This is another short story originally submitted to the Labyfic LJ community. I own nothing of Labyrinth and give all due credit to the the masterwork of Jim Henson. And Happy 20th Anniversary too!
A Heaven All My Own
There's a mortal saying that relates that something might be known as 'well as the back of my hand'. This has always seemed an odd thing to say. After all, have you ever looked at the back of your hand? I mean really looked, up close. Get a magnifying glass if you want. Skin is like a labyrinth, is it not? Skin absorbs, protects and shows the years of it's existence, just like my ancient Mistress has always done. Sometimes I watch the human runners stumble their way through the Labyrinth and think, this must be some cosmic joke that they wear on their very being the most intricate maze ever devised.
But I digress. I have not put quill to paper to bemoan my lack of humanity. I will ignore that unnatural white covering that encases my flesh, the hand that grips the feather completely devoid of even a single line. I am a clean slate, and ready always. The gloves protect that slate, you know, lest I Iose my identity for once and all.
I want to tell you about a finding I made once. Labyrinth was still young in those days, as was I. I had wandered her pathways and in an out of her traps. I had made myself known to the denizens and had won a begrudging respect and fealty from them. I knew my new world, as well as I might know the back of my hand. So I thought.
One day my feet found themselves on a different path. This was not an unusual thing, for Labyrinth is a vast place, but it had not happened for so many years that at first I thought I had committed a grave error, and actually forgotten something. Surely I had been here before? The path was green and soft under my bare feet. The grass was silken. Each tiny blade twisted and turned in invisible commune with it's neighbours. I could have spent a year lying flat upon the earth, entranced by them. But there was enough human in me back then to make my mind insist on following the path. At times I have watched humans with amusement as they wander blindly into danger, ignoring all those signs that so clearly say, go no further. But I was the King here, was I not? I had not experienced real fear for centuries.
I left the dancing blades and went onwards. The green path sloped upwards and around. I soon realised that it was circling a raised area, a small hill in the midst of a forest that I had thought to have traversed every inch of. Midway up the hill the path passed by a stone set into the earth. I stooped to sweep back the clinging moss. Strange markings there were. I should have been able to read them. Once, long ago, I could have. I could have etched those marks myself and known what they meant. I left the stone to be warmed by the morning sun.
The treetops grew closer as I climbed the mound. Thin wisps of mist clung to their branches. Multicoloured birds of the kind that flew no more in the Overlands, darted in and around, singing their melodies, yet none of them set foot to the tree that grew atop the hill.
It was little higher than a sapling. The branches, supple in the light breeze, were no wider than my fingers width. Pale bark enclosed a deep red wood. Long spindly roots twisted out from the trunk to disappear into the black earth. The leaves were wide and alluringly long, the veins running along them were of beaten gold. The sunlight worshipped this tree child, made her glow.
She was both a terror and a wonder to me, because I had seen her like before. Before my eyes stood Labyrinth herself, as she had been that first time I had ever known her. Of course, Labyrinth had not been her name then. I dared not speak that name, not then on that day, and neither will I record it here, for names have power you know. And I was unsure suddenly Did I want to her to wake or forever sleep?
Nevertheless, I was so convinced of her rebirth that I at once began a great manipulation of matter. Taller trees that surrounded her fell back before my hand so that she might have all the sunlight she needed. Water flowed uphill to bathe her sacred feet. Clouds formed in the sky to pass over and wash the dust from her limbs. A great stone altar I built with my bare hands on which I laid offerings; beautiful things, living things, my own blood.
Through all my ministrations to her, she remained silent. She did not answer my questions, but I was not surprised. She had never been one to unveil the truth to her followers. Images of the Sacred Grove flooded my mind. The scent of blood and fear and lust. The taste of death on my tongue, piercing my gut until all the world fell away.
I returned to the hill in the forest many times over many years. She grew well, and never swiftly as most else in the Labyrinth did. There came a time when her lowermost branches would have been out of my reach, had I dared enough to touch her.
Time passed. Labyrinth prospered. The mortal world flew by, like the landscape seen from a speeding train. An owl came to my window one morning. His yellow eyes conveyed his thoughts. Come and see, fae King! Through the air we flew, wingtip to wingtip. My talons longed to seek shelter in her branches, but left my owl form behind me as I descended on to the hill. At first, I could not discern what it was that I was supposed to be looking for. The Tree looked most the same as she had for many years. Peaceful and serene were her movements. Then the wind moved, and I saw it. A flower.
It was a tiny thing compared to her vastness, barely big enough to cover my palm. Five petals like snowflakes. It chilled me to look on the thing, for I knew well that flowers were not only the beginning but also the end of some things in this world. Nonetheless, I could not prevent my hand from reaching to caress the flower. The world tilted as my bare fingertips traced the curve of a petal. Voices, coarse human voices, screamed through my mind. Laughter. In agony, I buckled under the onslaught. Dimly I was aware of my own voice, screaming.
"Stop it stop it make it stop!". Images enslaved me.
A girl, running through long grass, laughing. Someone was chasing her! But she was not afraid, this girl. Catch me catch me, she sang. Her lover leapt after her, grasping her slender waist so carefully lest he bruise his prize. Together they rolled in the field. I felt her as he felt her. The musky scent of loveplay invaded me.
I was laying on the ground suddenly. The Tree waved her long branches idly above me. My hand where it had touched the flower stung fiercely, but more unsettling was the torrent of images that were fading just as my own senses returned.
I think I was properly angry as I climbed to my feet. I glared at Tree with all the ire I could manage, which wasn't much at all really since I was still strangely affected by the emotions I had witnessed. Love, lust, passion. Human traits, but not exclusive to them. I had felt them before, but why I had now wandered into human dreams I had no idea at all. Momentarily, I wondered if this was witch-work. That perhaps my natural mortal enemies had somehow found their way into Labyrinth to lay this trap for me.
