A/N: Hi all. First I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read this. It came to me a while back and I wasn't planning on putting it up here until Taste of Magic was complete, but startraveller776 convinced me it would be okay to have two works in progress up at one time. So I polished this up. I think it is a little different…maybe. It is fairly difficult to come up with something completely new in this fandom so I apologize if something like this has been done before. The prologue is a little longer than I typically like, however the background is pretty important to this story so I hope you will indulge me.
And as always, PLEASE review. I will update regardless of how many reviews I get, but all writers will agree, reviews encourage us to work faster! :-D I will even give you a topic: I tried to incorporate a lot of subtle glimpses into the film into this chapter...see how many of them you can catch! :-D
The signal for retreat was drowned by unnatural cries of pain as a flash of brilliant orange fire erupted in the shadows of the forest, producing a wall of heat. The flames wouldn't stop the advancing hoard for long—merely slowing the beasts until Maguire could create more to fill their charred ranks—but perhaps it would give the king and his men some reprieve. Even an hour's rest could make the difference between freedom and eternal slavery.
Jareth wiped the perspiration from his forehead and squinted into the surrounding darkness. The midday sun should be at its peak, yet the sky was a smoky black; though not from the spells he had cast. The eerie mist that covered the battlefield was another attack released by Maguire's creatures upon their death. It was a backup chemical agent, meant to destroy whomever the beast had not. The acid-like substance melted away skin on contact, spreading like a rash until the person was completely liquefied, leaving only their clothing behind. Jareth's front lines had been destroyed by the gruesome substance within minutes of the first assault. The only cure, once one had been contaminated by it, was to remove the offending body part immediately—better to lose an arm than one's life. It was a stroke of luck when the king discovered that fire neutralized the mist; however the heat caused it to rise into the clouds, filling the air with the unique stench of vomit, death, and bodily fluids, combined with the sickly sweet scent of wilted roses and burnt cedar. It was not a smell that could accurately be described…or forgotten.
But the mist was not on Jareth's mind as he searched through the ever darkening haze. During the latest spell cast, he had lost sight of Prince Rameth. The prince was like a brother to him; Jareth's most valued friend and confidant. They had been through everything together. He would never forgive himself if Rameth didn't make it home.
Thankfully, that would not be the case. There was just enough light for Jareth to make out the silhouette of Prince Rameth less than three yards away, his sword poised above his head, daring one of the monsters to come forward—it would not be the first time one of the creatures had escaped an inferno. Seeing Rameth nearby calmed Jareth's soul. His friend was alive and well.
"You won't be able to maintain that stance for long," Jareth admonished his longtime companion, moving to stand beside him. "Come, rest my friend. Give your adrenalin a break." He clapped Rameth on the back as his sword lowered in response. Even in the darkness, the whites of Rameth's eyes shone wide with fear. He needed to rest. He wasn't used to the battlefield as Jareth was. "Let's go to the tent. There will be plenty of food and water there to replenish both of us. We'll need the energy when they actually do come back."
Prince Rameth hung his head in shame as they began the short walk back to camp; embarrassed to show weakness in front of the man he'd long idolized. He knew every man was needed in this fight—Maguire collected souls as others collect fine wine. The cost of losing this battle wasn't death, but an eternity of mindless servitude. Every man in Jareth's army knew the cost of failure meant their families would become toys for a psychopath. And when he was through with them, he would have the key to the world Above: Jareth. As keeper of both realms, it was imperative that the Gatekeeper King not just survive, but destroy Maguire and his demons.
But Rameth had not been brought up as a battle lord like Jareth. Rameth's kingdom was small; hardly worthy of the name, kingdom. Without enough men to form their own army, Rameth's father had raised him to depend on the treasury for his security. If a fight was to be had, a mercenary was to be bought. What little skill he had with a blade was founded in his childhood as a game. He never thought he'd actually have to use those skills! Gold and jewels were all Rameth knew.
And he was terrified.
