- LABYRINTH II
...             ...


CHAPTER XXV

           Jareth approached Sarah's motionless body without hesitation, stooping down and placing his fingers on her wrist to check her pulse. She was still alive. Her forehead was trickling blood from scratches and bumps, branches tangled in her hair and red drops on her dress. She was by no stretch of the imagination a lovely sight right now, but she was living and that was enough.

            The bird she had been flying had landed on his side, luckily for him, because if he had settled on his chest the arrow would have plunged deeper into his gut, surely killing him. He was breathing shallowly, losing blood each moment.

            Jareth was familiar with the Spangores and knew they would not be pleased if their troop died needlessly. Sarah's injuries could wait, while the bird's could not.

            He pulled out a crystal and prepared to transmit a message.

***

            "Father, what is it?" Vindar asked while approaching his father.

            "It seems that the Goblin King had not spied my actions after all," Sage said, looking quite baffled. "He came running out of the kitchen, apologized for his need to depart, and went rushing out of the dining room entrance."

            "I saw him leave," Vindar said.

            "If he had spied the conversation I cannot see why he would be in such a hurry to leave, or why he would not hound me with questions and toss us into the dungeon. The Goblin King is a somewhat fair man, but not that fair."  The father and son discontinued their tete-a-tete as they watched a guard approaching them from the throne room.

            "Excuse me, Sage," the goblin guard said in a gruff voice, "but I'm going to have to escort you to the throne room. Our king has contacted us by way of magic and he wishes a word with you."

            Sage gave his son a sidelong glance. Perhaps the king had spied after all. But what purpose was there in all of this?  "Certainly," Sage finally answered the watchman, giving no resistance when the goblin took him by the arm and led him to the throne room. The elf addressed his son next.  "Vindar, make sure the others make no attempts at leaving." The statement had seemed straightforward enough, but Vindar knew that it was the signal for him to sneak out and search for assistance from the elfin city.

 

They were shortly in the throne room, the goblin leading Sage to the mirror at the left-hand side of the throne. Jareth's image stood waiting; the Goblin King got straight to the point.   "Sage, I have a wounded Spangore here who needs immediate attention,"  Jareth explained gravely, "and the elves are the most accomplished healers. You will get the healers from your group together and allow them to be led to the infirmary, where they shall care for him. You shall not attempt to leave my castle and will wait for my return. Guard?" he addressed the goblin at the elf's side. "I want you to flank troops underneath every window, in front of every door. Also, take that talisman from the elf and find a goblin in my palace who is familiar with magical items. He is to search each elf and take away any objects that might be used against the inhabitants of my city." He looked away toward what Sage suspected was the wounded bird, then finally continued. "And Sage? There will be no more communications between you and Sarah. Is that understood? We will discuss matters further when I return."  The image shimmered, then became the reciprocal of the room the elf and goblin stood in.

            Too bad, my good king, Sage thought.  Vindar will be out of the city by now and back by morning with reinforcements.

***

After transporting the heavy bird to his castle, finding it very difficult with his dissipating magic, Jareth scooped Sarah up into his arms and propped her head against his shoulder for added support. He planned to take her to the Bookkeeper's home, which was only a mile away from where he was presently at. That way Sarah could continue on her journey when she regained consciousness.

            Jareth stared worriedly at Sarah's wounds as he walked.  Her once lovely face was stained with drying blood, her hair disheveled and layered in dust.  What have I brought upon her? he thought mournfully.  This havoc is too much to bear; she might have died.

            A now-familiar voice replied from within.  Just love me, fear me, do as I say... and I will be your slave.

            A slight pain surged within him as he replied, "I do not love you.  I only do as you say because I want to protect Sarah."

            Then you know I exist...  The voice mocked him.  No, Jareth, you do as I say because you wish to protect yourself.  Tremors accompanied its silent echoes.  If you do not love me, then you can fear me... Fear me, and I will be your slave... Until you become mine.

            "Who are you?" Jareth moaned, gritting his teeth as he laid Sarah upon the ground.  He gripped his head, tendrils of his blond hair energizing with an unreal static electricity.  "What is it that you want of me?"

            You, Jareth?  Or should I say me?  Do you not understand?  I am you, Jareth.  A laugh reverberated throughout Jareth in silence, a ghostly laugh he could feel instead of hear.  Yes, I know that you do understand, Goblin King.  I waited in the recesses of your soul for so long...  Now, Jareth, I will have what I desire. 

            Jareth stared down at Sarah in his confusion... He analyzed the delicate shape of her hand, lost himself in the brown of her hair, became mesmerized by the tender curve of her neck; this occupation consumed him entirely, so that he was able to fight away the confusion, just for a moment.  If only Sarah would awaken and save him!

            Look at her, the voice said in a mockery of compassion.  She cannot save you, Jareth.  Do you see her frailty?  She does not understand, even now, what she is here for.  All that she knows is that she hates you...  Hates you, yet loves you as I do.  Loves you in that odd, mechanical way that habit has created for her.  And I see, the more she hates you, the more you hate yourself.  Such a pity.  If you were not so weak, I might have forgiven you.  We might have been brothers, you and I.  Now, Jareth, I no longer need your cruelty.  I will soon be rid of all my troubles...

