Continuing Tales

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 23 of 50

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Power Struggle

Surprisingly, they weren't the last to arrive though Sarah later reflected that missing an extra couple minutes to extract more information out of Jareth would not have been such a bad thing…particularly as she soon found literal understanding of the phrase "bored to tears." On the one hand, having no input on trade and treaty statistics was fine considering she wouldn't get a word in edgewise, but still it might have made the whole three hour exchange thereof slightly more interesting. Ultimately, it led to too much time for her mind to wander, and naturally she couldn't ignore what had happened earlier that morning. Jareth didn't sit next to her during the meeting, mostly because (Anya explained in long overtures of an apology) a ceremonial chair could not be constructed for her in time. Sarah made a mental note to be shocked and offended if they offered to conjure her one, such things were to be done the old fashioned way and as intricately as possible (according to her lessons with Elizabeth and Jan…as well as what Jareth had told her once, that it was worth more to do it yourself). So Jareth let go of Sarah's hand, kissing the back of it with a wink and gesturing with a nod of his head to some of the chairs a row or two behind him and to the right where Elizabeth was already seated.

Though she didn't have the comfort of his presence—the thought in itself, as it struck Sarah's mind, was vaguely surprising as it registered—she did have a good vantage point. He was gorgeous, no denying that one, sitting with a reserved dignity between an elf and one of the whatevers that had escorted either Jan or Elizabeth. The small stolen kisses to create a face always made Sarah wonder, well, several different things at once. Perhaps because she liked some of those little attentions, perhaps because it was Jareth out of all males, perhaps because he was her husband, or perhaps because one's mind can easily wander beyond a couple of pecks on the cheek. Blushing slightly, Sarah played back a few choice moments, him whispering close to her ear, dancing with him at the ball, his arm around her as they slept. Shaking her head, Sarah realized that it really was too soon to tell anything. Instances like those seemed clear enough, but all these masks and games were driving Sarah steadily insane. His anger directed toward her wardrobe still didn't make complete sense. His uncanny ability to shift from one mood to the next always made her wonder what he really felt on the matter. And some of the things he would say completely straight-faced caught her entirely off guard.

Maybe she could form a spell to read his mind and see what he was up to. Or the simultaneously easier but so much more difficult route of asking him directly.

Sarah sighed. In a few years, perhaps she'd be able to read Jareth. Unfortunately, it wasn't now. Fighting to stay awake, she noticed that he was firmly set in—for lack of a better way to describe it—"evil bastard mode," refusing to give an inch and slashing down those who disagreed with a few razor words in such a subtle manner that some missed it completely. And there had been times in the Labyrinth where she had wanted to kick him. Had she been insulted here as the other monarchs were, well, whether it was the adult thing or not, name-calling and a few well-placed fists would ultimately ensue. He'd probably drop her into another oubliette but it would have been worth it.

Still, it was worse when her caffeine wore off. Elizabeth had poked her a few times but Sarah still couldn't keep from slouching for too long. The hour, the late night before, and the tedium of staying in one place for far too long rendered Sarah exhausted and she was never so grateful (even in all her school days) to take a lunch break. She rose with the masses and waited patiently for Jareth to escort her, taking his arm.

His scowl softened. "Eager to get out of here?" he whispered close to her ear.

She shivered slightly as his breath tickled against her. "Something like that. How much longer do these go on?"

"Oh, that was just a warm up, dear Sarah."

Sarah closed her eyes briefly. "Oh, goody."

"I assure you, proceedings are much more interesting when we begin on some of the more touchy issues. Occasionally, you have to duck."

Sarah chuckled. "You seem to be in your element."

Jareth's brows puckered slightly. "What do you mean?"

"One of the few things I know about you for certain, Jareth, is that you're awfully stubborn." He gave a quiet laugh and Sarah continued, "And you're good at being an arrogant king which, by the look of things, is how you get things done here."

"Quite a backhanded compliment, Sarah," Jareth drawled, though he was grinning slightly.

"Oh, come on, you were having a bit of fun there, making everyone else look like idiots." Jareth sent her a skeptical glance and Sarah reconsidered, "Okay, maybe not idiots but certainly mislead."

