Лабиринт - LABYRINTH II
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CHAPTER XIX

Dusk was making way for night and the forest's density was increasing. Sarah had time and the clarity of mind to examine the Underground's forests more carefully, giving her the opportunity to see how beautiful the land really was. As a teenager she had never been very driven by nature, but, upon being a part of it for so long a time, she could open her mind enough to see why it was such a wonderful place to find escape. There was the forest in her backyard when she was a child, but that had seemed to leave her at the coming of puberty. When she was older she had become more attracted to the splendor of the city.

            The sky overhead was purple and pink, the large, white moon of the Underground fighting its way through what was left of the daytime and preparing for its night orchestration of stars and darkness.

            It became harder to distinguish one tree from another and the forest seemed more crowded than in full daylight. Sarah took more care in placing her steps for fear of tripping (or falling down an inconspicuous pit) but did not let the coming darkness spoil the sudden calm of the forest. She pushed away all dismal thoughts and only allowed the peacefulness of the woods penetrate her protective wall.

            Leaves brushed up against her face as she made her way past reaching branches. She pushed them aside and took in the cool, evening air. Faint whistles could be heard in the distance. They drifted away, the further she went, so she concluded that they had merely been birds stopping at a tree to her rear. She noticed that Rattlebeak cocked his head at the sound of each muffled whistle, but out of curiosity instead of fear. He seemed to recognize the sound, but soon looked as if he had decided against the recollection and made no other movement than that of flapping his wings. Sarah thought to ask him about it, but decided that she felt too weary to talk and chose to put her effort into finding an appropriate place to set up camp.

            The two travelers came upon a spot in the path that was blocked completely by a wall of branches. The foliage was so thick that Sarah could not see past. To her relief, she found that she could stick her hand through and pull back the barrier without difficulty. She held open a hole large enough for Rattlebeak to fly through before going through herself.

            Once on the other side, Sarah gasped at the surroundings. A small lake stood before her, about three yards away, while a waterfall flowed into its far end, cascading from an outcropping of rock. The stone wall ascended somewhat as one observed it from the point of the waterfall and on past. It was obviously a slender part of the mountain that strayed into the forest. Sarah calculated that the mountain must be no further than an hour from where they were now at.

            She looked up and saw the mountain over the top of the woods. She couldn't understand why it seemed so much farther than that...

            She wished with every ounce of her being that she still had the map. Her want of it had such a solidity that she could swear that the map would pop out of nothingness if she just continued her wishful thinking. Of course, she didn't command the type of magic that Jareth did. The only thing she could do was see images through a mirror. And that, she supposed, only came when the power of Jareth's crystals was around. The only thing remotely like what he controlled was the crystal on the necklace that she had been forced to wear. And it was unlikely that he would trust her with any of his power.

            She cursed herself for dropping the supplies into the pit the other day. If only she still had the map...

            She put her hands into her pocket. Something was there that hadn't been before. A folded piece of paper, by the feel of it. She pulled it out for a closer look and unfolded it.

            It was the map! She thought that she must be insane. She hadn't remembered putting the map into her pocket before the untimely occurrence of yesterday. There was no way that she could have brought it here, no way that it could have been in her pocket other than by her placing it there herself, but it was there, nonetheless.

            Rattlebeak came before her and said, "I think I recognize this. It's close to where my folks usually are."

            Sarah broke out of her reverie with hesitation, still clutching the map. "Oh, it is?" she responded distractedly.

            Rattlebeak gave her an odd look. "What is it? What's that you've got there? It looks like the map. I thought it fell down the hole with the rest of our supplies."

            Sarah looked at the map and then back at him. "I thought so to. I must have put it in my pocket, but I really don't remember..." she drifted off. "I guess I must have just been preoccupied when I did it. I don't know."

            "Wouldn't you have stuck your hand in your pocket and felt it there before?" Rattlebeak queried.

            "It seems that I should have...." Sarah began, "....but I guess it was too hot for me to put my hands into my pockets. I really can't remember if I did or not." Sarah turned her head away thoughtfully.

            Rattlebeak waited a moment for her to speak, but she did not. "Well, it's good that we at least have the map," he said, sounding as if he wasn't really concerned by it. She was still silent.

            Finally she looked to the sky, then at Rattlebeak. "It's getting dark. We'll set up camp here." Once she felt she had satisfied him, she turned away again, wandering back into her musings.

            He looked relieved now that the silence had been disturbed. "While you set up, I'm gonna see if anyone I know is here."

            She continued to stare in the other direction as she replied, "Okay."

***

Jareth had enjoyed spending the former day with Sarah's younger brother. He remembered when Toby had been just a baby and it had seemed that the young one would be spending the rest of his life in Jareth's kingdom. Seeing how the boy had turned out, he regretted the fact that Sarah had rescued him those five years ago. A day with a child might be a nuisance to those above ground, but, for Jareth, it was a welcome change, considering the fact that the five-year old was twenty times smarter than the Goblins that were under his command.

            Jareth decided it was time to return to Toby for his next wish.

            When he did, he found himself in the boy's room, Toby restlessly playing with his toys at the end of his bed, glancing up occasionally at Jareth. The Goblin King gave no indication that the unicorn figurine had transformed and watched the boy play with his toys for some time. He was somewhat surprised to see the young boy with a box of real tools, fiddling with a broken phone. He opened it up on his own, explored the inside, took it apart beyond repair, then attempted to put it back together, to Jareth's amazement, succeeding. The boy was extremely talented and Jareth would still like to have him at his side. He would be a brilliant young man if given the proper education. A perfect son for the perfect king.

            If Jareth's plan flourished in every aspect, he might still be able to have Toby as a son as well as Sarah as a companion to sit in a throne beside him....

            Jareth neighed to give Toby an indication to the fact that he was now animate. Toby rushed from his toys over to the splendid unicorn.

            "Hello, Toby," Jareth stated amiably, pushing away the urge to call the boy Jarethkin as he looked about the child's room. It was full of models of castles and plastic toys shaped like horses and dragons. "I see that you are fond of magic." Jareth admired that in one who would end up at his side for a number of years. Not only would he teach the boy mechanics, but would teach him the skills required to use the crystals as well. Isabelle had always been intelligent and was slightly interested in magic, but she was a girl and didn't place as much curiosity over the things that Jareth enjoyed teaching.

            "Why are you so intrigued by magic, Toby?"

            Toby fought to overcome his shyness and answered, "Sarah told me stories about a magic place when I was just a little kid." Jareth chuckled at the child's cute, ironic remark. Toby's bashfulness returned as a result of Jareth's gaiety.

            Jareth prodded him to continue. "Tell me more about her stories. What did she call this place?" No doubt it was the Underground.

            The Goblin King's suspicions were confirmed. "It was the Underground, I think. It had this big maze and a castle in the middle with a king."

            Jareth was intrigued. "What did she tell you about the king?"

            Toby paused a moment when he realized that the unicorn was interested to hear what he had to say. He seemed as if he might be considering whether or not to draw into his shell again. He eventually replied, "She said he was a tricky man, like a magician, but kind of like a prince."

            "How was he like a prince?"

            "Like the handsome prince in Cinderella. But sometimes he wasn't so nice. He'd take away babies and turn them into goblins. She told me that sometimes he was even scary. And one time he took a baby, but this girl wouldn't let him and he made her go in the maze. She met a little man and a monster and a fox and they all went to the castle to get the baby back. But the king made the little man give the girl a peach and when she ate it she got lost in one of his magic glass balls. Sarah told me that the girl thought she was under a spell."

            "Do you mean, the spell that led her astray and into the realm of the glass crystal?"

            "No. Like he made her love him in the glass ball. It was a big hall, like in Cinderella, and the girl looked like Cinderella, and the king was the prince. Sarah said the girl felt like she was under a spell that made her like the king. Then, when she broke the walls and found her way out, she felt silly because she hadn't been under a spell all along. She really did like the king, but she felt really silly because he knew that. The girl then promised to never like him again."

            Jareth was completely engrossed by Toby's tale. He had never seen Sarah's side of the story, so to speak. "What happened after the dance?"

            Toby looked surprised that Jareth knew about the dance. Even being five years old, Toby had the presence of mind to realize that he hadn't mentioned that fact. But he seemed to dismiss it, probably convinced that the unicorn could figure things out with the help of its magic.

