Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 6 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

"It's a trick," Sarah realized. She was staring down at Jareth sprawled out senseless and beautiful on his couch by the fire. He was bare from the waist up, and his hair was dripping.

Sarah had caught up to the goblins just as they were bringing the King to his room. She'd instructed two of them to get him out of his wet clothes and into something warm. She hadn't quite had the nerve to stick around for that little show. The other goblins she sent out for picks and spades with strict instructions to wait for her before they did anything. She warned them not to get close to the black mark, not to even look at it.

Then she'd staggered off to her room to get a mirror and a warm cloak. Walking back out into the hall away from that wonderful, decadent looking bed was almost physically painful. She needed a cup of coffee so bad she could taste it. Living with Marcus for the past six months had spoiled her a bit for modern conveniences.

Sarah checked up on Jareth before going out again, and started thinking. She was looking at him, looking at the results of the evenings labors on his health and well being. Just dealing with a fraction of the power that was even now creeping across his lands had completely wiped him out, and after watching him, after watching the labyrinth reacting to him, Sarah thought she knew why.

Jareth and the labyrinth had a strong connection, something deeper than was apparent to casual observation. It had reacted to him in the courtyard. It had come at his call.

Sarah was used to the idea of inanimate objects seeming a bit active. Magical items often were. They took pieces of the person that had made them, and the results of this could be extremely unnerving, depending on the temperament of the person involved. The labyrinth had seemed that way when she'd gone through it the first time, changing and throwing things at her to impede her progress.

She was getting a view of the other side of it this time, and it left her suspecting there was a bit more to this than she'd originally thought. As they'd walked through the gates, Sarah would have sworn it almost seemed...eager to please. As she'd ran down twisting stairways to reach the courtyard, Sarah would say there had been a definite hint of alarm.

Magical things did not feel anything when they were used. They might react in a way that was almost alive, but they did not hate you if you abused them, or love you if they were well treated. They did not emote. Anything that did spoke of ominous, unspeakable things done during creation. Terrible things done to the creator.

The attack on the labyrinth, even though it was a small one, had a devastating affect on Jareth's health. It certainly indicated that the connection there was much stronger than it should be. Sarah wasn't sure if she wanted to know why. The range of possible explanations included many things too horrible to contemplate.

Regardless of why, the black portal had taken a lot out of him. Staring down at his exhausted face, Sarah got the idea that maybe that was the point.

It was a distraction, a trick. While the labyrinth itself was threatened, Jareth was weakened and had to concentrate all his energy on just protecting himself. If he failed to defend the labyrinth, he would languish and (Sarah assumed from what she'd seen) eventually die. If he succeeded, his attention was still focused almost exclusively on protecting himself, and the evil behind the portal could spread unopposed across the face of this world.

"Smart," Sarah thought with a sinking sensation. It wasn't always the case. Sarah had seen things like this on a smaller scale that hadn't been. Portions of terrible worlds that had seeped into others with no real intelligence behind it. Just awful things that needed to be killed. Something had come through...or was trying to come through, that was thinking. Sarah thought briefly about that scream of hate that had accompanied the binding of the portal, and shuddered at the thought of a thinking being behind that.

They needed to halt the spread of the portal here, and then go out and shut whatever gates that thing had opened into this world. Follow the Black Road to the source. It was a somewhat suicidal proposition, but Sarah didn't have a better one.

Sarah let out a breath, and wished desperately that Marcus was there with her, that her mirror could reach beings outside of the labyrinth. He'd been with her the first time she'd seen this. It was how they had met. He was much more experienced at this kind of thing than she was.

Sarah shook her head. Nothing she could do about it right then. What she could do was protect the gateway that thing was trying to make into the labyrinth, and see what affect it had on the health of the sovereign in the morning.

Sarah used her mirror, and when she exited the castle, she brought Ludo with her. He was not particularly pleased about the rain. He did, however, help enormously in the removal of the flagstones. Sarah watched everyone like a hawk, forcing the goblins to eat the weeds as they worked, snapping at anyone who looked up at the portal. She'd seen someone taken before, and she never wanted to again. You couldn't always tell, right away. Sometimes they acted normally for a while, until the taint grew inside them. Sarah did the work closest to the portal herself. Thankfully, the rain stopped sometime in the middle of the night, so while the work was muddy, it wasn't impossible.

