Law Of Fae By Sarah Boyle.
“You have no power over me!” Sarah cried, her eyes gleaming with the realization that she had defeated her enemy. Jareth feebly protested, trying to draw her back into his web of illusion. A horrible sinking feeling flooded him and he knew there was nothing he could do; the Goblin King was defeated.
Jareth sat up in his bed panting, a cold sweat rolling down his bare chest. The Lady of the Chamber bustled in, her little goblin face anxious. “Somethin’ the matter, milord?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I’m fine. Leave me.” She curtsied and waddled back out. Jareth shook himself and climbed out of bed to rinse his face in the nearby washbasin. His bedroom was really the only nice room in the castle, guarded by the subjects’ knowledge that they would incur his wrath if it was destroyed. Jareth paced the soft carpet, chewing on his lip in thought.
Six years. Why am I thinking about this now? he asked himself. It’s not as if I still care…right? He looked at his reflection in the full-length mirror on the wall and sighed. Suddenly something caught his eye.
Leaning closer, he noticed a tiny line in one corner of his mouth. That wasn’t there last time I looked, he thought, But I haven’t looked in a while. Still…He leaned closer still, and began to notice more small lines. Could I be…aging?
“No, that’s impossible,” he laughed. Only the mortals age. But sure enough, as he examined his hair he found a few gray-white strands tucked into the blond mess. His eyes had tiny crows’ feet beside them, and even considering the late hour the circles beneath them were shocking. No. It can’t be…I’m…getting older!
He bounded out of the room, searching for the Lady of the Chamber. “You’ve known me since I was just a child, Mardeth,” he said. “Do I look older to you than I did when I took the throne?” She smiled softly and patted his foot, which was closer to her than his hand.
“Jerry dear, you’re fretting over nothing. I can’t tell if you look any older, but you don’t look any less ‘andsome to me.” He sighed through his nose in frustration and loped down the hall to the throne room, digging the portrait crystals from their cradles. At his touch the orbs lit up with the images they had captured of him, on his coronation day and his 500th birthday, respectively.
Then he cast another, commanding it to capture his current appearance. Peering at the three, he cursed. The sleeping Goblin Guard members woke at the vehement swearing in their tongue, and the youngest of them even purpled a little. Jareth glared at them and they broke his gaze. He picked up the newest orb and flung it at the wall with all his might, a savage smile crossing his generous mouth as it shattered into a thousand sparkling chunks. The Guard scampered away.
Summoning another with a flick of his wrist, he told it, “Show me why I’m getting older.”
A series of images flashed by, mostly of Sarah and her defiance of him, another took their place and remained. The Tome. The book containing every law of Fae nature, shown clearly in his crystal. A number glowed in the air above it and he memorized it just as it vanished. Jareth bounded towards the staircase to the library and took it three steps at a time, almost breaking his neck as the rug at the bottom of the stairwell slid.
He unlocked the door and slipped inside, locking it behind him to prevent curious goblins from coming in and damaging anything. Leafing through the massive leather-bound book, which was older than he was but wrapped in a magic that would keep it in pristine condition for generations, Jareth found the page and ran his finger down left margin, and when it passed the proper law the words lit.
“A Fae who falleth in love with a mortal or otherwise bindeth his heart to one is almost certainly doomed. If he be denied by her, then he has seven years in which to woo her back or else he begin to age. If by the end of the eighth year he hath not wooed her back, then he shall surely die.”
Jareth let out an anguished noise and slammed the book to the floor. It righted itself and landed on the podium. Months left to live, if he could not get Sarah back. Charging out the door, he found a goblin and lifted it by the scruff. “Have my fastest horse saddled,” he spat, dropping the beast as soon as he knew his order was heard. The little creature scurried off to obey.
The steed ran and ran, until the sweat was churned to milky froth on its black sides and the tack gleamed with it. Finally Jareth reined him to a stop, skidding into the courtyard of a small villa. This was the Neutral Zone, where none could attack his fellow Fae and much trade was to be had. But Jareth was interested in a different quality of the town.
“I must see Iowan!” he cried, raising his voice for the first time in years. Others sensed the urgency in his voice and without stopping to sneer at his order went to fetch the wise old Immortal. When she arrived, young and radiant as ever, Jareth almost cried. She would never age, or die, or even fade. Her life was bound up in something different than the Fae-swirls of the Outer Realm.
Pouring out his problem to her while sipping one of her exceptional stock of ancient wines, he watched her face grow grim. “Jareth, I can’t help you. You have to do this on your own.” He looked crestfallen, and the Immortal’s brown eyes softened. She couldn’t help it; she liked the Goblin King, whose antipodal mood swings kept her guessing. And he was such a handsome young man, but for those few lines he was coming to her about.
Iowan touched his hand and sighed. “I can only offer you a little advice, from a woman to a man…”
The figure crept out of the shadows and into the gallery, grinning ear to ear. He knew of someone who would pay a fine sum for this information.
Irthrael looked at his master and snarled. “I think we should wait until he croaks off. I don’t want to fight the rabble he’ll throw at us.” Nohanna looked at his servant and frowned.
“You are dismissed, Dain. Thank you for the information.” The messenger knew he could get his payment from the Master of the Treasury and bowed gracefully out. “True, Jareth knows just how to manipulate those stupid subjects of his. They love, hate, and fear him, and most would die for him. But that’s not the only consideration.”
Irthrael raised an ivory brow and looked up at Nohanna questioningly. “The other factor is this. As Jareth ages, his body will begin to reject the magic in the Kingdom. The massive eddies of power present there feed that damnable Labyrinth of his, you know.” Irthrael nodded patiently. “Anyway, once he’s dead, his cousin Saison, of the Northern Climes, takes over. And with the magical power of two kingdoms, Saison, and his wife,” at the mention of her Irthrael hissed softly, “could easily defeat me.”
“So we should wait until he is at his near-weakest and crush him?” Nohanna patted his servant’s long white hair. “My friend, I think you’ve got it,” he murmured. “With the power of the Goblin Kingdom and my own, you and I could take over any neighbor. And with each conquest, we could build our power until the entire Outer Realm is ours.” Irthrael smirked and took a sip of something dark and oily, licking his lips like a hungry cat ready to pounce.
Sarah looked up as the cake was brought in. “I’m not five,” she said with a laugh. But the cake was decorated as though for a child’s birthday, rather than a college grad student’s. Sarah smiled as her friend Ashley lowered it in front of her.
“Blow out the candles, Sarah,” she said. Sarah grinned and obeyed, casting the room into darkness until Theo found the light switch.
After much cake consumption, someone finally remembered the presents. She opened each in turn, and one by one her friends grinned as she thanked them. Soon she’d opened a gift from everyone at the party, but the table was not empty. The small silver package stared at her as though in challenge, saying, “OPEN ME!”
She picked it up and lifted the card. In flowing calligraphic script, but obviously a masculine hand, it read, “To Sarah.” She looked around to see who was acting guilty, but they all seemed as stumped as she was. “All right, who’s the joker?” she asked indignantly. Everyone shrugged.
Finally, she resigned to open the little gift anyway. As her fingers found the seams, the paper seemed to almost melt off. She looked up to see if anyone else had noticed, which they hadn’t, and slid the small jewelers’ box out of the puddled paper. Again, that beautiful handwriting. “I hope you enjoy,” it read.
She slid the box open and gasped. “Oh my god,” Ashley murmured. “Are those diamonds?” Sarah looked at the silver earrings, pendant, and ring and up at her friends. “I think they are,” she breathed.
Ashley looked at her. “Someone must really like you, Sarah,” she said enviously. “You should find out if they’re real diamonds.” She leaned close. “And if they are, hang on to this guy. He seems like a keeper.”
“Ashley!” Sarah laughed. She stared at the glistening stones and whistled in appreciation. “Somebody’s wallet must be a lot lighter.”
No one noticed the tiny symbols carved into the inside of the ring band as Sarah tried it on, or the tiny “J” inscribed on the bottom of the box in silver.
“They’re diamonds, all right,” the jeweler said. “And some of the nicest I’ve ever seen, even with thirty years in the business.” He looked up at her. “Hang onto these, little lady. I’d put them in a deposit box if I were you.”
She looked sad. “I can’t wear them?”
He shrugged. “Just watch out. That would be a terrible set to lose.” But when Sarah tried the necklace on, she felt as though no one would try to take it from her.
Jareth panted at the top of the Grand Staircase, shocked at how tired the climb had made him. In the six months since he’d discovered his problem, his body had declined to that of a sixty-year-old mortal in less than perfect shape. He desperately hoped his gifts were doing their job. Nothing overt, just a subtle spell that commanded the wearer to think about Jareth. It would only work on someone who believed, so even if Sarah loaned the necklace to a friend it wouldn’t matter. The other spells wrought into the silver were protection spells, designed to keep Sarah from harm. For seven years he’d kept her safe in various ways, through wards in her home and other subtle methods, and he had no intention of allowing her to be harmed now.
Would she wear the jewelry? It was awfully fancy, and Jareth almost wished he’d made it simpler. Still, his magic was failing him and a simpler construct might not work at all. Jareth wiped his forehead, leaning against the railing, and finally pushed himself off and towards the balconies.
All the while Sarah stared into space dreamily, thinking of a time long passed when she’d had a real adventure. Everything I ever imagined, right at my fingertips…A villain to hate, friends. But is that how it really was? She couldn’t know, having never gotten to see the Goblin King when he wasn’t intent on her defeat. I wish I could meet him under more normal circumstances.
Jareth’s ear tips burned. He couldn’t read her thoughts, but he knew she was thinking about him. “Come on, Sarah,” he murmured. “Wish for me out loud and I will come true.”
Sarah’s dog, Gandalf, wandered over and licked her, startling her out of her reverie. She smiled and took the leash from his mouth. “Let’s go, Gandalf,” she said, hooking it to his collar. Almost as a second thought she took the necklace and earrings off and set them into her locking jewelry box, leaving only the ring.
“Damn!” Jareth pounded his fist into the marble and hissed at the pain. He stared up at the rising moon and sighed heavily, a deep depression rolling over him like a black curtain. In four months I’ll be dead. Laying his head down on his arms, he stared up at the sky and unwittingly drifted into sleep.
Irthrael grinned as his sleep spell took effect on the weakened Fae-lord. He wasn’t happy with his orders for a live capture, but the reasoning made sense. If Jareth died, then Saison would try to claim his inheritance before Nohanna could adjust to the two flows of power in his command. They’d be helpless. As long as Jareth lived, they could take their own sweet time annexing the Goblin Kingdom.
He soared towards the castle on snow-white eagle wings, landing on the uppermost balcony and shifting. A small scrabbling noise escaped his attention, and he started down the stairs towards the lower balconies.
“Lord! Lord! Wake up!” Jareth shook himself awake and looked at Mardeth. “What is it?” he asked with a yawn. She tugged his sleeve and pointed at the white-haired figure walking down the staircase.
“Oh, no,” he breathed. “Irthrael.” He looked down at Mardeth. “Leave, Mardeth. Now. I’ll be safe.” She obeyed without question and Jareth moved toward the edge of the balcony and spread his arms to leap.
Irthrael saw the owl leap from the balcony edge below and roared in anger, slashing toward it with his sword. The black blade cut cruelly through feather, flesh, and bone and Jareth spiraled down, unable to right himself until he’d almost hit the ground. He shifted, knowing he didn’t have the magic strength to maintain form and fly. He limped towards the stables, hoping the enemy hadn’t gotten there yet.
