Jareth had lately been strangely insistent on flight and turning into birds in his lessons. Sarah couldn’t get the hang of it. Currently, any magic that didn’t involve crystals was beyond her. For her, escape to the aboveground was impossible.
Her only option was to go out into the labyrinth.
She hadn’t been there since the whole incident with Toby. She could go through again and prove that she could do it. Or she could see what was beyond the labyrinth—empty meadows, she knew, but what then? Other kingdoms? She would have to see.
She told herself that she wasn’t running away. She was just visiting, seeing what would happen. She would return to the castle before she was missed.
Going through the gates, Sarah felt her heart pounding unnecessarily although she wasn’t breaking any rules. She knew Jareth often times went through the labyrinth when he needed time to think. She was just doing the same thing, right?
Sarah walked past the piles of junk and the people trudging through them. This time, they backed away as she walked past, not bothering to try to keep her there. With the pleasant and calm smile she had been taught, she walked down the stone path that slowly turned into a dirt one. Eventually, it became nothing more than a barely-defined, grass-covered pathway in the forest.
Sarah paused to take stock of her surroundings. She hadn’t been here since the Fireys, but it seemed safe enough. Then again, that’s what she had thought the last time.
“We’ll just see,” she told herself, walking ahead.
The cool forest air was surprisingly peaceful when she didn’t have to run through it with creatures trying to take off her head. Her mind cleared, and she walked through casually wondering about the plants there. She had read a few of Jareth’s books on the subject of natural flora, but she couldn’t remember any of the pictures or plant off the top of her head. She paused and ran her hand across a barky tree.
Like other parts of the underground, the forest was covered in glitter. Sarah was used to it by now. Even her clothes, provided in what she assumed to be a magic closet of some sort, weren't safe.
Sarah kept going in search of nothing in particular when she began to feel she was being watched. She told herself it was the trees, but as she walked she became aware of the sound of footsteps.
The only creatures inhabiting the forest were a variety of natural bugs and the Fireys. Occasionally people passed through, but usually only if they were a runner in the labyrinth. With the realization that it must have been an oddly quiet Firey, Sarah broke out into a run.
She skidded to a stop. It was Hoggle.
She spun around. It was Hoggle.
He was dressed in a plain shirt still decorated in shiny trinkets. Around his elbow was a basket filled with herbs.
“Hoggle!” She ran forward and hugged him. “I've missed you! Jareth said you'd have to show up eventually, but you never did!”
“You’re still here,” he said blankly, her words not even registering with him.
Sarah put her hand to her belt. “Oh, your things! Hoggle, I’m so sorry for taking them. I shouldn’t have tried to make you bring me to the center like that. I kept them on me in case you came, but I guess it’s good we’re meeting now!”
Sarah handed over the trinkets. Hoggle took them gingerly but didn’t break eye contact with her.
“Why are you still in the labyrinth?”
“Well,” she said. “I’ve actually been spending most of my time in the goblin city."
Hoggle raised a bushy eyebrow.
“I mean,” she said.
Hoggle waved his hand. “You know? Why don’t we wait until we get to the others? If you want to visit them...”
Sarah jumped up. “Of course I do!”
Hoggle nodded once and readjusted the basket. He started walking down the forest, and Sarah followed along slowly. They went silently despite the thousands of questions they wanted to ask each other.
Eventually, they came upon a house that looked engulfed in the forest. It was absolutely covered in leaves from the surrounding trees, and the grass around it was filled with flowers and bushes growing berries. There was a small, smoking chimney at the roof in the one place where the trees hadn’t touched. A small stone path led up to the wooden door. Hoggle allowed Sarah to go inside first.
A fireplace was burning, and Ambrosius slept next to it. There was a neatly organized kitchen on one side of the room and a large wooden table at the center. At it sat Ludo and Sir Didymus playing a card game with some cards in the same style Sarah had seen being sold in the goblin marketplace not too long ago.
“Look who came to visit!” Hoggle exclaimed, raising his arms to gesture towards Sarah.
She smiled and resisted the urge to bow or to curtsy like she had been taught. These were her friends.
“Friend!” Ludo exclaimed with joy.
“Fair maiden!” Sir Didymus jumped down from the stool he was sitting on. “You have come to the forest once again! But what of thy quest, to the castle at the center of the goblin city?”
Sarah glanced back at Hoggle and then gestured towards an empty chair at the table. “May I sit?”
Sarah pulled the chair out and sat down. As Hoggle made his way to an empty stool, Sarah began her story. It was one she’d told hundreds of times to goblins in the city constantly—they were always asking. But there she always had to be polite when it came to the subject of Jareth. Here with her friends, she could be more honest.
“Learning magic is interesting,” she said as her story came closer to present events, “and I guess I’m pretty good at it...or I’m trying. I don’t like being in the goblin city so much, though. It feels like I’m trapped, and I guess that’s because I kind of am.” Sarah leaned forward, resting her face in her hand. “It could be much, much worse though.”
Hoggle reached out and put his hand over Sarah’s. “I’m sorry for givin’ you the peach, Sarah. Jareth made me do it.”
“I know,” she said. “He told me everything. It’s awful, isn’t it? But I forgive you, Hoggle. I’m honestly just glad I can see all of you again! I was almost beginning to think I wouldn’t.”
“We will always be here to help thee,” Sir Didymus said, “no matter thy situation.”
“Sarah—stay—here,” Ludo offered.
Sarah smiled. “You think I should stay here?”
The others looked up.
“I don’t see why not,” Hoggle said. “It’s no castle, but it’s something.”
“If it’s no trouble to you, I’ll be happy to stay for a few nights.” She paused, glancing at the others. “Why are you living in the forest anyway?”
The group of friends looked at each other, silently figuring something out. It was Hoggle who decided to speak.
“We didn’t think Jareth would take so kindly to everything that happened,” Hoggle said. “I was supposed to lead you back to the beginning, and I lied to him about it. Didymus left the Bog unguarded, and Ludo was supposed to scare people off...We just thought it would be prudent to avoid him for a bit.”
“So we came here,” Sir Didymus said, with a nod towards his brother. “And what a wonderful place it is!”
“Oh, yes, it certainly is.” Sarah found herself smiling again. “I love it! But when I have to take over, you guys are definitely coming to the castle.”