Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 3 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

They stood on the crest of a hill. A vast field of gold extended out to the horizon, rippling in the wind like the ocean on a choppy day. A single tree stood just behind them, the bark glittering unnaturally. They were alone, and everything seemed quite peaceful. Sarah dropped her pack on the ground, looking around for trouble and finding none.

Jareth stepped up against her back just as she started to get suspicious. He pointed at a spot near the horizon, his face close enough to hers that she could feel his breath on her cheek, on the curve of her neck.

"There," he said, his free hand coming up to cup her shoulder. It was probably incredibly stupid of her to feel safe with him at her back. She looked where he pointed, squinting her eyes. A dark spot... it could just be a shadow or a rock or something...

Jareth turned his face into her hair and breathed into her ear.

"Do you see it?" He said.

"Yes," Sarah replied, disturbed by how close he'd gotten without her really noticing. Or objecting. "It could be anything, I-"

Sarah was staring intently at the spot when she felt a sudden ripple of unease. She stiffened in shock as she felt a tug.

It was snaring her heart through her eyes.

The spot swelled in her sight, though she stood rooted to the ground. She could see far, and farther, until she saw a place where the grass withered and the rocks stuck up like giants' bones from the bare earth. The cloudy sky darkened overhead, and as if emboldened by the lack of light, things started to crawl out from the earth, terrible white pearlescent things that had never known the sun...The tugging became a tearing and something was burning at her throat...

Jareth wrenched her away, turning her, coming between that horrible place and her line of sight. She felt the connection snap like a physical blow, and Jareth caught her as she crumpled.

She did not resent it. She clutched at him, breathing hard, the pendant at her breast glowing brightly, like a small star. Sarah shuddered. If she hadn't been wearing the necklace, if Jareth hadn't been there, it would have taken her. Just like that, so easily.

He'd pulled her up practically into his lap, leaning over her, one arm wrapped around her middle and the other stroking her hair. She was freezing, and she was ridiculously grateful for the solid warmth of him against her back.

"There we are," he breathed, almost nonsense words, comfort words, weaving a spell of his own. "All right," he whispered into her ear. "All right."

"What-" she breathed, but stopped, because she knew what. Oh, yes, Sarah thought to herself with a shudder, she knew what this was. There were adult worlds, and in between worlds...and terrible worlds. Worlds so horrifying that even to look upon them was to face madness and death. Sick, tainted, evil places, filled with unimaginable monsters, locked up and sealed tightly away so they could do no harm but to themselves. Like most evil things, however, they did not always remain where they were put. Sometimes things leaked through, or pushed through. If they couldn't be stopped they would overrun the land they tainted, leaving all those who lived upon it to suffer unimaginable pain and madness and death. "How," she had to stop and clear her throat. "How big is it?" How large is the tainted place, how much has come through...

Jareth stilled, and Sarah's heart sank. She thought suddenly of Hoggle, and kind, sweet Ludo...

"It cuts a path," he said bleakly. "I have not followed it back to it's beginning."

"A road?" Sarah said hopelessly. "A Black Road." She shook her head and turned in his arms. He saw what she was going to say before she opened her mouth and he grabbed her shoulders hard. Now she knew why Jareth had asked her. Anyone else would see that it was hopeless and leave as soon as they found out how much had seeped in.

"I have to try," he snapped. "You said you would help, that you would do your best, so do it." He looked very tired all of a sudden. She wondered what it had cost him to hide it from her until now. If he was fighting the encroachment of evil into his lands he must be using everything at his disposal. Running full out to stay in one place, so to speak. Sarah touched her necklace, shocked he'd had the strength to produce such a powerful thing.

She reached out to him.

"Are you-"

"I'm all right," he said swiftly, getting to his feet and offering her a hand up. His eyes turned frightening and grim. "I'm not at my limits yet." She brushed herself off and straightened the fabric of the dress, which looked rather rumpled. "Come along," Jareth said with a sigh. "There's more to see."

