Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 4 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

Sarah locked the door, then collapsed against it, giving herself a few seconds to simply relax before she had to go back to thinking. At least he hadn't actually considered coming in… not that she would have invited him. Still, best not to have the argument. She already felt like she'd given up too much ground tonight, talking to him somewhat civilly as he had requested, even after her resolution to stay angry. So what if the Goblin King won at fancy dinners—she'd still beaten his Labyrinth.

She kicked off her shoes, sinking onto the couch. Suddenly the whole day felt like way too much to deal with, and instead of feeling pleasantly tipsy and satisfied, she now felt slightly drunk and overfull. Her mind, too, felt stuffed to overflowing, Jareth's teasing and arrogance jostling with Ben's absence and her heartbreak. Too much to think about.

She made herself prepare for bed, but soon realized that despite her lethargy, she would never be able to sleep unless she could distract herself from the constant parade of Jareth and Ben. Drawing her dream from her drawer, she slept in the comfort of friendship.

Once more, late morning sunlight dragged her back to consciousness, but today it was a long slow slog, unpleasant after yesterday morning's careful release. She flopped onto her back, stretching. Today is a new day. The cleaning is done, but laundry calls and surely there's schoolwork too. Don't think about Ben. Don't think about the Goblin King.

She felt much more human once she had showered and dressed, but when she reached for her hairbrush, she found, instead, that the Goblin King could be put off no longer. Among her things sat a crystal, and beneath that, a letter, written on thick paper and addressed to her in beautiful, flowing script.

My dear Sarah,

Many thanks, again, for a lovely evening. I would hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did, but I fear that is not the case. Too much history, I believe; or was it not enough? Please allow me now to answer two questions which you asked me last night, with the answers you desired to hear.

First, you asked why I am still interested in you. In answer I tell you this: while you are not the first person to defeat the Labyrinth, you are the first who has done so since I became King, and this makes you interesting. I wonder: what do you have that so many lack?

Second, you asked why I have come to you now. The answer here is simpler still: I could not see you again until you called for me. Now you have called, and I have come. Indeed, I can and shall do so again; you cannot keep me away.

However, let it not be said that I am not generous. I have been so generous as to answer two of your questions; in return, I ask that you write back to me, answering one. When you have answered, you may ask another question; we will continue in this fashion, trading question for question. As in our previous bargain, dishonesty is unacceptable.

If you do not wish to answer, you also may not ask; however, failure to reply will not keep me from seeking you out. Write your letter in return and touch it to the crystal; it will find me.

Write back, Sarah, and answer me this: where, in your world, have you felt most at peace?

Jareth, King of the Goblins

So much for a Goblin-King-Free day.

In spite of her best efforts, the letter wouldn't leave her alone. Yesterday's burst of despairing cleaning had left her with little to do; normally, Saturday was for relaxing and cleaning house. But the laundry was going, her work was done, the house was spotless, and she'd been reading the same one page of a novel for the past five minutes. There was no help for it; the letter must be addressed.

Sitting down at her desk, she read through the letter again. He would answer her questions… with the answers she desired to hear? Did that mean he was telling her what he thought she wanted, or that he was answering without the tricks of phrase he'd used at the restaurant? Or maybe both? She shook her head. The man could build a Labyrinth with words.

At least his reasons for seeking her out made sense, as did his timing. She thought back the times she'd seen him, in her past; had that been her imagination, then? Honestly, she wasn't sure which implication bothered her more: that she had imagined him, or that she hadn't. If she hadn't, was he lying to say that she had to call him, or had she been calling, on some level? If she had imagined him, that was slightly safer… but then what did that say about her? It was one thing to imagine yourself comforted by an imaginary—friend? Adversary? Personal incarnation of sexuality?—when you believed him to be imaginary in truth; it was another problem altogether when that "imaginary" man showed up in your bedroom in the all-too-real flesh.

Then again, while his motives and his past actions were important, as a guide to future behavior, that didn't help with the real problem, which was that he had said she would see him again and that she couldn't keep him away. If he'd be popping up no matter what she did, she needed more information, so that she could figure out what to do with him when he did. The best way to do that would be to answer the damn letter so that she could ask another question. She disliked letting him set the rules of the game, but playing along would probably get her more in the long run. His first question was odd, but at least it didn't mean revealing anything to terrible.

Goblin King,

Okay, I'll play your game.

