Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 14 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

Sarah walked barefoot down the long, concrete pier. She'd left her shoes somewhere behind, but the pier was warm on her toes and she didn't mind. There was a thick fog settled in, and Sarah could not see the shore. She couldn't even see the end of the pier. Everything just faded away to white. She looked down at the blue gray water sloshing against the supports. She could not see the bottom. There was a good breeze and some chop to the surface.

She inhaled deeply. She could not smell salt in the air, so perhaps she was on a lake. Uncaring, she continued to stroll, enjoying the soothing sound the water made, the way the light breeze played with her hair. There was metal grating set into the concrete every few feet, so she could look down into the water underneath the pier.

As she went along, a lighthouse melted into view. Strangely, it was not lit. There were fishermen beside it at the end of the pier, the black arch of their poles cutting through the fog, lines trailing in the water.

There was a voice, calling from the fog to the fishermen, and Sarah smiled in amusement as she realized there was a boat out there on the lake, it's crew trying to make certain they didn't run into the pier. If she squinted she could just make out the dark smudge of a sailboat through the fog.

The voice continued to call, and Sarah swung her arms, relaxed, strolling closer to the end of the pier. It was an odd sort of day, she thought. There was something about the place that was almost...numb. The fog painted a surreal picture. As if the world was wrapped up in cotton.

Sarah was surprised and oddly touched when she realized the man on the boat had started singing. He had a beautiful voice, and there was something about it that tugged on her memory, sending a ripple of unease through her oddly placid mood.

He was singing...She was being held very tightly, and he was stroking her hair. There was something inside her that felt terribly torn, ripped and flapping free in a high wind. He seemed to know it, and when he sang it was better, she felt better, more whole and she didn't know why...

Sarah looked down as she reached the end of the pier and realized with a jolt that there were no fishermen there. There were chairs, empty plastic chairs and fishing poles propped up, trailing lines into the lake. Nothing else. There was no one here.

Sarah turned sharply to look back the way she had come. There was no one.

The boat, she realized with a chill. She'd heard him calling, but she had never heard anyone answering him, she'd just assumed...

His voice as he sang sounded very tired, she realized guiltily. Tired and frightened and losing hope. She could still make out the dim shape of the sail through the fog.

'Are you in danger?' whispered a strange, steely voice from a deep place in her mind.

She had to help him.

"Here," Sarah called out to him, lifting her arm and waving. "I'm here!"

Sarah was warm and very comfortable. She felt heavy and sleepy in a delightful way, as if there was nothing else her body would rather do at that moment than to relax exactly the way she was relaxing. She shifted a little with a happy sigh, and brushed up against something cold and yielding. It felt like a body.

Sarah opened her eyes, and looked right into Jareth's face. His eyes were open, and for a chilling moment she thought he was dead, until he smiled at her.

"Jareth," she said, unnerved by how still he was. "What's wrong?" She sat up, pushing back the thick fur cloak that was draped over her. They'd moved, she realized. They weren't in the same place they had been when she...

"Oh, my god," Sarah breathed, her memory hitting her like a brick to the head. She looked down at her hands. They were unmarred, but utterly devoid of the golden glitter of Jareth's dreams. She fumbled at her shirt and found the silver pendant Jareth had given her, shining innocuously against her skin in the late afternoon sunlight.

He'd pushed something into her chest. Sarah went cold. A ball of fire.

"It's alright," Jareth sighed softly from beside her. Sarah turned to him, scooting close to him, cupping his face. He was so cold, she almost couldn't bear to touch him. Jareth had made crystals ahead of time to bring with them on the journey. One he had used to make her mirror. The other had been meant to be used to seal the gate into this world when they found it. A concentration of light and heat...Sarah pushed the hair back from Jareth's face, shaking her head.

"Jareth, you didn't," she said helplessly. He hadn't used the only thing they'd had to save his whole world on her. Jareth smiled at her faintly, and her heart sank. "No," she breathed, trying to make it true through force of will alone.

"I had to," he sighed, his mismatched eyes devouring the sight of her. "I promised."

My kingdom for a girl, Sarah thought with teetering hysteria. She leaned over him, resting her forehead against his, lowering her eyes.

"Oh, no," she whispered. "Oh Jareth, it wasn't worth it." There were hundreds, thousands of creatures in his kingdom. She was only one person...

His smile took on a familiar edge.

"That's a matter of opinion, precious thing," he said with weary amusement, and Sarah jerked back from him, appalled at his flippancy.

