A friend of mine keeps telling me to read the Harry Potter books. If I'm honest I never really got past the first book. I found Harry Potter a bit… boring. They were nothing special for me. I'm picky when it comes to books, I'm afraid. I've never read the Harry Potter books properly, I admit it! I just scanned through them to keep up with the gossip. I haven't seen any of the films passed film three either.
Since I have only had one review for the last chapter I'll be taking a little longer with the next chapter. I have tones of home work to do, anyway.
Chapter Nine: In which there is a fortune teller and another attack
Sophie didn't say much on their way back to the fortune teller. She was pondering what Suliman had told her. Although she didn't want to admit it, she knew he was right about Howl. He had been cad and troublesome long before he knew Calcifer. The strange part of it was that Sophie had the overwhelming desire to defend Howl against the bad press that he himself had spread in order to ensure a peaceful life. She knew that he was faulted but she wouldn't accept that he was wicked because he just wasn't, and it was silly to pretend he was. Sophie had been lying about who she was for two months when she was under the Witch's curse, and now she intended to be true to herself and encourage others to do the same.
Howl was whistling again from lack of conversation. He went through was seemed to be the whole of the song before he broke the silence. "Sophie dear," he said casually. "If we've had another argument please tell me what it was about. I'd rather argue with you than have the silent treatment."
"Who is Lyonesse?" asked Sophie suddenly.
"It's always the same," he said defensively, his tone changing completely. "Who is Madam Cynthia and who is Lyonesse? You're such a jealous little mouse, aren't you? I can't believe you don't trust me!"
"Don't flatter yourself, I'm not jealous. I was just asking a question," she snapped. "I take it she's another one of your—"
Howl's eyes widened, "No, of course not!"
Sophie didn't know whether to believe him or not. He was trying to slither out again and this time Sophie couldn't be bothered to stop him. She folded her arms and said, "Would you like me to change the subject?"
"Fine," she replied. "Who is this Sybil? I don't imagine she's an ex-lover."
"Certainly not, she's hundreds of years old!" Howl said quickly. "I mean she really is old, not like you who really was eighteen but just looked old."
"The Witch of the Waste was over a hundred years old," Sophie pointed out. "That didn't stop you."
Howl ignored the statement and moved on, "She was one of ten sisters and they were all named Sibylla."
"That must have been confusing."
"No more confusing than having two Lettie Hatters." Sophie was about to point of that that was different, since Michael's Lettie was really Martha, but Howl went on with his story. "This Sibylla is the last of the ten sisters left alive. Basically, they are prophetesses. I have never believed in seeing the future or anything like that, but they do sometimes get out riddles, verses, things that appear like poems but are really fortunes, or more accurately predictions."
"But the verse doesn't look like it's predicting anything," Sophie said, thinking of it in her head. It seemed more occupied with speaking of what she imagined as a girl in a field of flowers. "It sounds like a poem."
"Sometimes fortunes are like that," Howl explained. "They sometimes say what they mean and sometimes they're a puzzle."
"Like a spell?" Sophie asked.
"Exactly, only complete rubbish."
"So you don't believe in predicting the future?" Sophie said, stating what appeared to be obvious, "Why not?"
"Because I don't like to believe that I'm not in control of my future," Howl replied. "It's no different from the way everyone assumes here that the youngest daughter of three will get the best of everything just because she was born youngest. Are we then to believe that had she never been born the eldest of three will have had a more successful life? The birth of a sibling may change the person but it never changes their luck. Remember that."
"I'll remember," said Sophie, thinking that what Howl said was quite profound. "It's just the custom here in Ingary, you know that."
"Superstition, that's all," Howl said. "We have that where I come from. None of that fairytale rubbish, though. With us it is things like… a black cat crossing your path is bad luck; walking under a ladder is bad luck, breaking a mirror is bad luck and killing a spider is bad luck."
Sophie snorted, finding everything Howl said ridiculous. "What nonsense! Is there anything in your society that isn't bad luck? Black cats are beautiful creatures, and a ladder isn't going to hurt you unless you knock it and the person on top falls on you. As for the spiders…" she thought for a second before continuing, "is that another reason why you won't let me kill those spiders?"
