Summary: The eve of Sarah's twenty-first birthday falls on the night of Beltane… a night when the borders between the physical and magical world become blurred, and a certain Goblin King reappears with an offer to renew, and won't be taking no for an answer…
Author's Note: My first foray into the realm of Labyrinth fan fiction, somewhere I flitted in and out of before this story jumped into my head. Originally intended as a oneshot, but it seemed to grow in spite of my best efforts so it's looking more like it will be in three parts (possibly more). My main goal with this piece was to write a Sarah who wasn't a whiny pushover, a foul-mouthed b*tch, or strapped to a bed foaming at the mouth. A Sarah who doesn't fall into any of these categories seems strangely hard to come by. Of course, if you review, I'll know how successful I was.
Warnings: Later adult themes (or suggestion of).
Oh, and if you're looking for Fluffy Jareth, you won't find him here.
To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these – the dreams – writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away… the music swells and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever…
The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe
It's only forever…
The gold clock face wavered and swam in front of her vision, the hands gliding unremittingly forward in a sweeping movement of dark imminence. The rhythmic strokes underscored the lilting cadences of his voice, now raised in anger.
I have reordered time, I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you.
The scene of their final, dramatic confrontation receded and now she was stood gazing out across the Labyrinth once more, his resonant warning hovering over her in the arid wasteland like some poised bird of prey.
Time is short…
And something else, something familiar yet strange, from another encounter, another time. He was facing her, just as she remembered him from so long ago: pale, perfect, pitiless. Weaving strands of light illuminated his face and hair that shone with white fire. He was smiling.
I've seen children no older than your brother trapped forever in their own nightmares without recourse to escape –
And still the memories-not-memories persisted.
He was swinging a timepiece before her; an antique device with a face of glass, hands of ebony and a rim of gold – it was beautiful –
… and then tell me what forever feels like…
And over it all the chimes of a clock striking the hour with a resounding clarity, and wild, triumphant laughter –
Sarah Williams awoke with a start. The remnants of a terrible dream hovered on the edges of her consciousness, blurring and becoming indistinct, a dream she would no longer remember. Her head was lying at an uncomfortable angle sideways across her arms. She pulled herself upright, feeling the crick in her neck as she did so. How long was I asleep, she wondered vaguely, rubbing her eyes without noticing the mascara that smudged onto her fingers. She blinked several times, adjusting to the dim light that brought the University College library into sharp focus.
She sat up a little straighter in her chair, realising with a start where she was. A glance at her watch told her it was twenty-five minutes to midnight; not particularly late – after all, she had done all-nighters in the library before – but nevertheless, she was the only one she could see on her floor, unusual for a weeknight. Her half-finished literature essay sat on the table in front of her ('Compare the role Magic plays in William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream"') and she stared down at it a little guiltily, realising she must have been more tired than she'd thought.
I must be the only person sad enough to be in the library on the night of their twenty-first, she thought wryly. And I wonder why I haven't had a relationship in the last six months.
Her friends had insisted on throwing her a party, but she had been adamant they wait until tomorrow. Her assignment was due by the end of the week, and already accepting her actual birthday as a write-off as far as any work was concerned, she wanted to get the bulk of it out the way. Be as that may, she had a sneaking suspicion that the moment she got in, her housemates would be waiting up for her, drinks at the ready. Sarah grinned reluctantly at the thought, and stared down at her essay, divided between the prospect of having to trawl her way through a pile of secondary sources and making the necessary citations, or going home and beginning her birthday celebrations a few minutes early. Two packages had arrived at her house this morning, one from her Dad and Karen, the other with Toby's recognisable scrawl across the label. The sight of it had given her a small pang, as she hadn't seen any of them since her last vacation. And Toby was getting so tall –
Sarah almost jumped out of her chair in shock. A barn owl had flown past outside, so close it had almost crashed into the window. Leaning across the table, she gazed out of the window, for a moment only able to see her own reflection; pale faced and intent, before the view outside became gradually clearer. A sliver of moonlight illuminated the view from the second floor window. It was a cold night for spring, moonlit and cloudless; a chilly gust of wind rattled the glass in its weathered frame. The wood that bordered the edge of campus came even so far as the library; she need only reach outside the half-open window for her hand to brush against one of the evergreen branches –
She blinked, frowned, and looked harder.
The barn owl was perched on a branch outside her window, unmoving and… staring at her. Sarah pushed her dark hair away from her face, releasing a slow breath. I've been in here too long, she decided. She swallowed and pushed her chair back slightly. The bird continued to gaze at her unblinkingly. It was a beautiful creature, rich, snowy plumage, razor-sharp beak that was honed with predatory precision and enormous slanting eyes that looked oddly silver in the moonlight…
The fluttering tension in her body she attributed to the espressos intended to carry her through a night of study rather than any other cause. Any reminders of that chapter in her life she would not entertain. Not tonight. Yes, she had spent a couple of months on edge after her return, jumping at strange noises, but the Labyrinth had long ago dwindled into the background as real life concerns occupied her. By now she had grown accustomed to the oddness that occurred at certain times of the year, not to mention the dreams. And to this day she wouldn't eat peaches. But all this she accepted as a matter of course. The otherworldly events had faded like a half-forgotten dream, barely remembered unless triggered by certain things –
Like a barn owl.