"How could you-"

"I made another," Jareth interrupted, and when she looked startled, added, "I can do that, you know." His voice sharpened a bit with sarcasm, and Sarah smothered a smile, relief making her giddy. She slumped a little, letting out a long sigh of relief.

"You could've said," she said, relaxing.

Jareth, white and cold, smiled slightly and shut his eyes. He looked exhausted.

He was so still...

"Hoggle should have brought replacement plants back from the Bog by now," Sarah said slowly, feeling a sudden chill. "Why are you still so cold?"

Jareth did not open his eyes.

"No more," he said faintly, as if he was already dropping off to sleep again. Sarah stiffened in alarm. That was impossible, even if Hoggle couldn't find any in the Bog, they had...

Sarah took a good long look around their camp and felt very dim all of a sudden.

"The horses?" she asked quietly. Bim and Windle did not appear to be with them.

"Gone," Jareth sighed, as if he no longer cared. Sarah did not see most of their gear. Though that would make sense if he'd had to carry everything himself. Not to mention the fact that he'd had to carry her, as well.

Sarah felt a pang of guilt, and winced. He was so strong, but even so, Sarah did not recognize the place where they were camped at all. There were more trees here than she'd ever seen outside of the labyrinth itself. Jareth had brought her a long way. He'd already been strained from the unfiltered presence of the dark portal in his labyrinth. It must have been hellish for him.

Jareth had built a fire, and drawn up a respectable store of wood to feed it. Sarah's bag was the only one within sight, though it looked fuller than it had been. Everything was within arm's reach of Jareth's spot on the ground, she realized, and Sarah suddenly wondered how long they had been here, and how long Jareth had intended them to be able to stay.

She looked down at him, drew her fingers through his hair. He sighed, already dozing.

"How long have you been carrying me?" she asked gently, fondly. A smile flickered to his lips.

"Forever," he breathed. She leaned down and kissed him lightly. His mouth was cold, and he tasted strange. He did not respond to her, and she pulled back, alarm fluttering in her chest.

"Jareth?" she said, suddenly afraid.

"You'll have to do it," Jareth managed, his voice sounding very far away. "You'll have to..."

He hadn't moved. He hadn't moved once since she'd woken up.

"I'm done," she barely caught the words, they were so quiet. He said nothing else, and for a stricken moment Sarah thought he had died right in front of her. Then he inhaled, and Sarah considered fainting in relief.

She could not wake him again, however, no matter what she tried. She couldn't even warm him. He just seemed to suck in heat and never get any warmer. She cried over him then, a little. It seemed like it was all she could do for him. She couldn't see how she could ever get to the gate without the horses, not and carry him with her. She couldn't see how she could ever bear to leave him behind. It was a miserable situation.

While she sat there, holding his head in her lap and sniffling over him, she noticed his spear lying beside him, shining with otherworldly beauty. Close at hand, if Jareth had needed it, and had the strength to use it. She looked a little closer and saw, with a little jolt, her compact lying on the ground beside his spear. Close at hand.

Jareth murmured something unintelligible in his sleep, and Sarah hugged him closer. She was leaning down enough to make out what he said next.

"Never," Jareth whispered fiercely, lost in terrible dreams. "Never."

Sarah gritted her teeth, her heart reacting dangerously. She pressed her hand to her mouth. Sarah couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so helpless. This was unbearable.

She picked up the compact, scrubbing her face clear of tears. She couldn't imagine Hoggle would be of any help to her at all, but at the moment she was just hungry for a friendly face.

"Hoggle?" she called, fighting hard against despair.

Hoggle's face, when it came into view, was utterly shocked.

"Oh, my god," he choked, "Sarah, you-"

"Sarah?" came a sharp, aristocratic voice from behind him, and Sarah's mouth dropped open.

"Marcus?" she said disbelievingly, as he stepped into view behind Hoggle. They were outside, the stones of the labyrinth golden at their backs. Marcus grinned at her like a schoolboy, and clapped Hoggle on the shoulder. Hoggle looked on the verge of tears. "What are you doing here?" she sputtered.

Marcus took a deep breath and seemed to get about three inches taller.

"Ah, Sarah, I could kiss you," he said, beaming. "You scared us," he glanced down at Hoggle, who was sniffling messily into a handkerchief. "All of us," Marcus amended.

"But how?" Sarah demanded. She felt a sudden twinge. A reminder of her past disappointment. "You said I needed to make my own mistakes."

Marcus flinched.

"I didn't expect that to include the destruction of your soul," he said roughly. "If I'd known, I would have," he hesitated, and then lifted his head and spoke firmly. "Well, I would have thrown you over my shoulder and dragged you off, frankly. I'd have tied you to my blasted mast, if necessary."

