- LABYRINTH II
...             ...


CHAPTER XIV

            The mountainside was covered with thin grasses and scattered trees, receding into a valley that stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions. Sarah covered her eyes to look to the eastern horizon, seeing that there was still a low rise of mountain to cross before they were truly free of the Shadow Mountains.

            Her shadow was still admiring her surroundings in complete awe, making Sarah realize how even the smallest things were taken for granted by those who had plenty of those things all of their life. Sarah could not help but feel that the fact that Sara missed out on the splendors of everyday life was somehow her fault.

            Her counterpart's words from their first encounter echoed in her mind:

            I've lived in your shadow all my life and I finally have a chance to possess my own identity.

            Besides the use of the hammy cliche, what had she meant by it? How could she live in her shadow when they had never met, never lived a moment of their lives together?

            Sara looked thoughtfully at the knapsack on Sarahs back.  You got any food in there?

            Of course, Sarah replied.  You are welcome to it, if you can find it through all of the other junk.

            Other junk, huh?  Lemme see.  Sara took the sack and rummaged through it with uncanny fascination.  She pulled out the sack of marbles Sarah had found in the castle, and shook the bag lightly before her.  After peering within, she declared, This... this is not junk.

            Sarah furrowed her brow.  What, the marbles?

            These arent marbles, sweetie.

            Couldve fooled me.

            If I may say so, Milady, Sir Didymus interposed, your sister...um, companion is correct.  Those are smoke-screen beads.  I hath used them on many occasions to conceal myself.  They hath been indispensable in battles against archers.

            See? Sara said triumphantly.  Guess I know a few things you dont.  Suddenly, she was distracted from the conversation. "What's that up ahead?" she asked as she pointed to a spot in the center of the valley.

            Sarah squinted her eyes to make it out. "It looks like a village or something."

            "Not what I expected," her twin remarked.

            Indeed, it wasn't exactly a sight from a story book. The huts were crude looking, even from a distance, and it didn't seem very organized at all. It wasn't exactly an expected product from the beautiful lands of the Underground.

            "How do you know about all of these things?" Sarah asked. "You know, what grass should be like, what villages should be like, what the sun should be like, what smoke-screen beads are, Sarah rolled her eyes at the last item, when you've spent your entire life in Shadow Mountain?"

            I am lucky, I guess," Sara shrugged her shoulders. "I met an elf who was traveling through the caves and we got to be friends. He'd visit me every-so-often and answer my questions. He'd even help me pass the time by telling stories and songs by the elves. You see, shadows know just about everything their counterparts think about - it's just that our counterparts take the world around them for granted so much that they don't exactly spend a lot of time thinking about what color the grass is and how black the sky is at night."

            "I thought I was very observant," Sarah said indignantly.

            "Well, I think that you're more observant than most people, but there is still a great deal you take for granted. I thought you would've learned that lesson the last time you were here. But, you're only human, I suppose. No one's perfect."

            "You know about my last trip?"

            "Like I said, I know quite a bit," Sara turned her attention away to marvel at the environment.

            Sarah wanted to hear more. "How'd you find out about it? By what I was thinking?"

            "Sure, that was most of it."

            "What made up the rest?"

            "Stories I began to hear not two months later."

            "I wouldn't know how to react if I could hear someone's thoughts," Sarah conceded thoughtfully.

            "Well," Sara began, "you get used to it after awhile."

            "I mean," Sarah said, frowning in cogitation, "what were you thinking?"

            "I was thinking about how much I wanted you to come to the mountains and free me from having to be bound by the form of a dark shadow. To free me from having to worry if you were going to slip up somewhere and get yourself killed. To get me out of that gloomy dump."

            "You were worried about me getting killed?" Sarah asked, completely flattered.

            "Sorry if this is a bit frank, but I just worried because I didn't want to die. Well, no, part of me did want to die, but most of me yearned to live. I was always hopeful that you would come for me."

            Sarah's good humor lessened. "I still don't know why you'd worry about me dying, since it was for personal reasons."

            "Hey, don't get me wrong. I wasn't not worried about you dying - I just knew the Goblin King wouldn't let it happen. Shadows have to worry about their counterparts dying because, if their counterparts die, they die."

            "What did you think when you heard the songs and stories, you know - about me?" Sarah asked.

            "Well, up until I was fourteen I hated you. You had everything I didn't, you were getting recognition I wasn't getting, you had qualities I didn't. At times I felt inadequate to you and at other times, much more able. I mean, you had a family, you had trees and planets, you had boys crawling all over you. What made me mad was that you turned all of these things away. You were upset because you had to settle for a stepmother who wasn't an actress, while I was counting on myself for condolences. You used to play in the forest, but soon got bored with it. You denied boys dates with you because you were so picky about who you considered was worthy enough for you. And I had a dark cave with a glimmer of hope. I hated you because you had all that I didn't, and you still weren't satisfied."

            Sarah felt battered. "And what changed your mind?"

            "Toby."

            "Toby?"

