A.C.H.Smith. The Labyrinth. Chapter 11: Windows In The Wilderness

      The Fireys were hauling Sarah along as though she were a reluctant donkey. She was certainly reluctant. She could not see the castle anywhere, and when she asked them how far away it was they answered with whoops and cackles. The clock was ticking toward thirteen all the time. So perhaps she was indeed a donkey for having got herself into this mess.
      She tried to figure out where she should have made a different choice. It was impossible. Suppose she had not approached Hoggle, right at the start, but walked the other way around that great wall? Might she not, by now, be back home, with Toby safe in his crib? Perhaps. How would she know? What evidence had she been given that any of her choices were the right ones? If there were right ones; if it wasn't all a cruel hoax by which Jareth tormented her with the illusion that Toby could be rescued.
      She blinked back rising tears. She would not start that again. If she hadn't been a crybaby, perhaps these creatures she was with now would have left her alone.
      She concentrated on what could be evidence, however flimsy, that she had gotten some things right. Her brief friendship with Ludo, poor Ludo - that couldn't be meaningless, could it? The happy, goofy smile he'd given her when she had rescued him - was that a gratuitous event in a story with no ending? Even Hoggle, flawed character though he was, had unwittingly helped her to find out that she was capable of doing more than she had known. To have gotten this far at all, in spite of the hideous traps Jareth had set for her - surely that was some kind of evidence in her favor?
      Perhaps. But it would mean nothing at all unless she could get to Toby in time, and save him from being turned into a goblin. She had to get away from this bunch, who were just passing the time - her time.
      "Hey! Ain't that it over there?" one yelled.
      "Noo-h," another said. "That's just a rock."
      "How 'bout that? That a castle?"
      "Noo-oh, that's just the stump of an ol' tree."
      "Well," shrieked another of them, "how 'bout that? That got to be a castle." He was pointing at a pond.
      "Nohow," the wiser one said. "A castle's got windows and all that."
      An eel popped its head above the surface of the pond and looked at them. The effect was as though they'd struck oil.
      "It is a castle."
      "Doggone," conceded the wiser one. "Well, whadddya know? We must be there."
      Sarah looked coolly at their whoopings and leapings. "That's not the castle," she told them.
      "It got windows. That ol' eel must've looked outa somethin'."
      "Well," Sarah answered, "it's not the castle I have to find. Please let me go now."
      "Now, you," the eel piped. "What're you doing?"
      "We're just havin' ourselves a good old time."
      They were capering about, slapping their thighs.
      "Hey, eel. You a castle?"
      "No, I ain't," the eel trilled tartly. "Now get along."
      "Hey, eel. So why you got windows?"
      "So's I can tell you to scat," the eel replied, and vanished with aplomb and a plop.
      "Hot dog!" They were unaccountably delighted with everything that happened. Setback or success, it made no difference.
      "Please," Sarah said, "I want to go."
      "Ain't you havin' a good time?"
      "Yes," she lied politely. "But I must get to the castle."
      "We nearly found it for you."
      "It did have windows. Well, one, anyway."
      "We want to help you."
      "Yeah! 'Cause we like you."
      Sarah sighed. "But you've got no more idea of where the castle is than I have."
      "We have too!"
      "No you haven't."
      "It's just over this here hill."
      "Yeah, you tell her."
      "Come on! What we waiting for?"
      Bopping and raving, they dragged Sarah on through the wilderness, and on, until even they began to look exhausted and a little downcast. As for Sarah, her body was wilting and her spirit was exasperated.
      "These castles are sure hard to find."
      "Maybe it's a small one," another suggested.
      "Uh-huh. Good thinkin'."
      Whereupon they all started to pick up little stones and peer beneath them.
      "No," Sarah told them wearily. "Castles are big things."
      "Maybe it's over the hill," one said to another. "Just have a look-see if you can spot the castle from up there." He pointed to a fir tree.
      "Sure thing!" said the other.
      He took his head off and ran, bouncing it. When he arrived at the tree, he tossed his head neatly onto the topmost branches.
      "Can you see the castle?"
      "Yeah," the elevated head answered. "I can see the castle!"
      "What does it look like?" Sarah asked suspiciously.
      "Well, it looks kinda like... er... like a... like a hippopotamus!"
      "That's some castle."
      "We're as good as there. Come on!"
      "Wait for me!" called out the head, while his body scrambled to reach him.
      "I'm going back," Sarah announced.
      "Lady! You heard him say he sees the castle."
      "A big one!"
      "Like a hippopopotamus... mus."
      They were whooping and jiggling around so frenetically that she thought she might be able to slip away from them without being noticed. She walked slowly, letting them all get on ahead of her. Then she turned and quietly walked back in the direction from which they had come. Of course, they were at her side again in an instant, and they all toiled on together through the wilderness together.
