Continuing Tales

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 21 of 50

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Power Struggle

The only thing that Sarah immediately recognized as missing from their getting dressed party was—aside from the junk food, though they had been served a light dinner—playing the "Hot or Not" game, at least until Jan prodded (only half jokingly) Elizabeth on her apparent amazement with one of the younger vampires. Elizabeth colored but immediately shifted the focus to Sarah with mention that Orion was paying her specific attention. Really the fact hadn't escaped Sarah's notice and made her feel more than a little uncomfortable. She voiced as much and Jan nodded, slipping then out of maternal mode into the more relaxed demeanor she had previously undertaken. So it wasn't quite like playing the "Hot or Not" game with her girlfriends when she was in high school and college, but it was close enough and thankfully over quickly.

However, the rest of the conversation was certainly more familiar and much more the jocund tone she was expecting, though neither could help adding in a reminder of etiquette every now and again. In the end, three immaculately dressed ladies waited patiently with eager chatter for their escorts. Two…somethings…came for Jan and Elizabeth. Sarah wasn't quite sure exactly what they were but they spoke well enough and gallantly offered an arm, or rather paw, to their respective lady. With well wishes and promises to meet up with her soon, the two ladies left and Sarah was alone. She fidgeted at first until it occurred to her that she really could just conjure a book. Why that hadn't occurred to her sooner when she was leafing through the dark books in the library, Sarah wasn't sure, but it was a good thought to have at any rate. Having never tried anything quite like it before, Sarah thought perhaps a familiar title would expedite matters. Before she'd decided on a title, there was a commanding knock on the door. Jareth pushed the door open at her invitation.

Sarah waited while he scanned her, obviously in approval, and circled around her for the full effect. She arched an eyebrow when he finally made it to her face. Jareth only grinned. Crossing her arms under her bosom, Sarah stared back at Jareth. "Well?"

"Well, what?" Jareth replied nonchalantly. "You don't need me to say how lovely you look, Sarah. The green suits you well and your time was certainly not wasted. But you're already aware of that."

Sarah blushed slightly all the same. The cut was quite flattering with a square neckline and a smoothly tapered waist with a full, but not obnoxiously huge, skirt. The sleeves ended in the middle of her forearm though they were trimmed there with gentle embroidery and fading into a pearlesque sheen, simple but certainly elegant. Jareth's choice had a similar theme though in reverse, the majority of his outfit of the shimmering, changing material and fading gently into the green.

"I suppose you look well, too," Sarah added flippantly.

"There is something missing, however. And as annoying as it may be, it is not optional."

Instantly wary of his meaning, Sarah had to ask, "What is it?"

With a flick of his wrist, Sarah felt a gentle weight on her head. Turning to glance at the mirror, she saw the crown on her head with the emblem of her office plainly and proudly displayed. "Ah, that."

Jareth's—made of thicker metal but matching hers in purpose if not exact design—settled firmly on his own head but at a slightly jaunty angle. Sarah reached up and tried to straighten it, leaning back to check for the effect. She frowned slightly.

"What is it?"

Sarah smiled and sighed. "It looks better crooked. It really shouldn't surprise me, but there we go."

Jareth offered his arm. "Shall we?"

"What, no last minute dos and don'ts?" Sarah joked, taking his arm all the same.

"Now that you happen to mention it…"

"No, please don't," Sarah interrupted. "It wasn't a serious question unless you have a very serious answer. Just count it toward your advantage in our bet."


Sarah didn't have to look over to know that he was smirking again.

"Well if it is kind of important or a 'you might want to know' sort of thing, maybe you should just come right out and say it."

"No, no we've already come to an agreement on the matter, Sarah."

"Well, it's not exactly last minute if I ask for it and if we actually have a few minutes to walk down there anyway, right?"

Jareth chuckled. "I suppose so."

When he didn't say anything more, Sarah shook her head. "But you're not going to tell me all the same, are you?"

"What's in it for me?"

"I'd say you could have the first dance but according to Elizabeth, that's already yours anyway."

"You have been paying attention. What else would you offer?"

"No, I think I'll just manage this on my own," Sarah decided.

"So that it will all be your doing, one way or the other, I suppose."

Sarah swatted his arm with a grin. "Thanks for that vote of confidence."

They came up to the impressively large double doors, coated in the grime of a century or two. Jareth stood behind her and kissed her temple, conveniently making himself close enough to whisper one last vouch of confidence before leading her on to the floor.

