Title: Heel for Heel and Toe for Toe
Author: The S
Featured characters: Sophie, Howl, Morgan, Mari, Megan,
Gwyneth Rose Jenkins
Arthur P. Jenkins
Hywel Jenkins, Jr.
Miss Elisabeth Mari Jenkins
Author's Note: This takes place nearly 20 years after Howl's Moving Castle ends.
Heel for Heel and Toe for Toe
Mobilising the Jenkins family was no easy task. Two and a half bathrooms were never enough to get everyone out of the house in less then two hours, even in the direst of emergencies. And at the end of two hours, it was usual that Morgan and Gwyneth would have to be separated before they killed one another. Then it would take another ten minutes to coax Arthur out from under the stairs, and three more after that to convince Hywel Junior that no indeed, his amphibious pet of the week did not need to come along on the family outing. Little Lisa was never any bother at all, compared to her older siblings -- unless one counted the fact that, on an average day, not even a crowbar could pry her from around her father's neck.
Sophie shook her head and wiped little Hywel's face for the third time in ten minutes. He would keep getting mud on it somehow when she wasn't looking. No doubt a pocket check was called for, but as she could see Howl was having no luck with Arthur, she decided it was time for a new strategy. "Switch!" Her husband immediately abandoned the stairs and came to stand in front of his youngest son, putting hands on his hips at the sight of cherubic, freckled cheeks which had become muddy once more. Well, one hand made it to his hip, the other was being tenaciously clung to by a most persistent devotee.
"Daddy," Elisabeth Mari Jenkins said in her most polite voice.
"Junior, WHERE on earth is that mud coming from?"
Having been unsuccessful in getting the attention she craved, Lisa tried a different approach. "DADDY!" she bawled. "WOULD YOU PLEASE ADMIRE MY LOVELY NEW FROCK!"
Meanwhile, Sophie climbed to the fourth stair and peered through at her much-beleaguered middle child. "All this noise is rather disconcerting, isn't it?" she asked, sympathetically.
"Dreadful," came the highly disapproving response. "Mum, WHY must they always carry on so?"
Sophie snaked a hand through the stairs to smooth a persistent cowlick. "Because, dear, they're Jenkinses. And I'm afraid that's what Jenkinses do."
Arthur P. Jenkins, age 8, folded his arms and did his best to scowl like a mature man of 42. "I'm a Jenkins, and I don't behave that way."
A second maternal arm slipped through the gap to straighten his clip-on bow tie. "No, you're really more of a Hatter," Sophie told him, soothingly. "We're perfectly happy to sit quietly by ourselves. We don't crave the spotlight like Jenkinses do."
"I wish I could bring a book," Arthur said, sulkily.
"How awfully rude that would be to your cousin Mari, Arthur, reading a book at her wedding."
Her second son hung his head. "Sorry, Mum."
"Don't be," she sighed. "I have a feeling this trip is going to be quite taxing for both of us." As if to prove her point, angry adolescent voices rose in the hall.
"I said GEROFF!"
This was followed by a familiar sing-song jeering. "Morgan smudged his make-up! Morgan smudged his make-up!"
"Stop nudging my elbow while I'm trying to get ready, you great--" Arthur's ears were deftly covered just in the nick of time.
"Morgan!" Sophie cried. "Language!"
"Mum! Tell Pimple to leave me alone!"
Sophie sighed and put a hand over her eyes in exhausted frustration. A sudden weight settling into her lap caused her to look up. Arthur smiled up at her and offered a hug of comfort. "Jenkinses," he said, knowingly. Sophie's laugh was drowned out by a draconic roar from the hall.
"GIVE ME BACK THAT MASCARA'R OR I SWEAR I'LL--!"
"Morgan Thomas Jenkins! You will not use magic on your sister!" Sophie peered around the stairs to see Howl had inserted himself between their two eldest. Even his rebellious teenage son had difficulty standing up to those furious green eyes. "Use my mascara if you must, but for heaven's sake, let's get moving! I'm supposed to give the bride away some time this year!"