Yes, perhaps it was time she called it a night. Pulling a hair band from her bag, she loosely tied her hair back and glanced in her pocket mirror, trying to wipe away the vestiges of mascara that had clumped under her eyes. She might be exhausted, but returning home to a birthday gathering meant she didn't particularly want to look it. Gathering her books together, Sarah piled them into her bag rather haphazardly, and swung the satchel over her shoulder, wincing slightly at the weight of it. Remembering to turn off the small desk lamp, and with one last fleeting glance out the window (the owl was still there), she hurriedly left.
The moment she stepped outside, she shivered, wishing she had worn more than a thin shirt. When she'd arrived at the library in the afternoon, it had been warm and sunny. Wrapping her arms around herself, she pushed on through the woods, following the progress of the winding path. The lights that had been put up along the walkway were broken – obviously the result of a student prank – but having made the journey so many times, Sarah could have done it blindfolded, and tonight there was a clear moon. Occasionally, when the gaps between the trees permitted, she had a view of the night sky, scattered with stars. The library was behind her, but the lights from the biology block were visible through the trees; in the distance, she heard a drunken laugh.
There was always something she had liked about the night: the solitude, the quiet, which, on campus was rare enough to find. The bout of chill air had woken her up far more effectively than the hours huddled over black coffee, staring at her Complete Works of Shakespeare. Perhaps she had overdone it today; her eyes were behaving oddly. Every now and then, something seemed to dance on the edges of her vision. Sarah blinked several times, attributing it to over-tiredness. She ran a hand over her eyes, and looked around her. The dark boughs of the trees glowed silvery-pale where the moonlight managed to penetrate the dense foliage. Through the soles of her rather worn trainers, the grass was slightly damp underfoot. She slowed her naturally quick-paced walk to a leisurely amble. Her housemates weren't expecting her home until after midnight, and she wanted some time to herself when she officially turned twenty-one.
The house she was renting was only a few minutes walk from campus, but all the same, she knew Karen wouldn't be too enthusiastic at the thought of her stepdaughter wandering around alone at night. It was a good three hours drive from home, but the thought of Karen that flared up so suddenly and so vividly made it seem a little less far, somehow. The days when Sarah – a fiercely withdrawn and imaginative teenager – had violently resented her stepmother for occupying her father's attention and expecting her to baby-sit her brother were long gone. The two of them had developed a comfortable sisterly bond, and as she had become older, Sarah had begun to appreciate having another woman in the house when she returned home between semesters.
Sarah shivered again.
There was definitely something odd in the air. She wondered if there was going to be a storm, but it hadn't been hot enough for that… But still there was a distinctive something that caused an odd prickling across her skin. It felt… magical. Sarah frowned. She used that word with caution now. She had felt it before too, last time on the winter solstice when she had attended a carol concert during the Christmas vacation. She felt a thrill of apprehension at the memory that unwittingly surfaced.
The sharp, heady scent of pinecones mingled with incense infiltrated the Church porch that was filled with parishioners picking up Hymn Books. Toby was tugging at her gloved hands, wanting to get a seat near the front, talking eagerly in the hushed whispers instinctive within Church walls. Sarah looked around appreciatively, only half listening. The parish had outdone itself this year. Although she only ever attended Mass at Christmas and Easter, she loved churches; the archaic feel of them, their imposing grandeur, the ambience. The entrance was lit with candles, throwing mingled light and shadow on the wooden nativity scene that had recently taken residence there. The ceiling was adorned with ivy and mistletoe, the dark evergreen disappearing into shadows of impenetrable black.
Toby poked her painfully in the ribs. "Look, they've got a little baby Jesus and everything – "
His voice sounded strange, as though it came from very far away, and the smell of pine needles was almost overwhelming. Sarah shivered violently. When had it become so cold?
She looked down at her watch. It was only twenty past seven. "Music's started a bit early, hasn't it?"
Toby looked at her oddly. "What?"
The melody came again: clear as water, yet elusive, a sweet and piercing sound.
"Can't you hear –?"
She glanced up again. The wreaths above her seemed to be swaying – but there's no wind – coiling and intertwining together to form an archway. The leaves rustling together sounded like whispers. She could no longer hear the bustle of sound in the vestry, only the haunting music and the soft murmuring that sounded like someone saying her name, over and over. The air was razor sharp, and the light was different altogether – no longer the dusky half-light of the candles, but paler, lambent, glowing with invitation.
Sarah… the leaves whispered. Sarah…
The twisting wreaths that opened outward seemed to stretch into infinity, and she thought she stood in a forest, while the air pulsed and shimmered around her, and the cold pierced her to the core. The pale boles of the trees shone with the diamond glint of frost. Icicles dripped glass-like onto the evergreen leaves. And the white fruit of the mistletoe shone brighter somehow, two pinpricks of light that became eyes, eyes that had challenged her so long ago, filled with such fury and despair –
"Sarah, I said are you alright?"
