Continuing Tales

Dark Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by Helen Fayle

Part 2 of 12

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Dark Labyrinth

PenArran Wood wasn't a friendly spot even in daylight. The place was old forest - uncleared, unmanaged. Undergrowth choked any new growth that dared to reach for the sky, and the trees were old. Even the natives had steered clear of the place before the white settlers arrived.

Local historians missed the significance of the name the settlers from England had given the place. PenArran - Pen Arawn, the head of the Lord of the underworld. Blatant, really. She should have known.

Armed only with the flashlight from the trunk of the car, Sarah made her way hesitantly into the wood. The darkness was so thick, it seemed to even swallow up the torchlight. But the feeling that had driven her out this far was even stronger, almost but not quite overriding her fear.

There was a path of sorts that led through the trees. Giggling lovers sometimes used it - it led to a small clearing about a quarter of a mile from the road. Far enough away from prying eyes, especially at night. Since it was the quickest way into the wood, Sarah stayed on the path, and tried to move quietly.

She'd reached the edge of the clearing when she heard something behind her, moving through the thick undergrowth. It sounded big…She froze, and switched off the torch, trying to slow her breathing down. Just as she'd almost convinced herself that it was probably just another pair of midnight lovers lost in the woods, a hand clamped over her mouth, muffling her startled cry, and an arm encircled her waist, pulling her further back into the bushes.

'Don't make a sound,' a voice cautioned her. 'I killed one, but there's still one out there.'

Over two years past, but she knew that low, cultured voice. His hand moved away from her mouth. 'Jareth?' she whispered. The years rolled forward to yesterday in the space of a heartbeat.


In that simple command, a compulsion to obey. She shivered, despite the warm night.

The sounds of movement faded, moving away from them, deeper into the wood - and thankfully, also away from the path to the car. He released her then. Freed from his grip, she turned to try to see his face, but in the darkness, could barely see him. Just a glimmer of fair hair, a pale blur in the faint moonlight that trickled through the trees.

'I suggest we get away from here. I hope you have some transport.'

'Yes, a car - '

He cut her off abruptly. 'Is there somewhere safe we can go?'

'My mother's house,' she said, knowing it was the only place. 'She's away on tour for six months with her new play.'

'Take me,' he ordered. 'But don't use the torch.'

'How am I supposed to see where I'm going?' she whispered back, a little put out at his ordering her like that. She didn't need to be able to see him to picture his feral smile.

'Follow me, I can see perfectly at night.'

'Oh good for you,' she said softly, hoping the sarcasm carried.

'So can my pursuer.' Obviously it had. He took her hand. 'This way, I take it?'

Not until they'd pulled out of the car park and back onto the highway, was she able to get a good look at him. He was in a dreadful state. The figure sitting slumped in the passenger seat was a far cry from the elegant - and arrogant, ruler of the Labyrinth that she remembered. His fair hair was lank and matted, the fine clothes tattered - and bloodstained. The left side of his face was one large bruise - and the left side of his shirt was soaked in blood, and, judging by the way he was holding his side, still bleeding.

The owl chained in the underground room…

'You're hurt! Maybe I should get you to - '

'No. It's not as bad as it looks. Just get me somewhere safe. I can take care of it then.'

Biting back a tart reply, she realised he was right. She couldn't take him to a hospital, no matter how badly he was hurt. With a sigh, she put her foot to the gas pedal again, daring the speed limit.

Luckily, she'd got her keys with her, and there was room in the second garage for Alison's car. She'd be all morning trying to get the blood off the seat, she thought ruefully. She was able to get her 'guest' into the house through the garage, fortunately. The last thing she needed was a posse of nosy neighbours coming around to see what was going on.

He made it as far as the lounge before collapsing into a chair. Sarah left him there whilst she hurried to the medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom.

He was slumped in the chair when she returned. In the artificial light of the room, he looked even paler than ever, grey hollows under his mismatched eyes - which watched her warily as she walked in and knelt beside him.

'I don't suppose you want to tell me what's going on?' she asked. He didn't reply, just helped her to remove what was left of his shirt. She gasped involuntarily as she saw the cut in his side. Long, deep, and still trickling blood. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be any sign of infection. 'I hope you're not allergic to anything in here?' She held up the box. He shook his head slightly.

'No. Do what you must.'

Hoping she remembered long-ago classes in first aid, she started to clean the wound. He winced occasionally under her ministrations, but made no sound. Not really able to do more than cover it with a waterproof dressing, she hoped it would be all right.