"No, I told you why I don't like to kill spiders," he replied. "I admit I'm superstitious enough to avoid walking under the ladder if I can help it but not so much that I let it rule my life the way you do. You say the superstition in you world is ridiculous. That is just how I feel about the ones your world has."
Sophie found it interesting, "It's funny how things develop differently, isn't it?"
"Indeed," said Howl. "Where I come from people are generally suspicious about things that happen in this world. A good example is fairies. They don't exist where I come from."
"No, but they exist here."
"Maybe people can predict the future here too," Sophie suggested.
"Unless you can see the future, which means looking forward through time itself, then it's not possible," Howl stated, this time stating it very firmly. "You can look back in time and even go there if you want, but not the future."
"So," said Sophie thinking about this Sybil. "What if she was to have come from the future and stayed here in the past and that was how she knew?"
"Because that's just silly, Sophie," Howl replied. "Sibylla is respected but she is no sorceress. She does have enough magic charms to create special effects though to make her look more impressive. Trouble is they always seem to go wrong. She was never as good as her sisters at magic."
Sophie lowered her eyes at him, "How do you know all of this about her? Are you sure you haven't met her?"
"I haven't met her, exactly," he replied. "She was the Good Fairy Godmother at Princess Valeria's christening."
They walked down the stone paved road until they came to a narrow dirt road, which Howl motioned Sophie down. They walked across a long field with over grown glass that smelt damp from the rain and dew. It was much warmer now and the smell was all the stronger, complimented by the sounds of insects living in the stalks. At the end of the road was a small cottage. It looked so peaceful and quaint that Sophie found it hard to believe that there was a woman who had played Good Fairy Godmother to Princess Valeria.
Howl pointed at the cottage, "There it is; the home of the last of the Sybil sisters. Don't be put off by the look of the place. Once was a time she had a nice home in Kingsbury, but last year she retired in favour of doing simple fortunes for locals. Trouble is that—"
Howl was cut off by a mighty explosion from inside the cottage. It shook the earth, almost knocking Sophie and Howl to the ground. They looked up to see a great eruption of red, glittering smoke burst out of the chimney, forcing its way out, breaking the small stone turrets on top and crumbing it to the ground. Sophie watched as the red puff of smoke shot up into the air like a fire work and exploded above their heads in a burst of orange and gold that was visible even in the day sun. There was normal grey smoke emerging from the windows and from under the door, and the sound of coughing rouse up from the cottage.
The pair rushed towards the door. It wasn't locked and Howl just walked in. A whiff of more grey and white smoke puffed into their faces as they made their way in to the dark, misty house.
"Sibylla?" called Howl, covering his mouth with a trailing sleeve.
The old sounds of coughing cleared and turned into a raspy cackle of laughter, not much different from the way Sophie's had sounded when she was old. An old figure was standing up right and walked forward through the smoke, "Oh dear! By the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!"
Howl laughed, while Sophie tried to look at the woman who was amusing him so much. As the gust of smoke cleared she saw an old woman standing in front of them with a large smile on her face. She looked much better for her age than Sophie had done when under the curse, and could stand up right. When Sophie had imagined a fortune teller like a Sybil, she had imagined a woman in a long yellow dress and large headdress. This woman wore a very simple blue dress with a fancy black apron and blue ribbon. Her hair was a mess, and she wore simple slippers rather than proper shoes.
The old woman opened a couple more windows before finding her way to a seat. She sighed happily, glad to get off her legs it seemed, and looked straight at Howl.
"Greetings, Sibylla," he said cheerfully.
"Something wicked, indeed," she said with a slightly disapproving look. "Howell it has been a while since I've seen you. Last time I had the pleasure of your company was at Princess Valeria's christening."
"That's just not true," Howl replied defensively. "I saw you at Mrs. Pentstemmon's funeral. You don't think I wouldn't attend that, do you?"
Sibylla nodded, realising something, "I had inkling that red setter was you but I couldn't be sure. I was never good at detecting spells. You could have come to say hello."
"I would have too," Howl protested. "But even you must have noticed an uninvited guest sneaking about looking for trouble."