"Howl," Sophie put in, gently. "You're shouting."
"Am I really!" Howl shouted. "How extraordinary!" He turned to face the front room, bellowing, "Everyone to the car!" A mad rush and scuffle for the door ensued. In moments, Howl and Morgan were the only two human beings left in the house -- Hywel Junior's pet garter snake was slithering with relief across the stone floor which had just been vacated by dangerously stomping feet.
"Tad!" Morgan whined. "I said I'm not ready."
Howl offered him a paternal shoulder-pat and leaned in, confidentially. "A real man learns to put on his cosmetics in a moving vehicle." He handed his son a vial of mascara. "Come on. No more melodramatics. This is Mari's big day." Morgan made a choked noise of despair but followed his father out to the yard.
The Jenkins family car was a Frankenstein monstrosity made up of Howl's old Mini and various odds and ends from the yard's usual clutter of sheet metal, tangled wire, and transport spells. At Sophie's insistence, the finished product had been made child-safe, and at Howl's insistence, it had been made somewhat less of an eyesore. The end result still looked more like a clown car than a chic sedan, but it was perfectly adequate for inter-dimensional travel with the family, and there was plenty of room for all seven of them -- though Lisa and little Hywel had to sit on a special rise above and behind the seat which the eldest three children shared.
"Mum!" Arthur cried, trapped between the warring factions of Gwyneth and Morgan. "I want to sit up front with you and Tad!"
"Sorry, draig bach," Howl told him as he climbed into the driver's seat. "We've the gifts up here, for now. I promise you'll ride with us on the way back."
"Mum!" Arthur bleated in distress as his older brother and sister began to jab at one another over and around (and sometimes through) him. Sophie whirled around in her seat.
"Morgan, you are sixteen years old. Act your age. Gwyneth, if you continue to start fights with your brother, we'll leave you behind and you can have chores to do instead. Is that clear?" The power of her stern blue eyes pushed them back into their seats.
"Yes, MOTHER," they responded in sulky adolescent chorus. When she turned back around, they both gave the tattle-tale in the middle a good jab.
"Ow!" Arthur removed his spectacles and pretended to clean them, subtly wiping his eyes so that they would not torture him further when they saw he was crying. A familiar handkerchief suddenly presented itself to him for this purpose.
As the quiet boy took it from him, Howl told his passengers, "All right, brood, you know the drill: heads, hands and feet inside the car at all times and kept to yourselves." He eyed his two eldest, meaningly. When they feigned innocence, he cast the spell that strapped everyone in, making sure Morgan's and Gwyneth's shoulder belts were especially tight. Then he turned and started the engine with a bang and a roar. Lisa squealed and applauded.
"Wait, wait!" Howl held up one hand and met the blue eyes of his youngest son in the rearview mirror. "Junior. Put that frog back in the garden where he belongs."
His namesake's influence showed as the red-haired boy held up empty hands, doing a six-year-old Shakespeare's best job of acting. "What frog, Dad?"
Sophie sighed, exasperated, and turned around, reaching through the seats and over older children to pluck it from his pocket. "This one, Hywel." She opened the door and deposited it on a lone clump of grass in the cluttered yard. "Now you're not to dry out while we're gone, nor get crushed when we come back, do you hear that, frog?" It croaked, apparently acknowledging the order.
"Mr. Hop!" little Hywel cried in despair.
"Mr. Hop will be waiting for you when we return this evening," Sophie told him crossly as she took several moments to gather the skirt of her holiday gown back inside the car. "And you are not to lie to your father." She turned to point a commanding finger at him. The boy's neck shrank into his shoulders, as he nodded, humbly. "Even if turn-about is fair play," she muttered, settling herself in the front seat once more. When the car did not begin to move, Sophie looked over at the driver. Howl was staring at her, a certain familiar aggravating smirk quirking his lips. "What?" she asked, still cross. "It's true."
