Copyright © 1999 Helen Fayle
The Labyrinth and characters from the film © Henson Corp 1986.
Cover art by Nathan Skreslet, © 1999
Winner:Best Overall Story, Best New Character (Devin), Labyrinth Fanfic Awards 1999
Runner-up: The Jareth/Sarah Best Romance Award 1999
Winner:Best Overall Story, Best Action Sequence/Story, Best Portrayal of Jareth, Best First Attempt: Labyrinth Green Awards 1999
'Trust me,' Alison said, 'You'll feel better.'
Sarah pulled a face. 'I know you mean well, Ali, but - '
Her friend wouldn't listen. 'Picnic. PenArran woods. You, me and a hamper of goodies. Just what you need for your birthday to cheer you up!'
Which was why they were camped out on an old travel blanket in the middle of the woods on a bright summer day, on Sarah's 18th birthday, a battered radio beside them blasting out 'This Ain't The Summer of Love' by Blue Oyster Cult
'Which it isn't,' Alison said, 'Is it?' She pulled her sunglasses down her nose and stared hard at her friend. 'You finally ditched that idiot?'
'Last night. And his name's Carl.'
Alison grinned. 'Was Carl. Now he's history, right?'
Sarah smiled wanly. 'Yeah.'
Last night's argument had been the last straw, after eight months. A realisation that she just didn't love him. And certainly didn't want to sleep with him...
Alison patted her on the arm. 'Hey. He didn't deserve you anyway. Besides, he's what - twenty-two? Only after one thing if you ask me. So. What's the plan for tonight? Party? Or ice cream?'
Sarah grinned. 'Ice cream. I don't feel like partying.' She hadn't felt like coming out this afternoon either, but Alison would have been hurt if she'd refused. With her mother and Jeremy away on tour with a new play, she was on her own for her Eighteenth birthday - except for Ali. She could perhaps have gone to stay with her father, but after she'd walked out two years ago (one final fight too many with her stepmother, Karen) she'd sworn nothing would make her stay one more night under that roof.
And then there was the pendant.
She fingered the silver owl gently, feeling the delicate casting. It had been on her bedside table this morning when she woke up, in a black velvet case. The note with it had just been a single letter in an elaborate hand. The letter 'J'.
Just when you started to convince yourself it could have been just a dream...
Alison followed the gesture. 'You still haven't told me who gave you that.'
Sarah shrugged. 'Someone I met a few years ago. Briefly.'
'Some 'briefly',' Alison grinned. 'Even in silver, that's an expensive piece. So what gives? Who's the mystery admirer?'
'You just don't give up do you?'
Alison flicked a grape at her. 'Nope. Come on - tall? Handsome.'
'Yes, and very - in a wild sort of way.' Sculptured features, a generous mouth that could compress to a cruel line.
' Fair.' Almost white blond in some lights, Sarah remembered.
Pale, faded to grey at the last. Owl pale.
'Two of them,' Sarah shot back. They both laughed.
'Silly. Colour? Brown, Blue?'
'One blue, the other hazel - I think.'
'Ooh, weird. Well built?'
Sarah glared at her. 'What is this, Twenty Questions?' Alison just hummed and looked innocent. 'I don't know.' Truth: anywhere between thirty and a few hundred years, for all she knew. Not that she could tell Ali that.
Goblin King. So there, Sarah thought to herself, with an inward sigh. 'I really couldn't say.' And wasn't that the truth...
A high pitched keening distracted Alison before she could continue her line of questioning.
'Sounds like something's being killed,' Ali remarked. Trying to see if she could locate the source of the noise, Sarah noticed a red-tailed hawk fly out of the trees a short distance away. The keening continued.
'I think it got something.' She stood up and walked to where she could hear the sounds, growing fainter.
Just into the treeline, she found the source: a barn owl, panting its last as she reached it. She knelt by the bird, little more than a bloodstained pile of feathers.
'Jeez, what a mess!' Alison exclaimed, staring down over Sarah's shoulder. Standing, Sarah realised she was shaking.
'I'm going home,' she told Alison. 'Please,' she added, remembering that it was Ali who had the car.
Alison, not normally noted for her tact, took one look at Sarah and said no more. Sarah wasn't squeamish, she knew, but for some reason the sight of the owl had given her friend a real shock.
They drove home in silence.
Sarah threw the keys onto the phone table when she got back into the house. Two envelopes still lay on the table, unopened. One in her mother's careless scrawl, the other in Karen's neat hand. She stared at them again, trying to work up the enthusiasm to open them, but then sighed and headed for the kitchen instead. Some eighteenth birthday, she thought. Her mother away on tour with her new play, and her father couldn't even be bothered to write out the card himself.
There was probably time to ring round the few friends she did have, and arrange to go out, but rummaging through the fridge for tea, she didn't feel like it. Instead, she settled for Ladyhawke on video and a salad.
And an early night.
She was in the throne room of the Goblin Castle, only this time it was occupied. She picked her way through the squabbling pack of goblins that ran riot in the room. Two female goblins - a skinny red head and a roly-poly one with pigtails, were wrestling on the floor in front of the empty throne, trying to pull each other's heads off by the look of it, Sarah thought.
It took her a few minutes to realise that there was no sound.
She moved through the room like a ghost, avoiding stepping in the rubbish that littered the floor. Drawn almost by instinct through the doorway she'd gone through before. Last time, it had led to the strange room drawn from her memory of the Escher print. This time, it ended at a large open window that overlooked the Goblin City.
He was sitting on the window ledge, looking out over the city. A strong evening breeze whipped his wild fair hair back from a face that held a look that was two parts boredom, one part contemplation. One booted leg rested on the ledge, the other dangled over the side. As she watched, a long gloved hand idly pushed a lock of hair back from his eyes.
In that unguarded, unwatched moment, he looked almost pleasant, she thought with some surprise.
As she watched, he leaned forwards, staring intently at something below. With a soundless oath, he pushed back from the window and ran back down the passage towards her. She jumped back into the shadows before remembering this was only a dream, and he couldn't possibly see her. His face now held a black look she was glad wasn't directed at her.
Curiosity drawing her, she followed.
The throne room was awash with blood. Goblin blood.
She'd always thought the creatures were almost indestructible.
Not anymore. One small scruffy goblin was still moving feebly, and expired as she drew nearer. She shivered. And looked towards the throne.
It was occupied by a red-haired man clad in a dark russet cloak. Surrounding him were six of the largest goblins she'd ever seen - at least six feet tall, she realised with a start. She wrapped her arms around herself for comfort, and looked around for Jareth.
One of the large goblins was dragging him before the man in red. Who cast aside the cloak to reveal a long black sword resting on his lap. Grasping the hilt, he brought the tip to rest against the Goblin King's throat...
Sarah awoke with a cry. Outside, dawn was breaking.
2. Is Coincidence
Sarah poked her now soggy muesli with the spoon and stared gloomily into the bowl. The sleepless night hadn't helped her general mood. She sighed heavily, and looked up, staring moodily out of the kitchen window.
It didn't help that she was alone. With her mother away (not that they spent much time together, but still...) and Merlin -
She looked over at the back of the open closet door, where his leash still hung. Even knowing he'd been getting on a bit, it had still hurt. She blinked back the tears, refusing to break. So she was on her own, so what? She was used to it. Her eyes dropped to the phone on the table beside her.
Choices... She didn't have to stay here alone, did she? She picked up the receiver and dialled.
Just the sight of that owl, she thought before drifting into the realm of dreams, safe in Ali's spare bed that night. That was all. Just a bad dream.
She was underground, somewhere. The dark tunnels dripped with water, and the eye lichen on the walls fluoresced in the faint light from the burning torch she carried. The little eyes kept swivelling to follow her as she passed it, and it hissed at her when she brushed too close. But she ignored it. She was searching for something, wasn't she? She had to find something. Or someone.
The tunnel opened out into a large underground chamber, empty except for a perch in the centre of the room - with a snowy feathered owl on it. She placed the torch in a skull shaped holder on the wall, and walked over to it. The poor thing, she thought, it's injured. Blood stained one wing and its white breast, sticking the soft feathers together.
It had odd coloured eyes, she noticed.
The jesses were chains instead of leather, welded around the perch.
'I can't!' she told the bird, looking at the chains. 'I don't know how!'
Distantly, she heard a clock begin to chime. Risking the bird taking a swipe at her with its beak, she tried to pull the chains free from the perch.
Sarah woke, trembling. Just across the road, the church clock could be heard striking twelve.
Just another dream, she told herself, sinking back onto the pillows. Then in the thin gleam of moonlight falling through a gap in the curtains, she saw the raw grazes on her hands.
As if she'd been pulling at thin chains with her fingers.
3. Times the charm.
The walls were darkened, their otherworldly glimmer replaced by a noxious grey slime that oozed and dripped over the crumbling brick. She was searching for something, but couldn't remember what it was. Left, left and left again, letting the walls guide her. Always heading for the centre. For the castle that reared up above the Labyrinth. A feeling of dread increased the further she went.
The gates to the city finally reared up in front of her, a massive construction of brass and bronze, tarnished, already, she noticed, looking at the rust coloured substance that covered them. Reaching out to touch them, tentatively, she drew her hand back in horror. Blood.
The sense of foreboding grew stronger, as reluctantly, she raised her eyes to look at the top of the wall across the gates, afraid of what she'd see there. His head, white blond hair matted with blood, mismatched eyes wide, staring down at her from the stake -
Sarah awoke with a scream, sitting bolt upright, shaking.
'Jesus, Sarah!' Alison yelled. She flicked the light switch. 'Have quiet nightmares, why don't you.'
'I'm sorry, it was just so - vivid.' Sarah threw back the covers and climbed out of bed. Walking over to the window, she stared into the night. The clock tower opposite their window showed that it was just past midnight.
'It's the third night in a row, ' Alison told her. ' Maybe you should see a counsellor or something?'
Sarah shook her head. 'Three times the charm...' she whispered to herself.
'Nothing. Just a feeling...' Unthinking, her hand drifted to the necklace that had appeared on her bedside table three mornings ago, on her birthday. A silver owl with outstretched wings, the chain attached to the tips of the wings.
That night, the dreams had started. A feeling of danger, of something coming closer. But nothing to compare to tonight.
'Thinking about your mystery owl admirer?' Alison hazarded.
'Sort of.' She fingered the pendent again. The owl chained... the dead owl in the woods - and the dreams. An omen - or a message? She sighed. After finding the pendant, she'd expected him to appear, but so far there'd been no sign of him. Jareth, the Goblin King.
Except for the dreams. And the feeling that had grown over the last three days that something was dreadfully wrong. Why do I care? she asked herself.
Memories... The look of - regret? When she'd rejected his offer at the end...
He was the only one who'd stayed away, never came back...
'What do you want?' she whispered, clutching the owl pendant. Then gasped. As Alison looked on in surprise, Sarah dressed in a hurry.
'What on earth?' Alison caught her arm 'What are you doing?'
'I've got to go. Now. Ali, can I borrow the car?'
'Sure, you know you can - but where are you going at this time of the night?'
She grabbed the keys and was half way out of the door before she thought to answer Alison's question. 'PenArran Wood.'
Her past had just returned to haunt her.
Chapter One: Ill met by Moonlight
PenArran Wood wasn't a friendly spot even in daylight. The place was old forest - uncleared, unmanaged. Undergrowth choked any new growth that dared to reach for the sky, and the trees were old. Even the natives had steered clear of the place before the white settlers arrived.
Local historians missed the significance of the name the settlers from England had given the place. PenArran - Pen Arawn, the head of the Lord of the Underworld. Blatant, really. She should have known.
Armed only with the flashlight from the trunk of the car, Sarah made her way hesitantly into the wood. The darkness was so thick, it seemed to even swallow up the torchlight. But the feeling that had driven her out this far was even stronger, almost but not quite overriding her fear.
There was a path of sorts that led through the trees. Giggling lovers sometimes used it - it led to a small clearing about a quarter of a mile from the road. Far enough away from prying eyes, especially at night. Since it was the quickest way into the wood, Sarah stayed on the path, and tried to move quietly.
She'd reached the edge of the clearing when she heard something behind her, moving through the thick undergrowth. It sounded big...She froze, and switched off the torch, trying to slow her breathing down. Just as she'd almost convinced herself that it was probably just another pair of midnight lovers lost in the woods, a hand clamped over her mouth, muffling her startled cry, and an arm encircled her waist, pulling her further back into the bushes.
'Don't make a sound,' a voice cautioned her. 'I killed one, but there's still one out there.'
Over two years past, but she knew that low, cultured voice. His hand moved away from her mouth. 'Jareth?' she whispered. The years rolled forward to yesterday in the space of a heartbeat.
In that simple command, a compulsion to obey. She shivered, despite the warm night.
The sounds of movement faded, moving away from them, deeper into the wood - and thankfully, also away from the path to the car. He released her then. Freed from his grip, she turned to try to see his face, but in the darkness, could barely see him. Just a glimmer of fair hair, a pale blur in the faint moonlight that trickled through the trees.
'I suggest we get away from here. I hope you have some transport.'
'Yes, a car - '
He cut her off abruptly. 'Is there somewhere safe we can go?'
'My mother's house,' she said, knowing it was the only place. 'She's away on tour for six months with her new play.'
'Take me,' he ordered. 'But don't use the torch.'
'How am I supposed to see where I'm going?' she whispered back, a little put out at his ordering her like that. She didn't need to be able to see him to picture his feral smile.
'Follow me, I can see perfectly at night.'
'Oh good for you,' she said softly, hoping the sarcasm carried.
'So can my pursuer.' Obviously it had. He took her hand. 'This way, I take it?'
Not until they'd pulled out of the car park and back onto the highway, was she able to get a good look at him. He was in a dreadful state. The figure sitting slumped in the passenger seat was a far cry from the elegant - and arrogant - ruler of the Labyrinth that she remembered. His fair hair was lank and matted. The left side of his face was one large bruise - and the left side of his once fine shirt was soaked in blood, and, judging by the way he was holding his side, still bleeding.
The owl chained in the underground room...
'You're hurt! Maybe I should get you to - '
'No. It's not as bad as it looks. Just get me somewhere safe. I can take care of it then.'
Biting back a tart reply, she realised he was right. She couldn't take him to a hospital, no matter how badly he was hurt. With a sigh, she put her foot to the gas pedal again, daring the speed limit.
Luckily, she'd got her keys with her, and there was room in the second garage for Alison's car. She'd be all morning trying to get the blood off the seat, she thought ruefully. She was able to get her 'guest' into the house through the garage, thankfully without being seen. The last thing she needed was a posse of nosy neighbours coming around to see what was going on.
He made it as far as the lounge before collapsing into a chair. Sarah left him there whilst she hurried to the medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom.
He was slumped in the chair when she returned. In the artificial light of the room, he looked even paler than ever, grey hollows under his mismatched eyes - which watched her warily as she walked in and knelt beside him.
'I don't suppose you want to tell me what's going on?' she asked. He didn't reply, just helped her to remove what was left of his shirt. She gasped involuntarily as she saw the cut in his side. Long, deep, and still trickling blood. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be any sign of infection. 'I hope you're not allergic to anything in here?' She held up the box. He shook his head slightly.
'No. Do what you must.'
Hoping she remembered long-ago classes in first aid, she started to clean the wound. He winced occasionally under her ministrations, but made no sound. Not really able to do more than cover it with a waterproof dressing, she hoped it would be all right.
He still hadn't spoken to her except for that one instruction, since they'd arrived at the house.
'That creature in the wood was a hobgoblin.' His voice, after such a long, strained silence, took her by surprise.
'You did say you wanted to know what was happening?' His voice had regained a little of the slight mocking edge she remembered.
'I thought you were their King?'
His laugh in response was humourless. 'Hobs are entirely different.' He shifted in his seat uncomfortably. 'Three nights ago the city was stormed and the castle taken. I spent two nights in my own dungeon and another on the run before I could make the crossing.'
Remembering the usual state and lacklustre performance of his goblin guards, somehow Sarah wasn't surprised to find he'd been taken by surprise. The only question she had was by whom?
Dreams... A black sword in stark contrast to white blond hair.
'The man with red hair, in the red cloak?'
'Iorweth. Self styled Lord of the southern wastes.' Jareth's voice dripped loathing - whether at himself for being caught out so easily, or at his foe, she couldn't tell. Probably both. He regarded her then with a watchful look. 'How did you know what he looks like?'
'I think I saw it.' She explained about the three dreams. His face held a thoughtful look. One hand reached towards the pendant, fingering the delicate design.
'I must have crafted this better than I thought,' he muttered.
She wasn't going to ask. Not yet. She settled for another question. 'How did you get away?'
A trace of his cold smile flickered briefly across his face. 'I make it a point never to build a dungeon I can't get out of.' His hand pulled back from the necklace.
'A pity you didn't put as much forethought into not having to,' Sarah retorted before she thought. To her surprise, he laughed - although briefly, wincing again as it pulled at his injury. 'Why come to me?'
'It seemed like a good idea at the time, I need somewhere I can't be found easily,' he replied dryly. 'And no matter how much you may hate me, I didn't believe you would refuse to help.'
'I don't hate you,' Sarah said quietly. She held his mismatched gaze with her own. 'I don't even really know you.'
She hadn't known how true it was until the words were said.
'How true.' Was he reading her mind? He tugged at what was left of his clothing. 'Now, I don't suppose your hospitality extends towards letting me clean up? It seems I'll have to do this the hard way for a day or two.'
'First on the left at the top of the stairs. There should be some of Jeremy's costumes in the wardrobe - you're about the same size.'
He stood up, very slowly and painfully. Watching him move, she realised how horrifyingly weak he was. Sarah moved in to help him but he waved her away. 'I can manage.'
'Suit yourself.' She shrugged, and waited. He got as far as the second stair. Moving in beside him, she offered her shoulder for him to lean on, without a word.
He insisted he could manage once they reached the top. Not convinced, but not too sure she really wanted to push the issue further, she merely bit her lip and watched him make his painful way into her mother's room. Watching him, she got the feeling that only his pride had got him this far. She stared at the bedroom door for a moment, wondering if she should at least offer to help, but then squared her shoulders and walked into her room.
There were no nightmares when she finally slept. Just a memory of dancing, and music - of a song she could almost, but not quite remember.
Morning dawned with the kind of cloudless, vivid blue sky that promised that the day would be a scorcher. Sarah rolled over in bed, blinking sleepily in the bright sunshine that streamed in through a gap in the curtains. Memory, however, came flooding back, scuttling any chance of her ever getting back to sleep.
Jareth. Oh hell.
Her jeans were stained with his blood; not wanting to wear them again, she found a pair of shorts and an old shirt that she tied up above the waist. At least she'd be cool later. Running a brush through her hair, she decided that she looked at least presentable, and went to check on her uninvited guest.
The door to her mother's room was ajar, so she didn't bother to knock. Inside, he was standing in front of the mirror, finishing fastening one of Jeremy's stage shirts. Although he still looked pale, at least he looked better than he had last night.
She'd tried to be quiet, but he turned at her approach.
What do you say to the Goblin King first thing in the morning? Sarah wondered. She settled for a simple 'Good Morning.' There was an awkward, stretched silence.
'Good morning,' he replied eventually. He walked towards her, stopping an arms length away from her. 'You have my thanks. If you hadn't arrived when you did -'
That had cost him to say, she noticed. He didn't seem like the kind of man used to owing anything to anyone. And he was staring at her.
'I -It - it was nothing.' Sarah was suddenly all too aware that by comparison to what he would be used to, she was barely dressed at all - and that he seemed to have noticed, judging by the appraising look that passed over his face as he looked at her. She lounged back against the doorframe as nonchalantly as she could. This was 1989, after all. His problem, not hers. 'You look better.' True enough, the bruising had vanished, and although he moved carefully, he didn't seem to be in as much pain as he had been.
'I heal quickly,' he told her. But looking at him, seeing him for the first time in the daylight of her world, he looked so pale and ill, she doubted it. He'd taken care of the cosmetic damage, that was sure, but she sensed a deeper hurt - and maybe it wasn't just physical.
She'd forgotten just how attractive he was. Even battered and exhausted, there was something intensely compelling about him...
Concentrate on the real world, she told herself. You have things to do.
'I have to take my friend's car back, and pick up some food. Will you...?'
'I can manage. Do what you must.' He turned away from her abruptly, coldly, leaving her wondering what she'd done wrong.
'Right. Well, I won't be long.' She resisted the temptation to slam the door behind her.
Cleaning the car took most of the morning, thankfully. She avoided him for the rest of the day, once she got back from Alison's. (Dodging her friend's questions with a story about a visitor from out of town, gotta go, etc.) It seemed easier, somehow. She got the impression he preferred that himself, since apart from coming down to help himself to dinner, he stayed out of her way. Sarah dragged the swing chair out into the back garden and raided her mother's book collection, although if she was honest, she spent the afternoon and early evening with the book open in front of her, just thinking.
Two and a half years. After all this time, her dreams returned to haunt her, and she didn't have the faintest idea how to deal with it. Fairy tales weren't supposed to walk around in the daylight in New York State.
But since when had fairy tales included the likes of him? She asked herself. She didn't even know what he was, did she? Apart from, she remembered, an arrogant, manipulative bully who'd kidnapped her baby brother, toyed with her, drugged her, tried to seduce her and tried to kill her.
Not necessarily in that order.
And yet. Toby had come to no harm. It had been a dream, hadn't it, so how could he? No, not a dream, she couldn't take that way out. He'd intimidated her, but hadn't hurt her. Moments when she'd seen a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, a genuine interest and amusement, rather than the cruel mask. Dancing with him in that ballroom (don't dwell on that, it was just a dream within a dream...).
Dusk was falling. The full moon that had been hanging like a ghostly shadow of itself in the early evening sky was rising high and bright above the trees. With a sigh, Sarah closed the book and went back in. Time to talk to her guest, she supposed. And this time, get some real answers. What did he want from her?
Dreams don't walk the real world.
Hers was stretched idly in the largest armchair, one leg draped over the arm, flicking through a book lazily. He didn't bother to look up as she came in through the French window, until she coughed.
'Finally decided that you want to talk to me, I presume?' He asked, putting the book down on the side table. She couldn't stop her jaw from dropping. How had he known? His face changed from a look of amused indulgence to a feral smile. He moved lightly and quickly from the chair to her side - not without a wince of pain, she noticed. Prowling around her, he leaned closer than she felt comfortable with. 'You're too predictable, Sarah,' he whispered into her ear. 'Besides, you only turned a page twice in five hours. I doubt even you could be that slow a reader.'
She didn't know what stung more - his insult, or the fact that she couldn't think up a suitably pithy retort. He laughed, and moved away from her, taking up court again in the chair. 'Ask your questions, I'll answer what I can.'
You really enjoy playing with people, don't you? She thought. Well I won't be toyed with. Not this time.
'What do you want?' It came out rather more bluntly than she'd planned.
'My kingdom back, Iorweth's head on a stake. For a start.' It seemed he could be just as blunt.
'Couldn't you just raise a goblin army or something?'
'You've seen them. Frankly, would you risk your neck trying to organise that rabble into something useful?' he sneered.
'Whose fault's that?' Sarah shot back. He glared at her, but this time she could meet it. She tried again. 'What about anyone else? There must be someone you could - '
He shook his head. 'Iorweth moved carefully. There is - you might call it a Covenant, between Lords of the Courts. As long as I am the only one involved, the others will not intervene.'
'That's - ' Sarah began.
'Not fair?' His cold gaze held hers again, before a sly smile briefly touched the corners of his mouth. He couldn't resist a twist, even now.
'Given the powers of most of the Lords of the Courts, sensible.' He continued. 'If somewhat - inconvenient, at this point in time. Tonight I'll make the crossing back to the outer lands. There's an old - friend - I can trust. If Devin got my message, he should be waiting for me.'
His smile was a little more wistful. 'Hoping to see me gone so soon? Why am I not surprised?'
'Stop that,' she snapped. His face was so changeable, she realised, so expressive. She doubted he'd ever needed to hide his emotions. Like now, changing from a studied insolence to a mock innocence.
One elegant hand flicked sideways accompanying a faint, fleeting smile. Caught out, it seemed to say. But he said nothing.
She stormed out then and went to her room, slamming the door and throwing herself onto the bed. 'You have no power over me,' she whispered.
And wished she still believed it.
She awoke to a darkness lit only dimly through the heavy curtains by the street lights and the full moon. There was a hand clamped over her mouth, stopping her from crying out.
'Quietly,' A voice whispered in her ear. 'They're here.'
The hand moved away from her mouth.
'Jareth?' Sarah whispered.
'Downstairs,' he replied softly. 'Get dressed. Quietly.' Leaving her side, he walked over to the door, as quietly as a cat.
Finding her clothes in the dark wasn't easy, but somehow she managed.
Joining him at the door, she stood behind him, trying to make out any sounds over and above the beating of her heart and the sound of her breathing - both of which, to her panicked ears, sounded as if they could wake the entire street.
Something very large was moving downstairs, she could hear it. Remembering the half-seen shape in the woods, she shivered. If that was one of the hulking creatures she'd seen in her dream...
Jareth's hand reached out and grasped hers, one squeeze, to reassure her. 'Stay here.' He made to open the door, and she grabbed his arm.
'Can't you just cross over here?' she hissed. The faint moonlight highlighted his pale hair as he shook his head.
'They'll feel it, and they can track me if they know where I've gone through. I have to get rid of them first.' His hand gently caressed the side of her face then, a gesture she hadn't expected, not from him.
'Wait here. You should be safe. I doubt they're interested in you.'
And he was gone, slipping quietly out onto the landing, leaving her pressed back against the wall, wondering what she was supposed to do next. She couldn't just let him face one of those things alone, could she? He was hurt, and he was tired, despite his bravado. 'He's an arrogant, insensitive, cruel, vindictive, manipulative bastard,' she told herself as she slipped out of the bedroom. It didn't help. She sighed. I have to help him...
She stopped at the top of the stairs, listening. She could hear the creatures moving - in the dining room now. Jareth's head was just vanishing around the corner of the hallway. A low growl made her pause near the foot of the stairs. Swallowing hard, she made a dash for the kitchen as quietly as she could. From the dining room, she could hear the furniture being knocked over, sounds of a struggle. The room was illuminated by the streetlight, giving her enough light to see by. Scrabbling in a drawer as quietly as she could, she managed to get her hands on a knife - just as the door crashed open, and a huge misshapen figure burst into the room, advancing on her with a blood curdling growl.
She hadn't thought anything so big could move so fast. It was on her before she even had time to scream - she felt hot, foetid breath on her cheek, and cringed, expecting to feel either its teeth or claws in her flesh- only to feel something hot and warm running over her hand, and the knife she didn't even remember holding pulled out of her grasp as the creature slumped to the ground.
Jareth was at her side, pulling her away. The other creature was a heap on the floor in the dining room, she noticed dimly.
'I didn't even touch it' she said, stunned.
'The knife was steel - enough iron to kill it,' he replied tersely. 'Luckily for you. Just what did you think you were doing?' She could hear the restrained anger in his tone, read it in the tight lines of his face, before he sighed. And something else - concern? 'Never mind, what's done is done.' She didn't catch what he muttered under his breath, but there was no mistaking an expletive.
She followed him into the dining room. 'What do you mean, 'what's done is done?''
He turned on her, and she took an involuntary step back. It seemed the night had given him back some of his mystery, the sense of menace that had surrounded him the first time he'd appeared in her life. And then in the space of a heartbeat, it subsided, replaced with an almost weary look. A hand touched hers briefly, and she was clean, the warm, sticky goblin blood gone.
'You just killed one of Iorweth's pets. He won't take that lightly.'
Sarah glared at him - possibly a wasted effort in the semi-darkness. 'Why would he think that you didn't kill it?'
'Iron is deadly to me as well.' He pushed her back out of his way. 'Now if you don't mind...'
A faint glow appeared over his shoulder. 'Time to leave,' he said, walked backward, and vanished. Caught by surprise, she barely had time to register that he'd gone, before a hand came out of nowhere and yanked her forwards.
Chapter Two: 'This is a nightmare...'
Sarah stumbled after Jareth, almost bumping into his back as he stopped abruptly on the other side of the -
The French window was gone, as was the night. Above, the sky had a familiar, rosy glow as the sun rose slowly overhead. She was standing just outside the eaves of a wood, Jareth next to her, (now clad in a familiar asymmetric brown leather coat and grey breeches, she noted; his hair once again taking on a life of its own, spiked and slightly shimmering.) Appearance before practicality, she guessed. It was probably an instinct, the way a cat will obsessively wash when already perfectly clean.
One of his crystals appeared in a now gloved hand, and hovered for a moment before floating off into the woods.
'Now what?' Sarah asked. Suddenly feeling very, very lost. She sank to the ground, not caring that her jeans were getting damp with dew from the grass. Looking around, she couldn't see a single familiar feature from her last visit. This was a bright meadow, highlighted with that faint glitter that seemed to cover everything here. There was no sign of the labyrinth, or the castle that had dominated the valley it filled.
'We're a good distance away from there,' Jareth said, as if reading her thoughts. 'Even as the owl flies, it's a week's journey.' He sat down beside her, look of genuine concern on his finely drawn features as his hand lifted her chin so that he could look into her eyes. 'Now, Sarah, what am I supposed to do with you?'
'Can't you send me back?' Her voice almost broke halfway through the sentence, and she hated herself for it. You're eighteen, not fifteen. You don't break down, not now.
'I can't, I'm afraid. I daren't leave you there unguarded, not now that Iorweth knows I went to you for help. Besides, I'd be hard pressed to conjure a breeze at the moment, let alone make another crossing.' He sounded genuinely regretful. Well he would, he's got himself stuck with you...
He had no reason to care about what happened to her, she knew. What if he just left her here?
'I'm going to have to take you with me,' he sighed. 'And that will slow me down considerably.'
'You came to me for help, remember?' she pointed out. 'You dragged me through after you.' Then the tension of last few days seemed to crash down on her all at once, and before she could stop herself, she was crying. Trying to swallow the sobs only gave her hiccups. She didn't notice the point where his arm went around her, just holding her lightly, and offering a shoulder to cry on.
She pulled away eventually, feeling a little embarrassed, and extremely puffy eyed. Without making a single comment, he conjured one of his crystals - flicking it with practised ease; as it disintegrated, it produced a large white handkerchief, which he presented with a restrained flourish. Despite everything, it raised a laugh. 'I don't think I'll ever come close to understanding you,' she said in between blows.
A look of ghostly amusement flickered across his face, so swiftly, she wasn't sure it had really been there. 'Not,' he told her, 'While you persist in trying to judge me by mortal standards.' Standing, he offered her a gloved hand, and helped her to her feet. 'Time to go. I brought us through too far to the east, and Devin won't wait forever.'
Iorweth stared around the throne room of the Goblin Castle with undisguised disdain. 'You'd think that someone with Jareth's legendary attention to detail would keep things a bit tidier, wouldn't you?' he asked. Calion, his Fae-born Second found himself a reasonably clean area and sat on the edge of the pit in front of the throne, flicking the corner of his cloak away from a stray piece of goblin with a sigh of irritation.
'We've cleared most of the vermin from the castle. They're confined to the city for now.' A gauntleted hand brushed the bloodstained stonework. 'Personally, I'd just tear it down and rebuild.' He sniffed.
Iorweth chuckled. 'Patience. The game is only just beginning. Speaking of which, what has happened to our pawn?'
'Crossed to the outer world. I sent two hobs after him - he hasn't lost his touch, one of them was a mess.' Calion looked at his lord, who lounged in the throne, one hand toying with a lock of red hair.