I don't have an easy answer to your question. I have felt, as you say, "at peace," many times in my life, but there isn't one particular place which always calls to me. My favorite places are those on the cusp of change: a beautiful sunset, becoming night; the dark empty stage of a theater, on the eve of a performance; the shores of the sea at the time when the land breeze becomes a sea breeze; the top of a hill looking down into a beautiful valley. What all of these share is the idea of welcome, ordered change. A beautiful sunset descends into pleasant night; a dark stage lights with activity and drive; a changing breeze brings a ship to shore or sets it off to sea; a panorama invites exploration. The change itself is exciting; the moment before is peaceful because the change is expected, but has not arrived. Its pleasantness is present, with none of its demands.

And now for my question, O King: you spoke with contempt of the Goblin King as he appears in my book, and yet, you are the Goblin King, and in many ways, the story of the book, while not the same, is similar to what I experienced when I was in your Labyrinth. So answer me this: what are the origins of the book?

Sarah Williams

An answering letter was waiting when she got home from grocery shopping on Sunday.

Dear Sarah,

You just get right to the tough questions, don't you?

To understand the book, you must understand that fairy-tales and similar stories of our realm are specifically written in order to increase the connections between our worlds. The book you grew up reading was caused to be written by a previous King of the Goblins, who found amusement in toying with young mortal girls. In principle, the book's purpose was to spread the story; but in practice, he used it to lure these young women into our realm. You know the line, I'm sure: "The King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and he had given her certain powers." I understand it was quite effective. I am not that King of the Goblins; I am his successor.

Now tell me, my dear girl, what is one secret you've never told anyone else?



The answer was interesting, and made sense, provided, of course, that she could trust him. Also, apparently the last Goblin King had been… a piece of work. One who preyed on mortal girls. Well, she didn't need any more warning to be cautious about Jareth; she was cautious already. And, it did argue a bit for his character that he'd told her openly. She paused only briefly before settling down to reply.


One secret? Any sort of secret? Well… it might not surprise you, given our previous meeting, that I never had a great relationship with my stepmother, even before Toby was born. Even after the Labyrinth, it didn't really improve much, though we're civil to each other now and I know my dad loves her. Anyway, early on, right after they got married, I used to steal her stuff, as revenge for her "stealing" my father. I took a few big things, but I knew those were dangerous, so after a few times where I almost got caught, I started stealing her earring backs. Just the backs—little delicate clips that hold them on. They're cheap to replace, but it's incredibly annoying; and they get lost easily, so theft usually isn't suspected. It was very petty and childish of me, but I was petty and childish at the time.

Anyway, the answer to my previous question indicates that there are some minor differences between the story and your world. The book says that wished-away children are turned into goblins, but I saw more than just goblins during my journey. What really happens to children who are wished away?



His answer appeared in time for her to snag it and head to class Monday morning.

Dear Sarah,

The answer to your question, my dear, is that it depends on the child. The book does simplify things a little: not all wished-away children become goblins, though "Goblin" is the most common form for them to take. The Underground changes everyone who enters, even my kindred. It draws out a person's strongest traits, not only in temperament, but in physical appearance as well. A strong-willed adult with magic of his own can maintain his shape against that power, and can balance the varying aspects of personality, but not even all of my kind have that strength. Mortals are far more susceptible, especially if they are young. Children who come to my Kingdom will change, physically, to an embodiment of their particular trait, with some influence from their own wishes (though this varies with age) and the company they keep. Because the classification "Goblin" is quite broad, encompassing creatures no larger than a rat to some larger than that dwarf that helped you, it would be accurate to say that most of the children who are wished to the Underground do indeed become goblins, but it is by no means certain. On your own journey, for example, if you had stayed to play with the Fire Gang, eventually your limbs would have detached as theirs do, and you would have become one of them. The Junk Lady attempted this as well. The Fire Gang represents a somewhat malicious sense of play, something you are not particularly susceptible to; the Junk Lady got far closer, appealing to your desire to keep things you love near to you.

Becoming a Goblin is the most common route taken by the wished-away, because they are like children, like human toddlers, only a few attaining more than might be found in a human six-year-old. Your red book simplifies this, saying that the Goblin King "turns them into goblins," but it is more accurate to say that they turn themselves so. They are not unhappy with their lot, and they do not remember what came before.

You mention a bad relationship with your stepmother. What are your present feelings about your parents' divorce?



She shuddered a bit at the thought of becoming one of the Labyrinth's inhabitants, in the way he'd mentioned, but she'd suspected something like that at the time, or at least later. It was interesting, and somewhat gratifying, to have that thought confirmed.

Jareth's question, however, was a little harder to answer, and it touched on something of what she'd mentioned with the dream, but she had more questions for him, and if she wanted to get, she had to give. Well, it was something most of her close friends figured out eventually… she'd just have to lay it out a bit more than she normally did.

