Some Fresh Air
"For once and for all, I don't want or need to attend the meeting in the kingdom of Gerrimoen!" the Goblin King, Ruler of the Labyrinth, Lord Protector of the Kiltwien Elves etc. etc. etc. yelled angrily and slammed his fist on the desk. The Ambassador of Gerrimoen trembled, bowed and hurried away from the study.
"Good riddance," Jareth commented. "I'm sick of them. Just because Gerrimoen and Riastelle are trying to come to an agreement after their war doesn't mean every ruler or citizen of every kingdom must rush to their aid."
He sighed and returned to the desk. There were still a dozen trade agreements and about fifty High Court verdicts for him to examine and sign.
Lord Gorias, an elf, one of the two royal doctors and the King's confidant, carefully opened the door:
"Yes, what?" Jareth barked. "I'm busy!"
"That's just what I want to talk about," Gorias said calmly. "Because of the Gerrimoen War you had too much to do and you're overworked and nervous. You've been working day and night. Why, you've never even sung a verse for a whole week, let alone attend any ball or celebration! You need a break. Get some fresh air, sire."
"Fresh air?" Jareth raised an eyebrow. "The judges of the High Elfin Court, as well as of the High Goblin Court, follow me practically everywhere and every second beg to verify their latest sentences. I'll never get fresh air until I'm done with it."
"Rosie and I have considered it," Gorias said. Lady Rose was his wife and the second royal doctor. She was a human by birth. "I believe you should go to the countryside of the Aboveground. A day spent flying around in some quiet forest Above – and you'll feel completely changed. I assure you."
Jareth thought for a while. The doctors had a point.
"Very well," he nodded. "Give these three trade agreements to the Elfin Lord, will you? – they are only about his region. I'm going to Aboveground."
"Yes, Your Majesty," Gorias bowed.
In a moment, the Goblin King turned into a white barn owl, which vanished in a cloud of glitter. Gorias smiled and took the agreements Jareth spoke about.
…Jareth was flying around some obscure American town, located in quite a picturesque valley. Even the cars hadn't (yet) spoiled the wonderful clear air. Gorias had been right: the Goblin King was already feeling refreshed and rested.
He dived lower from the sky and descended into a small garden near a nice-looking house. Pigeons, robins and sparrows flew away, frightened by seeing an owl at daylight. Jareth laughed – the laugh, of course, came out as something like a hoot.
Suddenly, he realized voices were coming from the house. Angry, furious voices.
"I'm sick to death of this place and this house, Robert!" a woman shouted. "You're dull, and everything is dull!"
"You should have thought of this before marrying me, dear!" a man shouted back.
"Well, I thought you were an interesting guy! I was a young fool, I see it now. I don't want to lead this life – this existence – anymore! I'm going to file for divorce today!"
"Linda, you're a selfish brat! Only thinking of yourself and these dashing actors you flirt with every moment when I'm not around!"
"Jeremy, Martin and the rest of them are real people. Not some boring donkeys like yourself."
"I personally would be glad if you left right now! But think of Sarah! She needs her mother!"
"Sarah will manage. I will correspond with her. Now, Robert, let me get to my car! I'm going to the lawyer for the divorce papers!"
"No, Linda, I repeat, think of your daughter!"
Jareth heard the sound of a door slamming. The voices grew less audible. The awkwardness of the situation finally hit Jareth and he was about to fly away from the unhappy place. Suddenly, the door opened. A tearful teenage girl rushed outside and collapsed on the bench. A white and black dog ran to her.
"Oh, Merlin…" she whispered. "Mommy's leaving…"
The dog licked her hand and lay at her feet. The girl continued to cry silently, sometimes talking to the pet.
"In fairytales people never get divorced… They always live happily ever after…" she cried. "Oh, why don't Mom and Dad love each other again? Does eternal love only exist in fantasies?"
Jareth was somehow intrigued by the sight. He flew closer to the girl and studied her face.
Despite the tears, she was very pretty. She had flowing dark hair and beautiful, lively green eyes. Her complexion was light, but right now her cheeks were rose red from crying, and she resembled a romantic heroine. Jareth could see the vividness of her imagination as she talk with the dog, with the tree, with the flowers. He wondered what kind of a mother could leave this girl.
She noticed his stare and looked at him.
"Look, Merlin," she said with a small sorrowful smile. "This white owl looks like he's sorry for us too."
"Oh yes, I am," Jareth said unexpectedly for himself – of course, the girl heard nothing but the hooting.
"Yes…" she whispered. "He is… Just listen to his hoots…"
She raised her hand and gently stroked the white feathers. At her touch Jareth felt his heart beating rapidly. He clenched the branch he was sitting on.
"My Mom's leaving me," she said to him. "Dad is always at work, and I'll be alone, save for dear Merlin. It's my dog. He's my best friend."
"How comes she has no better friends?" Jareth thought aloud. Although it came out just as a hoot, the girl seemed to understand it somehow.
"Everyone thinks I'm too much lost in the fantasy world," she sighed. "Even Mommy. But this world, it's… it's so horribly unfair!" she sobbed again.
"Every world can be fair or unfair, this is life," Jareth replied sadly. The girl listened to the hooting of the owl.
"You understand it," she whispered. "Merlin does, too…"
Jareth flew to the bench and sat on it, just by the girl's side. He concluded her name was Sarah – the name he heard from her parents' quarrel.
Sarah wept, silently. The Goblin King felt stranger with every moment. He longed to turn into his real form and comfort the girl with more than just meaningless hoots. Why wasn't he able to shape-shift in this world, unless he was summoned? Life was unfair.
In fifteen minutes or so, the house's door opened and a forty-year-old man grimly looked outside:
"Sarah. Please come in. We need to talk to you."
Sarah sighed brokenly and obeyed. But halfway to the doorstep she turned around and said:
"Will you come again, white owl? I… know you don't really understand what I'm saying, but Merlin and I feel better with a friend around."
Jareth nodded. "Don't really understand," he thought as he flew away. "I bet on my crown she believes I understand!" He felt oddly attracted to the girl. No, more than attracted. No elfin lady had ever made his heart beat so wildly. No other human woman, however pretty and imaginative, could awaken such pity and gentleness in his usually self-centric soul.
He will certainly come to see her again. Many times more, he was sure of it. And then, perhaps, some magical law will allow him to present himself in his true form…
It was a quarter to thirteen – almost midnight – when he returned to his palace, no more exhaustion and irritation filling his body and mind. Gorias and Rose greeted him with proud smiles.
"Well, Your Majesty?" Rose asked. "What did Gorias tell you?"
"I knew that a day in the Aboveground countryside will completely change you!" Gorias laughed. Jareth slowly nodded:
"Yes, it did change me. The fresh air…"
After a pause he added:
"Thank you, Gorias and Rose. You may go home now, your kids are probably worrying for you."
The royal doctors left, still joyously commenting on the healing of their king. Jareth sat on his throne thoughtfully. He conjured a crystal orb and ordered him to show the dark-haired, green-eyed human girl.