Disclaimer: I don't own the Labyrinth.

Chapter 28
At the Steps of the High Council

The odd castle they had brought her, the Summit, as Sarah has soon learned its name, was a black spidery construction with fragile towers craning towards the high sky and careening on the edge of a breath-stealing chasm of a gleaming volcanic stone. At the bottom of the drop, a snake-like distant ribbon of a blue river curved its way before disappearing from the sight. It was a pure wonder the whole construction hadn't tumbled down from the cliff it rested on so perilously.

She shivered, remembering the nightmarish beasts the soldiers had used as their mounts and the wild ride that had brought tears in her eyes. Another shudder run down her spine, returning her at the present. She peered around, nervous, taking in the small details of burning torches, the dark and moist stonewalls of the castle, the silent dark-clad soldiers standing around her with spears in hand as if she were a life-threatening beast or a criminal.

She swallowed down her scowl, bringing her gaze on her hands in her lap. It didn't require big brains to figure out why the soldiers looked like a personification of dread. They had practically kidnapped her from the Goblin King. Half gleeful, she thought about Jareth's ire when he had returned at the castle to find her gone. The childish delight died when the situation reminded her again. She had envisioned meeting the High Council would take place under the protective presence of the Goblin King. Now, instead, Sarah would be forced to meet them without him.

Resisting her urge to wrap arms around her torso and admitting how afraid she was, Sarah wondered what would happen to her now. So consumed by her own fears, she almost jumped out of her skin, when she heard someone speaking up,

"Sarah Williams?"

She had to blink a few times to confirm she saw right. Sarah had never met anything like him. Clack, clack. His steps pitched sharply against the stone floor as he walked closer. He stopped and crossed his arms behind his back, giving Sarah a measuring look. His handsome, though somewhat worried, face held a roguish charm. Chestnut colored eyes flickered in the light and a curly lock of brown hair shadowed his forehead. Dark green jacket's long hems swept the floor, and beneath the jacket he wore a ruffled white shirt. But Sarah couldn't stop staring at his legs. He had knee-long trousers, no shoes, and his legs were covered with dark brown hair. The clasping sound she had heard was caused by the dark hoofs he had in place of feet -- a faun!

"My apologies for making you wait such a long time. I had very little time to see that everything would be arranged accordingly." The words, despite polite, lacked sincerity.

"I'm touched by this cordial reception," she answered stiffly, giving a meaningful glance at the soldiers standing in position around her.

The lush lips twitched into a small scowl, and he shook his head. "I'm the Council Secretary, Leneus, and I'm here to give you a short introduction for your meeting with the High Council," the faun told with a self-important way as if excepting Sarah would recognize his name.

"I know already about the procedures and correct ways to address the Members. Jar-- the Goblin King instructed me on that area already." Sarah started to get more annoyed now than scared.

He flared his nose. "Would you care to demonstrate me then, milady?"

She clenched her teeth tightly together, swallowing down her angry retort. She recognized insult when she heard one. However, it would do good to make him her enemy before properly introduced. She decided to try being polite and answered as levelly as possible, "I should address them always as 'Esteemed Council Member' or 'Esteemed Council Seat'. I'm not to speak unless addressed. I should always curtsy before addressing them and never turn my back to them. Apparently there's some sort of cross or pentagram on which I have to stand all the time and remain unmoving until given permission to leave."

He stared at her, clearly trying to find something lacking in her description until admitting grudgingly, "That's quite right. However, there appears to be something the Goblin King apparently forgot to mention to you. Before you're allowed to meet the Council, I'm unfortunately obligated to secure you're not carrying anything…dangerous such as weapons."

"You want to grope me?" Sarah cried in aghast, almost sprinting up to her feet and staring at the creature.

"It is only an act of caution, a custom of old time when the world used to be a lot more dangerous. There are no bad or hidden intentions in the act," Leneus explained though something in his voice didn't quite secure Sarah. "It is essential since all important houses of each realm are present. As one of the many tasks I'm responsible for, also this has to be done."

Sarah's her cheeks flushed of the embarrassment. "You should look in another direction in that case. I'm not planning a coop," Sarah grunted at last.

"Despite of that I'm responsible for no one jeopardizing the meeting," Leneus answered, especially emphasizing 'no one', and Sarah furrowed her brows.

"Even I've heard about fauns. You seriously think I'd believe you?"

"I work for the Council and pride on my work!" Leneus's eyes flashed of the accusation. "To subdue in such an act you refer to in the middle of the meeting…" His ears juggled nervously and burning pink blush colored his face all the way to his neck, yet he quite didn't meet Sarah's eyes, glancing nervously about them.

Remembering once again her situation she let out a sigh. Apparently, there was very little for her to say in the matter. She got up to her feet and said through her clenched teeth, "Very well. If this is totally necessary, I agree to this ridiculous play."

- - - -

The hall was cold. That was the first thing Sarah thought when she stepped through the doors. A sinking feeling in her stomach grew as her gaze darted around the dark room but didn't meet the Goblin King's familiar appearance anywhere. Only one dark haired man stood on the right side of circle shaped space. He didn't turn, but he didn't have to – Sarah recognized Gaway de Menchen even from behind.

She paled but tried not to show her apprehension. The Court had heard only Gaway. Jareth wasn't here, and no one had spoken for her sake.

