A/N – Most Sarah-returns-to-the-Underground fics feature a character as either Jareth's closest companion or his second in command. Here, in a thinly disguised attempt to get the creative juices flowing, I present myversion ofthe first meeting of Jareth and Bran, his eventual second in command.
It is not necessary to have read my story'the Catalyst' to understand this.
Disclaimer – I don't own the Labyrinth. This story was written solely for enjoyment – and the overcoming of writer's block – and most definitely not for profit. Once again, I have borrowed the Borgia family and transported it to the Underground.
It was quiet, now, on the battlefield at Caer Leon. The battle had come to a bloody end when three quarters of Southfells' army broke and fled in disarray, Nevismouth's men following, baying in anticipation of the slaughter to come. Older and less bloodthirsty than most of the young men in Nevismouth's army, the man known as Bran had let them go, staying behind himself to finish off those who had held their line.
Within the hour, as the sinking sun stained the sky lurid, bloody crimson, he stood alone in a field of dead men.
A jingling of bit and bridle drew his attention.
"You do not rejoice in our victory?" Tall, bright and leonine, Cesare Borgia – Nevismouth's brother-in-law – sat well on his expensive warhorse, caparisoned in Borgia black and gold.
"I do not rejoice in war," Bran said flatly.
"Oh, come now, man," Borgia smiled, bright and deceptively false. "You find no joy in war, or wine, or even wenching – what does please you, then?"
A properly disciplined army.
A commander who treats this war with the seriousness it deserves.
An end to the madness that has engulfed us all…
"It pleases me to fulfill my duty," he finally said. "I desire nothing more than the chance to serve my lord –"
As Bran had known it would, the grimly honourable absolutism quickly bored Borgia. "Yes, yes," he interrupted hastily, "that is all very well. You will be richly rewarded for your assistance in this, our greatest victory." He gathered up his reins, easily controlling the restless, shifting horse – despite everything, the man had an excellent seat – and, nodding his head in magnificent condescension, made a swift escape. Bran watched him go, his eyes narrowed against the sunset, and then turned away to make his way back to the camp.
It began to rain.
By the time he reached Nevismouth's headquarters – a grand name for a shabby pavilion that had seen far better days – it was pouring down, and random flickers of lightning had turned into a genuine thunderstorm. Bran was soaked through and could not possibly get any wetter, and so he trudged slowly through the rain and the mud, his heart heavy and his mind dark. Almost a thousand years in exile, and it had come to this: petty wars for petty lords –
It had been a very long time since he had served a man of whom he could be proud.
"Captain!" A voice called. "Come in and celebrate with us."
He turned to see his men – a scruffy, unshaven, badly armoured group of rogues – grinning madly at him, beckoning him from the shelter of a canvas tent. Despite his despondency and bitterness he smiled, and moved forward to join them.
Soaking wet, curled into a pathetic, shivering ball, with at least one of his ribs broken and his right eye swollen shut, Jareth cursed himself for a shortsighted, impetuous fool. Trying to sneak through Nevismouth's lines was never the best of ideas, even had he not been half-starved – really, after displaying such appalling judgment, it was no wonder that he ended up in a situation such as this. Caught and accused of spying for Otto of Southfells, as if he had any real interest in this most petty of conflicts.
He would laugh, if his ribs didn't hurt so much.
"On your feet, spy," the guard said harshly, giving him an extra nudge with his boot just to make sure he was paying attention. "The captain's coming to see you. Get up off the bloody floor."
Moving as slowly and cautiously as he could, Jareth dragged himself up to his feet. His ribs shifted, sending a bolt of agony through him, and he barely bit back a groan. Slowly, he managed to stand up straight, clutching his torso; when the tent flap opened and a shadowy silhouette entered, he even managed to lift his head and muster a sickly, insolent grin.
"Well, well," said a cool, mocking voice. "What have you found, sergeant?"
The guard drew himself up as far as he could, puffing his chest up ridiculously. "A spy, sir! Found him trying to get through the lines."
"Indeed." Jareth listened in some interest. That was a cultured voice, a courtly voice – not, he would have thought, the voice of a mercenary captain. "Show me your spy, sergeant. Let us see what Southfells sends us…"
The light brightened, and Jareth fought not to wince. Slowly, the captain's face grew into something more than a blur – he was sidhe, and dark haired; Jareth squinted, but his eyes were too swollen for any clearer sight.
"Tell me, master spy," the captain said, "what is your name?"
Jareth laughed, then, wincing automatically and clutching at his ribs. "I am no spy," he managed to grind out. "And damned…" he panted, "if I'll give you my name." He cried out and fell to his knees as the sergeant smashed his spear butt into his kidneys.
