Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 10 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

Jareth was extremely prickly about the idea until she promised to allow him to go first. Pick your battles, she reminded herself, stepping into the icy stream after him. Her boots really were quite wonderful and though the cold made her wince, her feet seemed to be staying fairly dry. She urged Windle into the stream after her. He followed, but did not look especially enthusiastic about the water. Sarah couldn't blame him. There was something a little off about it, when examined up close. A slight murkiness that seemed to trail out from the Black Road, tainting the water just slightly. Sarah would not like to have to drink it.

They hadn't been able to get the horses to eat the Bemony, but Sarah had bruised the leaves and spread the juices around both horses' nostrils, which she hoped would be enough to get them through.

Jareth started to lead Bim along the path of the little river, walking him upstream and making sure to keep him in the deepest part of the water, well away from the banks. The deepest part of the water was only about shin level on Sarah, but she still took care to watch for dips and rocks Windle might stumble over.

Ahead of her, just as the land started to change and darken with the taint of the Road, she saw Bim hesitate and pull at his lead, dancing a little in place, nervously. Jareth splashed through the water with a scowl on his face, tugging on the line and scolding him.

"Jareth," Sarah urged. "No magic!" Jareth looked at her irritably, as if to say he knew that very well thank you. Bim planted his feet in the center of the stream and refused to move any further. This was, considering where they were headed, a very sensible attitude for a horse to take. Jareth started rummaging through his saddlebags, shaking his head crossly, and brought out a riding crop with a silver handle.

"Jareth!" Sarah said, appalled. Jareth turned to look back at her, at the disappointment and disapproval on her face and lowered the crop with a sigh.

"What do you suggest?" he asked, sounding suddenly weary.

Sarah started patting and soothing Windle with exaggerated care. Windle, approving of this arrangement, started following her around Jareth's horse. She stopped him before they got ahead of Bim. She had said he could go first.

"He's your friend, Jareth," Sarah reminded him. Jareth looked at her doubtfully, and then patted at the side of Bim's neck with hesitant affection. Horses were intensely bribable animals, and at a sign of favor from his usually stern master, Bim perked up enormously. He nudged Jareth in the manner of adoring horses everywhere, and when Jareth moved to lead him forward again, Bim consented to follow. She watched Jareth as he moved ahead of her. He had a watchable backside.

The land on either side of the riverbed looked scorched, the grass blackened and withered down to bare earth. Even the sky looked darker. She could not see any creatures, not birds or squirrels or anything. The area was dead silent except for the burbling of the water running through it. As they walked the flavor of the leaves she was chewing grew more intense, as if reacting to the presence of evil. Her breath fogged slightly in the air. It hadn't been cold enough for that a moment ago. The Road was wider than it had looked, which made the fluttery feeling she got in her stomach whenever she thought about the ending of their little adventure much worse.

Worse, Sarah thought with a wince, and wished once more that Marcus was with them. Perhaps she should try again to convince Jareth to let her contact him. If nothing else he could give them some good advice.

She heard something, then, a strange kind of rustling sound that seemed to be coming from all around her. She jumped a little, turning, trying to identify where it was coming from. Jareth noticed it as well, and looked back with a frown. Sarah met his eyes and shrugged.

Looking over at him, she saw it. A curl of green poking out of Bim's saddlebag. As she watched, it extended a tendril out over the stirrups and unfurled several leaves. The Bemony, reacting to the taint in the air. She looked back at Windle, and saw a similar burst of green shooting tendrils out of her saddlebag. She shared a glance with Jareth, and from the look on his face, for once they were in perfect agreement. Helpful or not, the Bemony was rather creepy to have around.

They exited out the other side of the Black Road with a great deal of relief from everyone, even the horses. Jareth paused after leading Bim up the riverbank, to give the equine a pat or two. Sarah brushed his arm as she led Windle past him, giving him a brilliant smile. She looked back while she was praising Windle, and saw Jareth looking at her.

"Good job, Bim," he said, rather conspiratorially, and Sarah was suddenly a bit suspicious. She wondered if he hadn't exaggerated things a little just to get a bit of attention out of her.

Sarah smiled at him in good-natured mistrust, and Jareth gave her a wicked grin.

They walked the horses upstream for nearly twenty minutes, partly to get up over the rise of a hill and out of sight of the road, and partly just to let the horses cool down. As they walked Sarah noticed that her arm was itching where she'd shoved it in the monster's mouth to keep it from tearing out her throat. At the time she hadn't even noticed the bite, but now it was starting to annoy her. She glanced over at Jareth and thought that the scrape on his face looked rather red and irritated. It was good they were stopping. They hadn't had five minutes to clean themselves up, and wounds from those creatures always seemed to want to fester.

