A gift for Dreamer In Silico.
For those wondering where the next chapter of Broken Statues is, uh, I'll get it out when I can? Life, man. I'm undecided on my NaNo project, I may decide to finish Broken Statues and a couple of other things.
He offers her his world, her dreams, himself. And still, she demands the child, and his world falls down around him.
Her first cruelty. Not her last.
"Sarah, Sarah, Sarah," Jareth murmurs against her mouth a few years later.
It's been long enough for her bright eyes to seem still brighter, grass-green like a growing thing. Her face has sharpened, but her mouth is still full, still rich. Her lips are warm and soft and he has buried his hands deep in her hair. He almost thinks he has sunk his hands into the earth, so soft and pliant are the rich brown strands. (Later, he will know his he has thrust his hands into gravedirt. But now is not later; this is not a moment that can be undone, though he will try. And try. And try.)
She smiles against his lips. Her eyes shine with a secret, and she says his name. It's a query, and they both know what he will say. But he asks anyway:
"Come away with me," he says, pressing kisses to her brow, and she smiles up at him.
Her second cruelty.
He weds her, before a court of fairy tale kings and creatures. But Sarah looks out across the aisles and shows no fear. Only a crook of a smile, as if his world is a joke only she is privy to. The ceremony is long and he pays little attention to the words, arrested entirely by the mortal at his side. Has she always seemed so sharp, so delicate and yet untamed?
He brushes his thumb along her throat before he kisses her, acutely aware that he could crush her trachea. But he doesn't. He could, but he knows he won't.
And when he pulls away, she gives him the smile he remembers — the lovely, mortal smile — and whispers, "Come on, feet."
It is inexplicably charming.
Jareth watches in bemusement as she speaks to servants, to his seneschal. Even to other nobility. His Sarah has an egalitarian streak; she inquires after their nature, their purpose — their names and health, too. And she listens to their answers, as if they were worthy to answer her as simply as she questioned them.
His Sarah could never bore him, but he finds his subjects tiring. He sees enough of them when he holds court and hears grievances. He does not need to know more of them than he does. In a way, he is them; he is King and his Kingdom is part of him. Function and form, nature and name, all tied together in a very stylish knot, if he says so himself.
So he drops a kiss on the top of her head, assigns that ridiculous fox knight (Ditherton?) to guard her and takes his leave.
Time passes. He watches it go, and he watches it slide as easily by Sarah as it slides by him. She holds her head high, and smiles her secretive smile when he looks closely at her.
One morning, Sarah rises before him. He watches lazily from their bed as she washes and dresses in something floor length and black that, really, he just wants to slide off her shoulders. It looks nice on her — it would look better as a puddle of dark fabric on the white marble floor of their chambers. He tells her so.
"I'm sitting in on the small council session today," she says.
Jareth laughs. "Are you, precious thing?"
But Sarah only looks at him and arches a brow.
His councilors give her scarcely a glance. Sarah stands quietly at his side, skin cold as his, her breath as slow as his, and yet he senses the tension that thrums through her. She's strung herself tight.
She is, he realizes with a sort of dim horror, listening. And she's listening closely.
"You could crush him," Sarah says, later, and once again he thinks of the pale, delicate curve of her throat. Has he kissed it recently? He doesn't think so; he doesn't think she's let him. He consigns his kisses to her wrists and her lovely mouth, these days.
Jareth yawns and stretches in bed. It's never failed to distract a woman before, and it doesn't fail today. Her green, green eyes flicker to gaze at him, and he is scorched by the heat he sees in her eyes.
"And why would I bother to crush my neighbor, Sarah?" He shrugs. "I may dislike him, but we've been loosely allied for centuries. I've found war isn't generally worth the trouble."
Her voice glistens as if with ice, when she says, quiet but sharp, "Because if you don't, he'll try to do the same to you."
He would laugh, but she begins to pace. The dress shortens in the front, though it keeps the train. Black fabric drags along the floor as her heels click. Finally, she whirls to face him, and the neckline has plunged, though the collar is all black feathers.
"He's going to invade. He's buying up horses and seeking out silversmiths — that's transport and weaponry. How long does it take to train a cavalry? That's how long we have before his men roll over our borders. Your subjects will be... will be..." Here, she falters. "Jareth, we have to do something."
