by Sarah Callaghan
Karren watches as the train pulls up to the station platform. She walks down the platform, judging the speed of the train and the distance before it stops. She's not doing too bad today, only a few feet from the carriage door when it unlocks and the flood of commuters pours out onto the platform. She waits a minute for the doorway to clear and then she's up the steps and onto the train.
The train's remarkably empty for that hour of the morning. She finds a free seat in the middle of the carriage, looking with mild interest at the teenage boy sprawled opposite.
He's dressed head to toe in scruffy black, with long lanky blond hair, and an obscene message on his T-shirt. He's also fast asleep, his skin practically translucent in the bright morning sunshine that slants through the window, the heavy violet shadows under his eyes giving him a look of exhausted depravity. There's a large rucksack perched on the seat next to him. He's using it as a pillow.
He shifts slightly in his sleep, and Karren hears the muffled jangle of a chain, and keys.
The final door slams shut, and the whistle goes. The train pulls out of the station, continuing its daily journey to London Paddington.
"Excuse me miss, but I'm afraid you're sitting in my seat."
Karren looks up, puzzled, to see an elderly gentleman frantically waving a train ticket in front of her face. Sure enough, when she turns back to look at the slot in the headrest where such reserved signs are usually stuck, there one is. She's confused though, she hadn't noticed one there when she sat down. And she knows enough to look for such things.
Muttering a quick apology, she picks up her bag and moves across the narrow aisle of the carriage to another set of seats.
The elderly gentleman, dressed in the traditional three-piece pinstriped suit of the city banker, sits down in the seat she's just vacated and places his umbrella on the table. With a creak and a rustle he takes his carefully folded copy of the Financial Times out from under his arm, shakes it open and starts to read.
The boy stirs, sitting upright and yawning, showing off very white, very sharp teeth. He stretches, the backs of his slender hands nearly scraping the underside of the luggage rack that lines the sides of the carriage. With pale eyes he glares at the elderly gentleman sitting opposite him, and taps disdainfully on the body of the umbrella.
"There's no need for that," he says, yawning again.
The elderly gentleman looks at him for a moment, then reaches across the table, and moves the umbrella, so that it now lies lengthwise across the table, pointing towards the window.
"Thanks," says the boy, in a tone of voice indicating that he feels anything but grateful.
The gentleman turns the page in his paper, and in tones of upper class boredom says:
"Terribly sorry to discomfit you, old boy."
"Don't talk crap, Fabian." The boy scowls. "What are you waiting for?"
Fabian says nothing, merely reaching into the pocket of his jacket for a pen with which to do the crossword.
The sliding door separating the carriage from the rest of the train crashes open as two children of indeterminate age and gender scream through. Dressed in t-shirts and torn jeans, they have close-cropped ginger hair, and are doing their best to kill each other over possession of a bar of chocolate.
Doing their best impression of a riot, they run down the length of the carriage and back up again before eventually coming to rest by Karren's seat. One of them looks her up and down for a moment; then by some unspoken agreement, both sit in the empty seats directly opposite her. The one now sitting by the window gives up the fight for the chocolate bar, instead staring vacantly out the window while one finger industriously probes the inside of its nose.
The other just stares at her, feet swinging idly, but with increasing violence, under the table. Karren shifts in her seat to avoid the kicking feet, and the kid grins widely. It wears heavy metal braces.
Karren opens her book, and hides behind it. But she can still feel eyes upon her.
The train slows, and Karren looks up. But they're still in the depths of the countryside, and not due to get to London for another half an hour at least.
The elderly gentleman, Fabian, glances at his watch, smiles slightly, and puts his pen and paper away. The brat staring out the window looks at him questioningly, only to get thumped hard in the arm by its sibling.
The boy shoots Fabian a glance of pure malevolence.
"What's going on?" he hisses.
"You should know perfectly well, dear boy," says Fabian.
"My name," says the boy though clenched teeth, "is Jareth. Remember?"
"Of course, dear boy," Fabian says, unperturbed by Jareth's look of anger.
