Jareth stared up at the ancient tapestries that lined the Temple of Deos and sighed. Another hour of prayer and he was still no closer to a resolution than he had been when he'd set foot in the doorway. Rising from where he knelt, he faced the altar at the front of the Temple and bowed his head as he pressed the first two fingers of his right hand to his forehead, his lips, and his chest. The ancient blessing echoed in his mind, in time with his movements: My thoughts, my words, and my actions, for You, O God, and with one, last, fleeting glance at the altar, he turned and strode from the building and into the halls of the palace.
Sweeping walls of gray marble rose majestically before him, shielding the nobility that scurried down the halls from the storm clouds that would bring the rain, in a few months. He made little eye contact with the various Lords and Ladies as they passed him, murmuring formalities and bowing him out of sight. How he detested all of their rigidity and their decorum. They did not speak until he had rounded the corner and then he heard the whispers begin.
"He can't find a suitable wife."
"Arroyan holds him back."
"I wonder what his rule will turn out to be." He resisted the urge to turn right back around and give them a piece of his mind; shame them for life, but he couldn't refute their statements and didn't really feel like trying. Glancing up, over the doors to his study, he met the gaze of the imperious looking monarch that had sat for this portrait: his Great Grandfather, Liam Redevia, the first High King of the Underground. His footsteps faltered for a moment as he met the King's eyes and let the issue that had been bothering him so greatly make another circuit of his mind.
A bride, sir? Could you have found anything more troubling to command of your lineage?
The painting didn't move or speak, as he'd been secretly hoping it would. The King merely stared down at him with that angry look of finality that told him very plainly that he would have to find his own solution to his problem. With a sigh, he dropped his eyes from the painting and pushed through the great oak doors to his study, glancing only briefly at the man sitting in one of the large chaise lounge chairs by the roaring fireplace. Arroyan was often found in Jareth's study, intently reading one of the many tomes that lined the shelves of the sanctuary while the King conducted business and unwound from days of stress.
"Looking tired, Highness," he murmured to Jareth as he turned a page and continued reading. Jareth glanced at the man as he uncorked a crystal decanter and poured some of its burgundy contents into a matching goblet. Replacing the stopper, he lifted the glass to his lips and felt the familiar calming sensation as alcohol trickled down his throat.
"Not at all, Arroyan. I slept quite pleasantly last night." He paused to take another sip of his choice drink and surveyed the young man who, catching the sarcasm in Jareth's voice had looked up from his book, at last. "I am concerned, however," he continued, setting the goblet down and crossing his arms over his chest, "about the current state of affairs in my kingdom." Their gazes locked and neither looked away for several moments.
"I will not relent," Arroyan said simply, opening the book he held in his hands to the place where he had stopped last. Jareth sighed and pressed his fingers to his eyes in a gesture of frustration that had become commonplace in the past months.
"You do realize, do you not," he asked in a frustrated, muffled voice, "that the Underground will rip itself apart if the ancient laws are not appeased?"
Arroyan's eyes did not leave the page.
"If you would simply consent to my proposal then the fullness of the Underground would not fall into question, milord," he said, with the air of a parent trying to rid itself of an obnoxious child.
Jareth stared at him with an expression that bordered on unbridled rage and the tail end of patience worn thin.
"Arroyan." The tone of the King's voice having reached a dangerously quiet level, the man looked up, his air no longer impudent, but rather serious, and met Jareth's gaze openly. "I will not call her a second time," Jareth said in a low growl.
"Then you doom the Underground, sire, for I will not consent to another," Arroyan replied evenly. He stood and tucked his book under his arm, his eyes meeting Jareth's once more. Bowing briefly to his King, Arroyan strode to the door, leaving the study with barely more than a whisper of his clothing. Jareth stared at the place where his counterpart had been and then reached for his goblet once more, swallowing more of the burning condolence he had poured himself. Again, his mind drifted to the first High King and he sighed, walking to the large mahogany desk that sat to one side of his study. Seating himself, he set his goblet down and paused a moment to lean back in the chair and close his weary eyes.
"Folly, sire," he murmured to the silence, "folly. He will never consent to my taking a woman of the court and I will not, I cannot choose her." His eyes opened and he stared fixedly at a ladybug that had landed on a windowsill across from him as memories played through his head. He let his mind wander for a few minutes, delighting in the weightlessness that enshrouded him when his mind was on her. The ladybug, however, would not endure his reverie and flew off, breaking the hypnosis he had enjoyed. Shaking his head, he let go of a deep breath and pulled a giant book towards him, opening it to his last stopping point and resuming his search for a loophole. Scanning the page, briefly, he at last came to his marker and began reading through the history of his people, praying for some form of enlightenment:
The Underground was formed by Deos in the middle days of the Earth. In its origin, four clans that co-existed peacefully in the valley between the Unlivay Mountains had populated the Underground. The bloodlines of the Illorthian, Melruvian, Dinéh Villan, and Redevian clans ran strong and the Fae, as they would come to be known, first cultivated their powers and the values of their society there. For centuries, the clans existed happily together, sharing in the joys of marriages, births, and the addition of new powers to the assortment that the first beings had possessed and passed down. However, as the clans grew in number and began to spread throughout the surrounding terrains, wars sprouted at every turn. Two males contested for the same bride, the same plot of land; anything that they saw as rightfully theirs and their feuds carried on down through their ancestry.
