Tokens of Affection
Summary: One year later, Sarah takes a chance. A purple hyacinth - 'Please, forgive me.'
Epilogue: Hell Hath No Fury - Like a Woman Defending Her Man
One hundred years later…
Caydan, current ruler of The Land of the Great Falls, was beyond frustrated.
He'd come to the Labyrinth to make a formal request of aid from the High Courts newest King. A wily brat, he'd been warned, who was as incorrigible as the goblins he ruled over.
It galled him horribly that he was being forced to stoop so low as to ask a complete stranger for assistance, rather than take care of his own business. However, he had little choice in the matter. Past allies had gradually begun refusing their support over the years until all he was left with was a starving population, and little hope for digging himself out of a millennia long war campaign.
At the moment, he and his heir, Dreail, were being escorted to a large garden where they were told that they would be meeting with the small kingdom's Queen.
Not, as he'd originally been led to believe, their King.
It took some effort, but he managed to contain his outrage at having to deal with a glorified assistant, rather than the land's ruling monarch.
"Almost there," a rather lanky goblin hissed out uninterestedly, his form bearing an almost lizard-like appearance.
"Obviously," the younger fae ground out, easily seeing the great, domed conservatory they were being led up to.
The shorter faerie shot the prince a impertinent look over its shoulder and hissed insolently up at his face.
Caydan caught his son's arm just as he lifted it to belt the grinning creature for his cheek. "These are not your subjects, Dreail. Mind your temper."
The young fae looked as if he wanted to violently protest the order, but obediently did as he was told, his face going ominously blank.
The King turned to the goblin pointedly. "Your Queen will be hearing of this."
The reckless creature only grinned a little wider as it purposely faced itself forward, and continued its trek to the garden.
Caydan clenched his fist, but carefully suppressed his anger yet again.
Goblins knew how to provoke like no other faerie could, and likely because of it, had an excellent sense of self-preservation. They knew not to aggravate a more powerful creature…
…Unless they had another equally powerful creature backing them.
It was a test, the King realized, and a statement.
Whoever this Consort was, she was neither stupid nor timid, and she wanted him to know it. Clever thing.
"Be on your guard, Dreail. We have just been sent a very keen message."
The prince glanced back at him disbelievingly. "A message?" He asked. "In that thing? It's a goblin, father."
Caydan restrained the urge to sigh.
Due to their country's constant state of war, there were not many races, faerie or otherwise, that were willing to come within their borders for long. The last time a goblin had been spotted inside the kingdom, Dreail had been barely more than a babe. Certainly not old enough to remember the havoc the mischievous little creature had caused.
In comparison, the one leading them now, was spectacularly restrained in its play.
"You haven't dealt with goblins before, my son. Trust me," he muttered lowly, "this one is a message."
The young fae still seemed doubtful, but otherwise inclined his head in deference to his elder.
The rest of the walk passed in utter silence until they were standing before a large gate that led into the massive garden, the disrespectful goblin dutifully pulling a cord that rang a bell along the inside. Within moments, the great gate swung open, and the small fae motioned them to enter.
"Just follow the path. The Lady will be at the center."
The King raised an eyebrow in curiously. "You will not be leading us to her?"
The goblin eyed him as if he were stupid.
Caydan had to refrain from frowning.
"You ain't a Runner. You'll find her just fine if you stay on the path." And with that said, the tiny creature turned on its heel, and darted into the forest surrounding the conservatory.
The fae king felt a chill run down his spine.
That was another bit of proof that this Consort was not a creature to be taken lightly. Goblins did not give warnings without being directed to. The nasty little beasts had a tendency to enjoy watching others trip into their own misfortune. It made him a trifle unsettled to notice that if he had not asked, then it was very likely he and his son would have eventually found themselves in quite a bit of trouble.
"Stay close," he warned his heir sternly. "And do not step one foot outside the path. Do you understand me?"
Dreail looked at his father in surprise. It was a rare thing for the man to be firm with him. Whatever was happening was obviously something to be left to those with greater experience.
"As you wish, father."
Seemingly satisfied with that answer, both father and son took their first steps into the conservatory, and instantly felt a foreign magic snap up around them and take root into their very being, impeding their ability to translocate.
"Father?" Dreail hissed urgently.
"It's a Shift-Kingdom," the older fae growled sharply. "This entire dome is a pocket dimension within the Labyrinth!"
"Who rules over it?" The younger fae asked quickly, glancing around for any signs of hostility. "Have we been led into a trap?"
Caydan snorted. "Of course we have, one that is very likely ruled by the reigning monarch's Consort." He glanced pointedly at his heir. "Be on your guard, my son, these negotiations have just gotten complicated."
Dreail nodded his understanding, and together they continued down the path.
As time passed, the fae king became aware of the way they seemed to be helped along in their journey as they strode down the walkway.
In his experience, Shift-Kingdoms tended to quite large, despite their typically small size in the main reality. If he took into consideration the size of the conservatory, and the fact that the Shift-Stones were likely anchored to the Labyrinth itself, then he found that it was extremely likely that this one was absolutely massive, when compared to others that he'd seen in the past. Perhaps, even the largest one in existence.
The path that they were on was very likely the only way to make it to the center of the kingdom in a timely manner without the ability to translocate. If they stepped off of it for any reason, then he had little doubt that they would not be able to find their way back to it without local aid.
It was another fifteen minutes before they made it to the end of the walkway, the dark red bricks ending abruptly at the foot of a long, silvery, bridge.
