A/N: Special big thanks to my beta, Anaknusan. And those who want to know about the next update, chapter 16 is already under work.
And, no, I still don't own the Labyrinth.
The Land That Is Not
-and naked I came to you, looking like a woman-
o O o
To Sarah's relief, Phaedra didn't say anything the following day when Sarah joined her for breakfast; only inspected the brim of her decorative porcelain cup hiding her features before she turned to look out the window and took a long sip of her tea. Sarah took the opposite seat and, after a prolonged silence, gazed toward the same direction. The courtyard was still empty, goblins, lazy creatures as they were, preferred to sleep until midday. Besides, Sarah's lip twitched, they had held a secret party last night with an outstanding volume of beer, rum and various drinks of which the contents of she'd rather not know.
Distracted, she sipped her coffee, staring out into the distance, and a small smile tugged her lips as she remembered the outrageous lyrics of their songs. Their company had soothed some of her anxiety, even if she didn't stay long at the party.
Beyond the castle's walls, she saw the city's rooftops; the mixed jigsaw of diagonal forms and angles, pipes and tiny windows; and above it all hovering clouds, their gloomy shadow cast over the city – and the Labyrinth. The maze looked different from this perspective, the corridors extending into the distance, the borders of the Goblin King's land barely visible from the high perch of Phaedra's balcony. Had the little fairy community that nestled within the thick stonewall, covered in vines and murals, increased since Hoggle's banishment? She vanquished from her mind the faint echo of sorrow and fury at the king's unjust decision.
Unexpectedly, a part of the distant Labyrinth disappeared from her sight, as if sucked into the ground, only to be replaced by the confusing array of corridors. Sarah's eyes squinted at a remote lake that only moments ago had been a dense forest, and she wondered if her own trip through the maze had been easier if she knew now that there were thousands of different options possible. What would it feel like to travel the Labyrinth another time? Sarah tapped her coffee cup, lifting it to her lips. What would it be like to travel the Labyrinth backward?
Noticing that she was drinking coffee goo instead of the desired reviving liquid, she sighed and turned her attention back to the room, which was when she noticed Phaedra was watching her keenly, eyes glimmering with an unexplainable glint of intrigue.
"What are you thinking?" The words were out of Sarah's mouth before she had time to consider and a sudden anxiety rolling over her. How much had Phaedra heard yesterday, and what did she think about it?
A rueful smile curled up the corner of Phaedra's lip. "The past." Her honest answer, the candor resonating in her voice, was not something Sarah had expected to hear, not after such a scheming expression. As if shocked by her own answer, Phaedra got up abruptly, her gaze avoiding Sarah and seeking the faraway maze instead. "I think I call for a bath." Her voice was quiet. "Would you accompany me, Sarah?"
"Sure," Sarah muttered, a flickering frustration creasing her forehead.
The corridors were silent, void of goblins as they made their way through, Sarah wondering at the feeling of something being off while not truly able to trace the shift. Surely, it couldn't be of Phaedra witnessing Sarah's row with Jareth.
"What especially were you thinking of?" Sarah finally asked, metering her steps to Phaedra's pace.
The woman didn't react, her eyes focused on the grey stones beneath her slippers and confessed after a lingering hesitation, "My family… and husband."
"Can I…" Sarah started, licking her lip. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
Phaedra stopped. Her lip curled up at Sarah words and she inclined her head, her dark eyes unreadable. "You can. It doesn't mean though, that I will answer."
Sarah brushed the haughtiness of her answer aside, following Phaedra as she started down the stairs, and pried, "What kind of person was you sister? And Theseus?"
With her back turned to her, the layer of dark curls brushing against her shoulders, she couldn't tell Phaedra's feelings. But the sudden stiffening of the shoulders, the sharp angles of the shoulder blade jutting beneath the skin spoke their own language.