She blinked hard, and Karen's concerned face slowly swam into focus. The noise of her surroundings returned to her, and someone jolted against her in an attempt to get past. "Sarah? Your Dad and Toby are waiting for us."
"Hmm?" She said vaguely. A few small branches detached themselves from the overhanging display and fell crashing to the floor, missing her by a fraction. She jumped in alarm.
Karen frowned. "You look pale. You're not coming down with something, are you? I know the flu's been going round Toby's school –"
"No…" The ivy overhead rustled and something small seemed to move within its dense leafy depths – She looked away quickly and flashed her stepmother a falsely bright smile, while linking arms and hurriedly ushering her through the glass doors. "No, I'm fine."
Sarah shook away the memory she had so forcefully suppressed, her sense of unease growing. That scent, almost like –
You're being ridiculous, she told herself sternly. So what if someone's been smoking something in the woods? It would hardly be the first time.
Yet that didn't quite explain the stillness, or the hushed expectancy; and out of the corner of her eye, she thought she could discern a faint rippling that made her think of glass melting. And such a strange, almost throbbing sensation in the atmosphere, like electrical energy.
Sarah began to walk a little faster.
Her friends were at home waiting for her; what they would say if they saw her now. The thought restored some measure of calm. Sarah swung her bag onto her other shoulder, mind going back over what she had discussed with Professor Redgrave at the end of last week's lecture.
"Sarah, I was very impressed that you brought up More's Utopia in your argument for human nature making the concept of the island as a paradise impossible."
"Thanks," said Sarah, smiling as she tucked an excerpt of Montaigne's Of Cannibals back into her bag. The bustle of students leaving echoed around the lecture theatre. "I wasn't sure if it was entirely relevant, but one of my housemates had the book lying around the house so I thought it might be worth a look."
Professor Redgrave nodded and looked at the girl thoughtfully. "You know, you made some good points in this week's seminar. Have you thought of doing this as your assessed essay topic? You already have most of the texts to use as reference, as well as the lecture notes."
"Oh, I've already decided what I'm doing my assessment on."
"Yes…" The older woman glanced down the list. "The comparison of magic wasn't it? Are you quite sure you wouldn't be better off doing the essay on nature and civilisation?"
Sarah kept her tone polite, although her shoulders stiffened slightly. "No, I've got a few ideas about this one. I just found the question on magic more… interesting."
In hindsight, maybe the presentation of Nature and Civilisation would have been the safer option. After all, writing what she really knew of magic would hardly stand her in good stead with the University's board of assessment. Distractedly trying to recall the lines of Prospero's speech, the sound of wings fluttering overhead passed her by unnoticed. She said aloud to herself, with a confidence she did not fully feel:
"Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confined by you –"
As she paused to remember the remainder of the quotation, a voice – low, silken and metallic – interrupted her recital.
"Well now, that sounds more promising than I had hoped."
Sarah felt her very blood freeze as those haunting, half forgotten tones whispered through the trees and caressed her skin, causing her arms to erupt in goosebumps. She stopped dead. Her college bag fell to the ground with a muted thud.
"Who's there?" she said, hearing the quiver in her own voice.
Cold unease slithered through her as she suddenly recalled an incident a few months ago where a girl had been assaulted on campus; many of the trees in the wood had been cut down as a result, but she couldn't remember if the attacker had ever been caught… why the hell did I decide to walk back on my own? Heartbeat thudding in her ears, she looked around in every direction, trying to discern any signs of movement around her, but the overwhelming silence and clear view through the trees persuaded her she was quite alone. Be jumping at my own shadow next… Shaking her head slightly, she reached down to pick up her bag.
"Surely you haven't forgotten me already?"
His voice. Smooth as rippling glass, with a clear, hard edge like the facet of a diamond. The sound of it, the barn owl, the electric atmosphere all led to one awful conclusion… No. Impossible. Not here. Not now. She wanted to run but her feet seemed weighted down with lead, she couldn't move –
A soft sigh that was definitely not the wind brushed the back of her neck.
Nothing? Nothing, nothing, tra la la!
Her heart banged against her ribs.
This is a trick; someone's playing a joke on me…
"Is this any way to greet an old friend?"
This isn't happening, this isn't happening –
Sarah didn't turn around; refusing to acknowledge what every rational part of her mind fought against, at what simply could not be –
"Look at me, Sarah."
His voice was a low inexorable command.
And slowly – very slowly – Sarah turned and found herself facing the figure she had defeated six years ago.
He was the same – exactly the same as she remembered. The stark, bone-white face characterised by its harsh beauty: the sharp planes and angular lines unsoftened by any hint of tenderness. His thin lips were parted in a half-mocking smile, pearly teeth flashing in the surrounding gloom. The moon formed a halo around his silvery hair that stuck out like fine wires. And his eyes… those strange, parti-coloured eyes had haunted her dreams for years. Eyes so pale they were almost white, sharp and piercing as ice crystals – or were they grey? The hard cold grey of a winter's sky that was so merciless and forbidding. Sarah averted her gaze; it hurt to look at him for too long.