            "The girl thought she was home," Toby continued, "but found out she wasn't, then she found her friends again and they went to the Goblin City. The little man who gave her the peach found them at the front of the city and they were fighting a big robot-thing that had come out of the wall and he saved them from it. The girl forgived him for making her get lost in the glass things and they fought a bunch of goblins before she went alone to get the baby from the king. She was scared, but she got the baby back and made the king go away forever, so he couldn't take anymore babies."

            The false addition to the story was obviously a result of Sarah's telling of it and Jareth had been somewhat taken aback by the ending, but it was something to be expected from her.

            "What happened when she returned?" Jareth queried.

            "I don't know that good," Toby replied. "Sarah tells me the story a lot, but she always changes that part. I think the first time she told it to me, the girl saw her friends, but kind of wished she could see the king again. The next time the girl did the same thing, but she told herself that she couldn't want to see him again because of her promise to never like him again. The next time, the girl was mad because he took her brother away from her and tried to scare her. The last time she told me on the phone when she was gone and said that the girl forgave the king a little bit and let him have the castle back if he promised not to take away any more babies, but she could never like him again. She would visit the Underground and all of the neat animals there would tell her that she should be his friend, but she told them she couldn't because he had hurt her so much. She promised to tell me some new stories when she got here, but Mama says that she had to go back home and go to work. I thought you said she was at your house."

            The closing had shocked Jareth beyond recuperation and he was still gawking, or felt that he was gawking, when Toby had finished  his narrative. Sarah must still have feelings for him despite the fact that she denied them to both him and herself.

            "Yes, Sarah is at my home. That, your parents do not know because grownups do not usually understand or believe in magic."

            "You must live in a magic place like the Underground."

            "You are correct in that assumption, young one."

            "Can I have my next wish?" Toby asked hopefully.

            "Most certainly. What will it be?"

            "I want to go to where you live."

            Jareth had been so occupied by what he had heard that Sarah said, by way of Toby, that he had not considered the fact that the child would probably want to go wherever his sister was, especially if the place was enchanted. Nonetheless, it was his responsibility to comply. How would he approach the existence of the Underground? Would he tell the child the truth, or give a false name which the boy could use in place of "the Underground?"

***

Sarah had gotten a fire started and had been pacing back and forth across the turf, weighing the situation. After Rattlebeak had left to find his family, she mentally retraced her steps and tried to recall if she had placed the map in her pocket or not. She was now sure of it. She hadn't.

            It was possible that Jareth had put it there to speed up her journey, but if he had, why did he not replace her foodstuffs? She surely would not reach the plateaus if she starved to death before she could get there. Anyhow, he should have restored the lost supplies directly after she had lost them to the endless pit. But his returning of the knapsack and its contents was not too farfetched an idea.

            The other thing that nagged her was the fact that the map had seemed to appear in her pocket immediately after she had wished for it. Exactly like the time she had seen her friends in the mirror after a buildup of emotions. Her want of the map had been very strong, almost as strong as the sentiments she had felt that time in the castle. In a sense, she did have a crystal with her.

            But, wasn't she being crazy? Why would Jareth trust her with magic of any sort? He was trying to gain something, not let her succeed in taking him over. If anything, he probably wanted to control her.

             The only way she would find out if her second notion was the correct one was to try the crystal out. She bent over the nearby lake and peered into it. Sitting on her haunches, she gripped the crystal on the necklace firmly and concentrated on the glassy waters of the lake, bringing all memories of her companions to mind and every emotion that accompanied them. It was somewhat difficult rummaging through the scattered contents of her mind; she was sure Jareth had removed some of her memories while she had been at the castle.  Still, she had enough there to conjure up strong feelings. Nothing was revealed to her at first, but she persevered in her efforts, pushing away any stray thoughts from her mind, becoming focused on those memories.

            The pendant burned slightly in her palm, but she ignored it. The burning sensation was not painful, but crisp, and became stronger the more she persisted. Once it felt as if it had reached its climax, the portion of the pool that she had been staring at began to glow and shimmer, eventually revealing to her an image of Hoggle from the past.

            She could not hear the words, but, upon reflection, she remembered what he had said all too well.

            'I'm not asking to be forgiven. I ain't ashamed of nothin' I did. I don't care what you thinks of me. And I ain't interested in bein' friends...'

            Then Sarah saw a younger version of herself appear, apparently replying to Hoggle's remark, 'I forgive you, Hoggle.'

            A tear ran down her face. Last time she had been here she would cry out of fear, out of feeling sorry for herself. She noticed that this was the first time, while being here, that she had cried out of sadness, out of fear for someone else besides herself. It should have made her feel proud of herself, but it didn't. She only felt more miserable because she didn't possess the power needed to bring him and the rest of her friends back. She could not restore them to their natural forms. She could only watch their past and hope that it would console her partially.

            Sarah continued to watch the images in the lake, even after she heard the beating of Rattlebeak's wings as he approached her from behind. She felt him land on her shoulder, wheezing from the exercise he had probably had from searching for his family. He  had apparently rushed back, but wasn't screaming madly, so she figured that he had not been chased by a wild animal.

            "Are you doing that?" he asked with amazement after he had caught some of his breath.

            "The images in the lake? I would guess that I am," she replied, still examining the pictures. She really missed the past. She wished that she could just leave where she was and go back five years- go back to those thirteen perfect hours- and remain there.

            "Are those your friends?" he asked with concern, but a hint of distraction. It sounded to Sarah as if he was dying to say something else, but was putting forth all of the patience he could muster to see what was troubling Sarah first. Like Hoggle, it had taken time for Rattlebeak's loyalty to grow, and now he was the best friend that she could hope for. She felt unhappy over the fact that, once he found his family, he would be leaving her, too. Then she would have no one.

            "Yes," she responded to his last question.

            "You miss 'em a lot, don't you?"

            "Yes. Yes, I do."

            Silence overcame them, but only for a few moments. Not long after their last words, a rustling began in the trees behind them. Rattlebeak cocked his head to the side for a moment, but did not seem startled by the noise. As a matter of fact, a grin was trying to tug at the corners of his beak. Before she could turn around to see what was causing the sound, she heard a chirp. Then the chirp grew to a chorus of whistling. Sarah revolved her head to see innumerable brightly colored birds like Rattlebeak perched on the branches- no, crammed on the branches- chirping and humming a beautiful, mystical tune.

            "You found your family!" she exclaimed, turning her eyes back to Rattlebeak. So that was what he was keeping back!

            "Yup!"

            Sarah moved her head to look at the lake, but, due to lack of concentration, the images of her friends had vanished. All she saw was her own reflection with Rattlebeak perched atop her shoulder. The occult song of the Magicmockers rose to a higher pitch, so intricate that Sarah had a difficult time distinguishing all of the various overtones and accompaniments of the tune. She could feel magic in the air, hence the name of the birds.

            She glanced into the water again and saw by way of the reflected image that a figure was approaching from the rear.

            "Sarah?" came the voice of Hoggle.

            "Hoggle?" She stared into the water disbelievingly as the dwarf's face rose over her shoulder. She must be hallucinating. Maybe it was an illusion, a beautiful illusion. There was one way to find out.

            She spun around with a fluid motion to confirm the reality of the image.  Hoggle was there, in living color, as was Ludo, Sir Didymus, and Ambrosius. She ran to embrace each friend, calling their names with pleasure as she did so.

            "Hoggle!....Sir Didymus!"

            "Fair maiden!" he cried out in response to her hearty squeeze.

            "Ludo!" The ginger-colored beast accepted her warmly.

            "Ludo - miss Sarah!" he cried out.

            "I missed you, too," she replied, nestling her head in his fur.

            "I told you that our song brought good fortune!" Rattlebeak declared happily, seeming pleased that Sarah had been reunited with her friends.

            Sarah reluctantly pulled away from Ludo's embrace. "But I didn't know..." a relieved, small, happy laugh escaped her lips as beads of glistening tears escaped her eyes, "I didn't know you could do this!"

            "Hey, what can I say?" Rattlebeak said, tilting his head to the side. "You can do anything with your friend's and family to back you! Know what I mean?"

            It had been meant as a rhetorical question, but Sarah hugged Hoggle again and replied, "Yes. Yes, I do know what you mean."