He still hadn't spoken to her except for that one instruction, since they'd arrived.

'That creature in the wood was a hobgoblin.' His voice, after such a long, strained silence, took her by surprise.


'You did say you wanted to know what was happening?' His voice had regained a little of the slight mocking edge she remembered.

'I thought you were their King?'

His laugh in response was humourless. 'Hobs are entirely different.' He shifted in his seat uncomfortably. 'Three nights ago the city was stormed and the castle taken. I spent two nights in my own dungeon and another on the run before I could make the crossing.'

Remembering the usual state and lacklustre performance of his goblin guards, somehow Sarah wasn't surprised to find he'd been taken by surprise. The only question she had was by whom?

Dreams… A black sword in stark contrast to white blond hair.

'The man with red hair, in the red cloak?'

'Iorweth. Self styled Lord of the southern wastes.' Jareth's voice dripped loathing - whether at himself for being caught out so easily, or at his foe, she couldn't tell. Probably both. He regarded her then with a watchful look. 'How did you know what he looks like?'

'I think I saw it.' She explained about the three dreams. His face held a thoughtful look. One hand reached towards the pendant, fingering the delicate design.

'I must have crafted this better than I thought,' he muttered.

She wasn't going to ask. Not yet. She settled for another question. 'How did you get away?'

A trace of his cold smile flickered briefly across his face. 'I make it a point never to build a dungeon I can't get out of.' His hand pulled back from the necklace.

'A pity you didn't put as much forethought into not having to,' Sarah retorted before she thought. To her surprise, he laughed - although briefly, wincing again as it pulled at his injury. 'Why come to me?'

'It seemed like a good idea at the time, I need somewhere I can't be found easily,' he replied dryly. 'And no matter how much you may hate me, I didn't believe you would refuse to help.'

'I don't hate you,' Sarah said quietly. She held his mismatched gaze with her own. 'I don't even really know you.'

She hadn't known how true it was until the words were said.

'How true.' He tugged at what was left of his clothing. 'Now, I don't suppose your hospitality extends towards letting me clean up? It seems I'll have to do this the hard way for a day or two.'

'First on the left at the top of the stairs. There should be some of Jeremy's costumes in the wardrobe - you're about the same size.'

He stood up, very slowly and painfully. Watching him move, she realised how horrifyingly weak he was. Sarah moved in to help him but he waved her away. 'I can manage.'

'Suit yourself.' She shrugged, and waited. He got as far as the second stair. Moving in beside him, she offered her shoulder for him to lean on, without a word.

He insisted he could manage once they reached the top. Not convinced, but not too sure she really wanted to push the issue further, she merely bit her lip and watched him make his painful way into her mother's room. Watching him, she got the feeling that only his pride had got him this far. She stared at the bedroom door for a moment, wondering if she should at least offer to help, but then squared her shoulders and walked into her room.

There were no nightmares when she finally slept. Just a memory of dancing, and music - of a song she could almost, but not quite remember.

Morning dawned with the kind of cloudless, vivid blue sky that promised that the day would be a scorcher. Sarah rolled over in bed, blinking sleepily in the bright sunshine that streamed in through a gap in the curtains. Memory, however, came flooding back, scuttling any chance of her ever getting back to sleep.

Jareth. Oh hell.

Not wanting to put her jeans back on from last night, she found a pair of shorts and an old shirt that she tied up above the waist. At least she'd be cool later. Running a brush through her hair, she decided that she looked at least presentable, and went to check on her uninvited guest.

The door to her mother's room was ajar, so she didn't bother to knock. Inside, he was standing in front of the mirror, finishing fastening one of Jeremy's stage shirts. Although he still looked pale, at least he looked better than he had last night.

She'd tried to be quiet, but he turned at her approach.

What do you say to the Goblin King first thing in the morning? Sarah wondered. She settled for a simple 'Good Morning.' There was an awkward, stretched silence.

'Good morning,' he replied eventually. He walked towards her, stopping an arms length away from her. 'You have my thanks. If you hadn't arrived when you did –'

That had cost him to say, she noticed. He didn't seem like the kind of man used to owing anything to anyone. And he was staring at her.

'It – it was nothing.' Sarah was suddenly all too aware that by comparison to what he would be used to, she was barely dressed at all – and that he seemed to have noticed, judging by the appraising look that passed over his face as he looked at her. She lounged back against the doorframe as nonchalantly as she could. This was 1989, after all. His problem, not hers. 'You look better.' True enough, the bruising had vanished, and although he moved carefully, he didn't seem to be in as much pain as he had been.

