Of Mayflowers and Markets
Yet another Labyrinth holiday-themed story - the third in the series.
If you are a new reader, you may want to read the two preceding stories in the series - in sequential order: Of Holly and Hobgoblins, and Of Cupids Kings. However, though some details might be based in previous stories, you don't really have to have read them to understand the gist of this. My last two stories were slightly angsty coming-together Jareth/Sarah stories; this one will be more J&S pure good-time fun. Only rated K, for now!
To people who have already read the previous two stories, thanks for continuing to read, and for your support. In return, here is another holiday story, as requested. No one can say I'm not generous. Hehe!
A special thanks to Athena'sAvatar, for giving me the initial idea. It's not based on any particular holiday, but borrows from a few rather obscure ones, as you will find out.
Sorry for the clunky title. If anyone has a better one, please suggest away!
Please enjoy! ~ W.J.
Sarah strolled casually through the park. Or at least, she tried to. As a young couple meandered by in the other direction with a border collie on a leash, she did her best to look like she was just wandering aimlessly about on this beautiful spring day, taking in the clear blue sky and abundance of green foliage around her at her leisure. Only a very keen observer, and even then only one with a knack for the theatrical, would notice that she wasn't actually acting casual at all; rather, she was acting like she was acting casual. Once the couple and their dog were gone, the actress evaporated in the spring sunshine, leaving only a fifteen-year-old girl shooting furtive glances across the park, looking intently around as though she were searching for something. Or, rather, someone.
She could've sworn he had told her to meet him here at eleven o'clock, but there was no sign of him, and she had been walking up and down here for ten minutes, trying not to look suspicious. People she knew might be out and about, and she didn't want it to look like she was waiting for a boy…
Which she wasn't, of course. She was, in fact, waiting for a goblin.
She stopped, exasperated, by a large clump of hydrangeas that grew beside the path. It was pointless to wander around and around in circles looking for him; he just wasn't here yet. She wondered for the twentieth time that morning if she had been stood up, or if this was his pathetic idea of a joke. Trust him to be fashionably late. Or rather, trust him to leave her hanging like this, completely at his mercy, impatiently awaiting his pleasure…
"Hello, Sarah. Is it my imagination, or do you seem anxious? You didn't doubt I was coming, did you?"
She jumped, suppressing a yelp of surprise as a voice floated out of nowhere, coming, it seemed, from just over her right shoulder. She turned, looking everywhere for the source of that familiar voice. The hydrangea bush looked back at her with what appeared to be a smug gaze. From among the petals, two eyes peered – eyes with pupils as deeply, intensely blue as the flowers themselves, yet of two differing shades, the left slightly darker than the other, the right the same sunny blue as the sky above. Those two blue-petal eyes drifted off their stems, and gradually a body faded into view around them – a pale slender face with elegant features, a tall lanky frame, a mop of pale blond hair that gleamed like white gold in the radiant sunshine. Suddenly he was there, taking a step forward to stand beside her as he materialized out of the bush behind her. He grinned mischievously down at her, looking very pleased with himself. She frowned back at him.
"How long have you been there?"
"Long enough to admire you as you walked up and down the path. In future, if your powers as an actress ever fade – though I doubt they ever will – you might want to consider a career as a fashion model, one of those ones on the so-called 'cat-walk'. You'd take to it swimmingly, I believe."
She tried to remain pragmatic, but it was difficult. She knew him well enough to know that he could talk himself out of the bottom of an oubliette. Not that he'd ever have to rely on mere talking. Not when he could pull magical stunts like that. "You know it annoys me when you trick me like that. I thought you were over playing silly games with me like this."
"Ah, but games are only fun when they are played, and you happen to be my favourite game." When her frown wavered slightly, yet held, he resorted to his strongest tactic. "Don't pout, love. It only makes your lips look even more tempting."
She only responded by deepening her expression, exaggerating it to comedic effect; with a chuckle, he swiftly darted forward and kissed the pretty mouth that looked so in need of cheering. Her defenses melted; the dedication of the actress to her role was forgotten. He effortlessly revealed the smile she had been trying to hide, and she kissed him back quite readily.
He sighed contentedly. "Beautiful weather today, isn't it?"