"Ariadne?" Phaedra muttered faintly, and Sarah imagined detecting a slight tremble in her voice. "She was dark haired, fair skinned and slender as a willow. Beautiful, they said, like a starry night above the restless sea. Beautiful and innocent and cruel. Like the sea. Like a child."
The choice of words confused Sarah, warned her not to push her luck, but no one had ever accused her of being subtle. Stubbornly, she persisted, staring after Phaedra, "You said she abandoned the Labyrinth?"
Phaedra gave a resigned sigh, a motion of surrender, and glanced over her shoulder. Her eyes gleamed in the dim light of the staircase.
"Sarah. I rather not tell you the tale that is not only mine to share. However, if you will, I can tell you how both the Labyrinth and Theseus came to be in my life."
"Theseus was your husband, wasn't he?" Sarah inquired, curious, and sped up to walk next to Phaedra.
Her curved smile could have been mistaken for amusement but there was no true mirth in Phaedra's gaze. "Yes, after a given time." She lifted her head, revealing her profile, her strong nose, and the delicate structure of her cheekbones.
"I can picture him so clearly, see him the way I first saw him: a rash youth, a light beard just starting to swathe his chin - I thought him more a boy when he was brought to the castle in a group of twelve white-clad youngsters. He was older than me but still a child, having learnt about his royal heritage only months ago. Yet he was willing to sacrifice himself for his country." Phaedra's voice grew weary. "I guess Theseus always was loyal to his kingdom even if not to his women. He abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos and married me years afterwards."
She fell into silence that stretched around them like a snake. It was the silence of a person who had seen too much and could not forget. Silence that lingered in the way she tread the corridors, move her arms, wear her billowing dress – elegant yet jaded. Her silence hung about on the angle of birdlike slender shoulders, older than the stone; silence of a woman who had grown tired of living.
Sighing, Sarah already gave up of her fancy that she would learn more. They reached the ground floor. The tiny windows above their heads cast a scant amount of light, the dusky light of the clouded day dim in the corridor, when, suddenly, Phaedra spoke.
"I'm always surprised of how vivid these memories are. So many years have passed; I've seen heroes coming and going. Centuries slip through my fingers, turn into a blur of faceless faces and nameless places – infinity of time can have that affect. But I remember my home the way it used to be as though I sat on the stone bench of my father's garden only yesterday and listened to my mother's soft voice spinning tales of moon, stars and the gods."
She raised her head, staring into the distance as if truly seeing to the past. The absent facial furrows emerged as the years - the centuries caught up with her. With her air of power abandoning her, she looked plain and tired, a lonely old woman. It was a startling sight.
"I can smell the tender blend of sun, seaweed, fish and salt; hear the carriages traveling the road, and the clinking sound of armor as sturdy soldiers cross the courtyard below my room, their spears and sheathed swords gleaming blood red under the burning sun."
"I hear my sisters' voices; see their shapes running through the castle corridors; feel the hefty laughter of my father warming my heart, see his stormy eyes luminous with love when he gazes at my mother."
"I can envision the sea, spreading clear and azure blue around the harbor…" she took a long breath, asking in a choked voice without looking at Sarah, "Have you ever seen my isle, Sarah? Have you ever been in my homeland?"
Even though Phaedra couldn't see the gesture, Sarah shook her head. "I'm sorry. No. I've never even had a chance to visit Europe."
Phaedra's dark mood shattered, for some reason she appeared to be amused with Sarah's choice of words.
"You people, how carelessly you name and call places. Europe, indeed," she snorted. "Another brutal joke of gods, I presume. But this is not her story. This is a story about a prince, destined to become a king, a princess, and a monster that was slain. This is a story about my father and his witch queen. And eventually, in some ways, also a story about the labyrinth."
Sarah blinked. "You mean the book?"
Phaedra gave her an exasperated sideways look. "You silly girl. I was talking about Minos' labyrinth," she reprimanded her both gently and tiredly.