            "The amethyst," Jareth said, digging his nails into the soil.

            Yes.... the voice hissed in satisfaction.  You do see.

            "I will stop you."

            Try, and I will kill her.

            "There is more than Sarah at risk.  You attempt to fool me with your games of fear.  She will still be at your mercy."

            No, Jareth... She will soon go home, and this will all be a hazy memory...  It is only the Underground I desire.... and you as my slave....

            "How long have you been within me?" Jareth asked with a resigned sigh.

            Longer than you think.

            "How long?"

            Since that time when-

            Jareth held out a crystal.  "Yes, now I know."  He gazed worriedly at Sarah's still form as he thought of the warnings.  If only she could know what he had sacrificed for her...

            The voice interrupted his thoughts.  What will you do?

            "Whatever I must."

            Don't defy me.

            Taking his gloves off first, Jareth carefully pulled the small branches from Sarah's hair and smoothed it out affectionately; he then removed his cloak and wrapped it around her for warmth. Taking inventory of her wounds, he noticed a small cut on her lip.  Gently, he tapped at the wound with the cloth, admiring the sweetness of her sleeping face, despite her condition. He brushed his free hand against her face, his skin tingling with the warm touch, his heart crying out for her well-being. So far he could not tell if the concussions she had survived were fatal or not. Hopefully the Bookkeeper would be able to find out.

            He wiped her brow again and her eyelids began to slowly open. "I don't want to die..." she mumbled. "No, no, too fast... too fast... wake up bird..."

            "Shh..." he whispered, tapping at her forehead with the cloth with one hand while holding her hand reassuringly with the other. "It's all right. You're safe."

            Her eyes fluttered open and she looked weakly up at him. "Jareth?" she said unsurely. "No... leave me... get the others... leave..." she drifted off fragilely.

            "I'm here to help you," he coaxed, touching the cloth to her bleeding lip once more.

            "Oh, please no... but why?" She looked up at him imploringly, her eyes reflecting the circular shape of the moon.

            "I could not leave you to die," he replied quietly, brushing away some hair that been blown by the night breeze across her face, as if hungering to be nearer to her, to lay a tendril on her blessed skin.

            "Get the others," she demanded quietly with more strength, but still a hint of uncertainty as she turned her head away. She was saying that she wished him to leave, but she had not pulled her hand out of his.

            He turned her face back toward him to see her eyes muddled with tears. Jareth did not know their purpose for being there. "How do you feel?" he asked, brushing his lips against her ear in a whisper.

            "Oh, I was so scared!" she cried.  He lifted her into a sitting position and offered his comforting embrace, but she lightly pushed him away, refusing his offer and accepting the handkerchief he pulled from the pocket on his jacket instead. She sobbed for some moments; Jareth felt very awkward to be present during this tearful fit. He rose and began to pace the ground. She finally stopped crying and he turned to face her; she tried to stand, but wobbled dizzily in the attempt.

            He ran to steady her, subconsciously hoping that it might in some way make up for his cruelty toward her; he wanted to feel needed by no planning on his behalf. He clutched her shoulders tightly, looking intently at her face. There was no anger there, only confusion.  "Please let go," she said, and even as she commanded it, Jareth knew that was not what she wanted. He continued to grip her shoulders.

            "You will fall if I let you go," he said matter-of-factly.

            "No I won't," she said, pulling slightly, surely to make it seem as if she were attempting an escape from his hold on her. "Let go."

            He moved his face closer to hers and lowered his tone. "Don't be foolish. You're too weak to stand without my assistance."  Oh, how much he wished he could tell her that he loved her!  If only he could make her remember that evening in the hall, when she had grasped his hand in understanding!  But the demon that lurked within him would not allow it...  And never would he be so cruel as to give Sarah reason to make a bed in a burning building as himself.  An avowal of love was too much too soon, or too little too late, depending upon how one looked at it.

            "I will be fine, thank you," she replied, turning her eyes nervously away from his.

            "Perhaps," he whispered, his lips inches from hers, "It is I who will be too weak to stand without someone to lean against."

            She looked at him, obviously losing the battle against her better judgment. For a moment, he caught an intense sparkle in her eye, the reception of a vague, imperceptible understanding.  He knew he should let her be, run into the forest like an animal caught on fire, but something drove him onward...  Somehow he knew a trap had been set, for him and for Sarah, but he could not resist the urge to approach his demise.  The demon loomed within him, taunting ever-so-silently, chanting its will.  His love flared up within him, so strong and overpowering; his will was nothing in comparison to these dual forces.  He succumbed, and allowed himself to be drawn into the kiss that was unfolding itself.  Their lips touched softly, sweetly, as if they were two young lovers, meeting on a hill during a warm, summer evening.  Everything danced about him, flourishing and peaceful; her closeness heightened his senses, and he felt her eyelashes brushing against his cheek, her nose rubbing against his, her breath tickling the area beside his nostril.  The kiss had long come to its conclusion, but neither stepped out of the sphere of the other; too many words were being said silently, too many feelings permeating that close space.

            Too much, too fast.

            Jareth jerked away.  No, he thought.  I will not let her remember these feelings; she will not be able to fight them.

