A.C.H.Smith. The Labyrinth. Chapter 10: No Problem

      Hoggle was hoggling around the hedge maze still, minding his own business, and most of all minding that that girl had gotten his jewels. He'd tried to please both her and Jareth, and that's what you got for trying to please everyone. No baubles.
      When Sarah screamed, he heard her. It stopped him in his tracks, which were heading for the start of the Labyrinth. He listened, heard a second scream, wrestled with his rudimentary conscience, came to a decision, and began to run in her direction. He knew his way around this place better than the stupid goblins in the castle. "I'm coming, missy," he shouted.
      He galloped around the corner straight into a pair of knees.
      Jareth was wearing his cloak and looking quite handsomely fiendish. "Well," he said pleasantly, "if it isn't you."
      "It isn't me," Hoggle told him, trembling.
      "And where are you going, hmm?"
      "Ah..." Hoggle was staring at Jareth's boots. "Ah...," he said in a different tone of voice, to hold his audience's attention. Then he spent a little while scratching his backside, suggesting that a person can't be expected to answer a question while he's plagued with an itch.
      Jareth was content to wait, with a smile on his lips.
      "Er..." At last Hoggle came up with it. "The little missy, she give me the slip... er... but I just hears her now..."
      Jareth's eyes narrowed.
      "So I'm... er... er, I'm going to fetch her and then lead her straight back to the beginning. Just like you told me." He wished the King of the Goblins would kick him, or pelt him with slugs, or do anything, anything but smile that nerve-racking, pleasant smile.
      "I see." Jareth nodded. "I thought for a moment you were running to help her. But no, you wouldn't. Not after my warnings. That would be stupid."
      "Ha-ha," Hoggle agreed, with a trembling heart. "Oh, ha-ha-ha. Stupid? You bet it would be stupid. Me? Help her? After your warnings?"
      Jareth elegantly inclined his head to examine Hoggle's belt. "Oh, dear," he said, seeming concerned, "poor Hoghead!"
      "Hoggle," Hoggle growled. "I just noticed that your lovely jewels are missing."
      "Uh..." Hoggle looked down at his sadly unadorned belt. "Oh, yes. So they are. My lovely jewels. Missing. There now. Better find 'em, eh? But first," he promised in a profoundly reliable voice, "I'm off to fetch the little missy back to the beginning of the Labyrinth." He thought of trying to wink, but decided not to. "Just like we planned," he said, and started to march obediently away.
      "Wait," Jareth told him.
      Hoggle froze. His eyes closed.
      "I have a better plan, Hoggle. Give her this."
      With a wave of his left hand, Jareth produced a bubble from the air. In his hand it became a crystal ball. He waited for Hoggle to turn around and tossed it to him. Hoggle caught it. It had become a peach. Hoggle looked at it, dumbfounded. "Wha - what is it?"
      "A present."
      Hoggle's eyebrows beetled. "It... it ain't going to harm the little missy, is it?" he asked slowly.
      "Oh." Jareth placed a hand over his heart. "Now, why the concern?"
      Hoggle pursed his lips. "Just... curious."
      "Give it to her, Hoggle. That's all you have to do. And all you have to know."
      Hoggle was torn between fearful obedience, which was familiar to him, and affection, to which he could not have put a name. "I..." He stood more erect. "I won't do nothing to harm her." He reckoned that such a moment of defiance might have earned him a pint of earwigs down his breeches, at least.
      Instead, Jareth replied with that pleasant smile that by now was like broken glass on Hoggle's nerves. "Come, come, come, Hogbrain," the Goblin King laughed teasingly, "I'm surprised at you. Losing your ugly head over a girl."
      "I ain't lost my head," Hoggle scowled.
      "You don't imagine that a young girl could ever like a repulsive little scab like you, do you?"
      Hoggle was stung. "She said we was..." He stopped himself in mid-blurt, but it was too late.
