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In which Howl and Sophie are engaged
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Sophie woke the next morning to find she was the only one in the castle not awake. Howl, Michael, and Calcifer were all awake and eating breakfast. Peeping out from behind her curtains, she felt embarrassed at having slept late. She quickly got dressed behind her curtain and emerged slowly. Howl saw her and waved, as if she had been away for a long time and just returned, “The creature from the black lagoon has risen.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” Sophie asked, walking toward him and leaning on the table. He was boiling eggs on Calcifer while Michael ate his egg and toast. She spoke again, “Why didn’t you wake me?”

“I thought after last nights… excitement, you’d need an extra few minutes,” Howl replied glancing at her. Underneath the boiling pan Calcifer crackled as if laughing. Sophie glared at both of them. “Oh, and don’t worry. I put the nasty poem out of sight so you won’t have to look at it again.”

“Huh?” Sophie said, feeling herself blush, “What are you talking about?”

“Wasn’t that you running around the other night hiding the book away and changing the door knob so your tiger friend couldn’t get in?” Howl questioned her, taking the pot off Calcifer and putting them into cups.

“You were snooping!” Sophie snapped, sitting down and folding her arms, trying to give Howl a fierce glare. “I was just making sure that the castle was… secured.”

Calcifer flared up and hissed, “I’ll try not to take that as an insult!”

“What do you mean by that?” Sophie asked.

“Do you really think I’d let a tiger into the castle?” he replied, stubbornly but also trying not to laugh. No doubt Howl had told him all about her fear of the huge blue tiger running around the edge of the wastes. She knew he was right to be angry and right to think her silly. She started to think maybe it was her imagination and breakfast did cheer her up, especially since she didn’t have to do it.

“What time is it?” Sophie asked.

“Half past eight,” Howl replied.

Sophie almost spat out the tea she had been drinking, “That’s the normal time I get up! How long have the lot of you been up?”

“Just over half an hour,” the wizard replied with a charming smile, aiming it at Sophie as if to try and shut her up.

Sophie wasn’t biting, “Why are you all up so early? What are you up to?”

“All in good time,” Howl conclusively.

He made his way to the bathroom so he could finish getting ready. Once he was in there Sophie imagined it would take at least until ten to find out what was going on. She tried to coax some information out of Michael but it turned out he didn’t know either. She sat impatiently at the table for no less than half an hour when Howl came out. It surprised her as this was the fourth say in a row he had spent so little time to groom himself. Sophie dared to hope it was because of her, but didn’t saying anything.

“Now,” Sophie began, “will you tell us what this is all about.”

Howl beamed at them all and Sophie eyed the piece of paper in his hand. It was that unreadable writing again. “Well, my friends, I gathered you here to talk over today’s plans. Today I thought we could close the flower shop for the day and go on a little ‘school trip’ to the Kingsbury library.”

Sophie and Michael looked at each other before Sophie decided to put forward her questions. She raised her hand like a school girl, trying to get her own back for him making fun of her about the tiger. “Please sir, why are we going to the library, sir?”

“Very funny, Sophie, I just thought we’d have better luck with this thing if we have a look in the library,” he told her, folding up the piece of paper and putting it in his pocket. “We better take the original book too, Michael,” he said pointing towards a piece of cloth next to the sink. Underneath was the book with the ‘dreaded’ tiger poem in it. He turned to Sophie, “There are also a lot of spell books in the second Kingsbury library. It’s the second best collection of books ever to exist in this world, the first being…”

“The first Kingsbury library that burnt down thirty years ago,” Sophie finished, her arms still folded. “I did go to school and take history, Howl.”

Howl looked at her before going on, “I just thought it would be nice to take my two pupils to the library for a little reading around the subject.”

Calcifer crackled a cackle while Sophie snorted, “So you finally accept me as your pupil?”

“If it’s what you want,” Howl replied.