"You mean the Witch of the Waste?" asked Sibylla. "I thought that white cat was her too, foolish of you to chase it, young man."
"I was just getting into character," he said. "I thought that if I chased her I'd not only get her away from the funeral but convince her I was a dog."
During this conversation Sophie looked around the cottage. Now the air was cleared she saw that it was quite large inside with high walls and strange ingredients hanging from the beams, much like in the moving castle. There were windows in the roof at the back of the castle that were stained glass, depicting scenes Sophie couldn't place in or put a story to. There was a fireplace with a normal fire burning in it, (It was odd as Sophie had been so used to Calcifer she had almost forgotten what real fire looked like), and a hook to hang a kettle. It was very wholesome, and she could understand why Sibylla chose this as opposed to a house in Kingsbury like Wizard Suliman had.
"What on earth were you doing just now?" Howl asked.
"I felt someone coming down the road so I thought I'd give them a scare," old Sibylla cackled. "I'm an old and rich woman who doesn't need to deal with young whippersnappers wanting to know if it will be a good crop this year."
Sophie rolled her eyes. This woman was no different from Howl and the moving castle. Not wanting to be bothered by people, they choose to use special effects to keep people away. Far from the all-knowing oracle of stories, this woman seemed ditzy and careless. It made it all the more amusing.
Sibylla looked over Howl's shoulder to see the young girl, looking with interest around the cottage. "And who is your lady-friend?"
Sophie spun around quickly to look at Sibylla. On sight, the old woman's eyes widened and she looked curiously at Sophie, as if she saw something or knew something. "Have I seen you before?" she asked.
Sophie shook her head, "I don't think so."
"This is Sophie," Howl introduced. "She is my new student. I met her about two months ago, so I don't think you would have met her."
"Oh," Sibylla said, waving it off with a smile. "Silly me, she must remind me of someone else. The name does sound a bit familiar, though. I don't know why. Maybe there was another girl I knew who had that name and looked a bit like you. I've had a long life, you see. I have met so many people I get confused. I apologise."
"That's alright," Sophie said, understanding how easy it was to get mixed up in old age.
Sibylla motioned for the pair to sit in two wooden chairs that on the snap of her fingers, walked up behind Howl and Sophie, sweeping them to sit down before finally settling in front of Sibylla. She cackled again, "Enchanted chairs. Everything in my house is enchanted, you see. It's just a simple spell that any old fairy can do. Trouble is they will only do things for other people and nothing for me."
Sophie was confused, "But these chairs came forward when you asked them to."
"Yes, but that was because they are letting you sit down," Sibylla explained with a sigh. "When I want something it always goes wrong. One time when I had guests around they spilt things all over the place. My brooms automatically clean them up because they are enchanted to do so. When I spill something I have to pick up after myself but the mob and broom just sit their idly."
"That's too bad," Sophie said, feeling sorry for her.
"It is," said Sibylla. "Well, I suppose you would both like a cup of tea, no?"
"Not for me, thank you," Howl said gratefully.
"Yes, please," Sophie said politely.
As soon as Sophie said yes, the kettle swung onto the fire and began to boil straight away. It then unhooked itself and landed on a tea carry where a cup was waiting for it. The bowl of sugar and the jug of milk jumped onto the tray while the boiling water poured itself into a tea pot. The tea carry wheeled over to where Sophie was sitting and stopped in front of her. She leant forward to pour the tea out but the tea pot poured, rather clumsily, the tea into the cup. It seemed to fight with the milk that was also being poured into the cup. Once the cup was filled, the sugar bowl trod nosily up to the cup and began to put sugar into the cup.
"Say when," said Sibylla.
"Oh," Sophie said, mesmerised by the bowl and spoon, "When!"
Sibylla snapped her fingers again and spoon then collapsed into the cup. Sophie leant over to pick it up. She was surprised to see the spoon still stirring.
"You don't have to do that, you know," she told the spoon.
At her suggestion it stopped. She lifted it out and placed it on the tea tray. Sibylla watched this with her eyebrows raised, "How odd!"
"What is?" asked Howl, who had been watching the spoon with some amusement.
