Continuing Tales

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 8 of 19

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The Lady and the Knight

"Sarah stay," Ludo urged, distressed. Sarah sighed, looking over at him affectionately.

"I can't, Ludo. I'm sorry. I have to do this." She reached over and stroked the fur on his arm for a moment before turning back to where she had dumped her bag out on the bed.

She'd laid out her gear, so to speak. When she'd left home, years ago, her bag had held mostly clothing. All the clothing she carried with her right now was a dark green leather jerkin that she'd received as a gift on her twentieth birthday. It was warm and she'd managed not to tear it to bits yet. Sarah had a sinking feeling that staying warm was going to be a difficult problem on this trip.

She had her mirror, and her little scarab friend, and a small carved wooden box with a latch on it. There was a tree intricately carved into the lid, and Sarah ran her fingers over it with a soft smile. It had once held a seed more valuable than every ounce of gold on planet earth. She had lost the seed, tossed it away for the sake of a friend. Marcus had never forgiven her for it.

There was also a very professional-looking lock picking kit, a small silver bowl, and several credit cards. She had, in addition, a small Ziplock baggie filled with white rice, a very unusual looking deck of playing cards, a set of old fashioned 3-D movie theater glasses, a Swiss Army knife and a half eaten stick of what looked like beef jerky wrapped in cellophane. Sarah picked it up with a long suffering sigh.

"I really, really hope I don't get down to you again," she said mournfully.

"Sarah share?" Ludo said hopefully.

"Ludo," Sarah said with a sigh, "knock yourself out." she unwrapped the jerky from the cellophane. The familiar smell made her wince. The meat-like product had a slight iridescent sheen to it, like motor oil. She handed it to Ludo, who attacked it with gusto.

Sarah started shoving everything back into her bag, and then went to the closet, ignoring the finery and going for the boots that had caught her eye earlier. Hard to go wrong with magic boots. She pulled them on over her pants and tried them out, jogging in place for awhile. They were shockingly comfy. Then she pulled her jerkin over her white shirt and twisted to the side to get the laces done.

Her door opened. It had to be Jareth because he didn't knock. Oh no, the Goblin King would never knock...

She gave him a brief glance, and returned to lacing up her clothing.

"Something I can do for you?" Sarah said casually without greeting him. He'd been rude first.

Jareth looked annoyed for a moment, but rallied quickly.

"It occurred to me," he said, "that the journey ahead is liable to be a cold one. I brought you this," he produced a cloak from nowhere with a flourish, and despite herself Sarah's eyes went wide. It was fur, thick and dark and shiny. She could have trekked to the North Pole in a cloak like that. She reached out and stroked it, breathing out a quiet exclamation at how soft it was.

Jareth looked terribly pleased with himself.

"Do you want it?" he asked gently, with a narrow little smile. Sarah let out a breath of laughter.

"What's the price?" She asked, charmed. Jareth lifted his eyebrows and turned, lifting the cloak away from her hands.

"A kiss," he said lightly, "nothing more."

Sarah's smile dropped a little.

"At a time and place of my choosing," Jareth continued, and her smile faded entirely. She eyed the cloak with frustration. Dammit, she would need that thing. She'd been worried about the cold.

"Of course," Jareth added coolly, "you could always shave the yak to make one," he eyed Ludo pointedly. "He looks as though he could use it."

Ludo straightened sharply, dropping the jerky stick he'd been eating. Sarah darkened furiously and opened her mouth to snap at the King, but Ludo beat her to it.

"Not yak," he growled unhappily. "Ludo. King bad man!"

Jareth lifted his eyebrows.

"Is that so?" he asked with dangerous amusement.

"Ludo not afraid of-" Ludo did not finish his sentence, because he had vanished. The floor quickly sealed the hole that had appeared under Ludo's feet. Unlike Sarah, he had not had the influence of a silver dress to save him.

"Bring him back!" Sarah demanded.

Jareth smiled a cold, crooked smile. She hated the sight of it on his face.

"Really, Sarah. I can't imagine you'll pine away from the lack of his scintillating conversational skills," Jareth said, strolling casually around her, forcing her to turn to keep him in sight. As she did she caught a glimpse of his face and froze, startled. He looked quite put out. Almost...sullen.

