Author's Notes: This was originally posted on the labyfic community on livejournal, written as a secret exchange gift for Moonlover68, whose sense of humor is as hilarious as it is bizarre. She is the one who supplied the prompt of the Secret Santa gift exchange and even though comedy fics aren't my usual territory, it was too tempting a prospect to overlook. Please note that in keeping with the cheerful tone of the holiday fic exchange, there is abundant silliness and no character death. Not even for Ludo.
Plot Summary: It is Christmas, and time for the inaugural Labyrinth Secret Santa gift exchange. But what do you get for the king who has everything?
A Royal Gift
It was the moment they'd all been dreading.
Everyone had their reasons, of course. The Junk Lady didn't approve of the custom of giving gifts, as it meant yielding up some of her precious hoard to an unappreciative beneficiary. Likewise, the hapless recipient of her generosity never quite managed to demonstrate more than a tepid gratitude for what was given, whether it was a jar full of pencil shavings, half a moldy sausage roll or a gently used pair of bloomers.
The Wiseman felt it was better to receive than to give, and the Hat despised the process itself, as it had a healthy fear of small pieces of paper. As for Jareth... The Goblin King loved tributes, but his tastes were usually far more expensive than the average Labyrinth citizen could afford. Unfortunately for them, they could afford his displeasure even less.
Only Sir Didymus loved the holidays unconditionally, and the Secret Santa gift exchange had been his idea alone. He lavished upon it an attention to detail that bordered on the obsessive, and his displays of boundless enthusiasm made Hoggle wish they'd break out the rum and egg nog a little early this year.
As it was, everyone huddled in a corner of the throne room, sipping sparkling bogberry punch and politely seeming to nibble at the cheese and liver canapés that had taken Didymus all morning to make. It was well past the noon hour, and the participants were getting restless.
The Junk Lady stamped her foot, her collection teetering precariously upon her back. "All this waiting! Why don't we just draw the names and have done with it?"
The Wiseman nodded in agreement and muttered something about time waiting in the wings and other senseless things.
"Don't be so hasty," screeched the Hat, "If you were in my place, you wouldn't be so eager. It's an invasion of privacy, that's what it is!"
Christmas was only two weeks away, but nothing could be done until the Goblin King chose to make his appearance, and Jareth rarely chose to appear anywhere on time if he could help it. Sir Didymus made soothing noises and passed around a tray of sugared turnip bites, each one skewered with a cheerful red or green plastic toothpick. Hoggle shook his head with a weak smile. Turnips gave him wind.
"Be of good cheer, friend Hoggle," said the knight, thumping him heartily on the back. "I have faith that this new venture of ours will become a greatly beloved tradition, celebrated all over the kingdom!"
Hoggle choked, but pretended his liver had gone down the wrong pipe. "Yeah, sure."
He supposed there was some chance that things would turn out tolerably and no one would have to die in the process. After all, it was not as if anyone were unfamiliar with the concept-- people had birthdays, housewarming parties, and other occasions for the giving of presents, and etiquette was very strict on this point. One couldn't show up empty-handed unless one wanted to be thought a nithong, which was Very Old Goblin for "ill-mannered oaf who turns up without a present and then leaves something unpleasant in the onion dip".
It wasn't the idea of giving one another presents that left everyone uneasy and tense. It was the idea of secrecy and being assigned one specific person to receive said present. Hoggle expected a struggle when it came time to choose names out of the Hat, a messy scuffle involving much elbow-jabbing and toe-crushing. He'd come wearing his heaviest pair of boots and a well-padded jerkin with this very thing in mind.
When the clock struck two, a loud clap of thunder shook the throne room and the Goblin King appeared in a whirl of mist and glitter. He'd dressed appropriately for the chilly day, all sable and velvet, the weave of his white cloak mimicking the intricate pattern of snowflakes. The Junk Lady whistled in admiration, which the king acknowledged with a little bow.
