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With This Ring

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Bayard was good at waiting. He was old--older then even the labyrinth he lived in or the king that ruled them both. In fact, he was so old that most--all but his hat--had forgotten his name. Bayard did not overly mind being called Wise Man, so long as the people who called him that did not stay long. He had a nap to get back to, after all, and his hat tended to get… chatty with strangers.

And a chatty Hat was not a good hat.

Still, he liked his post. He had a nice chair in a nice hedge maze, with naught but a few goblin guards for company. Usually.

There was the matter some years ago of the wandering girl, but neither she nor her travelling companion stayed for very long. She asked for directions, Bayard spouted off some cryptic nonsense so she would leave, Hat chatted for a bit, and then Bayard could go back to his dreaming.  He supposed the young lady might even have thanked him, but he’d already fallen asleep by the point.

Bayard shook the collection box at his side; to his surprise, something rattled within.

“Oi, lazy bones! It’s about time you woke up. We are late !”

Bayard furrowed his brows and tried to look up at Hat, but succeeded only in making himself go cross-eyed.

“I will arrive… precisely… when I mean to… And not a second… before. Or… after,” he added as an afterthought. But, as loath as he was to admit it as he was, Hat was on the verge of being correct. Bayard’s three hundred year post was drawing to a close. And there was the small matter of the rattling in the collection box. Hmm…

He stood, ignoring the creaking of his old bones and the theatrics of Hat, who was telling him he should have taken up something called yoga several years ago, which Bayard did not like the sound of at all. It sounded like work, and Bayard did not like work. Which was precisely why he liked his post so much.

Ah, well. Perhaps, if his king had no other use for him once he returned the favors, he might permit Bayard to return.

With thoughts of dreaming in his chair floating through his head, he shuffled off in the direction of the castle.

Perhaps he might even have a nice cup of tea, if it would not keep him up for too long afterwards. It was something to think of while he blocked out the noise of Hat, who complained about how boring their post was the whole way to the castle.


 

“Let me pass, young goblin,” Bayard wheezed out at the little creature blocking his way into the castle. “There are… urgent matters I must attend to… with the king.”

The goblin looked up at him and adjusted his too-large helmet.

“Password!” The goblin crowed, looking immensely proud of itself. “Password, or no entrance!”

“Listen here, you little--”

“Hat,” Bayard cautioned, feeling his hat swaying angrily on his head. “Mind… your words.”

“Mind my words! By my right saggy--no! Mind my words! I want to complete this task so I don’t have to spend another minute on your dull head! And I swear, I’ll peck the stuffing out of anything that stands in my way! Including you, old man!”

And for good measure, Hat rapped the top of Bayard’s skull with his beak. Bayard let out a long-suffering sigh, having long ago lost the ability to feel Hat’s futile attacks.

“You had better let us through… I suppose… Young goblin,” Bayard said, folding his hands in his sleeves.

The goblin looked between Bayard and Hat several times, rubbing the area on its skull that Hat had hit on Bayard’s.

“Suppose that’s good enough,” it said with a shrug before turning and taking off into the castle. It screeched Bayard and Hat’s arrival, making Bayard wince at the noise and setting Hat off into another furious tirade.

Ah, how Bayard longed to go back to sleep...


An hour later, Bayard finally made it up the stairs to his king’s throne room. It was in shambles, which seemed to be the usual order of things. Bayard thought back to his quiet chair with a wistful sigh.

“Who in all of the Underground are you? ” His king asked, lounging on his throne. “I had no meetings scheduled today,” he continued, sounding as if the very idea of scheduling anything was a horrific act. Bayard cleared his throat and withdrew the collection box from deep within his robes.

“Three hundred years ago… I was tasked… by your lordship… to collect the favor of ladies… who might be interested in courtship…. With yourself.”

Jareth looked shocked.

“Ayi-yi-yi-yi! What he isn’t mentioning is that it’s been three hundred and two years!” Hat added with an angry shake. “And he was asleep for two of them straight!”