She felt the world twist that time, and then she was standing on a familiar spot, looking out at the labyrinth sprawling in front of them almost as far as the eye could see.

"This way," Jareth said and started off without her. She frowned after him, then had to run a little to catch up. She supposed she should not have been surprised when the labyrinth opened for him. It grew a door and swung it open almost hastily in front of its master. When they got inside it was another matter entirely. The walls almost folded in on themselves in their eagerness to make a path for him. She supposed she could be excused for not expecting the labyrinth to react to his presence like an excited puppy. She could swear space itself was folding, making the trip shorter than it could have possibly been, squeezing a mile of walking into ten steps.

She noticed that it had suddenly gotten colder.

Jareth stopped abruptly in front of her, throwing out an arm to stop her.

"No closer," he warned, then stepped aside so she could see. On the stone blocks of the wall in front of them, there was a mark. Sarah was very careful, after her first mistake, not to look at it directly. She noticed Jareth come up behind her again anyway, and felt a brief flicker of gratitude.

It was utterly black, irregular in shape and about the size of a window. In a circle all around it was what looked like sand, stuck to the yellow stone. It glittered brightly in an unbroken line as if holding something back. She could feel the cold coming off the dark stain like a stiff winter wind. Then she tilted her head and caught a glimpse of something that made her heart sink. Without thinking, she lifted her foot to take a step forward, to get a better look.

Jareth moved quick as a snake, snatching her arm and bringing her up against him roughly. Sarah looked back at him in terrible comprehension.

Inside the black mark, completely overrun, was the faintly glittering remains of an earlier, smaller circle of sand. He'd tried to bind it, he'd tried but it was winning...

"We need something pure," Sarah said faintly, not really looking at anything, lost in her own thoughts.

"I brought you," Jareth said, with just a touch of warmth. Sarah looked up at him, startled, and then smiled when she saw the look on his face.

"Not quite," she said, blushing a little and turning her face away.

"I mean something, like a plant or a flower or something...something that grows. Something alive that we can plant here." Sarah frowned at her feet.

"I need..." she said faintly, and then stiffened and swung her pack off her shoulder. She unfastened it and scrabbled around inside for a moment before bringing out a small compact. She snapped it open and turned it so the mirror was facing away from Jareth. He frowned at her, and she touched her fingers to her lips.

"Hoggle, I need you," she said clearly.

"Sarah?" Hoggle's face faded into view. He squinted at her, at the wall behind her. "Where are you?"

Sarah grinned, despite everything.

"I'm here, Hoggle. I'm in the labyrinth." She glanced briefly over at Jareth, who looked coolly amused. He leaned with casual elegance against a wall, and Sarah fought the urge to make a face at him.

"Are you all right?" Hoggle cried, stiffening. "I'm coming, don't worry-"

That was too much for Jareth, who laughed out loud.

In the mirror, Hoggle froze in terror.

"It's all right!" Sarah said quickly, shooting the Goblin King a dirty look.

"Is that, is," he gulped, "Is that..."

Jareth came around behind her, resting his chin in a familiar way on her shoulder.

"Ah, Hedgewort," Jareth said with dangerous charm. "Coming to save the lovely Sarah, are you?"

"You leave her-" Hoggle sputtered, as if his ears had just caught up to his brain. "That's Hoggle! Hog-gle!"

"Everything's all right, don't worry," Sarah insisted. "I'm safe, but I need to ask you something."

"What are you doing with him?" Hoggle growled, shooting daggers at Jareth with his eyes. Jareth rubbed her shoulder lightly with his cheek, and Sarah frowned, pushed him back a little with her elbow.

"Hoggle, please, this is important," she insisted. Hoggle hesitated, then nodded, looking wary. "I need to know, after someone gets dunked in the Bog of Eternal Stench, what do they do then?"

"I told you already, they stink forever," Hoggle replied, looking confused.

"I know all that," Sarah dismissed, "but what about after? Don't tell me they just accept it. There must be something people use to try and get it off. A plant or an herb or something?" Hoggle looked uncomfortable, and Sarah felt a thrill of triumph. "Anything that might help, even if it doesn't get rid of it completely?" Sarah pressed, her eyes glittering. Hoggle was glancing back at Jareth with dull panic in his eyes.

