Continuing Tales

Most Prized Possession

A Labyrinth Story
by Jester3

Part 21 of 42

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Most Prized Possession

It was early the next morning that Jareth sat on his throne, a shiny crystal orb held before his dual colored eyes. Within the fragile bauble two girls slept peacefully, curled up next to each other in a sea of twisted blankets. A smile formed on his pale face as he considered that it might not be much longer before Sarah might lay such in his bed.

The defiant girl continued to antagonize him, however despite her attempts to confuse him, he could plainly see that the two girls, peacefully sleeping in the depths of the crystal, were companions...sworn friends and nothing more. Being the curious Fae that he was, he had continually checked on them during the course of the night and nothing of a romantic nature had passed between them. Not that he doubted for one moment that the raven-haired girl already had some manor of feelings for him. He would just have to be patient. It was only a matter of time, for even her friend could clearly see that there was something between them.

Sarah was the first to wake, and begrudgingly she roused her friend. Their preparation for the day was reminiscent of their morning routine as roommates, but there was something solemn in it, as Sarah wouldn't be able to do this again for nearly a whole year.

It seemed like no time before the Goblin King appeared in Sarah's chamber and announced that it was time for Kayla to return home. Humoring Sarah's protests that she needed to be sure that Kayla was returned safely, the Goblin King transported all three of them back to Sarah's dorm room.

Sarah held it together, up until the last moment where she embraced her roommate and best friend to say goodbye. Kayla hugged Sarah tightly and whispered in her ear to be strong and that everything would work out for the best.

Sarah was close to tears but Kayla artfully made her laugh by whispering, "And when you come home you'd better have my ten bucks."

Sarah, laughing through her tears pulled back and protested, "Nuh-uh, not happening."

The Goblin King stood by silently as the two friends said their good-byes. Sarah was sure to compose herself before she turned to face him. Sarah noticed Kayla's sly wink as Jareth pulled her close for the transportation spell. Sarah shook her head as she disappeared with Jareth, wondering what might change by the end of the year.

For Sarah, time would progress normally, but Jareth's spell ensured that when she returned aboveground, it would be as if no time had passed. She wondered if Kayla would remember their day spent in the underground, or if it would be as if none of it had ever happened. She would ask Jareth about this eventually, but for now she needed to forget about home, for it would only make her miss it all the more.

For the next several days Sarah honored her daily vigil of tending to Jareth's mount. One afternoon she meticulously cleaned his stall as usual, and as she went out to fill his water bucket from the well she noticed the stallion seemed more impatient than usual. For he had already heard her approach and he stood pawing at the gate to his pasture.

As Sarah pulled up the bucket she called, "Easy boy, I'll bring you in soon enough, just let me get your supper ready." As if in direct response to her words Tempest trumpeted and with a snort he continued to mercilessly paw the ground. Sarah smiled, he seemed so intelligent at times, like he truly understood whatever she said. She sighed, and supposed that in his own way he had just told her to hurry up.

As she lugged the water bucket into the stables she did not notice the snowy owl that dove from the nearby gnarled tree. The white bird landed gracefully on the paddock fence. A moment later the stallion turned to regard this strange visitor. Intelligent crystalline blue eyes met the wide brown eyes of the snowy barn owl. The owl blinked unaffectedly as the stallion sniffed the air near him. Tempest nickered softly as he recognized his master, even in his altered form.

Sarah dumped Tempest's grain into his trough and made sure that his hay manger was full. She still wanted to groom him, but she decided there was no harm in letting him eat first. She could just curl up on the nearby hay bails and read from her book. She loved afternoons like this. It was sunny, but not too warm. As she headed outside the gentle breeze ruffled her skirts and the wind was like a welcome cool caress on her face.

The owl took off as it heard the girl's approach, choosing to watch from a distance from atop the same gnarled tree. He sat in silent vigil as the girl, led the stallion from the paddock, whispering soft lulling promises of the supper that was about to come. The owl kept his watch as the girl left the stallion to his meal and lounged atop the hay bails to read. Still he watched, when the alicorn, having finished his meal poked his head out of his stall and snorted as if to get the girl's attention.

Sarah put aside her book and offered him a lump of sugar before she brought him out of his stall to groom him. Several goblin grooms were there in attendance but they sat off to the side, playing with marbles on the dirt floor, as the girl was more than capable of grooming the mount by herself. However they remained close by, just in case the girl needed them to fetch something.

