Dare To Heir

Chapter One

Jareth heard the click, click, click of the healer's boots on the stone floor of his throne room although he didn't bother to immediately acknowledge him when the clicking ceased. The Minor Healer had never been in the presence of the king alone before. There had been several occasions where he'd stood with the Lead Healer but nothing other than that had ever been required of him. Now, here he was unaccompanied by his superior and was the bearer of ill news.

The Main Healer, Gavin, was still attending the queen. Wary of leaving her to the tender mercies of her ladies-in-waiting, he had been sent ahead. Fear, born of the news he was about to impart to his liege emanated off of the man in waves. Achleen wouldn't have been at all surprised if the king might actually be able smell it. His monarch was well aware of his nervous state, and did nothing to appease it.

"Your majesty?" The words from the healer were hardly more than a whisper. When there was no response from the man sitting regally on his thrown, Achleen cleared his dry throat and tried again. "I'm sorry, my lord…" Achleen faltered when the king's head swiveled toward him, and he visibly flinched at the cold passivity that graced the king's features.

Achleen was confused and somewhat shocked at this response. Shouldn't the king be feeling something at the tragic loss of his child? He looked more closely but found nothing; absolutely nothing in that stern visage. The king's eyes bored into his own, and he was reminded of the tales told about this Goblin King. None of which were pleasant. Therefore, he felt it prudent to make an effort to mask his own expression which, he felt sure, was reflecting thoughts which were far from generous in regard to the king.

On that mental note, he quickly lowered his eyes and once again felt fear envelop him. He sincerely prayed that the king was oblivious to the fact that he was less than impressed. After all, it was a well-known fact that crossing the king was not a path anyone should willingly travel accidentally or otherwise. Fortunately, the king could not read minds or, no doubt, he would be hanging over the Bog of Eternal Stench by now.

Finally, Jareth broke the unsettling silence. "The child?"

Achleen recognized the question for what it was, and answered, "A boy, my lord."
The healer dared another glance at the king and thought he caught a flicker of some reaction, but that notion was dispelled as the king asked in a stiff voice, "And the Queen, how does she fare?"

This was a slightly safer topic, and he hastened to reassure the king. "Physically she will recover and is doing well, my lord."

Achleen felt no need to go into the fact that she'd been in hysterics for the better part of an hour after learning her son had been still-born. In the end, she'd had to be sedated because his superior feared for her safety and mental well-being

The king dismissed him with a short, rigid nod of his head. Turning on his heels Achleen headed toward the door with as much haste as he was able to without seeming to run; breathing a sigh of relief when he slipped from his king's sight.

Jareth was tired. Tired and devastated although he never would have allowed the Healer to see an ounce of it. Such an action would be most unbecoming of a ruler and would imply a weakness that Jareth could not afford. It was yet another unfortunate trade-mark of being king.

If, he had been a regular individual faced with such a situation, he would have been permitted to express his grief openly. Sadly, he was who was and so no weeping would he be allowed. No weeping for his son who was being readied for the stone crypt where Jareth's ancestors awaited the babe's arrival.

Jareth knew he should go to his Queen and offer what comfort was in him to give, but he was unable to make himself do so. How could he comfort her when there was no avenue in which to do so, nothing left where his heart should be? He carried a stone where his heavy heart should have been; a heart as unforgiving and cold as the vault which would encase the one thing that would have breathed life and joy into this unendurable emptiness.

Standing, he walked toward the large window to look down upon the realm he ruled. The Labyrinth loomed below the horizon with its grey brick walls and pathways shimmering in the haze of the summer heat. This was his life, his destiny. There was no escaping it. At times, he didn't even mind because his land could be beautiful. Especially now with the trees ablaze in brilliant hues of every color, and his people were at their most content. Still, he knew that winter would make her presence known all too soon by blanketing all with bitter winds and deadened life.

Jareth wiped a gloved hand across his face and braced himself for the inevitable onslaught of those who would express their sympathy. Some, of which, would undoubtedly be as false as the benign looking mermaids who dwelt within the lake beyond the castle. Sirens, who would call out to unsuspecting innocents with their false illusions of beauty only to betray, and destroy the very ones who had been lured into their treacherous arms.

Yes, the niceties must be observed. Jareth would accept the sympathies of those who secretly celebrated the lack of an heir for his kingdom Those who would continue to hope that it would remain so on the off chance that someday he would have to hand over his realm to another member of the royal circle. Political intrigue ran rampant in the Underground.

So immersed was he in his own thoughts that Jareth did not notice the entrance of his advisor until a hand rested lightly on his shoulder. If, it had been anyone other than Willum, he would have shrugged it off immediately.

Willum sighed deeply and slightly tightened his grip before removing his hand and letting it fall at his side. "My lord I offer my condolences at this most unfortunate time."

Willum did not know what else to say. Attempting to bolster a king's spirits was tricky business. One must be careful to not step beyond the proper boundaries while still offering as much help as possible. Jareth was unusual in that he allowed Willum more lee-way than was generally permitted by other monarchs who ruled in the Underground. Willum thought that Jareth knew the benefits of advice from those who were at hand to give it. He was not threatened by someone who was able to put a plan or idea together that bettered his own. To Willum's mind, that showed the true mark of a wise and intelligent leader. Haughty pride kept the majority of rulers from either extending their kingdoms or promoting amiable relations amongst the various monarchies much to their detriment.

