Disclaimer: I don't know the Labyrinth or any of the characters in this story. If you don't recognize some character, then it's possible I made that one up but have since freed them.
Summary: [JS] What's said is said, and Sarah said, "My Will is as Strong as Yours and my Kingdom as Great." And then, of course, she lied. A series of One-Shots.
Her Kingdom As Great
Jareth was getting more visits from his protectorates than he had since he'd first taken on the kingship. He'd never felt so closely watched by his extended family since he'd moved out on his own and he would have been just as happy to keep it that way. Not that he didn't like his cousins or the various other visitors, but having them all trooping through his castle nattering at him and expecting him to have serious thoughtful conversations was a bit much. Especially, when it was all an excuse to be able to swing by the western border on their way to and from the castle and stare out at the Land of Near Endless Plains.
"It's stretched as far as the eye can see."
"Yes, yes, Theron. Do you know its name? I seem to recall there was a "near endless" in the title, wasn't there?"
"You think you're funny, but you're not." The insult was half-hearted at best. Theron continued to stare. "It's bright."
Jareth heaved a sigh and resisted rolling his eyes. "That would be the gold crop."
The two of them watched the gold grass rustle near the border as some of the regular goblins ran through the grass and harvested seeds.
"When you became a dangerously powerful neighbor, the queen of the Twilight Lands invaded."
"Hardly that. She sent a small battalion."
"You know what I mean."
"I know that the fae are stuffy and stagnant and no threat to us. And I know that I exist on wild magic and there is nothing wild magic loves so much as change for change's sake."
"So just like that, you'll let your goblins play in the neighbor's property, eat gold seeds you don't know the properties of, and decorate their outfits, even your outfits, with the same?"
"How else will we know the properties if we do not experiment?"
"Yeah, well I could have done without having them in my breakfast cereal. They're spicy!"
"It's my castle, my chef, and anything you eat here is my gracious gift, so don't whine. Plus, I like the zest."
"Doesn't it make you nervous?"
"The zest?" Jareth quirked an amused eyebrow, smirking as he quite intentionally provoked his cousin.
"The Near Endless Plains. Don't they make you nervous? It's a powerful individual who creates a new land, especially one so vast, and they're right at your border. Right there. You weren't nearly as much of a threat to the Twilight Lands as the Near Endless Plains are to all of us goblins."
"You worry too much." Jareth laughed. "And you should have seen what happened with the fae battalion that went to the Land of Near Endless Plains."
Theron arched an inquiring eyebrow. "Well? Let me in on the joke?"
"Mmm. Normally I only explain jokes to lesser goblins, you know." Jareth smirked. "It wasn't really an invasion, but a rescue mission, to retrieve a fae woman who had received sanctuary there and her child whose status is more peculiar. But first, they entered with all their shiny armor and nearly blinded each other because the sun out there is harsh. The Underground tends to be overcast and the Twilight Lands are obviously in twilight all the time, but the Near Endless Plains are bright.
"They're fae warriors so they can't do anything sensible like remove the armor, given that the plains don't even have an army yet. No, they have to cloak themselves. So there they are, shadowy creatures searching the really bright plains, and they must be broiling, because in addition to being bright, the sun out there is hot.
"Somehow, despite the fact that there's only the one central landmark, they don't manage to get lost, more's the pity, and they do a fairly thorough search of the Near Endless Plains. It took months and was something of a spectator sport here, where Goblins would line the walls and watch the grass movements give the fae presence away.
"It was all fairly impressive but the heat apparently boiled their brains because despite the holes that they gracefully leapt over, they didn't appear to realize there were tunnels. The fae woman and her child were happily ensconced in the relatively cool tunnels whenever they heard one of the searchers approach, which was easy enough to do since the grass chimes when it moves.
"The expressions on their faces, when they finally realized they had to do the whole search pattern again, but this time both above and below, was a delight. I seriously thought I was going to see a fae warrior throw a tantrum."
"And did they?" Theron sounded fascinated.
"Alas, they maintained control. Fae are such boring creatures."
"I take it they redid the search."
"About half of it, for about a month. The ruler of the Land of Near Endless Plains finally intervened when it looked like they were actually going to achieve their goal."
"Wait, you've actually seen the ruler of the Land of Near Endless Plains? I thought no one knew who it was?"
Jareth smiled and rather pointedly said nothing.
Jareth casually manipulated a few of his crystals and feigning intrigue with what they were showing him to the distraction of anything else. Theron huffed in annoyance.
"At least tell me what happened to the fae? Were they sent running? Were they killed?"
"Neither." The crystals vanished one by one and Jareth pointed out to the Plains. "Do you see that one patch of grain over there? It's more of an iridescent sheen than true gold? The whole battalion is trapped in those grains of gold. Each in their own seedpod." Jareth looked utterly delighted.
Theron's eyes widened in surprised before he threw his head back and laughed.
"But, but what happens," Theron finally managed to catch his break, "in the autumn when the seeds are ready to sprout? Won't they be released then?"
"This happened a couple of years ago, and they're still there. The winter comes and everything is buried under heaps of snow. With spring, the grass grows again and the fae can't be found at all: the first spring I thought they had been killed. But as the seeds appear in summer, so too the fae are visible again within their tiny chambers. I have forbade any goblin from eating them, for which I hope the fae queen is suitably grateful."
"Somehow I doubt it."
