Лабиринт - LABYRINTH II
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CHAPTER XX

Sarah awoke to sounds of clanking pots and talking elves, smells of sumptuous food and hearty ales. When she sat up and opened her eyes, the sun was already high in the sky and the clearing was bustling with energy, elves preparing the midday meal, her companions gathering supplies; for what she did not know. The air was quite warm, so she removed the opressive jacket that Jareth had given as the only means of keeping herself warm on cool nights. It was so much a part of him that she really was not prepared to make it a part of herself as well, though he had found a way of forcing her to.

            Sage's son came across the clearing to greet her. "Good morning, sleeping beauty! I trust you slept well?"

            "Yes," she replied, blushing. "What time is it?"

            "Time? Well, elves don't follow the hands of a clock. I suppose that it's sometime in the afternoon."

            "I must have slept a long time!" she exclaimed.

            "Indeed you did," he answered cordially. "According to my father, it was a greatly needed rest. I take it that your thoughts no longer plague you as they once did?"

            "Yes, thanks to your father." Sarah smiled at the speed in which news passed around the elfin group. Of course, he was Sage's son, so what should she expect? It was healthy for a father to share things with his son.

            "If you don't mind," the young elf put forth respectfully, "my father would like a word with you."

            She gladly obliged as he directed her to where Sage was.

            "Ah! Awake, I see," Sage happily observed. He held something of white cloth draped over his arm. "This morning, when the early risers opened their eyes, a few young ladies among them pointed out to me that you were in need of some fresh clothing. My belief was quite in accordance with theirs, so they took it upon themselves to conjer up something for you."

            He held it out and Sarah saw that it was a dress, very similar to the one that she had worn while practicing for the play entitled, "The Labyrinth", five years ago, the morning before she had made her first journey to the Underground.

            The one that Sage held was white, with long sleeves that flared out at the wrists, and an unobstructed, curved collar. She accepted it with enthusiasm and many thanks, putting it against herself to find that it was only a half a foot away from touching the ground. It was so flawless in its formation that she wondered if the elfin girls had really "conjered it up."

            "Now," Sage interrupted her admiration of the dress, "It seems likely that you haven't bathed in days, so I am sure that you would like to join the other maidens as they bathe in the lake at which we found your party last night."

            Again, she thanked him, and walked through a small stretch of forest before reaching the lake.

 

Sarah came back to the clearing, feeling refreshed and comfortable in her new dress, the smells of freshly made food causing her stomach to churn impatiently with hunger.

            With spring in her step, she plopped down next to Ludo and greeted him. He gave her his usual, warm, simple response.

            She was promptly handed some ale and stew, looking to her like nectar from the gods after days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Eagerly she ate the food as she watched Hoggle and Didymus talk to a few elves. Occassionally she sipped at the ale, washing it around in her mouth in order to savor the strange flavor. She was quite sure she would never taste its like again. It was far from any breakfast, or lunch rather, that she had ever had at home.

            She found herself thinking of the elves, their rejoicing during the night, their pleasantness during the day while they worked, leading into the next night in which they would rejoice again. It seemed to her that the elves truly savored life, like a fine ale, determined to wash every bit of flavor from it before their passing from its realm. She wished that she could live her life like an elf. Sadly, though, she would have to leave soon if she wanted to complete her journey.

            "Are you just about ready?"

            Sarah turned as Hoggle put his hand on her shoulder. Was she ready? "For what?" she inquired.

            "To resume the quest," he replied plainly.

            "I didn't think we would leave SO soon," she answered, putting her cup of ale down. "I figured that you guys were ready for a break. You were getting along so well with the elves-"

            "Yeah, but what you're after's more important," he said. "To ev'rybody."

            "So, Sage told you, too?"

            "Sure. He had plenty of time," he added teasingly.

            "Oh, sure," she playfully replied. "You didn't have to worry about the whole world half the night."

            "I'm just picking at you, missy. We won't go if you're not ready."

            She looked around her and observed the tranquility with regret. "No, I think we should leave as soon as possible. There's really not time to waste."

            "Sure thing," he declared as he headed back to the fox to tell him.

            Sarah spooned up the rest of her stew and got up to look for her jacket. She found it folded up by the tree she had slept near the night before. As she picked it up, she noticed something red in a tree across the clearing. When she rose, she saw Rattlebeak staring quietly at her.

            "Hey," he greeted despondently as she walked to meet him.

            "Hi. What'cha been up to?" Sarah asked.

            "Oh, nothin'," he replied with an effort to sound happy.

            "So, how did you fare with your lady-friend last night?"

            "Okay, I guess."

            Sarah realized why he was so despaired and was somewhat flattered by it. "You know, I hate to leave."

