Title: The Book of Games
Summary: After her trip through the Labyrinth, Sarah discovers she can't resist a good game. On a new journey of self-discovery, Sarah soon finds herself in a world of trouble. When nothing is as it seems, will Sarah be able to trust her old foe, Jareth?
Chapter 1: Act I, Scene I: Games of Skill- Tug of War
"You're obsessed, Sarah!" an exasperated Irene exclaimed to the girl before her.
Sarah Williams would have none of her stepmother's meddling, however.
The dark haired, green-eyed beauty rolled her eyes at the blonde woman. "It's just a game," Sarah sighed. "It's not like it's a big deal or anything."
"You're always playing some game or another. You exchanged your fantasy novels for games," Irene complained.
Sarah still failed to see the problem with either hobby. Plus, she hadn't given up her fantasy novels. She just didn't spend nearly as much time reading them as before.
"I thought you'd be happy. At least now I have a social life," Sarah responded in what she thought was a reasonable tone.
To Irene, however, it only came off as petulant. "I thought you'd be hanging out with normal people. Chess Club was bad enough —"
At this, Sarah snorted inelegantly. Trust Irene to find being the only girl amongst a bunch of Chess Club boys to be a bad thing. This was the same woman who once admonished her for not having a boyfriend- not that Sarah had yet to make progress in that area- but still. Perhaps Irene's problem was that they weren't cool enough. Sarah didn't care a whit for Irene's opinion. There was apparently no pleasing the woman.
"But this, Sarah. These people you're hanging out with now are just weird."
"It's only because they like to dress up a little."
"Yes, exactly! They did a special on Sixty Minutes about these Dungeons and Dragons people. It's a cult or something. I heard they were Satanists."
"Oh, God! I can't believe you honestly believe that! Irene, they're just some kids from school. We get together and play role-playing games every Friday night. We dress up a little because it's fun. We're not out sacrificing cats or conjuring demons."
"Oh, Irene. It seems as if I can't get anything by you. This very evening, in fact, was going to be my initiation into devilry. You found me out, darn you. Whatever shall I do now? Perhaps you should take me to church to be baptized before it's too late and I'm possessed."
"All right. That's it, young lady. You've crossed the line with your borderline blasphemy."
Sarah sputtered in shock. "Blasphemy? Irene, come off it!"
"Church wouldn't be a bad idea for you, come to think of it. I always thought your father was a little too lax on you in letting you decide your own religious convictions."
"Well, I'm glad he did!"
She saw Irene visibly wilt before her, and despite herself, Sarah felt a twinge of guilt. Irene wasn't excessively religious, but her faith was important to her- and she imparted that importance to Toby and her father.
"Always eager to play the heathen, aren't you?"
Oh, did Irene know how to cut her where it hurt! Always reminding her of how she was different. "And just what is that supposed to mean?" Sarah hissed through clinched teeth.
Sensing that she had crossed a line herself, Irene attempted to change the subject. "Nothing. I shouldn't have said anything."
"No, Irene. I want to know what you meant by that." Sarah insisted.
"Go ahead to your role-playing group, Sarah," Irene said tiredly.
Sarah had crossed her arms and had a glare on her face. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what you meant when you said that."
It was this act of defiance that turned Irene's own stubborn determination back up a notch. "You really don't want to know, Sarah. I promised your father I'd never say anything about it. Just go."
After waiting a beat or two more, Sarah relented. "Fine, but don't think this discussion is over."
With that, Sarah turned on her heel to go upstairs and get ready. Her friends were just regular kids who liked to try to make their mundane lives more exciting by dressing up. To Sarah, that was as normal as it could get. Who wanted to be mundane anyway?
Playing games was exciting. After her trip through the Labyrinth, Sarah had discovered that she couldn't get enough of playing games. None were as exciting as the Labyrinth, but if she tried hard enough, Sarah could still get a thrill out of playing various games. Be it Scrabble, chess, verbal sparring, card games, role-playing, Sarah didn't care. She never turned down a challenge and rare were the times when she suffered defeat.
Dressed in her best approximation of what she thought an Elf Rogue to look like, which included lots of glittery makeup and a black cloak, Sarah crept down the stairs to leave by way of the front door. Passing the den, she saw three-year-old Toby eagerly engaged in playing with his little trucks, while a children's show flickered on the television. However, it was the noise coming across the hall in her father's office that drew her attention.
