Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 15 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

The Bog smelled just as bad as Sarah remembered. It almost made her regret the impulse that had led her here; the Castle was boring, but at least it smelled alright—away from the goblins, anyway. But after four days cooped up in the Castle with nothing to do, she hadn't been able to resist the day's sunshine, even though today was just long enough to really be called Long. Before, she'd had the distraction of learning the Stairs to keep her from boredom; now that they were mastered, there wasn't much to do, of a Short day, other than read, write, or explore. She wrote a little every morning and every evening, keeping a careful count of the days; she read most evenings; and as for exploration, it had turned out the Castle was complicated, but it wasn't very interesting. Aside from the wing of guest rooms, there was a wing of rooms that might have served as public space, in earlier days. A larger study than Jareth's sitting room, a formal dining area, a ballroom far more grand than her peach dream, and hundreds of smaller examples of the same: sitting rooms, offices, servants' quarters, on and on, all dusty and disused. She had been briefly intrigued—enough to mention it to Jareth, anyway—when she'd found an old music room, and he had caused it to clean itself for her, but she hadn't ever had more than rudimentary lessons in any instrument. Maybe she'd get Jareth to teach her, someday, if she didn't find a way to leave.

Even the library hadn't held her interest long. It was huge, and dusty, and full of old books, mostly histories, and she'd already done almost nothing but read for three weeks straight. Additionally, based on her cursory first look, Jareth had most of the interesting stuff up in his study; sensible of him, really.

The boredom, and the continued thought that maybe finding a way out of the Labyrinth still might possibly be the key to her release, had led to her errand today. Jareth wasn't being particularly helpful in her quest to find a way out, but then again, knowing that he didn't want her to go, she hardly expected him to be. It wasn't in his nature to actively work for something he opposed. He wasn't actively fighting her, and she was confident that he would send her home if he could; that had to be good enough. The smell of the Bog intensified as she crested a familiar hill, and the Bog Bridge came into view.

"Hello?" Cautiously, she moved towards the new bridge. It looked just as rickety as the old one. That's Goblin craftsmanship, I guess. "Hello?"

"Back! Back I say!" As he had on her first visit, Sir Didymus burst from the nearby bushes in a flurry of fur. "None may pass this way!"

"Sir Didymus!" She laughed, and held up a hand to still his furious thrashing. "I do not seek your permission to cross. I seek only you."

"You seek—" He stopped, and looked at her fully. "My Lady! Thou hast returned!"

"Yes, I have. I am very happy to see you, but first, I have a letter for you from His Majesty."

"A letter from the King! Pray, tarry not, but give it me!" Laughing, she did as he requested. He read it quickly. "My Lady! His Majesty requests that I bear thee company, wherever thou shouldst wish to travel." His eyes widened. "Both today and any day hereafter!"

"Yes; I asked him to write it." It hadn't been hard to convince Jareth to write this. He wasn't jealous of Didymus like he was of Hoggle, especially after the time they'd spent together recently, and he liked her enough not to want to subject her to the Bog needlessly. Of course, Jareth also didn't know what she intended to ask Didymus to do with his new freedom.

"You have set aside your differences then?" Sir Didymus looked surprised, but also rather hopeful.

"Mostly. Come, my brave knight, I'd like to walk back through the Forest."

"My lady, as thou desirest, so shall it be. Come, Ambrosius! A valiant duty awaits!" The little sheepdog trotted out from behind a nearby tree and approached Sarah, wagging his tail happily. She scratched his ears while Didymus mounted.

It wasn't long before they left the stench of the Bog behind. Some way into the Forest beyond, where once she had eaten the tainted peach, she found a large boulder to act as a bench and suggested to Didymus that they stop and talk a bit.

"I've missed you," she said, when they were settled.

"My life, and indeed, the very Kingdom, have felt the lack of thy beauty these many days, my lady. And indeed, thou art grown in beauty, and in grace, since last I beheld thee."