Pausing briefly to check over their appearances, both fae regally took their first steps into the Goblin Queen's main territory; and were completely blindsided by what they saw.
The bridge they'd just come over ran across a wide creek, which in turn, circled around a beautiful, park-like piece of land. It was amazingly well maintained, with the grass carefully manicured, and various breeds of small flowering trees scattered artfully around the large glade, lending it the air of a private sanctuary.
One curious thing though, that Caydan quickly noticed, was that in this area, there was not a single path in sight. Unlike their journey here, where a single misstep from the set course could have caused them unneeded trouble, this place was remarkably devoid of any routes.
It was a curious piece of information that had him quickly glancing about for a reason.
It didn't take long for him to crane his head back just so, and make out the top of a very large tree in the center of the clearing. The place, no doubt, that their host was likely waiting for them.
Caydan felt lips twitched into an admiring smile as he and his son continued their trek. Whoever this woman was, she was quite the fascinating creature. He was beginning to look forward to these talks.
Jareth stared at his grandfather disbelievingly. "You think they did what?"
Cathal shot his edgy grandson an amused look. "I believe our beloved wives decided to send us on a wild goose chase, of course. As you can see, there is no issue here for us to attend to. Certainly, nothing that would merit delaying our meeting with your father."
The Goblin King looked faintly sick. "How soon do you think we can get back?"
"Considering that they probably took them into The Garden to deal with them, I'd say within the hour, if we go by wing and paw."
The young fae didn't waste a single moment as he quickly turned toward the domed structure in the distance and swiftly let his physical shape reform into that of barn owl. A few heavy beats of his wings quickly had him riding the winds back to his mischievous wife, an unusually large grey wolf determinedly keeping pace with him from the ground.
Caydan was beginning to regret his initial enthusiasm.
It took a further ten minutes to reach the center of the clearing without the aid of a path, and once they reached it, they quickly found out that whoever this Consort was, she was in no way interested in protocol.
The largest, center-most, tree turned out to be a peach tree, one that's very branches reached down to form her throne in an intricate, living knot.
It would have been quite the impressive sight, he guessed, if she'd been in it to greet them. Instead, she was leaning rather inelegantly against the foot of it, a plain red book resting in her lap as she regarded them neutrally.
She was also, he noted uneasily, very pregnant.
Caydan knew the dangers of dealing with a woman that was with-child. His own wife, after all, had had the dubious pleasure of going through the ordeal twice. Cranky did not even begin to scratch the surface if they felt slighted.
The fae king glanced briefly at Dreail, easily seeing the slight tightening around the eyes that indicated that he understood their situation.
Yes, they were going to have to tread carefully with this one.
Just as the King readied himself to speak, the unknown Queen raised a single eyebrow and commented blandly, "I know who you are, and I know why you're here. Your job, right now, is to tell me why I should humor you."
Caydan felt his jaw tighten, and his eyes narrow a fraction. Carefully indeed. Did this woman not understand how dire their situation was?
"I am Caydan, King of The Land of the Great Falls." He introduced regardless. "I have come to you today in the hopes that you would grant my Kingdom aid in our current time of need. However, perhaps I was wrong in my estimations of your kindness." He needled carefully, trying to gauge how she would react.
The impudent woman's lips twitched and she tried to repress a smile as he watched her. "If you were truly looking for kindness, my Lord, then you wouldn't have come here. No, the only reason you've come knocking at our door is because all others have been closed to you. Am I wrong?"
The older fae took in a deep, cleansing, breath and replied shortly, "My Lady is not mistaken, and it pains me deeply to put my burdens at your feet." The words felt like blasphemy coming out of his mouth, and he knew she would see his discomfort at having to say them.
Her answering grin was maddening.
"Your Kingdom has been at war for a little over a millennia, now. In the past, any aid that has been rendered to you has gone only in part to your starving your population, with the rest going to your soldiers," she stated almost politely. "I believe I heard the term 'rabid dogs' used in conjunction with them. It doesn't leave a very wholesome image, does it?"
"War rarely does," Dreail spoke up promptly, drawing the young queen's attention to him. "We have been seeking an end to these pointless battles since they have started. If you grant us they aid we need then, we will-"
"Do not lie to me, Prince Dreail. You and your father have had many opportunities to end your wars. Do you really think that I or my husband are fool enough to let you come within our borders without knowing what you are capable of?" The young queen hissed ominously.
Something dark flickered across the younger fae's face just as his father's hand closed around his shoulder, forcing him to rein in his temper.
"Perhaps my Lady has been misinformed on this," the King offered diplomatically, his tone faintly patronizing.
The Goblin Queen's eyes narrowed.
"No, I do not believe I have," she countered regally. "For you see, war can sweep up any number of people into its chaos. People that have no problem telling others what they saw and heard while they were caught in the middle." Her expression became faintly disgusted. "We are getting quite sick of having to deal with the number of Wished Away that come from your nation, King Caydan. If any of us here should be giving out aid, it should be you to us, for having to pick up your slack."
The prince's expression became positively livid, and in his rage did not see the faintly satisfied look that crossed over the young queen's face, as his father did. Instead, he hissed out furiously, "And just who do you think you are to judge us, my Lady?" The title was spat out like curse. "You and your nation are nothing compared to ours. Our lineage has lasted hundreds of generations, where yours has only just recently begun. We too, have done our research, Goblin Queen."
