Chapter 1: Broken Heart
It happened every time another man broke her heart.
She was fifteen, only a few months after everything, and a boy who'd teased her for the past five years had asked her to Homecoming. She was nodding, breathless, when his face twisted and he laughed: "Oh, wait, sorry Sarah! I forgot, I already have a date!" She's trying not to cry in the hallway, spinning to run for the relative privacy of the bathroom, and a mocking voice sounds in her ears: "Such a pity." Oddly, it makes her feel better, and she's too relieved to worry that it shouldn't have helped.
After her night in the Labyrinth—her dream of the Labyrinth—change had come slowly. Not in how she felt about Toby, no: but though that night she imagined herself surrounded by her fairy-tale friends, it didn't take long before the image faded. Seeing a fantasy become real, terrifyingly, viscerally real, took away the joy and safety of her fantasies, prompting her to leave them slowly behind.
She was sixteen, her first boyfriend; he held her and demanded everything from her and left angry when she told him no, she wasn't ready. On the bench in her favorite park, crying, hating herself for missing him even as she's glad she didn't give in; a barn owl ghosts across the field. She blinks, and he flares against her eyelids. She's so startled, she forgets to be miserable, but later, she can't remember why.
She hadn't immediately been sure it was a dream. When she woke that night to hear the clock chiming twelve, twelve, not thirteen, she'd been certain it was real. But it couldn't be. As much as she immersed herself in fantasy, deadly dangerous villains with strange, silly minions did not really pop into your window and steal your baby brother, nor did they give you a chance to take it back... or if they did, if they were really as all-powerful as he'd seemed, they didn't give you Hoggle and Ludo and Sir Didymus and everyone else who'd been at least neutral rather than openly antagonistic during her journey. No, it was a dream. It had to be. And the way she remembered that final confrontation, the other spins on it in the visions she was absolutely sure were only dreams... she wasn't ready for those to be real, wasn't ready to confront what else he might have offered or what else she might want from him, if the stakes were other than a defenseless child. And even those dreams had faded, with time.
She was eighteen and in love, and this time she did give him everything he asked for and more, three glorious months, until the day she found him asking everything of her roommate in the girls' showers. Standing naked in front of her mirror, examining every flaw, blaming herself: Why doesn't he want me? Why am I not enough? Eyes down, cupping still-growing breasts, glancing back to the mirror and he is there behind her, one gloved hand reaching for her, eyes burning with lust. She turns on the spot, but she is alone.
There were feelings she hadn't quite understood in that fantasy-in-the-fantasy, in the dream ballroom where he'd held her close and whispered words of love and she'd almost believed him. Had believed him, even, or at least, had wanted to. "...Had fallen in love with the girl," wasn't that part of the story? Wasn't it necessary? But it fit oddly with his terrible promise: "Fear me, love me, and I will be your slave." An offer of servitude shouldn't sound so ominous; putting herself in his power shouldn't sound so thrillingly tempting. During that first year after, she'd often listened to her music box, the song's promise echoing that chilling, haunting, beautiful, dangerous phrase; but since, she'd learned what it really was between a man and a woman and that spell was mostly broken. Real men never lived up to fantasy and he wouldn't either.
She was nineteen and afraid. Though she gave her body freely, there was more held back; if she didn't give everything, neither could he take everything. He was kind, loving, sweet: he should have been everything. But after a year of looking into her eyes and seeing affection so shallow compared to the depth of his love, he tore himself away; only then did she realize what she had denied herself. On the hilltop at sunset, leaning on a railing, lost and empty; and then feeling his arms around her, gloved hands covering hers, breath on the back of her neck, the smell and creak of leather. He feels so solid; she moves to grip his hands but it's like holding smoke, and he's gone. Was that real?
She decided to study psychology. If you turn it this way, and look into it, it will show you your dreams. Understanding, as well as she could, the workings of the mind would give her power. She must understand the mind, must understand her own mind, understand these dreams and why every man in the end, brought her back to him, or she'd run mad. Or she'd never be happy, never be free.
The Goblin King. Just a dream, once; but such a dream that when she woke, she was no longer a little girl. It had been an experience to mold and shape her, but only a dream. Jareth, her perfect adversary, flirtatious and cruel, unkind and unforgiving, then—dream within a dream—romantic and powerful, begging for her love even as he threatened her with his strength, taunting her with his "generosity" even as he moved to take the thing she most cared about, the brother she hadn't realized she loved.
You have no power over me. It was true, and yet untrue: he could not keep her, he could not keep Toby, she would never be his prisoner... and yet every thought circled back to him, eventually. Not right away; sometimes it was days, even months, but always she remembered the journey: the fear, the triumph, the longing, the strength. Standing with him as the Castle crashed down around them, time and space inverted as she claimed her prize and he fell defeated at her feet.
But in studying the mind, she learned the tricks to shape and mold her own. Jareth, she told herself, had been a manifestation of her growing sexuality, transformed into something to conquer, to comprehend. He was a symbol of letting go of childhood, the guardian of the gates of her adult self. That was why his image came to her when she was afraid of her womanhood; as she needed it, he became encouragement, comfort, and desirability. The villain of her nightmare, become terrifying comfort. Every time she had seen him—no, that was far too much like his being real—every time she had unconsciously imagined him, she felt better after, even though it made no sense, even though he still frightened her. At twenty-two, graduating from college, she told herself it was time to leave him behind. She was headed for a PhD, and nothing of childhood remained to her. Driving away from her undergraduate institution for the last time, she imagined him, deliberately pictured him, standing on that hill where once she'd felt his arms around her, and did her best to leave him there in her past. You have no power over me.
She was in control of her life. She lived alone, and though she dated casually, it was always she who left, always she who decided it was over, and if she occasionally saw a flicker of Jareth in a window as she passed, she told herself she was only seeing things. She didn't need him anymore. She was her own woman. The Goblin King was a child's fantastic dream.
At twenty-three, her dedication to her studies would see her graduated and done in another four years. Child psychology. Her colleagues teased her about her interest in dreams, but she maintained that they held power, especially for children. Her work on the varieties of imaginary friends, invented by children with and without other problems, was already drawing attention. A few people had asked about the archetypes she proposed—a cuddly monster, a ridiculous (though chivalrous) knight, others of that type—but she was impassive, maintaining that they were only constructs found throughout imaginary literature and children's imaginations: the monsters of Where the Wild Things Are, Falkor of The Neverending Story, Tumnus the Faun and Aslan himself in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Dorothy's Tin Man and Lucy's Reepicheep. And then, of course, Prince Charming. He never had much personality; only a fine hero at the end of a long road. Every girl wants to meet Prince Charming. Every girl waits to be swept off her feet, every young girl wants to be loved... never mind that Prince Charming hadn't figured in her own fantasy life since the age of fifteen. She'd put away childish things, and others should too, in their own time. Fantasies filled holes real life couldn't reach; once you understood what was missing, you could go get it or learn to live without it.
When she was twenty-four, she met Ben, and it was as though the Prince Charming story finally made sense. She giggled like a schoolgirl—actually, she'd never giggled like that, as a schoolgirl—and danced like she'd won the lottery and two months later when his lease was up she asked him to move in with her before she even really thought about it. It took another four months before she realized that she hadn't seen Jareth hiding in the corner of her eye ever since they'd started dating, and in another year she'd pretty much convinced herself she hadn't seen him before then, either, not since college, anyway, but that was all to the good. Who needed a dream when reality exceeded expectations? Her work expanded, too: she was able to examine Prince Charmings and dark seducers without imagining that he was watching her.
It was her twenty-sixth birthday, and Ben had taken her to dinner, and she had never been so sure of anything in her life as she was that she'd leave this restaurant with her fiancé instead of her boyfriend. He'd been oddly quiet, tonight; it was probably nerves.
"Sarah," he began, as they lingered over dessert. "Sarah, there's something we need to talk about."
That was an ominous way to start a proposal. She swallowed carefully, put down her fork, and looked at him.
"What is it?"
"Sarah... I'm sorry to tell you this today, but I need to tell you sometime and the timing isn't getting better." Her breath caught in her throat. "This... I'm sorry, Sarah. You're a great girl. But this isn't working anymore."
"The—this—but Ben, I thought..." Her brain was shutting down.
"I know. I'm sorry. I'm not ready to settle down, Sarah. I'm not ready for forever. As much as I care about you, I'm not even sure I want it with you. And the longer I stay, knowing you want that, the longer I'm cheating you out of finding it. I'm sorry." He stood. She hadn't moved. "I'll take care of the bill, and I'll stay at Eddie's tonight. I'll be by tomorrow for my things." He stopped, touched her cheek, tilting her face up until she was forced to meet his eyes, and she blinked, trying to deny that she was on the verge of tears. "I'm sorry, Sarah."
"Miss?" The maître d' was leaning slightly over the table, a hint of concern behind his professional demeanor. "I'm sorry, miss... Can I call you a cab?" Ben must have paid the staff extra, to ensure she could have the table as long as she needed, but every restaurant closes eventually. She wasn't sure how long she'd sat, staring at nothing, but the restaurant was dark and quiet and empty, and the ice cream that had topped her forgotten dessert had become a sad, warm, squishy puddle. She hadn't cried or made a scene, just processed the hurt, tears that never fell pricking the corners of her eyes.
"No... no, thank you." She closed her eyes, swallowed. "It's not far. I'd rather walk." He gave her a little bow, then stepped back to pull out her chair as she stood.
The cold night air was stinging on her face, raising tears in her eyes with its bite, and yes those were just the result of the wind, of course they were, nothing else to see here, don't think about where you're going, what you're going home to, what you're not going home to. All too soon she was standing at her front door and without anywhere else to go, she opened the door, closed it, locked it, put down her things... and there resolve failed her. Stumbling in the dark, she kicked off her shoes, threw herself into bed fully clothed, buried her face in a pillow that still smelled of Ben, and sobbed.
She was still there, having at some point drifted off to sleep, when he showed up the next day. He seemed startled and sad to see her confidence so reduced, her eyes puffy from tears, her clothes wrinkled, her manner guarded and fearful. He'd planned to show up when she was still in class, but apparently school wasn't even on her radar, today. "I, Sarah I..." He stopped. There was nothing he could say. "I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd be here."
"Don't worry," she snapped, sorrow and fear turning to cold anger, "I'll get out of your way." She stalked over to her dresser, grabbed the first thing out of the top drawer, and disappeared into the bathroom. Five minutes later, as he was still trying to collect himself to say something, or even pack, the door slammed: she was gone.
Sarah didn't know where she was going, she just let her feet go, walking off her anger and her grief. Nothing mattered, not life, not school, not work; everything was ended in the wake of his declaration. She'd been in control, she'd been so sure she knew where her life was headed, and now, derailed, all paths obscured, she wasn't even sure what street she was on or how far she'd traveled. Finally, exhausted, her feet slowed down and her shoulder came to rest against a window which, she realized after a few minutes of blank staring, was full of beautiful old leather-bound books. Embossed across the window near her shoulder were two simple words: "Used Books."
A bell tinkled in a back room as she slipped into the shop, but no proprietor appeared; no matter, she was more inclined to browse. It was an older building, absolutely stuffed with books; shelves filled every space and books were even stacked on the narrow, twisting stairs leading upwards into, she guessed, even more rooms of the same kind above. Gently, she reached out and ran her fingers along the nearest shelf, not looking at the titles, simply closing her eyes to enjoy the soft feel and sweet, close smell of supple leather bindings and old, dusty pages. She inhaled slowly and then exhaled, without a hint of the choking sobs that had haunted her breathing since the night before. She moved forward slowly, enjoying a game she'd played in the dark hallways at the back of her university library. Close your eyes, run your hand down the row in some unknown stack, open at random and see where you land.
Her fingers dipped into a gap, a cavity between two larger books, and she paused, startled, and opened her eyes. Sunk in the gloom, she could see there was a book there, a small book, bound in red leather. A slim volume, and shorter than its compatriots, but familiar under her hand, and she drew it gently forth. The title was stamped on the cover in slightly peeling gold leaf: Labyrinth. Her fingers traced over the familiar corners, hefted the familiar weight, then, with a sudden decisive movement, she moved to the counter, which was still empty, and rang the bell.
It had taken a quite a while to find herself, and longer to plot a route home; she'd wandered more than five miles in her haze. Finding and purchasing the book had grounded her: she stopped at a corner store to pick up dinner, and now home was a little less than half a mile away. Unfortunately, the sky looked rather ominously like rain. Sure enough, less than five minutes from her door, the sky opened like a bucket being poured out, and she was soaked to the skin in seconds. Too wet to bother hiding from the storm, she merely hurried towards home.
The apartment was dark and silent; this made it easier to ignore the empty spaces: Ben's desk, gone, his clothes, gone, even the few kitchen items he'd brought into her home had vanished. She'd kicked something as she came in; looking back, she saw a plain white envelope, which probably contained his key. At least she wouldn't need to see him again.
She made herself sit at the table and eat, made herself turn on her computer and email her professors with apologies for missing class: she'd "Come down with something" and would be "Back on Monday, I promise." Today was Thursday, but she was sure she wouldn't feel up to normal life tomorrow, either. Similar promises went to her research advisor; fortunately, she was in a data-crunching step of her research, so there were no study participants to put off or make time for. She made herself shower, and put on comfortable pants, and finally chose a camisole when she realized she wouldn't be sleeping in one of Ben's old t-shirts. Finally, she turned to her closet, and pulled the box of mementos from the top shelf. Inside, along with a few pictures of her high school and college friends and newspaper clippings of her mother, was her music box. She set it on the nightstand. Only then did she turn to the book resting in her purse.
She'd wrapped it in plastic when she'd felt the approaching storm, and now unwrapped it, settling down into her pillows as she had so often as a girl. And, now, looking at it more carefully in the strong light of her bedside lamp, she realized the book was more than familiar, it was intimately so. This wasn't simply another copy of the same edition of her book. The bent corners, the peeling lettering, the fraying red ribbon, the water damage from when she'd been caught in another summer storm all those years ago… this was her book. She gave the ribbon a light tug, and the book fell open to a well-remembered, oft-read passage. "Through dangers unknown, and hardships unnumbered…"
Karen must have gotten rid of it, she mused. When they moved; when they cleaned out my room. I never asked. How it had come to a tiny, dusty used book store three states away she couldn't fathom, but the coincidence was oddly comforting. She opened to the beginning, traced the words of the poem on the inside front cover. It's only forever; that's not long at all. Well, forever was too long for Ben. She sighed.
It had been so long since she had read fantasy for pleasure, rather than as a part of her work, that she'd forgotten what it felt like to lose herself in her imagination. She laughed aloud at the words to call the Goblin King: "Goblin King, Goblin King, wherever you may be, take this child of mine far away from me!" So overblown—and yet, in her dream, that hadn't quite been it… had it? She shook her head, setting aside the unwelcome impression, and focused on the story. By the time she made it to those well-worn last pages, she had laughed and cried, and the whole experience was settling over like a comforting hug, these old friends returning to her mind as though she hadn't spent the last so many years pushing them away into neat little boxes. She propped the book open to the page with the final monologue, the one she'd practiced so many times, reached over, and turned on her music box.
"Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the Castle beyond the Goblin City, to take back the child that you have stolen." She was mouthing along with the familiar words, despite feeling that something was missing, a counterpoint: didn't she remember that the Goblin King would speak? But he was silent, impassive and stern before the heroine. "For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great." He took a few steps forward, held up a hand, conjured a crystal, but stayed silent. "You have no power over me!"
She closed her eyes. The book was done, but her memory was coming back, the dream so vivid she could almost feel again her fear and triumph. His words, too, returned full force: "Look, Sarah, look what I'm offering you. Your dreams! I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything you want. Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave!" He'd sung it too: How you turn my world, you precious thing. You starve and near-exhaust me. Everything I've done, I've done for you. I move the stars for no one. Tears were coming again now, not for that heroine, but for herself. She'd been so sure of herself, on that long-ago day; she'd discounted his promises like they were nothing. She couldn't have given up her brother, of course, but she hadn't even been tempted. Had she been too young to hear the promise, too much a child to desire him then? The music box played on, and she remembered the words he'd sung to her deep in that ballroom fantasy: I will be there for you, as the world falls down. And he'd been there before, hadn't he, every time her heart was breaking? When she'd been hurt, even a little, by another man? And now, more broken than she'd ever been, she hadn't even managed to conjure up a fantasy of strong arms or deep desire or even scorn. Career, she tried to remind herself. That's what you wanted, isn't it? To understand the mind, to help people, to control your own destiny? To take control of your fantasy, to make it submit? But her attempts at control had gotten her nothing but an empty bed and a broken heart, and a set of letters after her name didn't mean much if she was alone.
The music box melody ground to a halt, and she hid her head in the pillow, eyes squeezed shut. "I wish… I wish…." She swallowed hard. "Goblin King, Jareth, I wish you were real."
Lightning flashed, thunder boomed, and all the lights went out. She rolled onto her back, suddenly nervous. The window rattled, loudly, then blew open in a gust of wind and rain and blowing curtains; a barn owl swooped in, circled the room once and then, as her eyes widened in fear, resolved into the form of the Goblin King, every inch exactly as she had first seen him.
"Why Sarah," he said softly, his mouth smiling but his voice full of dangerous warning, "I thought you'd never ask."
Chapter 2: Not a Dream, After All
Sarah cringed back from him, fear clear in her eyes. "You… you're not real. I'm dreaming! You're a dream!"
"Oh, Sarah," he replied, a hint of scornful laughter in his voice, "is that what you have believed, all these years?" He raised his hand, with a flick of fingers, and it held a crystal ball. "Did you forget? I am the master of dreams."
"I dreamed you. I made it up! The whole Labyrinth; every single thing in there was from my bedroom." She'd catalogued it back when she'd moved out. From the bookend Hoggle to the Escher print, every major player in her dream had its analog in her bedroom, as either a doll or a picture. She even had a Labyrinth puzzle, though she'd never been very good at rolling the marbles around.
"Everything but one, Sarah." He regarded her coolly. "Where, in your room, was I?"
"I…. You look like a figurine, on my desk." She paused. "And you're in the book." She looked at the small red volume where it lay on her pillow.
"Am I really?" He stepped towards her, arching one eyebrow. His hand flicked again and the crystal was gone. She backed up quickly, putting her back to the wall behind her bed.
"Yes." She took a shaky breath. "I lived out the story in my dream. My dream just… fleshed it out a little. Cast my figurine in that role." She straightened, shook her head. "I must have fallen asleep reading."
"I am familiar with the book," he said sharply. His fingers flicked again, this time in contempt. "The Goblin King has no name; he has no face; he has little to say beyond the opening challenge. Am I truly as simple as that, Sarah? Am I a foe so easily vanquished?"
Her eyes flashed. "A piece of cake," she snapped, and his eyes narrowed dangerously. "In the end, it was just like the story…." She trailed off. It hadn't been just like the story. In the story, the Goblin King was silent in defeat, but she remembered…. Fear me, love me, and I will be your slave. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want. She pulled herself together. "And the figurine?"
"A triviality," he answered. "Did it have personality? Was it more than a holder for a pretty costume?"
"You wore that coat."
"It amused me." His eyes flashed with fire. "There was more to your experience than the book, Sarah. There was more to your friends than you believed. There is more to me than you have ever dreamed." His eyes bored into her, but his angry voice turned soft: "There is more to you than you have ever imagined."
"More to… more to me?"
A crystal was in his hands again. "This is not a gift for an ordinary girl who takes care of a screaming baby." He spoke with the dry tone of years ago; the crystal rolled back and forth across his hands with the same mesmerizing precision. "Do you want it?"
She closed her eyes in sudden pain. "I don't have dreams." She looked away, ashamed of the tears behind her eyelids. "Not anymore."
"Sarah…." Was that pain in his voice? She had to look at him again, but she could read nothing in his face. "You still have dreams, though perhaps you have forgotten. But perhaps… an old one, to begin." He extended the crystal.
"What's the price?" He said nothing, only looked at her. "There's always a price."
"Two things. First, that you tell me what you think and feel about this dream; and second, that after you have done so, you will answer the question I will ask you. You must do both honestly, and without reserve. I will know if you lie, or speak less than the full truth."
"Words, I can handle." She paused. "What do I do?"
She had expected the dream of the ballroom, the music, the seductive dance, the whispered promise. Instead, she found herself walking through the shimmering forest that lay between the Bog and the Goblin City, with all of her friends around her. Dreaming, she shed the boxes she'd placed them in, and remembered them as they had been.
She looked at Hoggle, and remembered how she'd felt when he came back from her and rescued her from the Fire Gang. Profound gratitude, security, happiness—and it didn't matter that he'd done it in some measure out of fear of his King, didn't matter that he'd eventually given in and given her the peach, because she also remembered the way he'd come running over the battlements to leap onto the head of the enormous Guardian of the Gate, saving them all. He was only a person, with weaknesses—"a coward," in his own words—but in the end he'd come through. He was knowledgeable and clever in his own way, and though he tried to hide it, kind. I don't promise nothin', but I'll take you as far as I can.
Turning her eyes to Ludo, she remembered the great beast's kind gaze, his surprising insights and strange understanding. She had run towards him instead of away, and she had found her courage rewarded in his solid loyalty. If he hadn't been able to call the rocks, she would have been captured or killed by the army of goblins sent against her in those last crucial minutes. And even before that, she might have given up out of loneliness, without him beside her, to give her comfort and make her laugh. She remembered how he'd looked with the door knocker in his mouth, and smiled fondly. Sawah friend.
And finally, Sir Didymus, racing away ahead of them on his "noble steed." The silly fox had enchanted her with his chivalry and his speech, and his encouragement had given her courage in return, in spite of the fact that it sometimes led to recklessness. He was one who believed in stories, just as she had, and because he believed, he could bolster her belief when it weakened. Though the stunned look he'd given her when she'd asked permission to cross his bridge never failed to make her laugh, it was his last words to her in the Throne Room that had given her the strength to go forward. If that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it.
She felt warm, safe, at peace with herself. It was similar to how she felt when she understood something that would help one of the children she worked with under her program's supervision, but it felt truer, like her work was close but not exactly designed to give her this feeling of contentment. She didn't have close friends, really. Sometimes people came to her for advice and they were close for a time, but it was more about the other person needing her, than the reverse. Only in the Labyrinth had she felt that there were people who valued her for herself, and not for what she could give them. There were ways in which she had helped them, of course; in addition to freeing Ludo, she rather thought she'd helped Hoggle find some courage and Didymus find some purpose. But her need, her quest, had been paramount.
She had ascribed the friends she found in the Labyrinth to her loneliness, but she had thought it only the loneliness of a child who was too spoiled to ask instead of demand and too much a dreamer to see what was in front of her. Those were things she thought she'd gotten past as she grew up, and it was true that at least, today, she appreciated her acquaintance and wanted to encourage closer friendship. However, the more friends pulled away, for good reasons or not, the harder it got to take a risk. Even Ben had pursued her, at first; she didn't know how to be the pursuer, rather than the pursued. In the Labyrinth dream, she'd known how to make friends easily, but somewhere not long after, that ease of trust had deserted her. No one in her life loved her as unconditionally as those three had loved her; no one had ever asked so little back.
And ah, there was the ache, that familiar pain. In the end, everyone left her. In the end, she couldn't keep them. In the end, she was alone. Was it any wonder she had convinced herself it was a dream? No one really loved like that.
She came, blinking, back to reality, to find his eyes upon her.
Her mouth opened, but she found she couldn't speak. The dream touched on every aspect of her most private thoughts: her stepmother's coldness, her father's distance, and her mother's abandonment… as a romantic teenager, she'd worshipped her mother from afar, but years without contact had dulled the ardor into an aching pain. And lastly, Ben. Kind, loveable, happy, friendly Ben, who made her laugh and listened to her and let her listen to him and though the sex wasn't as mind-blowing as a romance novel it was the best she'd known and those were made up anyway… he was gone as well. She was a "great girl," but he couldn't stay. Even he didn't want her anymore.
The Goblin King's eyes were on her, coldness settling into his gaze as her silence stretched. She felt pierced to the core, exposed, and even if he was flesh the man before her was the cold reality, not the warm comfort that she'd imagined after other heartbreaks. This man was not her friend, and he was asking for the key to her soul. Words, I can handle. Should've known better than to make a deal with him.
"You owe me a debt. You agreed to the price."
"Is there… is there anything else?"
"You agreed to the bargain. It is unwise to trifle with me." Had the shadows grown deeper behind him?
"Do… do you know what I saw?"
No way out. Say it fast. It hurts less when you do it quickly. Like a Band-Aid.
"The friends I made, in your Labyrinth… I've never had friends like that, before or since." She bit her lip. "It… it reminded me of how, in my life anyway, everyone always… leaves." There. That was honest, and didn't leave anything out, even if it wasn't very elaborate. He regarded her impassively. "What… what did you want to ask me?"
"Sarah…." He took a step forward, and she blinked, and suddenly he looked human, dressed in an expensive-looking tailored suit and flesh-colored gloves so fitted she almost thought his hands were bare. One hand was extended as though he would offer another crystal. "Would you do me the honor of dining with me, tomorrow evening?"
Two seconds passed in staring silence, and then she gave up and collapsed into laughter. She couldn't help it. This had to be the most bizarre dream she had ever dreamed—it knocked that Labyrinth business clear out of the ballpark. The Goblin King was asking for a date? She had no words, just a cramp in her stomach and tears flowing down her face. She hiccoughed, trying to get herself under control, and looked at him. He hadn't moved, which argued for him being a dream, really. A real man would be offended.
"This is one hell of a dream, you know that?"
"If it is only a dream, why not accept?" It was almost a dare.
"That's seriously your question? 'Sarah, have dinner with me?'" He was silent. "Not, 'Sarah, what do you want most?' or 'Sarah, do you know how much I hate you?' or 'Sarah, what's your most painful memory?' or 'Sarah, what is your darkest secret?' You could have asked anything and you ask that? After you make me tell you something so private as how I felt about the dream? You don't want to offer a challenge to another game, or make the offer of another bargain? I am never going to be able to tell any of my advisors about this or I will end up a study participant instead of running the show. It's not even a trap. You didn't ask if I want to dine with you, you asked if I would, so I can absolutely choose, even if my choice and my desire are not the same. So you know what? Fine. Let's have dinner, Goblin King, because this just isn't going to get any stranger. Or," she paused, "going with my first hypothesis, my subconscious is letting me off the hook for something. Damned if I know what."
"How little you know," he said softly. "May you have pleasant dreams." And just like that, he was gone.
Sleep released her only slowly. She surfaced as though rising up from deep water, every limb relaxed, every thought drifting. Had she been dreaming? She could feel the warm sun, shining in from the open window; yawning, she stretched, rolled her neck, opened her eyes. The angle of the sun suggested late morning. Well. Time to get up, then.
It was easier, today. Yesterday, waking from a night of broken dreams and tears, she'd been too distraught to do more than flee from the pain. Today, she could handle it. The grief wasn't gone, but some switch had been flicked, and it was manageable. She purposely didn't think about the other times that had happened. She ate, washed the dishes in her sink, put away the mail, paid her bills, then, inspired, attacked the house as a whole: dusting, the vacuum, bleach and scrubbed floors. She rearranged the furniture: bookshelves expanded to cover the space left by Ben's desk; shifting the couch only a little covered for the hole left by his chair. She removed the mementos of their time together: photographs came off the wall, the radio was programmed away from his favorite station, the crimson scarf he'd bought her on their last vacation went into a bag for Goodwill.
The bedroom beckoned. She'd removed him from every part of the rest of the apartment, and now she did the same to the room they'd shared. She spread her clothes out between both closets, and then centered her chest of drawers along the wall where once two had stood side by side. A few stuffed animals, carnival winnings, joined the scarf in the Goodwill bag, as did the less expensive jewelry. The nicer stuff piled into a separate box, destined for the pawn shop. Finally, she turned to the bed. Leaning close, she could smell his cologne; she'd need to wash everything.
The little red book was still sitting on her pillow, its ribbon bookmark, as always, tucked into the page with that final monologue. Had she fallen asleep reading it? Or did she remember… was there something? She tucked the book into her nightstand, feeling a strange sort of déjà vu; she'd done that so often, as a child. She pulled the pillows off, one by one, separating the covers into a separate basket for washing, then turned and ripped all the blankets free at once, piling them into the basket.
Thunk. Something fell to the floor, hard, in the middle of her motion; it had been in the bedclothes. Startled, she knelt, and there, under the bed now, lay a crystal, perfectly round and clear as glass. No.
No no no. This wasn't happening. Yet there it sat, so innocent, so terrifying: the dream. Slowly, she extended her hand, then, half flinching away as though it might bite, or explode, she touched it tentatively with one finger.
The dream washed over her again. It was less intense, this time; she could still see the dust bunny near the headboard and the boxes of cold-weather clothes under the bed, but she could also see Hoggle and Ludo and Didymus, could still feel that warm friendship glow. When it ended, she drew slowly back, remembering.
The Goblin King. In her room. Taunting her, offering the dream, asking her to dinner, accepting her laughing response without taking offense. Her own eventual agreement. How had she forgotten? It felt like a dream… it felt like the Labyrinth dream.
Oh. Not a dream, after all. Real, from first to last, all of it, from the parts she'd been afraid to remember to those she could never forget. She picked up the crystal and stood to tuck it into her nightstand next to the book, then dropped abruptly onto the naked mattress, her legs giving out as she thought through the implications. One implication was obvious, present, and paramount.
She'd agreed. She'd agreed to a date with the Goblin King. And it was very unwise not to follow through, once you and he had made an agreement.
It was 5:30 now. He hadn't given her a time. Mechanically, she stood, retrieved spare sheets and blankets, and made the bed. Laundry would have to wait for another day. She showered, dried her hair, and applied makeup, all without letting herself think about why or who she was doing it for. He hadn't said where they'd be going; she chose a simple, knee-length black dress, dressed it up with a gold locket, her mother's gift, found her grey wrap, and moved her essentials into her little black clutch. At 6:45, as she was closing the clasp on her second earring, the doorbell rang.
Come on, feet.
Chapter 3: Wine and Decadence
His suit was not quite the one from the night before, but it was of the same cut. The smile he offered her was cool and polite.
"You look lovely, Sarah. I have a cab waiting." He offered his hand as they descended the few steps in front of the door. He handed her into the car and gave an address that she vaguely realized was in a nice section of downtown.
Riding with an elegant man on the way to an expensive restaurant was enough to make any woman's heart beat faster, Sarah told herself. The fact that the man in question was Jareth, King of the Goblins just made the experience surreal. For the last hour, she'd been trying not to think about what she was doing, because "on a date with the Goblin King" was not anywhere on her mental list of "places you'd expect to find yourself forty-eight hours after a break-up." The whole situation did not compute. What did he want with her? Why was he here, now, and why was he being so… nice? Or, well, maybe not nice—last night had been terrifying at times—but… non-hostile. Generous?
Why had he done this? Why? Was it just to drive her crazy? He's a fairy-tale king, maybe this matches some fairy tale. She couldn't think of any villains who suddenly took the heroine to dinner and behaved like perfect gentlemen. Oh, sure, plenty who tried to seduce her, but that usually involved a drugged stupor or a kidnapping or at the very least some moustache-twirling, literal or figurative. Or, I've gone beyond "dreaming" into "full-on schizophrenic break." Maybe she'd spent the last eleven years in a padded cell, stuck in her own delusions.
No. She could remember too much of those last eleven years. Delusions that complex were extremely uncommon. Unless she just thought they should be uncommon, because she'd learned that in a psychology class inside her delusion… but no. That way lay madness. It had to stop somewhere.
This was insane. Why sit here and stew when she could just ask the man what he wanted? He was sprawled in his seat, relaxed, staring out the window as though the silence between them didn't bother him in the least. She opened her mouth to speak, but he must have heard her inhale; he turned and met her eyes, then shook his head slightly, flicking his eyes quickly at the driver and then meeting hers again. She glared, and he smirked, turning back to the window. Fine. At the restaurant, then.
Jareth spoke quietly to the host, and they were seated at a small table in a little alcove, quite private. The restaurant was brilliant and opulent, glittering like a ballroom out of 18th century France. A server appeared almost immediately, and Jareth beckoned, the man moving forward to lean over him.
"No allergy to crab, Sarah?" Surprised by the sudden question, she shook her head, and the server moved away again with a final nod. "Very good; the crab here is famous." It was only as he turned his body to face her fully that she noticed there were no menus. Had he just ordered for them both? Of all the insufferable, overbearing, obnoxiously chivalrous in the worst sense…. The incredulity in her eyes was burning a fair way towards anger when he reached across the table to grasp her hand. "The menu is fixed, Sarah. Trust me." She pulled her hand back, not wanting to be held, but, upon further consideration, he wasn't likely to take her out to dinner only to poison her, dates at the very nicest of chain restaurants may not quite have prepared her for five-star dining, and yelling at him about dinner wouldn't get her the answers she really wanted. She could sacrifice a little twentieth-century feminism for the purpose of getting some damn answers.
Abruptly, Sarah realized that she hadn't said a single thing so far, all night. He had greeted her, he had handled the ride and the restaurant, he had spoken… and she had said nothing. That was not really her style, at least as far as dealing with him went. She could remember being quite challenging, at fifteen. She'd risen to the occasion last night, as well. May as well just jump right in.
"So…" she paused, drawing his eye, "why are you here?"
"For the food." He leaned back in his chair. "As I told you, the crab is delicious; so is the duck, and the dessert cart is famous across the city."
"You know that's not what I meant."
"Do I?" A server appeared with a wine bottle, holding it out for inspection and then pouring a small taste. Jareth sipped, then nodded, and the server poured two glasses, leaving the bottle in a chilled holder. White wine, very crisp and dry, as she preferred, with a hint of apricot… and peach. He met her eyes over the rim of his own glass, as though daring her to mention it. Like she'd give him the satisfaction. Peach flavor was fine, she just didn't like the fruit's texture.
"I'm serious. What do you want from me?" The first course was on its way, now, borne in on covered dishes. A waiter stood behind each of them, and they uncovered the dishes with a flourish, in perfect synchrony. Sarah's eyes widened a little, impressed; Jareth didn't even seem to notice the staff.
"Eat," he said, gesturing to her plate. The dish was a caprese salad, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese topped with basil and drizzled in olive oil and a bit of cracked black pepper. Glancing down at the spread of silver to either side of her plate, she was suddenly reminded of a line from a recent film: Just start from the outside, and work your way in. She selected the outermost fork, and carefully took a slice.
Heaven. She could feel the corners of her mouth turning up, entirely of their own volition. The tomato was perfectly ripe and not at all mealy; the cheese was smoky and complex. She swallowed slowly, savoring the taste.
"I told you so," he said, swallowing his own bite with evident pleasure.
She let herself be distracted by another few bites before turning back to him. "The food is, indeed, delicious, but you aren't getting out of this—even if this is the best mozzarella I've ever tasted. Jareth," he looked at her sharply, "what are you doing here?" Belatedly, she realized it was the first time she had ever called him by name—to his face, anyway.
The look he gave her now was somewhat resigned. "I am enjoying dinner with a beautiful woman." Her fingers clenched on the table, and her jaw tightened. His tone turned somewhat mocking. "Is a peaceful dinner too much to ask?"
"I should have known better than to expect a straight answer." He tipped his head, not disagreeing. And worse: she was now so angry that she felt she might spontaneously catch fire, but losing her temper now would mean letting him win. Unless he meant to trap her that way, so that he'd be winning by getting his peaceful dinner? Perhaps she should try for both polite and furious. Or, no, a better game: the more he tried to provoke her, the calmer she would be; but the more he tried being friendly, the more he'd feel her ire. And if he didn't want to answer her questions, he could be the one to speak next.
Unfortunately, he seemed to be quite comfortable with silence. The salads were cleared away and more wine was poured, but still he said nothing. The second course appeared in the same manner as the first, a small, exquisite crab cake drowning in pale yellow sauce. Remembering his earlier remark, she wasted no time in taking a bite.
If the salad had been heaven, this was sin. Her eyes fluttered closed and she inhaled deeply, the better to savor the mixture of spices and seafood. The yellow sauce was mustard-based and a perfect complement to the rich flavor of the crab; all in all, it blew any other crab she'd ever eaten clear out of the water. As she swallowed and sighed out her drawn-in breath, she sat up straighter as well, a little shiver tingling down her spine; the movement finished as she opened her eyes and smiled her first genuine smile of the evening.
Meeting Jareth's eyes was like plunging into a pool of cold water. His look was a mix of amusement and admiration, and she was suddenly very aware that the sensual pleasure of the food could produce expressions otherwise restricted to more carnal pleasures—although actually, that crab cake was bidding fair to give sex a run for its money. She straightened and put down her fork, composing herself with a sip of water. Yes, yes, the crab is delicious.
And the bastard still wasn't talking. Dammit. Fine then, Goblin King, I'll just eat your food and be on my way. And not let you see how much I'm enjoying it. Is that good for you? Thanks ever so. Composing herself so as not to react again, Sarah determinedly enjoyed the rest of the crab. At least the effect was slightly less stimulating when she was prepared.
By the time sorbet had given way to fish, and then to a truly delicious duck, Sarah was ready to kill the Goblin King. The silence between them had reached the point of absurdity; even the servers were beginning to give them strange looks. Jareth, too, was looking more annoyed with every course, and finally, when the servers brought the cheese course and departed, his impatience won out.
"Sarah…." There was an edge to his voice. "Talk to me."
"I tried. You wouldn't answer."
"I know you have questions. They will keep. I will answer." He paused. "Eventually."
"So I just have to stick to your timetable? Do everything according to your clock?"
"Not everything. But this conversation? Yes."
"Well… if you won't talk about what I want to talk about… what do you want to talk about?"
"Not much to say. I'm pretty average."
"Bore me, then." She took a bite of cheese, stalling; she could see he recognized the tactic.
"I'm… I study psychology. The mind. I work with children. I like it."
"How did you come to choose this path?"
She frowned, confused. "You don't know?"
"I do not." Did he sound frustrated? His tone had always been difficult to read.
"I thought you could..." She made a vague gesture with one hand, holding out her palm as though she were looking into it. He raised his eyebrows. "The king in the story could watch people, through a crystal ball like the one you put my dream in. If you're here again, you must have been keeping track of me; how else? I don't even know why you're still interested in me, but at this point, I don't really expect a straight answer to that."
"Smart girl." He stopped, eating his own bite. "But suffice to say, no, I have not been watching you."
"Okay. Well, this is a little embarrassing considering I'm sitting here with you, but basically, I work with fantasy and fairy tales… imaginary friends, that sort of thing. I've got a theory about a whole classification system, and I think the sorts of friends children invent themselves can be a window into what they need in their life. Healthy children too, not just ones with problems."
"Interesting… but it is embarrassing because…?"
"If you won't talk about everything, neither will I." He wasn't happy, by his expression, but he conceded the point.
"And your family? Your brother?" Sarah did her best not to let the fear show, but she knew he saw it anyway. "Peace, Sarah. I cannot touch a child reclaimed."
"Ahh…" She sipped her wine, regaining her composure. "He's well enough. He's sort of at a rough age. It'll be better once he gets his growth spurt." Jareth clearly had no idea what to make of that remark. "I mean, he's short. Shorter than most of his class… shorter than most of the girls. He'll grow out of it."
"I see." He clearly didn't, but she wasn't really in a mood to explain more. Further conversation was saved by the arrival of the dessert cart, an incredibly decadent finish to what had already been the best dinner she'd ever eaten. Score one for the Goblin King: he had excellent taste.
Two Sarahs rode home in the cab that evening. One Sarah was quite content, having been wined and dined in the highest style by the most beautiful man she had ever seen. The other Sarah, wise to the fact that at least four glasses of wine and an eight course meal were perfectly calculated to put someone in a good mood, and that Jareth had avoided her questions all evening, was no happier than she'd been earlier that evening when she'd realized it was all real. If he didn't start talking, really talking, soon, she might just explode. Or possibly melt, given that eight courses of wine and decadence did have a physically soporific effect. Manipulative bastard did that on purpose.
He let the cab go when they reached her home, and escorted her to the door. She was just beginning to consider the implications of this—did he really expect to be invited in?—when, before she had the chance to say anything, he raised her fingers to his lips, ghosting a light kiss across her knuckles.
"Thank you for a delightful evening, Sarah." And he was gone.
Chapter 4: Correspondence
Sarah locked the door, then collapsed against it, giving herself a few seconds to simply relax before she had to go back to thinking. At least he hadn't actually considered coming in… not that she would have invited him. Still, best not to have the argument. She already felt like she'd given up too much ground tonight, talking to him somewhat civilly as he had requested, even after her resolution to stay angry. So what if the Goblin King won at fancy dinners—she'd still beaten his Labyrinth.
She kicked off her shoes, sinking onto the couch. Suddenly the whole day felt like way too much to deal with, and instead of feeling pleasantly tipsy and satisfied, she now felt slightly drunk and overfull. Her mind, too, felt stuffed to overflowing, Jareth's teasing and arrogance jostling with Ben's absence and her heartbreak. Too much to think about.
She made herself prepare for bed, but soon realized that despite her lethargy, she would never be able to sleep unless she could distract herself from the constant parade of Jareth and Ben. Drawing her dream from her drawer, she slept in the comfort of friendship.
Once more, late morning sunlight dragged her back to consciousness, but today it was a long slow slog, unpleasant after yesterday morning's careful release. She flopped onto her back, stretching. Today is a new day. The cleaning is done, but laundry calls and surely there's schoolwork too. Don't think about Ben. Don't think about the Goblin King.
She felt much more human once she had showered and dressed, but when she reached for her hairbrush, she found, instead, that the Goblin King could be put off no longer. Among her things sat a crystal, and beneath that, a letter, written on thick paper and addressed to her in beautiful, flowing script.
My dear Sarah,
Many thanks, again, for a lovely evening. I would hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did, but I fear that is not the case. Too much history, I believe; or was it not enough? Please allow me now to answer two questions which you asked me last night, with the answers you desired to hear.
First, you asked why I am still interested in you. In answer I tell you this: while you are not the first person to defeat the Labyrinth, you are the first who has done so since I became King, and this makes you interesting. I wonder: what do you have that so many lack?
Second, you asked why I have come to you now. The answer here is simpler still: I could not see you again until you called for me. Now you have called, and I have come. Indeed, I can and shall do so again; you cannot keep me away.
However, let it not be said that I am not generous. I have been so generous as to answer two of your questions; in return, I ask that you write back to me, answering one. When you have answered, you may ask another question; we will continue in this fashion, trading question for question. As in our previous bargain, dishonesty is unacceptable.
If you do not wish to answer, you also may not ask; however, failure to reply will not keep me from seeking you out. Write your letter in return and touch it to the crystal; it will find me.
Write back, Sarah, and answer me this: where, in your world, have you felt most at peace?
Jareth, King of the Goblins
So much for a Goblin-King-Free day.
In spite of her best efforts, the letter wouldn't leave her alone. Yesterday's burst of despairing cleaning had left her with little to do; normally, Saturday was for relaxing and cleaning house. But the laundry was going, her work was done, the house was spotless, and she'd been reading the same one page of a novel for the past five minutes. There was no help for it; the letter must be addressed.
Sitting down at her desk, she read through the letter again. He would answer her questions… with the answers she desired to hear? Did that mean he was telling her what he thought she wanted, or that he was answering without the tricks of phrase he'd used at the restaurant? Or maybe both? She shook her head. The man could build a Labyrinth with words.
At least his reasons for seeking her out made sense, as did his timing. She thought back the times she'd seen him, in her past; had that been her imagination, then? Honestly, she wasn't sure which implication bothered her more: that she had imagined him, or that she hadn't. If she hadn't, was he lying to say that she had to call him, or had she been calling, on some level? If she had imagined him, that was slightly safer… but then what did that say about her? It was one thing to imagine yourself comforted by an imaginary—friend? Adversary? Personal incarnation of sexuality?—when you believed him to be imaginary in truth; it was another problem altogether when that "imaginary" man showed up in your bedroom in the all-too-real flesh.
Then again, while his motives and his past actions were important, as a guide to future behavior, that didn't help with the real problem, which was that he had said she would see him again and that she couldn't keep him away. If he'd be popping up no matter what she did, she needed more information, so that she could figure out what to do with him when he did. The best way to do that would be to answer the damn letter so that she could ask another question. She disliked letting him set the rules of the game, but playing along would probably get her more in the long run. His first question was odd, but at least it didn't mean revealing anything to terrible.
Okay, I'll play your game.
I don't have an easy answer to your question. I have felt, as you say, "at peace," many times in my life, but there isn't one particular place which always calls to me. My favorite places are those on the cusp of change: a beautiful sunset, becoming night; the dark empty stage of a theater, on the eve of a performance; the shores of the sea at the time when the land breeze becomes a sea breeze; the top of a hill looking down into a beautiful valley. What all of these share is the idea of welcome, ordered change. A beautiful sunset descends into pleasant night; a dark stage lights with activity and drive; a changing breeze brings a ship to shore or sets it off to sea; a panorama invites exploration. The change itself is exciting; the moment before is peaceful because the change is expected, but has not arrived. Its pleasantness is present, with none of its demands.
And now for my question, O King: you spoke with contempt of the Goblin King as he appears in my book, and yet, you are the Goblin King, and in many ways, the story of the book, while not the same, is similar to what I experienced when I was in your Labyrinth. So answer me this: what are the origins of the book?
An answering letter was waiting when she got home from grocery shopping on Sunday.
You just get right to the tough questions, don't you?
To understand the book, you must understand that fairy-tales and similar stories of our realm are specifically written in order to increase the connections between our worlds. The book you grew up reading was caused to be written by a previous King of the Goblins, who found amusement in toying with young mortal girls. In principle, the book's purpose was to spread the story; but in practice, he used it to lure these young women into our realm. You know the line, I'm sure: "The King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and he had given her certain powers." I understand it was quite effective. I am not that King of the Goblins; I am his successor.
Now tell me, my dear girl, what is one secret you've never told anyone else?
The answer was interesting, and made sense, provided, of course, that she could trust him. Also, apparently the last Goblin King had been… a piece of work. One who preyed on mortal girls. Well, she didn't need any more warning to be cautious about Jareth; she was cautious already. And, it did argue a bit for his character that he'd told her openly. She paused only briefly before settling down to reply.
One secret? Any sort of secret? Well… it might not surprise you, given our previous meeting, that I never had a great relationship with my stepmother, even before Toby was born. Even after the Labyrinth, it didn't really improve much, though we're civil to each other now and I know my dad loves her. Anyway, early on, right after they got married, I used to steal her stuff, as revenge for her "stealing" my father. I took a few big things, but I knew those were dangerous, so after a few times where I almost got caught, I started stealing her earring backs. Just the backs—little delicate clips that hold them on. They're cheap to replace, but it's incredibly annoying; and they get lost easily, so theft usually isn't suspected. It was very petty and childish of me, but I was petty and childish at the time.