Jareth smirked. "I did take a gardener there to inspect them and we agree that the seasons are wearing upon the fae. The process is changing them."
"Changing fae warriors?" Theron sounded as startled as the statement demanded, which was very. In theory, the fae were unchangeable.
"Each time they, for lack of a better word, grow back, they are slightly different. I half think that when they are finally released or escape or somehow leave, they will be denizens of the Near Endless Plains rather than the subjects of the Twilight lands."
"And that doesn't make you nervous?"
"No." Jareth didn't bother explaining that he liked having a powerful neighbor, stretched out against his border. It made that side more solid and gave him a counterweight that he had never had before. It helped give him stability. Theron was a Greater Goblin but unlike Jareth he had internal limits to his abilities. He wouldn't understand the relief of having external limits.
It was frustrating, of course, but it was equally reassuring. In that direction, he could push with all his strength and not fear accidentally absorbing his neighbor. He would never bind Sarah as just another subject. It made him angry that he couldn't do it intentionally, but that was better than the fear of doing it by accident.
Plus, watching Sarah explore her abilities was priceless. The expression on her face when she had finally stepped in and dealt with the fae was almost as hilarious as the look on the warriors' faces had been.
Afterwards, she had been completely taken aback. She had opened and closed her mouth four times before finally managing to say anything. And what she finally came up with was a dubious, "Um, it can't possibly be that easy."
Jareth had bit back laughter at her and the fae both. "You don't know your own power. Plus, the fae are so very structured. Almost anything can catch them off guard."
"We are not!" Roselyn had actually huffed, and Jareth barely suppressed a smirk at how far she had fallen from her perfect fae elegance. "We have experience and long memories."
"Yeah, so as long as it's a technique you all know, then you can all defend against it. Battles between fae are some of the most boring fights ever. Everyone knows before hand who's going to win. All anyone else has to do is throw in a curve ball. And there they are: trapped in grains of not-wheat."
And if there was one thing Sarah excelled at, it was throwing curve balls. And here he had thought that nothing could match wild magic.
Wild magic, after all, grew.
It's one of the basic truths of living Underground: Wild magic grew. It's seeded, it germinates, it's used and spent, and it comes back all the stronger. The lesser goblins use all of their own magic and need more just to survive. They don't have quite enough naturally or it doesn't grow fast enough. It's as if they didn't quite finish the transition to becoming goblins. That's why Jareth asks the Greater Goblins under him to not just support the lesser in their courts, but to fill them beyond their needs. Fill them again and again so that maybe one day some bit will stay behind, stay and grow.
Of course, most goblins don't have the problem of the lesser or the ability of the greater. They have their kitchen garden equivalent of magic. They make enough to support themselves They don't need the Greater Goblins although they find it nice to have some assistance, and they can't support others although they can occasionally lend a helping hand.
The Greater Goblins, however, are farms, they're orchards: they support themselves and their families and the locals, and any visiting kids who sneak in over the walls to steal an apple or two.
As a child, Jareth's magic was already an orchard large enough to support a village, and as he grew, as he flung magic this way and that upon no more than a whim, he never even approached his limit. As he grew, it grew with him. He could support a city. He could support The City. His magic was not an orchard, it was a forest. There were no walls for the village kids to sneak over, just a vast source of life and danger, spread out to anyone who dared wander within its scope.
His magic had twined around the magic of the king before him. The king's magic had roots deep into the Labyrinth while Jareth's magic swirled above.
Jareth reveled in the power and he adored the Labyrinth, and he rejoiced in his court of lesser goblins who swam and surfed and were tossed about upon his will. When his power finally grew so extensive as to overwhelm the previous king's place, it was only natural. The Labyrinth shifted and his manor expanded until he had a castle in the center of the Labyrinth. He had more creatures than before living within his protection—the Labyrinth itself being the big one—but other than that, nothing much changed.
He had to deal with the neighbors of course, and the Twilight lands were something of a pain and the wishes and the runners could occasionally be distracting, but it wasn't that big a deal. It wasn't that big a deal because it didn't use everything he had, and the magic kept growing.
It kept growing and he didn't know what to do with it.
He could leave the Underground for hours at a time and the Labyrinth could maintain itself on the residue he left behind. So he explored. He liked the Aboveground sometimes because it didn't rely on him and was less likely to shift at a casual thought.
Years passed, but wild magic still grew stronger within him.
Aboveground was built upon stability itself. The fae on the other hand were still magic. The Twilight Lands were delicate and strong and fragile like diamond. The Faerie queen feared him because one day he maybe he'd have enough power to shatter her realm, break the unbreakable fae and remake them goblins. Her troops were ludicrously easy to trap in a crystal ballroom. They danced for years without thought.
It hardly mattered: years passed, and the power grew.
It was when he began to control time that he began to truly fear what was happening. He could see forward and back, just a few minutes at a time. Then for just a few hours. Then he could change things. His magic extended beyond the present, reaching into both the past and the future. That was not normal and he had known that he would go insane eventually.
Always before, no matter how much power he had at how young an age, he had always been in control of it and himself. It wasn't until the power reached into time itself, that he felt that control slipping. And it was slipping.
