This is a brief oneshot I wrote for the labyfic community on livejournal in response to a fanfic challenge. The prompt was to write about a character dealing with a night of regrets and old demons. What I ended up with was a ficlet that can serve as a prequel of sorts to Dark Hour of Night. I chose not to include it in the longer fanfic, but now seemed like a good time to post it separately since I'm still working on Chapter 9.
Summary: He could never forget her. Years after she defeated his Labyrinth, Sarah and the Goblin King are inextricably bound by ties neither of them can fully understand.
Give me the child...
Even now, those last defiant words and her dark eyes haunted him. The Goblin King walked the perimeter of his study, round and round like a caged thing as he had every night since she had left him.
He didn't dare speak her name aloud. Names had power here, the power to bind... to summon. Did she know that?
From his window he could see that the sun was nearly set, a great golden sphere drowning in a crimson sea. Soon it would be night and it would begin all over again. Jareth seized a random book from the shelf and hurled it across the room. It struck the door with a satisfying crack as the spine broke and pages fluttered to the floor like so many leaves.
That wasn't nearly enough. Crossing the room to his desk, he sent everything to crashing to the ground with one violent sweep of his arm. One object remained, a crystal sphere nestled in a wooden box lined with velvet. The sight of it sickened him. He moved toward it, ready to hurl it into the fireplace so it would shatter into a thousand pieces.
Her dreams. His own had come to naught, why should hers suffer a kinder fate? The Goblin King's hand was already poised over it when a hasty exclamation halted him.
In his frustration, Jareth had forgotten he was not alone. He turned, eyes narrowing as they fixed upon a small figure kneeling on the floor, a sheaf of parchment in its paw.
"Didymus. Didn't I tell you to leave?"
The little knight continued to pick up the scattered papers, not meeting his king's gaze. "Not... in so many words, Your Majesty."
"Then I'm telling you now. Go, before I forget your loyalty and the service your family has done for me and mine all these long years."
"If that is thy command."
Didymus paused, a small slip of paper clutched to his chest. From across the room, Jareth could not quite make it out, there were only a few hurried lines in black ink. One might have been the soft fold of a woman's gown. Another line might have been the curve of a cheek, head tilted as if to listen to a faraway call, a tangle of dark hair, tendrils twisting in the wind. Paper ghosts.
He held out his hand, his voice grown harsh. "Give that to me."
Stumbling in his haste to obey, the little knight dropped the entire armful, and the sketch was lost among a mountain of correspondence and maps. He shrugged apologetically.
"Your Majesty, if I may be so bold--"
"You may not." said the Goblin King through clenched teeth.
"--why can't you simply... forgive her? Go to her?"
Formal speech forgotten, Sir Didymus turned an earnest eye up to his king, whiskers gleaming softly in the fading light. The rakish velvet patch was worn and just the slightest hint of grey had begun to show in his fur. Jareth relented grudgingly. They were of an age, he and the little fox, and long had their friendship withstood this and other trials.
"Would that the matter were so simple," said the Goblin King in weary resignation.
The dark was creeping in, and at a slight gesture from him candles flared to light all around the room. He sat down heavily at the desk and pulled the wooden box closer, tilting it to reveal a small mirror in its lid. Tugging off one glove, he brushed the tips of his fingers against the crystal sphere and within it kindled a pearly blue light.
"Watch." he commanded.
At first, the mirror only reflected back the orb's soft light, but soon it flickered, the image began to change...
Sir Didymus caught his breath. It was a sight he had seen before, a young girl's room cluttered with books and posters, clothes thrown haphazardly over the back of the chair that faced the vanity mirror. Many was the time he'd seen her sitting in front of it, laughing as they spoke. He had watched over her at times, to see that she was safe. He did not know his king had done the same.
"My lady..." he breathed. "She has summoned me before when she has need of me, but--"
The Goblin King silenced him with a look, his eyes like flint. "Watch."
Moonlight streamed through the open window, curtains stirring lightly in the breeze. Shadows seemed to advance and shift upon the floor, but it was only the silhouette of the tree outside, moving in the wind. Sarah lay in her bed, arm flung out in restless sleep.
Somewhere a wind chime pealed gently, a fey little melody whose beauty sent the fur on Sir Didymus' back to bristling in recognition. He glanced quickly at his king and found Jareth unable to look away from the mirror.
The Goblin King sat slumped in his chair, bare hand hovering just over the crystal the way a man might warm himself before a fire. With his other hand, he squeezed the balled-up empty glove as if it were all that anchored him to this world. Though the candles filled the room with their warmth and light, they brought neither to his face, it was pale and lifeless as marble.
"Watch," he said in a whisper, his lips barely moving, "And listen."
And Didymus watched.
Sarah's long hair lay dark on the pillow, and Didymus could see that her face had lost some of its childish roundness, though the stubborn, pointed chin remained the same. She had kicked off the bedcovers and was now clad only in a short nightshirt. Though he had long ago given his heart to another, Didymus thought he could understand what his king saw.
Long limbs bare in the moonlight promised height and grace, beauty that would blossom to brilliant flame like a spark catching on tinder. If he had any doubt as to the subject of that sketch now carefully concealed in his waistcoat pocket, the little knight doubted it no longer.
