Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 10 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

It became the pattern of their days. Some days, Sarah would wake and find Jareth in his room, and he would work with her on the Stairs; others, she would wake and find him gone, or the door closed. On those days, she went herself to the small section she could access, to practice. The next step, after managing the initial shift, was to do it with eyes open; in some ways, this was easier, as once she had fully accepted that visible gravity simply did not exist in that space, it was easier to remember that literal gravity did not exist, either. Only perceived gravity could influence her, and she controlled her perceptions. In the evenings, Jareth would work―at what, she still hadn't found the courage to ask―and she would read. The bestiary gave way to an enormous volume of Chinese tales, and then to Indian legends, the stories she hadn't known as well in the Above. Occasionally, the silence would be broken with a question; usually hers, about the Underground, but occasionally his, about her life or interests, or her opinions on her reading material. The time split equally between her rooms and his; it was more likely to be hers if she was immersed in a particular work, and his if she was seeking something new.

And always, every evening, when the one would retire and the other stay, the same question. "What do you want?"

There was a pattern. When she asked when leaving his rooms, the answer was more likely to be concrete. "An apple," one day, and he pulled the cover from the tray in his room that matched hers. Another, he said, "Company," and she didn't know if he meant it exactly that way, but she stayed to read another chapter, and then left without a word. Once he said, "A kiss," and she leaned up and pressed her lips against his cheek and didn't stay to see his expression.

When she asked him as he was leaving hers, his answers tended towards the insubstantial. "A good dream," he said one day, and another, "Freedom." She was afraid to ask further about that one.

She got better with the Stairs. The hardest part was learning to practice rotation alone, but after some thought, she figured out that if she could change from walking on the original perceived horizontal to the original perceived vertical plane of a set of stairs, that would be at least halfway around, and rotation was essentially doing that twice in a row, very quickly. After a few good tumbles she learned to begin with the bottom step; sometimes she banged her nose on the floor—the wall—but it wasn't a long fall.

That half-rotation took a few days to master, though the days seemed to pass very quickly while she was working. Maybe it was the meditation; she had continued to focus on her feet determining gravity, as he'd done that first lesson. Jareth found her in the Stairs towards the end of one day, and she did her first full rotation with him there to spot her. As he'd said, it was all a matter of will and belief. Mind over matter, as it were. It was also fun, though she hadn't yet found the courage to try free fall. After she'd repeated the performance several times, even with him standing at a completely impossible alternate plane of gravity, he declared her safe to explore on her own.

That evening, she didn't even make a pretense of reading. He came in, carrying his usual ledger as well as one of the other books of legends, and she spoke up as soon as he'd settled himself in his chair.

"Now that I can manage the Stairs, you said I can go out into the Labyrinth, right? I thought I might look for Ludo tomorrow, or visit Hoggle."

"I am afraid that will be impossible, my dear." She opened her mouth to protest, but he raised a hand, and she stilled. "It has nothing to do with permission. Tomorrow, there simply is not enough time. The day after, you may make the attempt, if you can get out of the Castle."

"What do you mean, I won't have time tomorrow, but I will the next day?" And what do you mean, '"If I can get out of the Castle?" she added mentally, but she'd learned that it was best to confront him one question at a time.

"Days Underground vary in length. They are always equal parts daylight and darkness, but that time can last for less than half a day Above, up to several days. We term these days 'short' or 'long.' Tomorrow will be quite short."

"That's different. I always thought, with the whole 'thirteen hours in which to solve the Labyrinth' spiel, that maybe you had twenty-six-hour days around here, or something like that, if it was different from days Above. And it didn't seem so different..."