"Yes," she agreed dreamily, but swiftly recovered herself to add: "and the day will be over soon if you don't get your act together. Exactly where is it you want to take me on this 'date', Jareth?"
"Oh, it's not far away at all," he replied breezily. "If I may accompany you, Milady?" He gallantly offered her his arm.
She waited a few moments, turning the tables on him so that he had to await her for a short time at least, as payback; then she conceded and slipped her arm through his. Walking side by side in their now-customary fashion, they set off together across the park.
"Were you really just late because you wanted to sneak up on me, yet again?" she asked, glancing up at him suspiciously as they walked.
"Well, as you know, dramatic entrances are something of a specialty of mine," he answered matter-of-factly. "However, I did have a bit of business to attend to. There was some minor setting-up that needed my attention."
"What, couldn't decide on an outfit?" she teased him gently. "Although the one that you chose is nice."
And it was – in fact, it was also quite different from his usual attire. It had a definite spring flavour to it; it was lighter and simpler than his usual grand, 'kingly' outfits. The fact that it was simpler, though, didn't make it any less impressive. His white tunic was sleeveless, and laced up at the front with white ribbon. Though his shoulders were bare, he wore silver circlets like bracelets around the tops of his arms. His leggings were a deep shade of blue, a hue that almost perfectly matched his left eye; and on his feet he wore some sort of slippers that ended in curling genie-like toes. All this was new to her; his jewelry, however, she was quite accustomed to. His usual pendant with the gold inlay was around his neck, matching the similar heart-shaped pendant around hers; a tiny silver owl with rhinestone eyes was pinned to his left lapel like a brooch, and its matching twin was worn in his left ear like an earring, a tiny silver feather dangling from it.
His outfit suited the gorgeous backdrop of verdant greenery and springtime-blue sky perfectly. It had almost a hint of 'Sherwood Forest' in it – like a woodland king, Sarah thought to herself. "You did tell me to dress in old, white clothes," she said aloud, "but still, you make me feel quite under-dressed." In comparison, she wore an old white sundress with matching white leggings that came down to her knees; she felt very plain standing next to him.
"Not at all," he assured her. "Whatever your attire, you make it the utmost is style and grace. Perhaps the only thing it lacks is a certain amount of adornment." So saying, he drew a circle in the air with his finger; the line he traced actually appeared, in the form of a round floral wreath.
She obediently stood still so he could set it upon her hair. "What, no roses this time?" she joked, reaching up to gently touch a white blossom; it felt velvety soft against her fingertip. "They're pretty. What kind of flowers are they?"
"They are the blossoms and stems of the hawthorn bush; also known as mayflower."
"Ah! – the perfect accessory for a spring day, then?"
"I feel like a ballerina now," she chuckled, wriggling her toes in her white ballet flats, remembering fondly the many times this very spot had been the stage on which she would perform her childhood imaginings, costumed in her mother's old stage outfits in a manner not dissimilar to this.
He gave her a sidelong smile. "Well, then, let's see how well you can dance!"
Without warning, he caught up her hand and spun her around. She laughed, turning with him, her skirt flaring out around her. Instead of merely walking – why do something as boring as that? – they half-walked, half-waltzed across the park, heading towards the little bridge over the stream; the place they thought of affectionately as their spot. As he tugged at her hand, urging her to keep up with his longer stride, she took a swift step forward and flung herself at him; he caught her up easily and swung her around. Though her arms were encircling him and his supported her safely, she felt a thrill as he spun her and, for a moment, her feet flew out over the railing of the bridge, treading only air; he was literally sweeping her off her feet. Then he safely set her down again and, slightly giddy, she followed him across to the other side of the bridge, both of them laughing at the pure fun of the frolic. They walked a little further, following the line of trees that grew densely beside the stream, until they came to a large weeping willow. Jareth beckoned her towards it; he stopped just before it, turned to face her, and gave her a deep, courtly bow.
"Milady," he addressed her in grand tones, sweeping the overhanging branches away like a swaying green curtain, "I give you – the Goblin Market."
