Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 7 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

Sarah wiped her eyes with her glowing fingers and got out of bed. Someone had taken her pile of wet, dirty clothes and left her hot bathwater in a tub in exchange. She glanced over at Ludo, then shrugged and decided to go for it. She even had clean towels.

Twenty minutes later Sarah was standing in front of the wardrobe, feeling somewhat human again. After a moment of thought, she took the silver dress out and put it on. It might have been a cruel thing to do...or an extremely kind one. He could have taken it out of her closet if he'd wanted to spare himself.

She looked at herself in the mirror. Sarah looked like a creature out of myth. The skirt gleamed like starlight. After a moment of thought, she took her little scarab friend out of her bag and tucked it in her sleeve. Then she took her compact and tucked it into the waistband.

There. As ready as she could get, in a place where anything could happen. Pity creatures of myth tended to run low on pockets.

Sarah ducked quietly out of her room so as not to wake Ludo, and went looking for people, and perhaps something that resembled food. She heard things talking in the throne room, so she headed that way with a swishing of skirts.

The throne room was filled to bursting with goblins, and Sarah had a single, pitying thought for the old goblin lady who would be cleaning the place up later. Then her attention was caught by a rather extraordinary sight. Seven or eight of Jareth's crystal spheres were hovering in the air in a vague grid-like pattern. Jareth was walking around them and between them, looking relatively healthy, talking with the goblins about scouts and terrain.

Sarah was surprised. Had she come in the middle of battle plans? Then one of the goblins from last night saw her in the doorway, and squawked loudly.

"It's the naked lady!" He shouted, pointing at her. Sarah flushed beet red.

Jareth whirled and looked at her. He saw her in the dress and his eyes widened. Still blushing, Sarah managed a smile, relieved that she'd guessed right. Jareth was pleased she'd worn it. Very pleased, by the look on his face. Sarah's smile got a little wider.

Jareth lifted an eyebrow, and stepped away from his spheres. He looked nearly himself again, like a man who'd come out the other side of an illness. There was a gleam in his eye that she was pleased to see. He was wearing black. He looked rather dashing in black, Sarah decided. She was particularly fond of the leather pants.

"Ah," he said, his voice going quite chilly. "Your Majesty. Good afternoon."

Sarah's smile slipped a notch. He'd heard about the prostrating...maybe she was not so pleased he was himself again, after all.

"I think," he said, his voice edging over into glacial, "that you may have dropped something-"

Sarah lifted her eyebrows, puzzled.

"- out your bedroom window last night," Jareth said, and tossed her something that sparkled. Sarah caught it on reflex. It was a large diamond. It had obviously once been set into something. There was a sad little bit of twisted gold still attached to one side.

Sarah's smile dropped from her face and made a run for the door, casting worried looks back at her as it went.

Obedience, she thought then, looking at the shining thing in her hand, and dropped it like it was on fire.

Jareth blinked at that. One of the goblins picked it up off the floor and started running around with it. Neither she nor Jareth paid it any mind.

"There should be," Jareth continued, recovering, "several dozen other pieces of priceless antique jewelry here as well, but I'm afraid after the fall from your window they are more like several hundred," he narrowed his eyes, "very small, pieces of priceless antique jewelry."

Sarah smiled weakly, and made a small squeaking sound.

"I can explain?" she said faintly.

Jareth made a motion for her to follow him that would absolutely brook no refusal.

"Do," he said ominously, his voice echoing though the throne room.

As she followed him out he leaned back a little and said, too quietly for the goblins to hear,

"If I'd known you didn't like them that much I would have just had them taken away," Jareth gave her a devilish look that let her know just how much he was enjoying her embarrassment and Sarah almost threw her shoe at his head, just on principle.

Instead she stepped up beside him and slid her arm through his, making him jump in an extremely satisfying way. Quietly, so the goblins wouldn't hear, she leaned over and spoke into his ear.

"You are an arrogant wretch, and you will come to a bad end," she advised him with cheerful venom. Jareth snorted in an extremely refined and uppity way, which impressed her, because it was something she'd never imagined to be possible.

"Now," he said when they were well clear of goblin ears, "What, precisely led you to take out your frustrations on the crown jewels?" he was not, despite his teasing, entirely unannoyed with her, and it showed in the sharpness of his question. Sarah was very glad she'd decided to wear the silver dress. It seemed to be giving her a leg up. She would have expected to be in an oubliette by now.

