely glanced at him and if they did, they bowed to him. Jareth stood in the doorway of the kitchen and rapped on the doorframe.
“Yes?” One of the cooks called out. His back was to the door as he slowly strained a steamy pot of pasta.
“I have a tea press here” Jareth replied. He set it on the counter closest to the door. The cook shook the pot of noodles into a colander and set it aside before turning around. “Can I get a cup of something? Something hot?”
“I’m in the middle of—“ The cook said as he turned around. “Your Highness!” He immediately bowed. “I’m so sorry, Sire. I didn’t realize it was you.”
“Its fine” Jareth replied. He held out his mug. “I need something hot to drink. Something that might keep me awake for a little while.”
“Yes, certainly” The cook said taking the mug. “I have a peach cider in the crock with nutmeg and red clover and just a hint of vanilla. It’s sure to work for you.”
“None of that Aboveground coffee?” Jareth asked. The cook hopped over to a large crock-pot and ladled the cider into the mug.
“No, Sire” The cook replied. “We ran out this morning. Sorry.”
“I’ll acquire some more” Jareth replied. The cook handed him the hot mug and smiled. “Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome, Sire” The cook said. Jareth left the kitchen without another word. The cider was delicious, as always. The best thing about the goblins, as far as Jareth could tell, was the fact that they were very particular about food. They weren’t the best fighters or the best clothes makers or even the cleanest of creatures, but they were damned good with food and brewing; mining too, if he wanted to be fair. Jareth took the stairs once again and hurried to his personal rooms.
With a wave, the candles in the room were lit and Jareth felt relief at his first chance of down time. He set his mug down and conjured up a crystal the size of a melon. He watched as it began to glow and slowly fade into a familiar face.
“King Jareth” The older man said with a smirk. “Haven’t heard from you in ages.”
“My apologies” Jareth replied.
“You look terrible” The older man said. He turned his head and Jareth could make out him waving something or someone away. “Your mother and I are in the middle of dining. What do you need?”
“I have an important treaty to deliver to Grousloge” Jareth said. “I need one of the parliament guard.”
“Can’t you just fly there?” The older man asked. He was looking down at something.
“You know I cannot” Jareth replied. “It’s become too cold for my owl form.” Jareth watched as his father bit into a buttered roll. “I only need one guard to assist me. Please, Father. This is a very important—“
“Yes, yes, boy” The older man said with a hand wave. He chewed with his mouth open and smacked his lips. Jareth tried not to groan and look away. “Don’t you have warriors there or do you keep the peace with your…ah…bit of sorcery?”
“Both” Jareth said with an exasperated breath.
“Can’t you send a diplomat?” Jareth’s father asked. Jareth took a sip of his cider before answering.
“This is something I have to be present for” Jareth replied. “I need to leave in the morning.”
“I’ll send someone for you” His father said between bites. “You really should work on your fighting skills, boy.”
“I can fight, Father. There are many dangers on the way to Grousloge, that’s all” Jareth stated.
“Someone will be waiting for you on the eastern road in the morning” His father said. “Good evening, Jareth.”
“Good evening, Father” Jareth said. The crystal faded away and Jareth sank into his favorite chair. His father’s form was of a great grey owl, the largest of all the owl species. King Yulen, Jareth’s father, was a celebrated fighter with some basic knowledge of magic. King Yulen had never been a fan of Jareth’s pursuit of sorcery. Every time, you just have to let me know you still disapprove.
Jareth finished his cider and pulled himself out of his chair, into his bedroom. He could manage five hours of sleep before he would have to start getting ready for his trip. It would be five days by horse if things went smoothly.
He shed his clothing and pulled on his pajama pants. Exhaustion was taking its toll on him. He wandered into his large restroom to do his nightly grooming rituals. His mind was in full gear regarding the treaty and now he was wondering how his father would slight him. King Yulen could never help himself when the opportunity arose. Jareth stared at himself in the mirror. Dark bags were splotched under his eyes and he looked more pale than usual. He splashed a little water on his face before heading for his bed.
The soft mattress was comforting. The sheets were soft and thick and smelled freshly laundered. He waved his hand and the candles that were lit, blew out. After three deep breaths, the goblin king was sound asleep, his mind at ease out of pure exhaustion, and his worry put away until morning.