He laughed. "Sarah, I have already told you that Time is for Above. Here nature is governed by Magic, the seasons as well as the days. You will become accustomed to it, after a while. Nearly all my subjects can tell you if tomorrow will be short or long, and though 'short' and 'long' do also vary, you will find that you use those expressions as well, understanding instinctively how much you will be able to accomplish on any given day. The more intelligent of my subjects can tell you what the next several days will be; the dimmest, only tomorrow. I can usually predict the next ten to fourteen days, depending on the magic and how many short days there are. And really, my dear, a regular twenty-six hour day would be quite impractical, especially divided into thirteen segments."

She scowled at him, but it only made him laugh harder. "Have you ever considered the mathematical reasons why your day Above is divided as it is? Base twelve is a wonderful system; it divides easily into halves and quarters and even eighths, as well as thirds and sixths and twelfths. If my realm would submit so far to Time as to permit the regular measurement of hours in a way that corresponded with periods of light and darkness, activity and leisure, I would be far more inclined to measure out twelve or twenty-four equal spans of time and measure it thusly, without regard for the length of an Underground 'hour' compared to one Above." He sighed, turning serious. "In any case, you will find that most in my realm simply do not care to measure time, at all. Because my duties give me ties Above, I must be aware; among other links, you will find, if you ask, that I always know what time it is, and what day, in any part of the world Above. You may develop this sense, or not; I cannot say."

"Okay, so if that's the case, why 'thirteen hours in which to solve the Labyrinth,' then? Why the dramatic, impractical clock?"

"You have answered your question yourself, Sarah. Thirteen is a particularly interesting number, held in high superstition by many of your race, and has been since the days of Hammurabi. It is dramatic, it creates instant suspense, an instant feeling of dread; can you deny that you felt it yourself?"

"It certainly did make an impression." She had another thought. "But Jareth, I've already been here for a while; it must be at least a week?" It was rather shocking to realize that she couldn't actually count those days. "Why didn't I notice the varying lengths of the days?"

"Call it... a time of adjustment. For the first two days, though perhaps you did not notice, you slept roughly according to the human cycle you were born to. It helped, as well, that these days related closely to that cycle, being roughly twenty-three and nineteen hours long. But more recently, the days have changed, and you changed with them, without noticing. How long ago was it, do you think, that I bid you good evening, yesterday?"

"I thought it must be a long time; I felt rested when I woke, and it's been a whole day... how long has it been?"

"It was barely eight hours past, my dear." She simply gaped at him. "Today was quite short. So it will continue. You will tend to be inclined to sleep within a few hours of sunset, and then sleep for the duration of the darkness, whether that be three hours or thirty―those being roughly the two greatest extremes in my experience―and wake refreshed, regardless of the time that has passed." He smiled, then. "It is a good sign, Sarah, that you have adjusted so rapidly to the changing days, and with no other alterations."

"So the degree to which I'm attuned to the days also indicates how attuned I am to the Underground?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes. It is not the only indication, but if you can get to the point of easily predicting the next five to seven days without any other changes, that would be a very good beginning."

"I thought you said you could do ten to fourteen."

"I am the king." His mouth twisted with amusement. "Personal magic also helps."

"Will I get that? If I become more… like you?"

"I suppose it is possible. There is little precedent." She must have looked hopeful, because he sat forward seriously. "Not for a very long time, if ever."

"How long?"

"A thousand days? Five thousand? More? I am only guessing, Sarah."

So much for that intriguing plan. Well, she had another question to ask him, anyway. "Earlier. You said I could explore the Labyrinth if I could get out of the Castle. I can walk the Stairs, and that's the only condition you gave me, before, so what the hell does that mean?"

"Only that I will not give you hints. The Stairs lead many places, Sarah, and the Castle is large. If you are lost in the Castle, you will not be exploring the Labyrinth."

"I'll have to look for the way tomorrow, then. I should have time for that!" He nodded, looking somewhat resigned. "In that case, I'd best turn in early, to get an early start." She paused at the bedroom door as he began to gather his things. "Jareth, what do you want?"

He thought about this answer much longer than he had the others. "Joy."