The Goblin King's attention was rapt, the only change of his countenance in the brightness of his eyes as he watched her. Sir Didymus might possess only a single eye, but he was not blind. This girl... The woman she was fated to become was every inch a queen.
Almost as if she could sense them watching, Sarah turned uneasily in her slumber, murmuring something too softly for them to hear. Or at least, it was too faint for Didymus' ears, though he thought he felt the Goblin King grow imperceptibly still beside him as if he heard and understood it all.
She spoke again, still unintelligible, her hand reaching out to grasp empty air. Didymus was not imagining it now, for Jareth closed his eyes and trembled. A bead of sweat ran down his jaw, soaking into his collar. The spare glove dropped forgotten to the floor.
The little knight leaned in closer, his whiskers nearly brushing the mirror. When she spoke for the third time it was no louder but he could hear it now, a single word forming upon her lips as she slept on unawares...
Gods help us.
It shook him cold, every hair on his tail standing at attention. Names have power here, he thought with deep regret.
Sarah did not know what she was doing, she could not know what its effect would be. Didymus barely understood it himself-- how a simple name could exert a pull across the void between worlds, how it could command the mind and heart of a king...
With one hard movement, the Goblin King slammed down the lid of the box and shoved it away from him. He buried his face in his hands.
"Every single night without fail." he said, voice muffled, "I feel her summons no matter where I am, strong enough to strip flesh from bone. She calls for me, Didymus."
"Will you answer?"
He sat up, rubbing his temples. "You know I cannot."
"You will not."
Jareth's expression of cold resentment was frightening in its intensity. "It is one and the same."
"Begging Your Majesty's pardon..." said the little knight as he sat down on the floor, suddenly exhausted himself, "She is but a maid, and young. She does not yet know what she wants."
The Goblin King behaved as if he hadn't spoken at all. When he broke the silence at last, he could have been speaking to the empty room, the words tired and faltering.
"I offered her everything. She did not accept, and then she took all that I had and all I that was."
Didymus tried again. "She means no harm."
"Harm?" Jareth looked up then and laughed, short and mirthless, "The scorpion means no harm when it stings, but its poison is no less deadly. A wise king would crush a scorpion under his heel and have done with it. I let her live."
"You will not injure her."
It was not a question, but a statement, though Didymus spoke with more certainty than he felt. Jareth was silent for a long time.
"I will not, and more fool I. But neither can I permit it to continue. She will not have power over me, Didymus. I cannot allow it."
"On this matter, there will be no discussion. You have my word she will not be harmed. That is enough."
The little knight bowed. "Your word has ever been all the surety that I needed, and it always will be."
"I am gratified you still think so." said the Goblin King bitterly, rising from his seat. "Now will you go and grant me some small measure of peace?"
"One more question, if it please your Majesty."
The Goblin King stood before the window, one hand resting on the ledge. "Make it your last, Didymus."
The little knight slipped his paw into his waistcoat pocket, where he touched the simple drawing there, one of the few things he had ever hidden from his king. The parchment was not new. It had been handled many times, folded and refolded until it was pliable as silk. Yet unfinished it was and unfinished it would remain, and the little knight thought his heart might break for the sadness of it.
Little wonder that Jareth wanted it back. He gave nothing away willingly, and even less willingly did he share his thoughts and dreams though he spoke with his oldest friend and counselor. It was dangerous to unmask the Goblin King, but Sir Didymus had gone too far to turn back now.
"Do you love her?"
Jareth's face revealed nothing, but Sir Didymus took an involuntary step back just the same. For one brief moment there'd been just a flicker of movement, a tensing of muscle without action. Though he could never make Hoggle understand, the little knight trusted his king, had faith in him above all others to do what was right and necessary.
And yet for one brief moment, Sir Didymus' instincts screamed for him to be away, that same primitive urge that seizes a small animal when a shadow crosses the face of the sun.
"Jareth..." he whispered, trying not to let the quiet desperation show.
It was not his custom. He rarely addressed the king so familiarly now as he had in their youth, not even when they were alone. It alone broke the spell and the moment passed.
"Leave me." The command was dead, lacking in every emotion.
The Goblin King turned his back on the little fox, leaning heavily on the window and looking out over his Labyrinth. The cool summer night settled over the land, mist and dusky pools of darkness that beckoned under the starlight. Deep in their caverns of earth and rock, he could hear the goldwings singing, an airy refrain thin and sweet.
And far away in another world beneath another star-filled sky, Sarah Williams slept on, tossed like a ship on the ocean by dreams she could not escape, but would not remember come dawn. When she awoke, many words would run without ceasing through her mind, and many names.
But none of them mattered except the one she said unknowingly, that unconscious long wished-for desire spoken only in the dark hour of night.
Jareth stretched his arms to the night and stepped off the ledge, form shifting with blinding speed so that between one breath and another nothing of him was visible except the fluttering of white wings in the blackness. It was a night for flying, the clean air would free his mind of troubled thoughts and hopeless yearnings. He turned to follow the path of the setting sun, meaning to chase it until the breaking of dawn and the day was born anew.
The wind from the west carried with it the scent of rain.
A storm is coming.