Continuing Tales

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 18 of 50

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Power Struggle

Bleary eyed, Sarah swatted the hand that poked her awake. Jareth did not take to being swatted and transported her, clothes and all, into the bathtub, full of far-from-hot water. Needless to say, this did not exactly help Sarah's mood nor spur her to move any faster. However, Jareth's particular glare along with his darker than usual tones (his hair was a strong indicator, several metallic black and purple streaks intermixed with his normally pale hair) did not escape Sarah's attention, despite her initial urge to send a horde of goblins his way after assuring them that Jareth's boots were actually candy. Pulling in what Elizabeth and Jan had taught her thus far, Sarah put on a gracious mask…at least until they were alone. Then she fully intended to find some manner of revenge; magic made improvisation much easier.

Surprisingly, the two of them left on schedule. Jareth sulked on his side of the carriage and Sarah sulked on hers.

"Why couldn't we just magic to the border?" Sarah asked, finally deciding to break the silence.

"You want to spend more time there than necessary? And for all I want them to know, I can't do that except in emergencies," Jareth snapped.

Sarah mentally allowed that she did not know all the delicacies of Underground politics but still did not appreciate his tone. "Look, what's your problem?"

"Excuse me?"

Sarah refused to back down. "Seriously, what's been with the attitude?"

A series of threats ran threw Jareth's head, from taking away Sarah's free will (which could be problematic if anyone else figured out that little quirk) to cutting off an ear (the question was whether to actually do it or form an illusion; either way she'd have a fantastic reaction and would figure out how to magically undo it) or perhaps just exiling all her little friends would be simplest. He settled with the nastiest glare Sarah had ever seen, and, in doing so, lowered the temperature at least seven and a half degrees and effectively shook Sarah's resolve.

Fueled by genuine concern, Sarah switched tactics. She set a hand on his arm. Jareth regarded her touch with curious disdain; Sarah might have laughed at the expression some other time, but she was still searching for something to say.

"So how about them Yankees?" Sarah mumbled, shrinking back to her side of the couch and returning her gaze to the slowly changing scenery.

"What?" Jareth asked, completely taken aback.

"And I'm not even a Yankees fan," Sarah laughed to herself, resting her head in her hands for a moment. Jareth was still waiting for an answer, the gloved fingers of his right hand drumming on his crossed arm. "It's just something to say when you don't know what to say."

"Ah," Jareth replied noncommittally. "What about them?" he asked after another moment of awkward quiet.

"Do you even know what the Yankees are?"

"In what sense?"

"They're a baseball team. Do you know what baseball is?"

"Yes, I have some knowledge of baseball," Jareth testily affirmed.

"I was just curious," Sarah defended mildly. Against her better judgement, Sarah decided to pursue her earlier question. "Seriously, Jareth. We're in a carriage that I think is heading toward the middle of nowhere—"

"—actually on the northeast side of—"

"—I don't really think I could handle any additional information revolving around geography, family trees, and some of the other random information Jan and Elizabeth tried to plug into my mind, please."

Jareth nodded, a slight smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth at the desperation in her plea.

"Anyway, the point is I really don't think that you have to worry about any foreign deities eavesdropping right now."

When Jareth merely stared at her, Sarah covered her eyes with her hand.

"Or can they?" she mumbled.

Jareth formed a crystal and released it. "They can't now, though I do doubt that they would have been."

"At least," Sarah agreed with a snort. "But Jareth, the point I was trying to make is still there. You've been randomly snappish this week. What's been bothering you? Is there anything I can do?"

"You have no idea what we're getting into, Sarah."

"It's bad enough to where you're not exactly looking forward to going, that much I get."

"And bad enough that I really would look for any further possible excuse but all polite routes are already compromised."

"But we weren't going initially when—"

"Have you changed your mind?" Jareth purred, his mood recovering enough to tease her. "We would of course have to turn around and see that you had a physician ready at a moment's notice and only mine would do, of course, particularly with your 'fragile health.' It would not be lying, exactly; few beings down here understand what mortality is anyway."

Sarah rolled her eyes. "We'll see if it's really all that bad." She sobered. "You're really worried about this whole trip, aren't you? I really didn't make things easier by going home, then."

"Perhaps," Jareth shrugged, refusing to give ground one way or the other.

Sarah wasn't fooled. Jareth watched as Sarah's face crumpled in thought for another moment.

"I guess I took you for granted already, Jareth. I'm sorry. I really appreciated it in the midst of everything."

Still a little confused, Jareth chose not to question his fortune. "You're welcome."

"But how did they find out that we had no excuse?"

Jareth leaned forward, his forearms resting on his knees. "Sarah, let me tell you this: distrust is an essential Underground life skill."

Sarah blinked. "Even with all the times you've told me to trust you?"

"Sarah, if you trusted me entirely, I believe I would be somewhat concerned."

"I don't know if I can live like that for eternity, Jareth." Sarah grimaced, knitting her brows together. "Do you think we could ever bend that rule?"

"Perhaps," Jareth said again, this time with a more positive inclination.

