My sincerest thanks to all who've reviewed, encouraged and patiently waited for another chapter.
Son of the Morning
The King, the wearer of a gilded chain That binds his soul to abjectness – Queen Mab (Percy Shelley)
Chapter 4 – Dal Riada
"The king rules at whim, and I am the king." Jareth leaned against the sill of one tower window and stared out at the Labyrinth's vast expanse of living hedgerow and rock wall. The maze stretched to the far horizon, falling into the vanishing point beneath a turbid yellow sky. His kingdom, yet not. The Labyrinth, more ancient than countable years, had spawned him in the fading dark, blessed him with the gifts of power and near-immortal life. Had made him almost human.
You are the heart of the world. Its fate, and yours, are bound together. Rule well. Rule wisely.
The soul of the world should not have made the heart even remotely human.
Jareth removed his right glove, revealing a slender, ivory-skinned hand. His long fingers fluttered gently, and suddenly a crystal sphere spun in the air before him. It slowed its rotation and finally stopped. Light winked off its curved surface, twirling rainbows in colorful ribbons over his nails. Within the orb, a face both beautiful and troubled took form.
His nemesis, his adversary, the fire in the heart of the world. He had taken the wrong child and brought about the advent of his own slavery. The ties that bound him were as gossamer as spider's web and stronger than cold iron.
She had changed. The young Sarah who'd navigated the Laybrinth's twists and turns, traps and pitfalls, with a single-minded resolve to retrieve her brother, was older and far more cynical. But still as stubborn, still proud. He had no doubt she'd think nothing of throwing her words at him again, words that had shifted the Laybrinth's power and diminished its king.
Jareth smiled a wolf's smile and brought forth another sphere. This one revealed a slumbering Sarah, resting on her side in a sterile bed. A dark-haired Sleeping Beauty awaiting the life-giving kiss of a savior prince. The world Above had forgotten the original and much darker version of the story—a tale of rape and deathless sleep, of murderous jealousy and infanticide. He wondered which version Sarah would subscribe to now? The girl who had seen her Laybrinth friends through innocent, enchanted eyes would embrace the first. But this Sarah? Maybe not. Older, wiser, infinitely stronger, he fancied she'd prefer the second. He didn't care for the dull practicality that had seeped into her personality over the years, but he was fascinated by her clarity, her willingness to face a darker reality and not turn away from it.
He wanted this Sarah, craved her. The will and reign of thousands of years had made him resolute. A decade and more of maturity had made her a worthy opponent. He would win her—for himself, for the Laybrinth. He would defeat her, despite her arsenal of words and her unrealized influence on the kingdom he ruled.
Jareth caressed the surface of both spheres with his fingers, imagining it was Sarah's fair skin beneath his touch, beneath him. Yielding, accepting in body and soul. His breathing sped up with his heartbeat. Within the spheres both Sarahs turned curious gazes on him. He could see their expressions, the acceptance that they were about to engage him in combat and a promise to him it wouldn't be an easy battle.
Her voice, multiplied twice, slid across his skin. He shuddered at its touch. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because, my Sarah, I want to. It is the king's desire."
"You aren't my king."
"Ah, but in your dreams, I am your lover." He laughed as both Sarahs blushed, and the one resting supine on the bed rose to a sitting position, obviously flustered. Jareth lowered his voice, infusing it with all the coaxing magic at his disposal. "Don't you want to know what it's truly like, Sarah? How it would feel?" The blood flowed hot in his veins. His erection made his clothes distinctly uncomfortable. He was aroused by his own words, by their possibilities. "I would love you, Sarah. Possess you, mount you, make you groan your pleasure and burn your pale dreams to ash."
Both Sarahs closed their eyes against his words. She then unleashed their strongest defense against them. "You have no pow…"
Jareth snarled, and the spheres exploded into a shower of crystal that fell around his feet. His hands curled into fists. "Soon enough I will erase that particular statement from your vocabulary, Sarah, even if I have to put you on your knees to do it."
He turned away from the window and strode to the door. It was unfortunate that he was limited in his abilities in the world Above, or he'd physically march her back to the Labyrinth, likely kicking and fighting the entire way. If temptation wouldn't bring her to him and force couldn't, then blackmail might. And he had no qualms about using it.
His eyes widened when he opened the door and discovered a visitor awaited him on the other side. Jareth stepped back, giving his guest a wide berth as it glided into the room on silent feet.
"Avatar," he said by way of greeting and nodded respectfully.
The Labyrinth, dressed in robes the color of blood, nodded in return and watched him with blind, white eyes. "I bring you fair warning." Its voice was the gathering of storm winds, hollow and whistling. The curtains surrounding his bed and those at the window fluttered upward like trapped birds. "The game you play is not yours alone. The mortal woman you seek to win or conquer will be the death of us if she defeats you twice. We will not allow this to happen."
Jareth's eyes narrowed, an expression guaranteed to send every goblin in a five mile radius running for cover. The avatar's skeletal features remained unchanged. "What are you saying?"
"You are the king, the heart of the world. But we are the body and mind. Sarah from Above has bound you in ways we never considered. Bind her in return or forget her willingly."
"I am working diligently on the first. I am incapable of the second."
The avatar bowed its head briefly in acknowledgement of his will and his weakness. "Then we wish you good fortune. For your sake and hers." Dread cut a bloody line down his spine. "We won't allow her the chance to prevail, Jareth. If we see you begin to fail, we will destroy Sarah."