"They say revenge is a dish best served cold. They also say revenge is sweet. So basically revenge is icecream."
The general pandemonium dulled into warring sounds of disappointment that there'd been no summary tossing of wayward brides into the pit of no bottom, versus thinly-veiled anticipation for what was surely going to be a post-trial lover's quarrel for the ages. The spectators began filing out when it became clear there would be no immediate bloodshed however.
Sarah rubbed at her wrists and consoled herself with the prospect of all the ways she was going to exact revenge on the figure opposite her, who was currently accepting congratulations like he'd won a war.
"Gods spare me. I cannot bear fools," Rhiannon's silvery voice tittered – deliberately meant to carry she passed close.
"Apparently your mother could," Sarah parried without missing a beat.
Fae hearing being what it was, every eye left in the space looked towards Sarah in surprise. She refused to be cowed though, so she merely canted her head, smiling serenely at first the guests and then the woman to whom she'd spoken. Jareth, still surrounded by sycophants and well-wishers, was the first to break the stunned silence by laughing.
First softly and then very loudly, with no attempt to mask it.
When Sarah looked at him, drawn by the infectious sound, he cast her such a laden look of approval she found herself softening for a dangerous moment before she recovered.
Rhiannon's face was tightly pinched, her hands fisting and un-fisting reflexively. "Well, I never-"
"Shown an ounce of good taste? That's clear." Sarah straightened her bedraggled suit and walked towards the steps to leave but she paused as though struck by a sudden thought. She turned with enviable insouciance. "Oh that's right. You've never been Goblin Queen either. Almost. But not quite."
It was difficult but she forced herself not to glance back as she ascended the weathered steps, careful not to stumble in her impractical heels. She ignored the fact that her entire character hadn't just been dragged through the mud. Or that she hadn't been nearly tossed in a pit for crimes against the Underground. Like her expensive stockings weren't torn and already pulling in long runs from thighs to ankles from the gnarled roots. That sweat wasn't beading on her forehead, plastering errant hairs into the semblance of a comb over.
No. She'd walk out like she had destroyed them all.
Then she would find a way to actually do so.
Once she passed through the doors she hoped something would happen as she wasn't entirely sure how one returned to the castle. She could have waited for Jareth but the idea of watching him get congratulated while she stood there like prey caught in a trap was far too galling. She needn't have worried however as she had only taken about half a dozen steps down the worn path before she found herself back in the castle. She was in dire need of a bath and a change of clothes, but her stomach gave another loud grumble reminding her she hadn't eaten all day. Instead she washed simply her face, straightened her hair and then sought the morning room with singular intent. When she passed a goblin servant she snagged him by the collar and rhymed off all the food she'd ever fantasized about eating. Which was a lot and rather varied.
Luckily for the goblin he didn't voice his thoughts aloud. That was in part due to his lack of tongue, lost in the Great Goblin Tongue Twister Wars of 72, but also due to his experience that creatures of all sorts rarely liked it when you said what you really thought. What he was thinking was that it was rather nice to have a lady manhandling him and ordering him about again. Even if she'd forgotten the ceremonial kick at the end. He certainly didn't remark, which was also the reason he would live to see his great, great, great goblins born, that though she had tried to leave his master, she certainly sounded as fine a goblin queen as he had ever known. And for goblins, which followed a rigid matriarchal line in their own culture, meant she was the real power on the throne.
Of course he would never voice that thought to Jareth either, not because he lacked the ability – which he admittedly did - but because despite what his wife always said, he was not in fact that stupid.
"Well." Calli glided into the room in a cloud of sex and salt. "That was quite the spectacle."
"You could have warned me that it would be like that."
The Siren perched herself on the edge of the table beside Sarah's plate. "Actually, I was referring to what it looks like you did to that dish of icecream."
Sarah wiped her hands on her napkin and sat back. She watched as the Siren took a sip from her glass uninvited and then grimaced.
"Water?" She dumped the rest into the centrepiece and reached for the wine Sarah had been planning to destroy next.
"Did you come here to chastise me?"
"Chastise you?" Calli bopped Sarah on her nose with her free hand. "That's only fun if there's chains and whips involved, my tasty little morsel."
Sarah swatted her hand away. "Do you ever talk seriously? About anything other than sex?"
A delicate shrug to deceptively delicate shoulders. "I talk very seriously about sex. But only on Tuesdays."
"It's… actually I've no idea what day it is anymore..."
"And isn't that a lovely feeling? Not knowing?"
"Not particularly." It was a little. "I've a life above. A career. God knows what they think of my absence." For the first time Sarah began to panic that she didn't actually know how much time had passed above. And then panicked more that it had only just occurred her. "I've clients waiting on me. A boss who-"
"Chastises you?" Calli asked pointedly.
For a moment Sarah pictured Mr. Nelligan in leathers holding a whip and she couldn't stop a small snort.