"Much more diplomatic, Sarah, good."

Sarah smiled. "Still, you're not going to make many friends that way, Jareth."

"I believe you would be in a much better position to accomplish this."

"So not only do I win the bet but it helps us politically as well?"

"Oh, this doesn't necessarily mean that you'll win."

"We'll just have to wait and see, then, won't we?" Sarah laughed.

Jareth shook his head lightly but gestured toward the door. "If you want to make a dramatic entrance to express your displeasure, go ahead."

Sarah rolled her eyes but stayed at his side. They entered the room together, some indeed throwing Jareth nasty looks (with a few approving nods mixed in, surprisingly). Laying a hand on his arm to get his attention, Sarah met Jareth's gaze and he nodded, allowing her to sit next to Joan (who had taken a rather high chair to compensate for her height, her consort on a stool next to her).

A few smooth words later and Sarah had set Joan's scowl into a broad grin, repeating Sarah's offer.

"You will be welcomed in my kingdom, Sarah." She sniffed. "You may leave your husband at home if you choose." Really, all Joan wanted was someone to listen to her, nodding every once in a while, and take her instruction gracefully, then she became quite maternal. Still, Sarah felt almost smothered and was quite grateful when the dragons called her attention away from Joan's triad on the proper way to hang royal tapestries.

How the dragons could take all of her confused and garbled thoughts and merge them into a coherent stream of anything was beyond Sarah, but they had a marvelous talent for saying exactly what she needed to hear. Not only did they sense a compatibility with her temperament, but they assured her she was well on her way to winning the bet. One of the best ways to stay awake was to pick out a monarch and count how many times they performed a certain quirk; not only would it keep her amused but it would successfully make the chosen target nervous without crossing any taboos. As for Jareth, they instructed her to just give him time and talk it out with him with the awareness that some habits will be difficult to break after however many centuries of being single and getting his way the majority of the time.

Mortified, Sarah confessed as much to the dragons who promised (with smoking smiles) that next time they would be more tactful about which thoughts they responded to. Still, they managed a cheery "conversation" once the initial awkwardness settled away, beginning with Victoria's questioning after Toby.

Unfortunately, relations with some of the darker creatures of the party did not flow so smoothly. The elves had taken serious offense to what Jareth had said, refusing to have anything to do with the Goblin Kingdom so far as to kick several of the tainted goblins for show (though they certainly did not make it out of the ordeal completely unscathed). Sarah was glad that her goblins were choosing to stay out of sight, particularly as all the sore tainted sort hung in one corner and talked in murmurs and low growls.

And Orion still wouldn't leave Sarah alone. She tried to dissuade him several times but he found excuses or comments to make. On the plus side, he did decrease some of his touchy-feely behavior toward her, having flinched slightly when brushing her sleeve the first time. Her hands and her face were bare, however, and he might rest his hand a moment too long on hers or brush her hair behind her ear faster than she could pull away. Frustrated and infuriated, Sarah wondered what "get the hell away from me" translated to diplomatic terms. She had the vague feeling that slapping his face would only make matters worse in several different ways. After pretending that it didn't bother her for twenty minutes too long, she glanced about for Jareth, mentally screeching for an excuse where Orion couldn't follow her.

Perhaps, Sarah mused, she'd wished too hard because Jareth had an odd glazed look on his face. Closing her eyes, Sarah realized that she'd tapped into his magic again to summon him. Though it had the potential to turn into quite a scene (besides nearly stepping on Joan's consort), Jareth simply removed Orion's hand and replaced it with his own, leading her away to a quiet alcove by the large bay windows revealing another gloomy day. He started to lean in before he blinked and took a quick survey of his surroundings without moving his head from the place a scant couple of inches from Sarah's.

He grimaced slightly but so that only Sarah could have seen. "I believe we discussed this last time. Having my own magic used against me is degrading."

"Sorry," Sarah whispered, again noticing just how close they were together.

"Might I ask what was so important?" Jareth asked, though his tone had switched to something more like concerned.

Sarah dropped her gaze from Jareth's face. "Orion was bothering me again. I really needed an excuse."