            As she pulled away, Hoggle noticed the silver chain that hung from her neck, its charms still glistening in the light. "You still got that thing?" he stated, pointing to the necklace. "I would'a thrown it away and trampled it by now, and you knows how I likes trinkets."

            She looked at the necklace and started, "Jareth...Hey, wait a second. Why are the charms still there? You turned my friends back, so why are the charms still there?"

            Hoggle answered instead, "Turned us back? Humph! We weren't turned into nothin'! At least, I wasn't. That trickster stuck me in the oubliette! I been thinking' you see, and I imagine he ain't got enough power to send you wherever it is you're goin', let alone turn us into to nothin' other than what we already was. That Jareth's a snake, he is! A sneaky one at that!"

            Sarah turned around to face the waterfall and bit her lip. "Damn him," she muttered to herself.

            Hoggle waddled beside her and declared, "I agree!"

            "And I fell for it all. The whole shebang," Sarah added as if not hearing Hoggle's response to her last remark. She crossed her arms and stared thoughtfully into the foaming water. She felt so foolish!

            "Don't be kickin' yerself in the head, little missy," Hoggle said comfortingly. "There's no way you could'a known."

            She continued to ignore him and added to her last statement, "Hook, line, and sink'er."

            "Now, Sarah -" Hoggle began.

            "Everybody be quiet!" Rattlebeak exclaimed in a loud whisper. "I hear something."

            Sarah turned to look at him and noticed that he was a lot less nervous with his family around. He wasn't exactly leading everyone to the site of the danger, but he wasn't nearly so jittery, either. Sarah followed his gaze to an area in the forest which was presumably the source of the sound. She walked closer to the edge and saw a light in the distance. Then she heard it, too. It was the sound of a breaking twig, as if someone or something was sneaking in on them.  

            "Everyone stay here," Sarah whispered. "I'm going to see what it is."

            Sir Didymus came forth. "Let me go with thee, fair maiden. Surely you cannot face the danger alone!"

            "Okay," Sarah surrendered before the fox could get a chance to make a scene, "but be VERY quiet."

            The fox stood more erect and called, "Come Ambrosius!" in a whisper that bordered on what was usually considered as a normal tone.

            "No!" Sarah exclaimed hurriedly. "Leave him here."

            Didymus considered it then capitulated, leaving behind a dog that seemed content to be out of the action for once.

            The two crept through the forest with little noise and soon came upon the source of the light. It was a small clearing with a fire in the center, still burning brightly. As if the makers of the blaze had left in a hurry or were hiding...

            "I don't understand," Sir Didymus confessed. "Why would anyone leave a fire burning?" He stood up, no longer concealed by the bush that they were hiding behind and screamed, "Whoever you are, I demand that you show yourself this instance!"

            Sarah pulled him down and whispered into his ear, the fur tickling her nose, "Shhh! We don't want anyone to hear us!"

            "But," he contested, "there's no one out there fair-"

            He was cut off by Sarah's startled gasp. She turned around to see an elfin creature and a large group of his mates crowded around him. The one with his hand on her shoulder looked down at her without expression before turning to his comrades and saying, "Here's the rest of them." Two of the others took Sir Didymus away, kicking and screaming. They tried to calm him, but he would not have it.

            "We didn't mean anything," Sarah started to explain.

            "Of course you did," the elf replied with a sardonic grin.

            "No. We really didn't. We just heard -"

            "Well," he cut her short, "whether you want to or not, you can't get away from joining us in making merry."

            "Excuse me?"

            "We were having a party when we heard the Magicmockers singing the most lovely tune. We thought that you would like to join us. Never too many sopranos."

            "A party? I thought you were-"

            "Thought we were what?" he said with a smirk. "Going to capture you? Torture you? Kill you perhaps?" He motioned for her to rise. She noticed that, even though he seemed years older than her, he was at least a foot shorter than her in height. "Of course we would do no such thing!" he exclaimed. "We live for merrymaking! The more who can join us in our happiness, the better! Now," he said as he led her to the campsite, "tell me why it is you are travelling the Whispering Forest. Surely not to hide in the bushes and spy on happy-go-lucky elves like ourselves?"

            "No," she chuckled, still shaken by their unorthodox greeting. "The Goblin King had taken my friends in an attempt to force me to go on some quest for him, but I'm afraid that his plan hasn't worked since, as you can see, the Magicmockers have helped in bringing them back to me."

            "My congratulations go to you," the elf replied.

            "I couldn't have done it without their help. Heck, I didn't even have a part in bringing them back!"

            "Perhaps you are more involved than you might think," the elf said with deliberation. "Yes, the Magicmockers are good-spirited fellows. They have been our allies for many years. So, you say the Goblin King has forced you on a quest? A very confused man, if I do say so myself."

            "Are you sure he's human?" Sarah snickered, not really finding any enjoyment in the joke.

            "As human as you. I would say I, but I am afraid that I don't qualify as being human, not technically, anyhow. Mentally, yes, I am human. As is Jareth."

            "You know him well, then?" Sarah queried as they sat by the campfire. She looked over to the area by the lake at which her old campsite had been. Her comrades were busy putting out the fire. It took more effort for the three of them than one might expect.

            "Not personally, no. But I have been to the Goblin City and seen him in action," the elf answered. "I forgot to ask you your name, dear."

            "It's Sarah."

            "You know, there's an old elfin song mentioning a young lady named Sarah," he said.

            "Really?" Sarah cocked her head to the side.

            "Well, it's not that old. About five years at the most. Maybe we will sing it to you before the night is over."  He seemed to recall something.  "Before I forget, everyone calls me Sage. I would suppose that I am the leader of this tribe, though I'm not always treated as such," he chuckled.

            Sarah laughed at his comment. She wondered about the song. Five years? It was an odd occurrence, possibly only coincidence. Could it have something to do with her last visit here? Hopefully she would find out later on.

            "So why is it that you say Jareth is a confused man?" she asked. "To me, he seems quite aware of what he does."

            "Oh, he seems that way because he thinks that he is," Sage replied, raising a finger to accentuate his statement. "Never have I seen a man less fitted for the destiny that he has put before himself."

            "I don't quite follow you," Sarah replied, wishing that she would not show so much interest in the Goblin King. But, one must understand their enemy to defeat him, even if it means showing unwanted curiosity over him.

            "Well, you know that he takes infants from homes upon request and turns them into goblins?"

            Sarah nodded.

            "An evil pastime, there is no question about that, but the Goblin King is not one with an evil heart. He is set in evil ways, but his spirit is more pure than his image makes him seem. Of course, I am not saying that his heart is perfectly placed, perhaps even slightly less perfect than the average "good" being, but his core is not corrupt. He does have morals. And he does live by most of them.  When he is in his right mind."

            "I have seen no evidence that he has morals," Sarah countered emphatically.  "Or that he has a right mind."

            "You sound as if you bear a great dislike for him," the elf concluded.

            "I do."

            "What has he done, other than take your friends, that has given you such a disagreeable impression of him? No doubt that was enough, but you sound as if there is much more that he has done."

            "I assure you, there is," Sarah replied.

            The elf seemed to dismiss the subject for the time being, seeing that Sarah did not really wish to pursue it.

            Sarah noticed for the first time that their was a large number of elves in the clearing now, a few working to build a fire, a few attempting to entertain her friends. She could see the colorful feather cloaks of the Magicmockers emerging from the trees. The party was on its way.

***

Jareth had returned to the castle now, having left Toby with the assurance that he would bring the young boy to the Underground the next day; he needed today to make preparations and decisions. The Goblin King had yet to determine whether he would tell the child the truth or use the safety of being deceptive. Necessarily, he would choose whichever gained him more of an advantage.

            The Goblin King had been pacing the floor of his throne room for some time now and had finally calmed enough to sit down when a goblin ran into the room, its tattered clothes trailing behind it in its haste. Jareth recognized him as one of his servants, the one who held a friend of Sarah's, the fox, captive in his home. As far as Jareth could recall, the goblin's name was Pummel.

            Seconds after Pummel had entered the room, another goblin came scurrying behind him. This one, Jareth saw, was the caretaker of the clock tower, Bighand.

            They fell on their knees before him, trembling with fear.