            "Well, don't," he articulated, suddenly speaking with sharp conviction as he began to show his disappointment over her parting. "You've got your friends back, so you don't have to go after what'sisname's treasure anymore!"

            "You know I do," she replied softly. "I have to keep it away from him. If I don't get it now, Jareth will find someone else to do it, and chances are that they won't be so aware of what danger it holds for the whole Underground. This is the only chance I have to overthrow him."

            He looked at her sadly and said sincerely, "Good luck, Lady."

            "You sure you won't come with us?"

            "Nah. I've had enough excitement to last me awhile. Besides, my folks will worry."

            Sarah found herself wondering if her parents were distressed by her sudden absence, as well.  "Well," she replied cheerfully, "you may always find another lonely traveler who needs their life brightened up just as much as you did mine."

            "Oh, hush with that mush," he retorted. Even as he said it, Sarah could tell that he was flattered by her remark.

            "Sarah?"  She revolved to see the elf leader, Sage, standing behind her.

            "Sage, thank you for everything."

            "Think nothing of it, child," he replied.

            Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus approached from behind Sage, Hoggle carrying a leather knapsack by a strap.

            "What do you have there?" Sarah asked him.

            "Rattlebeak told me that you've lost all the food and supplies," Hoggle explained.

            Sarah saw by the way that Hoggle mentioned Rattlebeak that the two were finally acquainted and on the way to friendship. "Unfortunately," was her reply to Hoggle's remark.

            "I spoke with the elves this morning," Hoggle continued, "and they agreed to replace what you had lost."

            So that's what he had been up to earlier that morning.  "You don't know how much all of this means to me," Sarah said to the elderly elf. "I am forever in your debt."

            He took her hands in his and said softly, as if it was meant only for her to hear, "You owe us nothing. Succeed in your quest and we shall be repaid a million times over."

            Sarah was suddenly reminded of the unknown importance of her journey and the words of the elfin song that had deemed it so: "Now comes another journey, significant to all, to bring a longed-for concept, to answer destiny's call..."

            Sage halted her contemplation by placing something in her hand.

            "What's this?" she inquired as she looked down upon it.

            "It is an enchanted amulet," he illuminated. "The elves are aware of many secrets the Underground bears. You may use it to contact us for advice. But be wise in your use, for it is only charmed enough to make two communications."

            "Do I need to know anything in order to use it?"

            "You already have in your knowledge how to use a magical item such as this," he pointed out.

            The crystals. That must be what he meant. "Again, I thank you for everything." She gave him a warm hug and turned to face Rattlebeak who was atop his perch on the tree.  "Well, I guess this is it, then," she remarked sadly. "Thank you for bringing my friends back."

            He brushed her comment aside with a wave of his wing. "Nothin' to it." He paused before sobering up. "I'll miss you, Sarah."

            She was filled with a strange mixture of happiness and sorrow. "I was starting to wonder if you remembered my name," she said with a slightly put on chuckle. She brushed his beak with the tip of her finger and continued, "I'll miss your rattling beak, Rattlebeak."

             He stood more erect on his scrawny, yellow legs and said with a cheery voice, "What can I say? The name defines character...You'd better get going before this Goblin King of yours wonders why you're not back already."

            "I don't claim him!" she countered lightheartedly, then bent over to kiss him on the beak. "Good-bye, Rattlebeak."

            She turned around to find her friends at the front of a great crowd of elves and Magicmockers. She felt as if, every time she had managed to make new friends, she ended up having to leave them.

            Sage was holding out a cloak for her and she bent down so he could drape the ties about her shoulder for Hoggle to fasten them. She then looked down at the jacket that she carried, removed the objects from its pockets and, no longer having a use for it, offered it to Sage. "Maybe you can find something that this will be good for. It's good leather."

            Sage nodded his head and recieved it thankfully. It seemed to Sarah as if he knew why she was really getting rid of it. Perhaps it was just a case of paranoia on her part.

            The party of old friends gave their good-byes and began on the trail toward the mountain. As they left, Rattlebeak called after Sarah, "Shoo, lady!....You've got the idea!!"

            By then the group was somewhat far off and Sarah acknowledged Rattlebeak with one last wave. As she turned around, never to look back again, she did not hear him whisper to himself, "Good-bye, Sarah."

***

Jareth had made all preparations. The goblins had been tucked away within their quarters, the afternoon meal had been made, the day's plans had been laid out. Jareth had finally decided to keep the Underground a secret, seeing that he would have very little to gain from telling Toby about it, perhaps would even lose some of his present footing if he did so, and found that his instincts told him that a lie was safer.

            Pallendor - commonly known as Jareth, the Goblin King - checked his appearance in the mirror one last time before making the journey above ground to retrieve Toby.