Sarah didn't mind their company. They were generally quiet, for goblins, and they were always nothing but polite and obedient towards her. Sarah guessed that these were among the most reliable and well trained of Jareth's subjects. It wasn't a surprise really, judging from the way the Goblin King seemed to prize the stallion. She doubted he would ever let anyone but the most capable grooms care for him. She paused mid stroke, letting the curry comb rest on Tempest's flank as she thought, "...but he let me care for him."

She swallowed at the implications of the realization. Perhaps he did trust her after all. She pushed the thought from her mind as she resumed her grooming. She was tired of thinking about Jareth. She had done enough of that over the past few days and she wanted to enjoy herself right now, not bind herself up un knots wondering about Jareth's thoughts and feelings. This was the time of day where she was quite content to forget that the Goblin King existed.

As she put down the curry comb and went to work with the body brush, Tempest gave an excited nicker. Sarah looked up to see Jareth lounging casually against the doorframe.

Just wonderful.

Despite her annoyance at seeing him, her eyes still managed to disobediently wander over his lithe form. He was dressed rather simply today. Smoky blue breeches and a cream colored poet's shirt accented by a simple black vest. He was wearing his knee-length black field boots. In his left hand he held a riding crop, which he was presently tapping carelessly against his ankle. In his right hand he was holding a shiny red apple.

He placed his crop on the nearby pile of hay as he stepped forward, absently rubbing the ripe fruit against his sleeve to polish it. His mismatched eyes settled on Sarah as he remarked, "Well Sarah...I see you've begun to groom Tempest."

The stallion whinnied impatiently as Jareth approached. Sarah smoothed a hand over his long black mane to quiet him as she replied, "That's right, I started just the other day."

Jareth pulled a small dagger from his belt and nonchalantly started to cut the apple in half as he remarked, "It appears that you have begun to earn his trust."

Sarah nodded as she continued to run her fingers through the black silky strands of Tempest's mane. Somehow it was strangely comforting to be near the alicorn, almost making Jareth's close proximity bearable.

Jareth stepped even closer and fed half the apple to Tempest. He affectionately stroked the stallion's neck before he leveled his mismatched gaze at Sarah and enquired, "Tell me, do you think you are ready enough to ride him?"

Sarah ran her hand down the length of Tempest's neck on the other side, appreciating the feel of his warm smooth coat. The small action lent her strength and she returned Jareth's gaze as she countered, "I don't see why not."

She didn't turn away as a slow grin crept over his expression. With haughty amusement he addressed the grooms, "Fetch the tack. Sarah would like to ride." He turned and gestured for Sarah to follow him out of the stable as the grooms started to dash about busily preparing bridles and saddles.

Sarah followed Jareth into the red twilight, where he continued to cut the remaining half of the apple into two quarters. He extended a piece to Sarah in offering. She glanced at the apple in his gloved hand and warily and remarked, "Do you honestly think I'd willingly accept that from you, after the last time?"

Jareth tilted his head to the side and smirked as he taunted, "Still so reluctant to trust me? Here, perhaps this will alleviate your fears." Without further ado he brought the other apple slice to his lips and bit into it. He smiled as he again held the other piece out to her. Sarah asked herself what she had to lose as she tentatively took it from him.

In an attempt to persuade him that she no longer feared him she brought the fruit to her lips and her eyes held his as she bit into it. Jareth ate the last bit of his piece and as he finished he remarked, "You see, perfectly safe."

Sarah merely rolled her eyes and was vaguely aware of the fact that he was taking the opportunity to look her over. She looked away as she silently munched on the rest of her apple slice. At the same time Jareth moved to hover by the stable door to check on the grooms progress.

They had brought out several bridles and saddles, two of which were sidesaddles and they wanted to know which one Sarah would prefer. He chose the bridle and told them to start with that, as he would ask Sarah which saddle she would prefer.

He retrieved his crop and strode over to the fence where Sarah was waiting and watching the sun set. As he neared her he enquired, "Is there any particular style in which you prefer to ride?"

Sarah turned to regard him and without hesitation she answered, "Huntseat." Upon seeing his puzzled expression, she reasoned that her answer probably didn't make any sense to him. He replied, "I'm afraid I am unfamiliar with that style, but we do keep a few ladies saddles on hand for visitors, perhaps you might prefer one of those?"

Sarah furrowed her brow and replied, "Ladies saddles?" Jareth nodded, "Yes, women here tend to ride with their legs on one side."

