Chapter four: Return to the Underground
Sarah let go of the Goblin King's hand and looked around her in amazement. They had appeared in a great entrance hall that Sarah guessed could easily hold an army. The walls were lined with grand torches set about eight feet off the ground. Huge banners hung down from beams that went across the ceiling. Each had a different color and design. Some looked like family crests, others resembled tapestries with scenes depicted, others were just colorful patterns. Behind her stood the immense oak doors that led outside, in front of her were several doors of various degrees of decoration on either side of the hall starting twenty feet down. At the very end of the hall was an archway that opened into a room that Sarah couldn't quite make out. Also much to her surprise, everything was spotless. The gray of the stone was sharp and cool, but not dusty or grimy. The wood of the doors had a definite polish to it, the banners were each bright and pressed. The torches flamed brightly and cleanly, and without smoke. This hall hadn't been there when she had last entered the castle. Nothing was as it had been the last time.
Finally, she turned to find the king watching her intently. He was undeniably pleased with her reaction.
"Allow me to welcome you back Underground, Sarah," the king announced to her, choosing at the last minute not to refer to the Underground as Sarah's home.
"Where are we?" Sarah asked, annoyed when her voice came out sounding breathless.
The Goblin King smiled indulgently, "We are at my castle, of course. This is the Great Hall."
"I don't remember it from the last time."
"No," the king agreed, "I don't suppose you would. You'll find that everything has changed, Sarah. I am no longer living up to your expectations, nor is the rest of my kingdom. You'll find things as they truly are this time."
"You mean the castle normally looks like this….I just imagined that mess?"
The man beside her nodded, "Exactly," he said with some distaste at remembering the squalor she thought he lived in.
Brushing aside the lingering bitter feelings, he clapped his hands and a servant appeared. Sarah examined her as closely as she dared without being impolite and found her to look very much like a human. She couldn't help the smirk as she thought that maybe the king beside her was the only one who felt the need for such theatrical dress, for that was one thing that hadn't changed in six months. Noticing the smirk, but letting it go, the king turned to the girl,
"Have Sarah's things taken to her chambers immediately."
"Yes, Sire," she replied softly with a deep bow.
"Are there fresh linens on the bed?"
"Of course, Your Majesty."
The king nodded in approval, "Very well. Have them turned down and the fires prepared for the night. It is late and Sarah would appreciate some sleep."
"Yes, Sire. Will that be all?"
"Yes, that is all," he dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
With the gesture, he sent the maid and Sarah's suitcases to her rooms.
"Shall we?" he asked Sarah, offering his elbow.
Sarah scrutinized him for a moment, but, seeing no other options, she shifted Mo to one arm, with some difficulty as he was squirming, and took the Goblin King's elbow.
"Who was that?" she asked after they had been walking for a few moments.
"That was one of your maids."
"One of my maids?" Sarah questioned, incredulous.
"Of course," the Goblin King said with some amusement, "Did you think I would keep you in the dungeons, Sarah?"
At her apprehensive look, he shook his head.
"You have your own quarters, which I'm certain will be to your liking, as well as your own servants."
The king looked at her, reading her eyes for any hint of understanding. He found none. Sighing, he looked straight ahead of him.
"Come, Sarah, the hour is late."
Nothing else was said.
After a few moments of the uncomfortable silence, Sarah realized that the king wasn't going to speak to her. Sighing quietly, Sarah turned her attention to her surroundings, taking them in with wide eyes and trying to commit them to memory. At the end of the Great Hall was the huge archway that Sarah had seen earlier. It opened up immediately into an immense circular room. Moonlight poured in from several large, high windows, each in the shape of a semi-circle. Directly ahead of her was the main staircase which had about twenty wide, flat stone steps leading straight up. At the top of the staircase, there was an ornate set of oak doors, one half of which was open. Inside, well-dressed creatures, resembling people as the maid had, milled about, each on a different task. A window, in just the shape one would imagine for a castle, was at one end of the room, with a sill that looked wide enough to sit on comfortably. Unfortunately, the doorway provided only a limited view and Sarah could see no more of the room. On either side of the door was another set of staircases, not so wide as the main set, one leading to the left, and the other to the right. Once on the next level, each had an open walkway, decorated with a rail that was made of some metal, molded into decorative twists and scrolls. After about thirty feet or so, the open walkway disappeared into a hallway. But perhaps the crowning piece of this circular room was the carpet that she and the king approached now. It was a giant thing, perfectly round in shape, and obviously hand woven. On it was a picture of the Labyrinth in spectacular detail, though not close enough to reveal a way to beat it. The sky in the rug was a clear night sky spotted with stars, the stone walls of the maze were brown, but clean. The rug seemed to shimmer with magic, and Sarah gasped as she noticed some of the paths depicted on the carpet change. She was loath to step on it, but the Goblin King seemed not to notice as he led her straight down the center of it towards the main stairs. The carpet felt soft under her shoes, almost spongy, and Sarah was tempted to feel it under her bare feet. The king led her up the main stairs and headed towards the staircase on the left. Sarah tried to snatch a closer view of the room she had been peeking at before, but she couldn't see through her escort. As they walked over the open walkway, Sarah stole a glance a the back and sides of the room she couldn't see before. There were several other doors, some open and some closed. Some doors led directly to staircases. Some were rooms, and others were halls. Creatures dressed like servants scurried about on different missions, and others, dressed more richly, walked leisurely. Sarah also noticed a few finely dressed ladies walking about, always in groups of two or more. Some of the creatures looked human, others were a far cry from it. All in all, Sarah was fascinated.