The corner of Jareth's mouth quirked slightly. "Best make it look convincing, then, shouldn't we?"

Sarah's eyes flew back up to Jareth's again. He gave her a small wink, almost a challenge. This man was a total enigma, but, Sarah reasoned, she could figure it out later. She leaned in and kissed him. He met her eagerly. Sarah had been kissed by her husband before but neither was an event she particularly wanted to remember. This one was firmly set into a different category. Under his gentle urgings, Sarah opened her mouth enough to allow Jareth to sweep his tongue across hers before he broke away. Confused, Sarah frowned as Jareth winked again.

"Now I think it's best that you act indignant and storm off. I'll follow after you," he whispered before hardening his face into a snarl that she knew he didn't mean.

Sarah raised her eyebrows for a moment but took her cue, shoving him away and marching off, nearly stepping on Joan's consort herself. Satisfied with her performance, Sarah waited on the other side of the door.

Jareth's voice rang through the wood. "Mortals can be so difficult." There was a bit of polite and even raucous laughter.

Again, Sarah had to question if some of his behavior was in earnest. She met him with a real glare. "That comment was uncalled for."

Though surprised by her response, Jareth averted his gaze in thought. "I suppose you're afraid that you will be undermined in the estimation of the others?" He returned his gaze to hers, now smirking again. "Sarah, it is certainly better to be underestimated that considered a threat at all times. I've had enough time to see both."

"I still would rather be taken seriously," Sarah replied, realizing that she might mean that on a couple different levels. They began to walk down the hallway without any real destination.

"Rest assured that I take your opinions seriously, Sarah. You are not a teenager any longer."

Sarah relayed her thanks with a warm smile. "I was something like a brat."

"Would there be any response that I could make that would not irritate you?"

Sarah laughed. "Probably not."

"Then I may as well make the most of this opportunity."

And he did. So she teased him about his pants. Jareth pointed out that she could indeed notice the fashion trend did not end with him. Sarah announced her surprise that with his general dislike of rules set by anyone other than himself that he should feel disinclined to invent his own.

Unfortunately, Jareth seemed to like this idea. They had meandered to their rooms, and Jareth was quite caught in the possibilities. Sarah sighed, acknowledging that they'd probably broken decorum several times over (all those small attentions did garner a reproachful glance by a few select members, but some of the vampires were pawing each other a little more openly so by comparison it was no real issue) so what was jeans and a tee shirt? Jareth hadn't such a drastic change in mind but went for a textbook example of a more regency look that, though it was a bit startling at first, was more flattering that Sarah would have guessed. He took Sarah in a thoughtful glance.

"Oh, no you don't. You've made enough alterations to my wardrobe as it is and empire waist makes me look pregnant."

Sarah half-expected him to comment that he would like to see that eventually anyway, but Jareth had the habit of surprising her occasionally: "Perhaps you could indulge me for this afternoon?"

He could easily have continued on with what he wanted anyway or threatened her with some minor inconvenience or offered a trade, but he didn't, even after Sarah paused for a moment, considering.

"I suppose, but I don't think that they used as much velvet as cotton or linen. Might as well go for the complete effect."

Jareth grinned at her compliance, one of those few without a mildly malicious tint. Sarah smiled back and allowed the spell to encompass her. She glanced at her reflection. "I feel like I've tumbled into a Jane Austen."

And she looked it to, her hair swept up into a series of braids and curls with small flowers interlaced therein that matched well with the pale blue of the gown. A few sections of the dress were swatched with crushed velvet all the same but mostly it was of a soft, gently-flowing cotton. She looked down and saw that her shoes even matched.

"Does it meet with your approval, my Lady?" Jareth asked bowing over her hand and acting the part.

"Depends. Are you going to be my Mr. Darcy to go along with it?"

Jareth's brows knitted together in confusion and Sarah sighed, trying to explain it.

"So you would rather I be someone else?" Jareth asked with a hint of distaste.

"No, that's not what I meant. I don't know how to read you, Jareth, but I still don't want you to be anyone other than who you are."

He seemed pleased with the answer and resumed character. "Would her majesty kindly accompany me for tea?"