"Well, the spoon…" she began, but she brushed it off. "Oh, never mind! It's nothing important. What I do find odd is why you've decided to call on me after not talking to me for so long, young Howell. You have never believed in my work."
"No," Howl admitted. "I still don't, and I admit I have come here for more than your company."
Sibylla smiled, "I thought as much. Tell me all about while I make myself some tea."
"Why can't they do it, again?" Sophie asked, thinking it silly.
"I'm a Sybil and a Good Fairy at that," Sibylla explained getting to her feet. "My charms have to be used for other people and not for selfish reasons."
"It's not much to ask them to make you a cup of tea," Sophie said.
Sibylla chuckled, "These objects don't see any reason in things because they are inanimate objects."
"I think they are the ones who are selfish," Sophie stated, scowling at the objects on the tray.
"They are enchanted objects," Sibylla said with a chuckle. "They can't feel guilt over what you are saying, and they certainly can't pity me."
Sophie just stared hard at the tray, leaning towards them to whisper, "Why don't you go and make her a cup of tea? It's not much to ask, is it? If you don't then I'll accidentally, on purpose, knock you off this tea carry. Understand?"
The tea carry did nothing for a brief moment. Sophie glared at it while Howl watched intently, waiting to see what would happen. At first nothing seemed to happen, but then the sugar bowl and milk jug rattled. The tea carry seemed to shiver until eventually it slowly wheeled itself back towards the kitchen.
"Now kettle, boil," Sophie called, leaning on the back of her chair to watch what was going on. The kettle slowly swung itself over the fire again and boiled the water. "And I suggest the lot of you talk those cups into coming out too."
Sibylla sat in amazement. She looked at Howl, "How did she do that? Those appliances cannot do things for me, and even if they could, they are only supposed to obey me."
"Sophie has a special talent that I am… investigating," Howl explained, glancing at the wheeling tea carry as it returned to Sibylla with her own cup of tea. "I'm trying to figure out more about it and then help her to control it."
Sibylla looked at Sophie with astonishment, "You have the power of charm in your speech. How interesting…" she then closed her eyes as if deep it thought, "They say that those who have that power were gifted by Viviane."
"Mythology," Howl said, rolling his eyes. "None of it is true, Sibylla."
"Howell, I have lived many more years than you," the old woman replied. "Although real-life is never as fancy as the ones told in stories, they are never far from the truth. They are simply turned into stories and riddles, just like my predictions."
Howl sighed and reached into his pocket. He pulled out the piece of paper with the verse on it and handed it to her. "We came across this in an old book. I took it to Suliman to ask his opinion and he said it might be a fortune, and advised me to ask you."
Sibylla took one look at it and handed it back to him as if it was volatile. She seemed to choke on her own breath, "It is a fortune but it's not one of mine. One of my sisters conducted it for a witch many years ago."
"Do you know what it means?"
"Howell, don't ask that!" Sibylla said with a strained voice. "You know that Good Fairies always have to speak the truth! You don't want to know the truth!"
"It's not real," Howl said.
"Then why do you care?"
"Because I'm curious," he replied, clutching the paper. He glanced up to see Sophie looking at the piece of paper, as if attempting to read it upside down. "We found it in a book, spent hours trying to get it translated and now we want to know what it means."
"Well," Sibylla sighed, "one good things about not being about to tell the truth is that a Sybil cannot untangle riddles for you. We can only give you hints."
"Then please could you give me a hint?"
"It's right in front of you," Sibylla replied simply.
Howl and Sophie looked at the paper, then each other, and then at Sibylla. "Huh?" said Sophie. "What do you mean?" asked Howl.
"I can't answer that!" Sibylla cackled. "It's a hint."
Howl looked at the paper again, "It's right in front of me, eh?"
"Yes, it is right in front of you," repeated Sibylla.
Sophie sighed, "And you can't tell us anymore?"
"I've given him his hint," the old woman replied. "You can have one if you want." Sophie nodded, the puzzle starting to get to her too. The woman cackled again, "Look at the full stop."
Now tilting her own head Sophie took the verse from Howl and looked at the verse. She had never noticed the full stop before. Glancing down it she finally noticed that it was the second line from the end, "Eager to escape this silent place." It did seem odd that the full stop was there, rather than at the end of the verse.