'I do hope you cleared up after him? It's so inconvenient when mortals find these things.' Iorweth leaned forward in the throne. 'The other?'
'Stabbed. Obviously the work of a mortal. The knife was steel - ' Calion grinned savagely 'A mortal woman - little more than a girl, really.'
'Crossed back earlier this morning, somewhere beyond the High Hills. He had the mortal girl with him'
Iorweth leaned back, a slow, feral smile spreading across his face. 'He'll run to the Dreamweaver.' He jumped to his feet in a single powerful move. 'How predictable. Leave him for now, he'll be back before too long. He doesn't have much of a choice. We've work to do here before then. I'd so hate not to have a welcome ready for him when he tries to retake his kingdom.' He knelt down beside Calion. 'Keep Jareth's verminous little minions locked up in that city for now. If they give you any problems, kill a few of them. Even goblins can understand that message.'
'And you?' Calion asked his lord.
Iorweth's answering smile was cold. 'With its master gone, the Labyrinth is - shall we say 'open to suggestions'. I have a gameboard to prepare. A pity there's still one thing lacking for that perfect touch.' He sighed theatrically.
Calion raised an elegant eyebrow.
'Bait,' said Iorweth.
By midday, Sarah's only consolation was that Jareth was finding the walk almost as tough as she was. Struggling up yet another hill in his wake, she'd seen him put a hand down to steady himself more than once.
Proud and stubborn. Would it kill you to admit you needed to rest? She thought at his back. Well there were ways around that.
At the top of the next hill, she flopped to the ground. 'That's it, I need a rest,' she told him. She didn't have to feign the exhausted note in her voice - they'd been walking for hours. Her feet and legs ached, and she was, she realised, as her stomach rumbled audibly, starving.
'Just for a short time,' he said, sitting down a few feet away. 'Hungry?'
Sarah nodded. A crystal appeared in his left hand, which he tossed to her. She caught it awkwardly and stared at the peach nestling in the palm of her hand. 'Very funny,' she said, rather more acidly than she'd planned.
His face was a study in innocence, until he turned away from her to conjure another globe, a larger one this time, and she saw the corner of his mouth twitch. Very deliberately, she took a large bite from the fruit. It was fresh, ripe, and perfect.
'You have to trust me sometime,' he said in a low voice. 'I don't understand why you think I'd want to harm you.'
She wiped peach juice off her chin, almost choking on the fruit. 'After the last time?'
'That was then. I'm not your enemy Sarah.' His voice held an almost resigned note. 'Or is it that you're more comfortable with me cast in the role of a villain?'
That hit uncomfortably close to how she felt. 'Why not?' she shot back, defensively, 'After all, you took my brother.'
He helped himself to an apple from the basket he'd conjured between them. 'At your request.'
'Dropped me into a dungeon.'
'An oubliette. And you fell into that all by yourself.' He polished the apple on his sleeve. 'You can't blame me if you don't look where you're going.'
'Cheated on the rules by speeding up time!' She'd raised her voice now - after bottling it up for so long, it actually felt quite good to be able to get it out into the open...
'True. I did.' Couldn't he at least sound a little bit repentant?
'Tried to kill me by sending that machine after us.'
'Ah,' he pointed a finger at her. 'But you did get away.'
'Only because the door gave way!'
He just bit into the apple, saying nothing, but that slightly smug smile hovered at the corners of his mouth again.
'And the drugged peach?' she glared at him, daring him to reply.
'Now that,' he said, tossing the apple core over one shoulder, 'was a miscalculation. How did you enjoy the ball?' he asked, meeting her eyes again.
She flushed. 'How much did you?' she asked, trying to regain her composure. To her surprise, he looked away, and straightened his gloves. 'And setting your guards on us in the city,' she said, changing the subject quickly.
'They had orders to stop you, not to kill you.' A nonchalant shrug. 'Although they're such terrible shots they might have killed you by accident.'
She stared at him open mouthed. 'Why, you - '
He threw back his head and laughed, and she looked on, perplexed.
'Sarah, you were in no real danger. The object was to discourage you, not to kill you. If I'd wanted you dead I could have done it several times over.' He leaned forward. 'While we're on the subject of who did what to whom, I could lay a few accusations of my own at your door.'
'Such as?' she challenged.
'Blackmailing my gardener - persuading him to betray me. Causing havoc at the ball I sent you by breaking the translocation spell - and how you managed that I'll never know.' He paused. 'Oh, and how about destroying my guardian on the city gates and causing immense amounts of damage to the city with the help of that hairy, rock-singing walking hearth rug?'
'Ludo.' she snapped at him. But the name brought something to mind she'd forgotten. Sarah suddenly realised - she'd never asked about her friends back in the Labyrinth. 'Hoggle... and Didymus... and Ludo. What will happen to them?'
'I was wondering when you'd think about them.' His mismatched eyes searched hers - looking for what, she wasn't sure. 'I really couldn't say. It depends on whether or not they get in Iorweth's way. If he has no use for them -'
Sarah stood up, stretching her legs. Looking from the hill over the plain they'd crossed, she shivered.
'This is a nightmare,' she whispered.
'It's not even close.' Jareth's voice whispered near her ear, his face only inches from hers, making her jump.
She turned her head until she was staring him in the face - so close, she could have just leant forward and kissed him. Now where did that come from? Seen so close, his features didn't have a single flaw - so sharply beautiful. Only those odd-coloured eyes were less than perfect and that in a way just enhanced the rest. She flushed. 'I'm trapped here, I can't go home, my friends are probably in danger - how could it get worse?'
'No-one's died yet.' Jareth said darkly.
A shadow passed overhead before she could reply, causing both of them to look up. A large black feathered hawk was circling them. As Sarah watched, it dived lower, heading straight for them. Seeing that Jareth didn't flinch, she held her ground - barely.
Six feet from the ground, with no warning, the hawk was gone - and standing in its place was a tall young man in a long black coat. Shoulder length black hair curled at his collar. Piercing grey eyes took in both Sarah and Jareth, and a narrow-lipped but generous mouth, partially masked by a neatly trimmed full beard, smiled.
'Do you have any idea how hard you are to track down?' The new arrival took three long strides forward and clasped Jareth's arm. 'Two days I've waited for you.' He looked Jareth up and down. 'No offence, but you look awful. Who's the lovely young woman with you?' The smile he turned on Sarah was dazzling. 'Never mind, tell me later. I've got the horses about a mile that way.' He started walking down the hill. Halfway down he turned, realising that he wasn't being followed. 'Well come along, I haven't got all day!'
Sarah turned a stunned look on Jareth, who took her arm and led her after the stranger. He was quite obviously fighting to hide a smile - yet another mercurial mood change. Sarah was finding it harder to keep up.
'That's your friend?' she whispered. He smiled - for once a genuine grin that reached his eyes.
'Devin. Often called Dreamweaver. And yes, before you ask, he's always like that.'
'I heard that!' Devin's voice floated back up to them. Sarah caught Jareth's eye, and suddenly they were both laughing.
Devin had brought two horses to his rendezvous with Jareth: Arabians - both beautiful, and very good-natured. Sarah stroked the nose of the chestnut mare whilst Devin tended Jareth's wounds. The grey gelding kept nuzzling her so she fussed him as well. She also tried to eavesdrop on the conversation - without much success. The two had been deep in a muttered exchange for over half an hour now.
Devin watched the girl out of the corner of one eye whilst finishing healing Jareth's side. 'There, you'll do for now. You were lucky Calion didn't have more time with you.' He turned his attention in full to the girl, who was trying to look uninterested in their conversation - unsuccessfully. 'She's really quite lovely.'
'She's also stubborn and spoilt.' Jareth said dismissively, and refastened his coat.
'Oh, well then,' Devin teased, 'you're well matched.' He raised a hand to stave off Jareth's retort. 'Don't take it out on me. I'm not feeling generous enough to be your emotional punch bag.' He nodded in Sarah's direction. 'You plan to take her instead of riding with me?'
'I have to. You can't translocate two people, and I'm not yet strong enough. It took more out of me making those crossings than I thought.'
Devin's face held only concern. 'Jareth - ' he caught Jareth's sleeve as his friend stood. 'I really hope you know what you're doing. I'll gladly give you any help I can, but your plan - '
' Gives me my only chance. I know Iorweth of old. He has to be in control. It's the only weakness he has. It's just over three weeks until the full moon. More than enough time for him to try to control the Labyrinth.'
Devin shook his head. 'You risk losing it completely, if you're wrong. And dragging a mortal along -'
'She only has to come along as far as your demesne. She can stay there until it's over. I'm sure you can find someone to send her home if I don't survive.' Jareth's eyes were fixed on the girl, watching her move around the horses.
'And if Iorweth or that little psychopath he lets off the leash occasionally decide not to wait until you come to them? He's got plenty of time to pick you off if he wants to.'
Jareth's voice was cold. 'He won't. It's not the way he plays. ' To Devin, he looked as if he was trying to persuade himself of that. Now, however, was not the time or the place to pursue the issue. There was also, Devin thought, the matter of the girl. But that, again, would have to wait.
'You'd better be right, my friend.' Devin sighed. 'I'd better send you two on your way. It's getting late - and I so hate flying at night.'
The hobgoblin patrol passed by the ornate urn, not stopping to check it. Which was fortunate, as it currently occupied by two of the non-goblin inhabitants of the Labyrinth, who didn't want to be found.
'Have they gone yet, Sir Hoggle?' A sharp little voice asked.
Tentatively, a large head with a leather cap on it peered over the rim of the urn. The courtyard, as far as the head's owner could tell, was clear. 'They've gone.' Hoggle hauled himself out of the urn, and gave his companion a helping hand. Didymus shook out his brush and straightened his rapier.
'I have to say, Sir Hoggle, this does not bode well. Strange things are afoot in the Labyrinth, mark my words.' He tidied his whiskers.
'Hobgoblins in the labyrinth, and in the city. And I've not seen a goblin for days.' Hoggle shook his head. 'Something's up, and no mistake.'
'I heard that His Majesty has disappeared,' said Didymus. 'He hasn't been seen since the before the night of the full moon, or so I heard from the Sage.'
'And good riddance,' said Hoggle. 'Jareth is a bully. I can't think of many people around here who'll miss him.'
The little fox sighed. 'My dear Hoggle, there are worse rulers to have than Jareth. I don't like the look of these hobgoblins in the slightest. Think on what their master would be like!'
'Which is why I'm getting out of here,' said Hoggle. 'And if you've got any sense, you'll do the same.'
'I'm afraid this time I have to concur with you, my friend. Maybe if we regroup outside and marshal our forces - ' Didymus saw Hoggle's totally unconvinced look, and decided to let the matter lie. 'As you say. Exit first, tactics later.' As he followed the dwarf's waddling form out of the hedge-bordered courtyard, he sighed heavily. 'I just wish I knew where Ambrosius was...'
Neither of them saw the light coloured wolf that watched them with golden eyes from behind the shrubbery. When the odd pair were out of sight, the space it occupied shimmered and was suddenly filled by the lean form of Calion. With a grim smile, the Sidhe faded out of that location. He knew exactly where the pair were heading. And planned to be there before them.
Sarah tried to feign disinterest as Jareth and Devin approached. Whatever they'd been discussing - probably what to do with a useless American teenager - they'd obviously come to a decision. Devin, she thought, didn't look too pleased, whatever it was.
It was Jareth who addressed her. 'I hope you can ride?' He untied the chestnut and took the reins. Well that lost her that little bet- she'd thought the grey was his...Sarah untied the grey, checked the girth and placing a foot in the stirrup, swung easily into the saddle. Hoping that the year and a half since she'd last been on a horse hadn't cost her too dearly in terms of skill, she nudged the grey into a trot across the clearing and back, finishing with a neat turn on the forehand and a rein back.
'Does that answer your question?' She patted the grey. He really was very responsive. Jareth didn't reply.
Devin strolled over and stood by her side 'His name's Ghairlean.' He patted the gelding. 'He's rather a favourite - '
'I'll be careful with him,' Sarah promised. To the other side of her, Jareth vaulted lightly onto the back of the chestnut, which pranced excitedly, before being brought back under control. He'd hardly had to touch the mare, Sarah noticed. Seeing the way he sat the little mare so lightly, she felt like a sack of potatoes by comparison.
'Try not to get into too much trouble?' Devin said to Jareth, with a sly wink at Sarah.
'Two days,' Jareth replied. 'Assuming we don't have any problems.'
Feeling more than a little left out, Sarah looked from one to the other. 'I don't suppose anyone wants to tell me what's supposed to be going on?'
'I'll explain later,' Jareth said, a little shortly, she thought. Devin gave him a sharp look, and took pity on her.
'You're going to my demesne,' he told her. 'By land I'm afraid, for various reasons. I'm sure Jareth will be happy to explain...'
'I'll settle,' Jareth said, turning the mare to face them, 'For getting both her and myself there in one piece. Two days, Devin.'
Devin bowed, very slightly. 'Good speed.' And he was gone, the dark hawk spiralling upwards and away from them.
'Shall we?' Jareth said. Sarah nudged the grey into a walk and they followed the chestnut mare out of the tiny copse, and down to a dirt road.
Hoggle and Didymus reached the huge gates to the Labyrinth without incident, although the ways had been strangely twisted. Didymus, less familiar with the outer regions of the Labyrinth, had felt a strange chill growing as they progressed - a feeling that something was looming behind them, creeping outwards from the centre. Hoggle, far more a part of the outer maze, was more attuned to its vagaries.
'Something's changin'' he said, shivering. He didn't like it one little bit, and had never been more pleased to see the great carved wooden gates.
'How perceptive.' Calion appeared out of thin air in front of the gates, and stared down at the dwarf. 'Now, how about giving me some answers on another matter?' Hoggle tried to run but was suddenly surrounded by hobgoblins. Very large, very hungry looking hobgoblins. With a gulp, he stood his ground. Didymus, as ever, was less easily intimidated.
'Have at you sir!' he cried, charging the Sidhe, rapier drawn. With contemptuous ease, Calion fended off the attack, picking up the fox with one hand by the brush and shaking him.
'And what have we here? One of Jareth's valiant knights?' The hobgoblins laughed. Didymus snarled and tried to wriggle free, but Calion's grip was firm. Deftly, he disarmed the little creature. 'Now then, maybe one of you would like to tell me who this is?'
In front of him, an image formed: Jareth walking with a young brunette girl, somewhere in the outer lands.
'Lady Sarah!' Didymus gasped in surprise, before he thought. 'Oh dear.' His whiskers drooped. Hoggle hung his head.
'Well well,' Calion knelt beside Hoggle, still holding Didymus at arms length, ignoring the knight's efforts to bite him. 'So she is known to someone here. I think one of you is going to tell me all about her.' His gaze went from the trembling dwarf to the snapping fox. 'Hold this,' he told one of the hobs, handing it the fox. 'Don't eat it - yet.' His hand shot forward and grabbed Hoggle by the throat. 'I might need it if this one won't talk.'
By the time the sun was sinking low in the sky, casting the now familiar orange/rose glow over the land, Sarah was wishing she'd never seen a horse. Riding in school or on a hack once or twice a week hadn't prepared her for the agony of sitting on a saddle for hours at a time, over unfamiliar country. The landscape kept changing with almost every rise in the land. From farmland, to open meadow, to occasional scrub moorland. The juxtaposition of the mundane and the surreal was disconcerting, and was making her feel queasy.
Jareth finally reined in his horse at the foot of a chalky hill. The exposed rock at the base formed a natural overhang, and a narrow stream trickled nearby. Sarah, concentrating on her misery, almost rode into the back of the little chestnut, causing her to kick out at the grey.
'Sorry,' she mumbled. Jareth ignored her, jumped down lightly and began untacking the mare. Sarah took her feet out of the stirrups, glad she'd at least put ankle boots on when dressing in a hurry. Unfortunately her jeans hadn't been such a good idea - the inner seam had started to chafe her calf on her left leg. She swung her legs a little, trying to unstiffen them enough to risk jumping down. Although the grey was only about fifteen hands, all of a sudden it looked like a long way to the ground.
'Just let go.' Jareth was at her side, one hand on Ghairlean's sweat darkened neck. He reached out a hand. 'I'll catch you.' Sarah searched his face for a sign of his mocking smile, but his eyes held only concern. Deciding that pride could take a back seat for a while, she let him help her down, sliding off in a rather undignified manner, with only his arms keeping her from stumbling as her feet hit the floor. With his help, she limped over to the overhang, cursing muscles that she hadn't even known she had.
It was, she thought miserably, going to be a very long night.
Chapter Three: Dangers untold
Iorweth had found a large open window that overlooked the Goblin City, and was examining his handiwork when Calion returned. The Labyrinth stretched out beyond the walls of the city, filling the entire valley. The outer regions of the maze still held the glamour of its previous master, but spreading out in an ever widening circle from the castle, the Labyrinth now had a cold, dark air clinging to its walls and hedges. Nothing yet that anyone could tangibly perceive, but beneath the threshold of perception, the damage was begun. Iorweth smiled. The work was hard: the Labyrinth did not move easily to a new pattern, and keeping it bound to his will had proved less easy than he'd imagined.
Centuries of the indifferent neglect of its ruler, he thought. It had been allowed to run along in its own chaotic fashion for too long. But it could be controlled.
All he needed was time.
Behind him, he heard Calion clear his throat.
'Yes?' he asked, without turning.
'I have some information,' his second said. Iorweth didn't miss the satisfied tone in his second's voice.
'I trust you had some amusement getting it?' he asked.
'Not overly much. The subject didn't put up much of a struggle. Although more than I gave it credit for.'
'Jareth's dwarf,' Iorweth stated. He heard Calion's intake of breath. Well, it did him good to realise that his lord had other resources, from time to time. Calion, on occasion, was far too sure of his position.
So much so, he often forgot that Iorweth was only fond of secrets when he held them. He wasn't a man who tolerated them in his subordinates. 'Well?' One careless hand gestured to Calion to continue. Clearing his throat again, the Sidhe did so.
'The girl with Jareth - the mortal? It seems she's been in the land before. She's the one who solved the Labyrinth... and left your esteemed peer with his pride on the floor.'
'Well now. That makes things a little more interesting.' Iorweth finally turned to face Calion. 'Keep watch over them. Discretely. Maybe she could be an interesting piece to add to the board after all.'
He turned his attention back to the City below, as the sun sank slowly behind the hills. Sensing his dismissal, Calion bowed low and left.
Sarah sat in isolated misery, trying to ease the aches in her overworked muscles, whilst Jareth saw to the horses. Helpless, pathetic girl she told herself angrily. You don't do the damsel in distress routine.
Lost in trying to rub some semblance of life back into her legs, she didn't see Jareth until he threw the packs down beside her. 'Try walking.' He held out a hand to help her up. She glared up at him stubbornly
'It hurts to sit down, never mind stand up and move.'
Without warning he simply reached down and hauled her to her feet.
'OW!' She glared at him.
'I'm not a healer, and if you let yourself stiffen up, you'll be lucky to be able to crawl tomorrow, let alone ride. Now are you going to move, or do I have to make you?'
'If you're going to tell me you have my best interests at heart - '
'Actually, yes.' A pause. 'Any questions?' Even in the failing light she could make out that mocking smile again.
'I sometimes think you're enjoying baiting me,' she snapped, letting him lead her around, and trying not to wince every time she took a step. How come fantasy writers never put in how painful riding across country for hours on end is?
'Not,' he replied dryly, 'when you make it this easy.'
She stumbled then on the uneven ground, and he was there again, catching her before she fell. She fetched up with one arm around his waist holding on for dear life, with his arms around her and her face almost resting in his hair. He's not as tall as I keep thinking he is, she thought. Then, incongruously: I must look awful. She looked into his face, to find him staring at her. In the fading light, his left eye now looked brown. Unreadable, his expression, as he helped her recover her balance. Except as they pulled away from each other - what? Regret?
Get a grip, she told herself, watching him sort out the camp for the night. You're spending at least two nights out in the open with a (much) older man (scratch that... whatever he was. Fae? Sidhe? Whatever...) You aren't looking to get involved... that's why you broke up with Carl... One reason, anyway.
Memories... Only fear me, love me... She'd rejected him before... I ask for so little... for Toby, I had to... She clutched the owl pendant that she still wore around her neck and blinked back sudden tears. Why did everything have to be so complicated?
She was moving through a great hall filled with people, all of them in glorious costume: an Eighteenth century ball, all the attendees wearing masks. Some simple dominoes, others elaborate constructions of feather, brocade, carved bone, or fine porcelain. One man leered at her from under Pantalonne's unmistakable visage. She shivered and backed away. She was looking for someone...
A glimpse of blue, of fair hair... it kept shifting through the milling dancers, and she was struggling to keep up. Finally, the crowd parted, and she was standing in front of a masked figure: a dark coloured full-face mask, horned, held in one hand. The stick finished at the mask end with a skeletal hand.
The mask moved away from the face, revealing not the image she'd expected, but another. A red-haired man, who smiled coldly at her.
'Is this what you're looking for?' His arm was outstretched towards her. Held firmly in his fist were fine chains, fastened like jesses to clawed feet.
Sitting on his arm was a large snowy owl. As she watched, still too shocked to move, his free hand gestured, and a small knife appeared in it. 'You don't have the wit to solve it.' A shadow passed overhead as he spoke. When she looked up, the ceiling was replaced by a night sky, a full moon shining down. Looking back to the man, she watched in horror as his hand plunged the knife into the owl's breast. 'Such a pity...' he whispered coldly. And she was standing on a worn flagstone floor, with the ruins of a castle behind her, pale feathers falling, falling from the sky through her outstretched hands...
Sarah awoke with a cry, and sat up, hugging her knees. It was still night, the waning moon already sinking lower in the sky. So vivid - but just a dream. She shivered. And nearly screamed when a hand touched her shoulder.
'Another dream?' Jareth's soft voice. She nodded, before remembering that it was dark, and tried to find her own.
After she'd related it, he was silent. 'Well?' she asked.
'I don't know. Dreams are Devin's area of expertise, not mine. And certainly not Iorweth's, so he can't be sending them.'
'They're scaring me,' she whispered. She clutched the owl pendant tightly. 'They started the day I got this. Are you sure you didn't...'
'There are spells bound into it, but nothing that would cause this.' His hand closed over hers. For once, it was ungloved. The touch of his skin on hers was electric. 'Don't remove it. Believe me, there is nothing bound to this that could harm you.' His fingers gently prised hers away from the pendant. 'It's warded for protection, and a little magic. Nothing more.'
'Now where have I heard that before?' Sarah asked, rather more lightly than she felt. He chuckled. Her fingers were still entangled in his, yet she didn't feel like moving them. The dream had left her feeling more shaken than she wanted to admit. Jareth's free hand pulled the blanket back around her shoulders, and she felt him move closer, offering his shoulder as a pillow. She hesitated, and again that unreadable expression flickered across his features, highlighted by the moonlight.
'You can trust me.' His voice low, gentle, no mockery or threat. Or was there a hint of a challenge in his manner, as if daring her to refuse? Caught between uncertain dreams and the unfriendly night, at least he offered a haven, of sorts. She moved closer, accepting the embrace. His arm curled loosely around hers as she laid her head on his shoulder, staring at the starry sky, waiting for dawn and thinking that sleep would be a long time coming.
Jareth was still awake when dawn finally came, the sun rising above the tree line, casting its orange glow over the sky and reflecting a reassuringly familiar rosy glow from the glitter-strewn grass. Shifting slightly so as not to disturb the sleeping girl, he winced as the wound in his side pulled. Devin's ministrations had almost healed it, but he was still far from being at full strength. With luck, that would not be tested in the next day or so before they reached Devin's demesne.
Except that recently, luck hadn't gone his way at all.
Sarah stirred, and he let her settle again. There was no point in waking the girl just yet. He'd let her sleep while she could.
And try to guard her dreams.
More than anything else about the last few days, they troubled him. Twice now she'd dreamed his death.
No, he thought, looking down at her. There was a hard streak in her - buried under a soft sheltered upbringing, but there, beneath the surface just the same. But no malice. Not of that level. And the dreams distressed her, that much was obvious.
Yet they'd also served as a warning. Because of them, she'd been there, at the right time and place, open to his call for help.
A mystery, and he didn't like mysteries. Not unless he was the one setting them.
A half smile played over his face as he watched her sleeping. So lovely... the soft lines of childhood had gone from her face, leaving it with a bone-deep, structured beauty. She'd been lovely at fifteen. At eighteen, cleaned up, she would be breathtaking.
Forget about the girl, he told himself. There's too much at stake. Besides, she rejected you.
He'd gambled on keeping both her and the child. And lost.
She's turning to you because you're all there is... there are no second chances.
Or were there? In each dream, she'd been searching for him.
He drew his free leg up until he could rest his elbow on his knee, hand resting against his mouth, contemplating past and future, waiting for Sarah to awaken.
'Are there any towns or cities here?' Sarah asked, nudging Ghairlean into a trot to catch up with Jareth. She tried not to wince as the little grey's bouncy stride elicited a protest from her over-used muscles. She'd slept, eventually, curled up against Jareth's shoulder, but she felt little better for it. An early start and several more hours in the saddle had only added to her misery.
'Not in this region. This used to be Goblin territory until about three hundred and fifty years ago. Settlements tend to be a little few and far between.'
'So,' Sarah decided that finding out a little bit about this place couldn't hurt, and he seemed talkative for the first time all morning, 'Where is everyone? I mean, it's not just Goblins, is it?' If nothing else, it would take her mind off travelling...
'Most of the major Sidhe and human settlements are to the south and west. There are only three cities left: Finial on the plains, Hy Breasil in the mountains and Murias on the coast. Out here - ' He gestured to take in the changeable landscape, 'there are some human and Sidhe run farms and villages, but they are few.'
'So what happened? I mean, to the goblins? Are they only in the Labyrinth now?'
He gave her a sideways look. 'You're curious all of a sudden.'
'It takes my mind off how much this hurts.' She grinned. 'Besides, you're right. I am curious.'
He sighed heavily. 'Don't expect a full history of relations between the various Fae from me, it would take forever to explain it. Suffice it to say that there were wars, and the goblins lost. In the last one, they were almost wiped out, although enough remain to be a nuisance, and their numbers have a tendency to increase rapidly.'
'But you're not a goblin?'
That earned her a withering look. 'Do I look like a goblin?' he said testily. Sarah bit back a grin. Another heavy sigh. 'Mortals! No, I'm not. I'm of the Leannan Sidhe. Not an elf, not a fairy, not a pixie, or a goblin.'
Touchy... 'So why are you their king...'? Sarah began. Abruptly he reined in his mare.
'We'll stop here for a while, the horses can water at the stream over there.' He pointed.
Doesn't want to talk about why he's ruling the goblins? Sarah wondered. More questions... She opened her mouth t speak again when he held up his hand, forestalling anything she might have said. The little chestnut side-stepped neatly over to the side of Sarah's grey, and Jareth leaned over.
'Say nothing, just dismount and wait here,' he said quietly. When Sarah began to ask, his hand raised again. 'Silence. I think we're being followed.'
She dismounted, stiffly, and handed Ghairlean's reins to him. 'Who? Iorweth?'
'I don't think so. Wait. I'll double back once I'm out of sight. You'll be safe enough here.'
Jareth took the horses down to the stream whilst Sarah tried to stretch her legs and ease the rest of her tortured muscles, feeling that she would almost kill for a hot bath and a bed when they reached Devin's home. They'd ridden all day, only stopping to rest the horses, after Jareth had decided to push on for their destination. She leant back against a convenient tree, just daydreaming about being able to stretch out in a deep, steaming bath.
The feel of the cold edge of a knife against her throat, and a dirty, roughened hand clamped over her mouth to stop her from screaming shattered the dream.
'Now then, lassie, don't struggle,' said a voice in her ear. She froze, not daring to move. Where was Jareth?
'Looks like we got lucky today.' Another man walked out of the trees, followed by a dwarf. Both were wearing battered looking leather jerkins, and carrying swords. 'Well now, didn't anyone tell you that it's not safe for a pretty little thing like you to be out here on your own. You might run into all sorts of trouble.'
'Even if she's not got much silver on her,' said the one still holding her, 'we'll still have some fun, right?' They laughed.
'Actually, she's not alone.' To Sarah's relief, Jareth appeared across the clearing, and leaned nonchalantly against a tree, adjusting a glove with a casual air, not even looking at the ruffians. 'I suggest you let her go now.'
'Hah, He don't look like much.' The dwarf spat. 'Tully, you sort him. He's not even armed'
Jareth raised his head then, and Sarah recognised the look on his face. Cold. Unyielding. She felt a breeze rustle past her, where there had been none before in the still air of the afternoon. Around Jareth, it whipped his pale hair and long coat around in a strong wind, leaving everything around him untouched.
The second human moved in, confidently. Jareth didn't move. Only as the sword swung and came down for the kill - and Jareth simply wasn't there.
Neither was the robber. He was lying on his back several feet away unmoving. Jareth stepped over the body, and between one footstep and the next, was clad in the costume she'd first seen him in, so long ago. The dark moulded breastplate, the midnight blue cloak. Every inch the Goblin King, in his full power.
The ruffian holding Sarah let her go, and she dropped to the floor, crawling out of the way. Once in the safety of the trees, she stopped to watch. The dwarf moved in to attack, less surely than his human partner. Jareth again seemed to fade out from under the blow, simply moving elsewhere. Why doesn't he finish it from a distance? Sarah wondered, watching him move closer to the dwarf, trying to get within arms length. The answer came to her in a flash. He's still too weak, he needs to be as close as possible. And he couldn't get close enough, he kept having to dodge the dwarf's sword. Come on... Sarah whispered. Finish it...
Despite his current limitations though, she could almost swear he was enjoying it.
Finally, Jareth had his chance. She didn't even see him move, but the dwarf was lying on the ground, as still as his companion. But where's the third...?
She saw Jareth waver on his feet, slightly, as he stood in the centre of the clearing, and she looked around. Where...? The third ruffian stepped back out of the trees, hefting his sword in one hand and grinning.
'Worn you out a bit, has it?' he sneered. But he kept his distance, as if weighing his chances. It wouldn't be forever, Sarah knew, watching the scene. If Jareth didn't make a move -
With only in instant in which to act, Sarah chose her path. As boldly as she could, she stepped out of the trees, and walked over to Jareth. Curling her arm around his waist, she leaned her head against his shoulder as coquettishly as possible, and simply smiled at the ruffian. 'Why darling,' she purred to Jareth, 'You left one for me to play with, how thoughtful.' She raised her eyes and held the ruffian's gaze, holding them with as cold a look as she could. Two years living with one of the most acclaimed stage actresses on the East Coast has to pay off sometime ...
Jareth straightened, his arm encircling her waist - not wholly to take advantage of the support she offered. ' I suggest you leave now - unless you want to face her...' His voice was cold, dark. But his hand gently squeezed her, an acknowledgement of her bluff.
The thug looked from one to the other, and obviously decided that discretion was the better part of survival. He ran - and fell, face down, about a hundred yards from them, his jerkin smoking slightly from where the crystal globe had hit him, thrown with an uncanny accuracy by Jareth.
'Well I wasn't going to have him coming back and trying to slit our throats in the night.' As he finished speaking, he was dressed again in his leather coat and white shirt. 'But just where,' he was facing her now, although he hadn't let go of her waist. 'Did that performance come from?' He was smiling again, the expression giving his eyes a playful spark. Strangely, she found herself returning the smile as she replied.
