To Take Back the Child

By Eerie

Chapter Six: Lesson One

It was well before noon that Toby awoke and made himself ready for the day. The sun floated just above the horizon in hues of scorching scarlet and orange, gifting the morning skies with an otherworldly touch. Birds and beasts twittered and cried out within the dense forests that bordered Jareth's kingdom, filling with life the world that had narrowed considerably for Toby in the last few weeks. To anyone else, the sky would have appeared bizarre, unnatural, but to him it was steadily becoming normal.

He paced about the room to kill time, occasionally toying with random objects before tossing them aside in boredom. As much as he would have rather denied it, he was excited for the events that would come that afternoon, but also a bit fearful. There came the notion of carrying the mysterious blade with him, but something persuaded him to decide otherwise. Confident that the goblins would not come to take the bed linens to wash that day, as such hindrances only got done if he asked them incessantly, he tucked the dagger again between his pillow and its case.

Once the clock upon the wall struck half past eleven, the blonde decided to head toward Jareth's throne room, though it would only take him ten minutes to get there. The stone stairs carried him down to the narrow hall that would lead to one of the main corridors that veined the castle. Every niche of the windowless walls and ceiling seemed to mirror the colors of the morning's gory birth, and no candles were lit to provide such lighting. Toby refused to wonder at this, for doing so was rather pointless anymore. He was coming to the point where he wasn't so sure the ground beneath his feet was actually real or just a product of Jareth's magic. Whatever the case, he still remained confident that snow really did fall in the Labyrinth . . . at some point. Certainly even the most illogical of places had their seasons.

Jareth was seated in his uncompromised royalty upon the throne when Toby entered. The king seemed to perk at the presence of his new pupil, and he straightened his head from its relaxed position against his fist. That hand lifted and curled to beckon Toby near.

"Excellent. You afforded me no time to grow weary of waiting," the King of Goblins said contentedly. "Ah, and you look marvelous as well."

Toby approached when heeded, sparing a skeptical glance down at the outfit he had chosen. It was all black, simple but tasteful, and served to make his pale skin appear more ghostly beneath. "It's nothing really," he claimed, stepping into the shallow ring in the floor to kneel down before the throne, placing himself as low as possible to the lord of the castle. Deciding to avoid Jareth's eyes until given permission, Toby didn't need to see to know that Jareth was largely pleased with this display.

"Lift your head."

Toby did so, and watched as the king rose and began a slow descent. Jareth fixed long fingers at his throat to hook the clasp of a rich sanguine cape that had previously been lopped carelessly over his shoulders. He wore matching red gloves that gradually darkened to black once they reached his elbows, where a spike of black vinyl curved both elegantly and maliciously away from each arm toward his shoulders like misplaced talons. His tall boots were of the same material, and also claimed similar pointed appendages, thought they descended down the sides like floating ribs. The shirt he wore was of decadent cream; its jabot lay sliced through the middle to allow the finely built chest beneath to appear nearly stark white against the rich colors.

If anything, Toby thought fleetingly, he's the one who looks amazing.

When Jareth suddenly grinned, Toby looked abashed to the floor. The Goblin King had crossed the distance to stand in front of the mortal before extending a hand that displayed a fine sapphire that was, in all likelihood, as ancient as it was priceless. Toby looked at it long enough to estimate this before reaching out and squeezing the hand to aid in pulling himself up.

Jareth's right hand was a blur the next moment as it sliced through the air and connected hard with Toby's cheek, throwing the youth back down on his knees in complete surprise. Toby instinctively pressed a tender palm to his stinging face and looked wild-eyed at the man who slapped him, wondering what the hell just happened. The softness of the glove had hardly softened the blow.

Jareth's gaze was remarkably humorless, but also not quite angry. "I offered you no assistance. You hardly need it for something as trite as getting to your feet." He paused to consider something. "Surely you know that we are not equals . . . but, if not, you would be wise to remember it from now on." His steady voice matched his expression.

Still holding his cheek, Toby cried, "Then what did you offer me your hand for?"

One elegant eyebrow arched. "For you to pledge me your loyalty, of course."

Toby didn't know what in the world Jareth was talking about, and was beginning to think the older man might be insane, until a blue glimmer caught his eye from the king's left hand. He grasped the idea then, feeling foolish for not understanding in the first place. But that didn't mean he was fond of this idea either.

