Richard noticed that he could smell the contents of the basin, the sweat and body odors of the guards and Soldat, and even the stone and the plants growing in the cracks but not the Goblin King. He wasn't sure what to make of it.
Jareth continued to stare at him for a few moments. Richard felt as if he were covered in grit and goblin snot. He could see how neat the king's Byron-styled clothes were and knew his own to be travel stained with red brick mud stains and sweat. His tall black boots were spotless, while Richard's shoes were old and worn and now covered in dirt and splatters of mud and blood. The king's hair was perfectly groomed; Richard hadn't combed his all day. Well, I've always been a slob; so what's new? he thought defensively as he twitched his fingers for his wand and was again reminded of its absence.
He patiently waited a moment longer and then turned and headed to the door with the orb on it. A glass spider scampered across its top, spinning out a glittering strand as it went. Far off, the castle played a simple, unfamiliar melody.
Jareth broke his silence. "You chose the door to Certain Death," he said in an accusatory tone. He Vanished the orb and folded his arms as he leaned against the wall behind him.
Richard then noticed the bias relief of boomslang curled on the left-hand door. The other door had what looked like a twisted ribbon or road. Dunderhead, he silently chided himself. He turned back to him with a shrug of his shoulders and answered him a wry smile, "I'm mortal, so every door I choose leads to certain death."
Jareth continued to stare at him. "What if you are not? Your father could be anywhere, from any universe. Any girl could be your sister; any man, your brother. Do not give me that look-I am not your father." He gave a dramatic wave of his black-gloved hand. "You are not even aware of what your house-elf is."
Richard refrained from a small snort. "And I suppose you know? Granted, Chaucer is a bit unusual, but he was raised in a factory, not a house."
Jareth looked at him darkly and started to pace the flagstones. His black boots made no sound. "Chaucer is to a house-elf what a Keazle is to a house cat; he is a kobold. I have a place for him in my kingdom. He would be treated kindly and have far more opportunities than what there is in your universe."
Richard thought of the king as a cat about to pounce. His fingers twitched for his wand, and he cursed himself for being without it.
His expression changed to an almost smile. "Tell him to stay with me, and I will give you everything you have wanted to know about your father-if he is alive, who he is, where he is. And as for your mother-finding him may even restore her memory. Perhaps there may even be a happy reunion." He stopped pacing. His mismatched eyes sparkled, but there was an opaqueness behind them.
Richard said nothing as he sensed that there was more to the bargain than he was hearing.
The goblin king looked kindly upon him. "And as you would know your father, you would no longer be a Merlin and all the problems that are inherent with the title." He raised his inhuman eyebrows. "And you have experienced many of them, I am sure. No more possessions, no more blood stealing, no more attempts on your life." He gave a little sweet-sounding sigh. "And you would know if you have siblings, especially who your sister or sisters would be. It would make the 'dating' process-such an odd word-much more easier, much more pleasant," he said with a slight leer.
Richard felt a tightness in his jaw and in his chest as the other probed at his fears; he forced himself not to change his expression or his posture.
The goblin king smiled at him. "Perhaps Chaucer would rather be here. Summon him and ask."
Richard folded his arms and stood his ground. "Chaucer is with the children, or so you said," Richard said evenly. "I understand I am under a time constraint; unless that has changed, I would rather be on my way. You haven't seen my wand lying about, have you?"
"You could stay here, in this universe," the goblin king said, ignoring the question as he stepped past the man. He waved at his surroundings. "There is plenty for you to do, a whole new world to explore, and there would be many rewards for your work," he said smoothly. He walked around him until he caught Richard's eye. "I can guarantee you that in this universe, you have no siblings." He finished with a smirk, his eyes glittering.
"And Alice Longbottom would be short one Healer," Richard responded in a carefully casual tone.
The smirk disappeared as Jareth's cheek muscle twitched. "Yes. Then you had best be on your way." He started to walk away from Richard and toward a blank wall but stopped and turned. "Forgive me; I have been a thoughtless host," he said in a no-nonsense tone of voice. "Sorg is not here to remind me of my duties," he said with a sigh and a slight shake of his head. "It has been hours since you arrived-I am sure you are quite starved." He tossed the orb up into the air and caught it; it had turned into a peach. He held it out to Richard, who took it with some reluctance.
Other than the fact that he didn't trust the giver, peaches gave him gastric reflux. It gave him some odd comfort though, that the peach felt real, smelled real; unfortunately, it also reminded him that the last thing he'd eaten was sour-tasting murtlap. "Thank you," he said politely, hoping to get rid of it without the king's knowledge.
The king gave a regal smile and then gave a slight frown as he looked behind the man. "Are you going to leave that mess?" he asked pointedly.
Richard glanced back and saw the basin of walnuts and blood sitting where he had left them. He turned to reply, but the king was gone.
He sighed as he ran his hand through his hair. When will I learn? he wondered. His lungs hurt, as if he'd been holding his breath for a long time. "Soldat, if I had my wand, I could take care of this, but as I don't-you wouldn't know where it would happen to be, do you?"
Soldat shook his head no.
"Well, would you please take care of this?" he asked.
The goblin, looking very green, trudged forward and picked up the basin and the ewer.
"Thanks. And here's a peach for your troubles," Richard said. Just as he said it, he realized that the goblin's hands were full.
Soldat looked helplessly at the wizard.
"I'll...I'll just leave it here," he added as he carefully placed it on the ground. "Any ideas or suggestions on how I can get through faster?" he asked.