Howl leaned slowly toward her. "Have I told you just how ravishing you look in that dress?" There issued a chorus of cries from the back seat at this.
"Daddy, kiss ME!"
Sophie responded as if she had not heard any of these complaints. "No, you haven't," she said tersely, turning to look coyly out the window instead of at her husband, who was getting nearer and nearer. "I believe you were too busy complimenting your own reflection this morning to bother."
"Then please allow me to express my deepest apologies for that unforgivable oversight by showing you the depth of my admiration." Sophie turned round just as Howl leaned in to kiss her. Bedlam erupted in the back of the car.
"Great gods above, if you would only hear my plea and put an end to this..."
"Oh EW! Ewch! Kack!"
"Daddy, Daddy! Kiss me, too! Me! Me!"
Their kiss had to be cut short before anarchy ensued. As Howl put the car in gear, Sophie silenced their unwilling audience with a look. "I know, I know," Howl commiserated with them. "How utterly appalling to have two parents who are still in love with one another. You must be the only children in school." Sophie smiled and lay her head on his shoulder, taking his hand as they performed the transport spell together.
With a whuff and a bang, the Jenkins family was rattling down Cardiff Road into the Cynon Valley. "Oooo!" Lisa exclaimed, young enough to be able to express the children's sense of wonder aloud without fear of being embarrassed.
Sophie stared out the windshield in surprise. "My goodness! It's not raining!" Howl's smug silence told her all she needed to know. "Really, Howl! A weather spell in Wales? You'll exhaust yourself."
"Tut, tut, my love." He patted her knee. "All for sake of Mari. I shall be fine." Sophie snorted in dissent but did not pursue the topic further.
To outward eyes, it was a sleek minivan that pulled up to the little chapel on the square a few minutes later. Howl helped Sophie out before beginning to unload children. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'm going to go see if Mari needs help with any last minute adjustments." Then she turned to the car's occupants. "Gwynnie, you're in charge of Hywel and Arthur. Elisabeth, do not make your father wear you as a scarf please, this is church."
"Yes, Mummy!" the curly-haired angel chirped from the back seat. Gwyneth merely sighed, looking martyred, before wiping Hywel's face again. As Sophie turned to go, Howl caught her hand and pulled her back so abruptly that she lost her balance and collided with him.
"I'll miss you," he murmured. Sophie smiled adoringly and gave him a quick kiss before leaving, lest the peanut gallery start its heckling again.
Mari looked radiant in the gown Sophie had just finished for her last week. As Sophie entered the vicar's office-turned-dressing-room, Mari rushed over to her and clasped her hands. "Auntie!" she cried with relief. "I was afraid you wouldn't make it in time."
Sophie smiled. "Oh Mari! You look gorgeous!" She held her at arm's length to get a better look. Mari's rosy cheeks grew rosier still at the compliment. "And you know we always do, even if only just."
A dimple appeared in her niece's cheek, accompanied by a distinctly Jenkins twinkle in her eyes. "Well, there was my graduation..."
"I know, dear. And we're still sorry for that, but Arthur insisted on being born just then. Your uncle did try to talk him out of it…" They both laughed.
"You know I was only teasing," Mari said.
Just then, Megan stepped forward from the shadows, clearly not happy at having been excluded from the mirth. "Sophie."
Sophie felt as though a storm cloud had just moved in front of the window. If Megan would just try to be a little friendlier, it wouldn't be so easy to leave her out. "Megan," she replied stiffly, by reflex.
Mari tried to break the tension. "Auntie, would you braid these flowers into my hair? Bethan did it earlier, but they won't stay."
"Of course, dear." Mari sat down in front of the full length mirror and chattered at the two family matriarchs as they made what might pass for a cooperative effort. As Megan handed her the flowers, one by one, Sophie gave the stems a deft little twist and told them they were going to stay in. When a lull in Mari's nervous one-sided conversation stretched on toward an uncomfortable silence, Sophie attempted to fill it.
