Chapter 27.

The Dark palace of Maliki, Pomparles home to the UnSeelie Court

Maliki's hand gripped the rail as he looked over the balcony at his kingdom. He should have heard something by now. There should have been some word. He was beginning to regret having entrusted the mission to someone outside himself. The strike at the gates of the Labyrinth had cost him. The Níðhöggr had recovered but was not the same vicious creature it had once been. He had lost the emissary, his connection to the Seelie Courts. Magus was one of the few Fae he put any trust in, and now he was gone. While he didn't lament what fate had befallen his pawn, he did lament his loss. Maliki began to wonder if his sister had been correct, discounting the Goblin King and his powers had been foolhardy. The wind shifted, taking on a chill. Maliki sensed that the spy was coming; he doused the lights from within his private chamber with a wave of his hands.

"What news do you bring me," he asked his unseen visitor.

"It's not good," a voice rasped. "Our human pawn has failed us."

Maliki felt his jaw tighten with the information he was given, "Has the pawn paid for failing me?"

"With his worthless mortal life," the voice rasped in an unpleasantly cheerful manner, "As you'd wish."

The Dark Fae drew an uneasy breath, "Was he discovered?"

"He was, his charms were disabled and removed from him."

"Blast it, how could mortals do such a thing?"

The rasp growled, "Mortals did not, goblins did."

"I have had enough of the interference of that blasted play king!" shouted the Dark Fae King. "I will strike at his heart!"

"Don't be a fool," his sister's voice said from within the chamber.

"What are you doing here," he demanded, "Spying on me?"

"You called for me," she reminded him.

"That was hours ago," he glowered.

"I was indisposed," she murmured gently ignoring the presence on the balcony. "I'll leave if you have no use of my presence."

"No stay," Maliki ordered. He turned back to his spy. "Go find out what is the weakness of that mortal girl. Return quickly, I must dispose of the Goblin influence before Beltane."

Deidra of the Dioane Sidhe stared at her brother in utter dismay, "Still plotting a course for disaster I see."

"Disaster," he countered, "Hardly. I will be the only King of the once more united courts of the Seelie. To do that I must put that Goblin King in his place."

"You underestimate him," mused the woman.

"He is nothing, even Oberon thinks so."

"Au Dadga favors him," she reminded her brother. "I doubt he will look favorably upon the one who challenges him."

"Au Dadga is old," countered her brother as he ignited the lights in his chamber once more. "I doubt the old fool has the facilities to even realize his little pet has been slapped down and brought to heel."

Deidra remembered what she'd seen in the crystal astrological chart, "Oh do you?"

Thinking her being unimpressed he boasted, "Au Dadga has done little about me trying to take authority from Oberon has he?" His voice was full of confidence. "If he were still a force to be feared would he not have put us both in our places?"

Deidra shrugged, what information she had she intended to keep to herself.

Maliki poured wine for himself, "He cares not, or is of too feeble a mind to do anything about my actions. Soon I shall be the ruler of all Fae and all Fae influenced beings. The time of man will come to an end and the new age of the Fae will come upon the earth. We will no longer be exiled to the fairy mists… we will be free to roam the earth once more, and it will become the garden of pleasures it was always meant to be."

"Bold promises," Deidra sighed.

"Wait and see little sister, wait and see."

Sarah paced her room on the last evening of April. Some inner sense told her that danger was upon her. She had tried to shake the feeling all day. It was as if unseen eyes were watching her every move. It had begun even before breakfast, growing increasingly worse as the day wore on. It had left her feeling waspish and with a very short temper. She had curbed her tongue during dinner, not wishing to alert her stepmother or her father. Her father had been acting a bit odd the last few weeks, ever since Easter. Karen didn't need both of them acting peculiar. Sarah had been quiet during dinner, Karen had asked if she had a date for the prom that was coming up this weekend and Sarah had chosen to shake her head no instead of biting off her stepmother's head. Now two hours later she'd barricaded herself in her room, and paced. Crossing her arms and clutching her hands to her arms she paced from door to window, slowly, methodically. Even the howls of Merlin down in the garage didn't make her stop.

Karen shouted up to her from the foyer, "Sarah, Merlin needs his walk…. Did you hear me?"

Hands dropping to her side almost as if in defeat Sarah paused, "I'll be right there," she called back. Moving to the closet she pulled out the outfit she'd shoved to the back of the closet months ago. She'd not worn it since the night of the big storm. She'd chosen not to even acknowledge its existence since then. Tonight it felt like battle armor, and she had a feeling she was going to need it. After quickly changing out of her school clothes and shoes she moved with purpose to the hall, and down the stairs. "Sorry," she said sounding perfectly normal a true testament to her performing skills, "I was finishing one last report, I'll take him now."

