Continuing Tales

The Way Back

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 17 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
The Way Back

The Queen saw through his eye. She saw as the little chit threw her tantrum, as her weak and love-struck Steward poured forth the sacred history of their race to a mere mortal, a mere chit of a pathetic mortal. She saw the girl's reaction to the very mention of her name and smiled. She heard Jareth's answer to her futile question and grinned. His eye had seen it all, she held him in the palm of her hand and only she knew how and why...

The Moonlight poured silver over her skin and into her hair, she looked like the night. Her eyes shone like twin stars and they danced as she she smiled at him. "Come away from the window, Jareth."

Jareth woke to darkness, lurking, intense darkness that he could not escape, and he was weary of it. His bed was the stone floor, his room a small hole in the ground, the only outlet the mouth of the Guardian. He had received no food since entering the cell. He had been nominated, had accepted this exalted place. He had seen the look of near-pride in his Father's face and felt a small jolt of...something...of happiness? The feeling had soon faded, he was left with a thirst and a hunger that would not kill him, an immortal, but a purpose that would. He needed to accept, to welcome death, but something wouldn't let him.

The Guardian had been at him again, this time for hours until the fiend had finally lost his grip and Jareth fled to the unconscious. "This world is nothing," the Guardian would whisper, in his harsh, rasping hiss of a voice, "it is only in the arms of the Mother that you will find solace. What do you care of the exploits of the Court, of the cares of this, your pathetic immortal existence? What have you done with it? You squander your power as Prince, you use it for no personal gratification or interest. What have you to part with? Nothing."

In his waking hours, Jareth knew the Guardian spoke the truth. It was the only thing he had heard for weeks, how could it not be truth? His was an immortal existence, yet he did nothing. He had no women, no proper title in the Court, no lands to administer for his father. He had nothing to keep him...except...his dreams. He never spoke of the dreams to the Guardian. He was supposed to offer himself up, to reveal everything, to relinquish all of himself. Jareth couldn't. He couldn't tell anyone about the dreams.

Sometimes he wondered if the cell was some strange dream, some hellish nightmare. Oh, he wished it were true. That he could truly wake in the arms of that woman, the woman of night and stars. She was like nothing he had ever known. The Fae women of the Court, even his Mother the Queen, were women who possessed magic. She was a woman of magic.

The Mouth of the Guardian opened with a clang and a squeal of rusty hinges, "Teind-player, Teind-player, what will you be?" The creature mocked him. The ritual would not be staged for days at least. Jareth turned away from the laughing Mouth and wished he had not accepted, wished he wasn't so eager for his Father's pride, for his love even, even at the cost of his own death.

He wished his mother...Jareth stopped his ever turning thoughts there and shuddered. There was nothing to be done for the Queen now. There was nothing she could have done, there was nothing anyone could have done. It had been hanging over them all since his birth. How long would the King wait, to take her completely, to silence her unseemly impertinence, to curb her arrogant protestations? When would he finally smother her pride, her hope, her life?

Jareth unwillingly sank deeper into the disturbing memory; there was little else for him to do in the dark. The night it happened, The Queen had summoned Jareth to her rooms with an urgent but vague message. He came as soon as he could escape the Court dinner The King had been presiding over. He found it extraordinarily difficult to leave, it being his own Coming-of-Age celebration, but he finally made it out, not long before the end of the feast. He had been shown into his mother's salon to see her pacing frantically, a fear in her eyes he had never seen before.

She crossed the room quickly and stood before him, grasping his shirt tightly at the shoulder, "What took you?"

He had worriedly looked her over before answering. She was dressed only in a nightgown and dressing gown, her golden hair was flowing freely down her back, swinging with the force of her anxious strides. "I couldn't escape sooner. Whatever is the matter, Mamon?" She smiled briefly at the use of his childish name for her, something he had picked up from mixing the Ancient Tongue words for Queen and Mother. Now, at the still young, but legitimately adult age of 30, he still used it when they were alone.

She reached up and brushed his face lightly with her hand. He was not the tallest of the Fae, but she was almost dwarfish for their race and he towered nearly a foot over her small and delicate frame. She looked up into his eyes and spoke softly, with all the love she had for him, "I wanted to see truly see you, once more. The King is coming here after the feast. I think...I know he's going to..."

Jareth couldn't hold it in any longer, "Mamon, no! I...I won't let..."