There was too much happening. He would become distracted by events no one else knew about. He would laugh in the middle of conversations at something that hadn't happened yet and may never happen. The magic extended so far and the present such a small instant in time that he wasn't always sure he could find his way back to it. He wondered sometimes what would happen to him when he finally failed to find himself: would his eyes join the lichen and his hands go to the oubliette? Maybe he would simply become a whistling wind around corners. However it happened, the Labyrinth would keep him, he knew.
But the present was too difficult to track and it changed as he skipped ahead of it or lagged behind. He could remember events that hadn't happened yet, or hadn't happened after all, or that will have had happen sometime soon. It was a tangle that twisted him around so much that he no longer knew his own will.
Then one evening, when he and the wind were flying Aboveground, he had found her for the first time. Found Sarah.
She had been young: young enough that gender wasn't apparent except in the clothes that tried to make up for the fact that there were no real distinctions. She had been up in a tree house telling herself a story and ignoring the shouting that was coming from the house.
In the story, a beautiful princess went off to do great deeds and be loved by all, and yet was still sad at having to leave her daughter behind.
In the house, a woman was yelling that she had been too young to be married and certainly too young to be a mother.
Jareth had perched on a branch of the tree and listened to the story and the argument superimposed on each other, parallel and opposite.
He had felt the truth and the fantasy twist together like a braid, stronger together than apart, like either one might fall apart at inspection, but together they were eternal. Or maybe two sides of a coin, each side being the necessary foundation on which the other rested. Most people only saw one side, or at best, only one side at a time. But perched up in the tree in the dark, he and little Sarah saw both sides at once. He heard the story and listened to the argument and felt the raveled weave of time sort itself out again within him.
When Sarah had finally climbed down and returned to the house, he had flown off feeling more anchored to reality than he had in years.
The feeling lasted until the next time he had a party with too many people with too many plans and suddenly he was overwhelmed again, pulled in too many directions at once.
He had held on for another few days after that before returning to the house, the little girl, and the stories.
The stories were wonderful. They were all variations on a theme. There was always a queen and a princess and adventure and abandonment and despair and hope and a final success, whether it was by means of death or love. The stories always ended happily and they always took different routes to get there.
So with the example of a little human girl capable of believing six impossible things before breakfast, Jareth taught himself to control the many threads of time that the wild magic within him had revealed.
He wasn't sure when exactly visiting her had becoming something he desired rather than needed. There came time, though, that he realized he was no longer disappointed when she was doing something other than telling a story either aloud or with her dolls. He discovered that he was happy to just see her reading a book or brushing her teeth or tucked into bed.
The visits to Sarah's house became a reward to himself for dealing with the more tedious tasks of being king.
That was when he started leaving her gifts. They were nothing much; a toy here or there. She was occasionally surprised but never actually concerned. The gifts were nothing much in and of themselves, really, it was that they were parallel to his life that made them more. A statue on her desk that looked like one of the garden goblins. A puppy on her doorstep that looked like the bridge guardian's steed. Nothing much. Just as she had never discovered that she had helped him, she need never know that he was thanking her.
He didn't consider any of the ramifications. It didn't occur to him that his court of lesser goblins might note his interest and follow Sarah's motions as well as his own. He hadn't been sure he liked the split in attention. He especially hadn't liked the fact that his gifts and his frequent presence outside her room made it possible for the lesser goblins to linger there supported on the magic left behind. The solution, however, seems obvious: bring her into the Labyrinth and under his control. The fact that he wanted her to be his anyway just made the solution all the sweeter.
He was determined to have her, so it really worked out in his favor, so he had thought, that she carried traces of his presence with her. It wasn't uncommon for a being to be affected by being around a powerful goblin for so long even if it was unusual that she was Aboveground and there had been no direct interactions. She was probably well on her way to being a goblin herself, because wild magic not only grew but it was contagious and could grow in all sorts of strange places.
So he had allowed his lesser court to watch her, waiting for her to wish someone away. The birth of a stepbrother with a small amount of magic of his own was just what was needed to push her in that direction.
She had wished the baby away, and Jareth had spoken to Sarah face-to-face for the first time. She had changed since he had first seen her and he had taken a moment to appreciate those changes. She was pretty in the way people are pretty when they're not ugly: nice looking, healthy. Nothing spectacular, but still pleasing to look upon. He had given her an out that was really more of a trap than a true reprieve. He had offered her the chance to either enter his kingdom and within a few short hours become one of his or she could accept one of his crystals and have the same transformation in a somewhat slower fashion. It hardly mattered to him. She would be his regardless.
She had decided to go to the Underground and brave the Labyrinth and he had been pleased. Only then he had discovered her true strength.
The wild magic she picked up grew in a corner of her being, but never came even close to taking her over. She wasn't a diamond like the fae, perfect and unchangeable but capable of shattering under the right kind of pressure. She was more like wild magic herself, far reaching and in too many places at once. Her ability that had shown him how to control time, left her able to slip past and through the traps that should have held her. She was in too many places; saw too many perspectives to find any given action a true end to her struggles.
First, he treated her like a human, and watched as a fairy took her blood. The blood should have bound her to the Labyrinth and its denizens, placing her under his command. Maybe it even did, at least a little bit, but it also gave her entrance and invitation to his land. She stretched the bindings that held her until she had all the freedom and more than if she had never been bound at all.
He treated her like a fae and trapped her in the crystal masquerade. He even went to dance with her himself. But all the masks that hid the truth merely showed her that secrets existed and helped her break her way out all the more readily. She burst the bubble that kept them all, and as the fae spun in confusion before finally fleeing back to their queen, she had searched for the truth within the swirling magic and found her direction again.
