Summary: The Wizards return to the castle has left Sophie bewildered, and in this chapter, Sophie begins try to understand and find her way through the Wizards rhyme and logic.
WARNING! Lol this chapter has not been beta'ed. My awesome beta Sao has it in her inbox somewhere, ready for when she is ready to beta for me. However, I've taken a while to update as I've been sick, though I'm not sure why I'm apologizing for being sick. I am human and will not be able to pick up silly mistakes after looking at the chapter 700 times. :D My best buddy is MS grammar check and it's given me the all clear. Feel free to point out any silly boos boos to help me with any corrections.
The selfless act of rescuing a fallen frightened star, the cataclysmic event when a lonely youth and a dying diamond of the heavens, was the exact instant that began shedding humanity from the youth. More than a score in years had passed. The youth flourished with his sublime physique, along with his artful way with women, and his uncanny gift for alchemy. All was foreseen, glorious, as he desired. His life was brilliant and decorated. Then one day, amongst the sea of common faces and fanciful crowds clamoring for attention shone a simple little thing. Outstanding in her simplicity as she had desperately attempted to vanish into the sea of vibrant colors, which he could see was quite impossible- ridiculous almost. She was a stark contrast to all that revered him, a stark contrast to all whom wanted him. He saw her face and he didn't know what to do. How could an inexperienced youth in a spoilt man's body know what course to take, when one's life journey awakes?
"Sophie, Sophie? Are you all right?"
Something tugged on her sleeve.
It was Markl. How long had she been on the stool entranced by the sleeping fire? Through the windows, the tawny skies had transcended to cool hue of indigo. Dusk was upon the castle.
"Sophie? Are you all right? I've been calling you for a very, very long time. I was getting worried!" Markl slipped between Sophie and the hearth, peering up into her eyes, angling his head side to side.
"Oh Markl, sweetie, I'm sorry. I must have been daydreaming," Sophie apologized and patted his head.
A rumbling noise erupted from the boy's stomach. He colored a healthy apple red and rubbed his hands over his belly in circular motions, his puppy dog eyes silently begging for the obvious.
"I see. Why don't I start supper then?" Sophie stood up and moved to the counter, possessed by the mystery the Wizard and Calcifer had thrown her into. Some greens on the verge of withering, smoked pheasant sausages and eggs were in the wicker basket, that a local fisherman had left in exchange for a sea faring potion that morning. "Is Calcifer often like this?" She asked Markl, masking her unrest by fidgeting with the ingredients. Was Calcifer simply in need of sleep as the Wizard had said?
"You know, Sophie," Markl said swaggering up behind her, "Calcifer is a mighty powerful demon," he expounded proudly arching his arms wide to encompass exactly how mighty. "I don't know how mighty because he never leaves the hearth. He can move the castle so I think he must be REALLY good! I can barely move a spoon with my magic!" Markl chuckled unabashedly. He walked over to the fireplace and wiggled his nose, squinting at the quieted demon. "He looks like a sleeping flower don't you think, Sophie?" Markl scrutinized his friend a tad longer.
"Aren't you the least bit worried?" Sophie continued, stroking the eggs, envying Markl's blissful perspective of the world.
"Uh-ah," he punctuated each syllable with absolute certainty. "If anything was wrong Master Howl would know. Master Howl knows how to take care of everything, Sophie. He is the smartest, kindest, and best'est Wizard in all of anywhere!" Markl counted off the virtues on his stubby fingers for his superfluous Master. One hundred fingers would have not have been sufficient for his Masters virtues.
Sophie sucked in her breath, choosing to shield the boy from her inhumane experiences and view point of his master. How had the boy come to live in this be-spelled? Why did the boy love and devote himself to the Wizard to such an extent? Had the Wizard charmed and manipulated Markl with subterfuge? Moreover, why did Calcifer remain in the castle? Was he bound to it under some contract as she was?
Sophie slid her gaze up the stairs where the Wizard had ascended. He had let her be, leaving her perplexed, tormenting after him. Why had he inflicted ungodly suffering only to take it away? What was the truth behind his actions? The crushing kiss. The body rush. His cruelty. His kindness. Those eyes. That voice.
"Markl, why don't we take an outing into town for dinner this evening? I know of a lovely bakery in Market Chipping," Sophie heard herself saying. The possibilities were endless if she could escape- leave for one night, free her mind and body from the stifling confines of the oppressive castle. To find Lettie and tell her…tell her what? How had her mother explained away Sophie's disappearance to everyone?
