Hi, a little note to explain this story. It's written fairytale style, which means that I've used the stylistic elements you find here purposefully. Repetition, simplicity, and most things happening in groups of three.

This is based on a conglomeration of at least two of my favorite fairy tales from my childhood. One of them was 'Petronella', by Jay Williams. There was another, but I cannot remember the title or even the main characters, just a couple of ideas that were brought into the mix. The rest I expanded upon and filled with my own ideas. Sennethe helped me with the last challenge when I got terribly stuck. She has a great fic out there that brings new ideas into the fandom. Go read it; it's worth your time.

I like this tale- I wrote it last night in a writing frenzy. It improved my mood a lot.

Thanks to all the people who've reviewed my other works. I'm saving the thanks for later chapters of my other stories, but you know who you are. You're wonderful.

(New bit here- Mab has me on her author alert so she gets the stories before they hit the page. She caught a few things that I've fixed, which may or may not affect the rest of you. Thanks Mab!)

Boogity.

The Princess Sarah

Once upon a time in a very happy kingdom there lived a great King and his lovely Queen. The King and Queen ruled well, and their land was filled with peace and prosperity. It was a very good time for all, and everyone was very happy. The couple had prepared themselves to be good rulers of the land, and now prepared themselves to be good parents, as well.

Now, the King and Queen were part of a most unusual noble Royal tradition. For the last thousand years all of the kings and queens had been blessed with three sons to carry on their name and bring them glory.

The first son was always named Peter, and he would be a fair headed child. He would be born in the beginning of summer, on a clear, beautiful day. He would be strong, brave, and very handsome. When he came of age he would seek out a noble quest to the north. He would leave on his twenty-second birthday to right the wrongs in the land and fight any evil he might encounter. He would not return to his fatherland until he had completed five acts of bravery, and rescued a princess from peril. He would then take her to wife and bring her home with him. They would settle in the castle of the current king, since he was his namesake, and prepare to rule after him.

The second son was always named John, and he would be a brown haired child. He would be born exactly two years after his elder brother, on the same day. He would be wise and logical, and a great philosopher. When he came of age he would seek out a noble quest to the south. He would leave along with his elder brother on his twentieth birthday to correct the balance of justice in the land and to deliver fairness to every town he encountered. He, too, would not return to his fatherland until he had completed five acts of wisdom, and rescued a princess from peril. He would then take her to wife and bring her home with him. They would settle in the castle of his father's brother John, since he was his namesake, and prepare to rule after him.

The third son was always named Samuel, and he would have hair of the deepest raven black. He would be born exactly two years after his second brother, on the same day. He would be good and kind- a rare mixture of bravery from his eldest brother, wisdom from the next, and a great compassion of his own. When he came of age he would seek out a noble quest to the east. He would leave with his two elder brothers on his eighteenth birthday to bring goodness to the lands he encountered. He would perform whatever service was needed in all the lands he traveled, of whatever nature it may be. He, as well, would not return to his fatherland until he had completed five acts of kindness, and rescued a princess from peril. He would then take her to wife and bring her home with him. They would settle in the castle of his father's youngest brother Samuel, since he was his namesake, and prepare to rule after him.

Many generations had passed in this identical manner. The land loved its traditions and the merry prosperity that abounded. The people loved their benevolent monarchs and looked forward to the births of the next generation of rulers.

The Queen's belly soon grew round and her eyes glowed in happy expectation. Nine months passed and soon the people of the kingdom were summoned to welcome young, fair Peter into the world. The parents loved the child, the people loved the child, and the child grew in that love.

And so two years passed.

Once again the Queen found herself growing round, and her eyes glowed brightly as she massaged her expanding belly. Nine months passed and soon the people of the kingdom returned to welcome young, ruddy John into the world. The parents loved their child, the brother loved the child, and the people loved the child. The two children continued to grow in that love.

And so two more years passed.

Yet again, and for the last time, the Queen soon found herself growing round and her eyes glowed brightly. She massaged her belly and let her two little ones listen to the teeny kicks her unborn baby made against its loving confines.

Nine months passed and the Queen prepared to deliver her third little boy. Midwifes once again crowded the Queen's chambers. Soothing wards and charms were placed around the queen's bet. A circle of salt kept all bad spirits away. Everything was arranged so that the little prince's birth would be a smooth and safe one.

The baby's head exited the birth canal and all cheered as a jet black head of hair was revealed. The child was healthy and there were no complications to worry about. All was going wonderfully until one of the midwives let out a loud gasp of surprise as the queen made her last push.

The other midwifes quickly hurried over to see what the matter was. One by one they all raised their hand to their mouths in astonishment that they could not contain. The Queen craned her tired neck to see what concerned them so.

The midwives hurriedly cleaned and prepared the baby and brought it to the anxious queen.

"What is it? What is wrong with my little Samuel?" she asked, reaching out yearning arms to receive her beloved child.

"Oh, Your Grace," one of the midwives breathed, "you don't have a Samuel. You have a Sarah!"

The Queen made a small gasp of her own and quickly pulled the blanket away from her tender infant.

For the first time in a thousand years the kingdom had a princess.

The people of the kingdom were again summoned to welcome the child, but there was much more unpleasant talk than ever had been heard at a birth announcement. Was it witches? Was it demons? Was it fairies? Did they have a changeling on their hands?

But up in the castle, away from the murmurings of a superstitious town, the parents loved the child, the two brothers loved their sister, and a town would soon be made to love and accept the Princess Sarah. She would grow in their love.

