Of Holly and Hobgoblins
A special holiday story. I know I should be continuing my other Laby fanfic, but I got the idea for this, and it couldn't wait until next year. The two stories do not interlock, so there are no spoilers; the stories retcon each other, since they both deal with Sarah's first encounter with Jareth since the events of the film.
All characters belong to Jim Henson, I lay no claim to them, etc. Honestly, I don't.
Don't think I'll finish this in time for Christmas - I have too many other things to do before then - but I can try for New Years, no guarantee.
Season's Greeting! ~ W.J.
Sarah admired the bright glint of the red tinsel against the white snow outside the window pane. She was decorating her bedroom with bits and pieces left over from doing up the rest of the house. There were pieces of left-over tinsel, broken off from the long strings and too short for the tree, strung along her window sill and woven into the frame of her bed head. She had tied sprigs of holly round the necks of all her favourite soft toys with bits of red ribbon – all except for Lancelot, who was Toby's favourite toy when he came to her room to visit her, and she didn't want him to get prickled. She adorned shelves and picture frames with more sprigs, lovingly affixing some holly to the photo of her mother and Jeremy.
As she finished, she accidentally jostled a nearby shelf with her elbow; books and knick-knacks toppled over and fell to the floor with a thud. Sighing at her own clumsiness, she stooped to pick them up; luckily it looked like nothing was damaged. She hadn't looked through these things in a while… there were some little curiosities she had picked up, like acorns with faces drawn on them she had bought for a nickel from a stall at a local fete when she was six; paper dolls Jeremy had cut out for her to entertain her one rainy afternoon; a very smooth, pale-green pebble like a piece of jade that she had found in the brook that ran through the park and kept like a piece of treasure… There were books she had loved as a child, but hadn't looked at much in later years… ah, a beautiful storybook version of The Nutcracker, a favourite old classic just right for the yuletide season… and that was-
She froze. Lying on the pale carpet, as red as the tinsel had been against the snow, was the deep vermillion cover of what had once been her favourite book. The Labyrinth.
It wasn't her favourite book any more.
She picked it up almost gingerly, remembering what had happened the last time she had read it, many months ago… running down an endless path between towering walls which stretched forever… scrambling through underground tunnels as spinning blades whirled at her back… dark, foreboding forests on the banks of putrid pools, that unforgettable stench… sinister castle spires whose inside walls twisted the very laws of physics and gravity…
And him. She couldn't think about that place without thinking of him, he who reigned over it all, who had manipulated it in order to oppose her, to keep her from her brother… those taunting, odd-hued eyes, that cold, almost snarl-like smile…
As she reluctantly picked the book up off the floor, her fingertips brushed against something hard. Wondering, she lifted the book to reveal a fallen statuette lying beneath it… a little figurine modeled in the shape of a man, looking regal, dressed in courtly costume with the hem of his long cloak fluttering, frozen in suspended motion at his heels, his outstretched hand persistently offering her a tiny crystal ball…
She started and almost dropped the books and toys she had just picked up. She remembered now. She had put these things on an out-of-the way shelf. Most of them were there just because she had outgrown them but didn't want to throw them away… but others had been placed there so they would be out of sight, and hence easier to forget…
She plunked the objects heavily back on their shelf with an air of defiance, resisting the urge to either drop the last two as though they were burning her fingers, or to hurl them out into the snow in disgust. But she couldn't quite bring herself to. Her mother used to read her that book when she was little, it had been their favourite story for play-acting… and Jeremy had bought that figurine for her on her mother's advice one day while they were out, because she had purported that it looked very much like someone, or at least very much like she had imagined him to look…
She pushed them to the very back of the shelf and shoved other belongings in front of them, so she couldn't even see them. She busied herself with putting up the remaining holly sprigs, but their presence in the room still unnerved her, like a pebble in the shoe you were wearing that you couldn't see, but could constantly feel. The memories seemed to dig into her psyche, unearthing things she had tried to bury in deep…