She had escaped from the Labyrinth with more than success and had a kingdom of her own now. Unfortunately that kingdom and her duties Aboveground both worked to keep her from spending any time thinking about him or the Labyrinth.
He was distracting for an incipient sulk by the piping voice of one of his lesser goblin court.
"King going to marry Sarah!"
I wish, Jareth thought to himself. But it was nice that his court of lesser were so sure of his ultimate success.
"Sarah?" Theron asked them, but not specifically enough. Jareth's lips quirked in a small smile.
The little goblins nodded energetically. "Yes. Sarah."
Almost all the greater goblins who came to spend time with the King took great pleasure in conversing with his court of lesser goblins. They all had their own stables of lesser goblins but Jareth was unusual in the extent he interacted with them and the results were startling.
Even before his uncle had realized that the burden of the goblin kingdom had shifted to Jareth, and the Labyrinth had shifted things around to put Jareth's castle in the center, the populace brought the lesser goblins to Jareth more than any other of the greats.
Jareth didn't mind spending time alone, surrounded by a lesser court. And when he was, he interacted with them. Even as a child, he had picked them up and tossed them around, using his power to shift them this way or that, telling them what to do and what to say. He sang to them and prompted them to sing back to him. And they thrived. Creatures that would otherwise dissipate lived in his coat pockets. Beings that would otherwise lie on the floor as little tuffs of fur, scampered around, giggling. And goblins who would otherwise study the floor with dull eyes, in Jareth's castle would play games and even talk. It amazed everyone and was the main reason why the city had grown up around him. Because lesser goblins didn't always stay lesser when they grew up in his presence.
The greater goblins, when they came—to rest from the constant drain of supporting their own people, to pay their respects to the king who supported the land itself, and to report on their lives and happenings—had discovered that they could get hilarious reports in turn about their king by asking his followers.
"Who is Sarah?"
"The girl who ate the peach!"
The piercing pitch of the response caught the attention of the other lesser goblins and they all started talking at once, saying "Sarah" and "girl ate the peach."
Theron was astounded and then couldn't stop the snickering.
"Silence!" Jareth commanded and all the goblins stopped talking. That was another thing ability almost unique to Jareth: he could get the lesser goblins to do what he said. The rest of the greats either supported the lesser or not, but couldn't modify their behavior at all or at least didn't spend enough time trying.
Theron took a moment to be properly appreciative and then said, "I hear you're going to marry the girl who ate your peach."
He didn't bother to stop the remarkably dirty chuckle that came with it. Jareth couldn't stop the faint blush from tingeing his cheeks. "It was an actual peach. A piece of fruit."
"If you say so."
He glared. Theron paled slightly before thinking of somewhere else he needed to be and making a hasty retreat.
Left alone for a bit, Jareth summoned a crystal to check in on Sarah. Looking at her image, his frown deepened.
He had wrapped her in moonlight for their dance and himself in a night full of stars.
Now she swirled around a dance floor bright as the desert sun.
Roselyn, the one adult resident of the Land of Near Endless Plains, gave Sarah a new gown every year, each one unique but all of them lovely and elaborate and gold, spun from the grass and beaded with the grain. The fae woman was determined to make herself indispensable to her new monarch and was doing a remarkably good job. At her request, Sarah had found first a spinning wheel from an antique store and then a loom from a craft store and brought them to the Land of Near Endless Plains for Roselyn's use. Along with Roselyn's rather controlled fae magic meant for subtle workings of the type, she made elaborate outfits for the inhabitants of the Near Endless Plains.
Thus Sarah was sheathed in gold. The full skirt shimmered as it swung around her legs; the form-fitting bodice was heavily encrusted with gold beads, so bright it both pulled the eye and forced it away from examining too closely her very feminine form; her dark hair would have been a stark contrast were it not for the loose net of good beads worked into it. She was the belle of the ball, dancing on the arm of her prince. She was glorious. She looked a creature of myth and dreams.
She was also glaring over her prince's shoulder whenever she happened to be facing Jareth's point of view.
Much to Jareth's disappointment, Sarah had quickly picked up the ability to feel when he was watching her by crystal. It only made sense, given that she now maintained the Land of Near Endless Plains, for her to be able to feel another kingdom's presence. He still wished it had taken a bit longer. Or at the very least, it had taken her longer to discover that she could burst the crystal by throwing a handful of her own seeds at it. It was irritating.
On the other hand, it made the game all the more fun when he could catch her at some point where she either didn't have a handful of seeds on her or where she couldn't make a scene. Through trial and error her had discovered that she did keep a bag of seeds with her pretty much everywhere, including the shower, but she wouldn't make a scene in public.
If she was going to be dancing around with some other prince, then he was going to play chaperone till his heart's content. Since his heart was currently glaring daggers at him every chance, her content wasn't going to come any time soon and he could keep it up for years.
He had already been keeping it up for years.
Of course, time manipulation was incredibly useful. For one thing, whenever a child was wished away at this point, he simply took the child to Sarah whenever she was next or had last been babysitting. The look on her face the first time he had dropped a baby off with her had been hilarious. But the second time had been even better. By the third time she had figured it out and seemed more resigned than anything else, although not above being more snippy than respectful or even fearful. Hmph.