            Sara nodded her head solemnly. "I saw how much you could really cherish him. You rarely took him for granted. You even went to a great effort to get him back from the Goblin King. Sure, I was still jealous of you for getting songs written about you and having a king at your heels, but you proved to me that I was part of something noble and heroic and made me feel somewhat better about myself." She looked at the ground, seeming embarrassed to say such things to her twin. "It also helped to talk to Vindar, the elf I told you about."

            "I'm sorry if your life was Hell because of me," Sarah said apologetically.

            "It's not your fault. You couldn't control Fate."

            They walked silently for some time, coming nearer to the ramshackle village. Sarah looked down at Didymus and was surprised that he had remained quiet all of this time. Sarah thought he must have felt awkward hearing the conversation between the two females.

            "Fair maiden," he said after some of the tension had passed.  Both of them turned their heads.  "Ah, I mean Sarah," he clarified. "Do we pay a visit to yonder village, or continue on our current path?"

            "I think we'll just pass it," Sarah replied.

            "Oh, come on," Sara argued. "Why don't we visit? I haven't seen a village all my life, and I think now is a good a time is any. I mean, you have nearly three weeks left."

            "I don't know..."

            "Don't be so square. A little visit isn't going to hurt. You can stop thinking about the good of everyone but yourself for just once, can't you?"

            "Oh, okay," she capitulated. "I guess a short visit won't hurt. I was expecting something like this would happen, anyhow."

            They approached the village cautiously, surprised to find humans running errands about the area. Not one in the threesome was accustomed to seeing the presence of human life around the Underground. Sarah had been under the impression that humans didn't live there.

            They looked on from a short distance before making their presence known. Most of the people wore peasant clothes, but one or two had on fancy garments fit for dukes and duchesses. The only odd thing about those elegant costumes was that they looked about fifty years old. The village was more ravaged than it had seemed from a distance, although it looked as if the villagers had tried to make up for it by putting elaborate decorations up. One building in the village was out of place, separated somewhat by distance from the other huts. It was built of white clay and designed with intricate carvings and pillars; it wasn't exactly the Taj Mahal, Sarah thought, but it was lovely in comparison to the other huts.

            "Well, what are we waiting for?" Sara said, sauntering fearlessly to the center of the small village.  Sarah joined her grudgingly, having hoped they would have been a little less conspicuous.  Sara approached a ragged looking woman who was drawing water from a well. "Hi!" Sara exclaimed. "I'm Leah and this is my twin sister, Sarah."

            Sarah bowed her head in acknowledgment and greeted the woman. She was surprised at Sara's ability to think on her feet. She could never do that.

            "And he," Sara pointed to Didymus, "is Sir Didymus, our escort."

            Didymus bowed gracefully and said, "My lady."

            The woman greeted them shyly, telling them to wait while she announced their presence. She went into a hut, a man and boy returning to receive them.  "Will-" the man addressed the boy, "go tell everyone we have visitors."  The boy did as asked while the man approached them, shaking their hands heartily while exchanging "hellos. He had a neatly trimmed brown beard and wore common clothing of sienna and olive colors, his whole connotation being one of a man who doesn't put on airs and takes good care of himself and his fellow man. The woman they had first met hadn't been so well presented.  "I'm Jacob, head of the village council," he introduced himself, smiling warmly. "What can we do for you?"

            "We are just travelers looking for a place to eat, a place to relax for awhile," Sara explained, returning Jacob's cordial attitude. "We would be glad to pay for such accommodations."

            With what? Sarah thought to herself.

            Her worries were ill-placed. "I wouldn't dream of making you pay!" Jacob declared. "It's not every day we get visitors. We'd be glad to take you in."  They gave their thanks and introduced themselves.

            Sarah felt uneasy. There was something very awkward about this place, something hidden from public view. Things had been strangely quiet when they first arrived, and the woman they met seemed repressed, afraid of their presence, like a trapped animal who doesn't know if its captor plans to kill it or let it go. Even the villagers who were exiting their homes to get a glimpse of the visitors had the same apprehensive and distrusting nature as the woman. The only one so far who seemed different was Jacob, yet he even had a tinge of uncertainty as he spoke to them.

            He motioned for them to follow and said to Sara, hiding some suspicion, though Sarah detected it, "Where are you from? We thought we were the only human village in the whole Underground, at least for many, many leagues."

            "I'm sure that is true," Sara replied. "We live a very long distance from here in a small, nameless village similar to your own."

            "Well, then, I am sure our people have a great deal in common," Jacob remarked kindly.  He led them into the official looking building of clay and sat them down at a table where a woman was placing refreshments. There were enough places set for six people; it seemed as if the young boy had gotten word to the inhabitants of the building already of the arrival of guests.

            Jacob spoke to the woman who was setting the table. "Dear, these are our guests. Leah, Sarah, and...Sir Didymus?"   Didymus nodded in affirmation.  "And this is my wife, Linda," Jacob said, kissing his wife on the cheek.

            "We're pleased to have you," Linda said, beaming affably.