And the years, as they always do, passed. Peter was taught from the books of knowledge, but much preferred his physical learning. He trained with swords and bow and arrow. He rode and hunted and was very active. Sometimes, when their parents and nannies weren't looking, he would let Sarah play his boyish games with him. He felt great pride as he saw her excel in archery and horseback riding.

John also trained physically as Peter did, but his interests were more absorbed by the books in the library and the great tutors that the king hired from all over the kingdom. He learned and was very studious. Sometimes, when their parents and nannies weren't looking, he would let Sarah read with him and learn what he learned. He watched with great pride as she developed a keen wit and excellent reasoning skills.

Sarah, if she were a boy, would have learnt all of the same things her brothers did equally as well. In addition, she would have been taught philosophy and history so she would be able to have a good understanding of the nature of mankind. That way she would be better able to serve it. However, since she was not a boy, she was greatly restricted. The kingdom did not know what to do with a strong girl.

She was taught painting and musical instruments. She was taught to knit and crochet. She was taught to sing prettily. She made beautiful items to decorate the castle, and was groomed and prepared so that one day, she herself would be such an item for another's castle.

Sarah disliked the lessons she must learn and delighted in the moments she was able to steal to be with her brothers. She liked their rough, easy ways and companionable manners. They, in turn, liked her ability to keep up with them. They especially liked the way she played nursemaid and little mother whenever one of them got hurt. She was the perfect companion for the two rowdy boys. She taught them gentleness as they taught her bravery.

Soon all three reached their destined ages, the ages that would send them out into the countryside on their noble quests. Peter was twenty-two and would need to head off north on his quest. John was twenty and would need to head off south on his quest. Sarah was eighteen and, if she were a boy, she would have instantly been expected to head off east on her quest.

However, she was not a boy.

On the eve before the departure, Sarah had her saddle bags packed for a great journey. She intended to roam the eastern countryside, performing great deeds of service for all she met. She intended to find a prince, rescue him, and return to her uncle's castle to prepare to rule.

Her father, however, had different ideas. He did not want his daughter to ride off on her own. He didn't even want her to leave his castle. He merely wanted her to remain at home and admit all of the many suitors who had come to ask for her hand. After all, he had heard that this is what should be done with a princess. He didn't see much sense in it, but he did not trust his own judgments. His kingdom had never produced a princess before. It was best to trust those that held more experience with such matters.

When Sarah heard of her father's plan for her life she ran to her room. She threw herself upon the bed and wept. "It's not fair!" she cried, sobbing into her pillow.

She heard her mother enter in behind her and felt her weight sink onto the bed.

"Sarah, my love, why are you crying? Why are you so unhappy here in the castle?" she asked, smoothing the poor girl's long, dark locks away from her forehead.

"Oh mother," Sarah sighed, "it's just that there's something inside of me that says I'm meant for something more. I'm meant for adventure. I know I'm not a Samuel, but I am ready."

The queen looked at Sarah. She looked at the stars. She looked at the lines in Sarah's palms and she made her decision.

"Sarah," she said, pulling the girl up into a sitting position, "you will ride out with your brothers tomorrow and you will fulfill the destiny of the third born. You will continue the tradition of our ancestors."

Sarah leapt to her feet and gave her mother a great kiss. She then rushed about to finish her preparations.

The queen, however, had a more difficult task. She must convince the king to let the princess leave. She would need help.

She called her greatest wise woman to come to her aid. She quickly explained the situation to the magic woman. The sorceress tasted the air. She spoke to the winds. She read the tea cups and she agreed with the queen. The princess should undertake her quest.

Both women approached the king in his chambers. The king objected to what they proposed. He did not want to see his only daughter and the kingdom's only princess get hurt. The sorceress and the queen were relentless in their insistence, however. The king sighed and read the queen's face. He read the sorceress's stare. He read his daughter's eyes. Finally, with all he saw there, he agreed she must be allowed to go. Even kings cannot cheat destiny.

The next morning Sarah sat proud in her saddle. She wore her best riding breeches and her best boots. She had her long hair plaited and her saddle polished. She was sad to be leaving her mother and her father, but the call of adventure was great. She was ready to begin.

Her two handsome brothers grinned to see her haste to be off. They, too, were excited, but had no reason to find their journeys extraordinary. Their quests would be much the same as their ancestors had been before them.

Sarah knew, however, that her trip would be special. There was enough magic in the air to guarantee that. It wasn't every day that a Sarah took the road meant for a Samuel.

The trio rode off together towards the main highway. There they would find the great split in the road- one road headed north, one south, and one east. They would each take their destined path and separate for an indeterminate amount of time, not knowing when they would be reunited again.

Upon reaching their separating point they discovered that the sign post that marked each road had fallen and was unreadable. In its place sat an old man, weathered and worn, humbly crouched down upon an old stump. It did not look like he'd moved in quite some time. Spider webs covered his body and his nails grew in curls. His whiskers were so long that they trailed in a beard past his feel. Sarah could see a fine layer of dust settled overall, though it was apparent that the man still lived and breathed.

"Grandfather," Peter asked strongly, "why do you sit there?"

The old man coughed a little to clear his throat and responded, "I am here to answer any one question that a traveler asks of me. That is your question."

Peter sputtered a little at the waste of an answer, but was reconciled to it. He turned to John to await his wisdom. He would have the intelligence necessary to ask the question they needed answered.