Despite the rest of the castle, the ballroom positively sparkled. The contrast, as hooky as it sounded, was in Sarah's mind the moon to the rest of the dark night of the castle. Perhaps that was exactly what they were going for, judging by the crescents, circles, and stars all about the room. Gentle music played in the background but no one was dancing yet, mingling in clumps of stylish and flashy attire alike. Orion caught her eye, a female vampire draped over him like a shawl, and Sarah smiled lightly. The boogeyman—who insisted that Sarah call him 'Ack', considering that's what countless children had called him—caught her eye as well and she returned his wave much more sincerely. Surprisingly, he cleaned up somewhat nicely, even if he was still dark, creepy and with an interesting set of claws (though they had been filed and cleaned from dirt and old blood).

Jareth led Sarah underneath the gracefully domed ceiling. Doing her best not to stare at everything and seem too much like a bumpkin, Sarah felt the weight of her crown and tried to reflect it.

Fabian raised his hands and the company stopped their chatter. With a gesture toward the orchestra, made entirely of the ethereal humans with blank eyes—at least human to Sarah's eyes—all holding shiny black what Sarah assumed were instruments, music began to fill the chamber at a more suitable level though still not so loud as to dissuade all conversation. Turning to Jareth, Sarah smiled and prayed that she could at least fake the steps that she had not the time to master. She sent a silent thank you to her biological mother who had once been so certain that her daughter would follow in her footsteps that she had thrust her into a ballroom dancing class. That added with what her crash courses had afforded her left Sarah relatively confident, but she still hoped that whoever was leading was easy to follow.

The first song was fairly straightforward and Jareth led her through a series of simple steps while they could still quietly tease each other and otherwise enjoy the other's company. In the middle of the dance, he blinked and twitched slightly.

"What is it?" Sarah asked, immediately concerned that either this twisted place had done something to him or she had accidentally trodden on his toe.

"I've been asked to choose the next song."


"Sarah, how long have you been in the Underground?"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, that whole magic thing."

"Yes, that 'whole magic thing,' if you really must call it such."

The final strains of the song were followed by applause and each couple left the dance floor. To Sarah's surprise, she was then nearly accosted by three men—or at least something she assumed to be male—each eager to claim the next dance, though all with a particularly frightened glance at the Goblin King. She glanced at Jareth who shook his head but with look reminded her to be polite, regardless. Sarah quickly reaffirmed that being the newest member of the Underground elite meant that you were quite a novelty. Courteously accepting the invitation of the first of the group, Sarah allowed herself to be led back to the dance floor as Jareth's selection (surprisingly a piece of Mozart that Sarah was familiar with and probably wouldn't have named as a dancing tune) began. She caught a glimpse of Jareth conversing with Anya and Fabian but he neglected to ask any of the long slew of women waiting in a cluster to dance (though several made eyes at him).

Sarah's partner was an adequate dancer if terrible at conversation topics. He was an elf, so Sarah had been told, but he was certainly little like what Tolkien would have described. He had a sort of feral beauty, she supposed, though his pointed teeth when he smiled made Sarah about as comfortable as watching a vampire smile. As Jan had said a few hours prior, they were nice enough folk but you never want to see them eat. Upon questioning, Jan had revealed that their game was generally still moving, such did explain their distaste over lunch.

Straining for something, Sarah made the mistake of asking, "Do you have any hobbies?"

He grinned and went off on a rather descriptive tale of his last hunt. Sarah nodded and tried to add something in but was otherwise a little queasy by the end of it, partly due to the spinning of the dance, she claimed.

The next was little better, nearly stepping on her toes with cloven hooves several times and with only a small, and unfortunately vulgar, grip on English. Fabian claimed her afterwards with an odd aloofness. He spoke little during the dance, instead staring at Sarah with a slight frown as though trying to read her thoughts through her eyes.

Thankfully, Ack came to her rescue. Despite his hulking presence and the claws that held her hand, he was a skilled dancer…and Sarah had to ask if perhaps he actually had visited Toby's room at one point in time.

He gave a barking laugh that would have terrified Sarah had it been in a dark room or deserted alleyway. "I can't be certain but I would certainly be willing to give it a try."

"No, that most definitely not an invitation to scare my little brother," Sarah chided. Then she thought for a moment. "At least today, anyway."

"Fair enough," Ack conceded. "There are many copycats though, so I expect not to receive blame unless I have rightfully earned it."

"I'm sure there have been plenty of situations where you have earned it."

Ack laughed again.

