Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 5 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

The threat of sudden eminent destruction had invigorated the Goblin King. Sarah was running flat out, taking steps two at a time, and she still couldn't keep him in sight. The man was a force of nature in his own domain. He'd run for the door at a dead sprint and she'd dashed after him to find him tearing down a passageway that had appeared out of nothing directly across from his doorway. If Jareth needed to go somewhere in his castle it just got itself out of his way, making stairs and hallways out of solid stone to accommodate him.

The staircase she was plunging down took a sharp left and Sarah flung her arms out in front of her to avoid smashing her nose on the wall in front of her. Then she put her head down, turning and tearing down the stairs again at a suicidal pace, given the lack of any kind of railing to catch herself if she fell.

Oh, well, she thought, if she did fall, at least she'd get to the bottom faster. As if the castle was listening to her, a torch up ahead illuminated the base of the staircase. It opened out into a courtyard on the ground level. Outside.

It smelled like rain.

"Jareth!" she called, looking around wildly, her heart in her throat. It was black as pitch outside. She looked up and she couldn't see the stars. She stood there, blinking, waiting for her eyes to adjust. There was some light coming from the castle, but not enough. She turned around to look back the way she had come and jumped a little. All she had at her back was a blank wall. The stairs were gone.

Tricky, tricky...

After a moment spent listening, she heard something off to her left, and it focused her attention like a shot. Rustling. A man running past a hedge?

Sarah walked swiftly in that direction, moving in and out behind statues and slices of hedge, her hands out in front of her so she wouldn't run into anything. She heard a soft rumble of thunder. It sounded far away. Chilled, she shivered, rubbing at her arms.

"Wait," she said, her eyes widening, and she pushed her sleeves up and reached out with her bare arms, trying to feel which side of the courtyard felt colder. She caught a flicker of light casting the edge of a stone archway briefly into relief. Sarah moved cautiously toward it, wincing as the chill in the air developed a bite. She poked her head through and her eyes opened wide.

"Stop," a short, commanding tone.

Jareth was standing in front of a hole into hell. The old outline of glittering powder was still there. It was glowing brightly now, casting rippling blue shadows on the wall. The mark had swelled to cover the bottom edge, oozing down the wall. It was nearly the size of a door, and Sarah's heart shrank at the thought of what might come through. She could see it moving, as though something was pushing it from the other side. The motion was instinctively, terrifyingly foul. It was so black it sucked at her eyes, and even glancing at it for a moment drove a headache into the back of her head like a railway spike. She tore her gaze away, horrified of what would happen if it tried to take her now.

"My god..." she said weakly. She hadn't brought her bag. She didn't have anything with her, she'd just taken off after him without thinking. Stupid, stupid little girl! She couldn't even call for help without a mirror...

"Don't come any closer," Jareth warned her, holding up a hand without looking at her. Sarah hung back, curling her hands into fists, shivering as the temperature continued to drop. God, Jareth was bare-chested in this.

Sarah edged around the clearing, getting a better vantage point without getting closer. She wanted to be able to see his face in case something went wrong. In case...

Sarah squelched that thought firmly under her heel.

Jareth had a bag of something in his hand, but wasn't using it yet. He stood with his legs planted shoulder length apart, his eyes closed and his head bowed. He didn't look like he was doing much at all, but there was a quality of focused attention about him that put her on high alert.

Marshalling his forces...There was suddenly enough static electricity in the air to lift the hairs on her arms. The wind picked up and above their heads thunder grumbled, closer this time. Looking up at the sound, Sarah almost tripped over a wheelbarrow. She caught herself, scowling.

The wind abruptly brought her a whiff of something clean and fresh. Sarah looked down at the weeds filling the wheelbarrow. It had to be the Bemony Jareth had sent his goblins out after, but they hadn't planted it yet. It probably got too dark...and the weather was getting bad.

The thunder rumbled again, more enthusiastically.

The funny thing was, now that she looked at the little weed, it was familiar. Hoggle had shown it to her the first time she'd been to the labyrinth, after they'd met Sir Didymus at the bridge. Hoggle had pounced on it as soon as he'd seen it. They'd chewed it like tobacco leaves, and it had cut the stench of the bog dramatically. She remembered how it had tasted, sort of medicinal and clean. Sarah pulled a few leaves off, and acting on a hunch, shoved them in her mouth.