"Grandfather," John began cleverly, "Which is the northern road?" If they knew that, they would each be able to find their own roads.

The old man chuckled in appreciation. "That is the north road," he answered, pointing the way.

Peter and John turned to Sarah.

"We all know our paths now," said Peter, gathering his little sister up in a big hug. "We can all begin our quests. But you do not need to travel on a lonely path. You can ride with me, and travel my path."

Sarah shook her head and smiled at him, hugging him back tightly, and said, "No, the path I take will be my own." Her brother nodded and released her. He shook the hand of his younger brother and rode off into the north to meet his destiny.

John turned back to Sarah and gathered her up in his own hug. "I know you want to make your own way," he said, trying to change her mind, "but you can ride with me, and travel my path. Think of the conversations we could have!"

Sarah shook her head again and smiled at him, hugging him back tightly, and said, "No, dear brother, the path I take must be my own." Her other brother nodded and released her. He reigned in his horse and rode off into the south to meet his destiny.

Once alone, Sarah turned back to the old man. She knew which path to take, and could begin her quest at any time.

The old man regarded her closely and said, "Well young woman, is there any question I can answer for you?"

"No," Sarah said thoughtfully, looking at the road she was to take. "You've already answered the only question I had."

She paused for a moment and looked at the poor man. He was in need of some care. It broke her heart to see how neglected he was.

"Grandfather," she began, releasing the reigns of her horse to cross over to him, "is there anything I can do for you?"

As soon as the words left her mouth the old man leapt from his stump. The dust and cobwebs fell from him like rain. His whiskers fell too, leaving behind a neatly trimmed beard. The dust no longer covered his body, and his back was no longer bent. The weathered old man became a regular old man, with life and vitality still in his limbs.

"My dear girl!" he yelled, rushing to clasp her hands in his, "Do you realize what you've done? You've freed me from my enchanted imprisonment! I was doomed to stay in that spot until someone would happen upon me and unselfishly wish to render me aid. That does not happen very frequently, let me tell you! You're the only one in over two hundred years to ask a question that wouldn't be to your own benefit!"

Sarah found herself laughing happily along with the old man. She was very happy to have helped him, and very happy to have completed her first compassionate deed. She would need four more and a prince before returning home.

"My dear, kind girl," the old man was continuing, pulling Sarah with him to the side of the road, "I normally wouldn't do this, but I feel I ought to. I must insist that you ask me a question that will help you on your quest."

"Very well," Sarah said thoughtfully, "where can I find a prince?"

The old man smiled contentedly and said, "You will find a prince in the castle of the enchanter Jareth, deep in the dark forest."

"An enchanter!" Sarah exclaimed, wondering how she would be able to rescue her prince from so powerful a being.

"Well," she said, straightening up her back and strengthening her determination, "suppose I wanted to rescue this prince and escape from the enchanter? What would I do?"

"Hmmm…," the old man said thoughtfully, "I don't know that a rescue would be possible. But if it were, you would need to complete three extremely difficult tasks for the enchanter. Then you would be entitled to ask for one reward for each task you completed. They may help you escape. You must ask for a silver comb for your hair, a silver mirror to look into, and a silver ring for your finger."

"What are they for?" she wondered, thinking them odd items to choose.

"If you are ever in danger," the old man explained, "pull them from your pack and throw them on the ground behind you. They will give you aid."

Sarah thanked the man for his generous help and prepared to go on her way.

Sarah had never ridden for such great lengths of time. As the first day of travel came to its end, Sarah was weary. Her legs were strained and her back was sore. She was very happy to see evening approach, because it meant she would be able to rest and set up her camp for the night.

Sarah found the perfect clearing in which to spend her evening. It was level and free from rocks, and covered in a soft grass that would be comfortable to lie on, as well as provide food for her horse. She dismounted and began to unburden her mount when she heard a frantic chirping sound coming from the trees a ways away.

She walked closer and could see two small birds, one male and one female, circling their fallen nest frantically. On the ground, spilled from the nest, lay three teeny baby fledglings, all unable to fly, and all vulnerable to the night surrounding them.

When the parent birds saw Sarah approach they became frantic. They swooped and swirled about her head, diving and flapping in an attempt to drive her off.

Sarah meant them no harm. She wanted to do something to fix the tragic circumstances that the poor birds found themselves in. They, however, could not tell that she just wanted to help.

Finally, Sarah got frustrated. "I wish you and I could understand each other so I could give you help!" she exclaimed.

The mother bird paused as though she'd understood. She looked closely at Sarah and then flew off a short ways away. She returned clutching a small berry in her little talons, which she dropped at Sarah's feet.

Sarah looked at the berry and then looked at the little birds that seemed to be watching her so expectantly. They seemed to want her to eat the small fruit that lay at her feet. She shrugged and picked it up, wiped off the dirt, and popped it into her mouth. It was sweet and delicious.

Once she swallowed she heard small, high pitched voices talking excitedly.

"Do you think it'll work?" one was asking, a little breathless.

"I don't know," the other replied calmly, "how will we tell?"

Sarah realized that she was hearing and understanding the language of the birds. Her wish had come true!

She spoke up to the birds to answer their question.

"I can hear you now, and I want to know how I can help you and your babies."

The birds laughed in happiness and relief. Finally they would receive the help that they desperately needed. They would not have been able to lift the nest themselves, and their babies would have been lost to the predators of the forest.