Jareth continued leading his friend through the blood-splattered battlefield back to the camp. Bodies of his men lie intermixed with the things Maguire had conjured. The two men walked around them as if they were merely boulders in the landscape. It would have been simpler to transport the two of them directly to their encampment, but Jareth needed to reserve his magic. A plan had begun to form in the back of his mind. It was a long shot, but the weary faces of his men combined with their dwindling numbers told him that time was running short.
The light—though still dim—had changed from a "moonless night" to a "middle of a storm" darkness as they drew closer to the refreshment tent set aside for the captains. Passing through the camp, soldiers stood in respect for the royals, recognizing that their hope for survival rested on these two men. Many of the soldiers were here upon Rameth's request. If it weren't for their presence, the battle would have been lost long ago. The king nodded back in gratitude for their sacrifice.
Entering the tent, the two men were nearly blinded by the lamp light as contrasted with the unnatural darkness outside. Blinking his eyes, Jareth gestured for Rameth to eat while he spoke to the men. "My captains, gather round. We haven't much time. In a few moments I will set out to strike the final blow on Maguire and his troops. The spell I intend to use will require my full strength and concentration. As I will be indisposed, it is imperative that none of Maguire's… creations… get close enough to attack." Several captains nodded in understanding. As the only powerful spell caster in the army, Jareth was their most valuable asset. For him to fall would be their death.
Jareth continued, looking at each captain in turn as they were addressed, "Prince Rameth's men will form a protective guard circling me. Garrison, you will lead the infantry out front to form a wall against whatever breaks through that forest. That wall must hold. Jamason, your archers will be positioned behind us on the hillside offering aerial support. Should Maguire's army make it through the infantry, I want you to signal the retreat of the rest of the camp." The men he referenced nodded in agreement, already forming individual plans to ensure success.
Jareth looked around until he spotted the third man he needed off to the side, eyes taking everything in. He was new to the ranks, but the king had never seen a man so devoted to the cause. "You, Sir Didymus," Jareth pointed to the spindly red-headed captain of the cavalry. The young man seemed almost surprised to be part of the conversation, yet stood straighter in response. "You and your cavalry will be of utmost importance in ensuring none make it to the inner circle. Should they reach Prince Rameth's men, my concentration will be broken and all will be lost. You must hold them back. None may pass without your permission. Do you understand?"
Sir Didymus stared into the crystal blue eyes of his king and bowed his head. "We will hold them back, Sire. It is an honor to fight for you, my liege."
Jareth nodded slightly in return and then addressed the remaining captains, "Everyone else must stay in camp. Should I fail, you are to return home and protect your families. That is an order!" he commanded as murmurs of dissent ran circles around the tent. "Should I be lost, your only hope is to flee. Attempt to hide in the mountains. Hide in the caves. Hide anywhere! Do NOT be caught. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Sir!" was the immediate response though few were comfortable with that line of thought.
"Good." Jareth stood and waved Rameth over to him. His friend returned with some fruit and a canteen of enhanced water, which Jareth gratefully accepted. The rest of the captains began gathering up supplies in preparation to leave. It wouldn't be long now.
Taking a bite from a peach, Jareth spoke so that only Rameth could hear. "I am counting on you, Rameth. Should all work according to plan, this will be over in a few hours. Can I trust your men to keep me safe?"
Rameth nodded his head silently in agreement.
Satisfied, Jareth pushed open the tent flaps and strode outside to address the army one last time before the final battle. His soldiers were shadows as his eyes readjusted to the dim light. "Men! You have all fought bravely. We have seen things we could never imagine. We have smelled things we could never imagine!" The men dutifully laughed with their king and Jareth was satisfied he had lightened the mood somewhat. "It is time for one final blow. One last time to put this madman to rest. I am going to ask you to fight harder than you ever have before, but when it is over, you will know you saved your wives. Your sons. Your daughters. You will be the hero. Our very lives depend on you today. Are you man enough to fight with me?" The cheer that erupted spoke volumes of their devotion to their king and to finishing the fight.
It was time to go.