Sophie just went around the subject and went back to Howl’s original point, “Isn’t the real reason you want Michael and I to come because you two more pairs of hands trying to get that translation?”

“That wounds me, Sophie my dear,” Howl said, pulling on a hurt voice. “I just want you to share my curiosity. Surely you, the nosiest woman ever to set-up in my home, would understand my curiosity; isn’t that why you entered my castle in the first place?”

“Not exactly,” she replied with a smile. “I came in because I wanted somewhere to sleep for the night, and then I thought maybe you could take the spell off me. I stayed because Calcifer asked me to.”

“I never asked you to say!” Calcifer interrupted.

“Obliged me, then,” Sophie corrected, giving Calcifer a look, “to stay here.”

“And why are you still here?” Howl asked, in a more honest and thoughtful voice this time. It was as if he was looking for the same assurance as Sophie. Normally she might have given it but she was too aware of both Michael and Calcifer’s hot sticky eyes on her. Howl could see she wasn’t going to say anything and decided to change the subject. “Right then, we’ll be off in a minute. Michael,” he said looking to his apprentice, “Go and put your best suite on, or they won’t let you in. Sophie,” he looked at her seeing that she was wearing. She was wearing her new red dress which was much more becoming of her, “No, you’re alright. So it’s just Michael. Hurry, Michael, we want to get there early!”

“Howl, it’s a library,” Sophie said with a chuckle of laughter. “It’s not like there’s going to be a massive queue to get in.”

“True but there is no time to waste,” he stated.

He bellowed up the stairs for Michael to hurry up. It was a little bit unfair since they normally had to sit around waiting for Howl to get ready. Michael came rushing down the stairs wearing his blue over coat he had worn that day they went to see Mrs Pentstemmon and the King. Watching Howl, Sophie could tell he was excited about their outing. He quickly bid goodbye to Calcifer who had decided to catch a couple more winks of sleep before he went out exploring.

Then Sophie thought, and said quickly, “Howl, how are we going to get to the Kingsbury library? We moved house.”

“We can walk from the mansion door,” he answered opening the door and walking out. The morning was very lovely and the weather was extremely warm as usual for the south of Ingary. There was not a cloud in the sky. Sophie started to wish she had a hat and parasol to keep the heat off, remembering how uncomfortable she had been before. Then she remembered that other than the things from the attic, Fanny had given Sophie some of her old clothes she had left behind when she ran away from home.

“Just one moment!” she said, rushing back into the castle. She sped to her cubby hole to fish through the boxes. Inside one were her old hats and in another an old parasol. Having been the daughter of a fashionable hat maker, Sophie had some of the best hats in Market Chipping. Among her hats there was one which was a reasonable match for her dress. It was a summer hat, coloured the same as her dress with just one bow on it. She quickly put it on and rushed out the door to meet the others, putting up the parasol. The parasol went with anything as it was plain white. “Sorry, we can go now. It’s just so hot and I had to have a hat.”

“I’m not complaining,” Howl said, looking her up and down before motioning everyone to come along.

Sophie walked up along side him while Michael dragged on behind wishing he didn’t have to walk so far. Once there was a time they could have just walked out into the streets of Kingsbury. Maybe Howl would consider putting it all back soon, now that the Witch was gone. The trouble was that it meant getting rid of one of the other entrances and everyone would argue about that. Once they were in the street, Sophie jumped when Howl offered his arm to her, wondering what he expected her to do.

“For appearance at least,” he said, keeping his arm there as he walked. “Like your stepmother said, people are bound to talk about you so let’s make it seem like there is a marriage in the foreseeable future.”

Sophie scowled but took the arm nonetheless and threw her parasol over her shoulder so quickly it almost hit Michael in the nose. “All you ever care about is your appearance.”

“Only personal appearance,” Howl said, leading her along. “I couldn’t careless what people thought of my private life. That’s why I always sent Michael to spread bad rumours about me. It doesn’t bother me if people suspect I’m cohabiting. Everyone back in Wales thinks the worst of me. I just don’t think it’s fair if you’re seen to be my tag along.”

