Continuing Tales

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 8 of 24

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

The rooms were spacious, and, if geometry meant anything in the Castle, they were an exact replica of Jareth's rooms above, in layout if not in style. The main entrance, from a spiral stairwell, led to a sitting room like the one she'd awoken in, furnished with cherry wood pieces upholstered in dark blue. The pale stone walls were bare, and the bookshelves empty. On a table in the corner sat a covered tray, which, when lifted, revealed an assortment of her favorite fruits. The bedroom was similar, cherry wood and blue drapes, the bed sinfully massive, the sheets deliciously soft. When she opened the wardrobe in the corner, she found, to her surprise, that it was full of clothing she loved; not exact replicas of what she'd worn Above―if nothing else, the Goblin Kingdom didn't seem to be aware of man-made fabrics―but quite close. Along the outer wall of the bedroom, a balcony stretched, wide French doors and floor-length windows filling the room with moonlight. When she first entered the room there were no curtains, but when she'd finished exploring the adjoining bathroom―no shower, but a truly decadent bathtub―thick, dark curtains, the same dark blue as the bedclothes, hung at the edges, closing with a pull on a silken cord. There was one other small door, set into the wall next to the bath, but it was locked.

Last night, she'd hardly explored at all; after Jareth left her, the long day had caught up with her, and she'd done little more than shed her clothes and crawl into the bed. In the light of day it occurred to her that that had perhaps been a foolish idea―what if Jareth had come in?―but she hadn't found the wardrobe yet then, her clothes were sweaty and smelled of outdoors, and it had seemed such a shame to wear cotton when sleeping on silk sheets. And whether or not he could enter, he wasn't here now.

When she emerged from the bath in the morning, the bed was made, and the clothes she'd shed on the floor had disappeared. Invisible maid service? Magical castle? She looked around carefully, but saw no sign of the Goblin King; that made it easier to accept that it was not worth worrying about. She dressed quickly. In the sitting room, she raised the cover on the fruit, thinking of an apple for the morning, but found pastries instead. Did it change with the time of day? She walked back through the bedroom, stepping out onto the balcony.

The Labyrinth was beautiful from this height, even if none of it looked familiar from so far away. She could see a hedge maze and a section of trees, but there was no way to know if it was the same hedge maze where she'd found Ludo, or the same forest where she'd been chased by the Fire Gang. The rest was a jumbled mess of stone, some sections cut by higher walls. She realized suddenly that she must be in the Castle's tallest tower; even the Goblin City below looked distant, like a child's blocks, all tumbled about. And Jareth lived up here all the time? It was beautiful, but so isolated. Unbidden, his words of the previous evening returned to her: the resulting personalities… lack depth.

Jareth. There was no way around it; she had to face him sometime. Best to examine her own feelings, first, and not go into that conversation as off-balance as she'd felt yesterday.

Maybe he hadn't meant it to be so, but if he'd wanted to seduce her, then Peer Gynt had been a masterstroke. Had he known how strongly he would react? The Goblin King of her memory was mostly remote, sarcastic, and mocking; she remembered the snake and the threats and the cleaners better than what had come later, later when she'd been alternately mesmerized and terrified in his arms, later when she'd been so frantic to reach Toby that she'd hardly heard him, so worried about remembering the lines that she was shocked she could remember his counterpoint at all. Throughout their letters, she'd thought he had begun to thaw, to show her the "more" that he'd claimed to be, but she couldn't be sure. Letters were so easy to manipulate. But the concert… either he was such a good actor that she'd never be able to tell, or what she'd seen at the concert had been genuine. She'd wanted to see a hidden depth that could let her care for the Goblin King, and she'd seen it. Hell, it was why she'd kissed him. The depth was there, time to check for a spark.

And spark there had been. She hadn't let herself really process the kiss, last night; there had been too much else—surprise, anger, betrayal. But when she thought back to that moment when their lips had parted, when he'd said her name like she was the only thing in the universe that mattered… in that moment, she'd been sure she wanted it to continue. She'd been sure she wanted to kiss him again. Sort out the rest later, rebound be damned, stay in my life, Jareth, I don't want this to stop.