Sarah understood. The Bog was Jareth's favorite threat, and if there was something that people were using to help, sure as anything if Jareth found out about it he'd have it destroyed. Normally, anyway. They were currently stuck in rather extraordinary circumstances.

Hoggle suddenly stiffened as if he'd had a horrible thought.

"He hasn't dunked you, has he?" Hoggle gasped. Sarah opened her mouth to reassure him, but Jareth grabbed her arm hard, and she stopped.

"I can barely stand to be around her," Jareth said with deliberate maliciousness. "It's a terrible pity, to spoil such beauty." He nearly succeeded in looking contrite.

"Damn you, Jareth!" Hoggle snarled. It gave her heart a pang to see it, and she moved to speak but Jareth clamped down on her arm and she subsided unhappily.

Jareth laughed at him. It was suitably diabolical and Hoggle deflated, convinced.

"Bemony. It grows down by the bog but it don't stink. Some folk says it helps." He shook his head sadly.

"Thank you, Hogwatch, you've been such a help-"

"-Don't listen to him, Hogwatch," Sarah winced. "Hoggle," she corrected herself. Jareth made a polite scoffing sound, and Sarah glared at him as she spoke. "The Goblin King is horrible but I'm fine. I haven't been dunked. Thank you so much, you have been helpful, and I promise I'll explain everything later."

Hoggle had his mouth open, looking mutinous, but she snapped the compact shut quick before he could explode and prod Jareth into dunking him for real.

"Bemony." Sarah said firmly. "Do you know it?"

"Of course," Jareth said mildly, lifting his eyebrows. "You want to plant it here?"

"I've done something similar before. Unless I miss my guess, It'll help hold back the spread of that thing." Sarah pushed the compact back into her bag with more force than she strictly needed to, irritated with the smug creature in front of her.

"I'll see to it immediately," Jareth said with confident charm, extending a hand to her and gesturing towards the castle, which was impossibly close given the distance they'd walked. From where she stood, it looked like they were somewhere inside the Goblin City already. Sarah swung her pack back over her shoulder and ignored his hand, waiting for him to start walking with narrowed eyes.

Jareth faltered a little at that, and she saw a flicker of anger in his eyes that made her wary. He turned sharply and took off without waiting for her. Sarah followed behind, grateful for a little distance.

He spoke to his goblins in the courtyard in front of the castle, ordering them to gather the plant without damaging it, promising that any who did would be residing in the bog permanently from then on. Sarah watched silently as he threatened them, strangely disappointed. She might have changed, but he hadn't. Not really. The goblins scattered, but Jareth remained where he was, facing away from her.

"There's a room prepared for you, if you'd care to use it," Jareth said, turning his head slightly but not looking at her. Sarah frowned at him.

"You were awfully sure of yourself," Sarah said shortly. And he was, wasn't he? So damn sure of her. Of course she would come. He would bat his mismatched eyes at her and she'd follow him like an idiot. Make a room up ahead of time, she'll be along.

Jareth did look at her then, and Sarah thought that perhaps she could not read him at all, because to her eyes it looked like he was quite miserable.

"Yes," he said, sounding very tired. "This way."

The throne room was as filthy and disorganized as she remembered. The goblins had cleared out but they'd left their chicken behind. There was another door that had not been there the last time, and when he led her through it there was a long hallway beyond it, with several doors. He stopped at the second one and it opened for him without him needing to touch it. Sarah hesitated before blowing past him.

"Thank you," she said. "For the room."

"I can have something to eat brought up, if you wish," Jareth offered. He looked dead on his feet, and Sarah softened a little.

"Safe food?" she asked, tilting her head and looking up at him.

"We have a bargain," he replied. " Safe passage. What's said is said," Jareth barely smiled, and Sarah nodded at him. She didn't smile, but she wasn't rude either. She was careful not to slam the door behind her. Then she leaned against the door and let out a long breath. She leaned her head back and gently thunked it on the wood a couple of times. It was soothing.