It had been a difficult year. She didn't want to think of that now, this close to the end of it and the start of a new one. Now that things were finally turning out right. She felt a lot happier now, a lot more content in her own life than she had a few months ago. Now she had become accustomed to having Toby around the house, and he didn't seem quite as much of the brat he had seemed before; when he wasn't crying or fussy, he was almost fun, and she noticed now how much he seemed to idolize her, babbling nonsensically at her whenever she came near him, in what was nevertheless an unmistakably adoring fashion. She also got along a lot better with her stepmother now than she had before; they were closer to being friends and further from being outright enemies now. Irene was still not quite a parent, since she would never replace Sarah's own mother; but at least they shared always civil, mostly friendly, verbal exchanges now, instead of constantly being at each others' throats. Even her father seemed to have more time for her now, taking her shopping at the mall and for hot chocolate at a local café recently; even for a few quiet walks in the park, something they hadn't done together since she was very little, and her mother had still lived with them…
She wouldn't see her this Christmas. Other times she had gone to stay with her mother and Jeremy in a hotel over the holiday season, or they would come back to their house here and she would stay with them there; but their theatre company was performing a Christmas pantomime on the other side of the country, so they couldn't come home and they would be too busy to make too much of Christmas with her there. They had told her she was better off staying here, celebrating Christmas with Toby in the house; it would be one of the first few Christmases he had seen, and since he was now old enough to understand the idea of what 'Christmas' was, or rather the gifts and toys it entailed, it would possibly one of the most exciting ones for him. It would be fun to witness his enjoyment, and perhaps even join in.
The clock in the hall downstairs struck three. She finished absently fiddling with the last holly sprig, and snatched up her purse from her desk, also grabbing a scarf and warm knitted gloves which were ready-laid on her bed. She had to run down the street to the corner store to pick up some extra wrapping paper before the shops shut for Christmas Eve. Toby had decided to go for a paper-chase through their previous stock earlier in the day, so now she needed to buy more. She had quite a few gifts to wrap, gifts she had picked out with care, and she wanted them to look nice for the ones who would receive them.
Pausing at the door of her room, she stopped and looked back at the shelf with an almost accusatory glance. She could just see the top of the figurine's head in its dim depths, as though over the top of an uneven picket-fence made up of the books she had thrust in front of it.
I certainly won't be giving a present to you, she thought vehemently at it. Then, giving it a final glare, she hurried out of the room, as though she almost feared any response the figurine might muster. But it stayed impassively silent. After all, it was just a figurine made of plastic.
"Psst, fellas, check these out!"
So saying, Hoggle parted his coat, rather like a shifty salesperson selling imitation Rolexes. Except the comparison would've been lost on Hoggle, since he had never been far enough up in the Aboveground to meet a Rolex salesman. Or any other human, for that matter. Save, perhaps, one. But she had gone down to the Underground, not the other way around. The curious bulges about Hoggle's lapels were instantly explained as he revealed the stash hidden beneath them – Christmas baubles like those that adorned trees were pinned to the inside of his coat, all different colours and sizes. Even here in the dim shadows of the imposing castle hallways, they all shined in a whimsical, twinkling way. The other goblins gaped at Hoggle's prizes. They'd never seen anything like it.
"Wow!" one murmured reverently. "They sure is pretty things!"
"Where'd you get 'em?" asked another, a distinct shade of envy in his voice.
"Salvaged 'em in the tunnels under the Aboveground," Hoggle answered with professional pride. He'd acquired his entire collection of jewells in a similar fashion. "This time o' year, I seen people runnin' back and forth with boxes of 'em, and sometimes they drop them and they roll down drains and such. They're practically there for the takin'."
"They look tasty," observed one dim-witted Goblish specimen. "Can I look closer? That one's shaped like a turnip…"
His grubby little goblin hand reached for a squat, fat bauble that ended in a rather root-like point, licking his lips; the fact that the 'vegetable' had a puce-pink metallic sheen didn't seem to bother him.
"Eh, mitts off!" Hoggle pushed his hand aside and folded his coat across his body protectively, hiding his new acquisitions from sight. "These is Christmas baubles, not brussel sprouts."
"Christmas? Wassat?" asked another curious goblin.
"It's like a big party," Hoggle explained, "that goes on for days, with laughing an' singing an' drinking an' feasting an-"
"There's food?!" several goblins said as one, voices full of awe. Goblins were greedy by nature, and they had simple, easily-met standards. Usually the 'F' word was enough to get their undivided attention.
