Лабиринт - LABYRINTH II
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CHAPTER XXI

            They reached the foot of the mountain at sunset. Sarah watched as her companions looked up the forever-ascending slope in dismay. She shared their skepticism. Could they actually climb that? It wasn't as if she was an experienced climber, so she felt a little doubtful about even attempting to clamber up that great grey obstacle.

            "Well," she sighed as she dropped the knapsack full of supplies, "naturally it's too dark to climb. We'll set up camp here."

            Hoggle glanced up, the peak of the mountain hidden beneath clouds, "We gotta climb....that?"

            She gave the mountain an apprehensive, sweeping glance and replied, "I don't see any other way, as of yet. Perhaps if we sit down and talk it over, we can come up with something."

            She got a number of hopeful nods.

 

After a few minutes of stumbling around in the diminishing light, they managed to get a fire going and lay out blankets on which to sit. Sarah rummaged through the bag to discover that the elves had given them plenty of food and supplies, thanks to Hoggle's planning.

            She retrieved some muffin-like edibles that were the color of burnt sienna and passed them around to each, along with a cup for each and a jug of ale to fill them with.

            "What's this?" Hoggle asked, giving the muffin a peculiar look.

            "I don't know," Sarah said. "You're closer to the elves than I am, so you would be the most likely to know. It looks like some sort of muffin or biscuit to me."

   Sir Didymus sniffed it carefully and put in, "My sense of smell detecteth no strange odor."

   Sarah shrugged her shoulders. "I'm sure the elves would give us nothing harmful. It's probably good, whatever it is." She took a bite and expressed her pleasure with a sound of satisfaction. When she had swallowed she exclaimed, "It is good! It tastes like raspberries and something else I've never tasted before."

            Seeing Sarah's acceptance of the food, Hoggle nibbled a bit of it and was in accordance with Sarah's remark. "It is good," he replied, digging into it without caution after the first bite.

            Everyone passed around the ale and filled their cups to the brim, staving off some of their hunger before they spoke of any pressing matters.

            Sarah finished eating first and looked at her group. Only after a few moments of observation did she notice a problem with climbing the mountain.  "Didymus," she said, the fox looking up in response and mumbling acknowledgement through a full mouth. "How is Ambrosius going to get to the other side? Surely he can't climb."

            Didymus swallowed and pondered this for a few moments before replying, "I don't quite know, milady. 'Tis a good inquiry."

            "Ludo could carry him," Hoggle said, following his words with a gulp of ale.

            "I must object, dear sir," Sir Didymus said politely. "'Tis not that I do not trust my dear brother, but I fear he would drop my loyal steed."

            The dog nodded its shaggy head in emphatic agreement.

            "Didymus is right," Sarah interposed. "And, since none of us really want to climb anyway, I believe that we should come up with another way to get past the mountain."

            Sir Didymus cocked his head to one side and said, "My brother Ludo can call the rocks. Shadow Mountain is merely a large rock."

            "Too big," Ludo explained as he shook his head, the red fur lashing out as he did so.

            "Ludo's right," Sarah pointed out. "There's no way he could move an entire mountain, no matter how good friends they are."

            "So much for the old saying," Hoggle said sarcastically.

            "Of what saying, speakest thou?" Didymus inquired.

            "Don't worry about it," Hoggle replied irritably.

            "I don't understand," Didymus declared, looking to Sarah to emlighten him. "For what reason is Sir Hoggle so riled?"

            "Don't pay any attention to him," Sarah advised. "He's just mad 'cause you didn't get his joke."

            "Oh, so you don't want to pay attention to old Hoggle, now, hmm? I don't have to-"

            "Oh, just hush," Sarah commanded without anger. "We have very little time together and I don't want to spend it arguing. Especially about nothing. Let's just concentrate on the matter at hand, shall we?"  She paused while everyone quieted, Hoggle looking sheeepishly at the ground before him. "So, we can't get Ludo to move the mountain, so to speak."

            "Even if he could," Hoggle added quietly, "it might crumble and kill us. I still got some nasty bruises from back at the castle."

            "Cave....in.....," Sarah said thoughtfully. "That's it!" she suddenly exclaimed, everyone glancing at her abruptly in surprise. "You're a genius, Hoggle!"

