Continuing Tales

Most Prized Possession

A Labyrinth Story
by Jester3

Part 23 of 42

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Most Prized Possession

Jareth and Sarah followed the anxious little goblin as he scampered beyond the castle gates and headed for the Goblin City. As they approached the main square, Sarah could see a large crowd of goblins gathered around a crude wooden cart that was parked on the rugged cobblestone street.

Many of the Goblin onlookers covered their mouths, muttering in horror as they looked on in visible distress. As Jareth neared the crowd, the goblins became aware of his presence and the crowd parted to let their sovereign through.

Sarah cautiously followed at a distance, making sure that she wouldn't be in the way. As she was engulfed by the crowd, she heard goblin voices whisper, "His majesty has come." and "Surely he'll know what to do."

Sarah continued to follow Jareth until they emerged from the innermost layer of the mob. Upon seeing what lay in the cart The Goblin King stopped short, halting so suddenly, that Sarah nearly bumped into him. Sarah stretched onto her toes to peer over his shoulder, for she knew that whatever lay in the cart had caused Jareth to stop short. She heard his displeased sigh and noticed the way his shoulders sagged in response to the sight.

As soon as Sarah laid her eyes on the source of the commotion, she wished she hadn't. In the cart lay a dead Alicorn. It was much smaller than Tempest, but even she could tell it was the same manner of creature. The silver horn and hooves were unmistakable.

Its possessed a lovely dapple gray coat, flawless in it's lustrous softness, except at the throat, where the spilled blood had soiled the fur. Even standing several feet away, the cause of death was obvious. Someone or something had sacrificed the animal on purpose. The poor creature's throat has been cut with one clean, deliberate stroke.

Sarah looked on, struck by how magnificent the creature must have been in life, as its luminous silver mane and forelock were ruffled by a gentle breeze. Sarah then noticed that its eyes were closed, not in slumber, but in that final rest that only comes with death. She shivered at the contrast between this lifeless animal's eyes and Tempest's extraordinarily bright eyes. This one would never open its eyes again. The knowledge that this creature's life had been wasted, weighed heavily on Sarah. She suddenly turned her face away as if she could no longer bear the heart-wrenching sight.

Jareth had yet to utter a single word. He just stared down at the creature with some cold unreadable expression on his pale angular face. After a moment of disconcerting silence, he looked up, noticing that all his goblins had were awaiting his rationalization of the profane act, they were relying on him to tell them that this didn't mean what they most feared.

The Goblin King straightened and there was an air of confident authority about him as he addressed the mob, "I understand your alarm, but there is no cause for panic. What I need now is your cooperation...tell me, who came by this animal?"

Six goblins shuffled forward and the one in front stammered, "Us, your majesty. We...we were heading out to the fields beyond the boundary of the labyrinth to bring back the cart full of barley that we harvested only yesterday and we just found her...slain in the field. She...she was left in the cart. We couldn't just leave her there...sssoo...we brought her back with us."

Jareth nodded and coolly replied, "I see. In the barley fields you say?" All six goblins nodded and he pressed further, "How far beyond the north gate was the cart left?"

The leader spoke again, "Not terribly far. A few leagues...right by the edge of the great Northern forest."

Jareth interrogated, "Did you see anyone, or anything that would suggest who might have been there before you?" The Goblin shook his head solemnly and answered, "No your majesty. We saw no one, and no sign of anyone neither. No tracks, no scents, nothing, not a whisper nor a trace of anything. The field was empty and dead quiet."

Jareth was thoughtful for a moment as he considered what they had told him. Of course he would go and inspect the area for himself, as there were certainly things his subjects most likely overlooked. In that moment of silence he became aware of the growing whispers of his subjects.

The paranoid fear of a thing once thought ancient history and utterly extinct had been rekindled with one unfortunate discovery. Though his initial thoughts strayed to the very same cause, he concluded that there had to be another explanation, for the return of what they feared was next to impossible.

The Goblin King raised his chin and announced with finality. "There is no reason to be alarmed. There are numerous possibilities that could account for this beast's death. Have no doubt, I will find the perpetrators of this act and they will be dealt with accordingly. In the meantime, I want guards posted at every point of entry into the labyrinth, and guards are to patrol the city and the main passages of the labyrinth for as long as I deem neccessary."