"Can't use the stairs like a normal person, oh no..." grumbled Hoggle, only to be shushed by Sir Didymus.
"Your Majesty! At last the festivities can begin. May I offer thee a savory?"
Jareth wisely declined. You did not live to be a thousand years and reign as Goblin King without learning something of discretion. Striding across the room in such a way as to best show off his new boots and shapely calves to their best advantage, he took his place at the throne. Someone pressed upon him a glass of bogberry punch, which he accepted with a gracious nod.
"Do continue. I am alight with anticipation."
If Sir Didymus detected any hint of sarcasm in the Goblin King's tone, he didn't remark upon it. The knight produced slips of paper he handed to each person, and waited expectantly while everyone scribbled down their names. When that was done, Didymus examined each one before carefully folding it into thirds. The moment had come.
The Hat was promptly fetched from its perch on the Wiseman's head despite its shrill protests, and Sir Didymus turned it upside down and stuffed it full of paper. Reaching inside, he gave all the papers a vigorous stir, then offered the indignant Hat to the king.
"If Your Majesty would grace us with the first choice...?"
Jareth smiled, revealing teeth ever so slightly pointed. "Naturally."
He plucked a slip of paper from the Hat with a grand flourish, then peered at the name written upon it. His expression did not change, but his eyes narrowed imperceptibly and he crumpled up the paper in his gloved hand.
"I'll choose another." Jareth's tone dictated no room for argument.
"Your Majesty, I regret that this is impossible," said Sir Didymus, "The rules clearly state that each person draws only one name from the Hat and no more."
"I am the king. Rules do not apply to me."
A heated discussion about rules and protocol ensued, but Sir Didymus had the upper paw simply because it was not beneath his dignity to cry. The Goblin King had little choice but to give in, though he drummed his fingers upon the arm of his throne with an ominous beat that boded ill for his Secret Santa.
I hope it's not me, thought Hoggle fervently. He'd hate to see what the Goblin King would come up with in a bad mood. But the Hat was making its rounds, and soon he had another silent plea when it came to him at last.
Please, don't let it be Jareth. Hoggle did not believe in this less than credible personage known as "Santa", but in times of distress even a hard-hearted dwarf needed someone to pray to. Anyone but him. I'll be good for the rest of the year. I... I won't pee in the goldfish pond ever again. I'll wash my socks one a month whether they need it or not, I'll...
Sir Didymus coughed politely and shook the Hat, who took this fresh assault as further insult and tried to peck the knight's arm.
"There is but one piece of paper in the Hat remaining," said Sir Didymus, "And thou art the last to draw the name of thy Secret Santa."
Hoggle squeezed his eyes shut and thrust his hand into the Hat, whose eyes bulged out in response.
"Ouch! Not so hard, if you please!"
His fingers closed around the slip of paper, which he drew out slowly. Please, oh please...
Opening one eye a slit, he brought it up to his face and unfolded it slowly. Let it be Didymus, please please please...
Written upon the scrap of parchment in a large, bold hand was none other than, "Jareth, King of the Goblins".
All the anxiety that had been building in Hoggle's gut rose with a lurch, and suddenly the taste of liver overlaid with the jam sandwich he'd eaten for lunch gurgled in the back of his throat. Hoggle clapped one hand over his mouth and tried not to be sick. Through his nausea, he could dimly hear the knight speaking to him.
"... barely contain thy delight. I applaud thy holiday spirit, my brave comrade!"
I'll kill him, thought the dwarf. Getting me into this mess when all I wanted for Christmas was a quiet night by the fire and some egg nog...
Hoggle's apprehension was not unfounded. Etiquette dictates that the recipient of a gift should express delight and thanks, even if the emotion is feigned. However, etiquette had little to say on the subject of taking revenge upon the gift-giver if the token received did not suit the recipient's tastes. In such cases, Jareth felt that ambiguities in the guidelines of courtesy could and ought to be ruthlessly exploited by a creative and appropriately motivated ruler.