Meekly, he held his hand out palm up to take the king's fingers, which were gracefully given to him. With closed eyes, Toby pressed a soft kiss upon the glittering jewel before releasing Jareth's hand and forcing his head down in a show of submission.

"Excellent. Now rise and come with me," the king said and turned abruptly on his heel without waiting to see if Toby had obeyed his order or not.

Saying nothing, the youth stood and followed. The king's great cape trailed along the floor before him like a flowing pool of blood, and Toby had to mind his steps to avoid accidentally treading on it. He didn't even allow a second's worth of imagination as to how Jareth would react to something like that.

While he followed the slithering crimson cloak, he gingerly touched his stinging cheek. He could feel blood cling to the wound hotly behind his skin and wondered if he would be sporting an impressive bruise the next day. He had just barely formed a disappointed scowl before noticing that Jareth was steering them straight into a wall. But before even a sound of confusion could form in his throat, the wall shook gently, but firmly enough to drop a spray of dust and specks of rubble to the floor.

A door had lifted; beyond, nothing but darkness. Toby peered disapprovingly over his guide's shoulder, suddenly wishing he had never even wakened this morning. But meager relief wasn't far behind, though only in the form of a few candelabras igniting upon his and the king's entry. It afforded him an opportunity to study what he assumed was his new "classroom".

The room was cylindrical in shape, like the inside of a tower. A table and set of chairs sat in the center of the circle and four candelabrums glowed at each side of the room as if to mark the four directions. Cracked stone steps spiraled up along the wall, which was practically made of books; hundreds of shelves were embedded all around and seemed to continue up to the tower's full height.

Toby's eyes followed the shelves loaded with books, unaware that he was slowly spinning around to take in the visuals closing in on him. Straight above, he could see that the tower burdened no ceiling, and that a brilliantly starry night was currently spilling its sliver light into the study, despite the fact that it was midday. He stared at the moon, wondering if he had ever seen it so clearly before in his life.

"Now," the king's voice broke in after giving Toby a moment for gaping, "we'll begin."

Jareth edged around the opposite side of the table before swirling around to seat himself, throwing his ruby cape aside with flourish. Tossing his blonde hair from his eyes, he gestured the boy to also take a seat.

Toby nodded once, seating himself across from his elder, doing his best to avoid the mismatched eyes that seemed to glitter predatorily in candlelight. Instead he rotated his neck to try once again to fathom the number of books crowding the room. Jareth was watching him silently as he did this, he knew, but for whatever reason he just did not want to instigate their next exchange of words. And the more he watched the King of Goblins from the edge of his vision, the more he saw those eyes of a stormy sea transform to the golden fire of a panther waiting to spring from a thick clot of dark bushes and cruelly devour its defenseless prey. Or was he only imagining that?

With a deep breath, he finally glanced at Jareth, who was not even looking at him, but nimbly selecting a book from a pile of dusty volumes resting on the edge of the table. Toby simply stared at the king, feeling quite uncomfortable in that suddenly cramped, moon-dampened room, not quite sure of what his eyes were showing him anymore.

Then Jareth looked up, a small smile dressing his lips. He opened the thick book that he had chosen after blowing a cloud of white dust from the cover. Once a desirable page was found, he placed the book in front of Toby and ordered the youth to read it.

Toby began to read silently as he was told. In truth, he was curious to know what it was that the King of Goblins had wanted him to learn, and soon his full concentration was fixed upon the text. An introduction on some widely accepted history and the concepts of various types of magic passed over his eyes.

As he smoothed a finger down behind a page to turn it, he happened to glance at Jareth, who was reading a book as well. The expression he had seen on the man's face the night before seemed to linger like a ghost over his features now, and Toby thought about the strange journal. He wondered if perhaps, since he was now officially Jareth's underling, he could acquire some additional information on the cryptic writings. If it had anything to do with history or magic then it shouldn't be an unreasonable request, should it?

Chewing his lower lip for a moment, he braved to break the silence. "Sire?"

Jareth's eyes blinked languidly and moved up to gaze at the mortal from the edge of his book. "What is it?"