'Helping my mother read for Lady MacBeth last year.' Sarah couldn't decide at the moment whether she felt sick or exhilarated. Probably both. Despite looking a little faded around the edges, Jareth looked as if he'd enjoyed it. Which, looking at three bodies lying around the glade, wasn't a comforting thought. But the effort had taken a lot out of him, she realised. His casual use of magic was taking a heavy toll on his strength.
'You were quite convincing,' he said, distracting her.
'Which bit?' Sarah asked, with a grin. 'Scaring that thug, or making eyes at you?' Jareth's answering smile held a feral amusement this time.
He hadn't let go of her, she noticed belatedly. But then, she hadn't pulled away from him either. Without warning, he leant forward and kissed her lips, very lightly. Seeing him as he pulled away from her, Sarah was reminded of the first dream she'd had, seeing him sitting on the window ledge, looking out over his city, so strangely vulnerable.
Only for an instant, and the mask was back in place. 'I'll get the horses. I want to reach Devin by nightfall.'
Numbly, she nodded, and let her arm fall away from him.
He'd not taken more than two steps away from her when a loud howl split the air.
'What now?' Sarah yelped. She moved back to his side, seeking safety.
'Wolf.' Jareth was tracking the sound, his eyes moving rapidly over the area. 'But not a true beast, from the sound.' He looked worried.
It walked slowly out of the wood, a large, tawny furred wolf, the biggest she'd seen. Its eyes were a smoky grey, almost human. But the cry she uttered then at seeing it was not from fear, but a reaction to the recognition of the small limp body gripped in its jaws, which with a deliberate insolence, it deposited on the ground at the edge of the clearing. Raising its head and staring straight at them, it simply howled once and vanished.
Heedless of Jareth's sharp command for her to stay put, she ran forwards, dropping to her knees at the side of the pile of russet fur. It was Sir Didymus.
Sarah reached out a hand, almost afraid to touch her old friend. He was torn and bleeding in several places, his jacket ripped, and his eyepatch gone. He lay so still, she was afraid he was dead, until he coughed and twitched, making her jump. His one remaining eye opened, and stared up at her. Despite his wounds his nose wrinkled in a smile.
'Don't try to move,' Sarah told him. Very gently, she tried to pick him up. Before she could, gloved hands reached around her and lifted the battered little fox - surprisingly gently.
'Let me.' Jareth carried him over to the packs, and laid him down gently. 'Didymus, how do you manage to get yourself into so much trouble at your age?' he asked, with an exasperated edge in his voice.
'Your Majesty, forgive me. That dastardly fiend - '
'Hush. I wouldn't expect you to take on half of Iorweth's army single pawed.' Jareth held out a small bowl to Sarah. 'Water.' While she poured from the canteen, and he cleaned Didymus' wounds, the fox explained how he came to be here.
'Lord Iorweth's captain, Calion, a decidedly unpleasant individual, captured myself and the valiant Sir Hoggle at the gates.' The description of Hoggle occasioned a snort from Jareth. At Sarah's glare, he just shrugged. Didymus continued: 'They wanted to know who Lady Sarah was - I'm afraid I let that slip.'
Jareth frowned, but then waved that away. 'They'd have found out. What about the Labyrinth itself?'
Didymus shivered. 'Alas my lord, it changes. When the wolf-lord carried me through it, there were dark things stirring in the maze. Even some of the creatures are no longer what they were. As to the rest - '
Jareth cut him short. 'And the goblins? What of them?'
'All confined within the city walls, sire. Hoggle and myself barely escaped before the gates were shut. I do believe he intends to keep them all locked up there until he has - forgive me -destroyed thee.'
To the surprise of both Sarah and Didymus, Jareth threw his head back and laughed. 'He did that?' Seeing their consternation, he explained. 'If Iorweth locked all of the goblins up in one place, he's a bigger idiot than I thought.' He sighed in exasperation at their blank looks. 'It's worse than explaining something to the creatures themselves. No-one puts a large group of goblins in a confined space if they have any understanding at all of their nature. They'll be out of there before too long. And he'll regret it when they are.'
'They didn't seem like much of a threat as an army,' Sarah said doubtfully. Jareth was still grinning.
'Of course not. But Iorweth doesn't know one thing. Didymus?'
The little fox suddenly laughed, stopping with a wince as his wounds hurt. 'Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear...'
'What?' asked Sarah.
Didymus twitched his whiskers. 'My lady, for reasons of convenience - '
'Say rather, they managed to blow up the last one - ' Jareth added dryly.
'The brewery is located in the castle cellars!' Didymus finished.
Sarah stared at the pair thinking they'd gone completely mad. 'That's it?'
'Well,' Jareth qualified, still laughing. 'There probably won't be much of the city wall left by the time they've tunnelled through it - the sappers are more enthusiastic than skilled.' He frowned. 'I just hope they don't try going under the castle wall. I lost an entire tower the last time they tried something like that.' Seeing Sarah's still sceptical look, he tried again. 'You can't get a goblin to do anything by most means - bully them, persuade them - they're so contrary, you can't know what they'll do in reply - but lock up the beer supply, and they'll go through anything.'
Jareth shrugged. 'They are goblins - what did you expect?' He turned his attention back to Didymus. 'Calion left you as a message to me, I suppose.'
'He told me I was to serve as a warning, Your Majesty. A taste of what his lord has in store for you.' Didymus' whiskers drooped. Sarah hadn't realised before just how old the little fox looked. Or, she thought, just what Jareth's relationship with his subjects was. She'd never thought to ask. Yet, he seemed fond of Didymus.
'And Hoggle?' Sarah asked, suddenly remembering that Didymus had mentioned that her other friend had been captured with him.
If it were possible for Didymus to hang his head any further, he would have done. 'Alas fair maiden, he was taken, and we were separated. I know not his fate.'
Jareth finished binding Didymus' wounds, and took Sarah's arm, leading her to fetch the horses. 'Iorweth has more important things to worry about than one dwarf. I wouldn't worry too much.'
'That other one doesn't seem to share that view,' Sarah pointed out.
'Calion is a sadist. One very good reason for reaching Devin tonight. Calion knows exactly where we are, and I'm not about to spend another night out in the open with him prowling around.'
Collecting the horses, Sarah asked one more question. 'What is the story with Didymus? You two seem to have quite an understanding. I thought...'
'You thought I despised all my subjects and had stationed that poor little creature out in the bog from some sense of whimsy?' He looked disappointed. 'Sarah, you still jump to conclusions far too quickly. Didymus has served me for centuries. I retired him there because he still thinks he's young enough to go rampaging through hordes of goblins single handed.' He looked sideways at her. 'Especially when encouraged by young girls who should know better.' His sharp look mellowed into another sly smile. 'And besides, he's had no sense of smell for decades - it seemed like a good idea at the time.'
Sarah stopped walking and stared at him. 'I know I'm going to regret asking this - you said centuries? Just how old are you?'
'Six hundred and twenty.'
Sarah's jaw dropped. He reached out and gently tapped her mouth closed. 'Don't be so surprised - I thought you'd read enough fairy tales to know that my kind are very long lived.'
'Reading it and living it are two very different things,' Sarah replied. She grinned, relishing a rare opportunity to tease him. 'Besides, you don't look a day over thirty-five.' She clicked her tongue to Ghairlean and started leading the horse back to where they'd left Didymus, Jareth following in her wake and muttering something under his breath that, if she'd understood Goblin, would probably have singed her ears.
They reached the gates of Devin's estate just as the sun went down. Sarah stared in awe at the ornate open metalwork of the gates: cast in a silvery metal, they caught and held the light, taking on the orange-rose hue of the sinking sun. Set in a twelve-foot high wall, the gates were wide enough to let a truck through, she thought. And the detail... almost every fantastic creature she could remember was pictured in the work - unicorns, a dragon, a pegasus - all rendered in outline, yet so exquisitely formed, it seemed as if they could almost come alive in front of her. And yet the images were formed in such a way, that none was pictured in isolation. It looked like an Escher print, she thought: the spaces between one creature and the next formed yet another.
'It's beautiful,' she whispered - partly in awe, partly so as not to wake the now sleeping Sir Didymus who was perched in front of her on the saddle. Jareth conjured a small orb, and the gates opened as he touched it to the centre.
'There's a lot of her work in the Labyrinth, if you know where to look,' he said, leading her through. Behind them the gates closed silently.
'Who?' Sarah asked, intrigued.
'Devin's wife. Jehanna.'
'Will she be here?'
He shook his head. 'No. She died. A long time ago.' He nudged the chestnut mare into a trot. 'Come on, it's late.'
They rode up to the house - a large manor, Sarah noted with some surprise, having expected something a lot more mystical than a Seventeenth century mansion. Human servants took the horses from them, and a young girl carried Sir Didymus away. Jareth offered his arm to Sarah as she wavered on her feet, and led her to the ornate double doors of the mansion.
Devin met them at the front door, greeting them effusively. 'You made good time,' he said, leading them inside. 'A good thing I saw you coming, I was able to get the rooms ready.'
'Just as long as there's a bath,' Sarah told him. 'Other than that, I really don't care.'
Devin laughed. 'Have no fear, a suite of rooms, a hot bath, and clean clothes await. When you're finished, Melissa will bring you down for dinner.' A young red haired girl appeared and curtsied, and taking Sarah's arm, led her away.
Chapter Four: Silverpool
Sarah looked guiltily at the clock when she walked back into the bedroom from the bathroom. She'd been soaking for over an hour. But, she thought happily, at least I feel marginally human again. She was revelling in the feeling of being clean, for the first time in two days.
The young girl was still waiting for her in the room - Sarah had drawn the line at being tended to in the bath.
'I can dress myself, thanks,' Sarah told her. The girl curtsied.
'My lady - '
For saying she'd spent most of her childhood fantasising about being in this position, Sarah was beginning to find it embarrassing. 'Please, just Sarah.' The girl smiled.
'If you can fasten a whole row of buttons on that dress - ' she pointed at a neatly laid out confection in burgundy silk on the bed, 'then I wish you good fortune!'
Sarah examined the dress. The buttons on the back were tiny, and there were dozens of them. She turned back to Melissa, blushing. 'I see what you mean. Would you mind?'
Looking at the finished result in the full length mirror half an hour later, she decided maybe she'd been a bit hasty about her first feelings about this kind of lifestyle after all. Melissa had done things with her hair, and her make-up, she'd never have tried for herself. The result, she thought, spinning around to get a good look at the effect, was breathtaking. Although the neckline gave her a few problems. It was daringly low. Melissa stopped her from fiddling with it.
'It looks perfect, my la- Sarah. Just leave it as it is.'
'If I bend over, I'm lost,' Sarah told her with a grin. Although the prospect wasn't that displeasing. 'Oh well, I suppose I'd better put in an appearance. You'd better show me where to go.'
Melissa escorted her as far as an ornately carved wooden door on the ground floor, which was slightly ajar. Thanking her, Sarah gave a shy knock and walked in.
The room was a beautiful oak panelled dining room - surprisingly small and intimate. Devin and Jareth were already seated, but both rose from their seats as she entered. Devin's smile was warm and open as she walked over to them, and he gave her an approving nod. Jareth, however, looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. His gaze raked her with such frank appreciation, she thought she'd be blushing hard enough to match the colour of her gown.
She greeted Devin, then turned her attention to Jareth - who, she had to admit, looked distinctly improved himself. He was dressed all in black this time - an open fronted shirt with his sickle-shaped medallion resting on his chest, the shirt tucked into tight black breeches and finished with black knee high boots. Combined with his pale spiked hair, it looked suitably dramatic. Which was probably the idea... Standing in front of him, she held his gaze for a moment, before dropping her eyes demurely, and dropping a deep curtsey. 'Your Majesty.' She rose slowly, and met his eyes again, unable to suppress a grin, however much she tried.
'Sarah.' One black gloved hand reached down and took her hers, assisting her to stand. He bowed over it, mismatched eyes twinkling, playing his own part to the full. 'Quite a transformation.' He led her over to a chair, pulling it out for her with a studied flourish.
Devin tutted. 'I think what he means to say, is that you look beautiful, my dear. Except, as ever, he's not one for social niceties. Comes of spending far too long with those uncouth goblins of his.' Sarah hid her smile by picking up her goblet and taking a sip. Jareth took the seat opposite her, dropping into it with a casual elegance.
'Or perhaps I just prefer to keep such comments for more private moments.'
Devin accepted the mild rebuke with an incline of his head and a half smile, and beckoned to the serving staff to begin.
Iorweth made his way through the tangle of trees with a sure stride, careful to avoid the traps and pitfalls.
Pitiful, he thought. They couldn't be more obvious if you placed a sign over them saying 'Watch your step'. Childish and lacklustre. But not for much longer.
In his wake, the trees took on a darker, more menacing air, as if he brought with him some miasma which tainted everything it touched. The undergrowth closed in, leaves rustling as vines and creepers tangled the trees in a choking grip, turning what had been a simple if rather straggly woodland into a place of fear.
Whisperings in the wood followed the Sidhe as he walked, but he ignored them. The strange wildlings of the woods would serve his purpose well enough as they were. One of the few creatures he actually had a use for.
A large wolf appeared at his side, and transformed into Calion.
'I delivered your little gift, my lord.' He bowed. Iorweth carried on walking, gesturing to his second to follow.
'Where is he now?'
'At Silverpool.' Calion named Devin's estate with distaste. 'The place is well warded. I doubt I could attack him there. Not without preparation.'
Iorweth laughed. 'Let him lick his wounds for a while. He'll be coming soon enough.' His smile was cold. 'Just as soon as I'm ready for him. By which time, the board will be set. And all I need are my pieces.' He closed his hand into a fist. When he opened it again, a chess piece lay in his palm. A white king. 'And when that time comes, Jareth will wish I'd simply killed him.'
'This is too elaborate. Why...?'
Iorweth cut him off with a raised hand. 'Enough. Calion, you presume too much. Jareth will play out the game because I decree it.'
Calion persisted. 'The Labyrinth resists your interference. If you'd let me have him - '
'Calion, Calion... this is not merely about wanting Jareth dead - it's about entertainment. He can't offer me any amusement if he dies too easily, can he?'
Calion bowed his head. 'No, my Lord.'
'Better. Now walk with me. I'd like your opinion on this next section. I think it has a lot of potential...'
Dinner passed in something of a blur for Sarah. The food was excellent, although after eating dried rations for two days anything would have tasted good to her. The wine was a little heady - she drank sparingly, wanting to keep her wits about her. The conversation was spinning around her like a dance, leaving her sitting mutely, listening to Devin and Jareth talking quietly.
To be honest, she felt a little out of her depth. After all, what can a High School Senior contribute in the company of two centuries old Sidhe?
'Sarah?' Devin's voice called her back to the world with a jump.
'I'm sorry?' She smiled to hide her confusion. What had she missed?
'I was just asking if you were all right - you seemed a little tired there.'
'I'm fine. I think. Maybe I could just get a little air?'
'I could escort you - ' Devin began. Sarah shook her head.
'I'll be fine. I'll just stretch my legs a bit. Please.' She made her escape from the room, and stood with her back to the panelling in the corridor, wondering why she'd felt the need to get out all of a sudden. Too much too soon, she told herself. It's like being up on stage on an opening night and realising that although you look the part, no one bothered to teach you the lines.
Or come to think of it, tell you which play you were in.
Pull yourself together, she told herself sternly: you can't afford to fall apart now. You're in this up to your neck already. Straightening, she decided to explore a little. If nothing else, it would give her a chance to think.
Devin's home was, she began to appreciate very quickly, both large and lovely. And compared to the Goblin Castle, a study in elegance, beauty and perfection. She contrasted it to the draughty, messy interior of the castle, and grinned. This was more the sort of setting she'd pictured for a faerie king's domain.
Most of the doors she tried were locked, but at the end of the main corridor, one opened onto a long gallery, lit by torches that burned - if that was the right word, since the flame was cool, and blue in colour, and did not flicker in the draught. It gave the room an otherworldly glow that added to the fairy-tale like quality of the place. The gallery was lined with pictures. Surprisingly, most of them were landscapes. She'd always thought of these settings as laden with ancient peeling portraits of various nefarious ancestors, somehow.
But half way down the gallery, there was a life-size portrait, in a different hand to the others - which had the look, even to her inexperienced eye, of being the work of one person. A tall, slender young woman, with ice blond hair, dressed in a sea-green gown that picked out the colour of her eyes. Whatever it was she'd been looking at when she'd posed for that, Sarah thought, must have been amusing, as her smile held a quality that seemed almost about to burst into laughter. She was extraordinarily beautiful.
There was also, Sarah thought, something familiar about her face, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it.
'She was rather lovely, wasn't she?'
Jareth. Standing behind her, and she hadn't even heard him. 'Yes.' She turned to him. 'Who was she?'
The name rang a vague bell, and Sarah recalled their conversation on the way here. 'Devin's wife?'
'And my sister.' His face was unreadable again, shuttered. Looking from the portrait to him and back again, Sarah could have kicked herself for not noticing the resemblance.
'If you still want some fresh air, let me show you something.' Taking her arm, he steered her to the large window at the end of the gallery. At a touch of his hand, it swung outwards, and they walked out onto a large patio, surrounded by a low ornamental wall. Various small, well tended flower beds were dotted randomly about the little courtyard, highlighted by the still bright moon - past full now, but large enough to cast a bright silvery glow over the flagstones.
It looked almost close enough to touch, Sarah thought. And somehow so much nearer and brighter than home...
She walked over to the wall and leaned on it, arms folded, breathing deeply of the night air - cool, crisp and fresh, carrying the scent of night-blooming flowers. So different from home.
Jareth had followed her over, and was now sat on the wall, one booted foot resting on top, the other dangling casually down. 'Something was bothering you in there,' he said at length, breaking the silence. Sarah thought about denying it for a moment, then changed her mind. No. If she had to stay here for a while, maybe it was best to get everything out into the open.
'I just felt as if I didn't belong. As if I was -'
'On stage, but you didn't know the lines?' His eyes held hers. 'Afraid that you're a burden, and that two such experienced sophisticates will have no time for a teenaged mortal girl, taken from her own world and placed in the centre of a power struggle which has nothing to do with her?'
Once again, Sarah thought, he'd startled her with an uncanny understanding. Not even her mother had ever really understood her moods and feelings.
He leaned forward. 'I could send you home in a few days, but I can't guarantee your safety. Iorweth and Calion are both capable of crossing over, and either one of them would delight in using you against me.'
'I don't want to go back,' she said. What was there to go back for? Her parents had lives of their own that didn't include her. As for the rest... She hoped the tears she blinked back didn't show. Self-pity... She buried it. 'At least, not just yet.'
'Then don't.' His hand strayed to the owl pendant at her throat. 'Although if you stay, I will want you to do something.'
Sarah regarded him warily.
'I want Devin to follow you into your dreams. I need to know why you keep having them, and, more to the point, what they mean.'
'I'd be happy if they just stopped.'
'Will you allow it?' His gaze was earnest. He didn't have to ask, she knew. There was nothing to stop him from just making her obey. She nodded.
'When?' she asked.
'Not tonight. In a few days time, when you're well rested. Until then, I've asked Devin to set wards in your room. They should help.'
An owl hooted somewhere in the night, making her jump. PenArran Wood. The hawk taking flight, and the torn owl left behind. She shivered, and felt his hand on her arm. 'Sarah?'
'Sorry, it just reminded me of something.' She told him of the hawk and the owl in the woods, on her birthday. 'The first dream was later that night.'
'Three omens of my death? I'm glad I'm not superstitious.' It was said lightly, but from the sudden tension in his body, she could tell the thought had thrown him. Three times the charm, the old proverb read...
I don't want you dead. 'Iorweth is red haired,' she said. She watched the corners of his mouth tighten. 'What's his preferred form for shapechanging?'
'It's getting late, we should get back.' He jumped off the wall, landing lightly, and took her arm. She shook it off standing her ground.
'Jareth, tell me. It's a hawk isn't it? A red tailed hawk?'
'Sarah, let it lie.' His voice took on a dangerous edge.
'No.' She faced him, refusing to back down. 'You want me to trust you, to help you. I can't do that unless you trust me. Tell me!'
They stood face to face for a long drawn out moment, and she could feel her heart thumping in her breast. But her nerve held, and he was the one who looked away. 'Yes,' he said finally.
'Why didn't you just tell me?'
'Because I don't want you involved in this anymore than you have to be. Why is that so hard for you to understand?'
Dangerous ground, part of her whispered. Don't push him... But she had to.
'I'm already involved. Keeping things from me now isn't going to make much of a difference.' She was shouting by the time she'd finished. 'They know I'm with you, they know who I am. Am I really any safer away from you?'
He didn't reply.
'It's significant somehow, isn't it? That omen? Why? Why does it scare you more than the dreams?'
It came to her then, a sudden insight. She stared up at him, eyes wide. 'It happened before you were attacked, didn't it? That's why it worries you: the rest could have just been a link somehow through this - ' she grasped the owl pendant. 'But the birds - that's different.'
'Don't get in any deeper Sarah. Knowledge is dangerous in this land.'
'So is the lack of it,' she retorted. 'You brought me here, I'm stuck with this whether I want it or not. At least let me try to help.'
'You are the most stubborn, obstinate, -' he began, exasperated.
'Then I'd say we're well matched.'
She thought she'd gone too far then, as he stood in the moonlight, holding her gaze again with his own. Highlighted by the moon's silvery beams, he'd never looked less human to her. Pale skin, pale hair, his face thrown into stark relief by the cold light and shadow, accentuating its sharp planes.
'You have a way,' he said finally, 'of testing my patience.' He stared past her, at the sinking moon. 'It's late, we should retire.' He offered his arm and she accepted, letting him escort her as far as the door to her rooms.
There were no dreams that night.
'If you're going to do this, I don't want them here.' Devin said, with as much finality as he could manage. 'Jareth...'
'They've got to come somewhere. Where else am I supposed to summon them?' Jareth put the finishing touches to the summoning orb he'd crafted. Two days rest had done a lot to restore his powers. Time to test them out. Gloved hands twirled the crystal, playing it backwards and forwards across the backs of his hands, before sending it into the air with a showman's flourish, where it vanished.
'Show-off,' Devin snorted. Jareth leaned back in the chair and smiled.
'They'll behave, or I'll know the reason why.'
'I'll believe it when I see it. Those goblins of yours cause havoc wherever they turn up.'
Jareth shrugged. 'It's what they do best. And if there were any still wandering outside the Labyrinth when Iorweth took the city, or that escaped, I want them where I can keep an eye on them. And where I can use them. They're no use to me scattered across the land.'
'What about the girl?' Devin asked abruptly, changing the subject. He watched as Jareth's face lost its look of wry amusement and the mask came down. 'Don't try that one on me, it doesn't work. I've known you too long. You've left her kicking her heels around here for two days, avoiding her. She's bored, you're bored, you could both do with a break. I could do with a break from you...'
'She needed to rest. I still want you to weave for her when you're ready.' He wouldn't meet Devin's eyes.
'Then while I prepare, show her the grounds. She's your responsibility, not mine!' Devin grinned. 'Besides, you like her, admit it!'
'You presume too much sometimes, Devin.' Jareth snapped, but without much conviction.
'No I don't.' Devin tapped Jareth's booted feet, resting on an ornate oak table, and they were reluctantly moved. 'Not when you know I'm right. Keep her company for a bit. It'll do you both good.' He grinned suddenly. 'And if you won't do it if I ask nicely - bugger off!'
Sarah reined in the black she was riding as Jareth came to a stop on his tall grey. Silverpool, she had to admit, was beautiful. A fairy tale estate - enclosed, tended parklands, wild little copses, carefully designed dells with rocky streams babbling through them. The sort of place she'd loved exploring as a girl. For a little while at least, she felt as if she could forget the danger that loomed over them.
Looking at her guide for the morning, she got the feeling he could as well.
She'd been surprised when he'd finally sought her out - she'd got the impression that apart from meals, he'd been avoiding her since that first night. When he'd suggested a ride through the grounds, she'd jumped at the chance to do something to relieve the boredom. Relaxed, with no visible threat to their safety, he was proving to be surprisingly good company so far.
Jareth dismounted, landing lightly. Sarah followed suit, a little more awkwardly, still suffering a little from her cross-country ride. At least this time though, she was dressed for it - although how Devin had managed to find breeches and boots in her size at such short notice... magic? She tugged at the full sleeves of her shirt, and led her horse over to Jareth.
He took the reins from her, and looped them over the pommel of the saddle, leaving the horses to roam. 'We walk from here. There's a place I want to show you.' A secretive little half smile hovered at the corners of his mouth - a kind of 'I know something you don't' look, Sarah thought. But still, she took his hand when it was offered.
He led her up a small hill, and down into a wood. From the top of the hill, she thought she glimpsed the glint of sunlight off water. Following close behind through the overgrown path, she asked him again where they were going. He smiled back at her, and just whispered 'You'll see.'
Walking out of the wood Sarah took a deep breath as the view spread out before her. Silverpool, it seemed, was well named.
Silver leafed willows bordered the lakeside, hanging their supple branches over the water. The lake was small, but so clear that the water captured the noon sun, reflecting it back with a silvery shimmer, the ripples caused by the wind breaking up the light into a thousand or more shadows on the surface. Around the lake, flowers of types Sarah had never seen clustered along the shore, every single one a different shade of blue or with a pale silvery sheen to their foliage.
'Beautiful, isn't it?' Jareth's soft voice at her ear. She nodded, just drinking in the sight.
'I don't think I've ever seen anything so lovely,' she whispered, almost afraid to speak in case it disturbed the serenity of this place.
'Well,' Jareth said dryly, 'I suppose it makes a pleasant change from certain parts of the Labyrinth...'
Turning to look at him, she saw his eyes sparkling with that now-familiar glint of mischief.
'How,' she asked, 'Can you stand that place compared to this?'
'It has its charms, if you know where to look.' Again that fleeting half smile she'd come to recognise - self-mocking, almost. 'The Bog of Eternal Stench however is not one of them.'
Caught off guard, she laughed, and a moment later he joined her. His face when lit by genuine amusement had a way of making her heart skip a beat, she thought, watching him.
He offered her his hand, and, after a slight hesitation, she took it. His eyes still held an air of mischief, and she couldn't help but wonder what he was up to. He backed away towards the lake, pulling her with him. Finally they were standing on the flat grassy meadow at the lakeside, and with a little tug, she was pulled into his arms. Still holding her hand, one arm around her waist, with no warning, he began to waltz her around the meadow.
'I can't!' she gasped breathlessly.
'Why not?' He whirled her around. 'Embarrassed?' He raised an eyebrow.
Yes... No. His mood of complete abandon was contagious. She was whirled around the meadow until she was dizzy, and she was out of breath from dancing and laughing by the time he came to a stop near the lakeside. She was holding onto him to keep her balance, and his arms were around her...
Very deliberately, be bent down and kissed her. Not the light, brief touch, the fleeting gesture after the fight in the woods. This time, it was questioning, testing. His lips were so soft on hers...
Moments of transition...
She relaxed, letting him pull her closer, and kissed him back, uncertainly at first, but with a growing confidence as he returned it. If it wasn't the first time she'd been kissed with such intent, it was the first time she'd felt as if she were drowning in the feelings aroused. She placed her arms around his neck and felt him pull her closer in response. The part of her that was asking what the hell she thought she was doing, she pushed to the back of her mind.
His tongue found hers, his kisses deepening then becoming teasing, encouraging her to respond in kind. She was more than happy to oblige.
'Ahem. Your Majesty? My lady?'
The mood abruptly shattered, Sarah was brought back to earth with a bump. Jareth pulled away, muttering an oath under his breath. Still keeping his arms around her, he turned his attention to the intruder. Judging by the look in his eyes, he wasn't best pleased.
Come to think of it, neither was she.
'Didymus!' Jareth almost growled the name.
The little fox advanced, with an elegant bow. 'Sire, I apologise for intruding, but Lord Devin sends me to inform thee that he is now ready to perform the weaving for Lady Sarah.' He studiously avoided meeting their eyes with his single one, Sarah noticed.
'Tell him we'll be there shortly.'
Didymus, still limping from his ordeal, backed away, and trotted off gamely. Sarah could have sworn she saw his whiskers twitch as he turned.
The dreams... Sarah let her head rest against Jareth's shoulder, suddenly feeling drained. She had no option now but to face them, and whatever they meant. The day lost its lustre somehow, at the thought.
'I'm afraid,' she whispered. His arms tightened around her.
'I'll be there.' He released her then, and stood staring at her for the space of a heartbeat, the merriment gone from his eyes - now they held concern. 'Come,' he said gently. He offered her his hand, and after a brief hesitation, she took it, allowing him to lead her back to the horses.
They rode back to the house in silence, both lost in thought.
Overhead, a tawny coloured eagle hovered, before diving down below the treeline out of sight.
'Take the amulet off,' Devin told her. With hands that shook more than she liked, Sarah complied, handing the delicate silver owl to Jareth.
The three of them were in a spacious sitting room, Sarah sitting in a large overstuffed armchair, flanked by Devin and Jareth. The drapes had been pulled across the windows, shutting out the sun. The room was lit by the blue flamed torches that were everywhere in the mansion, and it cast an eerie glow over the room, highlighting Jareth's pale features - a stark contrast, she thought, to Devin's more solid, bearded face.
It struck her then, watching them, the differences between the two men. 'You're human!' She blurted out to Devin before thinking,. He grinned at her.
'It took you this long to work it out?' He flicked her nose with a finger. 'Yes. After a fashion. Now, concentrate.' His hand moved in front of her face, palm open and facing her. She wondered what exactly was going to happen next...
And she was standing on paving stones, archways and other pieces of masonry falling past her as she looked around... I know this place...
Feathers, pale feathers, falling softly around her face, through her fingers, no matter how hard she tried to catch them.
And the echo of Iorweth's ghastly laughter on the wind.
She stared around in panic. This wasn't right.
From the corner of her eye, she saw movement. Turning, she watched as Jareth walked towards her from one of the twisting archways. So pale... the pallid, ragged cloak, ash fair hair, eyes shadowed...
And his hand stretched towards her... 'Look what I'm offering...' His soft voice, heard so often in her dreams.
His grey-gloved hand was empty.
Overhead, the moon was shining, full, crystal bright.
She reached out this time, placed her hand in his -
And gasped. His hand closed over hers, and she was falling, falling...
A voice, calling her name. 'Sarah.'
Eyes opened. She was standing in the throne room of the Goblin Castle. This time, she was not alone. Beside her, Devin was standing, grey eyes radiating concern. And Jareth. Her Jareth, not the dream from times past. Her hand was still clasped in his.
'What happened?' she asked. Devin smiled at her.
'I'm not sure, yet.' Around them, other details began to phase into being. 'But something's trying to show us something. Sarah, relax. Let it happen.'
'I can't.' She shivered. 'Please...' Beside her, she felt Jareth move closer.
'Trust in me. I said I'd be here for you.' He stood behind her, his arms around her, shielding her.
She leant back against him, grateful for the support. Had she really ever feared him...?
Goblins. All over the place. Dozens of them, in all shapes and sizes: horned, tailed, scaled, hairy. Some were seemingly content to lie back quaffing from tankards, others were having a tug of war with a small hairy goblin over in the corner.
On the throne...
Sarah had to reassure herself that Jareth was still holding her.
'The past.' Jareth said quietly.
Sarah turned her attention back to the throne, where Jareth was sitting, bouncing a gurgling baby in red striped pyjamas on his knee, and smiling.
'Toby...' she breathed. She hadn't seen her little brother for almost a year. He'd be four soon, she thought.
