Home > Stardust(4)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“And what would that be, sir?”

“Your Heart’s Desire, remember,” said the gentleman in the top hat. “Your Heart’s Desire.” Dunstan bowed, and they walked on toward the fair.

“Eyes, eyes! New eyes for old!” shouted a tiny woman in front of a table covered with bottles and jars filled with eyes of every kind and color.

“Instruments of music from a hundred lands!”

“Penny whistles! Tuppenny hums! Threepenny choral anthems!”

“Try your luck! Step right up! Answer a simple riddle and win a wind-flower!”

“Everlasting lavender! Bluebell cloth!”

“Bottled dreams, a shilling a bottle!”

“Coats of night! Coats of twilight! Coats of dusk!”

“Swords of fortune! Wands of power! Rings of eternity! Cards of grace! Roll-up, roll-up, step this way!”

“Salves and ointments, philtres and nostrums!”Dunstan paused in front of a stall covered with tiny crystal ornaments; he examined the miniature animals, pondering getting one for Daisy Hempstock. He picked up a crystal cat, no bigger than his thumb. Sagely it blinked at him, and he dropped it, shocked; it righted itself in midair and, like a real cat, fell on its four paws.

Then it stalked over to the corner of the stall and began to wash itself.

Dunstan walked on, through the thronged market.

It was bustling with people; all the strangers who had come to Wall in the previous weeks were there, and many of the inhabitants of the town of Wall as well. Mr. Bromios had set up a wine-tent and was selling wines and pasties to the village folk, who were often tempted by the foods being sold by the folk from Beyond the Wall but had been told by their grandparents, who had got it from their grandparents, that it was deeply, utterly wrong to eat fairy food, to eat fairy fruit, to drink fairy water and sip fairy wine.

For every nine years, the folk from Beyond the Wall and over the hill set up their stalls, and for a day and a night the meadow played host to the Faerie Market; and there was, for one day and one night in nine years, commerce between the nations.

There were wonders for sale, and marvels, and miracles; there were things undreamed-of and objects unimagined (what need, Dunstan wondered, could someone have of the storm-filled eggshells?). He jingled his money in his pocket handkerchief, and looked for something small and inexpensive with which to amuse Daisy.

He heard a gentle chiming in the air, above the hubbub of the market; and this he walked toward.

He passed a stall in which five huge men were dancing to the music of a lugubrious hurdy-gurdy being played by a mournful-looking black bear; he passed a stall where a balding man in a brightly colored kimono was smashing china plates and tossing them into a burning bowl from which colored smoke was pouring, all the while calling out to the passersby.

The chinkling chiming grew louder.

Reaching the stall from which the sound was emanating, he saw that it was deserted. It was festooned with flowers: bluebells and foxgloves and harebells and daffodils, but also with violets and lilies, with tiny crimson dog-roses, pale snowdrops, blue forget-me-nots and a profusion of other flowers Dunstan could not name. Each flower was made of glass or crystal, spun or carved, he could not tell: they counterfeited life perfectly. And they chimed and jingled like distant glass bells.

“Hello?” called Dunstan.

“Good morrow to you, on this Market Day,” said the stall holder, clambering down from the painted caravan parked behind the stall, and she smiled widely at him with white teeth in a dusky face. She was one of the folk from Beyond the Wall, he could tell at once from her eyes, and her ears, which were visible beneath her curly black hair. Her eyes were a deep violet, while her ears were the ears of a cat, perhaps, gently curved, and dusted with a fine, dark fur. She was quite beautiful.

Dunstan picked up a flower from the stall. “It’s very lovely,” he said. It was a violet, and it chinkled and sang as he held it, making a noise similar to that produced by wetting a finger and rubbing it, gently, around a wineglass. “How much is it?”She shrugged, and a delightful shrug it was.

“The cost is never discussed at the outset,” she told him. “It might be a great deal more than you are prepared to pay; and then you would leave, and we would both be the poorer for it. Let us discuss the merchandise in a more general way.”Dunstan paused. It was then that the gentleman with the black silk top hat passed by the stall. “There,” murmured Dunston’s lodger. “My debt to you is settled, and my rent is paid in full.” Dunstan shook his head, as if to clear it of a dream, and turned back to the young lady. “So where do these flowers come from?” he asked.

She smiled knowingly. “On the side of Mount Calamon a grove of glass flowers grows. The journey there is perilous, and the journey back is more so.”

“And of what purpose are they?” asked Dunstan.

“The use and function of these flowers is chiefly decorative and recreational; they bring pleasure; they can be given to a loved one as a token of admiration and affection, and the sound they make is pleasing to the ear. Also, they catch the light most delightfully.” She held a bluebell up to the light; and Dunstan could not but observe that the color of sunlight glittering through the purple crystal was inferior in both hue and shade to that of her eyes.

“I see,” said Dunstan.

“They are also used in certain spells and cantrips. If sir is a magician . . . ?” Dunstan shook his head. There was, he noticed, something remarkable about the young lady.

“Ah. Even so, they are delightful things,” she said, and smiled again.

The remarkable thing was a thin silver chain that ran from the young lady’s wrist, down to her ankle and into the painted caravan behind her.

Dunstan remarked upon it.

“The chain? It binds me to the stall. I am the personal slave of the witch-woman who owns the stall. She caught me many years ago — as I played by the waterfalls in my father’s lands, high in the mountains — luring me on and on in the form of a pretty frog always but a moment out of my reach, until I had left my father’s lands, unwittingly, whereupon she resumed her true shape and popped me into a sack.”

“And you are her slave forever?”

“Not forever,” and at that the faerie girl smiled. “I gain my freedom on the day the moon loses her daughter, if that occurs in a week when two Mondays come together. I await it with patience. And in the meantime I do as I am bid, and also I dream. Will you buy a flower from me now, young master?”

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