Sarah reasoned that Jareth must have had some knowledge of the regency in the Aboveground to have such a spot-on portrayal. Not for the first time, Sarah found that she enjoyed his company.

Unfortunately, the meetings had to reconvene eventually. Before they entered the room, Jareth paused outside of the door. With a wave of his hand, he produced a small pendant and held it out for Sarah to see.

"This should complete your look."

"It's lovely, Jareth," Sarah said warmly, as he fastened it around her throat. Against the white background, the entrance to the Labyrinth was painted with remarkable likeness, even a tiny dot of pink and blue on top of one of the walls which could be nothing other than Mr. and Mrs. Worm.

"Should you need an excuse or an escape again, hold this in your fist and say my name. I'll hear."

Sarah nodded, seeing that this was a remarkable compromise than accidentally turning him into a near drone again. "Thank you."

"Perhaps for appearances sake you should also develop a habit of fiddling with it."

Sarah laughed and pushed the doors open.

Their change in dress did indeed cause a small stir, judging by some of the blatant fingers pointed in their direction. Sarah leaned in and kissed Jareth's cheek, allowing her to be close enough to whisper "Have fun," in his ear. His smirk assured her that he certainly would as he led her to the same seat she had taken that morning before resuming his own.

To her delight, Marek sat down next to her. "Is this seat taken?"

"It is now. It's good to see you, Marek."

"And to see you, as well. You seemed so enthralled during the morning's discussion, I thought perhaps you could manage to find a way to make it interesting for someone like myself."

Sarah chuckled. "Yes, absolutely enthralled. Who could be otherwise?"

"I confess, I have found a way to be otherwise."

"That doesn't surprise me, Marek."

Marek laughed. Then he gestured to her dress. "So do tell me about your clothing choice?"

"It was Jareth's idea. We were talking about instating a few new trends."

Marek held a hand to his chest in mock indignation. "And you didn't include me in this little venture? I'm thoroughly offended."

Sarah raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "If you're going to be upset…" With a flick of her wrist, she tossed Marek a crystal, despite his efforts to make from its path. After the magic was done, Marek glanced down.

"Perhaps it's not as bad as I thought it would be," he admitted. "Still, I'm sure Jareth has a steady conspirator. It's left me with more free time than I know what to do with."

Sarah wasn't sure if she should smile or apologize, but Marek just winked at her. Then the meeting was called to order and there was little else to do. Marek tapped her arm and made an odd gesture in the air, as though scribbling with an invisible pen. Understanding his request, Sarah generated paper and pencils. After staring at the pencils for a moment or two, Marek tested one out, passing the note to Sarah.

—What am I writing with?

Sarah nearly snorted. —It's a pencil.

—Ah, well, as long as we can be discreet, then we can continue our conversation.

—Hah, alright. I don't know if that's the best idea. Jareth did mention that occasionally we have to duck during these proceedings.

Marek smiled. —Maybe he does. We should be fine up here.


—Should, yes. One of us ought to stand guard while the other writes.

—You'd just duck yourself, wouldn't you, Marek?


—That's very reassuring.

Their conversation fell quiet from time to time, tuning in enough to see (and eventually comment) that Jareth was officially setting into his game. Occasionally, another member of the part would rise and bark something especially nasty, but Jareth would only drawl a long, biting response, refusing to look agitated.

Marek eventually passed another note. —He's actually getting angry about this one. Just be forwarned if he's in a nasty mood later.

—How can you tell?

—Slight twitch of his eye, particular frown.

—How long did it take you to learn how to read him?

—I've known him for most of my life. He still surprises me.

Sarah bit her lip for a moment, wondering if she should ask. She slid the paper over regardless. —Can you teach me what you know?

Marek smiled indulgently. —Only if you promise to use such knowledge to torment him at some point.

—I believe I could manage that.

—You're still going to have to pick up what you can on your own. It's not a science. But anyone plotting to annoy Jareth if fine with me, excluding serious bodily harm and all that, of course.

—Sounds a bit seditious if you ask me.

—Well, he's never going to see this anyway.

—So sure, are you?

