A/N: I have finally reached the end of this monster! This could probably go on forever, or at least until I'm old and rotting in my grave, and if anyone has a burning desire to continue off this little universe, feel free to message me and we can talk about it, but I feel it's reached the end of the story that I needed to tell. For those who stuck with it and gave encouragement, I thank and love you all! I've truly appreciated (almost) each and every review, even the ones that were critical.
Reagan strapped a freshly changed Nathaniel to his cradleboard and slid her arms through the straps. Once she had him secure on her back, she ventured out of the room and down the staircase. Today was an important day, and one that she'd rather get over with. She wanted all of the Dragons down in her throne room gone (except Kale. And maybe Thornweld.). This meeting had been months in the making. The expected explosion was sure to be massive, and she wanted no part of it.
She swore no good deed went unpunished. Draco's locating the missing eggs had been celebrated, but now they wanted more. A small colony of the dragons had returned to the mountain, but that wasn't enough. At least two Dragons found mates based solely on their personal appeal and powers of persuasion, no abduction necessary. Two women from the human village decided they liked the shape shifters, and Jareth had rather reluctantly given his permission for them to marry (the other reason for today's meeting). She'd even heard that some of the abducted women who'd returned home had begun allowing their former captors to start courting them, in an attempt to see if reconciliation was possible. The idea was anathema to her, but who was she to sit in judgment if that's what they decided to do?
But none of that was enough for them. The Dragons were demanding the return of the baby blue that had anchored herself to Nathaniel. Even as she thought of the tiny dragon, Saphir clawed up her skirt and settled on her shoulder. She wasn't growing as quickly as Draco had, and Reagan was starting to wonder if she should be concerned.
"What are we supposed to do with you, huh?" she asked the creature that looked up at her with a toothy grin, "the Goblin kingdom isn't a sanctuary for lizards, you know."
They wouldn't be handing her over, that much was certain. Forcing a separation between a dragon and their chosen Caller wasn't healthy for either party. She hadn't even known that males could be Callers, as everything had focused on females, but there was no doubt that Nathaniel and Saphir shared the same bond she and Draco shared. Fortunately they had Draco around to help keep a watch over them.
Jareth was waiting for her in the throne room, and as soon as she entered he rose and pushed his way past the arguing people to escort her to her seat. He helped her to slip the cradleboard from her shoulders, but she left the baby in it. He liked to be strapped in and wrapped securely, and with any luck he would drop back off to the nap she'd disrupted.
"Now that we're all accounted for, let us begin. Kale, you had a complaint to lodge?"
A complaint? Kale had lodged an actual complaint? What was he thinking?
"I do. The eggs should have immediately been brought to my country. Because they were not, one of them was left behind, at a time when every single dragon is needed."
Alright, maybe that was a valid complaint. She'd been so happy to have Draco back that she hadn't thought about those who were waiting for the eggs. It shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that Draco would return first to his Caller after several weeks' absence, but the end result of that WAS that one of the eggs they'd tracked down didn't make it back to the dragons, or the Dragons.
"And what would you have done about it?"
"The blue must be returned to us!"
Reagan couldn't identify the Dragon who spoke, but she held back a smile as Kale sent him a sharp glare and barked something at him. Surely they couldn't be serious in that demand. Someone hadn't thought that through. She scanned the crowd, hoping to see Sarah's face, but she was disappointed. Things weren't going so well with the young couple, and Sarah had stopped talking to them after they refused to interfere, and told her she must work things out with her husband on her own. Reagan just hoped her daughter didn't end up pregnant in the near future. It would be a great mistake to bring a child into a damaged relationship in hopes of fixing it.
Saphir seemed to have her own ideas about leaving. She turned to stare in the direction of the one who'd spoken and hissed at him, baring her teeth. In a grown dragon it would be a frightening sight, but in this baby, it was simply comical. Still, it served to make her opinion known, and the more intelligent of the Dragons were coming to realize that their cousins' opinions weren't to be disregarded. Things were coming slowly, but at least they were progressing.