"Well, Sarah," he continued in those same delicate glassy tones; it reminded her of wind chimes tinkling together – wind chimes underpinned by the jarring dissonance of nails scraping down a blackboard. "Have you missed me?"
The power of speech had left her entirely. She could only stare. He was dressed in an elegant ruffled shirt beneath a fitted leather waistcoat, giving him a vaguely Period air, though Sarah somehow doubted it was the fashion to have metallic shoulder plates soldered outwards in the shape of outstretched wings or what looked like netted stars flashing through the gauzy fabric of their clothing. The effect was dazzling; again, she had to look away.
The threads knotting her vocal chords together seemed to break apart a fraction, enough for her to form two unsteady words.
Jareth continued to smile at her with a deadly sort of amusement. "Hmm. I would have hoped by now we knew each other well enough to move onto first name terms." He paused, lashes sweeping downward in a fringe of pale gold, as he said reflectively, "I think I should like to hear you use my name."
In the mind-numbing paralysis of disbelief, Sarah was still able to comprehend from the dancing childlike glee in his eyes, that the mind games had begun again. It all came back to her in a rush: the fear, the uncertainty, the desperation, the strange relationship with the Goblin King that had ranged from the outright antagonistic to the strangely flirtatious –
Flirtatious? Now that wasn't the word she would have used. Sarah frowned, her lip caught between her teeth. He was her enemy, the fey trickster that had stolen her brother from her and put her through a gruelling quest to reclaim him, and tried to distract her with lies and illusions. She would not bow down and play his game. Not anymore. The old defiance reasserted itself in her straightening posture and the shiver of tension that ran down her spine. She glared at him in stony silence.
Jareth's eyebrows almost disappeared into his hairline, but the infuriating smile did not leave his face. His hand reached into his breast pocket and she automatically tensed, half expecting him to draw out a crystal, and so was completely bemused when instead he produced a gold pocket watch. It sat in the centre of his palm, elaborately carved and inlaid with symbols, but with that one irregularity she had seen reproduced on his clock in their last encounter: there were thirteen hours.
"Still the same foolish headstrong child you were then, Sarah. And I had such high hopes for you. You may keep up this wilful disobedience as long as you like. I have time – an eternity of time to be reordered at my will, so you must see how futile it is to disobey me." His expression hardened, all semblance of lightness gone. "My name Sarah. Say it."
Sarah closed her eyes, willing her heartbeat to slow. How could she have thought he was the same? He had often been aloof, yes, cruel in his way, but there was something ruthless about him that warned her he had not taken his last defeat lightly. She sought refuge in indifference.
"Jareth," she said, very quietly and with all the dignity she could muster.
The Goblin King replaced the pocket watch with an almost ostentatious slowness. With his white-gold hair and fiery eyes he looked almost like an angel, only angels didn't smirk.
"There," he said breezily. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
Sarah didn't say anything. Only reminded herself to keep breathing from one moment to the next. This is insane, her mind kept saying, over and over. The whole situation felt unreal. Every moment she was expecting to wake up and find herself in the library again, but another oddly detached part of her was all too aware of this being reality; the cold air against her skin, the giving pressure of damp grass beneath her feet, and most insistent of all, the heightened physicality of his presence… no, this was no dream.
"So quiet, Sarah," he remarked, a smile curving around his words. "Have you nothing to say to me?"
What does he want? His face gave away nothing. Bland and inscrutable as polished marble, so unnaturally perfect that she knew no one could possibly mistake him for human. He looked at ease, as he had ever done, but there must be an ulterior motive for his appearing here, with him, there was always a motive...
Her hands clenched into fists as she grimly resolved not to play the role of naïve child. If he wanted a confrontation, he would find the rules had changed. You won, remember, she reminded herself. Even in his own kingdom when he had every power at his command, you overcame him. Toby is safe. He has no hold over you, not anymore.
Her voice rang out, direct and blunt in its surety.
"I defeated you once before. It's over. You have no place here, Goblin King."
He drew back a little, eyebrows arching in faint surprise. "My, my… so you have changed, after all. Quite the grown woman now, aren't you? No longer the self-absorbed, immature girl complaining about how unfair everything is." His beautiful eyes narrowed. "And you don't fear me – not like you used to."
She frowned, pushing her hands deep in the pockets of her jeans. "You're right," she said thoughtfully. "I'm not afraid of you. And you know why? Because I've grown up. And you haven't." She saw his eyes flare at that, flashing with malevolence, but didn't allow herself to stop. "You still carry on playing your childish games, and it might have impressed me then, but it doesn't now. All you have is smoke and mirrors, and you'll have to do much better than that to make me afraid of you again."
He smiled, a slow, lazy smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "All things in good time, my dear."