The impertinent young woman raised a single eyebrow, and smiled condescendingly at his words. "In regards to your first question, I am Sarah Williams of the Northern Americas, Keeper of the Goblin Realm's Mortal Territories, Champion of the Labyrinth, as well as Sovereign over the Shift-Kingdom Sleeper's Sanctuary. I have every right to judge you, as you have come before me seeking aid. You have given me the power to rule over you as worthy or not. Which, Prince Dreail, I would like to remind you, does not give you the right to throw a tantrum just because things to do not seem to be going your way."
"You insult my family and you expect me to be silent?" The prince asked incredulously.
"I expect you to act in accordance to your station, and your situation, Prince Dreail. I am beginning to see how your country has remained lodged in the throws of war for so long."
The young fae's mouth clicked shut with an audible snap.
"Now, to correct your final statement. While it is true that our lineage has not had a standing in this kingdom for as long as yours has in your nation, I feel that it is only fair to point out that the kingdom we have been honored to rule over predates even the High King's beloved Avalon. So, no, we are not nothing when compared to you. In fact, on the grace of the Labyrinth alone, it is you who are nothing when compared to us."
As the prince simmered angrily at his rebuke, Sarah turned her full attention back to the young man's father. The older fae had remained silent throughout the whole exchange, and the young woman wasn't fool enough to mistake his silence as approval.
Snakes, after all, were silent killers.
"Now, King Caydan," she offered knowingly. "Since your son has made his thoughts on this very clear, I do believe it is your turn to speak."
The fae king eyed the woman before him keenly. "Indeed, my Lady, and I would be quite grateful to know what you wish to accomplish by provoking my son to anger? Is this how you treat possible allies? With callousness and cruelty?"
Sarah raised a single eyebrow at his choice of retaliation.
Had she not known the things she did about him and his family, that probably would have worked. It simply was not in her to be so heartless to a representative of a people that so obviously needed aid. However, she was aware, and that gave her a power over them that they had not even begun to consider, yet.
She would take her pound of flesh from this tyrant and his son, and when she was through, then she would give them over to the White Lady for judgment.
But right now, they were hers and she wasn't done with them.
She was going to ensure that this snake lost its head.
"Callousness, King Caydan? Cruelty? Isn't the pot calling the kettle black?" She sniped back.
The older fae honestly began to look angry, now. "What are you insinuating, Goblin Queen?"
Sarah finally sat up straight from the relaxed pose she'd been holding, her eyes accusing. "Early on, in your country's initial feud, you had been offered, on more than one occasion by your opposition, the opportunity for a truce with the aspiration of peace talks to follow, and yet, they were turned down. Do you deny this?"
"The circumstances in those situations-" he tried to reason.
"I am well aware of the circumstances, King Caydan. Please, spare me your stories and answer the question," Sarah snapped shortly.
"No," the fae king ground out. "I cannot deny it."
"So, you deliberately denied your people the opportunity for peace for what I can only surmise to be your own selfish desires. The question, my Lord, is what was worth the blood of thousands of innocent lives?"
Caydan's eyes grew sharp and piercing in that instance as he realize exactly how far the unknown queen's knowledge stretched. There was only one way that she could possibly know what she was implying, and if that was the case, then they needed to leave, and they needed to do it fast.
Turning to his son, he made to signal that they were in danger and that they needed to depart…
Only to discover that he was not fast enough.
"Who have you spoken to?" The prince demanded suddenly, taking a threatening step forward. "Who has been informing you?"
"Dreail!" The King tried to rebuke, hoping to swiftly silence his son. "That is enough!"
"No, father," the younger fae disagreed. "it is not enough. She obviously has no intention of helping us-"
"On the contrary," Sarah disagreed primly, as branches from the large peach tree reached down and dutifully helped her to her feet. "I have every intention of helping The Falls out of this war."
Caydan felt the blood in his veins turn to ice as he witnessed her casual show of power, and listened to the unspoken message within her words. There was no name for the kind of creature that could control plant-life, the ability was so rare. The fact that her throne was crafted from the very tree that had helped her stand took on a whole new meaning. A terrible, horrible meaning as his mind raced to grasp the full duality of her answer as well as take note of the young trees scattered around them, and even the very grass they stood upon.
A meaning that his son did not see.
"A change of heart, my Lady?" The prince asked suspiciously.
Sarah smiled coldly, the expression almost haunting on such lovely features. "No. Not a change of heart. More of a tit for tat." She turned her attention back to the fae king. "I want to hear you say it. I want you tell me exactly why you let your kingdom suffer for a thousand years."
The older fae looked pale and defiantly defeated as he asked her almost hoarsely, yet firmly: "And I need to hear you tell me why you need to know. I need to hear how much my past has come to haunt me."
The Goblin Queen's expression became hard and unforgiving. "I am the one that must soothe away the nightmares, my Lord. That is why I will hear you confess your sins."
Dreail's anger began to change into unease at the exchange. "Father?"
Caydan paid his heir no heed and answered honestly. "I wanted my youngest son dead. The political climate in those early days was such that his unnatural abilities were beginning to be viewed as a potential asset by those of my Court that were privy to the information. They didn't see the invasiveness of some of the things he could do, or take into account the danger they posed us. I was trying to eliminate a threat before it had time to grow and become a power, while maintaining my family's standing."
There was a brief fluttering of wings and a soft rustling in the lower branches of the tree as the Goblin King reach his destination and settled himself down to guard the proceedings.
"An endeavor, I see now, that I failed at, my daughter."
Dreail, who had been carefully watching Sarah, turned sharply at his father's words. "What?"
The fae king smiled ruefully as he gazed at the determined from of the Goblin Queen. "Luck always did seem to favor Jareth, no matter what he tried his hand at."