"I don't envy you today, Megan. I can't even think of the day we'll have to give away our Gwyneth. A daughter's wedding day has to be one of the worst days of a mother's life." Sophie wasn't quite sure why she'd said that. Mostly it was out of desperation to fill that silence. But she realised it was all wrong, as soon as it was out of her mouth. She looked up at her sister in law, regretfully, thinking to change the subject, when a strange sound suddenly issued from the older woman, a sound not unlike what a dying goose might make or a trumpet that has not been given quite enough air.
"Excuse me," Megan said hoarsely before fleeing the room, tears beginning to drip down her cheeks.
Mari watched her go, both concerned and vaguely mystified. "Poor Mother."
Sophie patted her on the shoulder. "I'll go make sure she's all right." She tried to sound reassuring, but Sophie was not at all certain she was up to the task. She had never gotten on with her sister-in-law. If only Howl were here. Nevertheless, Sophie left the room, determined to do something to fix things.
The door had hardly shut behind her when a tall figure dressed in mourning slipped into the room. Morgan rushed to Mari's side, kneeling in front of her and taking her hands in his own. "Mari." He looked into her eyes for some moments without saying more, his stricken, grieving expression speaking volumes of adolescent anguish. "How can you do this to me?" A heavy tear dropped from his long eyelashes to roll down his milk-white cheek.
Mari knew Morgan well enough to know he was not joking. Melodrama was his normal mode of expression. "Oh, Morgue. Can't you just be happy for me? I'm getting married!" She said it light-heartedly, but her words only upset him further. Morgan shook his head, closing his eyes as several more tears fell.
"Yes, to that boorish Englishman! Why, Mari? Why? I love you ten times as much as he does!"
Mari smiled regretfully. "I love Jamie, Morgue."
"Stop calling me that!" he cried, flinging her hands back into her lap in a fit of temper. "We're not friends! I love you! Desperately!" He slumped sideways and stared tragically at the floor. "Oh why couldn't you wait for me, Mari?"
Mari's eyes were tender as she replied, "Morgan. You are my cousin. And you're not in love with me."
"Yes I am!" he declared, impetuously. "You're all I think about when I lie awake at night. You and that--!" He vociferously cursed the English in Welsh.
Mari's smile widened a bit, and the Jenkins twinkle returned to her eye. "You've been practicing."
To show he had been, Morgan continued in Welsh. "Ydw. I'd do anything for you, Mari. Even move to this dreadful world." His skull earring dangled disapprovingly as he cast a distasteful look around the room, as if it somehow encompassed this entire universe. Then he turned back to her, his eyes desperate again. "Just stop this madness. Say you won't leave me."
Mari looked earnestly into his eyes and laid her free hand against his smooth cheek. If things had been different… Certainly, there had been times in all of their adventures together, the thought had come. But Morgan was destined for a much more exciting life than she, not to mention a life very full of women closer to his own age. Having inherited his father's cheekbones and chin and his mother's eyes and perfect skin, it was a wonder he wasn't beating them off with a stick already. "Morgan," she said. "'yn cariad i. Don't you see? That's what you're really afraid of. You don't have to pretend you're in love with me to get me to stay. I'm not going anywhere."
"You will!" he mewled in despair. "I know you will! He'll take you off to Norfolk or Glasgow, and we'll never see you again except in photographs at Christmas!" He leaned his head against her bosom and wept.
Mari stroked his long, fine hair, which was tinted, just like his father's, though black where Howl's was bleached fair. "And if we do, I'll just have Uncle Howell build a gateway in my broom closet, and you can still come visit whenever you like."
"Don't lie," Morgan sobbed, eyeliner leaving muddy tracks down his cheeks. "You're going to be—" he hiccupped, dreading to say the word. "Newlyweds soon!"
"That's right," Mari replied calmly, petting his shoulder soothingly. "And I'll thank you not to come through that broom closet on our honeymoon." Morgan pulled away to gape at her in horror, and Mari could not restrain a laugh.