They moved in a solemn silence; the cadence of the soldiers' soft-soled boots as they followed behind their king was muffled by the long, well-trampled vegetation. Sir Didymus' cavalry made even less noise as if the horses themselves knew the seriousness of the task before them. Behind them, the soldiers worked to clear the camp, preparing for a quick retreat; before them rose the hill where Jareth would stage his attack. The battlefield was not far from their camp and to men going to face their death, the march was over way too soon.
As was the plan, Garrison's men went on ahead, almost to the edge of the forest. They knew not what they would face, but they stood with honor; their metal breastplates attracting what little light was available so that they seemed to glow against the trees. These soldiers could only hope that their king was able to perform his spell before Maguire loosed his next round of monsters.
The cavalry stood at the edge of the hill in a line. Watching. Waiting. The horses were well trained. Most were black as a night without stars, but Didymus' mount was easy to see against the charcoal sky. Ambrosious was the jewel of the king's stables. Silver and white, he shone like a beacon against the evil that lie before them.
It was a sight that inspired courage in the men around him, but Jareth didn't take time to admire the view. Sitting gracefully on the mossy green hill, his platinum blond hair blowing freely in the wind, the king began forming his crystal. He trusted the men guarding him. Rameth would not let anything happen to him—especially when so many lives depended upon his success.
So the king sat, focused on the spell, oblivious to the growing tension surrounding him. He did not see when the first monster broke through the forest, though the men around him did. Like a mighty oak tree, the beast clamored forth, roaring with delight as it easily speared soldier after soldier with the three-foot long horn growing from its forehead. It took Jamason's archers multiple shots with flaming arrows before that animal was taken down.
The king did not see the creatures that followed—some with heads like that of an enormous insect, spitting acid at all within reach (including those fighting with them); others with legs like a gigantic tarantula tipped with spikes; and still others with the brute strength of giant gorillas merely crushing those who got in their way. The king's men fought bravely, dodging the mist where it dispersed and attacking anew. Jareth did not see the victories…or the defeats.
He did not see the first line of defense fall.
Jareth's spell was three quarters of the way completed when Sir Didymus' men charged. The sphere was fully formed, but the details were lacking. He only needed a little more time.
The men on horseback were a little more successful than their counterparts on foot had been. Their lances shot out before them, providing the distance necessary to avoid the reach of the giants. With the help of Jamason's archers, Didymus thought they might just have a chance. Ambrosious dove in and around the monsters, gracefully leaping out of the way of attack as Didymus drove his lance home time and time again. Yet the beasts kept on coming. There was no end to the wave of malformed creatures. One by one his company fell. But Didymus swore an oath that none would pass and he fully intended to keep that oath to the death.
Rising his eyes to the hill, Didymus prayed to the gods above that Jareth would finish soon. He could not hold on much longer. He searched for some evidence that all would be over before long and saw instead all hope dissipate.
Prince Rameth was gone. And so were his men.
His liege lord was left entirely unprotected in his trance-like state. He did not notice the 12-legged beast charging him. Without hesitation, Didymus did the only honorable thing he could do: he turned Ambrosious around and rode to his king's aid.
Ambrosious raced up the fog-shrouded hill and with the brute strength of a well-trained war horse, collided with the monster just before it struck. Didymus was thrown from his back, but he'd retained his sword and he was ready to use it. Ignoring the ache in his side where it had split upon a rock, Didymus charged at the creature, desperate to reach his king before it had a chance to attack.
As he got closer, he noticed that two of the twelve legs were not legs at all, but rather spiked maces. The clubs swung recklessly and Didymus dodged in and out, avoiding the tiny blades and swinging his sword at the monster's other legs. He connected, cutting off the leg at what could only be called a knee. A hiss of pain hung in the air as the monster renewed its aggression, attacking all the more fiercely. Although Didymus was quick, quantity won out over quality and he was struck a blow to the left side of his head, crippling him. The vision in his left eye blurred, Didymus watched helplessly as the monster turned his sights back on the king.
Just at that moment, Jareth stood, finally prepared to release his spell. Raising his arm in the air, Jareth blew on the crystal sending it floating high into the sky. But at the moment of its release, the monster moved into his peripheral vision and Jareth reacted without thinking. A new crystal was formed and a flame sent before Jareth himself knew what he was doing. The creature was instantly destroyed, but the damage had already been done. A new element had been introduced to his spell before it could be fully released.