The first thing she found, when she started exploring, was another wing full of suites. The doors stood slightly ajar, and she pushed her way in, finding a room much like hers, but smaller, and so dusty that the floor was soft as sand. No one had entered these chambers for a very long time.

She looked out the window, and realized that this corridor led away from the Castle. If she looked out a window from the room at the very end of the hall, she should be able to see the rest of the Castle. Suiting action to thought, she pushed open the appropriate door and walked quickly to the window.

She'd underestimated how big the Castle was. A large dome dominated the center of the structure, with a tower on top. She could see two balconies, and above the top, another opening, like a large window without glass. As she watched, she saw a large, white bird swoop in through the opening and disappear, and though she watched for several more minutes, it did not depart again. Of course. Owl form. That was Jareth. He wasn't nocturnal, as she'd guessed her first night, he merely had other ways to come and go. The view must be magnificent, up there. I wonder if he'll ever let me…. But that was a question for later. Right now, she still wanted to find the way out.

Leaving the guest wing, she stopped to think. She could wander here all day, and it wouldn't do any good. Problem-solving was the solution, not aimless wandering. What did she already know about the way between the Stairs and the Castle doors? Last time she'd been here, she'd come through the door, through an entrance hall, into the Throne Room, and then she'd followed the only other corridor off the Throne Room and….

That was it. The Stairs led right to the Throne Room, which led right to the door. How could she find the Throne Room?

Goblins couldn't walk the Stairs, but what had Jareth said about them, before? It guards the parts of the Castle that I wish to remain free from their noise and confusion. Bingo.

Stepping cautiously out into the Stairs, she listened. There, far down to the left, could she hear them? She moved in that direction. Yes, there was some sort of noise, there. She continued in the direction of the noise, and, eventually, found the half-circle corridor she remembered, which descended easily into the Throne Room. Take that, Jareth. And you thought I'd find it difficult.

The noise stopped abruptly when she appeared, all the eyes in the room turning to look at her. A quick glance told her that while the Throne Room was full of goblins, it was empty of Jareth. Not sure how to approach them without guidance, she stopped; best to see what they would do. She could always go back upstairs if there was trouble. The Goblin Army had been inefficient, but they had been numerous, and she didn't have Ludo's rocks. The goblins, on their part, stared at her in awe.

"It's her! It's her! It's her!" The phrase echoed around the room, repeated from several different throats, until finally one heavy voice asked, "It's who?"

"It's her! The girl who beat the king and threw a party!" Well. That was rather a unique sobriquet. Sarah wasn't sure if she should feel flattered or vaguely insulted. They didn't have to make it sound so... personal, like she'd come to the Labyrinth intending to stomp Jareth to bits and then gloat about it. All she'd wanted was Toby. Then again, it was an accurate, if bare-bones, description of what had happened. She settled on mostly flattered.

"What's she doing back?"

"Did she beat the king again?"

"The king was just here, he's not beat."

"Are we having a party?" That was the heavy voice again.

"She came from the place the king comes from."

"Maybe she beat the king up there!"

"Are we having a party?"

Okay. She could either face the goblins, or go back upstairs. The Castle exit was just down the hall to her right. She was tired of exploring on her own. She really, really wanted out of the Castle. She wanted to see the Labyrinth. Jareth had said they were like children, like toddlers. Imagining herself in front of a room full of five-year-old Tobys, she plastered a big smile on her face.

"Hi everyone!" The chatter stopped instantly, and they all turned to look at her again. Slowly, she stepped into the room, watching carefully for any sign that they were about to mob her. But they were mostly still, and quiet, and nonthreatening, and by the time she'd reached the throne in the center of the room, she felt confident enough to really stop and look around.

There hadn't been any goblins in the Throne Room the last time she'd come through, but they certainly made the place look more lived-in. It was still a mess; goblins were everywhere, along with several black chickens, a few pigs, and was that a vulture? The only clear space in the room was the stone-and-ivory throne, presently empty, though there was a very small goblin sitting on the back.

