Chapter 11

Sarah had climbed about six feet down the wall when she realized how entirely idiotic this escape plan was. She was at least five stories up! Even if the makeshift rope didn't break, and the knot didn't come undone, she'd probably lose her grip and fall to her death. And even if she didn't, how did she expect to get away? What were the chances Kaneron didn't have guards set around his courtyard? Besides, she didn't have any supplies and she didn't know where she was going or how to get back to the human world.

What a stupid, stupid plan.

She took several deep breaths to reign in her panic, and let herself slide a few more feet down until she was resting on a windowsill. Her heart pounded as she as she tried not to think of the sound her body would make hitting the ground, and she stood as far to the edge of the window as she could and peeked in. The room was empty. Breathing heavily, she tied the rope around her waist in case she slipped, and bent down to see if she could pry it open. It appeared to be locked.

Okay. Not a problem. She's keep climbing until she found one that wasn't. Or she'd climb back up to her own window. Or...

No. She wasn't strong enough to climb back up, and if she kept climbing she'd probably fall. All she could do was stand here and wait for someone to see her.

Sarah glared at the window. It just...wasn't...fair! She kicked the glass in fury, and as she was thrown off balance she had a moment to mentally scream at herself for doing something so impulsive and stupid. Then the rope caught her and she regained her balance, and a large crack appeared in the window where she had struck it. It took her a few seconds to calm herself, but then she clutched the edge of the window and proceeded to give the pane of glass repeated, controlled kicks until it shattered, and she could fall through it in relief.

When her heart had calm down a bit, Sarah untied the rope and drew the curtains over the broken window, and looked around the room. She seemed to be in a study of some sort; on one side of the room was a desk, bookshelf and cabinet, and on the other was a stone table covered in strange tools and overlooked by several shelves holding little vials and boxes. Sarah was intrigued and went to examine the table more closely, but when a pair of forceps tried to bite her she stepped back. Feeling a little cheated, she pocketed a few unlabeled vials and headed to the door.

Sarah wasn't naive. She knew full well that the only reason she had escaped so easily was because Kaneron assumed she was weak and incapable because she was human, and that if he caught her again he would put her in much higher security. Fae had been underestimating her since she was fifteen, though, and she wasn't above taking advantage of it.

For a moment Sarah considered just making a run for it, but decided that her chances of success were very slim; there would be guards, and a wall, and possibly a moat, and she would be caught and dragged back. And she didn't even know how to get back to the human world, or how to contact her fae friends. No, in order to escape she would need some sort of weapon, or money, or information.

Sarah had never been much of a planner, though; she was more of a doer. Act first, ask questions later. If she wasn't going to escape right away, then she'd find a way to access one of those three things. She remembered generally where Kaneron's study had been, and to her relief the halls of his castle didn't seem to be constantly changing the way Jareth's did. With only a vague idea of what she would do when she reached it, Sarah set off through the corridors. She passed few people, and those she did paid her no heed; probably no one knew she was here, so no one would know to report her.

It didn't take Sarah long to reach the study, but once she got there she was out of ideas. After glaring at the door for a while, she tried the doorknob, but it was locked. She pressed her ear to the crack, but heard nothing, and there was no keyhole to spy through. For a brief moment she considered attempting to kick it down, but what if someone saw? Even if they didn't know who she was, kicking on the King's study door was definitely suspicious and probably treasonous behaviour.

So here she was, out of her room but still just as trapped, hanging around waiting to be caught again. Nothing to do but worry.

About herself, and her friends and family, and...

No, don't think about him. He doesn't matter.

It was perfectly clear that Jareth didn't love her. He had severed their bond, and apparently didn't even care enough to save her from the danger he had put her in. For this must all be because of him—why else would King Kaneron be after her?

So just don't think about Jareth. Sarah punched the stone wall. Bad idea; now her hand hurt so much that her eyes were watering from the pain.

That's right; her eyes were watering because her hand hurt. She wasn't crying.

'This is so unfair,' she muttered. And then, before she could do anything else, the door to Kaneron's study began to move.

Sarah didn't have time to think. In a panic, she threw herself around the corner, trying to breathe quietly. Who had been in the room? Was it Kaneron, or one of his servants? She could only hope it was the latter. Sarah's fists were clenched at her sides and she pressed herself to the wall, straining her ears. She sighed in relief when she heard the door close and footsteps retreating down the hall away from her.

Though her heart was still pounding, Sarah pushed herself away from the wall and peeked cautiously around the corner just in time to see Kaneron turning at the other end.

Here goes nothing, she thought, and hurried after him, treading as lightly as she could on the hard stone floor. He seemed to be in a hurry, and didn't seem at all suspicious.

He must feel completely safe in his own castle. Besides, I'm just a weak little human girl to him; he'd never expect I was capable of escaping.

Still, Sarah knew that she could only follow him for so long before he either noticed her or she lost him. To her relief, it didn't take him long to get where he was going. They descended a staircase and wound through the halls until they reached a secluded hall. Upstairs there hadn't been many people around, but here there was absolutely no one. Sarah watched from around the corner as Kaneron entered a room, and then hurried up to the closed door.

So here she was again, in the same situation. Just her and a closed door, and all her thoughts and worries. Maybe Kaneron wasn't even doing anything important; maybe he just wanted a break from his homework and came to get a snack or something.