Sophie blushed but held her head high and strong, “And pray tell; what will we say if someone asks us who I am to you.”

“Say you are my intended,” Howl said, remembering that Fanny had ordered him to say something about his relationship with Sophie or else she would order her to leave, and find someone else to marry her. Howl had an awful feeling of who would put forward his name for Sophie. There was no way Howl would allow that. So, he was dealing in it in the best way he could. Let the people say it, not him. “They’ll leave you alone that way. You better put this on,” he said taking off a ring from his little finger and sliding it onto Sophie’s third finger, “Just in case they ask.”

Sophie couldn’t help frowning; it felt as if Howl was taking advantage of her feelings in making her do this. “Why do we have to do this, Howl?”

He leant over smiling, and said cryptically, “You know what I’m like.”

She did know what he was like but she couldn’t pin-point which part of his personality this clever plan had sprung from. Sophie was still thinking about it when they finally made it out of the valley of mansions and into the main streets of Kingsbury. Everywhere carriages went to and throw, young couples paraded the streets, and whining pageboys followed behind. Looking at herself, she realised that Howl had purposely moulded them to look as if they were just one of the crowd. Michael certainly looked like a whining page boy.

“Now, let’s stick together and hope no one recognises us,” he said, marching forward and dragging Sophie along with him. “You see there are a lot of snooty people around here who stick their noses into other people’s business. In my experience the rich are the worst kind. I have decided that while everyone else can think I’m a monster, people here have to think I’m just an ordinary person.”

“You’re a Royal Wizard,” Sophie said, twirling her parasol above their heads. “The chances of people seeing you as a simple person are nought, and decreased even further by the way you dress.”

“This is nothing,” Howl said, sorrowfully. “One day I’m going to have to take you to the court. You think seeing the King was bad enough just wait until you see his court.” Sophie didn’t feel like going to the palace again but pondered on why he said he had to take her. It was another subtle hint, maybe? “Besides,” he went on, “I’m only the Royal Wizard because you blackened my name so much the King thought I was the perfect man for the job.”

That was true too, Sophie thought guiltily. “You’re the one who wanted your name blackened. You should have sent me to praise you instead.”

Howl laughed, “Oh, let’s not over reach, Sophie dear!” And Sophie couldn’t help chuckling herself.

At that moment a crowd of very well-dressed, good-looking girls cruised past waving their parasols and laughing as they went along. Sophie recalled girls such as this from school and decided not to look them in the eye, as if they might tease her about the way she looked. It was moments like that that made her wish she was an old woman once again. She glanced up at Howl expecting that he would be looking at them. But to her surprise she wasn’t even looking in the direction they were coming in. His eyes were fixed on some of the houses they were passing, which he was scowling at.

He pointed to it to show Sophie, “Look, now that house was yellow last time I saw it—excuse me,” he said briefly as one of the girls brushed against him, and he went on talking, barely noticing, “And it was green three months before that. Now it’s blue. The lady who lives there is Madam Rosemary; she’s at court, too. She is completely obsessed with the woman who lives on the other side of the street, Madam Violet. If one does something the other will do the same. It’s like a beauty contest!”

Sophie nodded, “We used to have someone like that where we lived always wanting to keep up with the fashions; Jane Farrier’s mother Augusta Farrier. Fanny never shut-up about her.”

Howl chuckled, “It’s amusing really quite amusing, isn’t it? Everyone has one, even Wales; Megan never shuts-up about that Hilda next door.”

As they walked on they found themselves in a busy middle street where all around couples rushed up to other couples, sending their greetings and gossiping. Men accosted groups of girls, and laughed loudly. It looked like a permanent May Day. Sophie imagined Howl had spent many hours just in their square before. Walking through it, Howl hoped he could get through without being noticed. He wanted to get to that library, but he was foolish to think he could get that far without being noticed.