"As happened when Draco was a hatchling, Saphir will stay here with her Caller until she reaches maturity. After that time, it will be her decision whether to return to you," Jareth announced with finality.
"She's young enough that she could choose a new Caller, if she was returned to us."
Reagan bit her lip to keep from saying something that would only cause more problems. Halea just had to open her mouth. Was the older woman trying to purposely make things worse?
"And who might she choose," Reagan asked after mentally counting to ten. It was widely acknowledged that there were no Callers among the Dragons at present, because all of their Callers had been female. The few that were there were women of other species (mostly Fae); girls who had either come from the families that had participated in that reprehensible arrangement made by Marek, or captives who'd elected not to return home when they could have been freed. There was hope that if female births increased the Caller population would also increase among their own species, but at the moment there were none. Halea was the only Caller who was Dragon.
"It would be better for all if she was returned to establish a relationship with a Caller among the Dragons."
"It would be better for you, perhaps. I'm not so convinced it would be better for Saphir, or worth the strain on both dragon and child that would come from trying to sever their relationship."
She wouldn't consider putting either Saphir or Nathaniel through what she'd been assured was a painful separation, just to send the tiny lizard to Halea. Her relationship with the other Caller was strained, at best. It could even be said that Halea treated her with downright animosity, though Reagan had yet to figure out why. She suspected it was because Galen had nearly caused a war for her, or because the Dragon woman had no dragon of her own.
"It is not your decision to make, Goblin Queen," Halea practically hissed at her.
"In point of fact, it is. This is my child's well-being that you're threatening to disrupt."
She didn't really want to fight with anyone today, but Halea was driving her to reconsider that. Nearly every interaction with the Dragon woman resulted in attempts to intimidate her, and she refused to be intimidated. Jareth squeezed her hand softly, in warning to keep her temper. She nodded in his direction. She refused to blow up in front of so many people.
"Perhaps the queen might consider bringing the child and the dragon to the mountain for a time, as guests of our king. That way the blue might interact with others of her own kind."
The suggestion came from Thornweld, and Jareth stopped her from vetoing it outright.
"It is likely the most diplomatic solution we will find."
Jareth was right about that, but that didn't mean she had to like it. The idea of willingly going back to that mountain to stay, even temporarily, sent shivers down her spine. There she wouldn't be able to escape the nightmares that still plagued her.
"We shall take that suggestion under consideration. Now, if there are no other pressing concerns, I believe that we are also here to witness a Bonding Ceremony?"
It had taken lengthy persuasion, and all manner of indecent promises fulfilled, to get Jareth to agree to host the occasion properly. He didn't have to like the Dragons, or the fact that humans under his charge were choosing to go with them, but he owed those women the same support he gave all of his human residents when they married. Since the human village wasn't large enough to host such an event, Reagan had finally convinced him to host it in the castle. It couldn't look like he refused his blessing, not if they wanted to keep the peaceful relations that the High Court had worked to establish.
Reagan slid down from Draco's back, holding Nathaniel to her as she did. He was finally outgrowing the cradleboard she'd been gifted with on his birth, and squirmed to protest being trapped in it. It was unfortunate, but so far they hadn't come up with any good alternatives, and she was not letting her eight year old ride the dragon unrestrained. Knowing him, he'd fall off mid-flight and they'd have to rescue him.
Nothing reminded her so much of the endlessness of immortality as the fact that her children didn't age like mortal children would. At eight years old, Nathaniel was still the equivalent of a toddler, and that development would slow even more before he reached adulthood. It would take another ninety plus years just to look eighteen, as it did all immortal children. Full physical maturity usually took an additional twenty-five years. Such a sharp contrast to those who weren't immortal.
After seven years of this, it was finally starting to feel routine to fly to the Dragons three times a year. It never got easier to leave Jareth and the girls for four weeks at a time, but after the first visit she was at least able to accept that no one had any intention of forcing her to remain. Six months of negotiation to work out this arrangement of visiting the dragons with her son and Saphir had almost come undone when it looked as if the Dragons might try to prevent her from returning home. Draco had taken that personally, and reacted accordingly. They didn't try a second time. Some Dragons might think that her place was here, but they kept the thought to themselves.