"Then you must prefer being here where you have no boss."
"No, I've only a husband I can't get rid of." Sarah nodded to Calli to refill her glass.
"Don't lose hope. You've only tried one method. Poison is always effective."
Sarah choked on the wine and then looked down at her glass and then the siren suspiciously
"But don't ask me about husbands." Calli took the glass back and took a sip. "I'm far too sensible for that nonsense. I devour men," she licked a jagged tooth for emphasis, "I don't accidentally marry them."
"You could have warned me." There was a betraying hitch to Sarah's voice.
"Considering that I'd never witnessed the high court in action before today, as I made clear already, I don't think I could have." There was a trace of sympathy in her voice but she quickly affected a beautiful pout that would have made most living creatures melt. "You're mad at me."
"I suppose that's not fair." Sarah took the glass back. The wine was soothingly cool on her tongue. "You've helped me more than you should have I suppose, given who you're related to."
"But you've yet to really take my advice," Calli sighed. "So you don't want to be here, you've made that clear. It's becoming a bit one note really. You banging on a locked door instead of looking for another route."
"Are you saying there is another way out of this?"
"I'm saying that you've not begun to use any of the tools at your disposal."
When Sarah stared at her blankly, Calli rolled her eyes. "My gods! Mortals are no more creative than when they believed the earth flat. What are you?"
"Annoyed and becoming more so with every minute."
"And it brings colour to your cheeks. You're welcome. But no. You are a queen. Married to a king." She held a hand up. "Yes, I know you're about to tell me how it was an all accident. Where have I heard that before? The point is that you've not begun to even flex those powers. Don't like something? Change it. Don't like someone? Eat them." At Sarah's look, Calli simpered. "Fine. Banish them. Bog them. Whatever. Such a waste though. Today proved that you're just as strong as he is. Whether it be will or the fact that you've somehow got him wrapped around your finger without even removing a stitch."
Calli considered her and then twirled a finger. "I still think you could have shown a bit more skin to greater affect. Mortal fashions certainly have changed. Though I do like those strange things on your leg. Does the line go all the way up?" The Siren leaned down and tried to lift Sarah's skirt. "It's like a fun little trail to follow. Oh there's little lacy clasps-"
"Stop that!" Sarah slapped her hand away, partially amused at the distraction and partially flustered by the heady scent of the Siren practically sitting on top of her. "Are you seriously trying to flirt with me right now?"
"Seriously? Not at all. As I said, it's not Tuesday. In fact, I haven't made a real effort to seduce you yet at all."
Sarah looked at the Siren dubiously. "You'd have strange tastes if you did. I'm fairly certain I am the most reviled person in the Underground right now."
"Aha! Is that what is really bothering you?"
"You mean apart from the whole forced marriage thing?"
Sarah reflected for a moment. Perhaps it had stung a little.
"I assure you there were many who won't doubt your strength of will and power now. Such a deliciously long litany of sins. The revelation you rejected my cousin more than once no less. You may have withdrawn your case, but I assure you they heard it all. I'd say your appeal with certain parties has just increased tenfold in fact."
"Oh, to be sure there are some that may want you dead as well."
"Morrigan wants everyone dead." Calli gave another indifferent shrug. "Don't feel particularly special if she does."
"I didn't see her at the trial."
"She was watching. She had to prepare for… other things. Things I'm not supposed to talk about because if we all just spoke openly and honestly it would be very boring and there would be far less pain and fewer misunderstandings, hmm?"
Sarah glanced up sharply.
Calli smiled and bopped her nose again as she hopped off the table. "And there it is. This is where I leave you my scrumptious little minnow. Interest piqued and still wanting more. We should do this again sometime. A sisterly tête a tête. A baring of all of our hopes and dreams." And then she winked. "But next time we'll bare it all and do this naked. Sapphic style."
Morrigan nodded once and then vanished.
Jareth looked away and wiped his sword down before sheathing it. "Don't say it."
"Say what?" Cern asked in a poorly executed attempt at innocence.
"Whatever it is you're about to say because you lack even an ounce of restraint."
The hunter mimed sealing his lips while Jareth slipped back into his jacket. The ensuing silence had teeth.
"Oh, for the gods' sakes. Fine. Out with it."
Cern exhaled dramatically. "Oh, thank the gods because I thought I was going to burst. Restraint is wholly overrated by the way. You should keep that in mind, in fact. Because you can't go on like this."
Jareth paused on a button and looked up. "I rather thought you'd say I told you so."
"That was implied. Here. Let me help you."
But Jareth waved him away. "I'm fine. Just stiff."
Cern folded him arms. "This is not the way you should be celebrating."
"I needed to release some tension anyway."
"Other ways to get out tension…" he trailed off and held up his hands defensively. "Just try to space out your bloodletting, Jareth."
The Goblin King adjusted the cuffs at his wrists. "She set us on this course. And I had to let her try. Now I have to play my part."
