Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 17 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

Sarah woke just before dawn the next Long day, the one when she was to meet her friends in the Hedge Maze. She hadn't told Jareth her plans; he'd find her eventually, of course, but if she lost him this morning, she'd have time.

She'd discovered how to wake herself up, sometime in the past few days. If she went to sleep thinking that she needed to be awake early, then she would be; if not, she might wake at any time. She'd taken particular care to think "Very Early" the night before, and it had worked. She grabbed an apple and took off down the Stairs, exiting the castle just as the first tip of the sun showed over the Eastern horizon.

The past few days—since she'd told Jareth of Tolkien—had been exhausting. Jareth had taken up the challenge of all the new people he could reach with more energy than she'd ever seen from him, and had involved her far more than he ever had before with his dreaming. He asked her opinion, sought her thoughts, requested that she repeat, endlessly, little parts of the book, and then ran roughshod over half her thoughts and suggestions, carried away by this firing of his own imagination. However, he was also far more talkative about himself; far more alive. The overall effect was very strange: while on the one hand, his animation was so engaging that she found herself more drawn to him than ever, it had also steeled her determination about her plans for today. It was time to find her way out of the Labyrinth, once and for all, and put to rest the question of whether or not getting out again would set her free.

"I found it!" Jareth had stormed into her room early, the morning after her gift, flinging a ledger at her desk and carelessly knocking aside the journal she'd paused over. He had two more in his hands. She looked down, but couldn't make sense of it; this wasn't the Latin alphabet.

"I can't read this, Jareth." She tilted it slightly, looking for a hint of familiarity in the letters, and frowned. "Is it Greek?"

"No," he answered, absently, flipping through another volume, and then he said something she completely failed to understand. "Though the letters are related."

"Kee-ree-oh-lit-zah?" she tried, doing her best to imitate the sounds he'd made.

He focused on her, distracted from the ledgers, and frowned briefly. "Ah—Cyrillic, in English."

It took her a minute to place the word. "You're Russian?"

"No. Cyrillic was not theirs, first."


"My people do not share Mankind's races. But I was raised in Rus'—in Ruthenia." He paused. "What you would now call Ukraine. I was born near Kiev."

"Oh." She blinked. "Even though you told me that you needed Time to age, I never thought about you being born Above."

"Of course; we all were."

Another question occurred; how had she never asked this? "How old are you?"

He shrugged, already paging through the ledger in his hand again. "I do not know exactly; we do not keep strict count. I was born sometime around 750 AD, by current modern reckoning."

"That's actually younger than I thought."

"Yes. I was one of the youngest of my people. It is why..." He trailed off.

"I understand." She gave him a brief smile. "Will you tell me more of your family, later?"

"If you wish."

"What were you trying to show me? I still don't read Cyrillic, let alone whatever language this is..."

"Allow me." His hand came down over her eyes, and when he removed it, the sense of the words came out to her and she saw what he'd been trying to show her in the first place:19300302 - 1400 - England - Field of Doors - Image.

The wide plaza before her had a tall obelisk at the center, and its shadow pointed at one of the seventeen paths that led off this circle, one for every hour of daylight, today. It changed, daily. To go forward—towards the Castle—you took the turn clockwise around the circle from the indicating shadow. To go back—out—you moved counterclockwise. No matter where you'd come from, any other choice would be a dead end, eventually. She chose counterclockwise, and almost immediately sidestepped a permanent oubliette: the trapdoors were obvious when you knew what to look for and weren't distracted by solving a simple puzzle. Then again, the Knights and Knaves hadn't lied about what was behind the door she chose: it had led to an oubliette, but it had led to the Castle, eventually.

The next night, she'd asked him to tell her about his family, as a way of getting a break from his one overwhelming subject. He had stopped short, and she explained why she was asking; she didn't think he really understood why she needed a rest—unless she was mistaken, he'd hardly slept since she'd told him—but he agreed to humor her.

"I told you once that any myth of a powerful immortal in your world had its roots in my people, and that many of them played Gods, but there is one question that you never asked me. Whether you realized it or not, you made the assumption that the gods we played were those of the pantheistic religions, the gods of city-states or particular sections of life. You never asked me about the God of Abraham, or of Jesus who they called Christ."

"He isn't one of you." It wasn't a question.