The Prince's eyes went wide as he realized exactly who they had come to for aid. "No…" He denied. "No! You're wrong! She is lying! Jareth is gone, lost in a poorly executed escape! No others have been able to find him!"
"No Dreail," his father intoned firmly, "they have either not found him, or they have not returned. None of the evidence brought to us has ever been conclusive."
"And neither is this woman's word!" The younger fae hissed sharply. He turned to Sarah suddenly, his expression angry and desperate. "Tell him you are lying," Dreail commanded. "Tell him now!"
Sarah tilted her head to one side, ignoring the building danger. "You know I can't."
It was the wrong answer.
The world seemed to suddenly slow to a crawl as she watched the prince bring up his hand, a ring containing a thinly cut gem along its underside acting as a focus, as he snarled deadly words of power.
He meant to kill her, she realized, to end her before she could end them, but Sarah had laid her trap well.
The snake had already lost its head. The body just hadn't caught up, yet.
Time for her regained its natural flow as Dreail hurled a hissing, sparking ball of energy at her, his father too late to stop him as he forced his heir's arm up and away from the young queen.
Sarah didn't even so much as twitch from her position, merely closing her eyes against the light spray of dirt that came up as the roots of the peach tree broke free from the ground and wrapped around her in a protective cocoon. The sight was unlike anything the two fae had ever witnessed, as thick tendrils of the tree's footing completely blocked the young queen from view.
It was then, as he saw the attempt on his wife's life, that the unseen Goblin King felt his thinly kept patience snap.
Quickly transforming from his avian shape, the Goblin King swiftly leaped down from his perch, and landed directly in front of his Queen's shelter. With a detached ease, the young fae pointedly caught, and crushed the magical sphere in his hand, the fatal magic dissolving like so much glitter as it was pitted against Jareth's ire.
In that one, terrible moment, he looked every bit the killer he had been trained to be so long ago.
There was no hint of the playful mischief or the subtle kindness that was normally so easy to find in him. Just a frightening, steely coldness as he advanced on the ashen-looking figure of his brother.
"No…" Dreail gasped as took several, fearful steps back. "No, it can't be…"
"Stand down, Jareth!" The King commanded sharply, as he got between his son and the Goblin King. "There has been no harm here."
The Goblin King ignored the command and continued his slow advance, even as Dreail continued to unconsciously back away from the safety of his father. "Still defending him, Caydan? I would have thought you'd have had the sense to let your son deal with is own mistakes by now." His voice burned like ice. "You know that you can't save him from this one."
"Jareth!" Caydan snarled as he continued to stand his ground. "Cease this nonsense at once! We are here under your protection! You cannot harm us while we are here to inquire for aid!"
"Your heir just tried to kill my wife, you fool! By the High King's own law, I can take your life, and your son's in repayment for the attempt! Do you really think I will just let you go, now?"
"Jareth," came a commanding voice from just behind the visiting royalty. "Look around you."
Reluctantly yanking his attention away from his old family, the Goblin King saw something he'd never expected.
Carefully ringed around their was small group was unicorns, their almost shining, pale coats glowing ethereally as they passively cut off all routes of escape, their stances firm and unyielding as they resolutely lowered their horns.
Jareth knew what the circle meant, knew what was about to happen.
Gazing over the shoulders of his frozen kin, the Goblin King caught sight of the White Lady beside his grandfather as they entered into the ring. She was beyond radiant as she held her head high and resolute, looking every bit the impartial judge.
"I beg your forgiveness, Goblin King, for putting your Beloved in such danger," the pale creature intoned softly. "However, as you can see, precautions have been taken."
The young King took in a deep breath, exhaling slowly.
If the situation were not such that he knew appearances needed to be kept, Jareth would have chewed out the mare right then and there.
While he'd long ago come to terms with the fact that Sarah was prone to getting herself into the most odd, and often times dangerous, situations, this was one instance where he would have appreciated a little more discretion.
Glancing briefly over his shoulder, the Goblin King finally caught sight of Sarah as the roots of her tree slid down to rest themselves back into the earth. The was not a single trace of dirt or stress on her as she stepped forward toward the ring. Still, it wasn't exactly hard to note the rather distinct way she was forced to waddle as she walked. She was due in another month, and he did not relish the idea of having to explain to her parents why she'd gone into premature labor.
Even if it wasn't his fault.
The few times he'd been forced to do it as it was were more than enough.
"My forgiveness can be won with a good explanation, White Lady." He offered graciously, still fighting the urge to snap at the unicorn for being Sarah's enabler in this.
The mare dipped her head minutely in acknowledgment before a voice to her right called out amusedly, "I'm actually the one that can give you that explanation, grandson."
Jareth turned to the voice, still careful to keep his father and brother within his field of vision, and had to stifle the urge to roll his eyes when he caught sight of his grandmother coming to stand behind the White Lady just outside the circle.
He had wondered when she would turn up.
"It was recently been brought to my attention," Fionn informed him dutifully, "that the suffering within The Falls is steadily coming to a head. The people are perilously close to revolting, and if we are to take back our thrones without causing the population too much undue stress, then we required undeniable proof of our descendents wrongdoing in order to sway those that would try to remain loyal to the current monarchs. There will be enough for us to clean up as it is, without having to deal with a misplaced civil war."
"Your throne?" Snapped Dreail, ignoring his father's stern command to be silent as he turned accusing eyes to Jareth. "What treachery are you aiding against us now, brother? Was it not enough the trouble you caused us when you resided within our borders? Now, you wish to destroy us from without?"