            The voice returned.  You are correct.

            Jareth shuddered.  Do not stop me.

            I will not, the voice replied.  I have already gotten what I desired.

            Sarah gazed up in confusion at Jareth's abrupt movement, but did not feel the emotions as they drifted away, due to his mystical bidding.  Her gaze was drawn by a moving shadow in the forest... It was Leah.

            "Sarah!" Leah exclaimed. "I can't believe you're kissing that man!"  Leah's shadowy figure came into view as she stepped out from behind a tree, hands on hips. Sir Didymus was at her side.

           

Sarah had never been so humiliated in her life. She suddenly knew what it must feel like for girls in those television shows to get caught kissing unruly boys out on the front porch. It was bad enough that she had kissed the man who was supposed to be her arch enemy; it was worse than the time in the ballroom four years ago when she had thought he was going to kiss her and had opened her eyes to find everyone in the ballroom laughing at her childish actions. Yet, he had been so much like the man she had danced with when she dreamt of the ballroom; the kindness, the selflessness that showed itself within Jareth for those few moments made her lose herself in the moment.  She had not been able to let go of his hand because it felt as if it belonged there; she could not allow him to take his firm grasp from her shoulders because it would seem blasphemy for the grasp to reside elsewhere; she could not go unkissed, for it was, in some strange way, a resolution for the pain she had suffered at the other Jareth's hands, a resolution for the endless times her heart had been broken.  

            Yet, her mind told her otherwise; the cold logic of it truly was that Jareth had found a way to disparage her again. There was no way for a man to exist in two forms; the simple fact was that a man existed as himself, and every part came with him, good or evil.  You could not throw out the bad and keep the good, as with a partly rotten apple; you could not love half of him and hate what was left; you could not kiss him and expect no consequence of it.  She had sold herself in her weakness... she would never again be able to respect herself.

            "Sarah," Jareth said, holding his hand out to her pleadingly.

            She knew it was an act - an act to cause her confusion and make her feel obligated to give him the stone once she retrieved it. It was unsafe to believe otherwise; he held his heart in her hands, whether he knew it, or not.  And the prospect terrified her.

            "Go away, Jareth," she commanded, looking away from him, her eyes fixed on the ground as she held her hand to her forehead. "You have done what was expected of you. Now you know I am well enough to continue the journey without any special attention."

            Jareth nodded, frowning at the intruders before addressing the bruised Sarah. "Believe what you like," he said sadly. "Just know that truth sometimes takes an unpredictable and crooked path."

            They watched silently as the Goblin King became the golden owl and flew into the night sky, looking almost like a messenger from the moon, as if he would fly higher and higher until he was only a white dot that mingled with the other stars.

            "Good riddens!" Leah exclaimed.

            "How long were you standing there?" Sarah lashed out at her angrily.

            "Long enough," Leah replied, seething with her own anger.

            "How long?" Sarah demanded, not being able to discern much about the shadow's mood, for she was all black and nothingness.

            "I saw most of it."

            "Why didn't you stop me earlier?" Sarah yelled with frustration. "You know what I did was against all of my principles! You knew I didn't want to do it!"

            "Or maybe," Leah chided, "you did want to do it, you just didn't want to get caught."

            Sir Didymus slunk away unnoticed into the forest.

            "Don't mock me," Sarah spat. "He took advantage of my condition. He took advantage of my confusion."

            "Look, Sarah, I know what you must have been going through," Leah sighed, "I just didn't stop you because I thought you'd want a chance to face him on your own, to see if you had the will power to resist him. Maybe I should have stepped in sooner, seeing that you were in a weak state as it was. I'm sorry."

            "No," Sarah said quietly. "You were right." She looked to make sure that Sir Didymus wasn't there. "I guess it really was what I wanted... I hate him for it."

            "I know that you were thinking about him outside of the mountain, the night before we met," Leah confessed. "It's a hard battle to fight. If these were different conditions, then maybe a romance between you and him would not be so bad, but when you're on a journey to defeat him...well, I mean, he's not exactly extremely virtuous, anyhow.  It's just too much to risk; you can't be bothered with wondering about things. You can't be wondering what will happen between the two of you if you overthrow him. If you do start doing that, you'll give in to his will in the end and nothing will be accomplished. Things would be the same way they were before, maybe worse. You're not Aboveground. The stakes are higher here."

            Leah was right. From this moment on she would show no mercy, would feel no inkling of love or desire for the Goblin King. He was the enemy and was not to be taken in as a lover; she must believe that or succumb to what she despised most; she must deny her feelings.  "I wouldn't even consider such a thing," Sarah snarled.

***

Jareth landed gracefully onto the balcony, a silver moon clouding over behind him, as if to imitate his mood. His cape swirled angrily behind him as he entered the throne room, his boots clanking violently with each step. His expression was severe and generated an ominous sense about the room. The Goblin King, upon seeing the erect Sage standing before his throne calmly, did not sit in his throne, but circled the elf with a calculating stare, his hands held behind his back. Sage did not turn with Jareth's gaze, but looked ahead, unperturbed by the king's intimidation. The Goblin King seemed to finally have drawn a conclusion and sat in his large chair, towering menacingly over the elfin leader.