"Perhaps if she knew-"
"No. And you won't breath a word else I mount your head above my fireplace."
Cern glanced down and then back up. "Normally I would call your bluff. From what little I know of her, I don't think she would view it quite the way… some do. She's not unreasonable. It might actually soften her in fact."
Jareth's expression revealed exactly what he thought of that idea.
Cern scoffed. "Are you really worried she will pity you? Your pride has always been your worst enemy."
"One of many enemies these days."
"Then I hate to say it but maybe she's more trouble than she's worth. I can't deny she's attractive and spirited. But so is a fine stag. Hunters know when to give up the game when it drags on too long."
"I am starting to wonder about your metaphors, cousin. Just how lonely are the woods these days.
"Look, I will also acknowledge that for some inexplicable reason she is attracted to you too. And I've enjoyed this little chase you've got going. Best wedding in a century in fact. Watching you get blue-balled at every turn brings me untold amusement. But she's not ready to play nice and this risks more than simply your neck. I wonder if this is more for you than it is for her."
When Jareth said nothing, Cern shook his head. "You should get some rest while you can."
"Not yet I think."
"Oh no! Even I have more pity for a lame beast. In all good conscience I can't let you see her now. You're not ready for a sound thrashing from her. Not in your state. She'll be frothing at the bit to tear a ruddy strip out of you because of today."
Jareth laid a heavy hand on Cern's shoulder. "If you want to be of use, I'll leave you to clean this up."
"And who is going to clean you up?" Cern groused to the empty room.
Sarah glanced up at the sound of a door opening, ready to tell Calli off again, but this time it was Jareth who paused on the threshold; his hooded eyes taking in the sheer array of food laid before her and the large haunch of crackling duck clutched in her hand.
Without breaking eye contact, Sarah tore a hearty chunk out of it, silently daring him to comment on her table manners. Or their current lack.
He walked to the table. When he sat in the chair opposite she noticed a tightness about his jaw.
It was only when the silence lengthened to the kind you either had to address with words or adult-type touching she set down her fare.
"I expected you'd be here to gloat sooner." She hoped it sounded like the intended jab and not that she was complaining at his absence.
"Having found it was exhausting living up to your expectations I decided it was far easier to just disappoint you at every turn." He again eyed the bountiful feast set for only one. "And I fear there may not have been enough food to spare."
"Well settle in for a show then, darling," she inflected the final word with as much venom as she could muster. "This won't be for the faint of heart. But you might as well get a proper look at what you really fought so hard to keep."
Jareth considered her for a moment as she broke bread into pieces to dip into a spiced oil. She'd removed her jacket and slung it over the back of her chair. Her shirt remained unbuttoned at the neck and she'd rolled up her sleeves, but in the fitted vest, even eating like a starved beast, she somehow managed to look entirely poised.
There was a certain inherent grace to her angry little movements, despite the terrifying things she was doing to the sausage on her plate.
"You're a lawyer."
Sarah chewed slowly. Deliberately. Stretching the silence to fit her mood. "Yes. Generally something one finds out about your spouse before marrying them."
Jareth ignored the barb. "Not what I would have guessed."
"Now I'm the one disappointing," she replied sarcastically. "My apologies I didn't study… what? Theatre? Poetry? Perhaps wandering the ruins in the some faraway land like some wistful heroine waiting just begging to be abducted? Trust me when I say life-long student loans aren't particularly romantic either."
"That's not what I meant. I underestimated you when I shouldn't have. It's all very predictable really. Of course you would chose a profession where words would matter."
Sarah's eyes widened and she looked up suspiciously but there was no malice or sarcasm in his tone. "You give yourself too much credit in my life. Evidence matters more, but yes I suppose how one presents it matters too. Not that it helped me much today." There was assuredly malice in hers.
"Oh, I'd say you did quite well. Won your bid for freedom from an unfit husband."
Her eyes narrowed again at his tone. "You forced my hand. I won't apologize for doing my best. It was a sham of a trial anyway."
"You made that clear. And for what it matters, I completely agree. Perhaps we need someone to reform our judicial system."
He'd done it again. Spoken in that low, seductively serious voice. Devoid of mockery. Tempting her...
She slammed her fork down. "Don't."
"Perhaps you're right." He tapped his chin thoughtfully. "I won under the current system."
"You cheated. You put me on trial for ridiculous things when it was all by your design and beyond my control. I was running your Labyrinth."
Jareth nodded in agreement, which only infuriated her more. "Contrary to what you think of me, I took no delight in that."
A hard stare answered him.
"Only minimal delight then."
"And hogging all the glory?"
"That one stung did it?" He smiled blithely. "Consider that I showed some restraint. I never brought up that you still owe your dashing little knight a game of Scrabble."
