Continuing Tales


A Labyrinth Story
by Willa Suvia

Part 2 of 9

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They ate together on the veranda tonight, cozy in their little thatched cottage perched like a cherry atop a mountain of wreckage. It was a good life, plain and comfortable, with plenty of time for laughter and play. He worked hard, but not too hard; he was never too tired to enjoy a game of hide-and-seek amidst the teetering junk piles after a full day's labor. She was happy too, twisting her fingers around the sharp rainbow-colored knitting needles, or set upon the loom and spindle weaving dreams and spinning yarns for warmth and prosperity.

And her mother had said they couldn't live on dreams!

Used to be that creatures of every ilk and sort came from miles around to sample Aggy's wares. A daydream for the bored, a nightmare for the heartless, and it was all in a day's work. Yes, there had been too few visitors lately, and perhaps Aggy was spinning her dreams a little thinner to conserve the fabric, but it was all right. They had put back a little for days such as these, and were prepared when times began to get tough.

It was all his doing, of course. When you're given everything your entire life, well, that's when you appreciate what you have the least. But she, the black-haired beauty, was something he could not have, and he continued to not have her until the world around them began to crack at the foundations. So he was miserable. Aren't we all, at one time or another? So he didn't get what he wanted. Big deal! She wanted a Ludo-fur coat for the winter months and a chamber pot made of crystal, but she wasn't about to literally bring the roof down on their heads for want of such things!

She tensed visibly as Hoggle slurped his soup for the hundredth time. He grimaced, dribbling a little into his napkin. He had no manners, but he was a dear soul. He said nothing about the thin bitter broth, for he knew how poor their little harvest of potatoes and leeks had been as of late. Everything seemed so dry and shrunken, hard as an old baguette, as though it had been left alone to wither sadly away for years.

"Soup's bad tonight," she told him, apologizing in her way and pouring another glass of owl wine for each of them. "Worst it's been yet."

"It ain't so bad," he said, cringing at the bitter stock. "I've had worse."

"Only when you made it yourself," she reminded him.

He nodded, yes, she was right, and said no more. But the silence was too much for her to bear.

"You'd think he'd just get on with business as usual, instead of sitting up there in that castle pining like some kind of poufing Rapunzel..." she cut off, obviously frustrated. "Nothing's going right down here! We're all eating watery gruel and he's too busy feeling sorry for himself to see that it's his own fault! If he'd just get up and DO something-"

"I've said it all along, and I'm telling you now," he croaked, spooning the last of the soup from the bottom of the rough-hewn bowl, "it don't seem right that he's in here and she's on the outside."

"It's a crazy life," she concurred, and cackled until her mealy lips turned an alarming purple. She sputtered, "Maybe it isn't right. But then, maybe he's getting exactly what he deserves."

"Aw, have a heart, Aggy," he soothed. "I ain't never loved Jareth, that much is bona-fide, but if not for him, we might not've met. I suppose he don't deserve a parade, but he don't deserve this kind o' torture, either."

She muttered into the spoon and ended up breathing the thick, grainy soup instead of swallowing it. She hacked wetly and Hoggle covered his face in disgust; the woman would have to spit up a lung before she'd cover her mouth. It was one of the things in being married to Aggy he'd never gotten used to. But, he sighed, resigned, you just had to overlook all that kind of nastiness when you really loved someone.

When she was finished, shortly after he had planted one or two good stinging slaps on her bristly hump, she slumped her way down to their little garden and settled down before the scrying pool.

This garden, she often mused proudly, was the envy of the entire kingdom not only for its little pool of enchanted waters, but for the sheer number of roses. Aggy's thumb was green as a new goblin; there was nothing she couldn't force to bloom. She cultivated all manner of flora here - stinking coriander, widow's blush, and Roop-Roops to name a few - but the serpent roses were her favorite. Their exotic fragrance was sickeningly sweet to most, but never failed to elicit a smile of approval when she caught a whiff of it on the wind. They were good for business, too; serpent roses were high-caliber magic, lending themselves to all sorts of charms and philters to warm the blood and heighten the senses. Hearing, in particular. You could catch a worm's whisper from a mile away with a few serpent rose petals stuffed in your ears. But besides being useful, these flowers complemented the dismal garden perfectly, each one mimicking the diamond pattern and sheen of reptilian skin as their perfumed heads dropped low over the water on impossibly long and toothy stems, like snakes spooling down from the branches. She reached out and pressed one to her button-flat nose, pulling in its sweet, damp scent.

