When Sarah finally decided to climb out of the water she wrapped the plush towel around her dripping body and searched for her clothes. They were nowhere to be found, but there was a swath of glittering fabric placed over the back of a chair. Sarah reached out and picked it up.

At first glance, Sarah thought it looked like an ice dancer's costume. The top was dark, rich blue and it bled into pure snowy white by the time it hit the skirt.   The skirt itself fell to mid-calf, Sarah guessed, and was full enough to swirl enticingly around the legs. A band of angel-dust sparkles spiraled from the right shoulder across the breasts, around the back, and crossed to the front of the skirt. The entire dress was made of silk, so thin that Sarah couldn't quite believe it wasn't see-through. Yet, on the whole, the effect was understated elegance and not revealing in the slightest.   It looked like a dress fit for a queen.  

Then the enormity of her situation slammed back into her full force as she held the dress, and Sarah began shaking so hard that she couldn't stop. She stared at her own hands, the slender fingers trembling so badly that the silk slipped to the floor in a graceful pile. She grasped the edge of the bathtub with one hand and sank down too, first to her knees and then all the way down, leaning against the cold porcelain.   She stared at the dress, the shining material conveying to her just how big a decision she had made and what it meant.   It meant that she now belonged to the Goblin King, to do with as he wished. She had traded her own freedom for her baby brother's. But Jareth didn't want her as a goblin…he wanted her as a woman.

Oh, the king of the goblins was beautiful, but she was terrified of him. He had set her the impossible task of solving the Labyrinth and then changed the rules every time it seemed she was winning. She'd come within moments of besting him at his own game…and learned that he beat her in that area too. While he could subject her to every foul and deviant thing his Labyrinth had to offer, in the end she could not speak the words that would destroy him.

Now that decision had her trapped here, at the whim of the Underground's temperamental and moody ruler. The fact that he had shown her to his rooms was not lost on her. And though she had seen odd moments of tenderness from him in the past several hours, he had mocked her and called her a child more than he had been cordial.   Kind was not a word she would use to describe his behavior. He scared her, and that was the end of it. All her previous bravado was lost, and she was just too tired to try and pull the last shreds of it back to cover her. It was gone. She was lost inside the castle at the center of the Labyrinth, with nobody to call for help. Alone, and at the mercy of the Goblin King.

*****

Sarah didn't know how long she'd been sitting on the tile floor of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and her hair drying in tangles down her back, but the thing that jerked her back to the outside world was the sound of a door opening. She stared dumbly as a female goblin entered. The goblin sighed and shook her head disgustedly when she saw Sarah sitting there.

"And just what do you think you're doing?   Wrinkling your gown, wearing your towel—what do they teach young girls Aboveground?"

Sarah took the brisk rebuke without feeling, returning her gaze to the floor. She was about to drift off into her own world again when a sudden, sharp pain made her flinch and whirl around. The woman had taken the opportunity to grab a silver brush and attempt to pull it through Sarah's long dark hair.

"Ouch!" Sarah said, making a swipe for the brush.   The goblin paid her no mind and batted Sarah's hand away.

"Can't do it yourself, obviously, so I'll do it for you. Hold still now, and it won't hurt."

Rousing herself enough to care about the hairbrush was more than Sarah cared to do at the moment, and she sank back into her own mind again as her hair was brushed to a brilliant shine. She hardly noticed as the towel was stripped away and the glittering dress slipped over her head. She felt the slithery silk tighten around her body as it was zipped up the back. She didn't bother to wonder why it was just her size.

"Come, now, His Majesty's waiting on you," the goblin said. "He doesn't wait long."

In a daze still, Sarah allowed herself to be led down the corridors until they stopped in front of a pair of double doors.   Two goblin servants opened the doors, and Sarah was bombarded by the sudden flash of silvery light.

Inside, the room looked remarkably like the ball she vaguely remembered from Jareth's ensorcelled peach. The room was lined with two tables so long that they seemed never to end, and at the end was a raised dais. On the dais was a single, small table with two chairs. One was empty. The other held Jareth.

The people from the dream-ball were there, laughing, flitting around from place to place with their masks still on and their voices creating a tumult that Sarah winced to hear. At her entrance the din slowly ceased, and everyone found their places and slowly stood there, in tribute. Had Sarah been in her right mind, she would have been terrified to walk down that center isle with everyone watching her, whispering behind their hands like they were. But the figure at the other end of the room frightened her so much more that she just didn't care. She was immune to anything else.

Jareth smiled as she stepped up the three wide, shallow stairs and met him at the top of the dais. "Lovely Sarah," he said, "Welcome to Court. Goblin Court. They will be yours, once you are confirmed as my queen."

Sarah's eyes slid past him, never focusing on him.   It was as if he didn't really exist in her mind, like he wasn't there at all. Accepting his presence was too much at the moment. Far better to let herself believe that the soft, deep voice she heard was a figment of her own imagination. Better to be crazy and hearing phantoms than…. But there was no than. There was nothing to worry about.

Her silence and her refusal to look at him did not go unnoticed by Jareth, but rather than cause a scene in front of the masked nobles, he guided her to a chair and held her elbow gently as she sat.   She stared straight ahead, vacantly.   Jareth felt a prick of worry, suddenly.   There was no challenge in her eyes, no set to her jaw. She was not merely ignoring him as a way of retaliation. There was something else going on, and it worried him. He cast a glance down at the smooth, dark silk of her hair. Her hair was down, her gown plain in comparison with the other noblewomen seated at the lower tables.   Yet she shone the way none of them ever could. Yes, she was a child yet, but that would pass soon enough. Soon enough.

He convinced himself that she just needed to get her bearings, needed to become accustomed to life here in the castle and the surrounding Labyrinth. Then she would turn to him again. Her eyes would lock with his; there would be speech—and time when talking wasn't necessary.   Jareth cast another glance at her as he seated himself, and anyone who cared to look could see the fierce possessiveness that lit his eyes.

*****

Hoggle stumped through the Labyrinth, ignoring false turns and continuing on his way while muttering to himself. "Damn fool girl…" rose out louder than some of his other words, and he didn't bother to disguise his impatience as he bumbled down a couple of steps and entered the hedge maze.

"Trouble," he said to the other two dwarves he met there, creatures more human than goblin and yet almost more goblin than human.

"What is it now?" one of the others asked, throwing a glass marble to a crow. The crow tried to pick it up, flapped angrily, and flew away.

"Sarah's gone and agreed to marry the king," Hoggle said irritably.

"The Renegades aren't going to like this," the second dwarf said.

"Jareth'll have a time of it, trying to protect her," said the first.

"We's gots to warn her, or something," Hoggle insisted. He seemed much more keyed-up than his two compatriots, who were lazily throwing marbles in the dust.

"No good," the second said. "No dwarves allowed in the castle, you knows that."  

"I doesn't bloody care!"

"Better? Want to be rotting in the Bog of Eternal Stench for eternity? This time, seeing as how he's already got his girl, Jareth won't have such bad aim."  

Hoggle flushed, remembering the most recent time he'd been flung toward the Bog. "Then what does we do?"

"Nothing. The king is smart, or at least paranoid. He'll be watching her. If all you're worried about is the soon-to-be-queen's pretty little head, I wouldn't worry. Jareth's a better watchdog than any."

TO BE CONTINUED...