Anyway, the answer to my previous question indicates that there are some minor differences between the story and your world. The book says that wished-away children are turned into goblins, but I saw more than just goblins during my journey. What really happens to children who are wished away?
His answer appeared in time for her to snag it and head to class Monday morning.
The answer to your question, my dear, is that it depends on the child. The book does simplify things a little: not all wished-away children become goblins, though "Goblin" is the most common form for them to take. The Underground changes everyone who enters, even my kindred. It draws out a person's strongest traits, not only in temperament, but in physical appearance as well. A strong-willed adult with magic of his own can maintain his shape against that power, and can balance the varying aspects of personality, but not even all of my kind have that strength. Mortals are far more susceptible, especially if they are young. Children who come to my Kingdom will change, physically, to an embodiment of their particular trait, with some influence from their own wishes (though this varies with age) and the company they keep. Because the classification "Goblin" is quite broad, encompassing creatures no larger than a rat to some larger than that dwarf that helped you, it would be accurate to say that most of the children who are wished to the Underground do indeed become goblins, but it is by no means certain. On your own journey, for example, if you had stayed to play with the Fire Gang, eventually your limbs would have detached as theirs do, and you would have become one of them. The Junk Lady attempted this as well. The Fire Gang represents a somewhat malicious sense of play, something you are not particularly susceptible to; the Junk Lady got far closer, appealing to your desire to keep things you love near to you.
Becoming a Goblin is the most common route taken by the wished-away, because they are like children, like human toddlers, only a few attaining more than might be found in a human six-year-old. Your red book simplifies this, saying that the Goblin King "turns them into goblins," but it is more accurate to say that they turn themselves so. They are not unhappy with their lot, and they do not remember what came before.
You mention a bad relationship with your stepmother. What are your present feelings about your parents' divorce?
She shuddered a bit at the thought of becoming one of the Labyrinth's inhabitants, in the way he'd mentioned, but she'd suspected something like that at the time, or at least later. It was interesting, and somewhat gratifying, to have that thought confirmed.
Jareth's question, however, was a little harder to answer, and it touched on something of what she'd mentioned with the dream, but she had more questions for him, and if she wanted to get, she had to give. Well, it was something most of her close friends figured out eventually… she'd just have to lay it out a bit more than she normally did.
My relationship with my parents is complicated. My mother abandoned me and divorced my father in order to pursue her acting career. When I was young, she promised that she'd come for me once she got settled, first in her new life, then with her new boyfriend. At that time, I idolized her. She was so glamorous, she got to meet big name stars, her picture was on the cover of magazines, you get the idea. As I got older and the promises remained unfulfilled, I started to resent her. Now I mostly just try not to think about her. As for my father, at first I sort of felt bad for him. Later, after he got remarried, I always felt like Karen—my stepmother—was more important to him than I was. I even thought he loved Toby more than he loved me. We worked together to push each other away. We aren't close, now.
Sometimes I see families that really rely on each other, that really love each other, and I'm jealous. The only person I can see having that with is Toby, and he's too young just yet. My mother, my father, and even Karen do care about me, I can see that now, but it'll never be that perfect dream family. Most of the time, I'm resigned to that.
Now that I'm thinking about Toby, I have to know. If I had not completed the Labyrinth, what might have happened to him?
Tuesday morning, Sarah practically bounded out of bed, eagerly anticipating the letter waiting under her crystal. Some part of her registered that her behavior was highly unusual—she wasn't usually a morning person and remember this was the Goblin King exciting such anticipation—but more of her was considering that she had the morning off and maybe if she wrote before her 3pm class, she'd get another letter today. The answers he was giving her were intriguing, with as much unsaid as said, and she wanted more.
I think part of you already knows the most likely answer to your question. Toby was quite young; with a child his age, goblinhood is the most common result, because wished-away children spend the most time with them, and, due to his youth, he was particularly susceptible to their particular whims. Namely, all goblins love to eat, sleep, and make a mess. Is it any wonder their nature calls to babies?
Thus, it is likely that Toby would have become a goblin. However, that was not what I wanted to happen. I had long wanted a companion, or even better, an heir, and I planned to try with Toby. Keeping a human infant human, in the Underground, has not been done as long as I know of; I do not even know of one who has become like me. But I was desperate and planned to try, though I didn't expect it to work. I planned to do my best to keep him completely from goblin company, as that was my best hope; additionally, a great deal of time manipulation would have been required, far more than the time work I did during your visit. Most likely, had I done so, he would not have become a goblin, but rather something new, like your friend Ludo the Rock Caller.
Sarah, when you called your friends together in celebration the night of your victory in my domain, you welcomed not only those who had aided you, but those who had opposed you as well. Your invitation was to all. Why did you include all of my subjects, not simply Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus?
Well. That was a revelation. He'd wanted to keep Toby that badly? Toby was a great kid, but he'd barely been a year old in the Labyrinth. What had Jareth seen in him? Or, did children get wished away so infrequently? Was Toby the choice by virtue of his rarity? And for that matter, sentient beings like Jareth didn't generally spontaneously generate, not unless they were gods, and he kept referring to "his kind." However, seeking human company and not mentioning others like himself indicated that either he was alone, now, or that his kind were very, very rare. Surely they were more common in the past? It wouldn't be sustainable, otherwise. Then again, he looked exactly as he had eleven years ago; how long did his kind live?
She had too many questions; that was the problem. She'd need to come up with something suitably broad, for her next request.
I called out to all of the Labyrinth because everyone there taught me lessons, of friendship or of hardship. You taught me, too, with your opposition. I wanted to thank everyone who helped me grow, and I was willing to welcome anyone who didn't try further to hurt me. The Labyrinth changed my life; but I'm sure you know that.
You refer frequently to the magic of the Underground, and to your kind; you hint at things you haven't yet told me. Tell me then: what is the history of the Underground, especially as it relates to Mankind?
She knew she'd asked a lot, with that last question, so she was resigned to wait for a reply for as long as it took. However, her fears were unfounded: just as she had hoped, there was a letter waiting when she returned after class, and it was quite a bit thicker than his letters had been so far.
I had wondered how long it would take for you to come around to that sort of question. Prepare, for the answer is not an easy one.
Once upon a time, dear Sarah, my people ruled the world: a very long time ago, before the dawn of Man. It does no good to dwell upon that history; enough time has passed that truly, it has no bearing on today. As Man grew in strength, we taught them; the first writing, for example, came to Man from my kind. Some saw Men as pets, as playthings; but more began to say that perhaps Man could be a brother to us, that perhaps Mankind could stand with us and grow. But men breed faster than my people, though their flame burns out more quickly. The more men were born, the more my people were pushed aside, until there was no room for us both here in the world Above. I suppose it is the nature of children to surpass their parents.
The Underground has always existed. Before, we moved freely between the worlds; Magic is stronger in the Underground, while Time is stronger Above. My people need both: magic to sustain us, time to mature us and bring us children. Thus we had lived in both worlds, staying mostly Above until maturity, and spending more time Below when we had come into our own. As Man's influence grew Above, we spent more time Below, until finally it seemed natural to remain. Having always moved freely between the two, we did not realize the consequences of retreat until it was too late. Man had taken our place, and we could not safely return.
Nothing is born in the Underground, dear Sarah; though it is true also that most, once come, do not die naturally. Even the long lifespan of my people, already numbered in centuries rather than decades, reached on into eternity, when we stayed Below. Most of those who have passed did so in despair, because they tired of life, though some perished in combat, or by assassination. By the time we knew for certain that there would be no more of us as long as we stayed Below, the world Above had changed, and our freedoms were curtailed.
Why is that, do you ask? The connection between Above and Below is founded in dreams. In dreams, any sentient creature can traverse the barrier between worlds, visiting the one he does not call home. But you have studied dreams, my dear: do you not agree that they come, in some part, from our experiences? Once upon a time, most mortals believed in fairy tales. We crafted and planted these stories, desirous that Mankind not forget our part in their heritage, our contribution to the world they had made their own. They used these stories to explain that which could not be explained, but the more they learned to explain the world, the less they needed the stories.
The less Man dreamed of the old ways, of my people, the less we could move between the worlds. As far as I know, dear Sarah, I am the last of my kind: the last to keep dreams alive, the last to remember Magic as a force in the universe. Without the Underground, without Magic, without me, mortal dreams will diminish. It will be centuries before it comes to pass, but one day, Man will find he has forgotten how to wish for something greater, how to push forward, how to want more. The day Mankind says, "This is enough!" is the day Mankind begins to die; I know, because I have borne witness to the same among my kindred. Magic is not the ability to open my hand and cause something to appear; rather, its root is in the ability to hope for something greater. Without strong presence here Below, the Underground will not remain tethered to your world. The dreams will vanish. Mankind will be lost.
The reason we bring Men to visit Underground, under various guises, should by now be obvious. Taking my own Kingdom as an example, the Labyrinth changes those who enter it, whether they are wished away or the wisher who wants to take it back. It changes them whether they succeed or fail. Most people who wish away a child accept their dreams and do not try. Of those who try, some never find the door, and many never find an opening in the Endless Ring. Very few make it even as far as the hedge maze. Only a handful have won back their lost one, as you did. But because they have seen the magic, everyone who comes Underground will never lose their ability to dream, and those dreams strengthen the connection. Many of your greatest authors and thinkers of old were so because they had found their way, at one point, to our realm. They will not remember it fully, but the inspiration of the magic drives them. You may note that the greats of old are lauded still, but no one speaks of, say, a modern Shakespeare. Let this simple fact stand evidence for the truth of my words. He saw, and learned to dream. What poet or playwright of your day has done the same?
Here I find my answer to be a natural segue into the question I have long desired to ask. As a Champion, your memories were not taken from you. Any loss of memory you have suffered related to your journey in the Labyrinth was at your own hands, because you forced yourself to believe that it had to be a dream. You even seek to deny the connection you have to my land. Why have you done this? Why did you force yourself to believe it was all a dream?
Sarah thrust the last essay into her bag and rolled onto her back, enjoying the bright summer sunshine on her face. Grading was her least favorite part of working as a teacher's assistant; working outside made it slightly more bearable. And it truly was a beautiful day: children laughed and played on the swings, their parents looking on indulgently; passing students slowed their harried steps to smile and inhale the green growing tree scent, a break from city life. A ways away, a group of young men were tossing a Frisbee; she paused, considering: one looked vaguely familiar. Eddie, she realized, a moment later, the friend Ben said he'd be staying with. The thought of Ben caused her momentary confusion; she had hardly thought of him at all in the past two days. That was not really normal, for a breakup of this magnitude. Today was Thursday; it had been a week since she'd last seen him, when he'd come to her place to collect his things. She should be dwelling on him every chance she got, shouldn't she?
Well, it didn't matter. Eddie and his friends were far away and hadn't seen her, Ben wasn't with them, she had a perfect patch of sunshine, and she hadn't felt this relaxed in weeks. She closed her eyes and stretched, determined to enjoy a few minutes of thought-free blankness before turning her mind to the more pressing puzzle in her life: a set of letters far more convoluted than undergraduate papers and a hell of a lot more distracting than lost love; and a serious question whose answer was just taking form.
Beyond her eyelids, the sun disappeared. She cracked one eye, intending to glare at the cloud that had ended her moment of peace, and paused: the source of her confusion stood over her, backlit by the sunlight, his shadow falling across her face.
"Jareth." She opened both eyes wider, and glared. "You're blocking my light." He moved to one side, and she squinted as the sun came full into her eyes, then turned her head to watch him. He was being infuriatingly quiet again, but she really only had two options—try to make him go away, or invite him to stay—and he had told her she couldn't keep him from finding her again. "Do you want to sit down?"
His knees folded gracefully, and then he was sitting on her blanket, facing her, stretching his legs out to lean back slightly on one arm. She sat up and copied his position. "Well?"
"You have a letter to answer."
"And I plan to answer it." It was waiting in her bag, actually. She had been sorting through her thoughts on the matter for the past day and more, and she thought she'd finally arrived at an outline of what she felt safe telling him. At first, she hadn't even been sure she would reply, except to end their game, but in the end, all the world's warnings about cats and curiosity couldn't keep her away from learning more of the Underground, where dreams and fairy tales were reality. In fact, writing back to him was the next thing she'd planned to do, but now she wouldn't say so.
"Your previous answers were quite prompt," he probed.
"Your previous questions were less complicated," she snapped back, then caught herself and sighed, looking away.
"If you would prefer conversation…?" He trailed off.
"No." He blinked at her; clearly that was not the answer he'd been hoping for. She couldn't help but notice that he appeared far less controlled than he had when he'd taken her to dinner; while he tried to school his features, whatever he was actually feeling was peeking out from behind the mask. Well, perhaps it could be an advantage, if she could get him to talk about something else. "I'm not going to discuss my answer with you. I want to think it out and then write it down without distractions. So if you're so eager for a response, go away and let me write. But you're welcome to stay, and talk about something else."
She could see the two desires warring on his face. Had he always been this transparent? Was he simply less prepared? Was he doing it on purpose? How deep was his game? You can't take anything for granted.
"Heads!" The sudden cry tore her attention from Jareth's face. She turned, just in time to see Eddie's Frisbee whizzing towards them. Before she could react, Jareth had snatched it out of the air, then held it up, frowning at it. Sarah looked back in the direction it had come from and groaned, hiding her face in her hands. Ben hadn't been there before, but he was now, and he was the one running towards them to retrieve the toy.
"I'm so sorry," he said as he reached them, looking at Jareth. "That was a bit off—Sarah?" He blinked as his eyes refocused on her.
"Ben." She put everything she had into keeping her voice neutral, but something in her tone caught Jareth's attention. She reached out and pulled the Frisbee from him, handing it back to Ben. Jareth's eyes followed her motion, then looked up into Ben's face.
"Er, hi." He paused. "How are you?"
"Well enough." He looked at her, a little sad. "About what you'd expect." When he didn't say anything, she got to her feet. "Can I talk to you for a sec?" She turned to Jareth. "I'll be right back."
Once she had him several feet away and on the other side of a tree—hopefully out of Jareth's hearing—she turned on him. "Did you do that on purpose?"
"What, the Frisbee? No. It was an accident." He seemed distracted. "Who is the guy you were with?"
"That's none of your business." In truth, she wasn't sure what Jareth was. He wasn't just a childhood villain anymore, but she couldn't really say he was a friend.
"What, then, he's some rebound?" Ben sneered, narrowing his eyes at her.
"No, he's… someone I knew from high school."
"He's older than you."
"Cut the protective jealous crap, Ben. You don't have the right." Damn, her voice was catching; tears wouldn't be far behind.
"What, so now I can't be concerned? I still care about you, Sarah."
"Not enough," she said quietly, trying to regain control. He moved in to hug her, but she batted his hands away. "No. You ended things. Give me space to end them too. Go back to your game—or better yet, get out of the park." Leaving him gaping at her back, she walked quickly back towards her blanket, swallowing against her tears and pressing her thumbs into her eyes to dry them. Jareth didn't need to see this. She didn't want to feel this.
"What was—Sarah, are you alright?" Of course Jareth would be observant enough to see that she was upset.
She flopped back down to the blanket and tried to smile, but she knew it didn't reach her eyes. "That was Ben." One raised eyebrow invited further explanation. "Until last week, he was my boyfriend."
"I see." Knowing he was pausing for effect didn't change the fact that it was—well—effective. "You love him?"
"I… Yes. Or, I loved him." She looked away. "It's complicated."
"Last week…" his voice was thoughtful. "This is when you called to me?"
She blushed and looked down. "Yes."
He stood swiftly. "I will leave you now. Remember, you have a letter to answer."
I am sure you know that this is the most difficult question you've asked. I'm sure it was intentional. Payback, maybe?
In any case, I am not sure you will like my answer, but you asked, so here goes. In short, I convinced myself that the Labyrinth was a dream because I couldn't figure out how to believe in you. When you appeared in my parents' bedroom to meet with me after you'd taken Toby, I was afraid, but also interested. I'd read the story. This could be an adventure. And it was. It was the adventure of a lifetime, looking back, though I was too afraid to notice at the time.
But when I got home and started thinking about it, I noticed something strange. Everywhere I went in the Labyrinth, every time I got stuck, someone was there to help. Hoggle let me in. The Worm showed me that first opening. The Knights and Knaves saved me from an endless loop of dead ends. The Helping Hands caught me. You could have left me in the Oubliette to starve, or just to wait out my thirteen hours, but instead you sent Hoggle, even if it was to lead me back to the beginning. You set the Cleaners after me, but the wall magically opened. You let Hoggle rescue me from the Fire Gang. You sent Ludo to the Bog, but Hoggle told me later you'd already threatened him the same way, and so your very threat made it possible for us to meet up with him again—and if we hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to get through the goblin army you sent (you sent an army! Against one girl!). You sent a dream to distract me, but you didn't hold me by force. You ran me in circles in the staircases, but then you threw a crystal to Toby that helped me track and find him. I jumped a long way off that last staircase, but wasn't hurt.
In other words, you don't add up, Jareth, or at least, you don't add up if all you are is the nefarious Goblin King, who steals babies from foolish mortals. I didn't know what else you could be that was still something real, not just something I needed or wanted. Sometimes I thought you wanted to kill me; other times it was almost as if you wanted to let me win. At the end, it almost seemed as though the Labyrinth had been some sort of elaborate morality play, formed to teach me to grow up and stop being a spoiled child.
I didn't wake up the morning after and decide it had been a dream. It took me more than a year to come to that conclusion. Now, of course, I know that the reason you seemed to be more than just the story's King is that you are, but without that knowledge…. When a person creates an imaginary companion—we call them "imaginary friends" but they don't need to be friendly—that companion can change to suit the needs of the imaginer. And that's how I saw you, and Ludo and Hoggle and Didymus and everyone else: that you filled a void in my life that couldn't be filled with normal things.
I can't handle more of this, just now, so I'll ask something simple: please, Jareth, what are the histories of Hoggle and Ludo and Didymus, and how are they now?
It wasn't a perfect letter and it left a lot out, but she was tired of spilling everything and she'd already spilled quite a bit. There was still the question of what had happened when she'd seen him after the Labyrinth, but that wasn't something she wanted to discuss with him. More and more, she was afraid that she actually had seen him, in some way, which meant she'd summoned him, and if she had, what did that mean for her? And why did he continue with this game?
On Friday morning, there was no new letter under her crystal. Sarah fought hard against disappointment; she'd suspected that the last question had been the one that truly plagued him, and now that he had his answer, he saw no need to continue the game. I wonder if I insulted his vanity, telling him I couldn't believe in him? Or is he flattered to be the source of the problem? But when she closed her front door and turned to lock it, Jareth was standing there, leaning against the side of the building. In spite of herself, she knew she'd jumped.
"What do you want?" She wanted to sound angry but it mostly came out breathless. She pressed a hand to her heart, trying to still her trembling.
"So sorry; did I frighten you?" He didn't sound sorry; he sounded amused. His face was perfectly blank.
"Startled. Were you waiting for me?"
"Yes." He looked unconcerned. "I desired to answer your latest question in person. Will you join me this evening?"
"For what?" Second date? She forced her logical mind to the surface. Goblin King, Sarah. Don't get all fluttery. Find out what he wants.
"Now Sarah, will you not trust me?" She didn't justify that with a response. "All I want is your company for the evening, and for you to listen to my answer; and surely, there is no danger in your question? It does not carry the weight of your last. I will ask you one as well, but you may decide then whether you would prefer to answer immediately or write again."
"I… I guess that would be alright."
"Very good; meet me here ten hours hence." She did some quick mental math—that was about 6pm. He stood up straight, and this time, she could see clearly how he was gathering himself to disappear.
"Wait, Jareth!" He paused. "You won't tell me where we're going?" He said nothing. "Or at least tell me what to wear?" That last question might not have been a good idea; she could feel the heat of his gaze as he looked her over, slowly and deliberately.
Finally, he readied himself once more. "Do not wear pants," he said cryptically, "and do not wear heels." She tried to meet his eyes again, but only wall remained.
A flowing casual skirt and flat sandals—the easiest solution she could think of to Jareth's instructions—had been a good choice. Jareth showed their tickets at the gate, and then led her to a grassy area on the hillside of an outdoor concert venue. A blanket appeared out of nowhere and he gestured for her to sit. As he joined her, she looked at the program she'd been handed at the gate, noting that the concert was to be given by the city orchestra.
"'Two Fairy Tales?'"
"It seemed appropriate. I am unfamiliar with the first, however." He reached into a basket that had not been there a moment before. When he removed his hands, he held a perfectly chilled bottle of wine and two glasses, settling them on a short-legged tray that simply appeared as he set them down.
"You're very convenient for a picnic."
"Of course," he said smugly. Thin-sliced meat, cheese, bread, and grapes had joined the wine, along with thin glass plates. She turned back to the program.
"You don't know Peter and the Wolf?" He just looked at her. "But you do know Peer Gynt." She frowned; she should know this. What was the Peer Gynt Suite again? Ah yes: "In the Hall of the Mountain King." That wasn't all of it, of course, but everyone knew that movement. "Why wouldn't you know Peter and the Wolf? You just got done telling me about how you plant such stories."
"I will know more once I have heard it; I understand the piece includes narration." She nodded; he plucked a grape and chewed slowly. "The best inventions come from those touched by the Underground, but that does not mean that all are sourced there. Especially if it is recent—created in the past hundred years—it may not have touched my world at all, or perhaps so lightly and so briefly that I would not know it, were I focused on something else at the time."
"It is recent," she said, flipping through the program to the page that detailed each piece. "1936. And it isn't based on any older tales. Peer Gynt was written in 1876, but its origins are much older."
"Underground, actually. The Kingdom of the Trolls is faded, now." She nodded.
"So you know things that are sourced in your world, even if they're recent, but not new things?"
"Exactly." He gestured to the food. "Eat, Sarah. I will answer your question about your friends." He took a breath, then began.
"Hoggle is an import from another kingdom, which is no more, now. I am certain you know at least one story in which his people played a part; at the very least, it explains why he cannot help but look after young brunettes. This is also part of the reason he dislikes me: his king and I were not on good terms. But as he came to me, rather than follow his King into the mists, he must now submit.
"He remains where you first saw him, near the main gate. He dislikes the Labyrinth, but he knows it very well, almost as well as I do. Though of course, unlike me, he has no control."
"You mean, he could have led me all the way through? And what do you mean, control?"
"He knows how, but he would not have done it." That earned him a glare, which he ignored. "In his own way, he is quite committed to the Underground, though he has neither my power nor my responsibility. 'I wished my brother away, but a friendly dwarf took me to him,' does not make quite the same impression as what you experienced, especially if you believe it is only a dream." Sarah could see the sense in that, even though she didn't want to, which was irritating. "He is also terrified of me, which is the greater reason he hates me and is disrespectful. He should never have told you my name." For a moment, dark shadows seemed to gather around him; the human mask slipped. Slowly and a little fearfully, Sarah drew back; the motion seemed to recall him to the world and he smiled again, the shadows fading. "And yes, I control the Labyrinth. I can change each individual stone, if I wish. Generally I concern myself only with large matters. The Labyrinth can take care of itself."
She wasn't interested in courting that deadly danger by asking more about Hoggle. It would be safer to change the topic. "What about Ludo?"
"I told you before that Ludo's form is unique in the Labyrinth. Ludo was wished away; he is the oldest we have ever taken. Indeed, if he had been normal we could not have taken him at all, but he was not; rather, the mind of a child remained, though his body was that of a young man. He liked to build things, apparently, although not generally useful things. He was wished away when his family could no longer care for him."
"Poor Ludo! And I found him tied up, being tortured by goblins!"
Jareth shrugged. "They would have bored of him eventually. Since he called the rocks in the Goblin City they mostly leave him alone. I have not seen him for quite some time."
"You don't care?"
"I have many subjects and the beast is not particularly useful or particularly intelligent. He is free to do as he chooses."
That was a little hurtful, but at least he hadn't punished Ludo. "And Sir Didymus?"
"Of the little fox's origins, I am uncertain. I believe he is from another kingdom originally; in any case, he has resided in the Labyrinth since long before my reign. Guarding the Bog Bridge is something of a retirement position for him, as it sees few travelers, despite being directly in the way of one of the shorter paths through the Labyrinth. I don't know what strange quirk of fate led him to be unable to smell it—he can smell other things quite well—but it is a good enough position for him to hold, and it makes him feel useful. Without that, he would probably be dashing about my Kingdom under the belief that it needed defending from particularly menacing trees, or perhaps giants of legend, which I believe was the famous pursuit of another hapless knight written of in your world.
"After you left us, I sent him back to his post in the Bog. We fixed the bridge, and better to have him there with a task than running all over the Kingdom being a nuisance."
"Does he still have his dog? Ambrosius reminded me so much of my own Merlin."
"I have no way of knowing, but unless the animal fell into a hole somewhere, I would imagine so. I told you that nothing ages Underground." His lack of interest was obvious.
They sat in silence a while, sipping wine. The sun was lowering in the sky, the evening warm and pleasant. All in all, Sarah found she much preferred it to a concert hall, even though she loved going to the theater.
"Do you have any subjects you do like?"
He laughed. "Sometimes. I like the way the fairies torment Hoggle. Goblins are not generally bright, but they can be amusing. There is a water maze, which you never saw, full of sprites; they are beautiful." He took a long gulp of wine, and went on more quietly. "But I told you how most come to my Kingdom. The resulting personalities… lack depth."
"Is that why—" she cut off as he spun around, grasping both her hands.
"Do not ask that question." His eyes bored into hers. "Now is not the time." On stage, the first violin had taken his seat; a tuning note filled the air. "I believe they are about to begin," he said, gently, releasing her hands. "Let us see this modern fairy tale."
The applause died away, and the orchestra filed out, signaling intermission. A faint smile remained on Sarah's lips; she'd always enjoyed the way the story and the music wound together. She turned to Jareth, who was staring intently at the stage, frowning slightly.
"Well?" He looked at her briefly, then returned his eyes to the stage. "What did you think?" He remained silent for another minute, while she did her best to wait patiently.
"It is missing something," he said finally, still looking at the stage.
He turned to her. "Missing something, yes. It is too simple. The big bad wolf, cornered by a little boy with no more than a lasso. It should have at least required some trickery. Additionally, the boy should speak to the wolf. He speaks to the bird, and the bird understands, so clearly this is allowed; it is not a matter of realism."
"Sending the bird as a distraction doesn't count?"
"It is better than nothing, yes, but not enough. A wolf in such a tale should be quite clever; this one does not seem to be so. Peter should need to outwit him as well as rely on strength or human tools. You know 'Little Red Riding Hood,' I am certain. That is the sort of witty wolf outsmarted that I desire to see. Finally, taking the wolf to a zoo is simply asinine. It would perhaps be humiliating for a sophisticated wolf to be brought down in such a manner, but as the wolf is a nothing, all a zoo means is a long life of ease, food brought to him regularly—a reward!" He shook his head. "Let us rather see a clever wolf, who lures the boy out of the gate with the promise of adventure, only to pounce! And the boy escapes, briefly, with the aid of his friend the bird, and climbs the tree. From there he speaks to the wolf and somehow tricks him into going away, and while the wolf is gone, he sets two snares, perhaps with the assistance of the cat, who is useless to the story as it currently stands. The wolf suspects the first snare, but not the second, and thus is caught; at that point it could be off to the zoo or the hunters could shoot him or, better, Peter and Grandfather could do it themselves. A nice new wolf pelt rug. They are Russians, after all." Sarah frowned. "You look as though you don't agree with me."
"It's more complicated than that," she replied. "You have to understand, this piece of music is part of childhood for most of us. There's even a cartoon version, which Toby loved. He used to call the instruments by the name of the person they represent." Jareth was still frowning at her. "But I do agree that the story is rather simplistic. I like your suggestions!" She grinned. "An expert opinion is quite valuable." This reached him; he relaxed, somewhat. "What did you think of the music? That's always been my favorite; it was written to teach children about the different parts of the orchestra, and I like the way the parts weave together."
"Parts were enjoyable, but separate from the story, it would be incomprehensible. Better to improve the story, then rescore it to match." He paused. "The individual themes may remain," he finished, with an air of great condescension.
She couldn't help laughing at his expression. "Too generous, Your Majesty."
He answered with the smirk she had expected, then reached again into the basket, offering her a container of chocolates and another of blackberries.
Bowie likes Peter & the Wolf better than Jareth, or at least, he did agree to record it back in 1978, for RCA Victor. You can find it on Youtube.
The sun was setting as the orchestra took the stage again. Sarah was busy trying to remember what else was in Peer Gynt, besides "In the Hall of the Mountain King." Even the program wasn't very useful; while it went on and on about Ibsen and how Grieg had put the Suites together, nothing it said was helpful. But before she could ask Jareth, who'd said he knew the story, the orchestral tuning note rang out once more. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jareth sit forward, a look of fixed attention and anticipation on his face.
As the solo flute began to play the opening strains of the first movement, Sarah shivered with delight, leaning back and closing her eyes. This was what had been teasing her; she'd forgotten that this melody was part of Peer Gynt. It was happiness, Joy given form in music. Her eyes opened as she smiled, and, reaching for another sip of wine, she caught a glimpse of Jareth out of the corner of one eye. At the sight, her breath caught in her throat, and she turned to look her fill, the wine forgotten.
His eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted, a gentle smile teasing his lips, his body tense, like one who has seen a beautiful but skittish creature, and desires not to frighten it away. All of his attention was focused on the music. The setting sun limned his face, lending even his human glamor an otherworldly glow. He had always been beautiful, but this was more. It wasn't the symmetry of his face, or the lean grace of his form; those were always part of him. It was the intensity of his expression, the passion the music evoked in him; it went into him, it was part of him. It was pure emotion, nothing hidden or held back; his heart, bare to her gaze for, possibly, the first time, and shining with the same joy she felt in the melody. Or no; her own joy paled next to his; he was Joy personified, as far beyond her own small happiness as a well-aged wine is beyond a vino nuovo. He was utterly, absolutely captivating. She forgot her own simple joy in the melody and in the recognition, swept up in the peace that flowed from him like water.
The music changed as the second movement began; it was slow, and sounded final. Sarah couldn't look away. His face changed to reflect the tone, his lips closing, head bowing, half in thought, half in sorrow, and wholly riveting. She spared a glance at the program, already guessing what might be the content of this movement; the title confirmed it: "The Death of Åse." She remembered her own sorrows: the loss of Merlin, the year she graduated college; the death of her grandfather, the previous winter. Like those losses, though, the music told her, this death had come at its proper time, at the end of life. Was Jareth thinking of those who had gone before? In his long life, he had had so many to lose. Her throat closed, as though to hold back a sob, though no tears threatened.
The beginning of the third movement changed him again, bringing light back into his face. Not the joy of the first movement; this was playfulness, a half smile playing on his lips as he seemed to watch something between his eyelids. The music was pleasant, seductive, and vaguely Arabic; it spoke of hot sands and cold nights and close tents. He leaned back slightly on his hands, the half smile adjusting into a look of sensual appreciation that was edging into outright lust, though his eyes stayed firmly closed. A glance at the program revealed little; the third movement was titled "Anitra's Dance." Still, his mood was infectious, and she found herself smiling with him.
He sat forward again in anticipation as a brief moment of silence fell before the fourth movement. As the music began, his expression turned intent, the look of a predator whose prey was in view. The trap was closing, he need only wait for it to spring, and spring it would, and this he knew. Concentration warred with glee as the music rose, and as the music peaked he threw back his head and laughed, the sound blending with the thrilling of the strings. Though the laughter was brief, the cruel, knowing grin of the Goblin King remained as his head came forward again. He rested his chin on one hand, tilting his head as though listening to suggestions from either side, finding all of them amusing. Seeming to choose one, he brought both hands together at the fingertips, his smile spreading, a dangerous and malicious threat, as though he were anticipating some grand entertainment; the music ebbed, then swelled again, urgent, rushing to the finish.
His eyes flew open at the final note.
The audience was applauding around them, but they were both quite still. Jareth was the first to move, breathing deeply and sitting back, turning to Sarah as he did so. His movement broke her trance; she blinked, looking down and away briefly before seeking his eyes. The intense focus was gone from his posture, replaced with his usual casual arrogance, and his eyes were full of questions.
"I do wonder, my dear, why you were looking at me so intently."
"I..." She didn't know how to reply. "You... you were so... intense." He said nothing, only waited for her to continue. "It was like you were living it, whatever was going on in the song. Or the play." Her own reactions, to him, she would leave out, if he let her. The first movement had struck her still with his beauty; the second with an ache to comfort; the third with a desire to laugh; and the fourth, oh, this she could hardly admit: framed by the first three, the power and cunning of the fourth movement, which would had been frightening if that cruel smile had been fixed on her, had instead been magnetic, intriguing, and incredibly erotic. The sheer power of his presence was compelling, the knowledge that he could, and would, do as he pleased, with very few who could say him nay. Joy, beauty, grief, mischief, power, cunning, pride, sensuality; he embodied all those things and more; he was indeed far, far more than her childhood villain. Far more than the Goblin King in her little red book. She swallowed; she had to say something more. "You weren't like that during Peter and the Wolf."
"No," he said. "Unlike the previous piece, this music, as well as the play, bears strong marks of the touch of the Underground. It calls; I cannot help but answer. I have not experienced that tale so strongly for a very long time." The audience was quieting, and the conductor raised his baton, calling the orchestra to attention to begin the second suite of Peer Gynt. "I hear the music; I see the truth of the story behind it." He leaned towards her, drawing a crystal out of the air and holding it flat in his palm. "Grasp the crystal, Sarah, and see as I see." The temptation was too strong to ignore; she closed her hand around the crystal in his palm and it shrank, diminishing into a small marble that stayed, cold and hard, between their hands, as he clasped her fingers. His hand was warm and firm and, for the first time in her knowledge, bare. She looked up at him in surprise, but he only smiled, then said softly, "Close your eyes."
The first scene was not a tranquil one.
A young man climbs up a hillside, carrying a young woman dressed in fine clothes. His own clothes are just this side of rags. He puts her down, then grabs her; she falls to the ground, pulling him with her. They kiss, and the sun sets.
Sunrise, and she is chasing him back down the mountain, arguing. She grabs him; he throws her off. She falls to her knees; he laughs.
Sarah opened her eyes to see Jareth's reaction. His smirk was coldly amused.
She wraps her arms around him, pleading, begging, crying. He sneers at her, tears himself away, disappears into the forest. She touches her lips, her breast, the join of her legs, sinking to the ground, shaking. He is gone; he has taken her great gift. All she has is heartbreak, and regret. The young man dances off through the hills, heedless of the pain he leaves behind.
Jareth hadn't laughed at her pain, but neither was he sympathetic. Sarah remembered that look; she had seen it before: action taken, consequences result. What's said is said. I didn't mean it! Oh, you didn't? And she didn't like it, but he had a point: the girl had gone with him willingly, and if he'd abused her virtue, she had invited it. She hadn't fought him; it hadn't been rape. She knew who he was. I knew who he was, when I wished Toby away. Now that was a sobering thought.
The second movement was once again sensual, sharing the same Middle Eastern flair as the third movement of the first suite.
The same man, older now, wanders a dry and sunny desert, leading a white horse, wearing fine clothes and jewels. He comes upon a tribe of Arabs, who greet him like a king, thanks to his clothing. He accepts their hospitality, seated with their chief, and enjoys the entertainment. Scantily clad women dance for them, swaying hips and breasts and trails of cloth. The man—he must be Peer Gynt—is clearly one with an eye for the ladies; his smirk is just this side of simply offensive, and he's narrowed in on one girl, more beautiful than the rest, and central to the dance. As it ends, he approaches her.
The shared music brought a shared reaction from Jareth; his seductive, inviting, sensual smirk was back. This time she let herself think what she hadn't before: I wish he'd look at me like that. But no sooner had the thought come than she clamped down on it again. Danger. Goblin King. What was he doing to her? Or, a more frightening thought: what if he wasn't doing it at all? What if it was all her?
The third movement was all vivid action.
A ship, at sea, tossed by waves: a storm fit to sink it. Peer Gynt, now old and grey, stands on the deck with another man, who is giving orders, as sailors rush about. The sea is dark, the nearby land rugged. As the storm increases, Peer runs to the rail: he has seen another boat, overturned on the waves. But the other man—the Captain—refuses to assist; it is too dangerous. Peer then speaks to a strange man all in black, and they argue, but what they were discussing seems to frighten him. Peer shakes his head, a vehement denial, and the man disappears.
When she opened her eyes, what she saw was shocking. Jareth looked terrified. His free hand was clenched into a fist, and the hand that held hers was squeezing so tightly that the knuckles were turning white, bruising hard where the tips of his fingers pressed into the back of her hand. His face was drawn, his jaw clenched, and he trembled, slightly. What was he afraid of? Surely not the storm. Who was the man in black? Could he be Death? What could bring the Goblin King to his knees; what could frighten him so?
The ship is sunk, Peer is in a small boat, and there is the man in black again, clinging to the gunnel. Peer yells at him, and he lets go. Peer comes to shore, the ship wrecked.
Jareth's hand on hers was painful, even when the music ceased. The fourth movement began, finally, and he relaxed, and his face shifted to a look of such longing that her breath caught as it had at his joy. He had magic and will and beauty and power and grace; what could he want so badly?
A beautiful woman, middle-aged, sits in the door of her hut in the forest, spinning. She sighs, sad, lonely. She opens her mouth, and the movements of her lips match the melody singing from the violins.
Jareth had shifted closer to her as she watched the opening, and as the melody began again, he leaned in to her ear and softly sang:
Perchance both winter and spring will pass,
and next summer, and the entire year: —
but at last you will come, that I know for sure;
and I'll still be waiting, for I once promised I would.
God give you strength, wherever in the world you go!
God give you joy, when you stand before his judgment seat!
Here I'll wait until you come again;
and if you are waiting up Above, there we'll meet, my love!
She opened her eyes, not to see his face, but simply to avoid the distraction of the vision as she focused on his words. It sounded far too much like a promise, far too much like a plea. If you are waiting up Above. The playwright had most likely meant Heaven, but the play wasn't originally in English; she knew he'd translated for her. He had chosen those words intentionally. At last you will come, that I know for sure. Had he been waiting, all these years? He had told her he was curious about the woman who had beaten him, but that didn't mean he didn't have other reasons as well. The King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl. She kept circling back to that thought, even though he'd said it was a lie, and it wasn't him. But something was brewing here; this she knew. Perhaps he hadn't loved her before her time in his Labyrinth, as the story King loved his girl, but during? After? She sifted hazy memories, thinking back to the way he'd looked at her as they danced, as they walked on the crazy Escher stairs, as they went through the final confrontation in the broken castle. Had that been the same deep, painful longing?
She turned her face towards his, their noses nearly touching, a stray strand of hair falling against her cheek. They breathed together, neither moving, as the movement ended and applause burst into life around them. He opened his eyes and regarded her calmly, and, as though nothing had passed, moved away again. The remains of their picnic vanished as he drew her to her feet.
"Walk with me," he said, pulling her away from the lights, through rows of parked cars, heading for the deeper darkness of the park. He hadn't dropped her hand; rather, he'd drawn her up with hands still clasped, and now that same hand guided her, fingers twisted together. The crystal had dissolved or disappeared at some point.
"Isn't the park closed?"
"I suppose, but that need not concern you. It is unlikely any will see, and as for dangers after dark, I am more than their match." She had to agree there. Muggers wouldn't stand a chance.
For a time, they walked in silence; she couldn't see his face, couldn't guess what he might be thinking. His hand in hers was firm, warm, pleasant; they fit together well, fingers and palms matched, as though formed for this contact. I'm walking through the woods, holding hands with the Goblin King, and remarkably calm about it, too. When did this start to make sense? The peace she had seen from him, the power; the visions he'd shared with her, all should have been cautions; he was too beautiful to be real, too expansive for this world, too much for her, nobody that she was. Could he—did he—dared she want...? Or was it too soon? Was this all response to her break-up? All self-flattery and twisted hopes? But he wanted something, that was obvious, and she couldn't help remembering how real it had sounded when he sang to her. Here I'll wait until you come again.
He guided her carefully, leading her around any obstacles; he must have amazing night vision. Some time later—she couldn't have said how long—they came to the shore of a small, tranquil lake, the stars above reflected in the still water. The moon, nearly full, was just peeking over the tops of the trees.
She smiled up at him. "Did you know this was here? It's beautiful."
"I did." He turned to her, twisting his wrist to draw her closer with their shared hands, until she stood facing him, almost touching. "Sarah," he said softly, looking down at her with caution and guarded hope, "Would you be willing to consider returning to the Underground?"
She swallowed. The question was not completely unexpected, but she also knew she couldn't simply say yes, not without knowing more details. "Perhaps," she said, finally.
"Sarah," he said again, and paused. He was standing close, so, so close. He took her free hand and raised it with his, bringing her fingers to his lips, as he had that first evening, but oh, how different was tonight when compared to that day. Where once had been mistrust and hatred and confusion, now there was curiosity, interest, and, if she was being honest with herself, physical attraction; although to be more accurate, the last had always been with her, but without the mistrust it felt safer to indulge. Slowly, she turned her hand until it clasped his; slowly, she turned their hands until the back of her hand rested on his chest. Slower still, she stepped forward until his hand rested against her as well, his knuckles grazing her collarbone, the length of her body now touching lightly to his. He was very still, hardly breathing, his head down, his eyes on their clasped hands. Slowly she raised her face, not quite meeting his eyes, and then, not letting herself think of rules or worries or consequences, she pressed her lips to his in a gentle kiss.
His lips were soft, inviting. He let her set the pace, at first, returning her soft kisses, licking gently at her upper lip, but as the kiss went on, he took control and she let him, following his movements as he bit gently at her lip and carefully sucked at her tongue. When they broke apart, the memory of the kiss stayed on her lips, a phantom pressure. His eyes were shining as he looked down at her, and his arms came around her, cradling her gently. "Sarah," he breathed, and it sounded like a prayer. And then again: "Sarah," a demand, his arms tightening possessively, and he kissed her hard as the world spiraled away into blackness around her.
You can find the music referenced in this chapter by searching for "Peer Gynt Suite no. 1, op 46" and "Peer Gynt Suite no. 2, op 55." The best video I can find of Suite no. 1 was posted to Youtube by Juancitoamericano, and the best for Suite no. 2 was posted by MatLeChat77. Both contain all four movements in one video. The name of the first movement of Suite 1 is "Morning Mood;" the others are given in the text. The four movements of Suite 2 are "The Abduction of the Bride / Ingrid's Lament," "Arabian Dance," "Peer Gynt's Homecoming (Stormy Evening on the Sea)," and "Solveig's Song."
Most of Jareth's reactions should become apparent with a Wiki search on the play, but in particular, I would point out that in order to understand his reaction to "In the Hall of the Mountain King," it will help to look up the words (Wiki again). Additionally, the words to "Solveig's Song" were taken from the English translation available at Wikipedia.
Chapter 7: A Kiss is but a Kiss
"Sarah." A soft voice, a whisper. "Sarah, dearest, you must wake up." Cool lips brushed her forehead, the corner of her eye, her cheek. "Open your eyes, Sarah."
"Ja—Jareth?" Her mind was full of haze. She blinked, then opened her eyes fully, and jumped back. His face was only inches from hers, and unglamored; slanted, marked eyes watched her from under wild white-blond hair.
"I apologize, Sarah." He kissed her forehead again. "I have not transferred a mortal before under my own power. I did not anticipate that it would be traumatic."
"Transferred… Jareth, what did you do?" The haze was clearing rapidly from her mind, as she took in her surroundings. She lay on a chaise longue, upholstered in dark red velvet. Immediately before her, she could see a fireplace, a dark wood table, and a matching chair; glancing around, she saw also a dark wood desk, bookshelves, and, through an open door, a bed. Though through the windows she could see nothing but sky, she was suddenly certain: she was Underground.
He smiled. "Welcome back, Sarah."
"How did you bring me here?" She couldn't stay still. She pushed him away, jumping to her feet and going to the window, though she already knew what she would see. Here of her own free will, she would have been fascinated; instead, she whirled on him again. "What gives you the right to snatch me away like that?"
"I sensed that I could." Confusion and concern crept into his voice.
"Oh, that's rich. You sensed it. What does that even mean?"
"I sensed it. Magically. I asked you one question tonight: if you would be willing to return. You said you would be."
"I said 'perhaps,' and what do you mean, 'you asked me one question?'"
"In return for answering you about your friends. I asked you only one question, all night; you answered immediately, truthfully, and then you kissed me." This was spoken as though that should settle the matter.
"You asked only one question? But you didn't say… nevermind. That is not the argument I want to have right now. What I want to know is why kissing you means anything."
"You have no power over me. I am sure you remember." His eyes turned sharp at the memory, and he stalked forward, backing her towards the wall. "I could not have done anything to you without your consent, in some form, including bringing you here. Words have power; this you learned on your first visit. Actions have power too. Your admission that you would consider returning was insufficient, but when you kissed me, you gave me the power to bring you here."
"I gave you the—of all the—I never would have done that if I'd known!" She knew better than to claim it wasn't fair.
"Then why did you kiss me?"
"Why did I… Jareth, in my world a kiss means, 'I like you, let's continue getting to know each other.' It doesn't mean, 'Whisk me off to your castle where we will live happily ever after!' My life is not a fairy tale!"
"Isn't it?" He was offended now. "You know who I am, and yet you kissed me."
"An action I now regret more than I would have thought possible, and I was actually quite apprehensive about kissing you in the first place." She closed her eyes, swallowing black rage in favor of contained fury. "You really thought that, didn't you? Two dates, a few letters, one kiss: that's the recipe for happiness? That's how you claim me? Jareth, you don't even know me, and I certainly don't know you. I was starting to. I was even starting to trust you, more fool I. A few months, more letters, more time, a direct invitation… who knows? But now you've ruined it. How can I trust you now?" He stood as though carved in stone, and didn't speak. She dropped her eyes to the floor, pressing her lips together, willing herself not to cry, only now certain that she actually had been falling for him, a little, especially tonight. And he'd ruined it. He wasn't the man she'd begun to think he might be. He was just another cad out for all he could grab; just her luck that a magical king could grab far more than a mortal.
"No," she interrupted, not looking up. "I shouldn't, I really, really shouldn't, but I'll give you one chance to make it right. Send me back, right now, and I'll forgive you for this, and we can go back to letters for a while, if you still want to."
"Sarah." He was standing right in front of her. "Look at me, Sarah." She raised her eyes; he brought up a hand and raised her chin as well. "I cannot send you back."
Angry tears gathered in her eyes, and she wrenched her head away. "Can't, or won't?"
"Liar. You can just claim that you can't, but you want me here, so here I stay."
"Sarah," he said softly, ignoring her anger and meeting her eyes steadily, "I have never lied to you. Not once, not ever." He gripped her shoulders, holding her when she tried to back away. "I cannot send you back."
"Is it a power thing? Because if you need something from me to send me back, you've got it. I don't want to be here."
"Sarah, I do not know why. I only know that I cannot do as you ask. If I could—" he broke off.