As far as she could see, there were stalls set up in long, snaking rows; a sort of miniature labyrinth made of colourful tent-like structures. A few stray chickens clucked contentedly, pecking busily at invisible seeds on the ground. It looked like a scene from Arabian Nights, except that instead of people managing these stalls, each was overseen by a different goblin – goblins of all shapes and sizes, with horns or tails, or tails and horns; short snouts and long toes, or vice versa. The sounds from the market gradually wafted up to her; she wondered that she hadn't already heard it as they approached the willow tree. Tens of voices called to browsers to sample the wares on offer. Every table in sight was spread with all sorts of exotic-looking produce; but all of them were some type of fruit, from the palest of white, yellow-tinged pears, to the deepest dark purplish-red of plums, and a veritable array of colours in between, not to mention the sizes and shapes. There were some varieties that she had never dreamed of, let alone ever seen, in her entire life.
"Is this still in the park, or is this the Labyrinth?" she asked Jareth, who was standing beside her, rather proudly surveying the scene before him. There was no way that this 'fairground', as it were, could possibly fit beneath the willow tree.
"Well, it's somewhere in between, I suppose. It's a similar place to the snow-covered pine forest where I met you last Christmas. A sort of meeting place between the Underground and the human world."
"Do you have these markets often?" Sarah found it quite incredible that such a scene could be stumbled upon beneath a tree she had often played under as a child. If this sort of thing took place once a month like most markets did, surely sooner or later people coming to the park would start to notice it.
"No, not at all. As a matter of fact, it happens only once a year, on the vernal equinox."
"Yes. You could say it's a spring festival, of sorts."
"A festival to celebrate what?"
"A combination of things, really. A celebration of bounty, mostly; I suppose if I were to compare it to holidays in your human calendar, it would be something like a cross between Easter and Thanksgiving. Really, though, it is more an excuse for the goblins to have a celebration, and to eat a lot of tasty fruit. As you can see, there are all manner of fruits on offer here; and luckily for you, it is customary to offer fruits to a visiting human guest."
Sarah raised an eyebrow. "And I suppose that's the role I'm playing today?"
"But naturally; and you will do it justice, I'm sure."
They had in this time strolled down a gently sloping knoll and entered the first row of market stalls. Walking amongst the stalls was a bit like stepping off a cliff into the ocean; in a moment they were enveloped by the cacophonous sounds and kaleidoscopic sights of the market. Everywhere they passed, goblins bowed before His Majesty and his pretty guest, offering platters laden with gleaming fruits, like trays of glowing jewels. Though she had traveled from one side of the Labyrinth to the other in her time, Sarah had never seen so many goblins gathered together in one place; on every side, goblins beckoned to her, skittering about her ankles, tugging at the hem of her dress, trying to entice her to come try their wares. It was a bit like having her attention fought over by a pack of very eager, vocal puppies; they tumbled over each other in their effort to gain her notice.
"Come try, fair one! Plump round cherries!"
"Have a tangerine! You won't regret it!"
"Ripe quinces! You've never tasted finer than these!"
"Have a grape! Once you have one, you'll want a bunch!"
"Apricots! – fresh fruit, fit for such a pretty lady!"
"Come try, come try!"
"Pipe down, you miserable worms!"
At Jareth's words, every goblin within earshot – and scores more who weren't – drew back a pace; they instantly fell quiet. The fear-filled awe with which they regarded him was obvious. "Your eagerness in commendable," he continued, "but don't let that enthusiasm cause you to curtail your manners. We have amongst us today a gentle human guest; whilst she condescends to grace us with her venerable presence, you must all treat her with the due respect one as dainty as she deserves."
All the goblins obediently bowed their heads and knelt at her feet; even Jareth gave her a low bow. "We welcome you, Milady," the assembled hordes declared in one rather loud, unruly, raucous voice – a voice that befitted ten-odd-score of goblins.
Sarah blushed at all the fuss and attention, yet it occurred to her that the words the goblins had spoken sounded somewhat recited; even Jareth's speech had sounded similar to an actor's monologue. She had the feeling that however genuine their efforts may be, this was all some sort of elaborate ritual. She felt a bit like an actress stumbling onstage without having read the script. Well, you're in the drama club, aren't you? she reminded herself. Go ahead and improvise!
"My heartiest of thanks to you all," she began, gradually gathering confidence. "It gladdens me to be so warmly welcomed, and I am honoured to be in attendance here today."
"Well-met, human guest!" Jareth replied, an un-acted glint of pride and approval in his eye. "We humbly lay at your feet all our kingdom has to offer you."