Okay, maybe that wasn't very likely. But whether he was taking a nap or putting the final touches on his Death Star, Sarah had no way of getting into the room to find out. With a sigh, she leaned against the door, closing her eyes. She just had to think...

And then, in the silence, she heard something. Voices from behind the closed door. They were faint, but she could make out most of the words.

'...higher security?' a female voice was saying angrily. 'Anyone could spy on us in here! There isn't even a sound barrier.'

'We've been over this,' Kaneron answered tightly. 'No one can know you're here. As long as your presence here goes unnoticed, no one has any reason to spy on us. But if we have an official diplomatic meeting, do you really think word won't get back to Jareth?'

Sarah's already clenched fists tightened at the sound of Jareth's name. She missed the next couple of words, and by the time she had focused her hearing again the woman was speaking.

'...be quick, then. I cannot stay away from long or he'll wonder where I am. Is everything going according to plan?' The voice sounded strangely familiar, but Sarah couldn't place it.

'Yes,' Kaneron answered. 'The girl is safely locked away. And what of your end of the bargain? I know of your betrothal, of course; I was so very disappointed not to able to attend the ball in its honour. But you had better be doing more than dancing in the moonlight.'

'Stop worrying so much,' the woman replied. 'Everything is under control. As long as Jareth doesn't realize what's going on, there will be no problems. I get my crown, you get your treaty, and we all come out on top. I've gone through all of the records, and there won't be any diplomatic issues.'

'What worries me is that Jareth will realize what's going on,' Kaneron said. Sarah pressed herself to the door, desperate to catch every word. It sounded like Jareth was in trouble.

Who was this woman? Where had Sarah hear that voice before? And then she suddenly remembered—

'I mean no offence, Sarah...but you're a human commoner. Jareth is an immortal king of indescribable power. There can never be any real bond between you. He is just using you.'

'Please don't be insulted when I say that you are very young and inexperienced. Perhaps before you make your decision you should know of all of the other pretty human girls Jareth has lured here.'

'Every month or so dear Jareth has a new pet. He never keeps them long—just until they give in to his advances. Eventually he will find a woman worthy of being his queen, but until then he must resort to more—if I may say—crude ways of satisfying his lust.'

Cliodna. The Unseelie Queen who had tried to get between her and Jareth. Sarah had to grit her teeth together and glare at the floor to get control of herself. Unfortunately, the slew of memories had distracted her, and she had missed a good portion of the conversation.

'It's the only way I can think of to make sure Jareth and his friends and advisors are too distracted to see what you're doing,' Kanerong was saying. 'It will only be temporary; there won't be time to do any real damage to the Goblin Kingdom.'

'Very well,' Cliodna agreed reluctantly. 'I suppose there are few things more distracting to a King than a war. Just remember one thing: Jareth is not to be harmed.'

'Why not?' Kaneron asked. 'Please tell me you don't actually love him.'

There was a long moment of silence.

'Just uphold your end of the deal, Kaneron,' Cliodna said icily. 'Wage your war, if you really think it is necessary, but it will last only until the wedding. Once Jareth and I are bound together, there will be no more need for distractions.'

Sarah pushed herself away from the door, her head spinning. The whole conversation was suddenly starting to make sense.

Jareth was going to marry Cliodna. That was why her bond with him had been severed—he had bound himself to someone else.

Eventually he will find a woman worthy of being his queen, but until then he must resort to more—if I may say—crude ways of satisfying his lust.

Sarah all but ran down the hall. She had heard enough.

The moment she had disappeared, Jareth had found someone to replace her. Someone more worthy. Cliodna must have been the one who had kidnapped her, to keep her out of the way. The Queen was using Jareth, manipulating him for personal gain. But Jareth was too blinded by love to see that.

Sarah stopped short and closed her eyes, breathing deeply. She really didn't care. Whatever feelings she might once have had for Jareth had long since evaporated. She was free.

When she opened her eyes and looked around, Sarah saw that her feet had carried her back to the first room she had broken into. It made sense—it was the pathway back to her own room, which was the closest thing she had to safety. She wasn't really safe here, though, she was never really safe. If she wanted to save herself, what she had to do was go back down to the ground floor and make a run for it. She had broken into a Faerie castle when she was only fifteen; how hard could it be to break out of one? She would walk away and never look back, never think about Jareth again.

He deserved whatever he had coming. The war, the mysterious treaty Cliodna had mentioned, an eternal bond to a woman who was using him—it served him right, Sarah thought as she entered the room to look out at the grounds, planning her escape. Whatever Cliodna had planned, it was his own damn fault.

No. She couldn't let herself think that way; couldn't let her anger and jealousy control her. Jareth was in trouble, and she was the only one who knew about it. The only one who could help him. And helping the people she cared about was what Sarah did. She hadn't abandoned Toby no matter how many odds were stacked against her. She hadn't abandoned Hoggle even after he betrayed her. She wasn't going to sink to Jareth's level.

Just because he had abandoned her didn't mean that she would abandon him. She would find a way to stop this war from happening, or at least to make sure he won. She would make sure he knew what Cliodna and Kaneron were planning. And then, if he still loved Cliodna, let him do what he pleased; she was done.

Sarah climbed back up onto the windowsill, grasped the makeshift rope she had made earlier that day and stepped out into the cold spring air.

She wasn't afraid of falling anymore.