            "Please, join us in refreshments and tell us your business in this side of the Underground," Jacob beseeched.

            They seated themselves as Sara began to tell their story. Sarah found it difficult to keep her mouth from gaping at the totally believable lie that her shadow was fabricating without so much as blinking an eye.

***

Jareth stood in his bed chamber, gazing intently at himself in the large oval mirror on the wall across from the foot of his bed.  The room was rather small in comparison to many of the finer lodgings of his castle, but its modest size was made up for in elegance. The lighting was just enough to see by, for there were no windows and only two candles to gleam from each wall.  There was a mirror on each wall except for the one at the head of his bed, the one Jareth stood before being the largest. The others were rectangular and were only meant to look in to observe one's face. On each side of the mirrors hung a splendid tapestry depicting stories and legends of the Underground. The last wall contained a portrait of Jareth, a golden owl perched next to him as the Goblin King looked solemnly from his place at the throne. The bed was king-sized -  naturally - and its canopy and curtains were midnight blue, trimmed in scarlet, lined in gold. So it was for the bedspreads and pillows as well, which were filled with goose down of the softest quality.

            Jareth's pallid face exhibited orange tones cast by the candles as he admired himself in the reflective glass. His shirt was similar to that of a soldier, maroon with gold buttons trailing down the front, the jacket cut above the waist, but curving down at each side to make a long coat-tail in the rear. The collar came to the base of his neck with ruffs of fine silk protruding from beneath, the same at the sleeves. His tights were midnight blue, covered to the knee with boots of a similar tint of leather as his linen top. He pulled on his black gloves without rush and pinned on his navy blue cape at the shoulders using golden brooches. Jareth was a marvelous sight.

            He checked his pocket to make sure the two small items he had bought the day before at the elfin market were still there. They were.

            Pulling his jacket down once as a gesture of finality, he left his quarters, locking them behind him as he traversed the halls of his castle to make way for the throne room. He passed a grandfather clock along the way, the hour-hand closing in on five. He had planned for an early dinner with the group of traveling elves.

            He began to wonder if this by any chance was the same group of elves that Sarah had once stayed with. If so, were they really here to sell goods?

            As soon as he reached the tremendous throne room a goblin stopped him with news of the elves' arrival.  "Send them in," Jareth said.  He settled in his throne as the guard that had informed him of the waiting elves gathered some of the goblins who were passing through the throne room to assist him in opening the large mahogany doors.

            About twenty elves filtered into the room, led by Sage. The females were dressed in bright, flowery colors while the males wore their best garments of brown, green, and blue. Sage wore attire more sophisticated than the others, an amulet hanging from his neck.  His sophistication and obvious possession of skills in magic made him even more favorable in Jareth's eyes.  Of course, if Sage was an ally of Sarah's, his wisdom would be a curse instead of a blessing.

            "Welcome, elfin visitors," Jareth greeted, wearing his  most amiable smile to disguise his thoughts while rising from his throne. "I trust your stay has been a pleasant one?"

            "Most accommodating," Sage replied warmly. "Yours is a fine city."

            "If you will join me, I shall lead you to the dining room and we can begin our feast."  They walked down the hall, the elves talking noisily amongst themselves while Jareth conversed with their leader.

            Jareth began the tete-a-tete. "So you say that there was a battle in the city at which your next market was to be set up. Where was this? It has been a long time since I sent out my messengers to bring back news from the rest of the Underground."

            "Feline City," Sage replied. "You are probably aware that the Persians separated themselves from the city long ago and formed their own kingdom because of their preference in religion. We were brought news that the Persians declared war on their former city because of a cult that had formed in Feline City that was determined to rid the Underground of the Persian religion. The cult had done some minor damage to some steeples in the Persian kingdom and the they would not tolerate it. They met in battle for about three months and nearly wiped out the other felines. It was a terrible tragedy."

            "Indeed."  Jareth had asked the question to test the elf's viability. He had heard of the battle as well, so the elf had not been caught in a lie thus far.  "Where were you when you discovered this?" Jareth asked casually. "It must have ruined your plans terribly."

            "Not at all," Sage replied. "We were making camp at the Wandering River on the northwestern side of the Labyrinth at the time, just getting ready to leave when the news arrived. One short change of direction and we were at the entrance to the Labyrinth. We talked the guard into escorting us through the Labyrinth. We surely would not have made it on our own."

            Jareth thought through the details and mentally confirmed the fact that they must have been on the northwestern side of the Labyrinth, for the guard at the entrance to the city had told him so when he had inquired. The one that led them through the Labyrinth had seen them approaching from the northwest as well.

            They reached the dining room and each elf found a seat and stood by it, waiting for the Goblin King to be seated first. Jareth found his chair at the end of the long table, which was cluttered with dishes full of sumptuous food, and promptly took the full champagne glass at his place, glass held before him to propose a toast. His guests took their glasses of champagne in accordance and gazed up at the Goblin King quietly, a painting of him towering over his head on the high wall to his rear. He was a figure of grace and sophistication, control and power.