Soldat shook his head "no" as if he were terrified.
Richard studied Soldat for a moment longer but the other just stared back. "Well, thanks," Richard said and turned back to the doors. "Any last words?" he asked them.
"Uh, thank you?" one of the heads said. The others nodded their agreement. "Bad luck," one with an obelisk said, but Richard decided to take it as a "good speed" wish.
"You're welcome," he replied as he pulled open the door with the orb on it open and passed through and into another sandstone passage which went into what seemed to be a large industrial area.
Goblins of various sizes and colors were busy at work, making armor for biped animals and themselves, carts, weapons and household items. Every where he looked he saw something else to fascinate him. He tried with little success not to stare, even though many stopped what they were doing to stare at him. (Richard tried waving back at them when he realized it, but he felt silly doing so.) Some goblins reminded him of ones he knew in Yorkshire. (He'd visited them and got their version of the goblin and wizard wars, whose accounts made his school papers very interesting but lowered his grade.) He could smell the wood of the buildings, the dung of the animals and the sweat and leather of the goblins. Even iron and copper had their tangy scents in the air.
He wondered if he should ask for directions to the castle but decided against it as he didn't know if they'd been ordered to steer him wrong. The castle played a marching tune which made the traveling easier. He could smell cooking fires and saw some goblins standing around a food stand. He realized that he was very hungry and thought about the peach again.
Suddenly he remembered something and stopped in his tracks to focus his thoughts: He imagined himself back in his "History of Magic" class. Dust motes danced in the sunbeams that made Professor Binns disappear as he drifted back and forth through them in the otherwise dark classroom.
"Do not eat nor drink anything while in another universe, that is from that universe" the ghostly professor said as the chalk on the board wrote: The Persephone Principle.
"At best, you will simply get a bite to eat, or curb your thirst. However, in many cases, the traveler is tied to that universe and may not be able to leave unless somehow rescued, if then. Or, having left, must, like Persephone, to Hades, return. At worse, there are poisons that may even be fatal. The few exceptions to the Persephone Principle are not worth mentioning. Further information will be awaiting those who are recruited to becoming Unmentionables by the Ministry of Magic. Interesting enough," he continued in his reedy monotonous voice, "what is now known as the Rip Van Wrinkle Effect..."
The children! he thought, horrified. Would Chaucer know not to feed them?
He almost called the house-elf but feared to do so. Chaucer knows what to do, he thought, trying to convince himself not to panic.
A few goblins walked by and peered up at him but said nothing.
The damage may have already been done, he thought ruefully as he started to walk and then hurried through the place.
High on a ridge over-looking the industrial district, the Goblin King stood with his minion, watching Richard go through the maze of buildings and warehouses. He had three orbs spinning in one hand while while from the other he released a third into the air. He looked down at the goblin who was still holding the peach.
"Go," he ordered mercilessly.
Richard could see a cart road ahead and beyond, the walls of what he suspected to be the walls of the Goblin City. The overcast sky had changed color beyond it into a dark smokey gray.
As he hurried he heard a familiar voice shout, "Guardian! Guardian!"
What does Soldat want now? he wondered, stopping to look around.
The little squat goblin huffed and puffed as he ran out from behind a shed.
"The king gave this to you, not me. I'll get in trouble if I eat it. He'll think I stole it," Soldat whined, handing him the peach.
"I can't eat that," Richard said.
"Don't they have peaches where you come from?" Soldat asked, continuing to whine. "What's wrong with eating this?"
The tone set Richard's teeth on edge. "Yes, they do have peaches there, and I don't eat them there, either."
The little goblin's eyes looked at him in shock. "Are they poisonous? Do they taste bad? Is it forbidden?"
Walnuts! I've got to get away from him! Richard fumed silently. A small crowd was starting to circle them, all staring at him. He got very uncomfortable.
"No, they're actually very good, it's just that I-"
"Then eat the peach!" the goblin screamed. He jumped up and pulled the man down, forcing the fruit into his mouth, causing its flesh to scrape again his teeth.
Stunned at first, Richard tried to fight him off, but Soldat had grabbed his hair and pulled his head back. The peach juice dripped down the back of his throat and out of the sides of his mouth. He started to choke, but Soldat pushed harder and then grabbed his thoat. Reflexes kicked in, and he swallowed. He could feel his Adam's apple against the goblin's open hand. He swallowed again, and the goblin released his grip and jumped back. Richard went weak and collapsed to his hands and knees. There was a familiar bitter after-taste. He saw the ring of goblins peering at him as if through a rainbow-hued sheet of glass and far-away, Soldat's voice snarl, "Back to work, everyone. King's orders."
Where did that come from? Richard wondered at Soldat's sudden change. He tried to wipe the peach slime from his face, but his hand missed his head. He collapsed onto the ground. He found himself slipping into a memory of a long-ago potions class. The black-haired Potions Master stood before him, staring down at him with his fathomless eyes, waiting for an answer.
"Ingredients for The Draught of Living Death, Professor, sir, include asphodel in an infusion of wormwood; valerian roots, freshly chopped; the juice of a sopophorous bean that was crushed by the blade of a silver dagger..."
The professor's beaky nose and crooked teeth became bigger while his eyes and forehead and long black hair shrank back. He could see he was talking but he couldn't understand what he was saying-he sounded like an underwater merman. His vision blurred to shimmering rainbow swirls. Richard felt as if he were slowly falling forward and then he felt lighter as if he were rising and then he felt and saw nothing at all.