"Are you saying this used to be Minos' labyrinth?" Sarah waved in the general direction of everywhere and nowhere, chewing her lip. "That this place used to be the Minotaur's home?"
"Phhw, and I thought you were smart, Sarah," Phaedra grunted. "My father's labyrinth was just a façade, a symbol of a prison and the unknown."
She ran her fingers through her dark hair, the muscles beneath the skin of her slender arms relaxing and tensing.
"My father disgraced the gods, the legend tells. How or why, is never mentioned, but the story goes on, telling how they cursed his wife with an unbearable desire for my father's finest bull and that she wooed Daedalus to build her a disguise of a heifer, so alike it fooled even the bull." Phaedra stared into the distance, a far-away look on her face. She continued in a low voice, "After they mated, she became pregnant and gave birth to a hideous monster with a head of a bull, body of a man, and an obstinate desire for young human flesh. That's the legend, and, bluntly said, it is mostly bullshit."
She stopped, giving Sarah a tight glance.
"Keep this in mind, Sarah; my mother never mated with a bull! As one of the ancients, she had the power to lull the ocean, awaken the night sky and drive the storms away. But there were powers even she couldn't control: dark, terrible powers. A creature of darkness raped her, planting in her a monster's semen. She died giving birth to that creature - the Minotaur. As she passed away, she warned my father to keep her monster son alive and feed it with human children, or the kingdom of Crete would be destroyed."
"My father obeyed and built a prison, a labyrinth, in which he kept my half-breed bastard brother, unable to even look at it. He commanded Athens to send their adolescents to be cast into the labyrinth."
She lifted her hand, sliding her fingers against the rough stonewall of the corridor, its sound accompanying her bleak voice.
"I used to wander next to the labyrinth, touch the rough walls the bright sun warmed. I tried to hear through the thick bricks; imagined the crunches, the shouts of agony and the steps over the sand-covered corridors." She sighed, her arm falling on her side, and she stopped in front of a heavy door that would lead to the bathroom.
"I do not know what drew me there for it was not a playground for a young child," she confessed, her chin down.
"Maybe you pitied them?" Sarah suggested, and Phaedra glanced at her with a sudden frown on her face.
"I would like to answer I did, but I didn't," she admitted softly. "I had lost my mother because of that monster. It was only right, I thought, that others should also suffer. So, no, I didn't pity any of those scared and young faces I saw passing my father's throne. I hated each of them. And I hated them even more when I saw pity in my sisters' and father's eyes." She closed her eyes as if pained by the memory before she continued in a stiff voice.
"I would also like to think no day smelled ever quite right after the day I looked down at the city harbor and recognized the ship; its dark sails like a brewing thunder, a silent mourning for the lost ones. Athens had sent their newest sacrifices, and in that ship arrived Theseus, a son of the king of Athens."
"I said Theseus didn't impress me, but that is not totally true. I didn't like him, but he impressed me despite being only a boy. I saw the dark fire in his eyes, his brawny hands and legs. I sensed his strength, knowing that he would become a dangerous man if allowed to live. I recall Ariadne stiffened next to me as their eyes met. She gasped and started shivering. My poor, innocent sister. She was lost at that moment. But she kept her silence, watching the victims of the Minotaur taken away, her eyes never leaving Theseus; and had I known what she planned, I would have never left her side. So cruel in her innocence, Ariadne doomed us all that day."
What could she mean by that, Sarah wondered, chewing her lip.
"Did you know that ancient tribes would cast their unwanted children in a maze?" Phaedra asked abruptly, drawing Sarah's attention. She shook her head mutely, and Phaedra tapped her finger against her arms in deep thought.
"The shamans and priests never stepped over a labyrinth shaped symbol, for they knew it might invoke old powers and they would be lost in its depths for all eternity. Such is the power of the Labyrinth, and in certain ways my father's maze was part of it just as much as it was a prison of the Minotaur," Phaedra explained, knitting her brow, and snorted, "It shouldn't be a surprise that Theseus, prince of Athens, who was young, strong and foolish, didn't care about this. He entered the labyrinth with a sword in his hand, promising to return to my sister in three days, and when that didn't happen, Ariadne followed him."