"I thought all your assignments were in," Karen said in a troubled voice. "Didn't you tell me that last week?"

"This is a report that was assigned on Monday," Sarah said effortlessly, "Extra credit," she added convincingly.

"Don't worry me like that," teased Karen.

Sarah took the leash from the mud room and headed to the garage, "I figured extra credit wouldn't hurt… it's not like I have to take any of the exams next week after everyone recovers from Prom."

"Well maintaining high grades and standards," Karen mused, "Has been a very good practice for you." She watched as the girl attached the leash to the dog, "Don't be too long, it's a school night."

"Yes ma'am," Sarah said before heading out.

Something was wrong, and both Sarah and Merlin knew it. His head came up abruptly just after they passed the end of their block. The dog pulled at the leash and Sarah followed him. He didn't head to the park as he normally would; instead his paws took them in the direction of the woods. His steps moved swiftly, picking up speed until the beast was at a full run something Merlin didn't do. He was getting much too old for such strenuous activity but Sarah felt the same urgency that had driven him on. She spotted the car before the dog began to make the oddest of sounds. It was something between a low howl and a growl. Sarah pulled the leash and dug in her heels to ground herself. The air was foul, and she knew that something terrible was in the woods.

Merlin pulled at the leash, tugging so hard he nearly toppled his mistress. With one great sideswipe of his body he sent Sarah crashing to the ground. As she fell her hands released the leash in an effort to protect herself in the fall. Merlin loped off at a gallop; the sound coming from his throat now would have equaled that of the Baskerville hound. Sarah watched her dog disappear into the woods and picked herself up. "Merlin no!" She brushed herself off and moved to follow him, but the next sound that came from Merlin froze her to where she stood. It was ear piercing.

The flash of headlights as a car turned into the woods parking lot didn't break the spell that the sound of Merlin's wail had set upon her. She seemed oblivious of the screech of the wheels as the car came to a halt. Frozen like a statue the girl remained motionless. Only when two hands gripped her arms, spun her about and shook her did she react. "Merlin," she murmured before blinking. Looking at the person shaking her she focused and saw Rex, "Merlin," she repeated urgently.

"Stay here," he told her forcefully, "That's not a request Sarah." He warned her as he headed toward the sound. "Don't you move!"

"I won't," she promised, "Whatever it is; I don't want to see it."

Moments later Rex came somberly out of the woods holding Merlin by the leash. He said nothing as he handed the leash to the girl; he moved to his car and spoke to the driver quietly. Once he had Rex moved back to where Sarah was standing, "The police will be here in a few moments," he cautioned her. "My driver is notifying them of a body."

"Whose," she whispered.

"I recognize him as one of the staff from your school," Rex said with terseness.

Sarah closed her eyes, "I see," she muttered. She took a deep breath, hearing sirens in the distance, but coming closer. Merlin sat at her side quieted. "Thank you for going after him."

A gentle hand slipped under her chin, "Sarah," he said tenderly, "For you I would…"

"Move the stars," she said automatically, her free hand moved up to his, "Yes, I know." The glamour fell away for a moment and the Goblin King stood before her. "I think I've always known."

"Sarah," he said awed by her.

"Jareth," she answered with more than confidence.

"When did you know for sure," he asked.

"Just now," she mused, "When you said my name…" a tear came to her eye, "No one says it like you do."

The hand of the Goblin King slid under her hair, his lips touched her brow, "No one ever will." He promised. The sirens drew closer, "But for now," the glamour returned and he was once more Rex King. "We'll take care of their questions, and then I think we need to have our own private conversation." Sarah nodded her agreement.

"What's the trouble here," the officer asked glaring at the pair, "This man bothering you?"

Sarah shook her head, but it was Rex who spoke to the officer. "This young lady is the daughter of my solicitor, a lawyer you call them… I was on my way to their home when I saw her giving chase to her dog. I ordered my driver to follow, and when he'd parked I stopped her from following the beastie into the woods… he was howling and I knew something was very wrong. I went in after him and found a body… I had my driver alert you."

"A body eh?" the officer seems suspicious, "Daughter of a lawyer?"

"Yes, I'm Sarah Williams," she said quietly, "Robert Williams is my father."

The mention of Robert's name drew a new response from the officer, "Oh," he looked once more at the man at the side of the girl, "And you are?"

"Rex King," Jareth said politely.

The name seemed to have stuck a cord with the officer, "If you two would please stay here, my partner and I will investigate."

"Of course," Jareth said placing a protect arm about Sarah's shoulders.