'I heal quickly,' he told her. But looking at him, seeing him for the first time in the daylight of her world, he looked so pale and ill, she doubted it. He'd taken care of the cosmetic damage, that was sure, but she sensed a deeper hurt - and maybe it wasn't just physical.

She'd forgotten just how attractive he was. Even battered and exhausted, there was something intensely compelling about him…

Concentrate on the real world, she told herself. You have things to do.

'I have to take my friend's car back, and pick up some food. Will you -?'

'I can manage. Do what you must.' He turned away from her abruptly, coldly, leaving her wondering what she'd done wrong.

'Right. Well, I won't be long.' She resisted the temptation to slam the door behind her.

Cleaning the car took most of the morning, thankfully. She'd settled for avoiding him for the rest of the day, once she got back from Alison's. (Avoiding questions with a story about a visitor from out of town, gotta go, etc.) It seemed easier, somehow. She got the impression he preferred that himself, since apart from coming down to help himself to dinner, he stayed out of her way. Sarah settled for dragging the swing chair out into the back garden and raiding her mother's book collection, although if she was honest, she spent the afternoon and early evening with the book open in front of her, just thinking.

Two and a half years. After all this time, her dreams returned to haunt her, and she didn't have the faintest idea how to deal with it. Fairy tales weren't supposed to walk around in the daylight in New York State, after all.

But since when had fairy tales included the likes of him? She asked herself. She didn't even know what he was, did she? Apart from, she remembered, an arrogant, manipulative bully who'd kidnapped her baby brother, toyed with her, drugged her, tried to seduce her and tried to kill her.

Not necessarily in that order.

And yet. Toby had come to no harm. It had been a dream, hadn't it, so how could he? No, not a dream, she couldn't take that way out. He'd intimidated her, but hadn't hurt her. Moments when she'd seen a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, a genuine interest and amusement, rather than the cruel mask. Dancing with him in that ballroom (don't dwell on that, it was just a dream within a dream…).

Damn him.

Dusk was falling. The full moon that had been hanging like a ghostly shadow of itself in the early evening sky was rising high and bright above the trees. With a sigh, Sarah closed the book and went back in. Time to talk to her guest, she supposed. And this time, get some real answers. What did he want from her?

Dreams don't walk the real world.


Hers was stretched idly in the largest armchair, one leg draped over the arm, flicking through a book lazily. He didn't bother to look up as she came in through the French window, until she coughed.

'Finally decided on that you want to talk to me, I presume?' He asked, putting the book down on the side table. She couldn't stop her jaw from dropping. How had he known? His face changed from a look of amused indulgence to a feral smile. He moved lightly and quickly from the chair to her side - not without a wince of pain, she noticed. Prowling around her, he leaned closer than she felt comfortable with. 'You're too predictable, Sarah,' he whispered into her ear. 'Besides, you only turned a page twice in five hours. I doubt even you could be that slow a reader.'

She didn't know what stung more - his insult, or the fact that she couldn't think up a suitably pithy retort. He laughed, and moved away from her, taking up court again in the chair. 'Ask your questions, I'll answer what I can.'

You really enjoy playing with people, don't you? She thought. Well I won't be toyed with. Not this time.

'What do you want?' It came out rather more bluntly than she'd planned.

'My kingdom back, Iorweth's head on a stake. For a start.' It seemed he could be just as blunt.

'Couldn't you just raise a goblin army or something?'

'You've seen them. Frankly, would you risk your neck trying to organise that rabble into something useful?' he sneered.

'Whose fault's that?' Sarah shot back. He glared at her, but this time she could meet it. She tried again. 'What about anyone else? There must be someone you could - '

He shook his head. 'Iorweth moved carefully. There is - you might call it a Covenant, between Lords of the Courts. As long as I am the only one involved, the others will not intervene.'

'That's - ' Sarah began.

'Not fair?' His cold gaze held hers again, before a sly smile briefly touched the corners of his mouth. He couldn't resist a twist, even now.

'Given the powers of most of the Lords of the Courts, sensible.' He continued. 'If somewhat - inconvenient, at this point in time. Tonight I'll make the crossing back to the outer lands. There's an old - friend - I can trust. If Devin got my message, he should be waiting for me.'

'Why tonight?'

His smile was a little more wistful. 'Hoping to see me gone so soon? Why am I not surprised?'

