Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 6 of 24

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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

The sun was setting as the orchestra took the stage again. Sarah was busy trying to remember what else was in Peer Gynt, besides "In the Hall of the Mountain King." Even the program wasn't very useful; while it went on and on about Ibsen and how Grieg had put the Suites together, nothing it said was helpful. But before she could ask Jareth, who'd said he knew the story, the orchestral tuning note rang out once more. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jareth sit forward, a look of fixed attention and anticipation on his face.

As the solo flute began to play the opening strains of the first movement, Sarah shivered with delight, leaning back and closing her eyes. This was what had been teasing her; she'd forgotten that this melody was part of Peer Gynt. It was happiness, Joy given form in music. Her eyes opened as she smiled, and, reaching for another sip of wine, she caught a glimpse of Jareth out of the corner of one eye. At the sight, her breath caught in her throat, and she turned to look her fill, the wine forgotten.

His eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted, a gentle smile teasing his lips, his body tense, like one who has seen a beautiful but skittish creature, and desires not to frighten it away. All of his attention was focused on the music. The setting sun limned his face, lending even his human glamor an otherworldly glow. He had always been beautiful, but this was more. It wasn't the symmetry of his face, or the lean grace of his form; those were always part of him. It was the intensity of his expression, the passion the music evoked in him; it went into him, it was part of him. It was pure emotion, nothing hidden or held back; his heart, bare to her gaze for, possibly, the first time, and shining with the same joy she felt in the melody. Or no; her own joy paled next to his; he was Joy personified, as far beyond her own small happiness as a well-aged wine is beyond a vino nuovo. He was utterly, absolutely captivating. She forgot her own simple joy in the melody and in the recognition, swept up in the peace that flowed from him like water.

The music changed as the second movement began; it was slow, and sounded final. Sarah couldn't look away. His face changed to reflect the tone, his lips closing, head bowing, half in thought, half in sorrow, and wholly riveting. She spared a glance at the program, already guessing what might be the content of this movement; the title confirmed it: "The Death of Åse." She remembered her own sorrows: the loss of Merlin, the year she graduated college; the death of her grandfather, the previous winter. Like those losses, though, the music told her, this death had come at its proper time, at the end of life. Was Jareth thinking of those who had gone before? In his long life, he had had so many to lose. Her throat closed, as though to hold back a sob, though no tears threatened.

The beginning of the third movement changed him again, bringing light back into his face. Not the joy of the first movement; this was playfulness, a half smile playing on his lips as he seemed to watch something between his eyelids. The music was pleasant, seductive, and vaguely Arabic; it spoke of hot sands and cold nights and close tents. He leaned back slightly on his hands, the half smile adjusting into a look of sensual appreciation that was edging into outright lust, though his eyes stayed firmly closed. A glance at the program revealed little; the third movement was titled "Anitra's Dance." Still, his mood was infectious, and she found herself smiling with him.

He sat forward again in anticipation as a brief moment of silence fell before the fourth movement. As the music began, his expression turned intent, the look of a predator whose prey was in view. The trap was closing, he need only wait for it to spring, and spring it would, and this he knew. Concentration warred with glee as the music rose, and as the music peaked he threw back his head and laughed, the sound blending with the thrilling of the strings. Though the laughter was brief, the cruel, knowing grin of the Goblin King remained as his head came forward again. He rested his chin on one hand, tilting his head as though listening to suggestions from either side, finding all of them amusing. Seeming to choose one, he brought both hands together at the fingertips, his smile spreading, a dangerous and malicious threat, as though he were anticipating some grand entertainment; the music ebbed, then swelled again, urgent, rushing to the finish.

His eyes flew open at the final note.

The audience was applauding around them, but they were both quite still. Jareth was the first to move, breathing deeply and sitting back, turning to Sarah as he did so. His movement broke her trance; she blinked, looking down and away briefly before seeking his eyes. The intense focus was gone from his posture, replaced with his usual casual arrogance, and his eyes were full of questions.

"I do wonder, my dear, why you were looking at me so intently."

"I..." She didn't know how to reply. "You... you were so... intense." He said nothing, only waited for her to continue. "It was like you were living it, whatever was going on in the song. Or the play." Her own reactions, to him, she would leave out, if he let her. The first movement had struck her still with his beauty; the second with an ache to comfort; the third with a desire to laugh; and the fourth, oh, this she could hardly admit: framed by the first three, the power and cunning of the fourth movement, which would had been frightening if that cruel smile had been fixed on her, had instead been magnetic, intriguing, and incredibly erotic. The sheer power of his presence was compelling, the knowledge that he could, and would, do as he pleased, with very few who could say him nay. Joy, beauty, grief, mischief, power, cunning, pride, sensuality; he embodied all those things and more; he was indeed far, far more than her childhood villain. Far more than the Goblin King in her little red book. She swallowed; she had to say something more. "You weren't like that during Peter and the Wolf."