Sarah looked away, staring deliberately through the trees. It was strangely quiet. For the moment. An awful thought suddenly occurred to her. What if someone walked past? Would they be able to see Jareth? Would they just assume he was in a band, or on his way to an eccentric fancy dress party? Oh God, what if she saw someone she knew? She could picture it now. Hey everyone, have you seen Sarah Williams's new boyfriend? Guess she's still on the rebound from her ex, judging by the seventies throwback she's hooked up with.
Oh wouldn't the Goblin King just love that?
Several possibilities flashed through her mind. She had the awful feeling that if she tried to leave he would follow her. No, perhaps it was best to just see what he wanted, then get rid of him as soon as possible. With that objective in mind, she asked, rather abruptly: "What are you doing here?"
Jareth's eyes widened in what she would have taken as innocence in anyone else. "It was a pleasant night. I thought to take a stroll."
Sarah felt the old irritation beginning to emerge that was gradually quelling her shock and unease. "What, you took a wrong turn in Goblin-land and just happened to end up on my college campus? I highly doubt it."
She saw, with a sting of half-painful pleasure that his nostrils flared slightly at her mocking use of the phrase 'Goblin-land'. She pushed forward her advantage before he could throw her off-balance again. "I mean what are you doing here? In my world?"
"Your world, Sarah? Are you quite sure about that? I find your powers of observation falling rather short of my expectations." He spread a gloved hand outwards in an elaborate sweeping gesture. "Look around you, child."
Sarah looked – and swallowed hard.
They were still, to all intents and purposes, stood in the wood in the university grounds, but the lights and buildings of campus that should have been clearly visible had vanished entirely. And that sharp scent, it reminded her of – pine needles. A thin film of mist had stolen across the ground and was rising upwards in a translucent veil. And the air felt different – she waved a hand and felt a faint resistance greet her outstretched fingers like gauzy cobwebs or finely spun silk. It wavered and swam around her like the hazy somnolence of a hot summer's day, only the night was cold. Sarah remembered the odd occasions she had drunk too much and then set foot outdoors; it was that same peculiar sensation of the world being strangely removed from herself, yet being able to view it with a heightened clarity. And all the while, Jareth standing there, clearer than anything: his angular profile standing out against the pale moon. And he was pale himself; all wild hair and gleaming eyes and that uncanny grace that no human could possess…
"Where are we?" she said, no longer trying to fight down the rising panic in her voice. "Are we there – at the –" she half choked on words she had not uttered for six years in fear of having her sanity questioned. "The Goblin City?" She glanced around as though expecting to see turrets rise from the damp grass at any instant.
She turned to face him, hands splayed against her hips. "Don't play games with me, Goblin King. I'm not a child anymore. Tell me where we are."
"As for you not being a child…" His eyes flickered downwards and he paused. The curve of his sensual mouth made her realise just how cold the night was. Sarah instinctively wrapped her arms around herself, and was furious at herself for blushing when he laughed quietly. "I think that is fairly evident."
He glanced away suddenly, and it was as though the heavy, cloying tendrils of fog that had wound about her withdrew slightly.
"We are not," he continued, as though nothing had happened, "Anywhere, precisely. Or rather, we are Between."
She frowned. "That's not an answer."
He flicked something off his sleeve – a speck of dust? Dust didn't have such an opalescent sheen…
"Do you know what day it is today?"
Of course I do. It's my birthday in a few minutes. She shrugged, her tone matching his for coolness. "It's the thirtieth of April. What about it?"
"For someone who studies literature, you have no sense of culture. Have you never heard of the festival of Beltane?"
She shook her head, refusing to let him rile her, or ask just how he knew what College course she was taking.
"Did it never occur to you, my dear Sarah, after our previous encounter, that it might be wise to read up on your folklore? If you had, you would realise that Beltane night is regarded in Gaelic culture as the beginning of summer; just as Samhain marks the start of winter – both noted as times of the year in which the boundaries between this world and the Otherworld waver, thus making it easier for beings such as myself to move more freely between realms. The hours between dusk and dawn make the liminal state particularly apparent, and so – here I am." He looked upwards, musingly, and the moonlight slanted across his sharp profile. "You are fortunate to have your birthday fall on such a night."
"How did you know it was my birthday?"
"I know – that's sufficient. I've been waiting a long time for this day."
She watched him suspiciously. "Why?"
In response, he plucked one of the stars from his pearly shirt, and she watched with increasing unease as it expanded in his hand, its shape becoming circular, glinting light growing gradually more transparent as it took the form of a ball, a crystal…
"I've brought you – a gift."
No. Not this. Not again…
"Remember what I offered you, Sarah."
She glared at the crystal dancing on the tips of his fingers, refusing to be drawn into its glowing promise. "I remember you turning that into a snake."
His pale eyes darkened several shades. "Only when you defied me. And I know you would not be so foolish as to do anything like that again."
"Is that why you're here? To try and tempt me into your warped fantasy again? If so, you're wasting your time. The answer's no."
"Oh, my fantasy? Is that what you've been telling yourself? That the nasty Goblin King played tricks with your mind and conjured up things you didn't want to see? Nothing so easy, Sarah. Everything you went through in the Labyrinth came from that pretty little head of yours."