The wished away came for a few hours and sometimes they were returned but others stayed, and of those that stayed, some went to the Goblin Kingdom but others stayed in the Near Endless Plains. None of the wishers other than Roselyn had been allowed to stay. Intent on proving her use to Sarah, Roselynn had taken charge of the extra children and was raising them right alongside Chickadee in the way only a fae warrior could.
Unlike goblins, the fae, Jareth had pointed out, were not a particularly fertile race. Having chosen to become a warrior for the queen, Roselyn had probably never given a thought to ever having to care for a child. She would, however, have trained to mentor younger warriors and possibly to lead her own battalion.
It was moderately amusing, made more so by the look on Sarah's face whenever she came to visit at some opportune moment.
"Oh, dear," Sarah had said. And one time Jareth had been spying on her when she was visiting a daycare; there had been a glint in her eye as if she were wondering how to go about kidnapping one of the teachers and deciding which one she should take. Jareth had found that heartening: she needed to start collecting her own subjects, not just accepting those infants that he pushed on her.
Unfortunately, she hadn't yet acquired a new subject of her own will. But at least she had accepted some of the children. And she worked part-time jobs in the human world in order to buy things to make the Land of Near Endless Plains more inhabitable. Jareth gave her carefully selected presents on her birthdays—the most that Sarah would accept from him—and Roselynn was remarkably creative, but Sarah spent most weekends either working or searching through flea markets.
The first winter, had not been easy on anyone. Sarah had worked all through the Christmas holidays earning money and spending it on blankets and non-electric heaters, tents and food. Jareth had been loath to offer her sanctuary if it would lighten the responsibility that bound Sarah to the land neighboring his. Roselynn had refused to leave the lands anyway. She and Chickadee had lived in the tunnels and huddled in mounds of blankets and pillows most days.
When the snow had melted and the grass had grown again, they had all been grateful.
The next year had been just as cold but both Sarah and Roselynn had been better prepared. A section of the tunnels had been draped with colorful hangings, food had been stocked, and a fireplace created under one of the holes to the outside. It was warm and cozy, and Roselynn had a spinning wheel and loom to keep her busy.
While the snow fell lightly within the Labyrinth during winter, over on the plains it was heavy and deep. All the golden grass lay crushed under an equally tall layer of snow. After a few cold but sunny days, the top shell of the snow had even turned to ice, strong enough to support the weight of smaller creatures. Chickadee and a few other children had scampered and slide upon it.
The winter after that, Sarah had come by every day for a week, and brought Toby with her. They had made tunnels through the snow around her watchtower throne. She had cleared one area so thoroughly that it left only a clear ceiling of ice that dripped cold water occasionally during the day but left the stars visible at night.
The Labyrinth tended to be more overcast and Jareth appreciated the boundaries this created, but there was something to be said for the view of infinity that Sarah created in the Land of Near Endless Plains.
The underground tunnels never changed. They were packed in the soil and cut in the stone. But the tunnels of snow came and went every year, always similar, but never the same.
Jareth dropped in on Roselyn and the Near Endless Plains every so often to play with Chickadee and the other children, and to see if Sarah was there. Roselyn was a bit of a stuffed shirt, trying a bit too hard to be cultured and perfect in every detail while in a land that was stark and vivid in vast swathes which totally overwhelmed any detail. Who cared if her flower garden was perfect? Surrounding it were miles of moving gold that chimed with every breeze.
Which was really the problem. Details were important.
The Labyrinth had never lost that first grand impression, but it had grown complex and detailed in its age. Really, it was the population that allowed for the details, though. The population of the Labyrinth took some of the strain off him as king, and he knew that while Sarah supported the fields and tunnels and even the sky above, it took the population like Roselyn to add the details. He just wished Sarah would get around to gaining a larger population. Not just squatters encroaching on the edges, but real citizens she invited to reside there. Then maybe he wouldn't be quite so jealous of the two that were there.
Plus, for the land to survive the first generation, it needed to be anchored by more than a single person. The Labyrinth had a never ending stream of kings come and go, with smooth transfers, the population holding the Labyrinth as stable as it ever got. But if anything happened to Sarah, the Land of Near Endless Plains would have only Chickadee to know it, and he would have only Roselyn, and Toby, and maybe Jareth and some of the more adventurous goblins to share it with. It would be generations before The Near Endless Plains would be as permanent as the Labyrinth or the Twilight Lands, and Sarah was more than strong enough to carry it. But still Jareth wanted it stable now, wanted the Plains permanent now, wanted Sarah to be tied as tightly to the land as the land was tied to her. And he wanted it all now.
Unfortunately he had wanted it all now for some years at this point and had been forced to grow accustomed to frustration regarding the matter.
Jareth sometimes wondered if she realized how much of her time and attention and ability was directed toward developing her lands and how much easier it would be with a larger population.
In the mean time, she dallied about in the Aboveground.
She might be enjoying her college fling with a prince of some far away land currently studying with her at Oxford, but if she thought she was going to get anywhere serious with an Aboveground relationship, she had another think coming. The most worrying thing about her dalliance was that her prince Basil was also studying international politics at Oxford. An unbiased view—which Jareth most decidedly was not—would see him as an appropriate if uninspiring choice of consort for Sarah.
This time, Jareth thought, he wouldn't even have to be the one to nix this particular love affair. He smiled with more than a little anticipation. She hadn't met her prince's grandfather yet, the ruling prince of his kingdom, and curiously enough, one of the previous Labyrinth runners.
