Had Sarah known about Jareth's dream, she might not have made a few of the choices she is making now. She might not have clutched so desperately to the cloak he gave her. She might not have breathed in his scent so deeply, though she tells herself that is simply because walking in a forest is hard work and she needs to. She might not have, upon meeting a fork in her path, taken the left fork.
But she does, and after remembering where taking the right path during her first run had gotten her, she thinks that a change of pace might suit her just fine. Besides, this side looks sunnier and easier to walk over. There aren't roots spilling out onto the barely perceptible path, waiting to trip her or turn her ankle. A few birds are even in the branches, singing songs she has never heard before.
There is still no sign of Grod when she curls up at the base of a tree for the night. Sarah misses his warmth, but only pulls the feathered cloak around her tighter. Her sleep is dreamless, uninterrupted.
Sarah wastes a day.
When she next opens her eyes, the sun is high in the sky and bright in her eyes. She almost expects to be frozen to the ground, but the cloak curls pleasantly around her shoulders has kept her warm through the night. Sarah clutches it to her and stands, grimacing at the way her legs and back protest the movement. She sneezes a few times and then coughs a few more; she hopes it's just a little bit of a cold coming on, but knows that the freezing water hadn't helped anything.
She tries to work out the knots in her muscles but soon gives up as the cold only seeps deeper into her bones. Not for the first time, she wonders where Grod is and if he's okay; she hasn't seen him since the run in with the fuaths and she almost drowned in the pond that they guarded. Sarah wonders if she should try to find him; after all, she hasn't used up that much of her time, and the last time she had been to the kingdom, it hadn't seemed that large.
The only problem with her well-intentioned idea was that she did not truly know where she was or where she was going but she thought that moving would be better than staying in one spot, especially since she has misplaced her guide.
Sarah grimaces and collects her bag from the ground, straightening her coat and cloak out, trying to keep what warmth she had close to her. She wishes that she could change somewhere, but she originally expected this new run of the labyrinth to last as long as it had before, and hadn't really brought a change of clothes.
Moving is still slow and slightly painful for Sarah, but she stumbles along, fighting tree branches and roots as she goes. Forests used to be one of her favorite natural things, but now she had ceased to imagine them as romantic and is starting to realize that they are a bit of a pain when one has a time limit, a goal in mind, and everything from the weather to the inhabitants against her.
In fact, she's waiting for another roadblock to make itself known and dreads every snap of a twig or patch of snow falling from a branch. There aren't any animal noises, which she is both happy and upset about. She is happy because she doesn't have to worry about them; she is upset because ever since she was small, she was told that an area devoid of life was not a safe area to be in. This is an area like that, with only giant trees witnessing her passing through.
She's afraid that she is walking in circles. It feels like she's walking in circles—nothing has changed in the way the trees, or undergrowth, or even the rocks look. Sarah wishes that she has a friend with her now to talk or walk with her, to keep her on the right path. It wasn't until now that she realizes how much she had depended on Ludo and Hoggle and Didymus, and even Grod, as bossy as he was. Sarah wonders where her old friends are, and why they have not come to save her. Did they even know she was even in the kingdom? If so, do they not know where she is? If not, why not?
Her sigh is the loudest noise around her.
But, the thought strikes her, what is they are not able to come to her aid? Or worse yet, her friends—she gulps—her friends could have been punished for helping her the first time, could have felt the Goblin King's wrath, and were wary to help her a second time. And Grod… well, the poor little goblin had been thrown into the freezing water too, hadn't he? At best, they had merely been separated, and Sarah consoled herself with thoughts of how capable he was—certainly more so than she would ever be. He wouldn't have been sent to be her guide if not.
Unless that was the plan to begin with—to get her hopelessly lost and confused so that she would lose. Maybe the Goblin King was still bitter about his previous defeat, but…
She bites her lip, deep in thought, trying to untangle herself from her internal web of thoughts.
If he had wished for her to lose, wouldn't he have let her become a salamander snack? Frustrated, she turns and kicks a nearby tree trunk. Her only reward (and it in fact is more of a punishment) is a patch of snow falling on her head. Now leaning more towards furious than frustrated, she shakes the wet snow from her head.
"This is so stupid!" she shrieks. "If he weren't such a glittering sore loser then—"
But her own thoughts stop her words and she switches tracks.
"And I have to be stuck out in this frozen wasteland, with snow all around—" Sarah stops again and blinks, tearing off one of her mittens a second later to scoop up a handful of the offending snow.
It's not even frozen, not really. In fact, the snow is even a bit wet, as if the sun had been on it for a while, melting it.
She looks up to the sky—not that she can see it too well; the tree branches, though bare, block her view. It couldn't have been the sun, not with those branches.
Maybe it was just warming up overall, maybe the seasons were changing—after all, Sarah doesn't know what the seasons were like in the Underground (and she calmly ignores the reasonable part of her that says even if it was the changing of the weather, it wouldn't change so suddenly.)
She voices the first thought aloud to make it more solid and knows it's not the truth, knows that maybe she should start paying more attention to what people were saying about the Summer Queen and the Winter King.
Perhaps she could get to the bottom of it, figure out why everybody kept insisting she was this queen—her, boring, human Sarah Williams, born to human parents, raised in a thoroughly human world. So she couldn't possibly be this Fey queen. She didn't even have to voice that thought out loud to her how weak her conviction was.