            Jareth stared down at them disdainfully, not feeling contempt for them, but for what news it was he knew that they were afraid to bring to him. Yet, he gave no indication of his knowledge, hoping that, if he did not, they would not tell him what he was sure that they would. Of course, he knew that his hope was to no avail. Why else would the clock tower's caretaker and the fox's captor be cringing before him?

            Jareth motioned for them to rise. "What is it?" he questioned irritably, showing more aggravation than he would have liked.

            "The fox-," Pummel began.

            "The beast-," Bighand interjected.

            "I don't know how it could have happened, your majesty-," Pummel continued.

            "It wasn't my fault, I swear-," Bighand added.

            "All eyes were on him-"

            "The door was locked from the outside, there was no way-"

            "All spears too, the slippery devil!!"

            "And"

            Jareth's patience could withstand no more. "Silence!!" he ordered.

            The two goblins hugged the stone floor again, shaking nervously against its surface.

            "And, what about the dwarf?" Jareth asked, his grin plastered on his face, giving false assurance at times, but, at times like this, causing his minions more fear than they initially felt.

            "We know of no dwarf, your majesty," Pummel chimed courageously.

            Jareth kept as calm as possible. "The dwarf that was my ensign five years ago. Hoggle."

            "We don't know where he is, your majesty," Pummel replied.

            Jareth just looked down at them for a few moments, analyzing the situation. They would not have known where he was. He was the only person who knew of the dwarf's whereabouts.

            "He just disappeared," Pummel put in, his boldness wavering very little.

            The Goblin King rose from his seat, looming over the two goblins, deathly silent. His eyebrows arched irately as he clenched his jaws, spitting out his next words with obvious vehemence. "I have never seen such a pitiful pair of bungling fools in my life. Get out of my sight before I am prompted to do something rash."

            The twosome scurried out of the room, determined to escape the Goblin King's wrath.

            Jareth checked the mirror to see if Hoggle was in the oubliette. When he did, he was not surprised to find a solitary burning candle the only animate object in the room.

            There was no way that Sarah could have them with her. The trip to her current position was one day, at the least, and that was only if she was not moving. Yet, how could the three of her companions time it so perfectly? They had no means of communication and there could not be the number of traitors required to carry out such a impeccably timed plan. Besides, very few of his followers were smart enough for devising such a thing.

            He willed the image in the mirror to change and show him where Sarah's companions were. While the magic went to work, he thought about the situation. There was no way for the beast to have escaped because the clock tower would be a rubble by now if he had. Anyhow, Bighand had said that the door into the tower was still locked from the outside. The fox might have been able to flee, being so small and in the company of such a brainless group. Jareth had personally seen to taking everything from the oubliette that might have been useful to Hoggle, so there was no way for him to have escaped. That left one thing. One thing Jareth could not allow himself to believe.

            But, he had to accept it, because the mirror confirmed it.

            Within the mirror's image was Sarah, speaking with a group of elves who seemed to be accompanied by a large number of birds. By her side were her companions: the dwarf, the fox, and the beast. The only thing that could have brought them there was magic.

            Sarah did not control any magic, as far as Jareth knew. Even with the crystals, commanding the power that it would take to perform such a task took years for anyone to master. He knew that the elves possessed a magic of there own, but they did not have the ability to do such deeds. Their powers were too limited. And, of all of the creatures that he knew existed in the Underground that had the ability to control magic, not one of them could perform the task without knowing precisely where her friends had been. As far as he had known, Sarah had continued to believe that she bore her friends on the necklace that she wore.

            It seemed to him that he might have underestimated her. Her ability to lie might have been far more refined than he had thought. Perhaps she had known all along, predicted the fact that he would be spying on her, and performed an act to suit her needs. Then, with the assistance of some creatures she would meet along the way, she could bring her friends back while he continued to believe that he was on the winning side.

            He could not accept the fact that he would misjudge anyone to such a great margin. He had been able to figure her character out easily before, and it seemed unnatural that he would not be able to do so now.

            No, he could not have wrongly predicted her personality. She was not that good of a liar. He recalled how, only days ago, when he had asked how she had found her friends, she had been so obvious. He had known that she had used the mirror-

            The mirror! Of course! He did not understand how she could have used the magic required to use any reflective surface in that manner without the aid of the crystals, but, if she did have the power, she could have used a water or mirror that she might have had in her possession to find her friends. It was improbable, but not impossible.

            Though he should not rule out the possibility that she might have been lying all along and had always known where her friends were.

            Damn it! He did not want to have to be reduced to trying to figure her out again! It was supposed to have flowed so smoothly. It looked as if he would have to put Toby or the diary to use. No doubt he would need to take her friends away again, little good that would do, she was so easy about finding allies in her war against him. Maybe he was not sure about how she accomplished it, but, no matter how she did, she was growing, and it was very dangerous to his plan.

            "Isabelle!" he called, the magic of the crystals making his voice echo throughout the castle so that he would not have to strain his voice.

            She ran into the room, slowing down shyly as she came within view of him. "Yes, your majesty?" she asked timidly.

            He turned to look at her, all of his concern over the problem he faced with Sarah leaving him momentarily. Had Isabelle called him "your majesty?" She had never done so before. It was an impersonal term that she had never used in the past. She had always responded to him as a daughter would to her father. Never as a servant would to her king.

            "Prepare my wardrobe, please," he requested after a long pause.

            She hesitantly faced him, seeming to feel as if he were judging her, were still angry with her. "Yes, your highness," she replied with a curtsy and a twirl in the other direction, heading her out of the room.

            "Isabelle," he said before she could leave.

            She stopped and revolved slowly. "Yes...your majesty?"

            "You didn't tell her? About her friends?"

            She shook her head. When he gave no reply, she turned back around and began to leave the room.

            "Isabelle..."

            This time she stopped, but did not turn to face him. Only waited for his words.

            "I am no longer upset by what you did."

            She turned her head to look at him once, no expression on her face, then continued her former journey into the hallway and to his quarters to ready his garments for later use.

            Jareth felt something welling up inside of him, but shoved it down before the foreign thing could take control of him. One image passed through his mind before he successfully rid himself of the alien feeling. It was the image of Sarah stomping from the banquet hall on a starry night, a process visible in her eyes- the process of renewing her vows of hatred toward him.

   The image soon left with the strange feeling and he turned to face the mirror and its one-way reflection of Sarah. "I don't know how you've done it, Sarah. I knew your powers, if only of observation, had grown, but not this much. Not so soon. Time is dwindling."

***

The bonfire burned brightly in the center of the clearing, a shining orange against the dark green of the trees and deep ebony of the night. Elves pranced merrily about the blaze, singing and laughing, teasing members of the opposite sex, having such an amount of fun Sarah would have thought impossible to be had.

            Across the clearing she could see four elves playing instruments: two a flute, another a drum, and the last a small harp. They were surrounded by a number of Magicmockers who, along with the elves, made such beautiful music Sarah could find nothing worthy of comparing it to.

            The elves and birds who were not dancing, singing, or playing an instrument found enjoyment by socializing. Sir Didymus seemed rather fond of the elfin tribe and was entertaining a group of them with anecdotes of his heroic deeds, some so farfetched that he would get argument from the crowd and have to change his story.

            Hoggle had taken time to charm, his thirst for this kind of fun being almost nonexistent, but Sarah saw that he was slowly giving in and having a good time.

            Ludo was with the elfin children, giving piggy-back rides and playing games.

            Sarah felt guilty for not spending time with them herself, but things plagued her mind, brought on by her conversation with Sage, and she could not push them aside. So she found a wide tree at the edge of the clearing and sat against it, trying to organize her thoughts.

            Sage had said that Jareth had morals and did live by them. She had shown disbelief when he had made the remark, but now she felt the tide turning. He had also asked her what else it was that Jareth had done, but she had not wanted to talk about it. Never before had she not felt like warning people of Jareth's misdeeds as she had at that moment, and she was afraid that she had not wanted to because she was beginning to doubt. Beginning to go back on her vows to dislike him.

            She had lied about Jareth giving no evidence that he possessed morals. She did indeed remember a time when he had shown concern for someone other than himself, had realized a situation when wrong was being done, and then had done something to amend the situation.