"Hush, my cheyneu, you will do no such thing. In the eyes of the court, he has indulged my insolence for far too long. The King's hand is forced, he must do something drastic. I have always known it would eventually come to this. It is a price that some of us is the way we are..."

"But not you...not me...Mamon, I don't understand! Why is it that we are different? Why can't I accept it? Why can't I follow the ways of...the others?"

She sighed, putting both hands to his face as she had when he was a child, "I raised you as I was raised, my cheyneu, I did not know how else to do it and I have ruined you for the King. I cannot say that I am sorry for it, although I am sorry I have made your life that much more difficult."

He shook his head, fighting the tears that threatened his pride, "You should not have nothing to be sorry for."

She stroked his cheek once more and planted a kiss on his forehead, "I have much, my son. And I cannot be redeemed for it all," she smiled, almost wistfully, "At least it will be a blissful punishment."

He was about to deny her statement, to defend her honor, even to herself, when the door was thrown open and his Father appeared with an ironic smirk, fixed on his regal face, "I should have known this is where you skulked off to, my son. I was not really surprised, but most young men would try to stay for the entirety of such a grand feast held in their honor. But of course, who could refuse the summons of this lovely treasure," he gestured to the Queen and Jareth visibly bristled.

He opened his mouth, not sure of what he would retort, but he felt a small hand touch his arm. He looked down at her and she smiled sadly, "I have said all that needed to be said. I go with a lighter heart, and you must go with the same."

The King broke in with a mockingly jovial boom, "Are you going on a journey, my dear? To where, might I inquire?"

She shot him a look of pure disgust before she pulled Jareth into an uncharacteristic embrace, whispering almost fiercely into his ear, "You and I shared something few Fae can. I know you will find another to share it with. Do not give up until you do. Don't let them break you, cheyeu, they will try. I won't be able to resist him, but you can. You alone are strong enough."

She released him and with an unwelcome glance from his father, Jareth woodenly quit the chamber, stepping silently into the rich corridor. He leaned heavily against the wall and looked down the passage, noting one of the mortal servants blithely cleaning her way towards him. He watched her slow languid movement and felt the usual frown forming on his face.

The High Court stole their servants from Above, it was the origin of tales like fairy-rings and doors under-the-hill. People would disappear and not come back, if they did, they were changed, altered. The girl was young, barely a woman, her face wore a dreamy smile, her eyes were vaguely dull, almost unseeing. To be servant in the house of a Fae was like a permanent narcotic, every sight, every movement, every task was a source of infinite pleasure. To leave that life was hell, the loss of such a feeling was like dying a slow death with no end, he had seen it before.

Jareth seemed to be the only one who thought the practice was immoral and vulgar. These mortals were used for everything, from cleaning and cooking to acts of violence or pleasure or both. He shuddered with revulsion just as the girl noticed his presence. She turned slowly towards him, the smile on her face broadening, "What can this one do for you, Divinity?" Her voice was softer than a whisper, wistful in wonder at him. They had changed her, made her that way, and Jareth felt his stomach turn. He fled to his rooms without answering her.

The next morning his mother had appeared for the Court's proceedings, an occurrence that was rare at best. She hung on the King's arm and wore the same vacant expression as the servant girl. Jareth had never spoken to her again. There was never a need or desire from either of them, her world had become his father and she would truly live on in his mind and heart.

"Teind-player, Teind-player, what will you be?" The Guardian would never let him alone.

Jareth turned further towards the wall and whispered, "I will be nothing," before relinquishing himself to the dream.

Now they were in a garden...or a forest. Sunlight dripped from the leaves of the massive trees and flowed around her. She melted into the greenery, her eyes were alight with life and love, and they danced as they had in the moonlight. She was night in the day, shadow and light personified. "Come, Jareth," she crooned, with a sadness he had not expected in her voice, "Let's just enjoy the day."

He drew her to him, pulling her into a tight, possessive embrace. She smelled of a spring morning, fresh and crisply sweet. He ran his fingers into her silken hair, bending slightly to kiss her gently blushing lips. "What was that for?" Her voice was laced with silvery laughter and he smiled.

He buried his face in her shoulder, "Where did you come from? Where could I have found you?"

She laughed again, "Don't you remember? You didn't find me, I called you, and I found you. You just had to wait for me..."

