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In which Mr. Smith comes to Market Chipping
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After a while of staying in her little cubby under the stairs, Sophie decided to come out and open the flower shop. Michael had gone, probably to go and see Martha. This annoyed Sophie because he always ran off leaving her to sort out the shop. As for Howl, he was nowhere in sight. Probably in the bathroom, Sophie snorted, Knowing Howl. Looking over to the grate, she saw it was empty. Calcifer had gone out again so the rain must have stopped in Market Chipping. Sophie walked to the window. It was odd as she was still getting used to being so much more able bodily. She was so happy about it that she wondered if she'd ever go to the palace again. She'd run right up those stairs.

The rain had stopped, she discovered when she looked out of the window. It had actually turned into a lovely sunny morning. Like Sophie's outlook, it was bright. Well, maybe a bit brighter than Sophie's outlook but she didn't mind as she was no longer angry with Howl for being an idiot that morning. It's just his way, Sophie sighed gathering up some of flowers and carrying them through to the shop. Sophie discovered her eye sight was much improved too now she was young again. The flowers never looked so beautiful and the shop looked so clean-cut and fashionable. It was more fahsionable than the hate shop had even been. But then Sophie was annoyed with hats. She loved the flowers.

She spent several minutes sorting out the flowers. She arranged them all in the window and around the shelves so each colour matched the one next to it. She put the blues with the purples and creams flowers, the pinks with the whites, and the reds with the rich, new dark red-almost-brown flower with a huge yellow middle. Sophie's personal favourite flower was the peony, and she placed a set of pink and white ones on the counter, where she stood from to admire her work. As an old woman she never had the time to do this and she'd been longing to do it ever since they opened the shop. After setting up the most beautiful display, finally she decided to open the shop. When she opened the curtains to put on the 'open' sign she saw that there was a large waiting outside. They were all longing to see her. There was no doubt that either Fanny or Martha had told people at the bakery that Sophie was working for Wizard Howl, and that they kept the flower shop that used to be the old hat shop.

Now people were longing to see Sophie.

Sophie quickly shut the curtain again and thought for a moment. She felt a bit down on herself and looked down at her dress. It was still that awful, the ugly grey dress that was too big for her, that was stained, that was only suitable for a homeless person living in the lowest section of Porthaven. Becoming old had lowered her weight but the dress had always been a size too big anyway. She felt a little guilty for being so vain about it and worried that Howl was having a bad influence on her. But then, customers would no doubt prefer to see someone dressed properly rather than someone looking half starved and dressed in rags that Cinderella wouldn't be caught dead in. Besides, she worried that people would start to blame Howl, and it wasn't his fault. With that thought in mind, Sophie felt motivated to quickly go back to the castle and change into her new dress.

Climbing through the broom cupboard, she was glad to see that there were no males or demons. If Howl were to come in and see this dress on me no doubt he'd find something wrong, Sophie thought as she picked up the dress and closed the door. Creeping in she made double check to make sure Howl was not in the bathroom and that Calcifer was not under the logs in the grate. As she began to disrobe she stopped with a sudden thought, which made her blush. There is a chance Howl will catch her in the changing act! she thought worriedly. Thankfully though no doubt walked in and Sophie quickly brushed her hair as she walked back into the shop. She was tempted to go into the bathroom and look at herself in the big mirror, but there was no time. Feeling much more confident, Sophie strode to the shop door, opened the blinds and smiled at the on-lookers as she put up the 'open' sign.

At the normal time the shop opened and not Aunt Jenkins, but Sophie Hatter looking beautiful as she greeted the first customers. When they asked what had happened to Aunt Jenkins, she just said simply, "She's gone to travel the world. She wanted to see a bit more of it before she died." These were Sophie's feelings, and unlike her former alias of 'Aunt Jenkins', Sophie Hatter had plenty of time to see a bit more of the world, thank goodness. At first it was just women who used to buy hats from the hat shop frequently and knew Sophie fairly well that came to give their greetings. They said she looked marvellous in her new red wine coloured dress and had never looked better. Many of the old ladies took one look at her and almost broke into tears. ‘Like old times’, they said, cupping her face. Before her life as an old woman she would not have been as considerate of them. Now all she could think about was offering them some help was they made their way to the door. For the first time in a long time Sophie felt good, and happy that everyone she had known could visit her again and know who she was.

