Home > Stardust(7)

Author: Neil Gaiman

Dunstan Thorn was married in June to Daisy Hempstock. And if the groom seemed a little distracted, well, the bride was as glowing and lovely as ever any bride has been.

Behind them, their fathers discussed the plans for the farmhouse they would build for the newlyweds in the western meadow. Their mothers agreed how lovely Daisy looked, and what a pity it was that Dunstan had stopped Daisy from wearing the snowdrop he had bought for her at the market at the end of April, in her wedding dress.

And it is there we will leave them, in a falling flurry of rose petals, scarlet and yellow and pink and white.

Or almost.

They lived in Dunstan’s cottage, while their little farmhouse was erected, and they were certainly happy enough; and the day-to-day business of raising sheep, and herding sheep, and shearing them, and nursing them, slowly took the faraway look from Dunstan’s eyes.

First autumn came, then winter. It was at the end of February, in lambing season, when the world was cold, and a bitter wind howled down the moors and through the leafless forest, when icy rains fell from the leaden skies in continual drizzling showers, at six in the evening, after the sun had set and the sky was dark, that a wicker basket was pushed through the space in the wall. The guards, on each side of the gap, at first did not notice the basket. They were facing the wrong way, after all, and it was dark and wet, and they were busy stamping the ground and staring gloomily and longingly at the lights of the village.

And then a high, keening wail began.

It was then that they looked down, and saw the basket at their feet. There was a bundle in the basket: a bundle of oiled silk and woolen blankets, from the top of which protruded a red, bawling face, with screwed-up little eyes, a mouth, open and vocal, and hungry.

And there was, attached to the baby’s blanket with a silver pin, a scrap of parchment, upon which was written in an elegant, if slightly archaic, handwriting the following words:

Chapter Two

In Which Tristran Thorn Grows to Manhood and Makes a Rash...

Years passed.

The next Faerie Market was held on schedule on the other side of the wall. Young Tristran Thorn, eight years old, did not attend, finding himself packed off to stay with extremely distant relations in a village a day’s ride away.

His little sister, Louisa, six months his junior, was, however, allowed to go to the market, and this was a source of great ranklement to the boy, as was the fact that Louisa brought back from the market a glass globe, filled with speckles of light that glittered and flashed in the twilight, and which cast a warm and gentle radiance into the darkness of their bedroom in the farmhouse, while all Tristran brought back from his relatives was a nasty case of the measles.

Shortly afterward, the farm cat had three kittens: two black-and-white ones like herself, and a tiny kitten with a dusty blue sheen to her coat, and eyes that changed color depending on her mood, from green and gold to salmon, scarlet and vermilion.

This kitten was given to Tristran to make up for missing the market. She grew slowly, the blue cat, and she was the sweetest cat in the world, until, one evening, she began to prowl the house impatiently, to mrowll and to flash her eyes, which were the purple-red of foxgloves; and when Tristran’s father came back from a day in the fields, the cat yowled, bolted through the door and was off into the dusk.

The guards on the wall were for people, not cats; and Tristran, who was twelve by this time, never saw the blue cat again. He was inconsolable for a while. His father came into his bedroom one night and sat at the end of his bed, saying gruffly, “She’ll be happier, over the wall. With her own kind. Don’t you fret now, lad.”His mother said nothing to him about the matter, as she said little to him on any subject. Sometimes Tristran would look up to see his mother staring at him intently, as if she were trying to tease some secret from his face.

Louisa, his sister, would needle him about this as they walked to the village school in the morning, as she would goad him about so many other things: the shape of his ears, for example (the right ear was flat against his head, and almost pointed; the left one was not), and about the foolish things he said: once he told her that the tiny clouds, fluffy and white, that clustered across the horizon at sunset as they walked home from school, were sheep. It was no matter that he later claimed that he had meant simply that they reminded him of sheep, or that there was something fluffy and sheeplike about them. Louisa laughed and teased and goaded like a goblin; and what was worse, she told the other children, and incited them to “baa” quietly whenever Tristran walked past. Louisa was a born inciter, and danced circles around her brother.

The village school was a fine school, and under the tutelage of Mrs. Cherry, the schoolmistress, Tristran Thorn learned all about fractions, and longitude and latitude; he could ask in French for the pen of the gardener’s aunt, indeed for the pen of his own aunt; he learned the kings and queens of England from William the Conqueror, 1066, to Victoria, 1837. He learned his reading and had a fair copperplate hand. Travelers to the village were rare, but occasionally a peddler would come through the village, selling “penny dreadful” accounts of grisly murders, fateful encounters, dire doings and remarkable escapes. Most peddlers sold song sheets, two for a penny, and families would buy them and gather about their pianos to sing songs such as “Cherry Ripe” and “In My Father’s Garden.”So the days went by, and the weeks went by, and the years went by also. At age fourteen, by a process of osmosis, of dirty jokes, whispered secrets and filthy ballads,Tristran learned of sex. When he was fifteen he hurt his arm falling from the apple tree outside Mr.

Thomas Forester’s house: more specifically, from the apple tree outside Miss Victoria Forester’s bedroom window. To Tristran’s regret, he had caught no more than a pink and tantalizing glimpse of Victoria, who was his sister’s age and, without any doubt, the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around.

By the time Victoria was seventeen, and Tristran also, she was in all probability, he was certain, the most beautiful girl in the British Isles. Tristran would have insisted on the most beautiful girl in the entire British Empire, if not the world, and boxed you, or been prepared to, had you argued with him.

You would have been hard-pressed to find anyone in Wall who would have argued with him, though; she turned many heads and, in all probability, broke many hearts.

A description: She had her mother’s grey eyes and heart-shaped face, her father’s curling chestnut hair. Her lips were red and perfectly shaped, her cheeks blushed prettily when she spoke. She was pale, and utterly delightful.

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