Jareth's voice, sounding a little uncomfortable. Embarrassed? Him?
'Sarah, walk forwards. One step. Concentrate on taking us forward.' Devin said. Jareth's arms released her, although he kept hold of her hand, reassuring her with a light squeeze from his fingers. Tentatively, she did as he asked.
They were standing on the hilltop outside the Labyrinth. Looking down, Sarah expected to see the maze spread out over the valley.
Except for the castle rearing up from the mountains at the far end of the valley, there was only darkness. But what seemed at first to be a simple sea of black rippled as she watched, flowing, moving, its inky hue undulating over the valley. Here and there, she could make out features from the Labyrinth - a glimpse of the hedge maze in the distance, a wall closer to them.
'What is it?' she whispered.
Jareth's fingers tightened around hers. 'The future,' he said softly.
Chapter Five: Spiralling inwards
Iorweth had found a large mirror in one of the tower rooms of the castle; a surprisingly useful device that was conveniently focussed on the Silverpool estate. With Calion standing behind him, he'd been watching the scene by the lake.
'I think it's past time,' he said coldly, passing a hand over the image to dissolve it, 'for the former Goblin King to have his feathers ruffled a little.'
Calion licked his lips in anticipation. 'What do you suggest?'
Iorweth's answering smile was as cold as his voice. 'The girl. She'll be a weak link. Try to drive a wedge between them. It shouldn't be too difficult - she seems very young. And very inexperienced. Even you should be able to find a lever of some sort to turn her against him.'
Calion bowed and began to walk towards the door.
'Oh, and Calion?'
'Try to find out what those goblins are up to in the city. They're being far too quiet for my liking.'
'Can he do this?' Devin asked, staring down at the valley. Jareth nodded.
'Given enough time. It's what he did to his own realm.'
'You might want to rethink your strategy,' Devin told him bluntly. Jareth's grip on Sarah's hand tightened involuntarily.
'I can't. I have to let him extend his control as much as possible before I face him. It's the only way to weaken him.'
'But there are people down there!' Sarah turned to him. 'You can't just leave them!' Hoggle and Ludo for two, she thought sadly.
'Iorweth is only interested in the Labyrinth itself, for now. If I faced him now, while he's still at full strength, I'd lose.' He stared past her at the writhing miasma that covered the Labyrinth. 'Once he's over extended, he's vulnerable. It's the only chance I'll get.'
'Why is he doing this?' Sarah asked.
'Boredom, maybe.' Jareth told her. 'Iorweth is one of the Old Ones - none of us are quite sure how old. They tend to have different values to the rest of us.'
'Understatement of the century,' Devin remarked to no one in particular. Jareth ignored him.
'He didn't exactly take time to explain his masterplan to me, but I'm his chosen target. He's remaking the Labyrinth to turn it into a 'suitable' challenge for me. The rest is incidental.'
'That's..' Sarah found herself at a loss for word. So much destruction, for a game...
'I know.' Jareth said quietly. 'Although you might want to keep in mind that if it's a crime, it's one we're all guilty of.' She looked at him sharply. His mismatched eyes regarded her evenly. She had a feeling she understood all too well what he meant.
'The Labyrinth?' Remembering her own struggle almost three years before...
'The difference being, even at your worst, you've never used it to kill,' Devin snapped. 'Nothing excuses this.' He turned to face Sarah 'Time to go.'
No gestures, no fireworks. They were simply back in Devin's sitting room, as if nothing had happened. Sarah opened her eyes, and stared at the two men. 'Well?'
Devin fixed his gaze on Jareth. 'How many ever completed the Labyrinth?'
Jareth shrugged. 'In my time - just Sarah. Before that, I don't know. The Goblins aren't overly fond of keeping records.' The corners of his mouth twitched. 'Eating them is more their style.'
'Why,' Sarah asked, ignoring his quip, 'would these dreams have anything to do with me solving the Labyrinth?'
'I don't know, but it's my best guess that it has something to do with this. No-one's quite sure what that place is,' Devin told her in his soft voice. 'The construction's older than even the Goblin City. It has -'
'A mind of its own on occasion,' said Jareth dryly. 'Although not literally. Wild magic isn't my area.' He shrugged. 'I never claimed to be omnipotent.'
Devin and Sarah exchanged glances.
Outside the window, a tawny coloured wolf watched and listened, unseen.
Despite feeling as if they'd only been gone for a few minutes, dusk had fallen outside. Sarah, needing to clear her head, made her excuses and decided to take a walk in the gardens. If nothing else, it gave her time to think.
The night air was cool - refreshing after the heat of the day. Flickering blue fire torches lit the path, casting an otherworldly glow over the flowerbeds. Night blooming flowers abounded, filling the air with a heady scent that was slightly intoxicating.
She was so wrapped up in enjoying the night, she didn't hear the footsteps behind her. A hand dropped onto her shoulder.
'A beautiful night.' The speaker was a stranger. Tall, fair-haired - broad featured, but with a sharp chiselled elegance in the bone structure. Handsome, in a cold sort of way. But there was something in his eyes that made her nervous. A cold appraisal that made her feel as if she'd rather be a hundred miles away from him.
'Yes,' Sarah replied, a little uncertainly. 'I - I didn't know Devin had any other guests.'
She backed away from him, as casually as she could. The night seemed colder, darker all of a sudden.
His arm moved to block her way. 'Not so fast. I don't think they'll miss you for a while.' His gaze raked her from head to toe, and a sick feeling of cold fear washed over her.
'Please, let me pass.' Dare she call out?
He grabbed her by the arm, pulling her closer. 'Why so nervous?' His other hand tilted her chin upwards. 'My, Jareth does have exquisite taste. You really are quite lovely.'
'Let go of me!' Sarah struggled, but found his grip impossible to break. He laughed - a cruel, hard sound.
'A week in Jareth's company and still so timid? Really, he is losing his touch.' His grip tightened. 'Still such an innocent. Tell me, do you really think your beauty will be enough to hold him to your side once he's taken his pleasure?' A sharp nail traced the line of her cheekbone. 'I wonder how he'd feel about soiled goods?'
She flushed. The stranger laughed again, and leant closer to her, ignoring her struggles.
As his face came closer to hers, Sarah managed to bring her free hand up, and raked his cheek with her nails, drawing blood. With an angry growl, he backhanded her, almost forcing her off her feet, but still holding her arm tightly, so that as she spun around, her shoulder was cruelly twisted. A cry of pain escaped her.
'Calion.' Jareth's voice sent a shiver of relief through Sarah. He was standing in the light from one of the torches, the blue light giving his features an even more ethereal cast than normal. Her captor pulled her in front of him, his hand moving to her throat.
'Jareth,' Calion sneered, 'what a pleasant surprise.' Sarah watched as Jareth walked further into the light, coming towards them. Calion's grip tightened on her throat. His nails were as sharp as a cat's claws. One dug into the soft flesh of her neck, and she flinched, feeling blood trickle down her throat from the scratch. 'No further. I could kill the girl before you could even blink.' His fingers squeezed and Sarah found herself gasping for air.
Jareth fiddled with a glove, straightening it. 'So you could.' How can he be so calm? 'Make your mind up, Calion. If I don't care for the girl, your threat is meaningless.' He sighed theatrically. 'But then, you never were very bright, were you...' Sarah didn't even see him move, just the flash of crystal in the light, and a cry from Calion. The hand ripped free of her throat and she stumbled forward, to be fielded by Jareth. Calion staggered backwards, and she saw the hilt of a knife embedded in his shoulder.
'Touch her again Calion, I won't be so generous.' Jareth's voice was cold, and staring up at him, Sarah drew back. There was murder in his eyes.
Calion pulled the knife from his shoulder, throwing it to the ground. Then, with no warning, in his place a large light coloured wolf stood, growling - and sprang straight for them, too fast for Jareth to push Sarah out of the way. Sharp teeth raked her arm as she raised it her to protect her face. They fell, the wolf snapping and snarling on top of them, hot breath near her cheek. Sarah's other hand groped on the ground, feeling for a stone or anything to hand. Jareth, caught behind her, had been unable to get free in time. The wolf had him by the arm.
Her hand closed on something cold, and she brought it up and down, slashing the creature across the muzzle. It let go of Jareth's arm and bounded away into the night, yelping.
Her legs turning to rubber, Sarah sank to the ground, Jareth kneeling beside her, while she tried to stop shaking. He held her in silence for a moment, then his hands touched her neck. 'Let me see.' She let him tip her head back, fingers gently touching the scratches Calion had left. Wordlessly, she placed her head on his shoulder and held him, just needing to feel safe.
Her arm feeling as though it was on fire, she dropped the stone from suddenly nerveless fingers. His arm tightened around her, stilling her trembling, neither of them saying a word.
'I thought you were trying to kill him,' she said eventually, her face still on his shoulder.
'I was. I missed.' He helped her to her feet. Still shaken, she clung to him. His hand stroked her cheek, then tipped her chin up and kissed her - lightly at first, then deepening it, his hands moving to her waist, pulling her closer. When he finally pulled back, his eyes were fixed on hers.
Calion's mocking voice... 'After he's taken his pleasure...'
He must have seen the question in her eyes. 'If that was all I wanted from you, don't you think I could have taken it by now?' he asked. How long had he listened before challenging Calion?
Devin and three of his servants came running up before she could reply. 'Jareth?' Concern, deepening to worry as he saw the two of them, both bloodied.
'Calion. He headed for the gate.'
A dark hawk took to the sky, spiralling upwards in the fading moonlight.
Jareth helped Sarah to her feet, steadying her with his uninjured arm. 'Check the rest of the grounds,' he ordered the servants. 'See that there are no other intruders.'
He led an unprotesting Sarah back to the house.
Devin flew towards the gates, cursing as he did. Taking his hawk form had been an instinct - and a mistake. In the dark, even his magic-enhanced vision was limited. At times like these, he almost wished he'd been born Fae.
However, his ears were sharp. Hovering over the avenue that led from the house to the gates, he listened intently for his prey. Calion, injured, would probably not attempt to transport himself to the Labyrinth until he'd shifted back to his natural form.
The wolf had run this way, but not as fast as the hawk could fly. Devin waited.
A rustling in the bushes, and a pained yelp, alerted the dark hawk to his quarry's arrival. The wolf was limping badly. Devin would have been wearing a smile of grim satisfaction in human form at the thought. The hawk merely hovered on silent wings.
The soft movement of air marked the change, a delicate flutter that heralded the shift from beast to man. And as the bloodied form of Calion stepped out of the trees, Devin struck. Diving straight at the Sidhe, wings, claws and beak battering Calion in a frenzied attack. To distract him long enough perhaps to be able to stop him from translocating...
Calion fought back, one hand grasping an outstretched wing, tearing at the flight feathers. In response, Devin's beak stabbed forwards, raking Calion's cheek from temple to jaw. Part way, something soft gave way. Calion pulled back with a cry of pain and outrage. Devin, momentarily losing his control, struggled to stay in the air. In that instant, Calion was gone.
The hawk fluttered to the ground, and Devin returned to his natural form, dishevelled and bruised where the Calion's blows had hit. He sank down to sit cross-legged on the path, brushed a tangled lock of dark hair out of his mouth and stared after the departed Wolf-lord.
'Oh, bugger,' he said quietly.
'Did you have to bait him like that?' Sarah asked, perched on the edge of the large four poster bed that occupied the room Jareth had taken. 'Ow!' She winced as he washed the scratches on her arm. One of them had gone quite deep.
'Hold still. And no, it probably wasn't the best move I could have made.' He finished cleaning the wounds, and bandaged the arm.
Now that the immediate threat had faded, Sarah's reaction was more of anger than anything else. At herself for letting it get to her. At Calion's casual cruelty to Didymus and herself.
Had she thought Jareth cruel, once?
Yes, but his cruelties stemmed from a lack of care for the object of them, she reasoned with a dawning clarity, not because he enjoyed inflicting them.
Anger too at the world for turning everything upside down until she had to accept and adapt or cave in under the weight of events, feelings, danger.
Strangely, she felt no fury towards the wild haired man who knelt in front of her, stripped to the waist with a bloodstained bandage around his own arm. Despite the fact that his arrogant challenge might have got them both killed tonight.
Because, so far, in all that had happened in the past week, he was the only safe haven she'd found. And despite everything, she'd come to realise that she could get to like the man behind the Goblin King...
He pulled her shirtsleeve back down over her arm. And at the touch of his hands on her skin, she was suddenly, acutely aware that she was sitting on his bed, and that her heart seemed to be beating about twice as fast as it should. To cover her sudden confusion, she took a deep breath and ran a hand through her long, tangled hair. Her fingers caught in a knot, and his hand reached up, smoothing her hair. In its wake, her hair untangled, and fluffed into curls: soft, silky and scented faintly of roses.
'I usually brush it straight,' she said. A vain attempt to regain her composure. He simply smiled.
'I like it better this way.' His fingers closed in the mass of her hair, and he drew her towards him. Unresisting, she leant into the kiss, returning it. Her hands drifted almost without her conscious volition to rest on his back, then to move over the silky smooth skin, coming to rest at his waist.
He finally broke the kiss, and pulled back from her slightly, his face again wearing a guarded expression. His eyes searched hers, and for a moment, she caught a glimpse through the mask to the depths of emotion in his. Desire; a stubborn pride that would refuse to admit to any weakness, and, paradoxically, a vulnerability that she hadn't expected.
'Why do you persist in turning my world upside down?' he whispered.
Memory... 'I have turned the world upside down and I have done it all for you...' 'I move the stars for no-one...' She'd been so set on her goal, she'd not understood the words at the time.
Had she ever questioned them? Yes. It had taken her too long to see. The answer had been in front of her all along. Had been there almost three years ago, if she'd only allowed herself to see it.
The dreams... Telling her what she should have known. Toby giggling in his arms, completely unharmed. His hand offered - not proffering dreams this time, but himself.
As he had been all along. Only her own pride had blinded her to the truth. We're well matched, she'd told him earlier. All too true.
'What do you think you do to mine?' she asked. And she leant forward, her hair falling to mingle with his, dark on light, and kissed him. It was all the reply he needed.
Jumbled impressions... his hands deftly unfastening the ties of her shirt, hands brushing her skin, her breasts; so delicate, yet so deliberate. Lips tracing the line of her neck, the hollow of her throat, brushing lower. The shirt discarded, her body pressed tightly against his, the warmth of his skin against hers broken by the cold metal of the crescent shaped amulet he always wore.
Her hands ran over his back, the soft skin of his chest, revelling in the play of lithe muscle under the skin. A brief moment of uncertainty when he finally lay her back on the bed, and she realised that they were both naked.
'Cheat,' she whispered, in jest, hoping the pale blue light in the room would hide her sudden blush. Am I really doing this...?
'But of course,' he'd replied, his hands tracing the lines of her thighs, moving inwards and upwards, so gently, yet insistent. The slow, deep-seated ache inside threatened to overwhelm her as he moved; an exquisite longing, so intense. Uncertainty faded; she yielded to desire.
One moment, feeling him so hard against her, when her resolve weakened, the slight frission of fear, soothed away by his mouth on hers again, his tongue finding hers: a murmur of reassurance.
She cried out softly as he entered, but the slight pain was forgotten almost as soon as it was felt. He was moving, in time to her heartbeat, so surely. Hesitantly, but with a greater assurance as her inhibitions fell away, she responded. On the rising tide of desire, she rose to meet him, pulling him closer, deeper, never wanting the moment to end, but, oh, she couldn't take any more... She was vaguely aware that she'd called out his name, as her back arched, her hands buried in his soft hair... and then the falling away, a slow descent, spiralling back. Mismatched eyes staring into hers, a hand drawn lightly across her cheek, down her throat, her name whispered softly. Being held safe in strong, slender arms.
Calion arrived in the throne room of the Goblin Castle, and collapsed in the circular pit that took up the centre of the room. His left hand was clasped over the ruin of his left eye, blood seeping between his fingers. One of the hobgoblins moved to help him, but he motioned it away angrily, watching its blurred form move back to its post. Caught between shock and fury, he was in no mood to deal with the creatures. He staggered to his feet, flinching as the wound in his shoulder reopened. His shirt glistened with warm blood, the black fabric taking on an iridescent sheen as it absorbed the sticky ichor.
His other eye still showed only blurred images, but enough to be able to lurch unsteadily from the throne room to the quarters he'd taken nearby.
Which was where Iorweth found him almost an hour later.
He pulled his second's hand away, grimacing in distaste at the ruin underneath. The bleeding had stopped - but even with the Sidhe's natural healing abilities, the face was a wreck. Calion's left eye was gone, leaving a torn socket, and the other side of his face had been gashed twice; the minor scratches overlaid with a second deep gash that had laid the cheek open to the bone.
Well it would save Iorweth the task of punishing him for the night's work. Calion stared up at his lord through his remaining and badly bloodshot, eye.
'My lord - '
'Spare me the details,' Iorweth spat. 'You're lucky I don't throw you back to them to finish the job.' He stared down at Calion, mouth twitching in distaste. 'You fool. I send you out to do a simple task, and instead you drive the girl straight into his bed.' His anger briefly caused him to draw upon his power: his red hair whipped around his face in the magewind conjured. With an effort, he forced himself to let it go. Instead, he dropped to one knee, and grabbed Calion by the hair, jerking his face up.
'Which of them marked you?'
'All of them,' Calion gasped, biting back a scream as Iorweth's grip tightened. The other lord released him with a cold laugh.
'All of them? Marked by three?' His gaze sobered. 'That's not an omen I like.' He stood up, wiping his hands, a sneer on his face. 'Thanks to your bumbling, my plans will have to change. Keep yourself out of my sight until you are fit for service. I suggest you take out your frustrations on the goblins for a few days. If you think you can handle them?'
He walked to the door, turning as he was about to leave. 'Maybe I should send them next time? Even those pathetic little creatures seem to have more talent for mischief than you.'
Calion stared after his master, a look of pure hatred on his ruined face. 'I don't care what your plans are,' he whispered hoarsely. 'The moment I get my hands on them, they're all dead.'
Especially, he thought, the girl and the Dreamweaver.
Sarah was standing in the throne room of the Goblin castle again. This time, it was empty except for a tall red-haired man sprawled in Jareth's circular throne.
'So good of you to drop in,' he said. There wasn't a shred of warmth in his voice. 'Oh - before you ask, this isn't one of your cosy little visions. This time.' He smiled coldly, 'I'm afraid this is very real. In a manner of speaking.'
'You're Iorweth.' Pale green eyes held hers. Only for a moment.
'Lord Iorweth to you, girl. Not all of us are as tolerant of informality as that ridiculous fop you seem to be so fond of.'
'Lord Iorweth.' Sarah loaded the words with as much scorn as she could. A dangerous glare passed over his face. 'You're in his throne.' There was a part of her that was screaming at her for taking such a chance. Oh well, caution had never been one of her strong points.
'I'm exactly where I choose to be, child. Which is more than I can say for your lover.' At her start, he laughed. 'Oh yes, I know.'
'My name,' she said, with as much confidence as she could muster, 'is Sarah.'
He leaned forwards in the throne, chin resting on a balled fist. 'So what? Really. Do you think to stare me down with childish stories and a bold gaze? You think because you won a small victory against that tired delinquent you can be a match for me?'
'I think, that if you were so confident of taking him, you wouldn't be playing stupid games - or trying this.'
Be careful, Sarah... Devin's voice.
'You know nothing,' Iorweth snapped. Sarah shrugged as nonchalantly as she could.
'Maybe not. But I've seen enough performances to know when I'm being spun a line. You're not much of an actor.' She held her head proudly.
Iorweth sneered. 'So brave... do you really think when the time comes he'll be able to protect you? Or even care to?'
'It doesn't matter,' Sarah said. 'You think he can, and will. Otherwise, why go through this charade?'
He clapped his hands in mock applause. 'You really are more than you seem, aren't you? I wonder what role you have in all of this.' He stood up in a fluid motion, and walked over to her, studying her the whole time. 'But you still have no power.' A hand reached out and tilted her chin. Sarah flinched but held her ground. 'Bah.' He let her go. 'You're nothing but a minor irritant. I might let Calion have you as a titbit once Jareth's in my hands. Maybe we'll even let him watch - '
Sarah slapped him across the face. Recoiling from the blow, he turned back to face her rubbing his cheek. 'I'll remember that, little girl. For now, take Jareth a message for me: when he least expects it, I'll move. Tell him, I know he plans to wait. Tell him, that no matter what his resolve, he will come to me when I decide. Not before. Not after. Tell him that, child.'
Sarah... Devin's soft tones. Think of the falling walls...
Sarah stood in front of Iorweth on the cracked flagstones of the place in which she'd faced Jareth. Once again, the crystal moon hung full in the sky. Devin stood at her side.
'Dreamweaver.' Iorweth inclined his head slightly.
'My lord.' Devin's response held a carefully judged air of mockery. 'You should know better than to play in my territory. Especially with one who is dwelling under my roof.'
'Just you, Dreamweaver - not your mentor? I'm surprised.'
Devin's laugh, although hard, was warmer than Iorweth's. He placed a hand reassuringly on Sarah's arm. 'Dreams are my realm, and that means this is between you, me and Sarah.'
'You walk a fine line, Devin. Mortal born you may be, but you chose your path. You walk as one of us - which means you pay the price for interference in our affairs. This was between myself and Jareth.'
'And you brought in Calion. Which means I can even up the score a little.' Devin grinned. 'Care to try another one?'
'What is it like to walk eternity without her, Devin?' The Fae-lord smiled grimly. 'How does immortality taste without the one you chose it to be beside?'
Sarah saw Devin's colour fade, and wondered. She reached out a hand. 'He's just trying to hurt you, the way he did me,' she whispered.
Devin's shoulders braced; 'I know,' he whispered back, and he turned to face Iorweth.
'At least I won her heart, Iorweth.'
It was the red-haired Fae's time to pale. And from the sudden look of surprise on Devin's face, he hadn't expected the barb to hit home so accurately. He was quick to take the opportunity offered by Iorweth's distraction. Taking Sarah's hand, he pulled them both from the scene.
They were standing in a meadow very similar to the one near the lake at Silverpool. In fact, Sarah realised, looking around - it was the same. Only the season was different - autumn - and there was a delicate wooden bridge running from the shore to the island. She turned to stare at Devin.
'What is going on?'
'Iorweth is worried by you. I think he made a big mistake tonight in forcing you into the Dreamworld. I'd love to know what he used. Jareth must have left some trinkets lying around. Careless.' He smiled at her. 'But by doing that, he stepped into my realm. Fortunately for all of us. He's worried by what you may mean, and that makes me think for the first time since this happened that there's hope.'
Sarah stared at him in dawning horror. 'You think Jareth can't win?'
'Not if he faces Iorweth alone.' He took Sarah's hands in his. 'He can't face Iorweth alone and win, but he'll try.'
'What does that have to do with me?' she asked.
Devin's gaze was as cool and as remote as Jareth's could be. 'Whatever you want.' He stared deeply into her eyes. 'What is Jareth to you, Sarah?'
She turned away, suddenly confused. His hand reached out and brushed hers. When she raised her eyes to meet his again, they were searching, but understanding.
'Time to go,' he said softly. 'We'll talk tomorrow.'
The lakeside receded into blackness.
She awoke with a start, and lay there for a moment in the darkness, trying to slow her thudding heartbeat. The unfamiliar feel of a body against hers took a few moments to sink in, before she relaxed.
She was lying with her head on his shoulder, her free hand resting on his chest. Soft, fine fair hair tickled her nose as she moved, trying not to disturb him - before realising that he wasn't asleep.
'Another dream?' he asked. In the darkness, she couldn't see his face, but his voice was gentle. She nodded, and he held her closer, one hand moving first to brush her hair from her face, then to cup her chin and draw her closer, his lips finding hers in the darkness.
'Sometimes it all seems like a dream,' she said softly. He paused, looking down at her, although his face was just a pale blur in the faint light.
'Am I a dream?' he asked, and she heard the mischievous edge creep into his voice as he spoke. 'If so you have an interesting imagination.' His lips brushed the hollow of her throat and then the side of her neck. 'Not to mention a somewhat active one...' Then he nipped her earlobe.
'Ow!' she reached over and grabbed a pillow from behind him, thumping him with it while he collapsed laughing. Suddenly realising the incongruity of the situation, she found herself doing the same.
'Well I think we established you're not dreaming,' he said eventually, pulling her closer again, once she'd stifled her giggles. At some point he'd caused the lights to rekindle, and the flickering pale flames highlighted them both. Did he have to be so beautiful? Even in the pale light, shorn of any Glamour, naked, no make up or any enhancement, he was extraordinary.
Devin's soft voice... 'What is he to you...?'
'Sarah?' Jareth asked. She moved into his embrace, kissing him, feeling him respond to her touch. When he would have held back, as if still careful of hurting her, she drew him closer; 'I won't break,' she whispered, surprised at her daring, but not regretting it as he met her ardour with his own.
Chapter Six: To see through other eyes
Sarah stretched, reaching over with one hand, waking up more fully as she realised first of all who she'd expected to find next to her, and secondly, why.
She was completely awake when someone or something yanked her hair. Hard. She yelped, startling Jareth.
'Something pulled my hair!' she told him, indignantly. She looked a little sheepish. 'Well, that's what it felt like.' There was nothing to be seen.
Not, of course, unless you knew where to look.
Or what to look for. Jareth was out of bed, dressed and on the floor beside the bed before she could blink. Benefits of magic...?
'Out!' Jareth commanded, lifting up the valance on the bed. Three small goblins stared back at him, giggling. He grimaced. Of all the times they had to pick to find him. Reaching in, he grabbed the nearest one by the throat. 'I said, out. All of you!' The goblin squawked as he hauled it out from under the bed.
I didn' do nothing!' it squeaked.
Jareth glared at it. 'Then which one of you did?' He shook it.
'He did!' it pointed at a small hairy creature which was trying to slink unseen towards the door. Jareth put down the one he was holding which ran away with a relieved squeal. One booted foot came down on the end of the escapee's tail.
'And just where do you think you're going in such a hurry?'
It stared up at him. 'Breakfast?' it said hopefully.
After her initial scare, Sarah was sitting up trying hard not to laugh. There was something indescribably funny about watching the immaculate, elegant Jareth being given the run around by a group of small, dirty, disrespectful troublemakers.
Judging by the sour look her escaped giggle got her, he didn't think so.
'Fleck?' he said warningly. The goblin blinked at him. 'What is the one rule that is always enforced?'
'No peeing in the corridors?' it asked with wide-eyed innocence.
Sarah lost it completely at that point.
'Never enter my private quarters,' Jareth said through gritted teeth. The goblin looked confused.
'But they's back at the castle, yer majesty.' It said finally, with total sincerity. Jareth picked it up by the tail, strode over to the door, and opening it, flung the little creature out. A sharp command sent the other two scurrying out of the room. With a heavy sigh Jareth slammed the door behind him. A still giggling Sarah watched him through sparkling eyes as he walked back to the bed, and sat down beside her.
'It's not quite so amusing after the first hundred years,' he remarked dryly.
'Aren't you being a bit hard on them?' she asked. He sat down on the edge of the bed.
'Sarah - they're goblins. Small, stupid and with hides so thick it would take a mountain falling on top of them to make them notice they'd been hurt. You can kill them, but you have to know what you're doing - miss, and they'll make sure you regret it. They're also devious, cunning and have a talent for causing chaos which has never been bettered by any other creature in history.'
'I'll take that as a 'no'?' She was finding it impossible to stop smiling as she looked at him. For a moment, she wasn't sure if he'd taken her teasing in the manner she'd intended, then his mouth twitched.
'If you wish.'
Dreams and goblins and her still sore neck and arm were banished from her thoughts as he leant forwards and kissed her. The sheet fell away, unregarded, and her fingers laced behind his neck, caught in the soft fall of his hair...
'JARETH!' Devin's outraged bellow could probably have been heard all the way to the Labyrinth.
'I think, ' Sarah said as he pulled away with an irritated sigh, 'that your subjects are on the loose.'
'If he can't handle a handful of goblins on his own by now, he deserves everything they do to him.' He flinched as a loud crash sounded from outside. 'On second thoughts...' He stood up, took a step back and faded from sight. Sarah fell back to the bed with a groan. It was obviously going to be one of those days.
'I told you I'd have them under control.' Jareth was dusting off his gloves, standing in the hallway. Sarah, descending the stairs, looked around apprehensively, wondering where the goblins had gone. There didn't seem to be any around.
'They still gave the cook hysterics, the kitchen is a wreck, and I don't think the chickens will lay for a month...' Devin was saying. 'How can six small creatures cause so much havoc...'
'Six?' Sarah asked. 'I thought there were only three?'
Devin sighed. 'The others arrived outside. And trust me, you don't want to see what they did.' He gave Jareth a sharp look. 'Tell me again how these things are going to be useful?'
'I'll let you know when I know what I've got.'
'For my own part, I found the exercise somewhat invigorating,' said a third voice. Sarah looked down to see Sir Didymus cleaning his rapier, and sporting a new bright blue hat with a yellow feather stuck into it at a jaunty angle.
'Things might have gone more smoothly if you hadn't decided to attack Whisper when you did,' said Jareth darkly. Didymus' whiskers twitched then drooped. Sarah knelt beside him.
'I'm sure you were most valiant, Sir Didymus,' she whispered.
'Truly, my lady?'
Sarah smiled. 'Truly.' Didymus wrinkled his nose in a smile and his bright eye gleamed.
Jareth took Sarah by the arm and urged her to her feet. 'I'd appreciate it if you didn't encourage him,' he whispered in her ear as she stood. But his arm went around her waist possessively. 'I have enough problems without Didymus causing any more havoc.'
'Sire, I do not cause havoc!' the little fox said indignantly. Jareth knelt down beside him.
'Yes, my liege?' Didymus stared at Jareth, his brush drooping slightly.
'Should I tell her about the incident at the Pass of Jade?' Sarah watching him, saw the teasing twitch at the corners of his mouth and hid a smile.
'I - er- well. No sire.' Didymus said quietly, hanging his head.
Devin coughed. 'Jareth, please, we really need to talk?' He gestured expansively towards the dining room. 'Over breakfast, for preference.' He called this last back over his shoulder, already half way down the hall, leaving them to follow.
'I just don't know how you can be so calm!' Devin threw up his hands and then stared at Jareth, while Sarah stood near the window, staying out of the way. 'That psychopath almost killed you - and Sarah - last night - dammit Jareth, he would have had me as well if he could, even injured. We got lucky. And you - ' turning away from Jareth, he caught Sarah's eye and stopped. Taking a deep breath, he continued, more calmly: 'Jareth, please -'
'I should never have got either of you involved,' Jareth said quietly, looking at Sarah and Devin; Devin leaned back in his chair and shrugged.
'Maybe, but you made that choice, I'll remind you. Besides, what's done is done. We all have to live with our decisions now.'
Jareth stared at him sharply, wondering if that was Devin's barbed comment on his relationship with Sarah, but decided to let the matter drop for now. Sarah herself was regarding him thoughtfully, her hazel eyes meeting his with more determination than he'd expected.
Yet she was still so very young...
That didn't stop you last night...
The strength he'd sensed in her, however, was blossoming. At every test she was maturing. Already, her face had lost the last traces of childhood. The young woman who stood proudly, if nervously in front of him, was a lifetime removed from the young girl he'd tormented in his Labyrinth so long ago - and from the teenager who'd helped him in the outer world.
Less than a week ago...
She belongs, now, he thought. Or almost so. Did she realise there would be no going back from this point, if she threw in her lot with him?