 

An hour later, Jareth, in the form of the white unicorn, blown up to its natural size, stood before his great castle with an awestricken Toby at his side.

            The stronghold loomed over them, a maize-colored structure with scattered openings for windows and tall parapets stretching into the sky, prodding it like jousting weapons.

            "You live here?" Toby managed to ask.

            "I am the king of this castle," Jareth replied proudly, admiring his home as well.

            "I didn't know a unicorn could be a king," Toby said disbelievingly.

            "Well," Jareth explained, "I don't know of any unicorns who are king, either. You see, Toby, I am not really a unicorn."

            "You're not?"

            "No. I used the unicorn figurine to travel from my home to yours. I," he said before transforming into his natural form, "am a human."

            Toby summed him up before saying, "You remind me of the Goblin King."

            Jareth had to protect himself from the child's obvious intelligence.  If Toby got even the slightest chance to see an element of Sarah's storytelling within this realm, the boy may not be so trusting.

            "Do I?" Jareth replied, playing coy. "I certainly hope that I don't act like him as well."

            "No," Toby assured. "You're nice."

            "I am appreciative of your acceptance."

            Jareth led Toby up the steps and into the throne room, allowing the child adequate time to marvel at his surroundings before answering any of the boy's questions. When he was finished, he bent over to Toby's height.

            "Now, Toby, what is your pleasure?"

            Toby ignored him and pointed to the covered painting. "What's that?" he inquired.

            Jareth looked at the source of his curiousity with slight worry, his trepidation quickly dissolving with the formation of a new addition to his plan. He wanted Toby's complete trust. He would have it.

            "Behind that cloak, my young friend, is a painting of my future queen," he answered while approaching it. He pulled the cord at its side to reveal the painting of the fifteen year-old Sarah.

            "That looks like my sister," Toby said, showing little surprise, but feeling it, no doubt. "Are you and Sarah gonna get married?"

            "Perhaps," Jareth replied.

            "But if she lives here," Toby said with a little disdain, "I won't get to see her anymore."

            "Not so, my young friend. She told me to bring you here to show you your new home," the Goblin King lied, "per chance she and I do wed."

            "What about Mama and Daddy?" Toby said, showing less concern over them than he did his sister.

            "They can visit whenever they like," Jareth replied, grinning like a cheshire cat.

            "Where's Sarah?" Toby asked, seeming pleased by the false news.

            "Running an errand."

            "When will she be back?"

            "It may be awhile," Jareth conceded. "Don't worry, though. Sarah told me to take care of you until she returns."

            "Really?" he declared with excitement. "How long do I get to stay?"

            "For now, just today. She doesn't wish to worry your parents. She also wants to keep me a secret, until she's ready to introduce me to them. Will you help us keep this a secret?"

            "If Sarah says so," he replied.

            "Good," Jareth answered, not able to hide the pleased, cockeyed smile that was crossing his face. "Now," he turned his back to Toby and sat on his haunches, "if you'll just climb onto my back....there's a good fellow....and I'll take us to the dining room where the cook has prepared our lunch." He turned his head to address Toby, who was now on his back.  "How does that sound to you?"

            "Great," the five year-old replied with visible enthusiasm.

            Without further inclination, Jareth sped down the hall towards the dining room, a thoroughly delighted Toby riding his back.

***

Sarah traversed the land with her companions, feeling ecstatic that her friends were present, proud that she was on her way to perform a notable deed, and petrified of the consequences that came with failure.

            The forest had thickened noticeably since they had begun and it was quite dark for the early afternoon. The ground they treaded on was thick with vines and fallen leaves, the bark of the trees burnt umber and oozing sap. She forced a barrier around herself, a layer that protected her from letting her surroundings frighten her or even sway her mood. She had a great deal more than she had ever had during the entire journey, and she would not be the one to look the gift horse in the mouth.

            She could see that her companions were trying to ignore the environment as well.

            "It hath been a long while since I have gone on a quest," Sir Didymus remarked. "No doubt, fair maiden, that it is of great significance?"

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

            "And, shall it be rewarding?"

            "I suppose you could say so, yes."

            "And laden with peril?" he asked hopefully.

            "I certainly hope not," she answered with conviction, looking to find Sir Didymus greatly disappointed. "Well, maybe there will be a LITTLE bit of danger," she corrected tactfully.

            He perked up.

            Hoggle looked up at her scornfully. "I certainly hope not!" he countered emphatically.

            Sarah took off her cloak and draped it over her arm thinking, Well, whether their is or not, we will, unfortunately, have no say in the matter.