'Stop that,' she snapped. His face was so changeable, she realised, so expressive. She doubted he'd ever needed to hide his emotions. Like now, changing from a studied insolence to a mock innocence.

'Stop what?'

'Baiting me.'

One elegant hand flicked sideways accompanying a faint, fleeting smile. Caught out, it seemed to say. But he said nothing.

She stormed out then and went to her room, slamming the door and throwing herself onto the bed. You have no power over me, she whispered.

And wished she still believed it.

She awoke to a darkness lit only dimly through the heavy curtains by the street lights and the full moon. There was a hand clamped over her mouth, stopping her from crying out.

'Quietly,' A voice whispered in her ear. 'They're here.'

The hand moved away from her mouth.

'Jareth?' Sarah whispered.

'Downstairs,' he replied softly. 'Get dressed. Quietly.' Leaving her side, he walked over to the door, as quietly as a cat.

Finding her clothes in the dark wasn't easy, but somehow she managed.

Joining him at the door, she stood behind him, trying to make out any sounds over and above the beating of her heart and the sound of her breathing - both of which, to her panicked ears, sounded as if they could wake the entire street.

Something very large was moving downstairs, she could hear it. Remembering the half-seen shape in the woods, she shivered. If that was one of the hulking creatures she'd seen in her dream…

Jareth's hand reached out and grasped hers, one squeeze, to reassure her. 'Stay here.' He made to open the door, and she grabbed his arm.

'Can't you just cross over here?' she hissed. The faint moonlight highlighted his pale hair as he shook his head.

'They'll feel it, and they can track me if they know where I've gone through. I have to get rid of them first.' His hand gently caressed the side of her face then, a gesture she hadn't expected, not from him.

'Wait here. You should be safe. I doubt they're interested in you.'

And he was gone, slipping quietly out onto the landing, leaving her pressed back against the wall, wondering what she was supposed to do next. She couldn't just let him face one of those things - hobgoblins - alone, could she? He was hurt, and he was tired, despite his bravado. 'He's an arrogant, insensitive, cruel, vindictive, manipulative bastard,' she told herself as she slipped out of the bedroom. It didn't help. She sighed. I have to help him

She stopped at the top of the stairs, listening. She could hear the creatures moving - in the dining room now. Jareth's head was just vanishing around the corner of the hallway. A low growl made her pause near the foot of the stairs. Swallowing hard, she made a dash for the kitchen as quietly as she could. From the dining room, she could hear the furniture being knocked over, sounds of a struggle. The room was illuminated by the streetlight, giving her enough light to see by. Scrabbling in a draw as quietly as she could, she managed to get her hands on a knife - just as the door crashed open, and a huge misshapen figure burst into the room, and seeing her, advanced on her with a blood curdling growl.

She hadn't thought anything so big could move so fast. It was on her before she even had time to scream - she felt hot, foetid breath on her cheek, and cringed, expecting to feel either its teeth or claws in her flesh- only to feel something hot and warm running over her hand, and the knife she didn't even remember holding pulled out of her grasp as the creature slumped to the ground.

Jareth was at her side, pulling her away. The other creature was a heap on the floor in the dining room, she noticed dimly.

'I didn't even touch it' she said, stunned.

'The knife was steel - enough iron to kill it,' he replied tersely. 'Luckily for you. Just what did you think you were doing?' She could hear the restrained anger in his tone, read it in the tight lines of his face, before he sighed. And something else - concern? 'Never mind, what's done is done.' She didn't catch what he muttered under his breath, but there was no mistaking an expletive.

She followed him into the dining room. 'What do you mean, 'what's done is done?''

He turned on her, and she took an involuntary step back. It seemed the night had given him back some of his mystery, the sense of menace that had surrounded him the first time he'd appeared in her life. And then in the space of a heartbeat, it subsided, replaced with an almost weary look. A hand touched hers briefly, and she was clean, the warm, sticky goblin blood gone.

'You just killed one of Iorweth's pets. He won't take that lightly.'

Sarah glared at him - possibly a wasted effort in the semi-darkness. 'Why would he think that you didn't kill it?'

'Iron is deadly to me as well.' He pushed her back out of his way. 'Now if you don't mind…'

A faint glow appeared over his shoulder. 'Time to leave,' he said, walked forward, and vanished. Caught by surprise, she barely had time to register that he'd gone, before a hand came out of nowhere and yanked her forwards.

Dark Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by Helen Fayle

Part 2 of 12

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