The horses, terrified by the sounds of an enemy force overwhelming the castle, had fled. All but one, a calm old gelding named Ohai. He whinnied when Jareth entered the stable, and the Fae rubbed the beast’s nose, slipping him a sugar lump. “Stay quiet now, old friend,” he murmured, carrying the animal’s tack over and quickly saddling and bridling the beast. He mounted outside the stable door, as smoothly as his recent creakiness allowed, and clucked. Ohai broke into a gallop and Jareth guided him away from the Labyrinth exit of the palace and towards the back way, which led through secret tunnels and past the gates.
This was going to force him to speed up his itinerary.
Sarah heard a buzz and went to the intercom. “Yes?”
“Sarah Williams, Apartment 7?” The voice was that of Mike, the security guard at the dorm entrance.
“Yes, this is Sarah.”
“There’s someone here to see you. Says his name’s…Jarod…Jerry…What did you say your name was?” A tired-sounding voice in the background murmured something. “Oh, right. Jair-eth. He wants to come up.” Mike sounded hesitant. “He looks like a freak, all ratty,” he whispered. “I can call the cops for you.”
Sarah, who’d been staring open-mouthed at the intercom, finally spoke. “No no, Mike. Send him up, it’s all right.” She unlocked the door and waited. A soft, hesitant knock brought her back to reality, since she’d been daydreaming again, and she opened the door. “My God,” she breathed. It was Jareth, sure enough, but he was mussed up pretty badly and was holding his side with a hand that had a thin crust of dried blood on it. “I’m sorry,” he said softly, “to bother you.” He looked and saw that she was wearing the necklace and earrings once more, and almost smiled.
“I need your help.”
She looked at him and opened the door fully. “Come in,” she said softly. Her eyes took in the deepened lines around his eyes and mouth and his haggardness and she wondered what could be wrong with him.
“I’m in a spot of trouble, Sarah. You’re the only one I could come to.” She crossed her arms. “Why do you think I’m going to help you?” she asked. “You tried to trick me, capture me…” Seduce me, she thought, but didn’t voice it.
He bowed his head in concession. “I did. But I really don’t have any choice. I’m dying, Sarah.” Her look was unreadable and he laughed. “I’m glad to have brought you some good news.” She didn’t even try to deny it. “Yes, I’m dying and some of my neighbors have decided to overthrow my kingdom.” Sarah pressed her lips together.
“Why should I help you if you’re going to retake the kingdom? I remember how you treated my friends there.” Jareth sighed.
“Because these neighbors are even worse than I am.”
She finally went to get the First-Aid kit and handed it to him wordlessly. He, also silent, cleaned and covered his wounds. “So why didn’t you just fight them off?” she asked.
“I’m too weak,” he said quietly, looking at her. Your eyes can be so cruel.
Compassion welled up in her and she fought it down. “That’s your problem, not mine,” she said. A flicker of emotion crossed his icy blue gaze and before either could say anything a loud crash sounded from downstairs.
“Oh, damn,” he breathed. “They’ve followed me.” He looked at her and bowed his head. “I’m sorry, Sarah. I’ve put you in danger. You have to get out of here before they get in. They’ll kill you.”
A look of pain crossed his face. “I can’t tell you.” He averted his gaze in shame and Sarah stared at him for a moment before grabbing her jacket and purse. “That’s all I need to save. Let’s go.” As an afterthought she picked up the First-Aid kit.
Jareth shook his head. “I should stay. Once they have me they won’t come back here.”
Sarah shook her head.
“I don’t want to come home and know that happened here. Come on. We’ll go down the back stairs.” She led him to the back door.
Take a break?
“Get in.” He looked at the car for a moment and she rolled her eyes. “It won’t bite you. Get in.” He obeyed as a loud sound of smashed glass assailed their ears from the building.
Sarah got onto the nearest Interstate, knowing it was the fastest way to get far from her apartment. “Where should I take you?” she asked. He startled, as though he’d drifted off. “I have to get somewhere where I can translocate back to the Outer Realm,” he said quietly.
“Would a National Park do?” she asked. He nodded, and she turned at the closest exit. “That was easy.”
She parked the car and they got out. “You should come,” he said. “You won’t be safe here…Let’s just say they have a special interest in harming you.”
Sarah eyed him. “And you can’t tell me why?” Jareth shook his head. She wrapped her arms around herself and chewed her lip. “All right. If you’re sure you can translocate us both.”
He nodded. “Let’s find someplace sheltered,” he said softly.
Sarah found herself standing in a forest of stone trees. Jareth whistled and a chestnut gelding trotted around one huge pillar. “This is Ohai,” he said softly. Looking around, nostrils quivering, Jareth nodded towards the horse. “We’ll have to ride together. They’re coming. A translocation is not easily hidden.” And I hadn’t the strength to try.
“Can you ride?” She nodded, mounting easily, and Jareth swung up behind her. Both looked at each other a little uncomfortably, being so close, but then a large bird swooped overhead and Jareth kicked the horse into a gallop. They rode hard, until the sun started to go down and Jareth felt they could safely slow down.
Sarah swung down, grateful for the soft seams her pants had. Her legs were sore from hours in the saddle, and she had cramps in her arms and legs from sharing a saddle all that time. Jareth slipped Ohai’s bridle out of his mouth and hung it on a small tree, and began to untack the horse although he looked about ready to collapse.
“Are you all right?” she asked. He looked at her, his gaze guarded. “As all right as I can be. I’m aging rapidly, Sarah. In four months time,” he looked up at the moon, “no, less, I’ll be dead.”
She gasped softly. “Come on. You’re tired. I can do it, really.” He glared at her a moment and then almost visibly decided not to resist. “All right,” he said.
As he walked over to sit on a rock, he asked, “Are you hungry?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
He nodded and pointed to a nearby bush. “Those fruit are edible,” he said.
She finished brushing out Ohai and went to gather herself some dinner, thinking to get some for him as well, but when she got back he’d leaned up against the rock and fallen asleep. If it weren’t for the pain and exhaustion visible in his face, he would have looked almost peaceful. He trusts me that much?
Then she rethought it. He’s too tired to care. My God, he really is sick.
Kriskat wondered why Irthrael was so adamant about capturing the defeated Goblin King. “The kingdom’s ours,” he growled to his companion. “If Jareth is so weak, why is he a threat?” Taran rolled his eyes.
“He has the girl, stupid. If she can be wooed, he’ll regain his power and challenge us.” Kriskat grumbled, but sniffed the air obediently. “There,” he said, pointing. “That’s where we’ll find them.”
Sarah awoke to a determined nuzzling and pushed the wet nose away. “I’m sleeping, Gandalf,” she murmured, rolling over.
“Wake up, Sarah. We have to leave.” She opened her eyes at that and looked up at Jareth. He offered her his hand up and then boosted her into the saddle. “Why do we have to go? It seems safe enough here,” she said.
Jareth handed her a crystal and she looked into it. Two riders, coming over the hill towards them. “Don’t worry,” he said softly in her ear. “We’ll be in the Neutral Zone soon.”
“Do you have friends there?” He nodded. “They can’t help me fight Nohanna, but I can ask them for save haven for a while, until I can think of what to do,” he explained, taking the crystal back from her and making it vanish. Ahead of them, over the crest of the hill, the villa at the entrance of Neutral Zone came into view.
Ohai slowed to a walk over the bumpy terrain and Jareth turned around just in time, as a rider came tearing up towards them. “Jump,” he whispered. Sarah obeyed, and he dismounted while the horse was in motion, drawing a sword Sarah hadn’t realized he was carrying and flat-blading the rider, toppling him. The larger man drew his own sword angrily and leapt at Jareth as Sarah desperately wondered what to do.
Then her attention was drawn away by another assailant. He reached down and scooped her up into his saddle, and she screamed. Jareth looked towards her and his opponent slashed across his shoulder, causing him to wince in pain. She kicked and struggled, but suddenly the rider just let her go, shaking his hands as though they’d gone numb. In his distraction, she picked up a rock and hurled it at him, surprising him into toppling off the speeding horse.
Jareth hurled a crystal sphere at the attacker and it shattered, and him with it. Sarah looked at the Goblin King in amazement, and he came over to see if she was all right. “Did he hurt you?” he asked, looking her over.
“No…he looked shocked all of a sudden and dropped me.” Jareth sighed in relief. “It was your jewelry,” he said softly. “It’s warded against attack.”
“How do you know?” she asked as he climbed into the saddle of one of the new horses and took the bridle of the other.
Jareth smiled. “I made it.”
They rode towards the villa, Jareth with his hand clamped tightly over his shoulder to staunch the flow of blood running down his arm. Sarah glanced at him occasionally, worried about him, but he stoically kept his horse at a brisk pace that couldn’t have felt good. Soon, though, they rode through the gates and Jareth slid off his horse, handing both sets of reins to the stable boy who came to greet them.
“If anyone comes looking for these two horses, give them to him.” The young elf nodded and took the reins, clucking at the beasts. Sarah dismounted and saw Jareth’s horse led off, and he led her to the main building.
“Someone please get the young lady a drink,” he said. “I have business with Iowan.” One of the young men lazing about the common room leapt to his feet and fetched Sarah a cup of steaming hot cider, which she sipped carefully.
“My God Jareth, you look terrible!” He shrugged. Iowan looked over his wounds and clucked disapprovingly. “Drink something, and then go get that taken care of.” Jareth nodded somewhat meekly. Iowan handed him a mug and he sat back in his chair, sipping it gratefully and considering what to say.
“I brought her.” Iowan’s eyes flashed daggers and he held up a hand. “Don’t say it. I had no choice. Her life is in danger.” He lowered his head and murmured, “And I haven’t told her yet.”
Iowan sighed. “Why not, Jareth?” He shrugged. “I guess I couldn’t live with myself if I thought it was for pity. I love her, Iowan. Despite everything. And…I’m not sure she feels the same way.” Iowan smiled sadly at him and stood up. “Come on, let’s meet the child,” she said, and Jareth got to his feet. They walked down the hall together.
“There she is.” Iowan looked at the young mortal and back at Jareth. “Jerry, she’s gorgeous!” Jareth smiled wistfully and nodded. “Oh, fie, Jareth. Go get all fixed up and I’ll take her to the spare bedroom in your suite,” Iowan said with a grin, pushing him gently.
Sarah looked up as the tall, graceful woman practically flowed into the room. “I’m Iowan,” she said, offering her hand. “I’ll show you to where you’ll be sleeping tonight.” Sarah nodded and stood up, following her out to one of the smaller buildings.
“There’ll be a hot bath waiting for you, and I’ll have dinner and some fresh clothes brought out. If you like, you can join the other guests in the dining room for some wine and conversation in about two hours. I hope to see you there?” Sarah smiled graciously, and Iowan opened a door. “Here we go.”
The tub was generously sized, and Sarah slid into it with a blissful sigh. The water was perfectly heated, and she nearly fell asleep. Soon, though, she roused herself and cleaned up, washing the dirt of the road and the grime of a day in the saddle from her body.
Drying off, she walked into her small living room, separated from the main portion of the suite by a door. A hot dinner waited for her, and some clean, dry clothes. Sarah looked at the somewhat complicated dress and then realized it had a cleverly hidden zipper on the side so she could bypass all the intricate buttons and laces. She slipped into the dress and zipped it, turning in front of her full-length mirror.
