The Insanity Ends... Or does it?
Jareth looked ready to have a heart attack when he finally caught up with Samael, who he'd believed to be Addanc. Faolan crashed into him as he stopped, and Izzi snorted as she floated about the Goblin King.
"Izzi, no biting," Sarah called, but everyone else in the roared at the same time; within the marvelous din the guests made, Jareth could pick out sire, brother, Kingy, surprise, happy birthday, he's here, and variations thereof, usually concluded with several exclamation marks. Blinking rapidly, Jareth stared at his grinning family, shock etched into his features.
Jareth snapped to only when Izzi nipped his nose, not nearly as hard as she usually bit him. Faolan barked and rushed forward to jump on Sarah, wings fluttering, before bounding towards the Goblings waiting to play with the wolf.
Sarah stepped forward and seated Jareth in his throne, which Aodhan dragged out to the Courtyard. As Jareth attempted to order his discombobulated thoughts back into shape, Sarah leaned down and whispered in his ear, "All the planning was worth it to see you speechless…"
Rivenshear carried in a tank twice as large as the metal golem and situated it next to the circular fountain at the center of the Courtyard. Within it, Araskuro lounged lazily. Jareth sat beside the tank and conversed with the Kelpie, watching the revelry taking place in his name.
Sarah played Annie with the Goblins, their Goblings, and Faolan as the Fae and other races placed bets on winners. Chame and Ravyn reminisced about the months of planning and the many times Jareth stumbled upon and nearly discovered their plot. Creatures from all over the Labyrinth showed up for the party and mingled with creatures from the other 'verses. Minstrels and bards greeted one another as the Fierys prepared for their performance.
Fae parties tended to be big. What's more, they lasted for days, and Jareth knew this one would be much the same.
Sarah and Faolan tied at Annie, much to the disappointment of the gamblers and the disbelief of the Goblins, since no-one had tied a game in the Labyrinth before. The two picked their way through the throngs of people to greet Araskuro and sit with Jareth. It wasn't hard to reach the Goblin King— the flow of traffic headed towards him— but stopping once they reached him proved difficult: the denizens of the Labyrinth shuffled forward to greet their King before dispersing and the crowd expected Sarah and Faolan to disperse, too. Faolan ended up perched at the rim of Araskuro's tank while Sarah stubbornly clung to a patch of leyechyn, which blinked at her balefully. But offered no other form of protests.
The Fierys started juggling themselves, tossing arms and legs over each other and twirling their heads on their shoulders; in their current high spirits, they made copious jokes and jested merrily with the crowds. They called the minstrels forward to play a tune for them to dance with; once they caught the rhythm, the Fierys started, er, break-themselves-up dancing. Not quite juggling nor spinning, there was a pattern to their movements; Sarah couldn't see it, but she sensed one.
The Fierys' jigs ended when Helping Hands raced along the Courtyard walls with platters of food and utensils. Nine Hands, larger than their siblings and honored to be of service, "walked" along the Courtyard's cobbled path, working together to balance a tray of food for their King on the backs of their hands. When Jareth gladly accepted the food, taking the tray off their hands, the Helpers pranced happily back to the walls, their gloved fingertips barely brushing the cobblestones.
Minstrels took shifts, wandering amongst the hordes of diners while singing celebratory ballads. When one grew tired or hungry or finished a set of songs, another got up to take his place; there seemed an endless supply of singers and musicians in attendance.
Sarah looked out at the people eating and saw beings of all shapes and sizes coexisting happily; people from all walks of life, each dressed in vivid colors and patterns, teased one another and introduced relatives and friends to their neighbors. Jareth pointed out Sir Didymus and his family; it seemed that each of the knights polished his armor and washed their steeds before arriving. Hoggle waved at Sarah and bowed, somewhat reluctantly, to Jareth, who nodded in return.
Ludo arrived late but lumbering forward to meet the King as all the others had. When the beast bowed, Mr. Worm slipped off Ludo's horn and helped Missus Worm step off. Sarah stared at both Missus Worm and the parasol she held: Missus Worm, a gorgeous Karner Blue butterfly, held in her dainty hands one of the many mini-umbrellas Sarah accidentally created while learning her runes.