Hadn't she done so already?
'I can't act yet, Devin. You know this. I need Iorweth stretched to the limit.'
'And if he's stronger than you think? What then? He's watching every move you make - and all you're doing is sitting around waiting for a "right time" which may never come.' Devin pointed to Sarah. 'And what of Sarah - do you want her hurt again?'
'I can look after myself,' she snapped, proudly.
No you can't... not yet.
'I'm staying,' she continued, daring either man to deny her.
Without a word, Jareth offered her his hand and she placed hers in it. 'You're a fool,' he said quietly. Her answering smile was warm.
'Then that makes two of us.' The defiant tilt of her chin or her teasing tone couldn't disguise the concern in her eyes as he met her clear gaze. Concern - and fear.
But not of him. For him.
Once before she'd stood before him, defiant and afraid. ...only fear me... he'd asked. Love me. Do as I say...
Well he could settle for one out of three.
He kissed her lightly, resisting the temptation to hold her closer.
Far too late... For either of them.
Choices... Jareth sighed. 'Devin, it's not open to discussion. We wait. As for the other matter...' His hand brushed Sarah's cheek and then ran through the tumble of her dark hair. 'I hope,' he said quietly, 'You're a quick study?'
'For what?' Her eyes never left his, her gaze steady, trusting him completely.
'Jareth - ' Devin began. With a raised hand he forestalled the warning, and the younger man subsided, not without an exasperated sigh.
'If you're staying, you'll need to be able to defend yourself. And that means magic.' With a teasing smile, he produced one of his crystals, moving it across the backs of his hands and through his fingers with flamboyant ease. 'Well?' He challenged. He threw the orb into the air where it vanished in a shower of glitter.
'There was a time,' she said quietly, reaching out and letting the glitter fall through her fingers, 'that I would have been over the moon to have that offer. Now it scares me.'
'It should.' He conjured another orb, held it in the palm of his hand for a moment, and handed her the silk scarf he now held. 'The first step, is distinguishing truth from illusion.' The snake in her hand hissed and she dropped it with a cry and backed away - he caught it in one hand, and held out the scarf again. 'Shall we begin?'
'It's all about feeling, not thinking.'
Sarah found a conveniently low spot on the garden wall and sat down, watching Jareth as he leant on the pillar next to her, elegant but casual. As always.
'Understanding, not knowledge,' she said quietly, remembering a conversation earlier that day. He shrugged.
'In part.' With a showman's gesture, he conjured a single white rose, and offered it to her. 'Magic is like love - you must trust to what your heart tells you, and not try to reason out the whys and wherefores too much with your head.'
She took the rose from him, giving him a sharp look, but dropped it with a cry as she pricked a finger on a thorn.
'However, one should still take care before grasping anything too tightly,' he said, hiding a sly smile as he bent down to pick up the rose. He handed it to her again, and she closed her hand on the stem - more carefully this time. Instead of letting go, his hand covered hers.
'I'll try to bear that in mind,' Sarah replied with a mischievous grin of her own. 'Especially...'
...whatever the girl said in response to Jareth could not be heard - the mirror showed images, but sound was beyond its magic. Iorweth stared at the mirror in front of him, savouring the scene, as the two subjects of his scrutiny laughed silently, oblivious. 'Calion, I do think you might have done the right thing after all.'
His second lay on a couch behind him, still nursing his wounds.
'Oh really?' Lost in his own personal misery, Calion really couldn't care less what the Goblin King and his mortal woman were doing.
Iorweth smiled. 'Oh, I think so. This gives me a much better idea for my endgame.' He stared at the cosy little scene again, a mocking smile on his face. 'But let's just give this a little longer before we up the stakes a little, shall we?'
'You might want to rethink that,' Calion said sourly, pointing past Iorweth to the mirror. The image now showed Devin's bearded face, one hand raised in first a wave, then an impudent gesture, before it went black.
'No matter,' Iorweth said, hiding his irritation. 'I've seen all I need to.' Raising a hand, he pushed the air in front of him, and the mirror crashed from its stand to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces. 'But you can have the Dreamweaver to play with, later.' He stared down at the shards of glass, dull and black upon the grey flagstones, reflecting nothing. 'Seven years bad luck, the mortals say.' He turned back to his second with a cold smile. 'How long do you think you can keep him alive?'
'There he is - about time too,' Devin said laughing. The large barn owl circled overhead on silent wings, before alighting on Sarah's outstretched gloved hand. Smiling, she stroked the soft feathers with her free hand, before it took off again, circling once, before returning, and transforming in front of her to Jareth's familiar slender form.
'That,' he told Sarah, sweeping her into his embrace, 'tickles.'
She stuck her tongue out at him. 'So do your talons.'
'Nice to see you're back up to full strength,' Devin said dryly from the wall he was sitting on. 'I was beginning to think she was wearing you out.'
Without even looking round, Jareth simply reached out a hand with a pushing motion. With a startled cry, Devin tumbled backwards over the wall. His hawk form reappeared over the wall, changing on their side back into the dark-haired lord. Jareth's small troupe of goblins were having a fit of the giggles on the far side of the small garden, watching the goings on. Sarah was having a hard time resisting joining in, watching the byplay between the two men. The past week might have been nerve wracking without their banter to counter Jareth's tendency to brood, which even Sarah had found hard to lift at times.
'We'll be at the lakeside,' Jareth said smoothly, forestalling Devin's righteous spluttering. He leaned towards Devin theatrically as they walked past him on the way to the stables, 'and you missed a feather,' he said, pulling Devin towards him to whisper loudly in his ear, letting him go with that smug look Sarah recognised so well. The goblins followed them, still snickering.
Jareth's exasperated tones could, she thought, cut through stone when he was irritated. He didn't need to raise his voice. She sighed, and tried again.
'Don't close your eyes. Keep them open.' A gloved hand rapped her outstretched one. 'No hand gestures.'
'You do it all the time!' She argued. The image she'd been trying to hold dissolved, and she slumped.
'From a sense of aesthetics, not from necessity. It's a bad habit. Again.'
Sarah sighed theatrically and tried to focus.
'Eyes!' Jareth snapped.
'Sorry.' Sarah opened them again.
This time, the image was clearer. Reaching out as he'd taught her, mentally, she wished the amulet into her hand - and dropped it with a muttered oath as it smacked hard into her palm. She glared at Jareth as he sat back, laughing. Fleck, Whisper and Tipper joined in, cackling gleefully until quelled with a sharp command from their king. Sarah picked the owl pendant up from the grass with a rueful grimace.
'Too fast. You grabbed it. Let it come to you.' Jareth told her, but he didn't look too displeased.
'Wouldn't this a lot easier without them around?' Sarah gestured at the goblins. Fleck, seeing this as an invitation, jumped onto her shoulder and yanked her ponytail. 'Hey, off!' She grabbed him by the tail and dumped him unceremoniously onto the ground, where he scuttled off giggling.
'There's no sense in learning how things work in a stable environment - there's no such thing. The world doesn't work that way.' He leaned back on the long grass of the lakeside meadow, staring at her in amusement from under the spiky fall of his fringe. 'Besides, if you can work with goblins around, you can work anywhere. They can cause anything to go awry. '
She dropped to the ground beside him, glad that he seemed to have called it a day for now. After a week, she was beginning to wonder what she'd let herself in for. Long gone were any ideas she'd held about spell books, incantations, potions and charms. Sidhe magic was a matter of willpower and misdirection, for the most part, although there was another side, which applied to the physical world around them. But the greater part were the illusions and glamours; twisting deceptions of the mind and senses that, Devin had told her over dinner once, could kill if the will was strong enough.
The comment had brought to mind her confrontation with Jareth, so long ago. The words from the book, spoken so confidently. They'd been meaningless really, hadn't they?
'Well at least you finally worked it out,' Jareth had said dryly. 'All you had to do was to believe, and stand your ground. ' And to realise the truth she'd not known had been written in front of her in black and white from the start. The Sidhe had no power over mortals - or anyone - with their magic, if you could resist their glamours.
'Understanding,' he'd told her during the first lesson, 'is the key to magic. Not knowledge. That comes later, in the application.'
She brought herself back to the present. Tipper, she noticed with amusement, was stalking one of the cats. Without much success, since the irate tabby took umbrage at having her tail pulled and lashed out with a swift claw, before streaking across the meadow.
Jareth picked up his riding crop and gently tapped her leg with it. 'Don't relax too much. You haven't finished for the day yet.' She stuck her tongue out at him.
'Slave driver!' Which was unfair - he was a surprisingly good teacher. If a little impatient at repeated mistakes.
He started teasing Whisper - a small boggle eyed goblin of the furry variety - with the tasselled end of the riding crop. Watching him lounging idly on the grass, she reflected that the goblins weren't the only distractions. Clad today in tight black leather pants tucked into black riding boots, topped off with an open fronted white silk shirt, he looked devastating. And as ever, he knew it.
On impulse she leaned forward and kissed him, lightly, teasing. If this was a dream, she thought as his arms encircled her, hands moving lightly over her back, pulling her closer, as she did the same, I'd never want to wake up...
She sensed, with a new awareness, the faint surge of power as he sent the goblins away - and squeaked as he caught her off guard, pulling her down on top of him in the long grass.
Afterwards, dressed and after a half hearted attempt to tidy her hair, she was leaning back against him, his chin resting on the top of her head, her hands resting on his as they lay clasped around her waist.
'I keep thinking this can't last,' she whispered, watching the sun start to sink over the trees on the far side of the lake. The clear waters had taken on a ruddy orange glow in the sunset. He kissed the top of her head. She turned in his arms, wriggling round until she could face him. 'Everything just seems too perfect, too quiet. He'll act soon, won't he? I don't think he'll let you wait.'
'If he does,' Jareth told her, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her eyes, 'it will be in the next few days.'
'How do you know?'
He helped her to her feet. 'Just a feeling.' He handed Sarah her discarded hair ribbon. 'It's the dark of the moon tomorrow night.'
Despite the warmth of the summer evening, Sarah shivered.
Iorweth took a deep breath of the evening air and almost gagged. When the wind was in the wrong direction, the woods caught the full brunt of the stink from that infernal bog on the far side of the Labyrinth. Still, it had its uses.
Fireys scuttled out of his way as he strode through the woods, admiring his handywork. Yes, he thought, this place was finally ready. The outer Labyrinth was now under his control, and the wards set. The only place he hadn't altered was the Goblin City, but as long as those creatures kept in their place, they weren't important.
The castle wall reared up in front of him, and with a wave of his hand he opened the hidden door, shutting it behind him with a muttered word of command. Once in the courtyard, he looked up at the darkening sky. The moon was only the faintest sliver of silver in the sky tonight. Tomorrow...
Ah, tomorrow... He allowed himself a smile. Even with Calion still indisposed nursing his wounds and his grudges, tomorrow would be the dark of the moon...
'And then, Jareth, you will come to me.'
Iorweth laughed, startling the hobgoblin on guard. He had his game laid out, his players, his pieces... and after tomorrow night, he'd have the bait for the trap...
Sarah reined Ghairlean in at the top of the hill, and sat back in the saddle, laughing. Her hair had started to fall out of its braid after the wild gallop. As Devin drew level, his tall bay mare halting at the lightest touch on her mouth, she grinned at him.
'What kept you?' she asked cheekily. She patted the grey's sides. Despite the run, he was barely blowing.
'That horse, has won more races in his time...' Devin was more out of breath than his horse. 'Shillean here isn't a racer.'
Sarah turned they grey, and began walking him back towards the mansion. It was, she thought, looking around, a beautiful day.
The thought brought back the crashing reality. Today, they took no chances. Which was why Jareth was out on the edges of the estate checking the magical wards, and she was riding with Devin.
'Oh, now look. Your smile just went in.' Devin rode up alongside her. 'Why the long face. Tonight?'
Sarah nodded. 'He's worried, although he won't admit it.'
'He never does.'
The comment gave Sarah an opportunity she'd been waiting for. 'How long have you known him, Devin?'
His grey eyes seemed to dance. 'You've been dying to ask haven't you?' The bay mare suddenly jibbed and he brought her back under his control smoothly. 'Since I was - oh, three years old, I think. I don't really remember much before then - or about my real family, before you ask.'
'You were taken?'
Devin grinned at her from behind his beard. 'Surprised?' She nodded. 'Don't be, they all do it. I suppose you could call me a changeling. Actually, the stories are wrong - Sidhe don't exchange babies - it's just they have so few of their own...'
'But I thought - I mean.' Sarah thought back to her assumptions when Toby had been taken. 'You mean they don't get turned into goblins?' She'd put the questions out of her mind over the past week, too content with everything to risk raising the issue.
Devin laughed. 'Good grief. The little buggers are too prolific as it is, without adding to their numbers.' He stared hard at her. 'Don't tell me he didn't bother to tell you - ' He shook his head. 'Honestly. He gets worse.' He brought the mare closer to Ghairlean again. 'Jareth took me to be a companion to Jehanna - she was about the same age. We grew up together.'
'And fell in love?' Sarah asked. Devin's answering smile was sad.
'You've heard this one before?' He took a deep breath. 'She was so beautiful - that portrait doesn't even come close to doing her justice. Yes, we fell in love, and for love of her, I chose to walk my path as one of them. It's not easily done, but it's possible. They don't give such a gift lightly to mortals.'
'She died two hundred and three years ago, giving birth to our daughter, Angharad.' Devin stared past Sarah, into the distance, his grey eyes filled suddenly with a sorrow so deep, Sarah thought she'd weep. 'Ironic, really. I chose immortality to live with her, and after only eighty years, I lost her. Life's grand jest, I suppose'
'I'm so sorry,' Sarah whispered. Devin pulled his gaze back to her, with a false smile.
'I still have Harry, when she's around.' His eyes held a warning look. 'You know, they say that mortals and Sidhe should not love. There's always pain in it.'
'Is that a warning?' she asked, softly. Devin's piercing eyes held hers.
'It's the one He gave to Jenna.'
She didn't need to ask whom he meant. Devin fixed her again with his hard, grey-eyed stare. 'Do you love him, Sarah?'
The question caught her off-guard, and she stared back, blushing suddenly, not sure how to respond.
Yes... Impossible, maddening, fascinating creature that he was, she did.
Sarah nodded, not trusting her voice. Devin smiled at her.
'Then I wish you better joy of it than I had, my dear.' He urged Shillean into a trot. 'Come on, time to get back.'
'Which one is it?' Jareth held out four crystals in his hands, juggling them deftly between his fingers, flicking them between his hands: controlled, elegant, perfect.
'If you'd move them more slowly,' Sarah said crossly. Concentrating, she tried to See as he'd taught her. 'That one.' She tapped the crystal, which dissolved under her touch. 'Hah!' She grinned in triumph. Without a word, Jareth replaced the other three in their velvet case.
'Not bad. But you'll have to be quicker than that,' he said finally, closing the case.
'Oh come on, give her some encouragement - it took me longer than that to be able to see through your illusions, especially since you always cheated,' Devin said from the far side of the room, where he was playing chess (or, Sarah thought, something very like it) with Sir Didymus. Sir Didymus seemed to be winning.
'I do not cheat, and you were ten.' Jareth said shortly. Devin gave Sarah an apologetic shrug. Attempts to lighten the tone of the day seemed doomed to failure. They were all too tense.
At least Jareth could take it out on the goblins. All ten of the arrivals had caught the edge of his temper today, and most had finally taken refuge in one of the disused wings of the house. Only Fleck had stayed around, and he was currently wrapped around one of Devin's mastiffs, brought into the house for the night, and at the moment lying stretched out on the rug in front of the fireplace.
Sarah wandered over to the curtained alcove of the bay window. Night was falling outside. She could feel it, even if with the thick curtains drawn, she couldn't see it. Jareth walked over to stand at her side.
'Try not to think about it,' he said quietly, his cheek resting against hers.
'I don't know how you two stay so calm.' Sarah shivered, and felt Jareth's arm encircle her waist. 'It's like waiting for a storm to break,' she whispered.
'He's playing games,' Jareth replied. 'Whatever he has planned, keep that in mind. It's me he wants, and he's chosen the ground - The Labyrinth. Not here.'
There was a crack of thunder from outside, surprising, since the night had been so still. Jareth released Sarah, and pulled the curtains open. A bright flash lit up the night sky, followed by a second crash. Yet no rain fell.
'It's probably nothing,' Devin said softly. Sarah, watching the look that passed between the two men, saw that neither of them believed it. Jareth especially was so tense he looked as if he'd snap in two if she so much as touched him.
What had Calion and Iorweth done to him the first time they'd taken him? He'd been in a terrible state when he'd stumbled into her life again.
How much worse could it get when the Sidhe-lord finally had him where he wanted him?
Another crack of thunder split the silence, making her jump. On the far side of the room, the mastiff jumped to its feet and howled, startling Fleck, who scuttled into a corner, tail trailing.
And the curtains billowed as the window shattered. Jareth, the closest, had to move quickly to avoid being cut by flying glass. From outside, a massive build up of sound set up a sympathetic pounding in Sarah's chest, reverberating through her body.
Then the night sky was lit up as brightly as the day.
'He blew the bloody wards!' she heard Devin shout. 'All of them!' The dog sprang past her, barking madly, as all hell broke loose. Large heavyset armoured figures running through the archway where the window had been, weapons drawn. Jareth pushing her back, sending her flying...
Jareth's voice, as if from a distance... 'Hobgoblins. Take Sarah..' Struggling to keep her balance, she stumbled into Devin's outstretched arms, and was unceremoniously bundled out of the study into the hall, and towards the gallery.
'What about Jareth,' she shouted, still deafened by the magical roar. Sarah could hear dimly sounds of fighting. Devin's guards. Jareth... Her heart felt cold in her breast. So damn helpless, I can't even help him...
'He should be able to handle the Hobgoblins. He just didn't want you in there, in the way.' Devin led her to an alcove seat. 'Wait here, and stay alert. I'm going back - '
The large windows at the end of the gallery suddenly blew open - revealing, outlined in the pale blue light of the house lights, the tall, angular figure of Iorweth.
Watching his cloak billowing in the sudden draft, Sarah muttered to Devin 'I don't suppose any of you think of using the front door?' He gave her hand a quick squeeze.
'Stay behind me.' He pushed her to one side, shielding her.
'I'd rather see you both, Dreamweaver.' Iorweth stepped into the gallery, and strode forward, heading straight for them.
Devin's hand moved behind her, reaching... Sarah felt the slight surge of power, and looked down. He was holding a leather-gripped broadsword. 'Ssh.' He whispered. He kept the hand hidden behind her.
'Well well. Two of the pawns in one place. This saves me a search. And I suppose my hobs are keeping Jareth busy?'
'Iorweth.' Devin inclined his head, very slightly, never taking his eyes off the Sidhe.
'Devin. Still running errands for Jareth? What now - does he have you protecting his mistress for him?'
'Is that the best you can do for an insult?' Sarah snapped, worry making her less circumspect than perhaps she should have been.
He stretched out a hand to her, and Devin interposed his own. 'Oh, I could do more than that, child. But I have other plans for you.' He turned away, then back again, a studied gesture as if punctuating a point. 'But then, so does Calion.' His smile, Sarah remembered from her dreams, was cold... so cold. 'For both of you,' he added.
He looked them up and down, one hand stroking his chin. 'But which one to choose...?'
Devin took that opportunity to strike. Pushing Sarah back out of the way, he leaped forward, sword raised, slashing it down in an arc towards Iorweth's stomach.
With heart wrenching agility, the Fae lord danced out of the way, and with a hand outstretched, caught the blade in a black gauntleted grasp. The sword was pulled out of Devin's hands, and with the other hand, Iorweth had him by the throat.
'Run, Sarah!' Devin gasped - but she was frozen in place, unable to move. Iorweth's green eyes, so pale, so icy cold, were fixed on hers, holding her. She tried to concentrate, to See or Block the way Jareth had taught her, but under the spell of the Fae, she was powerless.
'I only need one,' Iorweth said. 'The other will serve as a lesson.'
A small red furred streak launched itself at Iorweth, from out of nowhere. 'Run my Lady!'
Didymus' sharp cry pierced Sarah's immobility, and reached some part of her that was still alert. She heard Iorweth's cry as Didymus' rapier hit home, and the distraction gave her the break she needed. Forcing her legs to move, she ran back towards the hall - and Jareth. Behind her, she heard a short, high pitched yelp, and bit back a cry.
She cannoned straight into Jareth as he was running out of the study. His arms caught her, and he lowered her to the floor. Over his shoulder, the bodies of at least three hobs, and the mastiff, were lying in the light.
'Sarah?' His voice was urgent, and strained.
'Iorweth. In the gallery,' she gasped. With a grim look, he stood up.
'Wait here,' he ordered.
Shaking, she couldn't do anything else but obey for several seconds, by which time he was gone. She got to her feet, still shivering, and followed him.
Except for Jareth, the gallery was empty, the windows standing open, their drapes swaying gently in the night breeze. He was kneeling by the wall, head bowed. Afraid for him, she ran forward.
To be brought up with a jerk when his head whipped around at the sight of her approach, anger written in his eyes. 'I told you to stay put,' he snapped harshly. She backed away involuntarily. Then he turned away again. 'He's gone - and taken Devin with him.' His voice suddenly sounded so weary, almost defeated. She approached him again, slowly, kneeling beside him.
'Are you hurt?'
He shook his head, and took her hand in his as she laid it on his shoulder. 'No.' He moved aside then, and she saw what his body had been concealing from her sight.
The small, crumpled body of Sir Didymus.
She wasn't sure if her cry then was of rage or pain. Jareth held her, helping her to her feet, and cradled her close while she cried. His own face, when she could finally look up, was again shuttered, emotion reined in. But the look in his mismatched eyes would have rivalled Iorweth's for murderous intensity.
'He also left this.' He turned her to the wall against which Sir Didymus had fallen. His hand gestured, and a faint light illuminated the wall. There was something scrawled in blood above the little fox's broken body.
'What does it say?'
'We go at first light,' Jareth told her, ignoring the question. He was staring past her, not meeting her eyes.
'Jareth - '
'It's a promise.' He looked down at her. 'One I don't intend to let him keep.'
They stood there unmoving for a long time, before Jareth finally led them from the gallery.
Chapter Seven: Return to the Labyrinth
Sarah stared into the full-length mirror that stood in the corner of the room she'd shared with Jareth for the past week. Dully, she fastened the leather jacket over her white shirt, and pulled on her gloves. Dressed for practicality.
Dressed to die.
She shivered. No. This isn't going to happen, she told herself sternly. He'll win. He has to. She looked up, staring her reflection full in the face. Deftly, her hands braided her long chestnut hair and tied the plait off, letting it hang over one shoulder. Lack of sleep, and crying, had left her eyes looking reddened.
Even without that, she wouldn't have recognised herself if she'd seen this reflection two weeks ago.
Two weeks go she'd been a high school student. Sarah Williams, the star of the school dramatic society, Linda Williams' darling daughter. A pretty American teenager with her whole life in front of her. Now...
Now... The Sarah who looked back at her from the mirror was no teenager. I look harder... she thought. Older. And what am I now? she wondered. The woman looking back at her with her face didn't belong in New York State, in 1989...
Faery is hard to resist... it draws you in, holds you.
Puts you into impossible situations.
There's a madman out there who wants me dead because I love the man he wants to hurt. And he just killed one of my friends in cold blood. She choked back the tears that threatened to start again. She had to be stronger than this. It was almost dawn. Almost time. She glanced over at the clock on the wall behind her - the thirteen numbers on its face only just visible in the pale light. Nearly five o'clock.
She turned back to the mirror, straightening up. She could do this, she had to. She'd been through the Labyrinth before, hadn't she? It's just a question of degree, she told herself. Like the magic... you just have to believe...
At least she wouldn't be alone. Her hands strayed to the owl amulet around her neck. This whole thing had started with that, hadn't it? Reaching under the collar of her jacket, she pulled the pendant out until it rested against the soft leather. The chained owl...
Never, she vowed. Not if I can stop it. She turned away from the mirror, and jumped. Jareth was lounging against the door of the room.
'You looked as if you had some thinking to do,' he said. 'I didn't want to disturb you.'
She walked over slowly to stand beside him. 'You wouldn't have.' She had to side-step to avoid treading on Fleck's tail. All of the goblins who'd arrived at Silverpool were gathered in the room or in the passageway, behind their king.
Only ten, and all of them of the smaller variety. Hardly an army with which to retake a kingdom.
Jareth pushed Fleck out of the way with a boot and shut the door. Sarah winced as the anguished howl split the air, and Jareth quietly opened the door and pushed the rest of the goblin's impossibly long tail out into the hall to join its owner, shutting the door a little more carefully this time.
'I don't want an audience for what I'm about to say,' he said quietly. A gloved hand touching her chin, tilting it in a familiar gesture. 'Sarah, by this time tomorrow, one way or another, this will be over.'
'I know.' Her own voice was so soft, she barely heard it herself. His arms went around her, pulling her close and kissing her deeply.
'Whatever happens,' he whispered as she stood there afterwards, her cheek resting on the cool, slick leather of his jacket, 'Never doubt this.' A hand brushed her cheek lightly. 'For you, I would move the stars.'
One way or another...
'I love you,' Sarah whispered. He kissed her again, the pulled away slightly, the corners of his mouth twitching in that so familiar way of his.
'Draughty run down castle, goblins and all?'
It raised a little laugh, which turned into a hiccup. 'You're impossible!' Passionate, cruel, temperamental, vain, gentle, moody...and yet I wouldn't change you for the world...
'It's been said. But that doesn't answer my question.'
One more day, or forever. There was no going back from here, not after this. She didn't need him to tell her that. 'Even,' Sarah said firmly, making sure her voice didn't waver, 'your draughty castle and pesky goblins.'
'And the Bog of Eternal Stench?' he asked with a sudden flash of his most mischievous grin.
Trying to make me feel better?
'Don't push your luck,' she growled playfully.
Funny, after a while, it worked.
'Time to go,' he said softly, serious again. He opened the door, neatly stepping out of the way to avoid the goblins who tumbled into the room, caught off balance when the door they'd been listening against had moved. Following his lead, she took one step forwards.
Into the open air.
Iorweth stared down at the chained figure at his feet.
'I'd rather thought you'd put up more of a fight than this, Devin. You disappoint me.'
Devin raised his head, tried to shake dark hair out of his eyes and gave up when sweat dampened tangles just stayed put. 'Sorry. If I'd known, I'd have rehearsed my lines first.'
Iorweth knelt beside him. 'Defiant as ever.'
'I had a good teacher.' Devin's grey eyes met Iorweth's pale green gaze. 'So what happens now? Torture?'
'Maybe later.' Iorweth stood. 'I wouldn't want to kill you too quickly. I need you as bait. If you die, I'll have to go to more trouble to persuade Jareth to get here on time.'
'Too bad,' Devin said with forced cheerfulness. Iorweth's gloved hand shot out and slapped his cheek, snapping Devin's head back.
'Like your mentor, you really don't know when you're beaten, do you?' he sneered. 'I think I'm going to enjoy killing you in front of him. You're really quite annoying'
'How peculiar,' Devin retorted. 'That's what Jareth said of you.' He saw Iorweth's mouth tighten. 'Before he suggested that he'd seen goblins with better manners.'
Iorweth turned his back on his prisoner and moved to the door of the cell. 'We'll see just how much of your spirit remains after a night in here, Dreamweaver. Sleep well.' With that, he slammed and locked the door behind him.
Left alone in the dark, Devin sighed. 'Well, that was clever,' he remarked out loud. He tried tugging at the chains.
Solid. And in perfect condition. They weren't taking any chances this time. 'Jareth, you'd better hurry up, if you're going to do anything.'
Iorweth might want him alive, for now. But it hadn't slipped Devin's mind that Calion might have his own plans.
Sarah stared down at the valley below. She was standing almost exactly on the spot where she'd first arrived in this world, the night she'd wished Toby away. And once again, Jareth stood at her side on the windswept sandy hill.
This time, he placed a leather-clad arm around her waist, and she returned the gesture. Beside them, the goblins were scampering about, tugging at the trailing lianas and clambering over a fallen standing stone.
'I'm beginning to think that I'm glad he's forced my hand,' Jareth said, looking over Sarah's shoulder, down into the valley.
The Labyrinth, as before, filled the entire valley floor, undulating over the landscape, rising unevenly towards the castle that rose above the whole valley - an asymmetrical, spired edifice carved out of the rock itself. The ruddy sandy soil, supporting so little vegetation, was the same as she remembered. Even the pillared outer walls of the Labyrinth were unchanged. In structure.
'How did it look to you before?' Jareth asked softly.
'Tatty. It was - old, but magical. It didn't seem threatening.' Not like this... She shuddered.
The whole valley seemed darker, somehow. An air of menace hung over the whole place, as if waiting... for what? For Jareth?
'He's playing with Wild Magic. The fool. Even if he succeeds in killing me, his control over this place has disrupted the entire valley. If it slips out of his control, it could kill him.' Jareth's quiet tones were laden with scorn.
'Is that what you'd planned?' Sarah asked. Beside her, Jareth nodded.
'If I'd been able to keep out of his reach, yes. But now that he's holding Devin, I can't wait. I just have to hope that coping with us traversing the Labyrinth, we'll have him stretched thin enough to make a difference. If I can force him into a confrontation, I might be able to trigger a backlash. It's not certain though.' He studied the valley with a professional eye. 'Even if I destroy him I'll be years putting right what he's done here. Look.' He reached down and pulled up a small bush, which came out of the sandy soil easily in his gloved hand. His fingers gently rubbed the dry twigs, and Sarah watched as it crumbled in his hands. 'By changing the pathways, he's already begun to change the patterns of power in the valley. It's leaching the life from the place already.' He brushed the dust off his gloves with an irritated gesture.
Behind them, oblivious to this, the goblins were tumbling over each other. Sarah tried to ignore them.
'Then the sooner we start...'
Jareth released her and called his ragtag group of goblins over - which took some time, as they were far more interested, Sarah thought, in tying Fleck to a tree with his tail, than in obeying their king.
'Couldn't you have called a few more useful ones?' she whispered in his ear. His exasperated look said no...
'The Goblin Guard are probably all dead by now, which would only leave a few of the larger ones outside the city. Besides, these are some of the more adventurous. They tend to be a little more intelligent.' He looked over her shoulder and sighed. Heavily. 'At least, that was the theory. Sarah, would you mind?'
Grinning, she walked over and untied Fleck. The little goblin sprang off the tree as soon as he was free and clung to her neck. Sarah glared down at the snickering culprits. 'Mags and Zuse, I should have known. Leave him be!' she scolded. The two female goblins just giggled and ran over to Jareth, the skinny red haired one, Mags, jumping onto his boot and clinging to his leg, before he kicked her off. Sarah freed herself from Fleck's grip, and put him with the others. She looked from the giggling group of goblins, to their king. 'I really hope you know what you're doing.'
'So do I.' He whispered quietly, as he walked past her. The motley little group, led by Jareth, made their way towards the outer wall of the Labyrinth.
Jareth held Sarah back as they approached the door to the Labyrinth - or, Sarah thought, the place where it had been last time. The rectangular pool was still there, albeit scummed over with a sickly looking slime. The walls loomed over them, ancient crumbling brick still covered in moss, vines and that ubiquitous glitter that covered everything.
But now it had an unhealthy glow to it - nothing she could point to and say 'there, that's what's wrong.' But still.
'Wait there.' Jareth told her. Cautiously, he approached the walls. Sarah bent down and restrained one of the goblins to stop it from following him. Fortunately, they were amenable to obeying him this time. In fact, they all seemed somewhat subdued.
