Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 4 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

Sarah backed carefully away from the furniture, retreating into the very center of the room, looking around herself as if she expected something to jump out at her. She pulled her bag with her, and when she was as far away from everything in the room as she could get, she crouched down and felt carefully along the stitching inside the bag until her fingers found the little pouch she was hunting for. She dipped into it with her fingertips and pulled out what looked like a small iridescent river rock. She set it on the flat of her palm, leaning close. A person had to get close to see the delicate little markings, and realize what it was. She opened her mouth, and breathed on it.

For a minute, there was nothing. Then it gave a tiny shiver and twitched on her hand. Shiny little legs folded out from what had been, a moment before, barely noticeable carvings. The little scarab fluttered her tiny wings, flashing steaks of color. Blue and gold and purple.

"Hello, little friend," Sarah said softly. The little insect shut her wings with a click. "I need your help tonight, all right? Check the room for me?"

The beetle seemed to think about that for a moment, and then flared a bright electric blue and fluttered into the air.

"Thank you," she breathed with a smile, and began to follow her around the room. The scarab darted obligingly around the furniture. Sarah got abruptly queasy when she landed near the remains of her dinner. If Jareth had done something to that, he'd broken a promise and there was almost nothing he wouldn't do. But she merely settled near for a moment, and then flew off again. She finally alighted on top of the black jewelry box and started flashing urgently, black and gold.

"That bad, huh?" Sarah asked, tensing, leaning close and narrowing her eyes to better see the delicate shifts of color on her little friend's carapace. "Obedience," Sarah said bleakly, something sinking in her stomach like a stone. She looked down at the box, brimming with diamonds and slavery. Insidious, her friend warned. Almost impossible to detect.

"Well, then," Sarah said briskly, picking it up. The little scarab settled on the dresser as Sarah walked in a businesslike manner to the single small window set into the wall. It wasn't much more than a slit, but it was just wide enough. With a beatific smile on her face, Sarah chucked the diamonds out the window. She paused to listen. It made a very satisfying sound when it hit the ground.

Sarah turned swiftly back to her little friend, waiting patiently on the dresser.

"So," Sarah asked brightly, brushing her hands off. "Anything else?"

The boots that had caught her eye in the bottom of the wardrobe had something on them about easing the way along the road ahead for the person wearing them, which Sarah could live with. There was some kind of hair ornament for clear thinking, which she wouldn't have known how to put on anyway. The only other thing was the amulet around her neck, which had her little friend glittering strongly of protection.

Then the little scarab perched on top of her bag, and exploded in a riot of color. Sarah laughed, realizing she was being teased. She held out her hand, and the insect came into her palm willingly.

"Would you like something to eat?" she offered. " I can carry you outside."

The insect fluttered contentedly.

"No? Well, thank you for your help then, friend mine," Sarah said. She leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her shining carapace. When Sarah pulled away, it was once again just a little carved river rock. She replaced it in its secret pouch with a fond smile.

Then she sat back on the bed and had a serious think. There had been a lot less in the room that she expected. Those diamonds, though...nasty piece of work. Maybe he hadn't felt like he needed more.

Strange that it was jewels...hardly the way to her heart, so to speak. She'd thought Jareth had nailed it fairly well- despite her adventurous lifestyle, she was a sucker for a pretty bit of silk and lace. If she were him she'd have put something in the white dress instead of a box of diamonds.

Had he meant them for her? He must have, they were in the room. Sarah nodded, her mouth firming as she sighed. He had to have meant them for her. Everything else in the room was meant for her.

Which was creepy enough in itself.

Sarah shot to her feet with determination in her eyes. She pushed open the door and padded into the hall in bare feet, moving quickly now that she'd made her decision. She burst into the throne room, and realized immediately that she'd guessed wrong. It was dimly lit, and the only creature there was a hunched old goblin with a face like a catcher's mitt, pushing a mop wearily across the floor.

"I'm sorry, I was looking for the King," Sarah said automatically, moving to retreat. Then she did a double take. "Wait, someone around here actually cleans?"

"Oh, that's nice, some tart come up here to tell me how to do my business," it grumbled, and Sarah would have given odds from the voice that it was female.

"Who are you calling a tart?" Sarah demanded sharply. She put her hands on her hips. The old goblin turned her attention back to the floor she was mopping.

"Girl goes running around the halls naked, asking for the King and wants to know who's a tart," she peered up at Sarah grumpily. "Well if you don't know I can't tell yeh."

Sarah stiffened.

"I'm not...naked..." She looked down at the thin white shift she was wearing, and realized that with the brighter light from the hall, anyone in the darker throne room was seeing right through it, and getting an eye full of...almost everything, in fact. Sarah clamped her arms around her body in strategic places and started backing rapidly out into the hall.

"He's the thirteenth door on the left, if you're going looking," the gnarled little old goblin woman called after her. "Can't have tarts running about naked all over the castle..." she growled. Sarah nodded with a sick grin, and made a run for it.

She shut the door to her room behind her and started to laugh. She shook her head. It served her right for going off half-cocked. She snatched the beautiful ivy embroidered robe and wrapped it around her snugly. Then she took slippers from the wardrobe, walked back and forth in them for a minute to make sure they wouldn't fall off her feet if she was chased by untrustworthy Kings or angry old goblin ladies.

Satisfied in everything but her curiosity, Sarah crept back out into the hall. The old lady had not followed her, and she relaxed and stared counting doors. She needn't have bothered.

The door to the King's quarters was rather like a miniature of the doors to the castle, only more ornate and ostentatious. Sarah refused to use the knocker, it was making faces at her. She knocked with her hand, and after a moment the door swung open silently.

