|A Year in the Life
Author: Tintinnabula PM
This is the sequel to Waiting. It looks at the year following Sophie's rescue of Howl. Justin returns. Will he ruin things for the young lovers?Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Fantasy - Chapters: 28 - Words: 68,850 - Reviews: 184 - Favs: 122 - Follows: 123 - Updated: 01-06-08 - Published: 09-19-06 - id: 3161816
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 28: In Which There Is a Lover's Spat
Disclaimer: Howl's Moving Castle and the characters portrayed within that book and movie are the sole property of the talented Diana Wynne Jones and Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli. They are not my property.
Author's note: It's taken me a long time to get this posted, and I apologize for that. I've sat on this for a while, because I wasn't happy with how it's written, and because I've been struggling with writer's block as I've considered how I want this story to develop. I've finally worked out an outline I'm happy with, and I will be updating regularly from now on.
Thanks to EbonyDesire for her review of this chapter-- although it was quite some time ago, and she probably doesn't remember. And thanks to those of you who've reviewed and encouraged me to continue. -- sakura
Sophie silently prepared the hot chocolate she'd offered, chopping dark chocolate into small chunks and stirring them into the scalded milk, then adding a bit of sugar and a hint of cinnamon to the mixture. She used the hand-carved molinillo she'd found among the items that furnished the kitchen to whip the liquid, and ladled the frothy, fragrant treat into large earthen mugs. Markl eagerly grabbed his mug from Sophie and wrapped his hands around it, savoring the warmth that quickly entered his cold, reddened hands. Howl took his with a questioning smile. He'd noticed the rigidity with which Sophie held herself, but couldn't figure out why she seemed disturbed.
Sophie ladled a mug of chocolate for herself, then took the chair farthest from Howl. Each time she looked at Howl he did something silly. First puppy dog eyes, then some eye-batting, then a quick air kiss. He knew he was in trouble, apparently. Sophie almost laughed, despite her mood, then quickly decided that the room needed her attention. She focused her efforts at the mess at the bottom of the stairs. A jumble of water-soaked boots lay there, and in an effort to avoid the nausea that would likely greet her should she bend at the waist, Sophie gingerly lowered herself to the pile by half-curtseying, half-genuflecting. She heard a soft snicker as she did so, and this did nothing to improve her mood. She bundled the boots, water-logged mittens and fine leather gloves to her, and carried them up the stairs. She arranged these items on a chair she pulled close to the cookstove, so that they might be dry by the time they were needed again.
She needed some distance, that much was clear to her as she flopped into an arm chair that faced the common room's front window. She leaned forward, resting her chin on the window sill, and looked out at the beautiful winter scene. She had been eager to join Howl and Markl outside, to enjoy for the first time the delights of playing in the snow, but somehow, things had not turned out as she expected. Sophie sighed, and ignored the sound of Howl moving across the room. What made me so angry? she wondered. Was it the fact that Howl had insulted her taste in clothes? No, she realized, it wasn't that. Howl was always clowning around, and to be honest, Sophie had realized the clothes she had worn while in Market Chipping had been much more suitable for a dowdy ninety-three-year-old than for a girl of eighteen. So why had it bothered her so much? And that wasn't the only thing. She found Howl's use of the snow ogre to be troublesome– it seemed as though he were competing, no holds barred, with Markl. And the handkerchief! It was his– she had made it for him, but the way he'd waved it, as though she were his property. That had been the final straw.
She felt Howl's hand on her shoulder, and his chin gently resting on the crown of her head.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"I'm just tired, Howl."
"Hmm." He didn't seem to buy that excuse.
Sophie heard a tinkling, chiming noise like that of a wind chime. Howl jumped. He bounded up the stairs, and slammed a door open, and then, as quickly, came running back down.
"Well," Howl said, a grim smile on his face, "we'll be moving tomorrow. Justin has just arrived in Ingary. Sooner than I would have expected."
Sophie looked at him as he crossed the room to return to her side. The question she intended to ask was telegraphed by the look of surprise on her face. She had thought they wouldn't be on the run– that Howl's plan had obviated that need.
"Sophie, it wouldn't do for Justin to hear that the love of his life is in Ingary, not back in Strangia where he left her."
