Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 17 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

"Bim, you coward," Sarah scolded while Jareth was occupied squirming into his attractive pants. She yanked her white shirt over her head and glared at the offending equine. Bim looked unimpressed.

"The lady has a point," Jareth said casually, fixing his horse with a stern look. He walked over and lifted the horse's head, looking him in the eye, more or less. "You've disgraced yourself in front of her." He said it as if it was the most heinous crime imaginable, and Sarah's heart warmed disgracefully, flattered.

Her heart was such an appalling pushover.

Bim snorted. Then, looking pleased as punch at all the attention he was getting, he shook his head and nudged at his master adoringly.

Jareth turned to her, looking sharp and disapproving and obviously enjoying himself quite a bit.

"He seems to feel the fact that he returned should bear some weight in our judgment." He glanced around significantly. "I don't seem to see Windle around anywhere."

Sarah smirked.

"He probably saw a passing goblin eating an apple and followed him to the ends of the earth," she said, yanking on her boots. Jareth patted Bim on the side of the neck, looking quietly pleased. Sarah smothered a smile. "Bim came back because he likes you."

"My friend, then, hmm?" Jareth said softly to the equine, looking as though it was an unfamiliar idea he quite liked. "I suppose," he said, moving to strap his spear to Bim's side, "since you have shown your loyalty, I will pardon you."

His motion jostled the saddlebags, and Sarah noticed several tendrils of Bemony curling rather smugly over the edges. She scowled darkly.

"I don't know if I'd go that far," she muttered. Jareth looked amused, glancing from her to the bag. Then he reached inside it, rustling around for a moment, and brought out a piece of fruit. Sarah's face lit up.

"Are you sure about that?" Jareth asked slyly, and tossed it to her. Sarah plucked it from the air easily and paused, startled. It was a peach. She lifted an eyebrow. Jareth had pulled out one for himself, but hadn't bitten into it yet. He was watching her with an unusual look on his face. Almost...anticipation.

"It's a bit late for this, don't you think?" Sarah asked him, and took a bite. It was sweet.

That expression was there again on his face. Total triumph. He looked far too pleased with himself. Sarah lifted both her eyebrows and gave him a challenging look. Deliberately, she licked juice from her lips.

Jareth's eyes flashed. He took two long strides toward her and swept her up into an electric, intense kiss. He got a good, thorough taste of the peach in her mouth, and when he finally pulled back, they both stared at each other for a moment in tense, hormone-saturated silence.

Sarah spoke first.

"We have a long way to go," she said finally, sounding reluctant to her own ears. Jareth leaned close and inhaled deeply, as if enjoying her scent.

"Yes," he said faintly, rubbing lightly at her shoulders, and then more firmly, "yes." He took a step back from her with a sigh.

Bim was fairly huge as far as horses went, and he didn't seem to find it too much of a hardship to carry them both. Sarah sat behind Jareth, and the Goblin King seemed to rather enjoy her arms around his waist.

The trees thinned out and they walked straight though the night, unmolested. Jareth was effusive as the sun rose. Sarah would not have guessed by looking at him that they were less than twenty-four hours away from the culmination of a suicidally dangerous quest. He even sang a little, though it wasn't 'tirra lirra'. Sarah caught Bim looking back at them once or twice as if the horse couldn't fathom what had come over his master.

Sarah stretched and planted a delicate kiss just behind Jareth's right ear and he stiffened, stumbling over the words. She grinned to herself, pleased at this new effect she was having on him.

Around sunset, she saw the other side of it. Bim, who was getting tired, abruptly sensed something was amiss and shied, dancing on his feet unhappily. Sarah, who had been fighting the nearly irresistible urge to doze off for the last hour, was caught off guard and half asleep. She half slid off the back of Bim with a startled curse just as two of the milky white beasts shot out of the undergrowth, surprised out of their hiding place.

Sarah was legitimately concerned about getting trampled by the agitated horse should she let go, and clung with adrenaline saturated strength to Bim's saddle, trying to tuck her legs up out of the way of stray hooves. Jareth leaped off Bim's back with a snarl, landing several feet away on top of one of the creatures.

Now would be a fine time for Bim to decide to run off, Sarah thought, clinging for her life and her hands regrettably absent of reins.

