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14 April 2007 @ 03:24 pm
Seasons Change, and the Scenery (Weaving Time In a Tapestry Remix) [Labyrinth; Hoggle]  
Title: Seasons Change, and the Scenery (Weaving Time In a Tapestry Remix)
Author: Kernezelda
Summary: Now and then, there and back again.
Rating: G
Fandom: Labyrinth
Warnings: N/A
Spoilers: Only character peripherals
Disclaimer: Henson's creatures, not mine.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Seasonal Work by mistraltoes
Notes: Thanks to my betas, somedaybitch and sugargroupie, for telling me what did and didn't work.


Seasons Change, and the Scenery


long ago and far away

The fifth time, it was a red-haired girl who ran the Labyrinth.

Hoggle found her in one of the summer copses, cowering in a moss-covered log. He crept up behind her in the dimness, let the tips of his fingers guide him through the hollowed interior. Shallow, silent breaths filled his nose and mouth with a dark, fusty scent. His feet sank deep into rotted wood and soft earth. Outside, Fireys leaped and sang, crawled over and around her hiding place. Their shrill voices called her ‘sister’ and invited her to dance, to jig and jape as they did.

Huddled with her arms wrapped around herself, she looked like a feral child, long curls lank over her face, twigs and leaves caught in her hair. Her eyes widened like a frightened animal’s when Hoggle wriggled up alongside her. His small chain of jewels lay hidden in his vest for quiet’s sake. When he offered to lead her out of the Labyrinth, she nearly crushed his hand.

Hoggle guided her along an underground passage, his own firm, even steps accompanied by her limping shuffle and the swish of her wool skirt when its torn hem swept the floor. He pushed open the door to the outside, to sepia sunlight and dry air. The girl shrieked and rushed forward. She stopped as suddenly, whirled and reached for the door that had already slammed shut. Bitten nails dragged down the carved surface, left darker streaks in place of crystalline dust and cobwebs. Leaning against the thick western wall, eyes closed, she pressed her temple into grey stone and crumpled to the ground.

Hoggle kept moving until he reached the small, square pond near the entrance. He picked up a hand-sized rock. It was irregular, smooth in his palm, a good weight. Behind him, the girl’s breathing hitched and stuttered. Hoggle dropped the rock and listened to the splash, crouched down and found a stick to smack against floating leaves. He didn’t want to hear that weeping, the heavy sobs of failure. He didn’t turn. He’d seen it before.

A shadow rose up and joined his on the water. Jareth’s voice lilted. The girl’s slurred and ran fast, words tumbling in fear, anger, desperation. Hoggle turned only when silence resumed. Out of time, out of pleas, her hands hanging limp and pale in the valley of her coarse skirt, she stared at the Goblin King with red, swollen eyes, mouth slack. This one was older than the last, but the slump of narrow shoulders was the same, the drooping head.

Defeat.

The ruler of the Labyrinth rose from a crouch. He turned his back on the girl. Hoggle didn’t wait for her to fade away, but kept his eyes on Jareth. If he’d learned one thing in his sixty–odd years of service here, it was to turn a keen eye on his employer. The King’s moods ran like water. This time, the bi-colored eyes were half-closed, filmed with ice, the wide mouth drawn thin and nostrils flared.

“That one was hardly worth the effort.” He slapped his thigh, sighed, then glanced down at Hoggle. “Here.” A tiny shimmering bubble popped up between his thumb and forefinger. Jareth flicked it into the air, and a ball of shining crystal spun down between them. Hoggle’s thick fingers closed around it. When he opened them, a clear dark ruby rested in his palm. His breath caught as the facets twinkled dimly under the false sun.

He looked up, hand closing and drawing back against his chest. “Thank you, Your Maj--”

Hoggle was alone once more.

*

(Men sell not such in any town)

Goblins short and tall flooded the market, squirming between stalls, popping up under tables, clanking and creaking and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Hoggle sighed from his spot at the far end of the square. The pesty things hadn’t seen him yet, and he was on Jareth’s business, even if his employer never paid any mind to exactly how the Labyrinth maintained itself. Perhaps he thought it was magic. Hoggle stifled a sour smile and slapped his silver firmly onto the counter. Magic, yes, but also a lot of time and effort by one busy dwarf and a few of the slightly more intelligent maze-dwellers.

Audra never lifted a finger in her neck of the woods, that was certain. Always piling up junk, killing the flowers and stunting the bushes under mounds of trash. Never had a good thing to say to anybody, that one, with her sly eyes and twisty hands.

The door keepers had plenty to say, though. Went on and on to Hoggle about their allergies and how unkempt the grass grew amongst the paving, and how the creepers sometimes twined right up their knockers when the wind was right.