"If you could, what? If you could, what, Jareth?"
"I do not know," he said quietly, "and I will not lie to you."
In spite of herself, she was beginning to believe him. "Is there any way you can prove that? Is there anyone else who'll back you up? If I asked Hoggle, would he tell me the same?"
"The dwarf will convince you?" he asked, brows tightening in anger. "Then the dwarf you will have." He was gone in that instant, and she sagged forward, into the space he had just occupied.
Was he really going to get Hoggle? Just because she'd asked? She wanted it to be a contradiction, but his old words came back to her: Everything that you wanted I have done. You asked that the child be taken; I took him. You cowered before me; I was frightening. I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you. She'd tried not to think about those words since Jareth had returned to her life; that whole scene was still too confusing. But he'd just gone and done it again, hadn't he? Exactly what she wanted? Assuming he actually came back with Hoggle, but oddly, she was certain he would. So if he wouldn't send her home when she asked, what did that mean? He hadn't always done what she wanted. She'd asked for Toby back right away, and that time he had denied her, but that was the only time, and he'd been acting officially, then. The Goblin King, not just Jareth. Maybe that was the one time he couldn't oblige her. And he hadn't known her, then, either. The King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl, but he'd told her that was just the old tale, to lure foolish mortals. And he claimed he didn't lie. Here I'll wait until you come again. Did singing someone else's word count as lying?
"Even if he doesn't lie, he sure knows how to twist the truth."
"Only one man ye'd be talkin' about, sayin' that," said a well-remembered voice behind her.
"Hoggle!" She was on her feet in an instant, running to embrace her friend, only briefly surprised that Jareth wasn't with him. "Oh, Hoggle, it's so good to see you!"
"Sarah." He grinned up at her, one eye slightly squinted. "Ye've grown."
"It's been… a while. Eleven years, Above."
"Is that a long time?" She nodded, biting her lip, and his face fell. "And ye never called?"
"Oh Hoggle, I'm sorry. I… I convinced myself that the Labyrinth wasn't real. I thought I'd made you up. I shouldn't have doubted you."
"It's alright, li'l lady. Don't ye go frettin' about that just now. Ye're here and believin' in us now." He tossed his head. "Time moves different here, anyhow. We don' feel the time pass like you do, or like he does."
"How have you been, Hoggle? Jareth told me you're still at the gate."
"I am. Faeries just th'same as always. Garden never rightly grows. And we ain't had no one goin' in the Labyrinth since you been here, neither."
"Are there so few wishes?"
"Mos' folks don' believe in us no more. Folks don' wish for what they don' know could come. And," he grunted, levering himself onto the chaise as she sat next to him, "mos' folks take their dreams. There was some chit called him some while ago, since you, but she was gonna leave the little'un to die anyhow." His deep frown showed plainly what he thought of that lack of courage and responsibility.
"I guess I never thought of that… that some people would wish away a child and not want it. I always wanted Toby; I felt so terrible, and right away."
"I know ye did, Sarah, don't go frettin' about that either, what's past is past." He stopped talking, then looked at her closely. "Sarah, the King din't say why you was here, or how. He jus' grabbed me without a by-your-leave, brought me here, and tol' me to talk to ye and answer yer questions. What in the world Above or Below are ye doin' back in the Castle Beyond the Goblin City?"
"Jareth brought me," she said shortly.
"Now now missy," he chided, "I know we're all about askin' the right questions and such round here, but don' tell me ye've been with that rat long enough t'start soundin' like him. I can't help without ye give me the whole story."
She sighed, hiding her face in her hands. "I hardly know where to start."
"The beginnin', generally." He patted her knee. "Jus' start where it feels right."
In the end, she told him almost everything. Not the details of the times she'd seen Jareth between her victory and her next wish, but she did tell him that she had thought of him often over the years, even more, though it hurt to admit, than she'd thought of her three friends. She picked up the story in more detail at her breakup, discovery of the book, and wish.
"Hold a moment, Sarah. Ye say it was yer ol' book, the very same?"
"Yes. I thought it strange, at the time, but I haven't even thought about it since…. What happened next was far stranger." Going on, she told him of her wish, Jareth's appearance, his bargain, an outline of her past week, though without going into much detail about the letters themselves. She ended by describing, in detail, the way he had reacted to Peer Gynt. Hoggle's eyes had grown wider with each revelation, and when she reached the point of saying she'd kissed Jareth, he exploded like a firework.
"Ye kissed him? Sarah, what were ye—"
"I wasn't, obviously, okay? Or, well—it's just that—he told me so much more about the Underground, and none of you really ever left my mind, even when I thought you weren't real, and he was real and right there and so damn different and sincere and I…."
"Do ye love him?"
"But ye kissed him!"
"Hoggle, people don't think that way, Aboveground! I… I like him. Or, I did. I might. He's interesting and challenging and brilliant and let's not forget about gorgeous and…" she trailed off, noting that Hoggle's eyes were about the size of saucers, and he was actually backing away from her on the chaise. That might have been a bit too much girl talk. "Sorry." She lowered her voice with an effort, determined to be serious and calm. "I know you don't like him, Hoggle."
"I don't. And ye can't forget he's also impulsive, devious, powerful, and driven, and he hates to lose. But he's also all we got. Ain't no one else left t'be King." He looked down, and what he said next was so quiet she nearly missed it. "At least he's still here."
"He told me." She sighed. "Listen, Hoggle. I'm so glad you're here to hear my whole story, but I know why Jareth brought you. He did it because I asked him a specific question, one I want you to answer."
"Oh? What's that?"
"Does he lie?"
Hoggle looked at her for a long moment. "What did he say to ye, Sarah?"
"I'll tell you in a moment. Please, just answer."
"I thought y'already knew. Ye said it as I walked in. He don' lie, but that don' mean he's always straightforward. Tellin' only half th' truth can be more dangerous than lyin' outright."
Her hands were tightly folded in her lap, her gaze fixed on them. "He told me he can't send me back."
At that, Hoggle sighed. "Not much getting' around simple statements like that. If he said 'I can't,' then he can't. Don' like admittin' somethin's not in his power, neither, so if he came out an' said it, that's that. I'm sorry, li'l lady, but looks like ye're stuck with us." When she looked up again, he was searching her face. "Is that really so bad?"
"I don't know." She leaned her chin on one hand, looking at him. "I certainly would have loved to come to visit, but I'm not ready to stay, if he even wants that. As much as I love you and Ludo and Sir Didymus, now that I know you're really here, the way things are with him… I'd need to be sure of him too, and I'm not." She sighed, slumped over, and then straightened her shoulders, drawing strength from her posture. "I suppose I need to talk to him. He made some pretty big assumptions, but I made mistakes too."
"You think I shouldn't?"
"No, that ain't it. I jus' wanted t'say, I prolly won' be able t'see ye for a while, once he sends me off."
"What? Why? Hoggle, if he tries to keep me away from you—"
"Don' be angry, it ain't his fault, much as I hate t'admit it. Did he explain how the Underground changes ye?"
"Then I'm guessin' he wants ye to stay much as ye are now, and I'm guessin' ye'll be wantin' the same, an' ye're strong-willed and old enough to have a chance, if the legends are true, but ye must do as he says when it comes to that. He din' say I was to tell ye that, neither, but ye need t'know." He patted her knee again. "I'll see ye when I see ye. It'll be soon enough." With another grunt, he heaved himself off the chaise, and departed through the heavy door.
The door was closed only a moment before it opened again, and Jareth stood there, his face carefully blank, an obvious mask. She wanted to retreat before the anger she was sure hid beneath, but instead she straightened, standing from the chaise to meet his eyes, proud and defiant.
"Thank you for bringing him." She could give enough to be the first to speak.
"Did he answer your question?" His voice was as carefully calm as his face.
"He did. Though... I'd already decided you were telling the truth." Not a necessary concession, this one; but she hoped to encourage him to reciprocate.
He nodded, accepting her at her word. "I believe I know why I cannot send you home."
That was the sort of concession she'd been hoping for. "You do? Why?"
He shook his head. "I must not tell you."
She wanted to be angry, but she'd caught his choice of words: must not, not cannot or will not. "It's something I need to do." He nodded. "But telling me what it is will keep me from doing it."
"Telling you would make it very unlikely; so unlikely that I will not risk it. I want you to be happy, Sarah." His voice was softening, and he moved forward. She let him approach, let him touch her cheek, let him tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, but she didn't move, or meet his eyes.
"You have a strange way of showing it." He inhaled to speak again, but she held up a hand. "Please, Jareth. No more, just now. I need... some space, to be with my own thoughts."
"Very well. Come this way?" He gestured towards the door, and she glared up at him. What part of "leave me alone" doesn't he understand? He only laughed at her expression. "Sarah, dear, if I am to leave you for the evening, perhaps you would prefer your own rooms, rather than mine...?"
Chapter 8: Out of Options
The rooms were spacious, and, if geometry meant anything in the Castle, they were an exact replica of Jareth's rooms above, in layout if not in style. The main entrance, from a spiral stairwell, led to a sitting room like the one she'd awoken in, furnished with cherry wood pieces upholstered in dark blue. The pale stone walls were bare, and the bookshelves empty. On a table in the corner sat a covered tray, which, when lifted, revealed an assortment of her favorite fruits. The bedroom was similar, cherry wood and blue drapes, the bed sinfully massive, the sheets deliciously soft. When she opened the wardrobe in the corner, she found, to her surprise, that it was full of clothing she loved; not exact replicas of what she'd worn Above―if nothing else, the Goblin Kingdom didn't seem to be aware of man-made fabrics―but quite close. Along the outer wall of the bedroom, a balcony stretched, wide French doors and floor-length windows filling the room with moonlight. When she first entered the room there were no curtains, but when she'd finished exploring the adjoining bathroom―no shower, but a truly decadent bathtub―thick, dark curtains, the same dark blue as the bedclothes, hung at the edges, closing with a pull on a silken cord. There was one other small door, set into the wall next to the bath, but it was locked.
Last night, she'd hardly explored at all; after Jareth left her, the long day had caught up with her, and she'd done little more than shed her clothes and crawl into the bed. In the light of day it occurred to her that that had perhaps been a foolish idea―what if Jareth had come in?―but she hadn't found the wardrobe yet then, her clothes were sweaty and smelled of outdoors, and it had seemed such a shame to wear cotton when sleeping on silk sheets. And whether or not he could enter, he wasn't here now.
When she emerged from the bath in the morning, the bed was made, and the clothes she'd shed on the floor had disappeared. Invisible maid service? Magical castle? She looked around carefully, but saw no sign of the Goblin King; that made it easier to accept that it was not worth worrying about. She dressed quickly. In the sitting room, she raised the cover on the fruit, thinking of an apple for the morning, but found pastries instead. Did it change with the time of day? She walked back through the bedroom, stepping out onto the balcony.
The Labyrinth was beautiful from this height, even if none of it looked familiar from so far away. She could see a hedge maze and a section of trees, but there was no way to know if it was the same hedge maze where she'd found Ludo, or the same forest where she'd been chased by the Fire Gang. The rest was a jumbled mess of stone, some sections cut by higher walls. She realized suddenly that she must be in the Castle's tallest tower; even the Goblin City below looked distant, like a child's blocks, all tumbled about. And Jareth lived up here all the time? It was beautiful, but so isolated. Unbidden, his words of the previous evening returned to her: the resulting personalities… lack depth.
Jareth. There was no way around it; she had to face him sometime. Best to examine her own feelings, first, and not go into that conversation as off-balance as she'd felt yesterday.
Maybe he hadn't meant it to be so, but if he'd wanted to seduce her, then Peer Gynt had been a masterstroke. Had he known how strongly he would react? The Goblin King of her memory was mostly remote, sarcastic, and mocking; she remembered the snake and the threats and the cleaners better than what had come later, later when she'd been alternately mesmerized and terrified in his arms, later when she'd been so frantic to reach Toby that she'd hardly heard him, so worried about remembering the lines that she was shocked she could remember his counterpoint at all. Throughout their letters, she'd thought he had begun to thaw, to show her the "more" that he'd claimed to be, but she couldn't be sure. Letters were so easy to manipulate. But the concert… either he was such a good actor that she'd never be able to tell, or what she'd seen at the concert had been genuine. She'd wanted to see a hidden depth that could let her care for the Goblin King, and she'd seen it. Hell, it was why she'd kissed him. The depth was there, time to check for a spark.
And spark there had been. She hadn't let herself really process the kiss, last night; there had been too much else—surprise, anger, betrayal. But when she thought back to that moment when their lips had parted, when he'd said her name like she was the only thing in the universe that mattered… in that moment, she'd been sure she wanted it to continue. She'd been sure she wanted to kiss him again. Sort out the rest later, rebound be damned, stay in my life, Jareth, I don't want this to stop.
At least, she didn't want it to stop, so long as they were safe Aboveground, where things generally are as they seem. Where she was safe to court his danger and sort his mystery and solve his Labyrinths of words. Where she could make the rules. Where she felt safe. She stepped back from the railing, letting her head fall against the wall behind her, raising her face to the sun. She'd just admitted it. She'd wanted him, or at least, she'd wanted to find out how much she wanted him. Did she still, now Underground, where nothing was certain or safe or under her power?
She'd thought Ben would be the last. She'd thought he'd be the rest of her life. But his leaving hadn't stopped her wanting to be done. No more endless pursuit, no more dating, no more stupid rules and silly games and just-in-it-for-sex. Now, though… Jareth wasn't human. Did he even commit like that? And "forever" was daunting enough when it was fifty or sixty years, "till death (or divorce) do us part." Forever with Jareth was a hell of a lot longer.
So what did Jareth want? Was he looking for forever? Fear me, love me, do as I say… I will be there for you as the world falls down… I will be your slave… I move the stars for no one…. And more recently: What do you have that so many lack? Why did you include all my subjects? I am the last of my kind, the last to keep the dream alive… Why did you believe that it was all a dream? And intense: Do not ask that question. Now is not the time. And the song, the kiss, the look of deep longing. How sure he'd been, when she woke, till she told him otherwise.
No, he hadn't come out and said it, but his actions spoke for him. Forever. And he couldn't send her back, a lack to which she was somehow the key. She might be stuck here forever, like it or not. It wasn't a matter of persuading him to let her go.
But on the other hand, what exactly was she here for? She remembered his seductive, flirtatious pose as he leaned over her in the tunnels; his come-hither, I'm-going-to-kiss-you look as they danced. He hadn't flirted like that since returning to her life; rather, his romantic attentions had more of the flavor of gentlemanly courting—a refreshing change, now that she thought of it. His hands had even stayed chaste during their kiss.
She'd tried having men as friends. In her experience, it didn't work very well. Men and women could only be friends if they both had good, solid reasons why they couldn't ever be lovers, and even then, the spark that said "what if?" almost always remained. Barring serious biological complications, which were possible, but unlikely, there was no reason she and Jareth couldn't be lovers. Therefore, they couldn't be friends—or rather, couldn't just be friends. At least, she couldn't—he wasn't human, so maybe he could, but the equation wouldn't balance without both sides. She'd hate him or love him before this was through. Maybe both.
But when he brought her Underground, he had taken away her choice. If she didn't want to love him, didn't want to hate him, she could've let him be nothing—if she were still Above. The opposite of love was indifference, after all, not hate. Now, though, she couldn't tell him to just go away unless she broke whatever spell kept him from returning her—and was "spell" even the right way to think about it? Met whatever condition? Was this some sort of twisted fairy tale after all? Well; she'd either make it, or not. In the meantime, while she wouldn't stop thinking of or looking for escape, she may as well set herself up, mentally, for a long stay.
Love would be more pleasant, but it wasn't guaranteed.
She was reading on the chaise in his sitting room when Jareth finally appeared, coming from the bedroom, whose door had been closed. She'd been there for a while, if the book was any indication, though she hadn't read steadily; it was too intriguing. A bestiary of sorts, detailing the creatures to be found Underground. She hadn't found Jareth yet, but the rest was fascinating, especially comparing the categories the author used to divide the races with those used by modern fantasy authors. Now the sun was lowering in the sky, and the gas lamps on the walls lit themselves as the room darkened. She wasn't sure how long she had been awake; there were no clocks, anywhere. And why was he coming from the bedroom? Was he nocturnal? That was going to get boring quickly.
"Good evening, Sarah." If he felt something at finding her there, he didn't let it show.
"Not going to throw me out of the castle for invading your privacy?" It was childish to goad him, perhaps, but entrapment and the lonely day had her spoiling for a fight.
"Wrong fairy tale, my dear. Although that reminds me: on the subject of doors in the Labyrinth, I should warn you that not all are open to you." She just looked at him, waiting for him to elaborate. "Doors or doorways which stand open, you are welcome to enter. Closed doors with guardians, which you have encountered before, you may enter if you can satisfy the guardian's conditions, which as you know may be as simple as 'knock and the door will open.'" He fixed her with a direct stare. "Doors which are simply closed, you must not disturb. They are rare, but they do exist. Doors may sometimes also change state; for example, today you found the door to these rooms open. Had it been closed, you would not have been able to enter."
"So, I literally can't open closed doors?"
"No; some will be closed but not locked. Those, you must simply let be. However, the doors in this chamber—and that goes for yours as well—lock when closed by the resident of the rooms."
"Closed doors aren't much of a problem to you, are they? I mean, you can just—poof—past them?"
"Poof?" A moment of confusion, but he comprehended quickly. "Ah, yes, I can transport past most doors; as the King those rules do not apply to me. However, that is not the case with your rooms. If you close your doors, I cannot enter."
"Oh." She'd half expected to need to fight for her privacy. "Thank you."
"Returning to the point, while I do not intend to throw you out of the Castle, or even the room, why are you here?"
"There's nothing in my room. You at least have books," she replied crossly, holding up the large tome she'd been reading. "And the only other place I could reach was your insane room of stairs." She'd been furious, at the first discovery, but the long day spent alone had left her with only cold resentment. Up the stairs: Jareth's rooms. Down the stairs: the nightmare room of twisted gravity, and the only access shifted into impossibility almost immediately. She was suddenly struck by a realization she should have had a few days—a few letters—ago, and was briefly distracted from her bad mood. "M. C. Escher came here?"
"Hm? Ah, yes, the artist. He came very young, to visit, but by another route, not the wishing-away. Quite an imaginative young man." Moving past her, he settled into the chair behind his desk. "In any case, in time you will come to love the Relative Stairs. Goblins cannot manage it. It guards parts of the Castle that I wish to remain free from their noise and confusion. There is no keeping them out, otherwise."
She shot him a level glare. "While you might appreciate the quiet, I can't walk on walls."
"Of course you can. Not any walls, true, but the magic to navigate the Stairs is in the room itself, and in your own beliefs. Anyone with strength of will and the intelligence to alter their perceptions intentionally can walk the Stairs."
She blinked at that. "But Toby…"
"Toby was under the influence of my magic. A special occasion, if you will."
"Fine, then, do that for me. I want to see more of the Castle and the city."
"What?" His flat answer brought her anger back full force. "So I'm a prisoner here? Beautiful girl, locked in the tallest tower?" She paused, then went on acidly, "Waiting for Prince Charming?"
"Wrong fairy tale again." He laughed bitterly. "Have you listened to a word I have said? Anyone with strength of will and intelligence can walk the Stairs. You will learn."
"And if I can't?"
"Then here you stay. But really, Sarah, you make too much of this. It is a test. Training. An exercise. It will help you keep from changing."
"Because the goblins can't walk the Stairs?"
"Because none of my subjects can. I brought the dwarf yesterday as a favor to you, transporting him directly to the stair outside my door. He could not have come here alone." That strange current of anger was back in his voice, and in the world Above she could have dismissed it as her imagination, but now she was sure: at his darkened mood, shadows gathered, and the lamp behind him flickered and went dark.
"Hoggle told me to listen to you, about… staying… me." A very primitive part of her mind wanted to quake in fear under his cold stare, but she couldn't spend her whole life intimidated by his moods. Best start defending now. "So this test is one of those things?"
"And if I fall and break my neck?"
"You will not." Cold eyes met hers steadily. "You try my patience, Sarah. Even your precious dwarf tells you to trust me. Cease to be tiresome."
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Your Majesty." Fighting wouldn't help, and she knew that, and she was better than this, and this was why she'd spent her morning thinking, but she couldn't hold back. "You say I'm not a prisoner, but I am, at least until I learn this, just as I'm a prisoner Underground until I figure out the way home. Forgive me if I'm not thrilled with the situation." She sighed, stood, put down the book. Time to end it. "I spent all day wishing you were here so I had someone to talk to, or maybe someone to yell at, or maybe just someone who can explain this better. Hell, for most of the day, I didn't just want someone, I wanted you. You're the center of all of this. You're the key. You're…"
"What am I?"
"You're the puzzle I need to solve." The anger was gone from her voice as she said it. He sat very still as she moved to the door. "Goodnight, Jareth."
"Sarah." She paused in the doorway. "I will be here tomorrow morning."
She hadn't realized it until she'd said it. How had she missed the obvious? It wasn't something about her that she had to figure out to go home, it was something about them.
Chapter 9: Gravity
True to his word, Jareth was waiting the next morning when she climbed the stairs to his rooms. In fact, if he'd moved from the desk at all overnight, it didn't show.
"Good morning, my dear…." He trailed off when he saw her outfit, as she'd expected. "Quite the provocative wardrobe choice."
"I'm off to conquer something. It worked last time." She grinned, looking down at the jeans and white poet shirt topped with a white vest. "Also, in all seriousness, I wasn't about to go attempt gravity-defying feats in a skirt." He quirked an eyebrow at her and she blinked; there was a hint of that old flirting in his eyes that she hadn't seen Above. "Though your reaction makes me think you're not the one who stocked that wardrobe." That was what she'd expected, anyway. And she really had chosen the outfit for more reasons than to be provocative: the fitted pants and tucked-in top would stay in place no matter what.
"No; the magic in these rooms is spelled into the stone of the tower. It provides things that will please you." He looked her up and down once more. "So you are off to battle gravity, then?"
"I was hoping for more of a lesson, but battle if I must."
"Asking for help, Sarah? That hardly fits."
"Really? I recall asking for quite a bit of help the last time I was here. Just not from you."
"Touché; and yet you ask me now?"
"I always asked for help from the best person available to help me get what I wanted." She leaned over the desk to meet his eyes. "This time, that's you. I don't want to fight today, Jareth." She did her best to sound sincere; it really was true. Fighting was tiresome and unpleasant, and the previous two days had seen enough of it, especially when they were fighting about little things, as they had the previous evening, not things that mattered.
She'd been halfway down the stairs, yesterday, when she finally connected the dots. That deadly danger, that sense of black foreboding that Jareth generated… it had happened three times now, in her presence. First in her room, where she'd balked at telling him what she felt about the dream about her friends. Second at the concert, when he'd said that Hoggle should not have told her his name. Third last night, when he'd told her that he had brought Hoggle as a concession to her. Each time, she'd thought the feeling that caused it was anger, but it didn't quite fit. He'd been angry with her other times, without that same result. And it had been a puzzle, but she'd worked it out.
Jealousy. He was jealous of her friends, especially Hoggle. The dream he'd given her: it was the strongest, happiest memory of her trip. And it had not been the ballroom, or the stairs, or the end; it never would be. The adventure and the camaraderie and her spirits high, her sense of danger low; nothing else could compare to that moment for happiness, though others certainly compared for drama and overall importance. He hadn't been in that memory, and she hadn't even wanted to share it with him. And he hadn't told her his name; Hoggle had. If he'd wanted her to know it, he'd wanted the introduction to be from his own lips. Hoggle had stolen that, as he had stolen the first kiss she'd ever given a non-relative (even if it had been just a peck on the cheek), and as he'd beat Jareth to telling her to trust… the third thing that had angered him. It wasn't a matter of anything physical, that was certain: the differences between herself and her friends were substantial, and Jareth must know his own beauty. But jealousy for affection, for time, for trust—those were another matter entirely.
Now that she knew, far from being afraid of that darkness, she could trust in it. It gave her power. Not much, but enough to know that even yesterday's bad mood wouldn't let him deny her request today. So long as he was the first to give her something, he wasn't likely to resent it later from another hand.
Well, most things, anyway. It would probably be different if they... but that was not a train of thought that was presently relevant or productive.
He was staring at her, expectantly. Waiting. "Ah… so, Jareth, will you consent to teach me how to manage the Relative Stairs?"
"Since you ask so very kindly," he said politely, and stood to hold out a hand for hers. When she took it, the world dissolved and she was standing on a stone ledge, impossible staircases stretching in every direction.
"That was a lot less disorienting than last time."
"Transportation is easier than transference."
"Ah." She'd think about that later. "But I thought I had to learn to get out of your tower? Why have you brought me to the middle of the room?"
"Two reasons. The first is that it will be easier to learn when you do not know the actual orientation of gravity out in the rest of the Castle. Later, you will develop a sense for the true direction, which will help you find doors leading from here, but for now, do not worry about that. The second is that to exit my tower requires you to almost immediately execute the second most difficult maneuver this room can support. It is better to start with the basics."
"The second most difficult maneuver? What is that?"
"Rotation." He disappeared from her side, reappearing above her on a platform that stretched straight before simply ending. He walked to the edge and, in one smooth motion, stepped around it, until he was walking along the underside of the stone. She remembered the maneuver; he'd done it years before, as she'd chased Toby. "Rotation is difficult because it is in essence a controlled fall, and there is little room for error in the shift from one gravity to the next." He disappeared again, reappearing beside her.
"So what's the most difficult maneuver one can perform in the Stairs?"
He laughed. "Free fall!" And suddenly he was gone, flying—no, falling—away from her, and he landed on the ceiling above her, bending his knees to cushion the blow. "You need not do that to access the Castle, but it is a great deal of fun." He was back beside her, laughing, a genuine laugh of pure pleasure, the first she'd heard from him.
"Ah…." She seemed to be saying that a lot, this morning, maybe because she was just a little bit intimidated. "I suppose we should start with the basics?"
"The basics" meant lying down flat on her back with her feet propped up against a perpendicular piece of stonework, and her eyes closed. It made sense; she certainly wouldn't fall and break her neck from that position. It also felt very silly.
"Feel the stone beneath your feet. Feel the weight." His voice was low, hypnotic. She didn't know how long he'd been speaking. "Your weight is on your feet, your feet support you, you trust your feet to support you. Your feet know which way is down." He kept up the murmur, and she let herself sink into a trance, focusing on his voice, feeling his instructions in her bones. Her feet were on the ground. On the ground.
Oddly enough, she felt the change first in her hair. It had been loose, splayed casually across the stone under her head; as she shifted, she felt its weight change; it was now hanging, around her face. Stranger still was to feel the change in her breasts, as they shifted from pressing apart and to the sides, as she lay on her back, to hanging normally, as she stood. The more she analyzed her situation, the better she could feel the other changes. Weight that had pressed against her shoulders and buttocks now centered in her feet, the wall behind her only a solid support, not a certain down. Her arms swung forward to a natural position; her fingers dangled, rather than splayed.
"Well done, Sarah. Now step forward." She followed his instructions, stepping away from the wall. Easy enough; the floor was solid and even, firm under her feet. "Now open your eyes."
Jareth was sitting sideways on the wall next to her head. With a squeak, she fell back, hitting the stone floor hard as she lost her sense of down when confronted with his alternate gravity. "That's not fair. Why did you do that to me?"
He only laughed, and she realized that she'd said those words again and that she probably did look ridiculous. Also, his laughter was infectious; she couldn't help but join in.
"Sarah my dear, as we will both be using the Stairs regularly, we may be confronted with any number of such situations at any time, and you must be equipped to deal with them. It was a test, to see if you had already grasped the necessary contradiction. You did well to achieve the initial shift so quickly."
"Quickly? I feel like we've been here all day."
"We have. I simply expected it to take more than one." He stood and offered his hand again. "Come. When was the last time you ate?"
The question startled her; more startling still was the answer, once she thought of it. "A pastry... yesterday morning."
He nodded. "As I suspected. Because time flows differently here, it is easy to forget such simple things. You will also find that your appetite is significantly diminished, though you will still feel hunger pangs if you wait long enough. It is best to make a habit of eating a little once a day, perhaps first thing in the morning; that will be enough even if you never desire a larger meal." The world blinked and they stood on the stairs outside her closed door. As she opened it, he bowed and disappeared.
She left the door open, and went to her tray to nibble on some cheese and a bit of fruit, before going to the window. The sun was just beginning to set, and the Labyrinth glowed gold in the orange light. That view, at least, was something she could get used to quickly. She watched, letting her mind relax, as the shadows grew and stretched.
Some time later, Jareth reappeared at her door, carrying the book she'd abandoned the previous evening, as well as another, which appeared to be some sort of ledger. He placed the book on the table next to her chaise, then settled in the opposite chair, frowning thoughtfully as he opened his ledger to a page that she could see was mostly blank. After a few minutes, he conjured a pen, made a notation, and flicked it away into nothingness again.
For a moment, she was annoyed. He couldn't even ask permission to enter? And he didn't feel the need to say hello? But before she could voice either of those thoughts, she remembered: her door was open. Open doors were an invitation. He hadn't asked because she'd already answered. Okay, so he was here, in her rooms, when he had just as nice a chair—and a desk—upstairs in his. Why? She crossed to the chaise and took up the book, but didn't open it. He was here, obviously working on something, instead of upstairs, because... he wanted her company? It must be; there was nothing else to draw him here. If he had simply wished to give her the book, he could have left it and departed.
A quiet evening in, then. She found her place in the book and began to read, but quickly abandoned a repeat of yesterday's detailed perusal when another question presented itself. Yesterday, she'd only made it through about a quarter of the huge volume, but she hadn't found any reference to a race that could be Jareth's. Eagerly, she flipped through the pages, examining titles and drawings carefully. He had to be here somewhere. She found a few that looked close, at first, but quickly discounted them. The "mouse elf" had his wild hair and slanted eyebrows, but the description indicated that they were as small as the name suggested, with an adult height of something like four inches. Of creatures that stood the approximate height of a man, all were too hairy, or too ugly, or were specifically described as lacking a power, such as shapeshifting, that she knew he possessed.
Finally, she put the book down in disgust, throwing her head back against the cushions. "I give up."
At her words, he looked up from his work. "Sarah?"
"I looked through the whole book, which I thought might have a description of your... race, or whatever... but you aren't here. What are you?"
"I see." He looked amused, now. "What do you think?"
"When you wrote, you always said 'my kind' or 'my kindred.' That doesn't provide many clues. I know you aren't like anything else the Labyrinth holds; you said so and I haven't seen anything to make me doubt you. You also aren't in the book, which is a list of the creatures that can be or were once found here Underground, but I know that back Above, humans aren't listed in every similar publication, either. The only thing I know is what you told me of the history of your people and mine being connected." She paused to think, and he nodded. Nothing wrong said so far, then? He was looking at her with interest. She thought back over half-remembered mythology, even past the point of fairy tale. "I almost hesitate to say it, because it seems too obvious, but... are you one of the Fair Folk? The... oh, there was another name, Gaelic maybe, not English anyway; I'm forgetting it."
"The Tuatha Dé Danann?" She nodded, and he looked mildly impressed. "You are closer than I would have suspected, though I suppose for one who knows her fairy tales it is not so very odd. In any case, you are not correct; my race was not so limited."
"So you mean there are—were—more of you?"
"It is hardly sensible to believe that we could have had the influence on Man which I described if we were confined to one small island of little significance, or even to only that island and its larger neighbor."
She thought back again over what he had written. Did she remember him claiming that they had taught men to write? And one of the earliest known form of writing was Sumerian cuneiform. Another was Egyptian hieroglyphics. And other than men, the only potential humanoids ever mentioned in those regions were... "...Gods?"
When he chuckled, she realized she'd said that last word aloud. "In many cultures, or so they wished Men to believe. We began that way in most interactions; some ceased to worship us after a time, but still knew we were real. Every single one of your world's myths of a powerful immortal has at least one of my people at its source. And though never as numerous as Men, we were equally widespread."
"Not just the British Isles, but... ancient Mesopotamia? The Greeks, the Norse, the Russians, the Indians? And... America as well?" She named every major pantheistic belief system she could think of off the top of her head.
He nodded. "And more. Once. No longer."
He laughed. "We are not so impressive as that. It is not difficult to impress a primitive people with a few parlor tricks, and Men have matured much since that time. We have our own faults." She nodded, then caught herself completely by surprise with a huge yawn. "The hour grows late; you should sleep." He stood and moved towards the door.
"Jareth, can I ask another question?"
At her words, he paused. "You just did, but you may ask another." Well, she'd walked right into that one.
"What do you want?" She hadn't meant to ask it quite like that, but it was what she really wanted to know, the reason, even, that she'd sought his race: to understand him, to understand what might motivate him. Analysis, maybe, but she was a product of her chosen career, after all.
He paused thoughtfully, then returned, "Immediately, or ultimately?"
He was gone before she realized that he hadn't given her any clue as to which question he was answering.
Chapter 10: And They Lived
It became the pattern of their days. Some days, Sarah would wake and find Jareth in his room, and he would work with her on the Stairs; others, she would wake and find him gone, or the door closed. On those days, she went herself to the small section she could access, to practice. The next step, after managing the initial shift, was to do it with eyes open; in some ways, this was easier, as once she had fully accepted that visible gravity simply did not exist in that space, it was easier to remember that literal gravity did not exist, either. Only perceived gravity could influence her, and she controlled her perceptions. In the evenings, Jareth would work―at what, she still hadn't found the courage to ask―and she would read. The bestiary gave way to an enormous volume of Chinese tales, and then to Indian legends, the stories she hadn't known as well in the Above. Occasionally, the silence would be broken with a question; usually hers, about the Underground, but occasionally his, about her life or interests, or her opinions on her reading material. The time split equally between her rooms and his; it was more likely to be hers if she was immersed in a particular work, and his if she was seeking something new.
And always, every evening, when the one would retire and the other stay, the same question. "What do you want?"
There was a pattern. When she asked when leaving his rooms, the answer was more likely to be concrete. "An apple," one day, and he pulled the cover from the tray in his room that matched hers. Another, he said, "Company," and she didn't know if he meant it exactly that way, but she stayed to read another chapter, and then left without a word. Once he said, "A kiss," and she leaned up and pressed her lips against his cheek and didn't stay to see his expression.
When she asked him as he was leaving hers, his answers tended towards the insubstantial. "A good dream," he said one day, and another, "Freedom." She was afraid to ask further about that one.
She got better with the Stairs. The hardest part was learning to practice rotation alone, but after some thought, she figured out that if she could change from walking on the original perceived horizontal to the original perceived vertical plane of a set of stairs, that would be at least halfway around, and rotation was essentially doing that twice in a row, very quickly. After a few good tumbles she learned to begin with the bottom step; sometimes she banged her nose on the floor—the wall—but it wasn't a long fall.
That half-rotation took a few days to master, though the days seemed to pass very quickly while she was working. Maybe it was the meditation; she had continued to focus on her feet determining gravity, as he'd done that first lesson. Jareth found her in the Stairs towards the end of one day, and she did her first full rotation with him there to spot her. As he'd said, it was all a matter of will and belief. Mind over matter, as it were. It was also fun, though she hadn't yet found the courage to try free fall. After she'd repeated the performance several times, even with him standing at a completely impossible alternate plane of gravity, he declared her safe to explore on her own.
That evening, she didn't even make a pretense of reading. He came in, carrying his usual ledger as well as one of the other books of legends, and she spoke up as soon as he'd settled himself in his chair.
"Now that I can manage the Stairs, you said I can go out into the Labyrinth, right? I thought I might look for Ludo tomorrow, or visit Hoggle."
"I'm afraid that will be impossible, my dear." She opened her mouth to protest, but he raised a hand, and she stilled. "It has nothing to do with permission. Tomorrow, there simply is not enough time. The day after, you may make the attempt, if you can get out of the Castle."
"What do you mean, I won't have time tomorrow, but I will the next day?" And what do you mean, '"If I can get out of the Castle?" she added mentally, but she'd learned that it was best to confront him one question at a time.
"Days Underground vary in length. They are always equal parts daylight and darkness, but that time can last for less than half a day Above, up to several days. We term these days 'short' or 'long.' Tomorrow will be quite short."
"That's different. I always thought, with the whole 'thirteen hours in which to solve the Labyrinth' spiel, that maybe you had twenty-six-hour days around here, or something like that, if it was different from days Above. And it didn't seem so different..."
He laughed. "Sarah, I have already told you that Time is for Above. Here nature is governed by Magic, the seasons as well as the days. You will become accustomed to it, after a while. Nearly all my subjects can tell you if tomorrow will be short or long, and though 'short' and 'long' do also vary, you will find that you use those expressions as well, understanding instinctively how much you will be able to accomplish on any given day. The more intelligent of my subjects can tell you what the next several days will be; the dimmest, only tomorrow. I can usually predict the next ten to fourteen days, depending on the magic and how many short days there are. And really, my dear, a regular twenty-six hour day would be quite impractical, especially divided into thirteen segments."
She scowled at him, but it only made him laugh harder. "Have you ever considered the mathematical reasons why your day Above is divided as it is? Base twelve is a wonderful system; it divides easily into halves and quarters and even eighths, as well as thirds and sixths and twelfths. If my realm would submit so far to Time as to permit the regular measurement of hours in a way that corresponded with periods of light and darkness, activity and leisure, I would be far more inclined to measure out twelve or twenty-four equal spans of time and measure it thusly, without regard for the length of an Underground 'hour' compared to one Above." He sighed, turning serious. "In any case, you will find that most in my realm simply do not care to measure time, at all. Because my duties give me ties Above, I must be aware; among other links, you will find, if you ask, that I always know what time it is, and what day, in any part of the world Above. You may develop this sense, or not; I cannot say."
"Okay, so if that's the case, why 'thirteen hours in which to solve the Labyrinth,' then? Why the dramatic, impractical clock?"
"You have answered your question yourself, Sarah. Thirteen is a particularly interesting number, held in high superstition by many of your race, and has been since the days of Hammurabi. It is dramatic, it creates instant suspense, an instant feeling of dread; can you deny that you felt it yourself?"
"It certainly did make an impression." She had another thought. "But Jareth, I've already been here for a while; it must be at least a week?" It was rather shocking to realize that she couldn't actually count those days. "Why didn't I notice the varying lengths of the days?"
"Call it... a time of adjustment. For the first two days, though perhaps you did not notice, you slept roughly according to the human cycle you were born to. It helped, as well, that these days related closely to that cycle, being roughly twenty-three and nineteen hours long. But more recently, the days have changed, and you changed with them, without noticing. How long ago was it, do you think, that I bid you good evening, yesterday?"
"I thought it must be a long time; I felt rested when I woke, and it's been a whole day... how long has it been?"
"It was barely eight hours past, my dear." She simply gaped at him. "Today was quite short. So it will continue. You will tend to be inclined to sleep within a few hours of sunset, and then sleep for the duration of the darkness, whether that be three hours or thirty―those being roughly the two greatest extremes in my experience―and wake refreshed, regardless of the time that has passed." He smiled, then. "It is a good sign, Sarah, that you have adjusted so rapidly to the changing days, and with no other alterations."
"So the degree to which I'm attuned to the days also indicates how attuned I am to the Underground?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes. It is not the only indication, but if you can get to the point of easily predicting the next five to seven days without any other changes, that would be a very good beginning."
"I thought you said you could do ten to fourteen."
"I am the king." His mouth twisted with amusement. "Personal magic also helps."
"Will I get that? If I become more… like you?"
"I suppose it is possible. There is little precedent." She must have looked hopeful, because he sat forward seriously. "Not for a very long time, if ever."
"A thousand days? Five thousand? More? I am only guessing, Sarah."
So much for that intriguing plan. Well, she had another question to ask him, anyway. "Earlier. You said I could explore the Labyrinth if I could get out of the Castle. I can walk the Stairs, and that's the only condition you gave me, before, so what the hell does that mean?"
"Only that I will not give you hints. The Stairs lead many places, Sarah, and the Castle is large. If you are lost in the Castle, you will not be exploring the Labyrinth."
"I'll have to look for the way tomorrow, then. I should have time for that!" He nodded, looking somewhat resigned. "In that case, I'd best turn in early, to get an early start." She paused at the bedroom door as he began to gather his things. "Jareth, what do you want?"
He thought about this answer much longer than he had the others. "Joy."
The first thing she found, when she started exploring, was another wing full of suites. The doors stood slightly ajar, and she pushed her way in, finding a room much like hers, but smaller, and so dusty that the floor was soft as sand. No one had entered these chambers for a very long time.
She looked out the window, and realized that this corridor led away from the Castle. If she looked out a window from the room at the very end of the hall, she should be able to see the rest of the Castle. Suiting action to thought, she pushed open the appropriate door and walked quickly to the window.
She'd underestimated how big the Castle was. A large dome dominated the center of the structure, with a tower on top. She could see two balconies, and above the top, another opening, like a large window without glass. As she watched, she saw a large, white bird swoop in through the opening and disappear, and though she watched for several more minutes, it did not depart again. Of course. Owl form. That was Jareth. He wasn't nocturnal, as she'd guessed her first night, he merely had other ways to come and go. The view must be magnificent, up there. I wonder if he'll ever let me…. But that was a question for later. Right now, she still wanted to find the way out.
Leaving the guest wing, she stopped to think. She could wander here all day, and it wouldn't do any good. Problem-solving was the solution, not aimless wandering. What did she already know about the way between the Stairs and the Castle doors? Last time she'd been here, she'd come through the door, through an entrance hall, into the Throne Room, and then she'd followed the only other corridor off the Throne Room and….
That was it. The Stairs led right to the Throne Room, which led right to the door. How could she find the Throne Room?
Goblins couldn't walk the Stairs, but what had Jareth said about them, before? It guards the parts of the Castle that I wish to remain free from their noise and confusion. Bingo.
Stepping cautiously out into the Stairs, she listened. There, far down to the left, could she hear them? She moved in that direction. Yes, there was some sort of noise, there. She continued in the direction of the noise, and, eventually, found the half-circle corridor she remembered, which descended easily into the Throne Room. Take that, Jareth. And you thought I'd find it difficult.
The noise stopped abruptly when she appeared, all the eyes in the room turning to look at her. A quick glance told her that while the Throne Room was full of goblins, it was empty of Jareth. Not sure how to approach them without guidance, she stopped; best to see what they would do. She could always go back upstairs if there was trouble. The Goblin Army had been inefficient, but they had been numerous, and she didn't have Ludo's rocks. The goblins, on their part, stared at her in awe.
"It's her! It's her! It's her!" The phrase echoed around the room, repeated from several different throats, until finally one heavy voice asked, "It's who?"
"It's her! The girl who beat the king and threw a party!" Well. That was rather a unique sobriquet. Sarah wasn't sure if she should feel flattered or vaguely insulted. They didn't have to make it sound so... personal, like she'd come to the Labyrinth intending to stomp Jareth to bits and then gloat about it. All she'd wanted was Toby. Then again, it was an accurate, if bare-bones, description of what had happened. She settled on mostly flattered.
"What's she doing back?"
"Did she beat the king again?"
"The king was just here, he's not beat."
"Are we having a party?" That was the heavy voice again.
"She came from the place the king comes from."
"Maybe she beat the king up there!"
"Are we having a party?"
Okay. She could either face the goblins, or go back upstairs. The Castle exit was just down the hall to her right. She was tired of exploring on her own. She really, really wanted out of the Castle. She wanted to see the Labyrinth. Jareth had said they were like children, like toddlers. Imagining herself in front of a room full of five-year-old Tobys, she plastered a big smile on her face.
"Hi everyone!" The chatter stopped instantly, and they all turned to look at her again. Slowly, she stepped into the room, watching carefully for any sign that they were about to mob her. But they were mostly still, and quiet, and nonthreatening, and by the time she'd reached the throne in the center of the room, she felt confident enough to really stop and look around.
There hadn't been any goblins in the Throne Room the last time she'd come through, but they certainly made the place look more lived-in. It was still a mess; goblins were everywhere, along with several black chickens, a few pigs, and was that a vulture? The only clear space in the room was the stone-and-ivory throne, presently empty, though there was a very small goblin sitting on the back.
It had probably been beautiful, once. She imagined the stained dark stone clean and polished, imagined the little alcoves gilded with gold, perhaps lit with candles, and thick cloth hangings at the windows and doors. Delicate mosaic-work between the alcoves, perhaps, or frescoes, depicting scenes from myth, or from the Kingdom. Tapestry wouldn't fit. She remembered photographs she'd seen of the interior of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France. Once the court-in-exile of the center of Western Christianity; now empty, the decorations faded and destroyed, the frescoes lost, the massive stone walls bare, a sharp contrast to the magnificence of St. Peter's in Rome. This room was smaller, but under the filth it had something of that same lost glory.
She was distracted out of her musings by the feeling of a little hand tugging on her pant leg. Looking down, she saw a goblin the size of a two-year-old looking at her out of mournful eyes that took up nearly half his head. "Yes?"
"Are you going to make the monster throw rocks at us again?"
She pondered this a moment. "Only if you do something to deserve it," she replied, half laugh, half haughty promise. The goblin looked like he didn't know whether to run away in terror or ask what he had to do in order to earn such a blessing. "I'm Sarah. What's your name?"
"What do people call you?" They didn't have names?
"The first one who sits next to the throne and holds a chicken." Hm. Well that went some way to explaining what they had called her.
"And you?" She looked at the goblin next to him.
"The one who polishes the king's boots." He gave her a brilliant smile and waved what looked like a rather dirty rag.
This was going nowhere. "Okay then. Well, I'm going to get going, if you all don't mind."
Just as she was about to step through the doors into the main hall, another little hand stopped her. The goblin put his hands threateningly on his waist and said, "You gonna beat the king again?" The overall impression was of a four-year-old who'd caught you doing something adults could do, but he couldn't, and was mortally offended.
"Not unless he deserves it."
As she stepped through the doorway and moved towards the main gates of the castle, the room behind her broke into murmurs once more. She wasn't particularly trying to listen, but one comment in particular stood out: "Girl sounds like the king."
That evening, she still hadn't seen Jareth all day, but his door was open. The Goblin City had been interesting, but she hadn't had time to see much before the sun had started to set, her cue to return upstairs. She'd gotten what she wanted from today, anyhow.
Some time after she arrived, he emerged from his room, and she had a sudden flash of insight: he'd been in the very top of the tower.
"What's up there, above your room?" He hid surprise quickly behind suspicion, but she'd caught it.
"How do you know of anything above here?"
"I did some exploring today. Found my way into another sections of the castle, as well as down into the City. I could see our balconies from the end of a hall of many rooms, and I could see that there's another open window, above yours. It almost looks like a bell tower."
"There is no bell. But if you passed through my Throne Room, that does explain one thing. Tell me, Sarah, why have my goblins taken to calling you 'the scary girl who sounds like the king?'"
"Have they?" She couldn't tell if he was amused or angry. "Possibly because I, ahh… I threatened to have Ludo call the rocks on them again." She wouldn't mention what she'd said about him.