The Goblin King briefly felt his heart twist at the accusation. He had never wished them anything but happiness and peace. Why couldn't they see that?
"I am ready to rule, now," the White Lady spoke gently.
Jareth swallowed and nodded, carefully backing out of the circle until he stood just outside the ring beside his Queen. Almost without thinking, he reached out and grabbed her hand for reassurance, uncertain how he felt towards what was going to happen.
"Stand before me, Caydan, King of The Land of the Great Falls, and Dreail, heir of his Blood and Magic." Commanded the slight mare, her head high and horn gleaming in the day's light. "You are accused by the very land you rule upon of acting against the best interest of the life that resides upon it, causing unnecessary death and chaos that will take generations to heal. How do you plea?"
Caydan looked old and drawn as he stood firm before the unicorn.
He knew what was going to happen. There was no escaping punishment when the very land you governed over found you in violation of its founding laws. Even if, by some miracle, they were to escape, there would be no place within the Underground that would take in him and his family; their fall from grace would be absolute. There would be no redemption.
One look at the pendant that hung around the older fae's neck was all the proof he needed to know that he was twice damned. The very sire of his line was now standing before him as a witness to his trial. The fae woman standing behind him, just outside the ring, very likely his Queen.
No, there would be no way out of any of this; all he could do now, was minimize the damage.
His only hope, currently, was that his son would be smart enough to follow his example.
"Guilty," he stated gravely.
"No!" Dreail snapped back. "We are innocent! If the unicorn hadn't cursed the land then those wars would have been over centuries ago, it is you who condemned us. You stand before us now to judge us as though you are clean of what has occurred, but you are just as tainted as those of us you wish to persecute!"
"An admirable speech," intoned Cathal firmly. "However, it only highlights how little you truly understand of what has been done. All fae know that the very land of the nation they reside upon feeds off the ambient magic they give off. Just as all fae know that when a magical being dies tragically, the negative energy leaves an imprint within the very ground they were felled upon, poisoning the heart of your kingdom. The curse that you have just complained so righteously about was designed to preserve the land as much as it was to force its inhabitance to acknowledge that something has been done wrong. It impedes the kingdoms ability to yield full crops, thus crippling the keeping of livestock, which in turn forces the majority of the population to either leave or face the difficult times to come. It in no way affects how long you do or do not remain in war. Keep your mouth shut boy, you are only proving yourself a fool."
And just like that, Dreail had no more words. He could not refute the information that had been laid at his feet. He, too, knew what the circle the unicorns had made meant, and he also knew that those that stood with the one judging could not lie.
Swallowing thickly, the prince turned to his father, and watched as the older fae nodded his head in silent agreement.
Closing his eyes in silent defeat, the younger fae stated hoarsely, "I rescind my earlier plea. Guilty."
"As King and Heir, you speak for all inheritable lines of descent," the mare spoke decisively. "For your honesty, your lives will be spared. However, your ability to rule has been proven as not only deficient but dangerous. Countless lives have been lost on your own whims. For that alone, I deem the status and magic's of Caydan, Aoife and Dreail - King, Queen and Heir of The Land of the Great Falls, forfeit, and in token repayment for the lives that were so carelessly thrown away, I strip from you your immortality and their accompanying memories. Do you have any last words?"
"Yes." The Fallen King stated firmly as he turned to face Jareth fully.
The Goblin King could see it then, see it in his sire's eyes that his next words were going to hurt, and tried to steel himself against the pain he knew was coming.
It wasn't enough; not nearly enough.
"The White Lady is right," Caydan told the Goblin King frankly. "I shattered countless lives doing something that I should have done myself. My greatest regret, is that I didn't wring the life from you with my own two hands, instead of wasting my time waiting for others to do my dirty work for me. I hope you are satisfied with what you have done to our family."
Jareth's very soul bled at the cold-blooded declaration.
Memories the fae had long though forgotten leapt to the forefront of his mind, and he so desperately wanted to shed tears for the dreams that would never be realized. Of memories of times before there had been any signs of the kind of creature he would become. Before they had ever learned to fear him. Of a time when they had loved him as their blessed second son. Even now, he could still recall his father bouncing him on his knee, smiling, and his mother patiently showing him how she embroidered, even as Dreail would playfully stick his head into the room, commenting that it was a girl's hobby.
Why did it have to come do to this? Why was it really so hard to believe that he had never wanted this?
"You're a fool!" Sarah hissed furiously at the older fae, Jareth only then realizing that he still had a hold of her hand. "Here you stand, facing judgment, and still you try to use him as the scapegoat for your mistakes! When will you take responsibility for your own actions?"
"That thing is not my son!" Caydan raged right back.
"Enough," the White Lady's voice was ancient and powerful. "You have had your words Fallen King, wasted though they are. May your new life be kinder to you and yours then you have been to others."
Jareth could only watch, horrified, as the family that was responsible for bringing him into the world was ruthlessly stripped of their magic and immortality, cruelly transformed into mere shadows of who they used to be.
It was a sad thing to note, but he knew, that hundreds of miles away, his mother was going through the same thing.
There was moment, briefly, as his father continued to stare at him hatefully, that Jareth was able to watch the recognition drain from his eyes as his immortal memories were wiped from his mind.
Seeing his father look at him as though he were a complete stranger, with no malice or kindness for him either way, made his heart ache for the lost possibilities.
It was over within minutes, his father and brother lying unconscious and utterly human on the ground.
The picture was so very surreal and heartrending.
"I'll go retrieve Aoife," Fionn sighed. "and take her Above. Will you be able to manage these two?" She asked of Cathal.