"No. I told you that the spread of Men pushed us away from Above. Already the Jews were hostile to us, but the spread of Christianity, so much faster and more pervasive, cast us out all the faster. It was not safe to stay where there was no belief; we can be killed, if Men persist." He sighed. "And to tell the truth, many of my kind were not willing to accept less than worship from Men.

"You may remember; I wrote that some saw Men as playthings, others that they would be brothers to us, grow with us. Though we all retreated before the advance of Christianity and the strength of Men, it was at this time that those two factions truly went their separate ways. Those who wished to play with Men, to be served and worshiped and feared and adored, took themselves as far as they could from the followers of Christ: they crossed the sea and found followers among the people of the Americas. Those who wished to remain close to the Men we had nurtured stayed, but migrated to the areas where belief remained. Christianity did not come to the Rus' until about a hundred years after my birth, and even when it did, there was little conversion by the sword: the old beliefs remained in the countryside.

"Where the old beliefs remained, it took less energy to cross to the Underground. My mother had lived in Rus' for a very long time; they knew her as Danica, the Morning Star. Others traveled there, to make the final crossing. My father was one of these; I never knew him."

Sarah had never been particularly religious, but it did seem significant that Christianity had had such a huge impact on his people, his people who had played gods. His personal history was fascinating, but did he also have some answers on that greatest of questions?

"Do you believe in God, Jareth?"

"In the God of Abraham?" He sighed. "We spend some three hundred years maturing; I stayed in Kiev until shortly after the death of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, shortly after the beginning of the current millenium. Christianity was quite common in the city by that time, and had been since the baptism of Prince Vladimer. My family had all gone, by then; they had stayed, at first, because the people reacted strongly against Christianity, and clung to us all the stronger, but they gave us up, eventually. I had to stay to mature, but for short visits Underground, and as the pathways became more difficult to travel it was necessary that I not travel Below as often as we would have liked.

"I had the opportunity to study this faith, which so many painted as our vanquisher, though the truth is that our numbers were diminishing even before that added pressure. The practice of it was very beautiful; I understood why Prince Vladimer had been drawn to the Byzantine liturgy. I did not think much of the theology, but I was young, and arrogant, and I intended that I would never die. What need had I for promises of eternal life?

"In the centuries since, I have not seen any solid proof of the truth of this belief, no one sign that can be attributed to a supernatural being, and no other. I wonder why, if such a being existed, my people would not know it. But as I remain, and the years begin to wear on me, I begin to understand why Men would wish to believe."

She thought that through, and then nodded. "I've been thinking about which other authors you might be interested in, authors you might not be aware of. I suppose eventually I should tell you about Tolkien's friend Jack."

The Mirror Maze was simple enough; for that one, she'd learned the trick as a child. Keep your eyes on the ground, and it's just as straightforward as a basic stone maze. She walked quickly through its turns, grateful that the sun was more orange, Underground. This place would be blinding, in brilliant white sunlight.

Sometime yesterday Jareth had suddenly recalled that she had spoken of a sequel to The Hobbit, and had attempted to demand the whole of The Lord of the Rings from her in that instant, but she'd managed to convince him to wait. Telling The Hobbit had lasted long into a long night; he had to be patient and have the longer tale over several days. Though he looked frustrated, he agreed to be patient; they could start in a few more days, once he'd cleared ideas inspired by The Hobbit and the new connections he could make to the Above. She was beginning to feel rather like a walking, thinking audiobook; he'd hardly sat still long enough to even touch her, since the kiss the evening of her gift.

In the Hedge Maze, she sat down on the bottom step of the Wise Man's chair, which was fortunately empty. She didn't feel the need for his cryptic advice, and she could do without the hat's constant sniping. Just as she began to wonder how long she should wait for her friends, before attempting to go on alone, she heard the shuffling of big feet and the patter of small ones, and an excited voice crying from over the top of the next hedge.

"And here we are, my brother, our destination lies just around this corner. Thou shalt not believe thine eyes, for the fair maid is grown more lovely, and more graceful, and more kind. To my shame, I could never have imagined such perfection!"

"Sawah pretty?" She'd already smiled, in some embarrassment, at Didymus' extravagant praise; hearing Ludo's kind rumble, her small smile turned into a grin. She'd missed him. They rounded the corner, and his eyes lit up as he looked at her. "Sawah back!" He lumbered forward, and she ran to meet him, letting his strong arms enfold her in a gentle hug. Maybe he couldn't be her everything, but he radiated unconditional love; she could do nothing but respond.

