"Down in the shadows where once I remained, I dreamt me a dream without fear without shame. It crept up behind me; I didn't sense its approach as so often the case when a dream carries hope. It flashed in my mind, an instance is all, and then darkness returned embracing my fall. Though only a moment it had left its mark, a brief warmth that ruined the dankness; the dark."
"She's back," the Halfling stated with evident relish. "How many times is this now?"
Jareth sighed as he rested his temple against his fisted palm. Tanis knew exactly how many times this mortal child had found her way into the Faery realms. The young do so have a love of the dramatic. But, Tanis was one of the few who had found favor in Jareth's eyes. Hadn't it been Tanis' sense of fun and mischief that had drawn him to the Halfling in the first place? Most certainly it had, and in most cases Jareth took great pleasure in feeding into that drama. Today was an off day and so Jareth was not inclined to play.
"You know very well that this is the third time."
Tanis' head whipped around at the bored, waspish quality of Jareth's answer. Settling back into his chair, he rolled his eyes. Oh, joy. It was going to be one of those days.
Not one to be cowed, Tanis replied in a jaunty manner, "Three. Yes, I knew it was something along those lines. Remarkable."
"Remarkable," the king echoed in a voice filled with boredom.
Okay, thought the young Halfling, it wasn't just going to be one of those days, it was going to be one of THOSE days. Tanis decided to ignore Jareth and his glum mood and turned once more to gaze into the large crystal floating in front of them.
"She's grown quite pretty," he mumbled under his breath.
"Has she?" Jareth's inquiry showed a bit more enthusiasm.
Tanis grinned. Jareth was susceptible to pretty things. His palace was housed with objects of beauty and delight. Tanis enjoyed visiting just for the sheer pleasure in walking through the gardens, or peering into rooms in which paintings and sculptures rested. His appreciation for the naked form had sprung from the divine works of Michelangelo.
"Oh, yes…" Tanis pushed on, thrilled that the king was, at last, showing signs of moving beyond this black funk. "Quite lovely indeed! Long, dark hair and huge eyes the color of which would rival the greenest of your finest emeralds."
Out of the corner of his eye, Tanis saw the king perk up considerably. "Really?" Jareth leaned forward resting his elbows on the arms of his throne. "Show me," he commanded with quiet intensity.
At his words the glittering mists parted on Jareth's side of the crystal. Through narrowed eyes he saw the girl. She was young, but not so young that one couldn't help but be aware of the fact that she was but a few steps away from becoming a woman.
She was dressed in what looked to be some sort of play acting garb. It was a dress that fell in a cascading white wave to the tips of her dirty bare feet. It had clearly been worn many times. The long flowing v-cut sleeves were fraying about the edges and there was a ragged rip near the hem which had been mended with thread that appeared to be several shades darker than the actual cloth.
Her make-shift girdle was nothing more than a child's jump rope tied tightly beneath her unfettered breasts, and served to emphasize her narrow waist and the beginnings of rounded, feminine hips. She twirled with youthful abandonment, her slender arms and face raised to the heavens. Her slightly exotic features carried a beatific expression that was arresting. And although her almond shaped eyes were at present closed, he did not doubt for one second the word of Tanis and his description of their beauty.
Her hair - a banner of not quite black – shone brightly under the watchful gaze of the mid-day sun. Atop the crown of her head sat a coronet of crushed flowers bound together by a length of multi-colored ribbons. As she flew and danced with untutored grace across the lush green grass, so too did her hair dance and fly behind her, and every now and again the strands would splash wildly against the smooth skin of her cheeks.
Yes, Jareth mused silently, she was a lovely creature. Lovely and unspoiled, and though she looked carefree he felt the dark shadow which hung over this girl-child.
"What age do you suppose her to be?" Jareth asked, tapping his chin thoughtfully.
Cocking his head to the side, Tanis took a moment to study the contents of the crystal before saying, "She looks to be what the humans call the age of a teen."
"Well, that narrows it down somewhat," Jareth chided derisively. "Can you do no better?"
Shrugging his shoulders, Tanis replied, "The last time she wandered into Fae lands I believe she was in the area of ten years." Nodding his head up and down, he continued with certainty, "Yes, she was ten. I remember because she mentioned her age while chatting with the sprites."
Jareth allowed himself a small smile. "Yes, I recall it now. The sprites were uncommonly kind to her before they led her from the hollow hills. She told them some outrageous story of being a princess, the beloved daughter of the 'wisest and bestest king there ever was.' Jareth chuckled. "Those silly feather-brains believed her absurd story."
Grinning, Tanis added, "She did tell it quite charmingly. If I hadn't known better I might have taken her story to heart as well. Perhaps her so-called royal heritage kept her safe? Those nasty little sprites have quite the stinging bite!"
Jareth answered back in amusement, "If you persist in teasing and taunting them, they will defend themselves."
Jareth returned his gaze to the crystal and peered more closely. Raising his hand, he beckoned to the image of the girl until all that could be seen was her face. For awhile, he said nothing; simply stared at her through veiled eyes.
When he finally did speak, he said, "The first time she appeared she had broken through a dreamscape. Her desire must have been immense in order for her to have done so. You arrived just as the wood nymphs were in the process of sending her to the Lady of the Lake."
Grimacing, Tanis remarked, "She put up quite a fuss if I recall correctly."
