Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 5 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

Dear Jareth,

I am sure you know that this is the most difficult question you've asked. I'm sure it was intentional. Payback, maybe?

In any case, I am not sure you will like my answer, but you asked, so here goes. In short, I convinced myself that the Labyrinth was a dream because I couldn't figure out how to believe in you. When you appeared in my parents' bedroom to meet with me after you'd taken Toby, I was afraid, but also interested. I'd read the story. This could be an adventure. And it was. It was the adventure of a lifetime, looking back, though I was too afraid to notice at the time.

But when I got home and started thinking about it, I noticed something strange. Everywhere I went in the Labyrinth, every time I got stuck, someone was there to help. Hoggle let me in. The Worm showed me that first opening. The Knights and Knaves saved me from an endless loop of dead ends. The Helping Hands caught me. You could have left me in the Oubliette to starve, or just to wait out my thirteen hours, but instead you sent Hoggle, even if it was to lead me back to the beginning. You set the Cleaners after me, but the wall magically opened. You let Hoggle rescue me from the Fire Gang. You sent Ludo to the Bog, but Hoggle told me later you'd already threatened him the same way, and so your very threat made it possible for us to meet up with him again—and if we hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to get through the goblin army you sent (you sent an army! Against one girl!). You sent a dream to distract me, but you didn't hold me by force. You ran me in circles in the staircases, but then you threw a crystal to Toby that helped me track and find him. I jumped a long way off that last staircase, but wasn't hurt.

In other words, you don't add up, Jareth, or at least, you don't add up if all you are is the nefarious Goblin King, who steals babies from foolish mortals. I didn't know what else you could be that was still something real, not just something I needed or wanted. Sometimes I thought you wanted to kill me; other times it was almost as if you wanted to let me win. At the end, it almost seemed as though the Labyrinth had been some sort of elaborate morality play, formed to teach me to grow up and stop being a spoiled child.

I didn't wake up the morning after and decide it had been a dream. It took me more than a year to come to that conclusion. Now, of course, I know that the reason you seemed to be more than just the story's King is that you are, but without that knowledge…. When a person creates an imaginary companion—we call them "imaginary friends" but they don't need to be friendly—that companion can change to suit the needs of the imaginer. And that's how I saw you, and Ludo and Hoggle and Didymus and everyone else: that you filled a void in my life that couldn't be filled with normal things.

I can't handle more of this, just now, so I'll ask something simple: please, Jareth, what are the histories of Hoggle and Ludo and Didymus, and how are they now?


It wasn't a perfect letter and it left a lot out, but she was tired of spilling everything and she'd already spilled quite a bit. There was still the question of what had happened when she'd seen him after the Labyrinth, but that wasn't something she wanted to discuss with him. More and more, she was afraid that she actually had seen him, in some way, which meant she'd summoned him, and if she had, what did that mean for her? And why did he continue with this game?

On Friday morning, there was no new letter under her crystal. Sarah fought hard against disappointment; she'd suspected that the last question had been the one that truly plagued him, and now that he had his answer, he saw no need to continue the game. I wonder if I insulted his vanity, telling him I couldn't believe in him? Or is he flattered to be the source of the problem? But when she closed her front door and turned to lock it, Jareth was standing there, leaning against the side of the building. In spite of herself, she knew she'd jumped.

"What do you want?" She wanted to sound angry but it mostly came out breathless. She pressed a hand to her heart, trying to still her trembling.

"So sorry; did I frighten you?" He didn't sound sorry; he sounded amused. His face was perfectly blank.

"Startled. Were you waiting for me?"

"Yes." He looked unconcerned. "I desired to answer your latest question in person. Will you join me this evening?"

"For what?" Second date? She forced her logical mind to the surface. Goblin King, Sarah. Don't get all fluttery. Find out what he wants.

"Now Sarah, will you not trust me?" She didn't justify that with a response. "All I want is your company for the evening, and for you to listen to my answer; and surely, there is no danger in your question? It does not carry the weight of your last. I will ask you one as well, but you may decide then whether you would prefer to answer immediately or write again."

"I… I guess that would be alright."

"Very good; meet me here ten hours hence." She did some quick mental math—that was about 6pm. He stood up straight, and this time, she could see clearly how he was gathering himself to disappear.

"Wait, Jareth!" He paused. "You won't tell me where we're going?" He said nothing. "Or at least tell me what to wear?" That last question might not have been a good idea; she could feel the heat of his gaze as he looked her over, slowly and deliberately.