Finally, after many more twists and turns, they reached a set of French doors and stopped. The wood of the doors was a shade lighter than the other doors Sarah had seen, and frosted glass semi-circle windows with intricate etching adorned the top fourth of the doors, too high to look out of. Sconces on either side of the doors held fat tallow candles surrounded by glass of the same frosting and etching as the windows of the doors. Still, they shed more than sufficient light to see by. Sarah guessed, with no real difficulty, it was done with magic, as were several other things she had witnessed on their journey: several windows in impossible places, for instance on the walls of inner rooms and hallways, that still managed to overlook the landscape; stairways that spiraled in dangerous directions and angles were surprisingly easy to walk on, but reminded Sarah of the Escher room; the smokeless torches of the Great Hall that were all around the castle; fireplaces lit solely for ornamental purposes, with no real heat and no need of a chimney; the great Labyrinth carpet that shimmered and changed as she had watched…all of these things were easy reminders that Sarah was nowhere near home. That thought, combined with the late hour and seemingly long journey to this door, had exhausted Sarah and she stifled a yawn as Mo shifted in her free arm After the kitten's initial attempt at freedom failed, he had fallen asleep almost immediately. Sarah jealously wished she could do the same. Somehow she knew that, even though she felt exhausted beyond reason, sleep wouldn't be easy to find.
"Here are your quarters, Sarah," the king's voice brought her out of her sleepy reverie, "Everything should be to your liking." With that, he reached to the glimmering sterling handle of one of the doors and ushered Sarah inside.
Her breath caught. When the Goblin King had talked of keeping her Underground, she had thought her room would be little more than dingy walls, a small barred window, and a flattened straw bed with a moth-eaten blanket for colder nights. Upon seeing how the castle truly appeared, and being relieved that the king wasn't leading her downwards towards where she assumed the dungeons would be, she had begun to think maybe she'd get a chair and table as well…maybe even some old books. When she saw the doors they had stopped in front of, she expected a quaint guest room, not too far from what one would expect Aboveground. But, nothing could have prepared her for this. The room was twice the size of what she expected it would be, and there was no sign of a bed anywhere.
Stepping in before the king, Sarah gazed around her, astonished. To her right was a table of a deep wood somewhere between a cherry and a mahogany with two small drawers each with a knob of a metal that looked silver, but shone brighter than any silver she had ever seen, molded into the shape of a rose. Just above the table hung a mirror, the frame of the same silver metal and molded into a pattern of vines, leaves, and rose buds spreading around the clear glass in an oval shape from a larger, intricate rose centered at the top. Her five suitcases were clustered around the table, but looked dreadfully out-of-place with the rest of the room. To the left, there was a large fireplace, the mantle of the same wood as the table, and carved into a pattern similar to the frame of the mirror and surpassing it in complexity. Above the mantle hung a sizeable picture of the Goblin Castle at night, the stars in the sky of the portrait actually twinkling with light.. Some of the windows of the castle were lit, others were dark, but that changed occasionally, giving the impression of life within. Because the portrait was done so close to the castle, and because it showed the top towers of the castle and sky, neither the Goblin City nor the rest of the Labyrinth was visible. Still, it looked majestic hanging over the mantle. Sitting on top of the mantle, among several other decorations and statuettes Sarah would have to examine later was an ornate clock made from what looked like platinum and crystal, the face of which gleamed rainbow colors like mother of pearl; the hour read twelve thirty…it was a thirteen hour clock.