The next time she agreed to something like this she was going to put 'no horses' in there as part of the bargain. She'd ride a camel or an ostrich or something. Maybe a nice llama. Nobody ever got trampled to death by a llama...

Jareth was occupied with the one monster, and the other decided to try and take a bite out of her. Bim jumped, and Sarah practically got her face crammed in a saddlebag full of Bemony.

"Make yourself useful," she snarled irrationally at the plant, tearing out a handful and flinging it in the face of the attacking creature. It shrieked and fell away, the plant exploding into life and entwining around the creature tightly. She flailed with her left foot and finally caught it in the stirrup, pushing herself up into the saddle. Sarah grabbed for the reins of the unhappy animal, pulling his head back impatiently. She turned her head to see Jareth pounding the hell out of the creature Sarah had incapacitated.

Sarah watched this for a few moments with her mouth open before speaking.

"Jareth, I think it's dead," she called. "Jareth!" she said sharply, when he didn't respond. He visibly forced himself to stop, looking up at her with a deadly expression on his face.

"Are you all right?" he asked, as if he would do terrible things to someone if she wasn't.

"Fine," Sarah said faintly. His eyes moved to include Bim, and darkened dangerously, as if displeased by his animal's performance. Sarah was suddenly a little nervous on his behalf. She narrowed her eyes.

Overprotective, much?

"I'm fine," she said, much more firmly, and Jareth seemed to recognize that she was displeased and possibly a little creeped out by his attitude. They were going to be fighting tomorrow, really fighting, and Jareth would have to deal with the reality of her in mortal danger. Without taking his eyes from the prize, so to speak. He hopped up in front of her, looking slightly embarrassed. He didn't see the troubled frown she aimed at his back.

She was going to have to watch out for that kind of thing from him. Tomorrow he wouldn't have the luxury of being heroic where she was concerned.

As the night went on the weather grew worse. The clouds blotted out the moon and the stars, and it got so dark Jareth slid off Bim's back at one point and began to lead him through a treacherous bit of landscape. Sarah supposed owl eyes didn't miss much in the darkness.

They crested what felt like a hill and Jareth stopped them with a sharp inhalation of surprise.

"Can you see it?" he asked her. Sarah snorted. It was so dark it felt like someone had slipped a blindfold over her head. The darkness was so complete it seemed to press at her eyes.

"I can't see anything," she said definitively.

"I'd forgotten," he said, as if talking to himself, "how big..."

"What is it?" she prodded, when he didn't continue.

"We're here," he said quietly. Sarah tightened her grip on Bim's saddle and said nothing. She got down off of Bim's back so he could cool down as they walked, and Jareth looped an arm through hers, keeping her close and leading her though the darkness. The wind had picked up, hissing through the trees over their heads. It was an eerie sound, made more so by the fact that Sarah was essentially blind. They camped shortly thereafter.

As she was setting herself down for a few hours of uneasy sleep, she heard the first rumble of thunder, and her heart sank.

"If it rains-" she began forlornly. The goblins wouldn't be able to offer them that crucial distraction. Wet grass didn't burn well.

"It won't," Jareth said decisively. He did not lay down beside her, which confused and disappointed her, but sat close, within arms reach and (presumably) looking out at the darkness and watching for trouble.

"You don't know that," Sarah replied frankly. Jareth's hand came down on her shoulder and squeezed gently.

"It won't rain," he said with iron assurance, as if he could stop it from force of will alone. Sarah thought suddenly about how he had looked the first night she had been there, the night he'd gone down to re-contain the portal. She thought about him, marshaling his forces as lightning and thunder fought overhead. Perhaps he could at that...but for how big an area, and for how long?

She woke abruptly around sunrise to a crack of thunder so loud that it sounded like the world was ending. She sat bolt upright, blinking into a dawn that was much darker than it should've been. She cursed internally to see the thick cloud cover. It would have been so much easier to attack in sunlight. The storm looked like it had stalled over their heads, ominous black clouds hanging over them, but as Jareth had promised, it hadn't rained.

Jareth was looking up with a kind of focused attention that pushed away any doubt he was at least partially responsible for the hold in the weather. She didn't think he'd slept at all.