They halted under a tree close to the water, and Sarah sank down into the long golden grass with a sigh of relief. Jareth peeled himself out of his breastplate, and Sarah squirmed out of her leather jerkin. She got up on her knees once to help him with a buckle, and he crouched down once to help her with a stubbornly knotted lacing. Then he handed her an apple and sat down beside her, biting into a piece of fruit of his own. She poked around in the saddlebag and found some good solid road bread, loaded with nuts and raisins, and tore off a hunk, handing the rest to Jareth wordlessly. She pulled the silver bowl out of her pack and crawled forward to dip it into the water.

Theoretically, it would have purified even the water downstream of the Black Road, but Sarah was grateful they didn't have to test it. She took a gulp, careful not to backwash, and handed the bowl off to Jareth.

It was a kind of comfortable dance of domesticity they'd developed over the last few days, and Sarah found that she appreciated it a great deal. Jareth didn't care to see her physically uncomfortable, and everything he did, every decision that he made, even the small ones, seemed to keep that in mind. Sarah felt similarly, and so their camp was surprisingly harmonious. Sarah never needed to ask him to grab her food if he was getting some for himself, he always remembered. If she needed to run off and use the bathroom, she didn't need to ask him to tie up her horse, he just did it for her, and vice versa.

It had been a wonderful surprise. She could not count how many people she had traveled with that she had thought to be perfectly kind and considerate individuals before starting out, only to find out too late that they had contemptible road manners.

Windle, smelling something tasty, snuck up behind her and nibbled at her shoulder. Sarah laughed, pushing at his head, and broke off a piece of her apple to give to him.

"You're teaching him terrible habits," Jareth scolded lightly. "I'll have to have him re-trained when I get him home."

Sarah's smile faltered a little. It was the first time either of them had mentioned anything that would happen after they found and closed the gates between worlds.

Suicide mission, a noxious little voice hissed in the back of Sarah's mind. She shook her head and smiled firmly, pushing the voice away.

"Don't you dare," Sarah said with mock indignation. "I've just got him to finally start to trust me." She scratched at her itching arm, irritated, and Jareth reached out, raising his eyebrows as if asking permission. Shoving the apple in her mouth, Sarah casually offered her elbow for inspection. The monster's teeth had shredded her sleeve a bit, and Jareth unbuttoned her cuff and rolled the material up to see better.

He hissed in a breath appreciatively.

"What happened?" he demanded, turning her arm to better see it in the light. Sarah shrugged.

"I got bit," she said simply. Jareth's raised his eyebrows at her and gave her a very dry look.

"Yes I see that," he said as if she was a simpleton. "It needs cleaning."

"So does yours," Sarah said, with jerk of her chin at the angry looking scrape on his face. He touched it, wincing slightly.


Sarah took the silver bowl from him and filled it again. Then she grabbed a handful of Bemony leaves from Windle's saddlebag, trying not to think about how much more of it they had after crossing the Black Road.

Well, at least they wouldn't run out.

Sarah mashed the leaves up as well as she could, and dropped them in the water, washing the juices off her hands into the bowl. It would be better if they could heat the water up, but they couldn't risk a fire so close to the Road.

"All right, you first," Sarah ordered simply. Jareth lifted his eyebrows, looking amused by her audacity. "It's my bowl," Sarah threatened good-naturedly. Something she couldn't quite identify flickered in his eyes for a moment, and then he nodded and offered his face for inspection, allowing her.

Allowing her. His Majesty was just so gracious, wasn't he...

The process wasn't entirely painless, and so by the time she was done she'd been mollified quite a bit. If she had noticed the slight tingling in her fingers when she touched him, she'd dismissed it as something to do with the Bemony, or her imagination. If Jareth felt anything he kept silent about it to her.

Though, when he did offer to help her in the same way she'd helped him, his eyes were rather bright, and he did look awfully pleased with himself...

She was glad, at the time that he'd offered. The bite on her arm was in an awkward place. She couldn't have seen what she was doing.

He prodded at a particularly tender area, and she winced. Jareth noticed immediately and eased up, shaking his head a little.

"How did this happen? It looks like something tried to eat you."

Sarah smothered a smile.

"Well, yes, it tried." she said casually. She was going to stop there, but Jareth's face had turned stormy and she explained quickly. "It's all right, I've got magic fingers now," she put her apple core in her lap and wiggled the fingers of her free hand. They glittered fancifully in the sunlight, saturated with dreamstuff. "They had a pretty violent reaction to it when I touched them."

Jareth looked at her with grim eyes.

"You were lucky," he said quietly, and Sarah suddenly recalled the sound of him calling for her in the darkness, how panicked and desperate his voice had been.

"Yes, well," she shrugged. "Happens." Jareth shook his head slowly, looking at her with something like exasperation in his eyes. He finished up with her arm, wiping his hands on his pants when he was through. He set the bowl aside, taking her arm and turning it delicately for one last look at his handiwork.

Sarah was struck by a thought, and tilted her head at him.

