Howl's Moving Castle (synopsis - Page 4)
However, when the litter passes the palace gates, a guard spell robs her blob-servants of all mobility, forcing the Witch to climb the huge staircase in the same way as Sophie - on foot. Sophie is hindered by having to carry the little dog, but the Witch appears to be totally unfit and has an even harder time. As the 2 old ladies struggle up the stairs, the Witch dramatically starts to lose her youthful look, deteriorating into a sweating wreck while Sophie refuses to help, getting a little bit of revenge for being left in an old body. Still, the Witch herself has a certain determination to continue, as she is returning for the first time in 50 years since being driven out. The staff note that they are forbidden to assist, which seems to be a bit hard on what are supposed to be invited guests.
As the now quite worn-out Witch and the comparatively elegant 'Mrs. Pendragon' are announced to the Palace, the witch collapses into the only available chair in the middle of the room. As she rests there, Sophie is led off to a side alcove by the little dog, where she is met by a pageboy with startling blonde hair and a rather familiar face. Meanwhile, an unseen hand throws a switch and an unholy, dancing glow begins to spin an ominous web around the witch...
Sophie is led into a lush conservatory, appearing before Madame Suliman, the Royal Witch, who greets her as 'Mrs. Pendragon', and Sophie plays the role, saying she is Howl's mother. Sophie spots the dog at Suliman's feet, and is told that Heen is Suliman's dog, sent to keep an eye on her. Madame Suliman hears out Howl's apologies with obvious regret, noting that he was a very talented wizard, her last pupil and worthy to be her heir. However, after a demon stole Howl's heart, he abandoned Suliman and used his magic only for selfish reasons - she warns Sophie that Howl's heartlessness makes him dangerous, and he will only end up like the Witch of the Waste. The latter is brought in, now a feeble wreck whose magical powers and youth have been stripped away by Suliman's spells. She too, had bargained with a demon, and given her powers over. Suliman now appears to offer Howl a difficult choice - return and serve her, or have his powers taken just like the Witch. Sophie bristles at this flagrant abuse of power, and as she angrily confronts Suliman, her loving defence of Howl's innocence brings the youth back to her face, much to Suliman's amusement, who can now see plainly Sophie's love for Howl, and Suliman is sure that she has now found Howl's weak point.
The King arrives to see Suliman, and notes that while bombs may be deflected from the palace by magic, they still end up falling on the neighbouring towns, so the war must be won by other means. Suddenly, the true King appears from the wings, gleefully predicting victory in the coming battle. He laughs at the presence of the double, and leaves Suliman to acknowledge Howl's disguise, which of course she had detected from the beginning. Suliman unleashes a magical torrent of water to engulf her guests, and then a dizzying suspension from a great height. But as Howl quietly protects Sophie, Suliman surrounds Howl with the dancing demons that enfeebled the Witch. Transforming into his birdlike demon form, Howl is about to attack Suliman, but Sophie restrains him and they barely escape when Howl instead leaps from the greenhouse to the awaiting winged conveyance.
Heen and the Witch manage to tag along for the ride, much to Howl's consternation, although Sophie cannot throw them from the plane now. Now the power of Howl's 'lucky charm' is revealed, as it lights the way back to Calcifer. Howl gratefully acknowledges the way Sophie saved him from himself and Suliman, and leaves her at the controls as he diverts the pursuing troops.
Throughout the land, the troops of both warring lands attempt to forcibly break into the houses of the wizards Pendragon and Jenkins, but find only empty shells behind the shop facades. The magical Castle has kept itself well hidden. Sophie and the gang pass above her home town as she heads toward the Wastes, when she suddenly realises that she does not know how to stop the vehicle. Crashing through the wall of the Castle, Sophie is welcomed home by Markl. Later that night, Calcifer is appalled by the oozing dark form of Howl, who moves like a ghost as he returns, dripping blood yet almost without any substance at all. Sophie steels herself to follow this horrific trail up to his room. No longer is it a comforting space, but a forboding tunnel running away into the darkness. Sophie finds Howl cowering at the end of the tunnel, but although she tries to help Howl, he mutters that she cannot even break her own curse, and flees.
In the morning, Sophie is woken by the running bath, and Calcifer tells her that time is running out. Sophie realises that Suliman has given her the clue to Howl's curse - the bargain he made with Calcifer in exchange for his heart. Nevertheless, Calcifer's reticence cannot be overcome and threats are useless, as his extinguishment will also lead to Howl's demise. In the quiet of the morning, Sophie steels herself for whatever is to come.