Then she realized she was ignoring food. Sarah felt a pang of hunger and sat down to enjoy the repast spread on the small table in the corner. Once her hunger had been slaked, Sarah looked around the lavishly decorated rooms. A noise from the other side of the suite startled her and she walked over to the divider. “Jareth?”
“Come in, Sarah.”
She walked in to the other side and Jareth called again. “In here.” She followed the sound of his voice to the bedroom, where Jareth was tucking a loose white tunic into gray leggings. He buttoned it up, but not before Sarah saw the bandages covering most of his chest. He slid carefully into a snug suede vest, coal black and looked soft from where she stood. Jareth adjusted the tall black boots he was wearing and turned.
“So, what do you think?” Sarah smiled. “Much improved,” she said. Jareth’s eyes sparkled and he asked, “Are we going to attend the little wine-and-conversation party?”
She looked at him in wonder. “We?”
“Well, I can’t really go and leave you here, or stay if you go. It’s not proper. And anyway, if I go I may need rescuing.”
“Well, these parties do have a tendency to drag on and on, and as you may have noticed, I’m in no shape to talk and sip wine until dawn.” He didn’t meet her eyes, instead picking up a pair of gray gloves and slipping them on, adjusting each carefully.
“Does that make you uncomfortable?”
Jareth laughed. “Of course it does, Sarah. You may be used to mortality, but until a few months ago I hadn’t aged one bit since my twentieth birthday. I’m sure you understand I’m still a bit shell shocked.” Sarah chewed her lip slightly, not knowing what to say.
Leaving the suite, Jareth offered her his arm and she took it, a little unnerved by the bandages under his sleeve. Walking over to the main building, he whispered, “I suspect that everyone will want to meet you. We don’t get Inner Realm mortals here very often. Don’t be surprised if they all want to talk at you endlessly and ask a lot of stupid questions.” She nodded.
He was right. Almost instantly they were separated and she was jumped on from all directions by eager conversationists. Each had some sort of question about the Inner Realm, and few wanted to wait for a real answer. She felt bewildered and by the time she looked around for Jareth he was being talked at by some Fae woman, and had all but collapsed in the corner. Sarah felt a flush of concern and decided she had to ‘rescue’ him. Besides, she grew tired of the inane chatter presented to her by the various lords and ladies. Few seemed the intellectual equals of Jareth and Iowan, whose tongue-in-cheek commentary exposed a biting wit.
Jareth looked up as Sarah moved towards him. Finally. He had to wait for her to dodge people attempting to make conversation, and he felt as though he might faint before she got to his side of the room. Sarah waded her way through the crowd and a giddy thought crossed his mind out of nowhere, Sway through the crowd to an empty space.
Sarah made it to Jareth and politely broke into the conversation. “I’m sorry. Jareth, I’m very tired, and I’d really like to go back to the room now, if you don’t mind.” He gracefully disengaged himself from the lady who’d trapped him into talking to her and offered Sarah his arm. They made it all the way to the courtyard before he leaned on her, staggering slightly.
“Jareth!” Sarah caught and steadied him, letting him lean some of his weight on her arm. “You shouldn’t have even gone.”
“Got to keep up appearances,” he wheezed with a weak smile. Her brow furrowed and she said nothing. They made it back to the suite and Jareth leaned against the wall, hunched slightly. “Can you make it the rest of the way?” she asked, and he nodded.
“Be honest with me, Jareth. I think I’ve earned it. What’s wrong with you?” He turned away from her, shame burning in his eyes in a slow smolder. She touched his shoulder and he jerked away, a little more roughly than he meant to.
Sarah looked hurt. “Don’t you trust me at all?”
Jareth finally met her eyes. “Infinitely. It’s me that I don’t trust.”
She laid her hand on his shoulder and he let her, sighing slightly through his nose. “Isn’t there anything that can be done for you, Jareth?” she asked, and her eyes glistened slightly. Jareth looked at her for a moment, as if in awe, and as the first tear escaped he touched it softly. Then he shook his head.
“There is, but I would rather die than live knowing I’d done it. I started out to, but…” he trailed off, the pain in his eyes making it clear he would brook no argument. Sarah let go of him and walked away, to her side of the suite. She closed the door and sat down on her bed, bitter tears rolling down her cheeks.
Jareth punched the wall in fury at himself, pressing his cheek to the back of his hand as the fingers uncurled. “Why am I such a fool?” he asked. She cares about me. But does she love me? He thought not. If she knew, she might do something she doesn’t want. And I couldn’t live with that. Not for anything.
Sarah slipped outside later that evening, towards the main building where she knew she could find Iowan. She silently drew the Immortal woman aside, her eyes conveying the need she felt. “I want to help him, Iowan. He hasn’t much time left.”
Iowan gazed at the young mortal and hesitated, knowing Jareth would never forgive her for what she wanted to do. “Please.” The plaintive note to Sarah’s voice firmed her resolve and she led Sarah to a small, private den where she could talk to her.
“Sarah…I don’t really know how to tell you this.” Sarah nodded in understanding, and Iowan continued. “You’re killing him, Sarah. As sure as if you were withholding food and water from him, but in a much slower fashion.” Shocked, Sarah stared at Iowan for a long moment.
“Nearly eight years ago, you denied him. He loves you, Sarah, and the laws of the Fae require that such love not be taken lightly. The fact that you do not return his love openly violates those laws, and as such he is being drained of his life.” She looked at her hands and back up. “He hasn’t told you that his magic is gone, has he.”
“I thought not. The last of his power was used saving the two of you from Nohanna’s men out in the hills. Now he’s mortal, or even less than that.” Sarah was horrified.
“What can I do, Iowan? How can I stop it?”
Iowan sighed. “First he must know you return his love. Then, you must prove it. I don’t know how, but I don’t think it takes too much. The Fae who wrote the laws were understanding in that regard, if nothing else.” Sarah’s lips tightened in resolve and she nodded. “I’ll find a way,” she said firmly.
“I just hope I’m not too late.”
When Sarah got back to the rooms Jareth had crawled miserably into bed and was asleep, breathing with some difficulty due to the wounds on his chest and side. Sarah looked at him and remembered how handsome and mysterious he’d been just seven short years before, and how strong her hatred of him had been. At that time she’d have been glad to know her rebuff would kill him, but now, even with just a few short days together, Sarah loved the Fae more than anyone ever before.
She sat down on the edge of his bed and pushed his hair, soft and as gray as her grandfather’s, away from his eyes. Tired lines encircled those eyes, which when open showed such spark. In sleep he looked more dead than peaceful, and she felt sick. All her fault.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. You couldn’t have known, she thought. As if that makes me feel better. Sarah pressed a soft kiss to Jareth’s forehead and got up to walk back to her room.
Morning came and a messenger arrived from Saison for Jareth. “Excuse us,” he said to Sarah quietly, standing and walking away from the table where they’d been eating breakfast. The two whispered quietly back and forth and Jareth sighed heavily, thanking the half-elf cordially before returning to the table.
“What is it?”
“Don’t trouble yourself, Sarah.” I’m so old now, he thought. A pretty young thing like her would never want anything to do with me. I look like her grandfather or something. He sipped coffee gently and his forehead creased slightly in frustration. These damn laws. If I weren’t so decayed, I might have a chance to fairly woo the girl. But now…
Sarah saw the troubled look in his eyes and gently touched his hand, resting in his lap. She met his gaze until he wavered and looked away. Come on, you stubborn thing. Sarah squeezed his fingers gently and he looked back up at her. Yes, it’s true.
Could it be…? “Sarah…”
“Jareth.” Her tone was firm, decided, and she gazed levelly at him. Um…What does she want me to do here? he thought, bewildered. “Saison sends word that we are welcome at his house…until the end.”
Sarah nodded. “Is he going to try for the kingdom?” Jareth shook his head. “He can’t legally claim his inheritance…until I’m dead,” his voice grew softer as he spoke until she had to strain to hear him.
“Come on, Jareth. You don’t want them to see you like this,” she whispered, standing up. They walked back to the rooms in utter silence, and it seemed as if the world had frozen. He dared not look at her, for fear of the pity he thought he’d see in her eyes. She opened the door to the suite and closed it behind him, and he walked over to the sofa to sit down, head in his hands.
Sarah sat down next to him and gently slid her arms around his waist, leaning her head on his shoulder. Jareth stiffened slightly. Sarah didn’t pull back, though, and he soon relaxed against her, lifting one hand to her hair. “I’m so sorry, Jareth,” she murmured. A thought occurred to him, a panicked one. She knows.
“For…for what?” he asked unconvincingly.
She sighed. “For everything.” Jareth shifted so he could put his arms around her and they sat like that for a long time, not saying anything. And on a silent cue, Sarah looked up, and Jareth met her eyes. She leaned closer and Jareth kissed her tentatively.
I don’t feel any different…
Am I too late?
Iowan began to worry when neither Jareth nor Sarah showed up at lunch. She walked out to their suite and opened the door to see Jareth leaning on Sarah, while she gently stroked his tussled locks. Iowan started to retreat but Sarah looked up and Jareth pulled away. “Iowan,” he said softly. She didn’t know how to respond.
“Come to lunch, you two. There’s someone you probably want to talk to.” They nodded and Jareth got up, and Iowan wasn’t sure if it was her imagination but he seemed a little more stable than he had that morning.
As they walked into the dining room, Jareth stopped. A smile spread across his face and he moved forward. The woman at the table stood to hug him. “Jareth!” He took her hands. “Nadya. Oh, it is good to see you. How is Saison? And how are the Northern Climes?”
Sarah looked at Iowan. “His cousin’s wife. She’s an Inner Realm mortal, by the way, or…she was.” Sarah closed her mouth. “How long ago was that?” she asked.
“Four hundred years.”
Nadya had come to escort them back to Saison’s kingdom. Jareth explained to Sarah as their horses were saddled that Nadya was one of the most powerful sorceresses to ever come out of the Inner Realm. She could direct the currents of Fae magic that ran through the entire region without the normal adjustment period. More importantly, she seemed to Sarah to be a good person, friendly and easygoing. She kidded around with them on the ride to the gate, but went a little more serious as she scanned the horizon with her Sight. “The Zone is clear all the way to the pass,” she said, “but from there on, even I cannot tell.”
Iowan waved to them from the gate, and turned back to her villa. “I hope they make it,” she commented to the young stable boy beside her. He bowed his head graciously. “I’m sure they will, mistress.” Iowan crossed her arms and watched the horses move away.
The plains through the Neutral Zone were indeed clear, and Sarah found herself getting a little bored. There was next to no danger of attack, between Nadya’s Sight and the fact that even Nohanna wasn’t stupid enough to violate the neutrality codes. Sarah felt herself nodding off and jerked awake, horse sidled up to hers. It was Jareth’s, and he reached out to touch her knee gently. With a nod he pulled away slightly and she smiled.
A day’s ride had them at the Pass. Nadya and Jareth consulted back and forth about whether they should attempt to ride through it in the dim of early evening. Jareth’s concern was that someone had known of their intentions and if they waited too long an ambush was sure. Nadya was afraid that, with two people unable to tap magic, they might get separated or sustain injury in the dark. Sarah couldn’t have cared less. Either way, her butt would be sore and there was danger. Her companions did not find this amusing when she said it, though Jareth did smirk a little.