            To be quite blunt, Jareth was not in a good mood.

            "What is your purpose in coming to my kingdom?" Jareth asked brusquely.

            "For the market," Sage replied levelly.

            "Sage," Jareth rose from his seat and looked down upon the elf like an all-seeing citadel, "do not insult my intelligence. I know you spent a great deal of time with Sarah. What did she tell you? More importantly, what did you tell her?"

            "Where is she?" Sage asked, wrinkling his brow with worry.

            "Answer me!" Jareth demanded curtly, thinking to himself that she would be with him if it weren't for his foolish actions as an adolescent, and the curse that resulted.

            "I'll answer you as soon as you tell me her condition," Sage said with a vehemence he rarely displayed.

            "Very well," Jareth agreed grudgingly. "She has made it successfully beyond Shadow Mountain. The Spangore that crashed was carrying her, but she is well. Only bruised. Now it is your turn."

            Sage, relieved for a moment because Sarah was well, put back on his hard expression and stated, "She told me that you had sent her on a journey to the grasslands and she had lost her supplies. I replaced those supplies, gave her fresh clothing and she repaid our kindness with the jacket. It is very much like I told you earlier."

            Jareth called a guard who had been in the dining room earlier and said, "Go to the infirmary where the other elves are and bring me his son, Vindar. You remember the one I speak of?"

            The goblin nodded his head intelligently and marched off down one of the corridors stiffly.

            "What do you want with my son?" Sage demanded irately.

            "We'll see if you're telling the truth."

            The guard returned with news that the elfin boy was not there. After dispersing goblins throughout the palace, Jareth found that he was nowhere in the castle. The Goblin King had thought he had outsmarted the elf, but it seemed the tide was turning.

***

            "Damn, it's raining," Leah declared, holding her hand out to feel the droplets of water. The party had been walking for some time now and it was wearing on the twin's nerves. Sarah had sprinkled some shadowdust on her earlier, making her finally visible, and fully able to get wet. Sarah had been repressed and quiet for some time, insisting that she wasn't tired and wanted to continue traveling. Leah was personally tired of watching Sarah feel sorry for herself, tired of walking, tired of the oppressive silence. The rain didn't help much, either.

            "We have to find some type of shelter," she said. "These trees don't provide enough cover to keep a termite dry."  Sarah didn't reply, but stared despondently at her feet as she walked.  "At least it will break the silence," Leah mumbled, taking off her cape and pulling it over her head.

            "I detect lights yonder, fair maidens," Sir Didymus said, pointing ahead into the forest.

            Leah looked up, squinting against the water that was trying to splash into her eyes, and could make out the shape of a humble cottage with candles in the window. It would be heaven to get out of this freezing downpour! She was already soaked to the bone.

            "Maybe they'll let us shack up with them," Leah said hopefully. "Hope this isn't the place Hanzel and Gretel nearly got baked at. Though, I wouldn't mind being baked right now." She pulled the cape closer.

            Sarah didn't even seem to notice the rain.

            "Okay," Leah had taken more than she could stand. "You just kissed the man who kidnaped your brother, kidnaped your friends, and basically made your life a living hell for the past week. So what? You know you were wrong and you've repented. What's done is done. Stop feeling sorry for yourself."

            Sarah looked up, her eyes burning with anger. "It's not that simple."

            "Sure it is," Leah said, shrugging her shoulders. "You're just flattering yourself making it seem a bigger deal than it is. Just as long as you don't give in again, then it's in the past. The only time it's important is when it affects your future. You won't let him pull another fast one on you, because of what happened. Think of it as a blessing. You messed up one little time so you wouldn't screw up big time in the end."

            "What do you think he meant by, 'Just know that truth sometimes takes an unpredictable and crooked path'?" she asked, losing her anger to wonder.

            "Well, I'm sure it's got some wisdom to it, but, as far as I'm concerned, he was just saying that to make you more confused. I guess he was trying to imply that you didn't know what you were talking about when you said he had just come to get you back on the quest again. I don't know. It's just another one of his schemes."

            "If he hadn't come for that reason, why would he have come?"

            "I know where this is headed," Leah frowned. "You're kind of hoping that he really does love you. That's a dead end way of thinking. You know as well as I do that if he truly cared about you he wouldn't do all of this. He would have gone to a great deal more trouble to make you believe that he came there for your well-being if he didn't have something to hide. I know you're attracted to him, but you have to get over it. He can't love anyone. He only knows how to use people. You're getting your hopes up."

            Leah stopped her lecture, seeing that they had arrived at the cottage. She turned to see how her twin had taken it, and was rewarded to see a more confident Sarah, a determined fire burning in her eyes. Hopefully this had helped to clarify Sarah's uncertainty.

            Leah knocked lightly on the cottage door and waited for an answer.

            "Whaddya want?" a gruff voice demanded from the other side.

            "We were looking for a place to stay the night," Leah explained sweetly.

            "Roughing it builds character," the voice declared harshly.

            "But it's raining!" Leah exclaimed.

            "What does that have to do with anything?"

            Sir Didymus pushed his way past the two females and leaned close to the door. "I demand you open the door this instant! And I warn you, I am a noble knight and don't know the word, no.