"Really? Oh yes PLEASE!" Markl began hopping around floor like springrabbit. "I never get to eat out! No wait! Well, there was the time Master took me out for my birthday. Can we go somewhere with mash and bangers!" the lad was literally drooling at the gastronomic pleasures of garlic butter mash potatoes and grilled sausages. "And pomegranate tipple!"
"Of course, Markl." Sophie wasn't sure Cesari Bakery served Markl's dream victuals nor where to find the 'pomegranate tipple' which sounded suspiciously lush and inebriating. No matter, this was an unforeseen chance to steal out of the castle, and Sophie couldn't let it slip through her unfortunate fingers.
Again, Sophie trailed her eyes up the shadowy stairs, her paranoia now evolved into a force of habit. Would the Wizard emerge sooner or later if she left? Would he emerge from his room at all? She was justified to leave Calcifer be, feed Markl and collect essentials to survive her new, entrapped life. The curse of Eve was near and there was no recourse. Surely the Wizard, "Howl…," Sophie unconsciously whispered his name. He could and would be reasonable she surmised. Sophie would abide by her words, and stay by the Wizard's side, to protect her sisters.
"You only have to miss him for one more night, Sophie. The longer Master Howl is away from the castle, the longer he stays in his room. He won't come down tonight," Markl said with ease of experience. "He likes to be left alone when he goes upstairs. He will be down tomorrow morning," Markl grinned enamored, misinterpreting Sophie's forlorn gaze upstairs. "I'll be your date tonight," he took her hands and bowed as graciously as possible, for an unpracticed ten-year-old boy.
"And so you shall, Markl," Sophie curtsied and butterflies flittered in her stomach. Her first date was with a ten-year-old lad! "Why don't you wash your face and hands, while I make myself presentable? Then off to Market Chipping we go!"
A short while later when the first shy star winked in the sky, Sophie's pulse skipped erratically, watching as Markl turned the dial to green down. Sophie tip toed down the landing stairs, quickly shooting a pensive glance up the stairs. As Markl had predicted, the Wizard did not appear.
The door groaned open to a wide, stone cobbled square. The early mulberry and peach sheets of evening blanketed the heavens, the hemline of the sky hung over an array of colored, shingled roofs. A small circular fountain trickled in the centre of the quadrangle. Shops neatly built side by side, of all widths and heights lined the opposite side of the square to the castle entrance. Green streetlights flooded the walkways with aureate blushes. The slight evening chill teased and reinvigorated Sophie's skin. She was surprised to discover the façade of the castle tucked away in an unassuming area of the town. Outside, over the archway of the castle door a peeling hand painted sign in mute grey read, The Great Wizard Jenkins .
The area was unfamiliar, for Sophie rarely ventured from the hat shop. If it hadn't been for her sojourns to the market or craft suppliers, she preferred not to set foot out of the hat shop at all.
Sophie flitted her excited eyes left and right. Tram tracks would aid her quest to find Lettie and the hat shop. Away down the square Sophie discerned a faint steely gleam under a flickering street lamp. Markls dinner would have to be at the mercy of where the streets took them. Hat shop or Lettie? Sophie crammed her deliberations into the recess of her mind, not wishing to waste precious time. Despite Markl's ease, Sophie was cautious, and a hasty return was efficacious. She stole a last peek at the stairs, a sympathetic look at the slumbering fire, and closed the door.
"I remember the café Master Howl took me to, Sophie! It was down here," Markl jabbed frenetically down the street, before bolting away, his footfalls ricocheting after him. Shop front windows were pitched black, businesses closed for the day. Households were settling down to dinner judging from the aroma drifting out open doors and windows. Thankfully, for self-conscious Sophie in week old clothes, not too many townsfolk were about.
"Sweet Nothings! That's what it's called," Markl hollered over his shoulder. Sure enough, further down the road a shop front with the words 'Sweet Nothings' embossed in gold filigree letters on the glass window. Garish candy pink and white striped curtains shone through the crystal polished French windows. The frontage polished to a sparkling black. It screamed of extravagance and in affordability; a complementary tribute for the Wizard.
"Oh my…," Sophie nailed her boots to the road, her gaiety plummeting through the ground. She had not a coin to her! How could she have been as senseless as to forget? From the luxuriant exterior of the restaurant, Markl might possibly, have gained entry to the premise but definitely not Sophie, with her bedraggled dress and unkempt hair bundled loose on her head. This won't do! I look ghastly! Sophie fumed privately, her cheeks seared hot with embarrassment.
"Markl, why don't we stop by my hat shop first? I can put on something more appropriate," Sophie suggested, suppressing the insecurities from surfacing over her face. At the hat shop she would: find some coins she had dutifully saved in her bottom drawer; change into more suitable attire; and pack her feminine needs and clothes.
