AN: If you read Chapter 1 before Dec. 11th, please note that I have made a few changes. Howl is now Howell in third person, and a few parts were re-written. You may want to read through the chapter a second time.
Also, I want to give a huge thank you to both lyrical-harmonies who is beta-ing this for me, and to DKHutcheson from deviantART who helped me sort through some minor plot points.
Chapter 2: In which Howell looks then gets distracted
"Welcome back, Howl," the fire demon greeted him as he shut the door behind him. "I thought you'd be gone longer." Howell spared a glance towards Calcifer who sat in the hearth as usual, before he grabbed a slice of bread and seated himself on a stool near the workbench. "Something wrong, Howl?"
"Not really," he replied truthfully as he took a bite from the bread. The day had gone well. Market Chipping was fun and colorful and full of beautiful women. He had enjoyed himself talking with them, and had even seen that pretty ginger-haired girl in a gray dress. He supposed the day would have been better if he had more of a chance to speak to her. Perhaps next time he walked through Market Chipping she would be found? "I was just thinking about how the king is sure to make me look for Prince Justin."
"He's probably wherever Wizard Suliman is."
"And that probably has something to do with Witch of the Waste," this thought did not make Howell feel any better. That woman was worse than the king.
"Or dead," Calcifer added cryptically.
"I highly doubt he's dead," Howell retorted while he glanced at the skull sitting on the workbench. He knew this conversation was pointless, Calcifer knew practically everything Howell knew. It was a side effect of the contact they made when Howell first found and saved the demon. There was silence for a few minutes before Howell stood up and declared he was going to take a bath. "Get the hot water ready, Calcifer."
Calcifer grumbled a bit, but when Howell turned the bathtub faucet on, hot water poured out just as always. Howell greatly enjoyed his time in the bath. The first half hour or so he always relaxed in the heated water with scented oils. Then he would sometimes re-dye his hair to a perfect shade of yellow using his magic hair cream. This was followed by more relaxing and washing with scented soap, using his skin powder, eye cream, and a number of other enchantments. All in all this ritual took approximately 2 to 2 ½ hours, and he was known to sometimes do this several times a day.
Michael came home later that night, looking as if he was walking on air and Howell briefly envied him. It was not fair that his apprentice could be in such a good mood when Howell felt his day was rather bland. Perhaps his apprentice had actually talked to one of the colorful ladies they saw today. That would explain his earlier distraction. But Howell reminded himself that he had left early and had only met one truly interesting girl that day. Hardly enough time to get himself a more permanent girlfriend. Besides, Howell looked better than Michael, and in that he found consolation.
The following morning Howell awoke and took his bath. When he came out a few hours later, Michael informed him that he had another message from the king, and handed a crisply folded letter to Howell. He quickly tore it open with a wave of his hand and read the message. "Gah," he mumbled. "He never tires of having me do work for him."
"What does he want?" asked Michael.
"Seven-league boots. Two thousand pair. I'll work on it in a few days." He tossed the letter at Calcifer who quickly consumed it. "Bring me the bacon and eggs, time for breakfast."
Calcifer bent down his head and Howell cooked with the large frying pan. Some minutes later he was done and the two men positioned themselves at the workbench to eat their breakfast. "Did you do your homework?" asked Howell after a minute of silent eating.
Michael paused to remember what Howell was talking about. "The hats? I figured out that some of them had a spell on them, though it was unclear what those spells were doing."
"They were charms. I found a hat shop yesterday selling them, though I don't think the charms were advertised."
"What did the charms do?"
"Youth, beauty, and whatnot. All wonderful qualities women should have." Howell stood up, leaving his plate on the workbench. "I'm going out; keep working on your spell." Michael nodded and Howell left through the Moving Castle door.
What ever the king may reward him for it, Howell knew he had to find Wizard Suliman. But so far all he had found was his field of bushes and flowers on the edge of the Waste. Although Howell had never met Suliman, he could easily tell they were grown by him. The question was why.
As for the King's brother, Prince Justin, that was a separate yet related mystery. Howell had already surmised that when the Prince argued with his brother and left, he went to find his friend, the Wizard Suliman. Everyone knew that Suliman was last seen at the Waste, but the Prince was seen everywhere but there. Even Howell had seen him when he stopped by for a finding spell and Michael sold it to him.