"Are you finding everything to your liking, Sarah?" He asked her before he saw her. She had a comment on her lips, something clever and irritating, but then she stepped out into the room and saw him, and everything else went right out of her head.

"Are you all right?" she asked in a small voice.

Jareth had a fireplace in his room large enough to call into mind the bowels of hell. He was lounging in front of it on some kind of low couch. He'd removed his shirt and coat, and put on a dark red robe, a thick velvet thing that did not close until it reached his hips. The skin on his chest was icy white. She did not know if it was the color of the robe, or the way he was seated, like he was trying to appear casual and poised but couldn't quite move past the exhaustion to get there. Either way, Jareth looked wasted, and Sarah spotted the change instantly, stiffening. He looked up at her with appraising eyes and made a quick decision, abandoning the pretense and sinking back against the cushions with a weary sigh.

"Can I get someone?" Sarah offered, stepping closer, but trying to keep a little distance between herself the the roaring fire. It was like a furnace in this room. She couldn't imagine how he wasn't sweating.

He shook his head, moving as little as possible, letting his eyes slide shut. Sarah looked down at his face and reminded herself of diamonds.

"I can go," she decided.

"You came here for something," Jareth said, still without opening his eyes. Sarah approached around the back of the couch, the sloping back of it saving her from some of the heat.

"...The room," she said finally, looking at him with sharp attention.

Jareth opened his eyes and glanced at her. He noticed the robe she was wearing, and his eyes flashed, pleased to see her in it.

"Ah," he said, and sat up. Sarah watched her hands brushing over the fabric on the back of the couch.

"You made that room for me," she said, glancing up to look at his profile outlined in flames. He had dark circles under his eyes.

Jareth smiled coldly and looked away.

"An ordinary girl like you?" he said to the fire.

"Yes," Sarah said, almost before he was done speaking.

"Do you like it?" he asked her in a very different tone of voice. He turned on the couch to look up at her and Sarah went quite still inside. It was strange, she got the distinct feeling it wasn't really the room he wanted to know if she liked. She wondered abruptly if he'd stood at her back earlier in the day so she had less chance of catching the look in his eye.

Oh, hell...

"How," she cleared her throat delicately. "How long have you had the room that way?" She asked him, sidestepping the question.

Jareth tilted his head, and smiled a crooked little smile that gave away nothing.

Go back Sarah, before it's too late...

For a minute the planets and the stars must have hit some kind of freakish alignment, because Sarah Williams suddenly saw right through the Goblin King. There was a bright magpie glitter of obsession in his eye, a steely shine of devotion. Some kind of volatile mix of desire and fascination. The Goblin King looked up at her in fierce adoration and something in her marveled to see a thing like that directed at her. It was like watching a tornado rip through the prairie. She stood in awe of a force that was terrible and beautiful and frightening.

Then he saw her face, what was in her eyes (and what wasn't), and something gentler surfaced for an instant that was much more surprising to see.

She bet he'd started on the room the day she'd left.

Sarah stayed calm and she looked at him warmly, though she did not smile. It would have been a terribly cruel thing for her to make him think she was laughing at him. Jareth nodded slightly, relaxing a little for some bizarre reason.

"Ah," he said quietly. Sarah nodded back, knowingly. Whatever the Goblin King had been doing, Sarah Williams had not spent the last eight years thinking of him. She refused to feel bad about that.

His voice had not been entirely sad. They had not said two words to each other, but Sarah was surprised to realize they understood each other quite well. He leaned back, relaxing against the couch again with a sigh. She would have expected fireworks, rage and threats. Maybe he was just too tired. Suddenly unreasonably fond of the man, she put a hand on his shoulder. Her littlest finger brushed his neck and she hissed in a breath, snatching her hand away.

"You're freezing!" she accused.

"Am I?" he asked unconcernedly, sprawling out a little over the pillows.

Sarah had moved to snatch up a blanket that had fallen on the floor, and paused, sat back on her heels.

"It's that thing out there, isn't it," she said, jerking her head toward the window. She stared at him as if she'd never seen him before. "What would happen to this place if you stopped fighting it?"

"Nothing good," Jareth said with a breath of laughter.

Sarah nodded, looking down at the blanket in her hands, thinking furiously. She wanted to trust her instincts. After a minute she got to her feet and handed the blanket to him, meeting his eyes.

"The diamonds," she said evenly. Jareth utterly failed to react. "I didn't like the diamonds," Sarah prompted, suddenly feeling lighter. "In my room. Everything else, just not them."

Jareth sat up a little straighter, and after going over her words, Sarah realized she might have just given him a bit of misplaced hope.

"That makes sense." Jareth smiled, amused. "They were the only thing in that room not made for you."

"Oh no?" Casually, casually. Sarah could act her ass off when she had to.

"Those jewels came with the castle. They're priceless, but they belong on a woman's neck," Jareth said easily. "Seemed fitting for a woman's room."

He didn't know. He really didn't know. Sarah forced herself not to grin, suddenly unreasonably cheerful. A woman's neck...they must have had some docile Goblin Queens back in the day. Priceless, docile queens.


Sarah felt her face go completely, carefully blank. In her mind she heard the sound the box made as it crashed into the flagstones below her window with crystal clarity. Internally, Sarah winced. She was going to have to take a walk outside at some point before bed. Maybe with a dustbin.

Sarah looked up, realizing she'd been standing mute for some time and intending to cover, but for the second time that night everything she'd been about to say was abruptly struck from her mind.

"What is it?" she hissed, stiffening.

Jareth had lost every ounce of color in his face. His lips were white.

"The blasted circle isn't holding," he growled, looking off at something she couldn't see. "It's breaking free inside the labyrinth."

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 4 of 19

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