She could see nothing but the shimmering ball in his hands and the fear reflected in her grey-green eyes. But the longer she gazed into its smooth glass surface, the clearer her reflection started to become. She looked away, quickly.
"Everything?" she repeated. Curiosity was beginning to overcome her unease. She realised that for the first time she was able to receive some answers to the events that had haunted her adolescence. "What about Hoggle? Sir Didymus? I didn't imagine them, did I?"
"Oh no. They're quite real. And have had sufficient cause to regret it. You can be assured that my retribution for their disloyalty was both swift and merciless." His voice sank to a whisper. "Do you still feel like the hero now, Sarah?"
A cold iron fist seemed to have closed itself around her heart. She stared unseeingly at the crystal in his hand as her mind cast itself back to the Oubliette where she and Hoggle had run into Jareth. His mocking threats… It had seemed almost light-hearted at the time… but what if –? She had never thought, never even considered…
Your fault, her mind kept whispering in chanting accusation. Your fault, this is your fault...
"No…" The breath hitched in her throat. He's lying, you saw them as soon as you came out the Labyrinth and they were fine, he's only saying it to shake you up –
She looked up, anger brimming at the tips of her fingers. "I don't believe you."
He shrugged. "And I don't particularly care."
"Then what about you?" she demanded harshly. "If it was all my imagination, do you really look like – you?"
"Why? Do you find something about my appearance objectionable, Sarah?"
She felt suddenly as though someone had doused an ice-cold bucket of water over her. Jareth was standing directly in front of her, tall lean figure emphasised by the tight fitting waistcoat, white sleeves billowing out in gorgeous, expansive material. Knee high boots of black leather hugged legs that seemed to go on and on. Polished silver buckles gleamed in the moonlight, and there seemed to be jewels subtly woven into his shirt, visible only at certain lights and angles. The combined effect should have been ridiculous, but on him it worked… instead of appearing foppish or dandified, it was powerful – unsettling so. His skin had taken on an oddly translucent sheen in the otherworldly light. His hair and eyes glowed. He was undoubtedly the most beautiful man – being – she had ever seen, and he knew it too, if the sly satisfaction in his expression was anything to go by.
"So I may conclude you find my appearance favourable?" There was now undeniable hunger in his gaze. "The feeling is mutual."
He's actually enjoying this, damn him, she thought with a sense of outrage. To avoid looking at the insufferable conceit on his face, her eyes fell on the crystal again. She didn't even know her own dreams (or those that extended beyond graduation and hopefully landing an editing job while doing her own writing on the side) so how could he possibly know? Curiosity overcame her. She saw herself, but now realised it was no reflection. The Sarah in the glass was smiling and seemed older, somehow, though she couldn't exactly define what made her think so. Her dark hair was let loose in rippling waves and something glittered on her brow – a crown? No, a star…
Just as she tried to decipher what it meant, the crystal vanished from his hands with a rapidity that made her blink. "What was –?"
He tapped a couple of fingers to his mouth. "Curious?"
"No," she lied.
He laughed at the unconvincing denial. "I could show you what you wish to see – and more. You need only come with me."
She immediately backed up a step. "I don't want to know that badly."
"Oh, I think you do. Still the dreamer, Sarah. Still burying your head in books. I can give you so much more." His voice was low and silken. "I can give you your dreams." Sarah closed her eyes tight. His lilting tones entwined her, persuasive, compelling. "Wouldn't you like to see your dreams? You could have them forever."
Sarah opened her eyes. "Not without a price," she said.
"Everything has a price."
She knew what that price was.
Fear me, love me. Do as I say and I will be your slave.
No, Goblin King, she thought. I would be yours.
Yes, she would have her dreams, whatever they might be. But it came at the expense of being under his power: completely and absolutely. Living in a world of whatever elaborate fantasies he chose to entrance her with, trapped in a beautiful prison, while the world above went on without her being a part of it. Then he would truly have defeated her, and so prevailed over any humiliation of his former loss. Whatever he might choose to tell her, she knew that was the real reason he was here. She took a deep breath and looked up at him; not even needing to find the words before the muscles in his face tautened with barely restrained anger.
"Sarah, do not attempt to resist me. I am giving you a second chance which you would be foolish to turn down. I offer you everything."
"Illusions," said Sarah. "Empty shadows. You couldn't satisfy me with fantasies when I'd know their falsity. I couldn't live like that."
"Persist in this defiance and you may not live for much longer at all," he flared, at last incited to showing real emotion.
"You can't hurt me," she said, with more conviction than she felt. "You have no power over me – not unless I go with you." She thought again of her friends in the Labyrinth and cringed.
"You talk of power so lightly. You don't have any comprehension of what real power is – nor what you could do with it, if it fell into your hands."
She shrugged. "You're the one who gets off on power, Goblin King."
"That," he said. "Among other things."
He gave her a meaningful look, daring her to ask what those 'others things' were. She didn't dare. Instead, she decided to change the subject before he felt obliged to explain it to her.