They directed Sarah to a nearby tree. She could see a broken limb that had once held the nest. She gently scooped up the nest and the little babies and placed them all in a high, secure nook in the tree. She then further secured it with some wire and twine from her pack.

Once she was done the little birds fluttered around her in happiness.

"How can we ever repay you?" they chirped, very happy that their little ones would come to no harm.

"Nonsense," Sarah replied, "It's my duty to help all who need my aid."

The birds were very grateful. "If you ever need our aid," they said, landing to perch on her shoulder, "just whistle. Any nearby bird will hear your call. They will tell the whole bird community that you need help, and the birds will come to your rescue. Do not forget."

Sarah promised to remember, and lay down beside her fire to sleep for the evening. She was lulled to sleep by the peaceful lullaby her new bird friends sang for her and their safe, little babies. She drifted off into pleasant dreams, never aware that the eyes of a powerful enchanter were watching her the whole time.

Sarah awoke early the next morning to continue on her way. She waved goodbye to her little friends and picked more of the berries they'd given her. She may need them later on in her journeys.

She rode for quite a while down the same dusty path. She watched the beautiful scenery passing by. She'd never been so far from the castle, and every scene that unfolded before her was new and beautiful to her.

She was so absorbed in the beauty of the nature surrounding her that she didn't notice that she'd begun to ride over a large colony of ants. She crushed one of their tunnel passageways and heard their cries of despair. She was still under the influence of the birds' berries.

She stopped her horse and hastily moved him off of the ants. She peered down more closely to assess the damage. It was bad, but nothing that the ants couldn't fix in a few days' time.

She knelt on the floor and softly (because her voice would sound very loud to their little ears) asked to speak to the queen about the situation.

After a moment the tiny queen flew up from the center of the ant hill and landed on Sarah's outstretched hand. Sarah brought her up to eye level so she would be able to speak easily with the little monarch.

"My dear queen," Sarah began, addressing the little insect formally, as a princess would, "I am deeply sorry for the damage that has been done to your home. I know that you work hard to build your tunnels, and I regret that my horse and I caused some to collapse. Unfortunately for me, my way lies through this road. I must pass it to reach my destination, and there is a river on one side and the mountain's wall on the other. It is unavoidable."

The little queen wrung her hands and looked at her home mournfully. "Well," she said, "I know that humans do not tread lightly. I know that you will take the path you desire no matter what I say. Hopefully, luck will spare all our new eggs."

Sarah was thoughtful for a moment. She then put the little queen down, walked to her horse, and led him to the deep river.

The horse did not want to go into the water, but Sarah convinced him that it needed to be done. "It's only for a little ways," she told him, and they waded in.

The river was deep and the current strong, but horses are natural swimmers. Sarah's mount soon returned to dry land once they'd passed the end of the extensive ant hill.

On the other side, a very relieved queen flew forward to thank Sarah for her mercy.

"How can we ever repay you?" she asked, very happy that her eggs had come to no harm.

Sarah looked at the monarch and said, "No my queen, there is no need for thanks. I am out on a mission to provide relief, not to cause damage. Think nothing of it."

The ant queen was very grateful. "If you ever need our help," she said, coming to land on Sarah's shoulder, "just stamp three times on the ground. Any ant nearby will hear you, and they will all come to your aid. Do not forget."

Sarah promised to remember and turned to continue on her journey. She looked over her shoulder and waved farewell to her new ant friends. All the while she never felt the eyes of the powerful enchanter, intensely watching as she rode nearer and nearer to his dark castle.

The third day of her travels brought Sarah to a little village on the outskirts of the dark forest. She entered the town to see if there was any service that she could provide for the people living there. She also wanted to hear any news she could about the prince that lived in the castle in the dark forest.

Sarah stopped at the edge of the town when she heard a screech coming from the nearest house. She raced to the door to see what the matter was.

Inside a silly young woman was standing on a chair, lifting her skirts and pointing to a spider that sat on the wall. She was reaching for a book to smash the spider when Sarah stepped in the door.

"Wait a moment," Sarah calmly said, and took the book from the young woman. "I will help you get rid of this spider."

Sarah reached into her satchel and pulled out one of the berries. She ate it and turned to the spider.

"What are you doing here friend?" she asked, walking up to him. "Don't you know that you're scaring this lady?"

"Don't know nuffin' 'bout no lady," the spider replied huffily with an angry glance towards the offender's direction. "I's jest minding me own business, eatin' some tasty bugs when dis wench comes and tries to clobber me head in!"

Sarah had to stifle a laugh. She looked to the silly lady who still stood on the chair and decided to get her out of the room.

"Miss," she said firmly, "Would you please get me a stick?"

The lady nodded with large eyes and ran to go get one.

"What you gonna do wif dat?" the spider asked suspiciously.

"Nothing," Sarah replied, grinning. "You're going to ride out of here on my shoulder. I'm going to take you someplace where you can eat all the bugs you want without getting squashed."

"Sounds good ta me," the little spider said gaily. By the time the lady returned both the spider and Sarah were gone.

Sarah took the little spider to an old, abandoned barn she'd passed earlier. Large flies buzzed in the air and there was much to please the spider. She set him down on the wall and prepared to leave.

"Wait dere a minute, missy!" the spider called, remembering his manners. "You saved me noggin. What kin I do to repay ya?"

"No, don't worry about it, it's my job to help everyone I can," Sarah replied.