The old King nodded wordlessly as the unicorns raised their heads and began to step back.
The procedure was an old one that the Ancients sadly knew well. Take the condemned Above, ensure the clothes match the era, and leave them, separately, in places they would be found.
It would be the last, and only, kindness they would ever receive from their old home.
"Jareth," Cathal called to the younger fae somberly, "take Sarah back to the castle. Neither of you need to be a part of this."
Taking in a shaky breath, the Goblin King gave a sharp nod and translocated himself and his wife to entrance of The Garden. Once they had cleared the gate he wasted no time in making the jump to his castle.
It was the strangest thing, he realized, as he stood before the massive doors of his home. For all that his heart ached at the loss of his parents, regardless of how cruel they'd been to him, he also felt, somewhat peculiarly… free.
They were ambushed the moment they stepped foot into the throne room.
"Mom! Mom! Come see what Aithne did!"
"Daddy! Shea let the cat in again!"
"I did not! Caedmon and Cerdwin did!"
"Mama! Daddy! Edan found a turtle! Can we keep it?"
"Kaie won't let us chuck the goblins out the window, again!"
A sharp, earsplitting whistle rang out sharply across the room in reply to the influx of voices.
"Alright! That is more than enough!" Sarah snapped firmly. "Line up and let me make sure that no one has been stuffed in a closet again."
"That only happened once!" Tiny Fainche snipped back.
Jareth had to fight not to smile, and negate his wife's authority with how much that one was like her mother. For as young and physically small as she was, his daughter was as much a force of nature as his Sarah.
Watching as their children scrambled to do as their mother bid, (They'd learned early on that her temper tended to be quite short when she was in the final stages of her pregnancies.) the Goblin King couldn't help but feel a profound sense of relief at the sight of the family that they'd created together.
They were all here. Every son and every daughter that wasn't with a minder was here. Safe.
Watching as they obediently lined up one by one, Jareth couldn't quite stop himself from lifting an inquiring brow when the last set of twins popped up covered in mud. One glance at their mother was all it took for him to confirm that, no, she wasn't happy with them right at that moment.
It was rather amusing to watch as all the other brats turned as one to see what kind of stunts their younger two siblings would have to perform in order to escape their mother's wrath.
They didn't have to wait long as true to form, as soon as she got them in front of her, Sarah immediately began grilling the contrite boys on how they had ended up that way.
Knowing that he would have little to contribute to the lecture until Sarah was done, the young king silently allowed himself to marvel at the miracles he'd been gifted with.
Shea, was their firstborn, at ninety-five years old. In appearance, he looked no older than a human at fourteen or fifteen. In personality, however, he was every bit his father's son.
Sarah had had quite the surprise when he'd explained to her that fae children only aged like humans for the first five to seven years of their life. After that, the aging process slowed to a ratio of almost one year for every ten until they were roughly twenty years-old in appearance. Then they gradually began to age even slower until time had little meaning for them.
It was one of the reasons why fae women tended to have so much trouble conceiving. The body's natural biological processes slowed down along with the aging, until it became almost impossible to track when the best time to try for a child would be.
However, because Sarah was born human, and even now, was still in the process of becoming a fae, they had a bit of leeway until the change was complete.
Aithne came next and was currently ninety-one with a uniquely brilliant mind for tactics.
She was followed by Caedmon and Cerdwin, their first set of twins, a boy and girl respectively. They were eighty-seven.
Kaie was eighty-five, and got along very well with her eldest brother and younger sister.
Fainche was eighty-two, and blessed with her mother's independent spirit.
Edan was seventy-nine, and loved playing with the goblins more than was probably healthy.
Maddox and Mannix were the ones that they'd originally thought were covered in mud. Judging by the way Sarah had run her finger down Mannix's nose and had tasted the sludge with a surprised look on her face, he would be willing to bet that they'd been pestering their Aunt Miranda and younger sister in the kitchen not too long ago. They were sixty-four.
Beyond these there was Saraid, who was forty-nine and was as fond of baking and cooking as her aunt. Which, conveniently, explained why her two older brothers were covered in some kind of chocolate mix. She was a rather quiet thing until you messed with one of her confections without permission. Then she was every bit the temperamental cook.
Perth was thirty-five and loved books as much as his grandfather Robert, who he'd been left with.
Vaughn was twenty-three and was with his Uncles Aidan and Toby being taught beginners sword techniques along with his friend's youngest two.
And then last, but not least, their was Wynne, at a rather young fourteen. Although he wasn't completely sure it would last, his youngest little girl was showing a rather heavy interest in taking apart some of the old technology Sarah tended to bring from the Above for the children to examine and play with. In fact, Cathal had even confessed to her having asked him some very intelligent questions on why the fae did not try to mix their magic with human devices. He had little doubt that, with her great-grandfather gone for the day, she was plaguing her grandmother Karen with as many questions as she could on how various Aboveground items worked and why.
Not for the first time, it made him wish dearly that her Aunt Nina was here to answer her questions.
Still, all in all, that brought the grand total of children up to thirteen. Seven boys and six girls, with two more on the way.
Jareth found that he couldn't quite hold back his smile as he realized, not for the first time, how much he would have to thank Sarah for being such a good sport in giving him a large family.
Before long the lecture was over and all the kids were getting shooed away.
The young fae glanced at Sarah questioningly. Normally, she insisted he contribute something during the lectures so that they showed a united front when their children had behaved poorly. What was she doing sending them off so soon?