"Jareth?" she said tentatively. He almost looked like he was in some kind of trance or something. There was energy crackling around him that couldn't be seen, but could definitely be felt. Her skin was crawling like it was trying to escape, and he wasn't even all that close to her.

Sarah stood up when she got no response, reaching down to grab her cloak and shake it out. It was just too cold to do without. She walked in front of him, all the hairs on the back of her neck standing at attention. Jareth gave no sign that he could see her. He was looking at something she couldn't see, and it had his complete attention for the moment.

She turned to look in the general direction he was staring, not expecting to see anything unusual at all, and froze, startled. She took several steps forward, squinting.

It looked like...

Sarah darted up the side of the hill and stopped dead on the crest of it, her mouth open, neck craning. It was a...her mind wanted to call it a wall, but it couldn't be. It was far too massive. It was a mountain, a sheer cliff rising straight up from gentle rolling hills into the dark storm clouds overhead. The face of it stretched along as far as the eye could see in either direction. It couldn't be a wall. No wall had ever been built on such a scale as that.

Though it was exactly the same color as the pale yellow-gold stones of Jareth's labyrinth, but surely that was a coincidence.

"The boundary of my kingdom," Jareth said from behind her, and she jumped. Sarah turned and glared at him. He looked amused by her reaction to him, and she had no doubt he'd snuck up on her on purpose.

"That is not funny," she informed him, and he smiled at her unrepentantly, looking wild and untamed under the dark, stormy skies. "What do you mean, boundary? Is there someone else's kingdom on the other side of the mountain?"

"Mountain," Jareth scoffed. He came up close behind her, pointing over her shoulder at the vertical face of yellow stone. She shivered a little at his proximity. "That is the outer wall of my labyrinth."

"Of your..." Sarah's mind sputtered, stalling. "Your labyrinth is thirteen days that way," she said, jerking her head back at the way they had come. Jareth smiled at her, looking sharp and inhuman.

There was something funny about the way he was looking at her this morning, almost like he was savoring the sight of her. As if he was enjoying it while he could. She would wonder, later, about that look.

"My kingdom is my labyrinth, Sarah," he said. "All that you have seen lies within its boundaries. The portion of it you traversed as a child was the living heart of it. The inner labyrinth differs from the rest. It lives, it changes."

"It binds you," Sarah said faintly. Jareth's face darkened, and for a moment he said nothing.

"Yes." His voice was rough when he finally spoke. "That," he said, quickly changing the subject, gesturing at the pale golden stone, "is the wall that marks the outer labyrinth's boundary."

The wind caught his cloak, sent it billowing behind him majestically.

"Like a shell on a conch," Sarah mused. A crooked little world, Marcus had called it. He'd been right. This place was even stranger than she'd thought.

"But," Sarah began with a jolt of sudden insight, "no one starting here could ever get through the labyrinth in only thirteen hours."

Jareth smirked.

"Really? How unfair of me."

Sarah gaped at him for a moment, and then desperately smothered a laugh. He was teasing her, of all things. She gave him a sincerely fond look that seemed to please him a great deal.

"That means you started me in the middle...well, almost at the end, really." She stopped and eyed him suspiciously. "Why?"

Sarah admitted to herself that maybe some part of her was fishing for some kind of declaration of undying devotion. She didn't get it.

"You said please," he said with a faint, crooked smile. Sarah blinked at him.

"I'm sorry?" she said, genuinely thrown for a loop. Jareth walked around her until his back was facing the wall of his labyrinth.

"You asked for your brother back. You said please. You'd be surprised how many people don't," he said with dry amusement. Sarah cocked her head at him.

"And for that, you helped me?" she asked, raising her eyebrows. Jareth looked nonchalantly over her shoulder. Sarah didn't buy it for a minute.

"I've found it's always good to encourage the proper respect," he said casually.

"Oh, yes, well, a man in your position..." Sarah said with total lack of respect, and Jareth gave her a stern look.

"I am not a man," he said smoothly. She knew he meant it to mean that he wasn't human, but she chose to take it wrong. She folded her arms and looked him up and down. Lingering on the down.

"Could have fooled me," she said mischievously. Jareth, however, did not share her mood, and looked down at her with worried eyes.

