The Lady and the Knight
Sarah leaned her weight on the railing, looking out at the darkening sky as the stars began to twinkle to life. The boat cut a swath through the ocean, the wind tangling its fingers through her hair. She took a deep breath of the salt air and smiled, loving the smell.
Sarah was twenty-three, and at the moment she had absolutely no idea where she was. She heard a step behind her and turned with calm eyes, luminous and pale in the fading light.
"Are you certain you won't come with me?" A warm, aristocratic voice. A voice meant for Shakespeare's plays. He had probably been alive when Shakespeare had written them. Marcus was short for a man of modern times, almost of a height with Sarah. There was something about the white hair and thick mustache that brought to mind Mark Twain, but his eyes put the lie to any impulse that might be tempted to label him as human. Black eyes. Unimaginably ancient eyes. She was terribly fond of him.
She smiled at him, and shook her head. There was no sadness in the gesture.
"No, Marcus. I'm just not ready to go home," Sarah said, and turned to look out at the water. Her eyes were hungry, devouring the beauty of the evening like a true connoisseur. Marcus leaned on the railing beside her with the exaggerated care of a man favoring old joints. Sarah smothered a smile, not buying it.
"Not ready to have a home, maybe?" Marcus said lightly. Sarah glanced at him, and then after a moment, leaned on him in a friendly fashion. Marcus leaned back, and she caught a smile underneath the mustache. "I could say you've always got a home here with me, but I've a feeling I'd be just one of many folk who've said that to you."
Sarah looked at him askance.
"Doesn't make a friend I make any less dear to me," Sarah said, with a hint of reproach. It was a gift that had served her better than any other. Sarah Williams had an uncanny knack to find real friends. She never would have got so far in life without all those helping hands. "I imagine you've had more than your share, over the years."
"Hmm," replied Marcus gruffly, with razor wit.
Sarah leaned her head on his shoulder. Marcus gave the top of her head a peck.
"Clever little mortal girl, aren't you."
"I'd better be, after everything I've got through." She grinned like something not entirely human any more, her teeth glinting white in the darkness.
"You see, that is what I like about you, my dear," Marcus said in a honey tone, "It's so rare to find a woman of your years that can manage to be so delightfully enigmatic."
Sarah ducked her head, leaning into the wind, pleased. She could just make out a flicker of light on the horizon. Possibly an island...
"So," she said, neatly deflecting his praise, "where will you be dumping me?" She smiled slyly. Marcus shot her a sharp look, but relaxed at the look on her face.
"Such vulgar English from such a lovely creature," he scolded. "If my Vulgar Lady Sarah wishes, she may part company with me after we dock. I'm certain there will be someone at this little celebration that will know your worth on sight."
"Mmm, I like that. Sweet talker," Sarah said, batting her eyes at him.
"Best not," Marcus warned her. "I'm old, not dead."
Sarah looked at him challengingly, tall and straight and untamed. He had never done more than cast an appreciative glance her way, and she seriously doubted he ever would. She'd developed a radar for that kind of thing. It was useful, given her...unusual lifestyle.
Sarah had triumphed over a king, once. She figured she could be forgiven for being unsatisfied with mundane life. After high school she had started to wander further and further from home, taking any chance for a trip or a journey with a friend, eyes always open wide to the wonders of the world. Thanks to her strange journey in the Labyrinth, there were many things she could see that other people could not. Things like Marcus, for one.
There had to come a day when she did not go home again. It was inevitable. She packed a bag, took a small amount of saved money, and started to make her way in the wide, weird world. How could she be afraid? She'd fought her way to the castle beyond the goblin city. She could find her way through anything.
She sent postcards home, whenever it was possible. Some of the places she'd been to over the years were not exactly operating under the general laws of physics, much less the postal system. She tried her best.
She had a postcard shoved in her back pocket for Toby, actually. While the thought was fresh, she dug it out, checked to be sure it was addressed correctly.
She looked from the card up at Marcus.
"This celebration," she began, " the guests will be...just people?" The only thing in her voice was curiosity. There was more than enough adventure to be had in the regular world, if those were the folk she would be meeting.
"Just people," Marcus repeated thoughtfully. "I suppose it could happen." He sounded extremely skeptical.
Hmm. Anything might turn out then.
Cheered by this thought, Sarah excused herself to get ready.
She packed what few things she cared to take in her bag. It was a bit heavier than it used to be. Lighter on trifles, but heavier on the strange and wonderful things she'd acquired in her travels. She left Toby's postcard next to the bunk she'd been sleeping on for the past six months. She knew Marcus would understand, and make sure it was delivered.
Sarah was always careful not to be unclothed in front of the mirror in her cabin. When she finally did step in front of it, posing a bit and letting the little skirt on her dress swing attractively, she winked at the two goblins that peered over the edge of the mirror and made faces at her. Then she called for Hoggle, and spoke to him seriously, as she always did when she was leaving for parts unknown. There had been several times over the years that convenient access to a mirror had saved her life. Ludo had busted her out of a prison of sorts, once. Hoggle and Sir Didymus had untied her in dire situations several times.