A painted old woman and a stiff old man came towards them. The woman wore a large, overdressed hat with miniature birds, flowers and feathers sticking out of it. It was very ostentatious and Sophie knew she would never make a hat like that. It looked so heavy. The man with her was dressed in a grey coat and wore a stark white wig. The pair was followed by their own page boy who looked more annoyed than Michael. The make-up on the woman’s face looked as if it was starting to melt in the heat. It made Sophie’s eyes water. She stayed silent as the woman spoke.

“Well, if it isn’t Pendragon,” said the woman in a rich voice. “It has been a while since we have seen you in the city.”

Howl looked as if he’d rather be anywhere else, and Sophie didn’t blame him. This woman appeared to be the sort of snooty noble that Howl had been talking about. The look of dread was all over his face but he managed to conceal it very well. He snapped on a smile and nodded his head politely to both the lady and her husband. “Why Madam Rosemary what a pleasure it is to see you.”

“And you,” the woman replied. “You know there has been a lot of talk about you at court recently. First you disappear, so the king sends out soldiers to find you. We were certain you had done a runner. Then, you send our beloved prince back to us and Wizard Suliman. I must say you are quite remarkable!”

“Well,” Howl said, looking awkwardly flattered, “I try my best.”

So this is Madam Rosemary, though Sophie with a small smile, I wonder what Madam Violet looks like. Madam Rosemary smiled and nodded her head at Sophie, as if only just acknowledging her. Sophie’s eyes were fixed on the bird in her hat before she met the woman’s eyes.

“And who is this, dear sir?” she asked with her nose stuck up as she spoke. “Is this another one of your ‘lady-friends’?”

Howl acted defensively, “Not at all!” he glanced at Sophie, who disliked being considered ‘one of Howl’s lady-friends’. His plan was about to go into action. “I am pleased to say that this lady is my… intended. Her name is Sophie.”

The woman gasped, “Oh my! How delightful, sir!” and she looked at Sophie, tilting her head as if to find faults, “I remember an old friend of the family had a charge who went on to have a daughter of her own. She was called Sophie. It has always been my favourite name. I thought of naming my own daughter that but we all agreed that Margot suited her better. Oh yes, delightful. Yes, your dear Sophie looks very bourgeois, don’t you think Harold?”

She looked to the small, stiff man standing next to her. They were like two characters out of pantomime. She was big, round and loud while he only spoke when ordered. He nodded and smiled, “Very charming! I never thought that Wizard Pendragon could be monogamous. He has certainly broken a few years at court. I do hope your good lady here knows what she’s getting into.”

“I do,” Sophie said quietly. “And I’m sure has broken a few hearts. I believe we all know his reputation as a heart-breaker.”

“You are very brave,” Madam Rosemary said grandly. “I recall when he courted but abandoned Madam Violet’s daughter Cynthia. It was a terrible ordeal.”

Sophie couldn’t help looking up at Howl at that moment. So that was how he knew so much about the rivalry between Rosemary and Violet. Clutching his arm tightly, digging in just enough to make it uncomfortable, she forced a smile and nodded at the woman. “Well, I am not like the other women in the sense that I do not give in too easily, nor do I indulge his poor behaviour.”

Howl laughed nervously, “She’s a tough one, yes.”

“And where are you two off to this merry day,” Sir Harold said with a smile. “We are off to the palace to dine with the king and the other courtiers to celebrate the safe return of Prince Justin.”

“Yes,” Madam Rosemary said, stepping in to have a good brag. “We received a royal invitation written by the king himself. It was quite flattering really. Madam Violet is not going. Apparently her father is not allowing her to socialise at the moment. She recently got out of a spot of trouble, walking alone in the streets without a chaperone. Last night it was.”

“We were at a birthday celebration,” Howl quickly said, as if he was worried they were accusing him of something. Sophie wanted to laugh but then remembered her own spot of problem last night with the tiger and shivered.