Once the old ladies left they told their daughters who told their sons and daughters, so rushed to have a look. It was soon all over Market Chipping that Mr. Hatter’s eldest daughter has returned to her roots and was working in Jenkins’ flower shop. Sophie was amazed at how many of old family friends came by, like the old hat workers. Even Bessie, who had once been the one remaining shop assistant, came to see her though she didn’t seem too thrilled to see Sophie looking to well. She’d always seen Sophie as the plain looking daughter of the Hatter family, who, by all means should stay in the background. Sophie didn't blame her as Bessie only remembered her in that awful grey dress. It's not surprising that she was shocked to see Sophie looking almost as beautiful as Lettie, and as cheerful as Martha. As for the old workers, they really were old, very old. Old enough to remember when Sophie's father was born.

One who came to see her was a very old man, who had known Sophie since birth. He couldn't even stand up straight any more, his back was curled over like most did in old age. Sophie was sure her own had done that although it was not as bad as his seemed to be. It may have come from sitting over those hats all day, putting them together and making the wax moulds. When he saw Sophie he could barely contain a smile, telling her he had never seen her look so pretty in his life.

“You look just like your mother,” he commented with a chuckle. As strange as it would seem to most people, Sophie had to think about who be was talking about before she could answer. It was only natural as she had only ever known Fanny, and considered her as the only mother she knew of. It was only when the worker said, “ It was always the way. Your sister looked like Thomas, and you always looked like Annette.”

Annette. It was then that Sophie remembered that Annette had been hers and Lettie’s mother’s name. Annette, better known as Anne or Pretty Annie. Since she had died before either of them could remember neither Sophie or Lettie could even remember what she looked like. There were never any pictures of her around for the girls to see either. Neither of them had dared to ask their father why not but Fanny said that seeing her face brought it all back and that they were all he needed to remember him by. But all the older workers had known their mother ever since she was a girl. Sophie did at least know that her mother and father had played together as children, teasing the workers who back then were young men. A story that Sophie also knew of was that when Anne was fifteen and their father, Thomas, was twenty he just inherited the hat shop. He told Anne then that he would marry her one day, and then he did four years later.

Sophie wished she could remember her mother. It never really bothered her when she was a child that her mother had died so young. After all, Fanny had been very kind to her as a girl, so Sophie never really thought about her mother after Fanny explained to her about the photographs. That didn’t really bother her either. It was only recently that Sophie thought about death. That moment when she thought she might die that day the scarecrow tried to get in the house all she could think about was people that had died. Her father and mother were the first people who came into her head. Sophie was scared she too would die young that moment. Die young looking old.

“Oh, happy days!” the old man sighed, once he had talked for what seemed like forever. This might have bothered Sophie before but now, no, she was very happy to listen; admittedly she was only half listening. “Yes, I remember the night of your birth. We were just as excited as your parents. You were such a pretty baby, pretty Sophie. Not like your father; he was very ugly!”

The two laughed; as he spoke, Sophie found the power of multi-tasking handy, finding that while she served customers, she could speak with the old man at the same time. “You were always your father's favourite, I believe. It was because you were so intelligent. Anne and Tom always believed that you would really make something of yourself. I mean, we always thought you’d turn out like your mother and from what I hear, you even have that power…” he then looked at the clock on the wall starting to chime on the hour. He chuckled, deciding to end his story, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m keeping you from talking with all these lovely people aren’t I? I better go now. I might pop by tomorrow.”

Sophie smiled as the old man hobbled away. He had been hobbling for years, Sophie remembered, and it was only now she finally understood how much pain he must go though. She wondered whether there was a spell she could find among Howl's things that she could offer him. Waving goodbye to him, he waved his stick over the large, growing crowd before leaving. Sophie couldn't help smiling. It had been a long time since she had been reminded of her father. It occurred to her that he must be happy that she was still working in the shop that had belonged to her father, and her grandfather, going all the way back to her great-great-great-great-grandfather. Of course it was no longer a hat shop nor did it belong to her. It belonged to Howl.