Jareth woke to the knowledge that he couldn't complete the Teind, he couldn't accept a premature death. He had to find her, had to be found by her. As realization dawned on Jareth, the heavy wooden door to his cell opened with a horrific screech, flooding the small chamber in an intensely blinding light. He hadn't seen any light in the many days he had spent in the cell. His eyes felt seared in their sockets and he jerked towards the wall, his hands to his face. Foreign hands pulled him to his feet and propelled him out the door.

He was brought into the audience chamber of his father, still clad in the now filthy garments they had given him when he had entered the cell. Tears of pain from his still adjusting eyes seeped slowly down his face. He could barely stand as the entirety of the Court judged him and Jareth's thoughts turned to the last time he had stood in the same room.

Word from the Territories had come that the Dark had acquired the Labyrinth. The Court was in an uproar over the imbalance of power. Ever since the split of the Great Fae Court, shortly after the Rift between the worlds, the Labyrinth had been a place for meeting of the heads of the Courts of the Light and of the Dark. The Labyrinth had always been neutral territory. But now the Shadow Queen had seized it and something needed to be done to balance the power shift. The Priests determined to resurrect the ancient, even for the Fae, practice of the Teind.

Traditionally a Prince or a King was secluded for the passage of three moons and during that time was made to relinquish all ties to the world. He would be given no company save the voice of the one Guardian and no food or water to hasten the passing of his physical body. The power of his surrendered life would be transferred to the well of power held by the Priests of the Mother, magnifying it by a hundredfold.

In the reality of the so-called modern days that the Fae now lived in, the Priests knew that one did not need to be of royal blood to complete the Teind and expand the power of the Light. But Jareth had stepped forward and undertaken the task, eager for his Father's acceptance, even after the demise of the Queen. Jareth still wanted it.

He had gone into the cell with the desire to die, to pass from his increasingly lonely existence, but he emerged with a need to live and an almost certainty that he wouldn't. They would kill him for his refusal, he would never escape.

The audience hall was unusually dark, lighted only by the red and orange torches mounted to the walls. The court was cloaked and somber. It was a dark ritual they were resorting to and none would soon forget it. This ritual was a desperate act and Jareth would ruin it, he hung his head in despair.

"Teind-player, Teind-player, what will you be?" The Guardian's voice penetrated his anguished reverie and he felt the fiend's grip on him grow tight. This is what The Guardian had been preparing him for. The spell was in place, woven over many dark sleepless nights, catching Jareth off guard before he could protect himself. The sound came to him as something magical, something entrancing, and reverberating through him, "Will you be nothing?"

Jareth fell into the ritual without thought, "How can I be nothing when I can feel the cracking pain of thirst?" A moment later his thirst was quenched, though no water had passed his lips. Jareth smiled, though something lurked at the edge of his mind, a decision he had made.

"Teind-player, will you be nothing?"

"How can I be nothing when the ache of hunger gnaws at me?" Somehow, Jareth knew what to say, and yet he felt that something was wrong. But The Guardian approached him from behind and his hunger dissipated. Jareth could see only the hooded being through the veil of his grip, but now it felt like a comforting embrace and Jareth smiled as if he were welcoming an old friend.

"Will you be nothing, Teind-player?" The voice seemed to be chanting, singing him a lullaby.

"How can I be nothing when I feel the cramps and bruises of the flesh?" And all the pains of Jareth's body fell from him. He sighed long and deep, a release of tension,... to be nothing... He felt as if he were floating in and out of a dream.

"Teind-player, Teind-player, will you be nothing?"

A dream...Jareth jerked from the daze The Guardian had put him under. No, he couldn't do it. He had to live, she had to find him. His voice tore from his throat, anguished and already fearful, "Oh, Mother help me, I cannot!"

"What!" The Guardian's voice was a screech of pure disbelief. The rest of the spell faltered and all of Jareth's pain returned, causing him to fall heavily to the marble floor.

The King's voice raced, furiously through the hall, "What have you done, boy? Do you betray us to the Dark!"

Jareth writhed at the accusation; he should have known they would think it. "Nnooooo," he moaned, "I betray no one. If I die, I betray myself."

"If you do not, you betray us all." The King's voice was a sentence, Jareth could hear the slash of the scythe, the twist of the gallows' rope.

Jareth tried to force any semblance of strength or confidence in his voice, "Find another, I cannot do it."