Kale stood waiting for her, as he always did, and his wife stood beside him. Andriél looked incredibly uncomfortable, less than a month away from delivering their first child. Reagan liked the Fae woman who'd decided to marry into the Dragon royal family nearly a year ago. If the gossip was correct, she'd actually drugged Kale and carried him off from a High Court visit to make him marry her (and it would absolutely serve her son right to be on the other end of the kidnapping business if she had). She had a mischievous streak that Reagan could fully appreciate, being married to Jareth. Andriél was some relation to Tallis, unfortunately, but Reagan tried not to hold it against her. No one was perfect.
The Fae managed to earn the grudging acceptance of many of the Dragons by falling pregnant quickly. Reagan hoped this child would be a girl, for their sake. All the Dragons would celebrate the first female birth, which had yet to happen. There were those who complained that the experiment of bringing the dragons back was a failure because no girls were born, but they were ignored by those who saw the changes in the mountain. It was almost as if the mountain was coming back to life with the return of the dragons. Plants that had long been extinct were coming back, and even the soil had a healthy sheen it hadn't had before. Those whose opinions mattered were confident that with time the birth rate would pick up, and that females would come.
A few hatchlings buzzed around her head to start chattering at Saphir, and she flew off to join them. Having so many voices inside her head was chaotic, and the hatchlings were the worst of all; when they were together, their thoughts were too disjointed to be truly coherent. That may have been the hardest thing to get used to, but now it was more an annoyance than truly painful. The first time it happened she was driven to her knees in pain, and woke up in her room a day later. Now it was no worse than a mosquito bite.
Nathaniel shouted in complaint that Saphir was gone, but she would be back before nightfall. The dragon still insisted on spending the nights by her Caller, curled up like a dog under the crib. Reagan had been surprised when Saphir didn't grow as quickly as Draco, and she'd learned another fun fact she hadn't known; dragons could control their growth. Rather than reach full maturity in a matter of months, Saphir had elected to grow in proportion to her Caller in these first years. For the last year and a half she'd stayed the size of a Great Dane.
"Your room is ready, if you wish to put Nathaniel down."
That was the most welcome news Reagan could hear. Travelling to the Dragons invariably interrupted the child's sleep schedule, and he was in need of a nap. He would be an absolute monster tonight if he didn't sleep, and no one needed to deal with that. Nathaniel pitching a hissy fit was a special kind of hell reserved only for people who truly pissed her off. The girls had all had their fair share of tantrums at that age, but she didn't remember them being so bad as his. She wouldn't trade the little ankle biter for anything, but there were days he could be a royal pain in the ass.
Her room was waiting for her, the door open, indicating that the servants had only recently left. The large bed looked particularly inviting, but Reagan avoided it. If she laid down now, she would be up half the night, and that wasn't anything she wanted. She stepped through to the deep alcove that had been cut into the mountain, where Nathaniel's crib was located. The curtain made of leather straps that hung in the doorway offered enough privacy that it was almost a separate room. As Nathaniel grew older he would appreciate the privacy, and Reagan already relished it. That ingenious curtain allowed her time to herself, but made enough noise that she was alerted if Nathaniel tried to escape his confines. A similar curtain separated the bedroom from the sitting room.
As she expected, Nathaniel protested being put down for a nap, but a stern order silenced the loudest wails. Jareth had been rather lax in the discipline department, knowing that they were going to be separated for four weeks, so Nathaniel had gotten away with more than he should have this last week. Reagan was fine with being the evil parent if it meant getting the child back in line. He continued to sniffle, but much more quietly, and she left him to cry himself to sleep. There were people waiting on her in the sitting room.
"He certainly has a healthy set of lungs," Andriél commented as she rubbed her swollen belly.