A few feet from the wall, Jareth stopped. In front of him, she saw the doors - massive, ornately carved, wooden and old - appear. Sarah saw him make a slight gesture with one hand, and the doors opened with a heavy creak. Within the archway, she could see through to the passageway behind them - the dark bricks, ancient, damp, uneven. Nothing looked different. Jareth however still made no move.
After what seemed like an age, she saw him conjure a crystal, and stare into it. Then with a muttered oath, he flung it away, to smash into the wall with a muted tinkle, rousing a nest of fairies. As the irritated creatures fluttered around him, he swatted them away angrily, then called to Sarah.
Followed by the goblins, she joined him.
'He's warded the entire Labyrinth. I've got no hope of finding a path through magical means. My sight is limited to what's in front of me.' He took her hand. 'Watch your step, trust nothing, and whatever you do, don't leave my sight.'
If it hadn't been for his reassuring grip on her hand, Sarah thought she'd have been back to being scared of him again. If she'd started to forget exactly who and what he was, she was reminded of it sharply now. A Sidhe lord in his full power, fighting for his kingdom.
And his life.
She forced herself to match his stride as the entered the Labyrinth, determined not to show any nervousness. Although she did jump as, the moment the last goblin had passed through, the massive doors slammed shut behind them with an ominous thump.
With the doors closed, suddenly the walls seemed to close in, narrowing and growing taller. Sarah shivered. It had grown colder all of a sudden as well.
Releasing her hand, Jareth stepped forward to examine the inner wall, gloved hands running lightly over the surface, heedless of the glistening trickle of water down the worn brick. A patch of eye lichen hissed at him as he passed his hands too close to it. Eventually, he stepped back.
'He's sealed most of the wall. I can't feel an entrance from here.' He looked along the passageway in both directions. 'Which way - left or right?'
With a strange sense of deja vu, Sarah followed his gaze. 'Will it make a difference?' she asked, remembering her own journey. Jareth shrugged.
'Maybe. Maybe not. These outer regions will still be only nominally under his control. It's the deeper parts of the Labyrinth that will be tainted. Even so, he might have set traps. Remember, he sees this as a game. It won't be any fun if we die too quickly.' He pushed a lock of pale hair away from his face with a distracted air.
'But don't you know the way through your own Labyrinth?' Sarah asked. Jareth turned a slightly exasperated look on her.
'I know which areas are which, and the routes are largely irrelevant when you can simply translocate from one place to another. Which, I might point out, I can't, thanks to Iorweth warding the entire valley. We're stuck with walking.'
'So which way then?' Sarah asked.
Left,' he replied, albeit without much confidence. Sarah thought for a moment then headed right. Jareth caught up with her before she'd taken more than a handful of strides.
'Just where do you think you're going?'
'This way.' She met his eyes. 'You're left handed.'
'So you'd tend to pick that direction. Iorweth might use that.' She was quite pleased with her logic for once. Jareth just looked thoughtful.
'And if he's thought that you'd realise that and prepared for it?'
'Would he double bluff?' she asked. 'We'll be stuck here until nightfall if we try to outthink him on every turn.'
Jareth sighed. 'I'm beginning to remember why I don't have any contact with the Courts these days.' He set off in the direction she'd been heading. 'Come on, we'll try this way.' Surpressing a smile, Sarah followed him, surrounded by giggling goblins.
'Three hundred goblins, sitting on a wall
Three hundred goblins sitting on a wall
And if one little goblin, should accidentally fall
They'll be Two hundred and ninety-nine goblins, sitting on a wall'
Devin's voice was starting to give out by now, and it didn't help that at six hundred and thirty the hobgoblin guard had taken exception to his singing and split his lip for him.
Still, if it irritated someone, it was having one of its desired effects. He rattled the chains again.
'Come on, I demand to be fed!' he shouted. 'You can't expect me to be there at the murder of my liege lord if you don't feed me. Or do I have to start knawing my leg off now or something?'
The hobgoblin outside his cell grunted something in its native tongue and rattled its axe against the bars.
'And the same to you!' Devin called back. He sat back down in the corner and stared around. There was just enough light to see by - although the view wasn't up to much. A set of corroded manacles hung from the ceiling - one of them still had a skeletal hand in it. 'Great Jareth, just great. You can get out of your dungeons, but you never told me how to...'
'Maybe he'd planned to see you in one before long.'
The voice came out of nowhere.
'Calion, I didn't know you were on the serving staff. Make mine a full tankard of ale and - no, make that a bottle of Jareth's best red and a nice venison steak.'
A gauntleted hand slapped him across the face. He flicked his tongue out and licked his cut lip. 'That's the second time today. I'm going to have to get angry if it happens again.'
Calion's face loomed close to his, although Devin could make out few details in the dim light. 'Mock while you still can. Iorweth is occupied with Jareth now he and the girl have entered the Labyrinth. Which means you - ' he ran a metal clad finger down Devin's cheek, 'are mine for the duration.'
'Sorry,' Devin said with mock politeness. 'You're not my type.'
Calion snarled and Devin braced himself for another blow. It never landed.
'I'm going to enjoy this, Dreamweaver.' Calion said. His hand grabbed Devin's hair and forced his head back. At the same time, a torch sprang to life in the cell, and Devin could now see his tormentor's face. He gasped at the sight of the ruined eye. 'Oh yes, Devin. Look upon your handiwork.' Calion spat into Devin's face. 'You will suffer for this, I promise you.'
Devin hadn't spent centuries with the Fae without learning a few tricks. 'Let me guess, you're going to start singing?' Judging by the look on Calion's face, that was a mistake: there was madness, Devin realised, in Calion's remaining eye. A cold wave of fear washed over him. Bravado wasn't going to get him out of this one, and he'd been warded from using his magic. If he pushed the wolf-lord too far...
...yet it might give him a chance, if he could force Calion into making just one slip.
Calion's power gripped him then, and he was hard pressed not to scream.
Jareth, he thought as the Fae-lord's mind began to spin its illusions - you'd better be quick...
'Stop!' Jareth's raised hand and sharp tone brought his little entourage to a halt. To Sarah, the stretch of wall looked no different to the previous several hundred yards they had walked past.
'You've found one?' she asked. Despite Jareth's assertions that there should have been several openings in the outer passage, they'd not found one yet.
'Possibly. It's Obscured.' His left hand gestured minutely, and a crystal appeared in his fingers. 'Stand back.' With a flick of the wrist he sent the orb spinning towards the wall, where it shattered on impact. To Sarah's eyes, nothing had changed.
'Well?' she asked, a little impatiently.
'Look again,' he told her, pointing. 'The way I taught you.'
She concentrated for a moment; seeing the wall... seeing beyond....
The last shreds of a tenuous mist seemed to lift from the wall as she looked. As she turned her head, the optical illusion caused by the overlapping walls became blindingly obvious. Sarah grinned at Jareth. 'Piece of cake?' she quipped. He looked more serious.
'Too easy. But since we don't really have much of a choice...' his voice tailed off, and he sighed. 'Wait here, I'll go first.' He walked forwards and through the gap between the walls, heading left. For a heartstopping moment once he was out of sight, Sarah almost panicked. Then he was back.
'It seems safe enough. But - '
'I know.' Sarah said, taking his hand again. 'Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere without you.'
With that, she followed him into the Labyrinth proper.
Once out of the narrow confines of the outer passage, she was surprised at how light it was. The lower walls of the stone maze made the Labyrinth seem almost open by comparison. Sarah walked side by side with Jareth through the wide corridors formed by the interlocking stone walls.
After the first hour or so (it was difficult to tell, but it didn't feel much longer than that, to Sarah) Jareth finally admitted that he was hopelessly lost.
'We're going round in circles!' The goblins were keeping well out of his way by now, and Sarah didn't blame them. He looked as if he wanted to throw something at the walls, and they were probably the only candidates to hand.
'Can't you influence it at all?' Sarah asked. She leaned back against the wall opposite him. He glared into the distance, staring at the castle, and fiddled with a glove.
'I'd fall into the same trap Iorweth has, and that I can't afford,' he said grimly. 'It seems I'm reduced to finding my way through normally.' He kicked Mags off his boot again, and the little red haired goblin ran to Sarah instead - except she wasn't feeling too friendly either. 'How did you get through?' He asked abruptly. Sarah gawped at him.
'How should I know - it just sort of happened,' she snapped. 'It kept changing on me, then I fell into your dungeon.'
'Whatever.' She was glaring at him now. 'Just because you can't find your way through your own - ' He was at her side in the next breath, pulling her away from the wall. Abruptly, she felt her irritation subside, and she was staring at him, wondering at the sudden change.
'What?' Sarah felt dizzy all of a sudden, and was glad of his steadying hand.
'The walls - look.' She turned in his grasp, concentrating, and couldn't help a small gasp at the sight behind her. Looking through the Sight, the light stone walls were mottled and shot through with a sickly green-black veining. 'I think we'd better stay clear of the stonework, or we'll end up killing each other.'
Sarah looked over to where the goblins were gathered, quite happily clambering over the architecture and each other. 'It doesn't seem to affect them,' she pointed out. Although, she realised, now that she wasn't touching the wall, she couldn't understand why she'd been shouting at him -the last few minutes seemed a little hazy, somehow.
Jareth snorted. 'Pulling each other's heads off and name-calling is natural behaviour for them. I doubt you'd notice a difference. But just in case - ' He called them over, and they came, albeit a trifle reluctantly.
'So what now?' Sarah asked. Jareth ran a hand through his hair and started leaning back against a wall before remembering that it was tainted. Then a slow speculative smile spread over his face.
'Wait here,' he told her. He walked up the passageway for a few yards, peering at the flagstones, before stopping. A pass of his hand over one of the slabs raised it slightly, and as Sarah watched, he plunged his hand in, and pulled out a small struggling figure. A little man only about a foot tall - but very vocal.
'Aaagh, whattyawanna do that for? Fraggin -' it obviously realised who it was insulting at that point and did a double take. ' Ah. Yer Highness. Didn'trealiseitwasyou. Sorry.' Jareth placed the struggling brownie on the floor.
'Sleeping on the job, whatever next?' Jareth looked down at the small figure, which was, Sarah realised, dressed in a long nightshirt and a bobble hat.
'Eh, restofem buggeredoff. Got me some peace and quiet round 'ere.'
'Quite.' Jareth settled back kneeling on one knee. 'Now - how are the walls configured from here to the hedge maze?' he asked. The brownie scratched its head.
'Eh. HowthebloodyhelldoIknow?' it muttered, then squawked as Jareth's hand shot out and two gloved fingers had it by the throat.
'Because its your job to know. That's why I keep you and your kind around. You always know where the walls are. Now. Tell me what I want to know or so help me I'll stuff you head first into my pocket and drop you into the Bog of Eternal Stench at the earliest opportunity.'
The brownie gulped. 'Well, it's still gonna change...' it started. Jareth took a deep breath.
'Yes, I know. But even Iorweth can't force the configuration to move instantly. What is it?'
Sarah didn't quite catch the rest of the conversation as Jareth bent his head to listen to the brownie's muttered instructions. Eventually he stood up, letting the little imp go. With a stream of abuse that Sarah didn't even want to try making out, it vanished back under the slab, which sealed the entrance shut as it vanished. Jareth walked back towards her, looking pleased with himself.
'Let's go, we haven't got much time,' he said.
Sarah just shook her head in mock despair. 'Couldn't you have done that earlier?' she asked. A blue and a hazel eye regarded her icily for a moment.
'He didn't think of it!' Fleck giggled. Jareth's booted foot shot out and placed itself firmly on his tail. 'Ow!' the little goblin screeched. Jareth removed his foot and placed an arm around Sarah, ignoring Fleck's injured glare as it cradled its tail.
'Did you have to do that?' Sarah asked indignantly as they walked on.
Jareth shrugged. 'Give them an inch, and trust me - you'll regret it. Don't try to judge things here by the world you know - I thought you'd have learned that by now.'
'Kindness never cost anything.'
Jareth snorted. 'Tell me that after you've lived with goblins for three hundred years.'
Behind them, Sarah heard squeals as Mags tried to wrap Zuse's pigtails around her own throat. Jareth muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like 'why me' to Sarah's ears. She bit back a grin. Sometimes, she had the distinct impression the point scoring was on both sides...
The one thing Sarah had forgotten about the Labyrinth was just how much the scenery in any section looked the same. Turn after turn, the large stone walls looked no different from the section they'd just walked through. After a while, she was feeling disorientated. It was so easy to get lost or forget where you'd been. They'd already lost one of the goblins - Tipper had run off down one of the side turnings and vanished without a trace. After that Jareth was rather more insistent on everyone keeping close together.
It hadn't helped a few minutes later when they'd heard a long drawn out squeal that ended abruptly. The goblins went very quiet, and Sarah drew even closer to Jareth.
Despite that loss, Sarah couldn't shake the distinct feeling that they'd had it too easy, somehow. Watching Jareth closely, she could see that he seemed to be feeling the strain as well. The further in they went, the more watchful he was becoming.
Twitchy, she thought, was the word she was looking for. Several times he'd stopped and tried to use one of his crystals to scry the path ahead, with no luck.
The sun was well past noon when they finally reached the entrance to the hedge maze. Sarah breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the looming privet hedges, perfectly trimmed, the gap between them flanked by two stone statues. But as she was about to step towards the gap, Jareth stopped her.
'Wait.' He pushed her behind him. 'I don't like this. It's too easy.'
Sarah, looking around both normally and with the Sight, could see nothing wrong. 'It's clear.'
Jareth shook his head. 'Something's not right. I just can't put my finger on it.' He bent down and called Whisper forwards from the gaggle of goblins. 'You. Take a look in the hedge maze and come back here -'
'Sure' Whisper started to bound off, only to be hauled back by Jareth's hand on its scruff.
'Straight back. Don't go off on your own.' Jareth cautioned. The furry little goblin pulled free and bounded off regardless and Jareth sighed. 'Why do I bother?' Sarah laid her hand on his shoulder, and watched as Whisper bounded up to the statues, then through the entrance.
Barely a heartbeat after the goblin had vanished from their sight, Sarah heard a loud growl - a deep familiar roar that she knew all too well.
'Ludo!' she called out in delight. Before she could make a move, Jareth had her in a painful grip, holding her back.
'No,' he ordered grimly. 'Stay here.'
'But - '
He released the grip he had on her arm, but only slightly. 'Never assume. Nothing here is ever what it seems, and that has never been more true than now.' The roar grew louder, almost, but not quite drowning out a long drawn out goblin wail. Jareth pushed Sarah behind him. 'Stay back.'
The roaring grew closer. Sarah, peeking out from behind Jareth's slim form, saw her old friend lumbering out of the hedge maze. For a moment, she found herself thinking that Jareth was wrong - this was Ludo, after all. Huge, shaggy, fearsome looking but a softie at heart. If not too bright...
His eyes, beneath those huge heavy brows, glowed red, even in the bright sunlight. Roaring again, he lumbered purposefully in their direction. And to her enhanced sight, he was suffused with that same black aura that pervaded the rest of the Labyrinth. The air of menace was unmistakable.
Beside her, Jareth shifted slightly, and looking down she saw he had a crystal in his hand. 'You're not going to hurt him?' she hissed. Even if he'd been changed by Iorweth, it might not be permanent, she hoped...
'If it's him or us, I'll do whatever I have to do,' he replied sharply. Then he sighed. 'It's a sleep spell. Somehow I don't think I'd hear the last of it if I killed him, would I?' Carefully staying out of sight as the hairy monster shuffled awkwardly in the courtyard, hidden for a moment from sight, Jareth blew the crystal out of his hand, concentrating to guide it to its goal.
A few moments later, Sarah heard a heavy thud.
'That won't hold him for long,' Jareth said. 'Come on.' He didn't run, but managed to cover the ground between their hiding place and the exit in record time, Sarah and the goblins scurrying to keep up. Once within the bounds of the trimmed hedgerows, he turned, and with a gesture caused a shimmering barrier to form between the two statues. Only then did he relax. 'That should hold for a while. Long enough for us to be a fair way through this section
They'd only walked a few yards, not even as far as the next opening in the maze, when the ground heaved and buckled underneath them, sending Sarah flying - luckily to be caught by Jareth. As the remaining goblins screeched in panic, she clung to Jareth. 'What's happening?'
His face was grim as he helped her stand again. 'The Land - it's started to react to Iorweth's tampering. We've got even less time than I thought.'
In the goblin castle, Iorweth gripped the arms of the throne as the land heaved. Despite the shaking of the walls, only a small fall of dust marked the tremor. The solid stone of the structure held fast as the land bucked under it. Trying to maintain control of the rebellious landscape, for a moment, his mastery faltered.
Only for a moment. With an effort, he reached out and brought the valley back under his control.
In the Goblin City - or rather, under it, a small tunnel caved in for part of its length, burying the three goblins currently digging their way though the city walls. But goblins don't tend to worry about things like that. Dragging out their fellows, they simply carried on digging. They were almost under the new wall that had been thrown up between them and the castle.
In the cells under the Goblin castle, Devin tried desperately to bolster his defences against yet another onslaught from Calion's demented mind. But as the ground began to shake, the Fae-lord's concentration faltered, just for a second.
And Devin set the first hook in his tormentor's mind. Unseen, unfelt.
Then the nightmare began again.
Chapter Eight: If you go down to the woods today...
Three more tremors hit as Jareth led Sarah through the hedges - fortunately, they reduced in intensity as they progressed.
Unlike the stone walled maze they'd just left, the hedge maze wasn't prone to move without warning. It was also, Sarah had thought on her first journey through it, possibly one of the pleasanter parts of the Labyrinth.
That was then.
The further they'd moved into the heart of the Labyrinth, the worse the ever present feeling of danger had become. They'd dodged several patrols of hobgoblins in the paths already, once getting hopelessly lost for several minutes whilst Jareth tried to retrace their steps after they'd ducked into a side turning and had to make a run for it.
And the hedges...
Where once the neatly trimmed bushes had been luxuriant and green, they were now blackened and dying. Several already were little more than skeletal remains of their former selves. What hadn't yet reached that stage was tainted with a sickening blight, the stench of which filled the air with a cloying, decaying scent that lingered long after the affected sections had been left behind. Underfoot, the scattering of dead leaves was slippery and mildewed, making their footing treacherous in some places.
In place of the tended sculptured hedges, other plants were asserting themselves. Sickly, pale vines strangled the remaining healthy growth, clinging to the branches with a leech like grip, trailing lianas snaked across he paths, and shuddered as the party walked over them, as if responding to their presence. Once or twice, Sarah thought she saw a vine twist towards them out of a blackened bush, only to pull back sharply as Jareth turned to follow the movement. On the second occasion, a crystal orb hit the source, covering it and disintegrating, leaving a pile of pale ash in its wake. After that, he drew her closer again and warned her to stay clear of the sides of the path.
She didn't argue.
Even the goblins kept close to their king and rarely scuttled off to investigate on their own.
Whisper had not returned.
The sun was well past its zenith, heading for the horizon, when the path began to open out in front of them again. Pausing behind a large privet hedge, Jareth peered out onto the open flagged square before them. There was no sign of any hobgoblin patrol, but there was a faint sound of movement coming from the far side of the square. Sarah, peering out from behind Jareth, gasped in delighted recognition as a familiar short figure waddled into view.
'Hoggle!' she whispered. She grinned. 'He's alive!' Jareth pushed her back.
'I'm more interested in knowing why he's free,' he muttered. 'Wait here.'
'But - '
'Sarah - trust me. If it's safe, I'll call you.' His lips brushed hers gently. Acknowledging that he'd been right so far, she watched him saunter out from behind the hedge, quietly sneaking up behind the dwarf, who carried on sweeping the square, oblivious until Jareth spoke.
'Well well, look who it is. Not content with betraying me once, you now work for my enemy?' Jareth leaned with an elegant nonchalance against a stone pillar. The dwarf almost jumped out of his skin. When he saw who it was, he scowled.
'Oh, it's you.'
'Now, is that anyway to speak to your king?' Jareth walked around Hoggle, almost stalking him, Sarah thought. His manner so neutral, she winced. That never boded well.
'But you ain't, anymore, is you? You ain't the king, and you ain't got your power, so I heard.' Hoggle retorted. 'Which means I don't have to help you none.'
Jareth's smile was predatory as he leaned towards the dwarf. 'You might do well to reconsider those words once Iorweth is back where he belongs, Hogbrain.'
'Hoggle. And I don't care. You haven't got a prayer. You don't scare no-one anymore.'
Jareth stood up, a dangerous glint in his eyes. 'Really.' He pointed at the stone pillar. 'So I'm nothing, am I?' The bust on top of the column shattered, scattering marble fragments over the paving stones. 'Lost all of my power have I?' He reached down and grabbed Hoggle by the ear. 'Would you perhaps like to rephrase that?'
'Jareth!' Sarah couldn't stand by any longer. She walked out from behind the hedge. Jareth looked from the struggling dwarf, to the indignant Sarah, and sighed, letting him go.
'Sarah!' Hoggle seemed both shocked and embarrassed. Sarah grinned, happier than she'd thought to see him again, in one piece. Even, she thought, if he was being his usual cowardly self. Hoggle turned back to Jareth.
'What did you want to go bringing her back here for? You'll get her killed!'
'Actually, I insisted,' Sarah said before Jareth could reply.
'After what he did to you?' Hoggle sounded and looked confused. Jareth sauntered past to stand beside Sarah.
'I rather thought that was why you came...' he muttered in her ear. Blushing, she thumped him on the arm. Smiling, he placed an arm possessively around her. 'Hoggle, why are you free? According to Sir Didymus, you and he were captured at the same time.' He paused dramatically and looked the dwarf up and down. 'You don't appear to be harmed in any way. I don't see any chains...'
'Huh. Well it's like this. If I carry on as before, they won't cut my head off. And that's one reason to stay out of trouble.' The dwarf said gruffly. But he smiled at Sarah and reached over and patted her hand. 'You shouldn't be here. Not with him, it's far too dangerous.'
'I'm no safer anywhere else,' Sarah pointed out.
'Anywhere away from him would be safer,' said Hoggle, scowling. 'What did you want to get caught up in this again for? You don't trust him do you?' Hoggle stared up at her, and sighed. 'Oh no...'
Jareth released Sarah and knelt down next to the dwarf, an elbow resting on his knee, hand on his chin. 'And what of it?' he asked quietly. Hoggle blanched.
'Nothin. I don't mean nothin. I've got work to do. I ain't having anything to do with you.' He turned a sorrowful look onto Sarah. 'I can't help him.' He started to shuffle off, but was grabbed by Jareth before he'd gone a single step. The Goblin King's hand twisted his ear.
'Not so fast. You can at least point us to the safe passage Iorweth must have left through the Labyrinth to come and go unharmed. Or - '
Hoggle tore free. 'Or what? All you'll do to me is drop me in the Bog if I don't help you and you win. Which you can't. You ain't that strong. But them - they'll cut my head off if I help you - and that's only after they've finished with the rest of me!'
'Hoggle!' Sarah exclaimed, staring at him in shock. 'You can't - '
'I'm sorry Sarah - I'd help you, but you're with him... and Iorweth and the wolf lord want his head.' He shuffled off, head low.
Sarah made as if to follow him, thinking she could change his mind, but Jareth held her back. 'Leave him. It's his nature. He won't change his mind.'
'But he's my friend.'
'Yours,' Jareth pointed out. 'He's got little reason to help me.' He gave a mocking little laugh. 'Let him go.'
He held her closely for a moment before kissing her gently, and she was reminded sharply again of how much different circumstances were. Last time, she could have relied on anything and anyone here except him. Now...
'It's getting dark, we have to go,' Jareth said gently. Nodding sadly, she let herself be led from the square, further into the Labyrinth.
And ever closer to the castle at it's heart.
Or beyond it, depending on your point of view.
Neither of them saw Hoggle watching them as they left. The dwarf had doubled back on his path once out of their sight - reluctant to face his former monarch, but unwilling to leave Sarah. Despite how cosy she'd looked with the king, he sure didn't trust his monarch with her safety. 'What'd he want to be bringin' her here anyway?' he muttered, finding a vantage point from which to see the courtyard clearly without being seen. Surely she didn't trust him after what he'd done to her - and forced Hoggle to do the last time?
He wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying, although there was no mistaking the look on Jareth's face as he stared after the path he thought his erstwhile gardener had taken. Hoggle sighed. He'd been lucky after the incident with Sarah the last time, that Jareth had been weeks recovering from the efforts he'd made to stop the young girl from solving the Labyrinth - Hoggle had kept his head down and stayed well clear of the temperamental monarch until, if not forgotten, his disobedience had been of less concern to Jareth than more pressing matters. This time, assuming Jareth survived the encounter with Iorweth, he had the feeling he wouldn't be so lucky.
'Huh. Better facing whatever Jareth has planned if he lives than what Iorweth will let Calion do to me if I help him...' With a heavy heart, he left his hiding place, careful not to take the same direction as the king and his little group.
'Shouldn't we find somewhere to rest?' Sarah asked. After walking almost all day, she was almost done for, she thought. It didn't help that she'd not slept since Iorweth's attack on Silverpool the night before. Jareth shook his head.
'I want to at least get past the forest tonight, if I can. The last place we want to spend the night is in there.'
'Then stop here,' Sarah suggested reasonable.
'With hobgoblin patrols wandering around?'
'Oh.' She fell silent. Behind them, Fleck, Mags and the other goblins scampered, occasionally running past them, but never venturing far from Jareth.
Dusk was falling, and she shivered. The lengthening shadows had started to take on an eerie menace in the twilight. If she'd thought the Labyrinth had a dark aura in the daytime, the approach of night was enhancing that feeling a hundredfold.
And who knew what things might be lurking in the twisted realm after the sun had vanished from the sky?
Lost in thought, she walked into Jareth's back as he came to a stop without warning. In front of them was a tall crumbling stone wall. There was no way way through as far as Sarah could see.
'Now what?' she asked Jareth. He examined the brickwork closely.
'There should be a hidden way through here, somewhere. It leads into the forest. If I can - ' He ran his hand over the surface, fingers probing every break in the surface.
'Those rarely lead to anywhere useful. I thought you would have remembered - aha!' He stood back from the wall and pushed Sarah behind him. 'Stay back. If Iorweth decided to booby trap this -'
She didn't need telling twice. The goblins joined her, huddling at her feet, as Jareth took a deep breath, raising one arm to the wall, and let out one single, pure sustained note in his strong voice. As Sarah watched, a pale glow suffused the brickwork. When it faded, a long passageway was open in front of them, with the forest just visible at the other end.
'Am I the only one who found that a little too easy?' Jareth muttered. 'I have a feeling things are about to get much worse.' He looked worried.
'Fireys?' she asked.
'If they're the worst things we face in there, I'll be happy. The forest is the most unstable realm within the Labyrinth.' Another -tremor suddenly shook the ground. 'And time is getting shorter.' A gloved hand reached out and traced the length of a long crack which had appeared in the wall. 'This should not be happening so soon.'
'But you thought you could wait even longer - ' Sarah began.
'I know. It could be a reaction to the Labyrinth responding to our passage through it...'
'You don't know?'
He fixed her with an irritated look. 'I've never been stupid enough to try to control the Labyrinth on this scale. I don't know what the effects would be. I'm guessing.' He took her hand again. 'Shall we?'
Once through the passage on the other side, they were inside the woods. The wall closed up behind the last goblin, and as Sarah turned to look, faded from sight, leaving them in a clearing. Around them, the woods loomed, shadows cast by the trees spreading over the ground, making the woods seem to close in on every side. A soft breeze blew up, rustling the dead leaves on the ground, and whispering through the trees ominously.
And the sun was almost set, the orange gloom of the dying day only enhanced the sense of danger, reflected back in a ruddy glow from the glitter strewn branches.
In the distance, the topmost towers of the castle were visible, rising over the valley, cast in the same ruddy glow of the sunset.
Jareth stared up at his castle, an unreadable look on his face. 'I could have had this over with by now if Iorweth would stop playing games,' he said softly. Sarah stood beside him and placed a hand on his arm.
'How much further? You don't expect to get through the forest tonight, surely?'
'We have to. It isn't safe here even under normal circumstances.' He took her hand. 'Watch your footing, the place is riddled with traps and pitfalls.' He conjured a glowing orb to light their way, and set off in the direction of the castle.
Devin sat very still, huddled in a corner of his cell. Calion had finally left for the night, leaving him exhausted and shaking. Sidhe magic was mostly mental, but that didn't stop it from being deadly, if applied properly.
And Calion was a master.
Devin stared at the raw grazes on his wrists where his struggles had caused the manacles to cut into his flesh. They were the least of it.
All he had to do was hold on, he told himself. Jareth wouldn't wait any longer to come for him.
If he survived.
He'll survive. He has to.
I have to. He took a deep breath and pushed sweat-dampened hair back from his face. Composure. Concentration.
The first hook was set, and Calion unaware. When the wolf lord returned in the morning, he had to be ready. All he needed was time.
Time to heal. Which he didn't have.
Time to Weave: the subtlest of Fae magics. The manipulation of the dreamstate in a mind, or several minds.
The only weapon he still had. Despite Jareth's teaching, Devin had never mastered the manipulation of the physical world that came so naturally to his mentor.
On the other hand, Jareth had never been one for the subtler application of magic. His tricks usually forced his opponents to trap themselves into their own defeat. And that would not work with Iorweth. Not the way Jareth hoped.
And then there was Calion. The Fae-lord wanted Sarah in his grasp as well as Devin - he'd read that much from the mind of his torturer. The mortal girl didn't have the strength Devin had acquired through the centuries - Calion would rip through her mind like an over-ripe peach.
She's lovely, he'd said to Jareth, so long ago it seemed now. In the days he'd known the girl, he'd come to realise something else - she had a strength of spirit he'd rarely seen in one so young. And she'd re-kindled in Jareth a spirit he'd feared he'd never see again, after so long.
And for that, little one, I'll try to kill the bastard for you before he can take you. Even if it means my own life...
They were down to six goblins. They'd never even seen what had happened to the others. One minute they'd been there, the next they were gone. No noise, no warning. It was making Sarah jittery, and Jareth was also showing signs of strain. In some ways, Sarah thought, she'd almost welcome a tangible foe. Since they'd arrived in the Labyrinth, the threats had been unseen, psychological.
Games, she thought. They love to play games... worse than a cat with a mouse.
Although the end result would be the same...
Then the attack happened. From out of the trees, over a dozen of the little fire sprites she remembered from before, swarmed onto the path they were following, screeching and screaming. Caught off guard, Jareth went down under at least six as the piled on top of him, and Sarah found herself fending off three. Clawed fingers tightened around her throat, and a cackling voice in her ear yelled at her.
'The head won't come off!'
'It no come off?'
'Pull its arms off then!'
'Try this one!'
'Hey, dis one's a Faery lord!'
'Pull his head off!'
'Not fair! They no play!'
The constant giggling and screeching distracted her, and she almost didn't notice the flames - around them, the forest was on fire. Beside her, she thought she could still hear Jareth, and tried to reach him. There was no sign of the goblins. Claws dug into her skin, cutting through her jacket, tearing gleefully at whatever parts of her they could reach.
The flames were getting closer, licking out onto the path from the undergrowth. Angrily, she pulled one of her assailants off, then threw its arm after it with a disgusted yelp. Jareth, back on his feet, was in trouble - unable to prepare magically, he was forced into fighting them off physically - and he looked hurt.