Sarah might have been able to pull herself out of the Labyrinth without leaving her dreams behind, but Nasir hadn't. He had forsaken his poetry in order to retrieve his responsibilities and his kingdom from Jareth. He had been a quick-witted child with a tendency to leap before he looked and an utter joy with the unexpected.
As he had run through the Labyrinth, he had stripped himself of those feelings. After sixty years, Nasir still didn't have any care for dreams or fancies. And after sixty years as a ruling monarch, the boy Nasir, who Jareth had watched and admired so long ago, was thoroughly buried under decades of statecraft and careful planning. The old man who was left would have little respect for Sarah.
He watched as her prince finally took her to great his grandfather, holding court at one end of the dance hall.
"Who's your American trollop this time?" The old man gave Sarah a quick once-over and then proceeded to ignore her in favor of interrogating his grandson.
Sarah had that look on her face that Jareth recognized from when she was trying not to roll her eyes. It was the same look as she had when confronted with Chickadee's father, who had gone to the Land of Near Endless Plains in order to steal Chickadee back.
Upon reflection, Jareth saw a similarity between the fae and the old man who had once been such a passionate runner of his Labyrinth. They were disapproving, patronizing, and generally dismissive.
Of course, Chickadee's father and Roselyn had gotten into a "wickedly cool fight"—Sarah's words—and Sarah had been forced to recall that Roselyn, Chickadee's mother, had actually been a fae warrior before she had been exiled. And now she was a woman scorned. The father had not fared well and had left with his tail between his legs, metaphorically at least. Neither Sarah nor Jareth had been sure if Roselyn's insinuations that it was literal were true or merely impugning an ex's sexual abilities. With fae, there was always something of a question.
"This is Sarah Williams, Grandfather, and she's not a trollop." The boy was clearly embarrassed by his grandfather and Jareth could only wonder why he bothered making the introduction at all. Surely he didn't expect any blessings on a relationship.
Apparently the old man wondered the same thing. "Do you think you'll ever be allowed to marry my grandson, girl?"
"Basil is a fun guy to hang out with and I like him a lot. But, no, he's not the right husband for me."
The old man narrowed his eyes, clearly insulted on his grandson's behalf, but also wondering if he was being manipulated.
Jareth considered the situation and thought that the answer was almost certainly 'yes.' Sarah was up to something. Basil wouldn't have made the introduction on his own initiative so Sarah must have requested it. Jareth settled back with his crystal to see where this was going.
"So you're merely a loose woman, who 'hangs out' with men who please her for a moment?"
"Not at all," Sarah responded to the insult with haughty grace. "Your grandson is good in a study group at school and an elegant escort to a dance. But you, sir, are rather more to my taste than he is."
This time it was Basil, standing by her side, who looked insulted. He remained silent though.
The old man looked more amused than anything else. "Old and rich?"
"Tricky and powerful."
And that, Jareth thought, was more than enough of her flirting. He allowed the crystal to dissipate and then took himself off in person to the dance.
The windows rattled in the wind and the candles flickered, as he appeared in a swirl of robes. Sarah would no doubt sense his presence, but he managed to appear in an out of the way corner so that he could mingle with the humans for a time.
Most people thought he was human if they first saw him in the Aboveground for all that he never actually looked very human. With his skin of gold, robes the color of sand, and little red goblins appearing here and there like flickers of flame visible to most people only out of the corners of their eyes, he was unnerving to the other attendees but that possibly made him fit in all the better in this crowd of wealth and power.
Sarah, on the other hand, was the odd one out. She was a poor student with no family money, and no known political power. Most of the attendees had doubtless assumed the dress was a lover's gift rather than a subject's tribute. They didn't know her.
They didn't know her, but it appeared that the old man was getting an introduction. This was not the way he had expected this meeting to go. And of all the people she had flirted with over the years, here was the first one—for all that he was old enough to be her grandfather—who might be able to hold her attention.
Jareth hadn't realized before this how lucky he had been with her previous flirtations. They had always been her age but without her experience. They had been light and flirty boys who took her to movies but didn't challenge her to new heights.
That was always his role.
He was the one that she interrogated, that she fought with, that on one particular occasion threw a frying pan at. He was the one that challenged her.
And he kept that attention. It wasn't quite what he wanted, but at least he knew that she was focused on him, even if it was as her opponent. There would be no distraction from other people, no abandoning him. Sometimes she would like him and other times she would hate him, but she would never, ever walk away from him.
It had been triumph enough for a time. But he could not allow some other powerful and tricky human to distract her from him.
He made his way over to that side of the room and listened to their conversation. He wondered what the old man had said while Jareth had been in transit but now it was Sarah speaking.
"I like your grandson. As I said, he's fun to hang out with. And although I bet you worry about it, he'll make a good ruler. He's a good administrator." Basil was still at her side but it was effectively a two-person conversation: Sarah and the old man who had been Nasir.
"When I was fifteen, I discovered that I needed to know enough about government, leadership, and diplomacy to give a new country stability. At the time, I thought all I needed was to know enough and be capable enough on my own. I have learned a lot, but the most important thing I learned is the necessity of counselors. I need multiple counselors to give me different perspectives, and they need to be the type of people who can work with a brand new country, laying the original foundations for the future."