The present members of the Goblin Army straightened and scurried about hastily to get into formation as their King finished, "Any intruders or suspicious persons are to be subdued and brought directly to me, is that perfectly clear?"

The Goblin guards clumsily fell into line as they bellowed, "Yes, Your majesty." Jareth nodded in satisfaction and barked, "Now...disperse and return to your homes, save the guard, you will assemble and report to your leaders."

Once the crowd had begun to disperse Jareth gestured for three of his guards to come forward. They approached and bowed reverently, "Your Majesty?"

Jareth regarded them with solemn seriousness as he ordered, "Take the carcass to the edge of the Fiery forest where the ground is soft, and give it a proper burial...and do not pass by the stables. I don't want my mount unnecessarily distressed by this."

The nearest goblin genuflected and hissed, "Yes, your highness."

Without so much as another word Jareth turned and headed back towards the castle, while the goblins scampered off in the opposite direction. As they departed, Sarah heard one of them nervously whisper, "But...he didn't say anything about the..." The other interrupted with a low hiss, "Shhhhh! He didn't have to you nit wit! The act speaks for itself."

Utterly confused by all that she had just seen and heard, Sarah hurried after the Goblin King. She had hoped he might explain some of this as they walked, but he was silent and deep in thought all the way back to castle. Though Sarah wanted to know what was going on it she found it impossible to break the heavy silence that fell between them.

Jareth got as far as his throne room before he heard Sarah's lilting voice behind him demand, "Jareth, What was all that about?"

He stopped, turning his head halfway to glance over his shoulder as he slowly replied, "I don't know." Then with an air of authority he added, "I shall be in my library for the remainder of the afternoon, see to it that I am not disturbed."

With that he strode out of the throne room and Sarah could only stare at him in dumb puzzlement as she wondered what in the hell was going on. She had come to expect a certain amount of cool indifference from him, but the cold calm countenance of the Goblin King that just left was a little too far removed and it unnerved her. She was almost certain that he was hiding something and she was pretty sure that under that cool façade, the sight of that dead Alicorn had shaken the Goblin King. She swallowed. For something to unnerve him, it must be very grave indeed. A cold shiver ran down her frame as she wondered, What could it mean?

Sarah had long since finished her laundry and tidied her quarters. She decided against tending to Tempest since Jareth had made it clear that he didn't want his steed upset. She reasoned that although she had no intention of telling Tempest about the dead Alicorn, he might be able to sense her thoughts on the matter and she didn't want to risk upsetting him.

The thought of lying to him was just as unsettling and she would rather avoid seeing him for a few days, than lie to him, or upset him unnecessarily. In the end she sent for one of the grooms and told him to tend to Tempest, explaining that she was not feeling up to it at the moment.

It was getting on into the evening and the kitchen goblins informed her that Jareth had yet to take a meal, which could mean only one thing, he was still holed up in the library.

Sarah paced the castle corridor occasionally stopping to ponder the orange light that seeped out from under the heavy oak library doors. He was still in there, and Sarah was torn between leaving him alone like he had instructed, and intruding so she might get a few answers under the guise of bringing him some soup for dinner. He had specified that he didn't want to be disturbed, but she had never been one to do what she was told. So why start now?

With a deep breath she worked up her nerve and walked purposefully to the door, bowl of soup in hand. Tentatively she eased the door open, wincing as the door groaned loudly on its hinges. She poked her head in just as Jareth looked up from his reading. He was seated in the large armchair by the blazing hearth. One leg was draped casually over the arm of the chair and a monstrous ancient looking volume lay open in his lap.

His voice sounded tired as he demanded, "What is it Sarah?"

Apprehensively she stepped into the room as she rushed to explain, "You've ahhh...been in here for a long time and the kitchen staff said you haven't eaten so I thought you might want some soup."

He answered in a tired voice, "Ah." before he slammed the ungodly book closed, producing a large cloud of dust. He stretched with the laziness of a bored predator as he noticed that darkness had replaced the daylight just outside the castle windows.

Sarah stood impatiently holding the soup and boldly ventured, " you want this soup or not?"

His eyes met hers and the lack of emotion unnerved her as he vacantly answered, "You may leave it on the desk."