Without even giving her answer much thought she replied incredulously, "Side saddle?" The Goblin King nodded and she snorted, "Yeah right Jareth..." Then she froze as she saw that he was totally serious.

He coolly remarked with an air of amusement, "Are you saying that you do not ride side-saddle?" Sarah swallowed as she began, " No, I don't."

Jareth looked a little taken aback as he quipped, "How DO you ride then?"

Sarah shrugged, "I already told you, huntseat."

Jareth quickly tried again, "Describe it, how would you normally sit?"

Sarah countered, "Astride, same way you probably do. The correct position is slightly forward."

Jareth raised his brow and repeated, "Astride and forward?"

Sarah explained, "Yeah, you sit forward so you are in a good position to go over fences." It was obvious that she had totally taken him by surprise.

He replied evenly, "I see. I'm very curious to see this riding style." With that he suddenly turned and called into the stable, "Flak, put my saddle on Tempest."

With a hurried nod the Goblin called back, "Wish to ride him first then your majesty?"

Jareth shook his head and answered, "No, it's for Sarah. You'll have to shorten the stirrups."

The goblin sputtered, "Bbb...but you majesty..."

Jareth waved his hand and ordered, "Just do it."

Sarah couldn't help feeling rather smug. This was going to certainly shock the hell out of him. She had been taking riding lessons since she was in middle school and she had grown skilled enough to compete in local competitions all through high school. Sarah had always truly loved riding and upon starting college she promptly joined the university's equestrian team. She had been instructed in both Western and Huntseat equitation, but she chose to compete in Hunter classes as jumping was one of her favorite sports.

Jareth turned back to her, a slow predatory grin formed on his face as his eyes fell to her skirt. He strode forward and lifted the hem of her skirt slightly with the tip of his riding crop as he drawled, "You know...I'm very curious as to how you plan to ride in this."

Sarah suddenly looked down, only now remembering her attire. She quickly stepped back away from the crop, causing her skirt to fall back down as she stammered, "Oh...I...I...forgot. I have a pair of breeches...I...I'll just go change."

Jareth's grin only grew as she backed away. He watched her run up to the castle in great haste as he murmured to himself, "Well, this ought to be interesting at the very least."

A few moments later, Sarah came running down the hill from the castle, just as the grooms were bringing Tempest out. She was now outfitted in her purple pageboy breeches and field boots along with a white peasant blouse. Without the long doublet the breeches revealed all the shapely contours of her thighs and buttocks.

Upon seeing her, the Goblin King smirked...This was going to be very interesting indeed.

The grooms lowered the stirrups for her as Jareth positioned the reins over the stallion's head. Sarah went to Tempest's left side and ran her hand along his neck and shoulder to reassure him that she was there. "Need a boost?" Jareth asked, suddenly invading her space with a sly smirk.

Sarah shook her head and assured him, "I can do it myself." Jareth held the reins close to the bit just to steady Tempest as Sarah placed her foot in the nearest stirrup. He watched with interest as Sarah bounced on her grounded foot before she pulled herself up and swung her leg over the stallion's back with ease. Jareth watched the alicorn for any outward signs of a fight, but to his surprise the stallion seemed to have no objection to letting Sarah sit on his back.

Sarah positioned her feet in the stirrups as she took up the reins and asked Jareth, "Do you have any last minute advice?"

Jareth nodded, "If he's going to try and throw you he'll probably try as soon as I let go, but if you stay on past the first few minutes, don't pull on his mouth, if you let him have his head, he will be far more agreeable."

Sarah nodded, "OK. You can let go."

Jareth replied, "Are you certain?"

Sarah tried to ignore the fact that her palms were sweating and her heart was beating faster. Now was the time to remain as calm as possible. She breathed deeply once, twice, and replied, "Yes...I'm ready. Let go."

Jareth met her eyes and nodded, "Alright, I'll be close by, watching."

Sarah continued to breathe deeply as Jareth released the reins and stepped back. Tempest snorted loudly, but he didn't bolt or buck. He merely stood still, and Sarah used the opportunity to speak calmly to him, "It's alright's only me. Let's just stand still for a minute."

To both her and Jareth's amazement. Tempest did exactly as she requested. He stood still, not even attempting to raise a hoof. After a moment Sarah let out a breath of relief and ventured, "Shall we try a little walking?"

Tempest nickered as if he understood, and as she inhaled to lighten her body, he started forward at a brisk walk. Sarah was careful to keep him on a loose rein as she walked him in a large circle. He was obeying beautifully so she reversed direction and continued to walk him.