"So," she said slowly, hearing the tremor in her own voice, "you can give me anything I want?"
"Then leave me alone," she said.
He grinned widely at her. "Except that." He watched with evident enjoyment as she sighed in frustration. "Really Sarah, did you think it would be that easy?"
"Don't," she said sharply.
"Don't keep saying my name like we're friends."
"Friends? Oh no, my precious child, I hope we shall much more before long."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Sarah, although she had a feeling she knew.
Jareth tilted his head to one side, not shifting from his lounging, indolent pose. In the hyper-real light, his face was almost as pale as the ivory shirt he wore, the phosphorous glow of his skin not reflected, but seeming to come from within. The corner of his mouth quirked upwards in an audacious smile that sent a shiver down her spine.
"It seems I made you my offer too early. It is of little concern – you had merely caught me off guard by entering my castle with such apparent ease. I sought only to waylay you by whatever means I had left at my disposal. But you were too young to realise the full extent of what entering my realm would entail. Now, however, you can be in little doubt of the other, more enticing considerations to take into account, those certain privileges that I would demand from you in exchange…"
His eyes that had been so cold were now full of white-hot fire as they scrutinised every inch of her, slowly, savouringly… It was as though she could already feel his hands running over her bare flesh. She released a hiss of breath, unnerved at the unexpected flare of heat that suddenly coursed through her.
She glared up at him in rising disgust. "Is that what this is about?"
"So suspicious of me still." A smile ghosted over his features. "But I would be lying if I said that wasn't a part of it." His face was bleak suddenly, frightening. "Eternity is a very long time to be alone, Sarah." A white, long-fingered hand reached outwards, hovering a hair's breadth away from her face.
She jerked backwards. "Don't touch me."
He lifted an elegant brow. "Why so defensive?"
"Because I don't like you."
This didn't appear to concern him. "Plenty of time to overcome that."
Sarah stared at him. "You're not joking, are you?" she finally said weakly.
"I assure you, I'm quite serious."
She was becoming steadily more puzzled by the minute. What was he really doing here? Jareth: an immensely powerful Goblin King come all this way after so many years just to see her? It wasn't very likely. Yes, she had defeated him, but it hardly seemed to have injured him in any noticeable way. The only thing that had suffered appeared to be his pride. Is that what had brought him back to her? Simply injured pride? Or was it something stronger? Hatred. Revenge. Both seemed powerful enough motivations.
She shivered, and summoned up the courage to ask.
"You challenged me. No one else has ever come so close – and to think it should be a perfectly ordinary fifteen-year-old girl with no special powers or abilities – that she could defeat my Labyrinth? I never forget an injury, Sarah. You should have known I would find you again some day. Why do you think I waited until such a singular night, when the time was so –" again, that hunger in his gaze – "Ripe?"
"Revenge," she said emotionlessly.
"Far from it, dear one. I offer you a sweeter reward than any imaginable. You cannot comprehend what awaits you. A realm of unparalleled magnificence, more terrible and beautiful than anything you could imagine."
"A dirt infested village populated by pygmies? I don't think so."
Jareth burst out laughing; Sarah jumped as though she had received an electric shock. His laughter rang in her ears; silvery and musical, but with a faint jarring undercurrent like the ringing of glass. "Oh Sarah. Have you learnt nothing? Surely you don't still believe I rule over that – that rabble you blundered your way through? Dear, dear. Perhaps I should have made things a little clearer for you. Let me assure you, that if you returned to me now, the Labyrinth would look vastly different to when you left it."
She frowned. "The Labyrinth's changed?"
He smiled indulgently. "No, precious thing. You have."
"I'm not sure I understand," she said slowly.
"No," he said in a patronising tone. "You never did, sweet. Blundering into my realm enflamed by the romantic notions of your crusade, giving no thought to the consequences that would arise from your actions."
Her mouth was suddenly very dry.
"Are you telling me that in almost six years, you've never questioned the marks your experience left upon you?"
"What do you mean marks?" Sarah demanded. "I haven't been –"
"Oh yes, you have. Did you think that after rescuing baby brother you could return home unscathed?"
Sarah swallowed hard as fear, gut-wrenching fear, slid through her stomach.
"What have you done to me?" she whispered.
"I? Nothing, precisely. I've ruled over the underworld for thirteen hundred years, but there are certain ancient magics that even Imust adhere to. Magics that have been in place since time immemorial. Understand that mortals do not enter the Labyrinth lightly, Sarah. Humans are not meant to cross the threshold into the world of the Fey, although I may pass time in your world if I so wish – times like tonight being easier, of course. But straying into my realm leaves its mark upon all who do so unwarily. The type and the extent of the effects depend largely upon the character and mettle of the mortal in question." He cast her a long, scrutinising look; she shivered as though a snake had slithered across her skin. "You, I confess, surprised me. You displayed a courage and tenacity I had not expected from you, and so the – shall we say – magical enhancement you took away was to your advantage. Did you not notice within weeks of leaving my realm that your sight and hearing seem heightened on occasion? Do you ever dream things before they came to pass?"