"Oh. Right." Her dismay was evident.
"It won't be for long. Just until he goes back to his own blessed country."
"Your mother and stepfather are abroad, aren't they? Where did you say they are?"
"I didn't say." Sophie's annoyance was palpable. "My stepfather is a bit of a gambler, apparently. One of his homes is on the Emerald Coast. They'll be there for the next few months."
"Ah." There was a look of recognition on Howl's face. The Emerald Coast was well-known to Ingary's upper crust. The principality was renowned for its casinos and lavish entertainment.
"I take it you've been there." Sophie's voice was a bit acerbic. Of course he's been there! Sophie chided herself. This is Howl we're talking about. How could he resist?
"Actually, no." Howl smiled. "Sorcerers tend not to be welcomed into houses of gambling. But I've heard tell that it's an amazing place. We'll set off for there tomorrow. We won't need to move the portals. I have a feeling Calcifer will be pleased to fly us there." He leaned into her and said quite softly, "And maybe while we're there, we can take our honeymoon. I've planned something really special for us, darling."
Sophie blanched at the thought of seeing her mother on such short notice. Fanny would not be pleased at their elopement. Sophie found herself growing angry again.
"Well, if that's the case, I have work to do." She quickly left her chair and headed upstairs.
...o ...o ...
Sophie leaned over the bed in her old room. Yards of silken green fabric lay neatly folded on the bed, and she'd cut and spread flat on the bed a smaller amount of the yardage. She'd removed her bodice and skirt, and began to pin the outlines of one sewn component to the cloth. It was difficult to use a completed garment as a pattern, more difficult because the pattern pieces that made up a bodice were curved and darted, but it was certainly doable. And she needed to do it. Fanny would no doubt insist on a wedding and fly into a dervish of activity as soon as they arrived. She'd drag Sophie to the finest clothier and insist on a frilly, overdone nightmare of a wedding dress unless Sophie had an alternative to show her, and was adamant to boot. Sophie realized there was little she could do about other aspects of the wedding, of which Fanny would undoubtedly wrest control, but she wanted at least the clothing they wore to be something that she herself liked. Thankfully, Howl's and Markl's shirts were completed.
This wasn't going well. She needed silk pins to avoid making large holes in the fabric. The pins she had were for cotton and somewhat larger gauge. She needed chalk to mark the outlines of the pattern pieces properly. Well there was probably some of that downstairs. She fumed as she worked. Why hadn't Howl mentioned that they'd need to leave the country? Why hadn't he consulted her on their travel plans? Did he really think she was that useless?
Sophie looked up to see Howl in the doorway, staring at her quizzically, but with a certain look in his eye.
"Don't stop on my account," he said wolfishly, as she began to straighten up. "The view from here is enchanting."
Sophie blushed, despite herself. "Is there something I can do for you, Howl?"
"Oh, I just thought we could spend some time together."
"I'm kind of busy, Howl." Sophie pointed to the cloth on the bed. "I really don't want Fanny forcing me into some lacy, white monstrosity."
"Lacy, white, monstrosity?" The purpose for the many yards of green fabric, and for the matching green shirts already made by Sophie's talented hands slowly dawned on Howl. He was suddenly very glad he'd decided against wearing the shirt when he'd found it, days earlier. "She's going to want a wedding, isn't she?"
Sophie nodded vigorously, while leaning back over the bed. "A lavish wedding. With every acquaintance and business relation of the Sacheverell-Smiths in attendance."
"Hmm. Nothing wrong with a lavish wedding. Some people show their love that way, with extravagant gifts. And I certainly would love to show you off." Howl knelt on the bed and pulled Sophie into a gentle embrace.
"I really can't wait to meet the woman. If she's anything like you..."
"She's nothing like me, Howl!" Sophie snapped, smoothing out the fabric Howl had rumpled when he climbed on the bed. She then said more softly, "I'm nothing like her. At least, I hope I'm not."
Howl retreated to the inglenook, and flicked his fingers to start a small fire in the cold fireplace. He crossed his arms in amusement as he looked at his young wife. She was certainly angry about something, but darned if he knew what.