He could not be jealous of Ludo. The kind of world where that happened was just too weird even for her. But then she suddenly flashed on the sensation of Jareth's cheek rubbing against her shoulder, at the way he had delighted in taunting Hoggle through her mirror. Surely he couldn't be jealous, Sarah thought, but the internal voice that thought it suddenly sounded rather unsure of herself.

"You can't just throw a friend of mine into an oubliette for no reason-" Sarah began heatedly.

"I can do whatever I like!" Jareth snapped, and for a moment, the emotion behind his anger was written on his face with embarrassing clarity.

Well I'll be dammed, Sarah's internal voice said in shock, its internal jaw hanging open. Jareth was jealous of Ludo.

Sarah took a long, calming breath, and reached out for the cloak. Jareth's eyebrows lifted high, but he allowed her to take it.

"Please let him out," Sarah said sweetly. Jareth's jaw dropped a little. Sarah's internal voice looked at her as if she was insane.

"Please?" she asked again, tilting her head to the side a little. She held the cloak close to her chest, like a living thing. It was too beautiful to treat casually. Jareth noticed this, how reverently she treated his gift, and straightened a little, damn near preening in front of her.

Sarah absolutely did not smile in triumph. Two could play dirty.

"He's outside, in the courtyard," Jareth said casually, as if he'd merely turned him loose on a whim. He looked down at the cloak in her arms, then up at her face with sharp eyes.

"At a time and place of my choosing," he reminded her, anticipation in his eyes. Sarah's lips thinned, but she nodded. At the moment, she could care less about hurting him. At the moment, Sarah's internal voice piped up, she would be perfectly willing to tap dance over his heart in soccer cleats. Besides, she wouldn't be seeing him until she got back, anyway.

Sarah moved to take her bag off the bed but froze, suddenly remembering something. She set the cloak gently next to her bag and crouched down, looking for where the stick of jerky had fallen. It had rolled over by the chair and she picked it up, dusting it off. Ludo had slobbered over one end quite effectively, but it looked no smaller than it had when she'd handed it to him.

"As sovereign of this land, I forbid you to eat that," Jareth said in disgust. Sarah nearly smiled at him, covered it by turning to her bag and retrieving her Swiss Army knife. If only he wasn't so charming, she could dislike him properly...

"Believe me," she said, snipping off the slobby end of the jerky with the little fold out scissors, "I'd love to oblige you." The snipped end fell to the floor; However the half eaten stick did not appear to get any smaller.

"What is that," Jareth asked, looking intrigued and repulsed.

"This," Sarah said, holding it up, "is desperation."

Jareth laughed, startled. It made him look almost human when he laughed like that.

"It's soy, mostly. Food. Sort of." Sarah said, wrapping the stick up again and stuffing it in her bag. "It never runs out, which isn't necessarily a good thing." She pulled the bag over one shoulder, cradled the cloak in her arms, and turned to him.

"Have you got the crystals?" she asked him. He'd promised to provide her with the magical firepower she would need to seal the gate, when she found it. Actually getting to the gate would be her problem. "I'll need some serious heat when I get there," Sarah did not say 'if'. Sarah did not even let herself think 'if'. The last time she had done this she had been with a party of three other people. Two of them had ended up dead.

"Everything is taken care of," Jareth soothed. "Your horse is saddled and ready."

Ah, yes, Sarah thought with a sinking feeling. Her horse.

"Well, then," she said briskly, covering her discomfort. "I'm off." She was not surprised when Jareth followed her. She was surprised when they passed a window and the light suddenly illuminated what he was wearing.

He'd stayed in the shadows in her room, and she hadn't picked up on it, but he was in armor. Just a breastplate, of some strange nearly-black metal. It looked very nice with the dark blue shirt and cloak, but it seemed strange for him to be wearing it in his own castle. Sarah frowned at him suspiciously.

Then they exited into the courtyard, and she cursed herself for a fool. There were two horses waiting for them.

"You are not coming," Sarah said immediately, stiffening.

"Sarah," Jareth said reasonably, "It's my kingdom to protect."