The final decision was to risk the ride. The Pass was treacherous in the dark, but Nadya summoned a glowing sphere of Fae and lighted the way, helping somewhat. Sarah kept her horse close to Jareth’s, and he occasionally spared her a sympathetic glance. Finally, Nadya called a stop. “There’s a cave here.”
Sarah looked around, as did Jareth. “Where?” they asked, almost in unison.
It was warm and sheltered, and obviously well-used. Nadya left them in the back of the cave to set up a net of Fae over the entrance for the night. Sarah was falling asleep against a rock when she heard a soft, melodious sound. She opened her eyes and looked across the cave at Jareth, who didn’t seem to realize she could hear him.
It wasn’t in a language she understood or even recognized, but it was beautiful. “What does it mean?” she asked softly.
Jareth jerked. “Pardon?”
“What are you singing?” she asked, rubbing her eyes slightly. Jareth smiled softly and looked towards the cave entrance. “My mother sang it to me every night before I went to sleep,” he said, folding his arms around his knees.
“Her voice was like liquid moonlight, if there could be such a thing. And if it were possible, her voice would have been more beautiful than she was. But it wasn’t possible.” His smile went a little sad, and Sarah sat up.
Jareth didn’t notice, deep in memory. “Oh, I had the best mother a little boy could ever hope for…but all good things must come to an end.” His eyes gleamed in the glow of the Fae-sphere and Sarah crawled across the floor to sit in front of him.
“What happened to her?” she asked.
“Oh, that,” he breathed, blinking back the watery sheen. “It’s not something civilized people talk about.” For some reason that seemed to end the conversation. Sarah eventually succumbed to sleep.
They rode for three days into the Northern Climes, and Sarah watched Jareth the entire time for signs of worsening. He seemed a bit absorbed, barely speaking unless spoken to and even then barely audible. It wasn’t like him; both women knew that, and neither could think of an explanation. He didn’t appear tired or any sicker than he’d been, but the Fae are a secretive sort and Nadya herself had yet to figure them out. Sarah rode close, concern furrowing her brow. Her attention utterly escaped Jareth’s notice as he stared at his hands, wrapped loosely around the leather reins. Occasionally he’d play a gloved finger over the ornately carved black leather, measuring the ridges with a fingertip and making a soft humming sound.
Nadya knew their good luck had been more than just that. Something was up. And with Jareth powerless, and incommunicative besides, she had to remain alert. But she hadn’t slept in nearly four days, except for a few snatches here and there. Her mortal intellect was beginning to play tricks on her despite the intricate wardings of power about her. Sleep would be necessary soon, because she’d be a fool to think that her fief was completely safe from intrusion. Even Saison was not that fearsome.
Sarah, unwittingly, shared some of this same anxiety. Perhaps something about mortal evolution had kept them closer to the primal instinct of predator evasion, or perhaps she had some premonitory powers. Or maybe she was paranoid. Whichever was the case, Sarah found herself knotting the ribbon she’d tied her hair with so many days before into tiny little squares, nervously knitting a plait. On the fourth day of riding, it was completely knotted and she stuffed it into her saddlebag as they approached a dirt path.
“The village of Tenar lies just over the hill,” Nadya said, pointing. Jareth looked up as though startled, and Sarah looked at him closely. [b]He looks different.[/b] She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something about the Fae was changed. Then he turned to her and she averted her eyes, blushing slightly. To be caught staring like a mooning teenager would never do for a lady. Jareth smiled at her lowered head, a soft, sad look that Nadya caught out of the corner of her eye. Perhaps he could be cheered up, she thought. But there didn’t look to be much chance of that.
The three rode up and over the crest of the hill, and Sarah and Nadya gasped. Jareth raised his head and inhaled sharply. [i]So it begins[/i], he thought bitterly. Nadya bit back a cry of anguish at the sight that greeted them: the small village of Tenar lay in utter ruin, burned to the ground. Charred bodies were scattered about as grisly landmarks of what had been house, barn, or tavern once but was now useless ash and charcoal. Sarah bit her lip and looked at the others.
“Did Nohanna do this?” she asked.
Jareth growled, tightening his hands around the reins angrily. “I’d bet everything he loosed that dirty Irthrael here. This is his style.” Jareth slid lightly from his horse and led the creature towards the wreckage, to be followed by Sarah and Nadya, shocked into silence. He picked his way carefully through the remains of the village, nostrils quivering like some very odd scent hound, eyes darting as though in search of something specific.
“What are you looking for?” Sarah finally whispered, touching his arm. Jareth’s eyes met hers for the first time in days and she almost pulled away in surprise. The lines had gone, leaving a face as young as her own. Jareth took her hand and kissed her knuckles lightly before putting a hushing fingertip to her lips.
“Quiet,” he murmured. “I’ll tell you when I find it.” Instead of releasing her, he slid her arm around his waist and cast a hand out towards the destroyed building in front of them. She looked at him in confusion and he bent his head close.
“Lend me your strength, Sarah. Mine is still wavering.” Sarah nodded and he ran his fingers over her eyelids, which she obediently closed. He inhaled deeply through his nose and concentrated, drawing together what power he had regained and some from Sarah’s natural Fae resonance, and soon a picture overlaid the scene in his mind.
The village was asleep when the riders came in, letting out cries that could have shattered glass. Irthrael was in the front, and led the pillaging and burning of each building and citizen. It was over very quickly, as was intended. But before Irthrael remounted, he slid something wrapped in crimson silk out of his pocket and laid it on the former lintel of a shop. A wolfish grin split his face, a look that made Jareth’s skin crawl.
I will kill him before this is over.
Sarah felt Jareth’s grip tighten slightly, and she gasped as a wave of anger and revulsion washed over her, nearly knocking her down. She shivered violently, and Jareth opened his to look at her. [i]Oh![/i]
Gently loosening his grip on her, Jareth brushed Sarah’s hair from her face. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, leaning his cheek in her hair as she clung to him. “I didn’t know,” she breathed haltingly, “that such people existed.” Jareth kissed away a hurt, angry tear from her cheek and looked at Nadya, who had walked over to see what was going on. “We’ve got to find the remains of the bakery,” he said. She raised an eyebrow at him.
“What’s going on, Jareth? You…you have your power back.” Jareth turned and looked straight at Nadya. “Oh, Jareth! Are you…are you going to be okay?” she asked. He looked at Sarah, who offered him a shy, demure smile.
But then he remembered his disturbing vision of what had happened. Shuddering heavily, he released Sarah and walked through the charred rubble, in search of what had once been the bakery. The only evidence of the bakery’s existence was a pile of scorched bricks, which had originally been an oven. Jareth wandered around in circles for some time, and Nadya and Sarah exchanged confused looks. “What’s he doing?” Sarah whispered.
Nadya only shrugged.
Where is it? He put it here somewhere.
Drained somewhat by his probe, Jareth’s power was too weak to simply locate the packet magically. He had to fall back on the old method: using his eyes. How archaic. A bitter smile crossed his face, and then he almost tripped over something sticking up out of the ashes.
Jareth carefully unwrapped the package, sliding the soft silk onto his lap as he sat in the rubble, not caring that his formerly sky blue leggings were now dark gray. Inside the silk lay a small piece of silver, carved into an ornate design that Sarah had never seen the like of. [i]Bloody hell.[/i]
Nadya knelt down beside him. “What is it?” Sarah asked, as Nadya touched Jareth’s fingers so he would uncurl them. She looked at the object which lay in his trembling hands. She sat back into the ashes, sending a gray cloud up into the air.
Now I’m really confused. Tear tracks cut through the dust on Nadya’s cheeks, and Jareth put his arms around her. “I’m sure it’s all right, Nadya,” he said.
“No, it’s not,” she sobbed, wiping her eyes furiously. “He would never let them take it from him if they didn’t do something awful to him.” Sarah looked at them, still utterly confused. “Jareth?” she asked, and he put a finger to his lips.
Sarah gasped as the thought echoed in her mind, pressed there by Jareth through the link he’d created during his spell. I didn’t know you could do that, she thought, wondering if he could hear her.
Nadya lay asleep under a tree over the next hill from the village, placed there by Jareth with a strong suggestion that she was very tired. Sarah sat down on a rock and took her hair out of its tie, shaking it vigorously and sighing. “Ugh, I never want to do this again,” she said softly. Jareth nodded, and then threw his head forward to pull his own unruly locks back into a heavy black ribbon.
“So, what’s up with the ingot?” Jareth looked over at her and his lips compressed into a tiny line. Sarah crawled over and stared at him, until he flinched and looked away. “You said you would tell me,” she murmured, gripping his chin and turning his face to her own.
Jareth smiled faintly and leaned forward to kiss her. “You are very right,” he said. “Okay. Nadya and Saison have a son, and the ingot is part of his sword. She’s afraid, because the kid just got out on his own, and they haven’t heard from him for a while. It’s possible Irthrael and Nohanna have killed the boy, just to piss off Saison.” He leaned back against the tree he’d been sitting beside and stared up at the sky, with a brief chuckle.
“The funny thing about this whole mess is, if either of them made the stupid mistake of deciding to kill or harm Saison’s son, he can quite legally wage war against them. A tiny bit idiotic, don’t you think?” He laughed, a bitter tinge to his voice.
Sarah lay her head in Jareth’s lap and he stroked her hair. “Why do things like this happen?” she asked. “Is it karma or something?” Jareth shook his head, bending to kiss the back of Sarah’s head.
“I doubt it,” he said, “just bum luck, my dear.” She shrugged and closed her eyes, and before she knew it everything faded and blissful sleep claimed her. Jareth watched her uneasily, as the sky darkened and the sun dipped over the horizon. He chewed his lip and glanced at Nadya. It probably wasn’t a good idea to stay here, but with Sarah exhausted and Nadya close to hysterical, he wasn’t sure moving was a better idea.
It made him uneasy to know that, even with his powers returned, he was weak as a kitten compared to Irthrael. Soon he’d be back to full strength, but only if he lived that long. It made him angry.
Irthrael, you bastard, you didn’t have to take the boy. He’s too young. Let him finish his first century out before you throw him into this.
Jareth sighed heavily and gently stroked Sarah’s hair. No matter what happened, she had to be protected. His own safety didn’t matter, not anymore, and he swore then that nothing would be allowed to harm her if he could stop it.
Jareth didn’t sleep that night, but lay against the tree with Sarah in his lap. When morning came he gently pushed her aside and stood, wincing as his stiff joints flexed. How long do I have with her? he wondered, looking back at Sarah.
Can I win this thing?
Sarah stirred and opened her eyes, smiling up at him. Jareth’s heart tugged at him, and the little nagging voice that tells people when they have to suck it up and do something, which he’d never thought he had, started screaming at him. He could not fail her, or himself. There was more than just a kingdom at stake, or a few lives. This was about love.
Sappy sentiments, Fae. You’re getting soft in your old age. He smiled back at her warmly, and offered his hand so she could stand up. “Is she going to be all right?” Sarah asked, looking at Nadya.
By the afternoon a rather groggy Nadya had been coaxed onto her horse, tears streaming down her cheeks. She cried in silence, and Sarah dared not speak, so Jareth was left alone to his thoughts.
There comes a time in a man’s life when he must stand up for himself. I’ve been hiding away in that castle for three hundred years. Despite the horrors of this little affair, I’ve found the adventure refreshing. I should get out more.
Inhaling the fresh air, thin due to altitude but cool and crisp, he felt a flush of regret.