"Ah always knew you'd get around tae meetin' the Missus," Mr. Worm declared proudly. "She's too good for me, aye? So lucky she loves me. Just like your lady, Sire," he grinned. "Never did thank you for the parasols, did I? You should drop in for a cuppa tea sometime, aye? And bring your own lady butterfly," he finished, nodding meaningfully at Sarah, who was deep in conversation with the delightful Missus Worm.
"Come on, then, luv," Mr. Worm called to his Missus. "We have tae git our seats before the masked games start." Missus Worm giggled, a sound akin to ringing Canterbury Bells.
Jareth grinned as he watched the Worms stride away with Ludo in tow. He turned to Sarah and started to explain the masked games when she informed him she knew about the masked games, thank you very much, as she'd been the one to commission the masks.
Liadain shuffled a deck of cards and split it; the enchanted deck never ran out of cards and contained nine suits. She gave a handful of cards to Ravyn, Fletcher, and Rience; the four split off to hand out a card to every guest. Sarah glanced at her card—the Ace of Harps, a card depicting a calico cat playing a silver harp; it reminded Sarah of a Beatrice Potter illustration—before slipping it under her cup and waiting. She tried to peek at Jareth's card, but he slid his card under his goblet without looking at it.
In any of the nine suits—harps, woods, birds, planets, fires, times, waters, staves, and beasts—she knew he'd be a king, ace, or jester, which would narrow down a great deal of the attendants. That still left twenty-eight possibilities, though she highly doubted he'd be a harp, merely because the deck was well shuffled and he'd received his card just before she had. Sarah didn't know exactly each card looked like as a mask, either, which complicated the final game.
As one, the partiers stood, mingled, and raised their cups to toast the King before drinking deeply, masks and costumes concealing their possessors as the cups dropped. Goblins grew and Fae people shrunk to complete the disguises—Sarah was rather disgruntled to note that she did neither. She felt her costume swirl as she walked, and looked down to see a wide emerald cloth wrapped her waist and tucked in a russet poet's shirt and tree-bark brown pants. Ragged-looking strips of cloth and leather, each a different shade of copper, cream, or brown, dropped from the sash at lengths varying from ankle to mid-thigh. She noticed her distinct lack of shoes and laughed at the multitude of anklets dripping silver and bronze bells adorning her left foot.
Glancing up, she saw Venetian masks, ceramic masks, leather masks, masks that looked like face-paint, fantastic masks, realistic masks, scaled masks, feathered masks… as far as she could see, masked people danced with and around one another. Making her way to a mirror, Sarah studied her own mask: it stopped beneath her nose and wrapped around her head like a head wrap, a calico cat with a dark mane streaked with brown and light grey. She grinned at her reflection and made her way into the throng of revelers.
He'd already lost Sarah in the crowd, but Jareth scanned the disguised celebrators anyway. His card—the Jester of Fires—provided a costume both showy and subtle. The flashy colors contradicted the fairly conservative clothes. A short, multi-hued, gold-embroidered brocade cloak clasped at his shoulders and elbows, the end dropping in a jagged arrow to his lower back. A simple scarlet shirt tucked into leather pants, looser than he would normally wear, that faded from crimson at the waist to ash grey at the ankles. He felt the edges of his mask—curving in some places, pointing in others, in a blatant mimicry of a bonfire—with ungloved hands.
He lazily eased into the circle dancing, scanning the other dancers, hoping to find the mortal girl behind so much of this. The Masquerade, he knew from past experience, would continue from now until sunset, when people would guess the identity of other masked attendants and choose their dance partners for the night. Come noon tomorrow, the party would still be in full swing and the cards would be redistributed, and again every day the party progressed. Jareth doubted Sarah would stay past tomorrow's early hours, which made his search all the more thorough.
Musicians called out dances and strummed guitars, harps, and dulcimers; pipers played reels and singers crooned along to whatever tune happened to be playing at the moment. Jareth danced with the others, enjoying the anonymity while annoyed that he couldn't find Sarah; this, he mused, is exactly why I didn't give her a mask in the Crystal Ballroom.
He found her as soon as a fiddler commanded her to sing...
"Aces! Aces! Step forward, Aces!" The command came from the Queen of Planets, dressed as Mercury. The nine Aces obliged, and Sarah gazed at a rowan, a gyrfalcon, Venus, a candlestick, a grandfather clock (she really loved that costume), a creek, a quarterstaff, and a wyvern. All this and a calico cat to top it off, Sarah thought with a grin. It amazed her how easily she knew what each person was from their mask and costume, but that was part of the magic, wasn't it?