"Would you like to talk about it, Sophie?" he asked gently.
"There's nothing to talk about, Howl. I'm in a bad mood, and I'm pregnant, and undoubtedly the pendulum will be swinging back the other way soon, and I'll be over the moon with joy over something inconsequential. So why bother talking about it?"
"I'd like to talk, Sophie. I'll wait until you're ready." Howl conjured the three-legged footstool that typically sat before Calcifer's fireplace and rested his stocking-clad feet on it, stretching his long legs out as he did so. He yawned theatrically, waving his hand lazily before his mouth as he did so.
Sophie just about growled at him. "Make yourself useful then. Fetch me some chalk."
"Yes, ma'am," Howl said with a grin and a bow, and hurried out of the room.
He returned with several pieces of chalk, some long, some short, and took his seat, watching her actions with interest.
"I had no idea making a garment was such an involved process."
"It usually isn't. One typically starts with a paper pattern, or even better, drapes the cloth over a dress-form."
"Would you like some help? I could..."
"Howl, I want to make this myself. No magic. I want something for that day to be from my hands. Do you understand?"
"Yes. I think I do. But doesn't your back hurt from leaning over like that for so long?"
Sophie started to cry. "Yes, my back hurts. And there's no way I'll get this done on time."
"Well then. We'll delay our arrival. I'm sure we can convince Calcifer to take the scenic route. And if I can't, I'm sure you can. That demon would do anything for you, love." Howl drew close again and pulled her into his arms.
"Close your eyes." Sophie did so, and felt Howl's hands slip under the bottom edge of her corset to massage her back. "I'm guessing it hurts right about here."
"Mmm." Sophie rested her head on Howl's shoulder, as he kneaded the pain away.
"Now stand up straight, and keep your eyes closed."
Sophie did as he requested, and felt Howl's hands lightly touch her from her neck and shoulders, across her back, breasts and ribs, then down to her waist and hips. "What are you doing, Howl?" she murmured.
"Open your eyes and see," he said, the grin apparent in his voice.
"Oh. A dress form." A dress form I didn't ask for.
"You don't like it," he said, a bit surprised.
"No, Howl, it's perfect. It's just what I needed. Thank you." Her affect was flat.
"What's wrong, Sophie?" His voice was gentle, but insistent.
Sophie turned to him, and leaned against him, wrapping her arms around him and breathing in his scent. "You think of everything, don't you?" Her voice was a sad whisper.
"Darling, please tell me. What have I done to make you so sad, so angry?"
"I...nothing, Howl. It's stupid."
"Why won't you talk to me?"
"I already told you. It's just hormones. Things bother me right now that wouldn't normally."
"It's normal to get angry, Sophie. And I really don't care if it is silly or stupid. We need to be able to talk, love."
She didn't reply.
Howl sighed. "Well then. I'll wait until you're ready." He returned to his seat in the Inglenook, and looked at Sophie questioningly.
Sophie removed the many pins from the square of fabric she'd been working on, and began to drape it on the dress form. She'd originally planned on a bodice identical to the one on the robin's egg blue dress Howl had given her, but the use of a dress form opened up other possibilities. She played with the fabric square, noting how it flowed elegantly when held on the bias, and finally decided that a softly draped neckline would use the fabric to its best advantage, and be quite flattering, as well.
She looked up to see Howl looking at her lovingly. She'd been so immersed in her work that she'd thought he'd left. But he was still waiting for her to talk to him. He drummed his fingers on his thigh, and yawned again.
"Will you stay here all afternoon? Is this to become a battle of our wills, Howl?"
"It's evening, Sophie." She looked up and saw that indeed the sun had set. "If that's what it takes," Howl continued, "well then, yes, Sophie, it will be a battle of our wills. And I have no doubt that I'll win."
"Excuse me?" Sophie's voice raised significantly. He had finally pushed her far enough to get a reaction. "Are you really sure you want to know, Howl?" He nodded, smiling at her long-awaited response. "Well, then, I'll tell you. You talk about being selfish, cowardly and vain. And you are vain."
"No contest, there, Sophie." Howl smiled at her sunnily.
"But what you really are, Howl, is arrogant." The smile left his face.