Sarah felt a small jolt in her mind, a voice demanding that she choose the next song. Drawing a blank, Sarah thought for a moment, wondering just how far she could push such an open invitation. Then the presence abruptly left.

Ack noticed her stricken expression. "Something wrong?"

"I'm not sure what song I just picked. It's going to be interesting, I think."

Sarah noticed that Ack's long, yellow teeth seemed impossibly large for his mouth when he grinned.

Orion was the first to catch up with Sarah as Ack escorted her to the side.

"My lady, Sarah, if you would favor me with the next dance?"

Sarah nodded politely and allowed herself, once again, to be led away. Orion held Sarah closer than her previous partners, save Jareth, but not uncomfortably so, for which she was grateful.

He leaned a little closer and said, "My parents informed me that this next song is your choice, yes? I am most interested to see what you have chosen."

Sarah bit off her reply of "So am I" by smiling.

Then she heard a faint tapping on cymbals, though there hadn't previously been a set of drums in the orchestra…or an electric bass. The entire court looked around in confusion. A small cluster of the servants had set down their instruments and opened their mouths; the words came spilling out though they made no physical movement to create them.

Well, Sarah had wondered how far she could push it.

"Sarah, who or what is Vanilla Ice?" Orion asked, brow wrinkled in perplexion.

What else was there to do? Sarah laughed and swayed to the beat, ignoring the fact that she was the only who was dancing, let alone the only one who could figure out how. Orion made some half-hearted attempts to copy some of her movements but did not lose the expression of confusion. By the end, faced flushed from embarrassment and exertion, Orion led her off the floor.

"That was quite…unusual," he confessed.

Sarah chuckled. "Yes, I think next time I'll at least pick a good song." Unsurprisingly, Sarah did not have a slew of suitors waiting for the next dance. They needed a moment or two to process the possibilities of a musical revolution and why it may or may not be a good idea, Sarah reasoned with a shrug.

"I cannot say I have ever seen dancing like that before."

Sarah nearly squeaked as Jareth was suddenly at her side.

"Believe me," Sarah replied, "I did not intend to pick that song and I toned down some of the dancing a lot."

"Really? It was quite evocative as it was," Jareth purred, his warm breath next to his ear.

Sarah shivered slightly, though why out of several choice reasons she wasn't completely sure.

The queue of curious Underground nobles was steadily reforming, probably, Sarah mused, to ask what that interesting display had been about. Jareth took pity on her.

"Let us adjourn briefly. You must be tired." Sarah nodded and took Jareth's offered arm. They walked in sync over to a cluster of tables set away on a dais overlooking the scene. The dragons were the only current occupants and surveying the scene with an odd sort of half smile, fangs partially exposed. Sarah could have sworn one of them winked her way.

"Have you been enjoying yourself?" Sarah asked once they sat down.

"You have been an interesting spectacle," Jareth replied with a smirk. Sarah rolled her eyes, refusing to be baited into anything.

"Danced with anyone?"

"My wife."

"Well, yes, I was aware of that one. Anyone else?"

"Our hostess, what decorum requires."

"Funny, I wouldn't have thought you to care much about what everyone thinks of you."

Jareth spoke in a low voice, close to Sarah's ear once more. "Yes, well, sometimes it's all part of the game, Sarah. Should I lack control on my temper so that I lack the capacity to be polite in this instance could be seen unfavorably. Or even how I behave toward you, our plan of 'lightly smitten,' throws any political opponent into an interesting conundrum."

"How so?" Sarah whispered.

"Perhaps they read it all as a weakness or general sign of distraction, unless I have already thought of that and am only putting on a show. With our cover story and conflicting signals from spies, it would be difficult to form any provable position."

"Silly me, I thought perhaps that you suggested the arrangement just because you happened to like me."

Jareth frowned slightly. "I do like you, Sarah."

Sarah smiled and sighed mentally, wondering if she would have to try and explain "like, like" to the King of the Goblins. "You still haven't sent the bus after me yet whenever I frustrate you. I tend to take that as a good sign."

Jan, Elizabeth, and their respective escorts made their way over.

"May we join you?" Jan asked.

Sarah gestured to the seat next to her. The escorts left before Sarah could catch names, unfortunately adding to the growing list of "I know your face but couldn't remember your name if my life depended on it."

"Enjoying yourselves?" Sarah prompted with a smile.

"Very much, yes," Jan replied. "It's been quite an interesting evening. Sarah, what was that 'song'?"

Sarah laughed. "I really didn't mean to do that. I was idly wondering how far I could push it one moment and the next I'd apparently made my choice. That song always made me laugh, just the claims he makes in the lyrics."