The other gathered in a circle around the Aces, watching as each Ace performed. Sarah found a violin thrust at her, which was just as well since her choices for performing came down to singing, storytelling, or magicking up miniature umbrellas.
She glanced at the fiddle in her hands, the sweet mead in the cups, and the masks on everyone's' faces before inspiration hit and she improvised, making up a "took-two-years'-worth-of-lessons" fiddler's version of Sligo Rags' The Whiskey Never Lies. "When the bottle's empty, I can see through your disguise," she started, "so you'd better mind your tongue because the whiskey never lies."
She plucked the strings a bit before drawing the bow across them, pacing to a four-beat rhythm before her audience as she continued, "You said you'd had it bad for me, you'd take me to the moon—" she tipped her head at the Jester of Planets, who laughed heartily— "you said no other moved you so, no other made you swoon. But when the drink was in your blood, you sang another tune… And now I know the gospel truth, the whiskey never lies!"
She finished her song and would have stood back, but a voice called, "The fidchell can wait! Let's have another, Lady Ace!" Sarah panicked again, rustling through her mental list of "Songs I Can Play Well Enough that I Don't Sound Deranged" and picked The Raggle Taggle Gypsy on a whim.
"There were three old gypsies come to our hall door, they sang brave and boldly-o! One sang high, and the other sang low, and the other sang the raggle taggle gypsy-o!..." She worried that she'd butcher the song, but several people, mostly Jesters, rose and started dancing to her tune; she grinned as she realized they were all dressed like gypsies and finished her set as boldly as the travelers in her song.
She finished her song and retreated to allow the last Ace their performance, glad to be called aside afterwards by the King of Harps as each suit retreated from the center of the Courtyard to pick the living fidchell players.
Jareth was a little disappointed to see no calico cat on the Suit of Harps fidchell team, but not terribly surprised. He had to play for the Suit of Fire team; Jesters mandatorily played as one of the seven pieces and as the general. He knew Sarah wouldn't have actually been playing him, either; as an Ace, she'd merely serve as a living piece. He still wanted to play the long-time rival whom he'd recently claimed as his friend.
He smirked as he chose his players. She might not be playing, but Sarah would certainly be watching and any opportunity to show off was a good opportunity to do so.
As custom dictated, the first four matches pit Fire against Time, Water against Planets, Beasts against Harps, and Staves against Birds. The Suit of Woods, the oldest and most respected Suit, would not play until the very last round. For that exact reason, most masqueraders hoped for any other Suit: a good game of fidchell was a treat, and to play just one game, even for the honored Suit, appealed to few. Jareth won against Time, which he considered ironic, and took his team to victory against Planets in the next round the Harps and Birds battled through their game. Jareth struggled with the Birds in the second-to-last round but outmaneuvered the Bird Jester, a Saker Falcon, to play against his mother, the Jester of Woods, in the final round.
The last round dragged on, and Jareth watched Sarah as closely as he watched the game; dusk rapidly stained the sky and lengthened shadows on the fidchell board as the Jesters jockeyed for an edge. Jareth's Suit grappled with Chame's until the very end, when he forced her to surrender as the only remaining player of her Suit on the board. Once more the King of Games, he smirked, but extended to the defeated Suit their due courtesy.
He very quickly made his way toward Sarah and swung her into the circle dance with him just as the music started. The sun set, and Jareth tugged the knot free from her mask.
"How'd you—oh. The fiddle?"
The crowd danced three sets before the Helping Hands brought out desert; Sarah slipped off to the kitchens while Jareth went to cut the first slice of cake. She found him sitting in a doorway, fussing with but not consuming the Death by Chocolate cake, and smiled, pleased with her foresight.
"I'll trade you," she whispered as she sat beside him. Jareth blinked and looked down at her plate.
He said nothing, but Sarah took his plate from him and handed him the angel food cake with blueberries and blueberry syrup.
"How'd you know?" She'd expected his question as well as his reaction to the official birthday cake, and didn't mind answering, but pondered her word choice.
Sarah scooped up a bit of cake and stared at the fountain. "You don't like chocolate anymore than I like eating alone," she replied, not looking at him. She heard Jareth's answering hum and started eating.
The Helping Hands had only just finished clearing the cake dishes when the first impatient Goblins started presenting Jareth his gifts.