             She observed the lighting situation again. It had become dramatically darker. Looking up she saw that the foliage blocked out most of the sunlight, letting only scattered rays of light sift through and reflect off of spores and particles of dust that were floating in the air. The atmosphere suddenly took on a pungent odor as well, like that of decomposing organisms. She watched the ground sink under her feet slightly with each step, leaving behind an inch-deep footprint every time. If it hadn't been for that, she wouldn't have noticed the net that was hidden under a bunch of leaves a few feet ahead.

            "Stop," she ordered, putting her arm out to block the progression of her comrades.

            "What is it?" Hoggle asked.

            "There," she pointed to the hidden mesh. "A net."

            "Oh, great," Hoggle declared disdainfully.

            It was Sarah's turn to wonder. "What's wrong?"

            "We're really deep in the Whispering Forest," he explained with distaste. "These...things called the Tusk-Noses live here. They sets lots of traps, to catch unsuspecting animals. For dinner."

            "Ah," the fox proclaimed, "but we are not animals."

            Hoggle looked at him irritably before saying, "It don't matter to them."

            Sir Didymus suddenly looked as if he no longer wanted the danger. "For dinner, you say?" he managed to say before taking an audible gulp.

            An owl hooted from a nearby tree and Ambrosius, Sir Didymus's dog, whined.

            Sarah cocked her head suspiciously to the sound of the owl before deciding what to say. "Okay," she finally began, "we'll have to be really careful. Watch where you step and keep your ears open. Talk as little as possible. Hoggle?"

            "Yeah?"

            "How long before we're outta this place?"

            "Not too long," he answered.

            "Good," she replied thankfully. "'Cause it sure gives me the creeps," she finished, mumbling to herself as she headed the group off.

            She did not know that Hoggle had heard the remark and nodded in agreement.

            Not had they gone five yards before she discovered a trip wire. "Here's one," she pointed out tersely, holding up some low branches that made it difficult to pass. "I'll hold this while everyone goes over it."

            Hoggle made it over and, just as Sir Didymus was about to climb past, a bird in the forest made a horrendous screech that sent the cowardly Ambrosius running for cover in the direction that the party had come.

            Sarah had not seen the dog flee and said to Sir Didymus when he turned around, "Are you coming?"

            He glanced agitatedly to the bush behind which the canine was concealed and answered, "I'll be with thee in a moment, milady."

            Sarah looked at the trail ahead apprehensively, afraid that the Tusk-noses would come out of hiding any minute, but quickly gave him an answer. "Okay, but hurry."

            He acknowledged her statement with a nod and headed off.

            "And be careful," she called after him quietly.

            Sir Didymus picked his way through some brambles while whistling and calling the dog's name. Not long after he began the search for his "trusty steed," he saw a white patch of fur mingling with the green of some dying underbrush. He called the sheepdog once again forcefully, but the canine continued to cower behind the thorny obstruction, shivering violently.

            "Ambrosius, this is the last occurrence in which I will tolerate this," Sir Didymus said angrily, strengthening each word with the thrust of his staff. "How do you imagine it looks for a noble knight such as myself to have such a cowardly mount? I am terribly ashamed of your behavior. When we return home, I am going to purchase one of those wretched creatures that the goblins ride! Now, see there!"

            Meanwhile, Sarah had crossed the trip wire, barely having completed her journey to the other side when she heard Hoggle's cry for help. Once she had examined the far side thoroughly, she found Hoggle dangling upside-down from a tree, a vine wrapped about his feet. She could tell that he was quite shaken.

            "Hoggle, what happened?!" she cried as she approached him.

            "I was waiting for you," he explained, spitting the words out as quickly as his mouth would allow, "and, before I had a chance to blink, everything's topsy-turvy!! What took you?"

            "Didymus had to do something," she said calmly as she began to search the knapsack for a blade to cut the vines.

            "Well, he should stop being such a nuisance!" Hoggle declared vehemently. "Oh, hurry up now, I don't want to hang here all day!"

            Sarah found the knife and answered, letting some exasperation slip into her tone, "I'm going as fast as I can. Don't get your underwear in a knot, I'll have you down in no time."

            "You ain't working fast enough!" he exclaimed nervously.

            "What's the deal?!" she shot back at him. "Why are you in such a big rush?"

            "'Cause, soon's one of these traps have been set off, sure thing a Tusk-nose's not far behind."

            "Well, good gracious, why didn't you just say so!" She began to work at the ropes with a new vigor, calling to Didymus as she did so, "Help Ludo over the rope, Didymus! We have to hurry!"

            Sir Didymus looked at his dog spitefully before turning around and walking away. "Coming, milady!" he called to her.

            The dog whined, looking for pity.  "It's no use, Ambrosius, I'll not stall the journey a moment longer," he said, hurrying away to the site of the trouble. "Stay there if you like!"