            "I would like to propose a toast to my welcome guests," Jareth encompassed the room with his sweeping glance, "who have brought life to my city with each visit."

            "And I would like to propose a toast," Sage interposed, "to the Goblin King, who has so graciously accepted us into his lovely city, and at such short notice, I might add!"

            He was answered with chuckles all around the room, then, "Hear, hear!" as they rose their glasses to the sky ritually before drinking. Jareth drank then sat, motioning for the elves to do so as well.

            The elves helped themselves to the food at the center of the table, not taking greedily, but with polite mannerisms Jareth was not accustomed to seeing. "Your elves are very proper," Jareth remarked to Sage. "I haven't seen such manners in ages, living for so long amongst goblins. After all, what better for goblins to do than gobble, hmm?"

            Sage laughed fervently. "You are a born comic, your highness!" He looked up at Jareth, seeming to notice something behind the king. "Well, then," he said absentmindedly while staring at Jareth's painting, "where have I seen that before?"

            Jareth followed his gaze and said, "Do you mean the painting?"

            "I don't know," Sage replied. "I would say it's more something familiar about the painting instead of the painting itself."

            It was an oil painting of Jareth sitting on the steps of his castle, decked in grey tights and a fitted leather jacket, holding his black gloves while propping himself up by the elbows on his knees. In it he grinned the way he usually did when everything was going according to plan.

            "Now I know what it is," Sage declared in a moment of recognition. "Vindar!" he called to a young elf at the end of the table.

            "Yes, Father?" the elf replied as he approached.

            "Do me a favor, dear boy, and get me the leather jacket that Pine's group gave to us on the way here."

            "Certainly, Father."

            The elfin boy ran out of the room, no doubt headed for the tavern where they were boarded.

            It took all of Jareth's will to keep him from grimacing.

***

            "Do you think I should change my name?" Sara asked her twin.

            "Why, what's wrong with it?"

            "Nothing, it's just confusing enough as it is for us to look alike, without being named alike, too."

            The village had set up tables in the hub of the central clearing, a potluck supper in progress to honor the visitors. Sarah and her counterpart were conversing quietly over their meals, hoping not to be disturbed anymore by bothersome questions from the people about some of the false adventures Sara had claimed were theirs. Jacob had been greatly impressed and spread some of the tales around the village. At least the one about visiting the Goblin City to save a little boy had been remotely true.

            "What would you change it to?" Sarah asked before taking a bite of food.

            "I kind of like Leah. It portrays an image of innocence."

            Sarah nearly spit out her food. "YOU? Innocent! That's a good one!"

            "Don't be so loud. You'll attract attention," Sara admonished.

            "What do you call fabricating a whole novel of heroic adventures?" Sarah mocked. "I'm surprised that they believed that two females could actually do all of that."

            "Yeah," Sara grinned. "I did do a pretty good job, didn't I?"

            "I just hope you don't slip up somewhere." Sarah drank from her cup of water.

            "Well, what do you think?" Sara asked again.

            "About what?"

            "About me changing my name to Leah."

            "Fine by me, Leah," Sarah replied sarcastically while taking a pitcher and filling her cup with water again.

            "Then Leah it is!"

            "Why ask me when you can just read my mind?" Sarah saw her fears plaguing her again. She had never liked the idea of anyone reading her mind - just the mention of it gave her the chills. The only reason she wasn't extremely bothered by Sara - or rather Leah - being able to read her thoughts was because they were basically the same person, so it wasn't like she was revealing any of her dark secrets to a stranger.

            "I can't read your mind anymore," Leah replied.

            "What, you could before and you can't now?" Sarah said, not knowing if she could trust anything the woman said.

            "When I transformed I lost that ability."

            "It sure didn't seem to phase you."

            "Why should it?" Leah shrugged her shoulders. "I've been expecting it all of my life. I should be able to stop reading your emotions by next week."

            "Oh, so you know that, too, now do you?" Sarah said teasingly. "By next week, huh?"

            "The transformation from a shadow to a living human being takes years to complete. But it only takes a month before only magic can make you go back to the form a shadow."

            "What happens during the interval?" Sarah asked.

            "I can turn back into a shadow by sheer will," Leah replied with nonchalance. "Or my physical state can become unstable and I'll turn into a shadow whether I want to or not. There's physics in it, you know," she concluded jokingly.

            "Oh there is, is there?" Sarah said with amusement.

            "You must retort everything I say with a question, musn't you?"  Sarah was happy to find that her counterpart had a sense of humor. It was as if they had known each other all of their lives and not just two days.

            Jacob came and sat across from them, smiling his ever-present courteous smile. "So you gals say that you've been to the Goblin City? Did you know most of us lived there ourselves not long ago?"

            "Really?" Sarah said in shock. "I thought just goblins lived there."