For a moment she cursed herself. She'd meant to go down and get the mess swept up and she'd forgotten! She could have hidden the stupid diamonds under her bed. He wouldn't have found out about it for years, centuries if she was lucky. Damned portals. Damned unconscious Kings.

"I found something on them...what were the old goblin queens like?" Sarah asked.

Jareth looked at her as if she had asked him what kind of underwear he preferred.

"Queenish, I suppose," he said, mystified.

"I bet," Sarah said darkly, scowling. Jareth started to look angry, dark threads making their way through his blond hair. Sarah reached swiftly into her sleeve and pulled out her little scarab friend. She held it up close to Jareth's face so he could see. Jareth looked intrigued despite himself.

"And this is?" he prompted.

"A friend of mine," Sarah replied, and breathed on her.

Jareth watched the transformation with interest, his eyebrows shooting up when her little wings started fluttering.

"Hello, little friend," Sarah said kindly. "will you do a little looking around for me today?"she asked.

The beetle obligingly flashed blue. Sarah looked up at Jareth.

"Do you have another one of those diamonds?" she asked him. Bemused, he riffled through his pockets and came up with a smaller stone.

Her little friend had landed on her necklace first, flashing cheerfully about protection, good clean protection, very nice.

"Protection," Sarah translated, "good protection, and nothing else."

Jareth's eyebrows shot up.

"You can understand it?" he asked. Sarah gave him a smug look that obviously exasperated him.

The beetle flitted over to the stone in Jareth's hand. She flashed yellow and gold, agitated.

"Obedience." Sarah said grimly. "Insidious and thorough submission." She glanced up under her eyelashes at him. "You shouldn't carry it any more. You shouldn't keep any of it close to you."

Jareth looked vaguely horrified.

Then the beetle fluttered up and landed on his ruffled shirt. Jareth stepped back and Sarah put a hand up quickly. This was what she had really wanted to see.

"It's all right," Sarah reassured.

Her little friend went utterly black, with little silver streaks of mourning showing through.

"A cage," Sarah said softly, looking up at him with unhappy comprehension. "Captivity. Very strong, going right down to-"

"Enough," Jareth said, snatching her hand. He looked unsettled. "Enough." He took a deep breath as if he was about to say something, and then shook his head. Jareth removed the little beetle, giving Sarah an anxious moment, but he only turned her hand palm up, and placed the little insect there. Sarah held her close, and thanked her, and gave her a little kiss to put her to sleep again.

She saw Jareth's eyes flash when she did this, but dismissed it. There was no way he was jealous of a scarab beetle. Sarah tucked it away again, and realized Jareth was still staring at her hands. After a moment, he reached for them.

"Let me see," he said, his face white. Mystified, she held her hands out, surprised when he snatched at them and held them up close to his face. Then she remembered the golden glitter her hands had picked up last night. She wasn't sure if he remembered waking up after she'd got the Bemony into him. He turned her hands, examining them carefully, testing as she had. Finding as she had that the golden sand had sunk beneath her skin.

"I thought it was..." Jareth said softly, almost to himself.

"A dream?" Sarah prompted. He looked up at her, and she had a split second to realize that she had said the wrong thing before he pushed her back up against the wall. He didn't have to touch her- he just started coming at her with a fairly murderous look in his eye and she backed herself up quite helpfully against the nearest vertical surface.

"What did you see," he snapped at her.

Sarah narrowed her eyes at him. Jareth moved back half an inch.

"What," he prompted, calmer. Sarah hesitated, softening at the anxiousness she could see flickering behind his eyes.

"'A far green country, under a swift sunrise.'" Sarah quoted gently, and he flinched. "You talked to me," she continued, and Jareth caught his breath. "It was very beautiful there."

"I thought," Jareth said faintly, as if someone else was talking, "you would like it."

Sarah relaxed, and almost smiled at him.

Jareth leaned in and kissed her.

She wasn't expecting it; If she had seen it coming she probably would have ducked. That was probably why Jareth had done it that way. However...

Jareth, she discovered, was a very fine kisser. Very fine indeed. He had a nice mouth and a lot of passion and Sarah was suddenly remembering exactly how long it had been since someone had kissed her like that. He went very still for a moment when he felt her responding to him. Then he made a noise, a soft little noise that shot a dagger right through her heart.

Sarah realized, when she heard that noise, just how cruel she was being. This meant so much more to him than it did to her...

It was somewhat difficult to stop kissing him once she'd started. He'd started moving his mouth differently, slow, tasting her, and his hand started to wander down the back of her dress, pressing her tightly against his chest. Sarah turned her face from him and he started to kiss her lightly down her neck. Her body suddenly leaped to attention, deciding without her that it rather liked this idea.