Sarah waited until they were out of earshot, "You didn't …"

"No," Jareth assured her, "Not I nor any of mine."

"Thank goodness," she sighed in relief.

Needing to needle her just a bit he added, "Not that we're not capable…"

"Of course," she glanced upward at him, "I wouldn't expect less."

He met the glance with equal aplomb, "You're a little trouble maker," he accused.

Sarah smiled at him wistfully.

Moments later one officer hurried out of the woods, looking rather sick. The other came out slower, writing notes and moving toward the pair. "You say you arrived a few moments ago?"

"Yes," Rex said, "I had dinner with some investors, and was on my way to the Williams' home to confer with Miss Williams' father."

The officer looked at Sarah, "And you?"

"Just taking the dog out for his walk."

More sirens sounded in the distance as the officer asked a few more questions. An ambulance arrived; two uniformed men followed the other officer into the woods. When they came out all three looked more than a bit shaken. The officer questioning them offered to drive Sarah home, but Rex/Jareth assured him that he would take the girl home. Sarah walked quietly at his side, moved toward the limo. When the door was opened both Sarah and Merlin obediently entered. The old dog made himself comfortable on the floor of the luxurious vehicle. Sarah sat patiently awaiting her companion who was nodding at something being said by the officer.

Once he was settled in the back seat he spoke to the driver, "Dalton, Miss Williams and I need a few moments in private," the window between the driver and the couple in the back went up. "I'm freezing time," he said as the glamour dropped fully. He was sure that Sarah could feel the difference, but said nothing. When he'd frozen time his hand slid over the back of the seat and behind the girl, "What drew you to the woods?"

"I knew something was wrong," Sarah explained, "But it was Merlin who chose the path."

Jareth nodded, "And he knocked you down?"

"It was as if he didn't want me to follow," Sarah agreed aware that the arm that was behind her was snaking its way about her. She cast a glance at the gloved hand that took a possessive position on her shoulder. "What are you doing," she asked.

"Finishing something," he said as his lips took possession of hers. Sarah's response was unhesitating, surprising both of them. Jareth ended the kiss, "Forever."

"And ever after," Sarah murmured.

"Tomorrow all the dangers will be past us both," he said. "And no one will ever be able to hurt you. You will be the Goblin King's Queen, as you were always meant to be."

"The dangers will never be over," she countered, sounding far older than a girl who was about to turn sixteen

Jareth hedged and then nodded, "No perhaps not all… after all you're the girl who fought her way to the Castle beyond the Goblin City through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered."

"And you moved the stars," her hand caressed his chin, "for me."

"Yes I did!"

Sarah's faint smile faded, "Jareth who was that, that body in the woods?"

"A man named Drake," Jareth said icily.

"Mr. Drake the art teacher?"

"Indeed."

"He had a charm in the boardroom…"

"Yes," Jareth agreed.

"In whose employ was he?"

"The name will mean nothing to you," Jareth sighed, "As only Seelie names are still known to the world of man, but the one who that unhappy man belonged to is called Maliki, he is the King of the UnSeelie court."

"Why would the UnSeelie court be interested in Ann Archy?"

"Because of her connection to you," Jareth stated. Sarah stared at him, "And you because of me…"

"You've got enemies in that court," Sarah asked, "What of the Seelie court?"

"They don't like me either," Jareth mused.

"I wonder why," Sarah teased.

Jareth responded with a wickedly haughty smile, "I know, I'm such a fine fellow."

"I'm glad you didn't…"

"Sarah," he halted her, "Were you in danger I would have…" She didn't speak, there were no words. She nodded, understanding. Jareth placed his gloved hand to his lips, with his teeth he pulled the glove off and placed his bare hand to her throat, "Fate has spoken and will not be denied," he said firmly. "You are blood of my blood, bone of my bone, now and forever." His eyes devoured her hungrily. "The formal ceremony that I had planned for tomorrow will have to take a back seat to the urgency of the moment." He held his bare hand out to her, "Take my hand Sarah Williams and accept your fate willingly. Surrender as you were meant to."

Sarah looked at the offered hand, "I still say I won," she placed her hand in his.

"You didn't," Jareth assured her as his fingers locked with hers. "But it matters not, for now my darling, we both will… and against us no one can triumph. You are my equal."

"That's not what you said before," she sighed.

"Sarah I am Fae born, it is part of our nature to use whatever we can… to win." Both their hands began to glow, and the hand that held the ring he had returned to her tingled. "I Jareth do from this moment on take you Sarah to be my wife, my queen and my other half." He nodded toward her.

"I Sarah take you Jareth to be… my husband," she giggled, "My King," she bowed her head toward him respectfully, "And my equal other half."

