Continuing Tales

The Way Back

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 16 of 24

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The Way Back

Sarah woke early and could not get back to sleep. The sky was light but the sun had not yet risen and the Labyrinth seemed captured in a gray and misty slumber. She could hear no sounds of nature, no sign of activity and was left with her thoughts...and her fears. Jareth had taken the nightmares from her dreams but he would not take them from her mind and this was the first time she had been given a moment alone with them.

Her memories of the past year were a twisted montage of pain, hunger, and desperation, with erratically vivid moments of perfect and terrible clarity. She tried to turn her thoughts from what she could not change. Jareth lay peacefully beside her, his countenance untroubled, his lips curled in a half-smile. She could not bring herself to wake him.

She thought of the night before, of Jareth's kiss, coming so quickly after his sudden and unexpected fear, then Aidan's anger as her mind drew the memory of another, rougher, larger hand that captured and crushed the bones of her wrist. It yanked her from the ground, the other monstrously strong hand pinning her frail body against the cold cell wall, "Spread 'em, girlie." The grating voice was loud in her mind. She could almost feel his sharp teeth next to her ear.

Sarah needed to get up, get out, to occupy her traitorous mind. She tried to remove herself from the bed as quickly and quietly as possible, still feeling his hot breath on her neck, but her foot caught in the bedspread and she nearly fell, only just catching herself on the bedpost. She clung to the dark, smooth wood, pressing her forehead against it and fighting to keep her tears silent.

"Sarah?" His voice was thick with confusion and sleep. She didn't look up and barely even heard him, clinging even tighter as the grating voice and harsh breath grew deafening in her ears. She tried to focus on Jareth, but could barely make out his words as he spoke again, this time more fully aware of her distress, "Love, what's the matter?"

Sarah's fear reached new heights as she heard him move...something move, she was no longer able to distinguish between memory and reality...or was it a dream? She heard the voice again, "My Mistress wants to hear you beg for it, girlie," it was all around and she sensed a hand reaching for her.

Sarah sprang backwards violently, hitting the wall with a loud thud. The wind was knocked out of her lungs, her legs lost their strength and she sank to the floor. The memory immediately receded and she saw Jareth slowly climb over the end of her bed to the floor opposite her. His eyes remained fixed on her, full of muted apprehension and concern. He didn't ask for an explanation but she felt compelled to speak, "She wanted me to beg for it..." She trailed off, realizing he probably didn't want to know.

Sarah closed her eyes, searching for all the strength she had felt the night before, but the darkness turned her thoughts back to the cell. She could smell the stench of rotting waste and flesh, and forced her eyes open as she began to feel the bile rise in her throat.

Jareth was still there and she knew he was the only one who could help her, "Please Jareth," she didn't even attempt to keep a semblance of pride, her desperation outweighing all else. She pulled her knees up against her chest and pressed her face against them, somehow not able to look at him as she begged, "I don't care about the consequences. Change whatever you want. Break me! I don't care anymore about the power, it doesn't matter. Just, please, make it stop."

His response was so low and gentle that she didn't think she could bear it, "Sarah, look at me." She didn't want to, didn't want to see the pity in his face. He would pity her, but he would still say no. "Sarah, love, I need you to look at me," the second time she could not ignore him and raised her head. When their eyes met, Sarah saw the pity, but she also saw his concern and fear for her. She felt his love wash over her as he spoke again, calmly and evenly, "I can't. It would not be fair to me, and it would certainly not be fair to you."

"What if I don't want fair?" She cried, "It's not like you ever gave me fair before."

He pulled a warmly ironic half-smile as he replied, "But you used to be so keen on it." And she was about to reply with something idiotic about how she had been a child then, when his smile faded slightly and he answered truly, "It's the game that's not fair, Sarah. Outside of it, I would not give you anything else."

She closed her eyes in resignation, but the memories threatened to envelop her once again and she whimpered, clutching her knees in rising panic.

