I should warn you, that my Howl is a bit more wicked than Miyazaki's. His Howl was a heart throb, but a little too perfect to relate to completely, I feel. I hope you enjoy it. Please R & R. I live for your praise.
Ah yes, I don't pretend to own anything in this story. I'm very enlightened that way. I'm sure you're all very impressed by my maturity concerning this matter. Thanks to Diana Wynne Jones and Miyazaki for enabling this colossal waste of my young life. No, really.
It was eight o'clock in the morning. That was really late for Sophie. But she imagined it couldn't be helped. Things had changed. She simply hadn't adjusted to them yet. Beside her on the floor the Witch of the Waste snored, whom Sophie had affectionately nick-named, "Dubbie"--after her initials. It had been only a week since Howl had regained his heart, a week since prince Justin had returned to himself. Although technically their would be a truce while the two governments discussed their terms of peace, the war still raged on in petty skirmishes along the boarder.
Sometimes, Howl had reasoned before he left, it takes a long time for changes at the head to be felt in the rest of the body. Or changes in the heart, she had added silently. Sophie feared that the Prince's peace would not hold, that the two countries would continue to fight, regardless of their accords, the friction of their continued encounters fueling more and more conflict before the thing spiraled out of control, becoming unstoppable, not unlike the Perpetual Motion machine that she had read about in one of Howl's less enigmatic books.
Sophie thought of the night she had first read of the endless motion device. The concept had frightened her. She had been sitting at the table across from Marcl, who was sorting out some tincture, when Howl had sauntered into the room. So rapt in the book had she been that she didn't notice him until she felt the heat of his body on her back as he leaned over her shoulder, his hair tickling her cheek.
As always when he was this close to her, she found that she couldn't breath. Still in her old woman's body, she had scolded herself at the time for entertaining the thoughts that danced across her mind every time he came close After all he was a young man, and she was…well, herself. Howl had long since learned to see past the Dubbie's enchantment of course, but Sophie was still blissfully unaware of this.
"What are you educating yourself about tonight, dear old Sophie?" Howl asked, his smooth voice teased as always, piquing her irritation with its content as its playful melodies soothed her, making her want to continue listening endlessly. If only she could tune out his meaning, but not his sound, she thought.
"Something truly terrifying," she responded, turning the page.
Howl scanned the text over her shoulder.
"Perpetual motion? What's so upsetting about that?" he asked, smiling, aware of the way she slouched away from him into the book as he leaned forward toward her. How he enjoyed teasing this little mouse, it was really a bit sinful, but he found that he couldn't and didn't want to help himself.
"Oh...well," Sophie cleared her throat, endeavoring to maintain a level tone with him so near her. "It's just that, I can't really imagine anything that needs doing that I want done constantly, and forever!"
"What do you mean?" he asked, not quite following her reasoning.
To his pleasure he watched her face slacken in wonderment at his incomprehension. She turned, facing him, driving him to release the table on either side of her and step back.
"What do you mean, "What do you mean?" Howl, how do you make it stop?"
She watched his nose crinkle and his eyes close in that insufferably cute way that meant she was about to be laughed at, which she subsequently was.
"Sophie, my dear, that's not the point is it? It's supposed to be perpetual!"
"Yes, but…these examples…a grist-mill that keeps milling indefinitely, without outside power? What happens if you run out of wheat to make into flour? It will begin wearing the very stone away, never stopping. What a mess!"
"Leave it to you to think only in terms of "mess." But I see your point. However, I don't think "perpetual" means that you can't turn it off," he told her, although honestly he'd never thought that deeply about it himself. "Even if that were the case, however, think of other things that you might like to keep going, like a watch that never needs to be wound, or a light house that turns constantly?"
"Well, yes," Sophie flushed, apparently she had misunderstood, as she so often did. Apparently "perpetual" in this case did not mean "perpetual" exactly, but only in certain select senses. "But I still think it's a dangerous idea," she rallied.
"But it could revolutionize everything! Don't be so pessimistic!" Howl continued, ignoring the tone in her voice that said "leave well enough alone." "Subway cars that don't need fuel, trains that don't need coal! Fires that don't need…"
Calcifer took this as his cue to chime in.