"Thank you. And yes, it's been a while." She knew she had to make the same confession to him that she had to Hoggle. "I told myself that the Labyrinth was a dream. That's why I've not called."

"A dream may speak the truth outright; do not discount them so quickly. However, as I am here before thee, thou canst see that I am no dream, nor any of this Kingdom. However, thy presence now makes up that lack which was caused by thine absence."

"Thank you, Sir Didymus; it means a lot to me for you to say so." It was also interesting to note that he seemed to have less time-sense than Hoggle, but that wasn't worth mentioning to him.

"But tell me, my lady, how hast thou returned to the Underground? For surely, though I hoped to see thee again after our last adventure, I expected to see thee Above, as I did the night of thy victory, and not Below."

She gave him a briefer summary of her coming back to the Kingdom than she'd given to Hoggle, telling him only that she had accidentally contacted Jareth and that they had become friends. He said he was happy for it, for it was fitting that the King should have a companion. That forced her to be honest, however, and admit that she hadn't quite come of her own free will and couldn't leave; he was indignant on her part until she had convinced him that it was a misunderstanding, that she and the King were working on the problem, and that she would be sure to inform him if he could be of assistance. Actually, she hoped he could help, him and Ludo and Hoggle, just like last time, but she didn't need to tell him that just yet. Sir Didymus was dedicated, but he was not discreet.

She didn't tell him exactly how the misunderstanding had come about; she didn't need him casting herself and the King in a romantic star-crossed lovers sort of role. Instead of letting him worry further, she regaled him with tales of her adventures in the Castle and in the Labyrinth, and some stories of her life Above as well. He, in turn, told her about the rebuilding of the Bridge ("a great and most vexatious labor") and about the changes in his life since meeting her, most particularly that Ludo was a fairly regular visitor to the Bog Bridge in spite of the smell.

"I'm so glad to hear that," she said when he told her. "I haven't managed to find Ludo yet; I would really like to see him."

At this, Didymus frowned. "In truth, my lady, I cannot tell thee where thy search might prove fruitful. Sir Ludo comes to me, as I have the sworn duty to protect the Bridge, and he has none. However, he is due to visit; he may be here anytime in the next several days." So he could tell "far off" from "soon to come;" that was interesting. Timesense was a strange monster, she was coming to understand.

"Sir Didymus, I can't come down here every day; there isn't time, if the day is too short. Do you think you could meet me in the Hedge Maze, near the Wise Man, with Ludo, the second long day from now? Would that give you enough time to find him?" She'd found the way to the Hedge Maze herself when with the Enigma sprites; the fastest way she'd found would take a good four hours to traverse. At least the Labyrinth was keeping her in shape.

"Aye, my lady, I believe it should be sufficient."

"And can you get word to Hoggle? The King brought him to the Castle, once, but I haven't yet made it all the way out to the gate to see him again."

"The way from here to there is far, but I vow: for you I shall do my best to reach Sir Hoggle in time."

"Thank you again. I could not ask for a better champion, my friend."

The sun was lowering in the sky. She tried to send Didymus back to the bridge, but he insisted on escorting her towards the Castle, despite her insistence that Jareth would find her and bring her back if she didn't make it in time herself. Jareth himself put an end to the argument by appearing as Sarah had anticipated. He greeted the little knight with a solemn nod.

"Sir Didymus, you have my thanks for your protection of the lady this day."

"Your majesty, you have but to ask, and I shall oblige. I thank you for allowing me the pleasure of her company."

"I shall now take charge of her again. Sarah, it is time to retire." He held out a hand.

She went first to Didymus, offering her hand; he brought it gently to his muzzle. "I will see you soon, my lady." Only when he had turned and gone did she go back to Jareth.

"Can we walk, a bit? The forest is lovely in the twilight."