      Jareth gave him a coy, sideways grin. "What? Bosom companions? Was that it, Piggle? Piggly-Wiggly? Friends, are you?"
      Hoggle, red-faced, was blinking at his boots again. "Don't matter," he muttered.
      Jareth's voice came back crisply. "You give her that, Hoggle, or I'll have you tipped straight into the Bog of Eternal Stench before you can blink."
      In miserable obedience, Hoggle nodded. "Yes."
      He had started to hurry on his way, assuming the interview was over, when he heard Jareth's voice again. He stopped, rigid, not daring to turn around.
      "I'll tell you what." Jareth had his head back and was looking down his nose at Hoggle. "If she ever kisses you - I'll turn you into a prince."
      Hoggle knew there was going to be a catch. "You will?"
      There was a catch. "Prince of the Land of Stench."
      Jareth thought that was a capital joke. He was still laughing as he disappeared.
      Hoggle remained standing still, staring at the peach in his hand. His face registered several emotions at once. Amusement was not among them.

      The bright, savage figure that had leaped out in front of Sarah was a Firey, and the Fireys are wild. Are they ever. They are wild about how wild they are.
      She screamed a second time and shrank away from the creature, hands folded across herself. It was a bit like a scrawny fox, with a long snout that opened very wide, and a bushy tail. Its fur was red-pink-purplish. It walked, or rather bounded, on two chickenlike legs. Its staring eyes were blue, with red pupils. It had very long fingers, which seemed to be perpetually drumming.
      "What's happening?" it demanded.
      Sarah shook her head and opened her mouth to frame some sort of answer, but all that came out was a sob.
      "Now cut that out right now, you hear?" the Firey told her.
      "Yeah," agreed another one from behind her, making her start around in fright. "That ain't gonna do no good."
      "No, sir!" hollered a third one, prancing from the trees and leering wildly at her.
      "No, sir." A fourth one appeared.
      And a fifth. "Hey!" it said to her, rousingly. "Come on, now."
      She looked around at them all in great alarm. "What do you want?"
      "Wa-hoo!" one replied, rapping out a fast rhythm with his fingers on a rock.
      "Hoot!" another said, setting up a cross-rhythm.
      "What, us?" asked a third.
      Sarah nodded.
      "Why, we're just after havin' ourselves a good time."
      "Oh," Sarah said, confused. "I see."
      They all slapped their sides at her demure reply and laughed maniacally. One let out a whoop and hit his hand on a log.
      "She sees!" it howled.
      "You can't stick around like that," one told her.
      "No," said another. 'You gotta shake it loose a bit."
      "Yeahhh. Quit crying. Let it all hang out."
      They leaped around, hooting and clapping. One struck his finger on the ground and it ignited, like a match. He used it to light a bonfire, then blew his finger out nonchalantly.
      Sarah was still timidly backing away.
      "Oh, yeah. What you need is a little mess-around."
      "Yes, sir!"
      A Firey jumped over a pair of tree stumps and started using them as drums. The rest broke into an up-tempo dance number, clicking and drumming their fingers as they circled around her.
      Sarah watched in astonishment, standing near the bonfire. She couldn't have fled if she'd wanted to, with them capering all around her, but in any case she was rooted to the spot by their antics.
      She was horrified to see one of the Fireys pluck out his eyes, shake them like dice, and throw them. "Yeah," the others all cheered, crowding around to look at them. "Snake eyes!" Then the owner of the eyes snatched them up, tossed them in the air like peanuts, and caught them in his eye sockets. The rest were hooting and dancing and clapping.
      As though to outdo the first, another Firey took his head off his shoulders and threw it in the air. It was kicked and headed around like a soccer ball. Another took his leg off, and with a delicate chip shot hit the head back onto its body. They all cackled and slapped their thighs. The drummer went wild.
      Meanwhile, the rest crowded around Sarah and tried to persuade her to join in the dance. After seeing their wild pastimes, she was shy and nervous of them. But she thought she had their number now - just crazy good-timers, out of their skulls - and she was no longer frightened, not even when one tried to lift her head from her shoulders.
