Check out our episode here! Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The village of Wall sits on a high jut of granite next to a small woodland. To the east is a high grey wall, old and rough. It comes out of the woods and back into the woods with only one gap, six feet in width, and on the other side, a meadow. Guards are posted at the wall. They stop tourists, wanderers and mischievous children from going through. There are occasions when someone has a look in their eye and is permitted to cross, otherwise they maintain their guard with a cudgel in hand. The guard is relaxed however once every nine years when a fair comes to the meadow on May Day.
Back at the dawn of the Victorian age, Wall was starting to burst at the seams with tourists, visitors and vendors from across the globe eagerly waiting for the fair in the meadow beyond the wall. One of the villagers, Dunstan Thorn, a pragmatic young man, actually dreams of leaving Wall to the bustling city of London, Edinburgh or Dublin. He spends his days tending his father's farm and occasional evenings walking with Miss Daisy Hempstock. After pulling a guard duty shift at the wall one day, Dustan goes to the local pub to receive his pint of very fine ale as payment where he meets a man with a tall black silk top hat. The man pays Dunstan a golden sovereign, a silver sixpence, a copper penny, a fresh shiny farthing and a miracle, his Heart's Desire, to rent his little cottage for the next three days. Dunstan accepts the payment and goes to sleep in the cow byre where he is woken by a figure in a large floppy hat begging his pardon to share the space.
The next day, at midday, people are permitted to venture through the gap in the wall. People of all shapes and sizes, sellers, revellers, the curious and the wary join the throng in the Faerie Market. Wonders, marvels, “things un-dreamed of and objects unimagined” are available. Dunstan catches sight of a display of little glass flowers. Thinking about buying one for Daisy Hempstock, he approaches the brightly colored wagon. The seller is a young lady with violet eyes and cat-like ears, dusted with fur at the tips. As Dunstan stares at her, the gentleman in the silk top hat walks by and declares his final debt paid. The girl has no name, she is a slave, lured from her father's lands when she was young and stuffed in a sack by the owner of the stall who had her tied with a long silver chain. She will gain her freedom on the day the moon loses her daughter in a week when two Mondays come together. The girl flusters Dunstan and he can’t seem to remember who he intended to buy a flower for... he needs to catch his breath. He selects a snowdrop which costs a kiss on the cheek. The slave girl tells Dunstan to come back that night, and hoot like a little owl.
Walking in a daze through the Market, Dunstan happens upon Daisy sitting with her family and his parents. Handing her the snowdrop, he gives her a kiss on the check much to the scandal of their parents. He is ordered back to Wall as he is obviously under Faerie magic. Their fathers aren’t able to find the fey responsible, the closest being an old woman with a large bird on a silver chain muttering away. Daisy is exceedingly happy Dunstan has kissed her at last! Later that night however, Dunstan, still mooning after the slave girl, wanders back over the wall, hoots like anything but a little owl and spends a very enjoyable evening in the arms of the cat-eared girl. For weeks Dunstan pines for her, Daisy has stopped eating thinking Dunstan no longer wants her. Their mothers on the other hand take it upon themselves to arrange their marriage, a good meadow, fine sheep and the building of a farmhouse for them. Months go by after the wedding and on a cold night, a basket is pushed through the gap in the wall. Inside is a baby, and pinned to its blanket are the words, Tristran Thorn.
The years passed, and the Faerie Market came again nine years later, right on schedule. Eight-year-old Tristran was not permitted to go and was unceremoniously packed off to distant relatives. His sister, Louisa, on the other hand, six months his junior, was allowed to go. Years flew by again and the Thorn siblings grew. Tristran found dirty jokes and filthy ballads, and started noticing girls, especially the exceedingly beautiful Victoria Forester, his sister's friend.
Now Tristran is seventeen and working in the village general store, Victoria comes in with a list for her mother. Tristran tries to start an awkward conversation about rice pudding but it falls flat; his offer to walk her home is accepted though. Night is falling as they walk and Tristran begs for a kiss, he pledges to travel the world and bring Victoria back treasures from across the globe, if she would just kiss him. Victoria doesn’t take his declarations particularly seriously and challenges him to retrieve a fallen star they see leave the heavens. If Tristran returns with that particular star, she promises he can have anything. Rushing home and joyous at the prospect, Tristran packs a bag. His father asks where he is going and knows exactly which East Tristran means when he says it. The East over the wall. Dunstan walks his son to the gap and after some small talk with the guards asks them if they know the rumor of where Tristran came from. They do. Dunstan explains that it’s time for Tristran to return. Dunstan hands something to his son before he steps over the gap but it’s not until he is in the meadow on the other side of the wall that Tristran looks at it. The glass snowdrop. Placing it in his top buttonhole and in complete ignorance of what is to come, walks forth into the woods.