It wiggled from her hand with a growl and recoiled into the bastion of greenery.

She wondered at that; usually they coiled around her wrist and stroked her sallow cheek with green, slightly rough petals, but not now. The roses had become almost vicious since the land had fallen into its slow decline. Aggy's scrying pool kept them fresh and bright and beautiful and, being enchanted, helped to stave off the worst of Jareth's misery, but their nasty temperament was something wholly unexpected.

Aggy crooked a gnarled finger impatiently in Hoggle's direction. "C'mon over here and take a look at this, Hoggie."

He plodded over to where his wife sat, muttering to himself and ducking the roses, which hissed at him as he passed. Vile things. If she didn't adore them so, he'd have burned them all in a great stinking heap.

Aggy pointed down into the heart of the mirrored pool where he saw not himself, but a pretty young woman tossing and turning violently, held fast in the throes of a dream. She wept, crying out until her face glistened with sweat and tears. The pillow below her cheek was dark with a blossoming tear-stain, and a few jeweled teardrops rolled down into her black, black hair.

"It won't let her be, will it?" he asked, shaking his head morosely. "Shoulda guessed as much. She's got no way of knowing, either."

"She has us, even if she doesn't know it anymore," the old woman clucked, and stirred the waters with a quaking hand. The image swirled and faded, thinning around the edges like an old photograph. "It's been years since she's even thought about the likes of us."

Hoggle snorted. "Speak for yourself." He gestured to the pool, where the waters had begun to take a familiar form. "How's the other one holdin' up tonight?"

"Look and see."

He looked, and the image etched deep in the waters was startling. He was reed-thin, as always, but pale as frost. Dark shadows patched his eyes even in his sleep. Sleeping? Yes, perhaps. But resting? Not by a long shot. He thrashed around in his bed, his hands tightening into claws as though trying desperately to hold on to something that would not be stayed.

"It's a sad thing," she said, her eyes flat and obsidian. "But he's done it all himself. Nothing we can do about it."

"I don't know 'bout that," he said, and moved aside swiftly as one of the roses darted at him, its spiky thorns poised for the strike. He caught it with surprising skill, pinching the bloom off just below its head. The ropy stem shrank from him, shrieked out a final apology, and retreated once more into the foliage.

Aggy glared and swatted him across the arm. "Pay attention! And stop picking my flowers!"

"Sorry 'bout that, luv," he apologized, and eyed the other roses menacingly. They bobbed up and down, snickering at him from on high.

She scowled, stirring the waters. The image fuzzed and disintegrated until only glassy silver water slapped against the stone. "You got an idea?"

He nodded pensively. "It's getting worse for both of them. And *he's* too damned stubborn to listen to anything you or I have to say." Hoggle fingered the jewels at his waist; his collection was sparser now, thanks to Aggy's penchant for glitteries and baubles. He still had Sarah's bracelet, though; it was the first real gift he'd ever received from anyone, and the one piece he wouldn't give up. He held it up, twirling it around his finger. "But she might. With her like this, there's really only one way to get her attention."

Aggy poked at the wilting flower head in the dirt with her stubby toes. "Do you think she'll listen? Things have gotten so bad..."

"And they'll get worse," he reminded her. "You've seen what's happening all over. The faeries won't fly anymore and they're too weak to bite. I don't even have to spray them now before I step on them. The Bog's dried out and everything in it's just up and died. Smells worse now than it did before! It'll just keep getting' worse until..."

"Until either he dies, or everything else does," she finished. "Either way, we're done for. Oh, Hoggie!" Aggy's eyes shone wetly in the bronze dusk. "How could he let this happen?"

She smiled like a girl centuries her junior as Hoggle took her hand in his. "I'd be hurtin' just as much if I couldn't be with you," he said, and kissed her leathery cheek. "But if he's not gonna do anything, then we gotta do it ourselves, Aggy. We just gotta. Not just for the good of our home, but...well, shouldn't everybody have a chance to be happy as us?"

She was such a sucker for a soft touch. "Go ahead, Hoggie. I'm listening."

"Let's get to the loom," he told her, patting her on the rump as she stood with an arthritic creak. "We're going to weave ourselves a dream."


A Labyrinth Story
by Willa Suvia

Part 2 of 9

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