            "It didn't used to be like that," Jacob said, shaking his head. "I was just seventeen when it happened, but one day this stranger came to the city, claiming to be a god. Or at least, the people in the city believed he was. I can't remember how it went. Well, this gent weaseled his way into the hearts of the people, including the king. Jareth was the guy's name. You know him, by what you tell. The king, thinking Jareth was a god, just up and offered him the crown, just like that. Some of us got out, not trusting the man in the slightest. Lucky we did, 'cause the day after he was crowned, everyone turned into goblins. Jareth was a nice enough fellow, I just guess he was like King Midas and everyone he touched turned into goblins our something like that. I don't understand the use in turning them into goblins, so he must have been cursed by a witch. We ran here to get away before he had a chance to notice we were gone."

            "That's amazing," Leah said. "I never knew about that."

            "I think it's disgusting," Sarah scowled. "Jareth takes anything he can get his hands on without consideration for others."  She looked up at the sky and found that it was darkening as night approached. It would be only a couple of minutes before the sun set completely. Giving the area a sweeping glance, she noticed that the woman they had first met when arriving at the village was approaching her shyly.

            Up close Sarah saw with horror that the woman's face was covered with bruises and wrinkling with the kind of age that comes from a treacherous life, not from the passing of time. Sarah hadn't noticed it before because the woman had been wearing a cloak with a hood that had successfully covered most of her face.  The woman sat down beside her and pulled her hood back somewhat.  "Hello," Sarah greeted her with gentleness.

            "Please tell me," the woman whispered, bending close so Sarah could hear, "when you were in the Goblin City, did you see a precious little girl named Isabelle?"

            Sarah's eyes widened with surprise. "Why, yes, I did. How do you know her?"

            "Oh, my precious child!" the woman exclaimed happily, clutching Sarah's hand and kissing it. "My dear Isabelle! You've found her!" Sarah was in a trance - Isabelle's mother!

            An overweight man with sharp, angry eyes came up behind the woman and hit her fiercely against the back of the head.  "Don't you bother her Woman, with your crazy rantings!"

            Sarah jumped up from her seat in fury to face the man.  The woman cringed and pulled her hood back over her face.  "Don't you touch her!" Sarah exclaimed irately.

            Sir Didymus leapt to her side. "I hath never seen so dishonorable a man who would dare lay such a brutal hand on his bride! Thou shouldst be ashamed of thine actions, thou heathen!"

            Jacob got up and addressed the violent man. "Now, Birkley, you should be ashamed of yourself making such a spectacle of yourself in front of our guests. Save it for later."

            "Save it for later?" Leah chimed in.

            "You approve of this behavior?" Sarah screamed.

            "Now calm down, Lass, Birkley's just being a little forceful, that's all," Jacob soothed.

            "Birk, she knows where our girl is," the woman mumbled, wringing her hands nervously.

            "I don't care where that little monster is," Birkley hollered. "She didn't know how to mind, and prob'ly don't know now. Serves her right for getting taken away by the Goblin King. Now she's prob'ly as ugly as she acts."

            "Now, Birkley," Jacob coaxed.

            "And if you don't stop your mumblin' over her, woman," Birkley bellowed, "I'll give your friends something good to get mad over. I heard enough about Isabelle the past three years, I'm not going to stand anymore! Another word about the brat and I'll get my belt!"

            "How can you say that about her, Birk?" the woman sobbed. "You know our girl was a little angel."

            "I can't believe your nerve, Mister!" Sarah exclaimed. "Threatening right in front of everyone to beat your wife! And talking like that about your own daughter!"

            "Now stay out of this," Jacob advised. "It's family business."

            Birkley grabbed his wife by her hair and tossed her from the chair a yard across the floor. "You get home, woman! I'll take care of you later!"

            Sarah was so infuriated that she grabbed Sir Didymus's staff and blindly struck the man with it using all of her strength. The tip of it lashed across his arm and left a line of dripping blood to mingle with his dirty skin.

            He glared at her hatefully, preparing to swing at her when a few on-looking men came forth to restrain him.  Leah ran forth to check if the battered woman was all right while Sir Didymus stood before Sarah, stretching his arms out as a sign of protection. "I'll not let him lay a vile hand on thee, fair maiden!"

            "Let me get my hands on the wench!" Birkley demanded. "I'll show her what a woman gets for stepping out of line!"

            "It's bastards like yourself that make this world such a shitty place," Sarah spat. "It's about time someone showed you what you deserve for getting out of line."

            "She speaks blasphemy!" a man called from the audience.  Sarah seemed to have overstepped her boundaries, for the men that had curbed Birkley looked as if they were considering letting him go to do whatever he wished to Sarah and his wife alike.

            "Now, Sarah," Jacob said, frowning for the first time during their stay, "you're pushing it too far. Guests don't argue with the ways of their hosts. If you carry on much more we're going to have to punish you the way we do our own people for such outbursts."

            "Beat the wench!" another male cried from the group of onlookers.

            "Make her bleed like she did me," Birkley snarled.

            Leah rose and stood at Sarah's side. "Maybe we should leave, Sarah," she mumbled into her companion's ear. "I don't want to see my first angry mob."