She was rather irritated by his indifferent dismissal. She didn't appreciate being treated like a servant by him, especially after what had happened earlier that afternoon. He had some nerve treating her like that, and she disliked it immensely.

She set the soup on the desk before she turned and replied with disdain, "Fine. I'll leave it there. I...I...won't disturb you further..." With that, she forced her mouth shut as she turned on her heel and began to storm out. She knew she was about to lose her cool and she was in haste to get out of his sight before she did something stupid, like smacking him.

His tired sigh stopped her as he sternly admonished, "There is no need to be curt. You...are not disturbing me."

It was then Sarah's eyes fell on the symbol branded into the thick leather binding of the giant volume. A simple likeness of a skull flanked by a thin crescent, which could only be a depiction of the moon. The skull held a bony finger to its skeletal mouth in an obvious gesture of secrecy. Looming in the background of the crest were the figures of what looked to be a human woman and an Alicorn, both blindfolded and engulfed in flame.

It was a grim depiction and Sarah wondered what such a symbol meant to the Goblin King, and what such a book could tell him about the death of the Alicorn.

Sarah raised her eyes to meet his, as at that moment he was staring intently at her. She inclined her head, narrowing her eyes a little as she challenged, "Why should I stay, if you only intend to keep me in the dark?"

Jareth frowned as he began, "Sarah, even if I did have an explanation, which I don't, telling you may not be wise."

Anger pricked at Sarah as she snapped, "And why not?"

Jareth simply stated rather matter-of-factly, "You are human, your home is aboveground and if you intend to return there once the year is out, it would be smart not to meddle in underground affairs. It would be foolish for you to become involved in this...foolish and dangerous."

That wasn't quite the explanation she was looking for, and Sarah silently fumed, "Foolish and Dangerous!?! Who the hell does he think he's kidding, I'm living in a castle teeming with Goblins, being ordered around by the object of my childhood nightmares. When has this whole situation not been foolish or dangerous?"

She was about to say something derisive when a thought struck her. Was he actually trying to protect her? Was he just trying to throw her off the subject, or was he genuinely concerned? She reconsidered being belligerent and went for the more calm, level-headed approach, "Well, I'm stuck here living in your kingdom for a good part of the year, and I've already seen the poor Alicorn...I'd call that pretty involved."

Jareth was quiet a moment, as if he was debating what he should tell her.

Sarah was quick to add, "Look, I just want to know what the hell is going on around here, obviously there's a great deal I don't know about. You must have some idea or a theory at least. Can't you tell me anything?"

Jareth sounded quite serious as he replied, "Sarah, I don't expect you to understand. I may have a theory, but it's just too premature to draw any conclusions. All that I know for certain, and all that you need know is that an Alicorn has been slain only a few leagues from my kingdom, and the perpetrators remain un-captured. It would do for the whole kingdom, you included, to be very cautious. So until this problem is solved, you are not to leave the castle unescorted, is that understood?"

Sarah swallowed at his stern demeanor, obviously he was gravely concerned, and that affected her deeply. If the threat was serious enough to make someone as self-assured as Jareth worried, then it must be a dread thing indeed.

She nodded and ventured out of sheer curiosity, "When you do catch those who did this, what will happen to them?"

Jareth settled behind the desk where his soup awaited him and explained, "Killing an Alicorn is a very serious offense in the Underground. Such an act is punishable by when the perpetrators are caught and found guilty of the crime, they will be executed."

Sarah thought on this and replied, "Well if the consequences are so severe why would anyone do it?"

Jareth swallowed a spoonful of soup before he answered, "Well, there are several reasons. First, the blood of an Alicorn is very potent. It has many magical uses. The animal itself is the very symbol of strength and power. To vanquish one is a considerable testament of one's lack of weakness and vulnerability. These animals are also highly intelligent, and as their numbers are dwindling, it is considered a serious crime indeed to slay one."

Sarah was thoughtful as she continued, "Well someone must have felt it worth the risk to kill one. You say the blood holds great power? The throat was slit...meaning that the blood would have drained out. Maybe they were after the blood. Just what kind of power does the blood have?"

Jareth stiffened as he halted with his spoon poised in midair, "Sarah, we are finished discussing this...the responsibility is mine, and I will handle it."