They brought the gifts from a table, and didn't actually care who brought the gifts as much as if specific gifts pleased the King. Jareth received gifts from visiting monarchs, residents of the Labyrinth, wealthy traders, not-so-wealthy farmers, mages, blacksmiths, Goblins, leyechyn, family, friends, and one mortal girl.
Sarah's gifts got mixed up with all the others, and he opened it between an illuminated text from a wealthy Hobgoblin merchant and a chest of precious stones from an old dragon friend. He handled the leather-wrapped items with such care she knew he knew who gave this gift. He saved the hemp and feathers, set the leather at his side, and considered her presents to him.
He held the first gift, a glass ocarina, in his hands for several moments before slipping the cord over his head and promising a song to the Goblin on his shoulder.
The silversmith beamed when Jareth viewed the second of Sarah's gifts; she'd called in several favors to commission the piece. The silver stag regarded Jareth as he regarded it; Sarah explained that the stag, three-dimensional puzzle crafted of enchanted silver, untangled to reveal a compartment. Since the stag would hold still long enough to be solved only by Jareth, he could safely store anything within the stag, who curled up at Jareth's side.
For her last gift to him, Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake, Jareth required no explanation, but he explained to a curious elf that the book was a long literary puzzle, a labyrinth of words. Satisfied with the answer, the elf stepped back.
Gratified by her thoughtfulness, the Goblin King thanked Sarah Williams. In public. She nearly died of shock.
Sarah woke on her couch, still in her calico cat costume, with the mask on her chest and a memo in her hand. She blinked blearily, trying to remember when she stumbled back into her Jareth-tampered dorm room and failing to find the memory. Izzi purred in her ear, snoring and, apparently, dreaming. Sarah went to rub her head, hoping to appease the mead-induced hangover and poked herself in the forehead with the note tied to her wrist.
Head fuzzy, she untied the note and unfurled it; the parchment crinkled a little and tried to curl back up. Ignoring Izzi's noisy protests (and her headache's throbbing protest), Sarah sat up and held the parchment open to read it.
Sarah, my dearest fellow conspirator, (this written in Chame's hand)
I'm immensely pleased to thank you for all the effort you put into making Jareth's eight hundred and forty seventh birthday celebration a success—everyone is having a wonderful time, and Jareth loves his Castle (thanks again for tricking him into designing his Castle for us); there seems to be no end in sight for this party! I'm sure you're not yet ready to rejoin the merriment—Sarah thought about the mead, her head, and Goblin singing, then she groaned her agreement—but if you do feel up to it, we'd love to have you back.
I'm certainly enjoying this next bit, although I'm not sure you will… You ate quite a bit of Fae food at the party, Sarah, although Ravyn and Hoggle tried to warn you (spoilsports). You'll need to spend at least three weeks a year in the Underground now, but don't worry, Jareth says he'll have a room kept available for you.
You get to keep your mask and costume, and I put a couple slices of cake in the refrigerator for you.
Sarah reread the letter twice before the full implication sunk in, and she heaved a sigh. Meddling, double-agent-ish, matchmaking traitors, she grumbled to herself as she extracted a left-over slice of cake from the fridge. Izzi stole the first bite off her fork, and Sarah couldn't find it in her to chastise the drake. Gods save me from 'em.
Oro: ...It's over. Twenty three months and seven days (eleven months of which were spent purposely not writing/finishing/posting the last chapter) later, it's over. Shit.
Quill: Don't worry, I'm not done with her yet.
Jareth: The really ironic thing is...
Sarah: As Oro manipulated and plotted Jareth's birthday party, her mother plotted hers last year. Hm...
Oro: So, yeah. I'll have at least two (if not three or four) oneshots out before Break ends and I won't be able to write again. I'm toying around with the idea of writing a sequel to Dreamer... and I'm going to start posting things on Live Journal, I think.
Disclaimer: Don't defy me, Oro...
Oro: I defy you! I've defied you for twenty chapters and over thirty stories! My will is greater and always will be, so pbbtz!
Quill: She doesn't own Labyrinth, its characters, or the music mentioned in this chapter. She does have a recipe for the Death by Chocolate cake.
Jareth: You know, for a minor, Oro knows an awful lot of drinking songs...
Oro: I swear, the strongest drink I've imbibed was soymilk.