            "I am?" he said uncertainly at first, but soon leaving his former embarrassment behind to take on pride for his accomplishment, whatever it was. "Of course I am! Uh...why?"

            "We can look for a cave that leads to the other side."

            "A cave?" Hoggle said nervously. "Well, perhaps I'm not such a genius missy. I gots a better idea. How about we go around the mountain?"

            "It'd take too long," she explained. "We don't know how far it is around anyway. The only alternative to climbing is to go through a cave. And that is shorter than climbing."

            "A dark cave?" Hoggle persisted. "Inside....Shadow Mountain?" Hoggle said the last two words with a trembling jaw.

            "What's the big deal?" Sarah asked.

            "Yea, surely a noble man such as yourself, Sir Hoggle, is not frightened by a cave," Didymus put in.

            "You know why they call it Shadow Mountain?" Hoggle asked, putting his cup of ale down carefully because his shivering was making him spill it all over the place.  He was answered with a trio of shaking heads.  The dwarf sighed before he went into an explanation. "Those who have gone into them danged caves come out telling stories about their shadows comin' alive. Some go in groups of four and five and only half of 'em come out, saying how their friends were killed by their own shadows. Ain't no place you wanna be going into. Besides, they says those caves are just about as tricky as Jareth's damned Labyrinth." He seemed to have calmed down, probably expecting that his admonishing would be wisely recieved and heeded to. He picked up his ale again and drank it.

            "It's probably just a bunch of nonsense," Sarah replied, looking casually up at the moon, as if what he said was no more important then a "howdy do" or "boy this is good ale."

            Hoggle got to shaking again and put down his ale for the second time. "And what makes you think so, hmm?" he said in a mocking tone. "I thinks I should know better than you. I lived here my entire life, ain't you been here for but a few days. This only being your second visit, I think you should listen to someone a bit wiser."

            She gave him an aggravated look, but did not say anything about his downsizing remarks, giving him her reasons instead, as he had asked. "Well, Hoggle, caves are pretty scary places, if I do say so myself, especially when you're going through them as a matter of force. People see things when they are scared, and as soon as they see it, well, sure thing everybody else is going to see it, too."

            "Then, how do you explain people disappearing like they does?" Hoggle asked somewhat ssarcastically.

            "You said yourself that it was like a maze in there. People probably just got lost."

            Hoggle could not deny the voice of reason, but he still added with a wounded pride, "I still thinks we shouldn't go in there, shadows or no."

            "We have no choice. It's safer."

            "So you says."

            "Ambrosius cannot climb a mountain, and it is just as awkward for everyone else. You can stay if you like, but I go on," she declared matter-of-factly. "And, as far as I'm concerned, this matter is closed. I don't want to spend my last days with you guys arguing about nonsense." She suddenly felt flustered, having let the cat out of the bag. She had not wanted them to know that they would probably be gone soon; she didn't want any more tension than there already was.

            "Last days, milady?" Didymus stated in a concerned tone.

            Sarah turned her head away and felt as if she would soon start to cry. "I didn't want you to know. Not yet."

            "What's the matter, fair maiden?"

            "Sarah," Hoggle said, worried. "You okay, ain't you? You ain't fixin' to die, or anything like that?"

            "Of course not!" Sarah exclaimed, surprised at how they had thought it was worse than it was. "No..." she finally continued, "Sage told me that Jareth would probably take you guys away again in a couple of days."

            "I'm surprised he ain't taken us already," Hoggle said, staring despairingly into his ale.

            "Fair maiden," Didymus began, "surely you cannot take on the journey on your own? It is a dangerous quest! You must have escorts! If we are to be gone, we should veer from our present path and find replacements for ourselves, in case we are snatched back into the clutches of that tyrant!"

            Sarah grunted then said to herself, unsurely, "Yeah, that tyrant." She finally got ahold of herself and added, "No, we can't stop. There's not enough time. I only had a month to find the crystal, and it's been about a week. I don't know how long the rest is going to take me."

            "It don't take that long," Hoggle said with certainty. "You got plenty of time."

            "Still," Sarah argued, "things might happen, like they have, to put me off of the trail for awhile. I can't take the chance."

            "Surely, lovely lady, you are taking a chance by not searching for adequate escorts to take our place."

            "The Underground ain't no place for a pretty girl like yerself to be alone."

