Loved the movie, enjoyed the book, here's what they sparked in my imagination.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own book or movie, but I'm letting them rattle around in my head for a while. Howl's Moving Castle is the property of Diana Wynne Jones for the novel and Miyazaki for the movie. I do not own them, and am making nothing from the publishing of this story on the internet.
The Battles of Peacetime
Sophie sighed staring up at her ceiling. She was lying with her blankets tucked up to her chin, her silver hair spread on the pillow beneath her head. She could hear the wind blowing past her window as the castle flew through the air. She lifted her hand from beneath the blanket and held it up, gazing at the smooth, young skin. Sighing, she dropped her hand back onto the coverlet.
She shifted slightly, still not used to being able to move without protest from her body, then she smiled. Sophie had always felt old, now, for the first time in her life, she truly felt young. Her heart felt light in her chest and she thought that perhaps being the eldest daughter didn't really mean she wouldn't make her fortune.
A light tap at her door broke her from her thoughts, then she heard a soft voice that brought a smile to her lips.
"Sophie? Are you awake?" Howl's smooth voice whispered through the wood of the door.
"Yes Howl, come in," Sophie sat up, propping a pillow behind her back and folding her hands in her lap, the small smile still hovering on her lips.
The door cracked open and a slim shaft of dim orange light slipped through before Howl's body blocked it as he entered and turned to shut the door behind him. He took a deep breath, then slowly spun on his heel and smiled at Sophie. She sat, looking at him expectantly, her brown eyes shining the welcome she felt in her heart for this man she loved.
Howl walked over and sat on the edge of her bed, it sagged a little under his weight and Sophie had to shift to prevent falling into him. The thought that perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing flitted through her head, and had she been more used to laughing, she probably would have. As it was, she was unsuccessful at keeping the laughter from her eyes, especially when she noticed Howl looking slightly dazed.
Sophie was unaware of just how innocent and ethereal she looked sitting in the moonlight as it reflected off her hair and the white of her nightgown. Her brown eyes were shining at him with love and laughter. He sucked in a breath as his lungs told him he'd stopped breathing. Seeing this girl who had closed herself off from the world behind the mask of an old woman open up in such a way to him made his heart pound. Unconsciously, he lifted a hand to the place of the unfamiliar ache.
"Yes, Howl?" Movement caught Sophie's eyes and she watched as Howl's hand touched his chest. "Still strange, isn't it?"
Confusion flitted through Howl's eyes, invisible except to one who knew him well, then he smiled at her, his hand moving to rest on the bed near her legs. "I suppose so," the charming smile came into existence as he gazed at her, "Of course, your being near only makes it more uncomfortable since your merest smile makes it pound frantically."
Sophie snorted, "Don't use those pickup lines on me. They may have worked on those other poor girls you abandoned but they won't work here."
Howl's hand came up to rest on his heart once more, a wounded look coming into his eyes, "How could you say such things, Sophie? I mean every word! Never would I think of using anything so tired or gauche as a pickup line upon you, my beautiful star. Other girls may shine, but you are my guiding light, my beacon through the night of my life."
This time, even as unfamiliar as it was, she couldn't stop the laughter from bubbling up and out. Sophie threw back her head and laughed as Howl watched. His eyes widened and he drank up the rare image of Sophie laughing easily and freely. True, she stifled it quickly, her eyes looking a tad surprised even as she continued to laugh behind her hands, but it was still there, and Howl was momentarily entranced.
He coughed behind his fist, allowing himself a moment to collect his scattered thoughts.
Sophie watched as Howl schooled his expression into one of melodramatic hurt, "Sophie, I'm wounded you would laugh at my sincere expressions of affection."
Sophie smiled, once again under control, "Howl, you didn't come in here this late at night to flatter me, now stop trying to slither out of it and tell me what it is you wanted."
Howl's expression faltered and he shifted slightly on her bed, leaning over to gently tuck the blanket around her more snugly, "I merely wanted to make sure you were comfortable and didn't need anything."
Sophie reached out and placed a gentle hand over Howl's. She looked up and smiled into his eyes, "I'm not going anywhere." She could feel the muscles in his hands tense almost imperceptibly and in a rush of what Sophie could only describe as impulsiveness, she leaned up and kissed the side of Howl's mouth. It was barely a kiss, more a brushing of lips on skin, but all of his attention was suddenly on her. His hand reached out to cup the back of her neck and hold her in place. Her eyes opened and looked into his, as his thumb gently caressed just behind her ear.