            When he arrived, Sarah was still rushing to sever the tough vines, and Ludo was watching for him before the rope. Sir Didymus held back the obstructing branches in order to let the beast pass safely before going over himself.

            The fox tripped and fell, sprawling across the ground. Everyone shot him an anxious glance, a look of fear on each of their faces as they waited for the trap to spring. Nothing happened.

            "See?" Sir Didymus said collectedly, brushing himself off, "There is no need for fear. All is well."

            They were no longer looking at him. Their gazes were now fixed on a stone placed precariously on a branch, its form beginning a swaying motion that had been triggered by Didymus's fall, the sway becoming a steady rock, the rock becoming a dangerous swing. All were silent. The rock did not fall, but began to slow down in its wobbling until it had nearly stopped.

            Everyone sighed in relief, having narrowly escaped another trap.

            That was when the rock fell.

            Thump! The rock dropped to the ground with a hollow noise, the rope that had been tied to it suddenly visible. There was a split-second of time for a "well-wouldn't-you-know-it?" expression to find its way to their faces before the remaining three that stood on the ground were swept into the air by a crude net.

            The knife that Sarah had been holding fell from her hand with the suddeness of the jolt and landed silently, its blade stabbed into the ground.

            Everyone was crammed together in the net awkwardly, Ludo's bulk crushing Sir Didymus, Sarah in a cockeyed position, her head pointing toward the ground.

            "You know," Sarah said sarcastically, the mesh pressing up her face so that it was hard to speak, "it seems to me that I should stop hanging around so much while I'm here. It's not healthy."

            "Oh, you guys look just peachy," Hoggle remarked bitterly. "Now we're doomed. No thanks to Mr., 'And will this trip be full of danger?' over there."

            Sir Didymus tried to make a counterstatement, but he was just finding it difficult enough to breath with Ludo on top of him, without trying to be articulate as well. The result was a pitiful mixture between a mumble of words and a painful moan.

            "Ludo," Sarah began, determined to attempt an escape, no matter how hopeless it seemed, "try to move over some and let Sir Didymus climb to the top."

            Ludo complied, the net rocking back and forth with his efforts.

            "I can feel the blood rushin' into my head," Hoggle complained. "You just watch, my head's gonna pop open any minute now."

            "Stop..." Sarah managed with her struggle to move and allow Ludo more room, "complaining....At least....you have (grunt) all of that space to....yourself."

            After a great amount of shuffling and racket, the three had gotten just about as comfortable as they were going to get.

            Didymus looked over the edge to find Ambrosius waiting patiently, his tongue hanging out in a pant.

            "Ambrosius!" Didymus cried. "So, you came after all!"

            Meanwhile, Sarah began her cogitations, attempting to concentrate over Sir Didymus's heartfelt, one-sided conversation with the dog. "Now," she stated resolutely, "how will we get ourselves out of this one?"

            "No need to think upon the matter, sweet damsel!" Sir Didymus suddenly declared. "My noble steed shall rescue us!"

            The dog barked in what seemed to be affirmation.

            "That dog!" Hoggle exclaimed vindictively. "He's going to stay there and watch us get dragged to our death!" Hoggle shot the dog a malicious look.  "But, guess what, doggy? You'll be the first one they eat!"  As far as Sarah knew, Hoggle bore no resentment for the dog, so he must be taking his agressions out on him instead. He was being more sarcastic and vengeful than usual.  The dog whined in response to Hoggle's remark and took a step backward.

            "Ambrosius," Sir Didymus began, "loosen the rope that is bound to yonder stone." He poked his hand through the mesh and pointed to the rock.  The canine looked at it and shook its head, barking a reply.  "Forget what I said earlier!" Didymus said desperately. "This is no time to argue the matter!"  The dog remained motionless, barking again.

            Mumbling was audible in the distance, accompanied by the crunch of twigs and leaves.

            "Someone better do something!" Hoggle said angrily. "'Cause we ain't gonna be here to argue the matter in a little while!"

            "If you use this opportunity to redeem yourself," Didymus said to the dog anxiously, "all of my former ravings shall be hereby null and void."  The dog, satisfied with the arrangement, sauntered over to the rock and gripped the rope with his teeth. After some tugging and vicious growling on his part, the rope slipped free and the net, including all of its occupants, fell harshly to the ground. They all grunted with the impact and took only a moment to check their bruises. They had little time to make their escape, for the noises from the distance were coming closer at a great speed.

            Sarah made a dash for the knife and grabbed it, jumping from the ground to release Hoggle from the vines that had ensnared him. Before she could finish, Ludo came up behind her, gripped the vine with both hands, and broke it loose, his reflexes fast enough to catch Hoggle before he hit ground.