            Sarah remembered five years ago, in the oubliette with Hoggle.

            'Nice young girl,' he had said. 'Terrible black oubliette..'

            Except, this time he was completely sincere.  But now was the present. And Hoggle had said the Underground was no place for her to be alone.

            'You got any boyfriends hidden in that trunk for me to meet?' her father had asked only days before.

            No place to be alone....

            'You are cruel, Sarah,' Jareth had stated many years ago in the illusion room when she was just about to finally get Toby and escape what she had thought of as an evil place. 'We are well matched, you and I. I need your cruelty, just as you need mine...'

            No place to be alone....

            "You make it sound like New York," Sarah said to Hoggle with a false chuckle before breaking down into tears. Everything was determined to destroy her resolve. She hadn't let it affect her too much when Jareth attempted it, but what was she to do when someone she trusted as she did Sage did it with the best of intentions?

            They all came to embrace and comfort her.

            "Don't cry, little miss. Things ain't that bad."

            "Yes, they ARE," she sobbed as she buried her face into her arms.

            "You are the strongest lady I have met in my entire existence," Didymus put forth helpfully. "Surely you have the right to let your frustrations out occassionally, but not like this! You must fight them head-on like the true warrior you are!"

            "No cry - Sarah," Ludo coaxed.

            "I'm certain you will be most able to defend yourself without our presence," Sir Didymus said comfortingly.

            "Oh," Sarah cried. "It's - it's not j-just that. It's...it's EVERYTHING!" She burst into a higher concentration of weeping and buried her face deeper.

            "Sarah," Hoggle tried.

            "Just leave me be for a... a l-little while, if you don't mind," Sarah said politely despite her mood.

            They all complied and moved to their former positions across from her by the fire.

            Sarah felt foolish. Here she was, nearly an adult, two years in college and she was crying like a teenager again! Unsure over a man whom she had vowed hatred towards after being in such a fit of adoration over while fifteen, and actually associating him in any way with her lack of a relationship! She knew she wouldn't even consider it while in his presence, hadn't while she was at the castle, so why was she even doing it now? Even what Sage had said about him shouldn't have made her feel like this, nor a teenage fantasy in a crystal ball, for that matter.

            Not only did she feel terrible, but that feeling was causing her to lose what precious little time she had left to spend with her companions. They were her best friends, no matter how strange they were, because they had given up more for her than any friends she had on her world.

            Besides her little brother Toby.

            She repeated her vows to herself. "I hate him, I hate him, I hate him..." She had to either convince herself, or at least stop thinking of Jareth as anything close to a romantic companion. Such thoughts would only cause her to lose the battle.

            "The maiden continues to sob," Didymus whispered to Hoggle. "Certainly we must make another attempt to console her."

            "You can't make a woman stop cryin' when she's determined," Hoggle said with his usual brashness.

            Finally Sarah wiped her eyes and looked at her companions. "If he does take you," she said strongly, despite her former tearful fit, "you have to promise me you won't try to escape."

            "But, dear lady!" Didymus protested.

            "No buts," Sarah put her hand up to stop him. "It won't do any good. We could play musical chairs all month long with him, but he'd still keep taking you back. Especially if he thinks it will harm his chances of getting his stupid treasure."

            "Milady, you must rethink-"

            "No," Hoggle said to the fox. "She's right. Let it alone."

            "Do you all promise me?" Sarah asked.

            She got hesitant nods, all around, some mournful.

            "Thank you," she said sincerely. After some moments of silence she yawned and stretched, wiped her eyes again, adding afterward, "Well, I'm beat. It's been a very long day and we have a long day ahead of us." She tried to fight the temptation to say that SHE had a long day ahead of HER, most likely.

            They all laid down on their blankets and got comfortable. Sarah watched the small flames lick up from the fire, bright ashes shooting from them to turn gray and float to the ground. Pulling her blanket closer to her chin she bid her companions good night. They did the same.

            "Guys?" she finally added. "Just in case we're not together tomorrow....I want you to know that I love you all."

            They didn't say so, but she knew they did as well by the way they all opened their eyes and looked at her sadly. It seemed that, if they were gone the next morning, they would miss her as much as she would them.

