Richard turned to the small goblin. "What is it that you wanted to tell me?"
Soldat stared at the guards, shuffling from one foot to the other. "The Goblin King Jareth sends his regards and asks if you, um, need anything."
Richard looked back at the guards. "I need to know where the children are," he answered. "They came here, didn't they?" he asked the guards.
The guards waved their heads around as they whimpered.
He was about to ask more questions but realized that he had to get the walnuts out first. "Go get me a bucket, an empty basin, an ewer of clean water and a clean cloth," he ordered the Soldat. "The sooner the better."
The goblin gone, Richard sighed and went over to the guards to assess how far in the walnuts went in and how many there were in each nose. This would be so much easier if I had my wand, he thought with some bitterness.
Jareth had moved to the window and was looking out at the kingdom through a crystal.
"He sends his greetings," Soldat lied, "and requests some stuff, like a bucket, a basin, some water, a cloth." He omitted the question about the children.
Jareth looked away for a moment, as if in thought. "Granted," he said.
Soldat hurried and was back at the Doors of Doom before Richard had wandlessly Summoned out the first walnut.
Soldat wanted to vomit. The walnuts were covered with mucus and blood and the guards continued to whimper and wail as they were removed. The Healer was gentle in his work, dropping the walnuts into the pail and washing each guard's nose as he went. The bottom heads were able to trade places with the top heads, which made the job far easier that Richard thought it would be. The job took time, though. As he worked he wondered how much time he had left, where the children were, if Chaucer was with them, what it was he was trying to remember and what the whole business was about. Of his concerns, though, he said nothing to the goblin.
Jareth spied the Gobstone floating near the dump. He looked back into his crystal, focusing his thought on the place. If any of the dump attendants would have noticed, they would have seen his visage slowly appearing and disappearing in the broken mirrors and polished surfaces around them. Like a cloud's shadow, the image rippled through the place and stopped only when facing a human boy sitting on the ground, reading a comic book. Two towers of collected items sat on either side of Lenny, and in front of him was a stack of more comic books. Good place for him, Jareth thought with some satisfaction, he will never leave.
The next place that the goblin king decided to look at was the orchards. The fungus-like Eyes were working there. They saw no one but the goblins that tended the place.
It was easy to go from there to the Bog of Eternal Stench. He slid across the surfaces of the mud pots and then up to the shadows of the trees. The branches rustled slightly as they formed into a representation of his face.
Bog-covered Bruce was at the bridge, facing Vorg, waving his arms around-he looked like he was shouting. Jareth grinned at the irony of "Biter" being exactly where he didn't want to be and facing one of his most stubborn goblins. He thought about waiting to see how long it would be before Vorg threw him back into the mess but decided instead to look for the others.
He swept through the walls, starting at the gates. The Eyes there were still not working. The rough surface of the bricks reformed to show his cold fury when he saw what the boys had done to the delicate fungi. He would have to send goblins to heal the Eyes, but not yet-he needed to find only one more boy. He swept through the stone walls, stopping only to see that the Guardian was busy with the Doors of Doom and that Soldat was sitting on the ground, his head between his knees.
He slid down into the oubliette to find the skull. It wasn't where he'd left it. So the boy has been here, he mused. Blind for a bit, he searched for it until he was able to put his eyes to its empty eye sockets and look out.
He was surprised to find cloudy daylight and the goblin Jasmin in front of him. She was wearing a party dress and eating cake. It is her party, he remembered with a groan. He'd forgotten to get her a present, and he knew he would never hear the end of it. She reached out her hand and suddenly the whole picture shifted and he saw Owen sitting on a bench, looking like something from the compost pile. The goblins will take care of him, he thought with grim pleasure.
Back at the castle, he put his crystal down for a moment and looked into the village. Two were down there, with the house-elf. He frowned again and wondered, Which would be more valuable, the children or the house-elf? Do they know what Chaucer really was? Did Chaucer?
Chaucer hurried the goblin-armored children through the city and stopped at the back gate. A goblin was on duty.