"Sarah," Jareth's voice cut through the veil of darkness and she lifted her eyes to stare at him. He looked almost relaxed, still at the foot of the bed, barefoot with his white shirt loose and slightly open. His mismatched eyes watched her intently and she found herself drawing strength from them as he spoke again, "I'm going to tell you a story, love. All I want you to do is just keep looking at me. I can't do as you ask, but that doesn't mean we're not going to get through this together, right?"

And Sarah knew. All of her doubts about childish infatuation melted away as she felt an overwhelming outpouring of love for him at the fact that he could be so strong for her and still be uncertain of her feelings. She knew that she truly loved him. She pressed a hand to her mouth as the tears streamed from her eyes and nodded, not trusting herself to say anything. What she wanted was to cross the room and wrap her arms around him, but she knew she didn't have the strength or the courage yet.

There was a long pause and Jareth leaned his head back against the bed frame, while still keeping his eyes on her. He began quietly and Sarah tried to put all of her attention on his carefully chosen words, "Like the cultures and traditions of the world Above, The Underground has its own beliefs about the creation of the world, its own myths and legends, its own religion and cynics and zealots." He wove the tale beautifully and Sarah quickly became mesmerized by the rise and fall of words and intonation and the uniquely mythical history of his world. She forgot the reason they were sitting there, she left her memories and fear behind as he took her to the beginning of time and beyond.

Jareth launched into the tale of his world, knowing that he would eventually come to the secrets and shame of his past, knowing that he must tell her, that only Sarah could help him distinguish between what was real and what were only Shadows of truth. Sarah had asked the only question that had broken anything the Queen had planted within him. She was the key to his sanity as he seemed to be the key to her own.

Jareth cursed his Mistress for both their sakes as he recounted the foundations of his race, "All Fae children are taught that the Mother of Light created both worlds and that in the beginning they were one. The Mother was a wise and kind ruler and loved all of her children equally and faithfully. The mortal and mundane creatures of your world and the long-lived and magical creatures of mine lived together on one plane and prospered for many years.

"Alas, as man and immortal have learned through centuries of peace and war, that paradise on earth never lasts. The majority of my race came to think themselves the favorites of the Mother and therefore superior to her other children, because of the many magical gifts and advantages granted them. The leaders of men became fearful of the powers of glamour and persuasion that the Fae possessed in abundance and the two races waged war against each other.

"The Mother saw the death and suffering of her children and was heartbroken by the violence and cruelty they created from their enmity. Knowing that to leave the two races to their own devises would only lead to more destruction and death, she used her glorious power to its very limits to sunder her beautiful creation into two separate worlds, one Above and one Underground. And with a heavy heart, she removed herself from her children, not wanting to choose between them.

"The children of the Aboveground, because of their short memories and brief lives, soon forgot the Mother and chose to believe in other gods and higher forces, most often denying the existence of such places or creatures found in their sister world. But the children of the Underground are compelled by the final gift of the Mother to know and remember those Above.

"The Mother instilled this gift in the Fae at her final parting, proclaiming that each child in their prolonged lifetime will be born, in the Aboveground, for one mortal existence. The Priests of the Mother were given the knowledge to send the spirit of a Fae into the body of a mortal; it is similar to the mortal beliefs of incarnation.

"Many years after the Great Rift between the worlds, my father, the High King of the Court of Light, sent his own spirit to the Aboveground after a woman who wanted to escape the Court and his particular attentions. The Shadow Queen followed them both, intending to create as much havoc and chaos as possible."

Throughout Jareth's speech, Sarah's focus had not wavered and she had been completely absorbed in his words. She had gradually and unconsciously relaxed against the wall and he felt pleased that he had been able to so capture her attention from whatever memories had been plaguing her. But at the mention of the Queen she had started as though being jolted awake and seemed to stop and really think about what he had been saying. Jareth paused, waiting patiently for her to ask him a question or two. He knew she would want to and he needed her to understand everything.