            "If you don't know it, why'd'ya say it?"

            Didymus had no argument.

            "Listen," Leah commanded. "I don't care who you are, but if you don't let us in I'm opening this door and coming in whether you like it or not. I've got a lady right here who holds your life in her very hands! If she gets pneumonia and dies, you're doomed to an eternity under the Goblin King's suffocating rulership." She turned to Sarah. "I'm beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea."

            "Goblin King you say?" the voice pondered skeptically from the other side of the door. "You sure you're tellin' the truth? I don't want no Goblin King takin' things over, but I ain't takin' no lyin' rapscallions into my home, neither."

            "Well, whether you let us in or not, you'll find out sooner or later that I'm telling the truth."

            The door creaked open slowly to reveal a dwarf who possessed a knobby nose and wore a long furry thread of an eyebrow across his forehead. Leah's first thought was that the dwarf resembled Hoggle and she noticed that Sarah jumped with surprise at what must have been the same conclusion. With a patchwork quilt draped about his shoulders for warmth and a staff to steady himself, he was the perfect picture of a king and his castle. The old dwarf summed them up for a few seconds before stepping aside and leading them into his home.

            The door creaked shut behind them, drowning out the sound of the downpour.

            As both Leah and Sarah removed their capes, the dwarf remarked, "Ain't seen twins in a long time. Which one'a you's goin'ta supposedly save me from the Goblin King?"

            Leah pointed to Sarah.

            "Don't look much like a king conqueror. What ya'll gonna do? Confuse him?" He snickered gleefully at his wit while he bent into the kitchen doorway. "Martha, got two younguns and a dog come to spend the night. Fix up some more'o that soup."

            "A dog indeed," Sir Didymus mumbled to himself.  He started to state the dwarf's mistake out loud, but silenced himself when Sarah indicated for him to do so.

            "Now, Mr. Hiddlebury," a shrill voice from the kitchen exclaimed angrily, "you ain't goin'ta invite none'a your friends here like this and expect me to toss a few more taters in the soup when it's already finished! Tell'em to go home fer their supper!"

            Mr. Hiddlebury seemed to be taking his wife's disagreeability with a profound amusement. "Calls me by my last name when she's peeved," he explained to the two on-lookers.

            "Ain't none'a my friends, woman!" he declared with a mock anger. "Some travelin' girls who's goin'ta save us from great evil, that's who it is." He glanced at the twins, indicating that this last remark was made for their benefit.

            Sarah's mouth turned down at the corner when he wasn't looking, but Leah smiled with delight at his rough nature.

            Martha hobbled into the room wiping her hands on her apron. She was at least half a foot taller than her husband and her hair trailed down her back in a braid that nearly came to her feet. The female dwarf gasped and blushed when she saw that her husband's claim was true, while an apology tumbled clumsily from her lips. "Indeed, I'm sorry, I am," she said awkwardly, as if she had mistaken two princesses for two panhandlers. "Ain't often we get guests from other parts of the country. I 'pologize to you too, Mr. Hiddlebury. I'll get straight to the kitchen and whip up a little extra vittles."

            After she had left, the dwarf declared conspiratorially, "Now she's peeved 'cause I turned out to be right. 'Course I'm always right, that's why it gets'er goat." His eyes glowed as he relished his cleverness. With a grunt he hobbled over to a pine desk across from the room that was littered with papers, books, pens, and a number of other items. The chair creaked in argument as he sat down, propping his staff against the edge of the desk before finally addressing them with purpose and a familiar suspicion. "So, now tell me, what's yer real business here? You got names?"

            "You don't believe what we told you earlier?" Sarah asked, shaking her head slightly with ripples of confusion on her brow.

            "Course not. Only thing that peeves women enough to want to overthrow a man is when he gives 'em an unwanted nod and a wink, if you know what I'm sayin'."

            Sarah scowled.

            "Nod and a wink, you say?" Didymus asked as he scratched his head. "I don't believe I'm quite familiar with that term."

            "Oh!" Mr. Hiddlebury exclaimed a bit frustratedly, as if he despised having to explain things. "You know! Hanky Panky, undesired handling, sexual harassment, the Anita Hill legacy..."

            Leah shifted her weight to the other foot. "And what made you figure we weren't after him for that?" she asked sarcastically.

            "Well, yall're twins. The Goblin King ain't that kinky."

            Sarah rolled her eyes upward and lolled her head around so that she was facing the ceiling. "Oh, please!" She crossed her arms emphatically. "How disgusting!"

            Leah's mouth stretched into a smirk after Sarah had made her statement. "Then, why do you think we were here?" she said with calm interest.

            The old dwarf took his time in responding. He reached for an iron poker that was next to his chair and prodded the burning wood in the fireplace before answering. "Can't fool me. I know what yer here for."

            "Well, please enlighten us," Leah beseeched. "I thought we knew why we were here, but you obviously know better."

            "Yer here for what they all come here for. To hear the great Bookkeeper reveal what he knows..." He picked up a pen and wrote down something on a piece of aging paper as he added in a mumble, "'Bout somethin'er other."