      "Hey!" she protested. "Ouch!"
      "It don't come off!" the Firey exclaimed.
      "What?" The rest were astonished, and they all gathered around in the attempt to decapitate her.
      "Ow!" she said, more sternly. "Stop it!"
      "You're right! It's fixed on!"
      "Of course it's fixed on," she told them.
      "Where you goin' with a head like that, lady?"
      "Well, I'm... oh!" The hopelessness of her predicament flooded back, and she started to sob again. She was missing Ludo terribly, and Hoggle, too.
      "Hey! Now what's up, little lady?"
      Sarah hiccuped. "Oh! I'm trying to get to Jareth's castle at the center of this Labyrinth..."
      "Holy Mo!"
      "You sure you know what you're doin', lady?"
      "Yes," Sarah said firmly.
      "Well, hot dog! How about that!"
      The drummer shouted, "She knows what she's doin'," and he gave her a drumroll on the tree stumps.
      "Yeah," the others said, grinning and bopping.
      "But I've only got a few hours left," Sarah told them. She wondered how few.
      The Fireys whistled and grinned at each other.
      "Well, that ain't no problem."
      Sarah looked up at them through her tears, with a glint of hope in her eyes. "Isn't it?"
      "Why, shoot! No!"
      "We'll take you there."
      "Yeah," another squawked wildly, waving his fingers above his head. "How about us comin' along a little, hey?"
      The rest cavorted in a frenzy of excitement, hooting and screeching.
      "A castle, oh, wow!"
      "Well," Sarah said doubtfully, "it's kind of you, but..."
      "You think we're just too wild?" The Firey's head rose up from his shoulders as he spoke, and he had to grab it in his hands and press it back into place.
      The drummer did a big roll. "Why, shoot. We ain't that wild."
      "Oh, yes, we are," another called. "Hey!" He formed himself into the shape of an ostrich, ran two steps, and exploded. As he put his pieces together again, the rest howled and clapped.
      "Cool, man!"
      "Now look, little lady, you can't just go walkin' through this place on your ownsome."
      Sarah sniffed sadly. "Well, I did have a friend just -"
      "Hey! Fellow with clothes on, right?"
      "That Hoggle, yeah! Oh, wow! Everyone around these parts knows Hoggle."
      "Really?" Sarah asked.
      "Sure. Hog and me, we're like that." The Firey crossed his fingers.
      "Oh. Well..."
      Before she could say any more, Sarah felt herself being propelled along by the Fireys. All she could see ahead of them was rocky wilderness.
      "Now the castle's just down along this way," one assured her.
      "Are you sure you know how to get to the center of the Labyrinth?" she asked nervously. She had precious little time to waste, and she thought she would have preferred to be left to find her own way. But there was no escaping the Fireys, who had hold of her clothes in their long fingers and were hopping enthusiastically along with her in tow.
      "Do we know how to get to the center of the Labyrinth!"
      They all burst out laughing. Their heads flew up in the air, and their arms had to detach themselves to catch the heads.
      "Why, lady!" one screeched. "We may be wild but we sure know where we're goin'."
      "Yeahhh!" the rest concurred.
      "You wanna go to the castle? We're takin' you to the castle. Ain't we just doin' that thing?"
      "So you come on along with us, little lady, and you ain't gonna have no problem."

      Jareth was watching Sarah from the castle. In his crystal he saw her distraught face looking around for a way to escape.
      He held Toby up in front of his sister's picture. "Look, Sarah," he murmured. "Is this what you're trying to find?"
      Toby gaped at Sarah's face in the crystal. He held a hand out to touch it.
      Jareth chuckled to himself and put his arms around Toby. "So much trouble for such a little thing," Jareth said, shaking his head. He looked at Toby's puzzled face. "But not for long. Soon she'll forget all about you, my fine fellow. Just as soon as Hoggle gives her my present. She'll forget - everything."