"No," he said. "Unlike the previous piece, this music, as well as the play, bears strong marks of the touch of the Underground. It calls; I cannot help but answer. I have not experienced that tale so strongly for a very long time." The audience was quieting, and the conductor raised his baton, calling the orchestra to attention to begin the second suite of Peer Gynt. "I hear the music; I see the truth of the story behind it." He leaned towards her, drawing a crystal out of the air and holding it flat in his palm. "Grasp the crystal, Sarah, and see as I see." The temptation was too strong to ignore; she closed her hand around the crystal in his palm and it shrank, diminishing into a small marble that stayed, cold and hard, between their hands, as he clasped her fingers. His hand was warm and firm and, for the first time in her knowledge, bare. She looked up at him in surprise, but he only smiled, then said softly, "Close your eyes."

The first scene was not a tranquil one.

A young man climbs up a hillside, carrying a young woman dressed in fine clothes. His own clothes are just this side of rags. He puts her down, then grabs her; she falls to the ground, pulling him with her. They kiss, and the sun sets.

Sunrise, and she is chasing him back down the mountain, arguing. She grabs him; he throws her off. She falls to her knees; he laughs.

Sarah opened her eyes to see Jareth's reaction. His smirk was coldly amused.

She wraps her arms around him, pleading, begging, crying. He sneers at her, tears himself away, disappears into the forest. She touches her lips, her breast, the join of her legs, sinking to the ground, shaking. He is gone; he has taken her great gift. All she has is heartbreak, and regret. The young man dances off through the hills, heedless of the pain he leaves behind.

Jareth hadn't laughed at her pain, but neither was he sympathetic. Sarah remembered that look; she had seen it before: action taken, consequences result. What's said is said. I didn't mean it! Oh, you didn't? And she didn't like it, but he had a point: the girl had gone with him willingly, and if he'd abused her virtue, she had invited it. She hadn't fought him; it hadn't been rape. She knew who he was. I knew who he was, when I wished Toby away. Now that was a sobering thought.

The second movement was once again sensual, sharing the same Middle Eastern flair as the third movement of the first suite.

The same man, older now, wanders a dry and sunny desert, leading a white horse, wearing fine clothes and jewels. He comes upon a tribe of Arabs, who greet him like a king, thanks to his clothing. He accepts their hospitality, seated with their chief, and enjoys the entertainment. Scantily clad women dance for them, swaying hips and breasts and trails of cloth. The man—he must be Peer Gynt—is clearly one with an eye for the ladies; his smirk is just this side of simply offensive, and he's narrowed in on one girl, more beautiful than the rest, and central to the dance. As it ends, he approaches her.

The shared music brought a shared reaction from Jareth; his seductive, inviting, sensual smirk was back. This time she let herself think what she hadn't before: I wish he'd look at me like that. But no sooner had the thought come than she clamped down on it again. Danger. Goblin King. What was he doing to her? Or, a more frightening thought: what if he wasn't doing it at all? What if it was all her?

The third movement was all vivid action.

A ship, at sea, tossed by waves: a storm fit to sink it. Peer Gynt, now old and grey, stands on the deck with another man, who is giving orders, as sailors rush about. The sea is dark, the nearby land rugged. As the storm increases, Peer runs to the rail: he has seen another boat, overturned on the waves. But the other man—the Captain—refuses to assist; it is too dangerous. Peer then speaks to a strange man all in black, and they argue, but what they were discussing seems to frighten him. Peer shakes his head, a vehement denial, and the man disappears.

When she opened her eyes, what she saw was shocking. Jareth looked terrified. His free hand was clenched into a fist, and the hand that held hers was squeezing so tightly that the knuckles were turning white, bruising hard where the tips of his fingers pressed into the back of her hand. His face was drawn, his jaw clenched, and he trembled, slightly. What was he afraid of? Surely not the storm. Who was the man in black? Could he be Death? What could bring the Goblin King to his knees; what could frighten him so?

The ship is sunk, Peer is in a small boat, and there is the man in black again, clinging to the gunnel. Peer yells at him, and he lets go. Peer comes to shore, the ship wrecked.

Jareth's hand on hers was painful, even when the music ceased. The fourth movement began, finally, and he relaxed, and his face shifted to a look of such longing that her breath caught as it had at his joy. He had magic and will and beauty and power and grace; what could he want so badly?

A beautiful woman, middle-aged, sits in the door of her hut in the forest, spinning. She sighs, sad, lonely. She opens her mouth, and the movements of her lips match the melody singing from the violins.