Sarah couldn't understand why he was being so obtuse and she protested, "But...what about that book, surely it must tell you something..."

Jareth took a sobering breath and warned, "There is no proof that the Alicorn found today has anything to do with the contents of that book. It is my place to handle this problem...not yours." His voice was stern as he further admonished, "...And what is in that book does not concern you, so you best keep your nose out of it." He leveled a warning gaze at her and finished, "It's written in the ancient Fae language, so you wouldn't be able to decipher it if you tried."

Sarah sighed in frustration, apparently pressing the matter was not going to get her anywhere, so she decided to drop it. Still, the fact that he had the nerve to be so cold after what had transpired in the ball room irked her something fierce. Her gaze strayed to the fire as she replied with a degree of bitterness, "Fine...I'll leave you to it. I'll try and stay out of your way."

Just as she turned to walk out, Jareth got to his feet and coldly demanded, "Is there a problem Sarah?"

She froze, turning slowly as she lied, "No. No problem."

He regarded her with icy precision as he continued, "Then, I would suggest that you adopt a less hostile tone. You forget would do to remember just who you are talking to."

Sarah's insides seemed to knot as he rebuked her. He was very good at making her feel terribly small, just as good as he was at pissing her off. A sickening feeling crept over her as she realized that the intimacy they had briefly experienced earlier was long forgotten and his soothing demeanor was now a distant memory. His lack of compassion caused a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. How could he run so hot and cold? Then she remembered. He was the Goblin King, that's why...and she firmly reminded herself that she wouldn't forget it again.

Her flashing green eyes rose to meet his, her hands balling into tight fists at her sides. Despite her anger, her outer expression remained as emotionally devoid as his, as she hastily nodded and turned to leave. She may have looked guarded and unaffected on the outside, but inside a storm of volatile emotions was brewing.

Upon returning to her room, Sarah went to bed feeling wholly terrible. It had been a taxing day. First she had dropped her guard, lost her senses, and had done the unthinkable. She had kissed him. It had been lovely while it lasted, but reality invaded, as it always did, and now she was left feeling conflicted, unsure, and very confused.

Unfortunately, she had only herself to blame, which only made things that much more unbearable. Then there had been the unpleasant business of the murdered Alicorn, which left her feeling only further unsettled. The discovery of the beast caused a heavy sort of fear to settle over the kingdom, a fear so distinct that even Jareth seemed affected by it.

To make matters even worse, she had broken her ritual visitation with Tempest. Only yesterday had they started to forge a real friendship, and now Sarah had to stay away, out of fear that Tempest would sense her thoughts about the discovery of the Alicorn. Not to mention, there was this whole business with Jareth. No doubt Tempest would also sense her turmoil over what had happened today, and talking about that, was the last thing she could stomach at this point.

She hoped Tempest wouldn't be angry that she hadn't visited him. Hopefully he would understand when she went back, since she would have to face him eventually. She knew it wouldn't be long before Jareth noticed that she wasn't spending time with Tempest and that might seem suspicious. She couldn't afford for the Goblin King to find out about the connection between her and Tempest. She could visit him in few days, hopefully by then, this whole mess would make a little more sense.

Sarah eventually drifted off into a very restless superficial sleep. In the morning when the goblins came to rouse her, she felt even less rested than she had the night before.

She took her time as she bathed and dressed, her every movement was heavy with dread as she was expected to wake and assist the King this morning. With an iron resolve she forced herself through the door to his chamber. It was her duty, and she would manage it, just like she had everything else.

Jareth was not eager to wake, despite the fact that he was in great haste. He seemed to be in a rather sour mood, and lucky for Sarah, his haste kept him from badgering her. He simply focused on the tasks at hand in a very distant sort of manner, with little more than a stray word. But Sarah noticed his expression was that of a constant frown. Either he was deep in his thoughts, or he was quite frustrated. He looked as though he hadn't got much sleep either, and Sarah wondered if it had something to do with her, or if it was due to the fact that the Alicorn poachers were still at large. Quite possibly it was a combination of both.

In a desperate attempt to restore some normalcy between them, Sarah asked if something was bothering him. Jareth simply informed her that he had much to do in preparation for the ball, and he still had much to look into regarding the circumstances surrounding the Alicorn's death. As soon as he was dressed, he promptly excused himself.