Sarah was only a few feet away from him, when backing away from another frenzied attack he suddenly vanished from sigh with a cry.
'Jareth!' she screamed. Giggling firey's closed in on her. Almost without thinking, she screamed at them 'Go away!' summoning all of her willpower.
And the woods were silent. Without the sprites to feed the flames, the fires were gone. In the sudden darkness, Sarah dropped to her knees. There was no sign of the goblins or of Jareth.
Not so very far away, as distance is measured in the Labyrinth, Hoggle stopped sweeping as he heard an anguished cry.
'Sarah!' Dropping the brush, he started towards the sound before he remembered. She'd called out Jareth's name, in fear. So something must have happened to the king.
And without Jareth's protection, she'd be helpless.
There wasn't really much of a choice for Hoggle to make, when he thought about it. Sarah needed help. He set off in the direction of the cry.
After all, it wasn't as if he was going to be helping the Goblin King, was it? He was going to help his friend. That was all...
Get up... Sarah told herself. You've got to find him...
A faint glow from one side of the path caught her attention. The glowing crystal Jareth had conjured to see by had rolled off when he'd been attacked. Grateful for the find, she picked up the orb, and moved forwards cautiously towards where she'd seen Jareth vanish.
It didn't take her long. The pit had been cunningly hidden - but the concealing cover had shattered under the combined weight of the goblin king and two fireys.
All of whom lay unmoving at the bottom.
Sarah drew back from the edge with a startled cry. He lay so still... so pale. She forced herself back to the edge, careful of the crumbling sides.
The pit had to be at least twelve feet deep, and the sides were sheer. If she got down, she wasn't sure she could get back up again.
I have to try... Finding a vine that seemed strong enough to take her weight, she let herself down over the side.
The improvised rope gave out while she was still a couple of feet from the bottom, and she fell, landing in a heap on top of one of the fireys. She pushed herself off the dead sprite with a muttered cry of distaste. She picked up the vine and looked up. The broken end dangled out of reach above her head. There was no way she could reach it. Casting aside the piece in her hands, she dropped to her knees at Jareth's side, praying that he was alive.
Her searching fingers found a pulse in his neck, but it was weak. Brushing his fair hair back off his face, her fingers felt blood - warm, sticky.
The glowing crystal was undamaged by her fall, and she placed it at her side, to give her enough light to see by. Its dim light cast a sickly glow over Jareth's already pale features, making him seem so frail. Afraid to move him, but knowing that she had to find out how badly injured he was, Sarah carefully checked him over. Apart from the crack to the head, and several gashes from the sprites' claws, she couldn't see anything seriously wrong.
Which didn't mean a thing, she thought. She moved herself around until she could make him comfortable, and leaned back against the sides of the pit, her fingers trailing in his silky hair. If he was badly hurt, there was absolutely nothing she could do.
Unbidden, unwanted, the tears fell. Not like this... please God, I don't want to lose him...
'Such a pity.'
The cold voice shook her from her fears. A bright glow filled the pit, obscuring the faint light from Jareth's globe. Knowing who she'd see, she looked up. Iorweth stared down at her, looking disappointed, she thought. Anger filled her.
'You bastard,' she snapped. 'Come to gloat?'
His smile chilled her to the bone.
'Hoist by his own petard... ironic really. He had those pits installed.' Iorweth's gaze left his unconscious foe and settled on Sarah. 'I'd hoped he'd provide more entertainment than that. Ah well.'
'Entertainment' Sarah spat. 'You're sick.'
'I'm sidhe, dear child, and that gives you no right to judge me.' He knelt beside her, and reached out a hand to touch her cheek. She flinched away from him, but didn't dare move too far for fear of disturbing Jareth.
'Don't touch me!'
He drew back his hand. 'As you wish.'
Again that cold smile. 'Although you impressed me back there. Jareth taught you well. You have a strong will, child. Maybe he had better judgement than I gave him credit for.' His eyes raked her then, coldly appraising. 'Not such a child maybe.' He leaned towards her. 'Maybe I could offer you more than this, Sarah. What if I gave you my word you could go from here unharmed?'
Sarah gaped. She was stuck at the bottom of a pit, Jareth unconscious (please, only unconscious...) and his enemy was hitting on her? Despite herself, she laughed. Iorweth pulled back sharply, his eyes measuring her.
'You find this amusing?'
Sarah, finding herself somehow calmer than she'd felt all day, held his gaze. 'No. I find you pathetic, quite frankly.' Careful, part of her warned: he could easily kill you...
'I offer you your life, maybe even a place at my side, if you pleased me, and you refuse? Why? I ask for so little. Only leave him to his fate. Is that so hard? What is he to you?'
'You expect me to trust you?' Sarah snorted. 'Not a chance.'
'You have my word. Only leave him, and I will protect you. Calion will not have you. Defy me, and...'
'No deal.' Sarah said firmly. Her hand gently stroked Jareth's hair.
'Do you really think he cares for you?' Iorweth asked. His pale green eyes bored into hers. 'A lord of the Sidhe, several hundred years old, a king - albeit of such a pathetic little rabble - and you think an eighteen year old girl could have anything to offer him besides perhaps a few nights of her willing company? If he survived my little game, how long before he tired of you, do you think?'
If she'd been closer, she'd have slapped his face again at that point. What made it worse was that the thoughts had crossed her mind over the past two weeks. She bowed her head to hide the sudden tears.
They play with your mind...
.... And do it so well.
Her other hand had been held loosely at her side. Jareth's fingers closed on hers suddenly, unseen by Iorweth. One quick squeeze.
Sarah raised her head again. 'Get stuffed.' She said clearly, staring Iorweth in the eyes. The Sidhe lord's gaze hardened.
'Next time we meet, if we do, I will not be so generous,' he snarled.
'Funnily enough,' Jareth said weakly, sitting up without warning, 'that's exactly what I was about to say.' He struggled to his feet, with Sarah's help. 'Get stuffed?' he whispered in her ear.
Sarah shrugged, hiding a slight smile.
Jareth turned back to Iorweth. 'We could finish this right here and now,' he offered grimly.
Iorweth simply threw back his head and laughed, vanishing into thin air. The laugh remained for several seconds after he disappeared.
Jareth sank back to the ground, supported by Sarah. 'What is he up to?' she asked quietly. 'That's the second time he could quite easily have killed you.'
Jareth shook his head and winced. 'He would have kept his word, once given,' he said quietly after a long pause, ignoring her question. 'None of us would ever go back on a promise, freely given.'
'I don't care,' Sarah replied simply.
He looked at her strangely. 'You would have been safe,' he said eventually.
'I didn't like the cost,' she whispered. One black-gloved hand brushed her hair, now fallen out of its neat braid, back from her face.
'You can be so stubborn at times.'
She grinned back at him. 'I know. It gets me into far too much trouble.' Unsure of quite what to say next, she gestured at the steep sides of the pit. 'Any ideas how we get out of this?' she looked at him. 'Couldn't you fly out and send down a vine for me?'
He shook his head, carefully this time. 'The way I feel at the moment, I'm more likely to turn myself into a mushroom than an owl. You might be able to reach out for something to climb up with, if you concentrate.'
'I can try,' she said doubtfully.
A sudden fall of soil onto them made them look up. In the faint light of the orb, Sarah could see a large, wrinkled face staring down at them.
'Hoggle!' she cried in delight. A rope snaked past her shoulder.
'Well, don't take all night about it,' the dwarf grumbled. 'If yer coming, get up here...' Jareth gave her a little push.
'Go on, I'll follow.'
Hand over hand she pulled herself out of the pit, collapsing on the damp floor of the forest. Behind her, she heard Jareth making his way out, and reached down to help him. Beside her, Hoggle offered his own hand, and Jareth allowed them to help him over the edge. Once free of the pit, he placed an arm around Sarah, holding her close. She felt his lips brush her temple, and let herself be drawn closer, her head resting on his shoulder.
'Thank you,' she said to Hoggle. The dwarf shuffled uncomfortably.
'Yes. Well. I only did it for you. I still ain't helping him none.'
'I'll bear that in mind, later,' Jareth said in his quietest, most even tone.
Hoggle blanched. 'Well, that's it. You're safe, I'm off. I don't want Iorweth to catch me with either of you.'
'Hoggle, please,' Sarah pleaded. 'At least show us a passage through to the city.'
Several emotions crossed the dwarf's face as she stared at him. His distrust of Jareth was obvious, and it warred with his affection for her. Eventually he sighed. 'I'll show you. But it can't be taken in the night. And you can't stay here. He knows that better than any.'
Sarah looked at Jareth. 'Ever wondered where those large cobwebs come from?' he asked. In the faint light from one of his orbs, Sarah stared closely at the glittering threads that hung from the trees, moving softly in a light breeze. She'd not looked closely at them before.
They were very large...
'I know a place you can wait until first light,' Hoggle said gruffly. He waited reluctantly as Sarah helped Jareth to his feet. With a grimace of distaste he removed his ripped and bloodstained jacket, throwing it away.
'Then you'd better show us, hadn't you?' he said.
'Please, Hoggle?' Sarah added, with a sharp look at Jareth, who was unrepentant.
As they followed Hoggle through the woods, she whispered to Jareth, 'Giant spiders?'
'You'd only have worried if I'd told you,' he said quietly.
And I'm not worried now?
It was with a large sigh of relief that she finally saw the edge of the forest, and they stopped in front of a large wall with a heavy oak door set into it.
Chapter Nine: Worlds fall down
For a third time, Sarah found herself tending Jareth's wounds. It was, she thought, getting to be a habit. She finished cleaning the cuts on his arm, and wished she had something to bind them with, since two of them were quite deep. The bruising from his fall she could do nothing about, although fortunately he didn't seem to have broken anything.
The two of them were sitting on the edge of an ornamental fountain, the centrepiece of which was an exquisite statue of a leaping dolphin, emerging from the crest of a stone wave; the detail so lifelike she almost expected it to finish its leap and dive back into the clear water of the basin.
'Jehanna's work,' Jareth had said when she asked. His hand had stretched out to touch the worn stone. 'She missed the sea.'
So do you, don't you? She thought then, seeing the look on his face. Not the pain she'd seen when Jehanna's name had been mentioned in the past, but a faraway expression of regret, of loss.
So many unanswered questions.
Maybe, when this was over, there would be time to find some answers.
For the present, they were in a small walled courtyard. The fountain was the centrepiece, but around the walls were statues in the same lifelike style - although after taking a close look at one of the groups, Sarah had blushed and not investigated too closely.
The blight that tainted the rest of the Labyrinth seemed, for the time being at least, to have passed by this little enclave. The trailing night blooming flowers that covered the ancient brick were fresh and untouched, their sweet scent filled the night air and had the effect of clearing the mind and promoting a sense of peace.
Maybe a little too much. She yawned, and Jareth, without warning, picked her up and carried her to one of the benches that lined the courtyard.
'I don't - ' she began. He shushed her and laid her down.
'You've been awake since yesterday morning. We can afford an hour or two. Rest.'
She tried protesting, but it did no good. His hand stroking her hair gently was sending her to sleep, even as she struggled against it. A spell... she thought.
'That's not fair...' she managed to say, before sleep claimed her.
Jareth's hand rested lightly on her dark hair. 'No, it isn't.' He bent down and kissed her lightly. He turned his attention to the figure skulking in the shadows. 'Hoggle, if you're going to glare at me all night, at least do it where I can see you.'
The dwarf shuffled out into the faint light cast by the flickering blue-flamed torches that lined the courtyard. 'You didn't ought to do that,' he said.
'What? Make her sleep? She needs to rest. Besides, since when do I have to justify myself to you?'
'Since you need my help getting back to your own castle,' said Hoggle. 'Besides, she's my friend. I don't want to see her getting hurt.'
'She isn't - not by me. And as for friendship - you didn't display much of that a few hours ago, now did you?' Jareth hid a small smile of satisfaction as the dwarf hung his head in shame. A small victory.
Over an easy target.
He conjured a small crystal and tossed it to the dwarf. 'Make yourself useful - take this and see if any of my goblins are still outside. I might still need them, if something hasn't snacked on them.'
Hoggle caught the crystal but looked rebellious. 'Why should I?'
Jareth gave the dwarf his mildest smile, and watched him flinch. 'Do you really want to try my patience, Higgle?'
'Oh! it's Hoggle!' Hoggle stamped his foot, but did as he was told.
Far too easy...
Once Hoggle was out of sight and earshot, he leaned back on the bench wearily, his uninjured arm around Sarah. She looked exhausted.
The dwarf was right, I should never have got you involved in this... His hand stroked her cheek, and he smiled as she leaned into his touch, even in sleep.
Memory stirred, a voice carried down through the centuries...
'I love him!' Jehanna cried. She stood in front of him, defiantly, long silvery hair falling like a waterfall over the shoulders of a sea-green gown.
'Love! What do you know of love? You're little more than a child!' He scoffed. Why couldn't she see that he had her best interests in mind?
'More than you do!' she threw the accusation in his face, and followed up her advantage. 'My beautiful brother, you could take your pick from any of them - and you do. They're like moths to a flame - each of them thinks they can get close, but they all burn, don't they?'
'Jenna, be warned -' He never raised his voice to her, but he came close, as her words cut him.
'You think I planned this? You don't plan love, Jareth; it's not one of your little games. What will it take to make you see that?'
'Three hundred years and an attempt on my life by a madman,' Jareth whispered to the ghostly memory of a woman long dead. 'And you were right about him as well, Jenna.' He turned his attention back to the living.
Sarah was standing in the throne room of the castle, only this time Devin was at her side.
'You look terrible,' she said. He gave a rueful smile.
'I can assure you, it feels worse than it looks. But trust me, if I get the chance, Calion is going to feel far worse.' He stared around the room. 'Can you feel it?'
'Iorweth's holding it by a thread. The Labyrinth is responding to Jareth's presence, and your own. Look.' He led her over to a large window in a side passage that overlooked the city. 'Look closely.'
Sarah tried to follow the direction of his gaze, but saw only the Labyrinth, spread over the valley beneath them.
'Look with better eyes,' Devin whispered.
She concentrated, and saw what he meant. 'It's clearing!' The dark taint was losing its coherence, patterns and trails now disrupted the progress it had made through the maze. Certain areas, especially, she noted, the forest, were still darkened almost to the point of obscurity.
'It's resisting,' Devin corrected. He staggered, and she reached a hand out to steady him.
It passed through his dream form.
'Don't worry. It's just that I can't keep this up for long in this state.' He straightened. 'Jareth's only going to get one chance to tip the balance in his favour, you know. You have to tell him. Warn him...'
'If he doesn't get it right, Iorweth, even under this strain, is strong enough to kill him if he misses. And Sarah - '
'Whatever you do, don't let him leave you alone.'
She was about to ask more, when the room and Devin faded from sight, and she was opening her eyes in the darkened garden, Jareth's lips on her brow.
'It's time,' he said simply, helping her sit up. Behind him, Hoggle stood, looking nervous, with Fleck, Mags, Zuse and more surprisingly a bedraggled looking Whisper.
Overhead, the sky was lightening as the sun began to rise.
'You got it?'
'I got it.'
Two goblins backed out of the tunnel, choking on the dust.
'We're through!' the smaller of the two called out, waving the scorpion sting on the end of its tail. One of the waiting crowd shushed it. 'Sorry,' it mumbled.
'What we waiting for?' another asked. 'Beer!'
The goblins surged towards the tunnel entrance, which was hidden quite nicely between what had been the armoury, and one of the (now sadly defunct) taverns.
'What about the king?' a large lumbering goblin with a moonshaped face and impossibly long ears mumbled. 'He don't like us raiding the cellars...' The raiding party stopped in its tracks.
'Awww,' said another. 'We just won't tell 'im, right boys?' The goblins all nodded. En masse, they restarted their surge.
'You know,' Sarah said with a sniff. 'There's an awful smell up ahead.'
She didn't remember this part of the Labyrinth. Tiny narrow brick walled walkways covered in blighted ivy and creepers, broken flagstones underfoot and the occasional gleam of bone sticking out from under leaf drifts.
'It leads to the Dump, eventually,' Jareth said. 'Although it's rarely used.' He coughed then as a gust of wind carried the scent to him. 'I've got a horrible feeling about this...'
They rounded the next corner, and both Hoggle and Sarah were brought up sharply, by Jareth grabbing them and pulling them back. Creeping slowly towards them along the floor was a dark, brackish slime, with a stench that Sarah remembered all too well.
'Back. Now!' Jareth ordered. Ahead of the slow creep, they ran back, goblins in tow, to the last turning.
'But the Bog's over there, isn't it?' Sarah asked, pointing. Hoggle was trying not to throw up in a corner, cheered on by the goblins.
'He drained the Bog of Eternal Stench into the Labyrinth!' Jareth was furious. 'Idiot. This whole section will have to be completely destroyed.'
'If we survive,' Sarah muttered darkly.
Jareth ignored the comment. 'Well we can't go that way. Any bright ideas, Hogbrain?' Mags sidled up to him and tapped his knee. 'What?'
'Can't go round - go over!' she pointed up the wall. Zuse was swarming up the brickwork using Fleck's tail as a rope, Whisper following. Sarah looked sceptically at the crumbling brick work.
'It might hold their weight, but what about us?'
'It should hold,' Jareth said, looking equally dubious. 'He picked Mags up and placed her on top of the nearest wall. 'I'm more worried by the fact that one of them had the idea.'
Hoggle sniggered, Sarah looked puzzled. 'Why?'
'Because,' Jareth said, 'goblins and good ideas have a tendency to be a disastrous combination.'
'Cynic,' Sarah whispered as he lifted her onto the wall.
'Long experience,' he replied. 'Hoggle!' Jareth beckoned to the dwarf. 'Now you.'
'Hoggle backed away. 'I don't trust you.' Sarah rolled her eyes, Jareth sighed heavily.
'Hoggle, if I was going to toss you over the wall, I'd have done it by now. Sarah - you talk to him!'
Careful not to fall, Sarah reached down a hand. 'Hoggle, please? Won't you trust him?'
'No. And you shouldn't neither. He ain't changed none - you think he's going to be so likeable if he gets back on the throne? Bah - you don't want to be taken in because he's feeling sorry for hisself at the moment, or you feel sorry for him.'
'Hoggle,' Jareth said with a tight smile. 'While I'm fascinated by this critique of my personality and motives, there is a time and a place - and this is neither. So either you let me push you up the wall now, or I will leave you here.'
Hoggle glared rebelliously at him for a moment, then sighed, and allowed himself to be helped onto the wall. Jareth, with a little help from Sarah, followed.
'This way, ' I believe,' he said, and started off along the narrow wall, goblins scampering behind him. Less sure footed, Sarah took it a little more steadily, Hoggle trailing a long way behind.
Jareth slowed to let her catch up after a minute or two. 'He's wrong,' he said suddenly. Sarah, concentrating on keeping her footing, took a while before answering.
'I know,' she said. Her foot slipped, and she almost fell, caught at the last moment by Jareth. Looking down, she noticed that he'd caught her with his injured arm, and the wounds were bleeding again.
'It's nothing,' he said, seeing the direction of her gaze.
'Liar,' Sarah replied softly. That had to be hurting... She looked back then to see Hoggle, still struggling to catch up, and resolutely not catching her eye. Sarah sighed. One more thing to sort out after all of this was over.
She followed Jareth along the line of the wall, and tried hard not to think too much about the future.
Which, like the castle, was getting closer all the time.
Calion opened the door to the cell and walked in. Devin waited until he was within reach before getting to his feet in an untelegraphed, fluid move worthy of Jareth himself, forcing the already twitchy wolf-lord to jump out of range. With an elegant flourish, Devin bowed.
'Welcome to my humble abode. Sorry I can't offer you anything for breakfast, my lord - unless rats are to your taste?' He rattled his chains for additional effect.
'Still defiant?' Calion snarled. 'We shall see.' He grabbed Devin by the hair and pulled his face close to his own.
'Oh, sorry, is it torture again today?' Devin asked with studied insolence. 'Damn, what a bore. Couldn't you find something a little more entertaining?' Where the bloody hell were Jareth and Sarah? he wondered. They should have been here by now, surely?
'If you're waiting for a rescue, you're out of luck. Iorweth's managed to force them into taking one of the older sections of the Labyrinth. I'm afraid they'll be delayed.' Despite the relish he gave to the words, Devin sensed that Calion wasn't pleased with the situation.
'Which means you probably won't be able to get your hands on Sarah before she arrives here with Jareth, at a guess.' Devin smiled as patronisingly as he could with his lip feeling twice its usual size. 'Such a pity...'
Calion's ruined face filled his vision as the Fae drew him closer. 'Well now, I'll have to make do with you, won't I?' Calion's mind reached for Devin's -
-and the Sidhe screamed, as the Dreamweaver caught it in his own. Devin lost a lock of hair has Calion slipped to the floor unconscious. Devin didn't bother to catch him. Dropping quickly to the Calion's side, he propped him against the wall, so that to an observer looking through the grill in the cell door, it would look as if it was Calion at work on Devin, instead of the other way around.
Taking a deep breath, he exhaled slowly and placed himself into the weaving he'd crafted last night.
Buying time, with a little pay back, and with a little luck, he might be able to befuddle the idiot enough to trick him into releasing the manacles into the bargain.
Devin smiled grimly, as he moved into the dreamstate where his victim awaited. There was nothing that said he couldn't give Calion a taste of his own particular talent.
In the dream, he stared down at Calion, who cowered in the corner of a cell, chained with iron manacles. 'You know,' he said conversationally, kneeling at his side. 'I couldn't think of anything better to do today either.'
Jareth had managed the leap quite nimbly, even considering the pain he was in. Sarah stared at the gap between them. It's only a few feet, you can do it, she told herself.
The ground lay over fifty feet beneath them, the result of the recent upheavals in the valley. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, realised that was probably a stupid thing to do, opened them again and jumped.
She fell slightly short, and landed teetering on the edge, to be caught by Jareth's hand, and Fleck's tail wrapped around her ankle. 'Thanks' she said to both as Jareth pulled her away from the edge.
'Hoggle!' Jareth called. On the other side of the gap, Hoggle looked even more unhappy than usual.
'I'll never make it across there.'
Sarah exchanged a look with Jareth, who shrugged. 'He's right, actually, I don't think he will.'
'Can't you do something?'
He started fiddling with a glove, but she caught his hand in hers. 'Knock it off, you always do that when you want to avoid the question. We can't just leave him there!'
'We're close to the castle now, I daren't risk weakening myself further. He'll be all right until we get back. If we don't, it's academic anyway.' She just continued to hold his gaze, until he sighed. 'Oh very well. Hoggle, walk forward. And keep walking.'
'Just do it. If you won't trust me, at least bear in mind that if I let you fall, I'll never hear the end of it from Sarah,' he snapped. And as the dwarf obediently took a step towards the edge, Jareth began to sing.
There was magic in music, she'd read once. Especially amongst the Faeborn. And she'd heard him sing before - his voice was strong, beautiful, but slightly husky. It had a way, she thought, of cutting straight through to her soul. The words were in a language she didn't recognise - lyrical and lilting.
As if in response, she felt a breeze brush gently over her face, and in the gap between where they were standing and the wall, she saw the air shimmer and solidify. Looking as if he thought he was going to fall headfirst into the gap, Hoggle waddled across as fast as he could, and Sarah helped him onto their side. As his feet touched the ground, Jareth's voice tailed away, and the shimmering air disappeared between one breath and the next, with a sound like a soft sigh.
'Couldn't you have done that for us?' Sarah asked as they left the fault.
'I could. I'd been hoping I wouldn't have to.' Jareth shook his head. 'It's not even as if he's going to be much use to us.'
'Never mind that!' Sarah pointed. 'Look!' In front of them, only about a hundred yards away, were the outer walls of the city.
'My Lord!' A dark-skinned hobgoblin bowed in front of the throne where Iorweth lounged.
'The Goblin King, and the girl. They're almost at the city walls. You want I send a patrol?'
Iorweth smiled. 'No. Where are they?'
'The west wall,' the creature replied, after a moments thought and a quick check on it's directions.
'Take a patrol into the city, if they get that far, meet them inside the gates.' With a gesture, he dismissed the hob, and settled back down in the throne, shifting uncomfortably. 'Really, you'd think it could have been upholstered.' He sighed. After he'd finished with Jareth, he'd seriously think about what to do with the Labyrinth and its castle. Demolishing it completely might have had an appeal, but he'd found that there were certain advantages to this peculiar little kingdom after all. For those who were willing to take advantage of them.
'The west wall?' he laughed to himself. Well well. Jareth was in for a nasty surprise. At times like this, he wished he had his victims' expertise with the viewing crystals that were left in his private chambers. But still, one couldn't have everything.
Calion, he remembered, had had a little luck with using the damn things. He called a hob over. 'Bring me Calion,' he told it. 'He'll probably be torturing the Dreamer.'
'It looks too easy,' Jareth muttered. In front of them, only a series of tumbledown buildings stood between them and the city walls. Actually, Sarah thought, they looked more like tombs...
'They are,' Jareth told her when she asked. 'These are the sepulchres of the goblin kings. The real ones, that is.'
'Before that war?' Sarah asked. Hoggle harrumphed.
'Huh. Ya told her about the history then?'
'A little,' Jareth said quietly, staring at the landscape.
'Hah. Didn't think you'd tell her everything.'
'Will you shut up? I'm trying to see.' Jareth conjured a crystal and stared into its depths. 'Nothing,' he said eventually, causing it to dissolve into a shower of glitter. 'I'm still being warded.'
A sudden screech made them all look up. Sarah moved closer to Jareth on instinct, Hoggle cowered.
'Fleck!' Sarah cried out. The little goblin had gone exploring on his own it seemed - he was being held up by his tail by a large, shaggy furred but skeletally thin creature that had the longest arms she'd ever seen. It was almost goblin like, she thought, but not quite.
The creature spun the shrieking Fleck around its head and let go, sending the little goblin spinning over their heads, to slam straight into the wall of one of the tombs, sliding down it to land in a heap of tail at its foot, twitching slightly.
'Spriggans! Hoggle moaned. More of the creatures were coming out of hiding now, surrounding them. Mags hissed at one that came too close and it threw back its head and howled, causing the tombs to shake. The goblins drew closer to their king, trembling. Jareth picked up Fleck and handed it to Sarah, who cradled the whimpering goblin gently.
There were now six spriggans surrounding them. At her side, Sarah heard Jareth swear under his breath (presumably in goblin, since Zuse looked at him in horror and stuffed her pigtails into her ears.)
'What do they do?' Sarah asked.
'Tear things apart, usually,' said Hoggle. 'Old buildings usually, but people will do...'
One of the creatures howled again and reaching for the nearest tomb with those impossibly long arms began pulling the stonework apart with long fingers, throwing the brickwork at them. Two of the others followed suit, and Sarah was ducking the missiles, almost forgetting the others. One reached for her, grabbing her hair, and she screamed, pulling free only with an effort. It gibbered at her and moved closer.
'Do something!' she heard Hoggle shout. Whisper squealed as a spriggan made a grab for it, coming away with a handful of hair. It jumped onto Hoggle, and Sarah saw the Jareth had gathered up Zuse and Mags. They were sitting on his shoulders, clinging on for dear life. Jareth had three crystals in his hands.
'Run straight ahead!' Sarah heard him call. 'Don't whatever you do look back.' Grabbing Hoggle with a free hand, Sarah sprinted for the city walls, and dimly heard Jareth behind her. A spriggan jumped out at her and she screamed again as long clawed fingers raked her shoulder.
'Get off me!' she yelled.
As in the forest, she felt the same push of concentration, a force of will behind her words. The creature backed off, shaking its head. Not stopping, Sarah ran on.
And behind her, she felt the ground shake - once, twice, three times. On the third, she lost her footing and sprawled onto the ground, almost flattening Fleck. Jareth's hands picked her up.
'That won't hold them back for long, come on!'
And they were running headlong for the city wall, in what felt like the longest hundred yards of her life.
She leaned against the wall when they reached it, desperately trying to get her breath back. Hoggle was groaning beside her.
'Hurry up, they're coming!' she heard him shout.
'I know that. I can't find the door... ' Jareth snapped. 'It should be - '
Sarah heard Mags squeak in terror, and looked back to see three spriggans racing towards them with a loping, ground eating gait.
'...here!' Jareth said triumphantly. A section of the wall slid back. 'Come on!'
Needing no urging, Sarah and Hoggle followed him through. Jareth found the mechanism to close the door just as the spriggans reached the wall, and Sarah heard a muffled thump as they hit the wall, and howls of frustration.
Followed by sounds of tearing from the other side.
'Do they give up?' she asked. Jareth shook his head. He looked so exhausted, she realised, looking at him. Paler than normal, and drawn.
'No. They don't give up. It might take them some time to get through though, so I suggest we leave.' He offered Sarah his hand. 'Welcome,' he said quietly, 'To the goblin city. Remind me someday to show you around when you're not being chased by something...'
In spite of everything, his dry comment raised a small laugh. He smiled down at her and drew her closer. Sarah let Fleck drop to the floor and let Jareth hold her for a moment, before looking around.
They were standing in a tiny dark alleyway, formed by a gap between a row of ramshackle houses and the city wall. The cracked paving underfoot was littered with refuse. Jareth conjured a small glowing orb for them to see by, startling a small black cat which shot across their path, startling Sarah.
'If I'm not mistaken, ' Jareth said, 'that's Karbob Lane over there. Which should lead us to the Market Square. Shall we?'
Sarah brushed aside yet another set of wet clothes hanging on a washing line strung across the lane. 'It's too quiet, I've got a bad feeling about this.'
'Tain't natural,' Hoggle agreed, looking nervously around. Only a few yards in front of them, they could see the square, with the ornamental fountain at it's centre - still missing a spigot or two, Sarah could see even from here. Well I wasn't the one blowing the place up... Were those stone goblins doing what she thought they - Oh yes. She tried to find something else to look at - and almost walked into Jareth's back.
'Stay back,' he warned her. 'I don't like this.'
'An ambush?' she asked. He shook his head.
'It's far too quiet - where are the goblins?'
'We're almost at the castle with an army between us and Iorweth, and you're worried about the goblins?' Sarah hissed.
'If you'd been around them for as long as I have, so would you be...' he snapped back. 'I've not seen any except these four with us since we entered the city...'
'Except those?' Hoggle asked, pointing upwards towards the walls of the castle, which reared up ahead of them.
Sarah looked, and gagged. 'Oh god...' Even Jareth looked shocked.
Arranged on top of the castle walls was a long row of goblin heads. Most of them of the larger variety, as far as she could see, and the dingy grey of the walls was now streaked with dark rusty stains along its length.
'There must be over a hundred of them...' she whispered, burying her face in Jareth's shoulder. His arm went around her automatically and his grip tightened.
'For this, I will kill him...' she heard him mutter coldly. 'That's the entire Guard.'
'So's that,' said Hoggle suddenly. Marching out from several side streets, with a menacing purpose that made the memory Sarah had of their goblin counterparts seem ridiculous by comparison, were several ranks of Hobgoblins, armoured and armed - the front ranks with large blunderbusses and those behind with axes, as far as Sarah could see.
Jareth pushed Sarah back out of sight behind a rickety house. 'We'll never get through them,' he whispered. 'Let's just hope they're only looking for us, and not on our trail.'
'What now?' she asked quietly, listening to the ominous tread of the hobgoblins.
'We go around. I think I remember a way around to the other side of the Square.'
'I hope you're right'
'So do I,' Jareth replied shortly. 'One of those spikes on the city walls is probably reserved for my head, and I prefer to keep it on my shoulders, if you don't mind.' He led them back down the alley.