"Oh Ludo, I missed you. Are you well?"

"Ludo good," he answered, giving a decisive nod of his head. She hugged him again, then released him, turning to the little knight.

"And Sir Didymus," she continued. "Thank you so much for meeting me today, and for bringing Ludo as well."

"Anything for thee, my lady," he replied, kissing her hand gallantly.

"Were you able to get in touch with Hoggle?" She glanced around, hoping for a sign of the dwarf; he was her surest route to victory. He dislikes the Labyrinth, but he knows it very well, almost as well as I do. Jareth had given her the key, long ago at the concert. Hoggle had been less than completely helpful on her first visit, but after hearing Jareth's explanation, she understood why. It hadn't all been fear of Jareth, it had also been that he knew she needed to stay Underground as long as possible, for the magic to hold her after she lost, and give her inspiration—if things had gone the way they usually did. He'd fought Jareth and his own responsibilities in helping her, all in the name of friendship. But even if she returned Above, the Underground now had a firm hold on her soul. He had no reason to refuse her, this time.

"I was able to fulfill that quest, indeed, my lady; he should arrive upon the instant."

Excellent. "I am indebted to you, my knight." A few minutes later, they heard Hoggle's distinctive shuffle, and he came hesitantly around a corner of the maze, watching out for traps or other inhabitants. His face lightened as he caught sight of Sarah and their friends.

"It's good to see you again, Hoggle!" She went to him and embraced him, quickly.

"No kissin'," he said, pushing her off with gruff affection. "He couldn't just open up a hole up there in his tower, but down here? We don' want a repeat of last time." Sarah nodded; the Bog was definitely not on the agenda today.

"Well met, friend Hoggle," said Didymus with a bow. "I trust thy journey was not too arduous?"

"The Labyrinth's the Labyrinth," Hoggle answered with a shrug. "I don' go in without good reason, but Sarah's good reason."

"Hoggle friend," Ludo added, and patted the little dwarf on the head so hard that he almost knocked him off his feet.

"Yeah, well." Hoggle dodged away; he knew Ludo meant well. "It's good t'see ye too, ye great lummox." He looked up at Sarah. "Well, missy, are ye gonna tell us what we're all here for?"

Sarah nodded. "My friends, I need your help once more. I need to get out of the Labyrinth."

She explained the plan, and why she thought it would work. She'd won by getting in from the edge; now she'd win by getting from the center to the edge. She had to get out again. And since she'd had assistance the first time, in the three companions, she wanted their help again. She explained about the Enigma sprites, and how her own efforts to solve the maze had gone, and then she turned to Hoggle.

"And Hoggle… I know you were supposed to lead me back to the beginning. If you know how to do that, you know how to get to the exit, as well, don't you?"

He gave her a long, thoughtful look before he answered. "I do, li'l lady, that I do, but are ye certain this is what ye want?"

"I'm sure."

"May I ask ye why? That rat ain't hurt you or nothin', has he?"

"His Majesty was most kind and attentive to our Lady, when we spoke in the Forest of Forgetting," Didymus cut in.

"No, Hoggle, he hasn't… hurt me. I don't think he would. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm trapped here. I told you once that I had to be sure of him, and I just don't see how I can be as long as he has me trapped here."

"And if ye go, and find ye want him?"

"Then I'll call, and see if he answers." She shook her head. "I've been trying to think out that very answer, Hoggle, but it's hard when he's always around. And he's alwaysaround." She sighed. "If I choose him, I want to choose, not be stuck with him. Do you understand?"

"I ain't made to love like that, li'l lady. Not like romance. But maybe I do. Maybe it's somethin' like why I come runnin' back to jump on the head of a giant construct with an axe, instead of stayin' in the Junkyard feelin' bad for m'self."

Sarah laughed. "Maybe."

"Alright, we gots some ground t'cover and half the day left t'do it in. Let's go!"

Sir Didymus had chased off some of the Labyrinth's inhabitants and sniffed out a few promising paths, Ludo had saved them time by "encouraging" a few partially collapsed walls to give up the ghost, Sarah had solved several riddles and word puzzles, as well as leading them around oubliettes, and Hoggle had done the rest. The sun was tipping towards the horizon when they stepped through the optical illusion and into the narrow, straight corridor that circled the Labyrinth's outer border. As the sun dipped, Sarah was feeling a bit nervous; Jareth would be looking for her soon if he wasn't already, and she wanted to finish this.