      Sarah was aiming to get back to where they had started, but then she realized the futility of that, since she would have no idea where to go next. She wondered what was the point of doing anything. She might as well go this way, or that, or stand still, or cry. Maybe just havin' yourself a good time was the best anyone could hope for.
      She shook her head and halted. Whatever the point was, all this was beside it. She could do nothing until she had rid herself of the Fireys. As they jigged happily about her, she looked around the wilderness for an idea. Any idea.
      She noticed, in the distance and to one side of them, a wooded bluff. She knew what she had to do.
      She turned and addressed the Fireys. "Wait a minute. None of you knows where the castle is. You don't even know what a castle looks like."
      "Just 'cause we're wild don't mean we don't know what a castle is."
      "We ain't stupid, we're just wild."
      "Yeah, wild," they all agreed enthusiastically.
      She waited.
      As she anticipated, one of them showed how wild he was by picking up his head and tossing it in the air. As it came down, Sarah grabbed it, and threw it as far away as she could.
      "Hey. That's his head, lady."
      Two more heads had leaped up to see where the first one had gone. Sarah grabbed them too, and hurled them in different directions.
      "That's my head!" one of the heads protested as it flew through the air.
      Pandemonium broke out.
      "Hey, wait a minute."
      "Lady, what are you doing?"
      "You threw their heads!"
      "Yeah, you're only allowed to throw your own head, right?"
      While trunks were pursuing heads, getting the wrong ones and chucking them around, Sarah bolted. She made for the bluff.
      "Stop her, someone!"
      "We gotta take your head off now."
      "Yeah, we get to throw your head around."
      "You can't quit now."
      "I'll take her head off."
      "Hey, little lady!"
      "Hey there, come back."
      "We gotta help you."
      "Come on, everybody!"
      They gave chase and gained on her, but her initial advantage got her to the bluff before they had caught up. Slipping between trees, ahead of her she saw a crevice in a high rockface, and sprinted into it. She found herself in an alleyway running mazily through the rock. As she ran on, she heard the Fireys' voices behind her, echoing. She had hoped she'd shaken them off.
      "Hey, lady, you want to take your head off, don't you?"
      "Sure she does!"
      "It's lots of fun."
      She ran on, oblivious, until the alleyway reached a dead end. Her eye ran up the rockface wall patterned with mosses and lichens, and saw no holds for climbing. At the top, the wall had been crenellated, like the battlements of an old fortress.
      She heard them come around the last bend, behind her. There was no escaping them.
      "There she is!"
      "Hey, lady, we found another castle!"
      "Like a lunchbox!"
      "No, like a wheelbarrow!"
      "Wait, lady!"
      Sarah closed her eyes.
      Something tickled her nose. She opened her eyes and saw a rope. She threw her head back. Leaning over the parapet, high above, was a face. Hoggle's face.
      "Grab it!" he called down to her.
      She grabbed it. Hoggle hauled. The Fireys dove at her. They were too late by inches. They leaped up, snatching at her feet. She felt fingers brush her shoes.
      "Hey, don't you want to look like us?"
      "Come on, take off your head!"
      "Off with her head!"
      "It won't hurt."
      Hoggle hauled on. Heads began to fly up beside her.
      "Now come on down, lady."
      "Come on - we'll let you play if you take off your arm."
      "How about a leg?"
      "An ear? Just take off your ear, lady. You don't need two."
      One after another the heads rose beside her, yammered, and fell.
      "We want to help you."
      "Ain't we a-showin' you a good time?"
      "Yeah! You come down and strut your stuff."
      "Let it all hang out, little lady."
      "Aw, c'mon, it's fun. Let's look for somethin' else."
      Hoggle had hauled her to the top. He helped her clamber over the battlements and brushed his hand at the flying heads as if they were pestering flies. "Shoo!" he bade them. "Go away."
      Sarah was looking around, laughing in her relief. They were standing on the top of a turret. To either side of them the stone platform of the Great Goblin Wall ran as far as she could see, rising and falling, turning, crenellated all the way, turreted at regular intervals.
      She turned to face him. "Hoggle!" she said warmly.
      He ignored her, continuing to beat his hands at the last few despondent heads that rose up beyond the battlements. "Down!" he barked at them. "Go on, get away with you."
      When there were no more heads, he had to turn back to face Sarah, who was still beaming at him. The look he returned was as grumpy as ever, but it could not puncture the deep, affectionate gratitude she felt. He kept his eyes lowered, maybe checking his baubles, which she had strung from her belt. On his own belt hung a pouch in which he carried the peach Jareth had given him.
      She held out her arms. "You've come back to help me. Thank you, Hoggle." She caught hold of him and leaned over toward his face.
      "No!" he wailed, and tried to brush her off like one of the flying heads. "No! Don't kiss me!"
      But she had done it, and the earth moved beneath them.