Dear Jareth,

My relationship with my parents is complicated. My mother abandoned me and divorced my father in order to pursue her acting career. When I was young, she promised that she'd come for me once she got settled, first in her new life, then with her new boyfriend. At that time, I idolized her. She was so glamorous, she got to meet big name stars, her picture was on the cover of magazines, you get the idea. As I got older and the promises remained unfulfilled, I started to resent her. Now I mostly just try not to think about her. As for my father, at first I sort of felt bad for him. Later, after he got remarried, I always felt like Karen—my stepmother—was more important to him than I was. I even thought he loved Toby more than he loved me. We worked together to push each other away. We aren't close, now.

Sometimes I see families that really rely on each other, that really love each other, and I'm jealous. The only person I can see having that with is Toby, and he's too young just yet. My mother, my father, and even Karen do care about me, I can see that now, but it'll never be that perfect dream family. Most of the time, I'm resigned to that.

Now that I'm thinking about Toby, I have to know. If I had not completed the Labyrinth, what might have happened to him?


Tuesday morning, Sarah practically bounded out of bed, eagerly anticipating the letter waiting under her crystal. Some part of her registered that her behavior was highly unusual—she wasn't usually a morning person and remember this was the Goblin King exciting such anticipation—but more of her was considering that she had the morning off and maybe if she wrote before her 3pm class, she'd get another letter today. The answers he was giving her were intriguing, with as much unsaid as said, and she wanted more.

Dear Sarah,

I think part of you already knows the most likely answer to your question. Toby was quite young; with a child his age, goblinhood is the most common result, because wished-away children spend the most time with them, and, due to his youth, he was particularly susceptible to their particular whims. Namely, all goblins love to eat, sleep, and make a mess. Is it any wonder their nature calls to babies?

Thus, it is likely that Toby would have become a goblin. However, that was not what I wanted to happen. I had long wanted a companion, or even better, an heir, and I planned to try with Toby. Keeping a human infant human, in the Underground, has not been done as long as I know of; I do not even know of one who has become like me. But I was desperate and planned to try, though I didn't expect it to work. I planned to do my best to keep him completely from goblin company, as that was my best hope; additionally, a great deal of time manipulation would have been required, far more than the time work I did during your visit. Most likely, had I done so, he would not have become a goblin, but rather something new, like your friend Ludo the Rock Caller.

Sarah, when you called your friends together in celebration the night of your victory in my domain, you welcomed not only those who had aided you, but those who had opposed you as well. Your invitation was to all. Why did you include all of my subjects, not simply Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus?



Well. That was a revelation. He'd wanted to keep Toby that badly? Toby was a great kid, but he'd barely been a year old in the Labyrinth. What had Jareth seen in him? Or, did children get wished away so infrequently? Was Toby the choice by virtue of his rarity? And for that matter, sentient beings like Jareth didn't generally spontaneously generate, not unless they were gods, and he kept referring to "his kind." However, seeking human company and not mentioning others like himself indicated that either he was alone, now, or that his kind were very, very rare. Surely they were more common in the past? It wouldn't be sustainable, otherwise. Then again, he looked exactly as he had eleven years ago; how long did his kind live?

She had too many questions; that was the problem. She'd need to come up with something suitably broad, for her next request.

Dear Jareth,

I called out to all of the Labyrinth because everyone there taught me lessons, of friendship or of hardship. You taught me, too, with your opposition. I wanted to thank everyone who helped me grow, and I was willing to welcome anyone who didn't try further to hurt me. The Labyrinth changed my life; but I'm sure you know that.

You refer frequently to the magic of the Underground, and to your kind; you hint at things you haven't yet told me. Tell me then: what is the history of the Underground, especially as it relates to Mankind?


She knew she'd asked a lot, with that last question, so she was resigned to wait for a reply for as long as it took. However, her fears were unfounded: just as she had hoped, there was a letter waiting when she returned after class, and it was quite a bit thicker than his letters had been so far.

Dearest Sarah,

I had wondered how long it would take for you to come around to that sort of question. Prepare, for the answer is not an easy one.

Once upon a time, dear Sarah, my people ruled the world: a very long time ago, before the dawn of Man. It does no good to dwell upon that history; enough time has passed that truly, it has no bearing on today. As Man grew in strength, we taught them; the first writing, for example, came to Man from my kind. Some saw Men as pets, as playthings; but more began to say that perhaps Man could be a brother to us, that perhaps Mankind could stand with us and grow. But men breed faster than my people, though their flame burns out more quickly. The more men were born, the more my people were pushed aside, until there was no room for us both here in the world Above. I suppose it is the nature of children to surpass their parents.