Once again left to her own devices, Sarah contemplated venturing into the Goblin city, thinking that she might learn something from the goblins. Unfortunately, that idea was squashed when she realized that she couldn't leave the castle. All the doors seemed to be locked from the outside, effectively trapping her within the castle.

She reasoned that Jareth must have used magic to seal all the doors to keep her from leaving. He had mentioned that he didn't want her going anywhere alone and it was a fair assumption that by this point he knew her mind, and was determined to keep her from poking around unescorted. Reluctantly, Sarah went to the library. There was no sign of Jareth, so she resumed her reorganization of the stacks.

It was late afternoon when Sarah felt a stir in the air just behind her and she turned to find Jareth leaning casually against a nearby bookcase. She merely regarded him with indifference as he observed, "In here all day...and not once did you venture into that book. I must say, I'm impressed. Perhaps it is possible for you to obey after all."

Sarah suppressed the urge to roll her eyes and nonchalantly replied, "Yeah well, you said it point in snooping, so I decided to do something useful with my time by finishing up in here, since mysteriously, I was unable to leave the castle."

Jareth pushed off the bookcase and smugly replied, "I sealed off the castle, for your own good of course. I can't have you wandering around unescorted. It could be dangerous."

Sarah nodded curtly, "Ah. I see. How chivalrous of you to just lock me in. You know, I couldn't even go out to the stables..."

Jareth shrugged and replied, "Tempest will manage without you for the next few days. The grooms are looking after him. Besides, in two nights the ball will commence and I will require your cooperation. You can resume your groom duties and riding after the ball. Until then, there is absolutely no reason for you to leave the castle."

Sarah swallowed, it was obvious the subject was not open to discussion, but at least it gave her and excuse for keeping her distance from Tempest. Still, she did not like the idea of being confined at his whim, and she most definitely detested the fact that he could be so smug about it.

Her eyes darted to his face as she boldly challenged, "So, basically, what you're saying is that I am a prisoner..."

His mouth formed a cruel smile as he closed the distance between them. He looked down at her, offering a predatory smirk as he drawled, "It amazes me how ungrateful you can be. Believe me Sarah...if I wanted to make you my'd know. There's much more to misery than stone walls."

Sarah tensed at his words and his eyes darted over her frame, noticing the change in her posture. Her breath seemed to catch in her throat as she stammered, " that a threat?"

Jareth's mismatched eyes settled on hers as he coolly remarked, "For the time being, you are merely my guest. You should consider yourself lucky. You should be grateful, for I don't have to be so generous. Keep testing me Sarah, and I'll show you what it means to be a prisoner here. So to answer your, it's not a threat, it is a promise."

Sarah abruptly turned away from him as a chill settled into her bones. He was not joking. In fact, the seriousness of his remark startled her. It was obvious that he was quickly tiring of her incessant defiance and her quickness to argue.

Though it was a challenge, Sarah resolved to play it safe, and she held her tongue. Jareth was silent for a moment, as if he were just waiting for her next outburst of defiance. When none came, he tilted his head to the side and added, "I knew you could be reasonable. Now, our guests arrive tomorrow and we have some instruction to finish have we not?"

Sarah nodded despite the fact that dancing with him was the last thing she felt like doing just now.

Sarah's final dancing lesson was anything but a piece of cake. As they were ultimately out of time, Jareth was hard pressed to make sure that the movements were coming naturally as possible. During the rigorous lesson, Jareth kept his interaction with her methodical and impersonal, as it was the only way that he was able to get through the session without losing his temper.

Sarah quickly found that he was an extremely demanding teacher and he settled for nothing short of perfection. Long before her lesson was over, her legs ached and she was thoroughly exhausted. She could scarcely wait for him to dismiss her, but he was relentless in his determination to make an accomplished dance partner out of her.

When at long last he was finally satisfied, Sarah couldn't remember feeling more relieved. As he released her he conceded, "You've done well. I believe you are get some rest, we will certainly have a late night tomorrow."

Sarah tried to catch her breath, as she turned away, not quite sure what she should say. She eventually managed, "Er, thanks. Um...well...goodnight."

He watched her retreat and softly replied, "Goodnight Sarah."

Most Prized Possession

A Labyrinth Story
by Jester3

Part 23 of 42

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