A.C.H.Smith. The Labyrinth. Chapter 14: O, Body Swayed To Music

      Jareth held four crystal balls close to his face. He stared into each of them in turn, catching the light. It seemed as though he were choosing among them. He took one of them and swirled it into the air, with a flick of his wrist. It floated away from him, became a bubble. Then it drifted through the open window beside which he was standing, and away through the darkening sky. The other three followed in turn, coldly beautiful bubbles floating through the dusk, turning and gleaming, mesmeric globes glowing in the dying light.
      Sarah was still leaning limply against the tree, too dizzy to move, when the four bubbles approached her in the sky. She stared at them, entranced. She watched as the dazzling spheres floated toward her, slowly descending. They were dancing with the light, and she could hear music, an aching, haunting music, solemn, like a pavane. She was rapt. Her lips parted in wonder. The bubbles were close enough now for her to see that within the first of them was the dancer from her music box, twirling pirouettes. In each of the other three bubbles was another dancer, moving with sinuous elegance.
      Sarah's body swayed hypnotically in time with the music. She was the music and the dance. She was inside a bubble, dancing, dressed in a ball gown. Enchanted and enchanting, she danced slowly across the sky in company with the other dancers.
      A congregation of many bubbles crossed the night sky, each with a dancer within it. They were approaching one great bubble, as though attracted by some magnetic force. Inside the great bubble was a magnificent ballroom. Jareth was already dancing there.

      Sir Didymus and Ludo had come to the edge of the forest, and now they looked out across the bare, dry, cracked plain to the distant walls of the castle.
      Sir Didymus patted Ambrosius, who had found the way. "Good work, oh loyal steed," he told the dog. He half turned his head to call behind him, with a trace of smugness. "Yonder lies the castle, my lady."
      He heard no answer and turned fully around to see where Sarah was. Ludo too turned around, a growl of suspicion in his throat. Together they stared back down the trail they had followed.
      Sarah had vanished.
      "My lady?" Sir Didymus was shouting. "My lady?"
      Above their heads a bubble floated past, moving in the direction of the castle.

