Continuing Tales

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 2 of 18

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Second Chances

It was time for a change.

Jareth sighed heavily and slumped down in his throne, deep in thought. Twelve years had passed since his shameful defeat and the destruction of his kingdom; twelve years spent in restoring it, by magic and physical labor, to its former glory. Mostly by physical labor, in the beginning, when his magic had been shattered by six careless words spoken by a single, heartless, mortal child. A beautiful child that had quite captured his heart and soul, but heartless, nonetheless.

His castle alone had taken three years to rebuild when it had crumbled into dust, and if not for the hard work of his people it would still be dust. He himself had spent weeks in a deep trance, calling upon the little magic he had left, rebuilding the Labyrinth itself and making it grow as a vine grows, its twists and turns and dark secrets writhing like snakes. And now it was finished, darker and more forbidding than ever. Even *he* did not know what might lurk within its walls anymore, for it did not speak to him as it had before. He had the feeling that it might even one day turn on him, like a half-breed wolf-dog grown too feral for its master’s touch.

It was just as well, he supposed. In these twelve years he had discovered that he no longer had the taste for ruling. It had soured for him as soon as *she* had set foot within his kingdom. Sarah Williams. The cause of his downfall, with her spirit and fire and dark, soulful eyes. Her cruel, heartless words…He would never forget those words. They were seared into his soul forever.

And yet, as much as he wanted to, he had long discovered that he could not hate Sarah Williams for what she had done to him. After all, she had been merely playing her role as much as he had been playing his…He had simply underestimated her—or maybe overestimate himself—in her ability to play out her part to the bitter end. And how very bitter that end was…

It had been a sad error on his part. And a very uncommon one. He had been so enamored, so caught up in seducing her, that he never saw the danger until it was too late. It was his own fault, he supposed. He had mocked the dwarf once, chiding him for losing his head over a girl. But Jareth knew the truth now. It was he who had lost his head, not the dwarf. He, the mighty King of the Goblins, falling head over heels in love with a mortal. A creature whom he’d normally hold in the same regard as his goblins. Someone to dominate and intimidate…not to love. And he had never even seen it coming.

How very sad.

Jareth slumped even further in his throne and sighed again, running a gloved hand over his face. He was unaccountably exhausted with this life he led. How long had he been here, watching over a gaggle of creatures with barely enough intelligence to feed themselves? A millennia? Longer, perhaps. He failed to remember a time when he had *not* been a king.

A memory would surface occasionally of a bright, laughing woman with golden hair and blue, blue eyes. His mother? Perhaps. It was said by fae who were far older than he that she had been mortal, although he himself didn’t remember. Maybe that was why he was held in such contempt by his kin, being only half-blooded. He was not the only one who held mortals in contempt, after all. It was ironic, really, that he should feel that way about mortals when he almost was one. As ironic as that he had fallen in love with one. A sadly mocking smile twisted his lips at the thought.

He supposed he might one day die, although it was unlikely so long as he had the magic to sustain him. In some ways it was a pity, for he *felt* old. Especially since the fall of his kingdom. Old, and tired, and very, very lonely.

He rose from his throne and glided across the newly restored room to the window, not even bothering to kick the goblins who stood in his way out of it. He merely side-stepped them, and they ignored him. He had not kicked a goblin in years, truthfully, for what had once amused him now merely disgusted him. What was the point of it, after all? It served no purpose. It helped no one. He gazed out at the Labyrinth stretching away below him. The setting sun turned it a hundred different shades of gold, with shadows lingering in its corners, possibly hiding new and unpleasant dangers.

He frowned. The Labyrinth was growing wilder every day. His control over it was slipping from his grasp; it sensed that he no longer had the will to keep it firmly in check. The magic he’d used to reshape it had been weakened and twisted by his defeat, almost as unpredictable and wild as the Labyrinth, and it was feeding off itself. Slowly, he *was* gaining back his control of the magic, but he had little doubt that the Labyrinth would one day turn on him, probably before he had fully recovered his power, and that would be the end of it. "Ah, well. At least then perhaps my miserable life will end, and I’ll need not suffer this fate put on me anymore," he murmured wryly.

He glanced at the goblins, cheerfully oblivious to everything but their own pathetic little needs. They hadn’t a care in the world. Even the simple task of watching an insect creep across the stone floor was enough to fascinate them for hours.

How he envied them.

Jareth grimaced and turned away in disgust. When one started envying the goblins their stupidity, it really was time for a change! His eyes fell on a short, squat figure shambling along the castle walls below him, spraying the obnoxious little fairies that inhabited the weeds surrounding them. He watched as Hoggle hobbled along, muttering to himself.