As well as old women and old workers, their grandchildren who were all around Sophie's age dropped in to see her. Some came in to buy flowers for their sweethearts but couldn't help admiring Sophie and offering her complements. Some of them didn't even come in to buy flowers. They just came to look at her much like people came to see Martha. It was strange as Sophie was not used to complements on her looks and couldn't help how flattered she was. More men came into the flower shop ranging from the poor and the old from the young to the old. Most of them were asking for rose buttons. There was one man who came back twice, making up an excuse for why he had 'lost' is old rose button. As well as asking for rose buttons many of them were also asking her where she had been, telling her how nice it was to see her again, telling her that the display was lovely, and asking her many of questions, which Sophie was happy to answer.

Michael came back not long before lunch time to find he couldn’t even enter through the shop door. Looking through the windows he was there were crowds of people huddled around Sophie. Some were buying flowers while others were yelling questions all over the place, jamming into each other, a some banging themselves against the door, forcing Michael to ease his way into the shop. Sophie nearly didn’t notice Michael battling his way around the mob. It was so shocking for him he'd worried something back had happened, until he finally did get inside. He realised then that the scene was the same as when male callers came to see Martha. He wondered why for a moment; he was still getting used to the fact that this Sophie had been old Sophie the other day.

Seeing no way passed the screaming mob, he cried out in a scared plea: “Sophie!” Fianlly she saw him and she asked everyone to make room for him. Once he got behind counter he looked at her in wonder, “What’s going on Sophie? Whave all these people come to see you?”

It took her a while to answer him as Sophie was talking to Jane, now the Countess of Catterack. Indeed, she had finally agreed to marry the Count, rather than living in sin with him. Jane told Sophie that just as they had met, they had ran off together to elope and only recently returned from the honeymoon. While showing Sophie her wedding ring, she spoke of how grateful she was to Sophie for 'that lovely bonnet' she has bought from the old hat shop.

“You’re looking lovely Sophie!” Jane kept saying, her hair all knotted and twisted all around pokers with her a huge, overdressed hat placed in the middle between two May poles of hair. All Sophie could do was smile and say she thought Jane looked lovely too. This was a lie but she could not deny that Jane looked better now then she did before she met the Count of Catterack. Love is a good look for a girl it seems, Sophie said before blushing at her own situation with Howl.

Jane gave her a little hug and pushed her way out followed by two footmen. Finally Sophie turned her attention to Michael, “Yes?" he asked her once again why it was so busy, "Simply because I’ve been recognised and everyone has come to see me, I suppose. They're certainly buying lots of flowers today either way. Now and get some more flowers, we’re running out!” Michael backed off quickly, obeying the barking order, knowing that now she was young again she could chase after him. One good thing was that she couldn't hit him with the stick. Despite everything Sophie felt bad about ordering Michael about, but she couldn’t leave the counter with every customer asking her questions…

“Sophie, they say you were kidnapped by the Witch of the Waste, is that true?”

“Sophie, did you know about the reward out for your safe return?”

“Sophie, Sophie! It great to see you. Are you working here now or leaving soon?”

"Is it true that H. jenkins is Wizard Howl?"

"Is it true he eats girls' hearts? You look quite well..."

“You weren’t eaten by Wizard Howl. How nice for you!"

In the mist of all these questions Sophie couldn't really hear very well any more. So she didn't notice when a tall, gallent young man walked into the shop. She only noticed when he spoke in a cool, calm voice “Sophie Hatter?”

Sophie looked up at him. She met the eyes of a wonderful looking man. He was a very handsome man in his twenties, a couple of years younger than Howl was. He had wavy black hair and mystical brown eyes that seemed to have a hypnotic power. Sophie was almost tranced by them. Realising she was staring, she finally stood up straight and smiled, but said nothing. She’d never seen him before but he obviously knew her and she felt rude asking him who he was. The man smiled back. “May I just say that that dress is just beautiful on you? It brings out the colour of your eyes and hair,” he said pointing at Sophie’s loose strawberry-blond hair.