As Jareth watched her control the stallion effortlessly he let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding. The alicorn was not fighting her in the least, which meant he trusted her and accepted her as a rider, a feat no one other than himself had managed.

Sarah brought Tempest to a controlled trot just as the tension left the Goblin King's frame. Knowing that Sarah was now out of danger, he could concentrate on her skills.

He watched with interest as she moved along with the stallion's gait. Just as Tempest's outside front leg moved forward, so did she, her bottom rising slightly from the saddle. She was right, the style was a very forward and alert sort of riding, and he found it rather fascinating.

As she changed direction her movements changed as well, her timing and her position, all carefully readjusted. Jareth had never seen a woman ride like this, and just when he was sure the sight could not get any more fascinating, she asked Tempest for a canter. It was much slower and controlled than a full out gallop and her movements were far more natural and graceful then most of the riders he had ever seen.

His eyes were drawn to the rhythmic movement of her hips, which were synchronized and matched by the movements of the stallion. Never before had he seen a sight so aesthetically pleasing as Sarah riding the powerful alicorn, with it's silver horn gleaming in the afternoon sun and her raven hair flying unrestrained behind her.

She exercised such control over the stallion and her own body that it was astounding. It was then, he noticed, that she was smiling. And it was not a forced or strained smile, it was genuine, a smile that could only have been born of true happiness. She brought the stallion up the field, turned him and then started galloping down the length of it.

She rode hard, past Jareth and for a moment he seemed lost in the moment. The alicorn's silver hooves pounded hard on the soft ground sending bits of soil and grass flying. He noticed the deep deliberate movements of Sarah's lower body while her hands and upper body remained remarkably still. The only sound was the thundering of hooves upon the ground and the stallions panting breaths.

At that moment, he was reminded why he was so drawn to her. She was so determined, all iron will and fierce beauty. How could could anyone not want to possess that? Her defiance and independence was a dazzling thing, like some priceless untouchable jewel. Yet, untouchable or not, he wouldn't be content until she belonged heart, body and soul to him.

As she neared the paddock fence, Jareth suddenly realized that Tempest wasn't slowing down. In a moment of panic he started forward, but then he noticed that Sarah was in fact driving the stallion onward. Surly she didn't mean to...? No she couldn't. That fence was taller than two goblins in height.

The Goblin King watched in pure astonishment as Sarah leaned forward, slightly out of the saddle as Tempest took the jump. The stallion cleared the fence with nearly a foot to spare. Sarah repositioned herself as Tempest landed. She slowed him to a trot before she turned him in a wide circle and started heading back towards a purely amazed and grinning Goblin King.

As they approached, a flock of scavenger birds were startled and driven out of the nearby underbrush. Sarah, having been momentarily distracted by the handsome grin on Jareth's face, didn't notice the flurry of activity until it was too late.

Tempest was startled by the shrill cry of the birds and their sudden frenzied flight. In a wave of terror the alicorn shied, raising his head in alarm as he jumped to one side. Sarah's brief moment of carelessness cost her, for it was in the same instant that she lost her balance and toppled over to the right.

Jareth realized the danger at precisely the same moment as Sarah, and still being a good ten yards away, there was nothing he could do to prevent her fall. Sarah gave a startled yelp right before she hit the ground like a ton of bricks. As she landed rather hard on her bottom she let out a resounding, "Ooomphh".

She screwed her eyes shut against the momentary consuming pain and the biting barrage of "I told you so's" that would certainly drop from the Goblin King's any second...any moment now.

Sarah kept her eyes shut tight as she waited for the unbearable pain in her ass to subside. The impact had quite effectively knocked the very air from her lungs. She wanted to scream and cry in frustration. She had done perfectly, up until the last second, and it was only due to her lack of attention to her surroundings, that she had fallen. She had been caught off guard and the result was a nasty spill. She cursed herself for being too damn cocky and overzealous. She couldn't believe her shitty luck.

As soon as Jareth saw the alicorn spook, he knew Sarah was going to fall. She had been doing so splendidly that the lingering chance of peril did not even occur to him until it was too late. What did occur to him came as a bit of a surprise. It was not smug satisfaction at her failure to stay on that he felt, rather the urgent worry that she might be hurt. The horrible feeling was unpleasant, seeming to twist his very insides. He did not much like fact he hated it. Before he realized what he was doing, he had started forward, running to the place where Sarah had landed in the dirt.

