AN: This story was originally titled "Vanilla". However, once I got about half-way through, it took another direction and I ultimately changed my mind about what it meant. The new title is borrowed from the title of a very excellent book by Bernard MacLaverty, which I read when I was quite young and, looking back on it now, I realise that a lot of the initial development in my writing style is owed to it.

I humbly offer this little piece as a response to the writing challenge from His Majesty (you can look up his fanfic profile in my favourite authors list.)

Jareth-GK's writing challenge: It's summer - rain, honeysuckle, a whispered secret, a life-size crystal unicorn...and a riding crop. A romantic interlude between the Goblin King and his lady love Sarah.

Disclaimer: Labyrinth belongs to no-one but Jareth (and some guy called Jim Henson, but mums the word on that...)

Grace Notes

Saccharine bouquets of honeysuckle, elegantly fettered with a pink silk ribbon, greet her as she enters the lavish bedchamber. Rain chinks against the glass windowpanes, serenading the flickering flames coruscating from the fireplace. Ringing out strands of her wet hair, she reaches for the pleasing gift with the other hand. Her wet cheeks are flushed from the dash across the garden, seeking the sheltering stone walls of the castle, and the comfort of dry, warm rooms within.

Bringing the flowers close to her face, she breathes in their aroma, and is reminded of summer. Agreeable strolls betwixt towering trees, seeping time through cracked bark marbled in treacle sap; sinking feet into sand doused by the ocean surf; birdsong trilling secret messages across boundless blue skies; the gentle heat on bare skin, shed now in the absence of winter's bite. A smile blooms on her face. It has been a long winter this year; and spring is leisurely thrumming a sweet caress along the landscape, as though her clement arm were draped from the side of a barge, trawling her hand through a chill, tranquil stream. The air longs now for the steady haze of the sun's ardent embrace. She longs for it too.

That's why he has left her this gift. Assuaging her desire for summer with thoughtful trinkets. Last week, he had commissioned a magnificent painting to hang above their mantle. It depicted a view of the Mediterranean Sea from the vantage point of a place near Katerini in Greece. She remembers spending a summer vacation there, traversing the coastal line and marveling at the unparalleled views hosted by that great cradle of civilisation. The painting beautifully captures a single moment in time; the waves cresting at a peak, portentously poised to spill upon the craggy shore, suspended now forever in their purpose. The real dazzling feature of the painting, however, is the irradiant sunlight, glancing off the ceaseless blue tide and taking its eminent place as the cynosure of that ocean sky.

Theirs was a romance filled with sweet endeavours and gallantry; that last particularly on the part of the thoroughly besotted king. Enticed into his embrace with more than just his doting words, more than just his dulcet tones, but with his entrancing eyes that spoke to her louder than the clearest note of a song. She remembers that first touch, when he gently drew her into his dance, twirling them in that crystal shimmering splendor. Never could she have imagined then that she would be here now, a familiar aspect of his life. It was not an easy romance, for all that; their passions provoked readily antagonistic sparks that singed their hot tempers as a searing flame tickles skin. Ardor left her scars upon both lovers, seen and unseen even now. All the better to soothe them…

She remembers his first gift to her as a husband, a life-size unicorn made entirely of glistening crystal. It was a tribute to a story he once recounted on a bright summer's day. A legend shared amongst his ancestors told of a young maiden who would transform into a unicorn so that she could ride through the wild forests, utterly naked and liberated from the gaze of all men. It was in these forests that she met her lover, a huntsman, whose quick arrow pierced her ample flank. Upon retrieving it from the wounded animal, he perceived it to be not the figure of an animal, as he had seen at a distance, but instead the lovely young maiden, now stained with blood. And she loved him despite nearly killing her? she recalls interjecting, with a clever smile. Not even this can impede the course of fated love, was his sagacious reply.

From that time, every night the maiden would transform into a unicorn and ride out to meet her lover beneath the canopy of those entwined branches. But the gods in their jealousy of the lovers' earthly happiness turned the maiden unicorn into the finest crystal, that with the barest touch of another's hand would shatter into pieces. Never again could the huntsman hold his true love in his arms without his embrace obliterating her life forever. He could now only look upon her from a distance, just as the gods themselves were cursed to do in their incorporeal form. Unable to bear the loss, the lonely huntsman dissolved into the sky and his sorrow descended from the heavens as rain that he might once more be able to caress his maiden, so she would know that even trapped within her crystalline prison she was still loved and remembered. What about when it's not raining? she had thought to ask. Ah, but this simple contact with her, however brief or infinitesimal, brings him such joy as to make the sun shine through his dark bereavement.

Recited to her with such bittersweet affection and meaning, the tale filled her with a fascinated kind of sadness for the young woman whose liberty and love had so cruelly been snatched from her grasp. She supposed it was one of those stories, designed to remind one of the fleeting happiness and abandon of youth. To her, it is a story depicting the endless and elemental nature of a love remembered for all time, and even out with time itself. She likes to think the story means the same to him and that his gift is the tangible expression of all that is shared between them; all that can never be composed in a line of a poem or the tone of a song, all that exists in the rudimentary spacing between mere words or the musical break of a grace note; all the spaces between them that can never subsist as spaces of the heart; all the love, now, for all time, stretching out as hours into infinity.

Honeysuckle dew tipped upon her nose, she is reluctant to relinquish her hold upon this sweet reminder of love and summer, and thus maintains her grasp of this prize as she reaches around herself with the other hand, unfastening her wet dress. Before it can tumble to the floor, the loose flaps at the back of the dress are captured between leather sheathed hands from behind. These hands prefer to have the singular privilege of disrobing their lady themselves… But not quite yet. Instead, whilst one hand maintains its gentle grip on the dress, the other gracefully slides around her front, and begins that sublimely tantalising descent downwards to heaven. A brush of his warm mouth is felt against her ear.

"I see you got my present."

She reclines into his embrace, tracing the curve of his body with the arch of her own. Both release moans of approval at the languorous sensation. Sweet petals dewing the skin of her breast as she clutches his flowers to her heart, the rapid beat enough to match his own, is a stirring sight for his eyes to behold. They seem to sway together in their little touches and movements, even in their supposedly suspended state of simply standing.

He presses his face in the crook of her neck, as he continues in his caress. "You're all wet."

She takes the opportunity to smile mischievously while his view is so pleasantly obstructed by ministering light kisses to her hair. "It's raining," is all she teasingly offers.

Clutching her closer, burrowing deeper within the curves of her body, he suddenly whispers feelingly, "I missed you today." It is a rare moment of vulnerability and she gently clasps it within her tender hands lest it scratch or shatter in the abrasive open air. "Perhaps, my lady, it is time I accompany you to bed."

Theirs was indeed a romance filled with sweet endeavours and gallantry, particularly on the part of the thoroughly besotted king. But she longs for the ardent embrace of summer. Impulse quickens in her veins and the familiar breath of adventure dashes recklessly through her chest. Before her hand can be prudently advised otherwise, it reaches down to his hip, dexterously retrieving what she knows he has always fastened about his person.

"Not so formal, my lord. For tonight… I shall be a huntsman…" The lingering suggestion of her intent is completed in the wicked flex of his leather ridding crop against the muscle of his hard thigh.

The electric thrum of his excitement creates static charges that spark and rebound; increasing in momentum as possibilities wildly escalate in his mind. Murmuring heated words barely intelligible to the human ear, he abandons himself willingly into the hands of his lady. The pink fettered honeysuckle descends to the floor, as too does the rained doused dress. Both now forgotten objects, made sacrificial to urgent passion.

Some time later the rain outside stops; and the sky prepares to greet the summer dawn.