The performance seemed to be over for the time being at least. The crowd returned to some form of normalcy, or at least as normal as a horde of goblins could be; they weren't quite so boisterous in their efforts. Most of them backed off and returned to their respective stalls, apparently content to let her browse at her own pace.
"How much of that was scripted?" she asked Jareth, wondering if all his 'customary' human guests received such flattery, or whether he had embellished it just for her.
"Well, I knew you would give an impressive performance, despite a lack of preparation on your part," Jareth replied with an ambiguity-imbued twinkle. "I only hoped to somewhat match your considerable talent. So-called 'ad-lib' is another specialty of mine, and one of yours as well, so it would seem; yet such a claim does not stretch to cover my foolish little subjects. I have been rehearsing them all morning, as well as for the previous month or so preceding today; all things considered, they performed it better than previous years. "
"I think I've heard stories like this before," Sarah said, eyeing her surrounding somewhat warily. "Do I need money? Or do I have to give some sort of personal token, a lock of hair or something, in return for what I buy?"
"No, no, the market is absolutely free, and free for all; everyone can try as much as they like without having to buy. That's what distinguishes this from any market in the human realm. Surely you know that old Christmas-time fable, wherein 'visions of sugar-plums' dance over children's heads as they slumber?" He swept his hand about, his gesture taking in every stall around them. "This is the waking version of that dream. There is a never-ending abundance of food here, more than any number of people – or even goblins – could ever eat in eternal years. Every fruit you could ever dream of is here, from cranberries to snozzberries-"
"But there's no such thing as snozzberries," Sarah pointed out.
"Don't be so sure," Jareth countered with a sly smile. "After all, these fruits are the sugar-plums that dreamers dream of. Anything and everything possible is on offer here; I don't doubt that there will even be one or two varieties that I haven't heard – or dreamed – of myself. The world itself may grow older, but its childish dreamers remain as imaginative as ever. I'm sure you'll find many interesting things to try."
"Wait – I'll find…? Aren't you coming with me?"
He gave her an apologetic smile. "I'm afraid not. I may be 'fantasy boyfriend' to you, but today I am also the Goblin King. Naturally, I have to oversee the festival, and there are a few things I need to attend to which I must do alone. However, I will meet you later, and I'll tell you then all about what I'm going to do now. And I'm sure you'll have an enjoyable time exploring the stalls on your own. These little minions of mine may be somewhat crude, but they mean well, and though they may be somewhat annoying, they shouldn't bother you overtly."
"They couldn't annoy me half as much as you," Sarah replied tartly, a coy smile on her lips.
He chuckled at that. "'Gentle guest,' indeed," he retorted, rolling his eyes but not at all genuinely offended. "I shall call upon you again at the thirteenth hour; until then, milady, I bid you adieu." He took her hand and kissed it gently, bowing low as he did so; then with seeming reluctance, he dropped her hand and turned, striding off into the teeming throng of goblins. Soon he was lost among them; or rather, he appeared to have vanished into what little 'thin air' there was amongst them.
Sarah looked around her, feeling somewhat at a loss. There were so many stalls – where was she supposed to start?
She felt a hand tug at the hem of her skirt; she looked down. A diminutive goblin peered nervously up at her from beneath the rim of the large tray he had balanced on his head; it appeared to rest atop his two lop-ears, flattening them against the top of his head and forming an ideal platform for his wares.
"Try a fig, Milady?" he asked in an earnest tone. "They are top quality, the best you'll find anywhere."
Sarah stooped down beside him, to better survey his offering. The split fruits looked juicy and tender, their skins of palest green contrasting with their crimson centres. Well, decided Sarah, it seems as good a place to start as any. Just as well he warned me not to eat before I came. This type of labyrinth, I think I can handle.
"Sure," she said aloud to the little goblin. "I'll try one."
Author's Note: So ends chapter 1. No Toby this time, though I did manage to write in those ridiculous chickens. And there are lots more goblins. I missed writing for goblins in my Valentines Day fic. They are pure good slow-witted - or do I mean quick? - humourous fun.
Two literary references in this - Goblin Market is in fact a 19th Century poem by Christina Rossetti, though this story is very different from the poem. There is also a Roald Dahl/Willy Wonka allusion. A rather obvious one. What fun!