Howl slipped it out of her hands and back into his pocket, "Well, we'll figure it out, I'm sure."
"Well," said Sibylla, picking up her cup of tea, "I'd rather you didn't because some things are best left alone." She looked at Sophie, "Thank you very much for talking sense into my things into making me this cup of tea. It was very nice of you. Do take care of yourself and b careful with that power of yours, you might attract unwanted attention."
Sophie nodded, "I've had my share of unwanted attention. I think I'll be fine, but thank you nonetheless."
"Yes," Sibylla said before sipping some tea. "I can tell you have. Thank you both for coming to see me. I don't normally like guests but you have both been charming company."
"Thank you," Sophie said, being motioned to the door by Howl.
Howl was just about to step out the door himself when Sibylla spoke up again, "She was cursed by the Witch of the Waste, wasn't she?"
He turned around and nodded, "Yes, she was. The Witch got a little bit jealous of that special talent of hers and turned her into an old woman."
"Just be grateful that's all she did," Sibylla said. "She could have just killed her on the spot, just like Lyonesse, among others."
Howl nodded slowly, "Yes, I know. But the Witch's powers had diminished slowly after her fire demon refused to let her use all its magic. She nearly did kill Sophie—the curse she put on her shortened her life by sixty years, so she would have died quickly had that curse not been removed."
"Just remember that the Witch may be dead but there are many who followed her back in her years of glory," Sibylla warned. "The next few months will be hard for you, but things will get better as long as you do the right thing. For what it's worth, I think you will get your happily ever after in the end. I can see why you like her."
Howl didn't pretend to be surprised that Sibylla guessed. Instead, he thanked her and smiled before closing the door, and whistling up the pathway to catch-up with Sophie.
Both Howl and Sophie went home thinking about their hints. Whatever the answer was, it was right in front of them and it had something to do with the full stop at the end of the second to last line. Neither of them spoke much on their way back to Vale End. Howl just looked at the verse as they walked along, whispering it to himself. Just as they entered their neighbourhood, he finally spoke up.
"Maybe your hint," he said, "'look at the full stop' means that this line isn't in the right place."
"You mean the lines are in the wrong order?" asked Sophie.
"Well," he said, handing it to her. "At least that one might be."
"Okay, so instead of 'Please let our divine line live forever' it becomes, 'Eager to escape this silent place.'" She shook her head, switching around the two lines around, "But then it makes even less sense."
Howl sighed and took it from her hands to put away in his pocket, "We'll have a look at it later."
Finally returning home, Sophie was amazed at how well her garden had come along since that morning. It was in full bloom and insects were buzzing excitedly around the flowers. Some people in the neighbourhood slowed down as they walked passed the house just to have a look. It made Sophie feel proud of her work.
Getting inside the castle both of them felt like sitting down and having a rest. There was no sign of Michael or Calcifer. Howl quickly rushed for the chair in front of the hearth. Sophie sighed, wondering if Michael was in the flower shop.
She climbed through the broom cupboard to see the door wide open but no one there. That was very odd. She rushed down to the shop to make sure nothing had been taken. Nothing appeared to be missing. A spell book was left open on the counter. It was as if Michael had been there, but rushed out for whatever reason. She began to worry; it was unlike Michael to rush off without good reason.
To make matters worse there was no sound, not even the swinging door seemed to make a sound. The street outside was normally filled with people entering and exiting shops, or on their way to Market Square. It wasn't a Sunday so the shops were open. Yet there was no one outside. It was unnatural for a busy like Market Chipping. It was proof something had happened, something shocking.
Fear and curiosity began to set in.
Sophie was just about to rush back into the castle and tell Howl so they could head off to Market Square to see what was going on when Michael came rushing back through the shop door. He was panting heavily, as if he had ran at full speed from wherever he had been and back without stopping for breath.
"S-Sophie, come quick!" said Michael, gasping for air.
"Why, what is it?" she asked. Deep down she knew what was coming, but she didn't want to worry before she had to. "What's happened?"
"It's Martha," he said clearly in a state of shock, eyes wide with terror. "It's Martha. There's been another attack. Martha!"