When they were nearly done, she caught a goblin spitting out his leaves and went cold inside.

"What are you doing?" she asked quietly, tensing. She saw a good-sized rock nearby, perfect for smashing someone's head in. Sarah edged quietly toward it.

"Nothing," the goblin said. "Tastes funny."

"Take more," Sarah said in a flinty, deadly tone of voice. The goblin, startled, pulled a leaf off and shoved it into his mouth. Sarah relaxed like a balloon deflating. A tainted creature wouldn't be able to stomach the Bemony. A tainted creature would spit it out.

"Sarah all right?" Ludo asked, rather timidly for such a huge beast. Sarah threw him a relieved smile.

"I'm fine, Ludo," she reassured.

They were done before sunrise, though Sarah didn't really feel like thinking about how close to it they were. She thanked her crew, which seemed to upset them, and then called them ingrates and ran them off, which seemed to please them to no end.

Ludo followed her up and though she wanted to get in her bed so badly her teeth hurt, she searched around her room until she found a few things she could use to dry him off. Drying off a six foot tall beast with hair two feet long was an arduous process that involved a lot of towels.

Sarah turned from him to pull a few extra blankets off the bed, and when she turned back he was curled up on the carpet, snoring. Sarah smiled fondly and threw a blanket over him, patting him lightly on the top of his head.

"Goodnight, Ludo," she said gently, and kissed a large floppy ear.

She found a short white shift in a drawer and pulled it on, leaving her wet things in a pile, too tired to bother with them. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

Sarah dreamed, and the dreams were not hers.

She was standing on a green hillside, with open fields and unobstructed sky as far as the eye could see. There was something that immediately caught her fancy about the place. The only word that came to her mind was saturated. Every blade of grass was sharp and perfect and crystal clear. The sky was filled with billowing white clouds, the patches of blue behind them impossibly bright. The wind tasted like everything that had ever been good in the world, condensed and perfected until it made a person lightheaded just breathing it.

There was a man walking toward her with his hands in his pockets. He had a look on his face that mirrored what she was feeling in her heart. This place was wide open, as if no one here had ever heard of a wall or a fence or a limitation of any kind. Sarah felt like she could take a step and soar away into the sky, utterly free. He looked like his heart was right there with her, sailing off through the clouds, so much so that his feet barely seemed to connect with the ground.

The man came closer, and she saw his mismatched eyes, watched his platinum hair sparkling in the sun like spider silk. He was human, and she wasn't sure why that struck her as strange. He smiled to see her and there was nothing devious or cold or enigmatic about the man. He was like this place. Wide open.

"Hello," he said, and started walking beside her. They were coming from nowhere, going to nowhere and that thought filled her with a sudden fierce joy. "I don't often meet people, in this place," he commented, and there was nothing behind it, nothing he cared to find out, he was just talking, casual and content. She nodded at him and that seemed to be all that needed to be said. It was a beautiful day. Something about the place just made a girl want to run and dance.

The wind teased at her hair, lifting it from the back of her neck and tossing it playfully into the air. Sarah laughed and shook her head, eyes sparkling. She looked up at him. He had a soft look in his eye.

"Are you alone here, then?" Sarah asked, charmed.

"No," he said, and gestured, pointing ahead of them. "She's here."

Sarah looked. Far off, out of reach, she could see a dark haired girl in a silver dress. Something about her snagged at Sarah's memory, and she tensed. She blinked her eyes, staring at her, knowing this was somehow important, something she needed to know.

She looked familiar, that girl.

Sarah turned to him, to question him, and her eyes caught on the terrible things on the man's wrists. He was manacled. The sight of something so completely ugly in such a beautiful place was an unpleasant shock.

"Your wrists-" she hissed, stiffening. They were practically medieval, huge iron monstrosities that trailed several links of broken chain. She could see where the metal had cut into his skin and left scars.