            Hoggle slipped the vine that bound his ankles once he was on the floor and rose hurriedly.

            Sir Didymus gave his dog well-deserved plaudits while Sarah warned that they should act with Godspeed if they were to escape.

            "They're too close!" Hoggle said with a loud whisper. "We can't run, so we'll have to hide!"

            "Okay," Sarah acknowledged him before turning to the others. "Everyone get in the underbrush! Quickly!"

            She saw to it that everyone was in their hiding place before concealing herself, as well.  The group struggled to control their breathing while waiting for the arrival of the Tusk-noses.

            After a matter of seemingly endless seconds, the foliage across from their hiding places parted to reveal what they had been feeling trepidation over having an encounter with.  The three Tusk-noses that came forth to explore the clearing were grotesque creatures with tangled, splotchy, purple and brown fur. Their two yellow eyes slanted so far into their head that they nearly met, while two warthog fangs of a different shade of yellow protruded from beneath their upper lip. But, the embarrassing fact was that these grotesque creatures, for all their forceful snorts and squealings, were only a mere one and-a-half feet tall.

            "You gotta be kidding," Hoggle whispered. "Them's what we was afraid of? I was sure they'd be bigger than that."

            Sarah watched with the same baffled expression as the animals jabbered back and forth to each other, one of them pointing emphatically to a trap that had been set off. "How did they climb the trees?" Sarah asked with confusion. Hoggle had begun to make a comment when Sarah noticed that one of the creatures was coming closer. She silenced the dwarf.

            "I think we can handle it," he sneered.

            "Shhh!"

            The Tusk-nose that had been exploring their area jumped at the noise of the two conversing companions and inched closer to the underbrush that cloaked them. Sarah motioned for everyone to hug the ground more tightly, but it was no use. The Tusk-nose had seen them and was now making a ruccus, jumping up and down and making his discovery known to the others.  The four travellers were covered from the rear by the creatures in no time, being prodded to the center of the clearing with sticks.

            "Ow!" Hoggle vocalized. "That hurts!"  His outburst only earned him another sharper prod with the stick.  Hoggle spun around irately and grabbed the stick, yanking it from its furious owner with a vicious, "Gimme that!"

            "Stop, Hoggle," Sarah admonished. "Maybe they're just curious."  Her statement was followed by a painful bite in the leg by the Tusk-nose that was pushing her ahead. She made a short, severe utterance before knocking the animal across the clearing with a steady swing of her hand.

            "They're just curious, huh?" Hoggle said sarcastically.

            She shrugged her shoulders. "I could be wrong."

            The one that bit her bounded from his landing place and made a mad dash to repay her swinging hand with another visit to his mouth. Before he had a chance to make his anger fully known, Sarah seized him by the scruff of the neck, pulled him before her face at a distance, him squirming and snapping, her snarling in response, preparing to close it with a tongue lashing.  "Listen, squirt," she ordered. "I'm considerably bigger than you, so I advise that-"

            "Sarah?" Hoggle said with a quavering voice, staring nervously into the forest ahead.

            "Not right now," she replied tersely, moving her attention back to the still-angry creature in her firm grip. "As I was saying, I advise that you don't-"

            "Sarah?" Hoggle managed to say evenly with a rattling lower jaw. "I-I-I think now would be a good time."

            She halted in her attempt at intimidating the animal to see the fear plastered on Hoggle's face as he stared directly ahead. "What is it?" she asked, a bit of fear finding its way into her own words.

            He pointed in front of him to the source of his concern. Three Tusk-noses were approaching, their growls deeper and more threatening than the ones in the clearinng, their height considerably greater than that of the creatures that had used their annoying sticks to push the group to the center of the clearing. They were over six feet tall, to be precise.

            "I think...you've angered Junior's parents," Hoggle quietly pointed out.

            Sarah dropped the animal she held, its purple hide disappearing from sight as it scuttled behing the adult Tusk-noses. "No kidding," was her murmured reply.

            Hoggle and Sarah began to back up, Ludo following their lead.  Sir Didymus, seeing this as his chance for gallantry, jumped from his position at their side to one between the party of travellers and the pack of hungry Tusk-noses.  He stabbed his staff into the earth beside him and held it at an angle, warning the creatures in an authoritative tone as he held his head high, "I order you to step back or we shall be forced to harm you."

            The Tusk-noses proceeded, their growls becoming more fearsome.

            "I don't think they're buying it," Hoggle said.

            "I don't think they speak the same language," Sarah remarked, looking around apprehensively. "There's got to be a way out of this!"

            "Yeah," Hoggle said. "Hope we can outrun them!"

