Home > Stardust(6)

Author: Neil Gaiman

He slipped through the gap in the wall — thick it was, the wall — and Dunstan found himself wondering, as his father had before him, what would happen were he to walk along the top of it.

Through the gap and into the meadow, and that night, for the first time in his life, Dunstan entertained thoughts of continuing on through the meadow, of crossing the stream and vanishing into the trees on its far side. He entertained these thoughts awkwardly, as a man entertains unexpected guests. Then, as he reached his objective, he pushed these thoughts away, as a man apologizes to his guests, and leaves them, muttering something about a prior engagement.

The moon was setting.

Dunstan raised his hands to his mouth and hooted. There was no response; the sky above was a deep color — blue perhaps, or purple, not black — sprinkled with more stars than the mind could hold.

He hooted once more.

“That,” she said severely in his ear, “is nothing like a little owl. A snowy owl it could be, a barn owl, even. If my ears were stopped up with twigs perhaps I’d imagine it an eagle-owl. But it’s not a little owl.”Dunstan shrugged, and grinned, a little foolishly. The faerie woman sat down beside him. She intoxicated him: he was breathing her, sensing her through the pores of his skin. She leaned close to him.

“Do you think you are under a spell, pretty Dunstan?”

“I do not know.”She laughed, and the sound was a clear rill bubbling over rocks and stones.

“You are under no spell, pretty boy, pretty boy.” She lay back in the grass and stared up at the sky. “Your stars,” she asked. “What are they like?” Dunstan lay beside her in the cool grass and stared up at the night sky. There was certainly something odd about the stars: perhaps there was more color in them, for they glittered like tiny gems; perhaps there was something about the number of tiny stars, the constellations; something was strange and wonderful about the stars. But then . . .

They lay back to back, staring up at the sky.

“What do you want from life?” asked the faerie lass.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “You, I think.”

“I want my freedom,” she said.

Dunstan reached down to the silver chain that ran from her wrist to her ankle, and off away in the grass. He tugged on it. It was stronger than it looked.

“It was fashioned of cat’s breath and fish-scales and moonlight mixed in with the silver,” she told him. “Unbreakable until the terms of the spell are concluded.”

“Oh.” He moved back onto the grass.

“I should not mind it, for it is a long, long chain; but the knowledge of it irks me, and I miss my father’s land. And the witch-woman is not the best of mistresses....”And she was quiet. Dunstan leaned over toward her, reached a hand up to her face, felt something wet and hot splash against his hand.

“Why, you are crying.”She said nothing. Dunstan pulled her toward him, wiping ineffectually at her face with his big hand; and then he leaned into her sobbing face and, tentatively, uncertain of whether or not he was doing the correct thing given the circumstances, he kissed her, full upon her burning lips.

There was a moment of hesitation, and then her mouth opened against his, and her tongue slid into his mouth, and he was, under the strange stars, utterly, irrevocably, lost.

He had kissed before, with the girls of the village, but he had gone no further.

His hand felt her small br**sts through the silk of her dress, touched the hard nubs of her ni**les. She clung to him, hard, as if she were drowning, fumbling with his shirt, with his britches.

She was so small; he was scared he would hurt her and break her. He did not. She wriggled and writhed beneath him, gasping and kicking, and guiding him with her hand.

She placed a hundred burning kisses on his face and chest, and then she was above him, straddling him, gasping and laughing, sweating and slippery as a minnow, and he was arching and pushing and exulting, his head full of her and only her, and had he known her name he would have called it out aloud.

At the end, he would have pulled out, but she held him inside her, wrapped her legs around him, pushed against him so hard that he felt that the two of them occupied the same place in the universe. As if, for one powerful, engulfing moment, they were the same person, giving and receiving, as the stars faded into the predawn sky.

They lay together, side by side.

The faerie woman adjusted her silk robe and was once more decorously covered. Dunstan pulled his britches back up, with regret. He squeezed her small hand in his.

The sweat dried on his skin, and he felt chilled and lonely. He could see her now, as the sky lightened into a dawn grey. Around them animals were stirring: horses stamped, birds began, waking, to sing the dawn in, and here and there across the market meadow, those in the tents were beginning to rise and move. “Now, get along with you,” she said softly, and looked at him, half regretfully, with eyes as violet as the cirrus clouds, high in the dawn sky. And she kissed him, gently, on the mouth, with lips that tasted of crushed blackberries, then she stood up and walked back into the gypsy caravan behind the stall.

Dazed and alone, Dunstan walked through the market, feeling a great deal older than his eighteen years.

He returned to the cow byre, took off his boots, and slept until he woke, when the sun was high in the sky.

On the following day the market finished, although Dunstan did not return to it, and the foreigners left the village and life in Wall returned to normal, which was perhaps slightly less normal than life in most villages (particularly when the wind was in the wrong direction) but was, all things considered, normal enough. Two weeks after the market, Tommy Forester proposed marriage to Bridget Comfrey, and she accepted. And the week after that, Mrs. Hempstock came to visit Mrs. Thorn of a morning. They took tea in the parlor.

“It is a blessing about the Forester boy,” said Mrs. Hempstock.

“That it is,” said Mrs. Thorn. “Have another scone, my dear. I expect your Daisy shall be a bridesmaid.”

“I trust she shall,” said Mrs. Hempstock, “if she should live so long.”Mrs.

Thorn looked up, alarmed. “Why, she is not ill, Mrs. Hempstock? Say it is not so.”

“She does not eat, Mrs. Thorn. She wastes away. She drinks a little water from time to time.”

“Oh, my!”Mrs. Hempstock went on,“Last night I finally discovered the cause. It is your Dunstan.”

“Dunstan? He has not . . .” Mrs. Thorn raised one hand to her mouth.

“Oh, no,” said Mrs. Hempstock, hastily shaking her head and pursing her lips, “nothing like that. He has ignored her. She has not seen him for days and days. She has taken it into her head that he no longer cares for her, and all she does is hold the snowdrop he gave her, and she sobs.”Mrs. Thorn measured out more tea from the jar into the pot, added hot water. “Truth to tell,” she admitted, “we’re a little concerned about Dunstan, Thorney and me. He’s been mooning. That’s the only word for it. His work isn’t getting done. Thorney was saying that he needs some settling down, that boy. If he’d but settle down, why Thorney was saying he’d settle all the Westward Meadows on the lad.”Mrs. Hempstock nodded slowly. “Hempstock would certainly not be averse to seeing our Daisy happy. Certain he’d settle a flock of our sheep on the girl.” The Hempstocks’ sheep were notoriously the finest for miles around: shaggy-coated and intelligent (for sheep), with curling horns and sharp hooves. Mrs. Hempstock and Mrs. Thorn sipped their tea. And so it was settled.

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