            "We'll leave," Sarah announced spitefully, "but I have one last thing to say. One day things are going to catch up with you, like the rest of the former people in the Goblin City. I swear with every ounce of my being that you all will be punished for this!" She grabbed Leah by the arm and began to walk away. She stopped instantly when she no longer felt her counterpart's arm in her hand, not as if she had pulled away, but more like if she had suddenly dissipated into nothingness. Sarah turned to see Leah shimmering back and forth from her human state to that of a shadow.

            "Uh, oh," Sarah mumbled.

            "Look there!" Birkley exclaimed. "See one of them changes into a wraith! They must be witches!"

***

Vindar had retrieved the leather jacket as his father bid him and was on his way back to the palace. He tingled with pleasure thinking about his father's plan.  The day before his father had snuck from the market after the Goblin King was gone in order to use the archives. Legend said that the key needed to recover the stone the human woman had been looking for was at a place where Aboveground and Underground merged. His parent had really intended to use the books in the archives in order to discover this place. He wasn't really here for the market.

            Vindar had to admit, his father was a pro when it came to such sneakiness. He had seen to all of the details, making sure that the Goblin King would be able to successfully confirm his claims as fact. Naturally the Goblin King would be distrusting. But, not only was he here to gain the information Sarah needed, he wanted to learn as much about the Goblin King as possible in order to put it away as knowledge and to have it for use by the human woman if she needed any advice on the king's character. He also wanted to draw a full map of the city and castle, if at all possible, while using the information in the archives to determine the most appropriate spot at which to hide the stone once Sarah retrieved it. This time, only the two of them would know where it was at - not the whole elfin community.

            And the jacket was the key to gaining the king's complete trust.

***

            "Run!" Sarah exclaimed.

            Many of the men ran back into their huts to get weapons while the others settled with nearby torches.

            "Tonight we have a lynching!" Birkley shouted triumphantly.  Probably feeling happy that the only woman who had the nerve to stand up to him was a witch, Sarah thought while running down the grassy valley.  Nearly forty of the villagers were pursuing them with swords, knives, and torches before long. Not until the archers came out did Sarah realize that this plan of action was getting nowhere.

            "We have to do something!" Leah cried from her shadowy image next to Sarah, reading Sarah's mind perhaps.

            Sarah pulled the elfin talisman from underneath her dress where it was dangling from her neck and she concentrated as much as her panicked mind would allow.

***

            Vindar entered the castle and finally the throne room, running to hand the jacket to his father before getting himself seated.

            "Is this jacket yours, by any chance?" Sage asked, proffering the leather garment to Jareth.

            "Where did you get this?" Jareth asked suspiciously.

            "I accidentally ran into another group of elves while at the Wandering River. Pine, the leader of the group was the one who told me about Feline City. He also gave me this jacket to sell along with the rest of my goods."

            "Where did he get it?" Jareth asked, looking down at the jacket of feminine cut that lay in his hands.

            "He said that a group of travelers that had stayed with him only a day before had left it with him as a payment to his hospitality before continuing in their journeys," Sage explained carefully. "It is yours then?"

            "Yes, it is. Thank you for returning it," Jareth said solemnly and finally. He intended to say no more.  At least this proved that they were not the group of elves Sarah had encountered.

            Sage took a drink of his champagne and suddenly interrupted himself when his amulet started emitting a pulsating light.  "Oh goodness!" Sage exclaimed, taking his napkin from his lap and placing it on the table as he rose. "One of the other tribes is contacting me. I apologize, your majesty, but may I be excused to tend to this?"

            "Certainly," Jareth replied, putting on an air of indifference. "You may find privacy out on the balcony. The doors swing shut."

            "Thank you," Sage bowed his head and smiled before leaving the room at a fast pace.

            Too fast, Jareth thought.

            Giving adequate time for Sage to make his journey to the balcony, Jareth rose from his own seat and went out through the kitchen door, heading for his crystal room.

***

            "Oh no," Vindar mumbled to himself as he watched the Goblin King leave. "The jig is up!"

***

            The talisman was still glowing when Sarah let go, so she supposed the magic was doing its work. But, in the meantime she needed some sort of diversion to buy time. She suddenly realized the diversion she had in mind was still in her supply bag and the supply bag was back at the village.

            "Damn!" she exclaimed breathlessly.

            "What do you curse for, fair maiden?" Didymus screamed between pants to be heard above the furious mob.

            "I left the supplies at the village!"

            "No need to fear, damsel, I took hold of it as we fled!"

            "Oh, bless you Didymus!" Sarah exclaimed, grabbing the bag hurriedly from his paws. She rummaged through and found the smoke-screen beads, stopping only momentarily to thrust them onto the ground and leave a rising cloud of smoke behind to keep the archers from being able to shoot their arrows at them.

            "Good thinking, sweet damsel!"

***

Sage closed the balcony doors behind him and looked into the amulet, seeing a bouncing image of a valley and the muffled sound of screaming voices coming from its picture.  "Sarah?" he said uncertainly, rewarded with a change of viewpoint as Sarah obviously pulled the amulet from its jostling position against her chest to answer him.