"Aha! Sounds fine for you, Howl," he cried from the grating. "You wouldn't need me around that's for sure. A fire that doesn't need to be fed! I don't ask for much you know!"
Calcifer huffed, inexplicably offended by Howl's enthusiasm for what was little more than the pipe dream of some machinist.
"It doesn't exist Calcifer, calm down," Howl sighed, leaving the table and Sophie to console the demon with a log.
"You've gone and hurt his feelings, now," Sophie scolded him, but not unkindly, and then she muttered, as if to herself. "Endless, forever, and at no cost! Such a thing is against nature. Mankind can be so greedy."
"Humankind," Howl had corrected her as he stoked Calcifer's embers. "Humankind, you mean, dear Sophie."
The sound of an especially robust snuffle from the old woman brought Sophie out of her thoughts and back to reality. Sophie noted that she seemed to be more and more preoccupied lately. But in her defense there wasn't much to do up here besides be preoccupied with one's thoughts.
Marcl, Dubbie, Calcifer and Sophie had been residing in Howl's cottage up in the mountains for the past three days. She had not seen hide nor hair, nor feather for that matter, of Howl since he had left two days after regaining his heart. How Sophie had hounded him not to go, to stay and rest. But he would have none of it, claiming that he had business to attend to, and pointing out that what little food they had would not last forever.
She had quipped that business had never stopped him from slacking off before then, so why should he start living straight now? To this he had only replied meaningfully that he now had certain "obligations" that weighed upon him.
And so she had watched him part, in winged form, as they had no magic door to rely on for quick transport any more. She could still remember the leathery sound of his black wings stretching, the susurration of feather against feather swishing in the frigid air of morning as he leapt into the sky, the Wizard Solomon's little dog Heen tucked away in a leather satchel suspended from his neck. She and Marcl had watched his figure fade into the pale pink light of morning before he passed out of sight behind the mountains to the East.
"Marcl," she had asked finally, the question that had been weighing upon her subconscious mind for weeks now took form. "Is Howl a man, I mean a human?" She had looked down at the young boy, whom she considered to be her own little brother.
"Yes, of course he is Sophie!" he had replied, his face screwed up in a look that seemed to suggest that she was mad to ask in the first place. "Especially now," he added.
"Why now?" Sophie asked.
"He has his heart back," he replied. "It's what ties him to his human form."
"And the bird…form, what is that?"
"Well," Marcl explained, obviously enjoying instructing his elder. "Each wizard has an element, like air. That's Howl's, you see. That's why he can take that shape. Howl says that magic, is kind of like….borrowing."
"Borrowing?" she asked as she took his hand and led him back into the house.
"Yeah, people don't really have power, they need to get it from somewhere."
Sophie stopped dead in her tracks.
"Oh no!" Sophie wailed. "This doesn't mean that there's another demon that I don't know about, does it?" Sophie wondered frantically what other organs Howl might have leant out…his liver? A kidney? Or perhaps his brain? This might explain some things….
Marcl had just laughed, in an infuriatingly Howl-like manner, at her ignorance.
"No, you got it all wrong. The element chooses you, and you get to use its power if you know how to. Howl knows how to use his really, really well."
"Do you have an element, Marcl?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. "But I don't know quite what it is yet," he replied. "It's probably wind, most men use wind."
"Oh," Sophie didn't know what to say to any of this.
"It was dangerous to use his power before Howl was whole again," Marcl continued as he helped her clean up the table after their early breakfast. "The wind part can take over a person, if he's not all there and he uses it too much. Changing completely into an agent of wind means you become really powerful, but at a cost."
"A cost?" she said as she scraped the crumbs off Howl's plate into the rubbish bin.
"Yeah, you can't turn back," Marcl replied, darkly.
"Then that bird…"
"If you hadn't saved him, Sophie. He would have been that way forever," Marcl said, answering her unspoken question. Sophie was stunned for an instant, the gravity of this statement sinking in, before anger took over.
"That idiot! I'll never forgive him!" she raged, slamming the dishes into the sink as she began to pump the tap furiously, bringing water up from the well and into the sink. She had known that Howl had been in mortal peril, but she had not really understood its implications.