Then she straightened up, got a hold of herself, and started to look around the room she'd been given. It was a lot cleaner than the rest of the castle. Lack of use, she suspected. The ceiling was enormously high, and it looked like little twinkling stars had been set into the stone. There was a bed that was large enough to be considered vaguely obscene, two plush chairs and a small table. There were dressers and a monstrous wardrobe, plus a full length mirror on a stand in the corner. Sarah moved over to it, unable to resist.

She was right, the dress had gotten rumpled a bit. But good lord, what a dress. She looked amazing in it. What could have possessed him to be so extravagant? He was barely holding his kingdom together and he wasted magic on a pretty dress for a girl he hasn't seen in the flesh since she defeated him? It didn't make sense. Idly, Sarah licked her finger and wiped a smudge off her face.

She was interrupted by her food arriving. The creature that brought it was pleasant enough and Sarah relaxed when she saw the food wasn't anything too bizzare. The things she had been forced to eat over the years...

This was just bread and good cheese, and some fruit. Apples, she noticed with a thin smile. Some kind of hot spiced drink that she didn't really care for. It was light, snack food before bed. Sarah had to admit she appreciated the hell out of Jareth's little gesture. It was still barely evening in the Underground, but she was on Above time and for her it was late. She dusted her fingers off and eyed the wardrobe. She couldn't sleep in this dress, that was certain.

When she pulled open the doors the first thing she saw was a white shift, loose and light and probably about ankle length. Close enough to a nightgown for her, she thought with pleasure, and snatched it, turning quickly to toss it on the bed as she started to struggle out of the gown and the complicated underwear that went with it.

She rubbed at the parts of her skin the corset had chafed, slipped the shift over her head with a little shiver of pleasure at the soft material. She sat back on the bed with a sigh of relief, and her eyes came to rest quite naturally on an object in the room she had overlooked.

A book. A book with a red cover.

Sarah caught her breath, reaching out with an unsteady hand to pick it up. She opened it to the first page. The Labyrinth, it said. There was a thumbprint on the corner from when she had been reading it at the dinner table and smeared some grease on it. Sarah dropped the thing on the night stand and snatched her hand away as if it might bite her. She stared at it for a moment, willing it to disappear, because it was impossible for it to be there. The book remained, to spite her.

She turned her head, and looked at the white dress, gleaming gorgeously where she had placed it on a chair. She turned her head a little further, and saw the wardrobe open, revealing something silvery.

As if she were in a dream, Sarah stood up and approached. She pulled the doors open wider. There were many dresses in there. She picked out the first one, a light, silvery gray thing and regarded it as if it might explode at any moment. Then she unfastened it and pulled it over her head. She ran to the mirror and stood in front of it staring like a deer into headlights. It fit her perfectly. And...and...Sarah groped for the word. It flattered her perfectly. Her head snapped around to look at the wardrobe again. She pulled out another dress, and another, tossing them on the bed feverishly.

They all fit. They all suited her like she'd been born to wear them. She pulled things out of the drawers. It all fit, every last scrap. Sarah leaned on the dresser as she pulled off the last thing, a beautiful cream robe with dark ivy stitched onto the heavy cloth with shining green thread. She put all her weight on her hands and took a deep breath to calm her skittering thoughts.

There was a large black jewelry box on top of the dresser that she'd been avoiding. Her hand was not entirely steady as she lifted the lid. She saw what was in it and exhaled sharply.

A king's ransom in jewelry. Necklaces and bracelets and one small empty space where the black velvet showed through a carpet of diamonds. Sarah traced the emptiness with a finger, frowning. Then she froze. Her free hand came up to her throat, where an unusually shaped pendant was resting against her breastbone. She held it out. It fit the space perfectly.

He hadn't just made the amulet. Jareth had made it who knew how long ago and kept it here, waiting for her. Jareth had this whole room just sitting here, waiting for her.

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 3 of 19

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