            It was the time when he had punished the guards for mistreating Isabelle. She tried to convince herself that he had just been trying to win the young girl's favor, trying to win her own favor, but he had seen concern in the man's eyes and had been assured by Isabelle that there had been other times that Jareth had been kind to her. Sarah was sure that Jareth's kindness was not always unadulterated generosity as he might have claimed, but he seemed to give too much to the little girl for it just to be something to quiet her. He could give so much less to please her, but he had gone out of his way to make Isabelle favor him; Sarah was sure that it was more of an issue of caring for the child than it was an issue of using the girl to benefit himself.

            So, if Sarah had not allowed herself to remember that fact, then had she forced herself or been too blind to see other instances in which he had shown proof of having morals or of being compassionate? She could surely not hope to win if she was taking away her own memories along with Jareth.

            Sarah broke out of her reverie as she saw Hoggle begin to approach her. He sat down at her side, a concerned, gracious smile on his face. "What's the matter, little missy? Ain't you about ready for some fun? Seems to me your about due some."

            Sarah smiled without provocation and replied, "I'm just thinking things through, that's all."

            "That doesn't sound fun to me," he said teasingly. "What're you thinking' 'bout?"

            Sarah felt uncomfortable talking to most of her friends in the Underground about such matters, new or old, because they wouldn't quite understand or be interested, but she felt as if she could tell Hoggle. He had been dealing with Jareth for longer than she had. "I was thinking about Jareth."

            Hoggle grunted disdainfully. "What would'ya be wanting to think about that swine for?  Now it sounds even less like fun and more like self-imposed torture."

            Sarah thought about chuckling in response, but found that she really did not feel like it. He was right. "I was just trying to figure him out, I guess," she replied.

            "I been tryin' to figure that man out for years now, and believe me, it ain't gotten me anywhere. He can't figure himself out, so its no use anyone else tryin'."

            "You know, Sage said something similar to that, not long ago. About Jareth being confused," Sarah said, her eyes on the dancing elves, though she didn't really see them.

            "He's confused, all right," Hoggle declared. "The problem is, he takes everyone else along for the ride. Seems to me he's taken you, too."

            Sarah nodded in agreement.

            "Since you was thinking' 'bout him, did you ever figure out why he was acting concerned over you?"

            "I don't know what you mean," Sarah confessed.

            "You know, the night in the castle when you left the table and went to the balcony and Jareth told me to bring you food and says for me to talk to you," Hoggle explained. "You remember?"

            "I had forgotten," Sarah admitted quietly, her expression sad.

            "You okay?" Hoggle asked worriedly.

            "I'm alright," she replied then paused. "He's making me forget things, Hoggle," she finally continued. "You don't know how scary it is for you to have done something and not know about it. I never realized how it felt until now. No one had brought up something that had happened before that I could not remember. It frightens me. If I don't remember that, I wonder how much else there is I don't remember?" She drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them.

            "You never told me about that," Hoggle said quietly. "Has he been doing this since you was in the castle?"

            "I think so...yes, he has. See, I can't even remember if he's taking away my memories or not! How can he be so cruel to me, Hoggle? He must have motives. And what was he going to gain from this whole escapade? It must have been important or he would not have gone to the trouble to send me out here. He's hiding something from me, and it's not just what this treasure of his does. If there's anything I remember, it's how I once thought that he was using this strong show of anger to hide another emotion. He is hiding something, Hoggle, I just know it."

            "There's no surprise there," Hoggle conceded. "Though, I wouldn't trouble myself over it if I was you, little missy. You don't have to do nothin' for him now, just forget about him, take what memories you've got, and hide in the bushes until you can find a way back home. That's my advice. And if we can't get you back home, you can always stay with us."

            "Yeah, I suppose I've got to get back home. I haven't really thought about that yet. But, you know if I leave he'll just take you guys back and make me start all over again."

            "Don't you fret over us. We can take care of ourselves. The Magicmockers can always get us back. Once he realizes that, he'll give up."

            She didn't show evidence of having heard Hoggle's statement, though she had. "What is he hiding, Hoggle? The only emotion I can think that he would hide would be hatred towards me. There's nothing else I can see. Perhaps something less dramatic, like rivalry?" She sighed. "Oh, I don't know, Hoggle."

            "I know Jareth, and if there's anything he's hiding, it ain't hatred towards you," Hoggle assured. "I seen it when Jareth hates somebody, and it ain't pretty. Mind you, if he even hated you in the slightest, you wouldn't be here right now. Anyhow, I seen the way he treats you sometimes. I was figurin' while in the oubliette, you see-"

            "You were in the oubliette?" Sarah queried. "You mean, when I thought you were on the necklace?"

            "Um, yes," he replied, seeming a little annoyed by being cut off while explaining his thoughts. "As I was sayin', I did some figurin' and I think he asked me to bring you food and talk to you 'cause maybe he cares-"

            Before he could finish his statement, Rattlebeak flew over to them and perched himself on Sarah's shoulder.

            "Hi, Rattlebeak," Sarah exclaimed cheerfully. She felt better after having spoken to Hoggle, but not quite fully resolved.

            Hoggle scowled at the interruption.

            "Hey, lady! What'cha up to? You should be out there havin' fun with everybody else."

            "Just talking to Hoggle," she replied. She realized that the two had not been properly introduced. Many times she had spoken of her friends on the way here; she scorned herself for not having introduced Rattlebeak to any of them. "Hey, Rattlebeak, this is Hoggle. Hoggle - Rattlebeak."

            "So," Rattlebeak began, "you're the grumpy old sot I've heard of so often! Sarah speaks quite highly of you," he said, finding no qualms over using such an apparent a contradiction of statements.

            Hoggle was insulted. "Sarah!" He looked to her to deny Rattlebeak's declaration.

            She shrugged her shoulders apologetically, confirming the statement instead.

            "Oh Rattlebeaky!"

            Everyone in the small conversational group turned their heads to see a peach-colored bird calling Rattlebeak from a tree across the clearing. Rattlebeak turned to Sarah, a grin pinching the corners of his beak. "I'll talk to you later."

            He flew toward the female bird, calling, "Coming Peaseblossom!" as she disappeared, giggling, behind the foliage. He flew after her with haste, vanishing behind the trees, as well.

            "He's a riot," Sarah said to Hoggle as she looked in the direction Rattlebeak had once been.

            Hoggle grunted indignantly. "Sounds more like a noisy nuisance to me."

            Sarah chuckled and replied, "You don't realize how much the two of you are alike."

            He gave her an injured look, and attested, "Us alike! Perish the thought."

            Sarah looked at him and he did not seem as sure of his statement as his tone had implied. He saw her gaze and put on a stern expression of more certainty. "I tell you, there's nothing alike about us!" he declared, crossing his arms. Sarah saw his seriousness and fell against the tree, holding her aching sides as she laughed uncontrollably. She didn't know where the sudden laughter had come from, but it was as if she was finally letting go of all of her worries.

            She continued to laugh as Hoggle emphatically denied a relationship of any kind between him and Rattlebeak; she didn't stop when her eyes filled with merry tears; she carried on when the elves looked at her with smiles on their faces; and she endured, even as eyes from the forest studied her.

***

Jareth stood in the shadows, almost a shadow himself, hidden behind hanging vines and green leaves that dangled from the trees around the clearing. For added protection he had discovered a wide tree whose trunk split at the height of his chest, giving him concealment and putting him within the view of Sarah.

            He was relieved to a certain extent, seeing that she did not know him as well as he had sometimes suspected, as she had tended to pretend in his presence. It also looked as if someone was adding to her indecisiveness over him by telling her that he was confused. It was not true and it seemed whoever had said it had been the confused one, but it added to his control over the situation. If she pitied him for his "confusion" then she would be more accepting.

            That matter did not trouble him. However, the rest of the conversation did.

            Once again, he found himself questioning his rights, his motives, his very being. He knew and had finally accepted the fact that there was a part of him that did not want to frighten her, a part that wanted this journey to lack as much burden as it possibly could. But there was the other side, the side that told him fear was necessary, the side that, up until this very moment, had always prevailed. It was his nature. He had learned very quickly that instilling fear within those you wished to control made them follow orders without question, forced them to stay in check. He had learned this fact early on, shortly after he had acquired the crystals, shortly after he had gained rulership of the Goblin City and the Labyrinth. It was a truth that had become part of him, so much in fact, that he needn't think to put it into action. He had never doubted this truth. Until now.