Sophie blushed. She didn’t get many complements about her hair. A lot of the complements went towards her two pretty sisters. Though people said that the two daughters (Sophie and Lettie) by Mr. Hatter’s first wife where considered the prettiest of the three, people always fell towards the younger two, rather than the prettier two. “Thank you very much, my stepmother gave it to me…” Sophie began to explain.

The man nodded and flashing a charming smile said, “I know”. He then leaned on the counter, very close to where Sophie’s hands were resting. He offered a friendly smile, which was charming but much different from what Howl’s smile was. Howl’s smile was deeply seductive that it reduced many girls to warm puddles on the floor. It was one of the reasons why Sophie hated him using his smile on her. Even as an old woman she had been deeply entraced. It was his way of getting her to do what he desired. It had been worse since she became young again. It’s been harder to keep back the blushing. It made her feel angry with herself, not Howl, as she thought she'd be even more distressed if Howl didn't smile at her that way and at some other girl.

This young man was different. Sophie thought straight away that this was a geniune kind man as with a smile like that, he had to be friendly. No dishonest person could ever made Sophie feel so relaxed. She was much more relaxed than when Howl smiled at her. That just made her blood rush.

The man stood up straight and smiled even wider, “Let me introduce myself, I’m Alan Smith."

Alan Smith, that was the one from the card! Sophie thought to herself. She couldn't help but smile back, “Mr. Smith’s nephew?” she asked. Alan nodded and grinned as he placed his hands on Sophie’s and lifted them up. She blushed as he spoke in a very dramatic manner. Well, maybe he’s a little bit strange, she admitted to herself as he spoke.

“It so wonderful to finally meet you, Sophie,” Alan said smiling in a deeply relaxing way. “Aunt Fanny has told me so much about I feel like I already know you.”

Coming back into the shop Michael stopped when he saw the man and decided to stand and watch. For some reason felt a little bad for Howl. He didn’t know why but he liked to feel naïve to what’s really going on around him. But he wasn't daft; he knew that Howl had developed deep feelings for Sophie, that she was the one he had been looking for all his life. The one person he could love. Michael was worried that if he didn't act soon he might lose her to another man.

He didn’t need to be sorry; it turned out Howl could be sorry for himself.

While this was all going on, at that moment, Howl came in through the broom cupboard behind Michael. He got a big slap in the face. The shop was full of customers, mostly male and young and charming, all flirting with Sophie. What made it was was that she was being wooed by a very handsome, charming looking man who like Howl seemed to know how to woo a woman. But unlike Howl, it didn't seem to take much work to get Sophie to fall under his trace. This really annoyed him It was completely out of character for Sophie to look so enchanted with someone. WAtching the scene made Howl feel sick all of a sudden. He didn't feel right. He felt angry, trying to figure out why he felt sick. Something inside his head was thinking, Leave her alone - she's mine!

He marched passed Michael and up behind Sophie to make his presence to Alan known. He tried to stand dominate while listening Alan's remarks. “I couldn’t wait to meet you. You're even prettier than yor picture,” Alan finished before he finally glanced up, while Sophie just stood gassing into space, still her hands remained in Alan’s. Howl just stood there, as if he was waiting for an explanation, which wasn’t really needed, Sophie didn’t belong to anyone, physically or emotionally, or at least not yet.

Alan let her hands go and held one out to Howl, “You must be Wizard Howl. It is a pleasure to meet you. Allow me to introduce myself; I’m Alan Smith, Sophie’s step-step-cousin, if you will."

"I won't," Howl replied though his teeth. "Nice to meet you."

Sophie blushed and turned around to find herself face to face with Howl, and his green eyes. She blinked and stared at them. “Oh, hello Howl. How was your day?”