The exuberance crumbled from Markl's face. A pout started to form on his lips when Sophie sugar coated the offer, "You can have a double helping of dinner if you do?" She bent down, pecking Markl on the forehead.
"Okay!" he shouted before Sophie finished he bribe, the giddiness radiating over his whole body. "That makes TWO sausages and DOUBLE helping of mash?" he confirmed. "Pretty please, Sophie? I don't mean to be greedy but I love mash and bangers!" He declared with innocent fervor.
"All right, Markl. We'd best make haste then."
Sophie scanned her surrounds earnestly, desperately searching for any recognizable landmarks, a hint of where she might be. Markl trotted ahead. Though most towns people were at home sitting down to supper, the few that were out all knew Markl and greeted him in an endless procession, as all were patrons to the castles magicapothecary. It was a happy distraction for Sophie who poked her nose around corners, inspecting potential passageways. At last, an alley rung vaguely familiar to the one Sophie had wondered down, the very one she had fled from the May Day crowd, and straight into the Wizard. Flaking salmon pink walls, the wooden panels and skirting, the faded poster curled up at the corners, the tavern where soldiers congregated. She squinted harder through the dimly lit corridor, optimistic at what she saw.
"Oh my Heavens! Where are you visiting un-chaperoned this early eve?" A dulcet feminine voice interrupted Sophie's orienteering. "It is unbecoming for young ladies to wonder the streets alone this late, my darling."
Un-chaperoned? Unbecoming? "I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you," Sophie snapped, un-amused. Silly old bitty! Steam rolled by her own aggravation and anxiety, Sophie wheeled round to impart her fury. However, it was no silly or old bitty standing a few feet from her. Silky raven mass of ringlets pinned in a delicate coiffure sat high over a heart shaped face, accentuating slender alabaster neck. Almond shaped eyes of glistening purple grey eyes, regal shaped nose and pert rosy lips smiled at Sophie. The woman's pearly skin was translucent moon light, delicate as a rose petal. Her ample bosom rose and fell rhythmically over a corseted, lace black bodice of her dahlia crepe silk gown. The woman was achingly striking it made Sophie's heart sob. The stranger was into her twenties and held an illuminated and come-hither way about her.
"You look quite lost, my darling. Might I be of some assistance?" The stranger asked flapping her gloved hands over her provocative neckline. Compassionate eyes assessed Sophie's crumpled day dress and haphazard hair. Was that pity Sophie detected her in eyes and undertone?
"I-I'm quite fine, thank you," Sophie bristled under the woman's presumptive, pretty gaze. Compared to lovely Lettie and smart Martha, Sophie had self proclaimed herself a wallflower and it had bothered her none. Yet, this moon light lady inspired Sophie's envy. She had never felt as lacking, and incomplete. Sophie chewed on her lower lip, and dropped her eyes with self-loathing.
"Oh, please do forgive me, my dear." The well to do stranger fussed and with gloved hands, and clasped Sophie's clammy hands. "I hope I did not impart any misgivings. Forgive my impertinence. The very sight of the impoverished souls sends me asunder. Were you a parlor maid who was turned out? It looks like you are in need of a place to stay. Might you consider coming to my home, if just for the night?" The stranger prattled on in an angelic voice that grated on Sophie's forehead.
Sophie leered with indignation at the achingly beautiful lady's probing temerity. Parlor maid? Impoverished? "Thank you, but I have a… home and I will have you know I am no maid!" Sophie hissed baring her teeth, foregoing polite vulgarities. "I must be on my way," and she made to stride down the alley, her head held high, her cheer of moments ago deflated and maimed. She should never have left the castle in the state she was in, but what choice was there?
The lady persisted and held on to Sophie's wrist with a strength that defied her delicate appearance. "As you wish, my darling," the stranger drawled whimsically. "If you should need a place to stay, my doors will be open to you," she dipped in a divine curtsey. Her sultry lips perked into a luscious, winsome smile that could have set the birds into song and the flowers to bloom. "Do give my regards to Howl, Sophie," the stranger purred and with those parting words, sashayed away, her dress swaying back and forth, flattering her hourglass silhouette.
Sophie stared, stunned after the flourish of lace, silk and piquant oils lingering behind the stranger. How did the lady know her name, her association with the Wizard? Was the bewitching goddess one of the Wizards many conquests? A barbed knot dug its steely teeth into Sophie's stomach. "Why should I care?" Sophie tore the images of the ravishing vision of the woman to shreds and hotfooted down the alley. "Why should I care? I'll be damned if I give any kind of regard to that lecherous lothario of a lizard! Why should I care what that overstuffed pompous ball of silk says! Parlor maid! Impoverished indeed!" The humiliating encounter singed Sophie right to the roots of her hair. It was entirely the Wizards fault for stealing her from the sanity of her dreary life. "I hate him!"