"This all looks the same… how do we even know we're close to the exit?"

"We're close." Hoggle's voice was confident.

"How do you know?"

"I know."

"Well where is it?"

"Where is what?"

"The exit!"

"Sarah." He frowned at her, furrowing his eyebrows. "Ask yer right question."

Remembering her previous trip, she put her hands on her hips and glared back at the little dwarf. "How do I get out of the Labyrinth?"

He chuckled. "Very good. Ye gets out," he pointed, "there." The gate rumbled open in what had previously been a section of blank wall.

"Hoggle, this was the way in," she said, exasperated.

"Aye, it were," he answered, "but if ye're goin' out, it's the way out."

"So this was all for nothing? I thought 'through' meant we'd go to the other side."

"Still takin' things for granted." He shook his head. "Sarah, don' ye trust me more than that? Ye've been through the Labyrinth, now: once to the center, and once back out. I may've said ye'd never do it, but I ain't too proud to say I was wrong."

She nodded, and stepped through the gate, stepping past the fairy-shrouded vines that covered the outer walls. Taking a deep breath, she looked up.

Jareth was standing at the top of that dusty hill, next to the tree where once he'd hung his dramatic clock, dressed as he had been then and watching her with the same impassive eyes. She felt, suddenly, very small.

"I have to go on by myself, from here," she said, turning to her friends. "Thank you so much for helping me. I couldn't have done this without you."

"My lady," Didymus bowed. "I am ever at thy service."

"Sawah friend always," Ludo told her, resting one heavy hand on her shoulder.

"Good luck, Sarah," Hoggle said solemnly. "And remember..."

"We'll know soon enough whether this worked," she interrupted. "But no matter what happens here, I won't forget to call." She glanced up at Jareth. "If he'll let me." Hoggle nodded, and stepped back.

Jareth watched her climb the hill, standing still as stone, his face impassive. There would be no pleading, this time.

"Can you send me home?" There was no point in softening it.

"No," he said, flatly. The wind stirred his hair, a strange motion against the stillness of his body. His mouth had moved only enough to speak, and then closed again.

Well, there was one more thing to try.

"Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered," she began. She had planned this, just in case. She knew what she would say, how she would turn the old words. Jareth said nothing, this time, his face grew harder still, his eyes hawklike and dangerous. "I have fought my way here, free of the Labyrinth, to reclaim the life that you have stolen." She hadn't said the bit about the stolen child, when she'd come for Toby, but it fit, this time. She hadn't asked for this. "For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great." Still he had not reacted; she remembered the passive gestures of the Goblin King in her little red book. Jareth did even less; he did not offer her any temptation to stay, or try to interrupt. He only watched her, frozen, hard. "You have no power over me." The words sounded empty, and she knew, without his having moved, that it hadn't been enough. Getting out of the Labyrinth had not been the answer.

They watched each other, still, silent.

"Would you send me back, if you could?" She blinked back tears.

"At this moment, I would," he answered, stiffly, his eyes empty as he watched her struggle.

What else could she do? She'd gotten out, but she wasn't free. She pressed her lips together; closed her eyes. "I had to try."

"Come," he said sternly, "the sun is setting." Defeated, she took his hand; they appeared at her door and he followed her inside. She had thought he would go—she was back, not going anywhere—but instead he came to stand with her at the window. She pressed her open palm, hard, against the stone beside her head.

"'Stone walls do not a prison make,'" she quoted, turning angry eyes to Jareth. Her tone completed her thought: you are keeping me here. She knew he read the accusation, clear as day.

"The poet speaks more truly than you; are you even aware?" Hurt and pain and anger cracked through his voice, breaking through his impassivity; his tone was cutting, sharp as knives. "Or has that one line been repeated so often that you do not know the context?" He turned her to face him; meeting her eyes and holding her fast he quoted, swiftly, exactly:

"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty."

He threw her bodily away, but held her eyes; she watched him, hypnotized. "You are as free as you decide you are," he spat, and turned from her, reaching the door in quick, swift strides. "Do not follow me; do not seek me. I will not return tonight."

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 17 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>