Sarah's voice felt harsh and she cleared her throat and her mind of all the remnants of her subdued memories, "Did she succeed?" It was really the only question she could begin to articulate about what he had just said. She felt numb, not only from the events of the morning but also from the barrage of new and fantastic information Jareth had just imparted to her. She almost didn't believe any of it, but of course, she knew better.

He shrugged in answer, as though it mattered little to him. Sarah wondered about Jareth's relationship with his father for a moment, but he elaborated when she didn't say anything, "To an extent. The power of women in that time was limited, even with the mortal magic she somehow inherited."

Mortal magic? She thought, but asked instead, "And what era was this?"

He looked squarely at her and his expression changed subtly, almost daring her to laugh, or disbelieve, "In the days of Camelot."

She couldn't help it, she stared at him incredulously, it seemed so far fetched, but she asked the question anyway, "Are you saying that your father was incarnated Above as King Arthur?" Jareth nodded solemnly, and she blurted out, "How could that happen? It seems so..."

"Contrived?" He finished for her, in a clipped tone. She nodded dumbly, wondering why he seemed to dislike the subject they were on so intensely. He continued, looking away from her after all that time, she actually felt a little disoriented, "It was contrived. The Priests, in their pride, found ways to manipulate the Mother's gift, ensuring that no Fae would truly learn from the lesson granted them. My Father was maneuvered to inherit power and intercept his prey. She followed closely on his heels, coming as his sister, Morgane."

Suddenly a poem Sarah had read in some obscure English class throughout her long academic career came to her and she spoke without thinking,

"But when Morgan with lifted hand
Moved down the hall, they louted low:
For she was Queen of Shadowland,
That woman of snow."

Suppressing a shiver, she truly believed him, somehow it fit. Another thought struck her, "And the woman your father pursued? Did he find her?"

Jareth smiled bitterly, still looking away, "Of course."

"She was Guinevere?" her question seemed almost redundant. He nodded, not turning back to her, and she pressed on, "And Lancelot?"

Jareth closed his eyes and sighed, his initial words sounded as though he were quoting a passage or repeating a litany, "A Fae's shining brilliance cannot be extinguished by a mortal shell, even when incarnated. There's something about one who is reborn, they still hold an aura of their glamour and those around them find it hard to look away. Lancelot was a mortal who became close to the King and Queen and was blinded by both of them. Guinevere, contrary to your legends, was caught in her marriage and wished with all of her soul to keep the love she had earned, or so she thought."

"Didn't they retain their past memories?"

"I believe that it works differently with each Fae, I do know that Guinevere did not know her true nature until after there was nothing she could do to change her lot or to change Lancelot's artificial love for her. I can't say what Arthur knew. He did use his abilities wisely, whether he knew their nature or not. But his own nature was far from the ideal of the tales and by the end of their lives he had driven Lancelot insane and broken the spirit of his wife. Upon their return to the Underground my Mother became the High King's final and highest ranked wife, for she was the only one to bear him a living son."

Sarah tried to understand what he was saying, why he was saying it, but she still was missing something, "Why call Lancelot's love for her artificial?"

He sighed, "I haven't properly explained the nature of Fae love, Sarah. It is blazingly passionate, but harsh and cruel, dependent on domination and subservience, even among our own. My Father pursued my Mother to the mortal realm to break her. Of all of the Ladies of his court she was the only who would not submit to him. She fled Above and he followed and he made her only possible refuge a living hell. Lancelot fell under the spell of both of them, loving the King and Queen with equal obsession and it tore his mind apart. My mother thought she had earned the love of such an honorable and true man, but when she learned the truth it shattered her as well."

Her mouth felt dry, "It's that way with all the Fae?" She remembered what he had said the morning before, about how easy it would be to change her.

Now he looked directly into her eyes, "It is not with me."

She felt more lost than before and closed the gulf between them. She knelt before him, he still on the floor, and leaned her forehead against his, "Why?"

"I don't know," his voice was as desperate as hers had been and Sarah realized, as the words of the little goblin echoed in her ears. It wasn't what she had thought to returned to, but she had to help him. She would help him.

The Way Back

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 16 of 24

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