The golden lamps lights jumped and jabbed in Sophie's wake as she bustled by. She descended deeper into the dingy lane, forgetting her destination. She started to run, flee from that exquisite woman, running from the sensation bearing down on her. The past week confined in the castle, she had confined herself in her prison cell of misery, too preoccupied to appreciate the sympathetic fire demon, the little boy who had snuggled in a corner of her heart. It horrified Sophie to admit there was one only who possessed and consumed her every heart beat.
"Have faith. Listen to what that voice tells you, Sophie, not the voice that shouts in anger. Not the voice that cries with hurt," her father had often comforted her as a child, when her temper lashed out in fear and vacillation. "Each brick, each trial is laid in the journey of our lives for a purpose, my little hatter." The only brick that would serve my current situation is one to one wallop over the Wizards head! Sophie shrieked to herself.
Did black emotions cripple her to the point she had neglected to see the Wizard as a human? Cruel as he was, sadistic and brutal as he was. He was human. Was he not?
"One must place kindness over pride, forgiveness over vengeance, understanding over hurtful emotions. Listen for the whispers hidden behind the words unsaid, instead of the words spoken," her father had tried to inject his wisdom to his three daughters.
That haunting voice that beckoned from the hearth, "I found you too late," it had said. "What aren't I seeing or hearing father?" Sophie turned her eyes upward, searching through the slit of dimming sky over the narrow pass. Disorientated physically and morally, the manic drumming resumed in Sophie's head. The alley began spiralling with the vortex of nausea in Sophie's stomach, sending her slumping into the wall. The meagre contents of her stomach wanted to empty out. "I am no better than he is, am I father?" Sophie sobbed through dry tears. She was brutality to his viciousness, pride to his vanity. When she should have dodged instead of dogged; refrained instead of retaliated. She was as barbaric as he was. "If I had extended a modicum of decency, civility…I might not be in this calamity!"
The unyielding frigid temperate of the wall ate through Sophie's garments. The conniving Wizard, the aspersing fray with the beautiful stranger drained the vigor from Sophie's limbs. She pressed her back onto the wall, standing on trembling legs, unconsciously raising her wrists to her face. Through the haze of confusion and dizziness, she longed for the bruises to return. Why had the Wizard healed her? If his plan was to lose her in the darkened forest of his mind, he had succeeded. She was hopelessly lost and terribly scared.
"Hey, looks like a little mouse lost its way," drawled a gravelly voice from nowhere.
Instinctively, Sophie shot up adrenaline fuelling her limbs, sending her stumbling forward into a powder blue military jacket. Soldiers; two of them ogled down at Sophie. Their faces were handsome and angled, set with sly smiles, their bodies comparable with sturdy tree trunks.
Their appearance jarred Sophie's morbid soul searching and heart beat. "Oh no, I'm not lost," she lied pushing away from the first soldier, his proximity unwelcome and vile. Why was it not like this with the Wizard?
"This little mouse looks thirsty, we should take her for a cup of tea," the first soldier grinned, roguish dimples pocking his cheeks.
"No thanks, my sister is expecting me," a second fib came from a very prim and no longer proper Sophie. Her adrenaline pumped to her legs, preparing for an escape.
"She's pretty cute for a mouse," said the second soldier who bent lower, drawing uncomfortably close to Sophie's face.
"How old are you anyway, do you live around here?" the first soldier continued flirting and edged closer, forcing Sophie to pin herself to the wall. "Do you live around here," he persisted, leaning his arm on the wall over Sophie head, blowing on her hair.
"Leave me alone!" Sophie shrilled praying she sounded far braver than what she what felt. I should never have left the castle! No adrenaline could extricate her from this! She balled her shaking fists to her chest ready to pound her way free. Why didn't I think before coming down this alley? You never think Sophie! Sophie bellowed silently.
The first soldier pushed his friend aside, staking his lewd claim on Sophie. "You see your moustache scares all the girls," he taunted his friend, easing his appraising eyes down to Sophie's heaving bosom, zealous to make a fleshly meal of Sophie.
"So? I think she's even cuter when she's scared," the second soldier snorted his voice hard with disappointment at having lost a little crumpet of a girl.
"Please, don't…," Sophie pleaded, her voice inaudible horror bearing down on her.
"There you are darling. Sorry I'm late, I've been looking all over for you," a melodic voice lifted Sophie above her horrors, and perched her on a plain of safety. His voice took her breath away, his arms clasped protectively around her shoulder breathed life into her.