            "Sage," she breathed, "we're in a serious fix!"

***

Jareth had merely transported himself to the crystal room once he was properly hidden from his guests. He was already gazing into the depths of the gigantic glass sphere in the center of the small chamber, spying on Sage as the elf spoke into his amulet.

***

            "What is it, child?" Sage asked, his brow wrinkled with concern.

            "We found some humans in the valley at the center of the Shadow Mountains, they think we're witches, and right now we're running for our lives! If you can do something, please do it now!"

            "How many of you are there?"

            "Three."

            "Don't worry, child," he coaxed hurriedly. "I'll call the Spangores. They are always there to help us in times of need."

            "The what?" Sarah asked, her breathing becoming more rapid.

            "Just watch the skies, dear girl, and help will be there shortly."

            "I'm watching!" Sarah replied as the transmission was discontinued.

            Sage looked at the sky and saw that there was at least an hour's time before night. The Spangores should be able to see where they were flying.  If there was only three of them left, then one of her companions must be gone as he had said they would be. Or they had been killed during the journey. He felt terribly sorry for the poor girl.

            He gazed once more into the amulet and was shown the image of the face of a great bird only moments later.  "Sage!" the bird declared warmly, its feathers ruffling in pleasant surprise. "What can the Spangores do for you?" The Spangore's feathers puffed out noticeably upon seeing the elf's expression. "What is it, old chap?"

            "I have a young lady in the greatest danger right now. She needs an aerial escape, if you know what I mean."

            "Ten-four, old fellow. Where's she at and how many troops should I send?"

            "She's in the Valhalla Valley at the base of the Shadow Mountains," Sage replied. "She has two others with her, so there may be need of three birds. It shouldn't take you long. You are at your regular base at the peak of the mountain, are you not?"

            "Quite right, friend," the bird said. "It will take no more than a minute for the troops to reach her. I'll send my best troops out. Fast as a jet."

            "Thank you," Sage responded. "I guess I don't need to say for you to hurry."

            "No need whatsoever, dear fellow. Over and out."

            Sage sighed in relief.

***

Sarah didn't think she could run much longer. Her legs felt like Jell-o beneath her and her short gasps for air were not providing enough oxygen for her running body. The only thing that kept her going was a strong rush of adrenaline. Her two companions didn't seem to be having the same amount of trouble.

            "Look!" Leah exclaimed, pointing a shadowy black finger to the sky.

            Sarah did as commanded and was greeted by the image of three eagle-like birds as large as cars flying in formation over the valley, gliding down toward the fleeing group.

            "We're done for, now!" Leah excalimed. "Their birds will eat us up!"

            "No!" Sarah cried, laughing with relief. "Sage has sent help!"

            "Sage?" Leah replied with surprise.

            Sarah did not hear her, for the birds swooped low, sending a loud rush of air over their heads as their talons reached out and gently grabbed the three travelers by the arms, one to each bird. Then they flew close to the ground - in order to ensure the safety and comfort of the travelers - one bird above the other, the uppermost two birds dropping their passengers onto the back of the lower bird. The airborne creature on the underside flew up and dropped his cargo onto the top beast.  Then the birds spread out to make aim more difficult for the archers and proceeded to fly over the remaining mountain that enclosed the valley.

            "How do you enjoy flying the friendly skies, my dear?" Sarah's bird asked as she gripped the leather harness that wrapped about his neck and traveled down his back; her knuckles were white with her strong grasp.

            "It's better than being chased by hostile hosts!" she yelled above the noisy air that was lashing at her face and whipping her hair behind her like a sail. She looked around to see the birds carrying her two companions going in different directions. "Where are they going?" Sarah asked.

            "Confusing the archers!" the bird replied above the current of air. "What did you do to upset them so?"

            "I cussed them out for letting the men beat their wives, put a curse on them, and they think I'm a witch!"

            The bird laughed loudly at their nonsense. "And are you a witch, my dear enchantress?"

            "Hardly," she grunted. "But I wish I were!"

            "And what would you do if you were, dear Sorceress?"

            "I would take Birkley and fly him up into the clouds to give him the scare of his life!"

            "Point out this Birkley and I will gladly oblige!"  He went low over the startled group of villagers, causing them to turn back in the direction of their village. Sarah pointed out Birkley and called to the fainthearted villagers, "It's your turn to run for your lives!"

            The speed of their flight had the adrenaline pumping ferociously throughout her system, making her giddy and wild with the sensation. The ground swept past her in a blur of green as they approached Birkley. The great bird gripped the savage man tightly with his talons and rose high into the air.  "Put me down you hag!" Birkley cried in a terrified scream.

            Sarah held tight to the harness as they soared at a steep angle into the sky. The clouds came closer with each millisecond, making Sarah feel as if they would almost break through and see God waiting on the other side to chide them for the roller coaster ride they were giving to this man against his will.  "Afraid of heights, Birkley?" she asked mockingly, laughing to ward off her own fear.  He didn't answer, only stared stupidly at the shrinking world beneath him before finally passing out.