The hobgoblin patrols had spread out all over the city, or so it felt. They'd been dodging groups of them for over half an hour when they finally found the city's inhabitants. Jareth stared down at the gaping hole that took up most of a back alley between a rather run down (even by goblin standards) tavern, and what was left of the armoury.
A large group of goblins was huddled on the edge of the hole, peering into it with interest.
'And just what, pray, are you all doing here?' Jareth asked, grabbing the nearest goblin by the ear.
'They's under the wall, yer majesty!' It squeaked breathlessly.
'I see. And the purpose of this would be?'
'Well, the beer ran out, and this wall grew up, and since the brewery's in the castle, we thought...'
'Thought? That would be a first,' Jareth snorted.
Sarcasm, however, was wasted on goblins. A sizeable group of which were now gathered around their monarch, chattering nineteen to the dozen, and occasionally poking Sarah and sniggering. She put up with it for about three minutes before slapping them away.
'Quiet!' Jareth snapped eventually. 'You - you and you,' he pointed to three of the larger, and to Sarah's untrained eye more intelligent looking goblins, 'Take as many as you can round up and get rid of those hobgoblins. I don't care how you do it, I want them out of my city.'
'But they got the armoury!' one of them pointed out.
'Makes a change,' Hoggle muttered, 'the goblins usually manage to blow it up themselves every time they make a new batch of black powder...'
Jareth ignored him. 'Improvise,' he told the goblin. One or two of the group suddenly got a gleam in their eyes. Jareth turned to Sarah. 'And I just know I'm going to regret saying that,' he whispered conspiratorially in her ear as he walked past her. 'You!'
'Me?' mumbled a grey-moustached goblin.
'This new wall. Take me there, now. The rest of you - what are you waiting for? Move!' The last order was one of the few times Sarah had heard him raise his voice. With startled jumps, the goblins rushed to obey.
Jareth turned to Sarah. 'You should stay here. Hoggle might be able to get you out if -' She touched a finger to his lips.
'Devin said you shouldn't leave me alone. And I'm not leaving you.'
'I have to face him alone,' Jareth told her.
'Because that is how it is done...' Sarah whispered.
'Nothing.' She shook her head. 'You can't. And you know it. Even if I'm not much help, I can watch your back. Besides, you said you needed to break the gameplan he's set for you. He's counting on you going in alone - it might make the difference.'
He regarded her with a neutral gaze for a heartbeat. 'I can't keep you safe in there,' he said quietly.
'I know.' Her resolve didn't waver. 'But I can't sit here and wait, it would kill me.' It is doing...
Those oddly mismatched eyes searched hers again. Without breaking from that searching gaze, he reached out to take her hand, and raised it to his lips, kissing it lightly. 'When this is over, be warned, I do not intend to let you go so easily this time.' Under the almost bantering tone she heard something else, for a moment. A promise?
She met and held his gaze with ease. 'What made you think I'd fight it?'
Memory, again: Hoggle's voice... 'Even if you do get to the centre of the Labyrinth, you'll never get out again...'
This time, she thought, I don't want to...If we survive...
'Come,' Jareth said, interrupting her reverie. 'It's time.'
Chapter Ten: Endgame
Calion was running, running, through the tangled forest within the Labyrinth, the fire sprites closing in from all sides, screeching. With only one eye, his depth perception was skewed, and several times he'd had to swerve to avoid the trees, misjudging the distance.
He tripped, falling, arms flailing, and they were upon him, claws tearing at his skin...
He was chained in a cell beneath the castle, skin burning at the touch of iron...
Trapped in wolf form, unable to change, while a hawk tore first one eye out, then the other, sharp talons reaching in to his skull, tearing...
He awoke with a start, sitting bolt upright, in bed, in the room he'd taken for his own in the Goblin Castle. Outside, he could see through the window that dawn had broken. A rosy glow suffused the room. He lay back down, with a sigh of relief. Just nightmares, that was all. Nothing more. He ran a hand through sweat darkened fair hair, and winced in remembrance as his hand brushed the barely healed scarring on his face.
Some things weren't just a bad dream.
A loud knock at the door gave him his second start in as many minutes. 'Yes?' he snapped. The door opened to admit a hobgoblin.
'What do you want?' Calion was in no mood to be civil to the brutes.
'His Lordship wants the prisoner brought to the throne room, immediately.'
'Can't one of you - ' he sighed. 'Never mind.' If Iorweth had sent a hob to tell him to do it, it was Calion who'd have to obey.
Well that was something that might change...
'As soon as I'm dressed.' The hob just stood there. 'Tell him, I'll be there as soon a possible.' It bowed awkwardly and left. Calion got out of bed wearily. Stupid creatures. Worse than goblins at times. A moment of concentration, and he was dressed. Now to fetch that wretched human creature. Mortal born Fae... Calion snorted. Upstarts. Still, the Leannan numbers were so depleted, what option did they have but to fill their courts with Raised mortals, half bloods and their hangers-on? The Daoine, however, he thought proudly, had no need to go to such lengths to boost their numbers...
Maybe he could have a little more fun with the human on the way to the throne room? His spirits raised at the thought, he translocated to the dungeons.
The prisoner was still huddled in his corner, once fine dark fair now matted and dull. His head only moved slightly to look at his tormentor when he entered the cell, the spark gone from those once arrogant green eyes. Calion smiled. A pity he'd not had the time to break the Dreamweaver completely. Such is life... He knelt down at his side, careful to avoid soiling his clothes on the floor, and unlocked the chains. 'Iorweth wants you; I do believe your rescue party has arrived.'
...he was kneeling in the cell, and screaming as Devin stood, shaking the chains free from his wrists, staring up now at his former prisoner, as realisation struck.
'Game to me,' I think, said Devin coldly. From over Calion's shoulder, he heard a growl, and stared past his former tormentor. A hobgoblin filled the cell door, hefting a large axe. 'Shit.' There was no time to even cast a glamour, as the creature lumbered towards him. Fortunately, it left enough room for him to slip past as it attacked, and he darted into the corridor, knocked a second hob flying, and ran as fast as he could on unsteady legs, hoping he remembered the layout of this part of the castle from when he'd been brought here. Behind him, he heard Calion bellowing orders at the hobs, and smiled grimly. A pity he'd not had time to finish the bastard off, but if he could just get to the armoury...
He rounded a corner and swore in frustration. He'd taken the wrong direction. The only stairs led downwards. 'Beggars can't be choosers,' he said aloud. Maybe the stair led somewhere that would get him out of here. The castle was a maze in its own right, you could never tell. Besides, he could hear Calion and the hobs catching up. He ran on, and down.
Sarah stared at the wall that stood between them and the castle. 'It's real enough. How are you going to get through it?'
Jareth conjured an orb and hefted it in his hand, contemplating the wall. 'Brute force. Stand back.' Sarah, Hoggle, and the goblins moved back as he wound up for the throw, and then hurled the globe at the wall...
...which exploded, showering them with debris and dust.. Sarah yelped as her shoulder was hit, fortunately only by a small piece. Jareth stood in the open, completely untouched, as if daring any of it to hit him. When the dust settled, she coughed, and stared at him.
'Not exactly subtle,' she said quietly, brushing dust off her shirt. Nothing had landed on him - not, she thought, that you'd notice; he like the rest of them, still looked the worse for wear after the forest and the attack in the tombs.
He stared grimly at the doors of the castle, which now lay before them, unhindered. 'It wasn't supposed to be.' He took her hand. 'Stay close, and stay watchful.' Hand in hand, they walked up the steps to the castle door, Hoggle and the goblins trailing behind.
Devin stumbled down the last two steps in the dark as the distant rumble of an explosion reached his ears. Underfoot, the ground had shifted slightly, as if responding to whatever had happened. Jareth... it had to be. Never could make a quiet entrance.
Well, there had been that time...
Footsteps on the stairs above him.
Devin moved down the corridor in front of him, feeling his way along the walls in the dark. His fingers sank into a patch of eye lichen, which hissed angrily at him, and he pulled his hand away with a whispered apology. Muttering softly it subsided.
It only flourishes where there's light, Devin remembered. So this should be an area that is normally lit. Which means I'm in the occupied area of the castle cellars, with any luck. He didn't dare conjure a light to see by, even a faint one. Calion and the hobs with him were under no such restriction however. If he couldn't find a way out of here, they'd find him.
His hand encountered space suddenly. A side passage, and he ducked into it. Any choice being better than none. It turned out to be the right choice. Spying a light up ahead, he approached cautiously. Rounding a bend in the passage, he peered into the cellar that had been converted, several years ago now, into the goblin brewery.
Currently occupied by several dozen drunken goblins, who were busy helping themselves to the barrels stacked up against one wall. The other wall now had a gaping hole in it, presumably leading back to the city.
The goblins looked up as he entered, some going straight back to drinking, but one at least he recognised, and recognised him.
'Brunt!' Devin grabbed the gangly goblin with one hand.
'Urk.' It peered at him blearily. 'M'Lord,' it said eventually, looking nervous.
'I've got a Fae lord and two hobgoblins heading in this direction - do you think any of you would fancy lunch?' Several goblins turned their attention back to Devin as he spoke, a gleam in their beady eyes. The bald goblin he was holding nodded.
'We'll get 'em, m'lord. Leave it to us, right lads?' There was a slightly drunken chorus of 'ayes' from the assembled goblins. Devin winced. At times like this, he began to understand all too well why Jareth had become such a cynic. Oh well, you make do with what you can get.
From behind, he could just make out the sound of nailed boots. His pursuers were drawing closer.
'Now would be a good time?' Devin suggested. Almost as one, the goblins surged towards the passage, with the exception of a few who were a little too far gone to move. With a sigh, Devin grabbed a torch from the wall and looked around for the door that led back up into the castle.
The castle doors swung open easily at Jareth's touch, but he hung back, not entering straight away. Sarah, beside him, scanned the hall ahead of them for herself, but could see nothing untoward.
Which was perhaps the most unnerving thing. No guards, no visible magical traps or illusions.
'It's too easy,' Sarah said quietly. Behind her, Hoggle mumbled an agreement.
'Maybe. Jareth scanned the hall ahead of them again. 'Then again, maybe that's what he wants me to think.' He stepped through the doors.
Nothing happened. He let out the breath he'd been holding as Sarah did the same. Sarah joined him, and they stood side by side in the hallway, that she'd last seen at the end of her own quest.
Last time, she'd run headlong into this place, heedless of any danger that might threaten. A good job it was Jareth in charge then, not Iorweth, or I'd have been dead...
Not that she'd felt that way at the time...
Now, they advanced carefully, Jareth checking almost every inch of wall, floor and ceiling before proceeding. The tension building up was almost intolerable. Even the goblins had lapsed into a subdued muttering, Mags playing nervously with Fleck's tail and Zuse chewing a pigtail. Whisper just looked like a quivering ball of fur.
They rounded a final corner, turning into a passageway ending in the worn stone steps that led up to the throne room. Placed in the middle of a step, half way up, was a chess piece.
A White King, broken in half.
'Rather crude,' Jareth commented dryly.
Before he could prevent it, Whisper scampered forwards and grabbed the piece, chittering away unintelligibly as he held it in one furry paw.
There was a bright flash, and Sarah coughed as an acrid smoke wafted towards them, breifly obscuring her vision. When it cleared, there was nothing left of Whisper except a small dark stain on the stair.
'Oh!' She couldn't help the cry that escaped her.
Jareth's face was set in a stony, impenetrable expression. Hoggle, behind them, sounded as if he was going to be sick again.
At which point all hell broke loose, as four hobgoblins charged down the stairs towards them.
Devin finally found the door he was looking for, and heaved it open.
'Wouldn't do to oil the hinges occasionally, Jareth?' he muttered under his breath, wincing as the heavy oak door groaned on corroded hinges. Distantly, he could hear the sounds of the goblins fighting behind him. 'Nice to know they come in useful sometimes...'
The door opened towards him, revealing a well-worn stairwell. Devin leaned weakly against the wall before proceeding. The last day had drained him more than he cared to think. If Jareth did need help, he'd be hard pressed to give it.
Don't think about it, he'll be fine. He's Jareth.
Devin sighed. That was what frightened him the most.
Vain, proud, stubborn, acts before he thinks... and far too used to getting his own way of late.
And too long out of practice with the Higher Courts and their denizens.
And then there's Sarah...
Devin began the long climb, treading carefully in the dim light: the stairs were worn and narrow, making the footing treacherous.
He loves her, and Iorweth will use that.
Maybe it would be enough to keep her out of harm's way, if he could. Hopefully the goblins would have dealt with Calion and the hobs by now. One less problem to worry about.
The wolf landed on him from behind, snarling, sending him crashing face down onto the stairs. A sickening crack and a stab of pain as the arm he put out to break his fall broke. Claws raked his back, hot breath on his neck, teeth trying to tear his throat...
Devin rolled over quickly, shaking the beast off, raising his good arm to fend the creature off. Calion...
The wolf lord's claws skittered on stone, scrabbling for purchase and failing. The wolf fell back down the stairwell, yelping in pain as it landed at the foot, before springing to its paws, snarling and springing forward and upwards again. Unarmed, his left arm dangling at his side uselessly; all Devin could do was try to fend it away. Within seconds he was bitten and clawed. Blood ran down his back from Calion's initial attack, and his shirt front and right arm soon bore testament to the wolf-lord's onslaught.
One armed, he couldn't even shapechange...
A lucky blow sent the wolf reeling, slamming its head into the side of the stairwell. Devin tried to follow up his advantage, but slipped, landing badly and slipping down several stairs, catching his left arm. He bit back a scream, fighting back a wave of nausea. If he'd only got one weapon, or even a better grasp of physical magic...
Or maybe one chance. But if he landed badly...
The next time the wolf attacked, Devin reached out, grabbing it by the neck with his good arm, holding tight, ignoring the pain as it sank sharp teeth into his shoulder, tearing.
Then taking a deep breath and hoping he was doing the right thing, he threw himself down the stairs, clinging onto the wolf with every ounce of his fading strength.
Taken by surprise, Jareth had no time to prepare: the first of the hobgoblins reached them and attacked. Sarah, dodging her own attackers, saw him avoid the descending blow of the hob's axe, but grace and speed would not get him out of this one. The hallway was too narrow, there was nowhere for him to move.
She had no further time to think, as a hob grabbed her, hauling her up the stairs. The other two attacked the goblins, who were scurrying back towards the castle doors. Struggling was useless, the creature had her held in a vice like grip: even when she fell on the stairs, it just carried on walking, dragging her. She couldn't bite back a cry as her arm was wrenched painfully. Jareth, still hard pressed by his attacker, couldn't help.
It was Hoggle who attacked, running after her abductor, kicking and biting it, trying to get it to let her go.
And with heartbreaking ease, it swatted the dwarf away with its free hand, sending him tumbling back down the stairs, to land in a heap at the bottom, just as Jareth finally dealt with his assailant. Still struggling, she saw the other two return, one with Fleck's tail wrapped in a choke hold around its neck, the small goblin sitting on its head and trying to gouge its eyes out with long clawed fingers.
Then she was pulled around the corner and lost sight of them.
For what felt like an age, Devin lay at the foot of the stairs, afraid to move. The weight of the wolf held his legs down, until he finally pulled himself out from under the broken body of the creature - Calion. Shaking, he pulled himself painfully over to the bottom step, and sat down again, cradling his broken arm.
Where are those bloody goblins when you need them?
No matter. He could cope.
Laboured breathing in addition to his own reached his ears.
He stared at the body of the beast that lay limply in the dim pool of light cast from somewhere above them. The one remaining eye stared back at him, clouding over, but still with a spark of life left. As he watched, the creature twitched, front paws scrabbling feebly at the stone, but to no avail.
The back didn't move at all.
And it changed, shimmering into the form of the Fae lord, battered, bloodied and torn - who now looked up at his former captive.
'Mercy...' Calion pleaded, holding out a hand to Devin. Who laughed.
'Maybe when I get back with a sharp knife,' he said. Standing up, he simply turned his back on Calion, and walked slowly up the stairs, ignoring first the pleas, then the screams.
Maybe with a bit of luck the goblins wouldn't be too drunk to finish the poor fool off before he got back...
Iorweth didn't bother to get up out of the throne when Sarah was dragged before him. Lounging insolently in a parody of Jareth's studied elegance, he eyed Sarah with a feral air.
'So good of you to join us, my dear,' he said quietly.
'Not by choice.' She tried to pull free of her captor, but the hob held her too tightly.
'Now now, my hospitality might not be to your taste, but rest assured, you won't have to endure it for long.' He gestured to the creature holding her. 'Take her over there, hold her firmly. I don't want her wandering off.'
The hob dragged her over to the side of the pit that filled the centre of the room, and held her firmly by both arms, standing behind her. Iorweth calmly reached down beside the throne and picked something up: a small crossbow.
'I had planned on something a little more esoteric for your lover for our endgame, but then I decided on something a little more - personal, shall we say?' From beside the place where the crossbow had lain, he picked up a quarrel, holding it very carefully in one gloved hand by the shaft, not touching the point. 'Iron. Enough to kill, if it hit somewhere vital.'
'For a Fae.'
Jareth's voice. Sarah almost sagged with relief.
Ignoring him, Iorweth fitted the bolt into place and spanned the crossbow. 'As you say. But it would still do a lot of damage to a mortal. Especially,' and here he took aim at Sarah, lowering the crossbow until it was sighted on her. 'If it was aimed at her heart.'
Jareth walked slowly into the room, moving into Sarah's field of vision.
'Ah-ah.' Iorweth shook his head. 'Not too close, and don't even think of conjuring. I can have this in her before you can move. Which leaves you with a dilemma, Jareth.' His smile, so cold, chilled Sarah to the bone. 'You can risk taking me - or you can try to save her yourself directly. You might be quick enough.' A pause for dramatic effect. 'Then again, you might not.'
And with that, he fired.
Time, she'd heard, could stand still in times of peril. As if in slow motion, she saw the bolt speeding towards her, aimed unerringly at her heart.
At the same time, she saw Jareth, knowing that there was no way he could be quick enough to conjure anything to deflect the bolt, take the only option he could.
And as if from a long distance, she heard her own voice screaming as he fell, the bolt lodged in his shoulder, to collapse in a heap at her feet.
And an anguished cry from Devin as he bounded up the stairs and emerged from a side passage, staring down at the frozen tableau in front of him.
Sarah pulled free from the hobgoblin holding her, and dropped to her knees beside Jareth, heedless of the blood that pooled on the floor. Very little stained the front of his shirt - the crossbow bolt stuck out of his shoulder at an angle. His breathing was so shallow, for one moment she feared the he was dead, until his hand moved slowly, painfully, to clasp hers.
'Don't move,' she whispered. Faintly, she heard Iorweth stand, laughing harshly.
'How quaint. So moving, don't you think, Dreamweaver?' Devin didn't answer.
Sarah brushed Jareth's hair back from his face. So pale.
Iron. Deadly to faery. She bit back a sob, and his fingers closed over hers.
'Broken - under me...' he whispered, so quietly she barely made out the words. She started to ask him what he meant, but his fingers squeezed hers. 'Bolt...'
Carefully, hoping she understood him, she slid her hand under his shoulder, keeping her eyes fixed on his as she felt around, trying not to move him, or to give anything away. Iorweth was staring, she could feel it, but caught up in his enjoyment of the scene, paying little attention to her.
Her fingers closed on the tip of the bolt, slippery with Jareth's blood. It must have gone straight through... she prayed that meant it hadn't done enough damage to kill him.
In the legends, the touch of it was enough. Devin knelt beside her, having made his way over to her side, unmolested. 'How is he?'
'He's alive,' Sarah whispered. Devin, she saw, looked much the worse for wear. One arm hung loosely at his side, held awkwardly, and he was badly bruised. Quietly, Devin leant forward to examine Jareth's wound.
'Still breathing is he?' Iorweth leaned over them. 'Such a pity. Still, at least he'll be able to watch you both die before I kill him.' He sighed. 'I had been hoping you'd be far more entertaining, Jareth. '
'You sick bastard.' Sarah, heedless of Devin's warning look, stood up and faced the Sidhe lord. 'Is this the only thing that amuses you? To torture, maim and kill for fun?'
Iorweth stared at her for a moment, then shrugged. 'Actually, yes. Although I'm more than willing to add rape to the list in your case, dear child.'
'Words.' She sneered, taking a step towards him. 'Words and illusions, backed up by just enough real magic to make an impression. You don't scare me, Iorweth.' She held her head up, as proudly as she could, drawing herself up to her full height.
Funny, in the woods, was it only two weeks ago? This had seemed easier. But she had to get closer...
'Don't I?' Iorweth smiled at her, a supercilious sneer. A broad sweeping gesture with one hand and the black bladed sword she remembered from her first dream appeared in it, then, as he released his grip on it, floated freely in front of him. 'I could send this blade through his neck in a heartbeat. Does that frighten you?'
'You could have done that at anytime, so why didn't you?' She forced her voice to challenge him. Oh Mom, if you knew what I'm having to use all those drama lessons for...
Understanding, watching him in front of her...
'You can't, can you? All you can do is force him to injure himself?' Her eyes blazed in sudden triumph. 'You have no power over him except that which he gives you... that's why the games. That's why any of you play your games. Why you needed Devin or me as bait, to force him to come to you!'
He flinched, then. Or was it her imagination?
Hadn't she been here before?
Except he was still in control of the Labyrinth, and behind her, Jareth lay dying. No. Hurt. Please, just hurt. Not dying. Not because of me...
'You can't stop this, Sarah. Not now.' Another gesture: the sword remained, but the broken white chess piece appeared in his gloved hand. 'White, I think you'll find, resigns.' He turned his hand over and dropped it to the floor. 'I win.'
She threw the iron tipped bolt then, with all of her strength, willing it to stay straight and true.
Iorweth screamed as it hit, buried in the fleshy part of his neck. The sword clattered to the floor.
And the ground heaved.
Sarah stumbled, grazing her hands as she broke her fall. Around her, masonry crumbled and crashed to the floor.
And a part of her twisted inside as she felt the Labyrinth rebel, at this first chance for freedom from the compulsion it had been under. In front of her, Iorweth dropped to his knees, fighting to maintain control. Behind him, the lone hobgoblin in the room wailed and fell silent as a large block fell from the ceiling and crushed it.
Iorweth was losing. His hand reached out, fumbling for the hilt of the sword. Around them, the rumbling sound and the bucking of the land as the valley warred with the Fae lord increased. Wind rushed through the room, pushing Sarah down, blinding her.
Fighting it, she managed to stare at Iorweth, who tore the bolt from his neck and lunged towards her -
- and toppled backwards, slumping to the floor, blood pouring from the stump of his neck as his head rolled into the pit. Sarah stared blankly up at Devin, who let the black sword drop from his hand, and fell to his knees at her side, exhausted.
'Well I'm not under any compulsion not to take anyone's bloody head off,' he said with a defiant grin. Shaking with relief she hugged him, then made her way unsteadily to where Jareth lay, so pale, so still, in the wreckage of the throne room.
As she reached him, the wind, and the land's rebellious heaving, stopped, and she knelt beside him, her hand reaching out tentatively to check for a pulse in his neck.
Faint, but there. If barely.
Devin knelt beside them again. 'Constitution of a bloody hobgoblin, I don't know how he does it,' he quipped weakly. 'Which reminds me. Sarah, you'd better organise those blasted goblins.'
'But - '
Devin laid a hand on her arm. 'You can't help him, and I'm not sure I can. But I can try. In the meantime, you're the only one they're likely to listen to.'
Ignoring him, she laid a trembling hand on Jareth's cheek. Inside, she felt numb. Could it come this far, to finish here?
'Sarah!' Devin's sharp tone brought her back to the present. 'Please,' he continued softly. 'It's not safe while the hobs are still out there. I promise you, I'll do all I can.'
Goblins were arriving in the throne room, looking battered, shaken and in some cases, a little bloodshot. Trembling, she stood, then took a deep breath.
'You, you and you,' she pointed to three of the biggest. 'Help Lord Devin with the king. The rest of you...' How hard could this be...? 'I want every hobgoblin cleared out of the city and the Labyrinth by nightfall, or I'll tip the lot of you headfirst into the Bog.' She grabbed two goblins in passing. 'You two come with me.'
Walking out of the throne room without looking back was the hardest thing she'd ever done.
A role... it's just a part...
Then why do I feel like I'm dying inside?
Just let him live...
She found Hoggle in the hallway, limping groggily towards the throne room. Maybe there wasn't time, but she made it anyway. She knelt down until they were eye to eye, then hugged him. 'Thank you,' she said quietly.
'Where's Jareth?' he asked.
She almost lost it then, but forced back the tears. Later. Much later...
'Devin's with him. He's...' She choked at that point, despite her best resolve. He patted her hand comfortingly. For her, she knew. She didn't expect him to care about his king, somehow. For now, it didn't matter. 'I'm going to the city. I might need some help?' If she focused on the task at hand, it made it easier, somehow.
'Need a hand with those goblins, eh?' he asked gruffly. She nodded. 'Well why didn't you say so!'
Forced good humour, but it helped. A little.
Just a little.
She sat on the window ledge that overlooked the Goblin City, one leg drawn up underneath her, her elbow resting on the other knee, chin resting on her hand. Faint lights from the city were the only lights in the dark night; the moon would be a few days yet before appearing.
The hobgoblins were gone, finally. Dead or lost and scattered in the Labyrinth. Without their lord, no immediate threat.
Calion's body hadn't been found. One more worry.
At least, she thought, she'd been able to keep some of the goblins sober enough to stand guard. The rest were now snoring in various nooks and crannies around the castle.
And now all she could do was wait. Devin had been closeted with Jareth all day and most of the night. Part of her said that this had to be a good sign... the other part worried itself sick.
Maybe she should try to get some sleep, but somehow, she couldn't. Not yet. There had to be news sometime, surely? Devin wouldn't keep her waiting forever...
She blinked back sudden tears, and wiped them away angrily. She wouldn't yield. Not now. She'd come too far and been through too much for that. Instead, she stared out into the darkness, wondering how far away dawn was.
The clock in the throne room began to chime, and she counted off the chimes to herself:
'Through dangers untold, and hardships un-numbered,' said a voice behind her suddenly. Startled, she almost fell off the windowsill (fortunately inwards) to be caught in familiar arms. Jareth: pale, weak, but alive. With a wordless cry she threw her arms around him, letting the tears fall unheeded as he held her close.
'Told you,' said Devin from behind them. 'Constitution of a hobgoblin. Bloody good job too.'
Sarah looked up and smiled at him. 'Thank you.'
Jareth sagged, and she helped him sit down on the ledge.
'He shouldn't be up,' Devin said, before Jareth could speak. 'But would he listen?' He sighed. 'Ungrateful bastard. Had the nerve to complain about me using his stock of healing spells. I told him you'd throw me in the Bog if I let him die, but for some reason...'
'Devin,' Jareth said wearily, but with a flicker of his old humour, 'do shut up.'
Devin winked at Sarah, and she hid a smile. 'You're still hurt,' she pointed out. He shrugged.
'Broken. It'll heal. I thought you'd rather have his royal high and mightyness there back in one piece.' He sighed. 'Now if you don't mind, I'm going to get some sleep. I suggest you two do the same. Especially,' he turned to Jareth, 'you. You're not invincible.'
After he'd left, Jareth, with Sarah's help, stood. 'He has a point. You're exhausted,' he told her.
And you're not...?
'I'd prefer a bath first,' she said quietly. He placed an arm around her waist, and she returned the gesture, leaning into his embrace.
'That can be arranged. Assuming the plumbing still works. What on earth did you do to my castle?'
She managed a laugh. 'Brought the house down.' She grinned at him. 'Piece of cake really.'
He laughed then, wincing a little as his wound pulled with the movement. A heartbeat later, Sarah joined him, and they made their way back along the passageway, disturbing one of the goblins sleeping in a niche along the corridor - but only for a moment. Turning over, Fleck wrapped his tail over his nose and went back to sleep.
Epilogue: The Full Moon
Sarah reined in Ghairlean at the top of the hill, and waited for Jareth to catch up. She patted the little grey's neck fondly. Devin's gift to her, after he'd heard that she intended to stay.
Jareth's bay gelding drew level with them finally just as Sarah swung her leg over and dropped to the ground. She looped the reins over the branch of a nearby tree and walked the rest of the way to the edge of the hill overlooking the Labyrinth, and stared down at the valley below.
'It doesn't look so bad from up here,' she said eventually.
Jareth stood behind her, and placed his arms around her waist. 'Bad enough. It will take a long time to repair.' Sarah leaned into his embrace, smiling to herself. Overhead, the sun was sinking in the sky, and already the ghost of the full moon could be seen on the horizon, pale silver against the coppery sky. Below them, the Labyrinth spread out across the valley, seeming from this distance not too much the worse for the events of the past month. Several of the pillars lining the path down to the gates were fallen, and parts of the Labyrinth, she could see from here, were in ruins. But considering how it might have been...
She sighed. 'You didn't want to ride all the way out here just to get a good look at the valley, did you?' she asked, turning in his arms to face him. Without answering, he released her, and found a convenient fallen pillar to sit on.
He still looked frail, she thought suddenly, watching him closely. Even after two weeks. Contrasted against his black shirt, he seemed even paler.
Like the Labyrinth, he'd be a long time healing. But at least they had the time.
He was staring at her intently, and she had to wonder what he was up to. Would she ever follow his mood changes? They could switch with the wind, when he had a mind to it.
The ghostly promise of the full moon reminded her suddenly of her dreams. The full moon had always been overhead. And always a presentiment...
Ghairlean whinnied, distracting them for a moment, and Sarah heard a barked answer from the foot of the hill. 'Ambrosius must have caught up.' They'd found the sheepdog wandering in the Labyrinth a few days after Iorweth's demise. Sarah swallowed the lump in her throat. Poor Didymus...
Jareth's hand brushed her cheek, catching the tear that had fallen unbidden.
Some things didn't need saying... He'd buried his old retainer by the lakeside at Silverpool.
His free hand drew back, and with a flick of his wrist, he conjured one of his familiar crystals, and offered it to her.
'What is it?' Sarah asked warily.
He shrugged dismissively, but his old, familiar smile hovered again at the corners of his mouth. 'A token. Nothing more.' She held out her hand, closing fingers around the orb, which disintegrated at her touch leaving her holding a simple silver ring, inscribed with the symbol that adorned his amulet. 'Here, let me.' He took it from the palm of her hand and placed it over the ring finger on her left hand.
'Infinity.' Sarah stared at the symbol, and then at him. 'Forever?'
He kissed her deeply. 'Forever.' He said when he finally broke off. 'Not that long at all, really.' He drew her closer for a moment, then released her. 'We'd better head back before dark.'
Sarah paused for a moment, her hand on his arm. 'So what happens now - happily ever after?' she teased. She called Ambrosius, who bounded up the hill towards them, tongue hanging out, barking happily.
He snorted, 'With a city full of goblins?' he asked, then grinned mischievously. 'I wouldn't count on it.' As if on cue, a loud explosion rocked the valley. Turning to look, they saw smoke billowing from the vicinity of the Goblin City. Jareth sighed wearily.
'I rest my case.'
'The powder store, or that illegal still on Twark Lane they think you don't know about?' Sarah asked with a grin. He stared over her shoulder.
'Green smoke - it's the still,' he said eventually, the corner of his mouth twitching.
Laughing, and arm in arm, they walked back to the horses. Overhead, as the sun sank down over the horizon, the full moon rose over the valley of the Labyrinth.
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