I never wanted anyone to get hurt. I should’ve just laid down and given up…But I didn’t, and now I’m here, and my cousin’s son is in danger. Saison will not be pleased by this when he hears of it.
But what to do? Nohanna cannot use all of the Goblin Kingdom’s power, as it still serves me…Will it be enough to fight him with?
He raised his eyes to the heavens and gazed at the incredible blue that met his stare. I need your wisdom, Mother. You always knew what to do. Even when…
He couldn’t think about it, choking softly, the ancient pain flaring in his breast like a hand around his heart.
“We ride tonight,” he finally announced, and Sarah started so hard she almost toppled off the horse. “No camp. Irthrael may not be the smartest, but he’s a tricky bastard, and I don’t want to be in his reach any longer than I have to.” Sarah, regaining her saddle, nodded. Nadya did not acknowledge him.
If the boy dies, I will never be able to face her again. I love her too much. He bit his lip and conjured a small crystal. “Show me Nohanna,” he whispered, praying the magic of the Kingdom would bolster the request.
A watery image filled the crystal, and Jareth clenched his fist around the reins in anger. Nohanna sat atop a black horse, watching as the residents of the Labyrinth were driven out and the hedges were torched. “Damn it all,” he growled, lobbing the crystal at a nearby stone as he rode past it. The crystal shattered in an explosive crash, and a shower of sparks shot from the impact site.
Jareth almost stopped the horse. It’s never done that before. He looked at Sarah and Nadya, but neither seemed to have noticed. What in hells is going on here? I shouldn’t be able to see Nohanna, my crystal balls aren’t supposed to explode…
He felt bewildered, but kept it to himself. They would be at the keep of the Northern Climes soon, and he could talk to Saison. Jareth hoped he could keep himself from becoming a babbling idiot before then, because neither of his companions was talking to him and he was going wild inside.
The castle came into sight sooner than he’d expected, but still his brain was gibbering around inside his skull like a hyperactive garsheel rat. That thought reminded him he was hungry and hadn’t eaten for some time, and the fact that the thought of a garsheel rat reminded him of food disgusted him. But his growling stomach told him it didn’t matter why he was hungry or what reminded him, but it did matter whether he put some food in soon or not. He tightened his belt and hunched slightly, trying not to think about how long it had been since the meal in the camp they’d made before arriving at Tenar.
If he was so hungry, Sarah and Nadya, with mortal metabolisms, had to be starving. Were they just so shocked by what had occurred in the village that they didn’t notice they needed to eat? Jareth shook his head and heard his horse’s hooves hit cobblestone.
A guard trotted over and stood at the steed’s head. “Milord Jareth, his Highness is waiting for your arrival. Lady Nadya…” he trailed off, looking at the distant glaze of her eyes. Jareth leaned down and murmured into the man’s ear, “The lady will be fine. Return to your post, my good man, I know how to find the castle.” The guard nodded absently, still looking at Nadya. Jareth clucked at his horse and moved towards the inner part of the capital city.
Saison will be most displeased with what I’ve done to his wife.
That grimly amusing thought sent a silent chuckle through Jareth and he sighed. One day his weird sense of humor would get him into trouble, if it hadn’t already.
I wonder what he’s thinking had been the only lucid thought to pass through Sarah’s mind throughout the entire ride. It was very odd, but the horror of Tenar and the shock of bearing the psychic brunt of Jareth’s fury had really left her more worried for him than anything else. She couldn’t explain it, but she somehow knew, deep in her heart, that when this was over Jareth would either emerge a stronger man, be broken irreparably, or die. The latter two were not, in her mind, acceptable options.
The gates of the castle lay open before them. Maybe castle’s not the right word. Castle usually conjured images of stone and must, dank, dark dungeons and mossy, ivy-covered walls. This was a gorgeous building, understated but beautiful. Obviously far newer than Jareth’s, and obviously designed by a woman, most likely Nadya, it looked warmer and more pleasant than any granite fortress. Sarah looked at Jareth, who was staring at his hands, which were folded on the reins.
“Jareth,” she whispered, her voice barely audible. His head cocked visibly and he slid from his saddle, slapping the horse’s rump gently so it would walk into the courtyard with Nadya’s horse, whose reins were fixed to the horn of the saddle.
“Yes, love?” he asked softly, matching his pace to her steed’s and laying his palm on her thigh. She moved her hand onto his and his face warmed somewhat. “What are you thinking?” she asked, meeting his eerie blue eyes with her soft brown ones.
“At this moment?” he asked with a tiny smile. She nodded. “Well,” he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “I’m thinking at this very moment that I have my hand on the leg of a beautiful, intelligent, fabulous mortal girl who I should very much like to kiss.” Sarah smiled and pulled her horse up short, burying her hand in Jareth’s ruffled collar and pulling him close to plant a kiss on his lips.
Then she kicked her horse back into a walk and Jareth was left standing in the drive, lips parted, eyes atwinkle. [i]This must be what the mortals mean by all warm and gooey inside.[/i]
Saison bounded down the stairs and grabbed a support pole, swinging in a wide arc. His white-blond hair splayed out behind him as he descended the second flight, and he skidded on the entry rug in the foyer as he tried to avoid smacking into the large wooden doors. “Milord,” the doorkeeper said cordially, opening the left door.
Jareth saw his cousin, face flushed like when they were kids chasing each other around in the courtyards of the family’s castles, bound out of the palace. [i]Well, he had to find out sometime.[/i] Saison looked up at his wife and his face fell.
“Nadya?” he asked, crystal blue eyes growing worried. Sarah looked at the Fae in curiosity; he looked enough like Jareth for them to be brothers. His hair was paler, as were his eyes, but both had the same fine features and almost feminine grace to their bone structure. He pulled his wife out of her saddle, catching her easily in his arms.
“She’s been like this for some hours, Saison…it’s your son,” Jareth said, laying a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. Saison turned to Jareth and Sarah swore something passed silently through the air between them, a kind of shock that she could barely feel. Saison nodded slowly and his shoulders kind of slumped.
“I had hoped this would be a happier reunion,” he murmured in a soft, cultured voice that would have better suited a young English professor than a wild-haired magical being. He shifted Nadya in his arms and sighed. “Daiyo, would you please take the lady to our chamber and put her to bed? I’ll see to her when I’ve gotten our guests settled.” The doorman nodded and gingerly took his queen.
“You look well, Jareth,” Saison said, his tone masking the obvious pain he had to be in, suddenly discovering his son was kidnapped and his wife was semi-catatonic. Jareth had explained their find and his thoughts on the subject, somewhat bitterly, and Saison had changed the subject rather abruptly.
“I feel very well indeed, cousin. I have my power back, which is reassuring.” Saison nodded at his cousin’s statement and looked at Sarah, who was leaning on a marble balcony that overlooked the gardens.
“It is her, then?” he asked, and Jareth smiled. Saison returned the smile wanly and clapped his relative and childhood friend on the back. “We shall create a tradition of marrying mortals in this family that will be hard to break,” he said with a chuckle.
“We’re what, fourth generation?” Jareth asked. Saison nodded. “Lord Callion, and Grandpa, and then there were my parents, and the next mortal wife was…” he trailed off, looking up at his taller cousin and grimacing.
Jareth turned away, his head low. “Mother.”
What if our marriages are doomed from the start? Perhaps Fae and mortals should not mix…After what happened to Mother, and Saison’s parents…And Nadya… Saison’s parents had been slain in a bizarre accident when they were just boys, resting the crown of the Northern Climes on a head too young to carry it. Jareth’s parents, as well as the other royal families of the clan, had stepped in to protect the boy from opportunistic intruders. And then there was what Jareth’s father had done to his mother, and now Nadya was so rocked to her core that she could not speak.
Maybe Father was a fluke. Maybe it’s all just coincidence. Maybe…Maybe…
“Saison, I can’t marry her.”
“Why not, Jareth? She’s beautiful, intelligent, and loves you so much I can practically smell the adoration on her.” Saison looked at him oddly, obvious boggled by his cousin’s reluctance.
“I can’t, Saison. I’d be dooming her. We’re cursed in this family, and I can’t do that to her. She’d be happier with a mortal, in her own world, where magic can’t hurt her and I won’t be around to get her into my troubles.” Jareth bowed his head. “Take her to her rooms, Saison. I know where I sleep. Then go take care of Nadya…she needs you.”
Saison nodded cordially and watched Jareth walk away quickly. “Milady, if you’d like to see you rooms, I will take you,” he said quietly. Sarah looked up.
“Oh, yes, please,” she said, standing. He offered her his elbow and she hesitantly laid her hand on it. He smiled cordially and led the way, up one of the grand staircases and into a wing of the castle she hadn’t seen from the outside.
“I’ll have someone bring you some clothes…” he looked at her and smiled, “and a hairbrush to handle that unruly knot you’ve gotten.” Sarah touched her hair and blushed slightly. “Days in the saddle will wilt even the freshest flower,” Saison murmured, kissing her hand and opening a door.
“Here are your rooms. I hope they will be sufficient.” Sarah nodded absently, her eyes roving in wonderment about the rooms. “Thank you, sir,” she said softly. He withdrew, closing the door behind him.
Saison looked at Nadya and sighed. “Is there anything I can do for her?” he asked the older man standing beside him.
“She’ll be all right, I think. Mortals aren’t equipped to handle the amount of mental pressure four hundred years in our world can bring. You remember I treated Nadya for stress about a century ago? This sudden shock has overloaded her. She’s been under a lot of stress lately. Keep her hydrated and she should recover in a few days.” Saison nodded and then turned back to his wife.
With a flash and a shriek, the large black hawk was out the window and headed back to his home in the capital city. Saison laid his head on Nadya’s stomach and closed his eyes, listening to her quiet, even breathing and the soft murmur of her pulse. He slid his hand lower on her abdomen and concentrated on the small life spark that rested within. It pulsed brighter in his mind, reacting happily to his presence. “Please, Nadya. For our daughter.”
Saison stood and walked away, leaving his bedroom for the great hall.
Sarah slipped into the simple but elegant day dress that had been laid out for her and wondered why no one ever provided her with pants except when she needed to ride. A pair of low shoes had come bundled with the dress, and another thought occurred to her. [b]How do they always know my size?[/b]
Her stomach growled unhappily and she realized she was starving. As a last thought before leaving the room, she picked up the diamond earrings Jareth had made for her and slipped them on. Then she closed the door behind her and made her way back towards the great hall to ask for directions.
She was met on the way by Jareth, who had done another of his quick outfit changes and looked handsome, if not casual, in his breeches and jacket. He offered a gloved hand and she stepped down onto the first stair, which brought her to eye level with him as he stood on the second. “I imagine you’re coming down for the same reason as I am,” he murmured, pretending to nip at her hand. She pulled it away with a laugh and he kissed her softly before turning to head down the staircase.
[b]My maddening enigma,[/b] she thought happily. She lightly followed him down the stairs, catching up to him at the bottom. Sarah snagged his hand and pulled him back. “Do I get a real kiss before dinner?” she asked with a coy smile.
Jareth obliged her, one hand sliding to the small of her back as the other wove its way through her hair. He leaned her back and kissed her thoroughly, lifting her back to her feet and leaving her breathless. “Was that good enough?” he asked with a soft smile.
[b]Oh yes, but I’ll want another before long.[/b]
Saison watched his two guests from the top of the left staircase, where his bedroom door was. Jareth was taking her to the dining room… “We had best get some dinner ready for our guests,” he murmured, slipping through a doorway that would take him to the kitchen before they could get to the dining room.
