Chapter Summary: In which Howell and Michael prepare to move the castle, and Sophie decides what their future will be.
Characters this chapter: Howl, Sophie, Michael, Calcifer, Percival
Chapter 27: In which fiendish minds are applied
Howell sulked for some time after Sophie slammed the door on him. He knew he should sleep, but his mind wouldn't stop whirring, on and on, like a spinning wheel that had been possessed by a bad fairy. Flirting with Sophie had been a good distraction from his anxiety about the Witch and the curse, and his guilt over having got Mrs. Penstemmon killed. Now Sophie was gone, Howell's thoughts quickly resumed their whirring. He stared at the rusty swing set in the back garden of Rivendell, and gave in to the aches and pains of his cold, feeling quite sorry for himself.
Until he felt Michael come back through the castle wards, and heard him speaking with Sophie downstairs. Howell couldn't make out the words, but it didn't matter. There was work to do, so he may as well get about it. He wasn't getting any rest overthinking things up here.
Refusing to get dressed, because he was ill and needed everyone to remember that fact, Howell wrapped himself in his patchwork quilt and trudged downstairs to find Michael on his knees, petting Sophie's dog. Michael had asked Howell for a dog before, and he'd said no. Howell preferred cats, though none of the stray cats in Porthaven or Kingsbury would come anywhere near the castle– which was likely just good sense on their part. Now Howell felt a bit guilty having said no to Michael in the past. He looked quite happy to have a dog at last.
Howell waded over to him in a swathe of quilt, pointedly ignoring Sophie after she'd so rudely chosen to see his flirting as a cruel game on her, and bent forward to join Michael in petting the dog. The texture of its fur was different from what Howell had imagined. Of course, bending over made his nose run that much more, so he had to conjure a score of tissues and hold them to his nose with one hand while he scratched the dog behind the ears with the other. "Well?" he asked Michael, impatient with so much attention being lavished on someone who was not himself.
Michael looked up. "I got everything. And there's a real piece of luck, Howl. There's an empty shop for sale down in Market Chipping."
A shop? Well, Howell supposed that would do. They didn't have to keep it a storefront, after all. But his apprentice seemed unduly excited about this. There must be more to it.
Michael's brown eyes cast nervously over Howell's shoulder where Sophie was eavesdropping while pretending to ignore them and sewing away at the remains of Howell's favourite suit like a stubborn necromancer, intent on bringing it back from the dead.
"It used to be a hat shop," Michael said, unsubtly, and Howell's eyes widened. No. Had Sophie's family gone bankrupt looking for her? He felt a strange pang somewhere about his middle; a sensation unlike any he'd felt before. Fortunately Michael went on before Howell could properly begin to feel guilty. "Do you think we could move the castle there?"
The Hatter family business was for sale and Sophie's family in financial ruin, possibly because of his own selfishness? Of course Howell would buy it. If nothing else, to ingratiate himself to Sophie's family. There was nothing wrong with bribing your in-laws out of hating you. And no question they would move the castle there while Howell sorted out the curse. But he knew Calcifer would be more difficult to persuade. Moving him was a life-threatening business for both of them, and all Calcifer had for courage was what was left of Howell's heart. The fire demon had gotten the bad half of their bargain in that respect, if Howell was being honest–which of course he never was if he could help it.
He pretended to consider it first, knowing Calcifer would take some convincing. "It depends how much it costs," Howell said, perching on the low stool which Sophie often used to put her feet up. His bony knees jutted up nearly to his chin, but Howell's head had started to go swimmy for a moment, and he'd needed to sit. He drew his quilt tighter around his shoulders. Why was the castle so drafty? There were drawbacks to living by the sea.
"I'm quite tempted to move the Porthaven entrance there," Howell said slowly, watching Calcifer out the corner of his eye. "That won't be easy, because it will mean moving Calcifer. Porthaven is where Calcifer actually is." The flames of the fire demon's face turned sky blue. "What do you say, Calcifer?"
"It will take a very careful operation to move me," the fire demon said, apprehensively. He seemed to think it over for a moment, his face going paler still. "I think you should leave me where I am," he pronounced at last, unsurprisingly.
Howell leaned closer to the grate, glancing back over his shoulder to see how closely Sophie was listening. But she seemed lost in her own world. Usually when she eavesdropped, she butted into their conversations, but she was suspiciously quiet just now. Howell glanced at Michael. Perhaps she hadn't known her family was selling their business. If so, she might be in shock. "Listen, Calcifer," Howell said quietly. "Buying this shop in Market Chipping is very important to certain people in this room."