"Yup, and lots of it," Hoggle affirmed, as the other goblins listened in uncharacteristic silence. "I think it's rather like our old victory feasts. You know, like a return from war campaigns. Not that there's been a war here in years, mind," he added hastily. The other goblins nodded obediently. They had all been witness to how thoroughly their king could quash – or more accurately, squash underfoot – any unnecessarily unruly behaviour. Goblins could be expected to be naturally unruly at any given time – it was all they could be, really – but while they might squabble like naughty children, nowadays it never degenerated into full-scale combat. Not with the King standing over them, a vengeful cane ready to swoop down on the diminutive perpetrators. "I seen them humans carrying bags of swag," Hoggle continued, "like they just come back from raiding an enemy camp, sacks full o' loot. An' they distribute the stuff to each other in a big ceremony, gloatin' over them around a big tree covered with them baubles an' with fireflies glued to the branches. Then they sing songs, an' eat too much food, an' drink too much grog, an' fall down asleep at the end."
"Just like us at our feasties!" observed a goblin, nudging his neighbour excitedly. The others nodded in agreement."
"I suppose," Hoggle assented doubtfully. After all, he supposed, it wasn't too different… although the chickens at the human celebrations usually weren't live any more… and there was far less spitting and bone-chewing and all-round rowdiness at the human occasions. Still some, but not half as much.
"So how come we've never gotten any of this stuff?" asked one of the greedier goblins – though they were all about even in those stakes – as it poked Hoggle's bulging coat with a long, boney finger. "An' I thought you said the one who brought them was supposed to share…?"
Hoggle clutched his coat collar protectively, but the other goblins were already closing in on him. At an invisible signal, they all darted in and made a mad grab. Baubles flew like hail, with the goblins all scrambling after them, each trying to catch them all at once. Hoggle, initially knocked off his feet by the onslaught, recovered enough to scramble after a bright-blue one and clutched it possessively; another hand closed over it, a pair of eyes giving him a warning glance. He returned it glare for glare; a third set of hands and eyes suddenly joined the competition. There was a mad jostle; then the bauble flew from their grasp like a cork popping from a bottle, hurtling upwards. They all scrambled underneath it, pushing each other out of the way, other goblins joining in as they all tried to position themselves underneath it. All pairs of beady little eyes watched as it went up, slowed, hung in midair for a moment's breadth, then began to come down, towards the mass of outstretch hands all reaching out to catch it…
Those who hadn't taken their eyes off it to shove his neighbour aside noticed a curious change in the bauble on its way down; its colour seemed to suddenly fade, from pale blue to cream then past white even, until they could see right through it… like it had suddenly become a ball of transparent crystal…
Two feet above their heads, a hand interrupted its descent and closed around it. The hand was in a glove of black leather, giving it the appearance of the talons of some predatory bird. The hand flexed around it, seeming to possess just as much power.
"Well, what have we here?" asked a laconic voice, laced with an irony that was mostly lost on the Goblish rabble, but with a softly-dangerous tone that they all instantly grasped, like a dagger whispering through cloth.
"Nothing," they answered in an almost practiced-seeming, and utterly unconvincing, chorus. Far too late, shiny baubles were whisked behind backs, but the half-guilty, half-hopeful expressions remained on their faces. The Goblin King surveyed them cynically, one eyebrow warningly raised in enquiry, though he was quite aware of what was going on. The Goblins, like a bunch of children playing 'Statues', stayed perfectly still as they tried to innocently return his piercing gaze; but they shivered here and there with a nervousness that needed no explanation, save experience. Experience of what happened to one when one was caught doing what one shouldn't. Experience of scathing admonishments, usually followed by a descending cane upon one's head, or a sharp boot-toe kicking one's rear end.
"Really?" Jareth asked, his tone condescendingly pleasant. "It doesn't look like nothing. It's far too shiny for mere nothing."
"Is' nuffig rully. Nah shuny stuh hur." The dimwitted goblin spoke, his innocent smile stretching around the large pink bauble in his mouth, in plain sight. The other goblins groaned in dismay.