"Restraint?" Sarah's brow furrowed and then she pulled a face that would have been all the more impressive in its outrage if she didn't have sauce on her chin. "Scrabble? You were watching me. In my bedroom."
"You make it sound so lecherous when you should really feel guilty for the treason you encourage. Watching you celebrate my defeat with half my castle guards? Treachery indeed."
"You're… you were… jealous!"
"Perhaps." That insidious trace of honesty again.
She waved a hand in irritation. "Whatever it is you are doing right now. I won fair and square and you robbed me of my win."
Jareth paused like he was torn on saying something. "It would not have been as easy as you think, Sarah. There are things you don't understand."
"Oh yes, I know. Because I am unworthy mortal." She thought back to the foul-mouthed but not entirely unjustified fairy.
"A mortal who publicly declared me unfit," he amended, and this time there was bite in his bark.
"You forced my hand."
"You said that," he replied evenly. "You forced mine."
Sarah pushed her half-finished plate away. It was her third round and the buttons on her skirt were mounting a greater defense than the Goblin City ever had, but as he didn't know that she hoped the gesture was still effective. "I've suddenly lost my appetite. The truth is you enjoyed humiliating me."
He stared silently before answering. "Perhaps a little. I also enjoyed watching you command the crowd. Captivating an entire court of creatures when you found your stride." His lips twitched bowed. "I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer."
"I see you've read Shakespeare too."
"I've read lots of things."
"Including the same, very obscure books I'd read yesterday apparently."
'Yes, including those. And for that I owe you a debt of gratitude in fact. You reminded me of a place I once liked to visit."
"A chicken army?" She almost laughed but that was too great a concession. "You had a response prepared to every outlandish thing I had prepared."
Sarah intentionally glossed over his meaning. "And you knew that court would be ridiculous."
"As I said, in desperate need of reform," he again agreed, and then trailed off meaningfully like he was dangling a ripe fruit.
But Sarah was already full. "And you let me embarrass myself."
"That's not what I saw. You won."
"I did." They were talking in circles. "And then you did…"
"I took a wild gambit for the good of us both."
"Oh? How generous…"
He looked like he was not prepared to say more on the matter however and ignored her bait.
Sarah smiled sweetly and changed tact. "Such a mad marriage never was before."
His eyes flickered for a moment and then gleamed just a little brighter. "And I have thrust myself into this maze, haply to wive and thrive as best I may. Come. Kiss me, Kate." When she merely pulled another face, he continued undaunted. "This is a way to kill a wife with kindness, And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humour. He that knows better how to tame a shrew…"
"Don't expect a similar final act to that play." Sarah had unfortunately reached the end of her ability to recite Shakespeare, though she'd never really believed Katherine had been tamed. "I shall endeavour to make your life a living hell like a dutiful shrew."
"No doubt. But 'there's small choice in rotten apples.'" He laughed at her brief scowl. "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee," he paused thoughtfully with another twitch to his lips Sarah didn't like. "Perhaps this is the part where I bend you over my knee and soundly thrash for today?"
He caught her subtle fidget. "Ah, intrigued by that are you? How interesting."
She stilled; her voice gone low and old. "Hit me and I will hit you back harder."
"You'd certainly try. And that I find very interesting." His expression twisted into a poorly concealed grimace. "Alas, I have another engagement presently." He pushed back in his chair and passed by the table, pausing to consider the bottle on the table she'd half finished with Calli's help.
"So what was this then?" She asked, alarmed to feel a touch of disappointment at his unexpected retreat. Something she'd have to reflect on later. "A brief social visit?"
He allowed only a ghost of a smile. "Just checking to see if you were starting an armed insurrection yet with your chickens." He set the wine back down. "Excellent choice in vintages by the way. There's only one finer in my collection - a particularly rare bottle. Bubbles like no other. Probably best that you didn't have it under the circumstances." And then he hesitated again, sharp features turning reflective. "Petruchio was a fool to pluck Kate's stinger, don't you think? When it was her most charming part. I find I don't want your quiet submission after all, Sarah." He gave her a short somewhat ironic bow and left.
The most troubling part, Sarah thought, was that he'd seemed entirely serious, and with those words had somehow disarmed her without ever unsheathing his blade.
When she made her way back to her room, the sun had fully set. By design or luck there appeared to be no evening entertainment at which her presence was demanded. In fact she was hard pressed to find anyone, friend or foe, apart from a passing guard or servant – all of whom scurried out of her way like she was a force of pending destruction. Which according to many of their testimonies she apparently was.
It wasn't until she was almost to her room that she was accosted by the same group of beautiful fae women who had forcibly attended her on her wedding day.
"Oh, no!" She held her hands up defensively. "I have no idea what you have planned but I can bathe myself, thank you. I'd rather lick myself clean like a cat than be mauled by you again."
A few exchanged confused glances and one nodded knowingly as though the licking rather explained a lot.
"But it is customary your majesty. Exceptions were made at the behest of the king to give you your space yesterday but this is highly unusual."