It had probably been beautiful, once. She imagined the stained dark stone clean and polished, imagined the little alcoves gilded with gold, perhaps lit with candles, and thick cloth hangings at the windows and doors. Delicate mosaic-work between the alcoves, perhaps, or frescoes, depicting scenes from myth, or from the Kingdom. Tapestry wouldn't fit. She remembered photographs she'd seen of the interior of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France. Once the court-in-exile of the center of Western Christianity; now empty, the decorations faded and destroyed, the frescoes lost, the massive stone walls bare, a sharp contrast to the magnificence of St. Peter's in Rome. This room was smaller, but under the filth it had something of that same lost glory.

She was distracted out of her musings by the feeling of a little hand tugging on her pant leg. Looking down, she saw a goblin the size of a two-year-old looking at her out of mournful eyes that took up nearly half his head. "Yes?"

"Are you going to make the monster throw rocks at us again?"

She pondered this a moment. "Only if you do something to deserve it," she replied, half laugh, half haughty promise. The goblin looked like he didn't know whether to run away in terror or ask what he had to do in order to earn such a blessing. "I'm Sarah. What's your name?"


"What do people call you?" They didn't have names?

"The first one who sits next to the throne and holds a chicken." Hm. Well that went some way to explaining what they had called her.

"And you?" She looked at the goblin next to him.

"The one who polishes the king's boots." He gave her a brilliant smile and waved what looked like a rather dirty rag.

This was going nowhere. "Okay then. Well, I'm going to get going, if you all don't mind."

Just as she was about to step through the doors into the main hall, another little hand stopped her. The goblin put his hands threateningly on his waist and said, "You gonna beat the king again?" The overall impression was of a four-year-old who'd caught you doing something adults could do, but he couldn't, and was mortally offended.

"Not unless he deserves it."

As she stepped through the doorway and moved towards the main gates of the castle, the room behind her broke into murmurs once more. She wasn't particularly trying to listen, but one comment in particular stood out: "Girl sounds like the king."

That evening, she still hadn't seen Jareth all day, but his door was open. The Goblin City had been interesting, but she hadn't had time to see much before the sun had started to set, her cue to return upstairs. She'd gotten what she wanted from today, anyhow.

Some time after she arrived, he emerged from his room, and she had a sudden flash of insight: he'd been in the very top of the tower.

"What's up there, above your room?" He hid surprise quickly behind suspicion, but she'd caught it.

"How do you know of anything above here?"

"I did some exploring today. Found my way into another sections of the castle, as well as down into the City. I could see our balconies from the end of a hall of many rooms, and I could see that there's another open window, above yours. It almost looks like a bell tower."

"There is no bell. But if you passed through my Throne Room, that does explain one thing. Tell me, Sarah, why have my goblins taken to calling you 'the scary girl who sounds like the king?'"

"Have they?" She couldn't tell if he was amused or angry. "Possibly because I, ahh… I threatened to have Ludo call the rocks on them again." She wouldn't mention what she'd said about him.

"And what, pray, did they do to deserve such treatment?" He'd gotten control of himself; his even voice and raised eyebrow were all cold courtesy.

"They asked if I was planning to. I said I would if they deserved it." He relaxed a little, and she laughed. "Honestly it almost looked like they were looking forward to the prospect."

"They may have been. They like it when I fling them about."

"You throw them?"

"Sometimes. Other times I kick." He was grinning, now, bad mood forgotten.

"Jareth, that's terrible!"

He shrugged. "Only if they dislike it. You will see. They laugh. Some of them beg." His voice softened as she continued to glare. "I speak the truth, Sarah. Goblins are virtually indestructible, and they delight in proving it."

Whatever. "So what do you do, up there in your eyrie?"

She caught a flash of annoyance again, perhaps because he hadn't distracted her? But he responded merely, "My eyrie? I am no raptor, Sarah."