The clean smell filled her nostrils, and her headache melted away. Sarah straightened, surprised.

She glanced over at Jareth standing in front of the growing portal and could almost see something hovering around him, like a heat haze. She heard an awful scraping, groaning noise, and looked around wildly. It sounded like the entire labyrinth was drawing in on them. The stones at Jareth's feet almost seemed to grasp at him.

The hound coming at it's master's call. Even the walls were leaning toward him.

Sarah inched forward, unsettled. Over their heads, lightning cracked through the sky, flooding the area for an instant with light.

Jareth lifted the small black pouch as if it was enormously heavy. Into his glove he poured a small amount of brilliantly golden sand. He held it up. It was glowing, radiant with energy that cast eerie shadows on Jareth's face and lit up his eyes.

The portal, as if disturbed by this, actually swelled out from the wall as if it was reaching for him. Black tendrils burst out and Sarah saw the faint blue glow from the old binding circle flicker and die. She cried out a warning, horrified.

Jareth narrowed his eyes. He inhaled and blew the golden, glittering stuff of dreams at the black reaching thing. It shrieked, recoiling faster than the eye could follow. The sound intensified as the golden dust settled, cutting through flesh and cleaving away bone with pure, concentrated malevolence. Sarah clutched at her head and reeled. There was a terrible inhuman hatred larger than the whole world behind that noise. It was almost as if the thing wanted her to feel it before it was banished again.

Sarah went to her knees as the sound abruptly cut off. She looked up with watering eyes and saw the dark spot on the wall, larger now but once again ringed with a sparkling unbroken circle of golden sand. Sarah let out a breath of relieved laughter. Her ears were ringing.

Sarah looked to Jareth, a smile on her lips, and froze.

He lay crumpled and unmoving on the ground.

'The great beast lay defeated, but the King had fallen in battle, and all his men mourned the high cost of victory...'

"No," she ground out with iron determination. She scrambled to his side. He looked like a rag doll someone had dropped on the floor. He was so still...

"No, it doesn't end like this," Sarah told him, reaching out to turn him on his back. The story doesn't end this way, she thought. She would not accept this. Not happening. His limbs moved under her hands with the limpness of a fresh corpse, and she blanched. Then she pushed his dark red robe open wide and pressed her ear to his chest, shutting her eyes tightly. She did not think about how cold he was under the skin of her cheek.

A moment later Sarah sagged over him, her breath whooshing out in relief. Alive.

"Good god," Sarah said, pressing her hand to her face for a moment. Then, remembering herself, she looked around them, her hand resting on his chest protectively. The bag of sand had fallen from his senseless fingers, and she saw, to her horror, that some of it had spilled out onto the ground. She reached over and did her best to scrape it all back into the bag. Some of it clung to her fingers, making them glow and tingle a little. Then she took a deep breath, and with an untrusting glance over at the portal, got her hands up underneath Jareth's arms and started to drag him. She glared up at the portal as she did, the wilted leaves in her mouth somehow making it easier.

"I hate you, I hate you," she told it under her breath, a mantra as she pulled. The large black eye almost seemed to be watching them.

She pulled him over behind the wheelbarrow, just to get him out of line of sight from that...thing. Sarah set him down gently, and lingered over his hands, pressing them between hers, trying to warm them. Even through the soft leather of his gloves, she could feel he was ice cold.

God, she'd been useless. Useless! Jareth would have done better to ask Marcus to help him. She stood abruptly, stripping off her thick robe and bending down to tuck it tightly around him. She reached up and picked several leaves off the Bemony plants in the wheelbarrow, her fingers still glowing faintly. Sarah crouched down by his head.

Lightning flashed above them, highlighting his face. He looked awful.

"Jareth, you have to eat this," she said as she rolled the leaves between her fingers, bruising them. They darkened, releasing a fresh, clean smell. Sarah then tried to open his mouth, parting his lips and tucking the fragrant, mashed leaves between his cheek and his gums. He moved his head a little as she did it, trying to pull away, making a soft, petulant sound. "That's right," Sarah said with a smile. Her fingers were wet with the juices, so she put a little of it under his nose. He took a deep breath, stirring under her hands. She eased him up into her lap, rubbing his arms, trying to warm him.

