Chapter 2: The one where Sarah decides to thwart destiny

But she was worried...just a little. Which was...worrying.

After Hoggle left, she began to mentally weigh-up the pros and cons of this latest adventure.

Pros: True Love (at an inconvenient time).

Cons: Contact with dragons; unknown villain (most likely a megalomaniac fae with a Grimm fetish); lengthy stay in tower with lava-pool views; possible non-existence of True Love; high likelihood of rescue by chicken after hundreds of years waiting in the tower; not being able to see Toby grow up; Broadway plans put on hold indefinitely.

After carefully contemplating her list, it was clear that the Cons list was winning by a landslide, given that the only Pro was the slim possibility of True Love. And besides, she wondered: Was True Love really that much of a Pro? After all, her Dad and Karen were more than happy and their relationship certainly wasn't the stuff of fairytales. Did she really need her One True Love to bring future happiness?

In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she would be satisfied with the every-day, garden-variety, plain old 'Love' rather than the fancy, fairytale-variety of 'True Love' (and Love had the bonus of being lava-free...she hoped).

By the end of the afternoon, she had come to the conclusion that True Love had to go.

Sarah realized that if she wanted to get out of her next adventure, she would need A Plan.

'Operation Thwart True Love,' so to speak.

She spent a productive day in the library, plotting and scheming, and then returned home cautiously optimistic, only to find the Wiseman and his hat sitting on the edge of her bed.

"Honey, I'm home," sing-songed the Hat when Sarah entered the room. "Where were you, Señorita? Had a hot date?"

Sarah snorted and reached up to scratch its head. "Yes. With a stack of library books."

"Kinky," the bird-like Hat said approvingly.

"Ahh, the library," the Wiseman beamed. "A very suitable place for a young lady. Were you trying to find something in particular?"

"Well, as a matter of fact..."

She explained that she was on the cusp of a quest for True Love and her reluctance to go along for the ride.

The Wiseman shook his head. "An adventure is a terrible thing to waste."

Sarah threw herself into her armchair, crossing her long legs at the ankles.

"Thanks, but I've had enough adventure to last me a lifetime. But I think I found a way around it." She leaned forward, excited. "Most of the heroines—Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel—were all virtuous maidens who needed a First Kiss to be rescued..."

The Hat perked up. "Oooh, I like where this is going!"

"Be quiet," the Wiseman said sternly to the little hat. He gave Sarah an encouraging look. "Do go on."

Sarah flicked her hair over her shoulder impatiently. "Well, if I give away my First Kiss, then surely I won't qualify for any new adventures, right?"

The Wiseman sighed happily. "Ahhh...a First Kiss. Love, after all, is the greatest adventure of them all."

The Hat nodded. "Though, for the record, sex can also be pretty adventurous,"

Sarah waved her hand impatiently. "I'm not talking about love...or sex," she blushed. "Just a kiss."

The Wiseman tilted his head, the little hat tipping precariously. "But what is a First Kiss, my dear, but a prelude to a 'Happily Ever After'?"

"Or a way of getting out of a coma," the Hat chirped. "Just ask Sleeping Beauty."

The Wiseman levelled a glare at his headwear. "Would you be quiet?"

"Ok, ok. Don't lose your incontinence pads," the Hat grumbled to itself.

Sarah ignored their bickering. She quickly stood up and began pacing across the room.

"I have to do something. I can't sit by and wait to be kidnapped by a dragon! Hoggle seems to think that I won't be able to get out of the tower by myself so I'd just have to sit there and wait to be rescued. And who knows how long that will take? I have all sorts of dreams and plans! I don't want to waste all that time sitting in a tower, surrounded by lava!"

"Damn lava," the Hat muttered.

"Indeed," agreed the Wiseman.

Sarah sniffed, willing herself not to cry. "And what about my family? I would simply disappear—never to be seen again. They would be so worried." She lifted her chin, determined. "I can't do that to them. I can't simply disappear and not be around to see Toby grow up."

She stopped her pacing and turned to them, her eyes beseeching. "So you must understand—I'll do whatever I can do to disqualify myself from this next adventure."

The Wiseman gave her a kind smile. "I understand. But, my dear—what if this next adventure is your one and only chance for a Happily Ever After? After all, the fair maiden is typically rescued by her One True Love and that always leads to a Happily Ever After."