Finally, he readied himself once more. "Do not wear pants," he said cryptically, "and do not wear heels." She tried to meet his eyes again, but only wall remained.

A flowing casual skirt and flat sandals—the easiest solution she could think of to Jareth's instructions—had been a good choice. Jareth showed their tickets at the gate, and then led her to a grassy area on the hillside of an outdoor concert venue. A blanket appeared out of nowhere and he gestured for her to sit. As he joined her, she looked at the program she'd been handed at the gate, noting that the concert was to be given by the city orchestra.

"'Two Fairy Tales?'"

"It seemed appropriate. I am unfamiliar with the first, however." He reached into a basket that had not been there a moment before. When he removed his hands, he held a perfectly chilled bottle of wine and two glasses, settling them on a short-legged tray that simply appeared as he set them down.

"You're very convenient for a picnic."

"Of course," he said smugly. Thin-sliced meat, cheese, bread, and grapes had joined the wine, along with thin glass plates. She turned back to the program.

"You don't know Peter and the Wolf?" He just looked at her. "But you do know Peer Gynt." She frowned; she should know this. What was the Peer Gynt Suite again? Ah yes: "In the Hall of the Mountain King." That wasn't all of it, of course, but everyone knew that movement. "Why wouldn't you know Peter and the Wolf? You just got done telling me about how you plant such stories."

"I will know more once I have heard it; I understand the piece includes narration." She nodded; he plucked a grape and chewed slowly. "The best inventions come from those touched by the Underground, but that does not mean that all are sourced there. Especially if it is recent—created in the past hundred years—it may not have touched my world at all, or perhaps so lightly and so briefly that I would not know it, were I focused on something else at the time."

"It is recent," she said, flipping through the program to the page that detailed each piece. "1936. And it isn't based on any older tales. Peer Gynt was written in 1876, but its origins are much older."

"Underground, actually. The Kingdom of the Trolls is faded, now." She nodded.

"So you know things that are sourced in your world, even if they're recent, but not new things?"

"Exactly." He gestured to the food. "Eat, Sarah. I will answer your question about your friends." He took a breath, then began.

"Hoggle is an import from another kingdom, which is no more, now. I am certain you know at least one story in which his people played a part; at the very least, it explains why he cannot help but look after young brunettes. This is also part of the reason he dislikes me: his king and I were not on good terms. But as he came to me, rather than follow his King into the mists, he must now submit.

"He remains where you first saw him, near the main gate. He dislikes the Labyrinth, but he knows it very well, almost as well as I do. Though of course, unlike me, he has no control."

"You mean, he could have led me all the way through? And what do you mean, control?"

"He knows how, but he would not have done it." That earned him a glare, which he ignored. "In his own way, he is quite committed to the Underground, though he has neither my power nor my responsibility. 'I wished my brother away, but a friendly dwarf took me to him,' does not make quite the same impression as what you experienced, especially if you believe it is only a dream." Sarah could see the sense in that, even though she didn't want to, which was irritating. "He is also terrified of me, which is the greater reason he hates me and is disrespectful. He should never have told you my name." For a moment, dark shadows seemed to gather around him; the human mask slipped. Slowly and a little fearfully, Sarah drew back; the motion seemed to recall him to the world and he smiled again, the shadows fading. "And yes, I control the Labyrinth. I can change each individual stone, if I wish. Generally I concern myself only with large matters. The Labyrinth can take care of itself."

She wasn't interested in courting that deadly danger by asking more about Hoggle. It would be safer to change the topic. "What about Ludo?"

"I told you before that Ludo's form is unique in the Labyrinth. Ludo was wished away; he is the oldest we have ever taken. Indeed, if he had been normal we could not have taken him at all, but he was not; rather, the mind of a child remained, though his body was that of a young man. He liked to build things, apparently, although not generally useful things. He was wished away when his family could no longer care for him."

"Poor Ludo! And I found him tied up, being tortured by goblins!"

Jareth shrugged. "They would have bored of him eventually. Since he called the rocks in the Goblin City they mostly leave him alone. I have not seen him for quite some time."

"You don't care?"

"I have many subjects and the beast is not particularly useful or particularly intelligent. He is free to do as he chooses."

That was a little hurtful, but at least he hadn't punished Ludo. "And Sir Didymus?"