"Hey, hey we're busy here!" The first soldier quipped, hostility stiffening his languid stance, both soldiers retreating a few steps at the Wizards arrival.
"It looks to me like you two were just leaving," Howl dictated with cool charm, unperturbed by the two overgrown soldiers who stood a head above his.
With a flourish, the Wizard flipped his index finger upwards, whipped the finger round, cutting a circle through the air, flattened his hand horizontally, and finally clawing his fingers flicking his hand outwards. Taken aback by the chivalrous rescue Sophie registered in amazement as the two soldiers marched off like mechanical toys on the Wizards magical strings. Their stomping boots and cursing vanished into the night behind her.
"Don't hold it against them. They're actually not that bad…," Howl excused the soldiers' misbehavior un-fussed, shocking Sophie double-fold. "Where to? I'll be your escort this evening," Howl stated with gallantry, hugging Sophie to him.
Frightened, unsure of what emotion to proceed with, Sophie stared up at the Wizard, her face abloom with reverence while her eyes flooded with a sea of panic.
The Wizard smiled a sympathetic, revealing sylvan scent and warmth of his arms was Sophie's unexpected home and peace, a shelter from the dangers of the world.
Howl said naught, and slipped his arm down and tucked it under Sophie's arm. She in turn placed her hand over his forearm and walked along side him. Her mind was a blank canvas, unable to express her gratitude, preoccupied her neurosis of what punishment the Wizard, might yet unleash.
"Oh…um…I was just going to the hat shop with Markl, Howl," Sophie confessed in shame, readying herself for come what may. She was taking the first step in faith, being honest and….civil, genial with the chivalrous Wizard.
"I see," Howl replied in a distant voice, stripped of any emotion. He stared ahead, strolling as if he was in a park on a sunny day. "And where is my apprentice, Sophie? Did he leave you to fend off those two women hungry soldiers?"
"No, no Howl! It was my fault. I was lost and this la-….," It hurt. Why did it hurt Sophie to speak of the lady friend of the Wizards? Why did she want to conceal her clandestine brush with the beautiful enchantress? Howl had saved her...the least she could do was pass on the lady's regards. Yet, she couldn't. "I was lost. It was not Markls doing," Sophie capitulated, fighting through her confusion, her tone hollow with sadness. She withdrew her arm from the Wizard, stepping back from him, assuming customary barriers against him. She was damned by his cruelty, blighted by his kindness. Sophie averted the Wizards eyes, turning her anarchy on a splintering wood panel on the alley wall. He was going to hurt Markl, for Sophie's indiscretions, to spite her justified follies.
All was eerie and serene between the Wizard and Sophie. The sound of carriages and clip of hooves floated in the distance, and still the Wizard stood where Sophie had pulled away from him.
"Sophie," Howl said.
It must have been the queasiness churning in Sophie's stomach, but that voice... She left his word unanswered, her eyes boring holes into the wooden skirting of the narrow passage that suddenly became claustrophobic. She was sailing unchartered waters, struck down by unwanted emotions- indebted, uncertain and shy towards the Wizard.
"Sophie, look at me," he commanded with calm.
Hesitantly, Sophie lifted her quivering eyes to the Wizard. He sported a beige Manchurian jacket, decorated with pink and blue harlequin motif. White peasant shirt, tailored black pants. The lights slanting through windows cast a pale halo around his flaxen hair. Neither malice, nor contempt greeted her. Only his two hands that he extended, reaching for her.
The lights, the shadows, his words and actions struck Sophie speechless.
"Why must you incessantly fight me?" He asked without pretence, a tinge of bitterness coating his question.
Sophie's eyes flared in chagrin. She opened her mouth to retaliate, to cut him down…Nothing. Her defences failed her. "W-Why do I fight, you?" Sophie whispered to the Wizard, spoken like an intimate secret reserved for him and him alone, for he was the only one that yielded the answer, in his hands.
"What are you afraid of Sophie?" The Wizard replied his emotions bare, taking a step closer to Sophie, maintaining a respectful if wanting distance.
He lowered both hands to hers, a waiting for once, for Sophie's reciprocal touch. "In these hands can be the dawn of a new day, Sophie. Will you take them?"
AN: The scene with the two soldiers is taken from the movie in case you didn't guess or haven't seen it. :) Well, Sophie isn't suffering too much in this chapter so it should make those of you who thought she suffered a little too much, slightly happier. :) Also, how would you feel if you were in Sophie's situation? Would you be as generous and forgiving towards the Wizard? Annnddd…would u take his hands if he offered them to you in the context of this chapter? :D Can you figure out what the Wizard is doing?