Sarah narrowed her eyes a little. It wasn't exactly the apology she'd been hoping for.

"Well, I'd have tried, anyway," Marcus added with a sigh. "Your man Jareth gave me a call, and he's not an easy one to ignore." He looked a bit put out. "I've got glitter all over my cabin."

Despite everything, Sarah smiled.

"I suppose you shouldn't have tried to ignore him then," she said, stroking Jareth's forehead possessively.

"Hmm," Marcus said with characteristic wit and charm. "I'll assume he's still alive?" Sarah gave him a very cold look.

"Still," she said shortly. "Marcus, what have you done?"

"I've helped your friend guard his hole into damnation," Marcus responded with some starch. "And given him some advice about how best to kill himself, since that's what he seems bent on."

"What do you mean?" Sarah pressed, alarmed. Marcus regarded her narrowly for a moment.

"Did he finish making his flashy little doodad to seal the gate?" he asked. Sarah hesitated.

"Yes, but..." she reached over to her bag with a pang of doubt and opened it. Nestled neatly among her things were two crystals. She touched them, hesitantly. One of them felt strange, kind of spongy, as if she could push her hand right through. The other was warm, and when she lifted it out of her bag, she saw flames reflected within it.

Marcus watched this, and nodded soberly as she brought out the crystal.

"Hmm," he said, looking grim. "In that case, I'm surprised he's still alive." Sarah looked at him, stricken, and he shrugged, shaking his head.

"He's got himself a nasty connection to this ridiculous place, Sarah," Marcus said. Sarah gritted her teeth at the slight, finding it unreasonably infuriating. "He's stretched past his limits fighting this thing on his own. He didn't have the power to make another one of those pretty little pieces of phantasmagoria and live to tell the tale, but he's as pigheaded as any fellow I've ever met." He looked apologetic. "He wouldn't listen to me."

Sarah dropped her eyes to the pale figure sleeping in her lap.

"What did you expect him to do, Marcus?" she asked quietly. "It's his kingdom." She felt her eyes start to sting again, and blinked a tear down her cheek. "He shouldn't have tried to save me," she said forlornly.

He's dying because he saved me, whispered a soft little voice in her head. Sarah spent a moment hating that little voice. She had a sudden mad urge to tear her heart out of her chest just to get away from it.

Marcus was looking at her with ancient eyes that missed nothing. He looked very soft for a moment. Almost sorry for her.

"Sarah, no!" Hoggle said sharply. "You're worth ten of him."

Marcus frowned at him, and Sarah scowled.

"At the very least," Marcus said, more diplomatically, "He got you into this, and the least he could do is get you out of it."

"What do you mean?" Sarah asked, confused.

"For god's sake, child, haven't you done your best yet?" He said in exasperation.

Sarah gave him a very bland look. He knew better.

"You tell me," she said. Marcus sighed, and smoothed his fine white mustache over his lips.

"All right," he began, and Sarah relaxed. "You've got two days to reach the gate, Sarah."

"Two-" she sputtered

"Easy, girl, Jareth's got you most of the way." Marcus said seriously. "On the morning of the third day his Goblins will give you the distraction you need to get in unnoticed. You have to be there by then."

"Distraction?" Sarah prompted.

"They been following along, maybe two or three days behind you. According to Jareth they're spread out in clusters, all along the Road, and they've got orders to set fire to the prairie at dawn on the thirteenth day."

Sarah looked down at Jareth's slack face, impressed and appalled. Jareth was burning his kingdom to save it. She bit her lip.

"I'll never be able to carry him so far," she said, faintly.

"Sarah," Marcus said, disappointed. There was that strange sympathy on his face again, as if he knew something she didn't. Hoggle looked at her like she'd grown another head. Sarah clenched her fists.

'Never,' Jareth whispered fiercely.

"You don't understand," she ground out. "I can't leave him."

Marcus blew out a long breath, making the hairs on his mustache flutter. He folded his arms thoughtfully.

"I'm no slouch," he said slowly. "I might be able to bring him through here."

Sarah was surprised and oddly touched by the offer. Marcus didn't often push himself that hard. She looked at him uncertainly.

"But he'll still die," she said, feeling ill. Marcus spread his hands in an elegantly helpless gesture.

"He'll die in a bed," he said quietly. "That's more than most can say. And I'll be here to help deal with the mess, after he's...well, I imagine the portal on this end of things will start spreading fast, and we'll need to get the folk around here out."