"You'll have plenty of that to look forward to when you have your own," Reagan answered, feeling just a little evil as her son and daughter-in-law blanched. They would find out soon enough just what they were in for, with the sleepless nights and endless demands. Even having servants wouldn't save them from that.
"Halea wants Nathaniel tested, to ensure that he's growing appropriately," Kale announced as a not-at-all-subtle subject change. Reagan scowled. The Dragon always wanted tests run on her son. The fact that the child wouldn't grow as quickly as Dragon children, because he WASN'T a Dragon child, was a concept that the Caller seemed incapable of grasping. It was just another reason Reagan spent as little time as possible with the older woman.
"She already knows that's not going to happen, but feel free to remind her she can kiss my ass at any time."
"You know the answer to that, Kale. Testing Nathaniel isn't up for debate. She's just going to have to take my word that he's growing right on target with his species. Considering that he's my fifth mostly-Fae child, I think I'm enough of an expert to speak with some authority on that subject."
It was a careful dance, cooperating with the Dragons as agreed. Some things she just had to swallow and accept, like letting Norah around her son and not strangling Halea, but some things she simply refused to allow. Her son wasn't a science experiment, and neither was she. The Dragons had plenty to experiment on already, without adding them. She was willing to immerse herself with the dragons to allow Nathaniel to adapt, and learn to control his gift, and she was willing to stand with them politically on causes she agreed with, that could use some powerful backing. She even backed them against her husband's family, if the situation truly warranted it. There was quite a bit she was able and willing to do, to accommodate the treaty they'd reached, but testing her son wasn't one of those things, and never would be. Halea would either accept that, or get used to being refused over and over.
The last person waiting for her was Wulfrin. Reagan felt pity for this son-in-law who looked lost. She also felt the urge to put her oldest daughter over her knee. Sarah, foolish Sarah, had abandoned her marriage not long after Andriél became queen, and she realized that she no longer had a royal position. Her Dragon husband had been devastated by her defection, so much so that Reagan was almost ready to suggest he remove himself to the Goblin Kingdom to track his wife down. She grudgingly gave her approval to the young man after the first few years; he didn't back down when Sarah needed someone to stand up to her, and he didn't give up when they didn't agree. If he had been at all abusive, in any way, the conversation would be entirely different, but Wulfrin had treated her like a queen (by her own admission). It wasn't fair of Sarah to abandon the man she'd chosen, when he hadn't mistreated her in any way, simply because she finally realized what marrying him required her to give up.
"You look tired."
"I haven't been sleeping well," he confessed. Kale and his wife took their leave, and Reagan gestured for Wulfrin to follow her. Thornweld's wife, Tise, was already standing outside the bedroom door, waiting to watch over Nathaniel. They had a boy who was near Nathaniel's age now, so once they boy woke up, they could keep each other occupied for quite some time. He was in good hands with Thornweld's family, and after seven years Reagan was finally comfortable leaving her son with the Dragons and not worrying that he was going to disappear on her.
"It took me awhile to learn to sleep alone," she admitted as they left the mini-suite and strolled through the main halls towards the surface. "After Galen, before I was able to go back to Jareth, it was a long period of not sleeping well because I missed having someone beside me. It will get easier, with time."
She wouldn't tell him that he would get used to it; that would be cruel, and untrue. One never really got used to such an absence, in her opinion, simply resigned to the fact of it. Those who chose such a separation might disagree, but those weren't the circumstances in Wulfrin's case.
"How is she?"
Stubborn best described Sarah these days. The girl was determined to pretend that her running off had changed nothing, and it was driving Jareth up the wall. Sarah had stopped talking to them, again, when they refused to cater to that particular whim of hers. Reagan honestly wouldn't be surprised if Jareth tossed their eldest daughter and dropped her back here during their stay. She spent the bulk of her days sulking in her room when the goblins weren't deferential enough for her tastes, or when her sisters went off to the High Court to participate in something she could no longer do. She was always welcome there as a member of the family, of course, but there were some things that former royals simply weren't included in, and Haldrin refused to change the laws even for his own kin. If Sarah would only devote half as much energy into her marriage as she did into pretending she was single, they could have all of their problems worked out by now.