He nodded, and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. "For another few minutes, if it pleases you, but we should not stay past nightfall. This is the Forest of Forgetfulness, and though its spell is weak in daylight, night brings forth its strength." She blinked, remembering that it had been night the last time she had walked these paths. So it had been the peach and the Forest working together, perhaps?

"I remember what happened when last I was here, and it was night."

"Yes, well, you were exceptional." He sounded somewhat annoyed, but she almost thought it was habit, and not actual anger.

"And still am, I hope," she quipped.

"That as well," he said softly.

She swallowed; the last such discussion, on the Stairs, was fresh in her mind. "We're going to have to talk about this eventually, Jareth. It's going to keep coming up."

"I know." He pulled her closer for the next few steps, then stopped suddenly, turning her to face him and speaking very quickly. "I will not apologize for the peach. It was my duty to keep you from the Castle, and I used what tools I had at my disposal." He paused, and his voice softened slightly. "I did enjoy dancing with you."

She nodded, and gave him a small smile. "I was still afraid of you, but I enjoyed it, too. I didn't like the rest of the ballroom very much, though." She thought back to the memory; as long as he was in a good mood, she might as well ask. "You... you wrote the song, didn't you?"

"I did."

"I liked that, too."

The last sliver of sunlight dipped below the horizon, and though he'd frequently transported her with only a touch of his hand, this time he pulled her close before he whirled them away.

As she'd spent the day in the Labyrinth, he came down to her that evening as she was climbing into bed. The lights dimmed and went out as he joined her.

"Thank you, again, for today," she said, when they were settled. "For helping me see him."

"I recognize your need for other companionship," he answered, though he sounded a bit distant.

"It was good to see him, but he's not the same as we are. I understand now." It made her sad to say it, but it was true.

"I regret that your friend was not all you wished." It sounded rehearsed.

The right words were hard to find. She rolled over to face him, sliding a bit closer, then laid a hand on the elbow of the arm propped under his head. He turned to look at her; his eyes were shadowed in the darkness of the bedroom.

"What I mean," she said finally, "is that I understand why you want me to stay."

"But you will not stay only because I desire it."

"It's not enough, Jareth." He rolled over, pulling away from her; she moved her hand to his shoulder, trying to bring him back. "There's nothing more for me here."

He shifted back onto his back, one arm sliding behind her; grasping her waist, he pulled her down so that her head rested on his chest. She didn't fight it, only shifted a bit to get comfortable; they tended to end up all cuddled up sometime in the night anyway.

She thought about not asking, but it was a ritual she didn't want to break. "Jareth, what do you want?"

He squeezed her shoulder. "I want you happy."

Three days later was another Long day, and Jareth, knowing of her increasing restlessness, suggested another Labyrinth challenge, with the same stakes as the time before, except that this time she had only an hour, the time again computed based on how long it would take to reach the Castle from the Gate in thirteen if she passed through the given location. He had given her a torch—"Generous, if I do say so myself"—and left her in a nondescript dirt tunnel, barely tall enough for her to walk upright.

So far, this experience was nothing like the Water Maze. There was nothing pleasant about it, or even interesting. The tunnel was dank, and dark; she was glad of the torch, though it smoked. She had no idea if she was even going the right direction, but standing still would accomplish nothing. At each turning, she did her best to try to tell where the air was fresher; it might not mean a way out of the tunnels, but broader tunnels were still to be desired. After one such turn, she was surprised to find herself confronted by a wide, round door. She pushed it open.

Stepping through the door, she found herself in a beautiful rolling countryside. Gentle hills, clothed in lush green grass, sloped away, and full, green trees clustered in the valleys between. The leaves rustled in the cool breeze.

There were no turns, and no walls, and no barriers that she could see. That meant the way out was likely to be underground; it wouldn't be much of a Labyrinth if she could just walk across a field and find her way. However, there might be more doors than the one she'd just come from; it was possible the path went both above and below the surface. She decided to look for another door; it was more pleasant than being in the dark tunnels.