"Everything about this is highly unusual," Sarah nodded in malicious agreement. "Hunted my own husband last night. Bagged him too. Oh, and you may have heard I won and lost a court case against him today. So then I was almost tossed in a pit by an overgrown house cat that could do with elocution lessons."
"But traditions-"sputtered one.
"Traditions," Sarah repeated. "Wedding traditions. For a union supposedly one involving me. And yet no one has bothered to ensure any of my traditions were included, have they? No. I am just supposed to smile and nod apparently."
Sarah, of course, had very real grounds to be upset. Her point was entirely justified. Unfortunately it was one that would be entirely misconstrued by the passing goblin servant who heard her. Under normal circumstances, it may have amounted to nothing. Unfortunately the servant had given testimony against her earlier that day over the most grievous loss of his very favourite left sock, and he was feeling rather guilty - or as close to the feeling as goblins ever felt, a feeling that often confused with gas - that his claim against her had almost sentenced to him the pit. Especially as he'd later remembered later that he never wore left socks on account of his religion and had probably thrown the sock away himself.
And so he had filed her hastily spoken words away. Perhaps he could make amends to the Goblin Queen.
"I think I've played nice long enough," Sarah continued. "So if you'll excuse me, I think I shall make an effort to get drunk and then drown myself in the pool."
"Oh, would you like assistance with that at least?" one asked politely.
Sarah felt a muscle in her cheek twitch. "I think not. Run along now. You are dismissed. Go and harass the king for a change, hmm? Perhaps ensure the… the royal penis is clean?"
The ladies curtsied in unison. "We shall convey your wish to his majesty then.
"No, that's not what I meant…" But they'd already retreated out of site.
Fuck it. She'd like to see his face when they relayed her message actually. Though the idea of them bathing him as they had her, with her transparent robes and exquisite figures made her smirk wobble just a little.
She kicked off her pumps as soon as she'd closed the door and curled her toes into the plush, albeit luridly coloured, carpet. The skirt and her vest was undone next, and tossed along with her ruined stockings onto an overstuffed chair. Someone had lit an inviting fire. She childishly stuck her tongue out of it. She pulled the pins from her hair and ran her hands through the sweat-dried strands. How many times had she'd come home from a long day in court or in the office and done the same thing. Feet aching. Nerves shot.
A log cracked and sparked. Though never to a castle she supposed. Her entire condo, tastefully decorated and expensive as it was, could probably fit into the bedroom. But a gilded cage is still a cage after all. She'd lost the battle, not the war. She just needed to regroup. Clutching the bottle of wine she'd snagged from her meal, and an intricately embroidered rode from the wardrobe, she padded down the steps to the large bathhouse. The sconces lit with each step, casting a warm glow over the lapis hued waters. The veins of gold looked molten in the candlelight. The large arched windows were open and an evening breeze had the curtains dancing against the crystal tiled floors. Starlight from the windowed ceiling above refracted into rainbows across their faceted depths.
Thankfully the attendants had taken her at her word and were nowhere to be seen. Neither were they currently bathing the royal penis. A fact that shouldn't have given her as much delight as it did. She set the wine bottle down on the edge of the pool and pulled her shirt from her skirt. She discarded both on a lounger. After a brief hesitation and another scan of the large space, her bra and underwear followed. She paused on the edge of the pool and then backed up once, twice and sprinted into a short child-like jump. The water was pleasantly warm but her skin prickled at the sudden immersion. Her muscles began to ease. She let herself sink, eyes cast towards the stars above, until her feet hit the bottom. She kicked upwards and then pulled herself towards the edge, propping one elbow on it so she could grab the bottle with the other. She mock cheers'd one of the nymphs being serviced by a bevy of water sprites – which what lacked in girth appeared to make up for in numbers and enthusiasm - and took a large swig directly from the bottle.
She pushed off the wall and kicked onto her back into a float, water muffling all sounds save her thoughts. The air was slightly cooler than the water and her nipples instantly tightened into awareness. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift, hands moving only slightly in small circles to keep herself afloat.
Until something prickled at her mind, distorted and unfocused. Like a memory seen through rippling water.
She'd done this before. Hands on her breasts. Teeth at her neck and the feel of a warm body against her back, pressing her into the side of the pool. His fingers sliding in…
She arched upwards at the answering quiver between her thighs. Legs treading she turned suspiciously. Half-expecting to see him propped against the edge of the pool, watching her with those uncanny eyes.
Nothing and no one. She turned in place but was alone.
She looked over at the wine accusingly. The wine returned the sentiment.
Sarah frowned for a moment, trying to shake the phantom sensations of something she was sure had never happened. But the night before had happened and that she could not deny. She set about washing herself with perfunctory speed, and once clean, she pulled herself from the pool and drew the silky robe about her dripping body. It clung to every dip and valley like a lover's caress. She rubbed her hair vigorously with a towel. When she returned to her room, mostly empty bottle in hand, her sole focus was the oblivion of sleep so she could regroup and attack the problem of how to ditch a Goblin King.
