‘Well,’ a familiar voice drawled, ‘I guess the rumors are true after all. Never have I seen a more miserable creature or a more miserable place. Where are your goblins? It’s as quiet as a tomb in here.’
Jareth gritted his teeth and struggled to control his temper. This was the last person he wanted to see, especially when his defeat was still so fresh, so raw, stinging like salt in an open wound, but he’d been expecting him. As High King of the Underground, his older brother, Dart, had every right to be there. In fact, it was his duty.
He watched as Dart meandered around his throne room, his boots clicking on the stone floor, his high-necked black cape swirling about him like a dark cloud. So like himself yet older, much older. He was a good twenty years his senior. However, in the Underground, where age didn’t show itself until you were well into your tenth decade, Dart didn’t look much older than Jareth. In fact, they could almost be twins.
‘By all means, make yourself at home.’
‘Just looking for the goblins.’
‘I didn’t know you were so fond of them.’
‘I’m not, but they’re bloody fun to kick.’
Jareth couldn’t argue with that. He would have loved to take a boot at one of his goblins, but he had banished them and their chickens from the castle shortly after Sarah had departed with the child. He wasn’t in the mood for company. He wanted to be alone, alone in his living tomb.
‘I didn’t know High Kings concerned themselves with rumors,’ Jareth said, tiring of watching his brother poke about.
Dart stopped in mid-stride, turning to look at Jareth. His expression hardened as he was reminded of the reason for his visit. He looked very much like their father just then. ‘When the rumor concerns his brother and a…’ his thin lips curled, ‘human, then I have very little choice but to concern myself. You know the law, Jareth, as well as I. We were taught it at an early age. Humans are forbidden in the Underground.’
‘A ridiculous law,’ Jareth muttered. ‘It ought to be repealed. There is nothing to fear from humans.’
‘From your appearance and the appearance of your Kingdom, I would say that’s not an accurate assessment of their abilities.’ He ran a critical eye over Jareth’s person before casting an equally critical eye over the throne room. ‘A mere slip of a girl has defeated you. It’s appalling, simply appalling. Father would be furious.’
‘Let’s not bring father into this,’ Jareth growled.
‘Why not?’ Dart demanded. ‘He warned you over and over again that your fascination with the Aboveground would be your downfall, and he was right. You’ve disgraced your Kingdom and yourself. Not only that but you’ve forced me into a very awkward position. As High King I’m required to enforce the laws of the land, and you know the penalty for associating with humans. Bloody hell, Jareth,’ Dart exclaimed, swatting the air with his crop, ‘you didn’t just associate with her, you brought her to the Underground.’
‘Or so the rumor claims.’
‘Do you deny it?’
The question hung in the air for several minutes before Jareth finally answered. ‘I must first know what I’m being accused of before I can deny or affirm anything.’
‘Fair enough,’ Dart agreed, clasping his hands behind his back as he leaned back on his heels. ‘It’s been reported that the Goblin King stole a human baby…’
‘I didn’t steal it,’ Jareth interrupted. ‘I was asked to take it. In fact, she distinctly said ‘Goblin King! Goblin King! Wherever you may be, take this child of mine far away from me!’ What could I do?
‘What indeed,’ Dart snorted. ‘No one outside of the Underground is supposed to know those words. How could you give her such power?’
Jareth ignored his brother’s question, preferring to vent his indignation. ‘And little good it did me. The bloody girl changed her mind and demanded that I give it back.’
‘Why didn’t you?’ Dart demanded incredulously. ‘We have no use for human babies, especially one that was wished away. It must have been a bloody terror if its own kind didn’t want it any longer.’
‘I would have been a fool to give up my prize. How else was I to get what I wanted?’
Dart stared at him, his expression grim as he realized that his brother was guilty of everything the rumor had accused him of. He had brought not only a human baby to the Underground; he had brought a human girl as well and had allowed her to remain for several hours. In fact, he was getting the impression that Jareth had intended to keep the girl in the Underground indefinitely, which he must have known would be discovered and reported to the High King. What had he been thinking? Brother or not, the law was the law. There could be no favoritism.
‘You’re in love with the girl,’ Dart said flatly.