***

Jareth had been in his throne room for an hour, having returned from bringing Toby home and having watched the rebellious, rhythmic ticking of the clock while a large number of noisy goblins had a grand old time in the chamber, leaving their mark with trash galore.

            Jareth stared contemptuously at the empty room and the mess left behind by his minions. You'd think they would be more respectful.

            But, fortunately for them, their clutter did not concern him at the moment. He had just cut off the connection with the mirror, having been watching Sarah's actions the past ten minutes. He had only caught her crying fit and her final words to her companions for the night.

            She loved them.

            Jealousy swarmed like hungry bees throughout his soul. But this swarm of bees did not leave honey behind. He knew it was jealousy, because he had felt it as a child watching others who had things he did not. Yet, this time it was much stronger.

            He not only needed Sarah, he wanted her. Before he had felt an unfamiliar emotion for her, but now, seeing her more lovely than ever in the elfin dress, finding that she loved someone other than himself (it was enough for her not to give a glance in his direction, but to dare to love anyone else!) he was filled with an all too familar feeling of lust. It had tingled the back of his neck like a cool winter breeze when he had first seen her in the clothes he had provided for her, but that time he had shoved it away. Now he had concluded that he was powerful enough to handle his emotions and still get what he wanted from her. In all respects, hopefully.

            And not long ago he had forbidden himself to feel emotion.

            He looked at the painting of Sarah again and realized how she had changed. She was almost a woman....the mind of a woman nearly developed....the body of one complete...

            He pulled out the diary and commenced to read its contents. He had put it off for long enough, and now was the time to take care of it. If there was anything to work with from the writing inside, he needed it now, before he could decide to take any further action. Too much had distracted him from the task.

            He opened it to an uncompleted passage:

 

                        Dear Diary,

                         I'm so furious! Today I got an offer to join a

                        fine arts college, because a man had seen me in a

                        performance at school. I was so happy, coming home to

                        tell my STEP-MOTHER about the good news, thinking that

                        she would be happy for me. Yeah right.

                                    "Sarah," she said, putting her hands on her hips,

                        "You've still got two years of high school left, and

                        I'm not going to let you go to some strange city when

                        you're not capable of taking that much responsibilty

                        over yourself. When you're gone, I can't control what

                        you do, or what anyone else does to you. You're going

                        to have to tell that man, if he's really eager to have

                        you, that he'll have to wait for you to go to his

                        college after you're done with high school. Then I'll

                        consider sending you."

                                    Of course I argued till the cows came home. Like

                        she's all high and mighty. She's wasted her life and

                        doesn't want to let me make myself something more than

                        what she is, that's all. She can't stand the

                        competition, not even with her own daughter. Pardon me.

                        I meant, STEPdaughter.

                                    That's not all of it, really. She's also jealous

                        of my real mother. My mother's an actress, married to

                        another extremely handsome actor (not that I don't

                        think Daddy's good looking) while my stepmother is

                        stuck at home washing dishes and taking care of Toby.

                                    Why wouldn't Mama take me with her? I don't like

                        being stuck here while Mama gets all the glamour. I

                        want to be an actress too, not stuck here going to the

                        most hammy school and taking care of my baby brother

                        whilethose two go off on their frequent dates. It's

                        just not fair. I can't stand it here.

                                    I get my chance to be a real actress and my step-

                        mother won't let me because a lack of responsibility!

                        I'm perfectly responsible! I would try to weasel my way

                        into getting Daddy to favor my admission in the

                        college, but if STEPMOTHER says no go, then he obeys.

                        Like a puppy eager to please. He lets that woman

                        control his every action. "Honey do this," or,

                        "Sweetheart, do that...." It makes me sick to my

                        stomach. If Mama and Jeremy were taking care of me,

                        Jeremy would give me a dashing smile when I told him

                        about the college offer, he'd make a joke, then he'd

                        say, "It's your turn to find your way into the part.

                        Have at it."

                                    I'm sick of stepmother treating me like a

                        child....

 

            It was cut off there in mid-sentence.

            Sarah obviously revered this man called Jeremy that her mother had married. She was also very eager to become an actress and eager to rid herself of her stepmother. At least, she had been as a teenager. He did not know what she felt now.

