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Author: Neil Gaiman

“My name is Dunstan.”

“And an honest name it is, too,” she said with a teasing grin. “Where are your pincers, Master Dunstan? Will you catch the devil by the nose?”

“And what is your name?” asked Dunstan, blushing a deep red.

“I no longer have a name. I am a slave, and the name I had was taken from me. I answer to ‘hey, you!’ or to ‘girl!’ or to ‘foolish slattern!’ or to many another imprecation.”Dunstan noticed how the silken fabric of her robe pressed itself against her body; he was aware of elegant curves, and of her violet eyes upon him, and he swallowed.

Dunstan put his hand in his pocket and pulled out his kerchief. He could no longer look at the woman. He tumbled out his money onto the counter. “Take enough for this,” he said, picking a pure white snowdrop from the table.

“We do not take money at this stall.” She pushed the coins back toward him.

“No? What will you take?” For by now he was quite agitated, and his only mission was to obtain a flower for . . . for Daisy, Daisy Hempstock . . . to obtain his flower and to depart, for, truth to tell, the young lady was making him exceedingly uncomfortable.

“I could take the color of your hair,” she said, “or all of your memories before you were three years of age. I could take the hearing from your left ear — not all of it, just enough that you’d not enjoy music or appreciate the running of a river or the soughing of the wind.”Dunstan shook his head.

“Or a kiss from you. One kiss, here on my cheek.”

“That I’ll pay with goodwill!” said Dunstan, and with that he leaned across the stall, amid the twinkling jingling of the crystal flowers, and planted a chaste kiss on her soft cheek. He smelled the scent of her then, intoxicating, magical; it filled the front of his head and his chest and his mind.

“There, now,” she said, and she passed him his snowdrop. He took it with hands that suddenly seemed to him to be huge and clumsy and not at all small and in every way perfect like the hands of the faerie girl. “And I’ll see you back here tonight, Dunstan Thorn, when the moon goes down. Come here and hoot like a little owl. Can you do that?”He nodded, and stumbled away from her; he did not need to ask how she knew his surname; she had taken it from him along with certain other things, such as his heart, when he had kissed her.

The snowdrop chimed in his hand. “Why, Dunstan Thorn,” said Daisy Hempstock, when he encountered her by Mr. Bromios’s tent, sitting with her family and Dunstan’s parents, eating great brown sausages and drinking porter, “whatever is the matter?”

“I brought you a gift,” Dunstan muttered, and thrust the chiming snowdrop toward her; it glinted in the afternoon sunlight. She took it from him, puzzled, with fingers still shiny with sausage grease. Impulsively, Dunstan leaned forward and, in front of her mother and father and sister, in front of Bridget Comfrey and Mr. Bromios and all, he kissed her on her fair cheek.

The outcry was predictable; but Mr. Hempstock, who had not lived on the border of Faerie and the Lands Beyond for fifty-seven years for nothing, exclaimed, “Hush, now! Look at his eyes. Can’t you see the poor boy’s dazed in his wits, dazed and confused? He’s bespelled, I’ll wager you. Hoy! Tommy Forester! Come here; take young Dunstan Thorn back to the village and keep an eye on him; let him sleep if he wishes, or talk if it’s talk he needs....”Tommy walked Dunstan out of the market and back to the village of Wall.

“There, now, Daisy,” said her mother, stroking her hair, “he’s just a little elf-touched, that’s all. No need to take on so.” And she pulled a lace kerchief from her capacious bosom, and dabbed at her daughter’s cheeks, which had suddenly become covered with tears.

Daisy looked up at her, and seized the handkerchief, and blew her nose upon it, and sniffled into it. And Mrs. Hempstock observed, with a certain perplexity, that Daisy appeared to be smiling through her tears.

“But Mother, Dunstan kissed me,” said Daisy Hempstock, and she fixed the crystal snowdrop at the front of her bonnet, where it chimed and glistened.

After some time spent searching for it, Mr. Hempstock and Dunstan’s father found the stall where the crystal flowers were being sold; but the stall was being run by an elderly woman, accompanied by an exotic and very beautiful bird, which was chained to its perch by a thin silver chain. There was no reasoning with the old woman, for when they tried to question her about what had happened to Dunstan, all her talk was of one of the prizes of her collection, given away by a good-for-nothing, and that was what came of ingratitude, and of these sad modern times, and of today’s servants. In the empty village (for who’d be in the village during the Faerie Market?), Dunstan was taken into the Seventh Magpie and given a wooden settle on which to sit. He rested his forehead on his hand and stared off into no-one-knows-where and, from time to time, sighed huge sighs, like the wind.

Tommy Forester tried to talk to him, saying “Now then, old fellow, buck up, that’s the ticket, let’s see a smile, eh? How’s about something to eat then? Or something to drink? No? My word, you do look queer, Dunstan, old fellow...” but gaining no response of any kind, Tommy began to pine after the market himself, where even now (he rubbed his tender jaw) the lovely Bridget was undoubtedly being escorted by some huge and imposing gentleman with exotic clothes and a little monkey that chattered. And, having assured himself that his friend would be safe in the empty inn, Tommy walked back through the village to the gap in the wall.

As Tommy reentered the market, he observed that the place was a hubbub: a wild place of puppet shows, of jugglers and dancing animals, of horses for auction and all kinds of things for sale or barter.

Later, at twilight, a different kind of people came out. There was a crier, who cried news as a modern newspaper prints headlines — “The Master of Stormhold Suffers a Mysterious Malady!”, “The Hill of Fire Has Moved to the Fastness of Dene!”, “The Squire of Garamond’s Only Heir is Transformed into a Grunting Pig-wiggin!” — and would for a coin expand further on these stories.

The sun set, and a huge spring moon appeared, high already in the heavens. A chill breeze blew. Now the traders retreated into their tents, and the visitors to the market found themselves whispered at, invited to partake of numerous wonders, each available for a price.

And as the moon came low on the horizon Dunstan Thorn walked quietly down the cobbled streets of the village of Wall. He passed many a merry-maker — visitor or foreigner — although few enough of them observed him as he walked.

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