The youth suddenly regretted attaining the man's attention. But he awkwardly continued. "Um, about that book that you had last night, well, I was wondering if maybe you could—"

"That has nothing to do with the task at hand for today," the Goblin King interrupted. "Nor does it have anything to do with you at all. I am pleased that you learned a new language as quickly as you have, but the content of that particular text is meaningless. You would do well to forget it. Now, resume your lesson."

Was he angry? Toby sat still, slightly taken aback at the lecture-like quality of the king's sudden reply. He stared blankly at the page for a moment, wondering why Jareth would want to dissuade him from taking an interest in the journal. What kind of secret did it really hold? But he didn't have long to muse before he felt his tutor's stony gaze upon him and he began to move his eyes.

Toby continued on silently for what seemed like hours. It was interesting, but the more he read and the more pages he turned, the more it seemed that his eyelids were becoming heavier.

Pausing to rest his eyes, Toby looked at the midnight sky above. Where he had expected to find that oddly defined moon he saw instead what he assumed was Saturn in a bed of stars. Its elliptical rings were fine like glittering dust, and he had to squint to make them out clearly. It was beautiful.

Relaxing his shoulders, he allowed his lids to slip closed against the universe, suddenly feeling very far away and incredibly sleepy. How late was it? Reopening his eyes, he glanced at the Goblin King, who was immersed in his own reading. The beginners' book was still open where he had left it beneath him, and he gathered his will to continue on. Toby dropped his chin and skimmed the page to find where he had left off. But before he could finish the page, his determination faltered and sleep claimed him.

Toby awoke violently, drenched in cold sweat. The air around him was freezing as if it were the dead of night in the middle of winter. It was quiet and nothing stirred the frigid air except the steam of his panicked breathing. He was prone, and it seemed that his very skin was steaming as well. He pulled the sheet up around him, realizing with a start that he was not in his own room. He whipped his head about to determine his location, slowly realizing in the darkness that he was in Jareth's bedchamber. Not only that, but in Jareth's bed.

Fright ran its brittle fingernails up his spine as the door to the room opened and the immaculate king of his nightmares entered, staring directly at him while slowly approaching. The man was shedding his clothes with each step, a look of hunger glowing brighter in those eyes as the room became colder and colder.

He couldn't move a muscle, though he wasn't certain whether it was from cold or fear. Jareth hadn't hesitated, hadn't given him a second to react before descending and devouring his mouth. The man's weight was upon him, the naked skin pressing against him consuming the wisps of steam rising from his own body despite his terrible chill. He wanted to push the man away and escape, but he was so completely helpless that he couldn't even protest with his voice. He tried and felt nothing. Perhaps Jareth had swallowed it.

Arms circled around his back and heaved him into a more embarrassingly submissive position, and the weight of the body above him fell between his legs. It was almost crushing, but beneath that unwanted force he felt heat returning to his stiff limbs, gradually melting sensation into him like sunlight on snow. Yet the king's mouth was sucking his energy and will, tasting the terror at the edges of his lips. He hadn't realized how much all this actually affected him until something brushed fully against his length, forcing the breath to break in his throat. The sensation came again and again, and he shut his eyes against the world for lack of a logical reaction.

Then without warning, he was impaled. His eyes flew open and he dropped his jawbone to scream, but no sound emerged. Jareth was grinning down at him like a mad cat, thrusting without concern. He squeezed his eyes shut against the vision, his only impulse to shed tears over the assault since his body wouldn't move. But tears could not be summoned, so he strained to simply, numbly endure.

Suddenly it seemed that his limbs belonged to those of another, or perhaps a marionette, for he very distinctly knew that he did not command his arms up around the king's neck. Nor did he want to curl his legs around the man's lower back. He tried to thrash his head in some gesture of denial and shock over what was happening, but instead his face lifted and found the ravishing lips of his seducer.

What was happening to him? Why did he feel that with every second of warmth received to thaw his chilled bones he lost a bit of his free will? His nerves were working fine, but for some reason he felt no pain at all. No, he was horrified to find that he was enjoying this.

He wanted to scream, to kick and draw blood. But his legs only clutched the body driving into him closer, deeper. It was unlike anything he had ever felt, like nothing his mind had even dared to imagine. It drove him mad.

For whatever reason that provokes one to whirl around at some unseen presence, his eyes opened and sought the window. Against the black backdrop of night outside, delicate tufts of white snow were falling in a slow dance. He watched them for a while, finding not serenity, but agitation. There was . . . something important. Something he had forgotten but must remember.