            He flipped through the diary and found very few lines that were long enough to read. They did not form paragraphs, but were scattered incompletely throughout the cloth book in various colors of ink and moods of handwriting. Some faded into nothingness as he looked at them. Either it was caused by the crystals losing power or by Sarah's will power. He did not know which, but was too tired to let it seriously disturb him.

            As a matter of fact, he was greatly surprised that the crystals had failed him so little in his recent endeavors. Bringing someone over from Aboveground was a strong feat of magic. Perhaps the crystals' failings were only spasmodic.

            Sooty came trotting across the throne room floor, nodding to Jareth in passing, and making way for the door to the left of his throne. She was mainly Isabelle's caretaker, but she spent a great deal of her time doing odd chores in the castle. She was not stupid like the other goblins, Jareth thought, but she was not intelligent in the way that was most important to him. Besides, she was aging and her days were numbered.

            As if he had noticed her existence for the first time, Jareth glanced at her and called to her to come.

            "Yes, yer majisty?"

            "How is Isabelle?"

            "I would not be knowin', Yer Highness.  If 'twere to come upon me judgement, I would say the lass seems upset over somethin'."

            "Do please buy her a new hair ornament at the market tomorrow. Something fancy."

            "In all due re-spects Yer Majisty, I don't think lackin' a hairpin's what's ailin' her."

            "I know what's troubling her, woman....Fine, if a hair ornament isn't enough of an apology then a dress ought to do it. Tell the tailor I will pay him when the dress is finished."

            "What kind o' dress?"

            "I don't know. You know her tastes better than I, so I suggest you pick. She's only a child. A dress and hairpin should make her forget anything that's upset her."

            The goblin looked as if she had her own opinion on the matter, but she did well to keep it to herself.

            "Yes, Yer Majesty. I'll go to the market tomorra." She then bowed her head slightly, bid him goodnight, and prepared to leave the room.

            Jareth was overwhelmed with curiosity.

            "My dear lady..." She turned to face him. "If a hairpin and a dress will not truly please her," he said with amusement in his eyes, "then what will?"

            Sooty did not seem amused. "You want me true opinion?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow.

            Jareth cocked his eyebrow as well, propped his chin on a set of knuckles, leaned on the arm of the chair, and, with a delighted curiosity on his face, replied, "Please. I'd be honored."

            "Give'er an apology."

            Some of the humor vanished, but Jareth remained somewhat amused. He looked over her frankess with a bit of contempt, even though he had requested it, and pointed out, "The gifts were to be exactly that."

            "I mean a, 'Gosh, ah'm sorry Isabelle.' A good talkin' to. Not knicknacks and outfits."

            The delight disappeared, but Jareth remained curious. He knew women to a certain extent, but who better to advise him than a someone who was one?

            "And what do you do when you've already set things straight? I did with Isabelle and she's still determined on feeling grieved, perhaps even angry with me. What do you do when the girl is continuing her anger toward you despite mild efforts you might put forth?"

            "Why, Yer Majesty, put forth more effort an' let the lady know she's on yer top ten list. Who knows, maybe the girl - or woman -," she added with a wink of her eye, "ain't really mad at you 't'all. Or perhaps she's more'n willin' to give you the time-o' day if you'll do somethin' to catch'er eye. Somethin' that goes by her standards, not yers."

            Like Jareth had thought, the goblin was smart in her own manner and had a way of catching on to a person's intentions rather quickly. It was all the same to him - he saw that she had known for awhile that he had his eye on Sarah. Most of the goblins were too obtuse to figure out about the painting in the throne room - only Sooty had the slightest notion of its purpose up there on the grey walls.

            "I appreciate your input," Jareth said, taking on his former amused tone, as if he had blown off her words and did not intend on carrying them out. Her intput did not really matter that much. He had concluded most of what she had said already, at least about Sarah, and the only good it did was to give him a woman's perspective. He leaned back in his throne to relax and said, "Buy the dress and...knicknack... anyway. That will be all."

            She nodded and walked stiffly out of the throne room.

            She thought he HAD blown off her advice, but indeed he hadn't. He planned to carry it out. He had planned to do so long before her lecture.

            That just went to prove she was just as blunt as the rest of the creatures he ruled over. If she were truly as crafty as she thought, she would have been able to see that his lack of concern was only a show.

            How tiresome these amusements seemed to be. He yawned with the boredom of it all and headed for his personal chambers.

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