"Good for you," Calcifer said, either unmoved or not getting the hint. "Buy all of Ingary for all I care! Just leave me where I am."
"Come on, Calcifer," Howell wheedled. "You don't want to see Michael parted from his Lettie forever, do you?" He dragged Michael down so he could put an arm around him and show Calcifer just how miserable Michael would be. "He'd be absolutely heartbroken, and likely go back to dripping on you the way he used to do when he first came to us."
Calcifer looked at them both sideways. "I don't like being dripped on. But you can move one of the doorways to the shop without moving me, you know."
"That's true." Howell sat back. "But home is where the heart is, you know."
"Well the owner of your heart says home is in Porthaven. And I feel like I should get the final say."
Howell glanced back to make sure Sophie wasn't listening, but her mind still seemed to be elsewhere. "Think about it, Calcifer. How many hat shops do you really think Market Chipping has?"
The fire demon considered this. "Porthaven doesn't have a milliner's."
"Exactly," Howell said.
"Market Chipping's not much larger than Porthaven, is it?"
"Not much," Michael added, helpfully.
"Oh, I see," Calcifer said, seeming to get it at last.
"It's very important that we take that shop, my friend," Howell said. "In fact, you could say our lives depend on it."
"Oh, alright!" Calcifer grumped. "But I don't have to like it."
"You never did have to," Howell said. "But I think this may be the key to all of us surviving this. Sophie included." Calcifer's purple eyes looked back at him with a reluctant, sad understanding.
"Curse you, Howell Jenkins," he said, clearly feeling no more confident about being moved from one town to another.
Feeling the weight of this important decision, Howell trudged back upstairs, intending to sleep. Before he attempted it again, he wanted to check in on Mari. Howell activated the communication spell. "How is my favourite niece?" he asked her, seeing she was already tucked in bed.
"Uncle Hywel!" she said excitedly, and far too loud.
"Remember, cariad, we're being secret. Everything alright in Rivendell?"
"Oh yes," she replied. "Neil got grounded again for talking back to tad at dinner, but I don't mind. It means he has to play with me this weekend instead of playing computer."
"What luck," Howell said. "Has he said anything else about that English teacher of his?"
"No," Mari replied, popping her thumb into her mouth and proceeding to talk around it. "Don't think so."
"There's a good girl. You just let me know if you see anything that looks like the Witch, and I'll be there in a blink."
"She won't come here," Mari said. "I'd give her a thumping."
"That's my cariad. She wouldn't dare. But just in case, you know I'm right here."
"Love you, Uncle Hywel," Mari said, turning on her side as her eyelids began to droop.
"And you," Howell said. "With all the heart I haven't got."
Thus reassured that things were safe back in Wales, Howell was finally able to fall into a deep sleep. By morning, he felt no better as far as his cold was concerned, but his mind was aflame with designs and ideas to work out how they would accomplish the monumental task of moving the castle. Howell had never moved it since he and Michael had invented it. Calcifer had been in Porthaven ever since that fatal night five years ago. This was to be a major magical working; Howell absolutely could not wait to start. The more difficult the challenge, the more driven he was to jump in immediately.
He spent the morning in bed, doing calculations and drawing out the arcane blueprints for the castle irrespective of his actual house in Porthaven. Both the physical maths and the arcane formulae had to be calculated perfectly. Then there was the financial undertaking of purchasing a second home. Howell had worked and saved for years to buy the house in Porthaven, tiny, run-down hovel that it was. He had absolutely no idea how he was going to afford even a small shop in a respectable town like Market Chipping. At least man's word was still worth something in this world (unlike his own), and banks did finance property not wholly unlike they did back home. Surely the royal wizard's name was worth a loan of at least that much. The trouble was, Howell couldn't reveal who he was. It would defeat the whole purpose of his move. Still, he was confident he could work out something.
Howell had intended to give Michael the morning off, but when the figures and diagrams began to make his headache worse, he called for his apprentice to bring him some tea. And a few dozen other things he just remembered as he needed them. Howell didn't notice how many times Michael was in and out of his room; he was too focused on his work. It must have been a few too many times, however, because when Michael brought in Fortune's Guide to Divine Geometry at Howell's request, he looked nearly put out. "Are we really going to do it?" he asked. "Move to Market Chipping? Do you promise?"