"You won't be a girl for much longer, if you stay here," he said, startling her badly. He lifted her hand as if to look at it, turned it over as if examining the inside of her wrist. He wasn't going to say it now, was he? Ruin it now...

Oh, don't ask me to stay, she thought forlornly, don't you see, if you never ask me to stay then I might just forget to leave...

"You're starting to change already," he said softly, looking bleak. Sarah looked quickly down at her wrist, surprised. Now that she was looking, her skin did seem to be a little paler, a little more luminous. It might have been the light, but it wasn't. Sarah looked up at him, appalled, but he wasn't looking at her any more. He'd stopped dead, staring off at the clouds.

Sarah turned her head. There was black smoke on the horizon.

"The signal," Jareth said, sounding grim. He looked her in the eye. "We haven't much time."

They ran back to Bim, and Jareth quickly removed everything from him but the saddle and bridle. Sarah, after a moments hesitation, even left her pack. There wasn't anything she had with her that would help them, anyway. Her hand touched briefly at the knife on her belt as she watched Jareth lift his spear. He turned to her with sober yes.

"I want you to stay on Bim, no matter what happens," he said. Sarah gave him an incredulous look.

"Jareth, he'll bolt as soon as the fighting starts, we went over this-"

"If you keep hold of his reins, you can control him, and he can protect you," Jareth cut in, but Sarah had caught a glimpse of something cross his face and she narrowed her eyes at him.

"You want Bim to run away, to carry me off and leave you to fight alone," she said incredulously.

Jareth said nothing.

"And I can't fight from his back with this," she gestured at her knife. She could not hope to reach anything with it from Bim's back, much less kill anything.

Silently, Jareth handed his spear to her. She took it more out of surprise than anything else.

"But what about you?" she said, sounding small and uncertain to her own ears. Jareth smiled, suddenly looking rather tired and sad.

"If you will lend me your knife, I imagine I can hold my own until we are close enough that it no longer matters if I alert them by using magic," Jareth said, holding out his empty hand. Eyes narrowed, she filled it with her knife.

"If Bim runs, I'll jump off, even if it breaks my neck," Sarah swore. Jareth held out a hand to help her up onto Bim's back without comment. When she was seated, she realized he hadn't let go of her. She was leaning over, looking down at him, past their entwined fingers.

Jareth stepped close and put her hand on his chest.

"This," he said quietly, "is yours."

Sarah's hand was resting lightly over his heart, and there was little chance of misunderstanding exactly what he meant by it. Sarah's mouth dropped open a fraction. He looked...soft, and desperately sincere.

"It goes where you go," he said with a faint, almost self-conscious smile. "Anywhere you go," he added with delicate emphasis, and Sarah's eyes started to prick a little. His heart thumped underneath her fingers. It was hers.

Anywhere. Anything.

He could not have plucked a better thing to say to her from the gates of heaven. It was only everything she'd wanted to hear, for as long as she'd been listening and hoping to find someone who could understand her.

"Jareth-" she managed, her voice thick with a lot of years of only ever hearing the wrong thing from people who claimed to love her, but would never understand how to make her happy. He pushed himself up and stole a kiss from her, brief and burning with emotions that neither of them had any time right then to express properly.

"Remember that," Jareth breathed into her lips, and then pulled away, heading for the Road at a quick jog. Sarah blinked furiously, cramming a lid back down on some serious emotional turmoil, and urged Bim on after him. They had things to do now, but later...

Later. She was going to show him exactly how much those few words had meant to her.

They moved silently through the dead landscape of the Black Road, the wall a few hundred yards away on their right. They walked past twisted dead trees and tread on withered grasses. The wall stayed more or less the same, perhaps seeming a bit dingier that it had been. Jareth had killed several of the small spiky black beasts shortly after they'd entered, but other than that, the place seemed deserted.

"It's so quiet," Sarah said softly.

"My goblins have done their part well," Jareth responded.

They crested a small hill and Sarah pulled Bim to a halt, her heart squeezing into a small terrified ball in her chest. A gate, she'd called it. It sounded so pedestrian. We'll just trot off and shut the gate. What they were facing was larger and more terrible than anything she could have imagined. It blackened the wall up until the view was cut off by the storm clouds overhead. It cut a hole into the earth before it large enough to drop in a building. It wasn't black; That was the most terrible part. There were colors in it, shifting like quicksilver over the surface but they weren't any colors she could name, they weren't colors the human eye should have been capable of seeing, and all of a sudden Sarah felt like she was going to be sick.