            It also seemed strange to him that, for so long now he had been thinking that Sarah despised him beyond reason, wanting nothing more than to spurn him from her existence entirely. Not until he had spoken to Toby had he found this to be false. Now he was to find that Sarah, instead of abhorring him, was pondering if he bore any hatred toward her. Of course he did not. He may have felt a resentment toward her at times, a resentment driven by their rivalry, by his constant battle to put her at bay, but he most certainly did not hate her.

            'Oh, damn you, Jareth,' he thought vehemently to himself. He was becoming annoyed with the sudden inconsistency of his emotions. What was it Sarah had said? That he was using his anger to hide some other emotion? What foolishness! She was a great deal younger than he, if not in appearance, then at least in age, and she was still thinking like a teenager who was trying to be adult about the situation. Yet, he had been feeling new, unfamiliar emotions of late and had constantly been at battle with himself to push them away. If anything, he detested change when he had not planned or been expecting it. It was unacceptable. As was anyone defying him openly....

            And Sarah had done so by bringing her friends here. It was a relief to know that they were not here by her own hands, but by the magic of the birds instead, but she had once again prolonged the conclusion of his exploits.

            Sarah sat back against a tree a few yards from the fire, listening as the fox babbled on to her, laughing as the dwarf made great motions to silence him, smiling as she pillowed her head against the beast's red, shaggy fur. She was happy. Happier than Jareth had ever seen her, especially while in his domain. His first inclination was to cause them to disappear out of spite and lock them away with a spell so strong that no creature of the Underground might be able to free them, but he pushed it aside with the surfacing of a curious, new impulse, one that he knew never would have come about in the past, one that he was startled, somewhat afraid, was coming about now.

            The pain came then ebbed, echoing a warning.

            'Remember your duty to me.'

            He could not allow her to keep her friends permanently. They could not remain with her for long, or his plan would have no time to be carried out. Normally he would have taken them away instantly, without a moment's thought. But tonight, he was feeling benevolent, for no reason he could explain. He would allow her the night and the next day before he removed them from her company.

            For once, if only for a moment, he wanted nothing more than to see her smile as she was doing now. He wished it could last, for both him and for her, but due to circumstances, it could not. Always would his cruelty prevail when before her.

            Just this once the leopard would allow himself to change his spots.

            "I have to have that stone," he whispered to himself. "If she has her friends, then she'll have no reason to retrieve it for me. Minus friends, minus hope of escaping the errand I have set before her.

            "Ah," he continued, concern touching his voice, "but I don't wish to diminish all of her hope. I'll just take her companions one by one.

            "Then," he added in a low tone, almost as if he were thinking it instead of voicing it, "Sarah my dear, you'll see who rules this kingdom."

            He brushed thought of the matter aside easily, thinking instead on the result of his scheme, what the next day would bring in the evolving of his plans. No longer would he question himself, not tonight, hopefully not again. Questioning oneself was a weakness, for it was a form of regret. Weakness would not be tolerated.

            Still, as he transformed into the owl and flew through the canopy, into the dark sky and its twinkling stars, one thing managed to tug at the corner of his mind.

            What had Hoggle been prepared to say before being interrupted by the bird? What did the dwarf think that he cared about? It was a question that he did not wish to ponder over, perhaps out of a fear over the answer. So, like all other unwanted matters for that evening, he laid it to rest.

***

Sarah tried her hardest to put forth a cheerful expression as Sir Didymus continued his story. Had that been who she thought it was? Just moments ago she could have sworn that she caught a wisp of blond hair and the stare of blue eyes behind the wall of vines. It was not entirely unlikely that he would be spying on her in such a manner. But, when she had looked again to confirm the sight, there had been nothing there. Perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her.

            If not, her friends would surely be gone by morning.

            "And I said to the scoundrel, 'Halt! You are trespassing on the King's Grounds!'"

            Sarah tuned in to hear Sir Didymus resuming his tale of valor. It suddenly became top priority for Sarah to take in all she could of her friends' company. It was quite likely that they would not be accompanying her on the rest of her journey. It occurred to her as odd that they were not gone already.

            "My fair maiden, are you listening?" Sir Didymus queried politely.

            Sarah turned back to him from her silent musings and replied, "Yes, of course I was. Continue."

            "As I was saying, the scoundrel challenged me to a duel at that precise moment! All because I would not let him enter the castle. A fool, no doubt, for my swordsmanship is known throughout the lands. 'En garde,' said I, and thus began the shortest battle I have ever fought in. He was most certainly no match for me. I called..."

            He spoke fluidly, rarely stopping for breath as he did so. Sarah wondered if he would ever tire.

            "He ain't ever gonna' shut up," Hoggle whispered into her ear, almost as if reading her mind. "Lemme see if I can arrange something to occupy him."

            Hoggle rose from his position on the dusty ground and brushed his pants off before walking away.

            "Sir Hoggle?" Didymus prodded. "Do you not wish to hear the rest of my tale?"

            "I'd love to," Hoggle replied, not stopping in his escape, "but I got somethin' to take care of."

            "Surely it can wait, can it not?"

            "No," Hoggle replied testily, "it can't."

            "Just a few moments?" Didymus continued to beg.

            "Look, I'll be back in - a - minute," he bit off the words just before spinning around and heading for his destination.

            "Well, I suppose we can proceed without him," Sir Didymus said to Ludo, Sarah, and a few elves that were listening.

            As he resumed his tale, Sarah watched Hoggle carry out his machinations. He was talking to a elfin girl across the clearing, obviously explaining the dilemma. Shortly after, he returned with a relieved smile and whispered into Sarah's ear once again, "He'll be distracted, all right."

            "What did you do?" she asked while Sir Didymus was facing the rest of the group.

            "You'll see in a minute," Hoggle answered sheepishly.

            And, as Hoggle had promised, she did see. The young elfin girl came across the clearing and tapped on Didymus's shoulder.

            "If you could let me finish first," Didymus said before turning around. Once he did, he was stunned by the girl's beautiful face and attempted to remove his foot from his mouth. "My Lady...I-I apologize for my...rude behavior," he stuttered nervously as he bowed and removed his hat. "How may I be of service to you?" he added as he put his hat back onto his head, shaking profusely. Sarah had never seen him so nervous. It seemed ironic that Sir Didymus, the unperturbable, was feeling intimidated by a female.

            The girl giggled warmly at his anxiety. "You're kinda cute."

            It took him a few moments of working his jaw before he could respond. "I...I am?"

            "Sure," she said after another giggle.

            He finally gained his composure and took her hand, declaring with sophistication, "My Lady, you are much more so than I. I am meager when compared to your beauty." After he kissed her hand he asked, "May I have this dance?"

            "Sure," she replied cheerfully as he led her nearer to the fire.

            "That takes care of that," Hoggle said as he reclined against the tree.

            The three sat in silence and watched the dancers, the other elves that had been listening to Didymus's story rising and going on to different areas of conversation.

            "What had you been about to say when everyone interrupted you awhile ago?" Sarah asked Hoggle after some moments.

            "What? Oh, that. Well, um, yes, what had I been going to say?... Oh, yes, now I remember. I was thinkin' that maybe Jareth cares about-"

            Before he could could complete his statement, a young male elf grabbed Sarah's hand and pulled her into the dance. "Hey!" she exclaimed with the surprise of his jerk.

            Despite her exclamations, it did not take her long to fight back her urge to sit back down and speak with Hoggle.

            "My father tells me that, if you do not take time for happiness, then there will be no hope in the world," the elf declared above the music and laughter.

            The dance was fast-paced and the foliage flew by Sarah in a green blur. She did not feel as light on her feet as the elf, for fear of swinging to close to the fire. The elf did not seem to possess that fear.

            "That's easy for him to say," she replied somewhat sarcastically. "He doesn't have time chasing him at the heels."

            A playful smile crossed the elf's face. "That's why we make a campfire. The light wards off creatures of the night."

            "This is quite different," she replied. "Time cannot merely be chased off. It has no fear of the light."

            "I believe my father would say it was exactly the same thing."

            "Who is your father?"

            "Sage, the leader of our group."

            The wise leader, Sage. Sarah wondered if his son was correct. Would he say it was the same thing?

            "Sing!" the elf exclaimed.

            Sarah broke from her reverie. "What?"