Phaedra pursed her lips together and her shoulders sagged a little but she didn't continue, standing motionless as if all power had fled her body; the immense cast iron door that would lead to the bath room blocking her way and her words.
"What happened then?" Sarah asked with a burning curiosity, jerking Phaedra out of her thoughts. She blinked but her dark eyes looked through Sarah, their deep inertia so terrible she shifted her weight uncomfortable at being in the direction of Phaedra. Then, the awareness returned to Phaedra's gaze. She smiled a brief and joyless smile before she turned around; and the doors opened, revealing the steaming room, hid in the darkness.
Stepping in the mist, Phaedra answered, the echo resonating from the walls, muffled and vague.
"You know the story. Theseus slew the Minotaur and escaped with my sister. When he returned years afterwards, he came, not with my sister, but with an army, and demanded to have me as his wife. With my witch mother gone, my father had no means to defend his kingdom any longer. The mighty Crete had fallen and I was given to Theseus as a ransom. How I hated him. He knew this, of course, and gloated that he had two of Minos' daughters and could always have more if it pleased him."
Phaedra touched her throat, her body an unclear figure amidst the hot steam. Sarah guessed she must be touching the odd, snake-like scar circling her neck as she muttered, "I suppose he could. The gods have an uncanny way of picking their favorites. They like their women virgin and men brutal; and I have to admit I wasn't sorry to learn about his fall."
"But what happened to Ariadne? You said she entered the Labyrinth? How did she beat Jareth?" Questions burned Sarah's mind. She still couldn't decide which one to ask. Phaedra had mentioned a dark power had raped her mother. Did she mean the Goblin King? And if Ariadne solved the Labyrinth why wasn't she here? There were so many possible answers, and inspecting them from different angles didn't ease her confusion.
"I promised to tell you a story about the Labyrinth and the fall of Crete. I will not tell my sister's story though," Phaedra answered quietly, her worn-out sadness wrapped around her like an invisible coat. "Not today."
Sarah's thoughts lingered on the mystery of Jareth and his Labyrinth as she, absentminded, stripped off her clothes and followed Phaedra into the pool. The warm water enfolded around her, lulling her in a blissful way but her thoughts scorched her mind. Phaedra had mentioned her father's labyrinth had been part of the Underground Labyrinth. If Ariadne had entered here, she must have met Jareth.
She tried to envision their meeting: a beautiful princess standing on the sandy hills of the Labyrinth, facing the haughty Goblin King. The image of crystal clear eyes brought acidy bile to her mouth, she swallowed it down, wondering if Jareth had loved Adriana.
It was stupid thing to do, but she couldn't contain her curiosity. "Phaedra, did…your sister meet Jareth?"
She could practically sense the shift in the woman's attitude. "And, pray tell, why would that interest you?" Phaedra asked, the amusement tinkling in her voice.
Blaming the heated water and the steaming mist for her blush, Sarah opened her mouth. "No reason. Just asking."
When Phaedra spoke, her words held a curious undertone. "Maybe you can ask that from Jareth yourself, later."
Unable to prevent her annoyance, Sarah huffed aloud in the direction she had heard Phaedra's voice coming through the thick mist, "I imagine his reaction would be something as enjoyable as sending me to an oubliette, or clean the trash chute yet again," She growled. "Don't pretend you haven't noticed the lack of patience he has for me."
"Yes, frustration can be a terrible motivator." Phaedra agreed. "I keep on saying he should rethink his strategy but he keeps on ignoring me. As usual."
Not knowing what to answer to the cryptic statement, Sarah kept her silence and was partially startled when Phaedra addressed her.
"It just occurred to me…"
The lingering wait increased her suspiciousness; her brows furrowed.