"You're the King, for heaven's sake, you-" she grasped around desperately for a reason. "You need to stay and protect the portal!"

Jareth smiled in a way that tried for innocence, but crashed and burned about five miles short of it.

"But you've already taken care of that, precious thing," Jareth said smoothly, and Sarah had to shut her eyes for a moment to keep her temper. He walked over and mounted his horse with a casual grace that made her want to strangle him, and then he looked over at her as if saying 'well?'.

Sarah approached her horse carefully, watching it for any sign of panic.

"I don't suppose, since you're going, you could make yourself useful and just magic us along the road, could you?" she asked hopefully.

Jareth sighed impatiently.

"If we are not concerned with every creature watching for it knowing exactly where we are and when we plan to strike, then yes, Sarah, we could do that," He suddenly frowned at her. "Is something wrong?" He hesitated. "You do know how to ride, don't you?"

"Yes, I know how to ride," Sarah said irritably, edging over beside the animal so it could see her clearly. "Horses just don't like me." The horse she was currently worried about didn't seem too thrilled about her either, but he wasn't actively trying to stomp her to death, which Sarah regarded as a positive step in their new relationship.

"Really," he said dryly.

Her horse chose that moment to try to step on Sarah's foot, tossing his head in a displeased manner when he missed. Sarah eyed him warily. He looked back at her with a gleam of distaste in his eye.

"Really," Sarah said, with her heart in it.

"Odd," Jareth mused. Sarah looked up at him and gave him her not-quite human smile, her eyes pale and strange. Every place tried to change the people that traveled through it, to mold them to fit that world's rules. Sarah had been to some weird places.

"They don't like the way I smell," Sarah explained, "They'll get used to it eventually." She sort of sidled up to her horse and hopped up before he could decide to have another go at her.

Sarah made a lot of soothing sounds, patting him and telling him what a magnificent fellow he was. The horse, open to flattery, settled underneath her.

Sarah turned to the King with a question on her lips, and found him leaning over on his horse so his face was closer than she expected it to be.

Very deliberately, he sniffed.

"Mad things, horses," He said after a moment of thought, surprising Sarah into laughter.

"Sarah!" came a happy bellow. Sarah turned in the saddle, her laughter dying, suddenly feeling a bit bad for joking with the King after the lousy way he'd acted.

"Ludo," she said warmly, and nudged her horse to step away from Jareth's.

The horse was completely unfazed by Ludo, and Sarah gave him a kiss on the forehead goodbye, since she could actually reach while she was mounted. Ludo lumbered off happily, and Sarah turned to face a scowling Goblin King.

"You should have somebody here to watch the portal," she said, ignoring the nasty look. "I know someone who-"

"More friends of yours," Jareth said swiftly, and Sarah winced inside, realizing she'd blown it. "No." Jareth said simply, and urged his horse on. Sarah looked doubtfully in the direction of the portal, and then followed him with a sigh, shaking her head.

It wasn't until she'd been riding beside him for some time that she realized she'd been tricked. He was grave and silent as they rode, obviously upset with her, but his breastplate was glittering like graphite in the sun, his hair was shining like some kind of otherworldly halo, and his horse was strutting along like the magnificent specimen of horseflesh it was.

All he needed to do was start singing 'tirra lirra', she thought idly, and stiffened.

She'd been had. He'd been the King, the Goblin King, the proud ruler the hero helped to save the kingdom. The king never got the girl. But Jareth had changed it. He'd changed the rules, she couldn't believe it!

'I have no love for you, proud King, but I care for those in your kingdom that have shown me kindness and called me friend. For them I will help you, and aid your cause as best I can...'

The Labyrinth was an in between kind of place. A person needed a story to anchor herself here. Sarah had picked the story on the fly because it had seemed appropriate for the situation, and appropriate for him, she admitted to herself. Jareth was a king, but he wasn't playing the king in the story anymore. Jareth had switched it when he'd decided to come with her. Jareth was playing the Knight now, she realized with a groan. He'd changed the rules.

That clever bastard.

The Lady and the Knight

A Labyrinth Story
by Jack Hawksmoor

Part 8 of 19

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