Turning her eyes from the reminder of her first visit to the Labyrinth, Sarah took in the rest of her surroundings. The screen in front of the fire place was made of the silver metal, but it had been aged and formed by an artisan to look more like a garden trellis of roses. The entire fire place was sunk into the floor by a good eighteen inches, the sunken floor continuing outwards in a square to form a cozy sitting area. A lavish hearth rug of a deep pink and antique white pattern took up the center of the sunken floor, a low, wide, rectangular, wooden table that matched the mantle centered on the rug. Set around the table in a semi-circle formation were six chairs. Five of the chairs were the same in design, the closest which Sarah could use to describe them would be Queen Ann. The wood of the chairs was still the same dark wood, curved gently to look as much a piece of art as a chair. The fabric of the seats was an antique white with a deep pink rose pattern that had the potential to look horrid if used incorrectly, but which looked beautiful in theme of the room. The sixth chair was the center of the others, and sat directly across from the fireplace. Instead of the Queen Ann style, this chair was closer to a wingback chair, though not quite the same. The chair was still mostly wood, but was wider and taller and deeper than the others and the seat was more plush. The chair also had wooden arms whereas the others did not. Running continuously along the border of the sunken floor was a low, broad stone step to lead to the rest of the room.
Looking passed the sitting area, Sarah took in the rest of the room. Further towards the back of the room was a chaise lounge with a comfortable matching table. The upholstery of the chair and the wood of the table, of course, matched the theme of the room. Another comfortable looking armchair sat in the same small area as the chaise, a wicker basket set between the two. From what Sarah could tell, it appeared to be a sewing basket. A small circular rug, almost like a throw rug, sat in the middle of the small area. Set behind the chaise, along the wall, was a small bookshelf. While not bursting with books, it did have a good number, the rest of the blank spaces crying out for Sarah's personal touch.
Opposite of the bookshelf and the chaise was a sophisticated writing table and a matching chair of the almost Queen Ann design. A sterling pen sat in a mahogany holder, next to a well of black ink. Stationary the color of parchment, though sturdier looking, was set in a decorative tray. The table had five drawers, two small one on either side and a longer one in the center. Along the same wall as the writing table, but farther down, was a door that had been left slightly ajar. From the little of the room that Sarah could see, it appeared to be a small powder room. Her gaze moved on.
Along the back wall was another set of double doors, these without any glass, and also left open. Beyond them, Sarah could see a massive bedroom, almost as large as the room she was in now. Moving on, Sarah scanned the rest of the room, finding another door on the left wall, flanked by two windows of a good size. Though neither window had glass, Sarah could tell there was no draft from the outside night breeze. This smaller door was also open, and led out onto a balcony, but, beyond that, Sarah couldn't see. Ornate sconces on the walls and tall silver stands and braziers in the corners of the room, and one large one by the chaise were the only lights besides the fire place, but the room was incredibly well lit, and had a soft scent that Sarah couldn't quite figure out. Following the left wall along, Sarah finally ran into the bookcase again and realized she had at last seen the entire room.
Her attention turned back to the king. He appeared amused with her stunned expression.
"Do you like it?" he asked humorously, already knowing her answer.
It took Sarah a moment to find her voice,
"This is my room?" she finally asked breathlessly, her grip on Mo loosening enough to give the cat a chance to jump down, which he gladly took.
The king smiled wider, "This is your receiving chamber, yes."
He pointed to the door on the right wall, "That is a powder room for any guests you may have," he pointed to the double doors on the back wall, "That leads to your bedchamber, dressing chamber, another balcony, and a bathing chamber," he pointed to the door on the left wall, "And that leads to a small balcony. Both have their own set of stairs," he finished.
"Stairs? Leading to what?" she asked, hardly daring to breathe. This had not been what she expected.
"To your garden, of course. It has been sectioned off from the rest of the courtyard and gardens and you may do with it what you wish," he explained in a manner that said he was speaking an obvious truth.
"I - I don't understand," Sarah said quietly, she found herself actually trembling.
"What don't you understand?" the king asked gently.
For a moment, Sarah said nothing as she looked around her again. Finally, she looked back at the king,
"Everything!" she finally exploded. "I don't understand anything! I don't understand why you gave me these rooms, I don't understand why you gave me my own garden, I don't understand why you gave me my own servants, I don't understand why you let me have Mo here, I don't understand why you want me here half of the year, I don't understand why you're being so gentle with me, I don't understand anything at all!"
The Goblin King blinked at her outburst, his only outward sign that he had heard her, then deigned to answer,
"There is much, little one, that you don't understand, much that you aren't expected to…not right away. I suggest that you don't try to figure everything out in one night. It is late, you should rest."
"You won't tell me anything," Sarah accused softly, her gaze narrowing on the king.
The Goblin King shook his head, "Not now, not tonight. Rest, child. We will speak in the morning."
She opened her mouth to speak again, but he raised a gloved finger and placed it over her lips, silencing her. For a breath, neither moved. Finally, he retracted his hand. Too surprised to say anything, and not sure exactly what she could say, Sarah only watched as he inclined his head to her, then left, shutting the doors behind him.