The King's glare could be seen from all corners of the chamber, "Oh, We will find another, but you will not be here to see it. If you are not a traitor, you are a coward, and We have no use for either here. Let all know, the Light no longer has an heir, the King no longer knows a son." He paused in his incensed tirade and Jareth braced himself for the punishment. But the King seemed to visibly calm himself and spoke again, more evenly this time, "However much some would wish, the Light does not condone murder, you will not die by Our hands." The King gestured to the guards hovering near Jareth, "Take him from Our sight and Our city. You will never return, Teind-player." The last was said with a sneer and Jareth cringed as a wave of self-loathing overcame him.

The guards pulled him backwards from the room. The last thing Jareth saw before the blow to his head let him escape to the unconscious once again, was his mother, the Queen, whose eyes had never left the King, whose smile had never left her perfect face.

Jareth had never felt a pain so strong, a hurt so deep. They had beaten him on the road from the Palace of Light. He awoke in a small, still pool of his own blood. He stood slowly and began walking, to where he didn't know or care. Time seemed to be moving strangely, slow and then fast or jumping from morning to night. Jareth realized at some point that he had taken a severe blow to the head or that he was delirious with fever or hunger or both. Still, he knew he would not die, but could not quite remember why it should be a comfort.

After some time, Jareth saw a woman on the road. She stood still as he was walking, almost as if she were waiting for him. When Jareth realized this, he stopped short, trying to examine her, but he could barely see. He felt his legs begin to shake and he propelled himself forward, so he would not collapse.

She spoke when he was about ten feet away from her, "Poor, poor, Prince." Jareth could see her now and found her to be...strangely beautiful and then he registered what she had said.

"No longer a Prince, Lady." His voice sounded alien to him, faraway, unreal.

"I could make you one again," her voice was honey sweet, thick and strange. Her eyes were ice blue, their pupils sinister pinpricks, cold and calculating. Her hair surrounded her in a fiery halo, falling to her feet in mesmerizing, rippling waves.

He choked out an anxious laugh, "I am not suited to it." Jareth sensed something was wrong. He tried to step back but his exhausted body threatened collapse. He stood, still and fearful, cornered in the middle of the road.

She continued her sweet ridicule as she began walking towards him, "Poor, Prince Jareth. Did dear Arthur throw you out? Did simple Guinevere sit and smile?"

He stared at her in horror, speechless before the Lady of all things Dark, the Queen of Shadows. His father had always said she lived in the past.

Her voice shifted to a soft, melodic croon, he almost didn't hear the malice underneath, "You have rejected their ritual, will you deny me mine? Will you wander the wastes? Or will you take your place with me, with the glory that is the Darkness?"

He shook his head, she was wrong, "N-no, I can go to..."

She broke him off, her hand lightning fast, shooting upwards to grip his forehead before he could react, and causing him to fall to is knees before her. An inky veil engulfed Jareth completely and everything disappeared save him and the Queen. The veil suddenly became a wonderfully warm blanket, surrounding and reassuring him. As Jareth leaned into the hand of the Queen, he heard her laugh and smiled himself.

Her voice came to him, soft and tender, "You have no where else to go, Jareth. There is no where else for you to go."

He believed at once and found himself repeating her, as if he were learning a difficult lesson. His words were flat and halting, " go."

"Yes...yes...very good, my dear, poor, boy," she soothed as she removed her palm from his brow. Jareth swayed so wildly a stiff breeze would have brought him down, but somehow he stayed upright. Abruptly her voice became sardonic once again and she stepped disdainfully away from him, "Oh, do get up! Where has the strength of your father gone, boy? Where is your mother's stubborn streak? I suppose we cannot always inherit our parents' best qualities, now can we?"

Jareth blinked, trying to shake the haze and exhaustion from his mind. He stood slowly, trying to maneuver himself away from the witch. How had he fallen to his knees? Jareth couldn't remember. Time had jumped again.

"Well? Out with it! What is your answer, boy?" Her eyes flashed in impatience and her voice practically fizzed with restrained power.

She was displaying her strength, sharpening her claws. Had he the energy, Jareth would have acknowledged it, but he only wiped a hand across his eyes, still trying to shake confusion from his thoughts. He didn't see the Queen satisfied smile as he mumbled, "What was the question again?"

"Will you steward the Labyrinth, Prince Jareth?"

The title brought back Jareth's most recent memories, he was banished...but, he...he had no where else to go, no other refuge, of that he was certain. He fixed the Queen with a look of profound contempt. He would accept, but he didn't have to enjoy it, "You know I have no other choice."