"She is as she ever was," Reagan finally answered him.
"Has she said anything else about why she left?'"
Saddest of all was that Wulfrin still genuinely had no idea why his wife had left him. Norah had done a pitiful job of explaining to her son why Sarah might not feel that he'd honored his promises when he couldn't keep her in the position she wanted. It was inconceivable to the young Dragon that someone might abandon their chosen bond over a lack of position.
"She wants to be a princess, Wulfrin, and she can't accept that she's had to give that up. And that's just Sarah. It was nothing that you did."
She knew that both Kale and Norah had told him much the same thing. Hopefully he would be able to accept it, in time. It wasn't his fault that Sarah didn't want to accept the consequences of her choices.
They left off discussion of her errant daughter as they reached the surface, and the field the dragons had claimed as their own. Their nests were in other caverns in the mountain, but the creatures preferred to spend their time in the large field at the base of the mountain. Watching the massive animals roll on their backs in the grass like horses was one of the funniest sights she'd ever seen. Some of them snorted their irritation at being disturbed, but many ignored their presence and continued in their activities.
The hardest part of this entire endeavor had been working on the Dragons accepting that their cousin's presence was necessary, and that they were not just dumb animals to be ordered around and discarded. There were, of course, those who still thought that way, which was just sad. If they could be bothered to look beyond their own views, they would see that their interests and the interests of the dragons aligned more often than not, and that it was mutually beneficial to live together peacefully. Fortunately, most of the Dragons were open-minded enough to recognize the benefits that had already come from sharing the mountain, and were reaching out to the dragons. Those that refused to see it were only required to acknowledge that theirs wasn't the only opinion; that others didn't have to share that opinion; and to keep the peace.
She was pleased to see a number of Dragons and their families out watching, and even interacting, with the dragons. She saw more than a few young boys playing with the hatchlings that buzzed about, under the watchful eyes of their fathers and the lazy eyes of the dragons. She saw Angela and Marian, the humans who'd left the Goblin Kingdom for the Dragons, and they waved wildly at her, smiling in greeting. Their children were among those playing with the dragons, and they looked like they were having a marvelous time.
They had to dodge out of the way as Saphir was bowled over by a green dragon, Reagan thought it was Pyro. The great problem with the dragons was finding appropriate names for them, as no one except some of the Dragons could actually understand their tongue, let alone make an attempt at pronouncing it. This green one was a little overly fond of fire, so Pyro was rather apt. He was slightly larger than Saphir, but she was holding her own in the tussel, until Draco broke it apart with a bored hiss and a massive foot threatening to cause injury as he waded through them to his Caller. Once he reached them he laid down with a snort and pinned Reagan in with his head. She settled against the large body, content with laying out in the sun and absorbing the creatures around her. The sun was rarely so bright at home. After a nod, Wulfrin joined her in leaning against Draco and focusing on nothing more than simply being.
After hours of peace, she was interrupted from her dinner by Jareth in her head. She wondered what could be so urgent that he would disturb her while she was gone. He'd agreed that while she was with the Dragons, her focus should be only her position as a Caller and her sons, and not on him or the girls. Trying to juggle both would only be counterproductive, and he was perfectly capable of managing anything on his own.
"You are needed home for a few hours. It is an emergency."
"I'll be home as soon as I can."
She would leave Nathaniel with Thornweld and Tise, if they would agree. Kale wouldn't be pleased at her going, even for a short time, but if it was emergency enough for Jareth to call her home, it couldn't wait. She pushed her dinner plate away, all thoughts of food forgotten. Several of the closest Dragons looked to her curiously, but she waved off their interest. She looked only to her son, who sat beside her.
"I have to go, but I'll return as soon as I can. It's an emergency."