The results usually gave the kingdom something to talk about over the course of the long and tedious winter.
On one memorable occasion, a mischievous goblin had given the King a pair of frilly underpants, thinking it an excellent joke on many levels. Jareth had raised a single eyebrow and bared his teeth in something that might charitably be called a smile. "How very droll."
His note of thanks-- handwritten on his personal stationary and delivered promptly -- was beyond reproach. But they never did find the little fellow's body, not even after dragging the Bog.
Hoggle groaned in despair. There was no way out and virtually no chance of him coming up with a gift Jareth would like. He was doomed to spend all of eternity in the castle's deepest, darkest oubliette... if he was lucky.
All the shops in the goblin city had been ransacked in preparation for the holidays, and Hoggle was getting desperate. He'd begun to have nightmares about the pungent, squelching waters of the Bog creeping up to swallow his entire house while Jareth and all the court stood and watched. The lack of sleep was beginning to wear on his nerves, making him even more irritable and cranky than usual.
As a last resort, he had Ludo help wrestle the old trunk down from the attic, digging it out from under piles of spare blankets and dried-out swallow's nests. The obliging beast set it down with a solid thump, and Hoggle banged back the lid and began rooting through it and depositing its contents on the floor. This was where the dwarf kept all the family heirlooms, along with miscellaneous knick-knacks he'd picked up in his travels. Surely there would be something.
His job done, Ludo eased himself down onto a bench by the fire and surveyed the unpacking with gentle curiosity. Hoggle rummaged and swore, then rummaged some more. The results were not altogether promising:
Several years' worth of moth-eaten sweaters from his gran featuring various root vegetables knitted lumpily into the front were tossed aside. Hoggle's second-best pipe. A half-eaten box of chocolate covered cherries he'd been saving for a rainy day. A collection of pewter teaspoons from faraway goblin villages bearing mottoes like, "Crunkville: Home of the Underground's Third Largest Cesspit!" that tinkled as they hit the floor. There was absolutely nothing in the trunk that was even close to being fit for a king.
Hoggle sat back on his heels and sunk his head down into his hands. "You've got to help me figure out what to do. I only have three days left until Christmas, and Jareth will have me in the Bog if I don't come up with something good!"
Ludo grunted and heaved his enormous shoulders in a shrug. "Hoggle screwed."
The dwarf shot him a fierce look. Sarah had been teaching him Aboveground slang, and while Hoggle usually appreciated the much-needed variety in Ludo's vocabulary, he could tell this new term meant nothing good.
"A lot of help you are."
In the hollow oak tree that served as a guardhouse, a fire burned merrily in the fat-bellied stove. Two cups of mulled cider and a plate of gingerbread goblins had been set out on the table, and fresh pine boughs and sprigs of holly had been nailed to the mantle. Dressed in a natty red velvet smoking jacket with matching slippers, Sir Didymus beamed and urged his guest to take another cookie.
"I am honored thou hast consulted me, friend Hoggle," he declared happily as he stretched his feet toward the fire, "Verily, I vow to do my best to aid thee."
Hoggle glumly accepted another gingerbread goblin and bit its head off. The holidays had always been a little too much for him, he reflected. The off-key caroling, the unending batches of baked goods featuring too much nutmeg and sparkly sugar bits, the discovery of gold-painted pine cones wherever he sat. But Didymus had outdone himself this year, and Hoggle didn't dare hurt his friend's feelings.
"You know I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important, but this time I'm in deep trouble," he began with reluctance, "I need your help, Didymus. What does Jareth want for Christmas?"
"Ahhh," sighed the knight. "T'is a difficult question, indeed. His Majesty is a most particular fellow."
Ideas were discussed and discarded. A coffee mug full of candy? His Majesty was trying to maintain his kingly figure, and would not appreciate sweets. A book? His Majesty already had a library full of them. A nice warm pair of socks? His Majesty did not seem like the sort of monarch who values comfort over style.