            "That's interesting, Sarah," Leah remarked with false concern to her counterpart. "I thought we got stuck in the rain while on a quest to destroy the Goblin King when we stopped here. It's a good thing this guy told us what we were really up to, or we might have screwed up and saved the Underground from inescapable doom. I think we should thank Mr. Hiddlebury."

            "You got spunk," the old dwarf remarked without expression.

            Leah bowed dramatically. "Thank you."

            "I hate spunk."

            Wordlessly, the Bookkeeper began to write on the paper. The twins looked back and forth between each other, both seeming confused and indecisive about what should happen next. Mr. Hiddlebury didn't acknowledge them or even glance in their direction; for many dragging minutes it was just him, the paper, and the pen.

            Martha stepped into the room and fixed her eyes on the twins the moment she arrived. Her brow furrowed upon seeing their awkward expressions as they stared at her husband, so she turned her gaze to the man as well. When she saw what he was doing, understanding flashed across her face and she finally vocalized.

            "At it, is he?" she declared warmly. "Oh, don't think nothin' of it, dears. He gets this way all the time. Don't pay it any mind." She put a hand to each girls' arm and led them into the kitchen. Sir Didymus followed from behind.

            "He's not mad, is he?" Sarah asked, shooting a last glance into the living room.

            "Awe, naw! It ain't you!" she reassured expressively while helping each of them into a seat at the small kitchen table. "You see," she began as she sat at the table herself, "he just enjoys his work so much he gets to where he don't know anybody's there. Gets an idea in his head and poof! goes the rest of the world!" She instantly rose from the chair, not having sat in it for but ten seconds, and stirred a pot of soup that was hanging over another fireplace. "Mr. Hiddlebury is just a crazy old goat." She chuckled pleasantly, nearly jumping away from the pot and grabbing a stack of plates with youthful vigor. "What's yer names?"

            Leah pointed to each of her companions and then herself. "Sarah, Sir Didymus, and Leah."

            "Pleased to meet ya."

            "He didn't choke on a prune today, did he?" Leah said teasingly, propping her chin against her fist comfortably.

            Sarah listened without remark, her back completely parallel to the wooden chair, her hands fiddling awkwardly in her lap.

            "Choke on a prune?" Mrs. Hiddlebury said confusedly. "Oh!" she exclaimed with comprehension and chuckling. "Oh, no, he's just a bit eccentric." She put the silverware and bowls out on the table quickly and lunged into the cupboard for some bread. "Pay him no mind, a'tall."

            Mr. Hiddlebury hobbled into the doorway with his staff in hand, looking at his wife with a scrunched up face, his knobby nose sticking out like a big lemon on his countenance. "You keep tellin' them to pay me no mind, Martha, and they won't be able to listen to a bloomin' word I tell'em about whatever it is they's come to ask. All that repeatin' brainwashes folks. And you cain't go 'round brainwashin' folks like they's a fence!"

            "This ain't no time to be gettin' philosophical on me, my dear Bookkeeper." She walked over to him and gently helped him to his seat at the table. He didn't protest, only accepted the assistance without comment. "It's time for supper."

            "Which," he said forcefully as he sat in his chair, "you never thought important enough to tell me about. You told these two strangers here that supper was ready, but you didn't think that me, your own lovin' husband, was importan' enough to tell it was time to come'n eat. It's a cryin' shame. I want a divorce."

              "Sorry, my dear ball'n'chain, but folks 'round here ain't ever heard of divorce. Just you'n me." She filled everyone's bowl with a rich, strong-smelling soup as she spoke. "And the preacher - why, to him it'd be blasphemy!"

            The Bookkeeper dug into his soup ravenously, stopping between mouthfuls to breathe, but seeing no need to stop eating while he spoke. "Awe shaw! Blasphemy's the last thing I'm worried 'bout!" He put his elbow on the table and wagged his spoon at her accusingly. "People 'round here is barbarians, plain and simple! Ain't read a good book for once in their worthless lives! Now that's what I call blasphemy!"

            Martha buttered his bread after putting cups out on the table. "Ain't you ever gonna change your ways, you crazy old man," she declared jokingly. "You're too stubborn and that's what gits you into all the trouble you find yourself in."

            "Hmph."

            "Don't you 'hmph' me, Mr. Hiddlebury. You 'member what happened last week, 's'well as I do."

            Leah looked up from her own voracious consumption of the soup with extreme interest. "What happened?"

            The female dwarf noticed Leah's curiosity and her face lit up immensely. She briskly pulled a chair out from under the table and faced Leah, her hands clasped where they lay on the wooden table, her eyes slanting with the preparation for explanation. Leah bent over with complete concentration on the upcoming discussion. They resembled two wives, drawing closer to each other in order to whisper about how it sounded when their husbands snored at night.

            Sarah stayed at the edge of their conversation, listening intently.

            "Well, you see," Martha began her tale, "some folks come down here to get my husband to come down to their village and check out their irrigation system. You know, to find flaws that might be in it."

            Mr. Hiddlebury looked up from his soup. "Lots'a flaws. Crazy mess i'twas. Barbarians." He went back to his soup instantly upon completion of his statement.

            Martha scowled at her husband for interrupting and continued her story. "As I was saying, they ast him to come'n look'it things. He goes down there and is all cranky from the long trip."

