Jareth jerked upright in bed after falling through dream-world for what seemed to be an eternity. Soft skin beside him. Home. Peace. For now. He was always amused at the way Marijke’s brow creased at the middle while she dreamt. Jareth still felt the delicious sensation of desire whenever he looked at his wife of six years; a sign of a future in this uncertain world, perhaps. He nestled his face into his wife’s luscious auburn mane and inhaled deeply. He was safe, and that was all that mattered. So was she. His hands wandered under the sheets as he felt his passion rising. She grabbed his fingers and turned over to face her husband. A sultry smile crept from the corner of her lips and spread across her face. Six years had gone by and there had been no moderation in their lust for one another. Marijke stared deep into frozen iceberg eyes, Jareth drank her in. Their bodies collided; an animalistic whirl of fuck. Biting, fighting, breathing each other’s soul; Marijke screamed with delight. They were one.
She fell off him and laughed a guttural sound so primal it almost stirred Jareth again. He pulled her into the warm downy fur covering his expansive chest. Running her fingers over his numerous scars, she remembered the day she had first seen him training at swordplay in the central academy. He had always been a skilled swordsman as well as being adept at hand-to-hand combat, gaining him the favour of his instructors early on. His sly smile to her as she left the adjoining archive room had almost cost him his right eye when his opponent came crashing down on his helmeted skull with a magnificent chop; a constant running joke between the two lovers. His earthy scent rose up her nostrils and she breathed him in. To hold this moment longer, for it not to vanish into the ether. That would be but a dream.
Jareth pulled himself out of his wife’s clutches and went to fetch a flagon of mead to tide himself over until he broke his fast. The early morning air outside was crisp and full with the scent of spring-time flowers; birds circled each other in displays of affection whilst insects dive-bombed and whirled through the heady scene. Once, a nest of ants had taken over a crack in the dry ground below the marital bedroom window before being washed away during flood season. Jareth surveyed the courtyard, exhaled and was satisfied that all was as expected. He gulped a healthy mouthful of mead and let the amber liquid flow down his throat; he savoured the spicy fragrances that assaulted his nasal cavities. Lumbering back to their bedroom, he cracked his back twice. This had become a common habit after he had been unhorsed the previous summer in a friendly tourney. His pride had been hurt more.
The first explosion rocked the wooden foundations of their abode and sent Jareth backwards. Other explosions were heard farther off in the township. A scream from the bedroom made him drop his flagon and rush to the source. Pausing at the door, he considered his plan of attack. Rushing headlong into an unknown situation was unwise but had shock value. His stomach knotted when he realised he was unarmed. Inwardly cursing himself for not being overly cautious in this turbulent climate, he crept into the room with his hands raised. Jareth could smell them before his eyes made sense of the three burly figures surrounding his wife. Barbarians. Stupid and out of their depth, yes, but still armed and dangerous. He had come across bands of outlaws such as these in his expeditions further north and knew that gold or silver often sent them on their way. His wife’s face told him otherwise. The presumed leader was garbed in a whole bearskin and sported a large goat skull which protruded from his tattered tunic. Chapped fishy lips curled over two incomplete rows of blackened teeth as the leader caught sight of Jareth’s arms in surrender.
“Forest monkeys always taste better,” said the barbarian as he licked his fingers. The two holding Marijke laughed uproariously and gave her a shove. Jareth caught sight of the throwing axe hanging from his belt and knew better than to react to his comment. Marijke’s shoulders were hunched, her fists balled and her face was fixed upon the ground in front of her. Jareth felt powerless as a warrior and as a husband.
“Your life for hers,” was the barbarian’s idea of an honourable trade.
“Ridiculous. How can her safety be ensured?”
The barbarian was adamant. “Your life,” pointing with a crude dagger at Jareth’s face, “for hers”. Unarmed and half-clothed, Jareth quickly surveyed the surrounding area for weak points and sharp objects. Nothing. Habitually, barbarians were clumsy; often giving themselves away in an attempted ambush or leaving themselves unprotected during a raid. Not these. Something about their eyes told Jareth they were here for another reason other than rape and plunder. He fixed his stare on the obsidian eyes smouldering below the barbarian’s heavy-set brow. No pupils. Blacker than the deepest oceans where krakens writhe and await the unwary fleet, darker than the raven’s plumage. Unblinking, he demanded his terms once more. Jareth had to stall for time.
“I can’t…I have enough gold to satisfy you and your…fellow companions for the rest of your lives…I…” He froze.
Whilst maintaining eye contact with Jareth the barbarian leader drew the serrated edge of the crude dagger across Marijke’s throat as she mouthed “coward” at her husband. A crimson river cascaded from the gash in her neck down her body. Jareth stared on in disbelief, his knees giving way underneath him. His eyes were transfixed upon the convulsing form of his wife whilst the barbarians pushed past him and exited their home. A home they considered safe; a stronghold to protect them against the winter and those who would do them harm. But they had got in. They were inside their sanctuary and Jareth had been unable to do anything; he had shirked from his responsibility. Before Jareth slipped into unconsciousness, the last thing he saw was the word ‘coward’ engraved in his mind.