Jareth had shifted closer to her as she watched the opening, and as the melody began again, he leaned in to her ear and softly sang:

Perchance both winter and spring will pass,
and next summer, and the entire year: —
but at last you will come, that I know for sure;
and I'll still be waiting, for I once promised I would.
God give you strength, wherever in the world you go!
God give you joy, when you stand before his judgment seat!
Here I'll wait until you come again;
and if you are waiting up Above, there we'll meet, my love!

She opened her eyes, not to see his face, but simply to avoid the distraction of the vision as she focused on his words. It sounded far too much like a promise, far too much like a plea. If you are waiting up Above. The playwright had most likely meant Heaven, but the play wasn't originally in English; she knew he'd translated for her. He had chosen those words intentionally. At last you will come, that I know for sure. Had he been waiting, all these years? He had told her he was curious about the woman who had beaten him, but that didn't mean he didn't have other reasons as well. The King of the Goblins had fallen in love with the girl. She kept circling back to that thought, even though he'd said it was a lie, and it wasn't him. But something was brewing here; this she knew. Perhaps he hadn't loved her before her time in his Labyrinth, as the story King loved his girl, but during? After? She sifted hazy memories, thinking back to the way he'd looked at her as they danced, as they walked on the crazy Escher stairs, as they went through the final confrontation in the broken castle. Had that been the same deep, painful longing?

She turned her face towards his, their noses nearly touching, a stray strand of hair falling against her cheek. They breathed together, neither moving, as the movement ended and applause burst into life around them. He opened his eyes and regarded her calmly, and, as though nothing had passed, moved away again. The remains of their picnic vanished as he drew her to her feet.

"Walk with me," he said, pulling her away from the lights, through rows of parked cars, heading for the deeper darkness of the park. He hadn't dropped her hand; rather, he'd drawn her up with hands still clasped, and now that same hand guided her, fingers twisted together. The crystal had dissolved or disappeared at some point.

"Isn't the park closed?"

"I suppose, but that need not concern you. It is unlikely any will see, and as for dangers after dark, I am more than their match." She had to agree there. Muggers wouldn't stand a chance.

For a time, they walked in silence; she couldn't see his face, couldn't guess what he might be thinking. His hand in hers was firm, warm, pleasant; they fit together well, fingers and palms matched, as though formed for this contact. I'm walking through the woods, holding hands with the Goblin King, and remarkably calm about it, too. When did this start to make sense? The peace she had seen from him, the power; the visions he'd shared with her, all should have been cautions; he was too beautiful to be real, too expansive for this world, too much for her, nobody that she was. Could he—did he—dared she want...? Or was it too soon? Was this all response to her break-up? All self-flattery and twisted hopes? But he wanted something, that was obvious, and she couldn't help remembering how real it had sounded when he sang to her. Here I'll wait until you come again.

He guided her carefully, leading her around any obstacles; he must have amazing night vision. Some time later—she couldn't have said how long—they came to the shore of a small, tranquil lake, the stars above reflected in the still water. The moon, nearly full, was just peeking over the tops of the trees.

She smiled up at him. "Did you know this was here? It's beautiful."

"I did." He turned to her, twisting his wrist to draw her closer with their shared hands, until she stood facing him, almost touching. "Sarah," he said softly, looking down at her with caution and guarded hope, "Would you be willing to consider returning to the Underground?"

She swallowed. The question was not completely unexpected, but she also knew she couldn't simply say yes, not without knowing more details. "Perhaps," she said, finally.

"Sarah," he said again, and paused. He was standing close, so, so close. He took her free hand and raised it with his, bringing her fingers to his lips, as he had that first evening, but oh, how different was tonight when compared to that day. Where once had been mistrust and hatred and confusion, now there was curiosity, interest, and, if she was being honest with herself, physical attraction; although to be more accurate, the last had always been with her, but without the mistrust it felt safer to indulge. Slowly, she turned her hand until it clasped his; slowly, she turned their hands until the back of her hand rested on his chest. Slower still, she stepped forward until his hand rested against her as well, his knuckles grazing her collarbone, the length of her body now touching lightly to his. He was very still, hardly breathing, his head down, his eyes on their clasped hands. Slowly she raised her face, not quite meeting his eyes, and then, not letting herself think of rules or worries or consequences, she pressed her lips to his in a gentle kiss.

His lips were soft, inviting. He let her set the pace, at first, returning her soft kisses, licking gently at her upper lip, but as the kiss went on, he took control and she let him, following his movements as he bit gently at her lip and carefully sucked at her tongue. When they broke apart, the memory of the kiss stayed on her lips, a phantom pressure. His eyes were shining as he looked down at her, and his arms came around her, cradling her gently. "Sarah," he breathed, and it sounded like a prayer. And then again: "Sarah," a demand, his arms tightening possessively, and he kissed her hard as the world spiraled away into blackness around her.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 6 of 24

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