"Princess Leia wishes to reward the faithful guard for his obedient duty," Chaucer announced. "She will give him a bracelet of pure plastic."
Awed, the guard bowed low to the girl.
Leia beamed and handed the guard her least favorite bracelet. While the goblin eagerly tried it on, the three slipped out of the gate and Chaucer led them to the Back Lands. The Back Lands had more moors and a sea beyond them with a small quay. On their right side were acres of vegetable gardens, and on the left, the dump.
"Children and Chaucer go there," he pointed to the dump. "Find more treasure."
The two hurried without protest, each wanting more treasure than the other.
Richard finished the job and rinsed his hands with what was left of the water and wiped them on the now partly-used cloth. The guards looked very grateful and a bit exhausted. Soldat had fainted.
He studied the four guards as they tested their noses. Two wore blue trimmed armor and shared a shield that had a four-sided figure in the center, the other two wore red and had a shield that appeared to have an orb inside a circle. A glance at the top of the walls and he realized that the four-sided figure was the top of an obelisk. What does it symbolize? he wondered as he looked around him. He doubted if the guards knew. He felt them staring at him and turned to them.
"Now tell me," Richard ordered. "What happened here?"
"We can't answer that," the top-side guard with the orb on his shield said.
"We can only answer one question," his bottom companion informed him.
"And we've already answered that," the bottom obelisk bearer answered.
The fourth gazed up at the sky, glancing quickly at Richard, then back up again, as if very suddenly it was very interested in the weather. The only sound was a bird's song and the low sustained notes from the castle.
Richard gave the top guard who had the orb shield a withering look. "You've just answered a second one, just now. Let's try for three: What are behind your doors?"
It cringed. "The way to the castle," it said, trying to not be obvious as it pointed to itself and failing. "Or to Certain Death," it said with a side-ways nod of his head to the guardians with the obelisk on its shield.
The other one shook its head no, while blood and snot continued to drip. Richard ripped up the cloth and carefully plugged the nose, much to the relief of the lower head. He took a step back, looking at the two doors and then reached out and pulled open the one behind the obelisk guards.
"No! Don't go!" the guards cried out. "They didn't go in there!"
He didn't enter the chamber but braced himself at the doorway, ignoring the blubbering guards. The passage was a dead-end, and had a tree growing in the middle of a patch of grass and wildflowers. There was no sign of the boys. Richard took his time, studying the tree. He saw something moving in it, and then more movement, even though there wasn't a breeze. A small bird fluttered by and was snatched by something in the tree. He felt something by his leg and looked down. Soldat was by him. The goblin looked in and then turned and fled. Richard looked around on the ground and saw something glistening by the door. Without letting go of the door or stepping into the chamber, he touched his toe to a piece of dried, almost transparent snake skin.
The leaves on the tree rustled. Something lowered itself from a branch: it was a very long, slender brown snake, with a green snake wrapped around it.
"Boomslangs!" he shouted. He jumped back, pulling the door shut against the poisonous reptiles while stumbling backwards. He knocked over the basin of slimy walnuts.
The guards "oohed" and snickered and then were suddenly silent. All four looked straight ahead, as if Richard did not exist. Puzzled, he almost started to speak when the guard closest to him glanced beyond him and then back to attention.
He turned and saw the goblin king, leaning against the stone wall behind him with a unfathomable look on his face. He had a crystal in his hands that he spun over and under one of his hands. Soldat whimpered and scampered away.
"That is cheating," the goblin king told Richard.
"Those are boomslang snakes; highly poisonous, even for wizards," he snarled back. "And I don't have my wand. What if the children had gotten in there?"
The king's eyes glittered and a smirk crossed his face. "We would be having a completely different conversation," he said airily as he spun the small orb on the tips of his fingers.
Richard glared at him. "I don't want to be having this talk. I want the children and I want to go back to St. Mungo's." It took all of his self-control not to snatch the orb away.
Jareth was very pleased with the man's words. He smiled as he caught the orb in his hand. "Then it would meet with your approval if the house-elf stays?"