"This is common music in the Aboveground?"

Sarah hesitated. "I don't know how to properly answer that question. There are many better examples of music, but it's kind of a cultural reference now anyway. I'll just try to be more careful next time."

"Please, could you try to explain?" Elizabeth asked, with a look of honest interest. So Sarah stared with the Temptations, the Mommas and the Poppas, Elvis, and Chubby Checker, all in all ending up somewhere in the 80's and early 90's as far as American music. What sense she was actually making, Sarah wasn't certain, but she tried to accompany a conversation she never thought she'd ever have with a small crystal playing bits of the appropriate song.

Sounds of a scuffle broke her concentration. The four of them stood and diverted their attention to the dance floor where most of the nobles had backed away though still encircling whatever the source of the commotion was.

Orion appeared next to them, shifting from bat to human but still hovering a good three feet above the ground. "Two goblins, best you two look into it."

Jareth offered Sarah his hand. "Shall we?"

"Guess so."

Calmly, they walked closer to the commotion though still at a brisk pace.

Indeed, two goblins were tearing at each other with all the fury and frenzy in their tiny bodies, but Orion had neglected to mention that half of the equation was one of the darker goblins.

In a quiet voice, Jareth commanded, "Stop." Though they both hesitated, Sarah could see that they had every intention of defying the order; Jareth saw the same and separated them by magic, both hovering and scrambling in the air for some footing or means to find a way to again tear at the other.

Sarah had been a camp counselor before and put on her most authoritative voice. "What's going on here?"

Both tried to screech out his own complaint first, aghast at what the other had dared to say about the matter.

"That's enough of that," Jareth decided, waving his hand and silencing both.

"Okay, one at a time then." Sarah turned to the twisted goblin, "You first. What has happened here?" She glanced at Jareth who nodded and released the spell over it.

"Pathetic creature it is, yes it is. Not worthy of called goblin."

"What caused the fight?"

The goblin continued on its slander of the other, and, from what Sarah could glean, her goblin had simply had the misfortune of looking at him sideways. However, this was the only way this particular goblin could look.

"Are you done?" Sarah asked when his grumblings lost some momentum.

He spat a couple of words in the dark tongue but nodded.

"Alright, now you, please, Wert."

Wert looked quite ready to cry, his anger replaced by fear. He blubbered out a long reply, and Sarah made out something along the lines of it was an accident and his attacker continued to insult his homeland and his sovereigns. Though moved by his loyalty, Sarah knew that there was probably an innate hatred for the twisted goblin in there as well.

Sarah sighed. "It is not the time or place to deal with this." She turned to Jareth. "Can we amend one of those?" He nodded, interested in seeing how she would deal with the entire outburst. "When Jareth releases the spell, you will not resume fighting, do you hear me?"

"Or what?" the twisted goblin asked sullenly.

Jareth said something next to her in the dark tongue which, apart from making Sarah decidedly uncomfortable, effectively silenced the goblin. Both plopped heavily to the floor. Sarah took each one by the arm and hog-marched them out of the middle of the dance floor.

Jareth watched stood behind Sarah in case his assistance was required but allowed her to deliver a stern talking to. The other nobles in the room resumed their dancing, the excitement more or less complete. Both goblins left and Sarah stood up.

"We'll see if that helps. Really, if you want my guess, someone could have easily put them up to it."

"And I thought you said you'd never get the hang of politics."

Sarah laughed.

Jan returned to their company, Elizabeth already on the dance floor with the same elf that Sarah had danced with earlier. "Glad that's over. Jareth, I do believe you owe me a dance, if I can borrow you from your wife?"

Sarah nodded and Jareth led Jan to the middle of the floor.

"Sarah, may I speak with you?" Orion asked, suddenly next to her yet again that evening.

"I suppose so," Sarah agreed.

The next song started and Sarah had to fight the urge to cover her ears.

Sensing her discomfort, Orion suggested, "Perhaps we should go out on the balcony? There's a lovely view and this particular song might be a bit too much of the local flavor for you liking."

Sarah nodded and allowed herself to be led, trying to keep the headache from leaping to life in her skull. The view was quite lovely, in its own eldritch manner.

"Spectacular, isn't it?"

Sarah nodded. "Especially when the moon comes through the clouds."

"There are some wonderful things about this kingdom, but few really can get over that initial taint. Or so I've heard."

Sarah's head felt better and she allowed herself to relax. "Yes, it is a little disconcerting at first."