The train stops completely. A muffled announcement is made, but Karren isn't paying any attention. She's completely focussed on the drama that seems to be unfolding across the aisle.
Jareth is sitting bolt upright in his seat with a death grip on his rucksack, every muscle tensed and ready to bolt. In contrast, Fabian lounges back in his seat, legs crossed, idly tapping his fingers on the table.
The rhythm of it is starting to annoy Karren as well.
The two brats are literally hanging over the back of their seats, staring at the other two with their faces split by shark grins. Karren is reminded of a pair of half wild hunting dogs, straining against the leash.
"You're caught, dear boy," says Fabian, his fingers still beating an irregular tattoo on the table.
Jareth snarls at him wordlessly, hands clenching and unclenching on the table.
"I hate to admit it, for fear of stroking that colossal ego of yours, but you did lead us a merry chase. If it hadn't been for Siglind being stronger than you'd think..."
"You're all going to pay for this," hisses Jareth.
The transition is so quick it's almost imperceptible. The tapping stops and Fabian leans across the table, eagerness and lust for danger burning bright in his eyes.
"Just give me an excuse..." he breathes as his hand reaches for the umbrella.
Jareth licks his lips, sends a quick glance across and sees the kids practically slavering in anticipation. He looks down, stretching his fingers before clasping his hands in front of him on the table.
A silver ring catches the light for a moment, and glints.
Jareth doesn't look up while Fabian stares at him, obviously longing for him to make a move.
The moment stretches, and breaks. Fabian sits heavily back down in his seat, looking disappointed. Taking his hand away from the umbrella he once again reaches into an inside pocket of his suit, and produces a large piece of paper.
Unfolding it, he reads:
"Jareth, scion of House Eliuned, it is by order of the Summer Court of the Countess of Oxfordshire that you are to be returned forthwith to the tourney ground. There you are to face your trial, and submit to the judgment of the court for your crimes."
Jareth's face is frozen, and a terrible grey. All the while he twists the ring on his finger.
"If you do not submit," continues Fabian, "I have the authority to bring you in by whatever force I deem necessary. The Twins are my backup in this case, and they too are authorized to do the same. Though they may well be a little less particular when it comes to what state you're returned in."
The twins grin even wider, revelling in the threats and the fond look that Fabian throws in their direction.
Jareth says, his voice low:
"I assume it won't do me any good to protest my innocence?"
He is answered by a snort of disbelief from Fabian and an evil cackle from one of the twins.
"I thought as much," he says, then subsides into silence
With a lurch, the train gets underway again. Jareth, still looking down in submission, does not see the brief flicker of alarm flash through Fabian's eyes. Instead he asks, ever so quietly:
"Who's behind this?"
Fabian explodes in anger, standing up and sticking the point of his umbrella into Jareth's throat. Jareth gags, and flinches backwards. The headrest holds him in place, as he swallows uncomfortably.
"You are a Ravager, an Oathbreaker, an liar, cheat, swindler and coward! You will face you judgment in chains if necessary!"
Karren jumps up, grabs her bag. She's not going to hang around for this. But, quick as striking snakes, the two kids turn to stare at her, and, like snakes, their gaze paralyses her. Frozen in terror, she collapses back to her seat, clutching her bag to her like a shield.
Fabian takes a deep breath, looks around. Visibly mastering his rage he sits down again and lays the umbrella back on the table.
For a moment no one moves, then he turns to Karren. One fierce look and the kids are back to staring out the window. He smiles at her in what's obviously intended to be a reassuring manner.
"I do apologize miss. There's nothing to worry about, we'll be gone at the next stop. Nothing to worry about."
There's something soothing in his voice, and she nearly succumbs. Until she looks beyond him, and sees the pleading expression on Jareth's face.
"Help me," he mouths at her, as the train slows.
"Do you submit?" Fabian demands of Jareth, his voice harder and colder than ice.
"You can't touch me," Jareth says. "You know the rules. Not while she's here."
He looks at Karren. "Not as long as human memory endures. She's watching, and she'll remember."