The spider was very grateful. "Well," he said, crawling up to eye level, "If ya need any help clap yer hands, right? Any spider will hear ya, and dey'll all come to help ya out, okay? Don't forgiddit."

Sarah promised to remember and left the barn to continue on her journey. She didn't notice the eyes of a beautiful white barn owl following her as she made her way through the town, heading ever closer to the outskirts of the dark forest. 

That night Sarah slept in the town's inn. She liked the outdoors and liked sleeping in the soft grasses with the stars to watch over her, but tonight looked like rain.

She was shown in to the main room and given her supper.

At one of the tables sat a very old woman. She was the gossiping sort, and loved to chatter to each of the travelers as they passed through. She could tell that Sarah would be a good audience so she waved her over to join her at the table.

Sarah sat and began her conversation with the old woman. She wanted to know about the prince who lived in the castle in the dark woods.

When she asked the question the old woman got very serious and leant in to whisper excitedly.

"That prince shouldn't be there," she said, glad to be able to tell her most loved piece of gossip. "He belongs to a land far, far away. Three years ago he was brought to the castle in the dark woods under mysterious circumstances. He was supposed to return to his kingdom a long while ago but he never did. His beloved parents have sent endless messages to the castle trying to get him released. Everyone knows that the mysterious, dark sorcerer who owns the castle is keeping him hostage. There's talk of raising an army to rescue the lad."

This was exactly what Sarah needed to hear. It was all going perfectly as planned. She had four good deeds done, (if kindness done for insects and birds counted), and now had a prince to rescue.

Sarah jumped up from the table and ran to her room. She would need a good night's sleep because tomorrow's journey would be a very important one. Tomorrow she would ride all the way through the dark forest and reach the castle. There she would find her prince and save him, and they would return to her kingdom.

Sarah fell asleep thinking about the excitement that the following day would hold.

Sarah was awake and ready before dawn the next morning. She paid her bill and rode of at a quick pace into the forest.

She soon found a path that would lead her directly to the castle. The trees loomed up along side of it in a very intimidating manner, but Sarah would not be scared. She was a real princess, and would be brave no matter what happened.

Soon Sarah saw the dark castle looming ahead of her. It was large and dirty, and looked like it could use a good scrubbing. She noticed strange goblins running about in all directions. They were very sloppy and wild. She was sure that they were the cause for the castle's current state. It would be very hard to clean up after such creatures.

She walked in past the front gates and looked around the court yard. Her eyes fell upon a handsome young man sitting in a lawn chair. He was shirtless and wearing a bathing suit, sitting down lazily and working on his suntan.

Sarah wondered who this could be. Certainly not an enchanter.

When Sarah walked over to stand near him so she could ask some questions the young man looked up at her lazily.

"Would you mind stepping aside, please? You're blocking my light," he drawled, and then closed his eyes so he could go to sleep.

"Who are you?" Sarah asked, slightly offended that this man had brushed her off so readily.

The man opened one eye and said, "I am the Prince Doug, who are you?"

"I was about to ask the very same thing," said a new voice from behind her. This voice was not lazy at all. It was refined and elegant and held a trace of an accent.

Sarah whirled to face the new party. She gasped as her eyes fell upon a very beautiful man. He was tall and slender with wild blond hair. He was dressed in a deep silky black from head to toe, and was wrapped in a billowing cloak. His eyes were wonderful- intelligent and piercing. One was blue and the other hazel, a sure sign of great power. This, no doubt, was the enchanter Jareth.

"I am Sarah, and I have come to work for you, if you are the enchanter Jareth," she said, just as the old man had told her to.

"I am," he replied, and walked closer to her. He circled her slowly like a panther, looking her up and down as if sizing up an enemy.

"I cannot refuse you a job," he said finally, stopping his circling in front of her, and standing inches away, "but I must warn you that the tasks will be difficult, and the penalty for failure is steep. If you fail, you forfeit your life."

Sarah looked over at the lazy prince. He wasn't much, but he was her destiny.

"I accept," she said.

"Very well," Jareth said, and took her hand in his own to lead her to her tasks.

 Sarah felt an electric jolt at his touch. It reached through to her very heart. She didn't know what to do, but she felt her hand instinctively close tighter on Jareth's. She thought she saw him smile slightly when she did.

He led her to a great barn. In it was a large pile of mixed grain that reached the ceiling and many stalls filled with fierce stallions. They looked as if they would be willing to trample anyone who came near them.

"Your task, my lady, is to feed my stallions. It is not easy because they are fierce and will not let just anyone near them. In addition, you can only feed them barley and oats. You must separate the grain that lies in that pile and get enough to fill their bellies. You will only have one night to do it. Do you wish to attempt this?"

Sarah looked up into his beautiful, searching eyes. She thought she saw worry there. She glanced outside and saw the lazy prince, still where they'd left him, and said, "Yes, I suppose I must."

Jareth squeezed her hand briefly before slowly letting it go. He backed away from her towards the entrance and left, locking the door behind him.

Sarah turned to the stallions. They were fierce and their gazes held hatred. They were nothing like the gentle geldings she'd been accustom to at home. Their coats and tails were matted and their hooves were ragged. Sarah felt a rush of pity at their condition.

'Poor things,' she thought, 'they have no one to look after them properly. Well, I'll just have to see what I can do about that.'

Sarah looked to the grain and sighed. It would take much longer than one night to sort through all of this. She saw a little ant carrying off one of the grains of corn and got an idea.