‘That’s irrelevant,’ Jareth snapped, jumping to his feet and stalking over to the wide windows overlooking the Goblin City. When it was said out loud like that, he felt like a bloody idiot. ‘She made her choice.’
‘What exactly did you offer her?’
‘Everything. All her dreams.’ There was a pause and then Dart heard what he thought was, ‘I asked for so little.’
It was such a sad, forlorn-sounding whisper that Dart felt slightly embarrassed for hearing it, and he wished that the unpleasant task of confronting his brother had not fallen to him. Although they had never been close, their kind didn’t indulge in familial affection, or any affection at all for that matter, he didn’t rejoice at his brother’s folly. In truth, he didn’t understand it, but he had never understood Jareth.
From an early age, he’d shown himself to be different. He’d been too inquisitive, too unpredictable, too reckless, and he’d had this alarming preoccupation with the Aboveground. Their father had forbidden the boy time and again from going to the world above, but Jareth had not listened, and now his defiance had led to his downfall. He had developed an unfortunate infatuation with a human, and Dart was forced to admit that he was at a lost to know what to do. Such things were beyond his comprehension.
Love for a human? It was inconceivable. Goblin Kings didn’t fall in love. They eventually married, of course, but only to ensure an heir to the throne. His own queen had been chosen for him at birth. Unfortunately, no heirs had been forthcoming before Aida had died in a hunting accident, and he was content to accept Jareth as his heir, but now that scenario was out of the question.
Damn the boy, Dart thought, scowling fiercely, thanks to Jareth’s foolishness, he would have to marry again to ensure an heir for the Kingdom.
The thought annoyed him excessively, and he turned on his brother, saying with a great deal of asperity, ‘Where was your head? You’re not a green boy any longer. You must have known that whether you succeeded or failed in your endeavor to obtain this girl, you could not avoid losing the Goblin Kingdom.’
Dart’s tone only added to Jareth’s seething anger. Yes, he had known the consequences, but he had still risked it all. Sarah had had no idea what he would be giving up for her, the ungrateful little brat. If he had won, he would have had Sarah, which would have made losing the Kingdom more acceptable, but as it was, he had lost. He had neither Sarah nor the Kingdom. It was a bitter pill, a pill he was increasingly unwilling to swallow.
‘I knew the consequences,’ he said through clenched teeth, his eyes fixed on the city below, its buildings still smoldering from the battle that Sarah and her friends had waged, ‘and I was prepared to forfeit the Kingdom.’
‘And what were you planning to do?’ Dart demanded. ‘A Goblin King without a Kingdom is like a goblin without chickens.’
‘The Underground is a large place. Your authority only extends to the Windsong Mountains.’
‘No one from our Kingdom has ever gone beyond the mountains.’
‘Then it’s about time someone did.’
‘So that’s what you’re intending to do?’
The thought was appealing to Jareth. Such an adventure would sooth his restless spirit, but as his brother had continued to questioned him, he became increasingly aware that he had unfinished business, and that business led in a different direction entirely. Although Sarah might have won the battle, the war was not over until he said it was over.
‘No,’ Jareth said slowly, thoughtfully, ‘not beyond the mountains.’
‘To the Aboveground.’
Dart felt like his head was going to explode. ‘Are you mad? Hasn’t that place caused you enough trouble? Let go of it, Jareth. Stay in your own world and forget that such a place even exists.’
‘It’s that bloody girl, isn’t it? Even after all of this,’ Dart stalked over to row of windows and waved his hand at the destruction below, ‘you still refuse to let her go. It’s over, Jareth. She won, and as you said, she made her choice.’
‘It’s not over until I say it’s over.’
Dart studied his brother’s hard expression. Jareth had always had a temper. That had been evident from the day he was born and screamed like a goblin with an empty beer mug, but this intensity, this obsession was something new. He wondered if the human girl knew what she had done when she had solved his labyrinth and made a fool of him. Did she know that she had been rejecting his love when she rejected his offer? Somehow Dart didn’t think so. She was young, and the young rarely understand the consequences of their actions.
‘I have the power to close the Aboveground to you.’
Jareth’s head whipped around, his eyes narrowing. ‘And why would you do that? It’s never been done before.’