"Yes, Howl. Arrogant, controlling and...puerile!"
"Puerile, Howl. Childish."
"I know what puerile means, Sophie. I had five long years of Latin at the Academy." He looked at her curiously. "Did you?"
She misunderstood and said acidly, "No, Howl. The finishing school I attended would have thought it highly inappropriate for a girl to learn something so academic. Better to learn housekeeping, embroidery, posture, the right way to pour a cup of tea. You know. Things that don't require so much brainpower. I had to beg my father for a subscription to the lending library. But he finally agreed and I read and read until I'd learned my fill."
"Oh." Howl said, trying to smooth things over. "I was just wondering. You have quite a vocabulary for a girl from Market Chipping."
"There's that arrogance. Am I really so inferior to you?" There were tears in her eyes, and she found that she could not stop herself from almost shouting at him.
"You really think I'm... arrogant... and controlling... and puerile?" There was hurt in his voice, and a look of utter shock in his eyes. She really meant it, he could tell.
She did not answer, and averted her eyes.
"But you don't think it's worth talking about. You think it's stupid, actually."
Again there was no answer.
"Well, then." He turned on his heel and quickly left the room.
She heard his light, sock-clad footsteps on the stairs, and the low rumble of a hurried conversation with Markl, then his shoe-clad tread on the stone steps leading to the portal, and the metallic clink of the portal dial. He was gone.
Sophie fell to the bed, sobbing.
This was her mess, she realized after about a half hour. He was right. They needed to communicate openly. But she felt so foolish flying off the handle at every little affront. The pregnancy was making her moody and it was hard to tell which feelings were real, which were important. Obviously, as she saw just a little too late, the feelings she'd just shared with Howl were very important. He shouldn't have had to drag them out of her. Doing so had made things worse. She'd been abrupt. Surely he deserved to hear what she meant. In kinder words.
She rose from the bed and trudged downstairs. Calcifer was back, she noticed.
"Markl's gone to his room. He mentioned something about bringing a snowman to life. Took three huge books with him. Probably weighed as much as he does."
"Calcifer, I'm really sorry for my behavior this morning. I was really upset– not by your words, but because I thought Markl might realize. I worry that he'll feel left out of things, and I don't want that. He's important to me."
"Sophie, why are you crying? I'm not angry. Howl explained it all to me hours ago. Sophie, did Howl upset you? I saw him leave in a hurry."
"Where did he go?"
"I don't know. The portal always turns back to black when he leaves."
"Calcifer, Howl didn't do anything to upset me. I upset him. I was unkind and hurtful. I don't know what's wrong with me. I need to find him, Calcifer."
Sophie grabbed her boots from the chair by the woodstove, and leaned to put them on. Immediately, she was overcome with nausea.
"Great. Just what I need." Sophie staggered to the bathroom, and leaned on the sink, head against the mirrored medicine cabinet. The wave of discomfort passed, and she used a now familiar method to put on her boots, then grabbed the lovely cape Howl had given her that day.
Where would he be? The portal had three settings now. One for the waste, one for the secret meadow, and the one to nowhere/everywhere. Sophie turned the knob and opened the door. It had snowed since earlier in the day, and the snow's surface was untouched. The moon was low and huge in the sky, and its silver light glittered off the refrozen crust of the snow. Sophie shut the door and thought. It he'd used the black portal he could be absolutely anywhere. She hoped he was in the meadow.
Sophie made a heartfelt wish, then turned the knob again, which clunked with a dull thud. A moment later the dial turned. Its metallic clink resonated in her ears. Sophie held her breath and stepped outside. She hadn't realized the meadow was in a different part of the country. But surely it was. The moon was higher in the sky, and it was a bit less cold here. She hoped she wouldn't get caught in a boggy patch, as she remembered that there was no clear path from the portal house to the cottage, just many small, marshy islands. Sophie looked down and immediately realized Howl had been here. A swath of hoar frost lay before her, sparkling brightly in the moonlight as though the meadow had been strewn with diamonds. It was simply beautiful. Sophie followed this path, which led to the cottage, noticing that the center of the swatch had been tread upon. She came to the door and knocked.
"Howl, I'm coming in." There was no answer, but the door opened easily.