She stomped upon the ground and then crouched down when she had the ant's attention. She told him who she was, and explained her situation. Within seconds the barn was filled with thousands upon thousands of ants. They organized themselves into groups and set about sorting all the grain.

In only two hours the ants had all of the grain completely sorted. Sarah was very happy. She thanked all of them and prepared to face the stallions.

She ate one of her berries and slowly approached them. The stallions wouldn't answer Sarah, but she could tell that they were listening to her. She soothingly promised them all the grain they could eat, if they would hold still for her.

When she said this all of the stallions reared and beat upon their stalls. Sarah almost fled at that moment, but she was made of stronger stuff than that. She was a princess.

She held her ground and waited until the stallions calmed. She then calmly got the barley and oats and began to fill the troughs.

While the stallions were busy munching away at their food Sarah got the tack that was sitting by the stable door. She gently began to groom the stallions, distracting them as she did so by recounting all of her adventures in the world so far. She worked hard, making their manes and coats shine and taking the mud from their hooves. After many hours they were calm, and stood peacefully to rest. Sarah lay in the stall of the fiercest, resting against his bale of hay.

Jareth found her like that in the morning. He was astounded to see all of the grains perfectly sorted and his menacing stallions peaceful. The girl had done wonders. She must be extremely brave. If she had run his stallions would have broken through their stalls and trampled her.

He walked to her side to wake her up. When he went to lay his hand on her shoulder his fiercest stallion pawed the ground menacingly, telling him not to touch her. Surprised, Jareth issued a stern command and the horse snorted an apology, but he could see that the stallion still watched him carefully, protective of his new caretaker.

Her green eyes fluttered open slowly and she took in her surroundings. When she remembered where she was and what she had done she gave a big smile and moved to stand to ask her reward. Jareth reached out a hand to help her. When their hands touched Jareth again felt the same spark that Sarah knew yesterday. He didn't release her arm, even when she no longer needed his assistance.

Her happy smile melted Jareth's heart. It was beautiful and pure, and brought light into the stable. He wanted to see her smile much more often.

"I will ask for my reward now," Sarah said, not removing her arm from Jareth's hand. She didn't seem to want to.

"I could deny you nothing," Jareth whispered, his face inches away from Sarah's own.

Sarah faltered for a moment and almost forgot what she was to ask for. Suddenly it didn't seem to matter.

Finally, she pulled herself together and said, "I need a silver comb for my hair."

Jareth stepped back and released Sarah. He reached up into the air and pulled out an intricately decorated comb. Sarah gasped as she saw it.

Jareth slowly reached out a hand and ran it through Sarah's hair. He gently placed the comb in position behind her ear, trailing his fingers through the strands as he drew his hand away.

Sarah backed away with wide eyes. There was something else she should be doing. Oh yes, a quest. She had a prince to rescue.

"Is there anything else you would ask of me?" Jareth asked hopefully.

Sarah nodded. "Yes, I would like to work for you again."

Jareth sighed and once more took her hand. He led her from the stables out into the courtyard.

Sarah saw the prince lounging in his usual chair. He had a book of philosophy opened on his lap, but upon closer inspection Sarah could tell that he had a smaller book hidden behind it. She couldn't see clearly, but she suspected that it contained dirty pictures.

'Well,' she thought with a sigh, 'he is a prince to rescue, and there seem to be a shortage of those around. I guess he'll have to do.'

She turned to Jareth who began to describe her next challenge.

She would have to enter his kennels and take care of his dogs. They had ticks, and would need to be groomed. They were a fierce and ferocious bunch. They snarled and barked and tried to bite whenever she got near.

"Do you wish to attempt this? You will have only until nightfall." Jareth asked, worried for this young woman who stood before him.

Sarah looked up into his beautiful, searching eyes once again. There was no mistaking the concern she saw there. She glanced outside and saw the lazy prince, still where they'd left him, and said, with a deep sigh, "Yes, I suppose I must."

Jareth quickly pulled her hand up to kiss the back of it before he hurried from the kennel, shutting and locking the door behind him.

Sarah looked to the dogs. Their fur was matted and snarled. There were foxtails everywhere. She could see the sharp seeds in their ears and on their paws. They were probably between their toes, causing much pain.

'Poor things,' she thought, 'they have no one to look after them properly. Well, I'll just have to see what I can do about that.'

She felt overwhelmed until she saw a little bird fly above her over the kennel's open roof. Sarah quickly whistled and watched as the little bird swooped down into the kennel. She quickly explained who she was and explained her situation. Soon the kennel was filled with a hundred birds. They swooped in over the dogs, deftly eating all the ticks and removing all of the seeds that they could reach.

At first the dogs snarled and tried to bite the birds. Soon, however, they realized that they no longer itched and that they hurt much less than before. In less than two hours all of the ticks were gone. Sarah was very happy. She thanked all of the birds and prepared to face the angry dogs.

Sarah ate one of her berries and pulled the brushes from their handles at the kennel's entrance. She slowly approached the beasts, promising to make them feel all better. They didn't speak to her, but she could tell they were listening. She told them stories about her family to distract them while she brushed their fur and trimmed away their mats. She worked hard, and soon their coats were shining and luxurious. The dogs lolled about happily on the kennel floor and licked Sarah's hands. Soon they lay down to sleep, and Sarah joined them. She used the body of the fiercest dog as a pillow.

Jareth found her like that in the evening. He was astounded to see all of the dogs perfectly groomed and his once ferocious beasts tamed. The girl had done wonders. She must be extremely brave. If she had run his dogs would have broken through their kennel door and torn her apart.