            "I wadn't cranky!" the Bookkeeper exclaimed indignantly.

            "You was too! Now, are you gonna hush long'nuff for me to finish the story?"

            "Hmph." He went to eating his soup again as if nothing had happened.

            "Well, he's tired'n cranky," Mr. Hiddlebury looked up spitefully from his soup, "and then they go'n break somethin' of his. The great Bookkeeper here starts goin' on 'bout how they're a bunch'a fools for believin' in more'n one god and how there's one God up'n the heavens and he's'a gonna strike them down with lightnin' fer droppin' his stuff! I ain't never seen a madder bunch'a people in my life!"

            "Only barbarians would believe in all that hokey-pokey," Mr. Hiddlebury remarked absentmindedly. Ias just bein sarcastic.  God schmod.

            The story completed, Martha got out of her seat and went to filling everyone's cup with milk. "My husband ain't afraid of blasphemy and sacrilege, nohow!" she declared with a hint of pride.

            "I didn't think anyone down here had ever heard about God," Sarah remarked quietly. "How come you know about Him?"

            "Shaw! If it ain't obvious!" Mr. Hiddlebury deprecated. "I read books!"

            Sarah put down her spoon and glared at him. "I figured that...I wanted to know how you got ahold of those books. You surely didn't get them from anywhere in the Underground."

            "Well, darnit, say what you mean and mean what you say! 'Course I didn't get'em from the Underground! You think I'm gonna tell you how I got them?"

            He stared at her for a moment, his harsh expression shaping into one of sudden enlightenment. He ran into the living room as fast as his stubby legs would take him. Everyone except Martha listened with expectation as the chair in the other room creaked under the old man's weight and the faint scratching of pen against paper became audible.

            "Poof!" Martha declared with a smile. She faced Sarah who was still recovering from the old dwarf's severe attitude. "Don't pay him no mind, Dear."

 

It was deep in the middle of the night and the embers of the living room fireplace were glowing brightly. A swollen hand instigated the wood with an ebony poker before returning to its business of writing. A small flame burned from an oil lamp at the aging dwarf's side, casting a warm glow on the three figures who lay on the dirt floor of the room, wrapped in quilts and snoring fitfully.

            The feather of the dwarf's quill pen fluttered with each breath he took, its tip scraping lightly against the parchment. Mr. Hiddlebury yawned from time to time, but never went to bed - only continued in his frenzy of writing. His ancient eyes burned brightly with the sight of a deadline that was discernable only to him and his hand wrote in a race against time and nature. The words fell from his mind to the paper in even lines; they swam in his brain like ants in water each time he had to dip his pen in ink. He looked like the angel at the check-in counter of heaven, the eternal librarian of the universe. But he wasn't. Not yet.

            Mrs. Hiddlebury came into the room holding a candle, her white nightgown and cap orange in the light.

            "Ain't you gonna stop yet, Dear? It's late. Those ideas in your head can wait till mornin' to be put on paper."

            Sarah shifted at the sound of the dwarf's voice. She discreetly opened her eyes to the wall opposite the couple so she could listen without their knowledge.

            "You know it can't wait, Martha," he replied in a whisper as he wrote. "I ain't got that much time."

            She put her hand on his shoulder reassuringly. "Don't you go talkin' like that, Hoggle Senior. You got all the time in the world."

            Sarah's eyes widened in surprise as she suppressed her ponderings.

            "Don't call me Hoggle Senior, 'cause there ain't no Junior," he declared vehemently. "If there was, I wouldn't have to be up burnin' the midnight oil like this. I'd have someone to pass it on to and I could get me a horse and you and me'd be seein' the world instead of seein' this old shack all the time."

            "Hush, Hoggle. Leave the boy alone," she admonished.

            "Oh, you bet I will. I'll leave him alone all right. If he steps on my property, though, it'll take all the Goblin Kings in the world to keep me off him!"

            Martha looked sadly at her husband, as if an old longing was being brought back to her attention. She scrutinized her sleeping guests and made a slight attempt to change the subject. "Do you believe those girls are really out to destroy the Goblin King?"

            He went back to writing and curtly replied, "Hmph. Naw."

            "Then why could they be here, Hoggle? They ain't ast you nothin'."

            He stabbed his pen into the bottle of ink. "Prob'ly just panhandlers."

            "Hoggle, how could you!" she declared with a rasp as she put her hands on her nearly non-existent hips. "One'a them might be listening!"

            Sarah promptly shut her eyes and slowed her breathing.

            Hoggle Senior looked up from his work and stared silently and knowingly at the group as a whole, then Sarah alone. "They's asleep," he replied hesitantly as he continued to look at them.

            "Don't matter," Martha said angrily as she walked back towards the bedroom. "You ain't got no right sayin' such things. If I know you, Mr. Hiddlebury, what you say ain't what you mean."

            His attention directed itself back to the paper and a grin broadened on his wrinkled face. "Good night, Martha."

            "Good night, Hoggle."

            Sarah shifted restlessly under the quilt for a few minutes. Mr. Hiddlebury finally put his pen down and said in a low tone, "I know you's awake, so you might's well get up'n join me for a midnight snack. You can tell me what you's really here for while yer at it."