"You have a large, shiny 'nothing' stuck in your teeth." Jareth neatly swiped the goblin across the back of the head with his cane.
"Ptui!" Knocked loose by the impact, the bauble shot out of the goblin's mouth and bounced on the stone floor; Jareth deftly kicked it with the toe of his boot and it flew towards his open hand, easily catching it by the little loop of string it hung from. Its presence could no longer be denied. The goblins hung their heads sheepishly.
"He did it!" Relinquishing all ownership of the previously-coveted treasure, all the goblins instantly rounded on Hoggle, dobbing fingers lancing at him from all directions. Hoggle was somewhat taken aback by this sudden alliance against him. He found his Majesty's disconcertingly mismatched eyes had locked on him; he was watching expectantly, waiting for an explanation.
"Ah.. wha-… uh, w-what I was doing is…" he stammered, wishing the goblin king wouldn't look at him so attentively as he garbled out rubbish. He also wished the other goblins would stop signally frantically but cryptically behind the king's back, trying to help him with what he should say. It was even more distracting, and not at all hopeful. Jareth momentarily broke his gaze to shoot the other goblins a glance. They swiftly lowered their arms and tried to look casual. Hoggle breathed a sigh of relief. Then Jareth turned back to him, resuming his stare, and he tensed again. "I w-was just tryin' to spread some Christmas cheer. We never had a Christmas here, so we has no baubles of our own, an' they are real pretty and shiny, an' no one in the Aboveground wanted these ones anymore, so…" He rubbed his thieving hands together nervously, waiting for the denouncement he knew was coming…
"Y-yeah, the sight of them things cheered us up a lot," one of the bolder goblins broke in. The others nodded, somewhat reluctantly. Safety in numbers didn't really count here, they knew the king's cane was indiscriminant…
"We enjoys looking at 'em," added another goblin, somewhat emboldened by the lack of thwacking that had taken place as yet.
"Yeah, no one's missin' them, an' since we don't has a Chrissymas of our own-"
"Why are you dunderheads so concerned with Christmas?" The goblins recoiled slightly at Jareth's disdainful words. "You don't need a Christmas celebration. We have celebrations all the time. I give you feasts every other week. I keep you up to our eyeballs in gruel and greasy goop and as much grog as you can guzzle. Usually more. What need have we of Christmas?"
There was a long pause. The goblins shuffled their feet nervously. They knew what happened to people whom the goblin king thought were ungrateful…
"B-but… but these baubles sure is pretty-"
The instant he said it, the goblins on either side of the dimwitted goblin clamped their hands over his mouth. There was a sharp intake of breath all around. No one spoke back to the goblin king and came away without any sore parts…
"Indeed." The king was no longer looking at them. He held the bauble in his hand before his face, seeming to admire its lustre, rather as though it itself was one of his crystal balls. "It is quite pretty, for a bright pink, glittery ornament shaped like a turnip." He tossed the bauble; it bounced once on the dumb goblin's head before he caught it. That slight clonk on the head seemed to be all his punishment amounted to. "I'll tell you what," the king continued, "since you fellows are so fascinated by Christmas, I'll give you one. If you take an interest in human affairs, I'm not one to discourage you. After all, you job is to interact with human children. You have a right to experience human customs. So I'll give you a Christmas this year. No one can say I'm not generous. It'll be a proper Christmas, all the trimmings."
As soon as he finished speaking, the goblins erupted in delighted hoots, not all of it put on to placate his Majesty. Any reason to feast and drink was worthy of genuine celebration. Hoggle alone still felt some minor sense of uncertainty. Perhaps this was because he knew better than anyone else just how the king had felt about 'human affairs' of late. Jareth watched the rabble jabber and twitter amongst itself excitably, but his face didn't reflect their enthusiasm… the colours of the eyes, usually a sharp, burning blue, had become somewhat muted, and the little sideways twist of his mouth could only be described as slightly bitter, or perhaps… dejected. It was a look that Hoggle had seen a lot of recently, and somehow it was more frightening than outright anger, terrifying though that was.
Needless to say, Hoggle had a few misgivings swimming around in his usually self-obsessed, Goblish little mind as he watched the king turn on his heel and stride away towards the throne room.