            "No," she said, shaking her head. "Our supplies are on the other side of clearing. Behind," she pointed to the advancing Tusk-noses, "them. And I'm not leaving without them."

            Hoggle gulped noisily.

            Sarah continued. "We're gonna have to fight," she decided, looking to the retreating Didymus and the unsure Ludo. She saw that Ludo was about the same height as the slowly approaching beasts.

             She gave the creatures a summarizing glance. Their hideous, drooling faces prompted her to act quickly.

            "Ludo, you take the one on the far left, Hoggle and Didymus the one in the middle, and I'll take the one on the far right."

            Sir Didymus stared up at her disapprovingly. "Damsels were not meant to take part in battle, milady! I can handle-"

            "Just hush and do as I say!" Sarah cut him off with exasperation. The enemy was drawing ever nearer. "There's no time for heriocs!" She gave the area a sweeping glance before asking, "Is everyone ready?"  She recieved one nod of uncertainty, one of dread, and yet another of enthusiastic expectation.

            "Okay, go!!"

            Each one went to their appointed station of battle.

            Ludo approached his character as quickly as his legs would allow, reaching the waiting combatant and having to step aside when the creature swung a shoddy punch towards his head. He avoided it effortlessly and shoved the beast forward, close to sending it sprawling across the ground. But it was a worthy opponent, equal in size and bulk to Ludo, and it regained its balance shortly after Ludo's forceful push, returning with snarls and growls. Ludo was not intimidated, nor did he bear any resentment for his adversary. He was merely driven in his attempt to subdue the creature by his determination to protect his friends.

            Early in the confrontation, one of the Tusk-nose offspring began to whack madly at Ludo's leg with a short stick, distracting Ludo from the battle with the adult creature. Whenever the smaller animal would hit Ludo with the stick, the red-haired beast would shoo him away with one hand, missing each time because he was busy watching the movements of the older monster. He eventually turned to swing at the Tusk-nose child and took a direct punch to the head from the older creature.

            He stood erect without having taken care of the child and shook his head to ward off the effects of the punch, knocking the offspring from its position at the side of his leg once he had recovered. He then resumed with the six-foot tall version.

            In the meantime, Hoggle was taking advantage of his smaller size to outmaneuver the larger creature while Sir Didymus beat the creature from the rear with his staff, crying, "Take this you heathen! And that!" The Tusk-nose would swat at Didymus with one hand, as if shooing a fly, while he tried to catch Hoggle with the other.

            Sarah was at the far side of the clearing, feeling quite inadequate to battling such a massive creature, but hoping that her greater intelligence would balance the scales. One time he managed to grip her by the shoulders, she stomped on his foot with the heel of her boot before he could lift her off of the ground. He howled with pain and dropped her, looking down angrily at his injured foot. 'Serves you right,' she thought somewhat childishly to herself.

            He finally looked up at her, Sarah  thinking that a sudden determination to eat her was growing visible on his grotesqe countenance. He stomped toward her resolutely and she sped into the other direction, wondering what it was she would do next.

            She looked down at the ground, got an idea, and bent over to grab some dirt. She turned back around with great speed and flung the rich soil into the monster's eyes, just as it had been about to lay its grubby paws on her.

            It scratched at its eyes furiously, howling with pain as it stumbled about the clearing blindly. In its sightless confusion, it flailed his arms about, knocking Sarah down in the process. She landed uncomfortably on one of the ropes, the cord being stretched out perpendicular to her body. As the blinded Tusk-nose made its way across the clearing to support itself with a tree, she rubbed the area tenderly where she had landed on the rope.

            Ludo had finally grown tired of fighting his creature, so he took one of the large rocks in the clearing and hit the creature in the head with it, doing no other danage than to knock it unconscious. It rolled its eyes upward before falling limply to the ground.

            That problem solved, he directed his attention to the smaller creature that had eventually continued to swat him with its stick, picked it up by the scruff of its neck, and threw it deep into the forest, its frightened squeal trailing behind it. It did not return for another flight.

            Hoggle and Sir Didymus did not fare as well. The creature's aggravation with Didymus's persistent beating had reached its peak and it easily got a hold of the fox's staff, pulling Didymus along with it.

            "Put 'im down!" Hoggle commanded.

            "Yes, put me down, you brute!" Didymus concurred.

            The animal did not comply, but instead prepared himself to give Didymus's neck a good sqeeze. Hoggle, seeing the danger his comrade was in, despite his better judgment, punched the Tusk-nose in the stomach. The creature gave him an irritated look, unphased by the punch, while Hoggle noted with a scowl how the punch had smarted for him.