Hoggle used to have more time to chat, but the Labyrinth grew bigger every year. That’s why he was at the trade fair again this year, trying to recruit helpers who’d actually help, instead of flitting off to flirt with the wind-lasses over on the far side of the valley, and rarely turning up when it was time to weed the Bog’s climbing vines. Dirty work, tiring, and never had there been invented a device or spell to deaden the senses against the near-lethal stench of the place. But it was his job, the duties he’d taken on almost a century ago, just another part of keeping the maze tame. Left to itself, the Labyrinth would grow wild, the creatures within, too, all bound together.

The kobold behind the counter handed over two chits, silvery lettering on pale parchment, hard to make out. Elvish stuff, pretty but tricky. Hoggle examined the contracts closely, felt the paper for anything sticky or slick, for any writing too small to read. “They look all right,” he finally judged, and turned his attention back to the creatures squeezing past the vendor to stand before him in the street.

One was slim and dark, a shadow under the sun, yellow cat’s eyes narrowed. The other scratched his head with craggy hands, blinking down at Hoggle and shifting slowly from foot to foot. “You’ll do,” Hoggle sighed. He nodded to the stall-keeper and gestured for the new workers to follow as he limped toward the apothecaries’ stalls.

The goblins had spread from the eastern part of the market by now, howls and cackles joining the chorus of merchants hawking their wares, people calling to each other across the square. It wasn’t often the goblins left their demesne en masse, so it was likely that the King was abroad today.

Hoggle didn’t particularly want to see his master, but looking like he didn’t only led to excruciating interviews with the Labyrinth’s spoiled ruler. Hoggle remembered the last time Jareth had come to market, searching for the human devices he fancied. Even now, ‘gramophones’ filled the castle with raucous music. One thoughtless remark the summer before, just a few words about the noise, and Hoggle’d been dropped into one of the more unpleasant oubliettes for a week. Though he’d been given a basket of bread and wine to sustain him, it hadn’t been pleasant down in the darkness, with only the Helping Hands and False Alarms for company. Hoggle didn’t intend to repeat the experience.

He wondered sometimes over his toast and eggs if Jareth remembered life before he’d come to Faerie. It was no secret he’d once been a stolen human infant himself, since no Goblin King had been a true goblin in the past millennium. Maybe his cravings for human company and human things were signs that he was growing weary of his ill-visaged charges, of his separation from the Court that so rarely remembered his existence. Or maybe Jareth was just bored, his days stretched thin beneath the hollow hills.

Hoggle didn’t often ponder his employer’s existence; it was enough to be left alone to do his work, to bring growing things from the earth, even as strange an earth as that in the Labyrinth. The fruit that grew there was often equally strange, sometimes dark and bitter, favored by the goblins, sometimes bright and sweet, to take to market and sell. Goblins gathered it in baskets and carried it away, distasteful of blushing peaches and plump strawberries, rich plums and golden pears, a bounty unmatched. Hoggle refused to think about the wasted figures that drifted in the orchards and gardens, luminous spirits whose immaterial hands grasped uselessly at scarlet apples weighing down branches, raspberries full and heavy, blueberries falling to burst and bleed their ripe juices into fertile soil.

Every year after the harvests, Hoggle canned fruit and made jam. Jams and jellies, sweet and tart and every flavor in between. If he didn’t watch himself, he could sit in his comfortable rocking chair for hours, a plate of thick-spread toast at hand, daydreaming by the fire, or staring out the window of his cottage, seeing… other places, other times, memories and dreams as clear as day, as real as anything else in the Goblin King’s domain.

It wasn’t often he allowed himself that luxury. It pleased him more to see the colorful rows of jars on his shelves, real and heavy, enough to last until the next harvest, enough to offer a libation to any god he cared to name, or to raise a prayer for every lost soul he counted. Not that he counted. What the goblins did was the goblins’ affair; Hoggle’s job was to keep the Labyrinth in good order, and to do his King’s bidding.

It wasn’t a bad life. Between dreams and magic, he had no lack of amusement or distraction when he wasn’t busy with his work. And if it wasn’t the life he’d imagined as a youth of five and thirty, it was the choice he’d made when he left his home behind. Both times. There wouldn’t be a third.

*

neither here nor there

No dwarf ever lost her child,” he muttered. “No elf either, for that matter.” Even the fairies kept track of their offspring, little winged gits that they were. It was humans, mortals blessed with fecundity far beyond that of any other race, who lost their children, who asked for them to be taken.

Hoggle didn’t have any sympathy for the simpering miss nattering at his employer, no matter how she widened her eyes and flapped her lashes and wrung her long-nailed hands. That was a human woman for you, lose a thing precious as a child and then expect everyone else to take up for her.