Sarah sat up and opened her eyes just as the Goblin King reached her. She fought to steady her breathing as she steeled herself for what would no doubt be a chastising and smug lecture from his highness. She expected no less than for him to rub this in her face in the most degrading fashion. But what he actually did was something she did not expect.

The King of the Goblins rushed to her side, crouching down, and for the second she took in his approach she saw grave concern evident on his face.

He was all business as his eyes darted over her in their cursory inspection for any obvious injury. To his relief she was sitting upright, alert and breathing. Sarah detected a note of worry in his voice as he stiffly demanded, "Are you hurt?"

That was a good question. Sarah winced slightly as she moved to stand. Her bottom was smarting, but the initial pain had subsided somewhat. Nothing seemed to be broken, and her arms, legs, back and head were perfectly fine. It was just her ass that was, for the moment, a little worse for wear.

Standing and brushing off the dirt, she replied rather abruptly, "I'm fine."

She looked around in haste, spotting the stallion, who was contentedly munching grass a few feet away. As she turned her back on Jareth she expected the gloating to begin, but it never happened.

Jareth was uncharacteristically quiet as he followed her over to Tempest. She fetched him by the reins, throwing them over his head as she positioned herself to mount up.

Jareth stood at the stallion's side with his hands placed imperiously on his hips as he barked, "What are you doing?"

Sarah retorted, "What does it look like? I'm getting back on."

Jareth gave her a disapproving look as he prodded, "Are you sure you're all right?"

Sarah swung herself into the saddle, careful not to wince as her bottom made contact. She leveled a defiant look at Jareth and replied, "I'm fine." From up in the saddle with that determined look on her face, she suddenly seemed a lot less fragile.

The Goblin King cocked his head to one side and quipped, "You never admit defeat, do you?" Sarah looked down at him, the faintest smile tugging at the corner of her mouth, as she admitted, "No. That was nothing. In the ten years I've been riding I've had much worse spills than that."

Jareth regarded her, a trace of amusement evident in his expression as he remarked, "I don't doubt it...But you have nothing more to prove."

Sarah arched her eyebrow suspiciously as she replied, "Oh, don't I?" The Goblin King shook his head and admitted, "No. You fell...that much is true, but you weren't thrown. I think it's rather obvious that Tempest has accepted you as his rider."

Sarah regarded him with surprise as she taunted, "Is this your way of actually admitting you were wrong?"

Jareth smirked, for he couldn't resist as he quickly replied, "The stallion spooked, it's that simple. If he didn't want you on his back, you wouldn't be sitting there right now. I can assure you of that. As for my being wrong, I'll say this...I admit I underestimated you, but I was not wrong, for it is entirely true that up until today not a single person besides myself has been able to ride that alicorn."

Sarah was unable to prevent herself from grinning widely as she walked Tempest away from him and around the edge of the paddock. When she finally finished her ride she dismounted and walked Tempest to cool him down.

While she was cooling him out, a goblin herald came to notify Jareth that there were several messages that had just come to the castle that required the King's immediate attention. Jareth would have preferred to hang about and badger Sarah for a while longer but he also took his responsibilities rather seriously. So without further ceremony he bid Sarah a good afternoon and left her in possession of his mount.

As Sarah stood in the center of the stables, un-tacking Tempest, she had the strangest feeling, as if someone were poking around in her very thoughts. As if on instinct she glanced about warily, but not a soul lingered. The goblin grooms had all left for the Goblin city already, to take their evening meal.

She craned her neck, her eyes searching even the darkest shadows of the stable, but ultimately all they met were the wide blue eyes of the stallion. Sarah shook her head as if to clear it of the peculiar feeling before she muttered, "I must be losing it..."

Suddenly a wise laughing voice sounded in her head, "I wouldn't necessarily say that." Sarah whirled around, but still there was no one in the barn but the alicorn. As she turned back around, the stallion's gaze seemed to regard her quizzically.

She stared at the animal in startled surprise, and feeling more than a little silly, she addressed him, "Are...Are you talking to me?"

The voice answered in her head, and it even sounded appropriately equine, "Well, talking may not be the right word...but sure as my coat is black we are communicating."

Sarah was aghast as she stammered, "How long have you...I mean how come you've waited till now..."

The stallion bowed his head and finished, "To speak up?" Sarah nodded and continued to stare at the alicorn as if she could not believe what was taking place. The stallion looked her in the eye and continued, "Well, we've only just begun to get acquainted. I had to find out for myself whether you were trustworthy."

