The Great Goblin
Prompt: Jareth is trapped (?) in a different form (owl form is fine, though it might be interesting if he was stuck as something silly or as a goblin). How and why, and how Sarah breaks the spell on him is up to the author.
Summary: A mysterious Orb throws Jareth and Sarah far, far back into a (rather surprising) past. Crossover with 'The Hobbit', plot devices yanked from the classic TOS/DS9 Star Trek crossover episode, 'Trials and Tribble-ations'. Crack!fic, un-betaed and hastily cobbled together, with my deepest apologies to the recipient for this very loose interpretation of the prompt.
Written for knifeedgefic in the 2012/13 Labyrinth fic exchange on LJ.
Sarah sat in the darkest corner of the centuries-old pub, nursing her half-empty pint under great oaken rafters soot-blackened and almost petrified by time. It was warm inside, and outside it was sleeting and bitterly cold; she had learned to be grateful for small mercies in the years since leaving home.
This was not the way she had imagined herself visiting Oxford.
The smell of ozone and the low, subliminal hum of great, contained power drew her from her reverie. "Good evening, sweet Sarah," a low, musical voice drawled.
"Jareth," she breathed, shaken as always by his presence. He sank down with sleek grace into the chair across from her, flicked out the crisp falls of lace from his wrists, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to dress in silks and velvets in a modern-day pub.
Ten years ago she had stood before this – this being – and refused him. She still dreamed of that long night sometimes, remembering the expression on his face: cruel, vivid, and so terribly, terribly ironic. She was damned sure that Jareth had not forgotten either.
"Where have you been?" she asked, her tone sharper than she intended.
"Here," he said lightly, "and there. Oh come," he drawled, coaxing, when she scowled, "I came as soon as I received your message."
"The message that I sent six weeks ago?" She frowned, but in the face of his ironic, impenetrable smile was forced to concede defeat. Jareth was what he was, and there was no changing him.
"On my last job," she said instead, "Lady Greymantle gave me this in payment." She pulled a heavy cloth-wrapped ball out of her duffle bag and placed it between them on the table, unravelling the cloth to reveal a perfectly round, clear crystal – not one of Jareth's frail, ethereal creations, but a heavy, solid ball.
"Oh," Jareth said involuntarily, drawing in his breath. He reached out and caressed the surface delicately, his fingertips trembling. At his touch, a spark awoke in the depths of the orb, and it began to glow, pale and dim at first, but stronger and more fierce the longer his fingers remained. "An Orb," he whispered, his eyes hooded and unreadable, his voice filled with some complex, unspoken longing.
"What does it do?" Sarah asked, ever practical, though some small part of her imagination thrilled, as ever, to wonder and magic.
"Well, there's only one way to find out," Jareth said, and put his whole hand on the Orb – suddenly it flared into a great, blinding light.
When their vision finally returned, they stood inside a great cavern, the weight of ancient stone pressing down upon them, rickety wooden bridges and crude scaffolding spanning the vast depths of an underground chasm filled with the sound of a thousand chittering goblin voices. But these were not the goblins she knew and was familiar with – fuzzy and gleefully wicked – these goblins were twisted and ugly and malevolent, and their teeth and claws were sharp and stained with blood.
Down, down in the centre of the cavern, seated on a throne of bones and skulls, was a huge goblin, his scaly skin criss-crossed with the scars of a thousand challenges, his gross belly swollen, and his bulging eyes, for all his ugliness, were sharp, and cunning, and fiercely intelligent. He wore a crown of bleached white finger-bones, and a necklace of teeth around his muscular neck.
"Who is that?" Sarah breathed, crouching low on their little outcropping, trying not to draw attention to herself or her companion.
"That," Jareth drawled, sardonic as ever, "is the Goblin King."
"What?" she hissed. "Surely that's not –"
Beside her, she heard his soundless laugh. "No, Sarah, that is not me – and yes, this is my true appearance, in case you were wondering."