"What did you do with the rest of it? The golden sand?" she asked curiously. Your dreams... "It certainly is useful stuff."

Jareth gave her a slightly pained look.

"My dreams are back where they belong," Jareth said, "here." He raised her arm and put her hand lightly over his heart. Her fingers touched the bare skin of his chest where his shirt gaped open.

At the time, she did not think he expected the reaction any more than she did.

Her hand exploded in warmth, the sensation rolling up her arm and tugging at her heart, hard. Jareth's eyes went wide and dilated swiftly, turning huge and black. Her free hand started to tingle sharply, unpleasantly, and with a sudden hunch Sarah lifted it and placed it alongside her other hand. They rested side by side on his chest just above his pendant.

It was like a circuit completed, and they both groaned. Sara felt it as a kind of electric warmth that spread right through her from head to toe. She felt the pulse of it as it flowed though her, from one hand to the other. His dreams knew where their home was...

Jareth bowed his head and rested his forehead lightly against hers. It made the sensation better somehow, brighter, and easier for her heart to bear. Jareth was nuzzling her lightly, and it occurred to Sarah that she should probably remove her hands from him. It was a more difficult thing to do than to think about doing. Her fingers felt sort of tangled up in him, in something invisible but delicate and precious...his dreams...The motions she would have to go through to withdraw seemed suddenly impossibly complex. She could feel his heart, pounding under her fingers. It almost felt like she was holding it in her hands.

"Good...god..." Sarah gasped, and Jareth leaned down and pressed his mouth to hers.

It was much better than their first kiss, by several orders of magnitude. Sarah's nerves came alight like a brush fire, and she inhaled sharply though her nose. He moved his lips against her as if he was trying to take something from her, deep, open mouth kisses that burned where he touched her. Like he was branding her as his. Her body's reaction was devastating. It felt as if some great winged thing was trying to take flight inside her chest.

It was the magic in her hands, and in his dreams, Sarah thought desperately. Just magic. It had to be.

Then he pulled back, and gently removed her hands from his chest with a crooked, enigmatic little smile. Sarah gaped at him for a moment, her mind stumbling to catch up.

Jareth looked insufferably pleased with himself.

He was getting back at her, she thought incredulously, for pushing him away the first time. She couldn't believe this.

"You," she said venomously, her green eyes flashing, "You...tease!"

Jareth threw his head back and laughed fit to shame the devil. Sarah tossed her silver bowl at his head, splashing water everywhere. He caught it out of the air easily, which only infuriated her further.

"Hmm. The lady is displeased, I see," he said casually, getting to his feet. As if he'd planned the whole thing, that rotten...

"Perhaps a strategic retreat is in order." He gave Bim the rest of his apple as he passed by, and the stallion tried to follow his master rather hopefully until he reached the end of his line. Jareth strolled away through the grass, looking golden and inhumanly lovely in the early sunlight.

Retreat! She didn't want him to retreat, she wanted...Sarah put her hands up quickly, as if trying to fend that thought off. No. No, she didn't want that.

Sarah hesitated.

Well, alright, she did want that. In fact her hormones were informing her rather stridently exactly how much she wanted that. They were, in fact, offering her up a little picture of Jareth doing something much more interesting that reciting Richard the third...

Sarah stared off into space for a moment, enjoying the view, but then shook her head, getting a hold of herself. It would get too complicated. It always got complicated when she tried to be more than friends with a man.

They always asked her to stay.

Sarah sighed, firm in her own resolve again, but strangely disappointed nonetheless. Glancing back at the real Jareth's retreating form with a silent promise of retribution, she decided to take advantage of the moment of solitude.

She dug around in her pack and pulled out her mirror.

"Sir Didymus," she sighed, "I need you."

"My Lady?" he answered her almost instantly, and she smiled at his earnest face.

"How goes the watch, noble sir?" She asked pleasantly.

"Sir Ludo, Hoggle, and I have been guarding in shifts, my Lady. On my honor, none have approached yon portal," Didymus said proudly.

"And you've been very careful not to go too near, and not to look at it?" Sarah asked gently.

"My Lady, I can take those dark beasts on single-handedly, I can-"

"Yes, I know," Sarah interrupted with a smile. "But I need you there, good sir, or all hope is lost." She said it with sober intensity, and Sir Didymus straightened proudly.

"It has been an easy duty, as the goblins have left their city nearly empty since yesterday morning," Didymus said pleasantly.

"What?" Sarah asked, startled. "Where have they gone?"

"They marched out all together, sweet Lady, as if they were ordered to some great battle," his voice sounded rather wistful, as though he would have liked nothing better than to join them.

"I wonder where they went," Sarah murmured softly.

"Where I sent them," said the Goblin King, from behind her. She jumped, whirling, and there he was, leaning casually against the tree at her back. His eyes were glittering in a fashion that contradicted his easy pose. Jareth looked furious.

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 10 of 19

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