"You mock my pain!" he cried, pressing his hand to his heart.
"I would never," she told him, bending down to dab at his black-smudged eyes with a tissue. "There was a time you'd have laughed right along with me."
Morgan clutched her wrist and pressed his cheek against her hand, like a mournful cat. "Oh, Mari. Just promise me you won't let him take you away from us."
She smiled gently and placed a kiss on his forehead. "No one will ever take me away from my family. Jamie will adjust to our madness, in time. Who knows? Perhaps I'll even convince him to move to Ingary one day." Morgan's tearful eyes looked up at her, hopeful.
"Just give me a little more time, peacock."
He snotted a half-laugh into the tissue. "Cwcw. You haven't called me that in a long time."
She smiled and smoothed his hair away from his face. "You looked like you needed it."
A knock at the door startled them both. "Ugly!"
"Gwyn!" Morgan snarled, switching back to Inglish for a good shouting at his sister. "Don't call me that. And go away!"
Unfazed, Gwyneth stuck her head in a moment later. "Ugly, Father's looking for you. And he's not happy."
"Fine, now just go away!"
His sister shrugged and danced back a step or two, sing-songing, "Ugly's i-in trub-ble, he looks like a raccoo-oon…"
"Gwyn, SHUT UP!" Morgan roared, leaping to his feet and flinging a spell at her. She shut the door just in time and giggled triumphantly from the other side as the wood blistered and bowed until it looked like the ghost of Jacob Morley. "Curse this stupid world!" Morgan swore. "At home I could've easily blown right through that door."
"And killed your own sister," Mari thought it prudent to point out as she looked dubiously at the disfigured door. "I shouldn't think Vicar Collins is going to like that."
"Oh, I'll fix it," he said sulkily, before turning back to her with big, blue puppy-dog eyes. "Do I really look horrible, Mar?"
"Come here, peacock." Mari tried to feign a longsuffering sigh, but ruined it by smiling in the middle. Morgan came to sit in front of her, her obedient baby brother once more. She carefully scrubbed away his tear stains and make-up tracks. "Shame on you for coming gothed-up to my wedding anyway," she chided him, teasing.
"Goth isn't just a fashion trend…" he began.
"It's a way of life," she finished along with him. They looked at one another for a beat and then burst out laughing. Mari threw her arms around him and pulled him close for a fierce, lung-crushing hug.
"Can you be happy for me now, cariad?"
He kissed her on the cheek, careful not to leave any make-up behind. "I suppose…just for you." His smile was that of the adoring four-year-old she'd convinced to eat mud pies twelve years ago.
"Good boy." Mari was just reaching out to squeeze his hand when the door exploded in a shower of splinters which, curiously, harmed nothing. Not so curiously, Howl stepped into the room just afterward.
"Why, this door's ruined!" he declared.
"Uncle Howell!" Mari shrieked, leaping up to throw herself into his arms.
"Cariad!" Howl clasped her to him, looking as if he might cry before they even started down the aisle. But the glossiness of his eyes disappeared suddenly when they fell on his eldest, turning intense, like two green searchlights. "Where have you been, young man?"
"He's been here with me," Mari answered, before Morgan could stutter out a response. "Helping me get through my last-minute wedding jitters."
"Ah. Well. All right, then." Her doting uncle was mollified by this response.
Morgan smiled timidly as he passed them on his way out. "Good luck, cwcw." He kissed her on the cheek and left.
"Make sure Lisa keeps those rose petals in the basket until it's time, Morgan," Howl called after him. "She will keep trying to put them on her bonnet," he explained to Mari.
Howl fussed with his niece's hair, casting a clean-up spell over the eye make-up smudges on the front of her gown. "Where on earth is Sophie?"
"She made mother cry," Mari explained, holding her arms out from her sides so that her uncle could restore her to her bridal glory of half an hour ago.