Hoggle never liked it when she put herself in harms way, but he was even more grumpy than usual that evening, and Sarah ended up sitting down and looking earnestly into his reflected eyes. He had the devils own time lying to her whenever she did that.
"I ain't sayin' nothin'," Hoggle said immediately.
"Then I'll ask Sir Didymus. He won't lie to me," Sarah said confidently, and Hoggle flinched. Sarah softened her tone. " I know something's wrong, just tell me." She had a sharp thought. "Is it the Goblin King?"
"Jareth?" Hoggle said with an incredulous snort that went further to ease her fears than anything he might've said. "He can barely..." Hoggle stiffened. "Look, it ain't him. Something's gone funny in the Labyrinth, is all."
"Are you in danger?" Sarah asked, her voice suddenly stronger, more assured. Hero voice.
Hoggle frowned, the wrinkles on his face deepening.
"I'm fine," he said, and she nearly believed that. " I'm sure it'll sort itself out." She believed that a bit less, but nodded, accepting it. For now.
"If you need me, you'll call, won't you?" Sarah asked. Hoggle nodded, waving his hand at her as if it was a silly thing for her to ask him. Sarah pressed her lips together tight. "Promise," she urged. Hoggle opened his eyes wide, managing to look hurt. Sarah had learned a thing or two in the eight years since she'd left the Labyrinth. Some words had power with magical types.
"I promise," Hoggle said grudgingly, and she relaxed, smiling at him. Powerful words.
Marcus met her on deck in a suit straight out of Victorian England. He even had a bowler hat. She made appreciative noises, and he bowed gallantly. She was wearing white, a flouncy little dress that felt good on her skin in the warm weather. When the company turned unusual, she'd learned that the dress code tended to be extremely flexible.
Marcus cocked an elbow for her and she slid her arm through his with easy grace.
He led her down the dock and she realized immediately that someone had spared no expense.
Nearly the entire island had been strung with fairy lights and streamers of bright cloth that fluttered attractively in the breeze. Pagodas and gazebos had been built, strung together on the ground and in the trees like lace. Colorful tents were busy with people, and there was a wide dance floor built of pale wood open under the stars.
The music was sweet and lively, and the creatures that danced were laughing and brightly dressed.
"Oh, Marcus," Sarah breathed in delight.
Marcus suddenly looked a bit taller.
"I thought you might like it," he said, guiding her up the steps as if she were some beautiful, delicate thing. As if she belonged on that dance floor. "Not a bad goodbye present, don't you think?"
"I love it," Sarah sighed, hugging his arm close. An inhumanly pale creature passed them with a polite nod, silver eyes bright in the moonlight. She darted up and planted a kiss on Marcus' cheek.
"Dance with me," he urged her.
Sarah danced with Marcus, who was not bad on his feet, and then with a slightly disturbing looking man who seemed nearly human until he smiled and showed her a mouthful of sharp gleaming fangs. Shortly after that a huge fellow with skin so dark it was almost black stepped in. His name was Marib, and he had fire in his eyes than had nothing at all to do with the reflection off the torches.
He was hot, almost feverish to the touch, and he was looking at her in a way that made her think she might have found a new traveling companion. She let him draw her closer on the second song. He had a kind face, and he was staring at her as if she was dazzling.
When she begged off another dance to go and hunt for some food, he went as well. He did not hover over her, nor did he presume by taking her arm. He followed with his hands behind his back, a comfortable grace to his stride that was eye catching.
Strange and beautiful and terrifying things moved around them inside the tent, laughing and talking and snarling at each other. She caught a glimpse of Marcus conversing earnestly with a man-shaped piece of living stone. She took time to watch how the flames in Marib's eyes cast shadows on the rest of his face. She turned her head to admire the multicolored feathers sprouting from the aristocratic neck of a young woman.
Sarah was utterly in her element.
Then, she saw him. His mismatched eyes met hers with a clash of steel. The shock of it struck her silent, choking her off in mid-sentence. She just caught a flash of him, as the crowd parted for a moment. How could he be here?
Her mind fumbled, and Marib looked down at her in concern.
It was him, she was sure it was him...but what in the hell was he doing here?
"I'm sorry," she said to Marib, "I have to..." she didn't even finish the thought, much less the sentence. She was already pushing through the crowd. She didn't stop until she was standing on the spot he'd been. He was, of course, gone. She would have been more surprised if he'd still been there.
She looked around her at the crowd, frustrated. Her eye caught on the table nearest her arm. On it rested a single soft white feather. She picked it up as if she expected it, too, to vanish.
She ran the delicate plume through her fingers, frowning. Tricky, tricky...
It took her a moment to realize the music had changed. It was an unfamiliar tune, but the shift in style was jarring. This new music was very...him. Danceable but just this side of disturbing. With the gleam of the hunt in her eye, she took off for the dance floor, brushing right by a rather startled Marib. He probably thought she was losing her mind. Then she pushed past a lizard man in a deerstalker hat and remembered everything was relative.