He rested his hand on her arm. "I would very much like to show you more of the kingdom."

Sarah registered the movement with a bit of alarm and crossed to appreciate the view from another angle, crossing her arms. "Jareth and I would appreciate that very much."

"I doubt Jareth would enjoy it, though it is kind of you to say," Orion replied. "He does not particularly care for our company, nor we his. You are something quite different, Sarah."

The previous alarm melted slightly, in fact, everything had a bit of haziness to it.

"I could fly you over to the most beautiful aspects of this land now and no one would be the wiser."

Sarah could hear her words but they seemed quite distant. "I appreciate your offer but I don't think that would be such a good idea."

"No?" Orion asked, his head over her shoulder and his voice next to her ear.

"No," Sarah answered again, vaguely wondering why she wasn't moving away from him. He rested his head against her neck.

Then Sarah's brain kicked back into gear, stepping away from him and shedding herself from his embrace in one swift motion. "And you should keep your distance. Not only am I Queen of the Goblins but I'm married."

Orion chuckled. "You're not married to him in all senses, Sarah."

Biting back her shock, Sarah quickly settled into indignation. "What goes on between me and my husband are of no matter to you. I'm insulted by your presumptions, your complete disregard toward my feelings, your complete impropriety and—"

He gripped her forearms and held her a few inches from his face. Sarah again felt her mind grow hazy.

Orion smiled in a sultry manner. "I'm sure there's more to it than all that, Sarah. You were saying?"

Before Sarah could react to some of the distant but still pressing violent intentions, another voice cut through her thoughts, effectively clearing the fog once more.

"There you are, Sarah. Orion, I would ask that you release my wife from your company." The edge was subtle but Sarah nearly shivered at all that she knew it could mean. The magic around him and consequently also the magic that Sarah held became significantly more volatile. Orion obviously understood as well and slowly unpeeled his fingers from Sarah's arms.

"Until later, my lady," Orion replied with a courtly bow, exiting rather hastily under Jareth's glare.

Sarah nearly laughed until that glare was rounded on her.

"How did you know that we were out here anyway?" she asked.

"You used magic to break his glamour, Sarah. Luckily for him, he is considered quite young and allotted leniency by his family, though you can rest assured that I find no such qualms. You, however…"

"Look, I don't know why he won't leave me alone but I was taking care of it," Sarah defended.

"Oh? Do tell."

"I have two feet both connected to my body by knees. He was standing right in front of me. Any questions?"

Jareth raised an eyebrow but gave a small huff of laughter. "I would say that offending the prince in such a manner would not make you the winner of our bet, but the musical interlude has perhaps already swayed some of the nobles away from your side if not toward mine." Jareth lost his playful tone for a moment and sighed, resuming some of his earlier coldness. "We will…discuss this matter later, rest assured."

"Somehow, I'm not surprised."

"Shall we return?"

"Please," Sarah agreed. The view had since lost its appeal, instead making her thoughts drift to nearly every horror movie she'd ever watched. The warmth of the ballroom was reassuring, aside from the strong, warmth of Jareth's arm behind her back as he walked next to her.

"Would you favor me with another dance?" Jareth asked, as though nothing had happened.

"I'd be delighted." Despite her smile, Sarah had an uneasy feeling. She hadn't yet figured how he hid his feelings so thoroughly nor known him well enough to see through all that, and all their previous discussion of playing the court added on top of that made Sarah wonder. It was all a habit for him now; how much of their interaction was really contrived? Shaking her head—and only smiling at Jareth's questioning glance—Sarah allowed herself to simply enjoy the dance in the arms of her husband.

Some time later, Jareth and Sarah returned to their room. Once the doors closed behind them, they allowed themselves to show their exhaustion, Sarah by flopping down on a chair as she wrenched off her shoes with a grimace and Jareth by slouching slightly and a series of small stretches. Changing into her nightclothes and allowing her hair down the rest of the way, Sarah curled up on her side of the bed. Despite how tired she was, she still couldn't fall asleep and it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. Instead, she watched Jareth get ready for bed, smiling slightly when he yawned simply because she wasn't sure if she'd ever seen him do it before.

"I know you said we'd have a discussion later and whatnot, and I would like to point out that tomorrow is still later."

"Agreed," Jareth replied, sliding into his place in bed and saying no more.



Sarah edged slightly closer. "Well, I still can't get to sleep in this place and…"

Anticipating the question, Jareth slung his arm gently across her middle and pulled her to him.

"Goodnight, Sarah," he whispered in her ear.

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 21 of 50

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