The old man listened intently, his eyes never straying from her face, but didn't speak even when she paused and waited for his response. After a moment, Sarah's lips quirked into a small smile and she continued. "Your grandson is great, but it's you I want to take back to my kingdom and install as a member of my council."
"Ah," the old man finally gave out a long sigh.
Sarah looked, Jareth suddenly realized, like a queen. She wasn't a princess anymore, beautiful and willful but also flighty and irresponsible. Somewhere along the way, she had become a ruling monarch to her lands.
"How is it, Sarah," Jareth murmured to himself, "that I always seem to underestimate you?" But still he smiled faintly in pleasure because he knew it wasn't actually underestimating her. He had had her measure, but she was growing stronger. Always, with each challenge, she grew that much stronger.
And in competing with her, so too did he grow stronger, not in the amount of power he had but in his control of it.
The old man looked a bit like Nasir again. Just a bit, but he looked almost the young man who's desires had burned so brightly.
Jareth found himself unsure what to do. Sarah was trying to acquire a subject. Of her own free will, she was trying to bring this man into her lands. Just as Jareth had always hoped, she was willingly expanding her population. And yet, the person in question was a Labyrinth runner.
"I have nearly endless plains," Sarah described, "with tunnels beneath the ground, and a river hidden beneath the tunnels. My population is not large: I have four infant citizens, one legal resident, and a hundred prisoners. But those nearly endless plains are covered in grass that grows of gold grain. The soil is rich and dark, and if it is sifted just as the snow finally melts away in the spring, you can find silver. People from neighboring kingdoms come to harvest what they can near the borders every spring and autumn. I have immigration petitions piling up. And I have plans."
He wanted her to enrich her lands, but to bring someone who would only break out again, that would cause more harm than good. Jareth took that final step forward.
The old man who had once been Nasir flinched when he saw Jareth. Jareth ignored him, focused solely on Sarah.
"He's a runner," Jareth told her, utterly serious for once, trying to make her understand that this man had not always been as he was. That he was unsuitable for her. "He once wished away his entire princedom, every person, every animal, every acre."
Sarah looked back with her steady eyes. "I know."
That response gave him pause. "You know? Somehow I doubt he just brought that little fact up in conversation."
"I know all the runners that have ever competed with you." She must have seen something in his face because she continued. "When you brought Chickadee to me, more than six years ago, you gave me a crystal that 'showed events.' And that crystal never vanished. It was a dangerous gift, you know, especially if you didn't know I had it." She looked at him with her sharp judging eyes.
He refused to be judged by her or anyone. "It's not too dangerous: you've never used it to spy on me."
"I caught the danger of that pretty much immediately, you know." She spoke dryly. "I didn't watch you, but I've watched the runners and the wished away. Both those you keep and those that break free."
Jareth was startled but pleased. He hadn't realized she was paying so much attention to his kingdom. "What have you found in your viewing?"
"I probably know more secrets about events happening in this world than anyone else. I could make a good livelihood with either insider trading or blackmailing." The old man looked a bit too interested in this. Jareth, on the other hand, scowled. He had thought she would use the crystal to learn about him and his kingdom. And then she laughed at him!
He stalked closer intent on crushing her with some scathing comment about adults who never grew up. Before he opened his mouth, though, she answered the original question more seriously.
"Your kingdom is a crucible. Those that break free are more focused and driven than they ever were before. You give them an all or nothing alternative and the successful runners are those that are able to forsake everything else in their devotion to that which was lost. Nasir was a poet when he was young. A good one."
"It was his dream. I gave him the option to become a great one. His name would have been known and his words recited around the world." Jareth still felt the pang of that loss. He hadn't cared much one way or the other about the land and people that had been wished into his care, but he missed the poetry that Nasir had given up in order to rescue them.
"All in exchange for his inheritance and the lives of his subjects."
"Not their lives." He spoke dispassionately. "Most would have survived the transformation."
Her mouth quirked and he thought she looked amused. "That was not the implication he heard."
"So he left up his dreams as merely slowing him down and he made the race in time and he retrieve the princedom. In my opinion, the journey did him good. He became a much more devoted and thoughtful ruler than he would otherwise have been. But still…"
"You regret the poetry he might have created?" The old man, watching this all, flinched. His grandson looked on with worried eyes. Jareth ignored them both, mocking himself as much as anyone else. Sarah liked stories more than poetry. Poetry and verse was more to Jareth's taste than to hers. Nasir's poetry had been beautiful indeed.
"That too. But no, I still think it's a false alternative. He made a choice between the two dreams, forsaking one to have the other, because you told him he could only have one and he believed you. When you told me the same thing, I believed you too, for a time. Then I decided I could have both, and so I can. But here he is sixty years later and he still thinks his ability to write poetry is lost."
"It is lost. He gave it up." Jareth noticed absently that this time the old man had himself under tight control and didn't even blink at the dismissal.
"No, he put it aside. Of all your runners, he's the one that after me you loved the best." She spoke unselfconsciously. She spoke utter truth. Jareth found he could almost hate her for that. "Plus, he wished away and then rescued the most elaborate burden. So I watched him. His life after that run is a lesson in statesmanship and diplomacy. He took a failing land caught between too many great powers and made it successful and wealthy while also keeping it independent. For twenty years, for thirty, maybe, he needed to focus on his land. But he's succeeded. It doesn't need the same attention right now, but he's still focused on it to the exclusion of everything else. He doesn't seem to realize that time passes and circumstances change." Sarah sounded unhappy and bewildered.