Hoggle took a sip of cider and bit down on a decorative cinnamon stick by accident. "This is hopeless. Nothing I come up with is going to be good enough!"
"Do not let it trouble thee. After all, t'is the thought that counts, friend Hoggle."
"Yeah, and with a thought, Jareth can banish me to the Bog before you can say 'Happy Holidays'."
Didymus waved his paw in the air, nearly hitting one of the many glitter-and-paper snowflakes that hung from the ceiling. "The best gifts are those which come from the heart," he said. "What dost thou wish to give him? Search thy heart, I am certain thou shalt find the answer."
Trudging back to his cottage through the snow-covered woods with a parcel of leftover plum cake and cookies that Didymus insisted he take, Hoggle thought about what his friend had said.
What do I want to give Jareth? Hah. A good, hard kick in the royal arse. That's what I'd like to give him.
A clump of melting snow slid off a tree branch and landed wetly on Hoggle's head. Frantically wiping slush off his face, the dwarf darted anxious looks all around, half-expecting to see a white owl swooping down upon him with eyes like two chips of black ice and talons ready to rip out his treasonous tongue.
The woods were empty, and he heaved a sigh of relief.
"Never can be too careful," he muttered.
Shoving his hands deeper into his pockets, Hoggle limped on home. Melted snow was dribbling down the back of his neck and the gingerbread goblins sat in his stomach like a rock, but he wasn't beaten yet. He'd think of something.
For the dozenth time that day, Hoggle poked anxiously at the red satin bow that adorned the small, flat box he carried. He never should've let Didymus talk him into such a fancy gift wrapping job, thought the dwarf. Pretty paper only raised peoples' expectations, and Hoggle wasn't at all sure that the Goblin King would approve of his gift.
But it was too late to back out now. The throne room had been swept and scrubbed until it shone, then hung with swags of green and gold ribbon from every ceiling beam and rafter. They were halfway through an enormous Christmas feast, and already goblins were swarming the turkey carcass and dragging it away. From further down the hall came the sound of muffled explosions as the smaller goblins attacked their Christmas crackers with enthusiasm.
Hoggle tucked most of a drumstick in his pocket for later and belched softly. If nothing else, at least he'd had a good supper. Sir Didymus had given up on preparing the feast single-handedly, but he'd still supervised the kitchens with the aid of an Aboveground spellbook given to him by a mutual friend. Hoggle did not know who this Martha Stewart was, but he supposed she must be a formidable sorceress. Never before had he seen napkins folded into such torturous and elaborate designs, nor had he realized that radishes could be cut into so many different shapes.
Even Jareth appeared to be in an amiable mood. He hadn't commented at all on the suckling pig stuffed with turnips, but he'd had second helpings of the roast goose. By request from Sir Didymus, he had even set the pudding on fire himself with a single gesture of his hand. All the guests had been mightily impressed, despite the scorch marks on the ceiling.
Clambering up on his chair, Sir Didymus rapped the edge of his spoon against his wine goblet for attention.
"Your Majesty! Fellow companions! It is time for the exchanging of gifts!"
A murmur of excitement ran up and down the table.
The knight nodded and cleared his throat. "As thou knowest well, this year we are fortunate to introduce a new custom, which I hope shall be as sacred to thee as it is to myself. Allow me to begin the exchange by presenting mine own gift."
Sir Didymus produced a large box wrapped in shiny silver paper and so heavily festooned with red and green spangles that it resembled an exotic sort of cactus. There was much oohing and ahhing, for which he blushed with pride and preened his whiskers.
"Madam," he said, bowing low to the Junk Lady, "Please accept this humble token along with my best wishes for a joyous holiday."
The paper and spangles were carefully set aside for her collection. Slightly dubious, the Junk Lady peered into the box and was struck silent for a moment.
"Empty soup cans," she said in a voice choked with emotion as she touched the red and white labels with reverence, "Why, it's the whole series, from Cream of Mushroom to Bean with Bacon. You even found French Onion. Nobody ever finds French Onion! I... I don't know what to say..."