Now that, perhaps, was the oddest thing of all, Jareth thought with amusement. After the dwarf’s betrayal, he had, ironically, ended up being the most useful in rebuilding the kingdom. He had overseen the goblins as they reconstructed the castle and the city. He had saved them from disaster after disaster by his quick thinking and skills. Because of that, the entire kingdom had been rebuilt in only twelve years. With Jareth overseeing the goblins and doing the delicate job of reconstructing the Labyrinth all on his own, it would never have been completed. Which was probably why the dwarf was still alive. Such a betrayal was punishable by death, but Hoggle was simply too useful to have around.

Hoggle had changed, though. He treated Jareth the way one might treat a wounded wolf, circling cautiously with respect, but not the sniveling fear he’d used to hold in regards to the king. He’d finally developed a backbone, thanks to Sarah, and Jareth wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or amused by that. In fact, he’d often gotten the impression that Hoggle had only stuck around and helped because he wanted to, not because of any orders from Jareth. Which was odd, considering that everyone else not having anything to do with Jareth or his kingdom had pretty much abandoned him to whatever fate lay in store for him. He was, after all, a disgrace to his people. On his father’s side, anyhow. Apparently he wasn’t too popular on his mother’s, either, if Sarah was any indication.

It was so nice to be loved…

Well, he thought wryly, at least he still had his sense of humor, even though he suspected it was a bit on the warped side. Long years of living like a pauper after a millennium of living like a king tended to do that to a person. But it was something, wasn’t it?

As Jareth watched Hoggle at his work, he began to wonder as to how the dwarf might fair at running a kingdom. He was crafty enough, not to mention stubborn as all-get-out, and goblins were not particularly difficult to rule over, if one could tolerate the smell, and the fact that most of them couldn’t come up with more than one coherent thought in an hour’s time… Wait a minute! What was he *thinking*?! Was he actually considering handing over the reigns of his kingdom to Hoggle? Jareth held his breath and watched the dwarf’s retreating back. Although he’d never admit it out loud, Jareth was actually somewhat grateful to him for sticking by the fallen king when he could easily have left him as so many others had. True, he was cantankerous and grouchy and suspicious of everyone…but then, so was Jareth. But…a *dwarf* ruling a kingdom of *goblins*?

Well, he supposed it made as much sense as a fae ruling a kingdom of goblins…

Jareth rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He had to admit, the idea held merit…and now that it was firmly lodged in his mind it refused to be so easily dispelled. A chance to escape, to run away, as it were. What wouldn’t he give to be able to do that? But where would he run to? The rest of the Underground was no different than his own kingdom; a perfect world of Chaos and unpredictability that was perfectly *predictable* in its never-ending Chaos. After a hundred and more lifetimes of that, Jareth was ready for some Chaos of another kind. A kind called Order, and the best place to find Order, naturally, was in a place where Order ruled.

The world Above.

Sarah’s home…

* * * * *

Night came and went, and the dawn showed Jareth frantically pacing his bedchambers, hands clasped behind him, his shirt untucked and his waistcoat and boots lying in an untidy pile beside his bed. He’d been up all night, pacing like this, his mind hard at work, planning and discarding plans and planning some more.

More and more the idea of escaping Above appealed to him. Truth to tell, he had always been more than a little curious about the mortal world, but as most of his trips Above were simply to collect away wished-away children, he had never had the opportunity to fully explore the world, to see its treasures and to drink in all of its life. He’d never wanted to before. There were dangers, of course, iron being the greatest of them, as it could kill a fae with a mere touch. But he was only half-fae, so the affect was not so severe. It was more like what mortals would call an allergic reaction, although it did wreak havoc with his magic, as iron was prone to do. But, as he didn’t intend to use his magic while Above, anyway, it didn’t really matter.

A part of himself—the haughty, aristocratic part of him—could hardly believe that he was willing to give up his comfortable (if not mind-numbingly dull) position as king and go live among *mortals*, of all people, just to satisfy his sheer boredom and morbid curiosity.

It was the bored, morbid, curious side of him that finally told the aristocratic side to kiss off.

The first thing he had to do was summon Hoggle, and the fox-hybrid knight, Sir Didymus. He called upon a crystal, and it floated delicately from his fingertips to the ground, fragile and shimmering in the faint dawn light. He frowned as he watched it. His crystals had never been the same since the fall of the Labyrinth. They were still beautiful to behold, and to the unobservant they appeared as powerful as ever, but he could see that the crystals now really were no stronger than the bubbles they resembled, a result of his weakened magic. He had to concentrate hard to make it grow larger without it shattering into dust.