“Hmmm,” Bayard grumbled. “Not… true.”

“Is too! And I had to sit there staring at the same bit of shrubbery the whole time! Nary a thought between your ears the whole time!”

“Listen here, Hat…”

“What I wouldn’t have given for a chess game. Or even checkers! A peg game! Anything!”

“We must all sometimes…”

Jareth tapped his foot impatiently.

“Do things… that sometimes call for… Sacrifice…”

“I’ll show you sacrifice!” Hat squealed, nearly tipping himself off of Bayard’s head.

The last of the Goblin King’s patience ran out.

“Silence!” He ordered. “Since it is clear that you have collected nothing, be on your way. You are released from your duties.” Jareth flicked his hand at Bayard, signaling that he should make himself scarce. But Bayard was never very good at picking up on cues, and so he shook his head.

“Not so, young man. There was… a girl. She left… This.” Bayard tipped the box upside down, tossing the ring out onto his outstretched hand. It was a thin golden band, with a tiny ruby set into the center. “A small courting gift… to be sure. But one nonetheless.”

Jareth rubbed his temples with his fingertips.

“Well, then throw it out,” he said, exasperated with the conversation. “I doubt she even remembers leaving it.”

“Ah… That would be… a grave breach of courtesy…” Bayard sighed. “And… if I might ask… if you were only going to… throw out the favors… why post me at all?”

Hat remained strangely silent.

“To get you out of my hair, of course. You and your protocols and courtesy and rules .” Jareth frowned at Bayard. “But you are here now, with that… thing . Tell me, what must I do to get you out of my hair again?”

Bayard attempted to cough discreetly at his king’s lack of manners, but his harrumph echoed through the room.

“You must either... accept or decline... by keeping the favor…”

“With some semblance of speed, if you will,” Jareth bit out.

“He’s always like this,” Hat supplied mournfully. “Ah, so boring! These past three hundred years have been a torture!”

“... Or returning it to the lady. Once this task is done… you will both either be… Bound or released… according to your decision…” Bayard paused, and then poked his hat. “And that is enough… out of you! My king… if my post is to be done… do I have my freedom? May I return… to the maze?”

“Yes, yes,” Jareth said, waving his hand at Bayard. “Whatever it is that you wish. Just give me the damned ring so that I can be done with this matter.”

Bayard sighed happily and dropped the ring into his king’s outstretched hands. He looked on, devoid of surprise, as his king disappeared.


Sarah stirred her coffee idly, flipping through the magazine on her kitchen table. Saturday mornings were her time to relax; she didn’t have to be at work, which was a welcome relief. Sarah appreciated a lazy Saturday, and had been looking forward to a day filled with nothing all week.

And then, in an explosion of magic dust, all her hopes of an uneventful day were shattered. She blinked up at the Goblin King, who stared back at her. He looked furious, and Sarah couldn’t figure out why. She hadn’t wished any babies away. Had she? She did  talk in her sleep sometimes…

But her just-waking-up mind couldn't think of another reason.

“Oh,” she observed sadly, suddenly distracted. “You’ve gotten it all in my coffee. Whatever it is.” She gave her coffee one last stir, choosing to ignore the Goblin King for the moment. So early in the morning, she could only handle one crisis at a time, and her coffee took priority as its loss hit her the hardest.

Jareth leaned over her modest kitchen table and dropped something into her mug, adding insult to injury. Whatever it was, it clinked against the bottom of her mug.

“Hey!” She protested. “What gives you the right-!”

“I decline ,” he bit out, and as soon as he was there, he was gone. Sarah swirled her coffee one final time, fishing out the mystery object with her spoon. It was the small golden ring her mother had given her, and then she passed on to that helpful old man in the Labyrinth. But why on earth would the Goblin King have it?

Oh well. She dropped the ring on her table and went to pour herself a fresh cup of coffee.