The eighty-first Lord of Stormhold and Master of the High Crags is dying. He is surrounded by his sons, both living and dead. Unfortunately he has three sons still alive, Primus, Tertius and Septimus, who have killed their own siblings, Secondus, Quintus, Quartus and Sextus, in order to be named their father's successor. This is troubling to the eighty-first Lord. In his youth, he had killed his four brothers by the time he was twenty and blames the youth of today for being a pasty lot with no vigor or get-up-and-go. Ah well. Instead of his sons taking the Stormhold seat through traditional means, the eighty-first Lord takes the topaz that hangs around his neck, the Power of Stormhold, and throws it out the window. As it goes seemingly higher than its natural apex would allow, a star falls after it. The Lord declares with his dying breath that whomever retrieves the stone, so long as he has Stormhold blood, shall be named the eighty-second Lord of Stormhold. Then he dies.
In the Faerie woods, inside a rundown cottage covered in dirt and grime, live three old crones. Inside a tall, immaculately clean obsidian mirror are three beautiful women. They, the old crones and the young beauties, are the witch-queen Lilim. Which are the shadow-versions and which are real only they know, and they will not tell. One of the old crones comes into the cottage with a stoat whose neck she has slashed. Skinning it then pouring its entrails out, two of the sisters read the guts and gore. The third comes hobbling in at their shrieks. A star! A star! A fallen star! To decide who will go after the star, each pulls an organ from the mess. The oldest of the Lilim pulls out the heart, so she will fetch the fallen star. She consumes the rest of the last star they caught two hundred years prior which restores her power and youth. Now she is prepared to retrieve the new star and when she does, they will use it to restore all their beauty and strength.
In a glade by a pool where fireflies dance and enchanted beings failed to break their enchantment, the light of the moon gets brighter and brighter. But it’s not the moon, it’s the falling star. With a bang like a gunshot something hits the land, followed by an “ow,” then a “fuck," then another “ow.” Then all goes silent.
After walking for a while, it seems to Tristran that autumn is turning into summer and he notices how very tired he is. Making himself comfortable on the ground he falls asleep and is awakened by someone muttering and the wonderful smell of cooking. A person with a large floppy hat and overcoat is next to him cooking mushrumps, and they are delicious. Packing up the little camp, Tristran and the fellow move on as a pair, the fellow chattering away, asking who Tristran is, where he’s from (Wall) and what he wants (Victoria). The fellow doesn’t seem too taken with Victoria as she seems too demanding. It turns out he knows Tristran’s father from a cow byre a few years back. As they talk they don’t realize that the woods are closing in and that they have strayed from the path. The fellow starts to panic, the trees are wicked and tricky, they start to cut the fellow and Tristran with their sharp leaves and branches. Tristran however is more calm, he knows where the path is, and pulling the fellow along, takes them back. After a few swigs of some restorative liquor, they walk out of the woods, carefully sticking to the path this time. Setting out in a field, the fellow questions Tristran further. Doesn’t he find it odd he knows his way through Faerie, knows where all the places in Faerie are, is even positive of the location of the fallen star, but he has no idea about the rest of the world on the other side of Wall?
The three living brothers of Stormhold have set out to find the Topaz after laying their father’s body in the Hall of Ancestors. Wary of each other, their coach journey is quiet and tense. When they reach a coaching inn for the night, they take their meal and their wine, separate unopened bottles, thank you very much, and retire for the night. Lord Tertius however also takes advantage of the chambermaid's favors. This does not go according to plan, well the first time does, but after a drink of wine from the bottle she brought, kindly given to her by one of his brothers, Tertius is dead. Poison. A favored method of Septimus. This puts Primus in a foul mood as he is left to sort out the corpse, the odd number of horses left in the stable since Septimus absconded with one of the team, and the coachman that can’t be woken.