Jareth did appreciate Willum's words but did nothing other than to state clearly and concisely, "Thank-you." Willum, though loath to disturb him further but knew in his role as advisor he must do just that. As if sensing this Jareth added in a neutral voice, "You may speak freely, Willum."

"It would perhaps be prudent to send messengers to the High King and Queen and those of the Goblin Queen's family, as well. I'm sure they are anxious to know the outcome of today's…" Willum paused … "Events."

Giselle had gone into labor early, so there had been no time to inform anyone other than the Healers and the residents of the castle of the impending birth. An announcement to the people in which Jareth ruled would also be in order.

The people loved and feared their King. This being the case, they all took great interest in the goings-on at the castle. When Jareth had protested these periodic court related missives, Willum had assured him that it was imperative for the people to be able to relate to him to some extent. It took a great deal of persuasion on his part to finally convince Jareth of this.

The fear of appearing weak was, ironically enough, one of Jareths' biggest weaknesses. Slowly but surely Willum was winning Jareth around to his way of thinking. To allow the king to be "humanized" in the eyes of his subjects, for lack of a better word, could only work in the kings' favor.

With a resigned sigh, Jareth commanded, "Make it so."

Face serious, but well schooled, Willum continued. "Should you perhaps make your way to the Queen's side? I am sure she has need of you."

Willum would like to have added that he probably had need of her as well but knew it would be a falsehood. Jareth whirled around, and Willum recognized too late he'd just crossed the line.

A barely suppressed rage shook the kings' body, and Willum's heart sank as he watched Jareth straighten up to his impressive height and stare down his aquiline nose before demanding harshly, "Do you presume to tell me my duty?" Jareth gestured wildly with his hands before pressing on, "Do you?"

Here was the King that the people feared. The one the goblins strived to avoid when he was in the midst of a particularly bad day. It wasn't often that he was on the receiving end of Jareth's wrath. It was a mighty thing indeed, and it took all of Willum's courage not to cower before it.

"My, lord…" he began again but was cut off abruptly.

"I will do as I see fit!" Jareth all but bellowed. "You will not question me! I am your King and as such am subject to no one! Have I made myself clear?"

Willum lowered his head, bowing to Jareth while whispering, "Forgive me, my lord I meant no disrespect."

Jareth, however, would not be mollified, and through tight lips proclaimed, "You are no longer needed here; go."

Willum, correctly surmising that the King's ears would be deaf to any and all additional pleas he might have made on the queen's behalf, did as he was bade to do. He left behind him an extremely frustrated king who stood alone in the massive, chilly throne room.

Jareth's jaw clenched so tight that the grinding of teeth against one another was a pain in and of itself. He felt a pang of remorse at his treatment of Willum, knowing that he had only the best interest of Jareth's kingdom in mind. Willum was aware of his duty and followed it to the letter, which was more than could be said for his somewhat rebellious King.

The Underground society had a steady stream of stringent rules, regulations and court etiquette. Jareth, being a natural born rule-breaker, deemed such conventions archaic and beyond ridiculous. However, he was in the minority to this way of thinking and struggled to this day to apply himself to what was expected of him.

After years of relentless badgering on the part of his parents – discreetly aided and abetted by Willum – he'd bent to their demands and married a suitable Fae woman of breeding and wealth although both attributes meant little to him. True, Giselle was beautiful, and though Jareth valued beautiful things he found little in the way of actual value in his wife other than her face and body.

A child, he thought mournfully, would have been a celebrated event. The most important of his long life. It would have easily outshone the visit of a mortal girl-woman who had graced his home so briefly years ago. "Sarah," her name passed his lips in a whisper.

Where was she now? What had her life become? Was she, at this moment, surrounded by the children he so desperately craved? The idea of her having what he had been trying to accomplish for five years filled him with jealousy he thought himself incapable of experiencing. Not true, his treacherous mind rebuked. One other time he had felt this searing, angry jealousy.

He brushed those thoughts aside preferring not to dwell on a time when he had been carefree. Back then, his largest concern had been which goblin to kick on any given day. Then, there was, the Labyrinth. Always he was assured of at least thirteen hours of non-stop fun as he played with the mortals who selfishly wished away that which he would have worshipped.

Stupid, stupid mortals! Ignorant beings who did not deserve to win back such precious gifts. Jareth smirked while reflecting on the fact that most of those mortals left empty-handed just as they deserved. While, he? He was left empty-handed neither through choice nor challenge but by fate. Yes, he took slight comfort from the fact that he had either thwarted the attempts of the humans or they had fallen by their own hand. All but one, he corrected himself.

There was one who had managed to defeat all that he had created. She'd conquered every wall, every hidden doorway, nook, and cranny. In the process, befriending creatures along the way that existed only in the minds and imaginations of only the most young children from Above. She had been a whirlwind of energy and determination, and nothing he had thrown her way could sway her from her task. Against his will, Jareth had been impressed by the woman-child who defied him at every turn of his Labyrinth. She alone had walked away with the prize.
He chuckled, the first that had escaped him for longer than he cared to recall. A piece of cake indeed!