Her worry-filled thoughts crowded her mind; their weight nearly squeezing her beneath. Taking in a deep breath, she forced the feelings at bay. She'd saved her brother, survived her mother's death. She'd endured this too! Pulling back her shoulders, she strode towards the Council Seat and stopped in the middle of the circle. Sensing the curious glances of the Council Members, she looked up and faced the Underground rulers face-to-face.

The sickle shaped table was more like a huge court desk with five seats, one of them being empty – her heart churned in her chest from the realization.

She immediately recognized Ailene's father, a red-haired elderly man in crimson colored clothes -- the similarities between the father and the daughter were too striking not to be noticed. Next to him sat a dark shadowy creature: he had to be the Ahriman, the King of the demons. In the centre, next to the Demon King, sat a lady with her gaze pinned on Sarah, and on her left side, as a contrast to the Demon King's shadowy presence, a blinding creature illuminated the space. Sarah couldn't see any features of the person, and the longer she looked at him, the brighter the light appeared to burn until her eyes started to hurt. She averted her gaze back to the woman in the middle, avoiding from looking at the empty seat at the left corner.

Something in the woman nagged in her mind. Unblinking, the dark even eyes looked at her from a finely structured face, the woman's hair cascading down over her shoulders like a dark smooth stream. An endless deep lay beneath the woman's odd eyes, a current she felt could drag her along like she were but a feathery chip laying on the ocean, pulled into unknown. Sarah's own sight watered, and hastily she turned to look away, letting go of the long eye contact.

"State your name, mortal, in front of the Seat of the High Council. Speak fast and speak true for each of your words shall be measured today," the woman said, and her words resonated and chimed like ethereal bells around the hall.

"My name, Esteemed Council Seat, is Sarah Mary William." Sarah cringed at her trembling meek voice, remembering to curtsy just in time she opened her mouth.

"And what, Sarah Mary William, is the reason for you to stand here today to meet our judgment?"

She hesitated little. What should she say? Somehow she got the feeling her next phrase would define all that lied ahead of her, and the thought brought a nervous blush on her cheeks. She dared to steal a glance at her side, still fervently hoping to see the familiar figure of dark sparkling cape and long unruly hair defying all laws of gravity, but the Goblin King avoided her sight -- he wasn't here.

Almost involuntarily, Sarah's eyes were drawn towards the man standing next to her. She perceived the sharp features and ivory pale skin, silently swearing that she detected a a ghost of a curved smile on Gaway's lips. An acidy bile rose to her mouth as the dread she had tried to deny since the moment she lay her eyes on the dark haired fae man in her living room nearly stole her breath away. Jareth had promised to help her! Where was he? She shoved panic aside and took a deep calming breath while lifting her chin. Faking braveness, she met the measuring eyes of the High Council.

Partially surprised to find out her voice didn't waver, she answered, "Esteemed Council Members, Esteemed Council Seat, I'm here against my will and my own wishes. I've been dishonestly been called to be owned by one of your kind and forced to leave my home, brought to the Underground even when I've rightfully and truthfully claimed myself free and to be of my own possession only."

She could hear nervous murmurs breaking the silence of the hall, saw King Oiding shift in his chair, and nailing his steel-colored eyes on her. The pure hate in his face caused cold shivers to run down her spine but Sarah kept her expression carefully blank.

"Those are dangerous accusations, mortal Sarah Mary Williams," the blindingly bright light-creature on the left side of the Council Seat spoke, "and way too vague for to acknowledge as such. You speak of capture, disloyalty and violation of freedom without mentioning of whom you speak. This Council will not listen to such trifle words. What say you?"

"Esteemed Council Members, yet you call me here for hearing."

"No one has arrived at the Summit to fend you," Oidin answered dryly. "Your case has already been decided. I request the assembly to decide the verdict already."

No. No! Helpless, confined by the etiquette of the High Court, Sarah could but stare at the Council anger and fear making her tremble.

"Truly?" the lady mused aloud, thoughtfully, and Sarah didn't even stop to consider her possible impoliticness. She had to act.

"Esteemed Council Seat, Where I come from, even the lowest criminals are allowed a chance to defend themselves. Surely you're not lower in your moral standards?" Sarah licked her lip, knowing she was limiting the Underground protocol, which she had been strictly forbid to do. "Surely you allow me the chance to be defended."

The lady snatched her piercing attention to her. "The question was not pointed to you. However, I do see your point, mortal. We've only heard one point to this story, and it appears no one was here to take up your voice."

"Lady Dodona! I do object to this treatment!" King Oidin addressed her, outraged.

"Yet, it is one of the traditions we agreed to when accepting the seat," the Demon King pointed out softly. "That is something we all vowed to honor."

That appeared to make the fae king silent and he leaned backwards with his expression dark.

Not believing her small victory, hesitating, she dared to ask, "Therefore, Esteemed Council Seat, may I ask a permission to defend myself?"

"You amuse me, mortal. And you should know that your request is not unheard of," the dark Demon King spoke softly, a tint of amusement in his voice. Still keeping his eyes fixed on her but addressing the other Council Members, he continued, "I have no objections to her plead."

"I have! You have no right in the Underground, human! Oidin barked darkly.

The angel-like creature didn't speak but Sarah got the impression he shared fae's thoughts.

Lady Dodonna inspected Sarah thoughtfully, pondering the request. "If no one is willing to stand up for the convicted, the one in the star is allowed to speak for herself," she finally concluded. "As a Council Seat I decide it, and so shall it be."

Grunting, Oidin gave only a sharp nod.

A/N: Ah, the story is progressing, albeit slowly. My apologies for that. I try to get the next installment finished more quickly than this one.