At a crossroad, a young boy taking a goat to market to sell for nothing less than a florin, as his mother told him, meets a tall, beautiful lady. She offers to buy the goat for a golden guinea. That’s an amazing deal! Sold! The woman places a finger between the eyes of the goat which freezes it, then she turns to the boy and says something about a matched pair and does the same to the boy… who is now also a goat. Now he pulls the witch-woman’s cart with the goat he was meant to sell.
The floppy hat fellow takes Tristran’s torn and tattered clothes to the village of Revelry which does not live up to its name. He exchanges them for finer, more colorful clothes which will help Tristran not look so much like a tourist. To thank him for saving him and as repayment to the kindness his father showed him, the floppy hat fellow gives Tristran a fine silver chain and a candle. He tells him the most efficient way to travel is by candlelight. His star is at least a six-month walk away, but not with a candle. Lighting the small nub, Tristran walks and travels over mountains and through clouds. Far below him in Faerie, he sees a woman in a chariot being pulled by a matched pair of goats. His journey ends at a pool where finds a girl with eyes red from crying, hair so fine it’s almost white, and a dress of shimmering blue silk. When he asks about the star she tells him that her leg is broken. It takes a few moments and quite a few insults before Tristran realizes the crying girl is, in fact, the star. It is at this point the candle goes out. This is not good, but there is very little to be done about it, so Tristran places the chain around the fallen star's wrist, earning more insults from her, and settles down for some rest, earning even more insults.
Fashioning a crutch out of a tree branch and splinting her broken leg, Tristran tries to cajole the star to come with him. She points out that she “would do everything in [her] power to frustrate [his] plans and devices.” He points out there is no reason to stay, plus there is the chain. Resigned, they leave the pool. The way is difficult, the plants around them thick, the ground getting steeper. It is not until the star asks if there is a flatter route that Tristran is able to point one out. They head to it and find a clearing that is wonderfully flat and easy to traverse. In the center of the clearing, however, is a golden crown encrusted with jewels. Suddenly a large, fierce lion and a magnificent unicorn crash into the meadow. The star begs Tristran help or they will kill each other. The fight is violent and bloody so he is reluctant to say the least. Tristran does slowly start to walk toward the two animals locked together by teeth and claw when he remembers a nursery rhyme. Taking the crown down from the center of the meadow, he places it on the lion's head who turns and runs off. The unicorn is badly hurt and the star insists they stay and help it.
The witch-queen is racing toward the star and comes across an old woman with a brightly decorated caravan and a large bird in a cage, a silver chain on its leg. The witch-queen can tell by the camp flame this is no ordinary woman, but a member of the Sisterhood, she knew her in her youth as Ditchwater Sal. They exchange greetings and fake names and make promises of hospitality. While a hare roasts on the spit, Ditchwater Sal notes that not all the goats started life on four legs, the witch-queen makes comment about the bird which causes Ditchwater Sal to go on a rant about her giving away a prized item nearly twenty years ago and the repercussions caused more problems so a bird she shall stay unless needed. Sharing the cooked meat, the old woman passes some mixed dried herbs to the witch-queen, mixed in is limbus grass which is a gentle soporific and has the curious properties of making the consumer speak the truth. The witch-queen tells the old woman of her quest to find the star, Ditchwater Sal is excited as she’ll hunt for it, too, but she doesn’t count on the witch-queen calling her out and cursing her to be “unable to see the star, unable to perceive it, unable to touch it, to taste it, to find it, to kill it.” When the witch-queen leaves, Ditchwater Sal does not recall her visitor, but the curse itches at her.
In a small seaside town, Lord Primus of Stormhold starts to make enquiries about a very tall fellow, angular, dark-haired with a thin hungry face. He also announces loudly that he will set sail on Heart of a Dream. He sells his black coach and matching team of four horses, boards the ship and tells the crew not to bother him for the first week of the journey. Secretly a very tall fellow, angular, dark-haired with a thin hungry face takes the place of one of the crew and sets sail with the ship. The day after Heart of a Dream’s departure, Lord Primus re-purchases his coach and four and leaves the small seaside town.
Tristran and the star have now been joined by the unicorn ((80s synth punk rock band)) who, at Tristran’s behest, agrees to carry the star who is tired and limping. The unicorn is also gracious enough to allow Tristran to ride when he starts to flag. There is a village close by so Tristran releases the star from the chain, hands her his end and asks on her honor as a star that she stay and wait while he fetches supplies. In the village he is able to trade for some food and a bale of hay for the unicorn, but when Tristran returns to where he left the unicorn and the star, they are gone. He can sense them to the southwest, but knowing he won’t catch up to them, he settles down to sleep. It seems he's always hungry or asleep. While Tristran sleeps, the witch-queen senses the star moving. She is coming toward her. Lord Primus, now clean shaven, casts runes and can see the topaz is moving fast. The star and the unicorn race through the woods, both shining and twinkling.