I have never been what you would call 'quick to learn'. Of course, I touched the flower again.
Darkness now. Dim flicker of a banked fireplace. The old womans back ached with servitude, rough chapped hands and a heart bruised by ill manners and invisibility. Softly she carresses the feather pillow. Don't touch the children, don't wake them now. Grubby heads on pristine pillows. Don't lift them, don't press the softness into their faces, don't...
I felt blinded as I stumbled away down the hill. Taking to the air, I flew arrow like to my lair. I did not leave it for the longest time. I was sickened by the invasion of mortal dreams. To me they were like a gray stain on the Labyrinth - frail mortal desires both sweet and savage. Scenes from a world and a life I had left behind and wanted no part of. Others who lived in the Labyrinth came to me, wondering, but I had no answers for them. I strengthened the magical wards that kept us safe, I doubed and tripled the alarms that would alert us to mortal and immortal invaders. But no one and nothing tried to breach our sanctuary. No witch or seer came scrying to our gates, luring our people out with the old incantations and spells.
I avoided the Tree hill as best I could, and yet I could not avoid thinking about the human woman whose desires I had known. She plagued my waking thoughts and in my dreams she mingled with my own. In owl form I took to prowling the Overlands, trying to find her, but I had no name, not even her face to guide me.
It was a natural progression that I should have foreseen, but one day that simple flower changed. Now, a great ripe fruit hung low. It was a type I had not seen before in either world. The scent was tantalizing. I was well aware of the old story of Eve and the stolen apple. What would happen to me should I partake of the same? If I laid my skin upon it, would I once again be plagued with these images? Maybe it was my death dangling so invitingly close. I had always assumed I was immortal, but that didn't mean I couldn't be killed.
I tore off a strip from my simple garment to bind my hand with. The Tree may have been the reincarnation of the founding Goddess of the Labyrinth or not, but I still desired my life greatly and would not become the sacrifice myself. The fruit came easily into my hand, and my skin, separated from it's silky skin by the thin cloth, did not burn as it had before. Breathless, I waited for the onslaught, but nothing happened. No voices, no images, nothing invaded me. As I watched it, the fruit began to change. Its skin split, emitting a sweet scent. Drips of juice ran down my arms, but I ignored the pain of it. What the fruit had concealed was now exposed finally. A glint of crystal from the depths.
A perfect sphere. A diamond most carefully sculpted.
My eyes were captured by the scenes inside the orb. A whole life of dreams played out. Entranced, I watched the young woman with her longing for love and a good life, the old woman now bitter and murderous. The cold sphere touched my skin and suddenly I was there, an uncontrolled plummet through space and time. I was in her mind, and also in her reality. Dank, dim room that was all she had to call her own. She was not young, this woman, as she peered at me through faded vision, her tatting falling from her lap as she rose to greet me.
"Ah yes, I knew you'd come for me". Her language was strange to me, but I understood her. What I looked like to her, I have no idea. Perhaps she saw me as the young suitor who had once come calling, the one who had never chased her through the fields. But then, she couldn't recall his face could she? Maybe she thought me an angel of the Christian God, for I have certainly been mistaken for that more than once since then. My mind was full of unanswered questions. I think I probably just stood there like some great oaf rather than the fae Lord I was. The crystal was a heavy weight in my palm. I stared at it once more, dimly aware of the old woman approaching me, reaching out to touch me. Real enough am I? Oh yes, more than you know.
"I've brought you...a gift" I said, holding it out to her. I felt a thrill of acknowledgment from Labyrinth. Yes, this was what she wanted. Why, I didn't know. I felt more like the stumbling acolyte I had once been rather than a magical being enspelling this mortal woman. But I had always done Labyrinths bidding. It was what I had been bred for after all. Into her wrinkled palm the crystal rolled. Either the orb expanded, or we became minute, but within the sphere we came together in a wondrous landscape. I chased her through the green field. I caught her in my arms and we rolled together. Her body rose and mine claimed hers. I loved her. I let her go. The dreamscape expanded until she was no more than a tiny spot on its horizon.
I do not remember the journey back, but I am sure that it was Labyrinth herself who reached out to draw me to her side. She needed me still it seemed. I rested against her bark, letting the sway of the branches lull me.
"What is this world you have made with me? What is its purpose?" I asked her. Strange that I had never questioned it before now.
"It is a sanctuary"
"Yes, this I know. But tell me, Mistress Labyrinth, for whom?"
"For all who dream of such a place"
"And as a reward, you offer them these gifts? As some kind of lure to bring them to your side, you would mesmerize them with these false visions?"
"Yes Jareth. And...not only for these mortal children have I fashioned these things"
At the time, I could think of little else that would horrify me more than to partake in mortal lives. I would have scoured my own humanity from my very bones if I could. But underneath my disgust lay a new thing - a tiny seed of escape. Within those glittering diamonds lay a way out of sorts. Labyrinth would never let me go, and it was a thing I had always known. Mine was a task for eternity. I understood finally that these crystals were as much a gift for me as they would be to the humans whose dreams created them.
I took the crystal and its wandering dreamer and caused a great hall to be built. She was the first of many, this old woman. I have grown wiser and never handle these dream-crystals without gloves to protect my own self, because not all human dreams are of love and beauty. I can just as easily become the object of someones ire and vengeance. But sometimes, when I am weary of my great task, or when my mortal lovers have crushed my spirit once again, I visit her. Together we dance, or swim in clear forest pools, or make love against soft feather pillows that never smothered any child.
She has never forgotten me, nor I her, and on a slender stone plinth in the centre of hundreds fashioned just the same, she spins to this day.