Despite their best efforts, the eldest of each clan, who alone remained peaceful, could not stem the fighting, but resolved to curb it to the best of their abilities. Embarking on a pilgrimage to the summit of the Unlivay Mountains, they fasted and prayed that Deos would guide their people to peace.
Three days passed before the elder of the Melruvian Clan, Kade, awoke in the night to a vision of the first King of the Underground. After waking his companions, he shared his dream with them and when the others had consented to a plan, the pilgrims resolved to return to the Valley the next morning.
They arrived in the Valley in time to watch the horizon turn orange with fire. Rushing to their families, they called the Clans together and explained the decision that Deos had handed them.
"Upon the mountain, we encamped to await the answer from Our Lord," Kade began. "Three days and three nights we waited, and on the third night, I was woken from my sleep with a vision that filled me with such joy as to warm the earth complete.
"In the midst of the wars that have besieged our people, one warrior stood apart from the rest. He did not fight for his own justification, but rather defended those who had fallen victim to the pride of others. Again and again, he unsheathed his sword for the innocent and defended them as if they were his own blood. By day, he braved the fires, the hails of arrows, and the assaults of full armies to secure safety, and by night, he preached peace to those who would hear him.
"My eyes shut and opened, and when next I looked, I beheld the same man kneeling before the priests of Deos, for he had been selected from many to govern the people of the Underground as High King. Even as the High Priest placed the crown upon his head, his eyes betrayed that he thought himself unfit for the honor bestowed upon him. He accepted his place and ruled the country with dignity and love, returning our people to the peace they had abandoned so wantonly."
As Kade finished his tale, cries began to ring out from the throng of people before him, for all wished to know the identity of their king; the one who would lead them away from the suffering they bore. Kade, having done his part in this revelation, seated himself and Darrick, the Dinéh Villam elder, rose to speak to the people gathered.
"Though our reluctant King hides in shadow, we call him forth now. Hail to the king, Liam Redevia!"
The crowd turned to see the man, who stood at the back of the meeting hall, silent and serious. All knew him to be an upright and honest man and none were surprised as he was born forth to the elders, but upon his face was written Kade's prophecy: he did not believe himself worthy. Nevertheless, in the months following, Liam became High King of the Underground and completed the prophecy, restoring peace to the Underground and ruling justly, with a firm, but loving, hand.
As months passed, however, the demands of his duties wore upon the King, and though he regularly sought absolution from the Priests of Deos, he felt himself unable to correctly govern his people. Removing himself from his duties for a day, he prayed and fasted, and came to the resolution that he was not fit to rule alone. Thus, he sought and found a wife in Valdime Illorthian. As their bond was completed through the rites of matrimony, the King found his duties less burdensome, and set forth the decree that the Underground should have one King and one Queen at all times; for the Queen understood her husband, and the King understood his people, and together they would ensure the prosperity of the land. By Deos, Liam's words became the law and the Underground upheld the law, so that it would not succumb to the final test and destroy itself. So it is written, so it is kept.
Jareth closed the book and threw it down upon his desk, knocking things askew. He reached for his goblet and drained it in one mouthful before standing and pacing the room. It followed, by the law of the land, that the decision to marry was his and did not hinge upon Arroyan's consent, but he knew better and that was what kept him locked in this room day after day, pouring over books, and searching for any way he could override Arroyan's place and make his own choice. Each day yielded the same results: nothing.
What no book in the castle would tell was that as Liam's power returned with marriage, he found an overabundance of it and felt he could not control it, alone. Consulting the elders and the priests of Deos, he had sought a way to divide the powers that had come with his newfound totality, so that neither he, nor his descendants could be corrupted by it. The answer that came was both complex and hazardous, though it seemed the simplest explanation in history.
The council of elders and priests resolved that instead of trying to dominate his power or break it apart, he should unite with it, and give it clout of its own. This, they told him, would further aid him in his duties, for as well as he knew the people, the power of Deos, which flowed through him, knew them better, and would make the decisions that he could never make come to with his limited knowledge of the universe. Logic, which had always been the greatest influence upon Liam, dictated that he follow their advice and he readily prepared himself to do so.
For 12 hours, Liam lay prostrate upon the floor of the Temple of Deos and consulted with the Power, making peace with it, and coming to agreement on what should be done with the kingdom. The council watched in fear as their King lay, as if dead, upon the floor, but as the 12th hour ended and the bells tolled, he arose with such a scream as to shake the kingdom. At the same moment his scream began, there came a rumbling and tearing noise from the earth that was silenced only when the sun had dipped below the horizon and the land was covered in night.
When daylight dawned, the people of the Underground awoke and began their daily activities without pause to consider the previous night's events. At midday, as the market place teemed with life, a farmer barreled through the throng on horseback, eager to see the King and make a report. Curious, the subjects of the Underground flocked to the palace to seek out their King's reaction to whatever news this farmer would bring him.