            "Sing! Sing! Be joyful! You have friends! All are merry!"

            "I do have everything I could wish for, don't I?" she replied, quickening her step, dragging her friends into the dance. They gladly joined.

 

Finally, the campsite was quiet and all were asleep. Even the seemingly forever-burning fire had died down, along with the lovely elfin and Magicmocker tunes that had only a couple of hours ago filled the misty, summerlike air. Only Sarah remained awake.

            She had put on the look of sleep at first, waiting until all was silent before sitting up and opening her eyes. Ludo was leaning against the tree, an imprint in his fur where Sarah's head had been lying an hour ago. She reclined against the broad trunk next to him and pet his shaggy fur lightly, not daring to move more than was necessary for fear of waking him or the others. Hoggle was asleep on the ground to her right, covered in a blanket, his hands used as a wall between his head and the floor. Sir Didymus was standing a couple of trees down, having meant to guard the campsite, now quite asleep. His snoring was light, almost as if, despite the fact that he looked like he was deep in slumber, something was stirring inside of him, preparing to strike if the need arose.

            Sarah looked for the wise Sage, but found him missing. Perhaps he had things to take care of.

            Sarah could not sleep, despite all of her efforts to do so. She had a number of questions that had been left unanswered, a mountain of things she wished to know. How was she to get home? What would be done to protect her friends? What was it that she had been sent to find in the first place? What was its purpose? What would happen to Isabelle when she was gone?

            Getting up carefully, she stretched. When she did, she saw an interesting silhouette in the forest. She decided to go carefully to find out what it was, using its existence as an excuse to go for a short walk.

            As she approached, getting further and further from the campsite, her fear escaping her, she thought, 'There are too many questions.'

            "Indeed, my child, there are many questions," a familiar voice said, the source being the shadow that she had come to examine.

            Suddenly, a small fire rose from the ground and shed some light on Sage. His soft, elfin features were sharpened by the orange light escaping the flames, his eyes glistening under the influence of the fire's glow. The only indication that he was old was given by his graying, black hair and elderly voice. Besides those features, he looked no older than any other elf. He carried himself calmly and with cool certainty, giving Sarah the impression that he had lived many years a knew a great deal more than she could possibly imagine. From the beginning she had trusted herself to him completely.

            "Sit, dear Sarah," he said softly, patting an empty spot next to him on the fallen tree at which he was sitting. She complied without question.

            "What troubles your sleep this night?" he asked as he looked down upon a flower that he was twirling in his fingers. It was closed, as flowers are at night. "Do the questions plague you so?"

            "Yes," she replied, feeling it quite natural that he would know exactly what it was that was disturbing her.

            "Sometimes," he said, "you seek the question when you already have the answer. When you are lacking either, one is just as difficult to discover as the other. What is your case?"

            "There is so much, I think that it is very likely both," Sarah stated in response to his query.

            He nodded. "Quite likely. I should think that you have the capability of finding both the question and the answer, if you put your mind to it and believe that you can. Without belief in yourself, then you will find it hard to believe any conclusion that you draw for yourself."

            "If I can, why have I not done it yet?" she asked.

            "Patience child. If you think on it so much that you no longer live life, you will miss the answer when it is told to you because you are so wrapped up in your pondering." The flower remained still.

            "Will I have no help in answering the questions, or even finding out what they are?"

            "Of course, my dear. I am helping you now, aren't I?"

            Sarah looked down at the ground, not knowing what to ask first.

            "I see how close you and your companions are," he remarked. "You bear a friendship that I have seen among few in the Underground, except in elfin tribes. The Goblin King has strong magic. You must worry that he will not let you keep them."

            "Yes," she replied. The elf fell silent. She had been expecting him to comfort her by telling her a way to bring them to safety or to even tell her that the Goblin King would leave them be. He did not.

            "Your companions will be here in the morning," he assured quietly. "Perhaps even longer than that."

            "Then the Goblin King will take them?"

            "You must be aware, dear, that I am not gifted with foresight. I am merely an old elf who has the ability to judge circumstances. I am correct in my assumptions most of the time, but not always."

            "I understand," Sarah explained. "Please tell me what you know and what you think will happen."

            The elf sighed in syncopation to the wind before beginning his interpretation of the case. "First, in order for you to comprehend the source of some of my judgements, I must sing to you the old elfin tune that bears your name. The one I mentioned earlier this evening." He cleared his throat and began:

 

                        "Oh, dark-haired angel, Sarah,

                         Stranger to this land,

                         Came here to face her rival,

                         To fight and take a stand.

 

                         For him infatuation,

                         For her a spellbound fear,

                         Between them was a child,

                         To her was very dear.

 

                         After joining hands,

                         Across the Underground,

                         She solved the puzzling Labyrinth,

                         And there the child was found.

 

                         She left the land off better,

                         With boundless knowledge gained,

                         But one thing she did not know-

                         She'd touch the land again.

 

                         The prophets see her coming,

                         To learn again galore,

                         To reunite with friends,

                         To gain so many more.

 

                         Now comes another journey,

                         Significant to all,

                         To bring a longed-for concept,

                         To answer destiny's call."

 

            She stared at him in disbelief. Had she been the subject of song and storytelling for so long? It was hard to fathom that she might bear any importance to anyone other than herself. What longed-for concept would she bring? Would she bring it to herself or to others?

            "I detect more questions," Sage said, chuckling. "I also see that this song must indeed pertain to you. Before you ask anything, let me answer some of your other questions. Even prophets have their limits to what knowledge they can gain. It is given to them by the stars as the stars see fit to give. I know little else than what the song says, but I have picked up a few things in my travels. I would expound upon the song, but I am afraid that it is not my right to do so. There is a great deal that you must learn on your own. But I will tell you that I do not know how you will accomplish what the song says you must. I can assist you in any way I can. I have seen you all evening, sitting aside, no doubt pondering your next course of action."

            "Yes, I was wondering how I was to get home; what would happen to my friends."

            "Why were you sent in the first place?" queried the old elf.

            "I was supposed to get a treasure for Jareth," she related. "I know nothing of it, for he refuses to tell me what it's for. All I know is that it is located atop the highest plateau of a desert bordering on the grasslands."

            He twirled the flower between his fingers. "This is somewhat disturbing," Sage replied, his face dropping to a frown.

            "What is?" Sarah asked, her stomach dropping slightly at his change in expression.

            "There is another elfin song, kept in secrecy for many years. No one has known it except for ourselves, until now."

            "Why is it such a big secret?"

            "It is most dangerous for anyone to retrieve the subject of the song. I will recite it to you, without tune:

 

                        "Beyond the king's strong castle,

                        The Labyrinth's winding walls,

                        The forest's green-leaf tassels,

                        The mountains great and tall,

                        There stands a red-clay desert,

                        With plateaus wondrous high,

                        Its shadows stretch out long and dark,

                        Its winds shall never die.

 

                        One must pass the winding terrain,

                        Through the lush, green woods,

                        Over the coldness of mountain's pain,

                        To where the sun does brood.

                        There the gift of power is found,

                        Atop the highest plain,

                        There it will stay, quiet and sound,

                        Until one comes to gain.

 

                        Only the pure and good of heart

                        May reap this treasure's rewards,

                        But once from those hands it does depart,

                        It's evil ways will soar.

 

                        Silent in beauty,

                        Quiet in thought,

                        Its powers doth grow,

                        While enemies fought.

                        Its gleaming, bright brilliance,

                        Its violet light,

                        Its painstaking innocence,

                        While enemies still fight."

 

            "So, he has sent me to get something that will make him more powerful? More powerful than he is now?!" Sarah declared, her voice rising in volume with the ascent of her emotions.

            "Quiet, child," Sage coaxed. "It will not help to wake the others and worry them over this matter. We will discuss it between ourselves before any action is taken."

            "Why do I have to get it for him? Why can't he get it himself?"

            "Long ago, this evil crystal was obtained by someone with an evil heart and an equally devious mind. An elfin warrior and magician went into this man's stronghold, facing a number of obstacles within, before finally taking the crystal from his possession.  The elf fled to a place where he planned to hide the crystal- the plateaus, as we know- and left it there, under a spell. First, he covered the crystal by an enchantment that prevented the crystal from going about evil ways. You think this just a stone, my child, but it is far more than that. It has consciousness and emotions and is seething within its hiding place, looking for a way to release its vengeance. But it has patience my dear. It will wait. It is evil, while the Goblin King is merely set in a few evil ways."  He sighed.  "Well, back to the elfin magician. He then put a second enchantment on the stone, allowing only the hands of the good retrieve it from the plateau."