      The ballroom had known opulence. Between glittering cornices were hung many long chandeliers where the wax, dripping for a hundred years, had formed stalactites. The silk covering of the walls had faded and, in places, worn threadbare. Bubbles decorated the room, and the whole of it was contained within the iridescent skin of one great bubble. A tall, gilt, thirteen-hour clock stood in a corner. It was almost twelve o'clock.
      Sarah watched the dance, and the dancers watched her, from behind their masks. The men sported silken shirts open to the waist and tight velvet breeches. Some of them wore wide-brimmed, plumed hats; others had capes or carried staffs. The women's gowns left their shoulders bare and dove low between their breasts. They had their hair coiffed high, and many wore long gloves.
      The dancers moved in a ring around the ballroom, with a kind of lethargic brilliance, as though the party had been going on all night. Men who were not dancing lounged indolently against the columns, or in a cushioned pit in the center of the ballroom, in the company of women. Maids and footmen, with skin the color of old parchment, served them trays of fruit and refilled their goblets from decanters. And always the dancers were watching through the eyeholes in their cruel half-masks, from which snouts projected and horns sprouted above. Moving together or elegantly reclined, they watched Sarah, or watched each other watching, and beneath the masks the mouths smiled at each other like knives.
      Sarah's gown was silvery, the color of mother-of-pearl, with puffed short sleeves. She had a pearl necklace on, and her hair was braided with strings of pearls. Her eyes were wide. She was the picture of innocence in that setting, a picture that excited the dancers, who never took their masked eyes off her, while they moved with weary grace to the cadence of the sinisterly beautiful tune.
      She walked slowly around the room. Two gorgeously gowned women snickered behind their fans at her. Sarah paused beside a tall mirror and looked at her image.
      The people passing behind her, in the mirror, were watching her like ravishing birds of prey. The dancers swayed and swirled. Then Sarah saw something in the mirror that made her gasp. She had caught a glimpse of Jareth, entwined with a voluptuous woman, dancing past.
      She whirled around, but he had vanished. She stood there, peering through the throng for him so intently that she did not notice the young man leaning against the column beside her. He had his head held back and was staring brazenly at her. He relished her face, then her white shoulders, her breasts, hips, and legs, and moved closer to her. He murmured into her ear, "You are remarkably beautiful, my dear girl."
      Sarah spun around to face him, her mouth open. At the mixture of surprise and pleasure on her face, the young man threw back his head and laughed. She smiled back at him nervously.
      Hidden behind another man's cape, Jareth had watched it all, but Sarah had not seen him watching. His eyes were following Sarah wherever she went in the corrupt ballroom.
      She was tense now, self-conscious, among people she could not understand but who behaved as though they knew something that she didn't know. She moved hurriedly around the ballroom looking for Jareth. She did not know why she wanted to find him, or what she would say to him. She just knew that it was vitally important that she should find him.
      When she saw him, he was whispering something to his beautiful partner, who responded by smiling knowingly from beneath her mask and licking her lips, slowly, with the tip of her tongue.
      Sarah blushed and turned away in embarrassment. She found herself looking into another of the tall mirrors around the room. Behind her she saw Jareth, standing alone. He was a resplendent figure, upright and blond, in a midnight blue frock coat, diamante at the neck, shoulders, and cuffs. Ruffs of pale gray silk at his throat and wrists set off the pallor of his skin. On his legs he was wearing black tights and black, shiny boots. He was holding a horned mask on a stick, but he had lowered it now, to look straight at Sarah in the mirror. Behind him, dancers were whirling. He held his hand out.
      She turned around, not expected that he would really be there. He was, and he was still holding out his hand to her. She took it, feeling dizzy.
      Her dizziness ceased when she went spinning around the ballroom in Jareth's arms. She was the loveliest woman at the ball. She knew it, from the way in which Jareth was smiling down at her. All his attention was on her. The touch of his hands on her body was thrilling. To dance with him seemed the easiest and most natural motion. When he told her that she was beautiful, she felt confused.
      "I feel... I feel like... I - don't know what I feel."
      He was amused. "Don't you?"
      "I feel like... I'm in a dream, but I don't remember ever dreaming anything like this!"
      He pulled back to look at her and laughed, but fondly. "You'll have to find your way into the part," he said, and whirled her on around the room.
      She smiled up at him. She thought how handsome he was, but one didn't tell a man such things, did one? More than that, there was something in his face that was openly enjoying the moment, without the mocking or secretiveness that she had seen on other faces here.
      "And when you've found your way in, stay in your dream, Sarah." Jareth's eyes were looking straight into hers. His smile was serious. "Believe me. If you want to be truly free, wholly yourself - you do want that, don't you?"
      Sarah nodded.
      "Then you will find what you want only as long as you stay in your dream. Once abandon it, and you are at the mercy of other people's dreams. They will make of you what they want you to be. Forget them, Sarah. Trust to your dream."
      Sarah was spellbound.
      "Trust to me," Jareth said, moving his face close to hers. "Can you do that?"
      She nodded, and looked up at him with anticipation. He was going to kiss her. She shut her eyes. That was the way to do it.
      Something made her open her eyes again. It was the silence. The music had stopped. She saw that they had been surrounded by all the other dancers. They were leering and nudging each other. She saw them biting their lips to hold back their laughter. Jareth seemed to be unperturbed, but she turned her face sharply away from his, horrified. He held her more tightly, and insistently sought her lips with his. Suffused with disgust, she wrenched herself free of him.
      The clock struck twelve.
      Sarah pushed her way through the jostling, jeering crowd. A man smiled foxily at her behind his mask and then grasped at her body. She smelled his evil breath on her face. She shoved him away angrily. A group of giggling women rushed between them, chased by merrily guffawing men. Sarah was knocked off balance and stumbled against a column. Crouching, frightened, she made her way out of the crowd, until she saw the shimmering membrane of the great bubble just in front of her.
      Beside her was a small, painted chair. She picked it up in both hands, and hurled it at the bubble.
      The chair crashed through it. As the bubble burst, Sarah was sucked through it.
      She was flying through space. Below, on the ground, she saw the faces of Ludo and Sir Didymus looking up at her. Their mouths were moving, as if they were calling out to her, but all she could hear was the thrum of rushing air. Behind her, the ballroom had collapsed and crumbled to junk. Strange things, and pieces of things, and things of pieces, were whizzing through space with her, some overtaking her, some receding.
      She started to recognize objects. The dancer from her music box pirouetted past, upside down, followed by several of her favorite books, in random order, their pages flapping loose in the wind. Launcelot was not far away in the sky, and beyond him Sarah saw some gossip cuttings, and the spoon and egg cup she had used when she was a baby. It was an aerial Sargasso Sea formed of everything she had ever seen or imagined but rearranged in improbably combinations. If this is the debris of the ballroom, she thought, than all my life must have been at that ball, in disguise.
      The floating junk room of her mind stretched from horizon to horizon. It was all speeding up and beginning to spin around, faster and faster, in a maelstrom, Sarah with it. The rush of air became a screeching, untuned music.
      It stopped. Sarah was on the ground, in her own clothes again. In her hand was the half-eaten peach. She held it up to examine it more closely. Its flesh was rotten. A maggot crept out from the pit. Sarah gasped, and flung the peach away, and fainted.