“How delightful,” Madam Rosemary replied with a dramatically posh voice. “Yes, well, she said there were several of them. They attacked her in the middle of the street for anyone to notice. Apparently the sprinkled her own with magic dust, pinning her down to the ground while they did, and then ran off. They sent her to Wizard Suliman but he said the powder was no threat to her and sent her home. Now I ask you what sort of respectable people do that to a nineteen-year-old girl. Disgraceful, even if she is Madam Violet’s daughter. I dread to think what would have happened if it was my Margot!”

Howl made a sympathetic nod and spoke gravely, “And I also. It is a terrible story; let us be grateful that Madam Cynthia was unharmed. But excuse us only we are going to the library, and wish to get there before it becomes too hot.”

“Indeed,” the Madam said, “well we should be off. We would hate to keep his majesty waiting or anyone else at court. Good morning to you, Pendragon.” And the pair strode off like soldiers to war.

As they left another person came over. This man was younger and around the same age as Howl. Just as charming and no doubt as much a hit with the ladies as Howl was. As he approached them he kept his eyes on Sophie and focused a smile on her, as he cried out; “Howell, you old rascal! When was the last time I saw the likes of you here in the square?”

“It’s been a month or so, Joseph,” Howl admitted, motioning at the other two. “This is my apprentice, Michael. And this is Sophie.”

“Sophie,” said Joseph, taking her hand and kissing gently in much the same manner as Alan Smith had. Sophie noticed that Howl didn’t react as hostility to this man as he had to Alan. “I am enchanted with this beauty! Where did you get her, Howl? This jewel seems out of reach even for you. This must one of the prettiest young ladies I have come across in a long while.”

Howl ignored Joseph and explained to Sophie, “This is Joseph Mercy. His father is the Earl of Lamorak. We’ve known each other since my student days with Mrs. Pentstemmon.”

Sophie managed to smile, “Lovely to meet you.”

“Not nearly as lovely as it is to meet you,” the young man protested, holding her hand carefully. Sophie was amazed. It gave her a good idea of what Howl was like around women he was trying to court. He was very charming and handsome without being as flamboyant as Howl. But he wasn’t modest. She couldn’t help noticing that had matching jewels dangling from their right ears. “I cannot believe I never noticed you before. Are you just a visitor to the area, or have you just been hiding away all these years?”

“I come from Market Chipping,” Sophie explained. “That’s where I met Howl.”

“Oh,” Joseph said, looking at Howl with a beam and laughing, “So that’s where you got her! Very pretty and young too; is there anything going on here that I should know about.”

Both Sophie and Howl looked at each other. This time Sophie took control of the situation. It was easy to like to Madam Rosemary but she could tell he was uneasy lying to an old friend who knew him a bit better, “Nothing official.”

“Hmmm,” said the young man, looking into Sophie’s eyes. “Well, I wish you luck, and if this fool jilts you for a lesser woman then come to me and we’ll get married.”

Michael watched the entire scene with amazement. He was curious to find out more about the attack on that young woman. It all seemed too odd. He dared to speak up, “Have you heard what happened to that lady the other night?”

“Indeed I did!” said Joseph, laughing as if it was funny. “When I first found out my father looked at me as if I had done it. I mean really I don’t need to tackle a woman to the ground, and I’m not so desperate that I’d pick up some of old Howell’s leftovers. Well, I make an exception for you, young Sophie.” He gave her another smile before going on, “Anyway, I hear that she wasn’t ravished, or attacked, or robbed. They just knocked her to the ground, gave her a bit of a fight, and ran off after they checked her over with some sort of powder. It is very strange.”

“It could have been a lot worse,” Michael said quietly.

“Yes, he could have found Margot!” Howl threw in, getting a laugh from Joseph but leaving both Sophie and Michael standing feeling left out. Howl changed the subject, “I suppose you’re going to think dinner the king is throwing for Prince Justin, no?”

