This is a Thanksgiving special short story - to my Talespinner readers, your regularly-scheduled Labyrinth programming will resume next week. =) The Olive Branch will be posted in three (maybe four, depending on how long the last section gets) installments over the next few days, and will definitely be concluded by the end of the weekend. I wanted to indulge in a fun idea I had and switch gears a bit from the other story; hopefully you'll enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it, whether or not you celebrate Turkey Day where you're from!
Disclaimer: Sarah, Jareth, the Labyrinth, and its other characters are owned by the Jim Henson Company.
The Olive Branch
Chapter 1: Invitation
by Dreamer In Silico
Sarah shuffled through the grey, half-melted slush on the sidewalk, her skin reddened by the chilly air, and her eyes as clouded-over as the sky. Despite the padding that her thick wool coat provided, the strap of her messenger bag cut into her shoulder as if the coat was not even there, the books inside it weighing her down like a load of bricks. Her tiny apartment, when she reached it, would be cold and dark, with lights off and furnace set to low to save money while she was in class each day. The prospect was a particularly unpleasant one today – it was the day before Thanksgiving, and on every previous year, Sarah had been either already with her family by this time, or preparing to travel to see them. She had had a cheerful Toby and the veritable feast that her father and Karen always put together for the holiday to look forward to. This year, her first in law school, that would not be the case.
She had called her family two weeks earlier, intending to make arrangements to visit, and had been surprised and disappointed to hear that Toby would be staying with a friend for the weekend while Robert and Karen traveled to see Karen's extended family. Sarah barely knew the Thompsons, and could not have afforded the plane ticket to get to Maine, where they lived, at any rate. She had tried not to be upset about the situation, reminding herself that it was perfectly reasonable for her father and stepmother to do something different for Thanksgiving this year… but she had fervently wished they had told her of their plans sooner. By the time she found out, all of her own friends had already made arrangements, and she did not feel comfortable with the idea of fishing for a last-minute invitation.
And so she would spend this year's Thanksgiving alone, probably reading case studies for class, no less. Over the course of the preceding two weeks, Sarah had become increasingly unhappy at the prospect.
By the time she reached her door, her boots were caked with slush, her toes had gone numb from the chill, and her mood had progressed from grumpy to positively foul. She stomped her feet on the welcome mat irritably, knocking the dirty snow and ice from the boots as best she could before going inside and making a bee-line for the thermostat. It was thirty-four outside, and no warmer than fifty in her apartment, and that needed to change, yesterday.
After tossing her messenger bag unceremoniously beside her desk, Sarah turned on the shower as hot as it would get and closed the bathroom door to let the steam warm at least that tiny space quickly. It had become her habit to shower as soon as she got home to warm herself up while the heater did its work with the rest of the apartment. By the time she left the shower, the temperature was usually at least tolerable outside it.
When Sarah emerged fifteen minutes later in fleece pajamas and thick socks, she was feeling fractionally better. It was amazing how far warm toes could go toward improving a mood.
She hung up her coat, slacks, and button-down shirt, smoothing out the wrinkles from their crumpled stay on the bathroom floor, and turned to head for the kitchen, thinking about brewing a hot cup of –
Sarah groaned. Damn. Wait for it…
"Widget, lady-Sarah say not to knock things…"
"Oooooh, move over!"
Well, at least her cold, empty apartment was neither cold nor empty anymore.
Resigned, Sarah rounded the corner to the kitchenette. Sure enough, two goblins were squatting in the middle of the floor, munching happily on sugar cubes from the spilled tin. At the sound of Sarah's approach, both turned their heads to look up at her sheepishly.
The larger of the two spoke first, his voice a high-pitched squeak as he pointed a spindly finger at his friend. "Widget knocked box off shelf, lady-Sarah. Woobie try to clean little cubes up for you," he informed her while wiggling his tufted ears expressively.
The smaller goblin's knobby nose turned bright pink as he sputtered indignantly. "Widget also cleaning! Silly box was… was in the way." He nodded vigorously.
Sarah shook her head, laughing despite herself. "Right. Cleaning. Why don't you try putting the cubes back in the box? That's usually a bit faster."
"…Oh." Widget looked down at the remaining sugar cubes, then back up at Sarah. "This much tastier, though!"
Sarah snorted. "I'm sure." Crouching next to the goblins, she scooped the spilled cubes back into the tin – surely the floor was clean enough – and then stood to tuck it into a high cabinet, where she hoped it would remain unmolested for at least another week. Both Widget and Woobie were looking forlornly at the cabinet, but they brightened when she placed one more sugar cube in each of their hands.
She turned to the refrigerator to grab her pitcher of filtered water to finally make the cup of tea she had been coveting, asking over her shoulder, "Now what has you two here today? Did you get threatened with the Bog again?" She opened the refrigerator door and –
"GAH!" She yelped in surprise to see a particularly tiny goblin sitting square in the center of the top shelf, holding his shoulders and shivering.
"Ss-s-s-sarah!" he exclaimed, teeth chattering. "Why this box so cold?"
Sarah rubbed at the bridge of her nose, willing herself to gather up the last fragile shreds of calm that her shower had imparted and refrain from dropkicking all three goblins out the door. They somehow managed to try her patience no less when they were attempting to be friendly than when their King had sent them explicitly to plague her.