"—Best— leave it alone, Irene."
"—Always thought— should know."
The door to the office was slightly ajar and Sarah found herself creeping closer to hear what was being said.
She heard her father sigh. "Do you know how much it would kill her? How am I supposed to tell my little girl that her mother honestly thinks she's a faerie changeling? Do you want to tell her how her own mother is afraid of her? How, to this day, Linda insists that Sarah isn't her child?"
"Well, no, Robert- nobody wants to tell their child anything like that- but keeping the truth from her won't help either."
"The way you two were going on tonight, Irene, I almost thought you were channeling Linda."
"Oh, Robert! I'm sorry! I'm just worried about her. She's hanging out with strange people. Linda was right about one thing- Sarah is a strange girl."
"I admit I don't get her either- but she is my little girl- Irene. Geez- I still can't get Linda's ridiculous list of complaints out of my mind- even now. Just imagine how it would be for Sarah to hear them. 'She's too intelligent. She's too little to speak in complete sentences. She's too pale. She's too sickly. She's too moody. She's too colicky. I could have sworn that she looked and acted differently before I heard that strange noise from the nursery that one night!' Irene- I won't subject Sarah to that. It was hard enough getting Linda to agree to psychiatric help, much less not tell Sarah herself. I won't have that all ruined now."
"Fine. But mark my words, Robert. It would be easier hearing it from you, than Linda. And I have no doubt Linda will let her feelings slip one day. God knows what trouble keeping this to ourselves will bring."
To say that Sarah was shocked was a bit of an understatement. It was quite the ruse they had all been pulling over on her, apparently. Discovering that the mother she adored couldn't stand her and thought she was a changeling? That everyone had been lying to her- and thought there was something off about her to boot- it was too much. Sarah backed up a step and hit the umbrella stand, knocking it over.
The door was opened quickly, showing a concerned Irene and Robert. When they saw Sarah, they both paled considerably.
"How much did you hear, Sarah?" her father asked worriedly.
"Enough," she whispered hoarsely. "I—" Sarah stopped speaking abruptly. Why was it so hard to breathe all of a sudden? "I can't deal with this right now."
She had to get out of there immediately. Sarah blindly disengaged herself from the toppled umbrella stand and reached for the front door. Her mother hated her. Her father lied to her. No wonder she had such a hard time adjusting when he got remarried. There was more going on than she ever realized and she was the cause of it. "I need to go."
With that, she flung the door open and disappeared into the crisp October sunset.
Sarah didn't pay her father's call any heed. There was only one place to go now- the park. It was where she always went when things went pear shaped.
Before Sarah knew it she was at the bridge. She stopped in the middle to gaze at her reflection in the water below in the dying sunlight. She didn't think she looked like a changeling. She didn't have the look of his people about her at all- not that she had met more of his kind than just him to her knowledge. Her mother was crazy. She had to be. "Oh, Hoggle! I need you!"
She immediately saw Hoggle's reflection next to hers and turned to see him standing next to her, leather cap gleaming on his head.
"Yeh needed me, Sarah?"
Sarah began wringing her hands and pacing. She needed reassurance. "Yes. Oh, it's awful, Hoggle! I don't know what to do! You're the only one who could possibly understand!"
"Understand what, Missy?"
"My own mother thinks I'm a—oh- this is ridiculous- a changeling! That's why she won't have anything to do with me anymore. The being too busy with her acting career is just an excuse. They all think I'm strange. But it's crazy! I'm just me- I'm Sarah!"
"Cor! Well, of course yeh're you! Who else would yeh be?"
"Exactly! I'm no changeling. I would know if I was."
Hoggle let out a snort. "Now I didn't say none o' that! I said you's you. I didn't say nothing about yeh not being a changeling or how'd yeh know if yeh was."
"But you're from the Underground, Hoggle! Surely you've met changelings before and know how to tell if someone is a changeling or not."
"Changelings are rare and they ain't my business! I don't meddle in the affairs of the Sidhe!"