"Don't...look," Jareth breathed, sounding more distressed than she was. Sarah shut her eyes for a moment, and then forced herself to look at the landscape, at the path they would have to take to get where they were going.

It was disturbingly serene. A few gentle rolling hills dotted evenly with the blackened remains of trees. Something about the trees nagged at her mind.

"Shadows," she realized with a chill.

Jareth looked up at her, looking washed out and ill. Above them, thunder rumbled aggressively. The clouds were thick. It was dark, gloomy, almost like twilight. But somehow, underneath the trees were sharply defined shadows, as if they were standing beneath clear skies on a bright sunny day.

"Look at the shadows, under the trees," she breathed, uneasy. Her hand was sweating where she was gripping his spear.

"Clever," Jareth said softly, sounding angry. "This way." He started to pick his way through, carefully treading a path that kept them clear of the sharply defined edges of the shadows. Sarah watched them as they moved among them, and saw with a chill that the shadows were undulating gently, independently of the trees they were underneath.

Lightning cracked above their heads and cast the area into sharp clarity, a camera flash of black and white. Sarah saw, for a brief instant, something inside the shadows, something with tentacles-

There was a flash of movement, just at the edge of her vision, and she turned sharply in the saddle, lifting Jareth's spear like swift death.

Sarah dropped the reins, and her eyes got round.

"Oh," she gasped.

They were fucked.

Creeping up behind them like a silent wave of death were...hundreds. Hundreds of creatures. They were crawling over rocks and slithering through the trees. Utterly silent, a horde of beasts crept in on them with gleaming white eyes and sharp teeth. So many had gathered it was almost funny to see them there, undetected.

Jareth turned, seeing this, and hissed in a slow breath through his teeth.

Then he leaned back and hit Bim on the rump as hard as he could.

"Yah!" he bellowed, and Bim bolted like a frightened jackrabbit.

"What?" Sarah cried, "No!" The horde of creatures descended with a mass of terrible cries, and Bim ran like every last one of them was after him.

Reins, she'd dropped the reins, idiot, idiot!

"Bastard, you," she gasped, fumbling for Bim's reins, "Tricked me, I don't believe-" she got hold of the strip of leather and pulled his head back as hard as she could. Bim had taken off back the way they had come, and there were quite a few beasts hot on their tail but Sarah was so angry she didn't care. Bim took a flying leap over a cluster of those black spiky beasts, not caring a bit about the maniac on his back telling him to stop and get eaten.

Sarah snarled like a mad thing, tears streaming freely down her face, and pulled his head hard to the right, trying to get him to turn at least.

Behind them there was a flash of blue light, and a sound like a sonic boom. Jareth had taken the magical gloves off. That dirty, lying sack of...

Most of the creatures in pursuit of her and Bim broke off and headed for the magical fallout like hounds on the hunt. Bim, whether by training or accident, eased to the right.

She'd been correct, earlier. If she jumped off Bim's back at this speed she'd probably break her neck. Sarah stood up in the stirrups, her eyes trained on her goal. There was a tree branch coming up, if she could grab it...

Bim galloped underneath it at full speed, and at just the right moment, Sarah dropped Jareth's spear to the ground and jumped for the branch. Her body swung out in front of her like she was on the playground, trying to get the swing to go all the way around the bar, and the bark bit sharply into her hands before her full weight and all her momentum tugged at her fingers and she lost her grip, flung into the air like a rag doll.

She hit the ground flat on her back, and whacked her head hard. She lay there, gasping and insensible for a moment before she got enough presence of mind to moan and clutch at her head. She forced herself up onto her knees.

"Kill him," she gasped, the change in position sending a sharp stab of agony through her skull. "I'll..." One of those black porcupine things chose that moment to leap out of the withered remains of a bush and lunge for her throat.