"Only until the Mists come down," replies Fabian smugly. Suddenly harsh he demands: "Do you submit?"
"Never!" cries Jareth. He jumps to his feet, pulling the chain from his belt. The silver ring flashes from his hand and spins through the air to land in Karren's lap.
The world goes mad for a moment.
Fabian is no longer a city banker, now he's tall, and thin, dressed in brilliant silver armor and cloaked in purple and gold. A longsword lies on the table where the umbrella once lay, its tip stained by the touch of blood.
The Twins are still there, but their mouths are full of steel, impossibly wide and gaping. Their clothes are bloodstained, their hair the colour of fresh blood, their hands are held like claws. One of them raises its head, and howls.
Jareth is still standing, dressed armor of blackened leather. A morningstar hangs from one hand; the other clutches a short silver wand that glitters like a jewel at its tip.
"By the power of air, and steel, by the power of mortal blood, and mortal sight. By the power of earth and the strength of my will - answer me! WHO IS THE SOURCE OF MY PERSECUTION? "
Karren screams as the twins jump and smash his face down onto the table with a sickening crunch. The wand flies out of his hand to clatter hollowly on the table.
She nearly misses the answer, torn in a harsh whisper from Fabian's throat.
Jareth lies head down on the table, only partially conscious. Karren can see the trickle of blood still creeping from underneath his hair. Fabian is sat opposite, one hand firmly on the sword, while the other toys with the silver wand. He watches her intently with his deep grey eyes.
The twins poke and prod at their prisoner. One of them has the morning star, and seems to enjoy striking Jareth with his own weapon. He flinches a couple of times, making them redouble their efforts. It is only after a rush of fresh blood trickles onto the table that a harsh word from Fabian stops them.
One returns to picking its nose, while the other regards Karren with a thoughtful expression. It rubs the chain of the morning star between its fingers, occasionally hefting it, as if about to strike.
Karren watches, frozen in terror. Her hands have found the silver ring, hidden in a fold of her skirt. Unthinking, she slips it on to one finger, clasping her hands to hide it.
The train travels slowly through the outskirts of London.
Karren's head is pounding now, her vision flicking between two realities like a badly done special effect. Fabian, watching her, sees something in her eyes, and nods to himself.
"Excellent," he mutters. And louder: "Take him."
The twins leap to obey his orders. Jareth is pushed and prodded to his feet. Karren can see him wincing and flinching as hard blows from small fists connect.
One punches him too hard and he stumbles, catching himself on the armrest of her seat. The other throws a punch at the first, who retaliates. In the brief moment that it takes for Fabian to break up the fight, Jareth lightly touches her arm and breathes into her ear.
"Remember for me, my lady."
And with a crooked smile, he's on his feet again, and staggering down the carriage towards the door.
Karren turns to watch him go, flanked on either side by the twins. Fabian has stayed behind, but the images of blood and swords are fading.
Jareth stops at the door and turns. A quick shake of his arms, and he's free of the twins' grasp. Loudly he calls down the carriage:
"You'll never take me alive, copper!"
Even from that distance she can see the mixture of pain and wry humour on his face. He steps through the door backwards.
And the twins scream in rage and frustration as he vanishes.
Karren looks up to see an elderly gentleman in a three-piece suit looking at her worriedly.
"Are you all right there miss?" he asks gently.
"Yes, I'm fine," she replies automatically, trying to make sense of the strange fuzzy feeling in her head. "Must have just dozed off for a few minutes...I had some really strange dreams. Blood..."
She trails off, aware of how strange she must sound. Glancing out the window, she takes a moment to pull herself together. Only a minute more to Paddington.
She turns back to him and says with a bit more confidence:
"Thank you, I'm fine."
The elderly gentleman smiles at her and walks down the length of the carriage to the doors, Financial Times tucked under one arm. In his other hand he nonchalantly swings an umbrella.
Karren shakes her head one more time, trying to shake a lingering sense of fear. But it quickly passes as she gathers up her things.
Karren gets off the train at Paddington station, fingers fiddling unconsciously with a new silver ring.
It takes a long time for her to remember.