Page 41 of Stardust

“Yes,” said Tristran. “I can see. It is awful. But I’m not sure there’s much that we can do about it.”They walked together through the meadow, toward the gap in the wall. “We shall visit my parents first,” said Tristran, “for I have no doubt that they have missed me as I have missed them” — although, truth to tell, Tristran had scarcely given his parents a second thought on his journeyings — “and then we shall pay a visit to Victoria Forester, and —” It was with this and that Tristran closed his mouth. For he could no longer reconcile his old idea of giving the star to Victoria Forester with his current notion that the star was not a thing to be passed from hand to hand, but a true person in all respects and no kind of a thing at all. And yet, Victoria Forester was the woman he loved.

Well and all, he would burn that bridge when he came to it, he decided, and for now he would take Yvaine into the village and deal with events as they came. He felt his spirits lift, and his time as a dormouse had already become nothing more in his head than the remnants of a dream, as if he had merely taken an afternoon nap in front of the kitchen fire and was now wide awake once more. He could almost taste in his mouth the memory of Mr. Bromios’s best ale, although he realized, with a guilty start, he had forgotten the color of Victoria Forester’s eyes.

The sun was huge and red behind the rooftops of Wall when Tristran and Yvaine crossed the meadow and looked down on the gap in the wall. The star hesitated.

“Do you really want this?” she asked Tristran. “For I have misgivings.”

“Don’t be nervous,” he said. “Although it’s not surprising that you have nerves; my stomach feels as if I had swallowed a hundred butterflies. You shall feel so much better when you are sitting in my mother’s parlor, drinking her tea — well, not drinking tea, but there will be tea for you to sip — why, I swear that for such a guest, and to welcome her boy back home, my mother would break out the best china,” and his hand sought hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

She looked at him, and she smiled, gently and ruefully.

“Whither thou goest . . .” she whispered.

Hand in hand the young man and the fallen star approached the gap in the wall.

Chapter Ten

It has occasionally been remarked upon that it is as easy to overlook something large and obvious as it is to overlook something small and niggling, and that the large things one overlooks can often cause problems.

Tristran Thorn approached the gap in the wall, from the Faerie side, for the second time since his conception eighteen years before, with the star limping beside him. His head was in a whirl from the scents and the sounds of his native village, and his heart rose within him. He nodded politely to the guards on the gap as he approached, recognizing them both. The young man shifting idly from foot to foot, sipping a pint of what Tristran supposed to be Mr. Bromios’s best ale, was Wystan Pippin, who had once been Tristran’s schoolfellow, although never his friend; while the older man, sucking irritably upon a pipe, which appeared to have gone out, was none other than Tristran’s former employer at Monday and Brown’s, Jerome Ambrose Brown, Esquire.

The men had their backs to Tristran and Yvaine, and were resolutely facing the village as if they thought it sinful to observe the preparations occurring in the meadow behind them.

“Good evening,” said Tristran, politely, “Wystan. Mister Brown.”The two men started. Wystan spilled his beer down the front of his jacket. Mr. Brown raised his staff and pointed the end of it at Tristran’s chest, nervously. Wystan Pippin put down his ale, picked up his staff, and blocked the gap with it.

“Stay where you are!” said Mr. Brown, gesturing with the staff, as if Tristran were a wild beast that might spring at him at any moment.

Tristran laughed. “Do you not know me?” he asked. “It is me,Tristran Thorn.”But Mr. Brown, who was, Tristran knew, the senior of the guards, did not lower his staff. He looked Tristran up and down, from his worn brown boots to his mop of shaggy hair. Then he stared into Tristran’s sun-browned face and sniffed, unimpressed. “Even if you are that good-for-nothing Thorn,” he said, “I see no reason to let either of you people through. We guard the wall, after all.”Tristran blinked. “I, too, have guarded the wall,” he pointed out. “And there are no rules about not letting people through from this direction. Only from the village.”Mr. Brown nodded, slowly. Then he said, as one talks to an idiot, “And if you are Tristran Thorn — which I’m only conceding for the sake of argument here, for you look nothing like him, and you talk little enough like him either — in all the years you lived here, how many people came through the wall from the meadow side?”

“Why, none that ever I knew of,” said Tristran.

Mr. Brown smiled the same smile he had been used to use when he docked Tristran a morning’s wages for five minutes’ lateness. “Exactly,” he said. “There was no rule against it because it doesn’t happen. No one comes through from the other side. Not while I’m on duty, any road. Now, be off with you, before I take my stick to your head.”Tristran was dumbfounded. “If you think I have gone through, well, everything I’ve gone through, only to be turned away at the last by a self-important, penny-pinching grocer and by someone who used to crib from me in History . . .” he began, but Yvaine touched his arm and said, “Tristran, let it go for now. You shall not fight with your own people.”Tristran said nothing. Then he turned, without a word, and together they walked back up the slope of the meadow. Around them a hodgepodge of creatures and people erected their stalls, hung their flags and wheeled their barrows. And it came to Tristran then, in a wave of something that resembled homesickness, but a homesickness comprised in equal parts of longing and despair, that these might as well be his own people, for he felt he had more in common with them than with the pallid folk of Wall in their worsted jackets and their hobnailed boots.

They stopped and watched a small woman, almost as broad as she was high, do her best to put up her stall. Unasked, Tristran walked over and began to help her, carrying the heavy boxes from her cart to the stall, climbing a tall stepladder to hang an assortment of streamers from a tree branch, unpacking heavy glass carafes and jugs (each one stoppered with a huge, blackened cork and sealed with silvery wax and filled with a slowly swirling colored smoke), and placing them on the shelves. As he and the market-woman worked, Yvaine sat on a nearby tree stump and she sang to them in her soft, clean voice the songs of the high stars, and the commoner songs she had heard and learnt from the folk they had encountered on their journeyings.