Where did the two disappear to? Howell reviewed what he knew as he transported himself to Upper Folding. He had heard rumors of the prince being up that way and wanted to see for himself. Upper Folding was a nice place, filled with respectable houses and respectable people. He knew of a witch that lived in the area and suspected Prince Justin may have come to her for help. He approached the largest house in the village, with white walls between black beams. It had a thatched roof as all houses in the area did. The yard was filled with bushes and flowers that Howell thought smelled almost as good as he did. There were also lots of bees.
Howell walked through a gate to the porch and knocked on the door. A moment later the door opened to reveal a beautiful girl with dark curled hair and clear blue eyes. She looked a bit familiar, but he couldn't place where he may have seen her before. Quite breath taken, Howell forgot to speak for almost a full second, something that never happened. Quickly recovering, he said, "Hello Miss. My name is Sylvester Oak and I am here to see Mrs. Fairfax. Is she in?"
The girl quickly nodded and let Howell in. Howell looked at her longingly as she left the room to find the witch. She returned a few minutes later, followed by a plump happy woman with yellow hair pinned up off her neck. "Mr. Oak?" she asked upon seeing him. She did not seem to trust him and Howell got the feeling that he may have met her before.
"Yes, I was wondering if you could assist me. You see, I've heard rumors that the Prince may have stopped through Upper Folding a few months ago. Did he visit you by any chance?"
Mrs. Fairfax looked thoughtful. "Why don't we sit down, Mr. Oak? You come too, Lettie." Howell and the dark-haired girl followed Mrs. Fairfax to the sitting room. On a small table sat a warm tea-kettle with pretty little yellow teacups and saucers decorate with images of honeycomb and bees. Lettie offered some to Howell and he accepted graciously. Lettie looked so pretty smiling as she handed him his drink. He smiled wider and sipped his tea. It tasted strongly of honey.
"To answer your question Mr. Oak, we did see the Prince some time ago, though he was disguised in a green uniform. Some people are very easy to see through, you know. He wanted a finding spell, didn't he, dear?" Mrs. Fairfax directed her question at Lettie, nodding her head in a prodding sort of way.
"Oh- yes. He stopped by several times, in fact. He was looking for Wizard Suliman and was never happy with the results of the spell." said Lettie. Howell thought her voice was lovely.
"Go on," Mrs. Fairfax urged.
"Yes, well… the spell kept pointing to somewhere between here and Market Chipping. He claimed that was impossible, rather cheekily might I add. I didn't like him at all." Mrs. Fairfax laughed. Howell kept smiling as he took another sip of the tea.
"Are you looking for the Wizard as well? Or just the Prince?" asked Mrs. Fairfax
"A bit of both," Howell began. "Thank you for sharing that information with me, Miss Lettie," he looked at her in a meaningful sort of way. "Mrs. Fairfax, is Miss Lettie by chance your younger sister?"
Howell had hoped to get a blush out of Mrs. Fairfax, it was amusing to make older ladies blush, after all. He failed, but he did get the information about Lettie that he desired.. "Oh, no, Mr. Oak. She's my apprentice of three months. I'm a good friend of her mother down in Market Chipping. Wonderful lady, Fanny Hatter. She's raised her daughters well."
After some final conversation, Howell excused himself from the witch's home, but not before kissing Lettie on her hand and promising to visit again soon. A few steps outside of the village, Howell transported himself outside his castle and stepped through the door.
Michael was inside at the workbench. He looked up to greet Howell, but groaned instead. Hearing the groan, Calicifer bent as far as he could towards the door. He quickly retreated. Not happy with their greeting, Howell threw himself dramatically into the chair in front of the fireplace. "I see that I am appreciated," he sighed. "I come into my own home to unhappy sounds. But no matter," he waved his hand as if pushing his negative feelings away. "Tomorrow I will see her again, and at least there I will be loved."
"So it's true?" Michael sounded exasperated. "You found another girl."
"Not just any girl, my hateful apprentice. The most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
Clearly not liking the sound of this, Michael went back to his spell. Not getting any response out of either Michael or Calicifer, Howell gave up is attempt to be either pitied or admired and called for hot water in the bathroom.
an: I'm sorry if Howell is a bit OCC. This part was very difficult for me to write, and the next chapter will be even harder. If you have any advice for Howell/Lettie interactions, I'll be happy to hear it.