"Coincidence," said Sarah hoarsely. "I bet everyone –"
"Do you sometimes – at certain times of the year in particular – this night of Beltane being a prime example, sense a strange energy in the air or imagine you hear music – beautiful music? You are fortunate to be so endowed with an insight into the lighter aspects of my world. There are, however, other consequences which your moral fortitude and loyalty, on the whole, preserved you from."
He grinned, flashing very white, very pointed teeth. "Suffice it to say they are… less than pleasant."
He shrugged carelessly. "As you wish. Those other children that enter my Labyrinth – the vain and ungrateful and cowardly – those who willingly wander into my realm and turn it into a mockery through their foolish desires and then are unworthy enough to solve it, may return to the world above if they wish; but such freedom comes at a price."
Sarah couldn't speak. She could feel her heart beating in low, sickening thumps. And Jareth was smiling, smiling with that thin, cruel mouth of his, as though he derived genuine pleasure at the thought of young and innocent children being harmed –
"They may leave the world of the Fey, but the magics they tapped into do not abandon them so easily. It will come back to haunt them, somehow. Creeping shadows, things lurking in the night their parents told them didn't exist, paralysed with fear by visions that no other human is able to see – and a personal favourite of mine – being disrupted in the linear progression of time and having to relive their worst moments again and again." He smiled as though relishing a particularly pleasant memory; Sarah felt her insides turn over. "I've seen children no older than your brother trapped forever in their own nightmares without recourse to escape."
She shuddered. "That's horrible."
"They brought it upon themselves."
"And you can't do anything to help them?"
"That isn't exactly what I said."
"But you said – certain magic – you can't –"
"Oh, I cannot stop the influence of the Fey becoming manifest in a mortal, but that doesn't mean I can't add a few touches of my own in the way they experience the after effects."
Sarah choked, horror and anger fighting for mastery, rendering her almost incapable of speech. Her voice, when it finally came, was cracked and rasping. "You devise the tortures for those children?"
"But of course. They have the audacity to demand that I grant their wishes – their trite, crass, selfish wishes – as though I exist only to accede to their demands! It gives me pleasure to teach them how little deserving they are of my notice; how much better it would be for them had they not come to my attention."
"You could stop it!"
He looked frankly bewildered. "And why would I want to do a thing like that?"
"Because they're children! Children say things all the time! They don't mean it, it isn't real –"
"It's real enough to them. That's all that matters."
"But that's – " she struggled to find the words, "That's sick."
"They accepted the challenge and they failed. I have a right to punish them as I see fit. Even the world of magic must have its balance and natural order. For everything given, something must be sacrificed or taken."
"I didn't sacrifice anything."
Jareth's voice was very quiet. "Didn't you?"
His face before her. The deep glow of a crystal. Look, Sarah. Look what I'm offering you. Your dreams.
She closed her eyes, hard.
"No," she said shortly. "I didn't."
"Somehow, I'm not quite convinced."
She couldn't bring herself to look at him. The memory of Toby lay like a dark shadow across her mind. Jareth could think what he liked, but she wasn't going to forget what he had almost done to her brother – sickening guilt assailed her – what he had possibly done to her friends in the Labyrinth. She had a sudden, horrible image of Hoggle lying in a cell somewhere injured, possibly dead.
Is that why he came back now, she wondered in sudden dismay. Did he wait until I was old enough to understand the consequences of what I've done, and when it's too late to put it right?
She couldn't stand this anymore. Sarah whirled round, to leave, to go anywhere far, far away – but found herself surrounded only by still and lifeless white trees that disappeared into opalescent mist. Perhaps, if she looked hard enough, she might find a path. Even being lost would be preferable to this. Anything would be better than remaining with him.
She could sense the Goblin King stood behind her; imagine the grim satisfaction curving his mouth. Her shoulders sagged with silent despair. He was expecting to flee, hoping for it if only for the amusement of watching her realise that there was nowhere to run.
Once again, he was the centre of the Labyrinth, all paths led back to him.
He had been her antagonist before, but this was the first time she had ever hated him.
She said, very slowly, "Why did you choose now?"
"Isn't that rather obvious?"
Sarah turned back to face him. "I want you to tell me."
"Tonight is the night you turn twenty-one, when you leave your childhood behind forever. The fact that your birthday coincides with Beltane, which makes the transference between worlds easier, is simply an intriguing coincidence. When you entered my Labyrinth, you were too young to fully realise what I offered, neither would you have taken it if you did understand. I acceded only to your less complex demands – to cast me in the trite and tired role of pantomime villain. That is the reason I waited." Although his expression did not change, dressed in a thin shirt as she was, Sarah suddenly felt very exposed. "And you haven't disappointed me. The years have improved you beyond even my expectations."
She could have said the same. The time apart had served only to enhance his otherworldly beauty – or perhaps she had just never really noticed it before. It didn't soften her towards him. On the contrary, it made him seem even more horrible.
He paused, watching her, sly, considering.
"So, Sarah. What do you say?"