“How was my day?” Howl snapped. He seemed to be strangely angry. “What a stupid thing to ask! I come home from a boring day, I want to come back to have a sleep, a bit to eat and I find the shop full of strapping young men making so much noise elephants are quieter!”

“Eleph—What are they?” Sophie asked, she’d never heard of them before, “Are they a type of instrument?”

He almost never got angry in a case where he went red in the face. Sophie was used to handling him when he did get angry at her, especially when the anger is mis-directed. She thought he would be happy there were loads of customers. Howl almost went onto explaining about elephants, but realised it had nothing to do with anything. “Oh never mind!” he snapped before stomping off almost knocking Michael off his feet. Sophie quickly moved some more flowers into the vases. She turned back to Alan. He was standing there looking a bit guilty, but still smiling kindly.

“I came at a bad time, didn’t I?”

For a second, those words seemed to ring in her ears and deja vu seemed to kick in. As he stood up she noticed that he was completely dressed in black and red, with the only white thing being his shirt. Sophie thought it very strange but it suited him. She explained she should also shut the shop as it was lunchtime, and it wasn’t fair to deprive food from Howl or Michael. Alan laughed and placed a hand on her shoulder, “You’re a very good girl, Sophie. The Wizard is very lucky to have such a wonderful woman, working for him.”

Sophie smiled again, thanked him, and turned to all the customers. They were all still yelling questions to her. She took a deep breath and tried to shout over them, loud and clear, telling them that she needed to close for lunchtime and that she was very happy they’d all come to see her. Many of them didn't listen and others just didn’t want to go at first even when Sophie told them they could come back after lunch. It was then that Sophie and Michael where impressed by Alan, who stood tall, clear and confident. Sophie thought that he should become a politician one day. He'd have no problem being elected by the king to be a minister. Alan told the crowd that they should all go to Market Square and have their own lunch in the new café there where he’d just come from.

“It is Cesari the baker's daughter’s shop,” he explained. “My uncle's new wife told me about it this morning, for she and my uncle had been there the other day. They have the best coffee around here, they could do with some new customers!” The crowd cheered and decided they would just do that.

And why not? Sophie thought, It’s new!

After that they happily and cheerfully all left in a huge crowd, bound for the new café in Market Square. Sophie thought it was a marvellous thing that Alan had done, and hoped they would become very good friends. They were, more or less, family now. Once the crowd departed Alan made sure he was the last to leave. Finally noticing Michael, he gave him a smile and winked at him who returned the smile, and said cheerfully, “Thank you very much, I was scared they’d never leave!”

“It’s not a problem, Michael!” he said grinning, now placing his hand on his shoulder. “Dear young Martha never stops talking about you. She thinks the world of you, you know,” and he rubbed Michael’s head playfully, roughing up his already messy hair.

All Michael could mutter out from under his thoughts of Martha was, “My Martha’s name is much prettier then the name ‘Lettie’ and I was so happy when I heard it. Both our names begin with the same letter too!" Sophie laughed at this. Only Michael could announce love on the bases of something like that. He really was a sweetheart. As he spoke something inside her couldn’t wait for the day that he would be her brotherin-law. Michael was a wonderful boy. Sophie already loved him like the brother she never had, and the son she didn’t have, nor wanted anytime soon. Before she turned to let Alan out, Michael chirped up again, “Come again soon!”

As he went out the door, Alan fished out a letter from a large pocket and handed it to Sophie, “That is the official invitation from Fanny to you,” he explained. Sophie opened it and read it to herself:

To my dear and darling Sophie,

I hope you liked the new dress, I’d love to see you in it and that’s why I’m inviting you round to have some tea with us. If you remember, it’s Lettie’s birthday on the 1st July. Alan, my husband, Annabel, I’m also asking Martha and maybe Lettie’s new friend Suliman too.

Bring the Wizard and that dear boy, who lives with you too,

All my love, Fanny

Sophie looked up as Alan held out another invitation. “I need to take this one to dear, young Martha. I intended to do it myself. However I promised Fanny that I would be back by now to help her with the plans for the party. So, may I ask you to give it too her? I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t in such a hurry…”

Sophie took the letter, “Of course, I could use the exercise to stretch my legs. I’ll give it too her…” it was then she turned to face Michael, who was standing there trying to get every word of what was being said. “That is if Michael doesn’t mind sharing, only I’d love to go and see Martha.”