"I should have known." Howl suppressed a smile at this news as he picked up the flowers for her hair. With a few flicks of his finger, they flew through the air to nestle into her braids, one by one.
"Mum's just overemotional today." Mari clasped her hands in her lap and tried not to giggle as she watched the flowers shooting into her hair in the mirror.
"She's not the only one." Howl looked vaguely tearful again, now they were alone.
"Oh, Uncle Howell." She reached back to squeeze one of his hands.
He bent down and met her eyes in the mirror, smiling. "You look beautiful, cariad." Mari smiled back, grown a bit teary herself.
"I only wish Dad could be here to see." Howl wrapped his arms around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.
"None of that, now; not on this happy occasion. I feel certain Gareth wouldn't want that." Mari sniffled into a fresh tissue. "Besides." He leaned back and tucked a few loose strands back into place. "Who's to say he isn't looking down on us right now?"
Mari whirled around and clung to her uncle for a moment, burying her face in his velvet jacket. Howl was still rubbing her back, soothingly, when Sophie appeared in the doorway.
"What have you done now, Howl?" she demanded. But Sophie showed she had a better grasp of the situation than her words indicated by immediately walking over and putting her arms around both of them. "I think they're ready for you, love," she whispered after a moment.
"Oh, goodness!" Mary stepped back, dabbing at her eyes. "It can't be time already."
"Just wait until you're married," Howl muttered. "There's no such thing as the right time for anything, then." Mari laughed as Sophie swatted him.
They both helped her clean up and put on her veil. When Mari was ready, Sophie turned to smooth and straighten her husband. As she pulled his jacket down in back, he growled softly, "Do that again when we're alone, and you'll see what happens." Sophie did not respond verbally, instead stepping back and drawing forth a large silk handkerchief from her cleavage. She handed it to him with a smirk of triumph as Howl swallowed, eyes riveted to the handkerchief's point of origin.
"Try not to blubber, darling." She stood on tip-toe to give him a brief kiss. Howl pulled her close and turned it into something far more passionate than a middle-aged couple preparing to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary had a right to share.
Mari giggled. "You two."
When Howl finally let go of Sophie, who had gone quite pink in the interim, she stumbled a little without his arms to support her. Howl took full advantage of his turn to smirk. "Try not to trip, darling." Refusing to acknowledge her defeat, Sophie briefly shook herself before clasping her hands together and walking primly away, pretending as if nothing had happened.
At the door, she turned to smile back at Mari, slowly beginning to return to her proper colour. "You do look just perfect, Mari love." Her eyes grew deceptively cold as she cast a stony glance at her husband. "Howl." She turned and went into the chapel without another word.
"Gods above and below, I love that woman!" he declared with a tone and enthusiasm which told he had a bit more than love on his mind at the moment.
Mari smiled, fond. "If Jamie and I are half as happy as you and Aunt Sophie, I'll call it a successful marriage."
Howl turned and offered her his elbow as the processional began to play. "You will be happy, cariad. Ecstatically. I promise you." Smiling, radiant, she slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. "Or I'll hunt that blockhead down and beat him senseless!" Howl added, as they stepped off together.
Translations of the Welsh:
Tad – "Dad"
Draig bach – "little dragon," literally "dragon little"
Ydw – Literally "I am/I do." There is no simple word for "yes" in Welsh. Questions are answered with the appropriate form of "to be/to do." My understanding is that the present tense works for yes and no questions in past tense. If there's a more proficient Welsh-speaker out there than I am, feel free to beat me with a wet noodle if I've screwed up.
'yn cariad i – My love/sweetheart/darling
cwcw – cuckoo
FurtherNotes: This fic was inspired by the traditional Irish folksong, "Mairi's Wedding." The title is drawn right from the lyrics, as is one of Howl's lines of dialogue earlier on.
My Morgan muse is very strong. I wouldn't be surprised if I write more pieces for him in the future. But don't ask me for updates. This is a stand-alone piece, and as far as I'm concerned, it's finished.