Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 21 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

On the pillow beside her sat a carved wooden box, and on top of the box, a letter.

My beloved Sarah,

I am sure you are confused, and perhaps angry, that I have sent you back. As I promised you at dinner, it is time now for me to explain everything; when you finally know the whole tale, perhaps you will understand why, and you will forgive me.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful woman who fell in love very young, and found herself with child before she had planned. It is a common story. She married the child's father, and he had a good career and was able to support her and her child. But always she dreamed of the life she had wanted to pursue, without the child, and though she felt some affection for the child, as one would for any small thing, she felt resentment in greater portion: the child was a trap, a bond she could not break. The more of her life was wrapped up in the child, the stronger that resentment grew, until finally, when the child was eight years old, the mother wished her away to me.

Eight is not too old to take, although it is far older than the average. Most caregivers love too much, by then, and only a primary caregiver can wish away a child: mothers are the most common, followed by fathers, and then the occasional grandparent or older teenager, as you were. It is far more common that I receive infants and toddlers; most of my subjects were under the age of five when they came to the Underground. What was unusual about this eight-year-old child was that in my kingdom, she was unafraid. Rather than cowering away from my subjects, as is far more common, she embraced them, from the fairest to the most frightening. Normally, a wished-away Mortal, especially one old enough to understand, would spend the thirteen hours during which she could be reclaimed in an enchanted sleep, in order that she not be frightened. Happy dreams are better for us than nightmares. Only if her wisher failed would she awaken and, in time, find her place in my Kingdom. But not this child.

She played with my goblins, and she sat on my lap and listened as I told her the old tales, and told me stories she had made up in return. I was enchanted. I had never wanted anything so much as to keep the child with me in the Underground, to have her remain so fresh and kind, so open and loving, to stay with me all her days. But I knew what would happen, if I did. Although she was older than most who came to my Castle, she was still too young to remain as she was, if she stayed. If she stayed now, a child still, I could not keep her. She would fade, one part of her nature called out by the magic, the rest lost, until her outer form matched her inside, as I have described to you. But there were stories, so old that they were nearly legend to me, of Men who came to the Underground as adults, who, through strength of will and established character, could retain their own nature, or perhaps simply assume some of the nature of my kind. You may remember that the Greeks have some stories of Men who take their place among the Gods. And so I knew: if I wanted any chance at all to keep this girl, it was necessary that first I let her go, to grow Above, away from me, and develop that strength.

Her mother, consumed with guilt, had taken up the challenge of the Labyrinth, but in eight hours she had not come very far—not even as far as you had come in half that time. And I could feel that she wanted to give up, that the pull of her dreams was still strong on her, warring with guilt over leaving her child, aided by despair as she knew she was far, far from saving the girl. So I went to her, again, and offered her a new bargain.

Normally, when a Mortal chooses their dreams over their child, the memory of the child fades, from all who knew her. Crushing guilt is not part of beautiful dreams, after all. To this mother, I offered a second bargain, on top of the trade of her child for her dreams. I told her that when the thirteen hours were up, the child would be returned to her Above; but the price was that her dreams would be deferred for a few years, rather than coming true immediately, and that in the meantime, she was to devote herself to the child, and most importantly, to ensure that the child still wanted to believe in fairy tales. Though I took from her the details of our encounter, still she retained those two things as absolutely true: she continued to foster a love of stories and storytelling in her daughter, and she continued to believe that her dreams would come true, one day.

I returned to the Castle to spend the time remaining with the child, and showed her around to several parts of the Kingdom. We played and talked until finally she fell asleep in my arms. I knew that if she remembered everything she had seen, she could not be happy as a normal child: the magic would call too strongly, and she would not grow up to be herself, as she must, to return to me. So I took from her the memory of our time together, though I left her certainty that fairy tales could be real, if only she dreamed hard enough. She awoke in her own bed, Above.