But Jareth wanted to play with a pretty mortal, so here Hoggle was, tramping about ankle-deep in glittering snow. The foolish girl was up the hill from the north entrance. He stomped toward her, and his mouth twisted as he eyed her lace and velvet dress, the jewels in her dark hair, her thin slippers. Her eyebrows rose when she noticed him, a little vertical line forming between. “You are the aid I was promised?”

“Ain’t no aid been promised you,” Hoggle denied, sure of that as he’s been of anything during his stint in the Labyrinth. The Prince had his moods and his moments, but he never made it easy when he chose to play. Hoggle rubbed his knee, pushed down the old ache and kept his face stern. After near fifteen decades of service, he wasn't going to take sass or lip from any of the King’s distractions. “You goes through there.” He pointed to the doors on the northern wall.

The girl stared over his head, blue eyes narrowed. “I see nothing. Do you seek to trick me, little man?” Her left hand clenched, her right clasping her midriff. Her voice rang with steel, a pale imitation of a Seelie Queen. For an instant, Hoggle remembered another clear blue gaze, a voice softer and deeper. A pang shot through his heart, but the pain was nearly sweet, a familiar ache he’d borne more than half his life.

His spine stiffened. He wasn’t master here, but he wasn’t this girl’s servant. “Use your eyes,” he snapped, gruff with disapproval. It took only a thought for the gates to yawn open. The human brushed past him, snow clinging already to her hem, dotting her hair and shoulders.

When the Labyrinth shut itself behind her, Hoggle didn’t wish her good luck.

*

but that was another country

Maybe he did have too much pride for a ‘humble’ gardener. It might be that Linna was as far above him as her father said. Hoggle clenched his bright new cap in his fist and flung it to the ground. “He’s naught but a jumped-up cobbler himself!”

Vision blurring, his stoop and grab for the cap gained only fingers full of dirt. His second swipe captured the flimsy thing. He jerked it over his smoothed hair, jammed it down around his ears and scrubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. He could feel the weight of Linna’s stare from the parlor window.

He fingered the gemmed ring in his pocket. Sapphire for her eyes, ruby for her lips, onyx for her hair, set in a ring of white gold. He’d saved his earnings for it, a gift to plight his troth to the solid-boned dwarf beauty. Amidst the airy-fairy elves and all their kin, she was - she’d been earth and fire, and he’d warmed himself with thoughts of her. Of the future, they’d spoken but little, having time aplenty to settle arrangements. The ring slipped warm and smooth inside Hoggle’s sweating palm. For a moment, he thought of returning late that night, giving it to her in secret, the two of them fleeing away.

Linna was too sensible, though. Her spirit bent to silverwork, and where was there a better place to learn and master that art than where she was? He had come for the same reasons, to tend the most beautiful gardens in the worlds.

Hoggle turned and stumped down the cobbled street of the dwarf quarter. His face burned, his eyes hot and stupidly wet. He was a dwarf grown at seventy, too old for tears. Too old to smash his fists into the white stone of Linna’s gate without thinking of the consequences – pitying looks of passersby, tittering from the acquaintances he’d never named friends, once word spread. As it would, in the blink of a fairy’s eye.

With Hoggle’s position as one of the Queen’s own gardeners, a rare privilege for a dwarf in Faerie, Linna’s father should have welcomed his suit. Instead, he’d questioned Hoggle’s loyalty, suggested that if he’d leave his own folk for Faerie, he’d as easily leave Linna, fickle as a magpie. Stood at his door and looked down his nose. As if those dwarves who’d chosen to dwell under Oberon’s hand were any better because they’d been here a few hundred years instead of a few decades. As if they hadn’t left their own families behind to serve in the Seelie Court.

He kicked viciously at a loose grey cobble, an imperfection that wouldn’t exist in the better part of town – the elven homes of gloriously carved stone and supple trees, vines and carvings intermingling as though the rock grew in pace with the vegetation. Unlike most dwarves, Hoggle was one of the few who preferred open air and green plants to torch-lit halls underground, no matter how great or beautiful. He kicked again, and the hand-sized cobble shot forward.

He didn’t look up at the harsh “Oof!” Not until a crystal-tipped staff jabbed him in the chest. Hoggle lifted his head and snarled, then fell back with wide eyes at the sight of the Queen’s young protégé.

Prince Jareth sneered down, thin lip curled to expose sharp teeth. “Throwing rocks, little man?” His cloak swirled behind him, curling forward to snap its edges at Hoggle’s ankles. “For your sake, I hope there are no cats about. They do so like to play with their food.” The light that danced in his blue eye flared cold, and his brown eye shone with a steady, burning glare.

