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Stardustby Neil Gaiman
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?"
"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.
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