"And what, pray, did they do to deserve such treatment?" He'd gotten control of himself; his even voice and raised eyebrow were all cold courtesy.
"They asked if I was planning to. I said I would if they deserved it." He relaxed a little, and she laughed. "Honestly it almost looked like they were looking forward to the prospect."
"They may have been. They like it when I fling them about."
"You throw them?"
"Sometimes. Other times I kick." He was grinning, now, bad mood forgotten.
"Jareth, that's terrible!"
He shrugged. "Only if they dislike it. You will see. They laugh. Some of them beg." His voice softened as she continued to glare. "I speak the truth, Sarah. Goblins are virtually indestructible, and they delight in proving it."
Whatever. "So what do you do, up there in your eyrie?"
She caught a flash of annoyance again, perhaps because he hadn't distracted her? But he responded merely, "My eyrie? I am no raptor, Sarah."
"I know, but I thought it sounded better than 'Owlery.'"
"It does, at that." He tilted his head, looking at her with curiosity. "Why do you persist in naming everything? It seems to be a human trait."
"Why don't you give things names?"
"Things do not need names, unless they are things or places of power."
"But without names, how can you have a conversation? It's far easier for me to say, for example, 'the worm's door,' than it is to say 'the third door if you turn right from the front gate,' or whatever it is, or even 'the door I used.'"
"Ah," he said, and focused on her new query, annoyance forgotten. "That one has a name already, because it is a place of power."
"It does?" Strange to think that she'd found it on her first journey. "What is it?"
"The Door to the Shortest Path," he said, and laughed as her jaw fell open. "You never figured it out? You chose to go right. If you had chosen to go left, and more importantly, continued to choose left at any subsequent turnings, of which there are only a handful, you would have arrived at the Castle in just under an hour. You would have arrived in the dungeons, which are a labyrinth all to themselves, but you would have been in the Castle."
"But... but..." For a moment, shock held her tongue. "But I started to go left, and the worm said, 'Don't go that way!'"
"Did you see the worm when he said that?" She shook her head. "Worms lack hands, Sarah, but he was pointing. He even did it again when you watched him. When he said, 'Don't go that way,' he was indicating the right-hand passage."
One part of Sarah's brain registered that he must have watched her whole journey in detail, but that was for another time. "He told me he didn't know how to get through the Labyrinth! Why that lying... and to think I was grateful!" Decade-old frustration struggled to surface.
"No, Sarah, he did not lie to you. Do you remember exactly what you asked of him?"
"If he knew the way through the Labyrinth."
"You did not ask if he knew the way to the Castle."
"And... they aren't the same thing, are they?" Her shoulders slumped. Suddenly she remembered a remark of Hoggle's that had never made much sense. "'Even if you get to the center, you'll never get out again.'"
"What was that, my dear?"
"Something Hoggle told me, that first time I spoke to him, outside the doors." She frowned thoughtfully. "I always thought he was just wrong, because I got out when I won and you had to let us go. Is it that hard to solve the Labyrinth in reverse?"
"Indeed. It is far more difficult to travel from the Goblin City to the edge. One reason for this is that the edge is not a visible landmark. Simply walking away from the Castle is insufficient."
"So the worm knew the way to the Castle, but not how to get out the other side?"
She had more questions about the worm, but something else had now taken precedence. "Jareth... you said I could visit Hoggle once I was able to leave the Castle, but he lives outside the gates. So are you telling me now that it can't be done?"
"Not at all, my dear. I said it was more difficult, not that it could not be done." He shrugged. "Of course, if you prefer not to waste the energy on that little scab, I cannot blame you."
"Can I follow the Shortest Path out of the Castle?"
"You could, if you could navigate the Dungeons, but as I said, they are another puzzle entirely, and quite dangerous and unpleasant. In addition, the path does not appear as obvious in reverse. Better to enjoy the sunshine as you choose an easier path."
She wasn't ready to give up just yet. "Is there a truly quick way to reach the main part of the Castle safely? Is there any way that the Shortest Path doesn't lead to the dungeons?"
"There is always a way. You must simply make the Right Turn."
"You said turning left all the way was the way!" She hesitated. "Or do you mean the correct turn? Is there a difference?"
"Pay attention, Sarah," he said, somewhat sharply. "I said that turning left all the way was the very quickest and that it would land you in the dungeons."
"So turning another way—presumably right—at some other point is not as fast as turning left, but it lands you somewhere safer?"
"I have given all the hints I will give, my dear." He lounged back in his chair, folding his hands under his chin. "Be honest with yourself: you wouldn't like it if I just told you all the answers."
She resisted the urge to pout like a child, even though he was right, and instead made the decision to once again turn in early. When she asked her customary question, he answered, "More time."
Chapter 11: Enigma
Sarah was up early the morning of that long day. The Labyrinth, finally. She'd wanted to get closer to the great maze almost from the moment she'd arrived. Even her initial anger with Jareth, upon arrival, couldn't change the fact that it was fascinating in itself, and now she could explore it without terrifying time constraints or consequences. She could learn every facet, if she wished. Jareth had goaded her yesterday that it was harder to get out than to get in, but she was a Champion, his only Champion, and she'd already found the way out of the Castle faster than he'd thought she could. She could find her way through the Labyrinth as well.
Even if you get to the center, you'll never get out again. Wait. That could be an important thought. The first time he'd brought her to the Underground, he'd brought her to the edge of the Labyrinth, and she'd won by making it to the center. After she'd made it to the center, he had sent her home. The second time he'd brought her to the Castle, the center, and he couldn't send her home until she did something, but she didn't know what. Could it be that he couldn't send her home until she found a way out? It hadn't been her first thought, but as she turned the idea over in her mind, it became increasingly attractive. The idea had a certain elegant symmetry that she had to admire. The kind of symmetry found in fairy stories. Get out again, and go home.
And she did want to go home. Despite the fact that she'd been getting along with Jareth in the past days, even enjoying his company, she still didn't feel safe. Above was better, Above was familiar; Above, she had choices. She didn't want to stop seeing him, she just didn't want to feel forced. He had to see the sense in that.
Hoggle and Jareth both had been convinced she'd fail, her first time, and she'd shown them. Jareth hadn't quite said that he didn't think she could get back out again, last night, but he'd certainly implied that she'd have difficulty doing it. She'd show him. She'd find a way out, and the faster the better, and when that let him send her home, she'd win that battle too.
She wasn't a Champion for nothing, after all.
Three long days in a row. Such luck! And tomorrow would be another one, even longer. Three long days of exploring. Jareth had come for her at the end of each day, to return her to her tower room, but he'd been rather preoccupied. The past two nights, he had retreated almost immediately to his bedroom, or maybe upstairs, but she didn't mind. Last night she'd been too busy watching the Labyrinth in the moonlight to ask him her question. The previous night he'd said something unimportant, trivial. The Labyrinth was far more interesting than Jareth anyway. Each day she'd managed to make it back, quickly, to where she'd left off the day before, leaving the rest of the day for finding new passages to explore, new challenges to realize, new puzzles to solve. It didn't matter that she'd done it the easy way—edge to center—in only ten hours; she now knew that getting zipped over to the Bog had significantly helped with that quest. There was still the challenge of getting out, and if four days wasn't enough, she'd be content with five. If she could get out, she'd know all the answers. Best puzzle of her life. Just now, she was considering three paths which appeared identical at first glance. However, there had to be a clue to tell her which to take, something to give a hint. There always was, at the major turnings, if you knew where to look.
"Sarah." His quiet voice was just beside her. Oh, excellent. Jareth was here and the sun was still high in the sky. Maybe a clue? What could he give her? A new puzzle? "How are you enjoying my Labyrinth?"
"It's fascinating." Grinning with pleasure and challenge, she glanced up at him, expecting his answering smile, but instead he was frowning, almost angry. He closed the distance between them with quick strides, backing her against the nearby wall. "What's wrong?"
"That was not the answer you should have given."
"What?" It must be the right answer; it was the truth, which he insisted on, so there couldn't be another answer. She looked away again, towards the three paths. Were they slightly different colors, or was that just a trick of the light?
"Sarah." He gripped her chin, forcing her to look at him. He was leaning over her, almost menacing, one arm on the wall above her head. Should she remember something about this? "How are you enjoying my Labyrinth?" The repeated question was almost a hiss.
"I'd be enjoying it much better if you'd let me get back to it." She pushed at his shoulder, impatient. The three paths were so inviting, so similar, but there had to be one hint, one that would tell her which to choose, one to make everything clear. Color had indeed been a trick of light, now that she looked again, but… there were fifteen stones across the opening of the first path, and fifteen again across the opening of the second. The third had only thirteen. Gotcha. She ducked under Jareth's arm, intent on her goal, but he grabbed her roughly by the hand, spinning her back into his chest and wrapping both arms around her. "Hey! Jareth, that's the right way!"
"That is immaterial." He held her firmly, then slowly swept a glare around the passageway. "Show yourselves," he growled when his scan was complete, and she somehow understood that he wasn't talking to her.
"Solved the puzzle, Majesty!" The creature clinging to her leg looked like a bundle of grey vines, twisted and formed together in the shape of a child. Its cunning blue eyes glinted at her from under a tangle of wild green-grey hair, and it smiled with pointed teeth. Sarah cocked her head, watching it. It hadn't been there a minute ago... had it? No, it had. She remembered now. Little grey hands, zipping her along the paths she'd solved, spurring her on towards new questions, teasing out the answer at each important turn. She should thank it.
"Always solves our puzzles, he does," grumbled another of the creatures, clinging to her other leg.
"Can't outpuzzle the puzzler! Give a king the credit due." The third little creature danced around their feet, laughing.
"Enigma Sprites," Jareth growled. "Why have you chosen this girl?"
"Such a love of puzzles, Majesty!"
"Give us a puzzle, Majesty?" One of the sprites detached from her leg and wrapped its hands around Jareth's boot.
"Gave us a pretty puzzler already. Won't she dance with light feet!" The dancing sprite leapt into the air, clicking his heels.
"Get through the Labyrinth! There's a puzzle."
"There's her puzzle."
"Puzzles and tricks and outwitting the King."
"How long?" She knew Jareth was upset about something. What was he upset about? What had the little creatures done? They'd just kept her company and helped her remember the parts she'd solved already. All she wanted to do was find the way out. She had to find the way out. The way out was the answer to the riddle, the solution to the puzzle. She had to solve the puzzle. Get through the Labyrinth. One step at a time. Each choice as it comes. Everything becomes clear. That path was lined with thirteen stones.
"Three times the hot sun blinds us."
"Less the time of sleeping darkness."
"One of us for each bright day!"
"You have been with her all three days? But you hid, in the evenings when I came." Why was he shaking her?
"Can't take away the puzzle girl."
"A new friend will make us four."
"Tomorrow's another long day."
"Sarah." He gripped her shoulders tightly, but she was beyond protesting. The wall mosaic was enticing, a little maze all its own. If he would just let her think for a moment she'd work it out and look at him again. "Sarah!" Her eyes tore from the wall as her head turned and her cheek blazed with fire. He'd hit her. He'd hit her!
"What the hell was that for?" she hissed. How dare he? It hurt and worse, she'd lost her place in the maze.
"I am trying to wake you up," he returned with matching anger. "We are going back to the Castle now, and your friends will be staying here." They were back at her door that next instant.
Eyes wild with fury, she flung up her hands, breaking his grip. "You hit me and I was going to solve it and I still had more than half a day! Why did you take me away?"
"Why are you more angry with me for bringing you back than you are for the slap?" A question. A puzzle. She knew the answer.
"A slap hurts for a time. You didn't even hit me that hard. It's already fading. Solving a puzzle lasts forever and you took that away from me. When I go back tomorrow it will have changed, and I'll never know today's answer." She pushed open the door to her room, intending to slam it in his face, but he was faster; he caught the door and followed her in, catching her close when she moved towards the bedroom to try again to flee.
"I can feel them on you," he murmured against her temple. "Forgive me, Sarah. I have left you too much alone, these three days." One arm held her firmly by the waist; his other hand stroked her hand, her arm, her shoulder, her head. She counted the strokes and tried to guess when he'd move. "Here, let me―" and he caressed her cheek, the one he'd struck; it tingled briefly and the slight pain that had lingered faded away. She closed her eyes as cool lips brushed her forehead; he felt nice, comfortable, solid. Foundational. "Come back to me, Sarah. Let the puzzles go. You are more than an analyst."
"You can make a person do anything if you know how they tick. People are fantastic puzzles."
"Are they only puzzles, Sarah?" She frowned at him. "Are you only a puzzle? Is Toby?"
Toby... Toby, running away as she chased him in the park, sitting in her lap and begging for a story, smiling at her as he showed her the story he wrote for school, one of his own, not one of hers. The baby in the red-and-white striped pajamas cuddled with Lancelot, the toddler with beautiful gold curls cuddled in her lap to watch Sesame Street, the kid laughing as he finally kept his bike up without training wheels, something she'd tried to teach him all summer break. Toby crying and holding her when she left for college, then giving her that "I'm a grown-up" stiff upper lip when she'd moved away for graduate school. Toby the preteen, who was starting to notice girls but too embarrassed to admit it.
Toby. When was the last time he'd crossed her mind? She'd written about him to Jareth, at one point; was that really the last time she'd thought of him? But then again, she didn't see him every day; she loved him, but he was a child.
But she loved him. He was more than just a puzzle to solve. A puzzle was worked out and then discarded in favor of new amusements. She couldn't give up Toby like that. Knowing how to get him to eat his vegetables wasn't good enough. He was the only blood relative she'd really want to choose as family.
She was crying, she realized suddenly. She was crying, and Jareth was soothing her, and he'd sat down with her on the chaise, holding her tightly in his lap as she sobbed into his shoulder. She'd been so focused on the goal of solving the puzzle that she hadn't thought of anything else for days. Walking the Labyrinth, figuring out its twists, solving it in reverse; that was all she'd had, no thought for Jareth or her friends or herself since that first day. Just the questions and the answers, and the three little grey children who posed her questions and hinted at answers and helped her remember. But he was right. She was more than an analyst.
Jareth was speaking, and—was he trembling? With effort, she focused on his words.
"It had not occurred to me that you would require assistance―that you would require warning―you did so well, last time―but you had a better goal―and I have been preoccupied―and perhaps I challenged you overmuch―perhaps I pushed you towards this end―I did not think so few days would work such change―but the spans of Men are different and opinions change on a whim―but still I cannot send you away―nor do I―"
"Jareth." Her voice was weak, breathy, but she had to speak. He sounded so―so lost―and she could comfort. "I think I can focus a little better now." He quieted, looking down at her. "At least, I'm not trying to work a pattern into the number of times you stroke my arm or how many fingers you use. What happened, there? What were those things? Where did I go?"
He shifted slightly, adjusting her so that she sat with her legs across his lap, rather than directly on his thighs, and took a few deep breaths. She leaned back into the arm of the chaise and looked up at him. "Sarah," he began, his voice slightly steadier, "do you remember what I told you before, about how the Underground changes you?"
"Not exactly. You said it was a matter of... exposure and preference?"
"Indeed. There are two factors at work. One is your own natural inclinations. You will tend to focus on one particular natural inclination, one that catches your fancy, and you will tend to move towards those who are like you in that way."
"Homophily? That makes sense." The word didn't quite fit―if nothing else homo wasn't quite accurate―but the concept was close enough. "What's the other?"
"Magic." She rolled her eyes, and he smiled a little and went on. "Everyone of the Underground has an innate magical aura, which physically affects those nearby. Because in the Underground form follows personality, you might think of it as the physical manifestation of what you called 'homophily.'"
"So you actually start to look like the thing you're acting like?"
"But I'm not all…" she paused, looking at her outstretched arms. "Grey and twiggy. What were those things, anyway?"
"Enigma sprites," he answered. "And no, you wouldn't be, not yet—to put it roughly, form follows function."
"The mental changes happen first." He nodded. "So earlier… the Enigma Sprites… they were attracted to me because I wanted to figure out the Labyrinth?"
"They are attracted to puzzles of any kind. Mazes, riddles, wordplay, anything of the kind. They also have excellent memories and do not forget a puzzle once solved. That is how they could lead you through the Labyrinth once you had figured out the trick to a particular small section. With them around, you could access the same ability."
"I just wanted to understand everything. Part of me still does."
"You probably always will, in part. It is part of your personality, Sarah; was it not a quest to understand yourself and others which led you to your chosen career?" She said nothing, only nodded, and ducked her head, cuddling into his shoulder. Somehow that felt safer, now that he'd been touching her, even though they hadn't been this close since the kiss. His shirt was silk; so soft. Focusing on the texture was easier than having complicated thoughts.
"So what happens now?" It wasn't the question she wanted to ask.
He gave a short little laugh, leaning down to lay his cheek on the top of her head. "You will not shrink down and turn grey, if that is what you are asking." She closed her eyes and pressed closer. "You might have, had I not found you today." He was stroking her arm again. "I should have watched more closely. I even pressed you towards the Labyrinth; I thought the challenge would keep you more you. I could see it was part of you, the need to solve, to comprehend." His hand came up to caress her cheek, her forehead; his fingers tangled in the hair at her temple, then pushed it back, behind her ear. "But I have been too busy, these past two days, and I missed the signs."
"I meant, more, what do I do?"
"It would be best for you to stay with me for the next few days. My presence will..."
"Clear up any remaining inclination to go all twiggy?" The attempt at humor fell flat; she shuddered instead of laughing, and he held her closer.
"Yes." His hand was still tangled in her hair, cradling the back of her skull. Gently, he tilted her head, raising her face to his, their foreheads touching. Her eyes could focus on his, just barely. "I almost lost you." He said it so quietly, she wasn't sure she'd heard.
"Sssh." She could feel his breath on her lips as he brought her closer, the tips of their noses just touching. Her heart was pounding; it took every ounce of will to keep her breathing even. She knew where he was going with this, knew as his hand tightened slightly on her head, as her lips tingled with the memory of their kiss by the moonlit lake. It would be so easy to give in and let him kiss her. It would take some of the questions away. It would leave others in their wake.
"No," she said, gently. She brought her hand to cup his face, laying her thumb across his lips. "Not until I know..." Deep breath. "I remember the last time." She turned her head away; he let the hand in her hair fall free. He was silent for a long time. She couldn't move.
"Why were you trying so desperately to solve the Labyrinth?" he asked, finally. "I had thought you would be more content to wander a while, to understand slowly and completely rather than fixating on the ultimate solution." He sounded tired.
"I thought that if I got out, you'd be able to send me home." Slowly, she raised her head to look at him. He wore caution like a mask, closing away his thoughts, and she leaned away from him again, though her knees still rested across his lap.
"It has a certain symmetry," he allowed.
"That's what I thought."
He shook his head. "But I do not think it would have helped. You may try again, if you wish, but I do not think that is the answer."
"I'm not sure I should be in the Labyrinth."
"Sarah, you cannot spend the rest of your stay—possibly the rest of your life—cooped up in the Castle. Even the next five years would drive you insane." The arm behind her back lifted; when he released her, she swung her legs out of his lap. He moved across to his usual chair. "However, you should wait some days. After tomorrow the next four will be short."
"I knew tomorrow would be long."
"There is one more thing we should discuss, related to your adjustment, that I had hoped to avoid." Did he look nervous, suddenly? "Do you understand why the Sprites were holding on to you?"
"I hadn't really thought about it." She looked aside, a moment, thoughtfully, and he waited patiently. "Is it because the—magical aura—is strengthened through touch? Stronger than just being in the same room, or walking together?"
"Yes. And Sarah, they have been holding on to you that way for two and a half days. The rest of the time you have been nearly always alone. Without your own aura, being alone is not truly safe either; while you will not be as strongly affected as you were by their presence, still the magic calls to the dominant parts of your nature." He took a deep breath, as though steeling himself. "Sarah, it would be best—safest—for you, coming back to yourself, if you would permit me to share your bed for the next few nights, and any other night after you have walked the Labyrinth alone, especially if any of my subjects touch you."
"Jareth—I—what?" She'd just turned down a kiss, did he really think—
"Ah—no—that is not exactly—just to sleep, Sarah. I mean no impropriety."
"Give me a moment." He nodded, and sat back.
Hoggle had told her to do what Jareth said. Jareth didn't lie. The bed was huge. She didn't want to grow vines. She didn't want to lose herself. If it was too much, she could find ways to be with him during the day, forgo the Labyrinth for a little while. Much as she wanted to fight it, the part of her mind that was afraid was forced to agree with the part that still wanted to turn every conversation into a logic puzzle. So much for sleeping in the nude.
Her last hesitation had been that she did not want to completely give up her own privacy, but as it transpired, the mechanics of the thing were simple, thanks to the design of the tower. Jareth had hesitated, until she told him that she'd pretty much worked out that her rooms would have belonged to the Goblin Queen, and that she understood and would rather be there than in the guest wing she'd found. The lack of argument or offense seemed to surprise him, at first, but her logical side had firm control and in the end he seemed equally glad not to fight. Instead, he led her to the locked door in her bedchamber, took her hand in his, and touched them both to the door.
"Open for both inhabitants of the tower," he ordered, and the door obeyed. He ushered her through the opening, into a narrow spiral stair that reached up into the tower, and closed the door behind them. "Sarah, this is the King's Stair. I am sure you can guess its intended use."
"Private communication between the rooms of the King and Queen; of course." He was being so careful, it was almost amusing.
"Precisely. Now: previously the door was closed to both of us, but now that we have opened it, it will respond to me. However, you may set conditions that dictate how and when I may enter. Simply lay your hand on the wood and speak them."
She could impose heavy restrictions. She could say that he had to be confident that she needed him near to keep control, she could say that even then he needed permission, she could ask anything; he hadn't made any restrictions. But in the end, she laid her hand against the wood and said, "To open this door, King Jareth must knock, and then wait fifteen seconds. Unless I have responded to the knock asking that he not enter, he may then do so."
"I can choose to be suspicious of your every move, or I can choose to trust you. You were genuinely concerned for me earlier, and though I still object to the way you brought me here, you have been nothing but generous ever since. And honestly, paranoia is confusing and exhausting. So, I choose trust you, again. All I want is a choice when I'm awake. Otherwise, I simply ask that you not take advantage."
"Thank you, Sarah."
He'd gone up to finish something; she looked at the sleepwear choices and found pants and a camisole, then a loose, short-sleeved top. She had settled down and dimmed the lights when he knocked, and after the designated pause, the King's Door opened. He, too, was dressed, for which she was happy—she was confused enough without dealing with half-naked Jareth—though bare arms and hands were still a surprise.
He laid down without speaking, on the far side of the bed. A gentleman, as he'd promised. Feeling suddenly that she should do something more, she reached out and clasped his hand. In the darkness of the bedroom, the gesture was easier to make than it would have been in the light, and it felt somehow both impersonal and intimate.
"Jareth?" He squeezed her hand. "What do you want?"
"I want you safe."
I'd be safe back Above. The thought was loud in her mind, but she didn't voice it.
A big bed wasn't worth a damn, Sarah discovered the next morning. The King of the Goblins was a cuddler. She shifted slightly, squirming farther onto her side, trying to escape, but his arm tightened and drew her back against him; he pulled her back against his chest and trapped her legs with his.
She sighed and rolled her eyes at this new contact. The King of the Goblins was a cuddler… and had morning wood. You'd better really be asleep, Jareth.
She did her best to relax; maybe if she didn't fight, he would relax too, or roll over. In addition, too much squirming wasn't likely to help his little—or, well, maybe not so little—problem, and it might wake him up, something she'd rather avoid so long as their position was so compromising. No matter what, she wasn't going anywhere until he let go. An excellent metaphor for her life at the moment, come to think of it.
Jareth didn't think that getting out of the Labyrinth would free her. While she wasn't sure he was right about that, it did mean that focusing on her first theory—that it had to do with Jareth himself, or perhaps both herself and Jareth—might be a better use of time. It had been a while now—it still bothered her that she couldn't say how long—and they had spent quite a bit of time in each other's company. What more did she know about him than she'd known the night they kissed?
He was quieter than she'd suspected; a legacy, perhaps, of how long he'd been alone, or mostly alone anyway. Some nights they would sit all night and not speak more than a hundred words, a brief conversation and a brief response. "Why didn't I pass out when you brought me here to run the Labyrinth?" "The Labyrinth brought you, not my personal magic. In a way, you brought yourself, through your desire to come." Other nights he was talkative, and entertained her with stories of the Underground and the people who lived in it—or, in many cases, the people who had lived in it. Peer Gynt's trolls, he had explained, had been those of his kind with less will to resist the change of the Underground, so that while they never diminished into one form alone, their outward form changed continually with their mood: fair when pleased or generous; foul when angered or devious or cruel.
Perhaps it was something of the same part of his personality, but he rarely gave simple answers when he could give complex ones, especially not about himself personally—on facts about the Labyrinth or a particular myth, he was far more likely to be immediately forthcoming. It had started at their first date and continued even now. Sarah found she didn't mind this so much; it kept her on her toes, and with practice, she was getting better at discerning his meaning, and also at answering in kind. Answering in kind would either make him laugh, which was pleasant, or it would make him angry, generally if he wanted her to be forthright and she was being evasive. She liked making him angry that way; it felt like winning. Also, he was far more likely to give direct answers when so confounded. He won most of those matches, it was true, but she had hope that she'd keep up over the long term.
He was selfish, there was no way to deny that. Or perhaps "narcissistic" was a better word, or egotistical, or…? She thought back, trying to remember what she'd learned about narcissistic personality disorder back in school. He was certainly self-important, believed he was quite unique, was not generally empathetic, generally was quite arrogant, believed he was always right, and expected that everyone would treat him as above themselves as a matter of course. She couldn't forget how dismissive he'd been of Ludo: "The beast is neither intelligent nor useful." Then again, he'd been here in the Labyrinth, surrounded by fragments of people, for who knew how long; she hadn't quite found it in her to ask. He genuinely believed himself to be the last of his kind, and she had no reason to doubt him. There was absolutely no question that he was brilliant: while she knew she was intelligent, she had no doubt that he could run circles around her intellectually, not to mention that centuries had given him far more time to educate himself. And he was King—he was in charge and had every right to expect that others would bow to him. In other words, could you really call it narcissism if it was true?
It didn't matter, she decided finally. As long as he didn't expect her to treat him with any more respect than he'd earned, she could live with his selfishness. With her he had been generous, empathetic, giving, and gentle far more often than he had been cold or angry, and he had never been angry without provocation. With centuries, could she grow to be his equal? She couldn't say "yes" without a doubt, but she rather thought she would, and she wouldn't let him play the narcissist with her. He would see her strengths as complements to his, or she wouldn't have him. Well, there was one thing to figure out: could he do that? He seemed to have done so, so far, so call it a tentative "yes."
He shifted again, turning her slightly; his hips rubbed against her, sending a tingle through her skin, and his head dropped. His breath on her ear made her shiver, and she tilted her head away. Yes, she was attracted to him; she had been at fifteen, even, though she'd been too young to put the name "lust" to her reactions. And while she refused to be ruled by her body, it was slightly harder to remember why she hadn't let him kiss her when she had still ended the night—or at least the morning—cuddled in his arms, albeit with a lot more cloth between them than a kiss might have led to. Down, girl, she thought firmly. Remember, he thought one kiss was happily ever after. If you give yourself to him, he's going to think you want to stay. Don't break his heart like that. Besides, he'll probably be just like all the others. She sighed, forcing herself to remember how often she'd been attracted to a man only to be disappointed in the bedroom. Even Ben hadn't been that great; after two years, he still hadn't done much for her, though he'd been the best she'd had. She recognized orgasm, of course; she could get herself off well enough. But every time she read about mind-blowing sex in Cosmo or a romance novel, she knew that either she was sleeping with the wrong men, there was something wrong with her, or people only wrote that sort of thing because they wished sex was that awesome. Not that it was bad—she'd rarely regretted it—but she'd never passed out from bliss, either. She couldn't rule out the first option, but she was inclined to believe it was one of the latter two, and for the sake of her own ego, she preferred the third. She was quite practiced at ignoring the niggling suspicion that if mind-blowing sex didn't exist, no one would write about it.
What had Hoggle said about him? Ye can't forget he's also impulsive, devious, powerful, and driven, and he hates to lose. Hoggle was probably the closest thing to a "worst enemy" Jareth had in the Labyrinth: though he wasn't as complete as herself or Jareth, he was intelligent enough to see the good and bad in people, and adequately identify his own strengths and weaknesses. If that was the worst he could say of Jareth, well, what did that tell her? Impulsive; he'd brought her back without asking, on the strength of a kiss. Devious; she hadn't seen much of this since coming back, though she had on their first run. Powerful; there was no denying that. She remembered the erotic thrill she'd felt watching him Goblin King at Peer Gynt; being near that power was not a problem. Being its object might be, but so far, he appeared pleased to treat her as an equal. Driven; what did Hoggle mean by that? That he did what he needed to do to get what he wanted? That wasn't really a bad quality in a King, either. Hates to lose; now how did that apply? She'd beaten Jareth, and he didn't hate her—had never indicated that he hated her—in fact if anything the opposite—the King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl—just a story—but he doesn't hate me. Still the suggestion was there. Had he wanted her back for revenge? Because she'd beaten him the first time? She might have suspected so, before returning to the Labyrinth, but there was too much else that had passed between them since, culminating in his very real fear for her yesterday. If all he wanted was power over her, tricking her into becoming merely another inhabitant of the Labyrinth was an obvious way to go, and he didn't want that.
There was the way he treated Hoggle himself—a mix of intimidation and blatant dislike, leaving aside the jealousy over Sarah herself—but Hoggle didn't like him either, and both of them had indicated that it was a very old conflict. And, they'd both had positive things to say about the other. What had Jareth said at the concert? In his own way, he is quite committed to the Underground. One catches more flies with honey—Hoggle could be a valuable ally for Jareth instead of a reluctant subject, with some investment—but that battle could wait. In the meantime, if they wanted to dislike each other, she couldn't hold it against either of them.
In the end, Hoggle's negatives didn't seem so bad, either. Most of them didn't apply to the way he treated her, either. He could change—he could begin to behave that way—but until he did she was left with a man she didn't have a reason to dislike.
Could she make a decision based on "don't dislike" and physical attraction? Above, she might have... not a "forever" sort of decision, but dates? kisses? more? It was possible, if he pursued her. But down here... she wasn't making a decision to date and see where it led her. If things didn't work between them, she might not be able to get away, and any of the negatives she'd thought of could come back to haunt her.
Jareth shifted again, and it felt intentional; his leg released hers as he stretched, and he pressed his face into her hair. "Good morning, Sarah," he said, with quiet warmth, and then she shivered as a gust of air replaced him at her back; he had disappeared without even getting out of bed. For a moment, she was simply stunned; as she turned to look at the place he'd so recently occupied, she didn't know whether to feel grateful or irritated at his departure. On the one hand, she didn't have to face him in an awkward position; on the other, she had been consciously enduring said position quite a bit longer and he shouldn't be able to escape so easily.
Well, no point in staying in bed. As she rose and dressed, she returned to the question she'd been considering before his waking had disturbed her. She had no reason to think poorly of him, but did she have any reason to think well? Had he done anything praiseworthy that did not relate to her personally? Hoggle had said something else: at least he's still here. She tried to think back, to the letter he'd written her about the Underground and its relations to Above. The last to keep the dream alive. And the dreams of men were what—inspiration? Without the Underground, without Magic, without me, mortal dreams will diminish. What did that mean? Did it mean no new art, or did it go farther?
And why was Jareth the one who had stayed? How long had he been here, alone?
This was all too big to keep in her head. In a moment of inspiration, she opened the top drawer of the desk in the sitting room. Inside, as she had hoped, lay a flat journal similar to Jareth's ledgers, and a set of pens much like the ones he regularly conjured. Fountain pens, she found, removing the cap to examine the pointed metal nib. She pressed it very lightly to her finger, observing the way the ink flowed and pooled in the grooves on the surface, then, from the light point of contact, flowed onto her finger, slowly filling the contours in her fingerprint. The little twists and curves filled with black, and she turned and gently pressed her finger onto the blank page. Twists and curves, starts and stops. Almost like the twists and turns of—
"Sarah!" Jareth was there, suddenly—though the door was closed—and he yanked the book from her grasp. He glanced at the page and then back at her, quickly, and she knew he understood.
"I'm sorry," she said, looking down. "I got distracted."
"Apologies are unnecessary, my dear. It is quite natural; you were with the Enigma sprites for more than two days. It will be a few days before you readjust. In the meantime, I will stop you if you are too irrational."
She nodded. "How did you get in?"
"I knocked here, first, but when you failed to answer, I went around by the King's Stair."
Another time, that might have irritated her, but she knew he'd honestly helped her. "Thank you."
He nodded. "What were you doing?"
"I wanted to write down some thoughts… fix them in place, as it were, so I can consider them better." She saw him frown, and went on, "Just a few things… more can wait. I know you said not to be overly-analytical today, but I really need to get this out while it's fresh. It's not some trivial puzzle, it's important."
He considered her carefully. "Very well. I must go down to the Throne Room. I will return for you by midday if you have not joined me by then." She rose and opened the door for him, and he paused at the threshold, turning to her with a winning smile. He raised a cautioning finger, and tapped her nose. "Try not to think too hard."
Try not to think too hard. She laughed; he had no idea how difficult a directive that was proving, but at least, she'd done her best not to think too much more. It had taken her some time to get the hang of the pen; she was used to pressing hard, as with a ballpoint, but the fountain pen required an easy gliding motion, hardly touching the page. She'd made a few blotches before she got it right, but once she did, she found she wrote faster for it. She'd written down notes about what she'd been thinking of Jareth, good and bad, that morning, and did her best to reconstruct her previous conversations with him as well. She wrote notes on her conversation with Hoggle, and on various small conversations she and Jareth had shared since her arrival and before. She transcribed from memory as much of his letters as she could recall and estimated that she had perhaps a third of his responses word-perfect and two-thirds at least in summary. She even wrote notes on what she remembered of her time with the Enigma Sprites—she didn't want to forget the parts of the Labyrinth she had come close to understanding. Even if Jareth went out and changed them, it was useful to remember. The Labyrinth's puzzles were often strange, but they did have logic. Finally, she made a list of every answer she could remember to her nightly question. She had nine, in the end: inspiration, an apple, company, a kiss, a good dream, freedom, joy, more time, my safety. No pattern that she could see... or the pattern was too complicated for nine answers to make it out. Nine answers. Had she really been here only nine days? No, yesterday she hadn't asked and the day before she couldn't remember. Add in her first two days, and some number of days working on the Stairs, and where did that leave her? How long…?
"Sarah?" She met Jareth's gaze as he entered.
"How long have I been here?"
"About seven hours. We slept late; we have another nine hours or so of daylight."
"You slept late. I was awake and trapped." He blinked. "But that's now what I meant."
"How many days, Jareth."
"Oh." He seemed momentarily stunned. "How many days Underground, or how many Above?"
She hadn't even thought of that. "Um… both?"
"You have been Below for seventeen days; approximately seven have passed Above."
"That's… less awful than I thought, actually. I mean, I knew it had been at least thirteen days. A week Above, though… that's long enough for my advisor to miss me."
"It can be easy to lose track. As for time Above, please do not be concerned. If you are ever able to leave, I should be able to send you back so that very little time will have been missed."
"You can do that?"
"There are limits to time manipulation; it is not infinite. It is also quite tiring. However, I should be able to provide that much."
"If it's so tiring, why would you bother?"
He blinked at her again. "Sarah, I want you to enjoy your time here. You will not do so if you are concerned about people you have left behind. This time is not infinite, but you have thousands of days here before you will be missed Above." A thoughtful frown replaced his previously open expression. "Now that I consider it, I am surprised it has taken you this long to raise that question."
Guilt crashed down on her like a wave, swamping her good mood and sense of accomplishment. She knew a long time had passed, long enough that someone must have noticed, long enough that they might have called around; her professors, her coworkers, her parents, hell her rent would be due soon, and she hadn't given it a second thought. Until yesterday, and Jareth's prompting, she hadn't even thought of Toby. Even her Underground friends… she hadn't thought to look for them since her first day in the Labyrinth. The goal of finding and seeing them had been completely swamped in the simpler goal of solving puzzles. How had she been so selfish? That wasn't like her at all!
Jareth had moved; he was kneeling in front of her chair, taking her hands in his, holding them securely. "I am sorry, Sarah; do not blame yourself. The Underground can take such things before you are aware."
"I don't want to lose them." Her voice rasped with unshed tears.
"Keep them in your mind," he answered gently, "and you will not." He frowned at the journal she'd begun. "I was concerned about your writing, because I did not want you to regress, but I think that despite your fascination with your fingerprint, this morning, writing this way has actually helped you. This morning when I found you, you were in a puzzle-trance, but when I returned for you just now, you were lost in thought, but not distracted to the point of danger. I had no trouble getting your attention."
"So you're saying I should write more?"
"I had thought to give you intellectual challenges to keep you on your toes, to keep you more yourself, but I believe yesterday showed us that such an approach was flawed. Perhaps keeping a record of time passing would serve better. My subjects are not generally intimately aware of the past; they remember, but attach only vague time concepts to past events."
"Hoggle didn't realize how long it had been, when I spoke to him."
Jareth nodded. "He would not. I remember time very well. I feel each second pass, here and Above; a sense of something just out of reach, a noise at the very edge of hearing."
"That sounds… uncomfortable."
"One becomes accustomed. It is my duty and my curse, but also my privilege. And I believe it is a skill you should work to develop, as you work to maintain what of your time-sense remains to you. However," he stood, drawing her up as well. One hand rose, and brushed away a tear that crept slowly down her cheek. "I believe you have done enough of this for one day. Many hours of light remain to us. I would not yet leave you alone in the Labyrinth, but would you like to see some sections in my company?"
She did her best to push aside her despair; he was correct, she was not completely responsible for her actions, she had not lost anything that could not be regained, and she had a solution now to see that it would be. And she hadn't yet seen Jareth in the Labyrinth. Suddenly, she recalled that the day he'd found her with the Enigma sprites, he might have been attempting just such a thing. How are you enjoying my Labyrinth? She could see the scene with new eyes. It's a piece of cake. Could he even have been flirting with her, and she too lost in simple questions to see?
Well, if she was looking for the good in him, watching him in his Kingdom was one good place to start. Her smile was still weak, but it was genuine. "I'd be delighted."
The chapter title was inspired by a quote by Ben Franklin: "Lost time is never found again."
Her first thought was I am going to die. When she hit the water below with a painful splash, it changed to I am going to kill him. By the time she'd sunk to the bottom of the pool, both thoughts had found a way to coexist: If I don't die, I'm going to kill him, and if I do, I'll haunt him till he kills himself. Murderous inclinations thus organized, she became abruptly aware of the burning in her lungs. She was deep in the water. Unable to stop herself, she sucked in a breath, and the water rushed into her mouth.
He had transported her from the tower to a small dead-end, completely closed in except for a door in one high wall.
"Where are we?"
"Within the Labyrinth." She glared and he grinned. "I have a challenge for you."
She eyed him warily. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"I would not suggest it otherwise. Earlier, you were solving for the sake of solving; now, you will have a goal in mind."
"What goal is that?"
"A challenger who enters the gate quickly and finds their way here with little delay would reach this place with nine hours remaining. The shortest route from the other side to the Castle would take another seven and a half hours to traverse. Therefore, I will give you ninety minutes to solve this portion of the Labyrinth. If you do, I will give you a gift. If you fail, you will give one to me."
"What gift?" This sounded a bit too easy, which meant there had to be a trick.
"Oh, that would spoil the surprise," he said, with a laugh in his voice. "A gift is the choice of the giver. I will choose my gift to you, should you win; you may choose yours to me, should you lose."
"Alright... I accept. Though your terms sound... unusually fair."
He leaned in, placing his hands on the wall and caging her between his arms, his good mood still firmly intact. "So suspicious still, Sarah?"
"Things are not always what they seem in this place."
He laughed. "Oh, indeed not." He vanished, but his voice lingered. "Your time starts... now."
She turned to the door. In the middle of the door was the carved face of an old man with a flowing beard. Arranged about him were a set of small crevices containing a strange collection of objects: a comb, a hairbrush, a mirror, a ring, a long-handled fishing net, and an axe. When she had finished examining the objects, she looked again at the carved man, and noticed that his eyes were open. Unlike the rest of the door, which was ordinary wood, his eyes were a stunning, intelligent blue.
"Hello," she said, tentatively.
"Hello," he sighed, sounding tired. "I suppose you'd be wanting to get in, then?"
"Yes," she answered. "Can you tell me what's on the other side?"
"No," he said. "Not allowed."
"I understand." She hadn't expected that to work. "I have to get through. How do I open the door?"
"You must choose one of these items. When you have chosen, the door will open."
"Ah." She considered her choices. "Which one would you choose?"
"Oh, I do believe I'd choose the ring," he said with relish, leering at her. "But then again, I'm just a door."
So the ring was something sexual? That didn't sound like a great idea, though it might be safer than physical harm. She considered the other items. It was easy to dismiss the comb and brush as useless; she didn't need to look nice in the Labyrinth. That gave her pause—things are not always what they seem—but it was impossible to do anything if you trusted to nothing, so she decided to trust her instincts this time. After a moment, she also discarded the fishing net. She didn't know how to use one.
That left the axe. When she pulled it out of the door, the door opened and intelligent blue eyes watched her with amusement. "Good luck!"
She stepped through the door and paused, looking about in amazement. She had seen many wonderful things in the Labyrinth, but nothing matched this place for beauty. This must be the water maze, she thought, remembering Jareth's words at the concert. Beware water sprites. He'd said they were beautiful, but so too had been the fairy who'd bitten her at the gate.
She had stepped through the wall into a beautiful watery marsh. Tall mangrove trees with spindly roots stretched down into clean white sand. The water was clear as crystal, and she could see that some areas were shallow and others quite deep. She stood on one of the few clear areas, on a small spit of sand that was neither underwater nor covered by trees. Far in the distance, she could see the raised line of one of the Labyrinth's larger walls; the exit would be in that direction, but it could also be left or right of where she stood.
No way out but forward, in any case.
There were two options, she decided quickly. She could use the axe to cut through the tree roots and walk on the sand in the shallow water, or she could swim, where the water was deep. There was no middle ground that she could see; the trees grew in the water until a depth of at least five feet. There was nowhere to walk that was not covered with the thin roots, too tightly grouped to go between and too spindly to bear her weight.
Thinking that walking would be faster, she turned to take her axe to the tree nearest to her, and suddenly found that she couldn't do it. Tiny fish darted about the roots under the water, and vines and flowers and moss grew on the trees and their roots. It seemed wrong to destroy the beautiful trees, and it would be a long, hard, hot journey. That left swimming, but what of the axe? She was unwilling to part with her only weapon, the gift the door had given her. All the gifts had significance, she was sure: the door would have opened for any of them. If there had been a right answer to the door's riddle, a riddle she still didn't understand, that right answer must also depend on the person. In other words, you made the right choice if your choice allowed you to find the way through.
Well, nothing would get done if she just stayed here. She launched herself into the water… and immediately regretted it. The axe dragged down her arms, her shoes filled with water and dragged as well, and her skirt billowed wildly, tangling her legs. This was not going to work.
Floundering, she dragged herself over to a shallow area, gripping the tree roots for stability. Bastard could have told me I'd be swimming. Jerk. She kicked the shoes from her feet; Jareth could replace them. She considered pulling the skirt off as well—it was floor-length and significantly impeded her legs—but she settled for folding the hem into the waistband, effectively shortening it to knee length. It wasn't pretty, but it was functional, and it was clothing. That left the problem of the axe, but she still didn't want to leave it behind. She couldn't carry it in one arm—it was too hard to swim that way—but after a little experimenting she found that she could float on her back and lay it across her chest, and swim that way. Not easy or quick, but she kept her gift.
Thus situated, she set off again in the direction she had been traveling. She made it all of twenty feet before an accidental movement sent the axe tumbling down into the deep water. So much for that plan. She flipped over—at least it would be easier to swim now—and finally made progress, easily navigating the twists and turns of the watery passages. The water was salty, and felt very clean. The shallower, tree-grown regions twisted and wound together something like the walls of the main Labyrinth, but could it really be as simple as working out this maze until she found the opposite door? That could take forever, and she estimated that she had probably used about half an hour of her time. She couldn't swim as fast as she could run.
When she got tired—she guessed it might have been as long as thirty minutes—she stopped to rest, and to think, grasping the roots of the trees in one narrow dead end. Water maze. Where had she heard that before? It reminded her strangely of intro psychology lectures… of course. A Morris water maze was a circular pool with straight sides, too deep for a rat to swim, but with one raised platform that it could climb on and get out of the water, the "exit" as it were. Landmarks on the walls outside the pool provided landmarks the rat could use to place the exit, once found, and once the rat learned where it was, he would go right to it based on the cues on the wall.
So maybe there was something like that here. Landmarks weren't guaranteed, but maybe there was a fast way out, disguised somehow. She pushed off to the side of the canal that let her look up at the wall she was trying to reach. Was there any clue up high? She scanned the high wall, slowly, and far off to the left, she found it: a slight shadow, a slight change in the smoothness of the rock, and if she had guessed the scale correctly, it was just the right size to be either a mistake in the masonry… or a door.
A door in the outer wall, forty feet above her present position.
Well, she wouldn't get closer sitting here. Moving to the left was probably still the best bet, but the dead end was in the way. She turned to push off and resume her swim, but when she turned around, a pair of eyes were watching her from the water just behind.
"Hello?" She did her best not to sound nervous; she didn't know for sure that the sprite would be dangerous. In some stories they were kind.
The sprite lifted out of the water, clinging to the roots next to Sarah. "Hello."
"Can I help you?"
"Actually, I believe I can help you." The little sprite's voice was sweet and breathy. "I believe you dropped something." From below the water, she held up an axe that gleamed gold.
"Umm… thank you, I did drop an axe, but I don't think that was it." She almost had to laugh. An axe made of gold? It was completely impractical, as well as just bizarre.
"Perhaps this one?" She placed the gold axe in the sand under the tree, and produced an axe of silver.
"No. Definitely not." A silver axe? This was like something out of a fairy tale. A little too much like a fairy tale. Was that they key to the door? Did they call out different fairy tales?
"Well, the only other axe I have is this one." And she pulled out the axe from the door, the normal, wood-and-metal, slightly dull axe that Sarah had dropped when she first started swimming.
"Yes, I did drop that one." She accepted it, carefully. "But I have to ask, why did you bring it back to me?"
"I like you," the sprite answered. "You chose to swim rather than chopping at the trees. The trees don't like being chopped at."
"I couldn't chop them either," she confessed. "Say… you wouldn't happen to know how to get out of here, would you?"
"Get out?" The little sprite raised both eyebrows in astonishment. "Why would I want to get out?"
"Oh, I know that you wouldn't, but I can't swim forever, like you can." She smiled at the sprite. "Why would you give my axe back if you don't want me to chop the trees?"
"It's what I do. I return lost things, if the person is honest."