"Don't stray from our plan, precious thing," he tells Sarah — lovely Sarah, ruthless Sarah, but most importantly his Sarah — and she curves a secretive smile up at him and curls her hand carefully around his arm. Another woman, or perhaps Sarah herself long ago, might have let the near-gauntlets she wears on her fingers, sharp and curved like the talons of an angry bird, dig into him.
But Sarah doesn't.
They step through a portal of his making and emerge in the antechamber of another castle's throne room. It has an element of grandeur his lacks, but Jareth has always found his neighbor's home to be an attractive showpiece. It's largely non-functional. If people actually lived and slept and laughed and tortured their enemies here, the upkeep process would be far different.
He and Sarah sweep from the antechamber adorned with brass and red velvet into a pristine throne room. But Goodfellow is not there, only his fool consort.
He whirls Sarah off his arm and gives a flourish-filled, courtly bow. He does not dip low, but he nonetheless manages to convey a request, rather than condescension.
"My lord," he says, "I seek Robin Goodfellow. Would you be so kind as to keep my bride company? She is unfamiliar with this place."
Sarah and Robin Goodfellow's consort trade glances, and then knife-edged smiles, and the consort says, "I would be altogether glad to."
"We need more horseflesh, milord, if we're to ride through the Labyrinth itself," Jareth hears as he approaches Goodfellow's council chambers.
So Sarah was right. Jareth grinds his teeth, then opens the doors quietly with a wave of his hand. They do not shut behind him, and so none are the wiser to his presence until he stands just behind Goodfellow.
He catches the man by his ginger braid, then adjusts his hands to grip Goodfellow's chin and forehead. It's a quick wrench; King is Kingdom, and goblins are surprisingly strong for their size.
The councillors stare in horror. One half-draws his sword, but the rest know they could be doomed with a flick of Jareth's right hand and the sound of shattering glass.
"I'm quite afraid," Jareth says, because a touch of diplomacy really can't hurt right now, "that no one is going to be riding through my Labyrinth toward my castle without having wished away a child first."
He draws a knife from his boot and saws at Goodfellow's throat. When he's finished his messy work, he tosses his treacherous neighbor's torc onto the table, and carries Goodfellow's head with him as he turns and leaves the chamber.
Sarah smiles up at him in the throne room. Goodfellow's consort sprawls across his lover's throne, and her hands are rust-red up to the wrist with blood.
He's seen her more beautiful. He's never seen her more his.
That night, he tries to gather her in his arms and kiss her the way he used to. Her throat is long and white and breakable, and he misses it. But she laughs and draws his wrists over his head. In the end he kisses her from ankle to knee, and she laughs and squirms and later, later, later straddles him.
He wakes late the next morning. Sarah has risen already, and when he finally makes his way, bleary and well-used, to the council chamber, he finds Sarah deep in discussion.
"So we've deprived them of a general," she's saying. "His heir will retaliate."
"Robin Goodfellow left no heir, Your Majesty," one of his councillors says. "His territories will pass to —"
Sarah gives Jareth an even look, and raises an eyebrow. That look brings out the worst in him, he swears, but he happens to agree with her at the moment.
"How preposterous. No, prepare to marshal our forces," he says. "I say that land is mine."
Thus Sarah becomes a fixture at his side. They hear out grievances in two thrones on a dais. She stands next to him, her cool hand resting against his arm, during his small council meetings. She glitters hard like a diamond on his left at court functions.
And always, always, always, her eyes shine grass-green, like a growing garden, and yet her smile speaks of secrets.
Jareth is not the only one to love her. He sees it in the gazes of the other nobility — and not only the fools. She dances graciously with both Titania and Mab in one long, skirling play that tries to turn her into prey. But she holds her head high and smiles, and at the end of it she curtseys to Mab and kisses Titania's hand.
He carries her to bed that night, throws her down and tries to remind them both of the claim he's staked. But he ends the night beneath her and pleased to be so, and when he wakes she is reading a history of the queens of the Underground.
This particular runner kept a steel pocket knife about him. Jareth looks at the assembled Fire Gang — crowded around one of their number struck with the knife's edge. The cut drips orange blood.
Jareth knows what will happen next. It matters little to his subject that the knife was steel; he or Sarah could survive such a cut, could survive ten thousand such cuts, but his subjects are creatures less rich in magic and less tied to the lifeblood of their land.
He looks to his Queen to find her white-faced and trembling. She has clenched her fists in the white fabric of her dress, and her long dark hair is no longer bone-straight but curls wildly down her back.