Sarah knew that it was about as good as she could get, but it made her feel better. "All the same, that doesn't exactly answer my question."

"There are plenty of methods. As to which ones they specifically employed, that's hard to say."

"Can't we just get rid of any leaks?"

"Then they might take out mine from their palaces."

At Sarah's obvious confusion, Jareth began to explain, "It's all part of some many tiered manipulations, mixing a steady stream of fragmented truth and misleading moments. Unfortunately, those sources do occasionally get lucky."

"This is all so twisted."

"Call it what you will, it took centuries to create this balance and won't likely be abolished just because you don't follow it."

"What's the point if it doesn't work?" Sarah persisted.

They argued about the merits of such an arrangement for quite some time, Jareth eventually admitting that he did have several other plans besides the more or less expected spies and double agents (who were far too often only pretending to be double agents). Why he didn't just mention that in the first place was beyond Sarah. Any time one of the other royals mentioned him or his kingdom, he could tune in on a crystal, regardless of what boundaries they put against him. This lead Sarah to ask one all important question.

"Just how powerful are you?"

"More than many, less than some," he replied truthfully. "It is difficult to tell in most situations and rude to ask. Plus, putting up an act, one way or the other, is more or less expected as well. Others play off of that further."

"And it just gets more confusing as we go until no one really knows anything else about the other, right?"

Jareth nodded and Sarah felt her irritation rise, remembering vaguely that she swore revenge from the morning.

"Tell me it'll be a few hundred years before I'll be expected to understand all that."

"I'm afraid not. You should start to understand a part of that now. Jan and Elizabeth probably told you, yes, that there is a significant bit of acting involved in being a royal?"


"Some of these bored monarchs will use whatever edge they could to stir up a war. Wars are far more interesting."

"Why wait for an edge then?"

"Think, Sarah, what good is a war you cannot win?"

Sarah conceeded his point but still held that it was all ridiculous anyway.

"While we're on the subject of being royal, I do have a small favor to ask."

Sarah eyed Jareth for a moment. "That being?"

"So that everyone bests underestimates you, there are several roles you could undertake. While I cannot give you a very good jumping block for all of this, I trust you will be able to take some direction as we go."

"I can't promise that, exactly, but I can try."

"Firstly, some may patronize you because of your heritage. It's best to take this graciously."

"Because of my heritage?" Sarah questioned disbelievingly.

"For the same reason," Jareth continued, "Others may look on you with awe and almost reverance."

"I'm not sure if I really like either of those options," Sarah admitted.

"Just try to be relaxed but distanced," he coached. "The next item might be a little more difficult."

Sarah eyed Jareth suspiciously. "Well?"

"To avoid unfavorable questions, it would be best to act lightly smitten."

"Lightly smitten?" Sarah repeated, again disbelievingly.

"Too much and none would believe it, too cold and their tongues will wag all the more and some of these creatures have quite atrocious tongues; you'll see what I mean when some of the lessers spit all over themselves trying to say hello."

Sarah pondered on Jareth's request, knowing full well that he of course did not mean it as much as a request as an ultimatum.

"Might as well officially call it a game," Sarah mused aloud, more to herself.

"Would you care to lay some sort of stake on it?" Jareth asked in a tone Sarah would have almost put as eager in its own Jareth-ish sort of way. Somewhere in that Fae blood was a genetic love of games, Sarah was sure.

"I'm sure we could figure out something."

"You may wish to set your terms a little more clearly, lest you find yourself the loser in every right."

Sarah joined Jareth's smirk so that even he was surprised at the malevolence therein. She knocked on the ceiling of the carriage. A goblin clambered into the carriage, nearly tumbling off of the side of the still moving vehicle. Sarah watched bemusedly and Jareth with curiosity as to what Sarah was up to. Sarah gestured to the goblin for him—or her or it, she didn't want to debate that now—to come closer.

She took a gentle hold of an enormous green ear and wispered, "I'm going to tell you a secret. Can you keep a secret?"

Ecstatic, the goblin nodded and leaned in as close as he could to Sarah.

In a voice Jareth could quite make out on the other side of the small carriage, Sarah whispered, "See the King's vest there? With all the pretty colors on it?"

The goblin nodded slowly.

"It's actually made of candy. Yes, you heard me, it's an amazingly sweet and sumptious piece of candy made to look like clothes."

The goblin trembled. He met Sarah's eyes and she nodded. He lurched then and scrambled at his King.

Trying to hold the creature back and ask it what in the Underground did he think he was doing, Jareth still found a moment or two to glare at Sarah who was shaking with quiet laughter before bursting into a loud fit of giggles. Seeing as how the beast was after his vest, Jareth tore it off and threw both it and the goblin out the window and down the rocky ledge. Both Jareth and Sarah were so invested in their own miniture war (until Jareth insisted that they really ought to conserve their energy or he was going to cut off her magic indefinitely) that they didn't notice when the goblin eventually caught up with the carriage, sat down on the roof, and proclaimed loudly that this vest was the best thing he'd ever tasted.

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 18 of 50

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