But here is what confuses her: the Winter and Summer monarchs were supposed to be counterpoints, soulmates—no, that wasn't quite right, bound even tighter than soulmates—and yet the Goblin King had treated her abominably. Sure, she'd never dated before—not really, because Sarah is pretty certain that one hour in third grade because of a dare doesn't count—but she is pretty sure that kidnapping and then murdering somebody's sibling and then kidnapping a score of other children, including their cousin, is not a good way to go about getting somebody's attention. Neither is forcing them to run a crazed labyrinth (twice), throwing a snake in their face, sending spinning blades at them, or terrorizing them in general.
Chocolates would have been a nice start, or flowers.
Sarah would also have greatly appreciated not being stalked and taunted or deliberately scared. If the Goblin King had felt something for her, he wouldn't have been so cruel.
And her only feeling towards the King were confusion and anger, with fear coming in a close third, all of which she thought reasonable.
Another patch of melting snow dropped down onto her head and she glared up at the sky.
"That isn't funny," she declares, speaking to nobody or thing in particular, brushing the half melted snow from her hair. Nothing came as a reply; the wind didn't even rustle the branches above her.
"I'm getting very tired or this," she spoke to the empty air. "Everybody thinks I'm this… this queen. A Summer Queen. And I don't think that I am." Sarah punctuates her last sentence by kicking a good sized stone into the underbrush. It makes a dull thud as it collides with what must have been a tree trunk.
"And this queen is supposed to bring balance to the Underground, she's supposed to… I don't even know what she's supposed to do. On top of that, nobody's giving me any answers! If I just knew something, I might be able to… I dunno, muddle through to an answer. But I can't!"
And she takes her frustrations out on another stone, kicking it again out of her way and into the underbrush, but this time, it crashes against other stones, and eventually makes a faint splashing noise. Hearing the sound of water down below reminds her of how much she'd thoroughly enjoy a hot bath.
The underbrush blocks her view and it's difficult to even get over to what Sarah assumes is a drop off. Mud clings to her boots as well as clumps of ice and wet snow, and she's a little worried that if she leans over too far, she'll slip over the edge.
Tumbling down the edge of a steep (though admittedly not that large) cliff does not seem like the perfect way to start the day's travels, so she backs up a little.
As she is doing so, she spots a curious thing through the branches—Sarah isn't sure, but it looks like a roof, or the corner of a roof of a small cottage. She looks for a way down, but can't spot one that doesn't look like it wouldn't end in broken bones. She frowns deeply. Grod hadn't mentioned other people living out here, but then again, he hadn't mentioned ponds that could transport a person to another pond.
And he certainly hadn't anticipated getting separated so suddenly… or at least she hopes he hadn't.
Maybe, if she continues going forward, there will be a little path down to the cottage where the inhabitant will take pity on her and give her someplace warm to stay for a little. And food. A nice bowl of hot soup would also be greatly appreciated.
Sarah coughs again, deeply and from her chest. And maybe, if she's really, really lucky, they could do something about the mild fever she's sure she's got.
With these hopes in mind she trudges forward through the heavy, melting snow, fantasizing about warm blankets and roaring firesides; for as quickly as the snow is melting, she still needs her heavy layers and her warm cloak.
The fact that the cloak was once the King's, she chooses to ignore. After all, he'd sort of given it to her, hadn't he? And she'd certainly earned it, with all that she'd been through, hadn't she?
And if it smelled like him, like cloves and ozone and snow, well, who cared? She liked cloves, and besides, it was maybe better that it didn't smell like her, not until she had a bath at any rate—or the Bog of Eternal Stench.
And if she held it tight, well that's just because—
Sarah stops. Considers the direction her thoughts are leading her in and frowns in a detached way, because she can't figure out why, for the life of her, she's thinking them.
It scares her and she shudders a little, feeling betrayed by her own mind.
But her thoughts are quickly overtaken by the sound of trickling water growing louder and the fact that the ground has taken on a decidedly downward tilt, and that she thinks she can see a wall of the cottage peeking out through the trees every now and then.
Sarah grins foolishly and runs as quickly as she can (which isn't very quickly at all) towards her goal of warmth and food.
But the run, as pathetic and ungainly as it is, exhausts her. She's gone maybe one or two meters before she is panting and doubled over with coughing, unable to go any farther. And when she looks up, she's lost sight of the cabin.
Panic starts to set in and she stumbles forward a few more feet, thinking now that possibly it had been an illusion all along. The sound of running water has intensified, but no matter where she looks, she cannot find the shelter she had been searching for.
One step does not change her surroundings.
Another sends her into a snowdrift and she can't avoid. Sarah crashes into it and lays motionless, feeling her ankle throb.
All of those hiking trips with her dad and stepmom as a kid flash through her mind, flick-flick-flick, because her dad had once upon a time fancied himself a survivalist and had drilled a few rules into her head, should she ever get lost in the wilderness.
Stay warm was top of the list, and she almost laughed.
Find food, find shelter, and do not get injured.
But here she was, coughing up her lungs and sitting in a melting snow bank with twinges of pain shooting through her ankle. She couldn't even stand up, but not for lack of trying—every time she tried, her ankle felt like it was going to break in half.
And one string of thoughts chased themselves around in her mind.
She was doomed. The kids were doomed. They were all doomed.
Hot tears pricked at the corner of her eyes and she rolled herself upwards so she could get a good bearing on where she was.
Perhaps if she rested her foot for a few minutes, it would feel better, and then continued.
Sarah closes her eyes and begins counting the seconds; after two minutes she gives up. A few minutes turn into an hour, and an hour turns into three.
By the fourth hour she is lightly dozing, having exhausted herself earlier.
And at the fifth hour, a spell is cast.
Real life got in the way a few (thousand) times, and as I'm sure you've seen before as an excuse for a long absence, my laptop took a dive and I lost everything.
But here's this.