"You do," Jareth assured him gravely. It had disturbed him greatly the manner in which the child had cried and pleaded. It had been a curious thing to behold. Jareth wasn't accustomed to such behavior. The few mortal children who had managed to stray away from their own world had been frightened and wailed until they were once more home with their families. This one had done the exact opposite. "I thought I might have to attend to the situation personally, but in the end Nimuae prevailed."
"So," Tanis sighed, "she's made it through the dreamscape, the hollow hills, and now the fairy ring. What are the odds? They'd have to be astronomical."
With a negligent wave of his hand the crystal returned the girls image to its original proportions. "It is not unheard of," Jareth refuted the Halfling. "But, this girl," Jareth motioned to the crystal, "is close to womanhood, and that has me extremely curious."
Scratching his head, Tanis asked, "Why? If it's not unheard of as you say."
In exasperation, Jareth remarked, "If you would listen attentively while the goblins are being taught human and Faery-lore you would know that none… none have reached the maturation of this one."
Tanis turned away. He hated being reminded of his half-breed lineage. Since the day of his birth he had been treated with contempt by the factions of both of his parents. He would have been destroyed had not his plight come to the attention of the Goblin King.
Tanis wasn't stupid, and he'd learned long ago that the king hadn't been moved by compassion but by curiosity alone. He did not doubt that had he been a full-blooded goblin and on the brink of destruction, the king would not have stepped in at all. It had just been one of those days and, the king, seeking diversion had intervened.
He'd been fostered by a motley crew of goblins, Fiery's, gnomes, and even the wise old man with the chicken hat had played a part in his upbringing. Jareth had all but forgotten his existence until he had repeatedly gotten into so much trouble that the king had been forced to take a stand. Fortunately, for him, the king had been so delighted with his twisted sense of humor and mischievous ways that he'd brought him back to the castle to be further educated.
"How is it," Jareth wondered aloud, "that one so advanced in age has managed to pass through the veil?" Sitting upright in a swift movement, the king roared, "Hogshead!"
A short, squat dwarf dressed in a brightly colored tunic hurried forward and as he bowed his head in deference to his lord, Tanis heard him grumble, "Hoggle. Hoggle is my name. He never gets it right."
Tanis' smile was wiped completely from his face, when Jareth asked in a steely voice, "What was that, Hogwart?"
"Nothen, your highness," replied the dwarf as he nervously twisted his hat between his hands. "How can I serve you?"
"You can serve me by going to the archives and digging up all the information that we have stored there on this child."
Hoggle squinted slightly and raised up onto his toes to better view its occupant. With an exasperated exhalation, Jareth made it so that the orb lowered to the dwarf's height.
"Oh, bother! It's that one again!"
"You know of her?" Jareth's tone was light but Tanis could tell by how is lean body had stiffened that he'd been startled by this disclosure.
"Yeah, yeah," the dwarf muttered crossly. "She's a worse nuisance than those sprites I'm always haven to spray."
"Do you mean to tell me that this girl has appeared outside the borders of the Labyrinth?"
The king's harsh demand had obviously frightened the dwarf. He swallowed hard several times. Tanis could see-and smell-the line of pungent sweat that had broken out over his rather large nose.
He hesitated, before whisper, "Yes, your highness."
Jareth leapt from his throne, and striding over to where the cowering dwarf huddled, delivered a swift, hard kick to the poor beasts head.
"You idiot," the king roared. "Why have you not spoken of this before?"
The dwarf having regained his footing, said tentatively, "I didn't… didn't know it was important."
Jareth placed his hands on his hips, and from his superior height, mocked the dwarf. "'I didn't know it was important?' Bah!" Jareth pulled his arm back and hit the dwarf along side his face with a stinging blow. "I should have you horse-whipped for your stupidity! Or, better yet, exiled to the Bog!"
Hoggle fell to his knees in supplication, and entreated the king with tears in his eyes, "Oh please your highness, I beg of you! Have me horse-whipped as many times as you like! Anything, but the Bog!"
Tanis shivered at the maliciously gleeful expression on Jareth's face. It was not often that he was privy to the king's anger and its consequences. He knew that Jareth could be cruel; he'd heard the stories whispered amongst the servants. Still, never having been on the receiving end of Jareth's ire had made him think that perhaps those stories had been exaggerated. If the scene before him was anything to go by, apparently they hadn't.
"You will tell me all that you know on this girl, do you understand you lowly nincompoop?"
"Yes, sire… yes," the dwarf hurriedly agreed. He'd agree to just about anything if it kept him out of the Bog.
"Well?" The king yelled. "What are you waiting for? Begin!"
With a helpless look, Hoggle asked, "Where do ya want me to start?"
Jareth pinched the bridge of his nose, and then suggested snidely, "The beginning, you little scab. Where all stories start!"
Screwing up his face in concentration, the dwarf said, "Well, was bout four years ago that she first showed up." Hoggle stopped at the enraged look on the king's face. When the king said nothing, he continued in a voice that quavered, "After that, she pretty much showed up every year till now. But," he hurriedly added, "She didn't show up in the Goblin kingdom this year." Hoggle was hoping that little fact would be his salvation.
"She didn't show up here because she is currently dancing in the Elysian Fields along with the Pan fairies as you have seen for yourself, you moronic midget!"
"Oh," was the dwarf's unenthusiastic response.
"In point of fact, she has been in the Fae world up to seven times." Tanis' gasp echoed in the throne room. "Yes," Jareth agreed, sounding very grave. "We may have a problem."
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