She turned to get a good look at the door, to see if it held clues as to what was behind, and was astonished to see that, rather than being blank wood, it was brightly painted. Perfectly round, brightly painted, with a round doorknob in the exact center.

He'd told her that little came from Underground that had been created in the past hundred years. Still, his dreams went out; how strong was the connection? What she saw before her had only one possible association with the world Above.

In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.

Jareth found her when her time was up. She had searched the area all the way to the opposite large wall, and found more such holes, some clumped, some separate, all leading into the same dank tunnels, all looking like something out of Tolkien on the surface. She'd gone into a few of them, but made no more progress than she had at first, and finally, when her torch had gone out, she'd given up. There was a pattern to the doors, she suspected; the coloring changed, and the detailing varied in complexity. She'd figure it out someday, once she figured out where all the people had gone, and perhaps why the holes were so... unhomey. Maybe they had moved on?

"Are you alright, Sarah?" She was standing, thoughtfully, under a huge tree that presided over a wide field, imagining it full of people celebrating. She turned at the sound of his voice, noting the worry in his tone. Clearly he'd expected her to be searching frantically for the way out.

"I'm fine, Jareth."

"You did not put up much of a fight this time." She smiled at the look in his eyes; it was almost as though he had been denied some promised entertainment. "And you owe me a gift."

"I know. I found a more interesting puzzle than the one you set me." She grinned wider at the shocked look on his face. "Jareth, how long were you going to wait to tell me that the Underground has Hobbits?"

The response she got wasn't the one she'd expected. Instead of laughing or agreeing with her, he frowned, his whole face twisting with confusion and concern. "Sarah... what is a hobbit?"

Even after she had told him that a hobbit was a race from a fantasy novel written in the 1930s, and he had searched thoroughly and reassured himself that no inhabitants of the Labyrinth were near, he still didn't seem entirely convinced. Finally, she distracted him by reminding him that she owed him a gift, telling him that he'd get it when they were back in the Castle and she'd cleaned up. Unlike their previous game in the Water Maze, this one had left her sweaty and dirty; she was looking forward to that luxurious bathtub more and more the longer he delayed.

"I gave you yours right away," he challenged. Sarah fought not to laugh; he sounded as impatient as a little kid being told that Santa wouldn't come until tomorrow. She thought back to how she'd dealt with the same from Toby; what had worked to hold off a tantrum was to distract him with something immediate and present. Let's go get some cookies for Santa, and I think there might be a few extra for us too.

"That was never stipulated in our rules," she answered, and he blinked at her in surprise. "But I will give it to you today, I promise. Besides..." She let her voice lower flirtatiously, and stepped closer to him, laying both hands on his chest and meeting his eyes from under lowered lashes. "I promise we'll both enjoy it more if I'm clean."

For a moment, he looked terrified. It was, she realized belatedly, the first time she'd openly initiated a flirtation with him, and given the strange nature of their relationship, and the way she'd disappointed him the last time he tried to kiss her, she knew he must be wondering about her intentions. He recovered quickly, however, putting up a polite mask that failed—probably deliberately—to hide the hunger in his eyes or the tension in his body as he placed his hands over hers and transported them to her door. She entered, leaving it open; he stopped at the threshold.

"I'm going to bathe," she said, choosing the word deliberately. "You can stay here, if you like, or come down whenever you please, but stay out of my bedroom. I'll have your gift ready when I'm through." He nodded, still watching her, his eyes predatory, his lips stretching into an anticipatory smile. She hid her own grin, feeling powerful; she'd known he wanted her, but it was closer to the surface now, and walking this thin line was thrilling. Maybe it was dangerous—okay, it probably was dangerous, baiting the lion in his den and all that—but it was fun.

She settled into the bath with a contented sigh. His reactions since he'd found her had given her the perfect idea for his gift, and after the other night in the Eyrie, it was something she was sure he would appreciate.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 15 of 24

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