Sarah winced, then blushed fiery red. The rumours surrounding the notorious, enigmatic Goblin King were the stuff of whispered firelit tales in the half-world, the shifting, uncertain borders between the 'real' world and the otherworld. Jareth was notorious even among a people known for their cruelty and caprice; there were countless tales regarding what manner of being he was, his origins, his capabilities, his proclivities and so on and so forth, from the entirely plausible to the highly salacious to the utterly ridiculous.
"So you're not –" she gestured helplessly towards the gross creature on the throne, could not bear to meet his eyes, knowing the laughter she would see there.
"No," Jareth said, laughing, damn him. "But," he cocked his head, paused, "I think… Yes, I think I know what your Orb's power is now."
Down in the cavern, there was a stirring, a rising wave of chittering excitement. From one of the tunnels that led deeper into the darkness came the sound of stamping feet and shrill, grating voices; the goblins had begun to sing, the chanted words echoing in the great stone cavern.
Clap! Snap! The black crack!
Grip! Grab! Pinch! Nab!
And down, down to Goblin town you go, my lad!
Clash! Crash! Crush! Smash!
Hammer and tongs! Knocker and gongs!
Pound, pound far Underground, hoho my lad!
Swish! Smash! Whip! Clack!
Batter and beat! Yammer and Bleat!
Work, work, nor dare to shirk
While goblins quaff and goblins laugh
Round and round far Underground below, my lad! (1)
A group of perhaps twenty or thirty goblins dragged a struggling, spitting captive through the thronging crowd, cursing and jeering at his resistance; when they threw him to his knees before the Goblin King, Sarah stared in undisguised astonishment – it was a boy, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, with flyaway white-fair hair.
Jareth drew in his breath.
But before she could finish, the bright light swallowed them, darkness came down, and then they were once more seated in the cozy corner of an Oxford pub, Sarah's half-empty pint still before them on the table.
Jareth still had his hand on the Orb, frowning down at it. He did not speak for several long moments. The familiar bustle and hum of the crowd enfolded them, warm and damp and reassuringly human, and outside she could hear the soft hissing of rain and sleet. It seemed very far from that ancient stone cavern, with its cruel, grotesque inhabitants and the young white-haired boy. But Jareth, she thought, was still back there…reliving whatever it was that had happened next.
"Jareth," she said, prompting him, trying to draw him out. He did not answer.
"Jareth," she tried again, this time putting her hand over his, where it rested on the hard glass material of the Orb. The touch of flesh on flesh was enough; it drew him from his reverie, and he looked up at her with a blank, absent look. Then he shook his head, and resolutely pushed the Orb aside.
"It would take more power than I dared," he said, pensively.
Their hands were still entwined. Sarah looked down at the contrast between them; her own hand human-lined, slightly tanned, cold-chafed, while his was luminous white, his fingers long and elegant – no chafing or callouses for Jareth, the mysterious Goblin King.
She coughed, tried to draw her hand away. He would not let her. "So…that boy?" she began.
He looked up at her, and she actually saw the laughter dawn in his mismatched eyes, his ironic composure returning. "Yes, Sarah," he said, his voice light and teasing once more. "That was me."
He finally released her hand, leaned back in his chair, flicked out his lace ruffles with hateful nonchalance. "It took some years, but once I was finally rid of the previous Goblin King, I was able to turn their focus to better use than malevolent cruelty. I took them from their mountains back to the Underground, where they helped me build my Labyrinth; they're really quite clever with their hands, you know, and delight in wheels and engines and explosions." (2)
"I see they still delight in dancing and singing," she could not help but remark.
He grinned, showing off his sharp white teeth, humour underlain with something far, far darker. "Well. I could not strip everything from them."
(1) From 'The Hobbit', Ch 4 – Over Hill and Under Hill. I don't have a paper copy, only the audiobook, so I can't give page numbers, and if I have copied the song incorrectly, my apologies.
(2) paraphrased from 'The Hobbit', Ch 4.