But Jareth had lifted one of his arms away and begun to stroke it with kisses. He turned his eyes from the window and gazed on the king's skin that glowed with a white to rival the pureness of the snow. Whatever it was that he was supposed to remember was forgotten again.

Those feline eyes watched his over the flesh of his arm before subtle, almost pleasant pain began to spread across his body. But it intensified quickly. He watched with disbelief as Jareth's smile became visible, radiating with utter sadism. The delicate bone of his arm was being cracked, forced against its natural bend, before it broke with a hideous resounding snap...

Toby's body jerked and straightened itself to attention before his mind even comprehended it. The object that Jareth was grasping struck the table loudly again before he woke up completely and realized that he had fallen asleep on the thick book. He shook his head and rubbed at his ear in a hopeless attempt to ease the tingling that the sharp smack upon the table had inflicted.

"Pleasant nap?" the King of Goblins asked with a tinge of annoyance. He placed the object he was holding off to the side. "If you're quite rested now, recite chapter six, lesson one."

Toby couldn't help but look with wide eyes at what Jareth had been holding. He thought perhaps it had been a stick of some kind. It was a bone, human in nature, but it could possibly have been from a goblin as well. Maybe it had once belonged to some previous student who had failed his lessons. Toby flipped to the lesson and began to read aloud without really hearing the words that passed his lips. His concentration was mostly fixed on fighting the blush from his cheeks that arose in the memory of his humiliating dream, and he prayed Jareth wasn't currently reading his mind.

He was sure that an entire solar system had orbited within the view of the study tower's ceiling view by the time the lesson was declared as finished for the day. As Toby trailed tiredly behind his teacher, he knew that it was nightfall. His stomach ached at having had nothing to eat all day and for once he began to crave the goblins' poor cooking.

As they entered the throne room, Toby expected Jareth to throw himself across the throne while the youth asked for leave upon his knees. He was somewhat surprised when the king's path headed for the stairs that led to the dining hall. Toby stopped, unsure of what to do.

Having heard the steps that followed come to a halt, Jareth paused himself and turned to the boy. Seeing the child's hesitation, he leaned his head toward the stairway before beginning his descent.

Taking it as an obvious sign of beckoning, Toby followed the Goblin King down. He took a seat at Jareth's right after the lord of the castle sat, and realized that this was only the second time he had been here. Hopefully tonight would go better than the first.

Jareth poured them both wine, ordered the servant to bring another place setting, and commenced to review Toby on the day's learning. He listened to the boy's accurate replies, impressed that the child had remembered the majority of what he had read.

Toby decided that the only good food in the entire castle was made for Jareth alone. Though he was hungry enough to find even the blandest food a grand feast, it was nice to have a change.

Their glasses never empty, Toby felt his smiles forming with ease as the night wore on, and he was able to forget his recurrent stresses to enjoy a simple conversation. Jareth wasn't quite as scary as he usually was, and that in itself was a relief. He had even laughed on a few occasions. But during their brief yet comfortable silences, he would find himself studying the master of the Labyrinth without scrutiny or loathing. It was strange. The fleeting urge to touch the handsome man in some sensuous way that had overcome his mind one instance or two was lingering over him now, but it wasn't going away. Toby didn't like that at all.

Jareth emptied his glass and ran a careless hand through his hair. "Yes, I'm sure you think that apprenticeship is boring. But it's not all textbooks. There are a few things an amateur must know before moving on to spellwork. Perhaps, if you further prove your skill in learning, we can start even sooner. But for now, you need your rest. We'll start again in the morning."

The king stood, tossing his napkin onto the tabletop. He started toward the stairs and paused with a thought before turning back to the mortal.

Toby was stunned as the man reached out and touched his bruised cheek so softly he might not have even touched him at all. Then those long fingers slipped down beneath his chin and tilted his face up to meet the man's eyes.

". . . Did I hurt you?" Jareth asked in a tone that if insincere was spoken by a master liar.

The youth's lips fell apart slightly without his realizing it. But he didn't reply. He just stared at those strange blue eyes.

The Goblin King wasn't smiling at all when he bent to place a tender kiss on the bruise.

The touch of the man's lips was wintry cold and Toby shuddered so hard he was certain that Jareth felt it too. But he closed his eyes and endured the wave of desire that washed through him.