They didn't belong here, Sarah thought with venom. In a place like this, they were almost obscene. She'd never wanted to destroy something so much in her life.

The man reacted in a nonchalant way, lifting both hands up for her to see clearly.

"It's all right, see?" he said, twisting his hands, showing her the swinging links of broken chain. Showing her that while he was manacled, he wasn't chained to anything.

Sarah frowned, troubled.

"If you're sure," she said doubtfully.

He smiled at her with effortless charm and turned once more to look at the girl in the silver dress. His attitude was somewhat reminiscent of a priest regarding his altar. A sort of reverent possessiveness.

She was walking away from them, the sun at her back, making her glitter as she moved. There was something wild and fierce about her that Sarah rather enjoyed watching. Sarah noticed her new friend was walking at a pace that ensured he would not catch up with her. She glanced up at him to question him about that, but she saw the look on his face and paused, softening.

"Do you ever talk to her?" she asked gently of the smitten fellow beside her. The man took a deep breath.

"No," he said softly, his eyes drinking in the sight of her. "I wouldn't have the heart to tame her."

Sarah smiled at him sadly, and turned to look at the object of his affection. He hissed in a breath beside her and stopped in his tracks just as Sarah realized the girl was turning around to look at them.

The girl had Sarah's face.

Sarah awoke with a start, surprised out of sleep. She blinked up at the ceiling, processing what had just happened. It had not felt anything like a dream. She was, in fact, possessed of an oddly solid certainty that it hadn't been. Sarah almost never remembered her dreams, and when she did, they were fragmented and unreal. Strange. Not a dream. Then what?

Sarah lifted her hand to rub at her eyes and stopped, staring. It was morning, but the room only had the one small window and it was dim. She could see her hands quite clearly, however, because they were glowing.

The stuff of dreams...

Sarah sat up stiffly, and held out her hands in front of her, examining them. Ludo, still sleeping on the rug, snuffled a little in his sleep, like a large dog.

She'd done plenty with her hands last night, in the rain no less, but the dust hadn't washed off. It looked instead like it had soaked into her skin somehow. She scratched at a spot on her palm. Definitely under the surface.

'My your hands.'

Sarah thought back on her strange dream that had not been a dream and her eyes went wide. Not dreams as they come at night, blurred through the subconscious and strained through the flotsam of everyday life. Dreams as in hopes and dreams. Dreams as in the deep desires of the heart. The dreams Jareth had offered her in her parents' bedroom when she was still a child.

Sarah was at once horrified at the sacrifice, at the risk he was taking, and admiring of his audacity. He was fighting the devil with his own heart. It was as daring as anything she'd ever heard of.

His own heart. To her own surprise, Sarah found herself tearing up a little. It wasn't because she'd found herself in his heart, she'd pretty much known that yesterday when she first realized this room had been made for her. A shrine made in her absence. What did bother her was the sudden understanding she had of why.

She was certain he had watched her, on her travels. At least a little bit. She remembered the bright glint of fascination in his eye last night before they'd run outside to face down hell. She remembered how not only had the dresses fit her, they'd suited her. They were not only things that she looked good in, but things that she would like. She highly doubted a brief peek in on her sailing to the party on Marcus' boat had been the entirety of his spying. She understood now that it hadn't only been because he cared for her. It had been because she'd had something he desperately wanted.

Of all the people who had ever run the labyrinth, and Sarah was sure there had been many, Jareth had turned his eyes on her. The girl who'd refused him. The girl who'd refused anyone who'd ever tried to tame her, to tie her down. She flitted about the whole of creation with fire and wonder in her eyes. Sarah with the human heart and the inhuman smile. She went wherever the wind took her.

Jareth was the Goblin King, and a force of nature in his own domain. He lived in his imposing castle in the center of the twisting ways of his labyrinth, bound about with magic and gifted with great power. Tied here, forever.

'You won't be caught there as I was.'

The only thing Jareth wanted was the one thing Sarah had always taken for granted, and the shock of that, the terrible pity of that was enough to put tears in her eyes.

The Goblin King wanted to be free.

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 6 of 19

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