Sarah's voice is quiet, but she shapes each word carefully, as if tearing into it with lips and teeth and tongue. "The Labyrinth is a test, Jenson. We do not test you to destruction; we give you no greater burden than you can bear. You would have outrun my creature, if you had tried."
Jareth would ask if the runner was to know that, but it's of little matter. Neither he nor his Labyrinth looks kindly on runners who use lethal force. He does not look kindly on the destruction of his subjects, and this particular one will die in agony.
"You murdered one of our people. And this is somehow to prove that you should have your girl back?" Sarah's voice is still icy, but she kneels next to the dying Fiery and draws it in close. She brushes cool knuckles along its head and makes soothing noises. In a near-whisper, she croons, "Chilly down with the Fire Gang."
He had once watched her utter fear of the Fire Gang with a sort of ruthless delight. It hadn't been malice, really. But it was in her desperate flight through that forest that she proved just how enjoyable a plaything she might be. Her fear and determination had sung such sweet songs to him.
Now, she sings their favorite song to one as it dies. His chest aches. He cannot name the tangled swell of feelings that spur the pain.
He locks his gaze on the runner. "Jenson. I stand in agreement with the Goblin Queen."
These are words no runner has heard before. They take great pains to present as a pair of complements, a sense of push and pull, light and dark, cruel and kind. Sarah sympathizes and shushes them when they become impudent. Jareth pretends no empathy, pretends to be nothing but what he is: a mercurial fairy tale king being made to handle the obnoxious idiocy of the selfish and unworthy.
"You are found guilty of murder. Your right to this challenge is annulled, your prize forfeit. The girl is ours, and you who have stolen the life of our subject will have not even your dreams in trade. Begone."
He waves a hand, and the young father vanishes.
"No, Sarah," he says one evening. "There is no point to further conquest. It won't be allowed. Not everyone in this world wants what is ours."
He stops, and realizes what he has just said. Not his. Theirs. Her ownership acknowledged casually, as if it's nothing more than true.
Sarah gives him one of her hard, cold looks. But her voice is gentle when she says, "You must be tired."
"I am tired. I am tired of war, precious thing." He stretches his legs out and flicks his gaze away from the fireplace as one of their servants kneels before it to add wood to the fire.
"Jareth," she says, "I'm tired too. But our subjects — even the new ones — we must think of them. We have the largest territory in the Underground save Oberon and Titania. Someone will want it. They'll suffer."
As if they don't suffer already from the endless conquest she's spurred him into. He's begun to feel stretched and thin, and knows it isn't from the nights he spends in their bed. His sleep is deep and restful; no, his very kingdom is tired and its exhaustion seeps into his bones.
"No, precious thing," he says, softly. "Oberon will never allow that. Titania is fond of you, and we've become indispensable. Too big to be permitted to fail."
Sarah's eyes flash with something he doesn't much like, but her gaze drifts in the direction of the fireplace, and she stands and quickly crosses the room. She grabs the little goblin by the shoulder, pulling it away from the fire with a single fluid gesture. The goblin servant strikes the opposite wall, but it's only dazed for a moment. It wrings its hands as Sarah kicks the burning branch it had tried to use to poke the fire into the blaze, then kneels to finish its task herself.
"You were right," Sarah sighs, a few nights later. Her skin is white against their dark, rich sheets.
Jareth runs his fingers through her hair and says, "I often am, even when I'm not. One of the advantages of being King, Sarah."
She laughs and kisses him.
Later, in the darkness, she says, "I'm afraid for them all the time. I'm stretched and... and more than I used to be."
"We're tied to the land," he tells the crown of her head. "King is kingdom. Kingdom is queen. You'll adjust."
She adjusts. They hold court and hear grievances, and at his side, his Queen is more. There is a power unfurling beneath her shoulders, beneath her heart, and their kingdom settles itself around her like a cloak.
Pretending to be in love with the Goblin Queen becomes a fashion. A travelling sprite starts it, composing some fool tune about a white marble queen with eyes of emerald. He carries the song off to the court of Oberon and Titania. Titania, of course, laughs, claps her hands, and asks for an encore.
The song ends up being sung in their own kingdom — in their very own Goblin City — from the castle to the town's most distant shanties. Sarah is, of course, mortified and a little flattered. Jareth sometimes hums the refrain when he's feeling playful, just to watch the blood rush to her white cheeks.
The problem is, the song sticks. He finds himself playing with it, trying to make it his own, in spare moments when no one can hear.