Sarah tucked into her food as quickly as was polite, and noticed Jareth doing the same. Saison joined them after a few minutes and sat down with a glass of wine and a plate of bread. He spread butter on his bread calmly and methodically before taking a bite.
“Not hungry, Saison?” Jareth asked, after swallowing a large bite of something.
Saison smiled. “I’ve already eaten, cousin. You did arrive a little after our usual dinner hour. I’m just joining you out of courtesy. It is a host’s duty.” His eyes sparkled with mischief and Jareth kicked him under the table.
“Hey!” Saison scrambled back in his chair. Sarah looked at Jareth, trying to muster a scowl. It worked for a moment, and then she burst out laughing. “Look at you two!” she exclaimed as Saison summoned a small crystal and tossed it at Jareth, grinning as it burst in a puff of white smoke that his cousin waved away with a touch of Fae-power.
“How old are you…children?” she asked, crossing her arms on her chest. Jareth took a deep breath and went back to eating, with his best I’m-a-good-boy, it’s-his-fault face. This left Saison facing an amused glare from Sarah.
“I’m sorry, milady. Usually when Jareth comes over we get to play.” His voice sounded so remorseful that Sarah had to look close and see if he was joking. He was; his eyes glittered brightly and he barely hid his smile.
“How is Nadya?” Jareth asked after several minutes of uninterrupted chewing. Saison broke a piece of bread and sipped his wine before answering.
“Her doctor says she’ll be fine,” he said, but Sarah detected a note of concern. “What aren’t you telling us, Saison?” she asked.
Saison laughed. “Oh, mortal women are all the same. Can’t hide anything from them. All right.” He leaned forward. “Nadya is going to be out cold for several days, at the minimum. Her body can handle that long without food, but she is…carrying our daughter. I worry for the child.”
Jareth let out a surprised laugh. “Saison, you sly dog! How long have you known?”
“About three weeks. I’d meant to tell you, but you were getting so sick…I didn’t think you’d live to see the child born. It would only depress you.” Saison took a bite of his bread and stared at the plate. “Now I may lose all of them, you know. Nadya, the baby…Jareth.” Sarah looked at Jareth in confusion and Jareth shook his head. [i]Their son is named after me.[/i]
Sarah shuddered as Jareth’s thoughts whispered through her mind. [b]Why?[/b] [i]I delivered him.[/i] Her eyes widened slightly at the idea and Jareth gave her a brief and joking leer.
Saison shrugged. “Perhaps we are cursed, Jareth. Cursed to destroy everything we touch. You’re losing your kingdom, I my family, and both of us our sanity.” Jareth touched Saison’s shoulder and then the conversation ended. Dinner was very awkward from that moment on.
Jareth lay back on the bed in his room, head pillowed on his arms. Tired, his hunger satisfied, he could have easily just taken a long nap. But instead his brain was working and he couldn’t even close his eyes, just stare up at the ceiling. [i]Because of me, all this has happened. I should have just given up.[/i]
[i]But no one ever made the mistake of calling me the [/i]smartest[i] Fae around. Never.
I love her. Too much to let anything happen to her. But if I keep her by my side, she’s sure to get hurt. Oh, if only Mother were still here to tell me what to do. You left me too soon! There was no one to teach me how to be…human.
Sarah…oh, someone tell me what to do.[/i] He stood up and paced over to the wall, balling up a fist and punching. Fortunately the wall, and his fist, were made of tough enough stuff to withstand his mistreatment.
Sarah wandered down the hall, looking around to see if anyone else was nearby. Seeing no one, she stepped to the door Jareth had vanished into and knocked lightly. A moment later it opened and Jareth, one eyebrow cocked curiously, looked out. Sarah almost laughed at him, it was such an odd look. “Can I come in?”
He nodded and she walked in, closing the door behind her. “Saison doesn’t seem to be taking this very well,” she murmured, as Jareth sat down on one of the side chairs.
“He’s sensitive. Ever since he was a little kid, and his parents died…he acts like everything’s okay and then suddenly he’s crying. It’s very strange.” Sarah sat down beside him and folded her hands in her lap. “Is he going to help you retake your kingdom?” she asked.
Jareth sighed. “I don’t know.”
Sarah looked at him a moment, then leaned forward and kissed him. He slid a hand around her waist and pulled her closer, deepening the kiss. [b]I can’t breathe.[/b] [i]I’ll breathe for you.[/i] Sarah moved her hands to Jareth’s hair, burying her fingers in the long, silken strands.
“We shouldn’t,” he gasped as she unbuttoned his collar.
Sarah smiled. “Who cares.”
“You [i]idiot[/i]!” Irthrael cowered as Nohanna raised his hand as if to strike. He held back at the last second, spinning away from his henchman and stalking down the corridor.
“I cannot believe anyone, even you, could be so stupid. I told you to destroy a village, leaving no provable traces. I did not instruct you to kidnap the son of a potential enemy!” Nohanna looked around for something to smash or throw, and finding nothing, balled his hands up into fists and silently fumed.
“I…I’m sorry, milord. We got carried away.” Nohanna looked at the kneeling Fae and suddenly burst out laughing.
“Carried away? No. Carried away would be destroying two villages. Or blowing away a big hill or something. This goes a bit beyond getting carried away, Irthrael.
No matter, I suppose. It is done. You’ve made sure the boy is…welcome,” his lips quirked upwards, “and I think Saison was going to find a way to get himself involved no matter what, so this has done very little but reduce our preparation time. Then again, it’s reduced his as well…” Nohanna walked away without ending his sentence, folding his hands behind his back. His sudden, mercurial change had thrown Irthrael off, and the white-haired Fae knelt on the floor watching his master leave, totally confused.
Jareth tossed his head in frustration, sending his pale red hair in a short arc around his head. He was tired, dirty, and most importantly, chained to a wall. The manacles about his wrists were deceptively thin, inlaid with some sort of Working he’d never seen before. “If I only had my sword,” he growled, thrashing against the chains for the umpteenth time since being locked into them. Fortunately whatever Working held him in them kept them from tearing the hell out of him; otherwise he probably would’ve been bleeding all over himself by now.
“By Fargan, can’t a kid get a decent break these days?” He tried to Work but was efficiently stopped by the properties of the metal. [blue]When I find the son of a bitch who dismantled that sword, I’ll have his balls stuffed and used for marbles.[/blue] This somewhat pleasant thought brought a smile to his face, but it faded immediately as the door creaked open.
He mustered up a seething glare and the Orc who had opened the door chuckled. [blue]The loud, obnoxious laugh of the terminally moronic.[/blue] “Oh, you still think you some kind big man, little boy. We teach you better.”
“While you’re at it, maybe I could teach you how to talk, hmm?” Jareth asked, “An even trade?” The Orc growled and Jareth smirked. “Now what did you come in here for, if you’re not too stupid to remember? You’re disturbing my plots on how to most effectively castrate one of your colleagues and turn his testicles into gaming hardware.”
The Orc scratched his oversized head with an equally oversized hand. “Uh…”
“Oh, yeah. Master says you come to great hall, have dinner…or maybe he say be dinner…I not sure.” This prospect amused the Orc. “Whatever, you come with me.” Since he was hardly in a position to refuse the dinner date, and he didn’t honestly think Nohanna would go through so much trouble just to feed him to his pet weirdos, Jareth just shrugged and allowed himself to be unhooked from the wall.
[blue]Maybe not marbles. Dice? No…[/blue] Trudging down the hall under the meaty fist of the Orc, somewhat less gracefully than his dancer’s figure appeared meant for, Jareth comforted himself with thoughts of maiming and torturing the foul demon who had dared to desecrate his weapon. “Oh, I know…table tennis balls, of course!” he laughed as they reached the doors to the great hall, at which the Orc looked at him very oddly indeed. Not that Jareth cared in the least.
Saison looked down at the intricately Worked sword on the table, lying in a pool of black velvet. “Does Sarah intend to fight with us?” he murmured softly, trailing his fingers along the shining surface.
Jareth sighed, gazing out the window. “She intends to, yes. Whether I will let her I have not decided.” Saison clucked disapprovingly and lifted the sword, admiring the marvelously light heft. He swung it in a smooth curve, resting the point against the small of Jareth’s back.
“I doubt she will listen to you if you order her to stay,” Saison said, “you know how mortals are.” Jareth nodded, uncrossing his arms.
“I do indeed,” the Goblin King said with a smile. He spun and his sword clashed with the blade Saison held. “If I win,” Jareth murmured, “she stays. No matter what.”
Saison caught on to the game immediately. “And if I win,” he replied, pushing his cousin back towards the window, “she gets to choose.”
Back and forth the two master swordsmen danced, lightly tapping blades as though they were taking tea. Many of their childhood hours had been spent engaged in this ancient ritual, training bodies still clumsy with youth and unaccustomed size. “When I defeat you, Sarah may carry this blade,” Saison grunted, ducking under a swipe and offering one of his own, sword singing through the air to crash against Jareth’s.
“We shall see,” Jareth said with a laugh.
[blue]A bit heavy on the oak paneling, but all in all…a cesspool.[/blue] Jareth looked around the great hall, with its motley assortment of subjects. Landed Fae of less than admirable repute drank and laughed at the unsparkling witticisms of Nohanna. “Ah, young lord! Welcome!” Nohanna cried as Jareth entered, standing to welcome his guest.
[blue]What a wanker. Self-important bastard.[/blue] “I see you’re having a party,” the young Fae said dryly, which only set the gathered lords to laughing once more.
“Actually, yes,” replied Nohanna, “we’re celebrating my upcoming victory in battle against your parents and namesake. Care to join me in a little victory wine?”
Jareth shook his head. “I don’t drink.”
Nohanna roared with laughter and clapped the young man on the back hard enough to rattle his teeth. [blue]Correction: drunken self-important bastard. No wonder Mom picked Dad instead.[/blue] Jareth’s estimation of the older Fae went down a few notches, noting with distaste that he was celebrating a victory he had not yet won. [blue]And will not win, if my family has anything to say about it.[/blue]
“Come come, Jareth. Let’s get you out of those uncomfortable manacles and into a chair,” Nohanna said.
When Jareth was finally seated, he looked around at the raucous gathering of Fae in the room and shook his head. It saddened him to see his kinsmen, even the distant ones, reducing themselves to such behavior. His emerald-hued eyes grew introspective.
[blue]Perhaps this can be used to my advantage.[/blue] Loosed from his Worked manacles and seated in a hall full of inebriated Fae, Jareth wondered if Nohanna was an idiot or just cocky. [blue]In fact…[/blue]
Jareth slid deeper into his chair very quietly and slipped under the table, crawling on hands and knees across the floor towards the balcony doors. He paused beside a snoring lord and slipped the long dagger from his boot, sliding it into his own ankle sheath. He’d almost made it to the doors when he spotted Irthrael out of the corner of his eye. [blue]HIM.[/blue]
Anger blazed in the young face and Jareth changed his course, slipping the dagger from his boot.
Irthrael cried out in surprise as Jareth leapt into his lap and knocked his chair over, sprawling them both on the floor. A long blade found its way to his throat and Irthrael struggled against the strong grip exerted on him by the smaller Fae. “You broke my favorite sword,” Jareth growled, pressing the tip until blood pooled against the steel, “and that is an insufferable offense.”