Sarah swallowed and replied cautiously, "And am I...trustworthy?"

Tempest nickered softly and replied, "Wouldn't have taken that jump for you if I didn't think so."

Sarah was reminded of her spill and ventured, "Well, if you trust me, then why did you let me fall?"

Tempest lowered his head in shame as he replied, "Oh, sorry bout that. I wasn't really paying much attention, and those birds nearly gave me a heart attack, I hate those birds you know...always flitting around my head and stealing my grain. I didn't mean for that to happen to you lass, I hope you're not angry."

Sarah replied, "Oh no, I'm not angry. I was...just a little embarrassed..."

Tempest laughed, "Nuthin' to worry your head over, no one but the King ever rides me, so you need not be concerned with impressing the likes of myself."

Sarah smiled, "That's not what I meant. I was talking about the King. No doubt he got quite a kick out of my little spill..."

Sarah suddenly stopped herself as she realized that she had better watch what she said, the last thing she needed was for Tempest to be relaying information to Jareth. She bit her lip as she remembered the feeling like someone had been rifling around in her thoughts. "Um...I was wondering...I can hear you in my head...are you able to..."

Tempest finished, "Read your thoughts?"

Sarah nodded as the stallion explained, "To an extent. For example, I can sense what troubles that pretty little head of yours. But I can also extract any thoughts you want to send to me...which means the two of us, in essence, can carry out entire conversations without making a sound. Go on, try it. Ask me something in your head?"

Sarah thought a moment and mentally asked, "Do you communicate with Jareth this way?"

Tempest nickered softly and replied, "By the underground no. Jareth is Fae, making his head much more impervious than yours, however if I really wanted to, I could establish basic communication with him."

Sarah replied, "Do you?"

Tempest answered, "No, I've never connected with Jareth this way, I thought about it, but it's really not necessary. We have an understanding that does not require words, and that's fine with me. He isn't aware of my ability to communicate and I wish to keep it that way..."

Tempest chuckled and it sounded rather like a whinny as he went on, " he does have a fondness for hearing himself talk. No, I think I'll leave the pleasure of conversing with his majesty to you and his goblins. I have enough problems dealing with these dreaded black flies and those confounded birds."

Sarah laughed aloud and sighed, "I think we are going to get along beautifully."

Tempest snorted and huffed, "I take it his majesty gets under your skin then..."

Sarah mused, "You have no idea."

Tempest replied fondly, "Oh, but I do...I can sense how much he clouds your thoughts. You'd have everyone believe that he only annoys you, but I can sense the truth in your mind. You long for him don't you? His presence unnerves you, yet you are drawn to him all the same."

Sarah's expression suddenly went cold and gravely serious, " can you know that?"

Tempest gently offered, "I told you. I can sense your thoughts...your feelings. I don't understand. You long for his attention, but then you dread receiving it. If to be with him is what you want...then why do you try to avoid him?"

Sarah sighed. She really had no idea where to begin so she just replied as honestly as possible, "I don't know...I guess that aside from fearing what might happen, I don't know what he really feels. How can I not fight my feelings, when he's supposed to be my enemy."

Tempest softly replied, "Your enemy? I don't know anything about that. If you ask me, I'd say that he fancies you. He indulges you, gives you food, shelter, lets you care for me, and when you fell he ran to your side. That does not sound like an enemy to me."

Sarah swallowed fretfully as she admitted, "No, it does not."

Tempest sensed the turmoil their conversation was causing and he gently offered, "Don't worry your pretty little head over it. You're secret is safe with me lass, and we don't have to talk about it. I'm your mount and you, my rider. You've earned my trust, now I will set about earning yours. You just keep bringing me those lumps of sugar and brushing me nicely like you do, and all will be right as rain between us."

Sarah smiled, stroking tempest's neck as tears welled up in her eyes. It felt wonderful to know that she had a true friend here, a friend that she could really talk to.

Sarah headed back up to the castle not long after her enlightening conversation with the alicorn. She went to her chamber to change out of the now filthy breeches. As she removed her clothing, she realized she had a rather nasty welted bruise on her buttock. She donned a clean skirt and blouse and left the room fastening her waist cincher, her intention to venture into the castle kitchen to fetch some dinner and some ice for her bruised bottom.

Once she entered the kitchen she found a goblin, who was nice enough to produce a plate of game foul and potatoes for her. He offered to find her a chair so she could eat at the prep table, but she assured him that she'd rather stand, and told him that she would be eternally grateful if he could find some ice for her.