Hoggle was forced to admit that the Secret Santa gift exchange was a success. The Junk Lady gave the Wiseman a pair of mittens and a scarf, knitted from spare bits of yarn all colors of the rainbow. Sir Didymus was the happy owner of a set of monogrammed handkerchiefs and a box of Turkish Delight. Ambrosius got a large rawhide bone the size of a log. Ludo-- in absentia because he claimed to have a touch of the mange-- received a new hairbrush and a canister of flea dip powder. And then there were only two people left to claim their presents.
A runty goblin scuttled up to Hoggle, struggling under the weight of a round blue box tied up with white silk ribbon.
"From His Majesty, with compliments of the season," he squeaked.
Hoggle stared at the box. Jareth drew my name out of the Hat? No wonder... And Didymus never said a word, that sneaky little furbag.
He risked a glance at the head of the table, where the Goblin King appeared to be thoroughly engrossed in a slice of mince pie. Hoggle was not fooled in the least. He pasted on a happy grin and tugged at one end of the ribbon, surreptitiously wiping off the sweat that trickled down his nose.
I hope it's not poisonous. I hope it won't eat me.
He flipped back the edge of the box and flinched. Nothing happened. Hoggle opened his eyes.
It was the largest wheel of cheese he'd ever seen, packed carefully in clean straw and tied with twine. The rind was covered in festive red wax, and attached to the top was a purple ribbon that had been stamped with the royal seal of approval.
From the royal dairy, realized Hoggle in amazement. This stuff never makes it to the shops. I never thought I'd lay my hands on one in a million years.
He leaned over the box and inhaled deeply. A ripe, piquant odor wafted up to his nostrils that spoke of magic: the magic of curdled milk and mold and random bits of cow stomach harmonized and transformed by the alchemy of time to produce this sharp and slightly crumbly food of the gods.
He felt faint, and the scent alone made his mouth water. Hoggle was unfamiliar with terms like "artisanal" and "cave-aged", but he knew a good cheese when he smelled it. Tucked into the box was a small card, and Hoggle turned it over and squinted at the fine writing.
"Cheese of the Month Club," he said in growing wonderment, "So I get one like this every month?"
It was almost too much happiness for one dwarf to bear.
Didymus gave him a nudge with his elbow. "Dost thou like it?"
"Like it? Dammit... I think I'm going to cry."
The knight gallantly offered Hoggle one of his brand new handkerchiefs, but the dwarf sniffled loudly and got himself under control.
"Don't mind me," he grumbled, "It's great. Really great. That Jareth isn't such a bad guy, after all."
Didymus' whiskers quivered with laughter. "I thought thou wouldst enjoy it. But I saved the best for last, friend Hoggle. Thy gift to His Majesty!"
Gulping down the rest of his wine, Hoggle yielded up his present with a reluctant cough. Sir Didymus took it upon himself to deliver it to the king, and the dwarf watched with great trepidation as the small box with the large red bow made its way up the table.
"From Hoggle, Your Majesty," announced the knight. "With many happy wishes for the holidays."
Jareth raised an eyebrow as he held up the box to the light. "Indeed. Shall we see what's inside, then?"
Hoggle closed his eyes and crossed his fingers beneath the table. Dear Santa, he thought, quickly trying to recall the proper wording of the incantation, This year for Christmas I would like to avoid being turned into anything unnatural...
Much later, Hoggle fished the turkey drumstick from his pocket, along with a slightly mashed piece of fruitcake and half a dozen rumballs. With Ludo squeezed in under the staircase and Didymus standing by the fire, there was only just enough room for the three of them in the guardhouse. The knight poured three cups of hot cocoa from the pan heating on the stove and raised his mug in a toast.
"To a successful Christmas feast! And to friendship!"
"Friendship." agreed Ludo, his upper lip already covered in milk foam.
Hoggle rolled his eyes, but he lifted his mug and clinked it against Didymus' own. "What he said."