Hoggle’s mouth dried in an instant. He felt the warmth leave his face as blood drained away. No use to run, not from a prince of Faerie. He dragged his cap from his head and bent his neck, bowed deeply. “Your Highness… I didn’t see you, ah, how nice to see you…” He swallowed, kept his eyes on the pointed toes of the prince’s pristine leather boots. “If I’d known you were, ah, there, sir…”

“Oh, stop that sniveling.” A foot flashed forward to poke Hoggle in the chest. “Straighten up and tell me why I shouldn’t turn you into a toad this instant.”

“I tend Her Majesty’s gardens, sir. My name is Hoggle. I beg your pardon, Your Highness…” Voice trailing off, Hoggle sweated it out, thoughts scrambling in his skull. He fixed his eyes on the ground between the prince’s feet.

“Gardener?” Tap. Tap. Tap-tappity-tap. The staff’s metal-capped end jogged across the paving stones. “A toad seems a more fitting creature for my mother’s flowerbeds.”

Hoggle didn’t dare respond to the sour tone. Changeling or not, the Queen’s favorite had more than enough power to do as he wished.

“I somehow doubt you’re destroying the public street from eagerness to return to duty.” Curiosity flavored annoyance, and the crystal tip pressed against Hoggle’s shoulder. “Go on, Hogshead, explain yourself before I lose interest.”

One of Hoggle’s palms left a wet patch on his trousers, while his other clenched tight around Linna’s ring. “Hoggle, sir,” he dared. He glanced over his shoulder, saw that the street was empty of any living being. “I’m just on my way back home.”

A tall boot-heel scraped. Legs longer than Hoggle was tall bent until Jareth’s face hovered inches above Hoggle’s, brows drawn together as he pointed one long finger. “What is that you’re clutching in your pocket? Show me.”

Hoggle slowly pulled his hand free. His fingers uncurled reluctantly, revealing reddened circles of aching flesh where he’d gripped too tightly. Sapphire and ruby facets sparkled, onyx shone, and the white gold gleamed like silver under the warm sun. It was a jeweled ring fit for a modest dwarf woman, and it felt like nothing in his hand. He shoved it back into his pocket quickly.

The prince glanced from the ring to Hoggle’s face. “Oh, I see.” His lips curved faintly, half-sneer, half-sympathy. Hoggle didn’t trust that expression in the least. Jareth rose to his full height and stretched, rested the staff behind his neck and stared down at his unhappy audience. “Let me propose a deal, Hig--Hoggle.” He waggled an eyebrow when Hoggle didn’t immediately reply.

“You clearly need a way to forget about, well,” the elegant head tilted past Hoggle, “your difficulty here. Come work for me. I have need--” He broke off, grimacing. “Titania is sending me to take control of the Goblin Lands. I’ve seen the major attraction.” Jareth wrinkled his nose. “What the Labyrinth needs is a gardener’s skilled touch, and who better than one of the Queen’s own?” He grinned down, sharp-toothed. “What do you say? Better a toady than a toad, eh?”

Hoggle stared.

The prince’s white smile faded slightly. “You could laugh.”

Hoggle forced a wan chuckle. Jareth shook his head, the distance returning to his eyes. “Come to me in the palace if you want the job.” He stepped past without another word and continued on his way. The cape fluttered behind him, the snapping fabric snickering like a child as it knocked Hoggle’s cap loose.

Squatting down, Hoggle turned the jaunty little hat in his hands, his mind awhirl, the rejected, not-even-offered ring heavy in his pocket. Humiliation in the town would fade over the years. But dwarves had long memories, and pride burned behind his eyes. Linna would marry another. He’d see her, see the dwarf who would hold her hand, share her life.

Prince Jareth offered a challenge. A place where no one knew Hoggle. A place where he could work the soil and work out the hurt and anger that filled his heart. And maybe, in a few years, after he’d made his mark, he’d come back. See if Linna had waited, after all.

He shoved a hand in his pocket and squeezed the ring. It was too small to wear, but he’d just the thing at home, a sturdy length of silk to string it on. Hoggle set the cap firmly on his head and strode forward.

*

today

The voice from behind startled him. Hoggle jumped, gems rattling beneath his vest as he tucked his clothes together. Cheeks warm, he turned to face the speaker. It was the girl. She stared at him with wide eyes, fresh-faced and clean in trousers and shirt, what passed for human fashion nowadays. Long, dark hair shone, swirled around her shoulders. Hoggle frowned up at her. She was just the latest of half a hundred girls he’d seen Jareth bring to the Labyrinth, another bauble on a strand that stretched back more than two hundred years.

He thought of pride, lost chances, the lunch he’d miss (and probably supper, too), the sourness of time counted in a brat prince’s games with spoiled girls.

“Oh,” he said, caustic. “It’s you.”



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Kernezelda: hoggle remixkernezelda on April 30th, 2007 03:27 am (UTC)
:D Yay, surprised you! Did you suspect any fic was mine?

Also, you're making me blush. I'm very appreciative of your opinion. Thank you, and you're welcome!