She forestalled the argument she could see brewing at that announcement. She had too much to do before she could go home, such as find a caregiver for her toddler, and the longer it took to get home the longer it would take to return. She also had to let Draco know not to follow her, and that she would be back soon enough. If she just disappeared without telling him, the dragon would either take out a good chunk of the mountain looking for her, or fly home and do the same.
Less than twenty minutes later, she was materializing in the throne room of the castle, and she thought she might just turn around and leave. There were at least a hundred children and adults surrounded by goblins filling the room. What the hell had happened? She'd never seen such a mass of wished away mortals before. And—were those animals in cargo crates?
"You're off by half. Final count was two hundred and eighteen mortals, not including their pets" Jareth informed her when he finally made his way through the crowd. She was proud to see that the older girls were moving among the rabble, passing out water and blankets. More than a few of their news guests had injuries, so she guessed something terrible must have happened. A countless number of exhausted goblins were collapsed in a large pile in one corner of the room.
"One of those human flying contraptions fell from the sky. Someone on it wished everyone away."
She hadn't known that was even possible. Logistically, this was going to be a nightmare. With no one to run for them, these people couldn't go home. They were going to be permanent residents of the Underground forever, unless a wound or illness managed to carry them off. Where were they supposed to put all of these people? This group would double the size of the human village, something they really didn't need.
"The children with no parents can be adopted out to those still wanting children, I suppose. That will cut the number down some."
"Are there enough couples looking? I count at least fifty-five in that group of school uniforms. Most of them are going to be without parents here. And that doesn't count the others we'll probably find."
Jareth looked surprised at that. He'd failed to recognize that the large group of similarly dressed children had only a few adults supervising them, and Reagan was reminded of how little he still knew of the world Above. The everyday, mundane things, such as school uniforms and class trips, would be completely unfamiliar to him. How terrible for all of those families Above, who would never know what happened to their children. She couldn't imagine thinking her child was dead in a plane crash, and never knowing that they were alive and well. Even if she could never see them again, she would want to know that. Those children's parents would never have that choice.
"First thing, we'll need healers to come and check everyone over."
Some of them were visibly injured, others likely had something hidden. They all needed to be given a clean bill of health before they worried about placing them somewhere. They would need healers from outside, if they wanted to be able to check over so many. Jareth's agreement made things easier, he took over the task of contact the High Court to ask for assistance as she started the task of identifying everyone. The girls had the water and blankets well in hand, and they would need to know who was now living among them; families absolutely needed to be kept together. With a wave of her hand she produced a notebook and ball point pen. Jareth could keep his scrolls and quills, modern writing implements had a distinct advantage in this case: she wouldn't have to fight to keep the pages together, and the pen didn't need to be re-inked after every sentence. She hoped that most of the families had managed to group themselves together. It would be much easier if they had. She picked the group of people closest to her and started writing.
Three hours later, they had managed to get some semblance of order in the chaos. Twenty two families needed to be settled somewhere, and seventeen individuals flatly refusing to stay anywhere near the goblins needed to be found temporary accommodations. Whether they liked it or not, they were under Jareth's purview, so they would reside wherever he gave permission, and they would have to adapt to that. Hopefully some of the others would be willing to offer residence, but if they didn't, those mortals better get used to the goblins. The rest of the individual travelers, the ones who were too exhausted or shocked to voice an objection to their newest company, were farmed out to residents of the human village who offered shelter until spaces of their own could be constructed.
Thirty of the children were already placed with Fae families, but that left thirty-seven more. Apart from the school group, she'd found three other children who were travelling as unaccompanied minors, and family of four children whose parents didn't make it off the plane. Those four needed to stay together, if at all possible.
"Have you any suggestions, Haldrin?"
The simple fact was that there was just not enough room in their country for all of these people. They could house several in the castle, and the human village, but much of the kingdom wasn't habitable for any sort of human population. Too much of it was wild, and sending humans out there to try to tame it was just asking for trouble.
"I do have one, but you're not going to like it."
"Let's hear it then."
Jareth stared at his sister's husband in disbelief.