She had worked up quite an appetite so she ate in haste as the goblin disappeared to fetch her ice. He returned swiftly enough and upon handing her bowl of ice he asked if he could get her anything else. Sarah shook her head and politely dismissed the helpful goblin. She did not notice that in the goblin's haste to leave the kitchens he nearly ran headlong into his King who had just appeared in the doorway.

After having finished her dinner Sarah pushed her plate away and opened her napkin to fill it with chunks of ice. As she carefully raised her skirt to press the bundle of ice against her bruised buttock she was completely unaware of the Goblin King who stood silent in the doorway, a look of total amusement growing on his otherwise haughty aristocratic face.

At first she hissed in discomfort at the sensation of the freezing bundle against her hot stinging skin, but she diligently held the pack in place and soon enough the stinging throbbing sensation gave way to blessed numbness. Sarah held her skirt up and out of the way as she leaned forward over the table and sighed in relief, "Ooohhhhhh...that feels soooo nice."

Jareth tilted his head to the side, unable to prevent himself from admiring the view as he drawled aloud, "I don't doubt it, as that is quite a nasty bruise."

Sarah yelped and jumped, nearly dropping her sack of ice as she whirled to see the Goblin King standing in the doorway wearing a positively wicked grin.

She promptly dropped the hem of her skirt and tossed the bag of ice on the table as she snapped, "Jesus! You scared me! Don't you ever get tired of sneaking up on me like that?"

The Goblin King merely shrugged and shook his head. He seemed to ponder her for a moment as he produced a crystal and made it dance over his fingertips. His voice was diplomatic albeit bored as he began, "You know, I could make that bothersome injury heal instantaneously, if you'd be so helpful as to just show me it once more..."

Sarah leveled her gaze at him and scoffed, "I don't think so. I'm more than fine with letting it heal the old fashioned way."

He tsked, "No need to be defensive, I was merely offering my help."

Sarah shot him a "you're not fooling anyone" glance as she barked, "Well, I don't need any help. It's just a bruise and I know how to handle thanks, but no thanks."

Jareth smirked and indicated her satchel of ice as he drawled, "Then by all means, don't let me stop you."

Sarah chanced a glance at him and wished she hadn't, for the heat and amusement in his eyes was unmistakable. Her stomach nearly lurched at the realization that he was actually attempting to flirt with her.

She quickly looked away as she snatched her bag of ice and maneuvered it under her skirts without exposing anything higher than her lower leg. She focused on the table as she sighed, "Did you come here just to bug me, or did you actually want something?"

Jareth smiled, his eyes hungrily devouring her as he admitted, "Well, I thought you might like to know, I've just received word from Lord Taibaar. It appears that he and his party will be joining us at the upcoming ball."

Sarah looked up in alarm and quipped, "Let me guess, his little tart of a daughter is coming too, and I'll have to spend the night pretending to be your mute little pageboy again."

Jareth smiled for a moment and replied, "No, that won't be necessary. Lady Desdemonna is not coming. I made it clear to Lord Taibaar that my admittance of his people into the Goblin City is not dependant upon my marriage to his daughter."

Without thinking Sarah stammered, "It's not?"

Jareth laughed at her assumption and chastised, "Of course not. I will meet with the ambassador and a few of their other leaders. If I deem them trustworthy and their wares useful, then they will be granted admittance to the city. The girl is trivial. I have no use for her, I just humored the old man to get him in the door, so to speak."

Sarah raised her brow and sarcastically bit out, "Oh, how very noble of you. What consideration you must have for her feelings."

Jareth gave her a disapproving look and challenged, "If I remember correctly, you weren't exactly sympathetic to Lady Desdemonna's plight that evening."

Sarah's tone was scathing as she fired back, "Maybe not, but then again, I was just following orders. Lets keep in mind that it was YOU who orchestrated that whole scenario...NOT me."

Jareth shook his head, realizing Sarah had yet again managed to change the subject. Slightly irritated, he remarked, "We're getting off the subject. That's not important. The point is that the Fae of the Northern Kingdom WILL be attending this ball, and as relations with them have not yet been established it is imperative that they come to respect my position and authority and view the power of this kingdom as equal to theirs."

Sarah furrowed her brow and remarked, "...And how exactly is that my problem?"

Jareth crossed his arms menacingly over his chest as he stepped closer and drawled, "It IS your problem, as YOU will be MY escort. I expect nothing but complete obedience."