Jareth chuckled, "What the Labyrinth hath joined not even Gods can pull asunder." He leaned forward, "Let us seal our vows with a kiss," he said still clasping her hand. Sarah breathed in his scent as his lips caught hers. Jareth rested his brow to hers, "Tomorrow, after we leave this world there will be a public ceremony, but you are now my wife." He assured her. "We, you and I are Fae bonded… not nearly as pleasant a coupling as we've to look forward to. However it is perhaps even more adhering. There is no such thing as divorce in the Fae realms… we are soul matched… and even should one or both of us stray we will always come back to one another."

"Do Fae stray often," she asked hostilely.

"I have no answer for that," he sighed. "I will say that I've never bonded to anyone save for you."

Sarah's eyes narrowed, "I know I'm not experienced, but I'm not stupid… you're not going to tell me I'm the first girl you romanced. Are you?"

Jareth chuckled again, "How indelicate," he teased, "No Sarah I won't insult your intelligence." He pulled her closer into his embrace, "However I've never offered any other female, Fae or mortal a seat on my throne." His eyes locked with hers, "Nor have I taken any other to my bed, I've been saving that privilege for my wife."

"Oh."

"Oh," he repeated with a haughty smirk.

"Is that a threat," she whispered.

"No darling, it's a promise," he glowered before releasing her hand, "We'll be arriving at your front door, and the squad car is directly behind us. I suggest you pull yourself together." He reached forward and tapped at the window, "Dalton alert the guards that Her Majesty will be needed protection this evening."

"At once Sire."

"Her Majesty," Sarah repeated with a groan.

"Queen Sarah," Jareth nodded, "Not that anyone outside our kingdom will know of that for at least twenty four hours or so…." He assumed the glamour of Rex King, "But if I had to play this differently you'd have been Sarah King, the child bride of Rex King."

"Who would be called a pervert and pedophile," Sarah teased.

"As if I'd care," he said chuckling.

"You are a pervert," she accused.

"Oh darling, wait until you get to know me more personally," he teased back. "Then you'll have an idea of just how perverted I can be."

"Sounds like fun," Sarah said.

"It will be," he promised.

Sarah groaned as she saw both her parents coming to the porch. "Game face," she warned.

Jareth stepped from the car, "Robert," he greeted Sarah's father; "These officers would like to ask you a few questions."

"What's happened?"

"Sarah's dog found a body in the woods…"

"Woods," Robert looked at her, "I thought you walked Merlin in the park."

"He had other ideas, I lost control on the leash and had to run after him," Sarah said; know it was only a half truth.

"I saw her running after him, and I had my driver follow her," Rex/Jareth stated as he had for the officer. "I was worried about her being alone in the woods… wolves you know…"

Robert glared at him, "Yes, I know." He turned to the officers and began to answer their questions.

Jareth whispered to Sarah, "I don't think your father trusts me."

"Are you surprised?"

Mismatched stormy eyes twinkled, "Not really." His voice dropped several octaves and became husky, "After all I'm the big bad wolf who's going to…"

Sarah shot him a warning glance, "shhhh."

"Well I am," he teased. He then moved to where Robert and the officer stood, dismissing Sarah from the conversation.

Karen moved to her side and tried to be comforting, "OH you poor darling."

"I'm alight," Sarah assured her, "Rex wouldn't even let me go into the woods. I never even saw the body until the Paramedic carried it out in a body bag."

Karen moved with Sarah back into the house, "Rex seems to come to your rescue a lot, he seems to have a genuine fondness for you…" she suggested cautiously.

"Yeah," Sarah mused, "Well I think it's more than just a fondness…"

"Has he made improper suggestions," an alarmed Karen asked.

"Hinted," Sarah answered with a grin.

Karen blinked, "You're not disturbed?"

"Not really," Sarah answered on her way up the stairs, "I've always had a thing for older men…" she giggled.

"I worry about you," Karen huffed.

Sarah hesitated on the stair, turned and smiled down at the mortal woman graciously, "You don't need to … I'm a big girl."

"Yes, that's what worries me," Karen wagged a finger her way, "Sarah you can't tease a man like Rex! He'll… eat you up."

"I'll keep that in mind," Sarah answered trying to be serious.

"I mean it, he's not one to play games with," Karen warned.

Sarah moved up the rest of the stairs, turned the knob of her door when she reached it, "Oh there you're wrong stepmother… playing games is just what he does best." She didn't enter her room moving instead across the hall to look in on Toby who was fast asleep. She crept to his bed and tucked up his blanket, "Sweet dreams… Toby." A shadow moved one that Sarah didn't see; it was followed by others chasing it.