But though he can adjust some of the lyrics — better match them to the melody, make them flow a little smoother — he can't seem to seem to rewrite the song, even though it's far too simple for his taste. And he can't seem to banish the mental image of Sarah, carved in marble like one of Bernini's best, with hard, unseeing eyes that glitter like green ice chips.
Eyes of summer, skin of winter his subjects warble, mouth of morning, hair of midnight. Touch of moonlight, heart hard as sunlight.
And Jareth begins to wonder if they've seen a truth he hasn't. The very thought is preposterous. But he can't change the song, and he can't silence the singers, and he can't even stop himself from sometimes thinking in those words.
Sarah stops blushing and begins to smile a slow, satisfied smile.
As fads do, the pretensions of love intensify. Courtiers lay white lilies at her feet — only a fool would bring roses to a Queen who sits ever at her husband's side — and bow lower to her, or bow to her first. He is almost an afterthought to them.
Jareth quells his irritation. His Queen is well-loved. And he can use this infatuation with his wife to his own ends.
Surely, this won't last long.
Eventually, some petty count oversteps the bounds of even his patience. The words are florid, but the implications are clear: the Goblin Queen could be Queen of Summer, if she liked.
"The Kingdom of Summer," Sarah says, with enunciation so cool and sharp it could cut a diamond into neat slices, "is Our ally, and Titania is my personal friend."
The lordliling falls to his knees — but it's Sarah's forgiveness he begs, not Jareth's.
Summer is not her purview. Though she is fond of Titania, Jareth knows she fears Summer — that she would rule it at his side if only she could. He suspects that this influences her response.
Sarah is merciful: "Remove yourself from my presence and do not return."
But Jareth flings up a hand. The count stops moving. He trembles, pale eyes wide with fear.
"You have spoken violence against the Kingdom of Summer... and, in implying that my wife would be free to wed again, called for violence against me."
Next to him, Sarah tenses.
"You are mine, now," Jareth says. He doesn't bother to shout it; entertaining as it would be to act out, to lift his voice and gesture wildly, he doesn't need to. Every eye in the hall rests on him; every ear awaits his words. "And I name you dust. I name you less than that: you are forgotten. Son of no one, father of nothing, bereft even of a shack to call your own, and without a voice to lament it."
Sarah hisses his name, but he shakes his head to forestall her. He will not permit this. He has been generous; he has allowed her the admirers. He has been lenient with these men and women who claim to love the woman he loves, who watch her with jealous, prying eyes and murmur snatches of a song he has begun to hate.
The count stumbles out of the hall, mouth opened in soundless sobs. He seems half-blind with grief as he goes. Jareth watches, and does not know what his wife sees.
After a long moment, Sarah turns her head to look at him.
Her eyes glint with something he cannot name, but doesn't like.
That night, in their chambers, Jareth lounges in bed and watches Sarah remove her jewelry. She pulls pearl-tipped combs from the braided crown at the top of her head and drops them into a box. He stares at the diamond pins in the cascade of curls and braids that falls down her back, like spangled stars in the night sky.
Mouth of morning, hair of midnight.
"You've stopped asking me to ban that song," he says, the connection both sudden and long in coming.
"At this point, I'm not sure you can without making a fool of yourself."
"I've made a fool of myself for love before," he says, and rises from bed to press a kiss to her bared shoulders - skin of winter - and adds, as he looks at her green eyes in the mirror, "I'll do it again."
Sarah laughs. "Jareth, are you jealous?"
"One of your devotees all but asked you to assassinate me and seduce Oberon. I could hardly call myself pleased, precious thing."
She turns to kiss him, before pulling out all the spangled stars in the dark river of her hair. He finds it both peculiar and endearing that she does not use magic to brush her hair. Rather, she picks up an ornate hairbrush and lets it glide noiselessly through curls that soften into waves and then fall straight.
"Let them have their little infatuation," she says. "Jealousy doesn't suit you."
In the mirror, her lips are as red as a bloodied sunrise.
"And the part where their little infatuation leads them to counsel assassinating me?"
Sarah shrugs. "So be a bit more fearsome. Let them love me and fear you."
"It's become quite clear they love you more than they'll ever fear me again." Which is quite unfair. He was here first, after all.
"Then I'll be scary, too." She smiles for him. "They'll love and fear me in equal measure. That'll leave some room to be scared of you."
"Fear and love don't coexist, precious," he tells her. "They can't love and fear you at the same time."
"Why not?" Her voice is serene, matter-of-fact. "You do."