Sarah blinked. "And what if I literally spend eternity in a tower waiting for a chicken?"

The Hat shrieked. "Touché, Lady!" The Hat bent down to look at his owner. "She's got you there, Old Man!"

The Wiseman merely rolled his eyes.

Sarah knelt down before them, resting her hand on the Wiseman's knee.

"What do you think? Will it work?"

The Wiseman scratched his chin meditatively. "A First Kiss has many uses. To squander it in haste would not be wise. Perhaps you should speak to His Majesty about your plans..."

The Hat nodded. "Si si. Blondie typically knows his way out of a tricky situation. And he has been mucho happy lately, wearing beige and all..."

Sarah shook her head emphatically. "No. Not him. Never him. Besides, I have to do this alone. That's 'The Way These Things Are Done'." She sighed. "Please. Tell me—will it work?"

The Hat and the Wiseman looked at each other. The Hat nodded.

"Pucker up, Señorita!"

Sarah beamed. "Thank you! Both of you!"

She lunged forward and engulfed them in a hug. The Hat preened under her attention. The Wiseman, however, patted her gently on the back and remained uneasy.

"Be warned," he intoned, "A kiss, especially a First Kiss, has its own special power—"

"Sarah!" Karen's voice called from downstairs. "Dinner's ready! Go wash up!"

Sarah pulled away from them both. "I'd better go. I'll see you later, right?"

"Like you can stay away from us," the Hat chirped saucily.

Sarah blew the Hat a kiss and bounded out of the room.

"—a power to change the course of one's life, forever," the Wiseman finished with a sigh.

The Hat tutted. "The youth of today: Always too busy to receive dire warnings of their impending doom."

The Wiseman sighed again, deeply. "Doom is right. Let's hope she chooses her First Kiss wisely, otherwise I fear that this will all go terribly wrong."

The Hat began to preen itself, supremely unconcerned. "Meh. It always goes wrong before it goes right."

When Sarah had presented her plan to relinquish her First Kiss to her friends during one of their weekly high teas in her bedroom, Hoggle had agreed to the plan wholeheartedly.

"Get rid of it," he had grumbled, pausing to sip Earl Grey rather daintily from a rose-print cup. "Them First Kisses are nothin' but trouble and, as I told you before, trouble seems to find you without you even trying. Besides," he frowned, "who knows who'll try'n rescue you? I wouldn't trust most princes as far as I could throw 'em. And don't even start me on the kings..." he muttered.

In fact, he was so disturbed by the thought of Sarah at the hands of an unscrupulous prince or a disreputable king that he barely touched his Oreos.
"Ok," she said briskly, her own tea untouched. "Then it's just a matter of finding a suitable candidate and kissing him. That should be enough to ensure that I am disqualified from any further adventures. Right?"

Hoggle nodded emphatically. Sir Didymus, however, looked disturbed.

"But, my Lady," he said, carefully placing his tea cup back on its saucer, "one's First Kiss is an important milestone. Why, True Love can come from a First Kiss and a Happily Ever After..."

As he spoke, Sarah's attention was caught by a flash of white outside her bedroom window. She frowned. Surely not...?

Hoggle snorted. "True love? Ha! I think all those Bog fumes have finally pickled your brain. You know what 'came' from my first kiss? Two weeks of lip rot and a broken heart."

He snorted again and looked over at Ludo, who was lapping at a bowl of milk. "Don't tell me you'rebuying into this True Love crud..."

Ludo looked up, a magnificent milk moustache ringing his mouth.

"Uh-huh."

Hoggle threw up his hands in disgust, but the old fox was not at all perturbed. He picked up his tea cup again, his paw delicately curled.

"Then perhaps thine First Kiss should not have been bestowed on someone who was unworthy of the honor, Brother Hoggle."

Ambrosius, sitting at the old knight's feet, barked sharply in agreement.

Hoggle gave a half-hearted shrug. "Maybe," he muttered into his teacup.

Sir Didymus gave a small smirk and turned to Sarah, who was still staring out the window.

"What say you, my Lady? My Lady?"

Sarah blinked and turned her attention back to the group.

"I'm sorry...what were you saying? Something about lip rot?" She reached for her tea cup.

"Lip rot bad," Ludo stated and returned to his milk bowl.

Hoggle rolled his eyes. "Trust you to have heard that bit."