Now it was Sophie's turn to catch her breath. His eyes were sweeping her face, something there she'd never seen, something that made her lungs seize and her heart pound. She could hear the blood rushing through her veins and felt heat rush over her skin which suddenly seemed too sensitive. Each caress of his thumb sent electricity shooting through her. Sophie absently wondered if it was some sort of spell.
Then, almost reluctantly, his hand slid off her neck, fingers caressing as they went, and he stood. Howl gazed at her, eyes intense for a moment, before he stood, swept her a bow, and when he looked up, the laughter was there in his eyes once more. "If you require nothing, I leave you with a light heart and a sweet dream," his fingers moved in a swift pattern, and he turned and swept from the room.
Sophie stared at the door after Howl left, then slowly, she felt sleep sweep over her. She drifted off with a smile on her face, knowing her dreams would be happy ones thanks to "Horrible Howl."
Howl leaned against his bedroom door, hand still on the doorknob, head resting back against the hard wood. His eyes watched as his various charms swayed in a magical breeze. His thoughts were a whirl around a single focus, a certain silver-haired young woman currently asleep in bed, having a beautiful dream about flowers and pastries from Cesari's.
With a sound of annoyance, he pushed away from the door and threw himself onto his bed. He rolled over and stared at the ceiling, one hand over his recently restored heart. He could feel the steady beat in his chest, could hear the strange sound and knew it would keep him up all night. Then again, it might be his thoughts that disturbed his rest.
He sighed heavily, and then whispered into the air, "Sophie …"
She hadn't been off the mark with her comment. He was afraid she would leave. After all, nothing tied her with him anymore. Her curse was broken as was his, her bargain with Calcifer was fulfilled. She was a beautiful, young woman again and could go wherever she pleased … with whomever she pleased. At that thought, once again he felt his heart give a twinge.
He could feel the argument going on within himself. The man he had been for years wanted to flatter her, shower her with compliments and win her heart so she wouldn't leave. The child in his heart wanted to cling to her, hold her, make her promise never to leave.
Then, there was this strange, new part of him. He didn't really know what to make of it … it had started when he'd first met Sophie in that little alley on May Day, and had grown since. It told him flattery and pretty words weren't worthy of this girl. It told him to take her in his arms and hold her, kiss her, imprint himself on her so she would never look at another man. He could feel it urging him to find ways to make her eyes light with happiness and joy.
Tonight, when he'd gone to her room, it had been completely impulsive. He didn't even know what he'd intended, only that he needed to see her and reassure himself she was really there. He hadn't expected the rush of different emotions. At first, once he'd seen her there in bed, he'd quickly started trying to figure out a way to escape without letting her know how much he'd needed to see her. At the same time, he wanted to stay with her as long as she'd let him. Then, the unexpected had happened. She'd laughed. The sound had set off a flood of unfamiliar emotions. He could only sit there reeling from it all. He'd felt his heart tighten in his chest at the beauty before him. His pulse had quickened, even as his mind desperately worked to take in each second of her happiness, locking it away in his memory. His body urged him to take her into his arms so he could feel her laughter against him, feel her soft breath across his skin and try to absorb her joy physically as well. It was only when his lungs started to hurt from lack of air that he'd been able to move again, then, once again, she'd completely thrown him off balance. She'd leaned over and kissed him.
That had sparked yet another reaction in him, one he hadn't been prepared for, desire. It had streaked through his blood, heating his veins, until his pants had begun to feel too tight, causing him to feel distinctly uncomfortable. That had shocked him back to his senses.
Now, here his was, lying alone in his bed, listening to his heart beat and seeing her face as she gazed at him with the moonlight in her hair.
Sophie smiled at Calcifer as his flame began to burn a little brighter, signifying the demon was awake, "Good morning, Calcifer."
The demon yawned and his flames stretched higher for a moment, then settled into his usual height as Sophie placed a fresh maple log onto him, "'Morning Sophie."
Sophie bustled about, mixing eggs and vegetables and bits of bacon into a bowl and whisking them together for an omelette. She reached up for the frying pan and made her way over to Calcifer who was watching her a tad warily. Sophie smiled at him, as she carefully poured some of the mixture into the pan, "Ready to make some breakfast for our starving men?"
"Um … Sophie …"
"Sophie … you're humming."
Sophie blinked at the fire demon, then shrugged, "I suppose I just had a pleasant night's sleep and I'm glad all that curse business is done with."