It happened exactly as I had planned. The child was mine, and I watched over her, as often as I was able, making certain that her mother held to our bargain. The child remained happy and loving, she believed the stories, she retained that belief. I could even scry her out, though Underground, as she was mine, a citizen of my Kingdom though she remained Above. And I kept my end as well: a short while after her daughter had become a young woman, the mother's dreams came true, and she left her family behind to pursue them. At the same time, I gave my child the ability to call out to me, so that I would hear her wherever she was, as once we "gods" gifted those mortals we used, or treasured. Once she did so, I would be able to bring her home with me. I was certain she would call to me one day; even if she did not, I could come to her at a later time, once she was truly an adult and not an adolescent. Once I had brought her Underground, I knew she would stay with me: her memory of her life Above would fade, in time, and as she already knew the Labyrinth's magic, as she was already mine, there was no way she would resist. She would be happy, with me. And though at first I sought only a friend, to ease the pain of weary hours as I stand my watch, as she grew in grace and beauty, I began to hope that someday, I might find in her a lover, as well. I was even glad when she found the book, though I disliked my predecessor, because I knew that it would bring her closer to the truth of me, that it would give her a title, if not a name.

But here, beloved, here is where I was undone. Freed from her mother, who had gone off in pursuit of her dream, her father married another woman, a woman who did not love my child. And soon they had a son, who was given into her care, as her father and his new wife enjoyed themselves. My beautiful, gentle girl, hurt by this treatment, was jealous of the new wife and of the baby, and, far sooner than I had hoped to hear her, she called out to me in the one way that I cannot refuse. She called for the goblins to take her brother away.

It was too soon, the time not truly ripe; but what else could I do? I offered her dreams and begged her to take them. I brought her to my lands to search for her brother, as I must, but I allowed my subjects to aid her, hoping that she would love the Underground too much to leave. I despaired and grew angry; I threatened her and frightened her. I stole time from her when she baited me. When none of that was enough, I sent dreams to distract her, to make her forget, to bind her to me. If only she would stay we would have forever, and I could win her, in time; from her dreams I knew she felt it, I knew she wanted me as well. In the end I set the Labyrinth against her completely, and all its inhabitants, but she had chosen her friends wisely and still she won through. I confronted her, I pleaded with her, I begged her to choose her dreams, to choose me, but she had eyes for the child alone, and her head was full of that book written, to spread our story, by that other Goblin King.

Words have power, Above and Below, but Below their power is far greater. There were many things she could have said, to reclaim her baby brother. All she had to do was tell me, some way, any way, that he was hers and that she would take him, for she had already defeated all the challenges I had given her, and I knew she would not turn back. But bolstered by her love of those stories, the love I had indeed taught her to keep, she drew on that old story, declaring my defeat specifically in those old words, and I was undone. No longer could I watch over her wherever she went; no longer could I appear to her at will. I could not keep her in the Labyrinth. I could do nothing unless she called to me again, and I could not take her with me until she had given some of that power back. She was mine no longer: she had broken her mother's geas.

Many times, over the years, I felt her pain, her subconscious calling out, desiring comfort, and each time I could come closer, but never did she speak. Without the words, I could not stay. For years this continued; even if I could only ensure that she saw my face, I could know that she remembered me, and that I still had hope. In all those years, what else had I to do? So few, these days, are those who remember to call on the Goblin King.

But then the day came when she ceased to call even softly. For two years, there was nothing, no word, no sign, no thought, no touch. Though I had been patient for nine years, I had allowed myself to hope; two years of absolute silence was nearly too much to bear. I tried to reach her, even doing my best to place her old book in her path, though I could not approach her closely. I tried to pursue other thoughts, to shore up my Kingdom, to remind the Above of what they owed Below; I threw myself into the work, but to no avail. The fairy tale is passing from your world and I cannot save it, alone as I am.

Beloved, surely you know by now that you were that child, wished away, who captured my heart. Now that I have told you, my first spell will be broken; should you think back, you should remember your time with me, with clarity similar to any other memory of similar age. When I heard your call the night I was able to come to you, I thought I had succumbed to madness, or that I was passing away despite my will to stay. Thus I set out to win you, for I could not hope for a better chance. I am the Master of Dreams, the King of Fairy-Tale, the only remaining of those who breathed life into those stories. I would never be Prince Charming, but if I was not a villain, that would be enough. You know the rest of the story, for you lived it with me. Your attraction, your anger, your friendship, and ah! in the end, our love. But all these past days, as I watched you sleep, I knew that only one course lay before me, though it lay against my very nature. I could have acted after our first night together; it has taken me these seven days to make up my mind to let you go.