"I never make a promise," Howell said, and he saw Michael's shoulders immediately sag with disappointment. "It's an altogether foolish practice which can get one into a great deal of trouble. That said, we are moving to Market Chipping. Not just for you, but for me, and for Sophie. It would be ridiculous to refuse something that improves life for all of us, wouldn't it? That's why Calcifer won't be able to say no."
"He did, though," Michael pointed out.
"Yes," Howell said. "But in the end, we will overrule him."
Michael looked as though he wasn't sure how to feel about this. "It won't hurt him, will it?"
"Of course not," Howell lied confidently. "I'd no more harm Calcifer than I would harm myself."
"Well there was that one time–" Michael began.
"Help me find my trousers," Howell said. "I need your help with these measurements."
"There's no better way to learn than by doing," Howell told him. "And you won't see a magical working like this in any other wizard's home in Ingary," he said confidently. Michael did not protest, but dutifully followed Howell around the castle as he desperately tried to find the original spell sigils he'd placed in calculating how the castle would fit into his modest home in Porthaven. The trouble was, in that diabolically clever way of hers, Sophie seemed to have done away with them all.
Thankfully, Michael remembered where a number of them had been. Surprisingly, so did Howell, in spite of his expertise with expunging his recent memory once he no longer had need of information (or ladies). With a little bit of scrubbing, they were able to find most of the sigils in spite of Sophie's remorseless cleaning and relentless whitewashing.
There was, however, an important set of symbols Howell had drawn in Michael's bedroom which neither of them could seem to find. After indulging himself in a moment of woe, Howell wrapped his quilt more tightly around his nightshirt and swept back downstairs to make one last attempt.
Sophie was busily working away at the demonic fishing net she had chosen to make from Howell's blue and silver suit, chatting amiably with Calcifer. "Sophie," Howell said, drawing himself up to his full 180 centimeters with as much dignity as he could muster with a bad cold. "Since you whitewashed over all the marks we made when we invented the castle, perhaps you can tell me where the marks in Michael's room were?" It was a long-shot, and Howell knew it. But if nothing else, he wanted to get across that she had yet again made things especially difficult for all of them. Someone had to be made to feel guilty, and it was not going to be him. Howell and Michael had done their best to find them, after all.
"No," Sophie answered, utterly unrepentant. "I can't." If Howell didn't know better, he thought she might even be feeling a bit pleased with herself. Howell sneezed, unable to think of a word to say that wasn't either inordinately mean, or would give the game away. He was doing this for her, after all–well, the part about the hat shop in Market Chipping, anyway. The least she could do was be grateful to him for keeping her family business in the family.
"It's no use," he told Michael, after plodding all the way back upstairs. "Sophie doesn't remember, either."
"You can't really expect her to," Michael said, reasonably. "She doesn't have any wizardry training. Probably thought it was just marks I'd made on the wall of my room for no reason, or just a smudge of dirt."
Howell grumbled at this, not wishing to see reason just now. He sat down and did maths, double and triple checking his calculations before leaning over and drawing new sigils on the walls of Michael's room. Right or not, they would have to do. "You'd think Sophie would want to help us," he told Michael. "I'm doing this for her, after all."
Michael looked dubious. "Maybe she didn't care for the hat shop her family ran," he said. "My Lettie told me her mother was exploiting Sophie after they were all forced to drop out of school."
"How do you mean?" Howell said, stopping and looking up from his work.
Michael shrugged. "She said Sophie always worked hard, but she was guilted into working even harder, making the best hats, and not even being paid an apprentice's wage for it."
Howell considered this. "Do parents pay their children wages for learning to take over the family business?" He had little experience with this, coming from the post-industrial age.
"Well, my parents didn't pay my brothers for helping with the catch," Michael said. "But we all worked together, side by side. And we were poor. The Hatter shop was very successful, especially with all of Sophie's hats to sell. It doesn't seem right. If it was me, I might think twice about selling hats after going through something like that."
"You've got a good point, Michael." Howell regretted not having known this about Sophie's past sooner. But this might explain why Sophie had been so quiet today. Maybe she hated the idea they had decided to take the hat shop. Maybe she was holding it against Howell. Good lord. He couldn't have that.
Since it seemed for once Sophie had chosen not to speak up on her own behalf, Howell decided to give her ample opportunity to do so. He waded back downstairs in his quilt to consult her on the matter. For a moment, he stood out of her view, just watching Sophie in the soft light of Calcifer's flickering, trying to think of the best way to put it. "Sophie," he began, "if we were to take that hat shop, what would we sell?" There. He'd said "if". That gave her enough room to say she didn't want it. And if she didn't mind it, asking her what she wanted to sell gave her ample opportunity to suggest something else.
