“Very well, Vicky. Why would you not kiss me, that night?”
“Because,” she said, and there was relief in her voice as she said it, enormous relief, as if it were escaping from her, “the day before we saw the shooting star, Robert had asked me to marry him. That evening, when I saw you, I had gone to the shop hoping to see him, and to talk to him, and to tell him that I accepted, and he should ask my father for my hand.”
“Robert?” asked Tristran, his head all in a whirl.
“Robert Monday. You worked in his shop.”
“Mister Monday?” echoed Tristran. “You and Mister Monday?”
“Exactly.” She was looking at him now. “And then you had to take me seriously and run off to bring me back a star, and not a day would go by when I did not feel as if I had done something foolish and bad. For I promised you my hand, if you returned with the star. And there were some days, Tristran, when I honestly do not know which I thought worse, that you would be killed in the Lands Beyond, all for the love of me, or that you would succeed in your madness, and return with the star, to claim me as your bride. Now, of course, some folks hereabouts told me not to take on so, and that it was inevitable that you would have gone off to the Lands Beyond, of course, it being your nature, and you being from there in the first place, but, somehow, in my heart, I knew I was at fault, and that, one day, you would return to claim me.”
“And you love Mister Monday?” said Tristran, seizing on the only thing in all this he was certain he had understood.
She nodded, and raised her head, so her pretty chin pointed toward Tristran. “But I gave you my word, Tristran. And I will keep my word, and I have told Robert this. I am responsible for all that you have gone through — even for your poor burned hand. And if you want me, then I am yours.”
“To be honest,” he said, “I think that I am responsible for all that I have done, not you. And it is hard to regret a moment of it, although I missed soft beds from time to time, and I shall never be able to look at another dormouse in quite the same way ever again. But you did not promise me your hand if I came back with the star, Vicky.”
“No. You promised me anything I desired.”Victoria Forester sat bolt upright then, and looked down at the floor. A red spot burned in each pale cheek, as if she had been slapped. “Do I understand you to be —” she began, but Tristran interrupted her.
“No,” he said. “I don’t think you do, actually. You said you would give me whatever I desire.”
“Then . . .” He paused. “Then I desire that you should marry Mister Monday. I desire that you should be married as soon as possible — why, within this very week, if such a thing can be arranged. And I desire that you should be as happy together as ever a man and woman have ever been.”She exhaled in one low shuddering breath of release. Then she looked at him. “Do you mean it?” she asked.
“Marry him with my blessing, and we’ll be quits and done,” said Tristran. “And the star will probably think so, too.”There was a knock at the door. “Is all well in there?” called a man’s voice.
“Everything is very well,” said Victoria. “Please come in, Robert. You remember Tristran Thorn, do you not?”
“Good morning, Mister Monday,” said Tristran, and he shook Mr. Monday’s hand, which was sweaty and damp. “I understand that you are to be married soon. Permit me to tender my congratulations.”Mr. Monday grinned, though it made him look as if he had a toothache. Then he held out a hand for Victoria, and she rose from the chair.
“If you wish to see the star, Miss Forester . . .” said Tristran, but Victoria shook her head.
“I am delighted that you came home safely, Mister Thorn. I trust that I shall see you at our wedding?”
“I’m sure that nothing could give me greater pleasure than to be there,” said Tristran, although he was sure of no such thing.
On a normal day it would have been unheard-of for the Seventh Magpie to have been so crowded before breakfast, but this was market day, and the Wall-folk and the strangers were crowded into the bar, eating heaped plates of lambchops and bacon and mushrooms and fried eggs and black pudding.
Dunstan Thorn was waiting for Tristran in the bar. He stood up when he saw him, walked over and clasped him on the shoulder, without speaking. “So you made it back without hurt,” he said, and there was pride in his voice.
Tristran wondered if he had grown while he was away; he remembered his father as a bigger man. “Hello Father,” he said. “I hurt my hand a bit.”
“Your mother has breakfast waiting for you, back at the farm,” said Dunstan.
“Breakfast would be wonderful,” admitted Tristran. “And seeing Mother again, of course. Also we need to talk.” For his mind was still on something that Victoria Forester had said.
“You look taller,” said his father. “And you are badly in need of a trip to the barber’s.” He drained his tankard, and together they left the Seventh Magpie and walked out into the morning.
The two Thorns climbed over a stile into one of Dunstan’s fields, and, as they walked through the meadow in which he had played as a boy, Tristran raised the matter that had been vexing him, which was the question of his birth. His father answered him as honestly as he was able to during the long walk back to the farmhouse, telling his tale as if he were recounting a story that had happened a very long time ago, to someone else. A love story.
And then they were at Tristran’s old home, where his sister waited for him, and there was a steaming breakfast on the stove and on the table, prepared for him, lovingly, by the woman he had always believed to be his mother.
Madame Semele adjusted the last of the crystal flowers on the stall and eyed the market with disfavor. It was a little past noon, and the customers had just started to wander through. None of them had yet stopped at her stall.
“Fewer of them and fewer of them, every nine-year,” she said. “Mark my words, soon enough this market will be just a memory. There’s other markets, and other marketplaces, I am thinking. This market’s time is almost over. Another forty, fifty, sixty years at the most, and it will be done for good.”
“Perhaps,” said her violet-eyed servant, “but it does not matter to me. This is the last of these markets I shall ever attend.”Madame Semele glared at her. “I thought I had long since beaten all of your insolence out of you.”