"They're going to go get cleaned up and then we're all heading out for a picnic." She stated decisively, by way of explanation. "We're going to concentrate on the family you have, not the one you lost."
The Goblin King's eyes widen as Sarah swiftly turned (or as swiftly as she was able), and began the rather daunting trek to the kitchens.
She didn't make it more than a couple steps before Jareth gently caught her around the middle and pulled her back against his chest.
"I knew this was coming, Sarah." He told her honestly. "It hurts, but it's not unbearable. You don't have to-"
"Yes, we do." She disagreed firmly. "If you hurt, then we all hurt. Even if you think you're hiding it, we can still see it. Your children are far from stupid, Jareth. Mannix was going to argue with me rather than explain things to me, and Maddox took one look at you and told me what happened without complaint. You of all people should know that rest would be quick to pick up on something after that."
The fae let out a gusty sigh and closed his eyes, burying his head in the crook of his wife's shoulder. He didn't say anything for several minutes, just holding his queen as he tried to put his emotions into some semblance of order.
"One hundred years and I still struggle with this." He muttered sadly. "I didn't mean for you to feel this. I didn't want you or the children to worry."
Sarah rubbed at the arms that were cradling her belly. "We are your family, Jareth, and we are going to help you remember that. You can't honestly stop us from helping you, you know."
The Goblin King brought his chin up to rest on her shoulder and felt the lingering knot in his chest ease some. "You are an utterly infuriating creature, you realize." He stated peacefully. "I suppose that I have little choice, but to do as I'm told lest I am forced to deal with undesirable consequences." His tone was faintly playful, but still too subdued for her liking.
"Jareth," she chided gently. "We're here for you. Come on now, how should we spend the day? What would you like to do?" She prompted gently.
The Goblin King sighed thoughtfully as he considered her request.
"I want to go back to Sleeper's Sanctuary for the evening." He decided. "I want my memories there to be happy ones. I don't want to always associate my tenth anniversary gift to you with what happened today. I had your kingdom created so that you and the children would always have somewhere safe and happy to be. I won't have that change in my mind."
Sarah smiled as she leaned back against him. "Alright," she agreed. "that sounds like a good idea. I'll set everything up." And with that she carefully twisted, kissed his jaw, and slid from his grasp to once again make her way to the kitchens.
It was times like these, Jareth thought to himself, that he truly missed the friends he'd made in Kevin and Nina Rochester. Unlike Miranda, who had been all to happy to leave her life Above behind and settle down with Aidan Underground, Kevin and Nina had chosen to remain Above and live out their mortal lives together, doing the things they loved.
Kevin had grown up from the small town jock to take over his father's estate after his years in college, while Nina had won a scholarship to MIT and put together her own software company from the ground up. Unlike many young couples, they had actually managed to workout a long distance relationship until they could both return to their home town. It wasn't long after that they married.
Over the course of Kevin and Nina's marriage the young woman eventually earned her mother-in-law's respect, despite not wholly winning her affection. They managed to maintain a tentative friendship up until the woman's death, years later.
The couple had had four children and multiple grandchildren, and great-grandchildren over their years together. All of whom currently aided Sarah in maintaining their Aboveground territories.
Kevin had died, many years ago, at seventy-eight, while Nina had lived long enough to see her one hundred and second birthday, and her first great-great-grandchild.
They'd both had a full and happy life, and the fae could honestly say that although he had been sad to see them go, he was at least able to take a little heart in the legacy they'd left behind.
Realizing that no one had informed Sarah's parents of their new plans, Jareth quickly turned on his heel and made his way to the library.
Robert and Karen Williams had needed little persuading in packing up their lives and taking their young son and following their daughter Underground.
Shortly after the arrest of Lacey Jeanes, when it had come out exactly what Linda Williams had done to her ex-husband's family, their lives had quickly turned into a media circus in the wake of the expected trial against the star. The follow up stories on how it tied into 'The Jeanes Incident', despite Silas and Danielle's best efforts, ended up causing nearly as much trouble as they did aid.
Of course, if one good thing did come out of all of that mess, it was several months earlier, when the Jeanes girl was taken to her first hearing in regards to how she should be tried. The law enforcement of that area had had such a hard time keeping up with her as she chased Sarah through town, and endangering countless lives that they pushed that she should be tried as an adult.
Jareth felt his lips twitch into a smile as he recalled how proud he'd been of his goblins when he'd finally got his first look at the girl on the day she was to face her judge.
Apparently, they'd taken personal offence to her attacking their ward, so it was decided that a little restitution was in order.
Lacey Jeanes had ended up appearing before her judge with bright, neon green hair in a most fetching style for a juvenile delinquent. The judge, who was a close friend of the Black's, had not been amused, and had agreed that to take proper responsibility for her actions, she could not be tried as a minor.
Two months later, the young girl was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of her life in a high security mental institution, with no chance for parole. It was, as Sarah had once told him, effectively the end of her life.
He'd never told his Queen, but he'd kept the small town paper that had printed a full color photo of the goblin's handy work. It'd been just too amusing not to keep some kind of reminder of their inspiring vengeance.
The Goblin King's feet abruptly ground to a halt as he suddenly began to fully realize what had happened.
Could this really be it, he wondered unexpectedly to himself, had all the loose ends in his and Sarah's life finally been tied up? Were they really, finally, free?
He took a moment to consider his grandparent's plan to return to The Falls to reassume their position as High King and Queen. The White Lady had assured them that once they were seated on their thrones, the curse over the land would be lifted, and it would begin to prosper again.