The Underground has always existed. Before, we moved freely between the worlds; Magic is stronger in the Underground, while Time is stronger Above. My people need both: magic to sustain us, time to mature us and bring us children. Thus we had lived in both worlds, staying mostly Above until maturity, and spending more time Below when we had come into our own. As Man's influence grew Above, we spent more time Below, until finally it seemed natural to remain. Having always moved freely between the two, we did not realize the consequences of retreat until it was too late. Man had taken our place, and we could not safely return.

Nothing is born in the Underground, dear Sarah; though it is true also that most, once come, do not die naturally. Even the long lifespan of my people, already numbered in centuries rather than decades, reached on into eternity, when we stayed Below. Most of those who have passed did so in despair, because they tired of life, though some perished in combat, or by assassination. By the time we knew for certain that there would be no more of us as long as we stayed Below, the world Above had changed, and our freedoms were curtailed.

Why is that, do you ask? The connection between Above and Below is founded in dreams. In dreams, any sentient creature can traverse the barrier between worlds, visiting the one he does not call home. But you have studied dreams, my dear: do you not agree that they come, in some part, from our experiences? Once upon a time, most mortals believed in fairy tales. We crafted and planted these stories, desirous that Mankind not forget our part in their heritage, our contribution to the world they had made their own. They used these stories to explain that which could not be explained, but the more they learned to explain the world, the less they needed the stories.

The less Man dreamed of the old ways, of my people, the less we could move between the worlds. As far as I know, dear Sarah, I am the last of my kind: the last to keep dreams alive, the last to remember Magic as a force in the universe. Without the Underground, without Magic, without me, mortal dreams will diminish. It will be centuries before it comes to pass, but one day, Man will find he has forgotten how to wish for something greater, how to push forward, how to want more. The day Mankind says, "This is enough!" is the day Mankind begins to die; I know, because I have borne witness to the same among my kindred. Magic is not the ability to open my hand and cause something to appear; rather, its root is in the ability to hope for something greater. Without strong presence here Below, the Underground will not remain tethered to your world. The dreams will vanish. Mankind will be lost.

The reason we bring Men to visit Underground, under various guises, should by now be obvious. Taking my own Kingdom as an example, the Labyrinth changes those who enter it, whether they are wished away or the wisher who wants to take it back. It changes them whether they succeed or fail. Most people who wish away a child accept their dreams and do not try. Of those who try, some never find the door, and many never find an opening in the Endless Ring. Very few make it even as far as the hedge maze. Only a handful have won back their lost one, as you did. But because they have seen the magic, everyone who comes Underground will never lose their ability to dream, and those dreams strengthen the connection. Many of your greatest authors and thinkers of old were so because they had found their way, at one point, to our realm. They will not remember it fully, but the inspiration of the magic drives them. You may note that the greats of old are lauded still, but no one speaks of, say, a modern Shakespeare. Let this simple fact stand evidence for the truth of my words. He saw, and learned to dream. What poet or playwright of your day has done the same?

Here I find my answer to be a natural segue into the question I have long desired to ask. As a Champion, your memories were not taken from you. Any loss of memory you have suffered related to your journey in the Labyrinth was at your own hands, because you forced yourself to believe that it had to be a dream. You even seek to deny the connection you have to my land. Why have you done this? Why did you force yourself to believe it was all a dream?



Sarah thrust the last essay into her bag and rolled onto her back, enjoying the bright summer sunshine on her face. Grading was her least favorite part of working as a teacher's assistant; working outside made it slightly more bearable. And it truly was a beautiful day: children laughed and played on the swings, their parents looking on indulgently; passing students slowed their harried steps to smile and inhale the green growing tree scent, a break from city life. A ways away, a group of young men were tossing a Frisbee; she paused, considering: one looked vaguely familiar. Eddie, she realized, a moment later, the friend Ben said he'd be staying with. The thought of Ben caused her momentary confusion; she had hardly thought of him at all in the past two days. That was not really normal, for a breakup of this magnitude. Today was Thursday; it had been a week since she'd last seen him, when he'd come to her place to collect his things. She should be dwelling on him every chance she got, shouldn't she?

Well, it didn't matter. Eddie and his friends were far away and hadn't seen her, Ben wasn't with them, she had a perfect patch of sunshine, and she hadn't felt this relaxed in weeks. She closed her eyes and stretched, determined to enjoy a few minutes of thought-free blankness before turning her mind to the more pressing puzzle in her life: a set of letters far more convoluted than undergraduate papers and a hell of a lot more distracting than lost love; and a serious question whose answer was just taking form.