"Have you gone mad?"
"They have the necessary space, Jareth. And they are still in desperate need of children, especially girls."
"So you would send these mortals over to them to become breeders?"
Reagan briefly considered cuffing Jareth in the back of the head for that remark, but restrained herself. The mortals watching them were already watching with some concern, not understanding the elvish the men used but knowing from the tone that something wasn't right. It wouldn't do to escalate the disagreement. But Jareth was either being purposely obtuse, or he simply wasn't thinking straight under the strain of dealing with so many people. No more women had been abducted since Kale took the throne, and after seven years of dealing with the Dowager Queen (and oh, how she detested that title) sticking her nose into the gender politics of the region during her visits, the majority of the Dragons had drastically changed how the treated their wives. She openly acknowledged that there was still a great deal of work ahead, but it was time Jareth and the rest of the Underground acknowledge how much had already changed.
"I would send these mortals to set up a colony in one of the only lands with the space to do so easily. They would be as free to choose their lives as they are anywhere else. If any of them end up bonded with a Dragon, it would be entirely their choice."
Jareth snorted at that. When had the Dragons allowed anyone to make their own choices about bonding with them?
"The idea has merit, Jareth, and you know it," Reagan inserted her opinion before he could start another argument. "You should at least discuss the possibility with Kale and Andriél before you dismiss it out of hand."
"As if that would accomplish anything."
Jareth knew THE LOOK his wife was directing at him, and it didn't mean anything good would come from a continued discussion. The very idea of sending any of the mortals, who were ultimately his responsibility, over to the Dragons was revolting. What sort of guarantees would he have that they would be treated fairly? Perhaps things were getting better for women under the boy's rule, but that didn't mean that such displaced mortals would fare as well. He could continue the argument, but from the expression Reagan wore, it would be pointless.
"You're right. I hate this idea."
He supposed it shouldn't surprise him that Kale and Andriél arrived less than two minutes later. Reagan had popped out of the castle as soon as he'd agreed to meet with them. Of course she would bring them back immediately. Still, after an hour's debate he was reluctantly forced to admit that this proposal was likely the best they would develop.
The younger children still needing homes would be placed with Dragon families, under the supervision of Andriél, and the older children could join the mortals who would start a colony there. There was ample land in the Dragon territories where a settlement could be built and they could support themselves, and Kale would work to integrate them as far into Dragon society as possible, so that they wouldn't forever be outsiders. Reagan's visits would provide ample opportunity to monitor the welfare of the mortals, so if anything took place in violation of Kale's promises, it would be dealt with immediately, and the offender would answer to Jareth. Apart from the location, it was very nearly the same scenario these mortals would face if they settled in his own human village.
He watched his wife explaining the situation to those who seemed capable of listening, and understanding. Too many of them were still in shock from the events of the day. There were three or four who had yet to react to anything, and he worried for them. Those were the ones who could easily be taken advantage of, if anyone was so inclined.
"Seeing an actual dragon might help to snap them out of it," Andriél commented when she saw him staring. He wouldn't admit it to Reagan, but he'd warmed to this Fae who'd taken his stepson down a few notches. It was good for the boy to have someone who would stand up to him. Had he succeeded in marrying Lauriel, he would have ended up with the sweetest doormat in the Underground for a wife, and what a terrible union that would have been. Andriél was more than capable of taking up for herself, and denting the Dragon's ego while she was at it.
"If it doesn't, we'll see them taken care of, or returned to you if that is your wish."
"I won't stand for any of them being mistreated," he felt compelled to warn her.
"Nor will I. They'll be fine, Your Majesty. If not, you can have whatever is left of the Dragon responsible once I'm through with them."
He watched the humans leave, many still confused about what was going on. The worst was that Reagan was leaving with them, now that the primary crisis was over, leaving him to deal with the humans who remained behind. Isolde and Sarah had been charged with getting their newest residents to the human city with their animals and what possessions they had, namely the blankets they'd been given. It would be a lot of work to erect houses for them all, and it would begin in the morning.