The old fox placed his hand on Sarah's. "Just be careful, my Lady. A First Kiss is not something to be given away lightly."

Sarah gave him a bright smile. "You have nothing to fear, Sir Knight. And besides—who says that I am giving it away lightly? I have a plan."

She squeezed his hand reassuringly and then took a sip of tea. She grimaced.

"Eew, it's cold; let me get another pot. I'll be back in a minute."

Sarah picked up the teapot and quickly left her bedroom, carefully closing the door behind her.

The little knight tilted his head, listening until Sarah's footsteps faded away.

"I fear this will not end well for our Sarah," he said, worried.

Hoggle reached for a cheese sandwich. "Well, it will end far better than being surrounded by lava. That ain't no happy ending."

"Lava bad."

Hoggle gave a gruff laugh. "I'm with Ludo on this one."

Sir Didymus started to say something then stopped. Instead, he took another sip of his tea.

"Well, out with it," Hoggle grumbled.

"But would it end badly?"

"What do you mean?"

"If our Sarah is destined for another adventure—most especially an adventure with a tower and lava—then there is a very good chance that it will end in True Love and Happily Ever After. Verily, the adventures with the greatest sacrifices often hold the greatest rewards. Are we, perhaps, leading her from the path of true happiness by favoring her scheme?"

Hoggle pointed at Didymus with his half eaten sandwich.

"If there is even the remote possibility of Sarah bein' stuck in a tower for a hundred years, then she should get rid of that kiss as soon as she can," he said stubbornly. "Nothing can make up for living your entire life away from everyone who loves you. Not even True Love, if that even exists. Who knows if her One True Love would even come to rescue her?!"

He threw down his sandwich in disgust.

Didymus took another sip of his tea. "A very good argument, Brother. I confess that I would not want our fair maiden to disappear, even for True Love. Though, should she leave us, I vow that I will do my utmost to find her, even if the search takes me to the ends of the earth and to my very last breath."

"Me too," said Ludo.

Hoggle gave the old fox's shoulder an awkward pat. "I know. Me too," he said gruffly, and quickly removed his hand.

Ambrosius rubbed his head against Hoggle's calf.

"Dumb mutt," Hoggle grumbled.

He slipped Ambrosius a cookie as surreptitiously as possible, checking to see if Didymus had noticed.

Didymus hadn't; he was stroking his long whiskers in a meditative fashion.

"Perhaps, Brother Hoggle, thou should mention Sarah's predicament to His Majesty."

Hoggle, who had just taken a large sip of tepid tea, sprayed it across the room.

Directly at Ludo.

"Agh!" yelled Ludo.

Ludo blindly groped around him until his fingers found the crochet throw rug on the edge of Sarah's bed. He buried his shaggy face in it, desperately trying to wipe away the tea that was dripping from his fur.

Hoggle, however, didn't even notice. He was too horrified.

"Do I look like I have a death wish? Do you think I woke up this mornin' and said to myself: 'Today looks like a great day to be bogged! But... how can I accomplish this feat? Oh yes! I can simply mention Sarah's name within a ten mile radius of the King!'"

Sir Didymus held up one paw. "Verily, my dear friend, I did not mean to cause thou distress. Or to cause Brother Ludo, uh...moisture," he said, turning to Ludo, who was still trying to clean the tea from his fur. "It is merely that His Majesty has always maintained a fervent interest in our fair maiden's affairs; He will not be pleased when He hears of this turn of events second-hand."

At that, Hoggle only shrugged and picked up his mangled cheese sandwich.

"He is never pleased. And he'll get over it, the way he always gets over it; he'll put on somethin' shiny, dance around the throne room singing a sad song about how everyone misunderstands him, and then he'll bog a couple of goblins. Business as usual in the Goblin Kingdom."

Ludo shuddered. He clutched the tea-stained throw rug to his chest.

"Ludo scared."

Sir Didymus patted Ludo's shaggy arm. "There is nothing to fear, my Brother. Well, not on our part." He bent down and gently ruffled Ambrosius' ears. "I fear, however, for Sarah: Once she makes the decision to thwart True Love, her path will become much more difficult."

What Sir Didymus did not realize is that it was already too late. As soon as Sarah rejected the gift of True Love in favor of an adventure-free life...

...well...

True Love decided to reject her right back.