"Because it's a refrig – it's an icebox, Vix. It's for keeping food cold so it doesn't go bad," she explained, exasperated, as she lifted the creature out of the fridge and set him on the floor.
"Then why you have a chicken in there?" he asked, looking confused. "There was little chicken on the big lump, and Vix thought it might be warm, like chicken, but it was cold too!"
Sarah frowned for a moment before understanding. The small chicken she had bought to roast in lieu of a turkey had a small cartoon of a hen on the plastic wrapping. "It's a special cold chicken to cook for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow."
Vix's eyes grew wide as saucers. "Sarah EAT chicken?" He sounded very upset.
Cursing herself silently, Sarah sighed. She would never understand the goblins' all-consuming love for the stupid, smelly birds, but love them they did. "Ahh… it's not a chicken like the ones you have. It's… it's a Cornish hen. Very different."
"Oh. Suppose that's okay, then."
"Silly Vix! No chickens in lady-Sarah's house!" Widget piped up around a mouthful of sugar cube.
"Maybe we should bring her one," Woobie added, thoughtfully. "Sarah need pet for when she get lonely without us around."
"No, no thank you. I don't think I could feed one. Chickens are much pickier than goblins are about their food, I think," she answered wryly as she poured water into the kettle. "This is very hot," she said, pointing to the kettle on the stove. "So don't touch it, okay? You won't like what happens if you do."
Vix squeaked in fright. "Bog?"
"Um… no. Just very burnt fingers, probably, but I think that's worse."
"Oh no, lady-Sarah, the Bog is much, much worse," Woobie assured her. "Fingers get burnt all the time, when we set things on fire." He paused, blinking. "…But when we set things on fire, King usually gets mad. And when King gets mad…"
"BOG!" Widget and Vix shouted in unison.
"I see," Sarah said diplomatically. "That makes perfect sense, then. So don't touch the kettle, got it?"
"Got it!" "Gottit." "Gotcha," the trio chorused.
"Good." Sarah flopped into one of two chairs at her kitchen table, wincing as the less-than-adequate padding failed to absorb the impact as much as she would have liked. "Alright. Again, are you three on the run or something? Or did you just really miss my sugar cubes?"
"Erm…" Widget scratched at his large ear, looking skyward.
"Uh, Vix dunno, just following Widg and Woob," Vix said, muffled slightly by the cushion of the other chair, which he seemed to have burrowed under.
"Widget, you was supposed to remember!" Woobie admonished his partner in sugar theft.
"I thought you was gonna remember!" he retorted, nose turning pink again. "Was… was…" his fuzzy eyebrows drew together as he thought very, very hard. "Was a note! Widget has note for lady-Sarah!"
Sarah was taken aback. This was new. "A… a note?"
"YES!" Woobie was not to be outdone by Widget in carrying out his duty as messenger. "King said to take note to lady-Sarah. We bring note here." He elbowed Widget, apparently aiming for the ribs, but connecting with his ear instead as the other goblin hunched over to dig around in his grubby knapsack.
"Oof!" Widget toppled over, sprawled across the knapsack. "Whatcha do that for?" he squawked.
"The note! Hafta find the note, silly boggy-Widget!"
"WIDGET NOT BOGGY!"
"Hey, hey! Calm down, you two." Sarah had to reach down and physically separate the two goblins, for Widget had leaped onto Woobie's shoulders and was pulling at his ears rather viciously. "No one's boggy, and you did well to remember the note."
Woobie beamed at the praise, though Widget was still glaring at his friend as he returned to the sack. After a full minute of digging, he pulled a tiny square of folded paper from it with a triumphant flourish. "Found note for lady-Sarah! Read it, read it!" She accepted the paper, hoping that it had survived its journey in somewhat legible form.
The edges of the folded note were slightly dirty and frayed from the sack, but as she unfolded it, Sarah found that the creases smoothed without a trace, and a tear in the edge mended itself seamlessly before her eyes. Its obvious magical nature, in addition to the flamboyantly gold script, left no ambiguity as to the identity of the sender.
"To the Lady Sarah Williams –
You are cordially invited to a celebratory feast at the Goblin Castle, in the Underground Kingdom, one evening hence. The mortal tradition of the harvest festival has come to our attention, and we would be most honored to enjoy your company for our own observance of the event. Please pen your reply on this letter, and return it in the care of our subjects. They will see to your transportation on the appointed evening in the event of your acceptance.
His Majesty, Jareth, Master of Mislettered Road Signs, Duke of Impossibly Difficult Mazes, King of the Goblins, and Supreme High Cat-Herder of the Underground
P.S. – No oubliettes, Cleaners, Fieries, enchanted fruit, collapsing bridges, biting faeries, dubiously honest playing cards, rude door knockers, upside-down staircases, or monstrous mechanical guardians this time, I promise. And though it pains me sorely that you will likely require such an assurance from me, in light of past differences, I also hereby promise to return you to your home in the mortal world at the hour of your choosing, and that your acceptance of this invitation will not affect your mortal relations (although I send my warmest greetings to Toby, and hope that he remembers me fondly)."