The fallout would be great.
Once in the clouds, Jareth's spell was triggered. Lightning strikes rained down amidst the trees in the forest. Maguire would have been the first target amidst the unnatural electric storm, but he was not the last. An endless succession of lightning strikes continued to pour down, burning Maguire's army to ash. The clouds in the sky began circling and the changes began.
It started with the forest. Where once Maguire's army had been, the forest melted, forming a green sludge that concentrated the smell that had tainted the battlefield for days. The mist drained from the sky into its new container, creating a bog of sorts like none had ever seen.
But the changes in the land did not end there. Hedges grew where there once was stone. Patterns emerged within patterns, creating a protective barrier around his kingdom. An endless green maze filled his land as far as the eye could see.
If this was all that had occurred, Jareth would have proclaimed his spell a success. It had done what he had programmed it to do and nothing more. However, with the release of the fire spell, Maguire had secured a victory—albeit not what he had intended.
Jareth tried to stop it. He saw the wave before it hit and braced himself to ward it off. His hands spread wide, his left eye dilating with the effort, he created a shield around himself, but he was not strong enough to save even the heroic Sir Didymus from the fate ahead. The small blast of heat created when he shot the monster infused with the spell, sent out a shock wave and where it hit, the men and women were changed. When the wave finally stopped and the sky cleared, Jareth collapsed. It wasn't until much later that he realized what had become of his beloved kingdom.
The war was over. Maguire was entombed in the foul-smelling slime of his making. The inhabitants of both worlds were safe for now. And what did Jareth have to show for this great victory? The dissolution of his once glorious kingdom.
Within the first month following the war, the freed nobility had wanted to thank the king for saving the Underground, but the first visitors were not prepared for the new inhabitants of the Portal Kingdom. They came one by one, expecting to see injured men and a broken city. They had not anticipated the creatures that now lived within castle walls. His men had shriveled to the size of small children—as had their brains—their features distorted into wide mouths, wide noses, shrunken eyes, and every misshapen version therein. Hair grew in like fur. Jareth's once proud army had been obliterated. In its place stood bungling rodent men. Scary bungling rodent men. They had become creatures of nightmares. Goblins.
Jareth, The Gatekeeper King, Ruler of the Portal Kingdom, key to both Above and Below, was now king of the goblins.
Many of the nobility who came to visit turned around before they had taken ten steps within the castle. Those with brains recognized that the goblin men meant them no harm, yet their discomfort at being near them was tangible. Their thanks was given as briefly as possible with a promise to come to his aid should the need arise. How… considerate. Jareth would never see them within his walls again.
When Prince Rameth did not come on his own after a month of visitors, Jareth sent a messenger with a request to visit the Portal King. Rameth did have some shred of honor. When the message arrived, he came immediately. He probably assumed Jareth would not enact the punishment to the full extent of the law. And when goblins met him at the front gate to escort him to their king, Prince Rameth did not cringe away as other nobility had.
As he walked the carpet leading to Jareth's throne, the king couldn't help but compare his longtime friend to the goblins escorting him. Rameth had used a transportation stone and thus avoided the shockwave as it traveled through Jareth's kingdom. There was nothing physically wrong with Rameth. He wore his finest clothes, dressed for a day at court. His black hair was slicked back into a smooth ponytail at the nape of his neck. His eyes, nose, and ears in perfect symmetry. His olive complexion unmarred by even a single scratch.
It was not fair.
The punishment for desertion during a battle was death. Since Rameth had placed himself under Jareth's authority when he'd joined the war, Jareth had every right to enact that punishment—neighboring royalty or not. But Rameth had been his friend for as long as he could remember. He could not kill Rameth.
He had all but decided on fifteen years in the dungeons when Rameth began pleading his case, his head bowed in supplication. "Jareth, you must understand. Those men who fought with me were mercenaries. If they had died on that hill, their families would've been entitled to quadruple their pay. Our treasury would have been emptied! If the war had been lost, we would have needed that money to protect ourselves from Maguire. As a fellow ruler, you must understand the need to provide for your people. Besides, the battle was won. You didn't need..."