When I knew you as a child, you delighted me. When I watched you grow in adolescence, I was fascinated by your childishness and your womanliness, so wonderfully blended. I was captivated by your innocence: I wanted to treasure it; and I wanted to take it—for you to give it to me. Before you broke my hold, I protected you, and protected that innocence, for you and all of you belonged to me. Had you remained mine, you would have known far less heartbreak, far less pain. Perhaps this is why you called me back to you in times of heartbreak, those years in between. Perhaps in some way, you remembered; you knew that I would have kept you from that pain.

That Sarah you could have been, that innocent woman-child who could have come to me: she would have been beautiful. A perfect doll, an easy companion. I could have loved her. But you, my Sarah, you are not that girl. No: you are far, far more. Far greater, far deeper, far better, far stronger, far more wonderful than any of my imaginings. You are your own woman, and not my toy; your own woman, and yet still you love me. You chose to love me; that other girl would know no other way to be. I knew how it would be, to love the girl you could have been. I never imagined what it would mean to love the woman that you are. Do you understand, yet, my heart?

Sarah, my only love, I have sent you home, returned you whence and when you came, because I love you too much to keep you. I cannot resign you to my fate. I cannot trap you here, in a dying world, with so little by way of consolation. Do not for one moment think that you displeased me, that you did anything to bring this to pass. In the short time we have been together, you have surpassed all my imaginings, blown wide my hopes, inspired my dreams, overcome my expectations. Beloved Sarah, believe me, please: you are the most beautiful, giving, and gracious creature I have ever known. I thought you would provide distraction and amusement. I never imagined that you could find a way to be an active help to me in the duty I have undertaken. Your assistance will last beyond your lifespan; for that alone, I will always be grateful to you. But far beyond that, in granting me your love you have given me a taste of the sweetest bliss; that must be enough for me, to hold out as long as I can against the end. Perhaps, in another millennium, Men will learn a new way to dream, and I can find my rest as well.

As a final gift, my beautiful, the crystal with this note will grant you one wish, any wish personal to you that is in my power, which cannot bring back the dead but which can do most else. Now, let me caution you: I know what you may be thinking and I know how this story may end. Yes, you can use this crystal to wish yourself back Underground. I will not—I cannot—order you not to do this, but I will beg you: do not do this, or if you do it, do not do it lightly. It took all my strength of will to be able to send you away. If you return to me, it is forever: I will never let you go. You will fade from Above as though you were a dream. Your family will not remember you, your friends will not grieve for you, your work will be forgotten; all but the barest evidence of your existence will disappear.

If you return to me, you will never age. You will remain as you are. You will struggle to mature, as I have: and though you are an adult, you are not so old that this will not matter. You will bear no children; you will leave no posterity; you will have no work of your own, only mine: and there are not so many more like your Tolkien. You struggled to amuse yourself during the days you spent with me; how will you bear eternity, when you find that my love is no longer enough? Would you despise me, then? That would destroy me.

My Sarah, if you would return, you must know why you would do it, and the reason must be equal to the sacrifice. Do not return to me only for duty; do not return to me only for passion; and above all else do not return to me out of pity. If you return only for duty, we will cease to be friends, let alone lovers, because duty will bear you down before the end of your mortal lifespan. If you return only for passion, you will despair the first time ours begins to wane, because you have not been trained to the patience of centuries, which teaches that it will also wax again. If you return to me out of pity, then you never loved me at all, and that I cannot bear.

And so I beg of you, my Sarah, my beloved, my precious jewel, star of belief in dark times, strengthener of my soul: choose another dream, if there is any other dream for you to choose. Whatever choice you make, I will love you until the end of my days.

It was signed, simply, J.

In the box, she found the promised crystal, and a picture frame formed of living red roses, which held a poem she had not before known.

Go, lovely Rose—
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.

Then die—that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

Edmund Waller, 1645

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 21 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>