The first thing she noticed was the chair lying on its side. The one she'd jammed against the doors adjoining their rooms.
One of those doors was slightly ajar. A scant few inches but enough that she saw the sliver of light from within and a shadow of movement.
"Been in my room, have you?" she hissed, and then sidled towards the door, prepared to pounce like a cat stalking a particularly noisome, albeit annoying sexy, mouse. She didn't need a trial to lay his crimes at his feet and she was feeling brittle and admittedly flustered enough to lash out in a cathartic way. Like chucking a wine bottle at his frizzy head.
She laid one hand on the edge of the door, prepared to pull it open when she heard the distinctive sound of water from somewhere within the room. The cat might get the mouse but curiosity always gets the cat. Adjusting her stance, she leaned her head forward until she could see through the crack with one eye.
Which then widened.
The Goblin King was taking a bath. Naked. Though she supposed was only sensible.
No one appeared to be bathing the royal penis either. He was alone.
The large copper tub was set before the fire. His arms were spread along the top and his head was leaned to the side, tilted away from her towards the fire and propped on a towel. Steam rose from the water. She couldn't see below his shoulders but his arms were bare. Lithe muscles brought into sharp relief by the firelight.
And then those muscles flexed and one lifted a cloth to smooth along his chest. He was not asleep.
A decanter of amber liquid was half full beside the tub. An empty glass on its side.
He dropped the wet cloth to lie beside the glass. And then his arm dropped back into the tub as a knee came up, just cresting the edge.
It took her a moment to process what he was doing and when she did she almost dropped the bottle of wine still clasped like a cudgel in her hand.
It occurred to her that she ought to look away immediately. Step away from the door. That she was in fact the one violating his privacy and in the wrong. That she was losing the moral high ground. What he was doing was perfectly natural. What she was doing could carry a stiff fine.
But it was not the first time she'd known better and done it anyway. Touched the hot stove as a child. Wished Toby away instead of sticking a damn soother in his mouth. Believed Hoggle when he said this was the way to the Goblin Market…
His arm was now moving rhythmically just out of sight but leaving no doubt as to what he was doing.
His head tipped back further and then rolled in her direction. Sarah shot back. When nothing happened, she craned forward again.
The first time was an accident. She hadn't meant to be a voyeur. She'd had reasonable grounds for defence. So she really shouldn't look again…
Looked and listened. Low breathing but sharp exhalations. Her own breath hitching.
Tendons straining in his neck. A slight arch to his back, while his jaw tightened. His face, still tilted in her direction, but with eyes closed, contorted into what looked like a mixture of pleasure and pain. His lashes, so much darker than his hair, fanned his face and fluttered in release.
And then they opened.
This time Sarah shot back so hard she hit the chair and then fell forward into the door as she overcorrected. It closed under her force with a distinctive snap. She dropped the bottle and the dregs of wine sloshed up and splattered on her robe, soaking into the silk.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…
She righted herself and recoiled away from the door like it would fly open at any moment. Fight or flight. She looked around the room wildly as though searching for a hiding spot.
Two light but unmistakable knocks on the door. Could knocks be mocking?
She looked towards the bed and wondered if she could dive in and pretend to be sleeping. That was somehow worse. Instead she straightened her spine and ran a hand through her damp hair. Fight then.
"Yes?" He voice only wavered a little.
The door opened inwardly, proving that when you think things can't get worse, they in fact always do.
Jareth stood framed within, limned by the firelight from of his room and brought into sharp relief by the fire in hers. Glistening wet and wearing nothing more than a towel slung low on his hips; looking like he'd escaped from a tawdry romance novel cover. Only the sight didn't make her want to laugh in the least.
She kept her eyes resolutely glued to his face.
"Is everything alright?" He propped an arm on the door, his expression deceptively neutral. "You look a little flustered."
It was hard to tell from his taunting drawl and expression exactly what he might have seen, but her cheeks suddenly felt hot. Too hot. She was likely blushing.
"Fine. Just fine."
"I see." His eyes slid to the bottle of wine on the floor and the chair on its side by his feet. "Redecorating?"
"Hardly," she replied just a little too quickly. "Though it needs it."
"Without doubt. You're free to change it, you know. I rather thought you would have by now."
Sarah cocked a brow. "I have no intention of staying in it for any length of time. Why would I change something I neither want nor need?"
He cocked a brow right back, lips twitching. "Noted."
Had the towel slipped a little? Sarah jerked her eyes back up, but not before focusing on his right hand for a moment. All thoughts of giving him the verbal beating he deserved for the day's events had temporarily escaped her. Slipped away from her like the water currently sliding down his flat stomach and soaking beneath the towel. The towel that looked like it was hanging on by nothing more than a thought and a prayer.