"Well how about this. See that shadow on the wall over there? I need to get over there. If you tell me how to do it, you can keep the axe, and then no one will ever chop the trees again."
"You would leave it with me?"
"Absolutely. I don't need it."
"Then go this way." She reached out and stroked the tree she held, and whispered something Sarah couldn't quite hear. The tree roots shifted, and moved, and opened a corridor leading exactly where she wanted to go. She thanked the sprite and swam away.
The sprite had done her work well. At the end of the corridor of trees, she found a wide, deep pool, and along one edge of the pool, a waterfall splashed down from the tall wall of the Labyrinth. The smudge—or possible door—she'd seen was now overhead, and to the right.
She swam out into the middle of the pool. The start of the path had to be around here somewhere. But the water was so clear—was it invisible? Glass? Hidden? The water was so still. Still. Of course. The path was stable; it wouldn't move. Still water was the enemy.
She kicked her feet purposely above the water, watching for disturbance, and halfway around the pool, she found it, a sliver of something still in a sea of white foam. She stood on it, balanced carefully; it was narrow, a slippery balanced beam. It led straight into the waterfall. Under the base of the waterfall, stairs rose into the wall, and when she stepped behind the curtain of the waterfall, she could see stairs leading up the wall, shallow steps that hadn't been visible from below.
When she reached the top, Jareth was lounging in the shadow of the door.
"You did well," he said. A stopwatch appeared behind him. She had five minutes remaining.
"I win!" It felt good, to win and just be happy with it, no baby to rescue, no confusing offers to sort through.
"Yes, yes, gloat now, you win again." He was smiling as he pulled her close.
"Stop! I'll get you all wet."
"I sent you to the water maze, I knew you would be wet."
"About that—you could have warned me!"
"And spoil the surprise? I think not." He dipped his head; his nose drifted along the line of her neck. She shivered, and knew that even in her head she couldn't blame it on the wind.
"Are you ready for your gift?" The words were whispered into her throat. His hands closed on her waist.
He picked her up and threw her off the cliff.
She took a breath, and swallowed water, and didn't choke. She could breathe the water. She was breathing underwater. She opened her eyes, and the salt didn't sting, and suddenly she was laughing, spinning in place. What a gift! Okay, she wasn't going to kill him. Maybe threaten him, for the scare, but not kill. This was way to cool for murder.
She pushed off towards the surface just as an enormous splash tore through the water and Jareth descended to her level. He met her eyes, then grabbed her hands and pulled her towards the surface.
"You… you asshole!"
"I know you are not truly angry with me."
"You threw me off a cliff!"
"You are in perfect health." He sounded smug, which was annoying, and also sexy, which was doubly so. "How do you like your gift?"
Damn him. She couldn't stay mad, not even when he looked so damn pleased with himself. "It's amazing. Thank you." She swam closer, until they were almost touching.
"You did well, choosing the axe."
"So it was all about the door! What happens if you choose another item?"
"The door isn't the only answer, but the object you choose influences the way the sprite or sprites here react to you initially."
"I left the axe with the sprite in return for her help."
"Always turning my subjects against me." He laughed.
"But here's what I can't figure out—I thought you'd be more upset about losing, but you don't seem to mind at all."
"I did not truly lose, my dear." He met her eyes, drifted closer. "Unlike our previous competition, this time I got something I wanted either way." She opened her mouth, feeling that statement deserved a response, but found she had nothing to say. He watched her for a moment, waiting, but when she said nothing, he changed the subject. "Come. You'll find you can get quite close to the fish."
Following her tour of the fish—it was easier to navigate the mangrove roots if you could get down to the sand—she had taken the time to simply lie on the bottom of the pool, watching the sun dance across the surface of the water and listening to the quiet. Down there, there was truly nothing to hear, aside from the faint whisper of noise from the water falling into the pool. Now, the sun had set, and they sat at the top of the stairs, near the door, watching the stars come out over the Labyrinth.
"I've never been out here at night. It's beautiful."
"It is good to have someone to share it with. I think perhaps, after all this time, I take it for granted far more than I should."
"How long has it been?" He turned to look at her. "Since there was someone else here, with you."
He looked away again, back to the water. "One hundred and fifty mortal years, give or take, since another of my kind visited here. He departed forever not long after. But even before then, companions were not common. We were too far spread. There has never been anyone here… regularly… since I became King."
Nearly twice the lifetime she had expected to live; that was how long he'd been completely alone. And even before then, he'd been lonely. She couldn't imagine the span of time; she couldn't find anything to say, so instead, she slid a little bit closer, and laid her head on his shoulder.
"Look at the water, Sarah." She did as he asked. The stars reflected perfectly in the still water, but that wasn't all. As she watched, small swirls of green light began to appear, first one, then two, then five, then she lost count, each little swirl of bright green flashing and disappearing in an instant. All the water was alive with them, a beautiful, living, changing mirror of the stars above. The show went on and on, and they stayed quiet, just watching, and resting, close together. When he shifted so that his arm supported her back and her head fell further onto his chest, she didn't protest. It felt… good… to be close to him again.
They stayed there for a long time, even after the last little swirl had gone dark, watching the moon rise. Finally, at some private cue, he raised her to her feet and transported them back to the castle.
"Are… are you coming down, tonight?" The light of the corridor made the question harder to ask.
"It would be best."
She nodded. "Alright. I'll see you soon, then." She looked up, met his eyes. "Thank you… for today. I had a great time."
He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "So did I."
The use of the axe here is from the Russian folk story "The Peasant and the Water-Sprite." Anyone care to take a guess at what the other items might be?
The trees in this chapter, if you'd like a visual, are all red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle). For the glowing critters in the water, google the Bermuda Glow Worm or Bermuda Fireworm (Odontosyllis enopla). Not that there would be Bermuda glow worms Underground, but it's the phenomenon I based this on.
Chapter 14: What Was Said
Jareth was gone the next morning when she awoke. She knew it was strange to feel the lack; yesterday she had mostly felt awkward about the situation. Still, this morning she'd almost been expecting to wake up in his arms. Almost... she'd almost been looking forward to it.
Once again, not a helpful thought. Unbidden, her mind went back to yesterday: the intent way he had looked at her when he issued his challenge; his breath on her throat and his hands on her waist, as he offered his gift; the warmth of his shoulder under her cheek when he'd told her how alone he had been; the strength of his arm at her back as they watched the nighttime display.
You're just lonely, she told herself as she dressed for the day and took a muffin from under her cover. It's just that he's the only human—or close enough to human—contact in this crazy place. You should try to see Hoggle again, or find Didymus. Or Ludo—he's good for a hug.
She sat down at her desk and pulled out the journal she'd begun yesterday. Today, she intended to make a list of every question she wanted to ask Jareth, from "Why does the Bog smell?" to "What do you want with me?" Getting him to answer would be the hard part; at least this way she was less likely to forget anything.
Five minutes later, she was staring at the page that said "Why does the Bog smell?" and nothing else. She needed to get out of her room. A change of scene would get her creativity flowing. However, it was a Short day, and she didn't have time to make it to any of the nicer sections of the Labyrinth. The Throne Room was full of goblins; the guest wing was dusty and not much better than her rooms. She could wander more—there were other openings off the Stairs—but mostly she just wanted to sit and think with a different view. In the end, she wandered the Stairs until she found a large, flat section, and settled down to work, leaning against the wall behind her, under a set of stairs that led up from this floor (or sideways away from it, or up from the opposite wall).
Some time later, she heard the click of booted feet, and looked up to see Jareth striding across the stone overhead. He looked up as well, and when their eyes met, he flipped over and fell, landing lightly at her feet.
"Show-off," she muttered, and he smiled.
"You should try it sometime, Sarah."
"What, showing off, or the free fall?"
"Free fall; why, do you believe yourself to be overly modest?"
"No, you're just full of yourself."
He laughed, this time, then frowned at her thoughtfully. "You are writing. How does the pen flow?"
"It's fine. Why wouldn't it be?"
"Because you are upside down."
"I am the direction that I am, Jareth. That's how this place works."
"Yes, but you do know which way is down outside, do you not?"
"Of course." She pointed over her head. "That way. Why does it matter?"
"While controlling your garments is not unusual, as you are wearing them—though you were correct to choose pants on your first day—it is much more difficult to exert gravitational control on something you are not directly holding. You are holding the pen, true, but not the pen's ink, which is liquid contained in a well inside the barrel."
She had stopped writing while she listened to him, looking at the pen thoughtfully. "Well, it's working for me." But on her next stroke, nothing happened. "Dammit, Jareth, I could do it when I didn't think it was special!"
He was unrepentant. "If you were doing it, then you can do it, Sarah."
"I don't know how."
"Can you forget what I have just told you?" She shot him her best Death Glare but it only made him laugh again. "Then try to think of the pen as a whole pen, not as pen and ink. If you can reverse that separation, you may get it working again."
She tried, for a few strokes, but it wasn't working. "Maybe I can't do it when you're here reminding me."
"Then I shall distract you, and you can try again later."
"I believe it is time you tried free fall." He held out a demanding hand. "Come."
Warily, she took his hand and stood. He took her pen and journal, and held them to the underside of the stairs behind her; when he released them, they stayed, held by normal gravity. Then, too quickly for her to react, he swung her into his arms.
"Best you get used to the sensation, first. Relax control to me." She let herself go limp in his arms, cuddling into his chest and doing her best to ignore the feeling of strong arms holding her that she'd missed that morning. Without warning, he dropped, flipping them in midair, and in spite of herself she shrieked and clutched his shirt when the world fell away. But above the adrenaline pounding in her blood, she felt something—a sort of pull to the left and right, and even... up?—and they slowed, allowing Jareth's feet to hit the floor gently. He bent his knees to cushion the blow, then set her on her feet. She clung to him a moment longer, still shaky. That was better than a thrill ride!
"What did you feel?"
She considered the sensations. "The falling part was fun. The landing, though... you were manipulating gravity beyond simply 'this is now down,' weren't you?"
"Clever Sarah." He gave her a short bow. "You might consider it a... percentile system. Where you want to go is 'mostly down,' where you came from is 'somewhat down,' and your left and right can be used for balance and direction. Come." He led her over to the edge of the narrow platform they had landed on; below her, the wide, flat floor stretched in all directions. "To begin, do not attempt to make a new direction your permanent down. Simply pull in other directions to slow your fall. I will stand by to assist magically if you are unable to manage it; I will not allow you to be injured." She nodded acceptance.
Carefully, she looked over the edge of the platform, taking in the perspective and the rest of the room. It stretched dizzyingly away in all directions, and this ledge... the floor... something reminded her... it was so like the ledge she'd jumped from, in her last minutes, in a desperate attempt to reach Toby in time. She had jumped, she had fallen... she had fallen slowly, gently, into a broken room. She had fallen, and had then confronted the Goblin King. Scenes from the past flashed across her mind. She'd thought she was beyond flashbacks in the Stairs, now that she had mastered them and lived here a time, but the idea of jumping from a height into the room... that was too much like what had gone before. And before... she remembered that sensation of pulling, of floating, just as she had experienced in Jareth's arms only minutes ago, and the room had come apart. Had she done something, unknowing, that pulled the parts away? Had he? She couldn't jump. She couldn't face him. She wasn't ready to go back to that place.
"I... Jareth, I don't think I can," she whispered.
"Sarah?" He turned her body to face his, but her eyes stayed on the ground, over the edge.
"I jumped... I fell..." Her voice was breathy; far away.
"You will not be hurt, Sarah," he answered, gently.
"No, that's not it." She shook her head. "Jareth, I..." She tore her eyes from the view, meeting his, and stopped at the concerned expression on his face, then went on carefully, quietly. "We don't really talk about the last time I was Underground." She took a breath, to gather courage. "We especially don't talk about... what happened here, in the Stairs."
He pressed his lips into a thin line, and the concern in his eyes vanished behind a cold, blank mask. She knew he remembered, now, just as she did, the chase, the song, her final jump. Their final confrontation. Perhaps he understood why she was having difficulty? His face was controlled calm as he asked her, "What is it that you wish to know?"
Faced with this open question, several questions presented themselves. Did you mean it? she wanted to ask; or possibly What did you mean? In the end she settled for the question she'd meant to ask originally, the safer question. "What happened to the room? Why did everything come apart?"
He breathed out slowly, evenly, and some of his tension went out with his breath. "I stopped time."
"But why would that make the room come apart?"
"The magic of the Stairs depends upon perception. In some ways, we reshape our minds to walk it; in others, it reshapes itself to fit us. However, without the element of time, there is nothing to put that perception in context. What you saw was... the room's constituent parts."
She wasn't sure what to make of that, but it was magic, and it made as much sense as anything. But there was still...
"Why did you stop time?" The question was asked before she could think better of it.
Once again, he was all cracking tension, but he answered her. "I needed to make sure that you had the time you needed to listen to me."
She had had time. She could have taken time. And she hadn't listened, not at all. He stepped closer to her, nearly touching.
Carefully, she met his eyes again. "Jareth... I think I was too young to really listen." She took a breath. "And I'm still not sure I understand exactly what you meant."
"If you do not understand, you cannot judge whether or not you were old enough to hear." His voice had gone cold, angry, at these words, and as she reached for him, he disappeared.
Her fury had not abated when she made it to his door. If anything, she was angrier than ever for having taken the time to find her way first back to her journal and then back upstairs. The door was closed. She'd known it would be. She pounded on it anyway.
"Jareth!" Her voice echoed in the stone stair. "You coward! Running away because things got a little serious? How dare you! What the hell do you want here? I didn't understand you before, and I still don't now, and I doubt I ever will if you won't talk to me. I know you want me here, Underground, but do those words still hold? Or is it something else?" She stopped herself, afraid of saying too much, and refocused. "You know where to find me." Her voice was quieter, but she knew he would hear. If he was paying attention.
Downstairs in her room, she took up her pen again, because there was nothing else to do. Fury abated as she wrote; cold anger and hurt remained. Every time things were not well between them, he ran away. He had done it when she had arrived, and he repeated it now. Hell, he'd even left her in the park when she'd admitted that she'd called him after her breakup. Her first arrival here, she could almost understand; the misunderstanding with the kiss might have led to disappointed hopes. But this...
Disappointed hopes. New hopes? Perhaps, but old ones were more likely. She wrote out his words carefully. Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave. She'd always focused on that part. But what had he said before that? Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want. Just let me rule you? He wanted her to stay. He'd wanted her to stay. Nothing had changed.
What had her dreams been? What was he promising her? She'd wanted to act, she'd wanted to be famous... but more than anything, she'd been alone and left out, without friends, second best to Toby in Karen's eyes, second best to Karen in her father's, second best to Jeremy in her mother's. She had wanted to be first in someone's heart. And Jareth had wanted to be that person. To make her deepest desire real.
Just let me rule you. Could it be that literal? Let him be her King? Stay, and be his subject? Jareth had scared her with his own sexuality and with hers. But what if he hadn't pressed that advantage? She had every evidence now that he could be a patient man. He would not have forced her. He would only have kept her.
He would not have forced her, because he wouldn't have needed to. She would have come to him on her own. A fifteen-year-old girl does not know her own body. She doesn't know her own desires. She doesn't know how to think for herself, apart from her hormones. In the grip of her awakening sexuality, she is easily swayed by an older man; even more so when there are no other options. Sarah hadn't been wise at sixteen, when she'd let her senior boyfriend get beyond kisses; the only good thing she'd done was refuse to sleep with him. She hadn't been much wiser at eighteen, when she'd given her virginity to the junior she was dating under the belief that it was love.
She would have been Jareth's, and she never would have known different, and she wouldn't be the person that she was today, and could she have lived for eternity happy to be up on a pedestal? Frozen forever at fifteen, maybe she could, but people's minds did grow and change in the Labyrinth; she and Jareth did, at least. That happiness, that dream, would have soured, someday. Twenty-six-year-old Sarah, tricked Underground on the strength of a kiss, could never be happy with that life.
Strange how she'd started the day intending to look for good in him, but had ended it only more convinced that he was selfish, and even that despite his patience, he could be short-sighted. This morning she had felt sure of him. Now, she didn't know what to think. It would all came down to what he would say, and if he would run again.
She startled herself with a yawn. Was the day really so short, to be so soon ended? Glancing out her window, she saw that it was: it was full dark. She walked once more up to Jareth's rooms, but the door was still closed to her. Well, he had shown so far that he wouldn't stay away from her too long. She would see him tomorrow, or the next day, and she'd find a way to say what had to be said.
Sarah opened her eyes to near-complete darkness. The room was shadowed, the only light a hint of full moon that edged around the gaps in the heavy curtains. Why had she woken? Normally, she was asleep within a few hours of sunset and slept until after dawn. Not once, since coming Underground, had she woken during the night, but now she was completely, totally awake, and at her rough guess, dawn was still hours away. But strange as her waking was, what she found when she looked around was stranger still.
She had tried the door to the King's Stair, before, after their first night together. From her own room, it was locked to her; if Jareth could grant her the ability to open it, he had not done so. But now, it stood open.
An open door was an invitation.
The stone steps were just as she remembered, coiling upwards in a tight spiral, wide enough for only one person to pass. Not far above, she found a small landing with two doors. One door was a smaller version of the door to Jareth's chambers, all heavy carving and dark mahogany; it was closed. The other, a simple door of polished wood, was open, and beyond it, more stairs led higher in the tower.
The Eyrie. Finally. She climbed faster, eager to see this place that Jareth had kept hidden so long, this place she was certain held something important to him. There was no door at the top of the steps; the spiral simply opened into the middle of a moderately-sized, square room. Overhead, dusty beams supported the tower's turret. Each wall of the room was open, a long, empty window running nearly the full length, the thick stone of the tower providing a wide sill, a comfortable seat.
Jareth was seated in one of these, his legs stretched in front of him, his back to the stone wall at the corner. In his hands twirled four crystals, the likes of which she'd hardly seen since the meeting where he'd given her one. Each crystal flickered and danced with images, too small and faint to make out. Look what I'm offering you: you dreams! The moon was high in the sky, and the light in the tower was bright as daylight, though confined to shades of grey.
He had turned his head to look at her at the sound of her foot on the stairs. For a moment she thought he might turn on her, might scream at her, might make every terrible possibility she'd imagined come true. His empty hand clenched into a fist in his lap, and the pace of the swirling crystals increased.
Never had he looked so empty. Never had he looked so cold. But she had come here to speak her piece.
"The door was open," she said defensively.
"You should be asleep." His tone was ice, his delivery cutting.
"Something woke me." She stepped forward slowly, holding his eyes, the tamer before a dangerous snake. With a sudden motion, he brought his hands together and twisted, and the crystals dissolved into nothing. Crushed dreams, again. Disappointed hopes. He turned on the sill, facing out into the night. She stopped next to him, resting her hands on the cool stone, and waited, to see if he might speak first.
"I always thought you meant as a lover," she said finally, when she was sure he wouldn't.
"Not only," he answered. "Not immediately."
"You meant as a subject."
"As the first among my subjects."
"But you wanted me to stay." He said nothing, but she knew she was correct. "I'm glad I didn't." Every muscle in his face went tighter, and his neck tensed as though he was afraid it would turn of its own accord. She stepped closer, touched his cheek. At her touch he relented; when she guided his head around to meet her eyes, he didn't fight her. "I was too young." He looked at her for a long time before nodding, slowly, once.
His hand twisted again, and two crystals appeared; he swirled them easily across his fingers. She looked down at them, and then back to him. He turned back to the night, but this time his face was thoughtful, relaxed; the tension had subsided.
"Will you tell me what you're doing?" she asked softly.
"I am dreaming."
He twisted his hand again and another crystal joined the previous two. Carefully, he pulled one free, and released it into the night. It floated up, and away.
"I cannot touch most mortal dreams directly," he said. "Only those who firmly believe, or those who have been Underground. Your world needs more than that." He chose another and released it in the same manner. "Most of these will be forgotten. Occasionally, one will stick."
"And you do this every night?" Her voice was quiet.
"And some days. The world turns, and one side is always dark."
"Are they all different?" He nodded. "That sounds exhausting."
"It can be." He twirled the last orb across his fingers, then flicked it into the air, where it bobbed after its fellows.
"And all the ideas are original to you?"
"I re-wrote your Peter and the Wolf. That is why I was distracted when you were with the Enigma sprites."
She was shocked, and let it show. "And are all of them as detailed as that must be?"
"No. I am not limitless." He straightened his shoulders and twisted his hand again. Four more orbs appeared. "Once upon a time, there were more of us to share this duty."
"Can I help?" She surprised herself with the question. She had been so angry with him, and now... now all the nobility he seemed to carry deep within was shining at the surface. He looked lonely, but strong; determined but not proud.
He lifted the top crystal from his hand, giving her a glimpse of something that looked like the Northern Lights before he released it into the night. "Not until—or unless—you can do this." She dropped her head, defeated, then, on impulse, she stepped closer, wrapping one hand around his waist and resting her cheek against his shoulder. He relaxed, a little, in her embrace.
"What if I just stay, until you are finished?" He didn't answer, but he didn't push her away.
She wasn't sure how long it had been when he moved away from her, climbing off the sill and catching her as she swayed with weariness. She blinked, looking up at him; she'd been almost asleep on her feet.
"We should both rest, Sarah." She nodded.
At the door to his chambers, he stopped, gesturing her to continue down. She put one foot on the stairs, then turned, remembering one thing she hadn't yet said.
"You can't do that again." He watched her, waiting for her to elaborate. "You can't just disappear when we have a misunderstanding, or when you are hurt."
"You have not welcomed my presence when you felt similarly." Some of the distance was back in his voice.
"No, but I always told you that I needed space, and I appreciate that you've granted it. Do me the courtesy of telling me, and I will grant you the same." She waited, watching. She could say more, but it would be a waste of words, and Jareth appreciated economy.
Finally, he tipped his head, just once; an acknowledgement. "It will be as you say." He held her eyes a long moment, and then, with a small smile, turned back to his door.
The Bog smelled just as bad as Sarah remembered. It almost made her regret the impulse that had led her here; the Castle was boring, but at least it smelled alright—away from the goblins, anyway. But after four days cooped up in the Castle with nothing to do, she hadn't been able to resist the day's sunshine, even though today was just long enough to really be called Long. Before, she'd had the distraction of learning the Stairs to keep her from boredom; now that they were mastered, there wasn't much to do, of a Short day, other than read, write, or explore. She wrote a little every morning and every evening, keeping a careful count of the days; she read most evenings; and as for exploration, it had turned out the Castle was complicated, but it wasn't very interesting. Aside from the wing of guest rooms, there was a wing of rooms that might have served as public space, in earlier days. A larger study than Jareth's sitting room, a formal dining area, a ballroom far more grand than her peach dream, and hundreds of smaller examples of the same: sitting rooms, offices, servants' quarters, on and on, all dusty and disused. She had been briefly intrigued—enough to mention it to Jareth, anyway—when she'd found an old music room, and he had caused it to clean itself for her, but she hadn't ever had more than rudimentary lessons in any instrument. Maybe she'd get Jareth to teach her, someday, if she didn't find a way to leave.
Even the library hadn't held her interest long. It was huge, and dusty, and full of old books, mostly histories, and she'd already done almost nothing but read for three weeks straight. Additionally, based on her cursory first look, Jareth had most of the interesting stuff up in his study; sensible of him, really.
The boredom, and the continued thought that maybe finding a way out of the Labyrinth still might possibly be the key to her release, had led to her errand today. Jareth wasn't being particularly helpful in her quest to find a way out, but then again, knowing that he didn't want her to go, she hardly expected him to be. It wasn't in his nature to actively work for something he opposed. He wasn't actively fighting her, and she was confident that he would send her home if he could; that had to be good enough. The smell of the Bog intensified as she crested a familiar hill, and the Bog Bridge came into view.
"Hello?" Cautiously, she moved towards the new bridge. It looked just as rickety as the old one. That's Goblin craftsmanship, I guess. "Hello?"
"Back! Back I say!" As he had on her first visit, Sir Didymus burst from the nearby bushes in a flurry of fur. "None may pass this way!"
"Sir Didymus!" She laughed, and held up a hand to still his furious thrashing. "I do not seek your permission to cross. I seek only you."
"You seek—" He stopped, and looked at her fully. "My Lady! Thou hast returned!"
"Yes, I have. I am very happy to see you, but first, I have a letter for you from His Majesty."
"A letter from the King! Pray, tarry not, but give it me!" Laughing, she did as he requested. He read it quickly. "My Lady! His Majesty requests that I bear thee company, wherever thou shouldst wish to travel." His eyes widened. "Both today and any day hereafter!"
"Yes; I asked him to write it." It hadn't been hard to convince Jareth to write this. He wasn't jealous of Didymus like he was of Hoggle, especially after the time they'd spent together recently, and he liked her enough not to want to subject her to the Bog needlessly. Of course, Jareth also didn't know what she intended to ask Didymus to do with his new freedom.
"You have set aside your differences then?" Sir Didymus looked surprised, but also rather hopeful.
"Mostly. Come, my brave knight, I'd like to walk back through the Forest."
"My lady, as thou desirest, so shall it be. Come, Ambrosius! A valiant duty awaits!" The little sheepdog trotted out from behind a nearby tree and approached Sarah, wagging his tail happily. She scratched his ears while Didymus mounted.
It wasn't long before they left the stench of the Bog behind. Some way into the Forest beyond, where once she had eaten the tainted peach, she found a large boulder to act as a bench and suggested to Didymus that they stop and talk a bit.
"I've missed you," she said, when they were settled.
"My life, and indeed, the very Kingdom, have felt the lack of thy beauty these many days, my lady. And indeed, thou art grown in beauty, and in grace, since last I beheld thee."
"Thank you. And yes, it's been a while." She knew she had to make the same confession to him that she had to Hoggle. "I told myself that the Labyrinth was a dream. That's why I've not called."
"A dream may speak the truth outright; do not discount them so quickly. However, as I am here before thee, thou canst see that I am no dream, nor any of this Kingdom. However, thy presence now makes up that lack which was caused by thine absence."
"Thank you, Sir Didymus; it means a lot to me for you to say so." It was also interesting to note that he seemed to have less time-sense than Hoggle, but that wasn't worth mentioning to him.
"But tell me, my lady, how hast thou returned to the Underground? For surely, though I hoped to see thee again after our last adventure, I expected to see thee Above, as I did the night of thy victory, and not Below."
She gave him a briefer summary of her coming back to the Kingdom than she'd given to Hoggle, telling him only that she had accidentally contacted Jareth and that they had become friends. He said he was happy for it, for it was fitting that the King should have a companion. That forced her to be honest, however, and admit that she hadn't quite come of her own free will and couldn't leave; he was indignant on her part until she had convinced him that it was a misunderstanding, that she and the King were working on the problem, and that she would be sure to inform him if he could be of assistance. Actually, she hoped he could help, him and Ludo and Hoggle, just like last time, but she didn't need to tell him that just yet. Sir Didymus was dedicated, but he was not discreet.
She didn't tell him exactly how the misunderstanding had come about; she didn't need him casting herself and the King in a romantic star-crossed lovers sort of role. Instead of letting him worry further, she regaled him with tales of her adventures in the Castle and in the Labyrinth, and some stories of her life Above as well. He, in turn, told her about the rebuilding of the Bridge ("a great and most vexatious labor") and about the changes in his life since meeting her, most particularly that Ludo was a fairly regular visitor to the Bog Bridge in spite of the smell.
"I'm so glad to hear that," she said when he told her. "I haven't managed to find Ludo yet; I would really like to see him."
At this, Didymus frowned. "In truth, my lady, I cannot tell thee where thy search might prove fruitful. Sir Ludo comes to me, as I have the sworn duty to protect the Bridge, and he has none. However, he is due to visit; he may be here anytime in the next several days." So he could tell "far off" from "soon to come;" that was interesting. Timesense was a strange monster, she was coming to understand.
"Sir Didymus, I can't come down here every day; there isn't time, if the day is too short. Do you think you could meet me in the Hedge Maze, near the Wise Man, with Ludo, the second long day from now? Would that give you enough time to find him?" She'd found the way to the Hedge Maze herself when with the Enigma sprites; the fastest way she'd found would take a good four hours to traverse. At least the Labyrinth was keeping her in shape.
"Aye, my lady, I believe it should be sufficient."
"And can you get word to Hoggle? The King brought him to the Castle, once, but I haven't yet made it all the way out to the gate to see him again."
"The way from here to there is far, but I vow: for you I shall do my best to reach Sir Hoggle in time."
"Thank you again. I could not ask for a better champion, my friend."
The sun was lowering in the sky. She tried to send Didymus back to the bridge, but he insisted on escorting her towards the Castle, despite her insistence that Jareth would find her and bring her back if she didn't make it in time herself. Jareth himself put an end to the argument by appearing as Sarah had anticipated. He greeted the little knight with a solemn nod.
"Sir Didymus, you have my thanks for your protection of the lady this day."
"Your majesty, you have but to ask, and I shall oblige. I thank you for allowing me the pleasure of her company."
"I shall now take charge of her again. Sarah, it is time to retire." He held out a hand.
She went first to Didymus, offering her hand; he brought it gently to his muzzle. "I will see you soon, my lady." Only when he had turned and gone did she go back to Jareth.
"Can we walk, a bit? The forest is lovely in the twilight."
He nodded, and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. "For another few minutes, if it pleases you, but we should not stay past nightfall. This is the Forest of Forgetfulness, and though its spell is weak in daylight, night brings forth its strength." She blinked, remembering that it had been night the last time she had walked these paths. So it had been the peach and the Forest working together, perhaps?
"I remember what happened when last I was here, and it was night."
"Yes, well, you were exceptional." He sounded somewhat annoyed, but she almost thought it was habit, and not actual anger.
"And still am, I hope," she quipped.
"That as well," he said softly.
She swallowed; the last such discussion, on the Stairs, was fresh in her mind. "We're going to have to talk about this eventually, Jareth. It's going to keep coming up."
"I know." He pulled her closer for the next few steps, then stopped suddenly, turning her to face him and speaking very quickly. "I will not apologize for the peach. It was my duty to keep you from the Castle, and I used what tools I had at my disposal." He paused, and his voice softened slightly. "I did enjoy dancing with you."
She nodded, and gave him a small smile. "I was still afraid of you, but I enjoyed it, too. I didn't like the rest of the ballroom very much, though." She thought back to the memory; as long as he was in a good mood, she might as well ask. "You... you wrote the song, didn't you?"
"I liked that, too."
The last sliver of sunlight dipped below the horizon, and though he'd frequently transported her with only a touch of his hand, this time he pulled her close before he whirled them away.
As she'd spent the day in the Labyrinth, he came down to her that evening as she was climbing into bed. The lights dimmed and went out as he joined her.
"Thank you, again, for today," she said, when they were settled. "For helping me see him."
"I recognize your need for other companionship," he answered, though he sounded a bit distant.
"It was good to see him, but he's not the same as we are. I understand now." It made her sad to say it, but it was true.
"I regret that your friend was not all you wished." It sounded rehearsed.
The right words were hard to find. She rolled over to face him, sliding a bit closer, then laid a hand on the elbow of the arm propped under his head. He turned to look at her; his eyes were shadowed in the darkness of the bedroom.
"What I mean," she said finally, "is that I understand why you want me to stay."
"But you will not stay only because I desire it."
"It's not enough, Jareth." He rolled over, pulling away from her; she moved her hand to his shoulder, trying to bring him back. "There's nothing more for me here."
He shifted back onto his back, one arm sliding behind her; grasping her waist, he pulled her down so that her head rested on his chest. She didn't fight it, only shifted a bit to get comfortable; they tended to end up all cuddled up sometime in the night anyway.
She thought about not asking, but it was a ritual she didn't want to break. "Jareth, what do you want?"
He squeezed her shoulder. "I want you happy."
Three days later was another Long day, and Jareth, knowing of her increasing restlessness, suggested another Labyrinth challenge, with the same stakes as the time before, except that this time she had only an hour, the time again computed based on how long it would take to reach the Castle from the Gate in thirteen if she passed through the given location. He had given her a torch—"Generous, if I do say so myself"—and left her in a nondescript dirt tunnel, barely tall enough for her to walk upright.
So far, this experience was nothing like the Water Maze. There was nothing pleasant about it, or even interesting. The tunnel was dank, and dark; she was glad of the torch, though it smoked. She had no idea if she was even going the right direction, but standing still would accomplish nothing. At each turning, she did her best to try to tell where the air was fresher; it might not mean a way out of the tunnels, but broader tunnels were still to be desired. After one such turn, she was surprised to find herself confronted by a wide, round door. She pushed it open.
Stepping through the door, she found herself in a beautiful rolling countryside. Gentle hills, clothed in lush green grass, sloped away, and full, green trees clustered in the valleys between. The leaves rustled in the cool breeze.
There were no turns, and no walls, and no barriers that she could see. That meant the way out was likely to be underground; it wouldn't be much of a Labyrinth if she could just walk across a field and find her way. However, there might be more doors than the one she'd just come from; it was possible the path went both above and below the surface. She decided to look for another door; it was more pleasant than being in the dark tunnels.
She turned to get a good look at the door, to see if it held clues as to what was behind, and was astonished to see that, rather than being blank wood, it was brightly painted. Perfectly round, brightly painted, with a round doorknob in the exact center.
He'd told her that little came from Underground that had been created in the past hundred years. Still, his dreams went out; how strong was the connection? What she saw before her had only one possible association with the world Above.
In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.
Jareth found her when her time was up. She had searched the area all the way to the opposite large wall, and found more such holes, some clumped, some separate, all leading into the same dank tunnels, all looking like something out of Tolkien on the surface. She'd gone into a few of them, but made no more progress than she had at first, and finally, when her torch had gone out, she'd given up. There was a pattern to the doors, she suspected; the coloring changed, and the detailing varied in complexity. She'd figure it out someday, once she figured out where all the people had gone, and perhaps why the holes were so... unhomey. Maybe they had moved on?
"Are you alright, Sarah?" She was standing, thoughtfully, under a huge tree that presided over a wide field, imagining it full of people celebrating. She turned at the sound of his voice, noting the worry in his tone. Clearly he'd expected her to be searching frantically for the way out.
"I'm fine, Jareth."
"You did not put up much of a fight this time." She smiled at the look in his eyes; it was almost as though he had been denied some promised entertainment. "And you owe me a gift."
"I know. I found a more interesting puzzle than the one you set me." She grinned wider at the shocked look on his face. "Jareth, how long were you going to wait to tell me that the Underground has Hobbits?"
The response she got wasn't the one she'd expected. Instead of laughing or agreeing with her, he frowned, his whole face twisting with confusion and concern. "Sarah... what is a hobbit?"
Even after she had told him that a hobbit was a race from a fantasy novel written in the 1930s, and he had searched thoroughly and reassured himself that no inhabitants of the Labyrinth were near, he still didn't seem entirely convinced. Finally, she distracted him by reminding him that she owed him a gift, telling him that he'd get it when they were back in the Castle and she'd cleaned up. Unlike their previous game in the Water Maze, this one had left her sweaty and dirty; she was looking forward to that luxurious bathtub more and more the longer he delayed.
"I gave you yours right away," he challenged. Sarah fought not to laugh; he sounded as impatient as a little kid being told that Santa wouldn't come until tomorrow. She thought back to how she'd dealt with the same from Toby; what had worked to hold off a tantrum was to distract him with something immediate and present. Let's go get some cookies for Santa, and I think there might be a few extra for us too.
"That was never stipulated in our rules," she answered, and he blinked at her in surprise. "But I will give it to you today, I promise. Besides..." She let her voice lower flirtatiously, and stepped closer to him, laying both hands on his chest and meeting his eyes from under lowered lashes. "I promise we'll both enjoy it more if I'm clean."
For a moment, he looked terrified. It was, she realized belatedly, the first time she'd openly initiated a flirtation with him, and given the strange nature of their relationship, and the way she'd disappointed him the last time he tried to kiss her, she knew he must be wondering about her intentions. He recovered quickly, however, putting up a polite mask that failed—probably deliberately—to hide the hunger in his eyes or the tension in his body as he placed his hands over hers and transported them to her door. She entered, leaving it open; he stopped at the threshold.
"I'm going to bathe," she said, choosing the word deliberately. "You can stay here, if you like, or come down whenever you please, but stay out of my bedroom. I'll have your gift ready when I'm through." He nodded, still watching her, his eyes predatory, his lips stretching into an anticipatory smile. She hid her own grin, feeling powerful; she'd known he wanted her, but it was closer to the surface now, and walking this thin line was thrilling. Maybe it was dangerous—okay, it probably was dangerous, baiting the lion in his den and all that—but it was fun.
She settled into the bath with a contented sigh. His reactions since he'd found her had given her the perfect idea for his gift, and after the other night in the Eyrie, it was something she was sure he would appreciate.
A note on Didymus' speech and the use of "thee" and "you:" I used the historic use of the two pronouns, where "you" is plural or formal address and "thee" is familiar or can be used to indicate contempt (as though the object is beneath you). Check your Shakespeare if you don't believe me—the idea that "thee" is more formal is quite false. To the best I can make sense of it, Didymus' speech in the film actually does reflect this usage; he begins addressing Sarah as "you" and changes to mostly "thee" when he becomes her ally, but then returns to "you" when he says something formal (like "If that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it"). He calls Ludo "thee" from the start, but they are fighting—he is using it contemptuously. After he accepts Ludo as his brother, he remains with the "thee" usage, but it is affectionate. He always calls Hoggle "you."
He was standing at the window when she re-emerged. He turned his head to watch her, face intent but body still, a hint of his earlier hunger lingering in his face. It smoothed away as she entered the room and he caught her state of dress: she wore her normal daily clothes, a long skirt with a pretty but comfortable top. But for her damp hair, twisted into a simple braid, it could have been any normal evening that they had spent together.
"I don't do this often enough," she said, coming to stand beside him. These rooms faced southeast; the moon was just rising in the purple-blue edge of night at the eastern horizon, and a few stars had made their appearance.
"Give me gifts?" He smiled down at her, and reached out an arm to pull her close. She elbowed him as he brought her near; he trapped her tight to his side, keeping her from doing it again.
"Look at the Labyrinth at night. Look at the sky. Your stars are different than the stars Above." Almost of its own accord, her arm wound around his waist, matching his arm around hers.
"They are no different," he answered. "They are merely brighter here; you can see millions more. The constellations you know get lost." He raised an eyebrow. "You know, you said the same thing the night we were in the Water Maze."
"And I haven't looked since. That was what… eight days ago?" He nodded. "I don't see anything I recognize." She rested her head on his shoulder. The thought struck her that somewhere in the past nine days this closeness had started to feel natural. Jareth hadn't touched her more than necessary from the night he'd brought her here until the night he'd first slept in her bed, but now that that wall was broken, not a day went by without his touch, even when she slept alone.
She vaguely remembered thinking, the day after the Water Maze, that she only desired his touch because she was lonely for human contact. Seeing Didymus the other day hadn't removed that fear, but it had confirmed something she'd been almost afraid to think: spending time with her other friends wouldn't be enough. When she found Ludo, she might be able to snuggle into his fur and forget for a while, but always she'd be forced to come back and remember eventually. Of all the people in the Underground, only Jareth could meet her needs permanently. Only he had the mind and the strength and the will to back the promise of his touch. Her old friends loved her: she would never do them the disservice of saying otherwise. Their very nature made it possible for them to love so easily, so unconditionally: they loved like children. They were not beings of contradictions. Even Hoggle responded to loyalty and friendship. They could love her as friend, as companion, as fair maiden on a pedestal, and she could treasure that, but even had they looked human, they could never love her as a woman.
She knew that repetition could get a person to accept almost anything in time, especially something pleasant. She knew that the more he touched her, the less strange she would find it, and the more she touched him back, the more she would keep doing it, keep wanting to. The more she took comfort, the more she offered it, the more she'd keep taking, keep offering. The scary thing was that she could feel her resistance slipping; the scarier thing was that it was getting harder to care. He was good to her, and his sacrifice and work for her world were worthy of respect. Maybe she could hate him in spite of that if she didn't have to spend every day with him, but with him constantly before her, making her laugh, fascinating her, it wouldn't stay.
"I will show you the stars some other night," Jareth said abruptly, breaking her reverie. She shook off the self-analysis, calling up the simpler Sarah who wasn't worried about being his friend. He grinned in anticipation. "Now you are safe back in the Castle, and clean, as you demanded; do not hold me off any longer." His free hand claimed her hip, pulling her to face him; he was standing very close, looking down into her face, anticipation in every tense muscle. He leaned forward, speaking into her ear, so close she could feel his breath. "You have a gift for me."
She smiled up at him, pushing back, resting her hands on his upper arms to get a bit of space. "I do indeed. Would you care to guess what it is?"
For a moment, he looked furious, but as he met her eyes, the fury changed to laughter. "You are delaying intentionally, to tease me."
She returned his smile. "Consider it a little payback for throwing me off a cliff. Now do you want to guess, or shall I just tell you?"
"You would prefer that I guess."
"I'd prefer that you try."
"You think I will be unsuccessful?" She just smiled, challenging him. "Would you care to wager on that?"
"What stakes?" Her grin was spreading; every day should be so fascinating, so challenging.
"Give me three guesses," he began.
"It is traditional," he said firmly. "Three guesses, and if I am correct, you will give me two of the gift, not one."
"And if you lose?" She wasn't afraid. She knew where his mind must be and she was confident that she was a step ahead.
"If I lose," he said, his tone clearly indicating how little he thought of that possibility, "I will give you twice the required time, the next time I set you a challenge in the Labyrinth."
"That is acceptable—but if I finish in the normal time, next time, I get two gifts."
"Done." His hands at her waist tightened and he smiled an eager smile. "Now. Back in the Field of Doors you were hinting at something very interesting. I consider it an outside chance, but could it be that you mean to make a gift of your favor?" He raised both eyebrows in an exaggeration of a considering look; she could tell that his guess was mostly teasing.
Well, she could still have a bit more fun with the pretense, and secretly, she was pleased that he was so confident as to waste a guess. She slid her hands up his arms, pulling him closer, one hand coming up to cup his cheek as she leaned in to whisper in the opposite ear. "I know what I seemed to be hinting, Jareth." Deliberately, she breathed in his ear; he was holding her almost gently now, as though afraid he might frighten her into flight. In one quick step she moved back and away, breaking his grip. "But hints do not always mean what they seem to mean," she finished. He caught her wrist as she moved away, and brought her back to stand before him, but he did not take her in his arms. "And in seriousness, I think you know that I would not choose to bestow that gift so lightly." She flashed him a smile. "Don't waste your other two guesses."
He tilted his head in acknowledgement, reaching for her other hand, so that now he held both of her hands in his, between their bodies. A tug on one brought her closer, and he raised the other, twisting them together so that hers rested against his chest, his knuckles at her collarbone: just as they had stood when she'd kissed him in the park. He lowered his head, eyes on her lips.
"Then perhaps you will grant me another taste of you, as you gave the night I brought you here." His voice was low; his tongue flicked out to lick his lips, probably subconsciously. Equally without her conscious volition, her eyes snapped to the movement; she jerked them back up to meet his.
"I might consent to grant a kiss to the winner of a game, but that is not the gift I intend to give today." He let her go, stepping back until they were only holding hands again, but this time she was sure he felt real disappointment, and she understood why: she had wanted to kiss him, in spite of her reservations about touch and promises, in spite of the fact that nothing had changed, and only the knowledge that what she had planned was better held her off. "One more guess."
He raised her left hand, placing it gently on his shoulder, and slid his right arm down to her waist, at the same time raising her other hand. "Very well, then. We both enjoyed the dance in the ballroom, though sadly it was interrupted. Will you give me a whole dance, this time?"
"I will dance with you another time, for the asking, but you are wrong again. And that's three guesses." He dropped her hands, looking almost angry: he hates to lose. Well: in the Water Maze he had acted as though losing to her was as good as winning; he had gotten something he wanted either way. It was time to show him losing could be winning even when she was in control.
"Very well, then, what is it?" he snapped.
"Trust me, Jareth," she said, a hint of reproach in her manner. She smiled, deliberately softening her expression, and he watched her, guarded, expectant. "My gift to you is... a dream."
His mouth twisted. "You would offer me that which I once offered you?" His step forward was almost menacing. "You could not know my dreams."
"I cannot wrap it up in a pretty bauble and dance it on my fingers, no." She held her ground, refusing to be intimidated. "Nor do I have the power to see inside your mind. Perhaps it would be better to call this 'a dream returned.' It is not any dream I would give to you, but one specific one, that once you sent out into the night." He blinked at her, and she moved away to take her usual place on the chaise. "Come, sit," she invited. "Be comfortable. Let me tell you the story that grew from your dream."
Still looking guarded, but not angry, he approached, and sat beside her on the chaise rather than taking his usual chair across the way. She moved closer to him, taking one hand in hers.
"Once upon a time," she began, "there lived a man in England, a professor of language. One day, he was grading papers when, suddenly inspired as though out of nowhere, he wrote down the words, 'In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.'" She could feel him tense at her words. "Jareth, you weren't listening to me carefully, earlier. I know you were concerned for me, and that was why, but there was really no reason. There were no Enigma sprites or other nasties lurking to turn me away. There is real truth here, so listen." Slowly, he nodded.
It had been years since she'd read The Hobbit, but she did her best. Despite being a children's book in name, it wasn't one she'd really studied, as the world of Middle Earth was too adult, overall, for her work. She couldn't remember all the names of the dwarves, only Thorin Oakenshield, because he was the leader, and Glóin, because he was Gimli's father, but Bilbo and Gandalf and Thorin were the important ones anyway, and so she went on. She described Bilbo particularly, making Jareth laugh; he was equally amused with the way Gandalf maneuvered him into the adventure. From there she skipped ahead to the trolls, and the company going to Rivendell. To get the next part right, she had to close her eyes and try to remember a map of Middle-Earth, but she guessed that they had gone under the mountains, and described how Bilbo found a ring lying on the ground, and his encounter with Gollum.
Jareth interrupted for the first time when she began to describe the riddle-game that Gollum proposed, with the prize being that Gollum would show Bilbo how to get out of the caves. Though he had started skeptical, he had become involved in her story, even when she knew she wasn't telling it as well as Tolkien had.
"Tell me the riddles," he demanded.
"I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head, "I don't remember them, except for the last."
"Without the riddles, how can I judge the cleverness of these characters? Surely you remember one of them."
"I'm sorry; I only remember that there were a few in a row having to do with fish." He was still glaring at her. "If you're so interested, you can pop Aboveground and get a copy of the book, if you like!"
His mouth thinned. "I cannot simply... pop... Aboveground, on a whim."
"What? But when you wrote to me, you said I would see you again, that I couldn't keep you away, and I saw you four times, that week."
He hesitated; clearly he didn't like admitting that he was not omnipotent. "Your wish, addressed to me directly by both title and name, allowed me to come to you easily, as I was inclined to grant it, though I was in no way bound to do so. Though you had banished me from your presence in our last interaction, you rescinded the banishment with the wish, and I could also draw upon your connection to the Underground. Once Above, I did not return to the Undergound until the night I brought you with me. Returning here was easier than going there without a wish, but very tiring; I slept most of the following day."