As the farmer knelt before the King and Queen, he spoke in gasping breaths of what he had seen.
"We…awoke from our slumber this morning…and set to work as…as usual, your majesties." He glanced up and Liam, who bore a slight smiled nodded for him to continue. The farmer nodded and swallowed heavily. "As…as my eldest and I went to the eastern fields to begin the harvest, we found…a…a terrible sight before us: where the fertile lands of the Gateways once sat, there had become a terrible desert. Sand stretched in every direction and in the midst of it, there had been erected a great Labyrinth. At the center of the Labyrinth there sat a castle." The farmer looked up at the two monarchs again, his face creased with worry. "My King, I fear a new power in our land. One that would seek to overthrow you."
There was silence in the chamber for a moment and then the King's soft laugh rippled out over those gathered and he rose, making his way down to the farmer and offering his hand. The farmer stared at it for a moment and then allowed the King to pull him to his feet as their eyes met. Liam Redevia said nothing, but merely smiled at the farmer and then ordered that he be given food, drink, and a place to sit. The accommodations were seen to while the King paced a small square of the floor before looking up to his people.
"I have been silent too long. Last evening, I sought a way to fully understand you, my people, and the tasks that I must complete, to see to the survival of our lands. Deos has given me an unimaginable power and I, His humble servant, am barely fit to possess it." Briefly, he described the events that had taken place while he lay in the Temple of Deos. He told of how he had approached the power timidly at first, as one would approach a wild beast that could strike at any moment. He described the questions the power had asked him and how he had finally gained its trust by allowing the force to brand his right arm. At this point, he revealed his arm to the people, who gasped and began muttering amongst themselves at the sight of the snaking vine that twisted its way around his bicep, quite naturally.
"As the force began to trust me, we began to speak of the Kingdom, of Deos' plans for us all, and what was to be done. The power felt that it could not properly rule through a mouthpiece such as I, because we are so very different in our natures. Humbly submitting itself to me, the power asked that I grant it a form suitable to our lands so that it might represent itself." Another murmur ran through the crowd as the King paused and smiled. "I have delayed this moment long enough."
Liam strode from the room and there was speaking and laughter heard, but before long, he returned with a man at his side. The women of the court gasped and set to whispering at once, for the King's companion was as handsome as the king himself, though his appearance differed slightly. Where Liam had blond hair, this man had black, and where Liam's eyes were a gentle blue, the other's were a shocking green. However, in their faces, it was evident that they were one in the same in mind and temperament.
"This," said Liam, with the sound of a proud father, "is Antione." The chamber, which had been so busy with the buzz of talking, fell quiet instantly and it was several moments before one of the elders stepped forward.
"What is your purpose, exactly, sir?" Antione turned to him smoothly and regarded him for a moment before inclining his head in recognition of the authority of the man before him.
"To the southeast, as this good farmer has informed you, my lord, there has arisen a Labyrinth. Though I look to be one of your noble race, I am in fact, the manifestation of that structure." The hall began buzzing with excited whispers again, but Antione barely seemed to hear them. "When my King completed the covenant between us, a rift was created in the Gateways because of the great shifting of power. Where once before your lands were guarded with strong magic, there is now an opening. You are not the only ones who may enter the realms at whim, any longer." His voice grew louder at the last statement, as he was no longer addressing solely the elder before him. The buzzing in the hall grew louder and he smiled at their worried looks, his expression a mirror image of Liam's own smirk.
"Deos would not forsake you so easily," he said in a smooth, soothing voice. The buzzing died away again and all eyes fell on him once more. "Though the Gateways are open, there has been set an obstacle for those who would wish to enter your lands to overcome." He smiled again. "The Labyrinth. To many of you, it seems just a child's maze, but it holds great strength and only those worthy of surviving the tests I have implemented will pass through it."
Though Antione's words proved little comfort to those gathered, the weeks that followed proved his words like gold in fire. At first the beings who came had stumbled through accidentally, and none of them even dared to enter the Labyrinth. But soon the tales of the Labyrinth spread and visitors flocked to the Underground to test their mettle against the legendary structure. Their trickery had brought them to the center of the Labyrinth, but they would become so enchanted with the magic inside of it that they became stupid and reverted to childish behavior. Only those who voluntarily entered the Labyrinth were retained and as their numbers grew, Deos saw fit to transform them to a more suitable race: Goblins.
With each new King, the Union Ceremony took place, and within 24 hours of their lying prostrate upon the Temple floor, the Court would announce the new advisor to the King and present him to the gathered assembly. Jareth had been no different.
And now, he thought, grimly, I'm stuck with the bastard.
Jareth sighed as he sank into the chair that Arroyan had occupied not five minutes ago and stared into the fire for a moment, before conjuring a crystal to his fingertips. Over the past few months, he often found himself gazing at Sarah as she slept, or worked, or studied, without regard to the time he wasted or the people he ignored. It was an all consuming obsession, one he wished he could give up, but found no remedy for.
"I cannot call you again," he murmured to her, as she lay curled on her side, bathed in the moonlight streaming in her window. "For both our sakes."
Another flick of his wrist and she was gone, again.
First fic in a while. Lemme know what you think.