When she looked back up, his eyes were entirely too keen.
"Did you need something?" She inwardly winced at her choice in words.
"Not at this time," he replied simply. Not the pithy remark she'd expected. "I thought I heard something fall in here." His eyes tracked to the dark stain on her robe, and then followed the embroidered vines and flowers upwards.
She crossed her arms to clutch the gaping neckline closed tighter. The silk was thin and she'd put it on wet. It occurred to her that it must be plastered to every inch like a second skin, leaving her almost as exposed as he was in that gravity defying scrap of towel.
It had definitely dropped.
"I'm fine." Her voice cracked just a little on the lie.
"Good night then." He straightened, shocking her with yet another unexpected retreat.
He turned, giving her a brief view of his finely sculpted back - dark strands of wet burnished gold plastered to his spine. And then he paused, looking again at the chair. "Whatever you might think me, know that a closed door is sufficient. Lock it if you will." Even from the side, she could see his lips bow into a sardonic half smile. "If I really wanted to get in, a chair would hardly stop me, Sarah."
The door closed.
Sarah awoke to the now somehow familiar feeling of being watched. It had become something of a morning ritual really, in so brief a time. She spoke without opening her eyes. "Good morning, Rook. Still not dead."
A sigh of childlike relief answered her.
Sarah cracked an eye blearily at him. "A promise is a promise." Then she rolled over to go back to sleep.
"Are you going to have a litter soon then?"
Both of Sarah's eyes snapped open. And she turned back, propping one elbow on the pillow.
Rook stared earnestly back at her. "How many will be in a litter anyway? A dozen? More?" His eyes instantly brightened avariciously. "Can I keep one? Uncle Cern let me have one of his hounds last fall for a birthday. But then I lost it the Labyrinth and he took it back until I grow more responsible. I do promise to take much better this time."
"Rook," Sarah began slowly, as though trying and failing to parse his words before coffee while also debating whether or not she really wanted an answer. "Why exactly do you think I am going to have a… a litter?"
"I heard some guests speaking. They said the only reason the Goblin King was trying so hard to keep you was because mortals are very good breeders. Guaranteed an army of heirs."
"I-"Sarah trailed off.
"So are you then?" He eyed her doubtfully. "A very good breeder?"
Sarah lay back down and drew a pillow over her face.
Her silent rocking concerned the small boy, who wondered if they might finally be the death throws he'd been so anticipating. But he found he would be rather sad if she died after all. His face eased when he recognized the sound for what it was. Laughter.
He joined in uncertainly, not really getting the joke but not wanting to be left out either.
Once spent, Sarah patted him on the arm. "You know what? Thank you. I think I needed that laugh."
"So about the litter…" he asked hopefully.
She pressed a finger against his mouth. "Shhh. Don't ruin this moment, kid."
When Sarah descended to the breakfast a short while later it was in a pale periwinkle gown cut from a soft, gauzy material. The neckline plunged dramatically low but a band of burnished gold that crossed her shoulders and cut across her collar bone made lent it an almost armour like formality. The long sleeves drifted to the floor like flowing water, and gave the illusion of a cape, while affording full movement. The waist was bound with similar asymmetric gold bands that accentuated her figure. It was romantic without being fussy, formal without being severe. It had been amongst the clothes Jareth had gifted her, and Sarah was loathe to admit she rather liked.
To her surprise the morning room was once again empty but the table was set with an assortment of breakfast foods and a still-steaming urn of coffee.
Calli's words came back to her as she poured herself a cup.
Don't like something? Change it.
She'd been trying but maybe not in the right way.
The same sentiment had been echoed by Jareth too.
Though perhaps he would later come to regret it. In fact sooner rather than later.
"Tear it down."
"Yer… yer majesty?" The goblin craftsman asked in alarm. He'd heard tales the queen had been busy all morning while the king was preoccupied. Here and there, consulting with all the castle stewards and court painters and textile merchants. Servants were moving with alarming speed to acquiesce to her demands. He hadn't been sure if half the rumours were to be believed but then she stood. Apparently trying to get him killed next.
"You heard me. Tear it down. Melt it down. Give it to Agnes with my regards. I don't care which. Just get rid of it."
The goblin still looked undecided and was actually wondering if could just will himself out of existence entirely. Mind over matter, his dear mama used to say. Or was it minds don't matter? Ironically he'd actually never paid her much mind and so could never remember which.
"But what shall we replace it with, oh terrifying one?" Judging by her souring expression he guessed the queen had no idea but he'd just addressed her with the highest goblin honourific. "We cannot leave the monument bare. Goblins shall have no place to dump their chamber pots. It's become something of a tradition."
"Charming," Sarah remarked drily. "In fact I had an idea for a replacement." She handed over a slip of paper on which she'd hastily sketched her design. She was no artist but it was capable enough.