            "Why let anyone take it at all?" Sarah asked. "He could have just formed a spell not allowing anyone to take it, or he might have destroyed it."

            "Oh no, evil that strong cannot be destroyed. Only suppressed. The reason he did not banish it from use was that, if used by the good, it might prove useful. More than that, there may be a time that it was greatly needed. He did not expect anyone to go by the methods that the Goblin King has to gain its power."

            "I feel terrible," Sarah said unhappily. "I was about to bring doom to the whole world."

            "No, child, it is not your fault," Sage consoled. "You had to do what was necessary to assist your companions. Even the Goblin King himself is very little at fault for this."

            "How can that be?" Sarah argued vehemently. "He started this whole mess! He was looking to have more than he deserved!"

            "Hush, child," the elf responded quietly while pulling Sarah's hair back. "The Goblin King was ignorant of the power the stone possessed. No doubt he has only heard traces of the song, for we rarely sing it, afraid that there will be dangerous eavesdroppers, such as himself. The Goblin King's motives are wrong, but I know that even he is wise enough to not wish any harm brought upon the lands of the Underground, especially not as much harm as the stone would surely bring."

            "The man has as much wisdom as a rock," Sarah stated angrily, not venting her spleen on Sage, but on the far-off Goblin King instead.

            "Sarah," Sage chuckled, "I can tell that you think I am old. The years bear a vast amount of knowledge, moreso as they become greater. Wisdom not always comes with contemplation over life. It comes with living life. The Goblin King is close to my age, no matter how hard it is to believe, and he has knowledge whether he wants it or not. He is certainly no fool."

            "He has a little girl in his castle," Sarah said wearily. "I have never seen such a bright child, except for my own brother. She is kind and loyal; to him... to everyone. When I was first there, the girl was filthy and wore rags. She is a servant to him, and yet, somehow I know that he deems himself her guardian. How can a man be so careless over someone that he obviously cares for? When she was wronged, he pained himself to put it right, perhaps in his own materialistic ways, but he did try to fix things."

            "And you do not believe he did it for ulterior motives?" Sage asserted.

            "I don't know what I believe. She said something about it to me. What she said gave me the impression that he has been doing good things- such as what he did while I was there- for a long time now. So I don't think he favored her just because I did, as well. Besides, even if she had been mistreated by anyone else, he wouldn't waste his time in reconciling himself if he didn't feel something for her. But he neglects her, is very forceful with her at times. How can someone be so cruel to someone they hold so dearly?"

            "I think that is a question that concerns yourself as well as the young girl you speak of," the elf affirmed.

            "Jareth? Care about me? I agree with many things you say, but that is one thing I think you are incorrect in assuming. You should see how he treats me. Just another slave from another world."

            "I am not the only one who thinks so. There is someone that knows him better than even you or I who agrees with me," Sage countered.

            "Who?" Sarah asked, curiousity visible on her face. "The only one who knows him is...."

            "Hoggle," Sage finished.

            "You've spoken with him?" Sarah questioned.

            "Yes. After you seemingly fell asleep."

            Sarah smiled in spite of herself. "He had been trying to say something to me earlier...That could have been it. Still, I strongly disagree. Maybe he puts on that front for others, some part of this whole scheme that I don't yet know of...."

            "Don't trouble yourself over it, child. Perhaps it's not something you're ready to face. Anyhow, I could be mistaken. There are matters of greater importance which we must look at."

            Sarah sighed. "No, you may be right. But I would rather not discuss it now. Like you said, there are more important things to talk about."

            "As you wish."

            There were a few moments of silence before Sage continued. "What is the course of action you plan to take tomorrow?"

            "I don't know. Look for a way home, I guess. There's little else for me to do. Find out a way to keep my friends safe while I'm gone."

            "I didn't wish to worry you further," Sage said sadly, "but, as long as the Goblin King's errand is left undone, there is no way to be sure of your friends' safety. Even if you do leave, he will either make you start your journey over again, or he will find someone else to do it."

            "I didn't think of that," Sarah admitted. "So, I have to get it for him anyway?"

            "You don't have to get it for HIM..." Sage said, a sardonic grin playing across his lips.

            "Of course!" Sarah exclaimed. Sage put his finger to his lips, the smile still on his face. "I can get it anyways, but keep it for myself, or hide it. I guess I'm so tired that I wasn't thinking straight. That's what the song meant for me to do!"

            "I am sure you would have done it anyway, Sarah. You're heart is as pure as gold. You will have no trouble in getting the stone. Mind you, though," Sage added, almost as an afterthought, "once he touches it, it will become extremely dangerous. Do not let him get his hands on it."

            "What do you think he will do when he finds out I am still on the quest?"

            "Most likely, he will believe that you are going after the stone as a means of getting home," Sage rationalized.

            "And, my friends?"

            Sage sighed, and again the wind sighed with him. The flower between his fingers moved with the air. "I wish I could tell you otherwise, dear, but I believe that he will eventually take them. But you have the advantage. He has wisely kept the use of the crystal a secret from you. He is not aware that you know what it's for."

            "So," Sarah reasoned, "I can use it to get my friends back before I leave. How do I use it? Isn't there some kind of chant?"

            "No," Sage answered. "You must," he rose one eyebrow, "be gifted with magic."

            "What?" Sarah looked at him, baffled. "How am I supposed to use it, then?"

            "That," he looked at her mysteriously with amusement, thought Sarah, mirrored in his eyes, "you will discover on your journey."

            Sarah reflected a moment before speaking. "I may find someone who can."

            "Perhaps so."

            Sarah rose and stretched, yawning loudly as she did so. Her hands retreated into her pockets and she looked down at Sage, who still held the flower between his thumb and forefinger. It had opened up and its interior was sparkling.

            Sage rose as well. "I couldn't help but notice your lovely bracelet."

            Sarah pulled her hand from her pocket and looked at the piece of jewelry. "This? Yes, it was a gift from Isabelle."

            "Isabelle?"

            "The little girl I told you about."

            "What is inside of the locket?" Sage questioned.

            "I don't know," Sarah conceded. "I've been so preoccupied that I haven't looked." She opened it up and found it empty. "Oh, well. I suppose all she has is Jareth and I wouldn't put his picture in the locket, either."

            "Don't be so hasty to judge, child," Sage admonished. "Nevertheless," he added, "it's a good place to keep things."

            "Like what?"

            "Here," Sage took her hand and held up the open locket. "This might be useful on your quest." He poured the contents of the flower into the locket, the particles falling in a sparkling cascade.

            "What's it-"

            Sir Didymus jumped from hiding and abruptly stopped the conversation. Sage closed the locket quickly before her startled jolt could allow its contents to spill on the ground.

            "Aha! I have you now, intruders!" Didymus cried while waving his spear about threateningly.

            "Did you think-," he stopped short when he finally got a good look at who it was he was threatening. He moved his lower jaw from side to side as if trying to loosen some of his embarrassment. "My lady, pardon my intrusion upon your conversation."

            Sarah chuckled. "It's all right, Didymus. We were done," she looked to Sage for approval, "I think."

            He nodded to her then turned to say something to the fox. "You have a fine knight in your company. I have never seen someone so alert and prepared to protect his escort."

            Sarah thought she saw the same humor in his eyes that she had seen moments ago. This time she knew its cause for being there. She was just as aware as Sage was that they had been talking for quite some time now, and if they had been intruders, the campers would have been intruded upon by now.

            Sir Didymus bowed to the elf and gave his gratification for the kind remark. He then stepped aside and said, "My lady," indicating for her to go ahead of him. She declined his offer, and he made his own way back to the clearing. Before she left, she turned around and asked, "You knew I was coming all along, didn't you?"

            He cocked his head to the side, giving her a wry smile, almost as if to say, 'maybe'.

She thanked him and headed back for the campsite herself. Looking at the sky, she noted that dawn would be only a couple of hours away. She was happy to think that, for the first time in all of the times she had been in the Underground, she would feel comforted enough to sleep in the next day.

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