"But you said that it was basically my fault that you couldn't send me back."
"And so it is. Something about you, or perhaps the situation, prevents me. Should that restriction be lifted, sending you back will exhaust me for a time, but I will be able to do it. It is not a matter of simply having the power."
"You said your people used to move easily between Above and Below."
"We did, when the connections were more numerous, but nearly all are closed, now." He forestalled her when she began to protest again. "Continue your story, Sarah."
It took her a moment to recollect herself, but she started over with the riddle-game and ended with Bilbo's final question: "What have I got in my pocket?" Jareth objected again that it wasn't a proper riddle, but she overrode him, as this served the story anyway, and went on to tell of Bilbo's escape through the discovery of the ring's power of invisibility, his sneaking into the dragon Smaug's cave by that same power, the defeat of the dragon, the final battle, and Bilbo's return home with a fantastic story, a good deal of wealth, and the ring. When she finished, it was late at night, long beyond when usually she would have sought her bed. Jareth pulled back from her, and looked at her carefully.
"I enjoyed your story, Sarah, but how is it a dream?"
"You don't see? You keep records, don't you, of the dreams you send out into the night? That's what you're writing, in those ledgers, most evenings."
"Yes," he replied cautiously. "I did not realize you knew."
She shrugged. "I figured it out. What else do you have that would take so much of your attention? The Kingdom alone doesn't." She grasped his hands again, pulling him closer, forcing him to focus on her. "The place you took me this afternoon—the Field of Doors, as you called it—anyone, anyone who has read The Hobbit or its sequel, or even anyone who's heard much about them, would recognize that place. In external appearance, it matches exactly the description of their homes, the hobbit-holes, and Hobbiton, their town. If you go back and check, I believe you'll find that some seventy years ago, give or take, you sent out into the night an image of that place, and it stuck in the mind of that professor I spoke of at first. But J.R. R. Tolkien isn't just some man who wrote one story that only gets read by people who like fairy tales. He's basically considered the father of modern fantasy; the characters and situations he wrote about are aspects of the culture that are so ingrained that nearly any adult who speaks English, and plenty who don't, has heard of them."
She'd started out meeting his eyes, looking into his face, but his focused stare was too much for her. She dropped her eyes to their clasped hands, only daring to peek at him occasionally. His focus never wavered, but he seemed to stare almost through her, now.
"Jareth, when we went to that concert, you told me that a story created in the past hundred years or so might have touched the Underground so briefly that you wouldn't know it. Tolkien's work was influenced in minor ways by other stories—some are probably Underground-related—but the connection is far off and complex. Still, his work is so ubiquitous that I assumed it had touched here and that you knew it. When you didn't know what a hobbit was, I realized you had no idea of this massive impact that you've had on modern culture. There's your dream come back to you, Jareth. One simple image, one dream that struck in just the right place, and you sparked something huge.
"I saw your face, that night in the Eyrie, when you talked about sending dreams into the night, and how most would be forgotten. It seemed so hopeless, that this was all you could do, and it might all come to nothing. I thought you would like to know that that one hasn't been, and it has a chance to endure as long as the epic stories of past ages."
She looked up again, but was able to see his eyes for only a moment before he moved. His hands tore from hers and he strode again to the window, staring out into the night, clasping his hands tightly behind his back, every line of his body screaming tension. The room's light's dimmed and went out, leaving only a few candles and the soft glow of the waning moon.
That had not been the reaction she had anticipated.
"Jareth?" She stood slowly, and took a step towards him. After a moment, he unclasped his hands, reaching one back to her in invitation. She moved forward and took it, and he pulled her to his side, as he had done earlier that evening. She looked up into his face; his eyes were tightly shut, his mouth clamped as though to guard against display, but the corners turned up ever so slightly. Cautiously, she leaned in to him, and he pulled her fully into his arms, resting his forehead against hers. The movement threw his face into shadow.
"Sarah, precious Sarah," he whispered, after a moment. "Do you realize what you have done?" The pressure against her head increased, as did the force of his arms at her back. "I can feel them. All of them. I had not known to look; I had not known how, there was no lens, no mortar, no line, it was remote, the connection unfinished. I knew that was a chance, with my least-formed dreams. I might never know, even for stronger ones, and I suspect that that one was as weak as you say: nothing more than a simple image. But now… I can sense everyone who loves that story, Sarah, all over the world Above. Faint and strong, foolish and wise, like children who believe in fairy stories, but so much more than children! So much more likely to remember; so much more likely to share what they create." He swallowed, sharply, and when he spoke again his voice was ragged. "The gift you have given me… Sarah, it is beyond price."
One hand moved up to cradle her head; he lowered his face a small fraction, his nose brushing hers, their breath mingling. One of her hands pressed his chest, cautioning.
"Jareth, I…." She hesitated. He took a long, gasping breath, and shook his head slightly.
"I know; no promises," he said, his voice breaking. "No requirements. No expectations. Only joy." She lifted her head, just a little, and when his lips met hers he tasted of salt. The corners of his mouth turned up, even as his lips brushed hers again, and she felt the expression that he hadn't quite let her see. He was smiling, wider than she'd ever seen, and his eyes were filled with happy tears.
If we have any Tolkien fans in the audience, you may notice that Sarah's retelling of the plot of The Hobbit may not be entirely accurate. This is because in order to reproduce the way she would need to tell the story, I simply summarized what I remember of it myself, and I have read it only once, some eight years ago. If she says anything inaccurate about The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth, or Tolkien himself, consider it the result of character error or inaccurate memory: my Sarah is smart, but she's not a walking encyclopedia or a Tolkien scholar. However, the story of the origin of The Hobbit is accurate; it is based on Tolkien's own recollection, as recounted by Humphrey Carpenter in J. R. R. Tolkien, a Biography, which I highly recommend.
Sarah woke just before dawn the next Long day, the one when she was to meet her friends in the Hedge Maze. She hadn't told Jareth her plans; he'd find her eventually, of course, but if she lost him this morning, she'd have time.
She'd discovered how to wake herself up, sometime in the past few days. If she went to sleep thinking that she needed to be awake early, then she would be; if not, she might wake at any time. She'd taken particular care to think "Very Early" the night before, and it had worked. She grabbed an apple and took off down the Stairs, exiting the castle just as the first tip of the sun showed over the Eastern horizon.
The past few days—since she'd told Jareth of Tolkien—had been exhausting. Jareth had taken up the challenge of all the new people he could reach with more energy than she'd ever seen from him, and had involved her far more than he ever had before with his dreaming. He asked her opinion, sought her thoughts, requested that she repeat, endlessly, little parts of the book, and then ran roughshod over half her thoughts and suggestions, carried away by this firing of his own imagination. However, he was also far more talkative about himself; far more alive. The overall effect was very strange: while on the one hand, his animation was so engaging that she found herself more drawn to him than ever, it had also steeled her determination about her plans for today. It was time to find her way out of the Labyrinth, once and for all, and put to rest the question of whether or not getting out again would set her free.
"I found it!" Jareth had stormed into her room early, the morning after her gift, flinging a ledger at her desk and carelessly knocking aside the journal she'd paused over. He had two more in his hands. She looked down, but couldn't make sense of it; this wasn't the Latin alphabet.
"I can't read this, Jareth." She tilted it slightly, looking for a hint of familiarity in the letters, and frowned. "Is it Greek?"
"No," he answered, absently, flipping through another volume, and then he said something she completely failed to understand. "Though the letters are related."
"Kee-ree-oh-lit-zah?" she tried, doing her best to imitate the sounds he'd made.
He focused on her, distracted from the ledgers, and frowned briefly. "Ah—Cyrillic, in English."
It took her a minute to place the word. "You're Russian?"
"No. Cyrillic was not theirs, first."
"My people do not share Mankind's races. But I was raised in Rus'—in Ruthenia." He paused. "What you would now call Ukraine. I was born near Kiev."
"Oh." She blinked. "Even though you told me that you needed Time to age, I never thought about you being born Above."
"Of course; we all were."
Another question occurred; how had she never asked this? "How old are you?"
He shrugged, already paging through the ledger in his hand again. "I do not know exactly; we do not keep strict count. I was born sometime around 750 AD, by current modern reckoning."
"That's actually younger than I thought."
"Yes. I was one of the youngest of my people. It is why..." He trailed off.
"I understand." She gave him a brief smile. "Will you tell me more of your family, later?"
"If you wish."
"What were you trying to show me? I still don't read Cyrillic, let alone whatever language this is..."
"Allow me." His hand came down over her eyes, and when he removed it, the sense of the words came out to her and she saw what he'd been trying to show her in the first place: 19300302 - 1400 - England - Field of Doors - Image.
The wide plaza before her had a tall obelisk at the center, and its shadow pointed at one of the seventeen paths that led off this circle, one for every hour of daylight, today. It changed, daily. To go forward—towards the Castle—you took the turn clockwise around the circle from the indicating shadow. To go back—out—you moved counterclockwise. No matter where you'd come from, any other choice would be a dead end, eventually. She chose counterclockwise, and almost immediately sidestepped a permanent oubliette: the trapdoors were obvious when you knew what to look for and weren't distracted by solving a simple puzzle. Then again, the Knights and Knaves hadn't lied about what was behind the door she chose: it had led to an oubliette, but it had led to the Castle, eventually.
The next night, she'd asked him to tell her about his family, as a way of getting a break from his one overwhelming subject. He had stopped short, and she explained why she was asking; she didn't think he really understood why she needed a rest—unless she was mistaken, he'd hardly slept since she'd told him—but he agreed to humor her.
"I told you once that any myth of a powerful immortal in your world had its roots in my people, and that many of them played Gods, but there is one question that you never asked me. Whether you realized it or not, you made the assumption that the gods we played were those of the pantheistic religions, the gods of city-states or particular sections of life. You never asked me about the God of Abraham, or of Jesus who they called Christ."
"He isn't one of you." It wasn't a question.
"No. I told you that the spread of Men pushed us away from Above. Already the Jews were hostile to us, but the spread of Christianity, so much faster and more pervasive, cast us out all the faster. It was not safe to stay where there was no belief; we can be killed, if Men persist." He sighed. "And to tell the truth, many of my kind were not willing to accept less than worship from Men.
"You may remember; I wrote that some saw Men as playthings, others that they would be brothers to us, grow with us. Though we all retreated before the advance of Christianity and the strength of Men, it was at this time that those two factions truly went their separate ways. Those who wished to play with Men, to be served and worshiped and feared and adored, took themselves as far as they could from the followers of Christ: they crossed the sea and found followers among the people of the Americas. Those who wished to remain close to the Men we had nurtured stayed, but migrated to the areas where belief remained. Christianity did not come to the Rus' until about a hundred years after my birth, and even when it did, there was little conversion by the sword: the old beliefs remained in the countryside.
"Where the old beliefs remained, it took less energy to cross to the Underground. My mother had lived in Rus' for a very long time; they knew her as Danica, the Morning Star. Others traveled there, to make the final crossing. My father was one of these; I never knew him."
Sarah had never been particularly religious, but it did seem significant that Christianity had had such a huge impact on his people, his people who had played gods. His personal history was fascinating, but did he also have some answers on that greatest of questions?
"Do you believe in God, Jareth?"
"In the God of Abraham?" He sighed. "We spend some three hundred years maturing; I stayed in Kiev until shortly after the death of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, shortly after the beginning of the current millenium. Christianity was quite common in the city by that time, and had been since the baptism of Prince Vladimer. My family had all gone, by then; they had stayed, at first, because the people reacted strongly against Christianity, and clung to us all the stronger, but they gave us up, eventually. I had to stay to mature, but for short visits Underground, and as the pathways became more difficult to travel it was necessary that I not travel Below as often as we would have liked.
"I had the opportunity to study this faith, which so many painted as our vanquisher, though the truth is that our numbers were diminishing even before that added pressure. The practice of it was very beautiful; I understood why Prince Vladimer had been drawn to the Byzantine liturgy. I did not think much of the theology, but I was young, and arrogant, and I intended that I would never die. What need had I for promises of eternal life?
"In the centuries since, I have not seen any solid proof of the truth of this belief, no one sign that can be attributed to a supernatural being, and no other. I wonder why, if such a being existed, my people would not know it. But as I remain, and the years begin to wear on me, I begin to understand why Men would wish to believe."
She thought that through, and then nodded. "I've been thinking about which other authors you might be interested in, authors you might not be aware of. I suppose eventually I should tell you about Tolkien's friend Jack."
The Mirror Maze was simple enough; for that one, she'd learned the trick as a child. Keep your eyes on the ground, and it's just as straightforward as a basic stone maze. She walked quickly through its turns, grateful that the sun was more orange, Underground. This place would be blinding, in brilliant white sunlight.
Sometime yesterday Jareth had suddenly recalled that she had spoken of a sequel to The Hobbit, and had attempted to demand the whole of The Lord of the Rings from her in that instant, but she'd managed to convince him to wait. Telling The Hobbit had lasted long into a long night; he had to be patient and have the longer tale over several days. Though he looked frustrated, he agreed to be patient; they could start in a few more days, once he'd cleared ideas inspired by The Hobbit and the new connections he could make to the Above. She was beginning to feel rather like a walking, thinking audiobook; he'd hardly sat still long enough to even touch her, since the kiss the evening of her gift.
In the Hedge Maze, she sat down on the bottom step of the Wise Man's chair, which was fortunately empty. She didn't feel the need for his cryptic advice, and she could do without the hat's constant sniping. Just as she began to wonder how long she should wait for her friends, before attempting to go on alone, she heard the shuffling of big feet and the patter of small ones, and an excited voice crying from over the top of the next hedge.
"And here we are, my brother, our destination lies just around this corner. Thou shalt not believe thine eyes, for the fair maid is grown more lovely, and more graceful, and more kind. To my shame, I could never have imagined such perfection!"
"Sawah pretty?" She'd already smiled, in some embarrassment, at Didymus' extravagant praise; hearing Ludo's kind rumble, her small smile turned into a grin. She'd missed him. They rounded the corner, and his eyes lit up as he looked at her. "Sawah back!" He lumbered forward, and she ran to meet him, letting his strong arms enfold her in a gentle hug. Maybe he couldn't be her everything, but he radiated unconditional love; she could do nothing but respond.
"Oh Ludo, I missed you. Are you well?"
"Ludo good," he answered, giving a decisive nod of his head. She hugged him again, then released him, turning to the little knight.
"And Sir Didymus," she continued. "Thank you so much for meeting me today, and for bringing Ludo as well."
"Anything for thee, my lady," he replied, kissing her hand gallantly.
"Were you able to get in touch with Hoggle?" She glanced around, hoping for a sign of the dwarf; he was her surest route to victory. He dislikes the Labyrinth, but he knows it very well, almost as well as I do. Jareth had given her the key, long ago at the concert. Hoggle had been less than completely helpful on her first visit, but after hearing Jareth's explanation, she understood why. It hadn't all been fear of Jareth, it had also been that he knew she needed to stay Underground as long as possible, for the magic to hold her after she lost, and give her inspiration—if things had gone the way they usually did. He'd fought Jareth and his own responsibilities in helping her, all in the name of friendship. But even if she returned Above, the Underground now had a firm hold on her soul. He had no reason to refuse her, this time.
"I was able to fulfill that quest, indeed, my lady; he should arrive upon the instant."
Excellent. "I am indebted to you, my knight." A few minutes later, they heard Hoggle's distinctive shuffle, and he came hesitantly around a corner of the maze, watching out for traps or other inhabitants. His face lightened as he caught sight of Sarah and their friends.
"It's good to see you again, Hoggle!" She went to him and embraced him, quickly.
"No kissin'," he said, pushing her off with gruff affection. "He couldn't just open up a hole up there in his tower, but down here? We don' want a repeat of last time." Sarah nodded; the Bog was definitely not on the agenda today.
"Well met, friend Hoggle," said Didymus with a bow. "I trust thy journey was not too arduous?"
"The Labyrinth's the Labyrinth," Hoggle answered with a shrug. "I don' go in without good reason, but Sarah's good reason."
"Hoggle friend," Ludo added, and patted the little dwarf on the head so hard that he almost knocked him off his feet.
"Yeah, well." Hoggle dodged away; he knew Ludo meant well. "It's good t'see ye too, ye great lummox." He looked up at Sarah. "Well, missy, are ye gonna tell us what we're all here for?"
Sarah nodded. "My friends, I need your help once more. I need to get out of the Labyrinth."
She explained the plan, and why she thought it would work. She'd won by getting in from the edge; now she'd win by getting from the center to the edge. She had to get out again. And since she'd had assistance the first time, in the three companions, she wanted their help again. She explained about the Enigma sprites, and how her own efforts to solve the maze had gone, and then she turned to Hoggle.
"And Hoggle… I know you were supposed to lead me back to the beginning. If you know how to do that, you know how to get to the exit, as well, don't you?"
He gave her a long, thoughtful look before he answered. "I do, li'l lady, that I do, but are ye certain this is what ye want?"
"May I ask ye why? That rat ain't hurt you or nothin', has he?"
"His Majesty was most kind and attentive to our Lady, when we spoke in the Forest of Forgetting," Didymus cut in.
"No, Hoggle, he hasn't… hurt me. I don't think he would. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm trapped here. I told you once that I had to be sure of him, and I just don't see how I can be as long as he has me trapped here."
"And if ye go, and find ye want him?"
"Then I'll call, and see if he answers." She shook her head. "I've been trying to think out that very answer, Hoggle, but it's hard when he's always around. And he's always around." She sighed. "If I choose him, I want to choose, not be stuck with him. Do you understand?"
"I ain't made to love like that, li'l lady. Not like romance. But maybe I do. Maybe it's somethin' like why I come runnin' back to jump on the head of a giant construct with an axe, instead of stayin' in the Junkyard feelin' bad for m'self."
Sarah laughed. "Maybe."
"Alright, we gots some ground t'cover and half the day left t'do it in. Let's go!"
Sir Didymus had chased off some of the Labyrinth's inhabitants and sniffed out a few promising paths, Ludo had saved them time by "encouraging" a few partially collapsed walls to give up the ghost, Sarah had solved several riddles and word puzzles, as well as leading them around oubliettes, and Hoggle had done the rest. The sun was tipping towards the horizon when they stepped through the optical illusion and into the narrow, straight corridor that circled the Labyrinth's outer border. As the sun dipped, Sarah was feeling a bit nervous; Jareth would be looking for her soon if he wasn't already, and she wanted to finish this.
"This all looks the same… how do we even know we're close to the exit?"
"We're close." Hoggle's voice was confident.
"How do you know?"
"Well where is it?"
"Where is what?"
"Sarah." He frowned at her, furrowing his eyebrows. "Ask yer right question."
Remembering her previous trip, she put her hands on her hips and glared back at the little dwarf. "How do I get out of the Labyrinth?"
He chuckled. "Very good. Ye gets out," he pointed, "there." The gate rumbled open in what had previously been a section of blank wall.
"Hoggle, this was the way in," she said, exasperated.
"Aye, it were," he answered, "but if ye're goin' out, it's the way out."
"So this was all for nothing? I thought 'through' meant we'd go to the other side."
"Still takin' things for granted." He shook his head. "Sarah, don' ye trust me more than that? Ye've been through the Labyrinth, now: once to the center, and once back out. I may've said ye'd never do it, but I ain't too proud to say I was wrong."
She nodded, and stepped through the gate, stepping past the fairy-shrouded vines that covered the outer walls. Taking a deep breath, she looked up.
Jareth was standing at the top of that dusty hill, next to the tree where once he'd hung his dramatic clock, dressed as he had been then and watching her with the same impassive eyes. She felt, suddenly, very small.
"I have to go on by myself, from here," she said, turning to her friends. "Thank you so much for helping me. I couldn't have done this without you."
"My lady," Didymus bowed. "I am ever at thy service."
"Sawah friend always," Ludo told her, resting one heavy hand on her shoulder.
"Good luck, Sarah," Hoggle said solemnly. "And remember..."
"We'll know soon enough whether this worked," she interrupted. "But no matter what happens here, I won't forget to call." She glanced up at Jareth. "If he'll let me." Hoggle nodded, and stepped back.
Jareth watched her climb the hill, standing still as stone, his face impassive. There would be no pleading, this time.
"Can you send me home?" There was no point in softening it.
"No," he said, flatly. The wind stirred his hair, a strange motion against the stillness of his body. His mouth had moved only enough to speak, and then closed again.
Well, there was one more thing to try.
"Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered," she began. She had planned this, just in case. She knew what she would say, how she would turn the old words. Jareth said nothing, this time, his face grew harder still, his eyes hawklike and dangerous. "I have fought my way here, free of the Labyrinth, to reclaim the life that you have stolen." She hadn't said the bit about the stolen child, when she'd come for Toby, but it fit, this time. She hadn't asked for this. "For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great." Still he had not reacted; she remembered the passive gestures of the Goblin King in her little red book. Jareth did even less; he did not offer her any temptation to stay, or try to interrupt. He only watched her, frozen, hard. "You have no power over me." The words sounded empty, and she knew, without his having moved, that it hadn't been enough. Getting out of the Labyrinth had not been the answer.
They watched each other, still, silent.
"Would you send me back, if you could?" She blinked back tears.
"At this moment, I would," he answered, stiffly, his eyes empty as he watched her struggle.
What else could she do? She'd gotten out, but she wasn't free. She pressed her lips together; closed her eyes. "I had to try."
"Come," he said sternly, "the sun is setting." Defeated, she took his hand; they appeared at her door and he followed her inside. She had thought he would go—she was back, not going anywhere—but instead he came to stand with her at the window. She pressed her open palm, hard, against the stone beside her head.
"'Stone walls do not a prison make,'" she quoted, turning angry eyes to Jareth. Her tone completed her thought: you are keeping me here. She knew he read the accusation, clear as day.
"The poet speaks more truly than you; are you even aware?" Hurt and pain and anger cracked through his voice, breaking through his impassivity; his tone was cutting, sharp as knives. "Or has that one line been repeated so often that you do not know the context?" He turned her to face him; meeting her eyes and holding her fast he quoted, swiftly, exactly:
"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty."
He threw her bodily away, but held her eyes; she watched him, hypnotized. "You are as free as you decide you are," he spat, and turned from her, reaching the door in quick, swift strides. "Do not follow me; do not seek me. I will not return tonight."
Thank you Google Translate; I didn't know how the Slavs pronounced the name of their alphabet, just that it would be different (since "Cyril," when a name in Russia, is now Anglicized "Kirill"). I also used it to get a pronunciation for Jareth's name that was approximately Slavic; when I put "Jareth" into Google Translate, it gave me "Джареm," which sounds approximately like Dzha-re-uht.
The Cyrillic alphabet was invented by the missionary monks Cyril and Methodius, who brought Christianity to the Slavic people. Though there is some evidence for other forms of writing in Eastern Europe before the coming of Christianity, Cyrillic was the first standardized alphabet. As Cyril and Methodius were Greek, they used their own letters in most cases, which is why the two scripts share letters.
The poem Jareth and Sarah are quoting is "To Althea, from Prison" by Richard Lovelace.
She had stepped back from his anger, when he released her, pressing herself against the stone wall, as though it meant sanctuary. Her arms were sore, where he'd held her, where his fingers had been. She was probably bruised, but she felt ice cold. He'd been angry before, and hurt, but he'd never hurt her like this. It wasn't the same as the wake-up slap when she was in the thrall of the Enigma sprites. She breathed deep, trying to still her trembling, trying to stop her tears; her hand came up, pressing against her mouth, stifling a sob.
If she could judge by what she'd just seen, by what he'd just said, she had never hurt him so deeply before, ever.
She couldn't even make it to a chair. Her knees gave out and she sank down against the wall, hiding her face in her hands. It was too late to hold back, too much to hold back, and at first she couldn't even put her finger on why she was crying: for herself, for him? For them both?
It wasn't just that he'd scared her, though that reaction had been the catalyst. It wasn't that he'd hurt her; she ached all over now, relic of seventeen hours of walking and the tension of that last conversation, and a little voice in the back of her mind said that he hadn't done it on purpose. He'd probably fix it when he saw her again.
If he saw her again.
No, when. It had to be when. He'd told her not to look for him tonight, but that was what she'd asked him to do. He'd asked for space, rather than just disappearing. He respected her that much, enough to remember her request. Fighting like that—that's how you fight with someone you want to make up with. And he'd been alone so long—did he even know how to reconnect with words, rather than silence? She'd made the first move, after he'd brought her here, and again after the conversation on the Stairs. He'd responded, but with actions, instead of speech.
She'd always known he was proud.
She crossed to the bedroom, half in hope, but the door to the King's Stair was closed. She wondered if she'd ever see it open again. She'd gone up, once more, one of the previous evenings, and sat with him while he spun dreams of the story she'd told him, reaching directly for the minds of those he now could touch. She'd been struck again by his intense focus, his beautiful concentration, the elegance of his every gesture.
She looked at the bed, then, slowly, shook her head. She had exhausted herself with tears, but she couldn't sleep yet. Dusty and sore, she made her way to the bath, and sat calmly while the huge tub filled. She watched the water, as it lapped slowly higher, floating, not thinking. By the time the tub was full, she was ready to think more calmly about what he had said tonight.
You are as free as you decide you are. His parting words. As you decide you are. Was he saying that she could simply decide to be free? Decide that he had no power over her? And he could send her home? That hadn't worked, when she'd said it—when she'd said the words. And if it was that easy—if all she had to do was believe hard enough—if it worked like the Relative Stairs—then why wouldn't he have told her so? The first day, he'd said he thought he knew, and then refused to tell her because… what had he said? Telling you would make it very unlikely; so unlikely that I will not risk it.
If she knew she was deciding to be free, in order to actually get free, would it work? Would she really be able to convince herself that it was true? Would it work, if she wasn't completely convinced?
What does it mean to be free? What would be different, if she were?
Leaving the bath, she chose a floor-length nightdress from the wardrobe. It was more elegant than her usual choice, but tonight was a night for elegant melancholy. Opening the door to her balcony, she found the night was chillier than she'd yet experienced; a cool wind blew, and the stones retained none of the day's warmth. She collected the matching robe, and went to the balcony edge, resting her arms on the stone. Her feet were ice against the floor; the bite of the cold made her feel more alive.
The view from her balcony wasn't quite the view from the Eyrie, but it was even better than the view from her window. You could see the Labyrinth from the window in the sitting room, but most of the Goblin City and the Junkyard lay between; from the balcony you could see the city, off to the sides, but straight ahead it was only Labyrinth, all the way to the border, which at night was shrouded in darkness and distance. Regularly spaced high walls traced circles around the Castle and the City, still and dark; between the walls, the living Labyrinth shifted and changed, as ceaseless and hypnotic as waves breaking on the shore.
She'd felt trapped, in the Labyrinth, when she'd been in it the first time, for Toby. Trapped, and on the clock; the Labyrinth had been a place of stress. Trapped; trying to break free. "Free" had meant finding Toby, saying the Words, defeating the Goblin King.
She'd felt driven, in the Labyrinth, when she'd run it yesterday with her friends. Driven to solve this puzzle so she could move on and figure out the answers to the puzzle her life had become. She'd convinced herself that it could be a possible end result, that it could mean going home, even though Jareth—who'd said he knew what she needed—had called it unlikely, and Hoggle had even seemed hesitant. Solving the Labyrinth had done one thing, though: she knew, without a doubt, that that avenue was closed to her.
What did she want, now? She still wanted to go home, she still thought things would be simpler there, but if going home meant never seeing Jareth again, if he was angry and wouldn't answer, or if he couldn't answer… no. They should be friends, at least friends. It hurt too much, to think of him hurting. It hurt too much to think of not seeing him again.
The chill in her heart matched the chill of the wind, the ice of her feet. She went back inside, and lay down on the bed, flopping right into the center. She'd been in the Labyrinth all day, but she didn't expect Jareth to join her. Not after today.
What would her life have been like, if she'd stayed there kissing him in the park, and then he'd taken her home? If he'd come to call again on Saturday… and this time maybe she invited him in?
She closed her eyes, snuggling into her pillow, and let herself imagine it.
He took her to dinner, again, less formal dinners than that first date, and told her stories of the Underground. She cooked for him, other times, and they sat in her living room, both working, she at her research and he with his dreams.
He was a bit more forward than he'd been in the Underground. He kissed her, that day after the concert, not right away but not when he was leaving, either, and she kissed back. The days were filled with little touches, each one a thrill.
She spun several scenarios; they couldn't all be true. But they had one common theme: they touched, they talked, they took time to know each other, and at some spark, not too long after that concert, they didn't stop with kisses.
They took a weekend trip to the beach, and walked on the water at midnight, and kissed at moonrise, and ended up making love under the boardwalk on a blanket he'd conjured. She read him The Hobbit one afternoon in the park and when he kissed her in gratitude she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back and they barely made it back to her apartment for some privacy. She suggested a movie, but they teased each other with little touches, daring each other to make the first move, to light the spark, a game they're playing without having settled the rules, but even though it was her fantasy she couldn't say who moved first: him pinning her arms and pressing her into the couch, or her lunging forward in a passionate kiss.
The man in this fantasy was not a different Jareth. He was still moody, still quiet, still sarcastic, still challenging; still haunted, and lonely, and carrying the weight of the world. He was still brilliant. He still thrilled to competition. He still focused on her, sometimes, so intensely that she felt like the center of the world, a sensation both frightening and overwhelmingly intimate. Only the setting was different; she was safe Above, not held Below.
But if the setting was the only difference, was there any difference at all?
You are as free as you believe you are. Whether he knew her better than she thought, or whether he'd overheard her speaking to Hoggle, had he been talking about their relationship? What he'd said, when he kissed her after her gift—"no expectations." She hadn't been sure, but now she knew he'd understood, when she refused his kiss after the Enigma sprites, why she had made that choice. He was too important to take lightly. They were too important to take lightly. But in every sweet fantasy she spun, she ended up in his arms. She tried to imagine a fantasy where they didn't end up together, and the only one she could come up with was one where he simply disappeared, and she missed him.
If she ended up loving him, in every fantasy Above, the only thing holding her back, Below, was her resentment that he had trapped her here. Could she let it go? You are as free as you believe you are. The poem he'd quoted: the man was really in prison, but chose to see it as "an hermitage." It was his attitude, not his location, which made him free. She could decide she was free to love Jareth, Above or Below. She could be his guest, not his prisoner, and as a guest, everything would be cast in new light. She'd said once that there was nothing for her here, that his wanting her to stay couldn't be enough, but if she wanted him just as much, that would be quite different. First in someone's heart. Her old dream; the one dream of her childhood that had never truly died.
She fell asleep, finally, dreaming of his arms around her. When she woke, late the next morning, it was to think she felt his arms around her in truth, but when she moved, she was alone. She thought she'd imagined it all until she rolled over and found that the bed beside her was dented, and still warm. The marks on her arms were gone.
Last night's clarity hadn't deserted her, in daylight. But when she revisited her fantasies, in her journal, she found something she'd missed. In each one, she felt certain of his love, and comfortable with his role as Goblin King, but she couldn't ever conjure up the conversation. That was the missing piece, the thing she had to have. He felt for her; he wanted her to stay in the Labyrinth; he hadn't pressured her, but she was sure he wanted her in his bed, as well. He wanted her forever. He feared for her, he cared for her. He'd slept with her, last night, in spite of everything. Was that love? And if it was, would he ever say so?
Could she trust to it anyway, if he never did?
She made her way to the library, and spent the day searching for the history of the Goblin Kingdom, of the Labyrinth, but the filing system was too archaic and the room too large—or she was looking in the wrong place. She could find nothing. Still, the thought nagged at her: she'd never seen Jareth with a wished-away child, and she knew something of what happened, what was required, but she did not know enough. To stay with him, she needed to be alright with his responsibilities. If she'd stayed Above, she couldn't have taken up with a kidnapper, after all.
Well. If she couldn't learn about The Goblin King, she could think further about her Goblin King. To get out of the dust, she retreated to the music room; it was closer than going back to the top of the tower and her rooms were getting claustrophobic anyway. She sat at the piano and picked out what she could of the melody she remembered from the ballroom, but she knew she hadn't got it quite right. She didn't have the ear. But Jareth could teach her. Someday.
Someday. What did "someday" mean for her, if she did stay here with him? Nothing dies here, not naturally; she would live forever, or at least as long as Jareth did. From what she understood, when he said "faded," he meant the loss of the will to go on. Not that it was as simple as deciding to die and quickly dying, but giving up would mean slowly slipping away into nothingness, over the course of months or years. A kingdom—an area of the Underground—faded as well when no immortal will remained to sustain it. So by loving him, she was consigning herself to his fate. That didn't sound so very bad. She'd been ready to do it for Ben, to follow where his career led, content to find her own work where he was. She was still ready to do that, for the right man. A twelve-thousand-year-old immortal wasn't quite the man she'd imagined, a few years ago, but neither was it such a terrible thought.
What wasn't she thinking of? Did anything remain? The sun was going down. She hadn't paid attention to the length of the day.
She returned to her room and pulled her journal; it was nearly full, now. She'd intended to write out some of her conclusions, but instead, she found herself staring at the opening pages. Toby. Family. That's what she was missing, what she hadn't thought of. That's what she'd be losing, if she stayed. What would they think of her? Would they forget her? Or would she be just a missing persons report? Could she cause them that pain? And—could she leave them?
The last was easy enough to answer. She could. She always could. In many ways, she already had: Above, she saw them only occasionally, and Below, it had been days before she even remembered them. Toby was the only one she would regret, but he was young, and resilient. Even if he remembered her, even if he grew up knowing he'd lost a sister, he'd be alright. He'd go on, and the grief would be a child's grief, and he'd still live a good life up there. She'd given up her dreams for him, once; he was safe, now, and she didn't need to do it again.
So that was it. If Jareth loved her, and if she could accept his work, she would stay. If not… if not, she'd ask to move to a room in the guest wing, and distance herself from him, and do her best to find her way home on her own. Or perhaps, in time, simply fade away.
It should have been simple, but the next day, Jareth still had not returned. She paced the Castle, searching every room she could reach, and even asked the Goblins, but none of them had seen the King. Tomorrow would be Long, Long enough to reach the edge of the Labyrinth again now that she had some idea of a path, even if it wasn't the Shortest. After some thought, she determined that if he wasn't back when she woke, she would go ask Hoggle if he knew where Jareth could be found. Even if he didn't, it would be good to get his perspective on her decisions, and he would be anxious to know that she was alright, after their last parting. And, at the very least, Jareth had always come for her if she was out in the Labyrinth at sunset. She could only trust that he'd come for her this time as well.
Through the Junkyard, past the sundial obelisk, quick in the Mirrors, around the hedges, over a fallen wall: the journey was easy enough to retrace, even alone. She had that sense of direction: once she'd gone somewhere on her own two feet, she could almost always find it again. It hadn't mattered her first time through, but it served her well now. As she walked, she thought through everything she needed to say to Jareth, running through potential conversations. She would ask about the history first, and about how he saw his position. If that satisfied, then they could get to the rest.
She came, finally, to the outer wall, and only then realized that she had no idea how to find the Gate without the assistance of its Keeper. Well, if she couldn't find it, hopefully Jareth would find her, but in the meantime, the first thing to do was try the obvious.
"How to do I get out of the Labyrinth?" She asked her question to the empty air. Immediately to her right, the wall rippled and changed, and the great gates groaned open.
She stepped out quickly, turning to look for a sign of Hoggle, and stopped short, staring at the top of the hill. Jareth was standing there, again, but dressed normally, not in his formal attire. He wasn't watching the gate, either; he was staring out across the Labyrinth, thoughtful, not pained. He didn't look at her, but she knew he would not run away; he knew she was there. Slowly, she climbed the hill to stand beside him, and waited to see if this time he could break the silence.
"Always we return to the site of previous confrontations." His voice was very quiet, only a pitch above the gusting wind. She heard the concession, as well: he took the first step, and it had taken only minutes. She would have spoken, eventually, but it moved her that he had begun.
"I'd rather it be here, than in the Stairs," she answered. "I don't pass here every day."
"We have enough memories, there."
Carefully, she drew breath again. He had broken the silence, but she needed to speak next.
"I'm sorry I hurt you," she began quietly, "with what I said. With—when I repeated what I said the first time. It… wasn't really pleasant for me, either. And what I said when we returned to the Castle. And thank you—I know you were there, that night." He nodded, once. "I wish… I wish you had stayed. But I understand that you weren't ready yet.
"You are right, about my freedom," she went on. "I've been seeing myself as your prisoner, or maybe the Labyrinth's, but it isn't that simple. I didn't mean for you to bring me here, but I understand why you did and even why you thought it was okay. I—I would probably have agreed, myself, had you explained just a little bit more."
"That is… good to know," he said, slowly. He inhaled a moment, as though to speak again, and then stayed silent.
"I'm not ready to say that I'll stay; I'm not ready to give up wanting to go, not yet," she said carefully, and he turned, finally, to look at her, his mouth set in a thin line, his eyes perfectly blank. "But I did a lot of thinking, and I think I maybe could say that, if you…." She trailed off, not certain how to finish.
"If I…" he prompted, his voice edging into impatience.
"I have a few questions," she said, taking a different tack. "A few more things I need to know."
"Shall we return to the Castle?" he asked, and she heard cautious hope, the beginning of peace.
"I think I'd like to stay here, for the first," she answered, and he tensed again, only a little. "I tried to look this up myself, but your library is impossible. How did the Labyrinth come to be? Why do you take children? What does it mean, to be the Goblin King?"
He let out a slow breath, his face softening as he watched her, and then he gestured, conjuring a blanket to cover the sandy hillside.
"Sit," he said. "I will tell you the tale." She did as he asked, crossing her legs to sit facing him rather than the Labyrinth. He turned to watch his domain, staring into the distance.
"You ask for the forgotten history of this place," he said quietly. "You have a right to know. Your mythology knows only hints of the story. I myself know it only from books; none of the major participants were alive when I came to live Underground. But I think you will know some of these names." He took a deep breath.
"Moloch began it." He spoke in a voice that lacked emotion, as if reciting a book from memory. "Moloch, who believed that humans bred too quickly. He convinced those who worshiped him to give him their children, sacrifices for his goodwill. He was the first, though others followed. He tied the power into his section of the Underground; to get from Above to his home Below required that he bring a human child. He believed them vermin; he slew them without thought." His voice trembled as he spoke of that sacrifice; he would never countenance such cruelty.
"Minos tamed it, with the help of Zeus. We do not kill our own kind, but they trapped him in the form he liked to take Above, a man with the head of a bull." He nodded as she gasped. "The Minotaur. The connection could not be closed, but it could be moderated. Minos reduced the sacrifices, though he could not end them. The Kingdom Moloch had built, Below, took the form of his surroundings Above, and the Labyrinth was born.
"Theseus and Ariadne ended him. For breaking our law, they paid in loss of love: they were forbidden to see each other again." He laughed softly, shaking his head. "Your world would lack many myths, had they remained together.
"But the Labyrinth, though free of Moloch, required a ruler. Ariadne, now consort of Dionysus, undertook the task, and later passed it on to her son Latramys. Working together, they managed to link the Labyrinth into something like its current form: children given willingly, to enforce the connection between the worlds. Latramys was the first you might call a 'Goblin King,' though goblins were not common, then. Most of the youths sent away were older, and assumed other forms, but the formula was very similar.
"Later, when we were less gods and more benevolent spirits to Men, we forged the connection as the Wish, the Wish you know quite well. The ruler of the Labyrinth, the Goblin King, is bound to answer such requests. Later still, when we realized that strength of connection could be built on Men who came and then left, the practice of offering dreams, or allowing the wisher to challenge the Labyrinth, was instituted, and the first version of the story you knew was spread Above.
"As Goblin King, I am bound to obey the Wish, now. I am the eighth since Latramys. It continued many years in his line, but the last of his sons had no time, Above, to father an heir. When he gave up, I had been Below some two hundred years, and was just coming into my full strength. I did not desire the Kingdom, but was told it was my duty to my people, and so has it remained. Does that answer your question?"
"I think so, yes… but why did you become the Goblin King, instead of being the heir to your family's territory?"
He laughed again, then, mirthless, bitter. "I was the least of them, and at that time, not the last. I was unproven; my cousins thought to outlast me, thanks to their greater experience. And, it was better for us to keep more connections open. My cousin Zaleta on Perun's throne and myself as Goblin King seemed a better bargain, at the time, and shortly after I was bound Zaleta boasted to me that the World Tree would continue long after the Labyrinth had crumbled to dust. She did not last another two hundred years." He scowled. "She could not adapt. I knew she would not."
"And… and why… why do you keep doing it? Why do you send dreams into the night? Why are you not yet weary of the task?"
"I am bound to remain the Goblin King," he said, shrugging. "So will I be, until I exist no longer. As to the rest, the Dreaming is not the duty of any one of us. It was something we began when we knew we had truly dwindled past saving, an effort to reopen connections that might allow us to return Above. It was not successful. However, those of us who loved Mankind continued the practice, knowing that the Above needed Magic, needed the Underground, to truly thrive. Dreams are magic, and any intelligence is nothing without dreams." He sighed. "Had I remained all my days Above, I would be an old man, with only a few centuries remaining to me. Had I followed the old practice and spent roughly half my time Above, I would be in my prime; I would have a family, children. Instead, I am still young, in many ways, and yet also ancient, and I might continue on indefinitely. I am the last. I have taken up this duty, and I would not yet set it down. I have hope, still, for Man."
She sat quietly for a time, too overwhelmed to speak. He was worthy of every good thought, every strong feeling: she could not balk at his work, as Goblin King or as the last of his kind. She wanted to be there, to help him in any way that she could. He deserved every consolation she could give.
Gently, she took his hand, stroking her thumb across the smooth leather. She stood, pulling him to his feet, and stepped close, twisting her arm to place his hand at her back before wrapping her arms around him. His other arm came up to match; he held her gently, as though he feared to crush her, a butterfly between his fingers.
"I have a story to tell you," she said, looking up into his face. "Let's go back to the Castle."
Moloch was a Caananite god known for requiring human sacrifice in the form of children; he is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. King Minos of Crete ordered Daedalus the architect to build the Labyrinth to contain the Minotaur (which in most myth is the son of Minos' wife Pasiphaë and a bull provided by Poseidon). Theseus, son of the neighboring King Aegeus, who provides the sacrifices every seven years, comes swearing to slay the Minotaur. Ariadne, daughter of Minos, falls in love with him when he arrives, and aids him by giving him a ball of thread to help him find his way. Later, the lovers are separated, though accounts vary as to why; either way, Theseus goes on to have many adventures with women (including abducting Helen of Troy long before Paris got around to it) and Ariadne ends up with Dionysus and bears him several sons, of whom the least is said of Latramys. All of these characters have some immortal blood: Theseus' mother slept with both her husband Aegeus and the god Poseidon the night he was conceived, and Poseidon does recognize him as his son. Minos is the son of Zeus and Europa; Ariadne is his daughter, and her mother Pasiphaë is also the daughter of Helios the Sun.
Chapter 19: As Easy Mayst Thou Fall
They appeared, as usual, at her threshold, still holding each other. Sarah had closed her eyes for the transport, but now she opened them, looking up into his face. She felt suddenly very shy. She stepped closer, holding him tighter, and he responded, his arms tightening from his so-gentle hold as he looked down into her face, curious and a bit wary. She took a deep breath, and bit her lip; her tongue traced out to moisten lips that had gone abruptly dry. She opened her mouth to speak, but could say nothing. How could she put into words what he needed to hear? What she needed to hear? She'd thought she had a plan, but it now seemed painfully inadequate. He was so beautiful, so powerful, so self-sacrificing, so worthy of every good thing. And everything in her screamed that he was all those wonderful things, and he wanted her. She had the power to hurt him. She had the power to heal him. If she rejected him, if she threw him away, what would become of him then? After having her, could he give her up? Did she want him to? A voice whispered that she needed his love, as much as he needed hers. Her breathing picked up, her heart hammering in her chest; surely he could feel it. Now was the time to ask him, now was the time to tell him, but her voice caught in her throat as her mind pressed ahead into what would follow his admission, the admission she was sure was coming. He would press her back to the door and hold her wrists and his mouth would come down and….
She blinked, a quick fluttering of eyelids, and at that break in eye contact his eyes moved to search her face, lingering on her lips. She knew he could sense how nervous she was, and most likely her desire as well. She had made it clear, she thought, on that sandy hill, that tonight was not a night for teasing to go unfulfilled. And much as she'd wanted reassurance of his love, as well as acceptance of his work, it seemed her body was leaps and bounds ahead of her mind, willing to take his caring actions as proof that his heart was with her.
She had things to ask him, and perhaps to tell him, about her first time in the Labyrinth and all the years since. But now, standing so intimately close, so very ready to give in, she wasn't thinking of the things she should be saying to him. While one part of her mind played the fantasy, the part that was present and still searching for words was thinking, instead, of his warm chest, partly bare, pressed against hers, the planes of his back where she held him, the softness of his shirt a perfect complement to the smooth muscles beneath. Her fingers moved, without her command, pressing into his back below his shoulder blades. Thinking also of his sacrifice, his pride, his gift of himself.
This was that spark, just like in her fantasies. The longer she stayed silent, not moving, the tension mounting between them, the more his expression changed. Wary curiosity gave way to a flash of wonder; wonder turned dark as he searched her face, taking in her reactions, the arousal she was just now giving herself permission to feel completely. She'd touched him so many times, and pushed it away; now it seemed all that repressed desire was cresting in her, drawing her forward with all the unavoidable power of a tidal wave—and all its potential for destruction. If they—and then—and he didn't—then she would regret—but she didn't know how to stop.
This was that look, the look she'd seen at the concert, the one she had wanted from him, all those days ago. He was drinking her in, openly: attraction, need, sensual appreciation, lust. Power. And something else, too, something that kept him from just pushing, now; something that was waiting for her okay. She could feel his heart pounding, too, in time with her own. She knew he'd been patient, so very long, lying beside her and not truly touching her, not pressuring her, even when she'd teased him in the Field of Doors. Now his hands were moving, stroking up and down her back, pressing her close: not overtly sexual, but neither was it the gesture of a friend: it was repressed desire, seeking outlet. Passion and need and loneliness and maybe a bit of lingering hurt anger, in need of healing. And on her side, passion as well; and trust and selflessness and bone-deep need to grab her dreams in both hands and make them real.
His head lowered, just a fraction. Maybe he was staring at her breasts, maybe the wait was too much for him; she didn't know. She didn't care. He was in reach. She pressed up on her toes and caught his lips with hers and he must have been going in for a kiss after all because he didn't start in surprise or pull away. His fingers dug into her back as she opened her mouth and welcomed him in, their first kiss in brutal variation, bruising instead of gentle, his tongue demanding, his teeth on the point of drawing blood.