He would miss Isolde when she married and left, which was likely to happen soon. She was the most levelheaded of the girls, and common sense would be in shorter supply with her gone. Of all their offspring, she looked most like him; with her white-blonde hair and mismatched eyes, she was also incredibly lovely, and many had noticed it at Court. She'd told more than one possible suitor with an eye on allying himself with the Goblin Kingdom and the High King exactly what they could do with that desire, fiercely and in enough graphic detail that there was no doubt she was Reagan's daughter. She had a talent for picking out sincerity in others, and verbally decimating those who were insincere. So far, none of the males at Court had impressed.
But Jareth knew that someday, and someday soon, one of those suitors would turn her head, and she wouldn't toss him over a palace railing. Cadmus' son had been among those sniffing around her, and she certainly hadn't sent him packing. A centaur, for a near-son? He couldn't fathom it. He couldn't begin to imagine the mechanics involved in the creation of grandchildren in that case, but the thought was enough to leave a searing mental image he wished he could erase. If Caedon made her happy, they would have his blessing.
Sarah was the daughter who had his concern now. He hadn't wanted to believe Reagan when she told him Sarah was trying to pretend nothing had changed, but his wife was right. He'd witnessed it with his own eyes. She was hardly the first person to abandon a marriage, but she left for the most ridiculous of reasons. Wulfrin hadn't been unfaithful to her, or abusive in any way. She had a mate as close to perfect as it was possible to be, and she'd left him because she wanted to still be a princess? Because it turned out that her parents were right in their warnings, and that she couldn't get everything she wanted? It wasn't as if coming home had made things any different: outside this kingdom she was no longer a Royal Highness, regardless of whether she'd left her husband. Things simply could not go back to what they were before. How had his daughter, of all people, come to the idea that she could escape the consequences of her choices?
He was coming to the end of his patience with the girl. It was as plain as day that she missed the Dragon she'd left. She wandered the courtyard and Labyrinth when she thought no one would notice, and the Labyrinth reported on her. She was moping, mourning the loss of her bondmate even as she tried to maintain her illusion of being free.
That was it! If she wanted hide out here forever and ruin any chance of them working anything out, he would just work around that. He would bring Wulfrin to stay at the castle for a time. He knew that Sarah would have a fit and rail about the unfairness of it, but it was the best course of action. She wanted to be told that everything would go back to the way it was; she needed to see that it wouldn't, and that she had to work out the issues, rather than run away from them, if she was going to have any hope of being happy. Perhaps they wouldn't be able to reconcile anything, and if not, well, this castle would always be her home, but she needed to try. His job as a parent was to see that his daughter had what she NEEDED, not necessarily what she WANTED. If she ever had children of her own, she would come to understand the difference.
He felt better for having made a decision about Sarah, and moved on to his next concern. The anniversary of his and Reagan's Bonding was coming up shortly after her scheduled return from the Dragons. One hundred and ten years; he had to determine an appropriate gift. Perhaps he might arrange for his parents to stay with the children and take Reagan away, just the two of them. They hadn't been completely alone since before Sarah was born.
It sometimes seemed only yesterday Reagan came to live in his halls. He remembered the fiery mortal who dared to stand up to him and his brother, and the courage it had taken to offer herself in place of her nephew. The firmness of belief that defied Oberon, and demanded that she be accepted for what she was. She was generally more even-tempered, especially once she got her magic under control, but that personality still surface from time to time, and it was always entertaining to watch, especially when it was targeted at those he just despised.
It was difficult to believe sometimes that a century had passed since Reagan came into his life. Especially when one considered all that had come to pass in that short (for an immortal) time: five beautiful children, a political change that had left half the Underground wondering if the world was coming to an end, and a peace with Dragons that had until this time been thought impossible. Melot's boredom had resulted in the most unexpected chain of events anyone would have believed possible, but Jareth wouldn't change it for anything in the world. He could no longer imagine his life without her in it, and he couldn't wait to see what the next hundred years would bring.