The captain sighed. "Sergeant…"
"That is enough, thank you. I believe you have sufficiently subdued him – pray, leave us alone for a while. I doubt he will try anything in his state."
"Sir." Very promptly, the sergeant saluted and departed the tent, throwing Jareth a very eloquent look of warning. Still trying to recover his breath, he ignored it.
The captain lowered himself into a chair, stripped off his cloak and a pair of battered leather gloves. "And now we may speak in peace. –Sit down, master spy. You are high court sidhe; what are you doing so far from home?"
Jareth lowered himself down to sit on the ground. "I am an exile," he said simply. "I was trying to get to the river, and I had to get through your lines to do so. But I am not a spy."
The captain regarded him in silence for some time. "No, I don't think you are," he finally agreed. "No true spy would be so reckless, not unless he had a genuine death wish."
"Nevertheless," the other man continued, "I cannot let you go. I am still under contract to Nevismouth, distasteful though it may be, and so must detain you as a potential threat."
Jareth pondered the wording of that statement. "When does your contract run out?" he asked cautiously.
The captain smiled. "At dawn tomorrow."
There was a skin of indifferent wine on the battered field table. Bran watched the muddy, bedraggled outsider take a deep pull, saw him wince at the rough, barely aged vintage. Yes, this man was high court – it rang in his voice, which he tried unsuccessfully to disguise, and it was inherent in the lithe, careless arrogance with which he sat, although somewhat softened by the way he clutched his side and flinched every time he moved.
"Tell me," he said again. "What is your name?"
The tent was poorly lit, but he did not need much light to see the other man hesitate.
"You do not trust me?" he asked, ironically. But he was in a strange mood, tonight – no doubt that explained why he was even thinking of letting the stranger go.
"You have not given me reason to," the stranger answered. "Only the knowledge that your contract has not yet expired – which is no reassurance at all."
He laughed, reached out and took the wineskin for himself. The rough quality did not bother him – it had been centuries since he'd last tasted the glorious wines of the summer countries. "You do not think that you could prevail upon my better nature?"
He passed the wine back to the stranger who drank in turn. This time he did not react, merely closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the tent pole.
"I was considered charming once," the stranger conceded, smiling. "My tongue was like silver and, employed properly, could part even the primmest of maidens from their virtue."
"But I wanted more than the carefree, footloose existence of the youngest son. I wanted power of my own, and in the end I sought to take it."
Bran took another pull, intrigued despite himself by first the charming, light-hearted roguery, and then the more serious determination. "You failed, then?"
The stranger laughed. It occurred to Bran that he had been thin and haggard before even the guards had caught him, and then he had been severely beaten before being tossed at Bran's feet. The warmth of the brazier and the unmixed wine must have gone straight to his head.
"I failed. My father disowned me and the King exiled me – and so, once again, I set out to seek power of my own, but this time out in the wide world and not at the Summer Court. So far, it has not been successful…"
"No," Bran smiled. "No, it does not look it. I would advise you, my friend, not to seek your power anywhere near the Borgias either –"
"The Borgias? Black and Gold?" The stranger's voice was dreamy and a little slurred, now – his head lolled and he sprawled bonelessly, a prelude to exhaustion.
"I saw the nobleman on the magnificent horse – is he the reason you're leaving as soon as possible?"
Bran hesitated, impressed by his acumen. If he had deduced that much from what little he could have seen, in the rain through swollen eyes…
"Why did you fail in your bid for power?" he asked gently.
"Because…" there was a moment of silence, the stranger gathering his thoughts, "couldn't go through with it… couldn't kill him…" A long, almost regretful sigh, and a mumbled, almost intelligible phrase – and on that intriguing statement, he slumped to the ground, boneless, exhausted and completely drunk. Bran looked down at him for a long, thoughtful moment, wondering who he was and what he was truly doing here, and why, when he seemed so thoroughly determined to gain power, he had hesitated at the very last moment.
There were no answers forthcoming.
Shaking his head at his own folly, Bran picked up his cloak and laid it, as best he could, over the supine figure on the floor. And then, banking the glowing coals in the brazier, he sought his own rest.
He did not raise the alarm.
A/N – No Sarah, no romance, no angst. I hope that I haven't driven you all away… I'd love to hear your feedback about this fic. Next chapter –
"Where will you go?" Jareth asked, squinting in the blinding morning light.
The other man shrugged. "Out. Away. South, where the Mariner seeks troops to sail against Caenis' pirates, east, in the Summerlands, where at least it is warm and dry – does it matter? There is nowhere in this world free of war."
"They say there are untouched lands to the far west, beyond the Great Plain."
"The far west?" The captain laughed, his eyes old, tired and bitter. "There's nothing but wasteland and goblins, lad…"