—Do you want him to see what you wrote earlier?

—Or perhaps these will find their way into the fireplace.

—That's more like it. But really, Sarah, if you want to understand him, it's best to talk to him.

Sarah didn't respond for a while having received this advice a few times already. Instead, she tuned in to the conversation, particularly when she heard the word "goblin" mentioned several times before the creatures in question, the tainted sort, took control of the floor.

Fabian was arguing with the leader of their group, his elegance gone and reduced to a fiendish sneer. Whatever they were saying was causing Sarah's ears to burn, the dark tongue working its nasty spell as they switched between both languages.

Sarah wrote hastily to Marek, remembering her previous revulsion and righteous anger on their behalf as well as at them. —What's going on?

—The dark goblins are trying to bring up their grievance again.

—Their grievance?

—They want a chance to discuss what they want, why they left the Goblin Kingdom, and who knows what else. Fabian denies them every time they try to bring it up. After a couple decades, they only decide to bring it up every five years or so. Funny, I bet this is somehow your fault.

—How? What do you mean?

—That this is the second year in a row. They might need a champion, Sarah.

—Why doesn't Jareth?

—He needs support from someone. He's brow-beaten everyone but somehow they still haven't seen to the matter. He's chosen to focus his energies elsewhere than some futile case.

Sarah frowned. She listened to the argument a little longer, attempting to cast a translation spell for herself that seemed to have no effect.

She stood up, the sudden movement drawing the attention of both parties though they didn't stop trying to talk over the other.

Trying to give her voice as much confidence and authority, Sarah spoke loudly but without shouting: "How long has this issue been put aside?"

To her surprise, Fabian and the snarling goblins stopped for a moment. Sarah could feel magic coursing through with some of her indignation. Perhaps they could see it. No time to back out now.

Jareth responded for them, with a glint in his eye that Sarah hazarded to guess was approval. "Centuries, Sarah."

"Why hasn't it been dealt with?"

The goblins offered up several explanations of conspiracy, their malevolent eyes perhaps reflecting part of their original merry goblin tendency in a confused sort of hope. Still, tumbling accusations and gripes on top of the next and the next was on the short track to giving Sarah a nasty headache.

"Enough, enough. I get the idea." She turned back to the others. "This has been going on longer than my normal lifespan could ever be. Really, that's ridiculous. Unless someone has a better reason for putting this off other than it's merely unpleasant, it is irresponsible and juvenile to let this go on forever. Let's just take care of it once and for all."

Sarah sat back down and crossed her arms, waiting to see what would happen. Joan was the first to speak her support, eventually enough of the other members outnumbering those wishing to ignore it again. Jareth watched the whole thing with an aloof satisfaction, Sarah could tell (with some help from Marek's nod in his direction and reflecting the same). It was agreed they would discuss it tomorrow, with the evening's discussion already decided upon early that afternoon (something about the rights of the trees).

Once the situation settled down and the goblins disappeared quite suddenly from the room (presumably to begin forming their case), Sarah picked up the pencil again and slid the note to Marek. —That wasn't so difficult.

Marek bit back a laugh. —It's not done yet. You are aware that you will have to present some of their case tomorrow.

Sarah grimaced. —No, I was not. More homework. Oh, goody.

—You're still glowing a bit. Turn the magic back down.

Sarah glanced at her hand, noting that perhaps that was not just the glow of health. —I didn't even mean to do that. But it helped, right?

Marek snorted lightly. —It certainly didn't hurt. Of course, just the fact that the latest addition to the Underground Council was speaking during her first meeting was surprise enough in itself. Just calm down and your skin will return to its normal pallor.

Sarah responded to that comment by shoving Marek away slightly. She scribbled another note. —Still, it wasn't wrong for me to speak, was it?

—No, just unexpected.

—Jareth said I could.

—Then perhaps he knows you better that I do.

Sarah gave a small smile and glanced up to the man in question who happened to be staring in her direction. She winked at him and he nodded with a tiny smile.

She shifted the paper back toward Marek: —Perhaps.

Power Struggle

A Labyrinth Story
by bobmcbobbob1

Part 23 of 50

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