“Have to,” he replied, “the old man promised he would be there. I’m sure all people will be able to talk about Madam Cynthia, so she’ll be very happy, won’t she?”

Howl nodded, “Well, I best be off. Sophie, Michael and I are off to the library to try and translate something.”

“You can always rely on Howl to show a girl a good time,” Joseph joked before bowing his head and leaving. This time the gang managed to get out of the square without being stopped again. Howl wondered if maybe he had misled Sophie into something. They had told Madam Rosemary they were ‘together’ and Joseph good as assumed. If they knew the whole city would know.

They walked in silence for a little while. Sophie couldn’t help scowling, glancing at Howl, and snorting loud to show she was not impressed with him. It made Howl’s heart pound and he didn’t like it. He’d forgotten what it felt to have a heart. Finally, Sophie began the quiz Howl had been dreading, “So, who is Madam Cynthia?”

He assumed a strong and dignified posture as he walked and talked, “I assure you, my dear, it was not love.”

“It never is with you,” Sophie accused. “You never take into account the feelings of these poor girls, do you?”

That hurt Howl; he liked to think all he ever thought about were Sophie’s feelings these days. He knew deep down she was talking about the before, but part of him worried if it was a hint at her disappointment with their relationship. So far he had not said ‘Marry me’ because there was never the right time. All he could do is spread the news and hope it would eventually lead him to marriage. He thought the problem was that he was shy. He’d never been so shy about a girl but Sophie had slain him.

He wanted to change the subject but Sophie wouldn’t let him, “Odd that this Cynthia was attacked the same night that tiger attacked me.”

Howl groaned and so did Michael, “Not the tiger again!” they chanted.

“Yes, the tiger!” Sophie snapped, going on. “I mean that other girl was attacked but they didn’t hurt her. Just covered her in magic powder decided they didn’t want her any more, and ran off. Why would they do that?”

“Maybe they decided she wasn’t their type,” Howl suggested, not very interested. “They would have run twice as fast if they did get hold of that Madam Margot; she is a sight if ever their was one. Twenty-one and already with grey locks, a sour face and a skinny as her mother it round. She makes Jane Farrier look like Cinderella. Once more she has a personality to match, known for having the worst personality in Ingary, and she’s up against some stiff competition.”

Sophie wondered what he was implying but that but decided not to pursue it. She just went on, “Well, there still may be a link. Two odd things happened on the same night.”

“Alright,” Howl admitted, bringing out a hand to count his fingers, “if what you saw was real and not a figment of your overactive imagination and if Cynthia is telling the truth, which she may not be doing. When I was courting her she kept telling me that the Ambassador of High Norland chased her through the streets with a knife. Poor many was so shocked he nearly fell off his crutches. Just like their mothers Cynthia and Margot are known fibbers for attention. You heard it yourself, Ben Suliman said there was nothing wrong with her when he checked, it may not have happened.”

Sophie snorted, “Fine, how about this. If I see this tiger again or there is another attack of this nature, then will you believe I saw a tiger in the place of flowers?”

“If,” Howl began with a chuckle, “I see the tiger myself then will I believe you saw a blue tiger in the place of flowers. If there is another attack on a young girl similar to what happened here the other night, then I might believe Cynthia wasn’t lying. If I see that a band of blue tigers with magic powder is attacking girls in street, then I’ll believe they are connected.”

Sophie snorted. Howl changed the subject, “We’re nearly at the library!”

“Oh joy,” the girl replied sarcastically. The second great library of Kingsbury was just ahead. The sight of it made Sophie gasp. It was such a beautiful building with two glass domes and one stone dome. Sophie had heard that it was commissioned by King Albert III when the first library burnt down to be the pride and joy of the capital. She’d always wanted to see it as the pictures and drawings in text books just didn’t cut the beauty. “It’s beautiful!” she cried delightedly, changing her tone completely.

And all Howl could do was smile.

 

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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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