            The Spangore returned to the earth when he saw that the man was unconscious and gently laid Birkley back on the ground a few moments later. They ascended into the sky once more and Sarah saw that the other birds were long gone by now, having taken her friends with them. She then glanced below to watch the villagers come out of hiding and examine the sleeping Birkley. When they saw he was not dead, they looked wrathfully into the sky at her and brought out their bows and arrows.

            "The chaps have overcome their fear with hatred!" the bird declared solemnly. "We will have to make haste!"  Without further ado, he headed for their original course - across the Shadow Mountains.

            He gained speed as quickly as possible, but not quickly enough. Sarah gasped in horror to hear a nauseating thump as something hit the great bird in the chest. He jerked with the impact, but soon regained his balance.  "What was that?" Sarah yelled.

            "Nothing, old girl, just a... rock one of the villagers threw. Have no fear."

            Sarah sighed with relief and bent over as much as possible to see if the bird was wounded in any way. She then discovered that the bird had lied about his misfortune - it was no rock that hit him, but an arrow, aimed perfectly for the gut. Blood fell in droplets to the earth below.

            "You're hurt!" Sarah exclaimed. "Oh please, let down! We can get help!"

            "Not until we are safely on the other side of this mountain," he said somewhat quietly, pain seeping into his voice. "On this side, those chaps would kill us first chance."   He slowed in his flight but was ever-steady.

            Sarah watched nervously as the peaks of the mountain passed below. She realized how dangerous a fall would be if the great bird gave out at that moment. The light was fading, making the ground below difficult to decipher. She felt that death was imminent for the both of them. But she continued to hope.

***

Sage returned to the dining room, filled with hope for success in the escape attempt. As he entered, he noticed that the Goblin King was missing from his position at the end of the table and his stomach fell low in his gut.

            Vindar quickly approached him and bent close to whisper, the eyes of goblin guards following his actions suspiciously from their stations about the walls of the room.  "Father, I do believe we are up to our ears in trouble."

            "I see that we are," Sage replied soberly. "Describe to me the events before I left."

            "The Goblin King gave you adequate time to depart," the elfin boy explained, "and then he exited into what seems to be the kitchen."

            "The kitchen? How did he look as he left?"

            "He's a tricky one. He didn't reveal his emotions."

            "If he is now my rival," Sage sighed, "I am well matched. Perhaps too well."

***

Leah was exhilerated by the extreme height. She whooped all the way through the ride, begging the Spangore to do tricks of all sorts to make it more exciting.  The bird was happy to oblige.

            After having swooped at tremendous speed toward the ground, Leah remarked, "Man, you sure can go fast! Youre like a roller coaster!"

            "I'll have you know," he boasted, "I'm as fast as a Bell X-1! Perhaps even faster! I broke the sound barrier once!"

            "Wow!" she exclaimed, dragging it out as he did an unexpected loop-de-loop. "Where are we headed to?" she asked after the loop had been completed.

            "Other side of the mountain!"

            "She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes," Leah sang. "She'll be riding a great big bird when she comes! She'll be comin' round the mountain, she'll be comin' round the mountain, she'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes! Hee-haw!"

            Soon enough they had reached the mountain's eastern side and the bird called to Leah, "Put your seats in an upright position and fasten your seatbelts. We're going to land."

***

            "We made it!" Sarah cried triumphantly, watching the forest becoming visible beneath them. "Now let's land!"  The bird did not respond. Sarah was suddenly aware that they were gliding downward, picking up speed.  "Are you okay?" she asked, bending over to look at the bird's face. His eyes were closed and he was gasping for air.

            "I...can't stay conscious... much... longer," he whispered. "Prepare for a bumpy... landing..."

            They were getting further and further from the base of the mountain. Sarah froze in terror when she realized that they were about to land smack dab in the middle of the forest. She gripped the harness mechanically, gritting her teeth and bending over with the impact of the trees below. She fought every instinct that told her to let go and grip her head to protect from the branches that were scratching at her face. The last thought that crossed her mind as they hit ground was that she was going to die.

***

Jareth watched with increasing horror as Sarah plummeted to the earth and crashed, both she and the bird unconscious. He didn't lose a moment, but grabbed a brown cloak that conveniently hung from a hat stand in the room, wrapped it about himself, and transported himself back to the kitchen. He shoved his way through the goblins who were busy preparing desserts there and rushed into the dining room.

            "You'll have to excuse me," he apologized hurriedly to Sage. "I have some business to attend to. Please finish your meal."  Sage stared wide-eyed as Jareth rushed away.

            The Goblin King stopped by one of the guards and said quietly, "Let them finish their meal, but don't let them leave. I have questions to ask as soon as I return." The goblin nodded his understanding as Jareth dashed through the halls, pulling his hood over his face; into the throne room; and onto the balcony, only stopping momentarily to brandish a crystal and transform into an owl, flying gracefully into the night on golden wings with thoughts of Sarah in his mind.

Jennifer Connelly     David Bowie    Jim Henson            C     C