The king ignored this and moved away toward the stairs. "Goodnight."

Something resembling disappointment swam with the wine in Toby's veins. He turned to watch the man's retreating back and suddenly wanted to stall him. Without really meaning to he said, "Wait."

It was rude, in that it was more like a command aimed at a king skilled in the black arts. It might have been that one word that would have simply ended his life then and there if Jareth had been so inclined as to have taken it the wrong way. But the man stopped, looking back over his shoulder patiently.

Toby felt his face burning. What the hell was he planning on asking? He faltered. "Um, nevermind. Goodnight."

"Don't be late," Jareth replied with an amused smirk before disappearing up the steps.

Toby wanted to smack himself. He didn't know what in the world he wanted from the man at the moment, and the wine certainly gave him a little too much confidence for his own good. He should just get to bed immediately, forget the whole day. Besides, he had to be up in time for tomorrow's lessons.

He made his way back toward his quarters, finding that he was far drunker than he thought. Unfortunately, walking was more of a task than he thought it would be as well. He had to lean on the walls for support, scraping along them in hopes that he would end up where he was supposed to be.

As he turned a corner, he nearly tripped over a stray goblin. He stopped in his tracks with alarm.

"Oh! I'm sorry!" he cried.

The little creature twisted its lips far to the side in exaggerated consideration as it sized up the human. Then Toby recognized the goblin.

"It's you! I haven't seen you round in a while," he drawled and instantly plopped down on the floor. "But I really appreciated the soap and clothes you brought me back then."

The goblin snorted and stuck out its tongue in a look of revulsion.

The expression on the creature's face amused Toby so much that he burst into laughter. But the sound started the goblin and it turned to bolt.

"Nooo, waaaaiit!" the youth called, controlling his laughter just enough to breathe normally.

To his surprise, the wizened being obeyed and turned back to look with doubt at the boy.

Toby smiled a drunkenly lopsided smile. "Come back. Please?"

Making a sound of hesitation in its throat, the little goblin glared at the youth before sauntering a bit closer.

"Whether you like it or not, I'm givin' you a name," Toby declared. "We're friends, so you should have one."

The goblin looked around cautiously. Satisfied that those corridors were deserted but for themselves, it too sat down and mumbled something about the strangeness of humans under its breath.

Toby studied the creature. It must have been the alcohol, but the thing actually looked cute, like a small pet of some sort. "Hmmm, so what should it be?" He thought hard for a moment before an idea suddenly popped into his head. "I got it! What about Merlin?" He smiled at his suggestion. "That was my dog's name a long time ago."

"Mer-lin?" the goblin repeated with some effort.

"Yeah, and you kinda look like a Merlin," Toby said encouragingly.

"Mmm," the creature mused, staring at the boy in wonder before nodding curtly.

Laughing, Toby hugged the shocked little goblin.

"Why you do that?" it asked, obviously baffled by the action.

"'Cause, you're my friend, remember?"


"Of course. We live in the same castle, right? We should be friends."


Toby remembered his agreement with the lord of the castle and realized that it was getting very late. "Well Merlin, I need to get to bed. Gotta get up early and all."

"What for?"

"Your king is making me study a lot. What a drag, huh?"

The creature looked worried. "You read? Write?"

Toby frowned. "Sure. What's wrong with that?"

The goblin simply looked at Toby with a studious eye before glancing around again. It nodded once. "You be careful. You learn well."

Toby watched as the little goblin ambled down the hallway he had just traversed, too confused to say anything more. What did the creature mean? Oh well. It couldn't be of much importance.

Expelling a good deal of effort, Toby stood and continued his trek toward his room. Now that he thought about it, he was impressed with himself for having broken through the shell of at least one goblin. He wasn't sure how well they could be trusted, but if Merlin proved to be different from the others as he seemed, it would be worth the risk. Having an ally on the inside might just come in handy.

To be continued . . .

A/N: Hi again. Gra! I don't know what's with me . . . I'm wondering if I'm losing interest in this story. I do want to finish it, but I don't want it to be botched either. If you feel anything is sliding in this story at any point please let me know! Thank you everyone for reviewing the last chapter, too. If it weren't for all your encouraging comments I never would have gotten this far! {[sends love]}