He moved in slowly to wake her up. When he went to lay his hand on her shoulder his fiercest dog growled at him not to touch her. Surprised, Jareth issued a stern command and the dog cowered in apology, but he could see that the dog still watched him carefully, protective of his new favorite.

Jareth gently shook Sarah awake. Her green eyes fluttered open and she took in her surroundings. When she remembered where she was and what she had done she gave another big smile that took Jareth's breath away. Immediately he helped her to her feet, pulling her in closer to his body than was necessary. The electricity surrounding them almost made the air crackle.

 Sarah knew that she must make her second request before her mind lost all ability to reason.

"I will ask for my reward now," Sarah whispered, not removing herself from Jareth's loose embrace. She didn't seem to want to.

"I could deny you nothing," Jareth whispered back, and his words held more meaning than just pertained to the present situation.

"I want a silver mirror to look into." Sarah replied, pleased that her brain had remembered that much.

Jareth stepped back from Sarah and reached his hand into thin air. He pulled forth a beautifully decorated mirror and placed it in Sarah's hands, closing his fingers over hers as they rested on the handle.

Sarah backed away with wide eyes, carefully placing the mirror in her satchel. She was very distracted by the enchanter in front of her, but there was a nagging thought in the back of her mind. There was something else she should be doing. She must fulfill her destiny and finish her quest. She had a prince to rescue.

"Is there anything else you would ask of me?" Jareth asked once again, hoping she wouldn't ask what he thought she would.

Sarah nodded. "Yes, I would like to work for you one last time."

Jareth sighed. "I cannot refuse your request," he said, silently adding, 'as much as I would like to.' Once more took her hand. He led her from the kennels out into the courtyard.

The prince had built a small fire on the front steps and was roasting marshmallows. He lazily let one catch on fire and waved it through the air, signing his name in the sky. He saw Sarah approach with the enchanter and moved to offer her a marshmallow. Then he saw that he only had three left so he sat back down and pretended not to see her.

Sarah was beginning to have serious doubts about this no-good prince, but she knew that fate had brought her here. She must rescue a prince, and there lay the prince in all his indolent handsomeness.

She turned to Jareth and he described her final challenge.

"I warn you now; this will be the most difficult of all the challenges. You must enter my dragon's lair and administer to him. He is wounded from fighting with the other dragons and you must get him patched up."

Jareth showed her into the dank lair that held a small dragon only the size of a horse. However, though tiny, this dragon was fierce. It shot flame at Sarah whenever she got too near. It snapped its jaws and slashed its tail.

"Do you wish to attempt this? You will have only until morning." Jareth asked, wishing he could deny the request of this young woman before him.

Sarah looked up into his beautiful, searching eyes and almost wished she hadn't. The emotions she saw there made it difficult to focus on the task at hand. There was a prince to rescue. She glanced outside and saw the horrible prince, still selfishly burning marshmallows where they'd left him, and said, with a deep sigh, "Yes, I suppose I must."

Jareth had great difficulty in releasing her this time, but he did. He left the lair, locking the door behind him.

Sarah turned to look at the dragon in front of her. He was bleeding from many painful looking gashes. Obviously he was picked on by the others because of his small size.

'Poor thing,' she thought, 'it has no one to look after it properly. Well, I'll just have to see what I can do about that.'

She was at a loss until she saw a spider crawling on the wall. She clapped her hands and quickly explained who she was and her situation. Within moments all of the walls were covered in spiders. They dodged the flames of the dragon as they spat their webs onto the wounds. Their healing properties dulled the pain as they stopped the bleeding. Soon the dragon realized that it felt better and stopped trying to bite. In less than two hours the wounds were completely bandaged. Sarah was happy. She thanked all of the spiders and watched as they left.

She then turned to the dragon. Sarah ate one of her berries and picked up the bucket of soapy water that sat at the lair's entrance. She slowly approached the dragon, promising to clean up his bloody scales and make him look more presentable. The dragon didn't speak to her, but she could tell he was listening. She told him stories about her hopes and dreams to distract him while she gently cleaned his hide until the scales shone like new. She worked hard, and soon the dragon relaxed and curled up to sleep. Sarah was tired herself and lay down to join him.  She used the dragon's body as a headrest and fell asleep to its heartbeat.

Jareth found her like that in the morning. He was amazed to see his fearsome dragon calmly allowing her to rest against him. The girl had done wonders. She must be extremely brave. If she shown any amount of fear his dragon would have charged her and burnt her up.

He moved in slowly to wake her up. When he went to lay his hand on her shoulder his dragon shot him a warning glare. Surprised, Jareth issued a stern command and the dragon pretended to shut its eyes, but he could see that the beast still watched him carefully, protective of the woman that lay on his side.

Jareth gently shook Sarah awake. Her green eyes fluttered open and she stretched as she again took in her surroundings. When she remembered where she was and what she had done her smile was so big that it made Jareth weak in the knees. Immediately he helped her to her feet, pulling her in up straight into a tight embrace. He felt great relief that she was unhurt.

Sarah was very happy to be in Jareth's arms. Nothing else entered her mind as she leant her head against his chest and breathed in his scent.

Suddenly, however, an image of her parents rushed into her mind. She must not fail her destiny. She must complete her quest. Slowly Sarah pulled away from the enchanter Jareth's warm arms.

She could not meet his eyes as she said, "I will ask for my reward now."