Sarah thought abruptly of the Jareth she had met in his dreams, of the quiet adoration in his eyes as he'd looked out at the girl with her face. He loved her, but she...she was leaving the labyrinth, once she'd done what she promised to do. Sarah had been in this position before, it never ended well. She'd hurt people before. It was an effective splash of cold water on her interest. She swallowed hard and started to push lightly against his chest, leaning back. He froze up a little and then let her, but when she saw his face she found she suddenly didn't like herself very much. She should've just slapped him. It probably would have hurt him less.

Jareth stepped away, turning from her for a moment. She saw his fists clench, watched his body language turn very cold.

"I suppose you'd like to check on your handiwork from last night," Jareth said distantly, as if they'd never met before. Sarah flinched.

"Yes..." she said, swallowing hard and hoping he would fob her off on somebody else. Anybody else. "Sure."

"This way," he said shortly, and started walking. Sarah sighed quietly. No such luck.

He walked fast enough so that he was ahead of her the whole way. He was moving like a hurt thing. She got the impression that he didn't want to have to look at her.

She was startled at what she found in the courtyard. The Bemony weeds that they had planted in the ground by the portal last night had been perhaps a foot high at the largest. The plants she saw had almost enveloped the entire wall. She couldn't even see the portal. Sarah stepped closer, intrigued, and saw that the plants had grown little feelers and hooked them into the wall so they could grow up as well as out. It was pretty damn impressive, she had to admit.

"You know, I bet this plant feeds on... I don't know, foulness I suppose." she tried to peek in and see if the portal had shrunk, but Jareth grabbed her and hauled her back firmly.

"It's still there," he said, and sighed. "Contained, however. Now, I assume you would like to return to your celebration as soon as possible?" Jareth said stiffly, as if he had never kissed her.

"Return?" Sarah said, feeling dim. Jareth raised an eyebrow.

"I see you've neglected to bring your bag, perhaps you should fetch it. As you've done your best to help in this situation I can ask no more of you," Jareth said, as if explaining things to a child. "Our bargain is fufilled," he almost managed to sound like he didn't care. Almost.

Sarah suddenly realized with a jolt what that kiss in the hallway had really been about. He'd thought it was his last chance.

Sarah sat down right on the flagstones. Oh, this was funny. Ha. Ha. She put her hand up and rubbed at her temple.

"You can't tell me you want to stay," Jareth said, bitterly, refusing to react to her obvious discomfort.

"You idiot," Sarah said with a sigh.

Jareth went very still.

"What?" he said slowly, dangerously.

"You've looked in on me, spied on me before, don't deny it!" Sarah snapped, too irritated to care.

Jareth narrowed his eyes.

"Not enough," Sarah sighed, shaking her head. "Not enough."

"What?" Jareth said, startled.

"My best, Jareth, I promised you my best, and you don't even know what my best is, do you?" Sarah said, putting her head in her hands. She'd agreed to this to help her friends, she reminded herself. If given another chance, she'd do the same thing again.

Jareth abruptly kneeled beside her, shocking her.

"Tell me what you mean," he said, his voice tense, his whole body tense. Sarah saw him holding back hope in his eyes, and felt like the worst piece of filth in the world.

She reached out and took his hands, though she supposed she really didn't deserve to.

"Jareth, I've done this before," she said quietly. "I've never ridden a Black Road because I've never seen a place get so bad as that," she paused. Jareth looked mesmerized and he nodded, encouraging her. "But I have closed the gates," she hesitated, then corrected herself. "I helped close the gates between a terrible world and a good one once."

She shrugged helplessly. Her best was quite a lot. She was committed to seeing this through until the end of it.

"A mortal girl cannot be expected to do so much," Jareth protested, looking torn between horror and joy. She would stay here, but he had to let her ride into hell. Good, bad.

Sarah slapped the stones with one hand. There were rules to making a deal with a magical creature, and consequences to breaking one. He knew that better than anyone.

"We made a bargain, Goblin King. How long do you think it will be, if I go, before I find myself right back here again? It's old magic, much older than you are." Sarah shook her head, her voice wry. "How likely do you think it will be that I'll still have all my fingers and toes when I'm tossed back here?"

Jareth looked down at her hand in his.

"Not very," he said, and sat down beside her.

Sarah scooted over and leaned on him a little bit. He looked like he needed it. She sure did.

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 7 of 19

<< Previous     Home     Next >>