Startled, she punched it in the face. It was more out of habit than anything else, but she no longer had Jareth's dreamstuff to help her, and after a stunned moment it was on her again, snarling. Sarah scrambled in the dirt with one hand, feverishly hunting for Jareth's spear while the other pushed its face up by the muzzle, keeping it from biting her. Her hand hit a rock before she found the spear and she snatched it up and bashed the beast in the head with it, over and over, black blood spraying across her face. Her head started to pound along with her racing heartbeat.

When it was dead, she spotted the spear by its faint glow and stumbled over to it, trying not to breathe too much and aggravate her headache. She was bleeding, all down the back of her neck, she could feel it, but she was extremely reluctant to touch it.

She nearly killed herself again on the way back when the spear tip got caught on bone inside something she'd just killed. She couldn't pull it out of the carcass of the creature in time to stop another creature from trying to kill her.

Hell, it had worked before...she spat the Bemony she was chewing at the attacking beast, planted her foot on the carcass of the creature she'd stabbed and yanked the spear out. Then she let slip a strangled cry at what the strain of pulling had done to her head.

She reeled, gritting her teeth and holding her head in her hand as if her skull was in danger of sliding apart. It felt like someone was drilling a hole in the back of her head. Taking a steadying, shallow breath, Sarah changed her grip on the spear. When the next beast came at her she swung it like a baseball least she wouldn't get it stuck that way.

One foot in front of the other, she told herself, moving back the way she had come, headed toward the fancy light show. There were bright flashes and small explosions-Jareth was going all out. Then, the ground shook under her feet, and the landscape in front of her burst into flame. Creatures shrieked as a spreading ball of flame ate at the landscape, and Sarah threw herself to the ground and covered her head. She felt the heat on the backs of her hands and thought, wildly, that he'd done it.

He'd dropped his special crystal into the gate. It was done-

Then, she heard a terrible sound. It called to mind the scream of rage she had heard when Jareth had bound the portal in his labyrinth from spreading, but this was much worse. This was bigger. It was rage and hate and horrible, horrible triumph...

It hadn't been enough, Sarah thought with a cold dread as the sound swelled in the air. Jareth had dropped his crystal and it hadn't been enough...she could feel the sound like it was tearing strips off her soul but she forced herself to her feet, and against all rationality startled to run.

Her head exploded in disapproval of this and she stumbled for a moment, actually blinded by the pain, but she blinked hard and pushed on. She had to get to him, she had to see him...there were creatures ahead of her and behind her, all headed in that direction. She crested a hill and saw them swarming over the burnt landscape toward a single, brightly glowing individual. She climbed up a tree on the crest of the hill, blood soaking her back, she just wanted see last...

Behind Jareth, Sarah saw the gate open up, and her mind dropped out from under her in horror. He was distracted, and behind him, tendrils burst forth from the maw of the gate, rippling in terrible, impossible rainbows of color, reaching for him.

"Jareth!" she howled in despair, pointing.

He looked at her. She hadn't really expected him to hear her but...he looked at her, and she saw from the expression on his face just how much he'd been counting on her, at least, to survive this. Sarah heard beasts scrambling up the tree after her, but didn't spare them a glance. For one moment she and Jareth shared eye contact over a battlefield.

You idiot, she thought. I said I'd jump, didn't I?

Jareth did not look at the reaching tentacles that were moving to grab him and drag him into hell. He looked at her, and threw her a crystal. It did not float, as his crystals were wont to do. Jareth's crystal shot straight to her heart like a flaming arrow, and cracked the world like a mirror around her.

The last thing she saw was the unknowing determination in his eyes as that iridescent hand rose up behind his head like a terrible mockery of a halo.

"Your best is done," she heard his voice whisper in her ear like a caress, as if he was only standing just behind her.


Then she stumbled back, and sat down hard on her rear end, stunned.

She was sitting on the dock in a little flouncy white dress. The ocean made soothing sounds where it lapped at the shore. In front of her, where Marcus' boat had been, was empty water. Marcus had taken off. Behind her were the soft sounds of a wonderful party winding down. A breath of salt wind brought her a hint of music in the air. There was a man strolling along the beach in her direction.

Sarah lifted a shaking hand to the back of her head and found it completely unharmed. It didn't hurt. It was like none of it had even happened. She pulled her hand away and looked at it in numb disbelief.

Then she bowed her head and cried as if the world was ending.

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 17 of 19

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