Beyond her eyelids, the sun disappeared. She cracked one eye, intending to glare at the cloud that had ended her moment of peace, and paused: the source of her confusion stood over her, backlit by the sunlight, his shadow falling across her face.

"Jareth." She opened both eyes wider, and glared. "You're blocking my light." He moved to one side, and she squinted as the sun came full into her eyes, then turned her head to watch him. He was being infuriatingly quiet again, but she really only had two options—try to make him go away, or invite him to stay—and he had told her she couldn't keep him from finding her again. "Do you want to sit down?"

His knees folded gracefully, and then he was sitting on her blanket, facing her, stretching his legs out to lean back slightly on one arm. She sat up and copied his position. "Well?"

"You have a letter to answer."

"And I plan to answer it." It was waiting in her bag, actually. She had been sorting through her thoughts on the matter for the past day and more, and she thought she'd finally arrived at an outline of what she felt safe telling him. At first, she hadn't even been sure she would reply, except to end their game, but in the end, all the world's warnings about cats and curiosity couldn't keep her away from learning more of the Underground, where dreams and fairy tales were reality. In fact, writing back to him was the next thing she'd planned to do, but now she wouldn't say so.

"Your previous answers were quite prompt," he probed.

"Your previous questions were less complicated," she snapped back, then caught herself and sighed, looking away.

"If you would prefer conversation…?" He trailed off.

"No." He blinked at her; clearly that was not the answer he'd been hoping for. She couldn't help but notice that he appeared far less controlled than he had when he'd taken her to dinner; while he tried to school his features, whatever he was actually feeling was peeking out from behind the mask. Well, perhaps it could be an advantage, if she could get him to talk about something else. "I'm not going to discuss my answer with you. I want to think it out and then write it down without distractions. So if you're so eager for a response, go away and let me write. But you're welcome to stay, and talk about something else."

She could see the two desires warring on his face. Had he always been this transparent? Was he simply less prepared? Was he doing it on purpose? How deep was his game? You can't take anything for granted.

"Heads!" The sudden cry tore her attention from Jareth's face. She turned, just in time to see Eddie's Frisbee whizzing towards them. Before she could react, Jareth had snatched it out of the air, then held it up, frowning at it. Sarah looked back in the direction it had come from and groaned, hiding her face in her hands. Ben hadn't been there before, but he was now, and he was the one running towards them to retrieve the toy.

"I'm so sorry," he said as he reached them, looking at Jareth. "That was a bit off—Sarah?" He blinked as his eyes refocused on her.

"Ben." She put everything she had into keeping her voice neutral, but something in her tone caught Jareth's attention. She reached out and pulled the Frisbee from him, handing it back to Ben. Jareth's eyes followed her motion, then looked up into Ben's face.

"Er, hi." He paused. "How are you?"

"Well enough." He looked at her, a little sad. "About what you'd expect." When he didn't say anything, she got to her feet. "Can I talk to you for a sec?" She turned to Jareth. "I'll be right back."

Once she had him several feet away and on the other side of a tree—hopefully out of Jareth's hearing—she turned on him. "Did you do that on purpose?"

"What, the Frisbee? No. It was an accident." He seemed distracted. "Who is the guy you were with?"

"That's none of your business." In truth, she wasn't sure what Jareth was. He wasn't just a childhood villain anymore, but she couldn't really say he was a friend.

"What, then, he's some rebound?" Ben sneered, narrowing his eyes at her.

"No, he's… someone I knew from high school."

"He's older than you."

"Cut the protective jealous crap, Ben. You don't have the right." Damn, her voice was catching; tears wouldn't be far behind.

"What, so now I can't be concerned? I still care about you, Sarah."

"Not enough," she said quietly, trying to regain control. He moved in to hug her, but she batted his hands away. "No. You ended things. Give me space to end them too. Go back to your game—or better yet, get out of the park." Leaving him gaping at her back, she walked quickly back towards her blanket, swallowing against her tears and pressing her thumbs into her eyes to dry them. Jareth didn't need to see this. She didn't want to feel this.

"What was—Sarah, are you alright?" Of course Jareth would be observant enough to see that she was upset.

She flopped back down to the blanket and tried to smile, but she knew it didn't reach her eyes. "That was Ben." One raised eyebrow invited further explanation. "Until last week, he was my boyfriend."

"I see." Knowing he was pausing for effect didn't change the fact that it was—well—effective. "You love him?"

"I… Yes. Or, I loved him." She looked away. "It's complicated."

"Last week…" his voice was thoughtful. "This is when you called to me?"

She blushed and looked down. "Yes."

He stood swiftly. "I will leave you now. Remember, you have a letter to answer."

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 4 of 24

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