Michael just stood there nodding his head. He didn’t mind really, and even if he did, he wouldn’t say. Plus, how could he begrudge two sisters time alone? Alan smiled, “Thank you”. Then, he did something that surprised Sophie. He got down on one knee, took her hand and kissed it. She almost couldn’t believe it. He was a perfect gentlemen. Even Michael had his mouth wide open. Her cheeks turned as red as a volcano that was about to explode. Michael stood with his mouth wide open while even Calcifer witnessed the scene, hovering above Michael's head. And finally, at the top of the stairs looking down on everything was Howl. He looked as if he might explode too, like he was going to blow his top. It was obvious he was trying to hide it by standing proudly and respectively.

Calcifer laughed a little and said, “Not to hot now you have a rival, Howl?”

As Sophie was waving goodbye to Alan, Howl came into the shop behind Michael.

“Did you see that?” Calcifer asked Michael, obviously trying to get at Howl.

“He’s really great!” Michael exclaimed spinning around to face them. "He told me that Martha thought the world of me, and he's really polite. He seems to really like Sophie, doesn't he?” It was then Michael saw the look on Howl’s face, and shut up.

Howl crossed his arms, “Yes we can see that Michael! But you should know Sophie better. She is not the type for all that charm and hand kissing. She’s an awkward girl who would rather dominate her man completely. And from the way her mind works, if she works at it, she can make her man follow her every wish…”

“You’d know wouldn’t you?” Calcifer said, starting up again. “I bet you wouldn’t even dare to kiss Sophie from fear she’d hit you over the head with a frying pan for making unwanted physical contact with her!”

“She’s not like that either…”

“What is she like then?” Michael asked, trying to get involved too.

“I told you, she’s one of a kind.”

Sophie turned back into the shop. Michael and Calcifer both stood looking at her with surprised looks. Howl on the other hand put on a fake smile, not to hide his feelings but to show Sophie he was really angry.

Seeing Howl made Sophie's heart fall onto the floor with a large thump. “Just seeing Alan off!”

None of them said much after that. Sophie walked them all back into the castle and made them lunch. No one said anything over lunch either. She wasn’t sure how to tell Howl about Lettie’s birthday party. Both Fanny and Mrs Fairfax had set their hearts on Sophie marrying Howl, so she knew that if she and Howl went together, there was sure to be confusion. Then Sophie remembered that Alan had not said anything or even treated Sophie like she was someone else’s girlfriend. He’d even said Howl was lucky to her a worker like her, not a woman like her. In a great amount of relief, Sophie thought that maybe Fanny had told Alan that there wasn’t anything there. Sophie could have gone a bit pink then.

Michael turned to Sophie and asked her very innocently, "Why did Alan kiss your hand? Only men who are counting girls get down on one knee and kiss it like that.”

"Ha," Howl said childishly. Sophie ignored him but brushed it off. Michael seemed to be talking in a way that he must have thought that Alan ‘fancied’ her. Although Alan was very charming and handsome, he wasn’t someone she’d see as anything but a friend. Of course the other reason why Sophie didn't take that seriously was because her heart was yearning for someone else. Everyone knew who that was. “Nothing is meant by it” Sophie said calmly. “He was just being nice. It was just a peck on the hand."

Michael glanced at Howl next, who was just sitting there. He seemed to be enjoying this story despite the fact that a few seconds ago, he was blowing his top about this Alan. “He was just being polite," Howl repeated, confirming her words. "It’s respect for a woman. Any monkey can kiss a girl on the hand…” he then glanced at Sophie. She was just sitting there, getting ready to open her pocket with the invitation.

Sophie decided to tell him about the party. “Howl, Alan came here to give all of us this invitation to my sister Lettie’s birthday. Fanny’s hosting it at her house. She wants you, Michael and me to come." She looked at Howl’s face; it was probably him getting ready to slither out some how. Was he scared of the same thing Sophie was?