The demon looked at her warily for a moment more, then bent his head so Sophie could get going on breakfast, and was especially pleased when Sophie gave him the first omelette.
It wasn't long before Markel stumbled his way down the stairs, called by the scent of breakfast on the go. His cowlick was especially prominent this morning as he prepared the kettle for tea and set the table for four.
The sound of running water heralded Howl's return to awareness. While awaiting his arrival, Sophie placed the omelettes on the table as well as some sliced apples she'd cut up earlier in the morning. Markel placed the tea on Calcifer while Sophie went to help Granny Witch to the table. Heen followed, wheezing plaintively, until Sophie scooped some omelette into his dish. As they all finally collected at the table, a waft of perfume heralded Howl's arrival for breakfast.
"Good morning, friends," he greeted as he came down the stairs wearing his ever present black pants and boots, but this time a blue shirt that exactly matched his eyes completed the effect, with a black belt around his waist. His raven hair exactly matched the gloss of his boots and his eyes danced with the knowledge he was at his best.
Calcifer muttered some sort of greeting and Markel returned the greeting as he brought the kettle of tea to the table.
Sophie, not wanting to feed his ego had to look away to ensure he wouldn't see the appreciation in her eyes, "Good morning, Howl. Take your place before your eggs get cold." Under her breath, she muttered something about a vain peacock as she shook out a napkin and laid it on Granny Witch's lap.
"Oh, what a handsome man," Granny singsonged as Howl made his way to his spot at the table. Sophie silently agreed.
Howl watched Sophie bustle around ensuring everyone was ready for the meal, everyone except him that is. A slight line between his brows was the only sign of the frown on his face as Sophie fussed over Granny and Markel. As she bustled past him, he caught her around the waist and kissed her on the cheek, before just as quickly releasing her and sliding into his seat at the table, seemingly ignoring the abrupt silence that filled the tiny room at his actions.
"Will you pass the pepper please Markel?" Howl requested. Markel handed it to him, still watching Sophie, who hadn't moved. At the sound of Howl's voice, she seemed to awaken from whatever trance she'd been in, then moved to her seat, and sat down.
The rest of the morning appeared to progress as usual with Sophie taking turns helping Granny eat and lecturing Markel about talking with his mouth full. Howl and Markel entertained themselves with talk of a new spell Markel was trying to learn, and Calcifer jumped in occasionally to make some remark or teasing comment, usually at Howl's expense. In the midst of it all, glances flew between Howl and Sophie.
"But Master Howl, I don't understand why it matters if I use sea salt or table salt for this part of it …"
Howl ruffled his apprentice's hair, "First of all, the sea salt is stronger and makes a better base for helping to dissolve the slug slime. Second of all, you won't have to deal with Sophie's temper at you for using her table salt." At this, Howl winked at Sophie, who was starting to clean up the breakfast plates. She merely hmphed and carried the empty plates over to the sink.
Howl stood and stretched, "Well, Markel, you have some ingredients to go collect." Markel nodded and hopped off his chair dashing around to collect a few things, then rushing to the door, turning the knob to Porthaven, and rushing through, closing it after him with a slight bang.
Granny tsked as she made her way to her chair in front of the hearth. Heen hopped onto her comfortable lap and settled in. "Why are the young always in such a hurry … nice doggy."
Sophie busied herself with cleaning the morning dishes and started in surprise when Howl brought over the few remaining cups from the table, "I don't know why you insist on doing that the hard way … magic could have it done in moments."
Sophie shook her head and looked at the wizard lounging with one hip against the sink, his arms crossed, and his eyes alight with child-like curiosity as he watched her. She picked up a dirty cup and began to wash it as she spoke, "I like doing it Howl. I like knowing I'm using my hands to take care of it. I don't need to use magic to do it. I'm perfectly capable."
Howl cocked his head to one side as he watched her, the puzzled look still on his face, "But so is magic Sophie, and then you'd have more time to enjoy your flowers."
Sophie set the cup down on the draining board and was surprised when Howl actually grabbed a towel and began to dry it. She picked up a plate and hid her smile by gazing at it as she washed it, "Doing it with my own hands helps me feel like I'm taking care of all of you. Magic is the … well, the slither-outer's way." Sophie hid her teasing smile as she finished up the plate and handed it to Howl, who took it absently and began to dry it. She almost gave herself away when she caught the slight lift of an eyebrow as he stared off into space, then he threw back his head and laughed.