She battled back, within the kiss, seeking some measure of control; he pushed her, bodily, backing her into the door as she'd imagined him doing just moments—or was it minutes?—ago. Her hands were clutching at his shirt, at his shoulders; one leg wrapped, of its own accord, around his calf. Time stopped; there was nothing but him, against her, his pleasant assault, her equal response. He pulled away, finally, gasping, drawing in deep, ragged breaths as he trailed kisses along her jaw, down her neck. She arched into him, letting her head fall back.
"Do not tease me, Sarah," he growled against her throat, nipping, sucking. She'd have a mark. There was no one here to see. His hands slammed into the door on either side of her head and she jumped, her body pressing closer to him; he brought his leg forward and pushed her back, pinning her against the wood. "Not now; not tonight." He nibbled his way up her throat, making her gasp; it turned to a moan when he sucked her earlobe into his mouth, biting so hard it almost hurt.
"I… I… I…." She couldn't even get the sentence started; her mind was too taken up with what he was doing to her body. His hands ran down her arms, circled her hips, digging in. Summoning up her resolve, she pushed against his chest to make him back up, meeting his eyes and trying to catch her breath. "I don't mean to tease," she said swiftly. "No more." He kissed her again, hungrily, desperately, closing the gap she'd created, but ended it quickly, pulling back, breathing hard, as he, too, sought to form words. His forehead pressed to hers, as though he couldn't stand to be too far away.
"This is not all I—" he began, but she cut him off when he stopped to breathe.
"I know." This isn't all I want from you, either. She leaned in, kissing the corner of his mouth, across to his jawline, down the side of his neck.
"You were going to tell me—" he tried again.
"Later." My story can wait. Maybe it's better I show you. Her hands found the hem of his shirt, pulling it free so she could reach the bare skin beneath.
"Sarah, no more, or I—" She could hear the edge of his control.
"Don't stop." I'm sure.
He picked her up, then, wrapping her legs around his waist, holding her tightly by her thighs, pressing her back into the door. Her arms wrapped around his neck, her ankles crossed behind his back, pressing them closer, and she could feel him, finally, gloriously, as he thrust against her through their clothing. He pressed his mouth to hers, a messy kiss, his tongue flicking out to dominate hers, destroying their power of speech. Her head banged painfully against the wood as he thrust again, and she dropped one hand from his neck, reaching for the doorknob. Her door.
"Not here," she gasped, tearing her lips from his. He stared at her, incredulous, until she managed to add, "inside;" he grabbed her fumbling hand and helped her turn the knob. They pushed the door as one and he didn't let her go, just carried her in. He strode quickly to her chaise and they fell onto it; she yelped as his weight came down a bit too hard, crushing the breath from her lungs.
"Sorry," he breathed, kissing down her neckline.
"Don't," she answered, meaning don't worry, and then his hands—bare hands, when had he done that?—were sliding under the edge of her shirt and lifting it up over her head, flinging it away over his shoulder. His hands slid back down her arms, wrapping around behind her shoulders; she fisted both hands in his flowing collar and pulled him down for another kiss. Under her back, he flicked open the clasp of her bra and she spared a moment to wonder where he'd learned to do that so expertly. Maybe he'd studied modern clothing.
That answer was coming later, though, because he'd got her out of it and he had one breast in either hand, the rough pressure tearing another groan from her throat. She ran her hands up his back, and the loose material of his shirt fell across her breasts and his hands, wonderfully cool against heated skin. She'd never get tired of silk.
He'd had enough, though; he reached back and pulled it off in one smooth motion. She stared at his chest as she reached for his pants; she'd seen hints, of course, with the open shirts he favored, but the whole expanse of toned muscle was quite the view. But appreciation was quickly abandoned for annoyance.
"Do you paint these on?" She tugged at his waistband, but nothing happened. There were no fastenings. Giving up, she grabbed him through the cloth, and shivered at his readiness; oh yes, he wanted this, and now.
He'd gone still under her hand, holding himself up, his hands even with her waist, his head lowered. But after a moment he moved, quick as a snake, and grabbed her wrists, pushing her back to pin them over her head. His hands were shaking, and he leaned down, resting a moment in the hollow of her neck, his breath coming in short pants.
"Stop—Sarah I—" He breathed deeply, deliberately, and lifted to look down at her, speaking between kisses along her jaw, up to her temple. "Later. All you want. I promise. But for now—it has been too long—I—"
Ohh, so she was straining his control. She quirked an eyebrow: been too long?
"How long, then?" She shifted, deliberately, beneath him, her whole body a caress. His chest was wonderfully warm, against her breasts.
"Four hundred years? Perhaps longer." He ghosted kisses across her brow, not meeting her eyes. "And never someone who mattered."
"Hush, dear one. Ask me later. All you want, later, please." She almost laughed at the need in his voice; almost, but it was too flattering, too perfect, too exactly what she wanted to hear.
"Alright." She leaned back, and didn't touch him. Someone who mattered.
"To answer your other question, it is magic, not paint," he laughed, low, kneeling back to kiss her stomach as he reached for her more mundane clothing. She lifted her hips to help him along. "More comfortable that way."
"Oh." With this slight respite she was thinking maybe they really should talk first, but then he had her naked—where had her shoes gone?—and his tongue flicked out between her legs and she hooked one leg over the back of the chaise to give him space and oh, that was the end of rational thought for a little while.
His hands were everywhere, her thigh, her breast; hers were in his hair, holding him down, pulling back, adjusting the pressure. It was wonderful, more than wonderful, but she wanted—she wanted—
And then he was there, leaning over her, her hands still in his hair, his leg bare against her inner thigh. He lowered his hips and she could feel him, so close, hot, ready, hard. He lifted her, just slightly, positioning himself, and leaned forward to kiss her, reverent and slow.
"Jareth, please," she whispered, against his lips. "Don't stop."
He pressed into her, steady and complete, his head falling against her collarbone, and moaned, softly, a sound so faint it was almost a whimper. And then he moved, again, and harder, and so this is what people wrote stories about, this was that soaring height, the fulfillment of that glorious promise. She arched upwards, kissing his shoulder, his neck, her hands running up and down his back, his holding her hips, holding her steady. He raised his head and kissed her, and she let him carry her away.
"That... was not quite how I'd planned this to go," she said, laughing, some time later, her hands drawing lazy patterns on his back as he lay across her. He stirred, looking up at her curiously.
"What did you plan, my dear?" He'd called her that frequently, but her breath caught at the endearment as it hadn't before. It felt different, now. "Something about a story?"
"Yes..." she trailed off, "and I had another question... it was all sort of tied together." She ran a hand through his hair and he positively purred, twisting against her shoulder as her fingertips scrubbed across his scalp. She smiled, and kissed his forehead. They should be talking now, but somehow it seemed less important. She found she liked this new side of him; he'd been mischievous, before, but not playful. She'd never seen him quite so content.
As she came back to her body, fully, she shivered; she was naked and sweaty, the room was chilly, and suddenly she felt the day in the Labyrinth, dirt and sore muscles. A bath. A bath would be heaven. And they could talk.
"Get up," she said, poking him in the shoulder. He sat, as she requested, freeing her, watching her carefully.
She shook her head, and leaned in to kiss him, gently. "I just want to wash, Jareth. I was walking all day. And I think…" she stood, and reached both hands for him. "Come with me." She'd lost him when she stood, she saw, looking down to try to catch his eye. He was staring at her like a man dying of thirst. "Jareth?"
He grabbed her then, pulling her near, his head against her stomach. He held her tightly, as she hesitantly stroked his hair, for nearly a minute before he let go.
"My Sarah," he said softly, stroking a hand across her belly, down her hip. Then he shook himself, dislodging his mood. "Yes. I will go with you." She only meant the bath, but he said it like a promise for eternity.
He'd laughed, at her bathroom, and sounded a bit more like himself as he told her that it had arranged itself to suit her expectations and that faucets and drains were completely unnecessary; the tub filled and emptied magically. The fixtures merely worked as she expected them to. He waved a hand, and they were gone; the tub filled with steaming water. When she protested that she couldn't do it that way he shrugged and said he'd put it back later if the room didn't fix itself. And now they were relaxing together in the tub, Sarah leaning back on his chest, between his legs, his arm loose at her waist, occasionally caressing. He was hard again, against her back, but seemed content to leave it for now, taking pleasure instead in their close contact, in gentle caresses. They'd washed, and kissed, and she was thinking clearly again. It was time, and past time.
"Yes, my Sarah?"
"I was going to…."
"A story; I remember."
"I feel a little silly, now. But I think—"
"Just tell me." He pushed her hair away from her face, kissed her temple. She took a deep breath.
"Once upon a time," she began, "there was a beautiful young girl whose stepmother always made her stay home with the baby." She could feel his chuckle, more than hear it; his chest vibrated against hers. "And the baby was a spoiled child, and he wanted everything for himself, and the young girl was practically a slave." He tensed, inhaled, ready to interrupt; she stilled him. "More than anything else, the young girl loved fairy tales, and other stories of the fantastic, of worlds beyond her sad, lonely town." She sensed a change in him, a tension, as she broke from the standard tale. "And one of her favorite stories was the story of the Goblin King. In her favorite book, it said, 'But what no one knew, was that the King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and he had given her certain powers.' But in all the rest of the book, those 'certain powers' were never described. She wondered what they might be, and what they might mean, if the story had gone differently."
Here he stopped her. "But what the young girl did not know, was that the King of the Goblins was real. He could find those who read the tale, and he had been watching her. Every time he could, he watched her, as she practiced the heroine's lines in the park, and dreamed of making them real. And he was enchanted by her childlike innocence, still present on the cusp of adulthood." She stilled at his words; she'd always wondered, never known; it had seemed that he already knew her, when he'd stepped into Toby's room so long ago. She was grateful, also, that he was following her formula, now; she'd needed a way to get started, rather than just blurting out her question.
"But the girl did a foolish thing," she said, taking the story threads again. "Because, in her youth, she was spoiled, and selfish, and lonely."
"And the burden placed on her shoulders was great." He reached for her hand, where it rested on his knee, and interlaced his fingers with hers. She wanted to argue, but he didn't lie, and other things were more important. Besides, it was nice to hear that she hadn't just been a spoiled brat.
"She said the words from the book, to make the Goblins take him away, but nothing happened. She was almost disappointed. And then she made a wish."
"She used different words?"
"No. She said, 'I wish I did know what to say to make the goblins take you away.' In that moment, she thought she heard a whisper, but it was just on the edge of her hearing. Thinking her wish unfulfilled, and unable to quiet the child, who lacked for nothing, she turned to let him simply cry it out. Just as she turned out the lights, she said, 'I wish the goblins would come and take you away right now.' And the crying stopped, as quickly as her flick of the switch."
"The goblins are tied to the magic of the Wish," he said. "It is not unusual that they would hint at the right words."
"I wondered if you had done it."
"No," he said softly. She was quiet for a moment, then went on.
"The goblins did come, then, and their King. And she knew that everything about the story was real, and that no matter how she asked, he would not give her brother back unless she completed the Labyrinth. And in spite of everything, she loved the baby boy, and she wanted him back; she would run. But this is not the story of the girl's quest for her brother."
"No. That story has been told, more than once. This is the story of the Girl and the Goblin King." She took an unsteady breath. "Before she wished away her brother…. Every young girl imagines herself the heroine. The girl the Goblin King loved. She might have been an easy mark for the man who wrote the book." She shrugged, but his arms and legs tightened, possessively, around her, and he hissed in her ear, a wordless denial. "I'm here," she soothed. "Jareth."
He shook his head, where he'd brought it down next to hers, and loosened his grip. "I do not like the thought of him touching you. But he is gone. And I think also you were stronger and more stubborn than you give yourself credit for."
"Why?" She twisted, a little, to look at him.
He smiled, mysteriously. "I have had many challengers, over the years. Some who did quite well, even. But only you ever broke the Enchanted Dream."
She didn't like that, not at all. Had he taken others to that same ballroom? Had he sung, for others, that same song? "Do you dance with everyone, then?"
"No," he said, forcefully, and then, more quietly, "no. Neither is the dream the same for each dreamer. I am always present; dream manipulation on that scale is dangerous and if a dreamer went mad they would be no use to me when sent back Above." Ruthless. Practical. I can't ever forget that. "You were not the first I danced with, thanks to that little red book; you were not the first to imagine herself in the heroine's role."
Not the first to imagine that the Goblin King might love the girl. Her heart twisted.
"But you were the first I sang to," he went on. "The song—that was only for you." His arms were tight as iron bands, his lips against her cheek, her ear, her neck, kissing, biting; his whole body willing her to trust him. "And," he went on, "later… you are the only one I ever asked to stay." His hands were roaming now, caressing. She swallowed, believing him, and arched into his touch.
"After I left," she said, almost breathless, "I saw you. Sometimes. Was that real?"
"Yes. So brief. You were thinking of me. I can sense you wishing for me, even unconsciously, when you are Above." He had her breasts, now, and she pressed into his chest, moaning, as he twisted a nipple. "Hard to play a god, otherwise. But you had to say it, for me to stay. Because of…."
"Right." Was he distracting her on purpose? He must be. She took both his hands and lowered them, placing them on her stomach, trying for a bit of mental space. He started kissing the outside of her shoulder, working in towards her neck.
"Jareth... what I was saying before... I think I know, already, but I need to hear..."
"Ask, dear one," he mumbled, into her hair, his hand tracing patterns on her stomach, down her thighs.
"I know you said it was just the story… that you didn't even write the original tale. But Jareth, I have to know… Is it true, this time?" She paused, took a steadying breath; his hands stilled. "Did the Goblin King…" she trailed off; that was too impersonal. "Do you love me?"
He wrapped her tightly in his arms, his mouth behind her ear. "Since the first time ever I saw you." She could feel him swallow; he kissed her, where his mouth rested. "My Sarah." She closed her eyes, pleasure stabbing through her heart like pain, then twisted in his arms, not caring if she splashed, to kiss him fiercely. At her response he stood, lifting her bodily out of the tub; placing his hands at her waist he walked her quickly backwards until her knees hit the bed and bent of their own accord.
"More talking, after," he said, his hands running up and down her sides, over her rear. He was kissing her dry, his lips picking up bits of moisture that clung still to her cheeks, her brows, her eyelashes, and she was reaching to cup him, again; he growled when she grabbed him, and lifted her slightly to throw her into the middle of the bed, and she was lost, again, in his arms.
Spent from their second bout, they lay close together, recovering. She had ended up on her stomach, Jareth behind; now he was sprawled across her back, half his weight on the bed and half on her, a comfortable pressure. His head rested on her shoulder blade, his hair tickling her nose as she turned her face in his direction.
"More talking," she said softly, trying to get him to look at her. "About… me."
He had been completely limp, over her; now he tensed, a single trembling shiver rippling through him as he shifted to press his face into her neck.
She pushed up, dislodging him slightly to turn in his arms. She needed to look him full in the face.
"Jareth. Look at me." He met her eyes. "I'll stay."
His eyes closed again, and he pulled her close; though she'd felt his earlier tremor, she was astonished to note that now he was shaking, so hard that she vibrated with it as well. She cuddled close, soothing him with her hands and hooking one leg behind his knees, so that they lay aligned. He kissed her, gently, like a promise, then simply held her, bringing his mouth to her ear.
"My Sarah; my beloved."
Chapter 20: A Drop of Water
On the first day, everything was beautiful.
The night had passed in lovemaking and occasionally in sleep; Jareth whispered words of love, of devotion, that she answered with promises of forever. He hadn't stopped touching her, holding her, not once, as though he was afraid that this was a dream, that she was not quite real. He even said it, once: "I dreamed this." She pinched him, hard, and he glared for a moment, until she kissed the glare away.
Now, the sunlight suggested late afternoon, and Sarah was cuddled into his shoulder, trailing her hand slowly over his chest, watching each individual small, sparse, pale hair bend under her fingers.
"What are you thinking, beloved?"
"I've never really looked at you before." She felt him shift, knew that he had raised his trademark questioning eyebrow, but she didn't look up. "Well, yes, we saw quite a bit of each other last night, and this morning," she smiled, and felt him laugh, "but not in detail." She moved, following her fingers closely with her eyes, trailing them lightly down his side. To her surprise, he jumped. "You're ticklish?" Her devilish smile was completely involuntary.
"Sarah dear, unless you wish—" His hands came down to grip her shoulders; not hard or constraining, but present.
"No, I think we shall save that little revelation. Right now I want to keep exploring." He laughed and released her, then stretched like a cat, allowing her ministrations. She circled her finger over the sharp edge of his pelvis, then kissed it. "Hmm, I like this better. Perhaps I'll kiss every new part." Her fingers trailed across the tops of his thighs, followed closely by her lips. She teased a bit across his knee, feeling him shiver again, then kissed down the top of his shin, and the top of his foot, and each individual toe. Moving down below his feet, she pressed her thumbs firmly into his sole, rubbing up from the heel to massage the balls of his feet.
"Sarahhh..." It was something between a sigh and a moan, and she had intended this only in play, not to get him going again already, but hearing her name on his lips so pleadingly she knew she'd never get over his whole body before one of them broke. Well, she'd count it a win if she could get all the way over his legs. She repeated the massage on his other foot, earning an inarticulate sigh, then kissed her way back up to the top of his other thigh. Then, ignoring his growing erection, she pushed his legs apart, kneeling between them to place a kiss in the crease of his thigh, pretending not to notice the way he gasped as her nose grazed his balls. She moved down again, slowly and steadily, tongue and teeth as well as lips, licking under his knee and then working her way down to his ankle. At each kiss, she could feel his growing tension, the muscles in his legs twitching as he fought to hold still. Switching legs again, she slowed her pace, reveling in the way he was now shivering in anticipation, licking and sucking her way up his calf until, again, she swirled her tongue under the bend of his knee. She paused, nuzzling her nose into his skin and smiling.
Quick as lightning she was on her back, Jareth leaning over her, his eyes full of fire, one hand pinning both of hers above her head. Slowly now, he kissed her cheek, then the corner of her mouth, moving down her jaw, avoiding her lips, though she moved to kiss him.
"Torment me, will you? Turnabout is fair play, my dear."
Later, she asked him again, "What do you want?"
He answered, "You."
On the second day, they finally made it out of bed.
"Are you hungry, beloved?" Jareth's head was resting on her stomach; he could probably hear it grumbling.
"A little," she admitted, finally. "I have been, but… I hate to end this."
"Dearest, we have only to refresh our strength." He stood, pulling her to her feet. "Come." When they passed the threshold of her chamber, both were clothed. Sarah noted absently that magic clothes really were more comfortable: the fit was better than the best tailoring, and there were absolutely no seams. Less fun to remove passionately, maybe, but she could see the advantage. In the next step, they were in the middle of the hedge maze, at a neat dead end, where a picnic blanket was spread.
"This is familiar," she teased.
"Perhaps. But I have something different in mind this time."
He sat on the ground, pulling her down to him, then pushing her back against pillows that appeared to catch her. Propping himself up on his elbow, he leaned over her. "Now, you hold still."
"How do I eat like this?"
"Let me take care of you." At first, he used his fingers, feeding her little bits of meat and fruit, but when she saw him sip from a goblet of some cool liquid—juice?—she made her thirst known. She started to sit, to reach for a drink, but he stopped her, catching her lips and kissing her back into the pillows. "Did I not tell you to hold still?" he said, with mock severity.
"Trust." He took a mouthful of liquid; then, holding his lips closed, leaned over her and pressed his closed mouth to her lips. Understanding, she tentatively opened her mouth, and sipped directly from his lips. The drink was still cool, crisp, and delicious. When he moved back, she giggled; the gesture was silly, but also erotic, requiring trust and care. "Well?"
"More please." The second sip went smoother; it was easier with practice.
When they had finished eating, she leaned into him, nuzzling into his shoulder. "I don't want to move. Can we just stay here forever?"
"No, beloved," he answered, "but we need not move just yet." She slipped a hand into the open collar of his shirt, caressing gently, and he leaned back into the pillows and pulled on her top leg, so that she straddled him. She leaned in for a kiss, which he gently returned, holding her in place, his hands around her upper arms.
"It feels almost… too perfect," she said, when they broke apart. "Is that strange to say?"
He rolled them, pressing her down; she wriggled to get comfortable, trapping his legs with hers. He kissed the corner of her mouth, her jaw, her throat.
"My land is made of fairy tales," he whispered, and she thought, and they lived happily ever after.
She woke in the middle of the night, before the third day, alone. Jareth wasn't in the room, or on the balcony, but the door to the King's Stair stood open. The Eyrie. Of course.
As she had seen him before, he was sitting in the window, blowing dreams into the night. Moving close, she joined him, silently pushing him away from the wall so that she could climb up behind him on the sill, cradling him as he worked, nibbling gently on the back of his neck as her fancy took her, and combing her fingers through his hair. When he had finished, he leaned back into her shoulder, turning his head to push his face into her neck.
"Good dreams, I hope?"
"Some," he answered softly, now kissing her ear. "You inspire me."
"I want to keep doing that."
In reply, he turned and took her in his arms, and kissed her like he was drowning and she was air.
On the fourth day she woke alone in the morning, and found him standing at the doorway of the Relative Stairs. She moved to him, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"Thinking, Jareth?" He said nothing, but his hands came up to hold onto hers, where she held him. "Will you tell me what you were thinking about?"
"I have not seen a single goblin for three days." His voice was flat, as though that wasn't the whole story.
"Well, they haven't burnt down the castle; I'm sure they're fine." She tightened her hold on his waist. "Play a game with me?"
"What game, dear one?"
"Tag... you're it!" And she took off, running up and around the stairs. She was ahead of him, she thought, until suddenly, she turned a corner and he was there. Grabbing her shoulders, he leaned in and kissed her.
"My turn to run," he laughed, and let her go, disappearing over the edge of the platform. She followed, but he was too quick, and at the next turning she found he was out of her sight. He reappeared across the room and she moved his way as quickly as possible, only to find that he was gone again. She chased him around several more corners, then, finally, found herself standing on a wide floor, with Jareth directly above her, standing on what, to her, appeared as ceiling. If she could bring herself to let go, she could catch him, but that was the one trick of the room she had yet to master. She'd never tried again, after the first time.
"Come, beloved," he taunted. "Truce, if you can reach me now." She hesitated, and he reached out to her. "Sarah, I will not allow you to be hurt. Come to me. Trust me." He paused, then said, softer, "You are not too young, any longer." His words gave her the courage she'd lacked, the last time she'd stood in the same position; the spectre of the past haunted her no more. She looked to him to ground her, and felt herself fall, accelerating as his gravity took over. She reached out, as he had taught her, and pulled just a little on the gravity she'd left, seeking a gentle landing over an undignified crash, and, to her surprise, she landed gently on her feet, just in front of him. He hadn't needed to catch her at all. The adrenaline from what she'd just done hit her suddenly and she burst into surprised laughter, her knees buckling slightly. He wrapped her in his arms to steady her, and she could hear his smile as he spoke into her hair. "Well done, beloved. How you turn my world."
On the fifth day, she found him in the Throne Room, thinking again, sprawled in his throne amid the cacophony of goblins drinking and fighting and laughing. She watched him a moment, then went to him, curling her fingers into the hand that had been resting at his chin.
"This is the third time I've woken up to find you gone." She smiled so he would see she was teasing, not accusing. "Did you miss the goblins so very much?"
"The noise helps me think, on occasion."
"And what are you thinking about?"
He paused before answering, and she knew he was weighing his answer carefully. "Sarah, will you permit me to use magic on you directly?" Given the way he had paused, she didn't know if he was answering her question or avoiding it, but she knew they wouldn't get back to that conversation until he had the answer to this new question.
"Don't you already?"
"I use magic around you, but even transportation is not exactly what I mean; it works somewhat differently." As he spoke, he guided her around the throne and into his lap.
"What do you mean, then?" In answer, he took her hand, drawing one finger down the middle of her palm. Her palm filled with warmth, buzzing and tingling, and she gasped; the feeling shifted to icy cold and then briefly, tingly pain before the warmth returned. He leaned in close, meeting her eyes.
"Things like that. I can do that... anywhere." His look was dark desire; his smile knowing. "And that particular touch was muted by the gloves."
Her breath caught on the erotic promise of his suggestion, and, slowly, she nodded. "Yes. Yes. There is only one thing I don't want, and that's for you to use magic to change my mind."
"I would never, beloved." He took her wrist in his hand and brought it to his lips, trailing kisses up her arm. "I might distract you, drive you wild, encourage you to forget, all with my touch, magic or no, but you will always have free will. This I vow." She was trembling, now, his touch and his words working together, far more effective than either alone. He drew her forward as his lips moved up her arm, above the elbow, until his cheek was pressed to hers and he was whispering in her ear. "Shall we adjourn upstairs, my love?"
Back in the bedroom, she was unclothed almost before she noticed, spread across the bed with him above her, lost in sensation until, without warning, something grasped her wrist and pulled it out, away from her body. She pulled away from his kisses to look, and saw that a silk tie had looped around her wrist and the bedpost, holding her arm securely, though not painfully.
He grinned down at her, eyes sparkling with mischief and desire. "Trust me, beloved," he whispered. "Let me give you the full demonstration. Let me make you squirm, make you sing. Put yourself in my power." As he spoke, another tie drew her free wrist to the opposite bedpost. She shivered, half fear, half anticipation. His confidence, his strength of command, was as alluring as it had always been; his hands caressed her distractingly, cupping her breasts to graze across her nipples. "And if ever it is too much, just say your right words."
"My—my right—" She could hardly think, lost in the touch of his hands, the power of his presence.
He drew back, giving her space, meeting her eyes. "Wish that I would stop."
"I understand." Her voice came out a breathy whisper. "Do as you will; I'm yours."
His laugh was wicked as he kissed her, and cords threaded her ankles as well, tightening until she was spread-eagled in the middle of the bed, all, like the first, not painful, but she also couldn't move. A fifth wound around her shoulders and torso, tightening slightly so that her breasts pointed upwards with the pressure. Another time, another place, another man—she might have been frightened—but she kept her eyes fixed on his face and there was no fearing the blatant worship in his gaze.
And then—oh God, it wasn't just his fingers, he could do it with his lips, with his tongue; his mouth around her nipple was warm and tingly but his tongue was cold as ice, and the contrast as he flicked it against her made all her muscles clench. Lightning bolts of sensation skittered up and down her back, racing across her skin, and maybe it was magic or maybe just biology but she felt every touch of his mouth on her nipple as though his mouth caressed between her legs. His hand was heavy as he palmed her other breast, and his thumb pressed into the hardened nipple was like a thrust inside her. Masterfully, he touched her until she was frantic with need, never once touching where she truly desired, drawing her close to the edge of release and knowing she needed more to find it.
"Ja—ahh! Please, please, I need—ahh!" She was babbling and she knew it, and she didn't care. His lips left her breast as he rose to lie down beside her, his hair tickling her sensitive skin as he bent to whisper in her ear. She strained against the bonds, eager to feel his skin on hers as he leaned over her.
"My Sarah, I will give you what you need when I desire it and not before." He bit her ear, making her cry out, then raised his head to meet her eyes. She found herself looking into that devilish grin, the wicked, expectant smile of the Goblin King. She had thought, once, that she would cower before that gaze, if he turned it on her; now, bound and exposed and excited, she thrilled to it. Her eyes were locked to his, and she was too lost in them to feel him move until, without warning, he dropped the hand that had held her breast and thrust two fingers roughly into her. She arched her back, as much as she could, and cried out, her eyes rolling back in her head and her hands winding into the bonds that held them, looking for purchase.
"Look at me, Sarah," he snapped, and she found she had no choice. "You will not find release until I have given permission." His fingers inside her moved steadily, forcefully, thoroughly, and she bit down on a moan as she nodded her understanding.
Satisfied that she understood, he turned his attentions to her neck, thrilling her with touches of chill and pain against the warmth as his fingers kept up their steady rhythm. Slowly he worked his way down her body, attending to each straining breast, to the inside of her hip, to the swollen flesh where he'd buried his fingers. Each caress seemed a day; each touch an eternity, and slow building tension screamed in her veins. She wanted to take matters into her own hands—she wanted to touch him, to wind her legs around him and force him to take her—but she was bound to his touch and to his will. As slowly as he'd begun, he worked his way back up, until his lips once again brushed against her ear.
"Sarah..." his breath was warm on her cheek, on her ear; his body was hard against hers, his hand filling her, his touch traveling up pleasure to the point of pain and back down again. She'd lost track of time, of her limbs, of her breath, of everything but his hands on her. She was alive only where he touched. "Sarah... let go... now."
She'd lost track of the number of times she'd nearly peaked. She couldn't even have said if she was close. But at his words, her body reacted automatically; every muscle clenched as she spasmed, her toes curling painfully, her head back, her throat torn with a ragged cry, her vision white and empty. Nothing mattered but the power of the release that gripped her, that went on and on as she clenched against his fingers, claiming them, drawing them deep within. He held still, held her there, as her rolling eyes closed in truth and she went completely limp.
It could have been hours later, but was most likely minutes, or perhaps only seconds, when she opened her eyes to look up at him. Her body felt far away; even her face tingled, pleasant pins and needles shivering across her skin. His hand was still inside her, but when she met his eyes, he gently withdrew, bringing his fingers to his lips and licking them slowly, never breaking eye contact.
She drew a shaky breath. "Wow."
He smiled around his fingers, sucking them into his mouth, and despite the boneless feeling in her entire body, she watched him hungrily, a pleasant tingle starting again in her skin as his tongue flicked out to lick his lips. When he bent to kiss her, she tasted her own desire. Her hand strained towards him in the bonds.
"Jareth... please... let me touch you." She arched towards him, flicking out her tongue to trace his lips, the only way she could reach him for a caress. She could feel his heat hard against her hip.
"No," he answered, his voice low, and he moved again, nipping down her jaw and shifting to whisper in her opposite ear. She caught the edge of his ear in her teeth as he passed, pleased to hear him hiss in surprise before he shook her free. "Perhaps if you are very good. But not yet."
On the sixth day, she woke still dazed by the night before. She stretched carefully, feeling rather worn out; Jareth hadn't been lying about the magic in his touch. A girl could get used to that kind of worship. Romance writers, eat your hearts out—you can't begin to imagine what a man like him can do. "Mind-blowing" didn't begin to describe it.
It did leave her with one lasting, burning desire, however. She'd given him such power over her; now, she wanted the same, over him. Fortunately, he'd left the ties in place, and he was still asleep.
She was leaning over his head, to tie his second arm, when he woke; her first warning that he was stirring was when he captured her breast in his mouth. She jumped, but managed to secure his wrist before he realized what she was doing. But a moment later, he tried to reach for her.
"Sarah!" She couldn't tell if he was more annoyed or amused.
"Stop. Don't fight." She leaned over him, kissing him lightly. "I know you can magic or squirm out of this if you want to. I'm asking you not to do it. Just stay right there and enjoy yourself, because there's something I've been wanting to do that requires you to let me have control, and you haven't allowed me that yet." He was still glaring at her, but she smiled again, leaving to work her way down to secure his legs. She kissed his ankle as she tied it.
"I dislike not being in control." She moved to his other leg; his words protested, but he hadn't magicked himself away yet, so she wasn't about to listen. She moved back up to lay beside him, reaching one hand down to stroke him. Despite his protests, he was hardening rapidly. She kissed his neck, then bit gently.
"Please, Jareth," she whispered against his skin. "I trusted you. Trust me back. You aren't giving up control for good." She grinned, moving up so that he could see her clearly. "Believe me, most of the time I like it when you're in charge." He kissed her, then tipped his head back, giving her access to his throat. But she laid only one gentle kiss under his jaw before, moving rapidly, she dropped down between his legs to take him in her mouth.
She had touched him like this in foreplay; it wasn't the first time he'd let her do this—once he had his control back, in any case. But it was the first time she did so without distractions, the first time she could concentrate fully on the task, and she worked to find the motions that pleased him, a bit of gentle suction, a swirl of the tongue, a deliberate swallow so that he pressed into the back of her throat. His groans and gasps were sweet music; and when she hummed in pleasure after one such delightful sound, he let out a moan that nearly undid her resolve to finish this as they were. He felt like heaven in her mouth, straight and thick and strong, a more detailed, immediate, tactile sensation than she felt when they made love. His breathing increased in speed; he flexed his hips, thrusting involuntarily into her mouth. Restrained as he was, he couldn't get far. She picked up the pace, encouraging him.
"Sarah—stop—I need—" The choked cry drew her attention; his breath was coming in rapid pants.
"Ssh!" Rising, she replaced her mouth with her hand and leaned up to whisper in his ear. "Let go. Let me. Don't hold back. Don't stop. Don't worry. Be mine." The rhythm of her hand kept pace with her words, and a full-body shudder passed through him. With a rough, quick kiss, she pulled away to take him in her mouth again. This time, when his breathing quickened and his body tensed, he didn't fight it. She kept up her rhythm, then held on as he cried out and his release spilled forth, holding him and licking him slowly as she swallowed.
As she cleaned him up, she kept an eye on his face. His eyes were closed, his head back, his breathing shallow. His body had gone completely limp. Rising, she snuggled into his side to wait for him to come back to her.
Perhaps a minute later, he stirred. "Sarah… that was…."
"That good, eh?" She kissed the underside of his jaw, proud of herself.
He shifted slightly. "My people… did not… spill seed," he said slowly, his voice hoarse. He had freed the arm under her head, and curled it around to stroke her face. His other arm twitched, as though to join the free one, then subsided.
"What, so you never…?" His head rolled left, then right; she took that as a negative. "But you said no one was ever born here… so why not?"
"We were never so fertile as Men, and when you are practically immortal..." he shrugged, "it is difficult to let go of old ways, old customs." He had freed himself completely, now, and he rolled over to take her in his arms.
"Well, at least tell me I won't have to fight so hard, next time."
This time, she felt his headshake as a brush of his nose in her hair. "No. The ties will be quite unnecessary." He rolled her onto her back, pressing her down and positioning himself between her legs. "However, my love, much as I know you enjoyed that, I believe you are still unsatisfied." She laughed, then gasped, as his fingers trailed over her. "I will see to that."
The seventh day she looked for him, but could not find him. The day was very short, and she was hesitant to stray. In the end, the first sign she saw of his presence all day was a noise in her bedroom; when she looked, she found a beautiful, dark green dress, of a style that fit with his usual attire, and a note asking her to come upstairs to dine when she was ready. She smiled: romance. Perhaps this was why he had been hiding all day. Still, she couldn't help but remember how often he'd been gone, the past several days. How often she'd woken alone; how often he'd left her bed and she'd had to go looking or just wait for him. A niggling worry began at the back of her mind: something's wrong. But she'd gone hours—and sometimes days—without seeing him before they were lovers; perhaps she was just expecting more than he was from this. He did still have responsibilities. But he'd been unusually quiet, as well, and dodged her questions, she now remembered. Before the night where he'd used magic, she'd asked him what he was thinking about, and he'd never really answered. He probably hadn't sought out the Throne Room to consider how best to seduce her with his fantastic touch, and as for yesterday—he'd tired her out and then left again, returning only as she was beginning to think of sleep.
Something's wrong. She couldn't shake the feeling.
The dress was complicated, but she figured it out. There was a moment of confusion when she realized that it buttoned up the back, but when she tried to reach around to take care of it, she felt the buttons begin to close themselves. Apparently invisible maid service went beyond picking up. She left her hair down; she knew he liked it that way.
His room glowed with soft candlelight; the brighter lamps on the walls were dark. The furniture in the room had been rearranged; his desk was clean and empty, his chaise pushed against one wall, the small tables and individual chairs completely absent. In their place, one table, set elegantly for two, sat below the open window.
He rose when she entered, and bowed low over her hand when she offered it, before pulling her close for a swift, sweet kiss. He was dressed in green as well, darker than hers; his eyes were bluer for it, and his pale skin radiant in the dim light.
Dinner was exquisite; while they usually didn't eat so much, there was no reason not to, either. He had taken pains to provide her with her favorites, cooked to perfection, and had even somehow acquired crab cakes like the ones from their first date. She gave a little sigh as she took a bite, smiling with the sensual pleasure of it, then laughed as she remembered what she'd thought at the time.
"Did you know, the first time I had these, I thought they were possibly better than sex?"
He raised one eyebrow. "And now?"
"When I thought that, I hadn't yet slept with you."
Now he looked smug. "I did enjoy watching you eat them. It was a small preview; though I would be quite disappointed if that reaction was all I could draw from you."
She rolled her eyes, smiling. "You know you're good, Jareth."
They were finishing dessert—a decadent chocolate concoction—when she finally summoned the courage to ask what she'd been thinking earlier. She inhaled, deeply, and he stopped eating to look at her.
"I need to ask you something," she said, quietly.
"What is it, Sarah?" He was concerned, careful, focused.
"Jareth, have you been avoiding me?"
"I would hardly call the last six nights avoiding, my dear."
"I know. But you've been gone during the day for the past several days. I know you were before, too... maybe I just feel it more keenly, now." She smiled. "I missed you. We've hardly talked, these seven days."
His heart was in his eyes as he looked at her; he reached a hand to cup her cheek. "I suppose I have had something on my mind." The simple sentence was somehow almost at odds with the romance of his gesture; she knew it was something serious.
"Is there something wrong?" He said nothing. "Jareth, can I help?"
"No; it is being taken care of."
"Tell me what it is." Half a demand, half a plea.
"I will tell you, my Sarah; but not tonight. Tonight... let us enjoy one another. I promise I will tell you tomorrow." She wanted to protest further, but he stilled her. "Nothing said or done tonight will change anything. Help me forget my troubles, these next few hours, my love." He drew her to her feet, and soft music began to play.
It did feel good to let go of everything, she reflected as they danced, the slow, simple movement of lovers who are more focused on their closeness than their steps. The music filled her; instrumental, simple. She closed her eyes, snuggling into his chest, loving the weight of his head as he laid his cheek on her hair. Above, other men, even her family were all a far-away dream; what was past was past. Her future held her in his arms, and they had work to do, together.
She let her mind wander, losing track of time; after a while, the music quieted, and he lifted her, easily, and pushed open the door to his bedroom, laying her reverently on his bed. She registered the room, which she'd never entered, but she couldn't concentrate on her surroundings when his eyes were on her, his hands sliding under her skirts, his mouth lowering to kiss her collarbone. He took his time, undressing her inch by inch, and allowing her to do the same to him. They made love slowly, reverently, each stroke draw out, each caress intense, his body close over hers, her legs wrapping around to trap his knees. She had one hand tangled in his hair, as she kissed him; he had one around her waist, holding her close. She held his gaze as their slow-burning passion sparked, and peaked, and spent itself in synchrony, and then drew him down to whisper in his ear.
"I love you, Jareth."
His arms tightened around her, crushing her to his chest. "I know."
On the eighth day, she awoke, alone, in her old bed, in her apartment, Above.
Chapter 21: The Breaking Gulf
On the pillow beside her sat a carved wooden box, and on top of the box, a letter.
My beloved Sarah,
I am sure you are confused, and perhaps angry, that I have sent you back. As I promised you at dinner, it is time now for me to explain everything; when you finally know the whole tale, perhaps you will understand why, and you will forgive me.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful woman who fell in love very young, and found herself with child before she had planned. It is a common story. She married the child's father, and he had a good career and was able to support her and her child. But always she dreamed of the life she had wanted to pursue, without the child, and though she felt some affection for the child, as one would for any small thing, she felt resentment in greater portion: the child was a trap, a bond she could not break. The more of her life was wrapped up in the child, the stronger that resentment grew, until finally, when the child was eight years old, the mother wished her away to me.
Eight is not too old to take, although it is far older than the average. Most caregivers love too much, by then, and only a primary caregiver can wish away a child: mothers are the most common, followed by fathers, and then the occasional grandparent or older teenager, as you were. It is far more common that I receive infants and toddlers; most of my subjects were under the age of five when they came to the Underground. What was unusual about this eight-year-old child was that in my kingdom, she was unafraid. Rather than cowering away from my subjects, as is far more common, she embraced them, from the fairest to the most frightening. Normally, a wished-away Mortal, especially one old enough to understand, would spend the thirteen hours during which she could be reclaimed in an enchanted sleep, in order that she not be frightened. Happy dreams are better for us than nightmares. Only if her wisher failed would she awaken and, in time, find her place in my Kingdom. But not this child.
She played with my goblins, and she sat on my lap and listened as I told her the old tales, and told me stories she'd made up in return. I was enchanted. I had never wanted anything so much as to keep the child with me in the Underground, to have her remain so fresh and kind, so open and loving, to stay with me all her days. But I knew what would happen, if I did. Although she was older than most who came to my Castle, she was still too young to remain as she was, if she stayed. If she stayed now, a child still, I could not keep her. She would fade, one part of her nature called out by the magic, the rest lost, until her outer form matched her inside, as I have described to you. But there were stories, so old that they were nearly legend to me, of Men who came to the Underground as adults, who, through strength of will and established character, could retain their own nature, or perhaps simply assume some of the nature of my kind. You may remember that the Greeks have some stories of Men who take their place among the Gods. And so I knew: if I wanted any chance at all to keep this girl, it was necessary that first I let her go, to grow Above, away from me, and develop that strength.
Her mother, consumed with guilt, had taken up the challenge of the Labyrinth, but in eight hours she had not come very far—not even as far as you had come in half that time. And I could feel that she wanted to give up, that the pull of her dreams was still strong on her, warring with guilt over leaving her child, aided by despair as she knew she was far, far from saving the girl. So I went to her, again, and offered her a new bargain.
Normally, when a Mortal chooses their dreams over their child, the memory of the child fades, from all who knew her. Crushing guilt is not part of beautiful dreams, after all. To this mother, I offered a second bargain, on top of the trade of her child for her dreams. I told her that when the thirteen hours were up, the child would be returned to her Above; but the price was that her dreams would be deferred for a few years, rather than coming true immediately, and that in the meantime, she was to devote herself to the child, and most importantly, to ensure that the child still wanted to believe in fairy tales. Though I took from her the details of our encounter, still she retained those two things as absolutely true: she continued to foster a love of stories and storytelling in her daughter, and she continued to believe that her dreams would come true, one day.
I returned to the Castle to spend the time remaining with the child, and showed her around to several parts of the Kingdom. We played and talked until finally she fell asleep in my arms. I knew that if she remembered everything she had seen, she could not be happy as a normal child: the magic would call too strongly, and she would not grow up to be herself, as she must, to return to me. So I took from her the memory of our time together, though I left her certainty that fairy tales could be real, if only she dreamed hard enough. She awoke in her own bed, Above.
It happened exactly as I had planned. The child was mine, and I watched over her, as often as I was able, making certain that her mother held to our bargain. The child remained happy and loving, she believed the stories, she retained that belief. I could even scry her out, though Underground, as she was mine, a citizen of my Kingdom though she remained Above. And I kept my end as well: a short while after her daughter had become a young woman, the mother's dreams came true, and she left her family behind to pursue them. At the same time, I gave my child the ability to call out to me, so that I would hear her wherever she was, as once we "gods" gifted those mortals we used, or treasured. Once she did so, I would be able to bring her home with me. I was certain she would call to me one day; even if she did not, I could come to her at a later time, once she was truly an adult and not an adolescent. Once I had brought her Underground, I knew she would stay with me: her memory of her life Above would fade, in time, and as she already knew the Labyrinth's magic, as she was already mine, there was no way she would resist. She would be happy, with me. And though at first I sought only a friend, to ease the pain of weary hours as I stand my watch, as she grew in grace and beauty, I began to hope that someday, I might find in her a lover, as well. I was even glad when she found the book, though I disliked my predecessor, because I knew that it would bring her closer to the truth of me, that it would give her a title, if not a name.
But here, beloved, here is where I was undone. Freed from her mother, who had gone off in pursuit of her dream, her father married another woman, a woman who did not love my child. And soon they had a son, who was given into her care, as her father and his new wife enjoyed themselves. My beautiful, gentle girl, hurt by this treatment, was jealous of the new wife and of the baby, and, far sooner than I had hoped to hear her, she called out to me in the one way that I cannot refuse. She called for the goblins to take her brother away.
It was too soon, the time not truly ripe; but what else could I do? I offered her dreams and begged her to take them. I brought her to my lands to search for her brother, as I must, but I allowed my subjects to aid her, hoping that she would love the Underground too much to leave. I despaired and grew angry; I threatened her and frightened her. I stole time from her when she baited me. When none of that was enough, I sent dreams to distract her, to make her forget, to bind her to me. If only she would stay we would have forever, and I could win her, in time; from her dreams I knew she felt it, I knew she wanted me as well. In the end I set the Labyrinth against her completely, and all its inhabitants, but she had chosen her friends wisely and still she won through. I confronted her, I pleaded with her, I begged her to choose her dreams, to choose me, but she had eyes for the child alone, and her head was full of that book written, to spread our story, by that other Goblin King.
Words have power, Above and Below, but Below their power is far greater. There were many things she could have said, to reclaim her baby brother. All she had to do was tell me, some way, any way, that he was hers and that she would take him, for she had already defeated all the challenges I had given her, and I knew she would not turn back. But bolstered by her love of those stories, the love I had indeed taught her to keep, she drew on that old story, declaring my defeat specifically in those old words, and I was undone. No longer could I watch over her wherever she went; no longer could I appear to her at will. I could not keep her in the Labyrinth. I could do nothing unless she called to me again, and I could not take her with me until she had given some of that power back. She was mine no longer: she had broken her mother's geas.
Many times, over the years, I felt her pain, her subconscious calling out, desiring comfort, and each time I could come closer, but never did she speak. Without the words, I could not stay. For years this continued; even if I could only ensure that she saw my face, I could know that she remembered me, and that I still had hope. In all those years, what else had I to do? So few, these days, are those who remember to call on the Goblin King.
But then the day came when she ceased to call even softly. For two years, there was nothing, no word, no sign, no thought, no touch. Though I had been patient for nine years, I had allowed myself to hope; two years of absolute silence was nearly too much to bear. I tried to reach her, even doing my best to place her old book in her path, though I could not approach her closely. I tried to pursue other thoughts, to shore up my Kingdom, to remind the Above of what they owed Below; I threw myself into the work, but to no avail. The fairy tale is passing from your world and I cannot save it, alone as I am.
Beloved, surely you know by now that you were that child, wished away, who captured my heart. Now that I have told you, my first spell will be broken; should you think back, you should remember your time with me, with clarity similar to any other memory of similar age. When I heard your call the night I was able to come to you, I thought I had succumbed to madness, or that I was passing away despite my will to stay. Thus I set out to win you, for I could not hope for a better chance. I am the Master of Dreams, the King of Fairy-Tale, the only remaining of those who breathed life into those stories. I would never be Prince Charming, but if I was not a villain, that would be enough. You know the rest of the story, for you lived it with me. Your attraction, your anger, your friendship, and ah! in the end, our love. But all these past days, as I watched you sleep, I knew that only one course lay before me, though it lay against my very nature. I could have acted after our first night together; it has taken me these seven days to make up my mind to let you go.