The cottage had the musty smell of a house that hasn't been lived in for years. It was colder here than outside. Strange, Sophie thought. The room was lit only by moonlight, but the night was bright and Sophie could see that Howl lay on his back on the small bed that stood in the corner of the room. He was tossing a snowball, and didn't acknowledge her presence.
"Howl," Sophie said with a shiver. Howl extended his hand and casually flicked his fingers. A roaring fire came to life in the room's small stove. Sophie moved gratefully to it, and warmed her hands while she considered her words. "Weren't you cold, Howl?" she looked at him curiously. He had returned to tossing the snowball.
"Cold doesn't bother me. Never has," he replied without looking at her.
It was almost as though he were coated in ice, Sophie thought. As though he'd erected some shell around himself. He was hurting, it was obvious, but he clearly didn't want to talk about it. This was different from the tantrum he'd thrown when she'd ruined his hair color. There were no spirits of darkness. No theatrics. Just a feeling of loneliness and emptiness.
She moved to Howl's side, and leaned in to kiss him. He turned his head away, so that his head faced the wall. She climbed over him and lay by his side, holding his head so that he wouldn't turn away again. She wrinkled her nose as she smelled the mustiness of the sheets and straw mattress that lay below them. Undoubtedly this bed had served as home for more than one small animal while the cottage stood empty. She looked down again, and a feather mattress was under her. Howl gave her a small smile.
"I hope that wasn't too controlling," he said dryly. "I was pretty sure I knew what you were thinking just now." She took the snowball from him, touching his hands as she did so. He was ice cold. Sophie removed her cloak and covered them with it.
"It's how I feel. Cold and empty."
"Howl, I'm sorry. You didn't deserve to hear those awful things I said."
"If it's how you feel, then yes I did deserve to hear that. We're supposed to be honest, Sophie." They were both silent for a moment.
"Sophie, do you really feel that way about me? Am I that horrible to be around?"
Sophie looked into his eyes and saw the pleading there, the fervent wish not to be rejected, but to be loved fully and completely. "What you heard was frustration, Howl. I love you. You know that, don't you? I don't want to be apart from you. I don't want you hurting." She kissed him, and felt his lips like marble, smooth and cold. She was about to pull away when he kissed her back, softly.
"I don't want you hurting, Sophie. But I am hurting you. You wouldn't have said those things if it weren't true."
"Howl, can we start over? Can I tell you what's bothering me without the use of hateful words? Can I tell you everything and give you the context?"
Howl pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. "That's all I want, darling."
"Today you hurt my feelings." He looked at her quizzically. "When you told me my taste in clothes was frumpy."
"That's not exactly what I said, Sophie."
"It doesn't matter. That wasn't what hurt my feelings. What hurt was the realization that you make most of the decisions concerning us. Even about things that would normally be mine to decide– like clothing. You have wonderful taste, darling, but when you make all the decisions about what I wear, it leaves me feeling like a doll. And then later, when you announced we'd be visiting my mother and sisters-- I'm sure your intentions were good–"
"I know you miss them, darling."
"But I should be part of that decision. And even this afternoon, when you decided I needed a dress form--"
"But you did! Didn't it help?"
"Yes, Howl, but that's not the point. You're considerate– you're easily the most considerate, caring person I've ever met." She kissed him. "I mean that, you know. But you must let me help make the decisions. Let me ask for the dress form, instead of you deciding I need it. At least half of the time, let me help."
Howl closed his eyes and thought for a while. Then he looked into her eyes and said, "I rarely try to walk in your shoes. For each of those examples, I was just trying to make you happy. But I can see why you'd find those things controlling. I see now how much it bothers you. This is what you meant by that "great and powerful wizard" comment some time ago, isn't it?"
"You are great and powerful. The problem is that I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You have great power over my heart, Sophie." Howl pulled her tighter and kissed her deeply. "And you are great, darling. You put yourself into everything you do. You've filled our house with love." Howl stroked her hair, and said softly, "You have my promise that I'll share decision-making with you. You deserve it, darling. Now, what about being "puerile"?