She smiled wickedly, "Oh yes, I do." Jareth averted his eyes in disgust with her and with himself as the Queen's smile widened and she practically licked her lips before continuing, "You must be bound to the Labyrinth itself. You will be bound by the game and the realm. Do you agree to my terms of service? Will you undergo the binding ritual?"

He gritted his teeth, from hatred and to concentrate on staying upright, "You know that I must."

Her grin turned maniacal and suddenly Jareth became irrationally afraid, "Oh, I do, my poor, poor Steward." The terrain changed around them and he looked around wildly, he hadn't even felt the flux of her power. They were now in a large circular stone room, by the sound of the wind, he judged them to be high up. She spoke low and sweet and Jareth felt himself relax, even as fear tugged at the back of his mind, "The ritual must be done inside the Labyrinth. I must take something from you, Jareth. The Labyrinth thrives on dreams, as you will come to know. It must have one of yours. I must have one of your dreams and I must bind it with your blood."

Dreams... as she said the words, Jareth immediately thought of the woman. The woman of shadow and light, of night in the day, day in the night, and he smiled.

The Queen spoke at once, soft and dulcet "Ah, got one, have you? Don't worry, dear boy, you won't even miss it."

Jareth did not even notice when she carved a welt along the inside of his forearm. He became surrounded by the dream, the warm bedroom flooded with moonlight, the forest threaded with sunlight and her fresh fragrance, her eyes dancing with mirth and love, her hair, a living shadow, trailing down her back. He reached for her but she lithely evaded him, turning to smile as the forest grew shadowy and grey, fading from his view. Something was happening; something was wrong. "Just wait for me..." a voice whispered in his mind as if blown in on the wind. He grasped wildly for it, wait for...wait for what?

Jareth slowly opened his eyes to see the manically grinning face of the Queen and felt the blood dripping slowly to the floor. He felt strangely vacant, terribly and frighteningly empty. It didn't even feel like his own blood flowing from the wound. His limbs were trembling with exhaustion and he backed up until he could support himself against the gradually rounded wall, "What have you done to me...taken from me?"

"Nothing you didn't say I could have. It wasn't my fault you're in no state for negotiations." Jareth felt his hatred for her grow into something base and animalistic. He wanted to rip her throat out as she spoke again, unbearably triumphant, "I see what is in your eyes, Jareth. But I know now you are too weak to be a threat and you will have come to your senses by the time I summon you again. I know your kind. You will take your service quite seriously, for you hold your honor in too high regard. And do not say you no longer have honor, because of the rejection of the Teind. Your shame alone will prevent you from encroaching any further upon it."

She walked excruciatingly slowly towards him and Jareth ground his teeth. She was right; there was nothing he could do. She smiled sweetly and he wanted to vomit, "You see, I have you wrapped around my finger. I think I'll enjoy watching you squirm," and with a soft chuckle she melted into the shadows.

Jareth's legs finally gave way and he sank heavily to the floor of the highest tower of the Castle Beyond the Goblin City. He surveyed the sparse room, utterly empty except for him and his blood. Unknowing, he saw with eyes that were now mismatched, one the warm brown-green of his mother, the other a perfect copy of the eyes of the Queen.

Jareth closed his eyes and gave himself up to a dreamless, exhausted sleep, not even bothering to bind the wound on his arm, still painting the floor red. It wouldn't kill him anyway, but he had no idea why that should be a blessing or a comfort...

The sun was steadily rising over the Labyrinth, bathing the land in a warm golden glow that snuck its way around the window shades and into Sarah's room. Jareth had taken her comfortingly in his arms and they sat together, still and calm, drawing on each other's strength. He moved to stroke her lustrous hair, but as he did so, his loosened sleeve fell below his forearm. Jareth grew tense as he saw her notice the scar and she gently grasped his hand, turning it to expose the ancient wound even further. He suppressed a shiver as she bent her head and tenderly fingered the once ragged welt, now a thick cord of healed flesh, "How did you get this?"

Jareth heard his voice grow distant, "I...I can't really remember...I think she gave it to me after I was bound to the Labyrinth. I don't remember...I don't remember exactly how it happened..." He tried to shake the familiar confusion from his mind that always came over him when he tried to remember that day.

Sarah looked up at him, concern filling her gaze as she placed a hand against his cheek and he met her eyes. He wanted to drown in them, to forget everything he could remember when she finally gently entreated, "Jareth, tell me...please?"

There was no way around it now. Jareth told her.

The Way Back

A Labyrinth Story
by atsuibelulah

Part 17 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>