It was their hope that, once things began to stabilize there and his children were old enough for the task, they would be able to find a honorable heir from his line to succeed them, so that, as Sarah had amusedly put it, they could go back into retirement.
When he honestly put it all into perspective, he almost couldn't believe what it all meant.
For the first time, in as long as he could remember, he would not have to worry about the odd assassin or bounty hunter that would come looking for his head. He would no longer have to worry when he left to deal with the neighboring kingdoms, if his wife and children would be alive and well when he returned. He would no longer have to confine them as strictly to the kingdom as he used to, so that they could always be safe. It was over.
After all these years, it was finally over.
Swallowing thickly, Jareth swiftly resumed his pace to the library.
The sooner he told the Williams of their new plans, the sooner he could help his wife set up and they could leave.
He wanted to enjoy his family.
"You know, you never did get around to telling me how you collected your 'proof' against my father." Jareth commented idly as he casually laid across Sarah's throne and watched the kids play.
The Goblin Queen grinned like a thoroughly satisfied cat as she lounged, once again, at the foot of her throne. "You're sitting just under your answer." She quipped in playful amusement.
The fae king blinked in mild confusion before looking to the top of his seat.
There, nestled almost carelessly in the intricate knot work at the head of the throne, was a handful of artfully arranged crystals. Ones that, Jareth knew for a fact, had not been there a few days ago.
"You put Memory Crystals in the head of your throne." The fae acknowledged, impressed. "Very clever, Precious."
Sarah preened, and he decided she looked far too pleased with herself. She was almost worse than the goblins when she got one over on some poor unsuspecting soul.
Memory Crystals were often used by fae families to capture moments of special family events, kind of like a human camcorder. The size of the crystal dictated how much time could be captured, and you could gauge the amount of time used by whether or not the crystal was translucent or opaque. The ones set into Sarah's throne, for instance, were a very telling milky white.
Judging by their size, he'd be willing to bet that they'd recorded the whole confrontation along with the subsequent judgments and penalties. To play it back, all she would need to do was say a set word, and let the crystals project the event into the air above it.
So, that was why she'd provoked Caydan into a confession. They'd wanted to make sure no one could deny his guilt.
"I love you, Sarah." He stated earnestly, resting his gloveless hand on her shoulder. "You know that, right? You know that I wouldn't trade you for anything?"
The Goblin Queen sighed softly and brought her hand up to rest on his. "I've known that since a little before I turned sixteen, Jareth." A smile tugged at her lips. "Why do you think that I conveniently forget the times that I'm most likely to have a child so often? I knew you wanted a large family, and right now, we have the opportunity to have it."
The Goblin King felt a smile make its way across his face as he considered Sarah's revelation and watched as Fainche tackled Shea to the ground with Kaie not far behind her.
"You've given me the world, Sarah. I don't think I can ever thank you enough."
His queen smiled up at him knowingly. "You've already thanked me, Jareth. Even despite our rough start, you've accepted me and let me stand at your side. I couldn't ask for more. You really have given me quite the adventure."
Grinning, the Goblin King couldn't quite stop himself as he swiftly reached down and pulled Sarah into his lap with a superior strength. Before she could think to question what he was doing he carefully brought her head down and kissed her passionately. He poured everything he was feeling into that kiss. His love, his heartache, his steadfast devotion. I will always treasure what we are together. He tried to say without words. And somehow, beyond all reason, he knew she understood.
"Oh yuck!" Vaughn snapped out, his eyes wide and horrified from where he stood before the throne. "We just ate! Don't you care whether or not we keep our food down?"
Reluctantly breaking the kiss, Sarah turned and eyed her youngest son with a look that was known to terrify goblins. "I think you should run now." She commented pointedly.
"Run?" He asked a little nervously just before one of the branches from Sarah's tree narrowly avoided catching him as he caught sight of it and jumped back.
He didn't question her further as he obediently shot away from the branches that snapped after him.
Before long, all the children and the handful of adults that had been lingering about the glade had joined in the game.
Jareth and Sarah, Lord and Lady of the Labyrinth, calmly waited until the family's fun was in full swing before smiling to each other and returning to their kiss.
Never noticing as, all around the base of the throne, small white flowers determinedly pulled themselves from the earth and rose up in poignant meaning.
Well, this is it.
It has sure been quite the ride, but despite all the good times, I must confess that I'm happy to be able to go back to my other stories, now. Honestly, it was getting quite tiresome having to feel guilty every time I so much as thought of one of my other fan-fictions. Anyway, now that this is done, I would like to extend an invitation to all my readers who wished the story could have gone on further.
As time comes, I would like to be able to come back to this universe and create one-shots that will answer any questions, or address parts of the plot that were not seen during the original story.
Which means, that if you want to know how Miranda and Aidan's relationship progressed, you are welcome to request it. Perhaps you would like to see the mischief Sarah and Jareth's children got into over the course of their lives? Or maybe you'd like to see what Hoggle, Sir Didymus, and Ludo got into while the story was progressing? Go ahead and PM me, I'll see what I can do. However, I would like to put down a few ground rules before I go forward with this.
One: do not ask for smut. While I have no problems writing risqué humor, I am not all that comfortable with full out sex scenes. So… no. Sorry.
Another thing is, don't bother asking for the Radio Shack Incident. I will never touch that. Nina has made her thoughts on what she will do to me if I do any more than hint at it, very clear. So… again, no.
Other than that, I hope everyone enjoyed the story, and once again, I'd like to thank everyone that has taken the time for this story, as both readers and betas. You all have been beyond wonderful. Thanks again. -Shi