By now the surrounding Fae had realized what was going on and were out of their seats. Nohanna was still seated, a bemused smile on his face. Jareth moved swiftly, plunging the blade into Irthrael’s chest as the other Fae pounced on him.
Jareth groaned slightly, testing his bruised muscles. [blue]Bastards.[/blue] Well, at least his lip wasn’t bleeding anymore. Chained to the wall he couldn’t wipe at it, and the slow trickle had itched like crazy. [blue]Oh foolish pride, that I might smite you for this cruel injustice you have done me. How unfair of you to lead me astray when in the past you have been such a wonderful guide.[/blue] Jareth chuckled. “How poetic,” he murmured. “Perhaps I should write it down someday. ‘Musings of a Captured Fool.’” [blue]Maybe I can sell it in the Inner Realm as fantasy literature.[/blue]
His mother would think that terribly amusing. In the four centuries since she’d left the Inner Realm, its evolving cultures had fascinated and entertained her.
Thinking about his mother sent a pang of homesickness through him. [blue]I should never have left.[/blue] He wondered if she’d found out what had happened yet. [blue]Will she and Father come for me? Or will they figure I can handle myself…[/blue] Some months before, when he’d left home, he would’ve preferred the latter, but now, bruised and alone in a dungeon, he wondered whether he was really ready to be out on his own.
Sarah yawned and cinched the robe shut around herself, wandering out of Jareth’s room for some breakfast. As she neared the dining room, she heard the sounds of a sword battle, a series of steel clashes intermingled with the grunts of combatants. Fear shocked through her like a splash of cold water down her spine, and she looked around for some weapon.
Finding none, she picked up a metal tray from a side table and shoved the door open. She saw the two entangled Fae on the floor and swung the tray, neatly catching one on the side of the head. He collapsed onto his opponent limply.
“Um…Sarah?” She looked down at Saison as he lay on the floor beneath the other Fae. “Would you mind terribly getting this great oaf off of me?” he asked.
Sarah helped roll the other man off and then gasped, “Jareth!” She looked at Saison in horror and he burst out laughing, so hard that he fell over and lay on the floor on his side, clutching his stomach. Sarah bit her lip, shaking Jareth in an attempt to wake him.
“What is it?” he asked fuzzily, “what happened?” He sat up, hand to his forehead, which was rapidly forming a knot. Shaking himself, Jareth looked at his cousin and up at Sarah, then back at his cousin. “Now I’m confused,” he said, blinking hard.
Saison finally contained himself, allowing only the occasional snort or snicker to escape. “Oh Jareth, I believe the point of our whole battle has become moot. Sarah came in and brained you with a serving tray!”
Jareth looked at her in disbelief as she blushed deeply. “Well then,” he murmured, “I guess she should come with us.” Saison clapped his cousin on the shoulder and sniggered slightly, receiving a dirty look from Sarah.
“Would someone explain to me what that was about?” she asked, hands on hips. Jareth and Saison looked at each other. [i]She’s not going to be happy about this.[/i]
“Twenty-two bottles of mead on the wall, twenty-two bottles of mead…” Jareth sang loudly, his voice slightly hoarse from his efforts. The guard who had been ordered to sit in front of his cell door finally could stand it no longer and came in.
“Will you stop that incessant mewling, you royal brat!” he growled. Jareth smiled cheerily. “Take one down and pass it around, twenty-one bottles of mead on the wall!” he sang, grinning broadly.
The guard grumbled. “I’m not paid enough for this, you little monster,” he growled. “I’m going to go ask that Lord Nohanna assign someone else to babysitting duty.” Jareth waved one hand as much as he could.
The guard rolled his eyes and slammed the door shut, grumping off to complain to whoever. [blue]Jackpot.[/blue] Jareth slid the small bit of metal out of his mouth, leaning his head until he could touch it to his right manacle. He’d grabbed it during the struggle in the great hall, his Fae-born senses letting him See its Worked power immediately. This little piece of metal, whatever it was from, was powerful enough to counteract the Working on the cuffs and chains.
He pushed it into the lock on the cuff, pressing with tongue and teeth until he could turn the metal in the lock. A satisfying click met his ears, and he paused to make sure no one was around to hear all his rustling and clanking. That done, he used his freed hand to unlock the other, and then unlocked his ankles. [blue]Jareth, you are the luckiest, smartest, most attractive man alive, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.[/blue]
He dropped lightly to the floor and stretched his stiff limbs. A loud crunch resounded through the small chamber and he winced. Twisting further, he felt his spine align properly and he sighed. “Time to go.” Jareth closed his eyes and tapped into the swirls of power that lay unclaimed in Nohanna’s castle. They formed a brightly lit picture of the hall outside the door. [blue]Empty. You’re definitely the luckiest man alive.[/blue]
Jareth eased the door open, casting a Working of invisibility over himself just in case. It wouldn’t work against Nohanna or any of the other Fae, but less powerful creatures would fall for it easily. He crept into the hallway, checking visually for anything his Sight had not revealed, and then broke into a run. His Sight revealed correct turns in the passageways and he sprinted towards the cellars, which exited into the river the castle was built over. From there he could leave the kingdom, and hopefully meet up with his parents before they tried to rescue him.
Sarah had actually found the reason for the fight amusing. Saison presented her with the sword and she thanked him, testing its heft gently. “I’m afraid I don’t really know how to use it,” she said, “I took some fencing freshman year, but that’s a little different.”
Jareth, who was holding a cold compress to the growing knot on his head, smiled. “I shall have to teach you,” he murmured, “and I believe Saison will be happy to assist.” Sarah smiled brightly and Jareth felt that familiar warmth in his chest. [i]By Fargan, she’s so beautiful. What have I ever done to deserve such a creature?[/i]
His exit from Nohanna’s castle reminded Jareth of an Inner Realm book his mother had found on one of her more recent visits there. [blue]What was the author’s name again? Ah…Tolkien.[/blue] The hero and his friends had escaped from a dungeon by sealing themselves in barrels and floating down the river.
This was somewhat different, his exit vehicle being a floating cargo pallet, but the premise was the same. He needed no magic ring to make himself vanish, just a cloak of Working. As soon as he was out of sight of the castle he shed it, and dived off the pallet for shore.
In the clear, he was able to Banish the water from his once-splendid traveling clothes, and he closed his eyes to try and Locate his parents.
He found he could not, which was little surprise considering the distances involved, so he transformed and took to the air, a great red eagle owl with chocolate and black markings. The air currents lifted his wings mightily and he soared high, glad to be free of the encumberment of his captivity. [blue]Too long out of the air, too long away from the skies…Home. I have missed you, my northern homeland, and your wayward son returns.[/blue]
Jareth screeched loudly and caught a warm draft that was headed north. The wind caught his wings and he relaxed into the comfortable embrace of the breeze.
Saison looked down the line, admiring his citizen militia. “Each of you has an option,” he said, his voice booming across the practice field. “You may join with me and my cousin, retake his kingdom, and destroy Nohanna. Or, you may remain here. I will make no judgments based on this, and it is not your duty to help me fight this battle.” He looked down the line of faces and knew that his offer was in vain. Everyone would go. No citizen of the Northern Climes could hear what had happened to young Jareth and their beloved Nadya without being stirred to anger, and that anger translated into willing participation in whatever Saison decided was best for the kingdom.
Jareth and Sarah stood close by, his arm about her waist and the breeze riffling their hair. [b]What strange things fate does to us. Here I am standing on a field with a sword and chain mail on, a man I love more than breath is holding me, and I am not afraid.[/b] Fear had entered into the occasion for some time, rather she felt a strange numbness. Neither cold nor warm, afraid nor bold, joyous nor sad nor indifferent. Simply numb. Perhaps these last three weeks had cauterized her ability to feel the normal emotions of everyday existence.
Jareth looked down at her, as she stared out across the field. [i]Perhaps she is truly an angel in human form.[/i] In that moment, with the sun glowing on her and an ethereal look on her face, Sarah hardly seemed the mortal that she was. [i]I hope I have prepared her for this.[/i] In the past week, they had practiced sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat. He had begun teaching her the basics of Fae-based magic, tapping into the swirls of power available anywhere in Known Universe. [i]Nadya, I wish you could have been awake to teach her the rest.[/i]
Saison was terribly concerned for his wife, who had yet to awaken. She had slipped from mere shock into a coma, and in fear for his wife and daughter’s lives Saison had asked her doctor to force some nourishment into her body. The older man had promised to stay by her side until Saison’s return, and Saison had thanked him sincerely and simply, not knowing what else to say.
[blue]Oh, my country, how I have missed you.[/blue] Jareth flew across the border and felt his powers redouble as the currents reacted to his familiarity. At last he could translocate to the castle instead of the slower method of flight. In a week he had traversed leagues, hunting for food when he felt hungry and drinking from convenient streams when he felt thirst. Were it not for the sense of urgency that drove him homeward, Jareth might have continued for weeks. [blue]Kasdain Castle, here I come.[/blue]
And he was gone.
Captain Gawain of the palace guard watched as a large red-and-black banded owl appeared in the courtyard. In an instant it was replaced, and Prince Jareth stood in its place. “Milord!” Gawain cried, rushing forward.
“Gawain! Where is my father?” he asked.
“Why…Prince, he has just left this morning. He and the citizen militia translocated to the border with milord Jareth and lady Sarah…” Gawain said, trailing off. Jareth cursed. “And my mother?” he asked.
A deeper voice resonated through the courtyard. “Your mother is very ill, Prince Jareth. I fear she may die.” Jareth turned to see the old Fae physician who treated his mother’s illnesses.
“Take me to her!” he cried, his voice fraught with sudden anguish. [blue] To return home just in time for this…[/blue]
Nohanna howled in anger, destroying a table with his fist. The splinters flew about him in the hall and he turned on the guard captain. “How could your men be so moronic!” he roared, and the captain flinched.
“I apologize, Lord,” she said, “but the lad apparently had some Worked thing to unlock his cuffs. With them off, he had his powers back and could walk out of here as easily as you or I.” Nohanna growled angrily but said nothing. This changed things.
[gray]Nohanna stood at the top of Castle Hill in the Goblin Kingdom and listened to the perfect, beautiful silence. No squabbling, no screeching, no hissing, bubbling, or grinding. All the sounds of the village were gone. “Ah.” Nohanna sighed, glad to finally be rid of the horrid inhabitants of Jareth’s realm.
“Where did you put all of them?” he asked the captain beside him. The young elf smiled.
“We discovered a rather convenient little portion of the Labyrinth, milord. An oubliette of epic proportions,” he noted with a wry satisfaction. “Accordingly, the goblins and various strange creatures have been deposited there.”
Nohanna nodded. “Good.”[/gray]
Sarah sat up suddenly and looked around at the small army scattered about the grass. Jareth and Saison were nowhere to be seen. She stood and walked to the nearest perimeter guard. “Have you seen the lords?” she asked. He directed her towards the other side of the clearing.
Jareth left Saison with a nod to speak with Sarah. “Problems, sweet?” he asked, resting his hands on her waist. She smiled briefly and told him what she’d seen.
[blue]Mum, you’re not supposed to be doing this sort of thing to me.[/blue] Jareth smiled sadly, taking his mother’s hand. [blue]Children are supposed to worry their parents, not the other way around. But you always were a bit eccentric.[/blue] He closed his eyes and stretched out his Senses, querying the proper channels as to what was holding his mother. After a few minutes, he rubbed his temples, let go of her hand, and went to the kitchens for a glass of wine.