At least, she didn't want it to stop, so long as they were safe Aboveground, where things generally are as they seem. Where she was safe to court his danger and sort his mystery and solve his Labyrinths of words. Where she could make the rules. Where she felt safe. She stepped back from the railing, letting her head fall against the wall behind her, raising her face to the sun. She'd just admitted it. She'd wanted him, or at least, she'd wanted to find out how much she wanted him. Did she still, now Underground, where nothing was certain or safe or under her power?

She'd thought Ben would be the last. She'd thought he'd be the rest of her life. But his leaving hadn't stopped her wanting to be done. No more endless pursuit, no more dating, no more stupid rules and silly games and just-in-it-for-sex. Now, though… Jareth wasn't human. Did he even commit like that? And "forever" was daunting enough when it was fifty or sixty years, "till death (or divorce) do us part." Forever with Jareth was a hell of a lot longer.

So what did Jareth want? Was he looking for forever? Fear me, love me, do as I say… I will be there for you as the world falls down… I will be your slave… I move the stars for no one…. And more recently: What do you have that so many lack? Why did you include all my subjects? I am the last of my kind, the last to keep the dream alive… Why did you believe that it was all a dream? And intense: Do not ask that question. Now is not the time. And the song, the kiss, the look of deep longing. How sure he'd been, when she woke, till she told him otherwise.

No, he hadn't come out and said it, but his actions spoke for him. Forever. And he couldn't send her back, a lack to which she was somehow the key. She might be stuck here forever, like it or not. It wasn't a matter of persuading him to let her go.

But on the other hand, what exactly was she here for? She remembered his seductive, flirtatious pose as he leaned over her in the tunnels; his come-hither, I'm-going-to-kiss-you look as they danced. He hadn't flirted like that since returning to her life; rather, his romantic attentions had more of the flavor of gentlemanly courting—a refreshing change, now that she thought of it. His hands had even stayed chaste during their kiss.

She'd tried having men as friends. In her experience, it didn't work very well. Men and women could only be friends if they both had good, solid reasons why they couldn't ever be lovers, and even then, the spark that said "what if?" almost always remained. Barring serious biological complications, which were possible, but unlikely, there was no reason she and Jareth couldn't be lovers. Therefore, they couldn't be friends—or rather, couldn't just be friends. At least, she couldn't—he wasn't human, so maybe he could, but the equation wouldn't balance without both sides. She'd hate him or love him before this was through. Maybe both.

But when he brought her Underground, he had taken away her choice. If she didn't want to love him, didn't want to hate him, she could've let him be nothing—if she were still Above. The opposite of love was indifference, after all, not hate. Now, though, she couldn't tell him to just go away unless she broke whatever spell kept him from returning her—and was "spell" even the right way to think about it? Met whatever condition? Was this some sort of twisted fairy tale after all? Well; she'd either make it, or not. In the meantime, while she wouldn't stop thinking of or looking for escape, she may as well set herself up, mentally, for a long stay.

Love would be more pleasant, but it wasn't guaranteed.

She was reading on the chaise in his sitting room when Jareth finally appeared, coming from the bedroom, whose door had been closed. She'd been there for a while, if the book was any indication, though she hadn't read steadily; it was too intriguing. A bestiary of sorts, detailing the creatures to be found Underground. She hadn't found Jareth yet, but the rest was fascinating, especially comparing the categories the author used to divide the races with those used by modern fantasy authors. Now the sun was lowering in the sky, and the gas lamps on the walls lit themselves as the room darkened. She wasn't sure how long she had been awake; there were no clocks, anywhere. And why was he coming from the bedroom? Was he nocturnal? That was going to get boring quickly.

"Good evening, Sarah." If he felt something at finding her there, he didn't let it show.

"Not going to throw me out of the castle for invading your privacy?" It was childish to goad him, perhaps, but entrapment and the lonely day had her spoiling for a fight.

"Wrong fairy tale, my dear. Although that reminds me: on the subject of doors in the Labyrinth, I should warn you that not all are open to you." She just looked at him, waiting for him to elaborate. "Doors or doorways which stand open, you are welcome to enter. Closed doors with guardians, which you have encountered before, you may enter if you can satisfy the guardian's conditions, which as you know may be as simple as 'knock and the door will open.'" He fixed her with a direct stare. "Doors which are simply closed, you must not disturb. They are rare, but they do exist. Doors may sometimes also change state; for example, today you found the door to these rooms open. Had it been closed, you would not have been able to enter."