"Don't be angry Sophie!" Marcl implored, alarmed by her response. "He was only trying to protect us!"
"And a damn good thing I stopped him!" she fumed. The arrogance, the stupidity! She resolved then and there to give him a piece of her mind when he got back.
Over the next three days, Sophie had tried her best to hold on to that fury, but now she found that her heart was filled only with loneliness, and a sense of expectancy and dread for what things would be like when he returned.
Sophie suspected that she loved him terribly. But now that he was his own man and had his heart again, now what? She was no longer a wizened old woman either, their living arrangements weren't exactly "proper" by the standards of Market Chipping. No more passing as "Granny." Would she have to leave them all? Would Howl want her to? Or could they keep on going as they had before? She--harmless and sexless, and he, well…wonderful and perfect and completely untouchable, but safe now, and the same as always.
There was a part of her that was bold enough to offer up the possibility that she wouldn't be satisfied with things staying the same, a part which she quickly squashed. Between the options of her leaving and things staying the same between Howl and she, these being the only two options Sophie was prepared to imagine, she much preferred to stay with him. Even if he never returned her feelings, and she pined away, slowly becoming the old wretched woman she had so recently been. Just to be near him, that was all she really wanted, or so she tried to tell herself.
Sophie grumbled, rising from the mattress on the floor and rubbing her back. Old she may no longer be, but the cold of the valley seemed to leach into her bones in the morning, making her body ache. She smiled at Calcifer, who was still slumbering in his bed of coals. She picked up a log from beside the fire place and put it close to him, within reach should he wake up soon.
The tiny cottage had already been scoured clean. After the excitement of the last battle, there simply hadn't been much for the four of them to entertain themselves with while they waited for Howl's return.
Marcl had dived into the old books that Howl had kept at the cottage, Sophie had tried to entertain herself with them as well, but in the end grew exasperated with the often cryptic prose and meaningless enigmatic symbols that occupied their passages. Dubbie was content to watch the world from her seat in front of the window. Calcifer had been himself strangely pensive and often too sleepy to chat with Sophie as he usually did. She wondered if he might be sick after having been separated from Howl's heart.
She didn't know herself how to diagnose a demon, and there was nothing she could really do.
Nothing, her inner thoughts hissed at her as she looked around at the spotless abode.
Nothing, nothing, nothing. There was nothing! If there was one thing that she missed about Howl's company it was the endless supply of something to fix up every time he lifted a finger. The man was a walking disaster! Without him, in this lonely bowl of green glory in a mountain pass far away from any sort of civilization, Sophie was simply going mad from not-enough-to-do!
Energized by a sudden burst of disgust at the overwhelming tidiness of everything around her, Sophie grabbed her boots and her old shawl from the closet and resolved to burn off some of her restless energy outside exploring the valley. She grabbed her hat from its hook by the door and rammed it on her head. Sophie was well aware that she was far from decently dressed in her nightgown, but knowing that there was no one here to see her anyhow, she figured it hardly made a difference.
She flew through the door, leaving it banging on its hinges in an uncharacteristic fit of contempt as she ran off to the hill at the right of the house, hitching up the long hem of her nightgown as she gathered speed. As she crested the hill, the wind made as if to defy her advance, buffeting her as she ran doggedly onward, her chest heaving with the effort of it.
Although her brain was still restless her heart sang at the simple act of exertion, it had been too long since she had been free and hail enough to simply run in the wind like a child. An extra strong gust robbed her of her hat and sent it flying up into the air, she swore at it, but she didn't care enough to chase after and instead continued to run, her shawl falling from her shoulders, and then to her waist before finally falling to the ground as she continued her pace unabated.
Sophie did not stop until she stumbled, her toe having been caught by a rock hidden in the grass that hugged the earth of the valley like a veil. She cursed at it, and then at herself as she slumped to the ground, massaging her ankle. How unlike her! To go running off like a chicken with its head off! She was going stir crazy. It must be all this fresh air, she chided herself as she leaned back into the soft grass of the mountain tundra. She gazed up into the sky--clear, featureless and blue, and cursed it, because the color had reminded her of his eyes.