‘None of my subjects have broken the law as you have.’ When Jareth remained silent, his lips tight with anger, Dart continued, ‘As High King, I have responsibilities. I must consider what I’m unleashing on an unsuspecting world, not to mention an adolescent girl. Had I known what you were up to earlier, I might have prevented all of this.’ He sighed, running a gloved hand through his pale hair. ‘In some ways, you are still very much a child, Jareth. You want something, and you must have it. You must learn restraint, prudence, discipline. Only then will you be fit to be High King.’
‘I shall never be High King.’
‘No, you won’t,’ Dart snapped, his irritation flaring once more, ‘and because you didn’t consider your Kingdom worth keeping, because you thought only of your own immediate desires, you have forced me to remarry so an heir to the Kingdom can be obtained. Should I unleash such a man on this world, on this girl? A man with power far superior to that of humans?’
‘Then strip me of my power. I do not need it up there.’
Dart stared at him, amazed. ‘Revenge is that important to you?’
‘You should know the answer to that. Revenge is the way of our kind. It’s in our blood, our heritage. Goblin Kings do not accept defeat readily.’
‘But the girl is young, too young to realize what she has done.’
‘She is stronger than you think. Take a look around you, brother. Do you think an innocent waif caused such destruction?’
There was a long pause and then Dart said, ‘I will allow you to go to the Aboveground on one condition.’
‘You must promise to have no contact with the girl for ten years.’
Jareth’s eyes flashed. ‘No…’
‘Listen to me,’ Dart said, cutting across his objection, ‘the girl is young, hardly more than a child. She must be given the opportunity to mature. Only then will she be a worthy opponent. Besides, I doubt very much that her parents will allow a man your age anywhere near their daughter. You may find yourself in jail.’
Jareth considered his brother’s words. Child or not, Sarah was already a worthy opponent, but it would be wise to bide his time, to make preparations, to plan. There must be no hope of her escaping his trap this time. On their first meeting, he had been generous. He had fashioned his labyrinth to please her, to meet her expectations. On their next and final meeting, he did not intend to be generous. He intended to show her just how cruel a scorned Goblin King could be.
‘Very well,’ Jareth agreed. ‘Ten years and no longer.’
Dart knew it was the best he was going to get. Personally, he felt revenge upon the girl wasn’t worth the trouble, but Jareth had spoken correctly. It was the way of Goblin Kings to seek revenge upon their enemies, and he could not fault Jareth for that. He had done what he could to even the playing field. The rest was up to the girl. If she’d been a formidable opponent at sixteen, what would she be at twenty-six?
‘You are expected to appear before the High Council in a fortnight to hear your sentence.’
‘Is that necessary? We already know the outcome.’
‘Yes, it is,’ Dart replied, his voice sharp. ‘There are formalities and traditions that must be maintained. At that time, the Goblin Kingdom and your powers will be stripped from you. Should you decide to return to the Underground, your powers will be restored. Your Kingdom, however, is lost forever.’ Dart stared at his brother for a moment or two longer and then added, ‘I sincerely regret what the law had compelled me to do, but you knew the consequences when you embarked upon this venture. Nevertheless, I do wish you good fortune in the life you’ve chosen. Goblinspeed, Jareth.’
In a whirl of sparkling light, the High King became a large, white eagle and soared out the window. Jareth watched as he disappeared into the reddish-orange horizon. He never expected to see his brother again, but he felt no regret, no sorrow. He had become accustomed to a solitary life. It was the way of Goblin Kings.
But you’re not longer a Goblin King, he reminded himself and was amazed at the odd sense of relief he felt. Ruling over a smelly horde of goblins had been a chore, and a bloody boring chore at that. In a fortnight’s time, he would for all intents and purposes be human. With no magic to assist him, he would be obliged to make a life for himself. His spirits lifted as he contemplated the challenge before him.
And then there was Sarah. Ten years seemed like a bloody eternity, but he recognized the wisdom in waiting. He’d be in a much better position to carry out his revenge for he would have time to establish himself, to make preparations and Sarah? He smiled, eyeteeth flashing. She would be completely unsuspecting.