"Enough!" Jareth thundered. "You dare to speak about treasure in comparison to lives lost?"
Rameth looked up, startled by Jareth's vehemence. He had convinced himself that Jareth would pardon him. After all, Jareth knew Rameth was not a battle lord. He knew his kingdom survived on the jewels in his treasury. They did not have an army to defend themselves. And Jareth had won! Maguire had been defeated. But, seeing the changes in his friend's face—his entire persona—he realized just how naïve he had been.
The king wore black. Never, in all the many decades they'd known one another, had Rameth seen him wear anything so ominous. Even on the battlefield Jareth had worn white—without ever getting a spot on him. His hair, though always somewhat unruly, now framed his face like a cascade of feathered daggers. The angles of his face had hardened, the jovial trickster of his youth replaced by a man carved of stone. And his eyes. The crystal blue of the sea in his right, and liquid gold in his left.
He had changed to fit his kingdom. He was not the same Jareth the prince had known. Rameth had made a huge mistake in coming.
Jareth smiled down on him, a menacing glint in his eyes and Rameth thought the king would strike him dead on the spot. Slowly Jareth rose from his throne and circled the man he'd once considered a brother. Rameth did not move a muscle.
"Dwarves," he said, his laughter mocking.
"Aw, Rameth, you do not listen to the stories the mortals tell as I do," Jareth said, clapping him on the shoulder. Leaning in, he spoke in a low voice, his hand spread out, framing an invisible scene only the king could see. "Dwarves live deep within mountains, mining for treasure. You remind me of a dwarf."
Rameth just stared at the king in confusion.
Jareth stepped back to stand before his throne, all traces of a smile—sincere or otherwise—vanished from his face. "Prince Rameth of the Golden Sea Kingdom, I hereby proclaim your punishment. Your crimes are as such: Desertion. Leaving your commanding officer to be killed." Rameth opened his mouth to protest—he truly had not thought that would happen! Jareth's spell interrupted and failing, yes. But Jareth was invincible! Jareth raised one gloved hand to silence him before continuing, "Desertion. Leaving your fellow soldiers to be killed." Rameth hung his head in shame. "Desertion. Interrupting a spell and cursing an entire kingdom," this last charge was practically growled between Jareth's teeth.
"For your cowardice, I curse you Prince Rameth." A crystal sphere began to form in Jareth's right palm as he spoke. "You will be turned as one of those creatures after which you model your behavior: a dwarf. You will no longer bear the title of prince. You will no longer walk in the counsel of kings. Your friends will despise you. You will be deserted as you deserted those when you were needed most.
"But, because of our friendship, I will be generous. If you are one day able to put another's needs before your own and in return earn the love of one whose heart is brave, I will release you of this curse." And without giving Rameth a chance to speak further in his defense, Jareth threw the crystal at his feet.
The once proud and handsome prince was transformed before his eyes. Rameth's thick, luxurious locks fell to the floor, replaced with patchy grey hair. His features distorted to comical, bulbous imitations. His head grew as his body shrunk and the man became a dwarf.
Jareth tilted his head and studied his handiwork. "One more thing before I send you to your duties. You shall have a new name. One that is fitting for swine such as yourself." He brought his finger to the bridge of his nose in thought. "Hmmm… Hog-gle. Your name shall be Hoggle." Rameth's head dropped even lower until Jareth was sure it would fall off due to the overwhelming size. "Yes. Hoggle. It is a very fitting name.
"I want you to know, Hoggle, that once I have removed you from this castle, I will forget I ever knew you. Prince Rameth is dead to me. I will no longer remember your name. You will become just another fairy sprayer to me." He paused and turned to face his throne. A crystal came rolling up to Rameth's feet from somewhere beneath Jareth's throne. "A coward is not worthy of a friend." And with that, Hoggle was transported to the gates, his memory all but forgotten.
It would be nearly a thousand years before someone would come along who could break the spell.
But what no one knew was that the king of the goblins had fallen in love with the girl…