"Not hats," she replied immediately and with finality, proving Michael's instincts frustratingly correct as usual. Howell was grateful to have someone that could be relied upon to be more empathetic than he was. It was a bad business having no heart. "You can buy the shop but not the business, you know," she added.
Howell processed this quietly for a moment. If they were going to do this, he really felt it should be what Sophie wanted. He himself had no head for business–Michael could attest–and he'd never in his life fancied himself a merchant. Selling spells was the only sort of mercantile exchange that made sense to Howell, and he did not even like doing that, particularly. "Apply your fiendish mind to the matter," he told her. Adding, in case she should suspect he had suddenly gone soft leaving such an important point up to her: "Or even think if you know how." He turned and left before she could question his sudden generosity.
"You were right, Michael," Howell said when he arrived back upstairs. "She seemed dead set against the idea of selling hats, so I told her to think of something else for us to sell."
Michael fell suspiciously silent, though whether it was because he knew better than to tell Howell "I told you so," or he himself was a little shocked by Howell's generosity, it was difficult to say. "Are we ready to screw in the next bracket then?" he asked, holding up the metal frame.
"Yes," Howell said, producing the power drill he'd borrowed off Gareth's work bench in the garage at Rivendell. No one here needed to know it didn't run off magic. "This should be the last of them, at least for a while."
"So now we know what the confines of the castle are," Michael said, holding it to the wall while Howell fixed it in place. "And we know where we're moving it to. But what about the doors? Are you going to leave the moving castle on the cliffs above Market Chipping? What of the Kingsbury door?"
"No, we'll have to move everything," Howell said. "The witch will have found all those doors by now. And Kingsbury's much too dangerous now with her having been all over the city just recently."
"But where?" Michael asked, carefully not mentioning that he did not like leaving Porthaven, where he'd been born and raised, all together.
"Haven't the foggiest," Howell said, realizing it the moment he said it. Well, since Sophie had been the deciding factor on the shop and would be deciding what their custom should be, Howell didn't see why she shouldn't choose where the doors led to as well. This was all for her benefit, anyway. On his own, Howell could have avoided the curse any number of ways. "But I think I know a strong-minded woman who has a lot of notions," he told Michael. "I imagine she can decide for us." He shoved the drill back into his bag of everything and flowed back downstairs.
"Sophie, have you any preferences about the other entrances?" he asked, finding her in much the same position as before. "Where would you like us to live?" There was no point making a home that your future wife would not like to live in. Howell didn't plan on doing this operation more than once every five years. It was dangerous, as Calcifer had pointed out, and took a lot out of both of them.
Without so much as a glance back at him, Sophie stopped sewing and seemed to consider it. She hadn't looked at him all day, and Howell felt a bit neglected. She could at least glance at him while he was talking to her. It was almost as if Sophie knew he wanted her attention. At last, she said, "I'd like a nice house with lots of flowers."
Well that was incredibly vague. And would only cover one entrance. …or would it? "I see," Howell said, and stalked back up to his room to think it over. What was a "nice" house in Sophie's opinion? He knew what a nice house was in HIS opinion, but Sophie, like Michael, seemed to have far humbler aspirations than he had. Perhaps that was the point. If he wanted to impress Sophie, to give her a really apropos gift, he should give her the grander of the two definitions. And if it was flowers she wanted, well. Howell knew where the best and biggest flowers in Ingary could be found. He'd grown most of them himself. But was it suicide to put the castle on the edge of the Waste like that? Or was it terribly clever to put the castle in the last place the Witch would look–nearly right on her doorstep? Finally, Howell decided the folly of such a decision was best not thought on. If it was flowers Sophie wanted, he would give her flowers. If the moving castle was there at the edge of the Waste, it would be more difficult for the Witch to track than a stationary doorway, in any case.
There was no time for a bath today. Besides, Howell had reached that point in his cold where just the thought of getting wet made him ill. Unclean though he might be, he much preferred the idea of bundling up in his warmest clothes and going out to take care of business so that he could come back, crawl immediately into bed, and rest. As if to punctuate his decision, his entire body was wracked with a gigantic sneeze. "That settles it then," he said to the myriad spiders spinning their webs busily in the beams of his ceiling, though he had a feeling they were paying him as little mind as Sophie did.
Author's note: Happy Yule, everyone!
I will be re-posting and finishing this story on ao3. Please follow the story there for future updates.