"I know, but I thought it sounded better than 'Owlery.'"

"It does, at that." He tilted his head, looking at her with curiosity. "Why do you persist in naming everything? It seems to be a human trait."

"Why don't you give things names?"

"Things do not need names, unless they are things or places of power."

"But without names, how can you have a conversation? It's far easier for me to say, for example, 'the worm's door,' than it is to say 'the third door if you turn right from the front gate,' or whatever it is, or even 'the door I used.'"

"Ah," he said, and focused on her new query, annoyance forgotten. "That one has a name already, because it is a place of power."

"It does?" Strange to think that she'd found it on her first journey. "What is it?"

"The Door to the Shortest Path," he said, and laughed as her jaw fell open. "You never figured it out? You chose to go right. If you had chosen to go left, and more importantly,continued to choose left at any subsequent turnings, of which there are only a handful, you would have arrived at the Castle in just under an hour. You would have arrived in the dungeons, which are a labyrinth all to themselves, but you would have been in the Castle."

"But... but..." For a moment, shock held her tongue. "But I started to go left, and the worm said, 'Don't go that way!'"

"Did you see the worm when he said that?" She shook her head. "Worms lack hands, Sarah, but he was pointing. He even did it again when you watched him. When he said, 'Don't go that way,' he was indicating the right-hand passage."

One part of Sarah's brain registered that he must have watched her whole journey in detail, but that was for another time. "He told me he didn't know how to get through the Labyrinth! Why that lying... and to think I was grateful!" Decade-old frustration struggled to surface.

"No, Sarah, he did not lie to you. Do you remember exactly what you asked of him?"

"If he knew the way through the Labyrinth."

"You did not ask if he knew the way to the Castle."

"And... they aren't the same thing, are they?" Her shoulders slumped. Suddenly she remembered a remark of Hoggle's that had never made much sense. "'Even if you get to the center, you'll never get out again.'"

"What was that, my dear?"

"Something Hoggle told me, that first time I spoke to him, outside the doors." She frowned thoughtfully. "I always thought he was just wrong, because I got out when I won and you had to let us go. Is it that hard to solve the Labyrinth in reverse?"

"Indeed. It is far more difficult to travel from the Goblin City to the edge. One reason for this is that the edge is not a visible landmark. Simply walking away from the Castle is insufficient."

"So the worm knew the way to the Castle, but not how to get out the other side?"


She had more questions about the worm, but something else had now taken precedence. "Jareth... you said I could visit Hoggle once I was able to leave the Castle, but he lives outside the gates. So are you telling me now that it can't be done?"

"Not at all, my dear. I said it was more difficult, not that it could not be done." He shrugged. "Of course, if you prefer not to waste the energy on that little scab, I cannot blame you."

"Can I follow the Shortest Path out of the Castle?"

"You could, if you could navigate the Dungeons, but as I said, they are another puzzle entirely, and quite dangerous and unpleasant. In addition, the path does not appear as obvious in reverse. Better to enjoy the sunshine as you choose an easier path."

She wasn't ready to give up just yet. "Is there a truly quick way to reach the main part of the Castle safely? Is there any way that the Shortest Path doesn't lead to the dungeons?"

"There is always a way. You must simply make the Right Turn."

"You said turning left all the way was the way!" She hesitated. "Or do you mean the correct turn? Is there a difference?"

"Pay attention, Sarah," he said, somewhat sharply. "I said that turning left all the way was the very quickest and that it would land you in the dungeons."

"So turning another way—presumably right—at some other point is not as fast as turning left, but it lands you somewhere safer?"

"I have given all the hints I will give, my dear." He lounged back in his chair, folding his hands under his chin. "Be honest with yourself: you wouldn't like it if I just told you all the answers."

She resisted the urge to pout like a child, even though he was right, and instead made the decision to once again turn in early. When she asked her customary question, he answered, "More time."

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 10 of 24

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