She exited the tent, getting a good look at the open dance floor, and deflated. It had cleared out considerably with the shift in music style, and it was easy to tell he was not there.
"Tell me something Sarah," said a voice in her ear, and a corner of her mouth lifted in a smile. She turned and looked at him with raised eyebrows, as if she'd known he was there all along.
Jareth was splendid in white, and almost exactly as she remembered him.
"What might that be," she replied calmly, as if they were old friends picking up the threads of an interrupted conversation.
"Wouldn't you agree, looking back now, that I was generous after all?" His smile was crooked and cold as ever, but there was a hint of real amusement in his eye.
Twenty-three year old Sarah, who'd gone through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, met things much, much more terrible than her first victory had ever shown her, looked at her first adversary through the clear lens of hindsight and felt an unexpected, nostalgic fondness well up.
She knew it was showing on her face, because his eyes widened.
"I dare say you were," she said finally, in an entirely unconvincingly careless tone of voice. "I've found that a lot of things are relative." He had, after all, returned her and Toby after she'd won. He'd broken a few of his own rules, but not all of them. Hell, he had rules to break.
And afterwards...she could still see. Things like goblins, and fairies, and Marib. He left her with that, he'd left her with her friends. It was against the rules to do that. He should have taken her memory of the whole thing. She'd often wondered why...
Jareth looked unaccountably pleased, which left her pleasantly irritated with him.
The music swelled in an attractive way that begged to be danced to. Jareth stepped forward slowly enough for her to get out of the way if she objected. She did not, so he swept her up and they joined the dancers. His thumb was lightly stroking the white feather she still had tucked between her fingertips. He glanced from it to her face and she was suddenly startled with the thought that he was pleased she'd kept it.
The moon had risen high and luminous. Something about the quality of the light seemed to concentrate on her dancing partner, and she turned her face aside for a moment, briefly blinded. She blinked, startled, then glanced down at herself and let out a breath of laughter. She'd been wearing a pretty little white dress. She was now in a gown worthy of royalty. It swept the floor as she moved.
Jared's fine white suit had picked up embroidery and jewels.
"How...dramatic," Sarah said with that same nostalgic fondness shining a bit brighter. "You always did have a flair."
"Mmm, says the beautiful young girl who was practically a slave," Jareth commented, looking as though he were enjoying himself immensely.
Sarah let out a bark of laughter. Good god, she hadn't thought of that in years...
"What are you doing here?" A question that might have been suspicious, or demanding, was by the surprisingly pleasant start to their conversation delivered with a delighted chuckle and a shake of Sarah's head. She'd always said, buy a girl a dress and she'll follow you anywhere...
Jareth extended his arm, twirling her smoothly. He drew her back up against his chest and she flashed him a disturbing, not-quite-human-anymore smile. Jareth stared, as most people did the first time they saw it.
"I knew you were here, of course," Jareth said, recovering quickly.
"Liar," Sarah replied, not unkindly. "I didn't even know I would be here."
He really was a marvelous dancer, and he did not lose their rhythm together, but he hesitated a little, his eyes flickering at her words.
Well, well. Not a liar after all. Sarah was surprised. How would he know she would be here...more importantly, why would he care?
"You've been spying on me," she said and it wasn't quite a question. She wasn't sure if she should be flattered or not. Jareth looked coldly amused.
"Now why would someone such as myself waste any more time than I already have on an ordinary slip of a girl like you?" His words were harsh out of his mouth, with a lot of emphasis on the word 'ordinary'.
'But this is not a gift for an ordinary girl who takes care of a screaming baby...'
Sarah raised her eyebrows, realizing she'd touched a nerve.
"And wasting such a beautiful dress on me, too," Sarah said with mock reproach, eyes wide.
Jareth paused, startled, and then laughed out loud. It was still the wild, mocking, frightening laugh from her youth. Sarah was surprised that the sound of it was still able to shoot chills down her spine.
"You've changed, Sarah." He did not look disappointed. He looked...intrigued. The music faded, and they stopped dancing in the middle of the floor.
"I should certainly hope so," Sarah replied. He didn't let go of her, or step away, and the next smile she gave him was the gentle one. "You let me go on Seeing. I don't know why, but..." Her friends. All the wild wonders in the world and out of it.
The 'thank you' was there, on her face and in her voice, but she didn't say it out loud. He had stolen her brother and scared the crap out of her. Even if it did end up building character.
Jareth looked like a boy on Christmas morning. Well. A decidedly dangerous, mercurial and elegantly dressed boy on Christmas morning. She wasn't entirely sure it was an act. After all, who thanks the Goblin King for anything?
He raised his eyebrows at her and utterly failed to respond to her question. He wasn't going to tell her why he'd let her go on Seeing.
Sarah thought suddenly about another passage in that red book.
'But what no one knew is that the king of the goblins had fallen in love with the girl, and he had given her certain powers.'
"Everything that you wanted I have done."
"Just fear me, love me..."
He'd also, she noticed, very neatly avoided telling her why he was here.