            The air was filled with another cry as the creature tossed Didymus into the underbrush, deciding instead to deal with Hoggle. It advanced and swung, missing the ever-evading Hoggle with its fist, but succeeding in knocking the dwarf over. He fell about two yards from where Sarah lay.

            While Ludo went to deal with the animal that had been attacking Hoggle and Didymus, the beast with sand in its eyes had finally recovered and was charging toward Sarah.

            "Hoggle!" she exclaimed hurriedly. "Grab the other end of the rope!"

            Hoggle complied, and together they pulled the rope taut. The creature ran directly for her and, once it was within a few feet from her, she shuffled aside, allowing it to trip over the rope and go hurtling, face first, into the underbrush.

            Meanwhile, Ludo took the rock and caused the remaining creatures to fall into a slumber like he had the other one, Sarah suggesting that he finish the task by dragging all three to the net that had ensared them and pull it back up to its former position above the ground. He complied, and soon all of the larger Tusk-noses were dangling unconcious from the trees, their grotesque faces pressed against the mesh.

            Sir Didymus came from his prone position in the underbrush with cockleburrs caught in his fur. Sarah signaled for him to come and when he did, she removed the irritants from his dusty fur.

            Hoggle retrieved the supplies and handed them to Sarah, while Didymus called Ambrosius and mounted him.  Sarah accepted the supplies and said, "Good, let's get out of here."

            They gladly obliged.

***

The two had eaten lunch, Jareth being correct in his prediction that the desserts of many kinds that he had planned for the meal would please the young boy.

            Jareth was now walking with Toby through his castle, pointing to objects that he thought would attract the child's interest as he led him to his private balcony on the highest parapet.

            "Do you live here all by yourself?" Toby asked.

            "No," Jareth replied.

            "Where is everyone?" Toby asked.

            "Asleep, no doubt," Jareth lied.

            "Why would they go to sleep so early?"

            "It is custom for my servants to take an afternoon nap."

            "Why would anyone WANT to take a nap?" Toby scowled.

            Jareth dropped his guard for a moment and started to laugh at Toby's remark. "I don't know," Jareth said with a chuckle.

            The little boy walked at Jareth's side in silence for awhile, letting his questions subside, if only for a short time. The Goblin King looked down at the small child and realized how small and impressionable the boy was in comparison to himself. Toby was innocent and accepting, loving of his parents and adoring of his sister. Even the Goblin King who was so repelled by his sister was a potential friend in this little boy's eyes.

            Still, Jareth regretted that it would take so long a time for Toby to really care for him the way he did his own family, maybe just as long for the child to trust him completely.

            They reached the balcony and Toby asked the boy if he was afraid of heights. Toby replied in the negative and Jareth lifted him up so that he could see over the edge.

            "Well, what do you think?" Jareth asked.

            "Everything looks so small up here," Toby answered with awe. "I wonder what it'd be like to be a bird out there."

            "Is that a wish?" Jareth asked.

            Toby turned around and gave Jareth an enthusiastic nod, only to find the Goblin King suddenly missing, and himself sitting on the ledge of the balcony. He gave out a frieghtened cry and gripped the ledge tightly, looking ahead despite his overwhelming fear.

            A large blond-colored bird flapped its wings before him, hovering in place and looking intently at the little boy.

            "Don't be afraid," the bird said, the voice of Jareth escaping its beak. "I'm going to place you on my back and you will get to see the lands from up above."

            Toby nodded his head slowly in response, only jumping slightly when he felt the very air lifting him from the ledge and placing him on the back of the great bird that was the Goblin King.

            Once Toby was in place, Jareth asked him, "Do you trust me?"

            Toby replied, "I think so."  That wasn't the best response that he could get, but Jareth was satisfied that he was making speedy progress.

            They soared across the sky, a winged creature carrying a thoroughly amazed child on its back over the beautiful lands of the Underground.

 

When they returned to the castle that evening, Jareth set Toby on the ledge of the balcony before transforming into his natural form. Then he lifted the sleepy Toby from the sill and the young boy promptly wrapped his arms about the Goblin King's neck, giving Jareth an indication that the child wanted to be carried. Jareth obliged silently, holding the tired boy softly as he walked to his throne room.

            Toby instantly fell asleep, his head propped on the Goblin King's shoulder, a sweet peacefulness taking grip of Toby's face as Jareth watched the napping child. Jareth felt awkward holding this child, just as he had the few times that he had held Isabelle, but was awash with a new kind of sense that came with this unfamiliar type of need. This young child trusted him to give something that he had rarely given before.

As goblins peeked from their doors to see this strange, tranquil sight of their king cradling this child, Jareth wondered if he was up to the task of providing this small child with what he needed most. Was it possible for him - the Goblin King - to give love?

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