He knew. Either he saw through her enchantment or her woodsmoke magic never truly wrapped itself around him, never plunged into his lungs and ordered his every breath.
That’s what she thought when he gifted her with a magnificent birdcage of filigree gold, owls wrought into its work, golden leaves so real you could almost feel autumn’s light through them. A test. A gift for her being with child.
He had one of his undead courtiers, reanimated by her hands after that fateful night, bring it into their rooms and he asked her what she thought of it.
“Do you like it, my sweet?”
He crawled back to where she was lying in bed, he’d told her he loved her hair, could spend hours combing his fingers through it, twirling it round his fingers, draping it lovingly over her throat, now a noose gliding against the tender back of her neck, and wrapped it round front again, tightened it. Her hot cheek pressed to the cold smooth silk of his pillow. But never nothing beyond that, something always stopped him. The child within her, perhaps?
Children are precious to the fae or so the stories go.
As she tended to the birds in their cages at her cottage – so important to have a room of one’s own – she pondered over whether or not she cared that he knew and came to the conclusion that nothing really changed if he did.
Her red breasted birds sang louder than ever, fear gave them breath for she had been gone and they thought their fate was sealed.
And over in his castle in the middle of the labyrinth she could see through her spyglass that he, too, fretted, breast unmarred for now, no song that she can hear from where she stood.
One of her birds had stopped singing all together. Sarah hated it when that happened, as if the loss of hope could touch her somehow. She looked into the hauntingly human eyes of the red breasted robin she’d once known as a smith’s apprentice.
She went to visit her friend the Spider, who already awaited her at the entrance to her cave. A confection of delicate black spindly limbs, a fearful symmetry, the pale, pale underbelly. She gazed at Sarah though her many, many eyes.
“I’ve brought you something,” Sarah said, proffering the caged robin.
“A fine meal,” the spider said, artfully involving him with her spinners in more and more restrictive lace fine enough to make a princess green with jealousy.
“I’m pregnant,” Sarah revealed to her friend.
“Pregnant? My condolences,” replied the spider.
“Why so?” Sarah asked, amazed for once.
“Every spider knows her pregnancy is her end. You’ll find yourself devoured by your children. It’s the price of motherhood.”
“Oh,” said Sarah pensively. “It’s not really like that with humans. For starters, the baby is likely to be one alone.”
“Well,” said the spider. “In that case, without competition, I can assure you that the baby will end up devouring you whole. Oh, it may not be a devouring as it were, were it a hundred spiders, but it’ll take over your life, and crush your dreams, and steal everything that made you yourself. Steal every moment you had to yourself. And you’ll no longer be Sarah. You’ll be the baby’s mother.”
Sarah stopped and pondered on what her friend the spider had said and how it rang of truth, even though she did want her child.
“But what about the father?” Sarah asked.
“The father?!” The spider said scandalised. “You mean to tell me you let him live? No wonder you look so wan. You need sustenance to provide for your spiderling.”
“Oh, look!” Sarah said. For a prince, a very gallant one, was making his way towards the tourmaline at the exact centre of the spider’s web.
“Oh, we’ll be eating well tonight!” said the spider.
Next Sarah visited the nymphs. But both the tree nymphs and the water nymphs gave her the same answer: they had never had children. They appeared fully formed in their rivers, in their lakes, in their trees fully formed. Father river would make them. They were all sisters. They cared not for this repulsive reproduction of the lesser species of which Sarah spoke.
It was the trolls that gave her the answer.
“Pregnant?” asked one of the trolls.
“Congratulations!” said another.
“May it be the biggest baby we’ve ever seen!” They blessed her, even if Sarah privately hoped for this blessing to shatter like ice into the river at the beginning of Spring.
“But,” Sarah insisted, “What about the father?”
“The father?” The trolls looked at each other. “What about the father? He has nothing to do with it anymore. You don’t need the father.”
And with these thoughts she crossed the labyrinth and went back to Jareth’s rooms. She stood admiring the birdcage when he took her in his arms. She caressed his sharp necklace resting upon his chest and thought how easy it would be to pierce his heart, leave it red and bleeding, turn him into a bird, her most prized possession in its rightful cage. Knowing him he would keep quiet out of spite, but he would be the prettiest, prettiest thing she’d ever owned.
“Look my sweet,” he said. “Look what I brought you.”
And she saw all her old books, all her old dolls brought into the nursery meant for their child.
“Let us hope our little princess is as full of life, stubbornness, and cruelty as you,” Jareth said.
But every heartbeat on her throat was like a mantra of ‘You don’t need the father.’
However he had been kind. He had been so kind. She might as well see where all of this would take them.
Sometimes, yes, sometimes, Sarah would look at the birdcage while playing with her so very fey daughter. She would look at the clouds outside, pregnant with rain and soon to be rid of their burden, and Sarah would long, and Sarah would hunger.