Sophie half-smiled. "That one was said in anger. You're not childish, you're childlike. It's something I love about you. I only said it because you kept coming after me, begging me to talk to you. You reminded me of my little sister Martha, begging incessantly for a cookie."
"Some people think tenacity is a good thing."
"Yes, I'd agree. Usually. But not in this particular circumstance." She was quiet for a while, then lowered her eyes and sighed. "In the spirit of complete honesty, I need to revise what I just said. You did act childishly when we were out in the snow. I was surprised by the way you wanted me to side with you against Markl."
"We were only playing, Sophie. And you are my wife. Of course you should be on my side."
"No, Howl, you're wrong." It felt good to say that, Sophie realized. "You and Markl have a different relationship now. He's no longer your apprentice. You're his father, and I'm his mother. Both of us can't side against him at the same time. It's not like we're a bunch of children playing together, all equal in power. Two adults against one child is just not fair, unless we're talking about discipline."
Howl turned away for a moment, lost in thought. Sophie looked at him nervously.
"That was hard for you to say, wasn't it?" Sophie nodded, still apprehensive.
"Thank you for being honest. I'm not sure I agree with you, but you did have a more normal childhood than I did."
"This isn't about winning or losing, is it, Howl?"
"No, of course not. But you are usually right, you know." He smiled slyly at her. "So what about being 'arrogant'?"
"Well, you are, Howl. I don't think there's any denying that." Sophie smiled at him. "And I have to say, usually it doesn't bother me. After all, you are brilliant, you're the most adept wizard in the land, you're handsome, you're charming–"
"I have you."
Sophie hushed him. "Who would fault you for being arrogant?"
"But you're talking about a different type of arrogance, aren't you? How did I hurt you, Sophie? Tell me so I can fix it."
"When did you take that handkerchief? Why did you wave it around like I was some kind of prize?" She was angry again, as angry at this one action as she had been about everything else that had transpired that day.
Howl was a bit stunned by the anger in her eyes. And then he suddenly remembered a comment she had made weeks before. He'd given her his sapphire pendant, and she'd seemed sad at not having a gift for him in return. The handkerchief was that gift, he realized. She'd poured herself into it– it had obviously taken many hours to embroider. He'd have banged his head against the wall if she hadn't been in the way.
"I just now realized, Sophie, that it wasn't mine to take. And I certainly shouldn't have waved it around like I did. But I do have an explanation. Not an excuse, mind you, an explanation. When you were with Justin, and I finally finished the spells to fix that wizard problem we were having, I knew I'd need to search for you. To do so, I needed something of yours. All of your clothes were gone, except for that hideous thing Justin had bought you. I did find some of your underthings in your chest of drawers, but I wasn't even sure you'd ever worn them– they didn't smell like you–"
"Of course they didn't smell like me. They were clean, Howl." Sophie rolled her eyes.
"Well, I was pretty sure they wouldn't work to scry you, so I went into our bedroom, and happened across the handkerchief. You'd stuffed it behind a pillow and it announced itself to me rather sharply. Howl's hand moved inadvertently to his rump, and Sophie giggled. I knew it would work perfectly– it was something that belonged to you, as it was your handiwork, and I only needed to remove two small threads from the hem. Then, once I scryed you, I didn't want to leave the handkerchief behind. And I was glad I didn't. I looked at it constantly while I was in that jail cell. And I've kept it with me, since then. I couldn't help myself."
"Let me finish it, and I'll give it to you properly."
"I can be a bit dense, Sophie, but please know that I don't think of you as my property. You're not a doll to me, you're not a plaything, or something to parade before others to show my success. You know, when I said I wouldn't mind showing you off at a big wedding, that's not what I meant. What I meant was that I want the world to see how happy we are, how happy you've made me, and I want the world to see just how special you are."
With that, his lips crushed hers in a kiss that demonstrated his commitment, his love and his fears.
"Don't leave me, Sophie. Don't stop loving me." Howl's voice trembled as he spoke.
"Howl, I promise. That will never, never happen. I'll never stop loving you."
They kissed again, slowly and softly. Then Sophie broke it off with a laugh.
"You dreamed about me in this very bed. Didn't you, years and years ago?"
Howl smiled. "Yes. Almost every night. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"