"So, I literally can't open closed doors?"

"No; some will be closed but not locked. Those, you must simply let be. However, the doors in this chamber—and that goes for yours as well—lock when closed by the resident of the rooms."

"Closed doors aren't much of a problem to you, are they? I mean, you can just—poof—past them?"

"Poof?" A moment of confusion, but he comprehended quickly. "Ah, yes, I can transport past most doors; as the King those rules do not apply to me. However, that is not the case with your rooms. If you close your doors, I cannot enter."

"Oh." She'd half expected to need to fight for her privacy. "Thank you."

"Returning to the point, while I do not intend to throw you out of the Castle, or even the room, why are you here?"

"There's nothing in my room. You at least have books," she replied crossly, holding up the large tome she'd been reading. "And the only other place I could reach was your insane room of stairs." She'd been furious, at the first discovery, but the long day spent alone had left her with only cold resentment. Up the stairs: Jareth's rooms. Down the stairs: the nightmare room of twisted gravity, and the only access shifted into impossibility almost immediately. She was suddenly struck by a realization she should have had a few days—a few letters—ago, and was briefly distracted from her bad mood. "M. C. Escher came here?"

"Hm? Ah, yes, the artist. He came very young, to visit, but by another route, not the wishing-away. Quite an imaginative young man." Moving past her, he settled into the chair behind his desk. "In any case, in time you will come to love the Relative Stairs. Goblins cannot manage it. It guards parts of the Castle that I wish to remain free from their noise and confusion. There is no keeping them out, otherwise."

She shot him a level glare. "While you might appreciate the quiet, I can't walk on walls."

"Of course you can. Not any walls, true, but the magic to navigate the Stairs is in the room itself, and in your own beliefs. Anyone with strength of will and the intelligence to alter their perceptions intentionally can walk the Stairs."

She blinked at that. "But Toby…"

"Toby was under the influence of my magic. A special occasion, if you will."

"Fine, then, do that for me. I want to see more of the Castle and the city."


"What?" His flat answer brought her anger back full force. "So I'm a prisoner here? Beautiful girl, locked in the tallest tower?" She paused, then went on acidly, "Waiting for Prince Charming?"

"Wrong fairy tale again." He laughed bitterly. "Have you listened to a word I have said? Anyone with strength of will and intelligence can walk the Stairs. You will learn."

"And if I can't?"

"Then here you stay. But really, Sarah, you make too much of this. It is a test. Training. An exercise. It will help you keep from changing."

"Because the goblins can't walk the Stairs?"

"Because none of my subjects can. I brought the dwarf yesterday as a favor to you, transporting him directly to the stair outside my door. He could not have come here alone." That strange current of anger was back in his voice, and in the world Above she could have dismissed it as her imagination, but now she was sure: at his darkened mood, shadows gathered, and the lamp behind him flickered and went dark.

"Hoggle told me to listen to you, about… staying… me." A very primitive part of her mind wanted to quake in fear under his cold stare, but she couldn't spend her whole life intimidated by his moods. Best start defending now. "So this test is one of those things?"

"It is."

"And if I fall and break my neck?"

"You will not." Cold eyes met hers steadily. "You try my patience, Sarah. Even your precious dwarf tells you to trust me. Cease to be tiresome."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Your Majesty." Fighting wouldn't help, and she knew that, and she was better than this, and this was why she'd spent her morning thinking, but she couldn't hold back. "You say I'm not a prisoner, but I am, at least until I learn this, just as I'm a prisoner Underground until I figure out the way home. Forgive me if I'm not thrilled with the situation." She sighed, stood, put down the book. Time to end it. "I spent all day wishing you were here so I had someone to talk to, or maybe someone to yell at, or maybe just someone who can explain this better. Hell, for most of the day, I didn't just want someone, I wanted you. You're the center of all of this. You're the key. You're…"

"What am I?"

"You're the puzzle I need to solve." The anger was gone from her voice as she said it. He sat very still as she moved to the door. "Goodnight, Jareth."

"Sarah." She paused in the doorway. "I will be here tomorrow morning."

She hadn't realized it until she'd said it. How had she missed the obvious? It wasn't something about her that she had to figure out to go home, it was something about them.

As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

A Labyrinth Story
by kzal

Part 8 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>