He looked at her and realized that he recognized the feeling. It was how he had felt when he was much younger and trying to befriend the fae diplomats. Their thoughts were so very different, their social moors occasionally incomprehensible.
He frowned at her, trying to figure out where the disconnect was happening. What about Nasir's choice had confused her? He had made the choice and he had kept to that path.
He considered her. She had a point and he could see that. But she was also confused and he wasn't sure about what. He waved a hand vaguely in Nasir's direction to indicate that she should deal with the other man as he thought. She raised an eyebrow at that but turned easily enough to Nasir.
Nasir was also looking at her with some consideration. "What exactly do you want from me?"
"I want you to step down from your current position and move to my lands. Instead of a ruler, you would become a mentor and a poet. A mentor to me in statecraft, and a poet for the greater glory of whatever you like."
"And what would I be expected to bring with me if I were to agree? Gold? Jewels? Camels?"
"Whatever you want that you can carry yourself. Gold, I have a surplus of. Jewels, I don't need. Camels, I can't even imagine the mess that would create. Just bring yourself."
"Probably any spices you like." Sarah winced slightly. "I'm still working on the food situation."
"Hmm. And if I were to agree to move to your lands, when would this move take place? Immediately or next year or after some other details get settled first."
"There's no real deadline but I propose in three months as a good time for you to settle your affairs and for me to prepare a space for you."
Sarah waited for a moment but didn't show much patience given what she was asking. "What is bothering you? It's not the timeframe or the change. You've been preparing your land for your sudden death ever since your seventieth birthday."
Nasir look startled. "You really have been spying on me, haven't you?"
"Then you realize that I can mentor you, but I can't write poetry. I haven't written so much as a couplet in longer than you've been alive."
"Oh, longer than that. But you will find you can write poetry if you wish."
"And if I can't?"
"There's no deadline. I rather expect you will, eventually. Just wait until you hear the chimes of gold seeds in the breeze in the blinding sun or the click of the loom on a winter night." Sarah smiled wide, her face filled with the knowledge of her land.
Nasir smiled back as if he couldn't help it. It was the smile of the carefree boy who raced horses in the desert and called on mythical beings to free him from cares. His eyes showed maybe the first glint of the boy that had written such glorious sonnets way back when, twisting words and images about like desert mirages to Jareth's delight. "I accept."
This was too much for Basil who gave an aghast, "Grandfather!"
Nasir turned to his grandson. "You knew you were going to inherit some day upon my death. This way, you'll just inherit upon my departure. And I am, after all, already quite old. When else can I take crazy chances without risk? One last chance for an old, old man," he spoke with youthful delight.
Jareth wondered, as he had before, what Nasir would have been like if he had kept his dreams so long ago instead of keeping his responsibility. He had loved that poetry.
Suddenly he realized two things. Two things that he should have realized long since.
The first was that Sarah always walked multiple paths, so choosing between paths would always confuse her.
She kept friends by her who gave her conflicting advice and provided her a variety of resources and skills. She studied politics and literature. It was the very thing that had drawn him to her: she lived reality and fiction side by side. Where he, himself nearly lost himself in the time lines, she took a thousand variations on events and wove them together in a great tapestry of life. Ten thousand little chiming golden seedpods waiting to germinate and grow.
The second, though, was the importance of the poetry. Nasir's mentorship in statecraft, that was for her. That was what she needed for her kingdom to prosper. The poetry, though, that was for him.
She hadn't been ignoring him or his Labyrinth. She had been preparing.
"You are going to marry me!"
Sarah hesitated but then nodded, a quick, short, sharp nod that rocked his world.
Happy but curious, he inquired, "why? I hold you to your agreement, but still, why? After all this time, why now?"
Her first response was practically an automatic and dry. "Because it never came up in conversation before." He quirked an amused eyebrow and took delight in the blush creeping up her cheeks.
"You've never been connected to a land as empty as the Plains are. You say you can feel everyone in the Labyrinth, right? That must be thousands upon thousands of creatures sharing your attention. I have seven. Seven residents plus the occasional visitor. I know my people backwards and forwards and I know my visitors too. I don't use your crystal to spy on you because I know you'd sense it. But whenever you visit the Plains, I feel you in more detail than I think you realize."
His smile widened. He hadn't realized but oh the discovery was sweet.
"You're engaged to the king of the djinn?" Nasir looked halfway between appalled and ecstatic.
Sarah looked pained. "I'd say we're in negotiations at this stage."
Jareth smirked, "Yes, she is engaged. Now, we're working out the details."
"And one of those details," Sarah spoke with overdone patience, "is creating my own council of advisers." She paused for a moment and then lifted her chin. "And providing an appropriate engagement present."
Jareth couldn't keep his smirk, it stretched out again into a grin. "An engagement present? Of poetry perhaps?"
"Yes. I thought perhaps Nasir," she stressed her use of the man's first name, stressing her right to use it as his monarch, "as well as helping to stabilize my the Plains, would write some poetry for my land. So that I, in turn, could give the verse to you."
"I have missed his poetry." Jareth admitted.
She smiled at him. Wrapped in shining gold, he thought her smile was still the brightest thing in the room. He smiled back, sharp and happy.