"I forgot to take my clothes with me," Phaedra confessed finally with a hesitation.
Even if slightly annoyed that it meant her bath would end, she sighed, "Should I fetch them for you?"
"That would be kind of you," Phaedra answered, the relief evident in her voice.
"No problems," Sarah said as she scrambled up from the pool, wrapping the towel around her body. "I'll just put my dress on first," she explained, heading towards the bench where she'd left her gown. Too bad she couldn't blow-dry her hair. The thought of going through the drafty and cold corridors in moist curls gave her shivers. Ah, well, if she got sick she could be given some additional free time, and avoid meeting Jareth. She let out an annoyed puff. Ask Jareth…As if! Yesterday's confrontation between them burned clear in her mind, the memory of his eyes angry gleam sent a vague tremble over her body.
The Goblin King had vowed he would have his revenge on her, and, Sarah knew he would keep his promise. She definitely didn't want to stumble upon him anytime soon.
Quickly, she banished the apprehension, pretending not to be aware of its tickling fingers on her skin, or why.
"No need for that! I'll send you there," Phaedra called and her face appeared at the rail of the pool. Her mouth was cast in an odd secretive smile, which, together with her moist dark hair; bare skin, gleaming in the dim light, and white steaming mist, gave a sly impression. Pointing her hand towards Sarah, she grinned.
"You have all the time you desire, Sarah."
Before Sarah had time to reply, the mist started to swirl around her, wrapping the room and her tightly within. The last thing she saw of Phaedra was her still smiling face before the familiar lurch in her stomach ebbed away her surroundings and she vanished from the bathing room.
o O o
Her eyes took some time to settle though less than previously. Apparently, she was growing used to being transported. With her sight returning, Sarah felt a burning shock racing through her body. She didn't recognize the room. Bigger and with dark crimson furniture and gilded chandeliers it looked totally alien – and definitely not a woman's room. A tingling scent lingering in the air felt familiar though. She turned, feeling the coldness against her back, and snorted at the sight of king-size poster bed with luxurious red and golden cushions and bed sheets.
True enough, Phaedra had transported her to a bedroom. The evident problem was it wasn't hers. Darn with that woman – and without her clothes even! Sarah fumed, tossing her wet hair over her shoulder. She glanced around, faintly relieved to see no one present. She planned to keep it that way.
Without waiting longer, Sarah strode towards the door, leaving a trail of water on the floor. After she was out, she would search for her room and get back in her own clothes. After that she'd tell Phaedra just what she thought about her ways of behaving!
Sarah reached for the handle.
"I wouldn't try that were I you." Her skin crawled at the familiar tone, and her hand froze in mid-air.
She had hoped she could avoid him.
Painfully aware of her unconventional clothes, or lack thereof, and remembering all too clearly the way they had parted the last time, she carefully turned around and compelled her anxiety to the furthest corner of her mind.
He stood on the doorway of his balcony, which must be the reason she hadn't seen him previously. His fair hair billowed around his face, the stormy milieu enhancing its luminosity, the violent sky honing his features so much the mere sight of him stabbed her like a sharp knife. In his nearly black clothes, the contrast of his pale hair felt almost unbearable; the full-length opening at the front of his poet shirt revealing a good deal of his chest; the sleek and dark fabric adding to the sheer of his pale skin.
For a split second, Sarah forgot how to breathe.
Jareth didn't move, his eyes fixed on her as if he didn't quite comprehend her presence, and Sarah's voice died in her throat at the look on his face.
Finally, he moved, taking a deliberate step into the room, his eyes never leaving her. "And what exactly are you doing here, Sarah?" Jareth's low voice, almost a hiss, indicated that her company was far from desirable.
"Um." Her voice deserted her. The water trickled down her neck, and she shivered in the draft from the open door; goosebumps spreading quickly across her skin.
"Speak up!" he snarled, striding forward, now with a dreadful purpose in his movements and in the way he carried himself.