Sarah stood for a moment, dumbfounded. She gazed around the room again, half expecting all the grandeur to fade like an illusion, but, no, it was real. Stepping slowly further into the room, she walked to the table under the mirror, running her hand along the smooth, highly glossed wood. Firm, solid, sturdy, just like real wood. She raised her eyes and looked at the glass of the mirror, ignoring her own reflection. Touching the glass with light fingertips, she found that to be real as well. She regarded herself in the mirror, as if her reflection could provide the answers she desperately craved. But, the wide-eyed fifteen-year-old girl stared back at her, equally confused.
Occupied as she was with her reflection, Sarah never heard one of the well-oiled doors opening again, and shutting softly.
"Why are you not in bed yet, miss?" a voice said off to Sarah's right.
Startled by the voice, Sarah spun around with an audible gasp. Before her stood a stout woman, dressed plainly, but cleanly, gray hair wrapped into a bun and pulled tightly at the back of her head in a no-nonsense manner. But, her green eyes were kind, laugh lines adorning their corners, as well as the corners of her mouth. She stood, looking Sarah up and down with her hands on her generous hips.
"Well, come on then, we best get you ready to sleep, hadn't we?" she said after a moment of Sarah's silence.
She had a soft accent to her voice, English, but not the same as the Goblin King's…this one was more common.
"Who-who are you?" Sarah finally stuttered.
"Celia, your night maid," the plump woman replied kindly.
"Night maid?" Sarah echoed dumbly…was there such a thing?
"Gracious, did His Majesty not explain?" Celia gasped, hand dramatically over her heart.
Sarah frowned, her eyes clouded, "No, the king hasn't been rather forthcoming with any answers, I'm afraid."
"Well, then, Mistress, allow me to explain. In most royal households Underground, servants work in teams to serve a single person, either a guest, relative, personal friend, or…anybody else. You have several servants all dedicated to you by His Majesty. What is unusual about you is the we are all hand-picked by His Majesty. I'm your night maid. I'll be in to turn down your bed, and help prepare your room and yourself for sleep," Celia explained as she took Sarah's elbow and led her through the receiving chamber and into the bedroom.
The light in here was very dim and Sarah could only make out the outlines of the larger shapes in the room. Celia brought Sarah to the large bed and sat her on the edge. A moment later, a candle flared to life, illuminating Celia and a small area around her in a pale light.
"How come the other candles are so much brighter?" Sarah asked nonsensically.
She berated herself. All of the questions she wanted answers to and that one had to be the one that fell from her mouth.
Celia smiled, "It is time for sleep, that's why."
Nowhere near satisfied, Sarah decided to let the issue go. There was too much flying around in her head right now for her to focus on such a small thing.
"Have you any nightclothes, Mistress Sarah?" Celia asked as she moved about the room, lighting a few other candles.
Sarah's eyes glanced wherever the light flared, greedily trying to take in details. It took her a moment to answer.
"Oh, yes, in one of my suitcases."
Nodding, the old maid left back to the receiving chamber. A few moments later, she returned, somehow balancing all five of the suitcases. Sarah's eyes widened and she sprung up from the bed to help. Setting the cases down easily, Celia stopped Sarah with a sharp hand motion.
Seeing how taken aback her new mistress was, the woman smiled warmly, "What's the good of bein' a fae if you don't have at least a few little tricks?"
Sarah blinked, then finally broke into a small smile, "I still would have helped you, Celia."
The maid shook her head, "No you would not, Mistress Sarah. Not unless you wanted me in trouble."
"Trouble?" Sarah asked with wide-eyes.
"With His Majesty, of course," Celia said brightly.
She watched as the human girl's face clouded with suspicion and anger,
"That monster -!" she started, but Celia cut her off.
"Oh! Gracious, no! Not any real trouble! His Majesty wouldn't be so angered over anything trivial, Miss."
Slowly, after a pause, Sarah's face cleared, "If you're sure…"
"'Course I am, Mistress! I've been in service to this house my entire life. It's my family's tradition and honor to serve the king. I've married and raised my family within these walls. Do you think my family and I would dedicate our lives to a tyrant?"
Sarah mulled over the question for a moment. Celia certainly didn't look mistreated or forced to do anything. She looked happy…content. And certainly not the type to pledge service to a tyrant. Finally, she nodded in agreement. Celia looked relieved.
"Good, then. Sit down, Miss, while I look for your nightclothes," she instructed.
Sarah pointed to one of the cases, "I think they're in that one. Here, let me -"
She was cut off when Celia slapped her hand away, "I think not, Miss Sarah."
Sarah smiled as she retracted her hand, "Forgive me, Celia. I don't want to get you into 'trouble' with the mighty Goblin King," here she rolled her eyes, ignoring Celia's dour expression at her sarcasm, and continuing blithely on, "I am used to doing things for myself."
"Well, Mistress, you had best get used to having things done for you then, hadn't you?" Celia suggested with a laugh.
Smiling in acquiescence, Sarah made her way to sit back on the edge of the bed.