The sound of the plate being set on the counter was her only warning of what was coming. She gasped as arms slid around her waist and scooped her up, swinging her around. Her eyes flew to his laughing face as he spun her, then walked her to the door, turning the handle and carrying her out into a field of flowers.
"Oh, what a sweet couple," Granny smiled at the closed door, Heen wheezed in agreement.
Prince Justin gazed at the building that announced "Wizard Pendragon" and sighed. He adjusted the high neck of his shirt and wondered how it was that it had shrunk three sizes since he left the castle. "I won't be long," he called back to the chauffer and then stepped up to the door and knocked briskly.
Markel delicately poured the sea salt into the small bowl, being cautious not to pour in too much too quickly. The knock at the door startled him, but his hand didn't jostle thanks to more than one spell that had taught him a mistake like that could lead to unfortunate consequences.
"Kingsbury door," Calcifer called from his hearth. Markel set the salt aside and made his way quickly to the door. He opened it and blinked up at the blonde man standing there with a bunch of roses in hand.
"Pr … Prince Justin!" Markel blinked at the unexpected visitor.
Justin bowed, hat in hand, "Good day to you Markel, I came to pay my respects. I do believe I mentioned I would, once I had all this war business sorted out. May I come in?"
Markel quickly stepped aside, flustered, "Um … yeah, come on in …" Markel shut the door after the prince and raced back up into the room. "May I take those … um … Your Highness?" He held his hands up for the flowers.
Prince Justin looked indecisive for a moment, then handed them over, "Yes, of course, they should be put in water, and please, call me Justin. Consider it a compromise between 'Turnip Head' and 'Your Highness'."
Markel nodded uncertainly and raced to put the flowers in water.
"Oh! What a handsome man!" Granny's voice drifted from near the hearth.
Justin turned and smiled at the older lady, "And good day to you, dear lady. You are looking well!"
Granny smiled, her eyes lighting, "Flatterer. Save your pretty words for the one those flowers are intended for."
Justin blushed, and turned to Calcifer burning brightly in the hearth, "Master daemon, how goes your freedom?"
Calcifer sparked at the prince eager to have an ear to complain to, "Howl still works me to the bone, but at least Sophie appreciates me."
"Speaking of the wizard where is he?" Justin was proud of himself for asking after Howl before Sophie. He ignored the knowing smirk Calcifer gave him.
Markel answered his question, "Apparently, he and Sophie went out after breakfast a couple of hours ago. I would think they would be back soon. It's almost lunch time … will you be eating with us?"
Justin shifted a moment considering, "I wouldn't want to intrude …"
At that moment, the door burst open and in came Sophie followed by Howl. Both were loaded down with beautiful flowers of every description and color.
Sophie's cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparked with mirth. A beautiful crown of bluebells woven together graced her silver hair. Howl had a single strand of bluebells tucked behind his ear which would have made any other man look ridiculous but somehow only gave an innocence to Howl … until you noticed his eyes, which were watching Sophie with a look that was anything but innocent.
Justin muttered to Markel, "… I do believe I'll take you up on your invitation," before heading over to greet the couple. "Here, let me help you with those, Sophie."
Sophie blinked as Justin scooped the flowers out of her hands, "Oh! Turnip Head!" then she blushed furiously as she realized who she was speaking to, "I'm so sorry! I mean … Your Highness …"
Justin turned from setting the flowers on a nearby table and smiled at Sophie, "Please, just Justin will do, thank you. After everything, I think it's safe to say you can call me by my given name," he slanted a glance past Sophie to Howl who stood behind her, his arms still full of flowers and a distinctly put out expression on his face, "Howl, so good to see you as well."
Howl immediately perked up and swept into the room and directly between Sophie and Justin to set his flowers with Sophie's on the table. "Ah, Justin! I do hope all is well with the royal family." Howl moved to stand beside Sophie and smiled brightly at the young prince.
Justin nodded, returning Howl's smile innocently, "My brother is doing well. He was a bit upset at the thought of ending the war, until I explained to him peace negotiations required even more strategies than war itself. That seemed to appease him."
Howl nodded thoughtfully as Sophie stepped forward grabbing both men's attention, "You will be staying for luncheon of course, I don't have anything extravagant planned, merely bread and cheese with some ham for sandwiches and oranges for dessert …"
Justin cut in, "It sounds delightful." Justin couldn't help the small feeling of smugness as he noticed the wizard's bluebells wilt slightly.
End Chapter 1
Many thank you's to my wonderful husband for being so willing to be my beta.
Hope you enjoyed! Please R&R.