Her hands clenched the towel tighter, and she opened her mouth in a panic, blurting the first thing that came out of her mouth.
"I'm fetching clothes!"
His expression changed, the creases of his forehead leveled, and his swift movements shifted to lazy and reposeful. His eyes examined her, drawing every detail from her flushed figure to the gleaming skin and soaked dark curls. "Apparently," softly, he murmured in a tone that churned Sarah's cheeks. She hardly heard him speaking from the blood that rushed in her ears. "However, the question remains, why are you searching for them in my room?"
Her mouth opened and closed.
"I'm waiting, Sarah. Please explain yourself." The shadow of his gaze left a burning sensation, like a heated trail that traveled from her face down to her chest, her bare arms and legs. His long and thorough assessment over her current shape instigated a transformation of an atmosphere of a nerve prickling prurience.
"I…we…had a bath." Her voice broke and she swallowed, invisible fingers running down her spine when Jareth finally closed the distance between them. "Phaedra forgot her clothes and asked me to go and get them for her," she mumbled, cringing at each word and fuming inside. The nerve of the woman!
"And you run through the castle like a wild sprite – into my room?" the Goblin King asked, his voice filled with a unexpected mirth, and, reaching out his hand, touched her damp skin softly as though to marvel it. He dropped his hand, shaking his head. "You're truly a curious creature."
The words hit a chord, reigniting her panic. Sarah clutched her towel and retreated from him, denying the underlying suggestion with a vicious head movement. "No! She transported me here!" Trying to cast away the gust of fear that struck her somewhere between her stomach and chest, she continued, "It must've been a mistake. I'm sorry." She turned to flee but quickly Jareth snatched her arm, jerking her to a halt.
"Tsk, tsk, Sarah. What's the rush?"
She gave him a long and slow look sideways, deciding that not answering would serve her better.
Her silent noncompliance didn't impress him. "As it happens, this is my bedchamber…" he said almost in leisure and pulled her arm, sending her staggering clumsily forward and nearly colliding against his chest.
"I got that! I shouldn't be here! I'm sorry!" Sarah cried, gaining her footing and, when their eyes met, a shudder ran through her from the draft, and something nearly visible in Jareth's eyes. She tried pulling her arm out of his grip, her other hand squeezing the edge of her towel. "Just let go of me and I'll leave!"
"Ah, but I fear sorry just isn't sufficient, Sarah." Barely detectable darkness echoed beneath his voice - sort of a sinister amusement. His eyes grew dark and a specter of scorn played in the corner of his mouth.
She froze, staring at him, wide-eyed and muted, her fingers felt numb and cold.
"What was it you told me to do yesterday, just before we were interrupted?" he feigned forgetfulness, and smiled with a mixture of pleasure and delighted menace.
"Jareth, quit this," Sarah weakly protested, turning her head and avoiding his eyes.
"Oh yes, I think you blamed me for intimidating you, even dared me to do my best." He leaned closer, and the scent of musk, leather and magic twirled around her as if embracing her. His breath caressed the skin of her neck, and only by great effort she suppressed her shiver. "You know, Sarah, I would hate to disappoint you now."
"You don't have to prove anything!" Sarah hissed at last, her anger replacing her terror. "Just let me go!"
"No, but that's not how it works, as you know. And you should be aware that no one is allowed to enter my room without my permission. The penalty of intruding can be -" while he spoke, his fingers drew lazy circles on her skin, sending trembles all over Sarah's body, "very unpleasant."
"Do you get some sick pleasure at the thought?" Sarah snarled, and his expression hardened.
"Funny. Could have fooled me," she snorted, putting up all her bravado, which, she guessed, Jareth must easily see through.
His eyes narrowing, he scowled, "Brave yet inane, as usual. Be aware that this time, Sarah," his words sunk in, like stones that plunged into water, tearing apart the pretence of her self-possession, "you will pay for it."