"Stop thinking about him," she mumbled to herself, sullenly. "And stop being such a child. What's wrong with you, Sophie Hatter?" She closed her eyes, listening to the gentle rustle of the grass all around her.
"Nothing that can't be fixed, I hope," a soft, low voice intoned as a shadow fell across the light seeping through her lids.
Shocked, Sophie's eyes snapped open, focusing on the upside-down smirk of one Howl Jenkin's as he leaned over her recumbent body, his eyes flashing mischievously, his face wreathed in shining black hair.
"Here I brought back your…" he began but was cut off when Sophie cried out.
"You! You horrible man! Turn around this instant!" Sophie yelled, covering her chest and sitting up quickly. How dare he sneak up on her when she was in nothing but her nightdress!
Howl grinned, so this was how she was going to be.
"It's just your nightgown, Sophie."
"Yes, and I'll thank you not sneak up on me like that while I'm wearing it!"
"I've seen you a dozen times in your nightdress, it never bothered you before," he countered as he turned away from her.
"Yes, well, I wasn't a young woman then now was I?"
He stopped himself short before replying that, in fact, she had been, at least to his eyes. Howl also refrained from mentioning that he had been admiring her from above as she ran through the fields of bright flowers, and in fact, it was he who had caused the wind to sweep her hat from her head, just so he could watch her run after it. Of course in her stubborn way she had unwittingly refused to entertain him, and instead had kept running onwards, so absorbed in the action that she had not noticed him circling far above her.
"Don't worry," he teased her. "That nightgown leaves much to the imagination, I'm fairly certain a parka would be more revealing…"
"Well, whatever Howl, it's the principle of the thing! It's called decency, I should like you to know!"
"I brought you your hat," he said placatingly, as he stared out in the direction of the house, his back turned politely towards her. He proffered it behind him, feeling the straw material brush up against her head. Sophie snatched it from him, and rammed it onto her head once again, her cheeks hot with humiliation, had he really heard her mumbling to herself? All of it? It was so embarrassing she could die! And he was the type so self-absorbed to think that she had been muttering about him, which of course she had been. But he had no right to assume such things! Gods he was vain!
"I don't suppose you brought my shawl as well?" she asked crossly.
"No, still in the grass back there I'm afraid."
"Would you be a gentlemen and offer me your coat then?" she demanded.
"But of course, fair Lady!" he laughed. "Please forgive my rudeness, I was overcome…"
He doffed his coat and offered it to her, still facing pointedly away, and listened to rustle of the grass as she stood and put it on.
"Fair Lady, indeed," she muttered as she donned the heavy coat, realizing that she had never fully comprehended before how fine or thick it was until now that it was on her. She was aware of the smell it gave off, his smell, the smell of smoke and flowers, wood fire and hyacinths. It was enough to make her weak in the knees just being surrounded by it. She caught herself admiring the gold braid, it must have cost him a fortune!
"Alright then," she said finally.
He turned. Fair Lady, indeed... He thought to himself as he looked at her. He had thought her beautiful as he watched her from above, racing across the valley as if possessed, her nightgown hitched up to her thighs as she ran. At this moment, however, he decided that she was positively, revoltingly cute. Her ubiquitous straw hat was on at an angle, her cropped silver hair was untied for once, unleashed upon her shoulders, flowing in ravishing snarled waves from her head and spilling across the wide shoulders of his jacket, which dwarfed her own shoulders in comparison.
Sophie had wrapped the two sides of his jacket around herself protectively, and was holding them shut, one sleeve bunched up, threatening to engulf the hand that held them. Her other arm was at her side, the hand concealed somewhere in the voluminous sleeve. She looked so cross and adorable that he could have just…his thoughts trailed away and he smiled at her, tucking the images that sprang to mind into the back of his thoughts, telling himself that there was plenty of time to go there, but later, not now.
He bowed to her, extending his hand, palm upwards. He was mocking her! She could have screamed!
"Your hand, my Lady."
"Yes I suppose it is my hand," she huffed at him, turning up her nose as she stomped past, trying desperately not to trip over her night gown.
He grinned madly at her retreating figure. Defiant as always. That was fine, he thought to himself, he wouldn't have her any other way.