Clear enough certainly that the goblin's bulbous eyes protruded impossibly further from his head. "Oh… my most horrible lady, please won't you just bog me instead? He will most hate this!"
Sarah smiled beatifically and bopped him on what she couldn't tell but hoped was his nose. "Perfect.
When Jareth entered his room he was as close to being in an irritated mood as one could get. He ached in every conceivable place and his magic, thoroughly taxed, was slow to act as a balm. He'd spent a lot of it the evening prior to ensure he appeared unblemished when he'd confronted her at her door. He looked towards them out of rote. Shut. Probably with that laughable chair propped back under the handles.
That exhaustion, he would consider later, was the reason that it took him so long to notice the changes. After discarding his jacket he'd collapsed on his bed, boots still on in a way he'd have badgered Cern about, and closed his eyes - willing the vestiges of his magic to replenish while he rested.
But something tickled at the back of his mind. Like something out of sorts. An itch that needed to be scratched. It took him a moment more to register that the itch was quite literal. Something obscenely ruffled was teasing the nape of his neck. His eyes snapped opened and focused.
Instead of his usual starry night ceilings he was met with freshly painted fresco ceilings depicting illustrations he recognized from his library's edition of 'The Reproduction of Swamp Trolls.' Though some of the positions in the relief all but guaranteed there would be no possibly of conception. A natural form of population control, the writer had concluded. Or just a damned good time if you found yourself alone but were naturally bendy.
His eyes scanned the rest of the space, and his lips parted in what might have been a grin and what might have made the chamberlain wet himself again had he been present.
Chartreuse. Everywhere. In an even more lurid shade if that were possible. Bows, ruffles. Crocheted doilies.
His little wayward bride had redecorated. His rooms.
Jareth looked back to the closed doors adjoining their rooms. Apparently the rules had just changed.
"I want you to teach me to fight."
Cern choked on his apple, but recovered gracefully enough to cover his look of shock politely. He tossed the core away and kicked off the stable wall. "Look I understand the desire to kill him. I really do. But even I like him well enough not to arm his apparently feral wife."
"I don't want to kill him." At the moment Sarah added silently.
"And anyway get in line," Cern mumbled.
"Why not? You seem to enjoy it. Jareth too. And I'm apparently slated to die by the festival at the hands of a jilted bride, which no one has given me any details about by the way. So it doesn't hurt to learn to defend myself. Even if I don't expect to become an expert."
"Jareth won't let anything happen to you."
"Yes, he's said as much. And yet I was almost tossed into a pit of no bottom only yesterday."
"Well… yes… but to be fair the court ruled that, not Jareth."
"Based on his case."
"But you weren't were you?"
"Only to force me to withdraw my case. What if I'd be stubborn and refused?"
Cern looked pensive for a moment. "Well then thankfully the pit had no bottom so Jareth would have had a long time to figure out how to rescue you." He made to move past her, but Sarah stepped into him resolutely.
Cern considered her carefully. "You're serious aren't you?"
"As serious as Calli is on Tuesdays." She didn't add that she'd in fact spent a considerable amount of time trying to track him down. He'd proven as elusive as Jareth. And all the answers as to their whereabouts just as elusive.
"Very serious then." He circled her with the same appraising eye he used for his hunting dogs. "I'm a rough teacher. You could always ask Jareth you know."
Sarah evaded his probing question. "I'm asking you."
He cocked a brow. "I've heard tell you've been making a lot of demands today. Is that an order, your highness?"
"Do you need it to be one? Perhaps I am asking as a friend."
He placed a hand over his heart and smiled at her with such devastating charm that Sarah was reminded he hunted with more than just weapons. "A direct hit. How can I deny such a request?"
When she made no move to leave, his face turned serious.
"Hounds of hell, you don't mean now do you?"
"Why not? Unless you are otherwise engaged."
He bowed dramatically low. "As the Goblin Queen commands."
The reference to only speaking seriously on Tuesdays was a nod to Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband.
The italicized lines Sarah and Jareth recite to one another come from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew. Two of my fave plays.
The reference to the royal penis was an ode to the famous scene in Coming to America with Eddie Murphy, mentioned here before.
AN: Hope you are all still staying safe and are in good health! Both physically and mentally.
There will be some more… shall we say romantic interludes next chapter between our respective idiots, and some explanation of what Jareth has been doing (assuming you haven't guessed). Look at Cern and Calli telling it like it is! Who knew they'd be the sensible ones?
Hope you are still enjoying. Thank you for all the love so far - it has kept me going! This has stretched far longer than I really anticipated but has all the elements I originally planned. They will eventually just shut up and fuck it out of their systems. I promise. And get to that happy ending in a way that satisfies them both.
And technically… technically! I did not blue ball Jareth this chapter. Technically…
P.S. Congrats, USA! First female and WOC VP. May 2021 be kinder to us all.