When the crystal had grown to the height of his waist and three times as large around, he allowed it to burst, and when the flash of light had faded, both the dwarf and the fox stood there, looking around dazedly. Considering they both wore their night shirts, Jareth had no doubt that he’d woken them both up.

Hoggle’s tufted brows drew together in a fierce scowl when he realized where he was, and Didymus bared his canines in a silent growl. "What dost thou want of us, Your Majesty?" he asked politely, if not somewhat cautiously. Hoggle didn’t say anything, but from the expression on his face whatever he may have been thinking was probably unpleasant enough to melt rock.

Jareth smirked a little in the old, superior way. "So sorry to have disturbed your slumber," he replied, sounding anything but sorry. "I’ve a matter of importance that I must discuss with you. Both of you."

Dwarf and fox exchanged identical looks of skeptical astonishment. Whatever they’d been expecting, it was obviously not this. They turned cautious gazes to their king. "Go on," Hoggle said grudgingly.

Jareth straightened. "I have decided that a leave of absence is in order," he informed them in clipped tones. "I’ve run this kingdom for eons of time, and it is high time I took a vacation. I don’t know when I’ll return. Perhaps next week. Perhaps not for several years. Perhaps never. At any rate, I need someone to stand in my place as king and make sure the goblins keep themselves out of trouble. Hoggle, in the past twelve years you have proven yourself to be intelligent and cunning in your dealings with the goblins. This kingdom was rebuilt with little mishap because of you."

Hoggle looked so astounded at this completely unexpected (and exceedingly rare) praise that for a moment Jareth thought the dwarf might pass out. "Er…thank you, Yer Majesty," he stammered after a long moment. "I done my best, is all."

"Yes, I know," the Goblin King replied. "Which is why I have decided that you should stand in my place as ruler of this kingdom."

Now Hoggle really *did* look as though he were about to pass out. "Me?" he squeaked. "What does I knows about rulin’ a bunch a goblins?!"

Jareth waved his hand dismissively. "It isn’t a difficult task," he replied. "Just be sure they stay within the Labyrinth. Also, you must watch the Labyrinth itself, to be sure that it does not begin to grow beyond its set boundaries. Don’t worry. When I pass the kingdom to you, so will my magic pass. Not all of it, mind you, but more than enough to see to the kingdom and its needs. You’ll need an advisor. One whom you can trust and who is skilled in the ways of battle, should a problem arise. Sir Didymus, you are a brave and noble knight, and I would not see your skills go to waste. You shall be Hoggle’s advisor, and the commander of the goblin army. It’s in sorry shape, but I’m sure you’ll be able to whip them into it again. It will give you something to do."

Sir Didymus was, for once, speechless. "Why…I…Your Majesty!" he stammered. "I shouldst be *delighted* to command your army! I thank thee!" He swept a bow, doffing an invisible hat.

Hoggle scratched his head. "Beggin’ yer pardon, but how comes the sudden urge ta leave?" he asked. "I mean, we just gots this place rebuilt…"

"That is not important," Jareth snapped. "Will you take the job, or need I look elsewhere for a suitable king?"

Hoggle drew himself up. "No, I’ll take the job," he replied hurriedly. "Thank ye fer askin’ me. I’ll do ma best ta be a good king."

Jareth nodded. "Good," he said, and conjured two lists out of thin air. He handed one to each of them. "The rules that must be followed," he explained. "Read these over, and be sure to commit them to memory."

When Hoggle accepted his scroll, a tingle raced up his arm, and he jumped. "What was that?" he asked suspiciously.

Jareth smirked. "That was the magic you are now entrusted with," he replied. "Use it wisely."

Hoggle summoned a crystal from the air, and was astonished when one appeared in his hand. "Cor…" he breathed.

Jareth smiled grimly. "Just so you know, while I am gone I *will* be checking up on you, so you’d best be sure that you do your jobs," he told them sternly. He straightened, then swept a low bow to Hoggle, that mocking grin fixed on his face. "If you’ll excuse me, *Your Majesty*…I have other matters to which I must attend."

"Wait!" Hoggle called. Then, more respectfully, "Where d’ya intends ta go? You know, in case we needs ya?" he asked.

Jareth hesitated, a far away look coming into his eyes. "Earth," he finally murmured. "I’ve decided to go to Earth…"

Second Chances

A Labyrinth Story
by Stormlight

Part 2 of 18

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