Sarah raised her brow and wondered how the hell she had gotten herself into this.

Jareth, undeterred by her slack-jawed stare, went on, "Your behavior WILL be perfect, your respect and adoration totally believable..."

Sarah closed her mouth with an audible snap, as she had to stop herself from having a complete and total outburst. This just kept getting better and better...and the clincher was that he was still rambling.

"Lord Taibaar must believe that this kingdom rivals his own in extravagance. I will not allow his people to decipher any weaknesses. You Sarah, will be proof against that. If they believe that I am courting a human from the Above-world, the very one that solved the Labyrinth, they would have no doubts about my authority or my powers of persuasion."

His eyes fell on her as he continued, now stalking slowly around her, "And they SHALL believe it. You will hang on my every word if you have to..."

Hang on his every word? She was temped to hang him from a tree at the moment, but before she could protest he went on his voice becoming less threatening and more wistful, "And you will be perfect. The others, all those noblewomen, princesses and alike, will not be able to hold a candle to you."

Sarah's heart seemed to leap into her throat. Was he actually complimenting her? And there was something about the look in his eyes, as he suddenly looked her over. It was haunted, haunted and hungry.

He advanced closer, his voice growing softer and infinitely more seductive as he added, "I'm having a dress made for you. Something worthy of your beauty..."

Sarah couldn't bear any more. She was either going to have to kill him or kiss him, and at the moment she had no idea which she was more likely to do.

As he finished, he lowered his face dangerously close to hers. She was aware that she was trembling and her heart seemed to be pounding in her ears at the possibility that he was about to kiss her, and she would have been the biggest liar if she said she wasn't thinking of grabbing him by the front of his white poet's shirt and laying such a kiss on him.

Fortunately, she did still have one brain cell working and it was firing its warning signal as if there were no tomorrow. The message managed to just barely get through the hazy euphoria caused by being so close to him.

The voice in her head warned, "Don't you dare kiss him, or let him kiss you! Kissing leads to sex, and sex might lead to love, and if you kiss him you are totally FUCKED with a capital F!"

It was as if a large bucket of ice water had just come down over her head, and in that second of painful awareness, she stopped his advance by placing her hands on his chest and pushing him back. She nearly regretted it as soon as she did it, as she was instantly aware of the warmth of him from under the soft fabric of his shirt.

She was astonished to hear her own voice, and amazingly it sounded much more forceful than she would have expected, "Whoa, whoa, whoa...hang on! Are you saying that aside from being your escort, I have to act like I'm in love with you?"

Jareth stepped back, quickly regaining his composure, "That is exactly what I'm saying."

Sarah thought a moment and replied, "But that makes no sense. Lord Taibaar is going to be there and he already knows me as your page boy. Don't you think that might be a bit of a problem?"

Jareth smirked and answered, "Not really."

She stammered incredulously, "Not really? How is that NOT REALLY a problem? I haven't run into very many sexual reassignment surgeons down here, so I'd say that me going from guy to girl is going to be a pretty big problem for the Northern ambassador."

Jareth chuckled and drawled, "There is a simple solution Sarah. It is a masked ball. The ambassador need not even see your face. However, if by some chance he does catch a glimpse of you and notice a certain resemblance to my page boy, we simply inform him that Sargonne is your twin brother, and that I acquired the two of you when you wished yourselves away to me."

Sarah shook her head and groaned, "I should have known that you'd come up with some insane plot. You do know how crazy that sounds right?"

Jareth smirked and nodded, "Of course, but I haven't any doubt that we shall pull it off beautifully. As I see it, only one obstacle stands in our way."

Sarah quipped, "And that is?"

Jareth offered, "Your inability to dance, but that will be remedied soon enough. I shall begin to teach you tomorrow..." He smirked, eyeing her bottom as he finished, "...that is, if you aren't in too much pain."

Sarah sighed wearily and assured him, "Oh, it'll be painful alright. This whole thing is going to be one big pain in the ass..." Grinning, she finished, "But if you think you can teach me, good luck, because this is going to be a much bigger pain in your ass than mine."

Jareth smirked and retorted rather confidently, "I don't think so."

Sarah laughed to herself and muttered, "Oh just wait 'til tomorrow and see might be needing this." With that, she dropped the sack of ice onto the table.

Jareth chuckled at her jest and he left the room shaking his head as he muttered, "Ah Sarah you never fail to amuse."

Most Prized Possession

A Labyrinth Story
by Jester3

Part 21 of 42

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