"Of the little fox's origins, I am uncertain. I believe he is from another kingdom originally; in any case, he has resided in the Labyrinth since long before my reign. Guarding the Bog Bridge is something of a retirement position for him, as it sees few travelers, despite being directly in the way of one of the shorter paths through the Labyrinth. I don't know what strange quirk of fate led him to be unable to smell it—he can smell other things quite well—but it is a good enough position for him to hold, and it makes him feel useful. Without that, he would probably be dashing about my Kingdom under the belief that it needed defending from particularly menacing trees, or perhaps giants of legend, which I believe was the famous pursuit of another hapless knight written of in your world.

"After you left us, I sent him back to his post in the Bog. We fixed the bridge, and better to have him there with a task than running all over the Kingdom being a nuisance."

"Does he still have his dog? Ambrosius reminded me so much of my own Merlin."

"I have no way of knowing, but unless the animal fell into a hole somewhere, I would imagine so. I told you that nothing ages Underground." His lack of interest was obvious.

They sat in silence a while, sipping wine. The sun was lowering in the sky, the evening warm and pleasant. All in all, Sarah found she much preferred it to a concert hall, even though she loved going to the theater.

"Do you have any subjects you do like?"

He laughed. "Sometimes. I like the way the fairies torment Hoggle. Goblins are not generally bright, but they can be amusing. There is a water maze, which you never saw, full of sprites; they are beautiful." He took a long gulp of wine, and went on more quietly. "But I told you how most come to my Kingdom. The resulting personalities… lack depth."

"Is that why—" she cut off as he spun around, grasping both her hands.

"Do not ask that question." His eyes bored into hers. "Now is not the time." On stage, the first violin had taken his seat; a tuning note filled the air. "I believe they are about to begin," he said, gently, releasing her hands. "Let us see this modern fairy tale."

The applause died away, and the orchestra filed out, signaling intermission. A faint smile remained on Sarah's lips; she'd always enjoyed the way the story and the music wound together. She turned to Jareth, who was staring intently at the stage, frowning slightly.

"Well?" He looked at her briefly, then returned his eyes to the stage. "What did you think?" He remained silent for another minute, while she did her best to wait patiently.

"It is missing something," he said finally, still looking at the stage.

"Missing something?"

He turned to her. "Missing something, yes. It is too simple. The big bad wolf, cornered by a little boy with no more than a lasso. It should have at least required some trickery. Additionally, the boy should speak to the wolf. He speaks to the bird, and the bird understands, so clearly this is allowed; it is not a matter of realism."

"Sending the bird as a distraction doesn't count?"

"It is better than nothing, yes, but not enough. A wolf in such a tale should be quite clever; this one does not seem to be so. Peter should need to outwit him as well as rely on strength or human tools. You know 'Little Red Riding Hood,' I am certain. That is the sort of witty wolf outsmarted that I desire to see. Finally, taking the wolf to a zoo is simply asinine. It would perhaps be humiliating for a sophisticated wolf to be brought down in such a manner, but as the wolf is a nothing, all a zoo means is a long life of ease, food brought to him regularly—a reward!" He shook his head. "Let us rather see a clever wolf, who lures the boy out of the gate with the promise of adventure, only to pounce! And the boy escapes, briefly, with the aid of his friend the bird, and climbs the tree. From there he speaks to the wolf and somehow tricks him into going away, and while the wolf is gone, he sets two snares, perhaps with the assistance of the cat, who is useless to the story as it currently stands. The wolf suspects the first snare, but not the second, and thus is caught; at that point it could be off to the zoo or the hunters could shoot him or, better, Peter and Grandfather could do it themselves. A nice new wolf pelt rug. They are Russians, after all." Sarah frowned. "You look as though you don't agree with me."

"It's more complicated than that," she replied. "You have to understand, this piece of music is part of childhood for most of us. There's even a cartoon version, which Toby loved. He used to call the instruments by the name of the person they represent." Jareth was still frowning at her. "But I do agree that the story is rather simplistic. I like your suggestions!" She grinned. "An expert opinion is quite valuable." This reached him; he relaxed, somewhat. "What did you think of the music? That's always been my favorite; it was written to teach children about the different parts of the orchestra, and I like the way the parts weave together."

"Parts were enjoyable, but separate from the story, it would be incomprehensible. Better to improve the story, then rescore it to match." He paused. "The individual themes may remain," he finished, with an air of great condescension.

She couldn't help laughing at his expression. "Too generous, Your Majesty."

He answered with the smirk she had expected, then reached again into the basket, offering her a container of chocolates and another of blackberries.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 5 of 24

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