"Oh, no! No 'but, Hoggles' this time, Sarah! I suggest yeh drop it if yeh know what's good for yeh. The Gentry don't take too kindly to meddlers- even meddlers who may or may not be one of em! If they want yeh to know then yeh'll know. My advice is to enjoy not knowing while yeh can!"
"Coward!" Sarah called to his retreating back.
"Yep. I'm a coward. Been over this before, Sarah!"
With that final quip the cowardly and relatively antisocial dwarf known as Hoggle disappeared into the twilight, leaving Sarah with her thoughts. For the first time since she'd met the little dwarf she had actually seriously ascribed negative terms to him in her thoughts- and oddly enough- discovered it didn't bother her nearly as much as it should have. Hoggle was Hoggle and nothing would change that. Perhaps he was right.
Hoggle reappeared on the other side of the mist in the Underground near his home. He knew Sarah was different from any other runner he'd ever met. It could only take someone extraordinary to befriend someone like himself. Changeling or not, he had no intention of enlightening Jareth of Sarah's dilemma.
"Well, if it isn't Hedgewart!"
The Goblin King was resplendent in his finery and looked very much like a fallen angel. Dressed all in black, riding boots gleaming, his high collared jacket embroidered with intricate knot work, wild blond hair pulled back in a queue, his riding crop was beating a cadence against his thigh in impatience.
"Speak of the devil," Hoggle muttered sullenly.
"Come now, Higgle! Surely you can do better than that."
"Just gettin' home for the evenin', yer Majesty," the dwarf said quickly.
"Indeed. And from whence?" Jareth asked testily.
"Visiting a friend, Sire."
"Friend? You? Not that ridiculous self-styled knight?"
At Hoggle's hedging, Jareth snorted. "No. Not that. Perhaps it was that giant walking orange rug?"
"I thought not." Suddenly, Jareth bent over to peer into his face, his nose mere inches from Hoggle's huge nose. Jareth sniffed and curled his lip in disgust as if he had smelled something particularly foul. "You've not been to the Bog, have you?"
"I see more than you think. No, it isn't from the Bog, is it? I can only surmise the stench must be from Above."
"Above? Why'd I wanna go there for, yer Highness?"
"Why indeed? Did someone Above need you, Hogshead?"
"Need, Sire?" Hoggle was sweating now and attempting to edge around Jareth, but the riding crop was slammed down in his path.
"Yes- I can't foresee anything else causing you to make a foray up there. And it must be someone you consider important. Someone you consider a friend."
"Aw- Hoggle ain't got no friends!"
"At one time that was true. But anymore- well- we both know you have at least one friend."
"Yeh know, I think I left the kettle on. I need to be gettin' back before me house burns down."
"Tut, tut, Hogsmeade! Your king has need of your assistance."
Assisting Jareth was never a pleasant occupation in which to find oneself engaged. Hoggle felt his blood run cold when Jareth turned his pointy-toothed smile on him.
"Attend me. If I recall, you're an adept stable hand. We're going riding tonight."
Hoggle didn't like being anywhere near the stables, and Jareth well knew it. The horses didn't like him and he didn't like the horses. But even more worrisome was the fact that Jareth going riding always meant trouble for someone.
"Must you repeat everything I say?"
"No, yer Majesty! If you need a stable hand, I'll be a stable hand."
Jareth waved him off dismissively and walked toward the stables expecting to be followed- leaving Hoggle in his wake. "Of course, you will."
Hoggle wouldn't dare to not follow him.
Then, as if Jareth suddenly remembered something, he stopped and turned back to Hoggle with a smirk on his face. "Oh- and Hoggle? You can tell me all about how Sarah is faring while you prepare the elfshot."
It was only when Jareth deigned to actually use his name that Hoggle knew he'd better not be anything other than truthful or forthcoming. If there was one thing Hoggle hated, it was being caught in the middle- especially when it came to his only friend and his king. There was nothing for it though. He sketched an awkward bow in Jareth's direction.
However, Jareth didn't see him. He had already turned around to march back to the stables. It was a beautiful evening, he had beautiful horses, he'd hear all about a beautiful girl, and it would be a wild ride. Jareth laughed with joy. To Hoggle he sounded like a madman.
Notes: This title for this story is an English translation of a medieval Spanish book that has illuminated illustrations of various games, called the Libro de los Juegos.