But to Sophie surprise, Howl just sat up and said, “Why not? Gives me a chance to get away from normality."

“You mean you don’t mind?” she asked. It was clear that Michael really wanted to go so he could see Martha outside the bustle of the baker’s shop. Even Calcifer looked as if he wouldn’t mind going as well. After all, though there was a lot to see in the country, it could be quite boring out in Market Chipping after the first seven hundred times. “You should come too Calcifer!”

Calcifer grinned a huge orange grin, “I was waiting for you to ask!”

Sophie was surprised. This must have been the first time all four of them agreed on something. And what a great thing to agree upon; an event where everyone would surely have fun. Sophie would be able to be with Lettie on her birthday, Howl would be there too, which for some reason made things better for Sophie. Calcifer would get to go to a party, Michael would get to see Martha. That was when she remembered. She quickly got up with the invitation for Martha.

“Where are you off too?” Howl said turning out of his chair. Michael and Calcifer watched with curious eyes, Howl had been acting very strange since the witch’s fall, and he seemed to take his eyes off nothing but Sophie…

“I said I’d give Martha her invitation” Sophie said as she grabbed her old shawl, as she glanced out the window, she saw that it was early evening out in Market Chipping. The sun was shining up the sky to give it lovely red colour, as it stretched towards the distance it turned orange, then purple then back to the dark blue of the evening skies.

Sophie couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she remembered Market Chipping was at night, how she’d sit in front of her window when she was younger, after her bath when she was brushing her hair. She’d always watched the town bellow her fall into the silver of moonlight, until she finally saw the lamp man light up the street with fire lamps…

“I’ll go if you want…” Michael began, but Howl quickly shook his head mouthing that this wasn’t the time.

Sophie turned around to tell Michael it was all right, but she’d rather have a walk outside in the dust sun. When Howl was suddenly right next to her near the door, Sophie gave a jump. She had no idea he could move so fast. “Howl! You scared me!” Sophie said giving him a scowl, “I guess you can slither more ways then out!”

“Your hard words continue to pain me” Howl began, pretending to look hurt. “Your harsh tongue is as sharp as knife. I haven’t done anything wrong…” Howl looked Sophie in the face. She was showing a face that told him to stop insulting her and stopped talking poetically just because it sounds more romantic. Howl got to the point, “But nevertheless I’m coming too!”

Sophie felt her heart tug, “Why?” That was all she could mutter.

“Letting you walk out to Market Square alone. It's not safe. There are men out there,” Howl pointed out to her, “Men who are not as courtly as myself."

Sophie wanted to laugh at this, Howl had set her bate, and she couldn’t resist grabbing it. “If there were a man more vain, more seductive, more cowardly...”

“More handsome…”

“And more courtly than you, I’d probably need you with me to catch me when I faint and have a heart attack from the pure shock!” Sophie exclaimed before turning to go out to the shop. Howl followed after her.

“What I really mean is, there is a lot of riff-raff on the streets. What if one of them attack you!” he said, now sounding a little more serious. It was rather strange for Sophie; he’d never been this clingy to her.

Sophie span around, her hair seemed to follow seconds after with her face as they also swung around. “How is you being with me going to protect me against male-attackers?” she asked, still trying to find out why he was so keen to go with her. “You’re a coward!” He just started at her, then finally turned on his smile. Sophie tried to look away but the smile had her right where it wanted her. She couldn’t say no now! ‘Bother the man!’ Sophie thought as she gathered her words. “Okay then… You can come. But I can’t shake the feeling that you’re up to something…”

 

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‘Howl's Moving Castle’ © 1986-2008, Diana Wynne Jones. 'Hauru no ugoku shiro' AKA 'Howl's Moving Castle' © 2004-2008 Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli Studios. Text/Website © Sophie Withall, 2004-2008. Based upon Diana Wynne Jones' novel ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli animated film 'Hauru no ugoku shiro'. Layout © Tripod. All characters are entirely fictional. 

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