When I knew you as a child, you delighted me. When I watched you grow in adolescence, I was fascinated by your childishness and your womanliness, so wonderfully blended. I was captivated by your innocence: I wanted to treasure it; and I wanted to take it—for you to give it to me. Before you broke my hold, I protected you, and protected that innocence, for you and all of you belonged to me. Had you remained mine, you would have known far less heartbreak, far less pain. Perhaps this is why you called me back to you in times of heartbreak, those years in between. Perhaps in some way, you remembered; you knew that I would have kept you from that pain.
That Sarah you could have been, that innocent woman-child who could have come to me: she would have been beautiful. A perfect doll, an easy companion. I could have loved her. But you, my Sarah, you are not that girl. No: you are far, far more. Far greater, far deeper, far better, far stronger, far more wonderful than any of my imaginings. You are your own woman, and not my toy; your own woman, and yet still you love me. You chose to love me; that other girl would know no other way to be. I knew how it would be, to love the girl you could have been. I never imagined what it would mean to love the woman that you are. Do you understand, yet, my heart?
Sarah, my only love, I have sent you home, returned you whence and when you came, because I love you too much to keep you. I cannot resign you to my fate. I cannot trap you here, in a dying world, with so little by way of consolation. Do not for one moment think that you displeased me, that you did anything to bring this to pass. In the short time we have been together, you have surpassed all my imaginings, blown wide my hopes, inspired my dreams, overcome my expectations. Beloved Sarah, believe me, please: you are the most beautiful, giving, and gracious creature I have ever known. I thought you would provide distraction and amusement. I never imagined that you could find a way to be an active help to me in the duty I have undertaken. Your assistance will last beyond your lifespan; for that alone, I will always be grateful to you. But far beyond that, in granting me your love you have given me a taste of the sweetest bliss; that must be enough for me, to hold out as long as I can against the end. Perhaps, in another millennium, Men will learn a new way to dream, and I can find my rest as well.
As a final gift, my beautiful, the crystal with this note will grant you one wish, any wish personal to you that is in my power, which cannot bring back the dead but which can do most else. Now, let me caution you: I know what you may be thinking and I know how this story may end. Yes, you can use this crystal to wish yourself back Underground. I will not—I cannot—order you not to do this, but I will beg you: do not do this, or if you do it, do not do it lightly. It took all my strength of will to be able to send you away. If you return to me, it is forever: I will never let you go. You will fade from Above as though you were a dream. Your family will not remember you, your friends will not grieve for you, your work will be forgotten; all but the barest evidence of your existence will disappear.
If you return to me, you will never age. You will remain as you are. You will struggle to mature, as I have: and though you are an adult, you are not so old that this will not matter. You will bear no children; you will leave no posterity; you will have no work of your own, only mine: and there are not so many more like your Tolkien. You struggled to amuse yourself during the days you spent with me; how will you bear eternity, when you find that my love is no longer enough? Would you despise me, then? That would destroy me.
My Sarah, if you would return, you must know why you would do it, and the reason must be equal to the sacrifice. Do not return to me only for duty; do not return to me only for passion; and above all else do not return to me out of pity. If you return only for duty, we will cease to be friends, let alone lovers, because duty will bear you down before the end of your mortal lifespan. If you return only for passion, you will despair the first time ours begins to wane, because you have not been trained to the patience of centuries, which teaches that it will also wax again. If you return to me out of pity, then you never loved me at all, and that I cannot bear.
And so I beg of you, my Sarah, my beloved, my precious jewel, star of belief in dark times, strengthener of my soul: choose another dream, if there is any other dream for you to choose. Whatever choice you make, I will love you until the end of my days.
It was signed, simply, J.
In the box, she found the promised crystal, and a picture frame formed of living red roses, which held a poem she had not before known.
Go, lovely Rose—
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.
Tell her that's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.
Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.
Then die—that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair!
Edmund Waller, 1645
Sarah let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, one she'd taken sometime between the end of the letter and the end of the poem, and she was almost startled to hear a catch in her exhale, the start of tears. Her eyes were already brimming, in loss, yes, because he wasn't with her, but more at his nobility, his grace, his sacrifice. Her first desire was to grab the crystal and wish herself right back to him, but... I beg you, do not do it lightly. She couldn't be impulsive, here. She couldn't just follow where her heart cried to go. He had asked her to be more careful, and as she loved him, she would do her best.
Instead, she stared at the letter, reading and re-reading each paragraph as though it might disappear, and she needed to memorize it, to keep it always. The true depth of what Jareth had told her was only beginning to sink in. Her mother had… and she… and he had always… Since the first time ever I saw you. So many years of waiting, of hoping. So many more years alone.
Her mother's betrayal, wishing her away, should have hurt more, but she'd dealt with her mother and her issues long ago. What was far more important, far more interesting, was that the old story was true. The King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and had given her certain powers. The power to reach him, to call on him. Maybe he hadn't meant it to be, and certainly he hadn't intended that she should live the rest of it, but that part was true. The King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl.
"I wish," she started, and the crystal lit up, mist swirling in the center. Carefully, she lifted it and placed it on her nightstand, and backed up, away from it; it went dark. Would she need to avoid the word "wish" entirely, if she didn't want to waste it? "I wish," she began again, and it stayed dark. But maybe she could just call his name.
"Jareth," she whispered. "Jareth, I understand, but please, please come talk to me. If you can." Nothing happened. "Jareth, Goblin King, I wish you would come to me, right now. Please don't leave me alone in this." She waited, but the apartment was silent. He wasn't obligated to answer, she remembered. He couldn't come, or maybe he wouldn't. Either way, she was alone.
She lay in bed, and read her letter, and stroked the roses, and wished she was back in his arms, and wished she felt worse about not being there. He'd done what she wanted. When he could send her home, he had. And the worst part was, she understood why.
How will you bear eternity? She remembered how she'd felt, waking up without him beside her, that last week. She'd wanted to be with him always. She'd wanted to make him her world. But for how long? And what might have come after? Love alone cannot stave off boredom. If her only purpose in life was to love him, would that be enough? It might, as long as their passion remained, but he was the one who had watched his kind live through so much time, wax and wane across centuries. He knew far better than she how such a relationship lasted. She thought back to Greek myth; he'd spoken of Zeus. Hera was his consort, but there were so many stories that involved Zeus and another woman. When our passion wanes, for wane it shall. If she did not desire him, would she not love him? She had lived the difference between love and desire: if she would live on desire alone, she would not have waited so long to seek his bed. She had only waited as long as she had because he had once taken a kiss as a promise of forever; if he had not been so sure, so attached, it would have happened sooner, and let love bloom in its time. But she had waited for love, and love was more than desire. Love could go on even through dislike, through anger, through loss of faith.
After all, she was angry with him, now. Admitting it brought it to the surface. How dare he make this decision without asking her? They could have spoken of it. They could have discussed it. She could have been rational. She could have assessed the situation calmly. She was doing it now. Presumptuous asshole. He could have let her make her own decisions. She wasn't a child. Maybe they could have figured out, together, what was enough: they could have figured out a way that she could stay.
Or didn't he want her to? Had he decided she wasn't good enough?
No, no. Not that she wasn't good enough. That she was too much. I never imagined what it would mean to love the woman that you are. But who was she? She'd never felt so very special. She didn't feel unique. He had said she was, though. He had loved her even as a little girl. But on the other hand, there weren't so many little girls wished away to catch his attention. Why should he love her? But still she knew that he did. My Sarah, my beloved.
So many fairy tales ended with "happily ever after." What did it mean, ever after? How long did they live? Did they fight, did they make up? Did they have children? How did they live? What did they do? But most of those heroines went home with a prince, to a kingdom full of interest and politics and life and someday a little prince or princess. You will struggle to mature... you will bear no children... you will leave no posterity. I am the last of my kind, the last to keep the dream alive.
She wanted her career, but maybe she could have been a mother only, and stayed home with her children, if she was with the right man. She had never thought, though, that she could stay home and keep house without children to fill those long days. Jareth had his work, the duty of inspiration, of shared magic, that he sent Above. Could she be happy if her work was only to support his, only to ease his burden? If her accomplishments and his were measured as one? If she had magic, she could Dream with him, directly, but he'd never promised that she would, someday. He'd said he didn't know.
She didn't know that she could be happy, just being his. That Sarah who could have been; perhaps she could have. Perhaps also the Sarah of fifteen, had she loved her dreams more than her little brother, had she stayed with him, at the end. Perhaps those two might-have-beens were not so very different. But those who might have been were not. He even loved her more, impossibly more, intoxicatingly more, but still he had given up what happiness he could find with her. He knew that happily ever after was only a story for them, and that alone astonished her, given that he'd once thought a kiss was forever, given that she knew how many days he had spent longing for her, given that she knew what he had sacrificed. Knowing that he did understand, she loved him more.
It still wasn't enough.
He had left her the wish. Carefully, she closed the box, and placed it in the drawer along with her dream and her Labyrinth book; it wouldn't do to waste it on something frivolous. Maybe he wanted her to decide without him. Maybe he had been afraid that if she balked at all, he wouldn't have been able to send her back. He'd given her a way to return. It was up to her, now... when she was ready to face it. She had time. Time. He wasn't going anywhere. Oh Jareth, don't go anywhere.
The tears dried, leaving her feeling empty, and hard, and cold. Practical. It was that, or give up.
That first night, when she finally dragged herself out of bed, and washed, and learned that it was indeed the Saturday after the concert that seemed so long ago, she looked at the package of birth control pills she'd taken religiously every night for the past four years, and set it back down unopened. Nothing is born here, Sarah, she remembered, and then, I would have a family, children.
She'd never expected to be pregnant as a result of their time together. She didn't want to raise a child alone. But if she carried his child, she would have the answer to the question posed by that waiting wish. If he had a child, she could not be so cruel as to keep it from him forever.
On Sunday, she reviewed her work, and Monday called her adviser, and Tuesday went grocery shopping. It was easier than it should have been, to pick up the threads of her life, just as she'd left them forty days but only hours ago. It helped that there wasn't anyone close enough to see the difference in her. She prided herself on coming back to normal so quickly, and for a while, she put aside the question posed by the letters and the poem and especially the crystal in the box in her nightstand drawer. The old crystal, the one she'd used to send letters, had disappeared. She put the poem on her bookshelf, where she could see it, but it didn't immediately catch the eye.
Answer the easy question, first. Maybe it was weak, to hope for an easy answer, but there it was.
Two weeks later she felt that telltale cramp, and found herself in the bathroom, staring at that familiar red stain.
He didn't have a child.
She didn't have an easy answer.
On the cold tile floor of her bathroom, she finally let herself feel the magnitude of her loss, the hole in her life that he should fill, and all the grief she'd bottled up spilled forth in a torrent of sobs. She screamed his name, again and again, until her voice was gone. He didn't come.
She lost twenty-five pounds, that first month back Above, because she wasn't used to eating much, anymore, and she kept forgetting. She'd been average, before; now she was thin. Her female colleagues complimented her, and when she visited home for Toby's birthday, Karen questioned her about her new diet. She told them all that she ate when she was hungry and they were amazed that it was that simple. She didn't mention that she had almost no appetite.
Toby's party was a riot of twelve-year-old boys running and playing and trying their best to act cool. He was finally getting taller, she saw. She watched him, seeing something of the man he might be inside the child who remained. Could she give up knowing that man? In the Underground, she had thought she could, but seeing him made it hurt more. She found herself wondering if Jareth could feel him, like he could so many others. Toby had been Underground. Did Jareth send him dreams?
When his friends had gone, she followed him upstairs. Entering his room, she was surprised to see a few of her old toys proudly displayed. Not just Lancelot, who she'd given him as a child, but her Labyrinth puzzle was out on his dresser, and Hoggle held up one end of a row of books on his bookshelf, while a Firey peered down from the top. Smiling a little, she reached out and caressed the bronze head of her little dwarf friend.
"I hope you don't mind," he said, when he saw what she was doing. "I mean, if you want them back… but I…."
She smiled at him. "It's no problem, Toby. I don't mind. It's nice to see old friends." She could remember, now, meeting Hoggle and Didymus and the Fire Gang, and so many others, in Jareth's company, when she'd been a child. Many specifics were a bit distant, but an impression of laughter, of smiling faces, of a wet dog's tongue… that remained. She'd begged for a dog and chosen Merlin just after her visit to the Underground, she now recalled. The name suddenly struck her: Merlin Ambrosius. Amazing what the subconscious could do—or maybe it had been Jareth's magic? She certainly hadn't read Geoffrey of Monmouth at age eight, though she'd know the basics of the Arthurian legend.
Either way, she knew, now, why her room had been an homage to the Labyrinth. She'd known them all, long before she ever wished Toby away. Did Hoggle know she was the same girl? They hadn't spent much time together, then; he probably didn't. Jareth had told him she was… "wished away, nothing more. I am showing her the Kingdom." And Hoggle had given him a strange look, and walked off without comment.
"Are you okay, Sarah?" She jumped; she'd been lost in thought, staring at the Hoggle figure. "I mean, did you need something?" The look Toby was giving her was probably best interpreted as "Talk or get out of my room."
"Sorry," she said. "I was just… remembering. It's strange, being in a different house, even though it's the same town."
Toby shrugged. "I like it here."
"How's school?" When he rolled his eyes, she realized she'd asked that question that adults love to ask children and children hate to answer. "Nevermind. You just started vacation. You don't have to answer that."
He laughed, looking less annoyed. "It was okay. Next year should be good, too. I have to change classes, and things. And speak German."
"Is that what you decided to study?"
"Yeah, the teacher made me laugh."
Sarah laughed. She had studied French, with a witch of a teacher who had crushed her interest in the language, so choosing based on which teacher he liked best was really not so bad.
"Well, maybe you can read the Brothers Grimm in the original, someday."
He rolled his eyes, again. "It's always fairy tales, with you."
She tried to laugh with him, but it came out strained. He was more right than he knew. She'd almost managed to forget, for a little while, surrounded by her familiar things, by the memory of her friends and the company of her brother. Almost, almost, she had forgotten to hurt, but now her unanswered question was stinging, again, in the back of her mind. He looked at her, oddly, and she wanted to tell him, child though he was. She almost did.
"Toby," she said, instead, shaking her head, "you know I'll always be there for you, right? I'll always be your sister?" He just watched her. "I mean, I know I live far away now, but you can always call me, or I'll come up, if I can, if you need me." She sat next to him on the bed, and put an arm around his shoulder.
"Sarah, why are you being weird?" He pulled away, looking up at her. They didn't usually hug.
"I…." She couldn't explain. "I just wanted you to know that. I love you, Toby. I don't say that enough."
"Um… thanks." Awkwardly, he hugged her back. "I, um, I love you too."
She smiled, giving him a little shake, and released him. "Thanks, Toby. Happy birthday."
The guest room at the new house didn't look like her old room, but her old, antique vanity still provided the room a mirror. She sat in the chair, remembering how she had invited the Labyrinth's inhabitants to visit the night of her victory.
"I need you, Hoggle," she said, reaching out one hand to touch the old glass, gone slightly foggy with age. Nothing happened.
"Sir Didymus," she tried again, "I need you." Still nothing, and there was nothing again when she called for Ludo. Finally, tentatively, she called for Jareth, but she didn't really expect an answer. Still, she couldn't help but add, somewhat angrily, "If you can hear me, Jareth, don't be upset that I called Hoggle first. You already know I want to talk to you, and you choose not to answer."
Nothing. The lights didn't even flicker.
She flipped off the lights and climbed into bed, looking up at the moonlight that peeked around the edges of the closed curtains. Apparently, she wasn't going to get any help making her decision. All she could do was hope that she'd be able to contact her other friends, if she chose another wish, and didn't return. She knew, now, that she'd never see Jareth again unless she went back Underground. "I can be cruel," he'd warned her, once. Now she knew. She wanted to be angry with him—she should be angry with him—she had every right to be angry with him—but she mostly felt tired.
Maybe he didn't want to pressure her. Maybe he didn't want to influence her. Maybe—maybe he couldn't see her, either. Only one course lay before me, though it lay against my very nature, he'd written, about sending her back. And if you return to me, it is forever: I will never let you go. It sounded like a threat more than a promise. But then again, she couldn't see herself wanting to leave him, either. Especially not once she'd gone back. If she went back.
The next day, home in her quiet apartment, she realized that some of the emptiness she felt there was loneliness. She'd lived alone for years, before Ben. Even when she'd lived with Ben, there had been plenty of nights when he was out, even weeks when she hardly saw him—he was a medical student, in residency—but she'd never felt this lonely. Almost every night, Underground, she and Jareth had shared companionable quiet, or lively conversation. She missed his regular presence. Sometimes it felt like she couldn't think, alone. The apartment had once seemed small; now, it echoed.
Could she make her decision wisely, when she missed him with every breath she took? Time heals, people said. She waited patiently for that magic day when it would stop hurting, when the loneliness would ease, when she would stop missing him. As summer turned to fall and nothing changed, she began to suspect that it never would.
The roses framing her poem never faded, giving the lie to the traditional interpretation of the poem. She'd looked it up: generally, it was accepted to mean that the speaker was encouraging a beautiful, shy woman to allow herself to be courted, because she deserved it and life was short. But if her roses never died—as the speaker encouraged his rose to do—then Jareth wasn't addressing the roses. He was addressing her. Tell her who wastes her time and me. Small is the worth of beauty from the light retired. Jareth had written that he could not trap her Underground, with "so little by way of consolation." So little? She'd once told him that she couldn't stay only because he desired it. He didn't think that she should stay only because she desired it. He wanted her to have "the common fate of all things rare." To live, and then to die. To continue, rather than staying the same in a world where nothing grew or changed, where the best one could hope for was not to diminish.
Well. If he wished it, she would try. Not that the death part sounded so very appealing—in fact, she really didn't want to die—but the living. Work and children and posterity. Hadst thou sprung in deserts where no men abide, thou must have uncommended died. He thought she was too good for the Underground. Too good for him.
She accepted the invitation of a fellow student to go to dinner, but there was no spark. He bored her. She missed Jareth's wit. As an experiment, she thought about taking the man home, about his hands touching her, about letting him kiss her. He was attractive enough, with ice-blue eyes under dark hair just long enough to fall in his eyes and make a girl want to brush it back. And he was nice enough, too, and he'd have a good job, someday. He'd make some girl very happy.
Some other girl. Some girl who hadn't fallen in love with—and let's not leave out made love to—a mostly-immortal, beautiful, brilliant man who made her dreams come true.
Most of the time, the thought was painful but oddly comforting: she hadn't chosen Jareth simply because he was the only option. She had other options, now. He was just the best. Other times, she wanted to climb the walls out of frustration. Before Jareth, sex had been enjoyable, but never all that great. She'd worried that it was her, or thought it might be the men, or thought maybe it was just overrated.
Well, even without the actual magic he'd used on her, the problem wasn't that sex was overrated. She might have been with bad partners, before, or they might have just been wrong for her, but either way, she'd never missed sex before. It wasn't the same ache as the ache of missing him, or the prick of the unanswered question of the wish; it came and went, sometimes so strong that all she wanted to do was drag home the nearest tall, skinny blond, if Jareth was not an option, and other times it was nearly absent, nothing at all. Not that she ever did take home a stranger. He wouldn't satisfy.
She couldn't satisfy herself, either. She'd tried it, the first time she found herself tossing and turning in bed, aching to feel his touch, to taste his skin, to have him inside her again. She'd remembered his hands, his mouth, his weight, as her fingers twisted her own nipples, caressed her own stomach, touched between her own legs. She'd brought herself to climax with his name on her lips, and it was better than any time she'd touched herself before, but as the purely physical pleasure faded, she found that she felt empty. She felt worse. She'd hoped to convince herself that she didn't need him, that some other man would satisfy, someday. That she could satisfy herself. Both were a lie. She wanted him more than she'd ever wanted anyone, but it would never be enough. If even love wasn't enough, the best sex in the world never could be either.
She never read romance novels, anymore.
She could live well and die without being married, she decided, though once she'd thought she couldn't be truly happy without it. She would be alright without children, though once she'd wanted them. She couldn't have children with a man she didn't love. And her desire to be married had probably been part of that dream to be first in someone's life. I will love you until the day I die. She didn't need it from some other man, anymore. She already was, even if she never saw him again.
It was ironic that now she had her dreams, and he had given them to her. She had never expected that they would taste so bittersweet.
Life went on, or something like it. She kept up with her work, though her passion for it had faded, a little. It didn't matter. She was still on-track to finish her degree this year. She ran into Ben, again, at a Christmas party. He looked a little nervous, but made small talk, asking about her work and her post-graduation plans. It didn't hurt at all, she found, to be polite in return. She'd never properly mourned that relationship, thanks to Jareth, and now it had been long enough that she probably never would. But even so, she could see that he fit the same mold as the date she'd tried: he might have been enough for her, before, but now he'd never match up to the Goblin King.
She told him something of the truth: that her work was fine and that she was thinking of relocating far away, though she made it more about "a change of scenery, you know?" than anything else. When she went to step away, wanting another drink, he stopped her with a hand on her elbow.
"Wait, Sarah." She looked at his hand on her elbow, and then up into his face. He took a deep breath. "I was looking for a way to say this, but I can't figure out how to do it so I'm just going to come out and say it. I think I made a mistake. I miss you."
She sighed, and shook her head. "That ship sailed back in May, Ben. I'm sorry."
"You're not with someone else, are you? I know you didn't bring anyone with you tonight."
"No. I'm not… I'm not dating anyone." It was true. What was between her and Jareth wasn't dating. "But I've moved on."
"Moved on? Who is it, then? That old friend? The one I saw you with?" He was angry, now. It hurt, for a moment, to hear someone else mention Jareth, but she kept her face blank.
"He's part of it—we were… together—but I'm not with him now. It's just that... our time is past." He pulled her closer, opened his mouth, but she tugged her arm away. "Please, leave me be. Good luck. I hope you find what you're looking for."
Seeing Ben again hadn't been pleasant, but his questions about her future—and he was only the first—had made her think about it more and more. She started looking for jobs across the country, as she'd told him she was considering, and even put in a few applications, asked her adviser and her other professors for recommendations. But the problem was that the wish was still waiting in her drawer, and she couldn't really make any decisions until that was dealt with.
She'd been stuck for months on the question, "Underground, yes or no?" But what else could she ask for? What else might she want?
Any wish personal to you that is within my power, he'd said. She could wish for a house, or money, or a job. A husband? Children?
She decided right away that she couldn't simply hold on to the wish until she found a good enough use for it. It couldn't just be insurance for the future. Not only would she be tormented with the thought of returning Underground, there would always be another crisis, and another, and she'd spend her whole life afraid to use it. No, she needed to use it, and soon. By the end of the summer, if not before, she decided.
She could wish for fame, as her mother had. What would she do with it? Publish? Be the most sought-after member of her field? Win a Nobel prize?
She pictured all of those things, from children smiling at her as they found new comfort in their own skin to the acclaim of the world at that ceremony in Sweden, but if she got there, knowing it was because of her wish, because of Jareth's power… that seemed so… empty. And she couldn't wish for world peace, or anything: that wasn't personal, and it was beyond him.
If she hadn't wanted so desperately to go back to him, if she hadn't missed him so much, she might have been able to keep the wish, to ease her future life, but that was denied to her. She couldn't wish herself or her husband or her child free of an illness; she couldn't wish herself into a house she would love. And she couldn't really be selfish enough, she found, to want a wish that benefitted no one else.
If she couldn't go back Underground, she'd wish for something frivolous, like a sunny day, or maybe, she thought, remembering, a summer thunderstorm. Maybe once the wish was gone, she'd be able to move on.
She presented her thesis in April. She'd already been doing some supervised work under her adviser, and he helped her get set up with a paid internship in California, due to start in August, that would most likely transition to a full paid position in a year or so. If, instead, she decided to go Underground, well, they'd forget about her, anyway. She asked her parents if she could come home in June, between the end of school and the start of her new work, and they agreed. Toby seemed happy enough about it, too, though he did his best not to show it, in typical "nothing fazes me, I'm a teenager" fashion. She started selling off her things, too, telling others she was preparing to move. Well, she was—she just didn't know where she'd be going. Underground, Jareth, please. She'd accumulated a collection of rare and beautiful books, over the years; now she sold them, and furniture she didn't need, and even most of her clothes. "The less to move with," she said, when Karen protested. "I'll just move with the money and restock at the other end."
The books that weren't valuable, she mostly took to her local library. On one such trip, her eye was caught by a shelf of biographies, on sale for fifty cents, part of a program to support the library. The book that caught her eye was a biography of Tolkien; she went to the counter, left stacks of old paperbacks, and took that one away with her.
That night, she'd read perhaps two hundred pages—she'd just gotten to the point where Tolkien was inspired to write The Hobbit—when she put the book down, struck by a sudden realization. She smiled, and then laughed, and then shook her head, burying her face in her hands.
Jareth was an idiot, and she'd been an idiot, too, to accept his opinions as fact, and take everything he said at face value. And she had her answer.
The character of Merlin first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (1136), and he mixed together a few different historical and legendary figures to create the wizard we know. Two of these were Myrddin Wyllt and Ambrosius Aurelianus, who combined to form the figure he called Merlin Ambrosius.
Sarah appeared at the gates of the Castle, the dusky sky telling her that night was falling, though without the day for reference, she couldn't tell if it would be Short or Long. Either she'd been away too long—could she lose what she'd gained?—or she simply needed a point of reference. With slow but steady strides, she crossed the main entrance, finding her way easily to the Throne Room. The Castle was silent; not a Goblin in view. Slowly, she climbed the Stairs, leaving her larger bags at the first gravity turn. They could wait. She looked down each hall she knew, as she climbed. Every door stood open.
Every door, save two. At the top of the tallest tower, Jareth's door was closed. The door below, to the rooms she'd used, was closed as well. He'd be there, in his Eyrie, that she knew, but the doors were closed to her.
Or were they? She had closed her own door, the night he sent her away; closed it, as she always did when she wasn't in, to join him for the evening. And she had ended the night in his bed; it had been the first time he'd brought her there, rather than joining her in hers. And if she had closed her door... had the magic held?
She raced back down the stairs so fast that later she was surprised she hadn't fallen. The doorknob turned easily in her hand and she stumbled into the sitting room, her sitting room, exactly as she had left it, save for the thick dust that covered every surface. Did the room not clean itself? What had happened here? Dropping her last bag, she turned for the bedroom. Other questions could wait. Only Jareth mattered, now.
As she had hoped, the door to the King's Stair was open, beckoning. Did he know she was coming? Or was it merely hope? She climbed slowly, taking the time to calm her rapid breathing, to slow her pounding heart. Finally, silently, she emerged into the most private of his private spaces, where he would be found, if she could find him at all.
It felt good, to know what she wanted, and to know she had good reason to want it. She finished selling off her things, and bought instead old paperbacks, modern fantasy classics and the first book in every new series she could find; space was at a premium and anything Jareth liked, he could probably copy magically. The only thing she splurged on was a nice, leather-bound set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He might be annoyed to have only the first in a new story, but it couldn't be helped; at least this way, they would be able to figure out what to look for. They could get more, if they could manage another trip Above.
It was difficult to wait, to not rush right back, now that she knew, but she knew also that she'd be better for it, and so would he. She needed to say see them one more time, before she left. She could, and would; Jareth was her future and she'd come too far to turn back. Still, it hurt to think that her family wouldn't even remember her. You will fade from Above as though you were a dream. It felt strangely like planning your own death.
She went to one of her mother's plays, and sent her flowers. Linda never called, but then again, she never did.
She stayed through Toby's birthday, and remembered the last year, when she'd been so lonely, and searching for direction. As the last of his friends were leaving, she walked over to her father, where he stood by the table in the yard, beginning to clean up. Karen was seeing off the parents at the front gate. She'd tried and tried to think of something profound to say, but she couldn't. Instead, she hugged him—she never hugged him—and said, "I love you, Dad," very quickly and quietly, then dropped her arms and ran into the house.
Toby hadn't come up yet, and she had one more thing to do. Sneaking into her father's and Karen's room, she opened Karen's jewelry box, and put in three little containers of earring backs.
When Toby came up, she was waiting in his room, once more holding the Hoggle figure. He stopped when he saw she was there.
"You okay, Sarah?"
He wouldn't remember. It wouldn't hurt to tell him.
"Yes," she said, smiling. "I'm okay. But I need to tell you something important." She sat down on the bed. "I'm going away, Toby. Very far away. I'll probably never see you again."
He crossed to her, giving her a serious frown as he did his best to look adult. Her breath caught; he looked like their father, with that expression.
"Where are you going, Sarah? Why? Are you okay?"
"Yes. I want to go. I just wanted to tell you. Because I'll miss you." How much could she say? She was anxious to go, so anxious; she wanted this, but she didn't want to spend all night explaining when he wouldn't remember in the morning. Jareth. She'd done the right thing, but the need to see him was becoming a painful ache. "I'm going to another country. It's very secret."
"Like, government stuff? Are you a secret agent?" He sounded excited, now.
"Something like that," she answered. It would make him happy, and she was going to the king of another country, and it was secret. She was starting to get the hang of how Jareth lied with truth and obfuscation. "I'll always remember you, though, Toby. You're my little brother and I love you. Be good."
"I will," he promised, and hugged her, voluntarily. She squeezed back. He matched her in height, now. "And I hope I get to see you again, someday."
Her breath caught. "I hope so too." She released him, and kissed his cheek, and left before he could see her cry.
In the guest room, she dried her tears, then shouldered the large backpack that held the personal items she'd wanted, looped her arm through the handles of two huge suitcases full of books, and raised Jareth's crystal to her lips.
"I wish to return to the Castle Beyond the Goblin City, right now."
He sat in the open window, four crystals twirling slowly in his hand, swirling with images. His eyes were on the Labyrinth below, though he didn't seem to really see the land before him. Stepping closer, she noticed that his shirt was somewhat ragged, his boots dusty and scuffed. He'd been here for some time. Aside from the hand juggling crystals, he was so still he might have been dead. He looked fragile, ethereal, the black of his clothing blending into the shadows in the stone, his face pale, his mouth pressed closed, the corners tight, with pain. She could see faint lines there, where none had been, before.
She wanted to run away. Was this what it had cost him to send her back? She wanted to fling herself into his arms and beg him never to let go. She wanted to shake him, to demand answers, to ask why. She wanted to throw him out the window, even though she knew he could fly. She wanted to kiss him until she couldn't breathe. She wanted to scream at him. She wanted to cry for joy. Simply saying hello suddenly seemed profoundly inadequate.
She hadn't known what to expect from him, when she arrived. She had hoped he might greet her, but his manner towards her at other difficult times suggested that he was more likely to retreat into silence in times of stress. His tight control was a little disappointing—she would not have minded passion—but it was not a surprise. As she came near, he closed his eyes and swallowed; that was enough to tell her that he felt something, that he knew she was standing there. He did not speak, or move, or even look to her. She stepped up to the window, placing her hands on the sill near his feet. The only sound was the faint chiming of his crystals. Even the wind was still. Time was measured only by her heartbeat.
She was here. He knew she was here. They both knew she'd stay. No matter the cost.
"I have always loved this view," she said, finally, softly, not knowing how long she'd stood in silence. "Everything seems possible."
"As have I," he replied, his voice empty and quiet. As though her speech had been the catalyst, he lifted a crystal from his hand, blowing gently to send it out into the night, and opened his eyes to track its flight. He didn't look at her.
"I remember that you brought me here, when I was a girl," she continued. "One of the last things we did, before you sent me back. It was just sundown. You told me to close my eyes and then we moved and then..." She gestured at the vista, clear in the bright starlight. There was no moon, tonight, but the impossibly bright stars of the Underground were even brighter for its lack, and the Labyrinth glowed silver; the Goblin City below was flat, like a pencil sketch, black and white and grey. "You showed me the Longest Path, and told me that you hoped I'd understand it all, someday."
Her eyes followed the path, the thick, high stone walls that traced around the circle, twisting in the turns of a meditation Labyrinth, one with only one entrance, one path to the center, no turns or corners, only flowing lines. Between each set of high walls, the lower walls formed a maze intended to confuse, but there was one path that never ended, that had no tricks or doors, that required only persistence. You couldn't make that trip in thirteen hours, or even thirteen Long days, but though the Labyrinth had begun as a cage for a monster, it had grown far beyond its origins. It was also more than a test for a careless, selfish caregiver. It was the sum of the Underground: fear and hope, home and distant land, meditation and seduction, dream and reality, test and trial, love and hate, healing and heartbreak. Everything that called out to a man's basest nature; everything that called out to his best.
She was determined to walk that path, someday.
"It is good that you remember." He raised and released another dream. The leg beside her trembled, as though it cost him not to move.
Hundreds of questions thundered in her mind, thoughts and feelings that defied her attempts to form words. Why won't you look at me? and What the hell, Jareth? and Why didn't you tell me before? and How long have you been up here anyway? and... She inhaled carefully, then breathed out.
"I was very angry with you, at first."
He laughed, without smiling, a controlled, rueful sound. "I rather imagined you would be." She turned to look at him, but his eyes were fixed on the horizon. "Did you solve the riddle, in the end? I could not send you back until you wanted to stay."
"You could have asked." Six months ago, she might have been bitter. Now she was, if anything, resigned. This was the man she loved, for better or worse.
"I could not beg," he answered. "Not again." This time it was she who was silent, she who looked away, tracing cracks in the stonework to avoid looking at him. He released the third dream, then looked at the one remaining, twisting it idly across his hand. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that he had turned to her, but she still couldn't meet his eyes.
"How long?" she asked, softly. How long did I keep you waiting? How long have you been up here? Are you fading, now? Will you?
"Eight hundred and four days." Her question hadn't been specific, and neither was his answer. The fourth dream floated off his fingers and out into the night.
"I'm here now." She licked her lips, still looking down.
"Sarah." Faster than she could see, he grasped her arm, yanking her roughly towards him, wrapping his arms around her waist. Almost involuntarily, hers settled around his shoulders, and she met his eyes at last, startled by their almost panicked gleam. She could feel him steeling himself to ask the question that would drive this conversation, the question that would reward his patience or condemn his foolishness, now and forever. "You have returned to me. Why?"
"I took my time deciding," she replied slowly, "But in the end, there was no other dream for me to choose; no other dream worthy of your gift."
He released her and stood, then grabbed her again, his eyes intent and fearful, his hands clenching convulsively at her shoulders. "Why have you returned, Sarah? I told you―"
"Jareth," she interrupted, placing her hands against his chest, "do not misunderstand me. I love you, but you are not my dream." Confusion, hurt, and hope crossed his face in an instant; he hid them all behind a guarded look. "I didn't make this decision lightly. It's been more than a year since you sent me away. I finished my degree. I spent time with Toby. And I did a lot of thinking." She took his hands from her shoulders, and held them between their bodies, their fingers interlaced. "In the end, it was your gift that showed me the way. I couldn't waste it on a wish for something shallow, but what I do accomplish with my life, I want to accomplish on my own. If I wished for something, even a leg up, then I wouldn't be getting there on my own. I'd always know that magic, and not my own strength, were responsible for my success. So I had to know: what did I really want, more than anything else? And the answer to that is: I want my life to make a difference in the world.
"There are a lot of ways to make a difference, and not everyone is destined for greatness. But there are any number of people, Above, who will be great doctors or lawyers or peacemakers or artists. I don't need to be one of them. I can't be, because unlike them, I know that there's more than just the Above that needs saving, and more than just the Above that makes our world wonderful. I came back because this was the only way I could wish for something that would give me what I really wanted more than anything―to make a difference―without also taking my victory away from me.
"I know you think it's hopeless, that eventually you will fade as the other Kingdoms have faded. I am not so sure; perhaps it is only your isolation, but I think we can begin to rebuild. There are still those who want to believe in dreams, and a world of technology benefits a bit from the addition of magic. I didn't come back just because I think by being here I can keep you sane and help you hold on longer. That's what you meant by returning for duty, isn't it? It's what you wanted originally; what you thought you wanted." He nodded, cautiously. "You were right. If I came only to be your distraction, your playmate, your lover, while you did the work and tried to hold on, I'd go out of my mind with boredom, I'd resent giving up the life I might have had Above, and in the end I'd probably destroy you all the faster. That isn't why I'm here.
"But while we're on the subject, to address your other concerns... as for passion―Jareth, if I were the type to return for passion, I would have returned within days of you sending me away. I'm not saying I didn't miss you, because I did, more than I would have believed before you came back into my life. I even tried dating, at one point, but I never let the guy even kiss me goodnight; I looked at him and thought of you and there was no comparison. I hadn't even known sex could be like that, like it is with you." She smiled; a hint of smug satisfaction tugged at his mouth, a foil to his intense focus. "But even if you could never touch me again, I'd be here. Let passion fade as it will; it will return to us all the faster for our common purpose, our common bond.
"And as for pity..." She paused, feeling him tense; this was what he feared. She met his eyes, willing him to see the truth of her words. "Jareth, I have never pitied you. I have feared you, loved you, admired you, and cared for you, but I have never pitied you. You are far too strong to need it.
"I am here because I love my world and I love the Underground. I'm here because want to help, because I think I can help, because I believe in what you're doing. I want to be your equal, your companion, your strength; and for you to be the same to me. I want to work with you and fight with you and fight against you and love you and light a spark that makes this wonderful world burn all the brighter. I want to live in your pocket and go days without seeing you and need you all the more for both. I want to walk the Longest Path; I want to learn every inch of the Kingdom. I want to draw Men here on my own; I want to make them see the beauty, I want to teach others to dream what I dream. I want to save the world, over the top as that sounds. I want it now, I want it tomorrow, and I want it every day, short or long, from now until the stars fall out of the sky. 'My will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great;' I know you remember. It is true now, and always will be."
He freed one hand from her grasp, raising it to caress her cheek, to trace the outline of her face. Hope was dawning in his eyes, but as she watched, it flickered, and went out. He pulled her closer, his hand at her back, pressing his forehead to hers, and closed his eyes, at first fluttering acceptance, then tightening pain.
"Pretty words, my Sarah," he said, his voice hardly a whisper, "but how can you know the future? How can you know that you can help me? Where will you be, when this is beyond your reach?" As he spoke, his voice turned louder, harsher. He opened his eyes and drew a crystal out of the air, thrusting it between them. She caught a fleeting glimpse of a blond man laughing as he held a dark-haired woman before he tossed it away; it shattered against the stone ledge. "What will you say, when all your hopes come to nothing?"
She smiled, gently; and raised her free hand to brush hair away from his eyes, to trace his eyebrow, caress his cheek. He closed his eyes, tight, leaning into her caress, as though he couldn't help himself, as though she was an addiction, pain and pleasure mixed, and something he couldn't walk away from.
"Jareth, look at me." He opened his eyes, looking down; she stepped into his line of sight. "I love you. You are probably the smartest, most creative person I've ever met. But sometimes, you're an idiot."
The fingers at her back clenched, and he frowned down at her, looking insulted. "Explain."
"Jareth, you're brilliant and amazing and creative, but you're not the only brilliant, creative person in the world. When Tolkien published The Hobbit, the book you inspired, that was the first of his works to be popular in a large market, but it wasn't the first thing he wrote. He'd been creating for years, languages and peoples, the whole world of Middle Earth, where The Hobbit was set. A ton of the mythology. He wrote more, later, with and around The Lord of the Rings, but he'd been creating, like that, his whole life, even from childhood."
He was silent, attentive. She continued. "But it's not just him. The letter you left with me; you told me that I had made up stories and you found me—found them—enchanting. Tolkien had his own creativity. Other writers have too. I have mine. You took from Peter and the Wolf as well; you might not have liked the story, but the musical themes had merit. You don't need to make up everything yourself from scratch. Even if I can never float dreams into the air on crystals, I can help come up with dreams for you to send. But even then, I think it will happen, the longer I'm with you. Remember Cupid and Psyche?"
"Eros," Jareth corrected, and frowned, thoughtful. "But she bore his child." His eyes traced her frame, his hands falling to her waist.
She shook her head. "No. And if I had, I couldn't have come to you, yet."
"No." His hands tightened on her waist, and she slid her hands up his arms to wrap around his neck. One hand twisted in his hair, caressing.
"Anyway, the myths we read, Above, say she was given the food of the gods, and that was what changed her. But does it matter how it happened, except to know that it did? It's a chance, and I'd say a good one, eventually. But even if I never have your magic, everything else I said remains. You can use my ideas. This is work worth doing. Your world and mine; both worth it. And I want in."
As she spoke, he took her hands, holding them in his, and stepping back; he watched her, closely, her expression, her body language, and she did her best to breathe sincerity in every word, in every blink. Faint hope returned, and grew stronger, and when she finished, he smiled, a real smile, that blinding smile of genuine joy, and pulled her close into his arms.
"My Sarah," he said, softly, against her hair, "how you amaze me. I could find no way for you to come back to me, but again you surpass my expectations. Though I can reorder time, I cannot know the future, but you give me hope. I believe that it will be as you say."
She wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest, warm, safe, loved, home, now and always. "I have some ideas," she went on, "about how to increase the connections between here and Above; Tolkien was just the beginning. Jareth, I really think you live too much in the past. And we should really see about reclaiming some of the faded lands; I have ideas for that too. Have you ever considered―"
He cut her off with a kiss, his hand rising to cup her chin, raising her lips to his. It started gentle, a caress, a promise, a smile; she kissed back with passion, with promise, with love and hope. She pressed herself against him, feeling the hard planes of his chest, the solid strength of him, not at all insubstantial as she had feared. He deepened the kiss, and it tasted of fear, and love, and desire, and longing, and hope so long denied that it had nearly been forgotten. She gave back, without words, her trust, her faith, her will.
When he pulled back, the wide smile remained, and this time, he let her see the tears standing in his eyes, though none fell. When he spoke, his voice was full of laughter and love. "My Sarah, today was quite short, as will tomorrow be. Save your plans for longer days; they will keep." His hands caressed her back, her shoulders, her arms, her face, as though to affirm that she was real, she was here, she would stay, and all her reasons were good ones, and his fears assuaged. "For tonight, beloved, be mine alone."
The titles of the story, and of these last five chapters, come from Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors, which is perhaps a strange place to find romantic titles, but in the midst of the very silly play about identical brothers and mistaken identity, one finds a very apt description of marriage, in the words of Adriana, the wife of the married brother, speaking to the man she believes is her husband.
Ah! Do not tear away thyself from me,
For know, my love, as easy mayst thou fall
A drop of water in the breaking gulf,
And take unmingled thence that drop again,
Without addition or diminishing,
As take from me thyself, and not me too.
~ Shakespeare, A Comedy of Errors, Act II Scene II
You don't remember me, I know, but that's the price I paid. I am your older sister, Sarah, your father's daughter from his first marriage, to Linda. I took care of you all the time when you were a little boy—until I went away to college. I used to tell you such stories! I wish you remembered them. Or maybe you do? Have you kept your affection for fairy tales and fantasy? Oh, I wish I could see you as you read this; I wish I could be with you to tell you this in person.
I believe in fairy tales, Toby; but even if you don't, let me tell you one now.
Once upon a time, there was a young girl whose father remarried when she was fourteen, and had a child with his new wife. All the time, the girl had to care for the baby, and she began to hate the baby because he represented what she did not have: a mother who loved her and a father who had no one else. And so one day she did a very selfish thing: she wished that the goblins would come and take her brother away, something she had read about in a book and only partially believed. But they did! The goblins came and took her brother, and in that moment, she realized that she loved him very much, and wanted him back.
The Goblin King came to her and told her that he would keep the baby unless she could solve his Labyrinth in thirteen hours or less. And, with a little luck, a little courage, and three wonderful friends, she succeeded and brought her brother home.
Sounds like the story should end there, doesn't it? But years later, the girl made another wish, and the Goblin King came back into her life and stole her away to his castle, his home in a world of magic that lives alongside our mundane world. There, she learned that she could care for his people, his land, and even the King himself. And even more than she cared for the King, she also came to believe in his cause, to believe that the work he was doing was worth dying for—or even better, worth living for.
Just over twenty-four years have passed, Toby, since the day that I wished you away, and twelve have passed since I chose to go back, to stay. Before I left, I set up a trust fund in your name, with all that I had; it isn't much, but I hope it's done well, these past years. It is yours now, free and clear, though I hope you will use the money wisely. In addition, I would like to ask you a favor.
Do you remember the park, near your parents' first home, the old Victorian, that has a pond, and a footpath, and a stone obelisk? It was one of my favorite haunts, as a child. If it is possible for me to return Above at all, I will be there on the day after Christmas, and I will stay near the obelisk from noon until six. I don't know where you're living now or what responsibilities you have, but if you can, and if you wish to know this sister who still loves you very much, please come to the park at that time. But even if you do not come, or cannot, I will understand. There is also a chance that I will not be able to return to your world; if I cannot, please forgive me. I will try again the following Christmas and every one thereafter.
If you cannot make it to the park, or you do not find me, you might try wishing for me, but I do not know if I will be strong enough to answer.
Your Forgotten Sister, Sarah
Tobias Robert Williams had never met his father's first wife. He'd gone nearly sixteen years, in fact, without ever knowing that Dad had been married to someone else before Mom, and he'd been absolutely shocked to learn that she was the famous Linda Williams. He certainly didn't remember a sister. But ever since the bank had called with the keys to this safe deposit box, containing a letter and the necessary paperwork to claim the money, on his twenty-fifth birthday the previous summer, he hadn't been able to get the story out of his head. She'd left him a book, as well, a small red leather-bound volume called Labyrinth that told the tale of a girl who wished away her brother to the Goblin King.
The money had been real enough. It wasn't enough to set him up for life, but it was enough to buy a midrange car free and clear, or make a down payment on a house, or pay the bills while he spent a year working on that novel he kept meaning to write and never quite starting. He hadn't decided, yet.
He also hadn't told his parents he'd received it.
All he knew was that he couldn't let this opportunity pass, which is why he had come home for Christmas and then escaped on the twenty-sixth, and had now been leaning against the base of the obelisk in the park for the past two hours, looking anxiously into the face of every woman who passed, hoping for a spark of recognition. The letter from the box, much-creased with handling, was clenched in a hand inside his coat pocket.
He didn't even know how old she would be. Fourteen or fifteen years older than he was, from the note, but if she wasn't crazy—if she really had gone to Fairyland or whatever—maybe she hadn't aged at all. Taking into account that some people looked old for their age and others young, he'd reasoned that she could look anywhere from twenty to forty-five. Would she look like Dad? Would she look like him? Would she look like her mother? Was he crazy for even being here, out in the cold New England December, freezing his ass off against this icy stone pillar?
He might be, but he couldn't bring himself to leave, even as the sun set and the moon rose and his watch told him her time was up. Finally, he spoke aloud to the empty night.
"I wish my sister Sarah was here, right now." He waited, but nothing happened.
As he turned to leave the park, he knew he'd be back the next year, and every one after that.
Toby didn't quite believe in fairy tales, but he wanted to.
This story was originally posted on fanfiction.net between May and August of 2012. A sequel is currently in progress and will be uploaded immediately to ffn and here as time allows.