Cheerfully adding a fistful of marshmallows to his drink, Sir Didymus settled into his stuffed chair with a satisfied sigh.
"Thou art to be congratulated for thine own success," he said to Hoggle with a nod of approval, "His Majesty was speechless."
Seeing Jareth at a loss for words was thanks enough, reflected the dwarf. It wasn't something that happened every day. Most of his subjects were shrewd judges of their king's mercurial moods by dint of sheer self-preservation, and Hoggle could tell Jareth was as pleased as he'd ever been-- though he'd said little about it. In fact, the Goblin King spoke only a brief word of thanks, and soon after that he left the hall so quickly and silently that very few noticed he'd gone.
Sir Didymus was one of the few who'd glimpsed the gift before Jareth spirited it away, and the knight's expression was benevolent and dreamy. "I had faith thou wouldst rise to the occasion. Did I not predict the answer would come to thee?"
"You did say something like that."
"Pray, tell me how it was done. Did it give thee much trouble?"
Hoggle sipped his hot cocoa with a certain sense of smugness. "Not at all. I just popped in and grabbed it. It was the one in her bedroom that her dad took last summer with his--" A pause while Hoggle searched for the right word,"--camera. The one where she's in the park, wearing that white dress with the roses. Already had a nice frame and everything."
"Pretty." commented Ludo.
"Thou speakest true, my brother. My lady's beauty increases with every year, and she looks extraordinarily well in that picture. I am surprised that she let thee have it, friend Hoggle. Didst thou tell her of thy purpose?"
Hoggle slurped the remainder of his cocoa and licked the rim of the mug where sugar crystals had formed. "Well... She wasn't around, so she didn't exactly let me have it. But I'm sure she would have done. I'll explain everything to her later."
Sir Didymus' one eye grew round with disbelief. "Thou... thou hast committed an act of thievery?"
"I didn't steal it," replied the dwarf hotly, "It was a trade! I left her something in return. More valuable than a silly picture, too."
Outside the snow was falling, and from her bedroom window Sarah could see it gathering inches-deep on the window sill, pure white, like spun sugar. She leaned forward and breathed on the glass, then drew something in the condensation-- backwards, so it could only be easily read by someone just outside. She laughed regretfully to herself. Not that anyone would see it.
A few seconds more, and the words were gone. She turned from the window and took up her brush, then started to work the tangles out of her long, dark hair. It had been a memorable Christmas, even by her family's standards. Toby had loved the wooden sword and shield she bought him from the Renaissance festival earlier that year, and he'd run around the house terrorizing Merlin until the poor dog hid in the pantry and refused to come out.
Karen and her father had given her a gift certificate to her favorite bookstore downtown, and Toby gave her a set of figurines he'd made out of clay during art class. Dad and Karen were quite puzzled as to what they could possibly be, but if you closed one eye and squinted at the lumpy sculpture, you could almost see the figures of a short, stumpy man, an enormous horned beast, and a small, but fierce little fox brandishing his staff. Sarah hugged her brother until he squirmed and complained about not being able to breathe.
It had been a good year. She'd gotten everything she wanted... Sarah wound a strand of her hair around one finger, her eyes focused on something in the faraway distance.
Well. Almost everything.
The downstairs clock struck midnight, and from the hallway came soft footsteps as her father and Karen retired to bed. Yawning, Sarah changed into her flannel pajamas and went to turn off the light. Halfway there, she stopped.
Sitting on her dresser table was a pile of tarnished spoons that hadn't been there before. Toby's doing, she thought, shaking her head. Her little brother was always leaving odd bits and pieces around the house, and god only knows where he got them in the first place. She picked one up to examine it more closely. There appeared to be words engraved onto the handle.
Sarah frowned in bemusement. "Where the hell is Crunkville?"
A/N: Per typical author tendency toward the absurd, there is one Bowie reference and one LOTR reference. A very belated happy holidays to everyone.