 "I could deny you nothing," Jareth replied, and his words held a trace of despair.

"I want a silver ring for my finger," Sarah said, and turned her face away.

She did not see the way that Jareth's eyes glittered at her words. She just watched from the corner of her eye as he reached one hand into the air and pulled down a beautiful silver ring, ornately engraved.

Jareth took Sarah's left hand and brought it up deliberately to eye level. He slid the ring onto her fourth finger, and then kissed the tip, sending chills all up and down Sarah's spine.

He then backed away quickly and fled to his castle, leaving Sarah to find her way to the courtyard.

Sarah was really starting to dislike her destiny. Rescuing a prince wasn't the happy thing she'd thought it would be. The prince that fate had appointed her was stupid, selfish, and shallow. Even if she did escape with him, she didn't want to take him back to the kingdom to marry.

Sarah made up her mind. She would rescue the prince, take him back to his kingdom, count that as a good deed, and continue on her quest as though nothing had happened. No legend said that she had to accept the first prince she rescued.

She would simply wake the prince and make their escape. She would just have to forget the enchanter Jareth. Even princesses cannot fight fate.

Sarah strode to the prince's bedroom window. He was still sleeping, lying around lazily in purple silk pajamas. Sarah sighed and poked him with a nearby stick to get him to wake up.

"Get up," she whispered fiercely, "I'm going to rescue you!"

"But it's so nice here," the prince muttered, and rolled over to go to sleep.

"You get up right now!" Sarah said, and poked him hard with the stick.

The prince yelped and got to his feet. He looked at her darkly but pulled on his robe.

"No time to dress," Sarah said, beckoning him to the window. "We must leave now while the enchanter's gone."

The prince shuffled forward slowly. Sarah had to yank him out of the window and then drag him over to where her horse waited. After a few minutes of fussing both riders were mounted, Sarah at the reigns, and they rode off quickly into the morning.

They had not traveled far when Sarah saw a great storm cloud gathering above their heads. The winds were blowing furiously. Sarah looked back and saw the enchanter riding after him on his fiercest stallion, at a much faster pace. Sarah panicked. It would not be long before he overtook them.

"What shall we do?" Sarah asked, looking about her for some help.

"Don't ask me," said the prince Doug, "I wanted to be in bed sleeping right now."

Sarah remembered the items she had asked of the enchanter. The old man had told her that they would help her if she threw them on the ground behind her.

She pulled the comb from her hair, kissed it, and threw it down. From where it landed a great forest of thick, silver trees grew to block the enchanter's way. But Jareth turned himself into an axe and chopped down all of the trees. He then remounted, and rode after the escapees.

When Sarah saw that the comb had failed, she looked into her satchel. She saw the mirror and brought it out. She kissed it and threw it onto the ground behind her. From where it landed sprouted a huge, deep lake to stop the enchanter's progress. But Jareth halted his horse and turned himself into an owl and flew over it.

He flew until he was nearly upon them. In desperation Sarah looked down at the ring on her finger. She must prevail.

She took off the silver ring, kissed it, and threw it onto the ground behind her. It lay there unchanging until Jareth flew over it.

As he passed, it opened up wide and snapped shut around him. It turned him back into a man and pinned his arms to his side, binding his powers with strong magic. He lay there, trapped in the ring, unable to pursue them any longer.

The lousy Prince Doug let out a lazy cheer. But Sarah reigned in the horse and stopped to look back at the enchanter.

"What are you doing?" asked Doug disinterestedly.

"I can't just leave him to starve," she said, and dismounted to walk up to the enchanter Jareth.

"If I release you," she asked him, standing a ways away, "will you promise to let the prince go free?"

Jareth looked at her in amazement. "Let him go free?" he asked. "What are you talking about? I'm grateful to be rid of him."

"What do you mean?" Sarah asked in surprise. "I don't understand. Isn't he your prisoner?"

Jareth snorted in amusement. "Absolutely not. I allowed him to come to my kingdom for a weekend on diplomatic business, and at the end of the week he asked to stay longer. I was bound by the laws of hospitality to allow him to stay. Every week's been the same story. He lounges and mooches, and clutters up my castle. Honestly, you did me a great service by getting him out of my home."

"Then why did you come running after him this way?'

"I wasn't chasing him," said Jareth, gazing at her with a fierce intensity that took her breath away, "I was chasing you. You are the most brave, caring, and beautiful individual that I have ever met. I have watched you. You amaze me. I can't imagine spending the rest of my life without you to make it better."

"Oh," said Sarah. "I see. How do I get this ring off of you?"

"Give me a kiss," came the husky reply, and Sarah immediately did so. She wrapped her arms around Jareth's neck and brought his lips down to hers. Their lips met in an explosion of sparks and a tingle of power that flowed through their veins like pure happiness.

The ring vanished from around Jareth's arms and reappeared on Sarah's fourth finger. "I never meant for it to leave," he said, again kissing the little digit.

"It never will again," Sarah promised, and brought her mouth to his for another perfect kiss.

She finally pulled back from the embrace, breathless and flustered. "I don't know what my parents will think when I bring home an enchanter that I rescued from a houseguest instead of a prince."

"Well," Jareth said with a chuckle, "I am a king. I think that may outrank a prince in most parts. Would that suffice?"

"I don't know, let's go find out, shall we?" said Sarah cheerfully.

They both mounted their own horses and rode off, side by side, leaving Prince Doug to find his way home as best as he could.