            Sarah pushed back the covers and looked at him questioningly. "How long have you known I was awake?"

            "Since you popped them little eyes of yours open to listen to the conversation with my wife." He picked up his staff and began to hobble into the kitchen, not asking her to follow.

            Sarah rose and stared at him wonderingly for a few moments, then ran to help him to the kitchen. He looked surprised at first, but did not protest when she led him by the arm to a seat. Mr. Hiddlebury put the oil lamp onto the table while Sarah went to work at pouring them a glass of milk, having remembered where everything was by watching Martha. She finished and sat across the table from the old man, putting a glass of milk before him.

            He didn't touch the milk, but watched her over the rim of his spectacles. She moved in her chair uncomfortably and took a long drink from the steel cup.

            "Ain't much of a talker, are you?" he finally asked.

            She put the milk down and replied, "It really depends."

            "On what?"

            "On... how well I know a person," she said hesitantly. "Circumstances."

            "Am I that intimidatin'?" he chuckled.

            She didn't answer.

            "All right, you don't have to answer that," he said, taking a a gulp of the goat's milk. "You gonna tell me what you're here for, or do I have to beat it outta ya?" he bantered.

            "We're here for the exact reason we said we were. We're traveling to the grasslands on a quest to overthrow Jareth."

            "Jareth?" he said, cocking the eyebrow. "I ain't met anyone who knew his real name before. What's in the grasslands that's so important?" he asked with an air of nonchalance.

            "I -" she stammered uncertainly, tapping her fingers against the cup before her, "I'm not sure I should tell you."

            "Oh, I ain't askin' you 'cause I don't know. I'm just checkin' to see that you know."

            "Well," she said, frowning, "I have no way to know that's true."

            "You ain't tryin' to trick me into tellin' you what is in the grasslands, are you?" he asked with a smirk. "I got lots'a folks who try to weasel information outta me."

            "No. I know what's there. You don't have to say anything about it."

            "Alright," he replied with his head tilted to the side and his eyes summing her up, "I won't say anything 'bout it. Let's change the subject."

            She nodded her head. "Alright. What do you want to talk about?"

            "How 'bout, why you were so interested in what my wife and I was talkin' 'bout. Ain't your bus'ness to be nosin' your way into a private conversation with my wife."

            "You mentioned the Goblin King," she replied coolly, lifting her glass to take a sip of milk.

            "You caught your tongue long 'fore I mentioned the Goblin King," he remarked with the same tone as Sarah's. "Can't fool me. I know you ain't goin' to the grasslands to destroy the Goblin King, so just give up the game."

            "Alright," Sarah capitulated with frustration, "I heard you mention your son and I was interested."

            Mr. Hiddlebury steepled his fingers and leaned his chin against his fist. His eyes sparkled and a smile tugged at the corners of his wrinkled mouth. "And why's you interested in my son? You look too perty to be desperate enough to want to court my son."

            "Hoggle's my friend."

            "Okay, okay," the dwarf said, chuckling noisily. "I believe you're after the Goblin King. I'm just pullin' yer leg. You don't have to get into all this 'bout my son."

             "Why do you suddenly believe me?"

             "I done believed you ever since I heard from my wife that your name was Sarah," he confessed. "I've heard all the elfin songs. Anyhow, ain't the elves gonna let it get loose to any human that there's somethin' hidden in the grasslands unless that person is important and completely trustworthy. I'm prob'ly one'a the only people they trust enough to tell about it. I'm also prob'ly the only Bookkeeper round these parts, so they got no choice but to tell me."

            "You keep up with all of the history and write it down?" Sarah asked out of curiosity.

            "That and more. I read up on other things. I write philosophy. It's my life." He sighed woefully after his last remark. "You prob'ly caught on that I don't have a son to continue my work."

            "I think I understand why," Sarah said thoughtfully as she fingered a splinter on the table. "He went to work for the Goblin King, right?"

            The elderly Hoggle's eyes darted back to her in a disbelief that was moving toward displeasure. "How do you know that?"

            "I told you; he's my friend," she responded nervously.

            "If you're really friends with that scum," Mr. Hiddlebury said angrily to her as he rose from his chair, "I want you out of my house."

            "Mr. Hiddlebury," she pleaded, "he's a good man. You shouldn't disown him."

            "Ain't no sphinx gonna come into my home and tell me what I should or shouldn't do," he vociferated gruffly as he left the room, taking the oil lamp with him and leaving Sarah in the dark.

            Sarah rose from her seat. "He turned against Jareth and helped me get my brother back, Mr. Hiddlebury."

            The Bookkeeper stopped in the doorway and dropped his shoulders. A few moments of silence echoed throughout the room before he whispered, "My son ain't workin' for the Goblin King anymore?"

            Sarah pursed her lips. "No, sir."

            Mr. Hiddlebury looked at the ground a few moments before turning down the flame in the lamp. "Thank you for pourin' me some milk," he said quietly. "I'll see you in the mornin'."

            He went to bed without further remark and Sarah headed to her own quilt. She pulled the covers up to her shoulders and closed her eyes with a sigh.

Jennifer Connelly     David Bowie    Jim Henson            C     C