“I don’t understand it,” he murmured to himself, staring out a window in his bedroom. Whatever it was that was holding his mother in her comatose state was bigger than herself. Her self-induced hysterical coma should have long-since passed. [blue]I have never encountered such barriers.[/blue] Jareth flopped down on his bed and stared at the mural spread across his ceiling.
Nadya’s skilled hands had painted every inch of it when she was pregnant with him, forty years before. It had withstood time and the elements, since Jareth’s pubescent years had sometimes been tempestuous in the literal sense of the word. At thirty he’d caught his final growth spurt and gained four inches in a month, much to the joy of the head cook, who’d kept him in Earth delights and sweet confections in quantities to feed an army.
Jareth fell asleep with his eyes on that painting, his brow furrowed in deep thought. As his lids drifted shut his forehead relaxed, sweeping a peaceful expression across his face. Perhaps his soul was in turmoil, but nothing betrayed that in slumber.
Sarah inhaled the familiar scent of the Goblin Kingdom, which had at first repulsed her but now welcomed her return. “It has changed,” Jareth whispered, noticing her appreciation of the aroma. “For you, that is. To me it always smells the same.”
She looked at him curiously, and his eyes fixed on some point across the valley. “The land learns, Sarah. It remembers. And while you were an enemy the last time, now you are…” he waved a hand slightly, “a friend.”
Saison walked up beside them and took a whiff himself. “To me it always smells like good clean earth. With just a touch of the scent Aunt Beth used to wear.” Jareth smiled fondly.
“You used to crawl into her lap at holidays and just smell her. It was very amusing when you were still littler than me,” Jareth mused. Sarah looked at the two cousins and wondered why her family was not so friendly.
When her parents were married, they would take her to her grandmother’s house at Christmas and the whole family would show up. There would be all sorts of present-giving and catching up on old memories, but soon the squabbling started. The plucking and criticizing would build until Sarah would retreat to the root cellar of the old farm house, which was toasty warm compared to the snowy landscape offered by the woods behind it. In that warm, somewhat musty room, she could sit and think or read, or whatever else she wanted to do.
One year her cousin Alexander brought his friend Thomas to dinner. The fourteen-year-old was quickly set upon by the old crones of the family and ran out into the snowy woods to get away. Sarah remembered seeing him as she headed towards the root cellar, with big fat flakes in his hair and his breath puffing out in steaming clouds. He’d been her first real crush, at the tender age of thirteen, and they were instant friends. She showed him the cellar and they hid out there until dinner, talking about books they had read. Thomas was the one who introduced her to [i] The Labyrinth[/i].
Thomas only lived a short distance from Sarah back in the city, so they started to hang out together. Movies, the library, the park; they went everywhere together. One evening, when it hard started to rain and they had taken shelter under an overhang, Tom leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Her little teenage heart leapt.
But then his family moved to Canada, and she thought she would never see him again. For a year they wrote letters back and forth talking about all the things they would have discussed if they were together. That was when it happened. Tom and his family went on vacation at the ocean, and when they returned home Tom did not write her again. She wrote his father asking after him, and was informed that Tom had come back from vacation with them in a coffin. He had drowned, dragged out by a riptide and too exhausted to swim to shore. By the time they had gotten to him he was dead.
Tears sparkled in her eyes as she thought of him, but there was no time to cry. “All right everyone,” cried Saison so all could hear, “we’ll be splitting off a small group to free the citizens of this kingdom and enlist their assistance. All those not going with Sarah and Jareth will follow me, and we’ll make an assault on the castle.”
Jareth looked at his cousin. “Do try not to destroy my castle, Saison. It’s not much anymore, but it is home.” The other Fae grinned wryly and nodded.
“I will try to make sure you have a place to sleep when this is all over, Jareth.”
The smaller band split off towards the Labyrinth, which was crumbling and dying with neglect. Jareth shook his head sadly as they walked through the gate. Even the vines that had coated the brick were gone, and the walls had begun to disintegrate. “It’s so different,” Sarah murmured.
“Indeed. I have never seen it like this.” He touched a wall and it hummed slightly, just at the level of audibility. “All will be well,” he whispered, “the King has returned. Tell the others.” The wall quivered very slightly and where it touched the next wall, that wall began to vibrate as well.
Even those in their party who had lived in the Outer Realm for their entire lives were amazed. “The Labyrinth is a living, breathing ecosystem. Not just one creature, but many,” Jareth explained, taking his palm off of the wall with a certain fondness. “The walls are like pets, loyal and dumb.”
Deep in the Labyrinth floor, the citizens of the Goblin Kingdom were in various states of dismay; the smartest and dumbest of them were sitting around on the floor, the former pondering escape and the latter still attempting to understand where they were. Those in the middle ranges of intelligence mostly ran around in circles complaining and trying to climb the walls of the Main Oubliette.
“Even if we had been dropped into the Hand Oubliette, the hands are probably dead,” griped a dwarf. The others of his kind grumbled in agreement. “Now then, this is no way for loyal citizens of the kingdom to behave!” yipped a small voice. Everyone turned.
“It is obvious to me that our liege is in trouble! Why else would he allow us to be exiled here?” barked Sir Didymus. The little Knight was now more gray than red, the years having sapped the color from his fur but not the energy from his spirit. Agreement was expressed by the larger, hairier inhabitants of the Kingdom, whose heads brushed the low ceiling of the room. “I suggest we put our heads together and determine the most expeditious means of exit from this situation,” Didymus announced. Everyone, even the grumbling dwarves, cheered.
Sarah looked down at the little dead bodies in the crevice. “Oh, the worms,” Jareth breathed, adding a vehement curse. “They’re always the first to go whenever anything happens, poor little bastards,” he said, looking up at the sky, which had turned soupy and gray. Thunder crashed in the distance. “The Kingdom knows I’m home now. The walls have told everything they can reach. Soon we will see some fireworks.”
They walked on in silence, the militiamen and women watching the corridors as Jareth led them through the maze. “This,” he told Sarah as they rounded a corner, brighter pink than the nearby walls as it healed, boosted just enough by Jareth’s proximity, “is how to do it right.” She wrinkled up her nose.
“So, once you left my kingdom, what did you do?” he asked absently, fingers finding a seam in the walls and gently nudging it open. The wall obeyed, splitting for its master, and the whole party stepped through before Jareth let go and the wall slid shut.
“Well, what do you think? I returned to my life, as you did to yours,” she answered. Jareth shrugged, a little ashamed he had not inquired before. [i]Should I ask of the boy?[/i] he wondered. Sarah spared him that.
“Toby was a lot quieter after we returned. Dad thought I’d done something to him.” She laughed. “Even now the kid barely talks, just sits in his room and draws fantasy comics. You made a real impression.”
They came upon a long and twisting path, and Jareth called a halt. He knelt, bending down to listen to the ground below. He tapped on a paving stone with the hilt of his sword and nodded, his hair brushing against the slate with a soft swish. “Here.” Sliding his fingers into the crack, he murmured something in Fae and with a loud crack and rumble the ground began to open. “Step back!” he warned. Everyone moved away as the gaping maw expanded.
Jareth placed his palms together and rubbed in a tight circle. From his fingertips a thin silver cord emerged. When a long coil lay at his feet, he handed the one end to two officers. “I’ll be right back,” he said, rappelling over the edge and into the hole. The wait was not long.
“It’s empty!” he called, and reached a hand up to be helped over the lip of the opening. Sarah sighed. “Then I was wrong,” she said.
“No,” Jareth assured her, Banishing the dust from himself in a shower of gray. “No, you were right. They [i]were[/i] there.” He chuckled wryly and shook his head. “Until about twenty minutes ago, that is.”
He began to laugh, until tears appeared in his eyes and he wiped at them. Everyone else stared at him, waiting to see if he had totally lost his mind or had some good reason for this behavior. “They have escaped. May all the gods of Earth have mercy on Nohanna’s men.” He removed something from his cloak and handed it to Sarah.
“Didymus!” she cried happily. The little velvet hat could only belong to him.
[blue]For in the eyes of mortals, we are as Gods…the powers of the universe lay at our disposal, and we have thus the most terrible responsibility of all…[/blue] Jareth lay on his back thinking through the verses that began the Laws of Fae in the Tome. [blue]Somewhere in those ancient and outdated things, I should find my help.[/blue] But where did his father keep their unabridged Tome? He’d searched the library, the Hall where the armor and heirlooms were displayed, even the cellars.
[blue]I know we have one. Every family must.[/blue] Standing, Jareth growled in frustration. He paced liked a caged tiger, his soft boots tapping against the cobbled floor of the foyer. [blue]What I wouldn’t do for one of Uncle’s crystals right about now.[/blue] Not one servant seemed to have any idea what he was talking about, and in fact he’d found fewer and fewer servants as he wandered the halls. [blue]What’s going on around here?[/blue]
He walked out of the foyer into the solarium and gasped. The east wall was disappearing! [blue]Now I know something is wrong. That is definitely not normal.[/blue] He sprinted to the staircase leading to his room for his cloak and sword.
Fleet whinnied as Jareth leapt into her saddle and kicked sharply. The beast raced off into the village, and when she reached its border, they vanished.
Jareth examined the cracks in a dead wall and frowned. “We can go no further unless we destroy it. I cannot open a dead wall.” Producing a crystal, he splintered it between his palms and inserted the shards into the cracks. “Everyone get down,” he commanded, himself stepping away and shielding his body with his cloak. With a loud crash and the sound of crunching stone, the wall crumbled.
“That wasn’t so hard,” Sarah commented brightly. Jareth looked at the neighboring walls, which were sickly and pale, and the emotion that showed most brightly in his eyes was fear. “Watch yourselves, everyone,” he ordered in his clear, ringing tones, “I know not what this will do.”
Fleet picked her way over the rocks and Jareth finally decided to leave her. “I’m sorry, girl,” he murmured, slipping her some sugar and looping her reins around a tree branch. He closed his eyes for a moment, Conjuring a shield to hide the horse. When he stepped back and Unworked his sight, the mare was invisible.
Jareth bounded along the rocks with ease, stepping lithely from one to the next. “Now to find Father.” Something told him to head towards the city, and whether it was common sense or something more complicated than that, he followed that instinct.
But the young Fae had never been in the Labyrinth before, and was soon hopelessly turned around. He walked through an opening in the walls that looked as though it had been blasted, and took a turn, guessing as to which way he should go.
Sarah heard a thud and a small animal noise and turned. Several others in their party heard it too, although Jareth himself was too absorbed in reading the wall in front of them to notice. “Jareth,” she whispered, tugging his sleeve, “there’s something there.” As men and women drew swords, Jareth walked back towards the way they came, turning a corner. They followed him, uncertain.
He stopped on a complex pattern of stone that Sarah had not noticed before. “Open,” he commanded, and the ground split at his feet. Jareth grinned at Sarah slightly, “Someone has fallen into one of the pits.”
“Hello?” called Jareth. Great. Come to save my family, stop my home from disappearing…now I’m going to die of thirst or something in my own uncle’s pet Maz. He kicked the wall angrily and it shuddered. Jareth decided not to do that again.
But then he heard the scraping of stone against stone, and something round and glowing dropped into the hole. Jareth recognized the little sphere. “Uncle!” he cried. “Get me out of here!”
Sarah found herself face to face with the two Jareths, the younger of whom was thanking his uncle profusely for pulling him out of the pit. “This is going to get confusing,” she muttered darkly.