Jareth would die, and she wouldn't be there. Sarah put her head down, her eyes welling over. It made her feel helpless to blubber like this but he was going to die, and he would never know anything...Sarah scrunched up her face and cried hard for several minutes. It had been a terrible day. She figured she was allowed.

"Don't cry," Hoggle said sadly. "Not for him."

Sarah gritted her teeth, fighting a sudden urge to scream. A girl could only feel so many things all at once.

"Sarah," Marcus said gently, giving Hoggle a subtle kick, "Sweetheart, I'm sorry."

Sarah nodded silently, nearly blinded by tears.

"Isn't there anything, anything I can do to give him more time? Anything at all?" she pleaded. "You said yourself he shouldn't be alive, but he is. If he can hold on for two more days..."

Marcus sighed and looked away.

"I suppose if we had some kind of magical object," he said, sounding like he was working it through as he went along, "something he'd made himself," Marcus continued thoughtfully, and Sarah's eyes came to rest on Jareth's glittering spear. "Something with a lot of his power behind it, or it wouldn't be worth it," he added.

Sarah went very still. Almost on its own, her hand pressed lightly against her chest.

"What would I do with it, if I had it?" Sarah asked, her heart beating wildly under her fingers.

"At this point, just bringing it into contact with his skin should be enough," Marcus said with a shrug. "Why? Do you have-"

"I'll let you know how it goes," Sarah said quickly, and snapped the compact shut. If Marcus knew what she was about to do he would be furious. Marcus hadn't lied, he was no slouch, and if given warning, he might try something devious to stop her.

Sarah didn't know for certain who had made Jareth's spear. She assumed he had, it certainly felt like him, but she didn't know how much power had been put into it.

Sarah needed the mirror. Putting Toby out of it, the thing was just too useful for her to destroy.

She no longer had the dreamstuff embedded in her hands. Whether she'd burned through it becoming a monster, or it had just faded on its own, it was gone.

The only other thing...

Sarah took a deep breath, parted her shirt, and pulled the silver necklace over her head. Without it she would be unprotected. Not just from the denizens of the Black Road, but from the world itself. Marcus was right, the labyrinth resided in a crooked little world where time moved very fast compared to normal life, and people changed into other things very rapidly.

Sarah would be here for more than two days yet. Quite a bit longer than thirteen hours. She had no idea what would happen to her. Somehow, given the circumstances, she couldn't force herself to care.

She laid the pendant on his chest carefully. She only hoped it was powerful enough.

"Two more days," she urged softly, and held her breath.

At first there was nothing. His breathing was shallow, his cheek ice cold under her hand. Then her pendant started to glow, just the faintest shine. The intensity increased until she flinched, squeezing her eyes shut, turning her face away. There was a strange impression of flapping movement, and the wind picked up, lifting her hair from the back of her neck.

When she looked down, Jareth was gone. In his place was a snowy white owl, fluttering agitatedly on the ground as if wounded.

Oh, he really was brilliant. That was smart of him, really smart. She knew he could change, she'd seen him change after she'd defeated him in the labyrinth. It took a lot less energy to maintain a smaller form. He would last much longer as an owl than as a man, and now that she was awake and able to care for herself he'd gone for it. All he'd needed was a bit of extra power to do it, and she'd given it to him with the return of her pendant.

Tentatively, she reached out to the unhappy animal, unsure if he would recognize her. His feathers were all disheveled, and he eyed her hand as if considering how she might taste. Sarah paused just shy of touching him, trying as best she could not to seem aggressive.

The owl regarded her suspiciously for a moment, and then slowly lifted a foot. Toby kept parakeets, and Sarah's heart relaxed a little at the familiar avian gesture. She tugged her sleeve down over her wrist and held it low enough for the beautiful bird to step onto her arm voluntarily. The talons were a lot sharper than she'd expected and she winced a little. She would have to wrap something around her forearm, if she was going to carry him.

She would carry him, Sarah realized with a jolt. She could keep him with her easily in this form. If anything dangerous came up he could fly away. And if...if two days was longer than he had, he could stay with her until the end. She brought the owl up close to her face, marveling at how lovely the markings were around its eyes. She reached out with one finger, brushing his feathers lightly.

So soft...He ruffled his feathers a little, scooted closer to her body as if he approved of her. She brushed the feathers between his eyes lightly, daringly, and the owl allowed it, shutting his eyes as if he enjoyed the attention.

Sarah was seized by a sudden, fierce possessiveness, and abruptly decided to postpone her conversation with Marcus.

"You're staying with me," Sarah breathed quietly. The owl cocked its head at her as if it understood.

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 14 of 19

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