His eyes fluttered open, and Sarah grinned like the sun rising. Jareth's lips parted slightly. He looked rather dazed. He raised his hand a little, and she took it gently, bringing it up and pressing it lightly against her cheek.

"Hello there," Sarah said softly.

"My dreams," Jareth said faintly, his eyes resting on their linked hands. "In your hands." He smiled faintly, letting his eyes drift shut. Sarah looked down in surprise, realizing her fingers were still glittering with the golden sand. The stuff of dreams...

"I'll take care of them," Sarah, said gently, touched. Jareth did not respond, and she realized he had slipped off again. His hand in hers was limp, and she tucked it back underneath her robe. His sleep this time seemed much more natural, so Sarah let herself relax a little. She looked around at the deserted courtyard in frustration. She would need help to get him back inside.

Just then, she heard the first pattering of rain against the stones, and she cursed like a sailor.

Jareth was dead to the world, and did not stir. She looked down at him with a pang. He was probably safer where he was by the Bemony than he would be anywhere else she could manage to get him.

"I'll be right back," she promised him, and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. She felt like a heel leaving him to get wet, but he wasn't going to get any drier with her here, and there was nowhere she could drag him that was out of the rain.

Sarah pounded on the first goblin door that she came to, hollering at the top of her lungs.

There was banging and cursing from within, and then a squat little creature poked his head out the door. He might have been about waist high to her.

"What do you want in the middle of the night?" it said bad temperedly. Sarah had been thinking as she'd been running and didn't blink.

"The Goblin King sent me to fetch you," Sarah lied smoothly.

"Oh, all right then," the goblin muttered, moving to follow her, but then froze. "Here now, it's after seven, you got to sound the alarm."

"What?" Sarah asked, bewildered.

"It's after hours, you got to sound the alarm," the goblin said slowly, as if she were stupid. "As if he'd send a bloody naked girl out to do his business," he added with a snort, and slammed the door in her face.

The rain started to come down in earnest, plastering her hair to her head. Sarah looked down at the thin white chemise she was wearing, and was abruptly put in mind of wet t-shirt contests. With a fraying of twine, Sarah's temper abruptly snapped.

There was a little three legged stool next to the door. Sarah picked it up, leaned back so that she could really put her body weight behind it, and smashed out his window.

The goblin came barreling out of his front door with murder on his mind. Sarah grabbed him by the neck and shoved him up against the side of his house.

"Now you listen to me, you pigheaded little idiot. I was sent to get goblins and by god," Sarah punctuated the words by knocking the goblin's head lightly against the wall, "I'm not going back without some. So if you don't help me you're not going to have to worry about what the king will do to you, because I'll dump you in the bog myself!" Sarah growled.

The goblin's eyes were round and white in the dim lighting.

"Well, you don't have to get upset about it..." he said nervously. Sarah let out a breath through her teeth and got a firm hold on the goblin's upper arm.

"Come on," she said tiredly.

The rest of the goblins were a bit easier to round up, but when she led them back to their fallen king they hung back, deeply impressed.

"The naked girl killed the king!" said one of them, in awe.

"He's not-" Sarah began quickly but stopped when the goblins abruptly prostrated themselves in front of her.

"Your majesty," said the one who'd window she had smashed out.

Sarah put her hand to her head and started massaging her temple.

"-dead," she finished weakly. She shook her head. "All right," she said briskly "I command," she gestured, "the six of you to get the Goblin King back inside the castle and up to his room." The goblins almost scrambled over each other in their haste to obey. Sarah tried not to think about what would happen in the morning when the King woke up and found out about this.

"You," she said to the goblin who's window she'd smashed. "what's your name?"

"Blotch, majesty," he said proudly.

"Take these two and fetch chisels and shovels, anything you would use to pry up these stones," Sarah said, tapping the flagstones with the toe of her slippers for emphasis. "I want you to bring them back here and wait for me. We're going to plant these." Sarah pointed at the wheelbarrow full of weeds.

The goblin's looked at her doubtfully, then up at the sky. Rain splattered on their heads.

"Well, get going!" Sarah growled. They jumped and beamed at her happily, running off. Sarah stared after them, mystified. It was like you had to yell at them to get them to do anything. Almost as if they liked it.

Sarah thought about fairy stories as she trudged back up to the castle. There were certain ways things had to be done, in fairy stories...

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 5 of 19

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