Tristran wakes from a dream where the moon begs him to look after her child. The tree he is sleeping under also has a dream. She was visited by the great Pan and instructed to help Tristran. After he tells her his story, the tree offers three true things, two for now and one for when he most needs it. The first is that the star is in great danger from those who would do her harm or worse. The second is that there is a coach coming soon on a path in the forest and he must get on it. The third, the one for later, comes in the form of a leaf she gifts to Tristran. Tristran thanks the tree and dashes off, reaching the path just in time for the coach to pass him by. He walks along and finds a huge branch has fallen into the path, stopping the coach. Tristran helps the tall imposing figure move the branch and asks him for a ride. After the driver consults his runes, he agrees.
Meanwhile, the witch-queen has set a trap for the star who is still heading toward her. She has turned her chariot into an inn and the goats into people, making the true goat the innkeeper and the once young boy her “daughter,” a pot-maid. They light the fires for there is rain in the air. Tristran and the coach driver travel through the day, rest for the night (more sleeping) and continue through a storm so bad it seems supernatural. It is not until they are driving through the storm that the driver gives Tristran his name, Lord Primus, and Tristran returns the favor with his full name feeling Lord Primus has earned it. The going is tough, the horses only walking now as the path seems to have turned into a stream. Tristran and Primus both dream of a roaring fire and a warm bed when Tristran spots a light ahead. It’s an inn!
Fighting through fatigue and the storm, the star and the unicorn stumble across the Sign of the Chariot inn. The innkeeper's wife is friendly and inviting, making a hot bath for the star and ensuring her comfort and well being to warm her heart until it glows. As the innkeeper's wife and her daughter are helping the star sit at the table, a loud banging and cry can be heard. A new customer has loudly entered the establishment calling for service and warm burnt ale for the young lad with him currently tending the four horses in the stable. Tristran has rubbed down the team of four and can hear another horse in the end stall. A pot girl brings him some burnt ale and when she leaves, having not said anything to him, the horse at the far end starts battering the wooden partition until it splinters and comes racing out, head down toward him. As he thinks he is about to be skewed on the horse's horn, he realizes it is the unicorn! Instead of impalement, the unicorn stops him from drinking the poisoned burnt ale. Tristran runs toward the inn, pulling what is left of the travelling candle and the truth leaf from his pocket. Holding up the leaf, he listens. Inside the inn, the innkeeper's wife is becoming impatient and is beginning to hear loud bangs coming from the stables. Tristran runs into the room, shouting that they tried to poison him! The innkeeper's wife slits Lord Primus’ throat with her dragon glass knife. The unicorn comes charging in and there is a fight, the innkeeper is killed by the unicorn who also skewers the witch-queen in the shoulder, but her knives are wicked and she thrusts one through the unicorn's eye and into its skull. Meanwhile the star has crawled to Tristran who has wrapped the last of the travelling candle in a strip of cloth. Grabbing the star and shouting at her to walk, Tristran lights the candle by sticking his hand in the fire. They walk away as the witch-queen screams. The candle is small so it drops them off high above the Earth.
Riding along the mountain path, Lord Septimus comes across a small chariot on its side. Near it is the body of a goat, skewered between the horns, and the body of a boy with a bash to the head. A short distance from this scene, Lord Septimus spies another body, covered in dried blood with a perfect slice across his throat. It takes a moment but he realizes this is the body of his brother, Lord Primus, whose nearby ghost mocks his detective ability. The ghosts of his other brothers whisper about revenge. Though Lord Septimus can not hear his dead brothers, he has the same thoughts. As his elder brother was killed by another, he is duty bound to avenge him. As the eighty-second Lord of Stormhold, Master of the High Crags, Seneschal of the Spire-Towns, Keeper of the Citadel, Lord High Guardian of Mount Huron etc, etc, it is his duty. At least… he would be Lord of Stormhold and all those other things if he retrieves the Power of Stormhold, something that his ghostly brothers mutter tartly about.
Half a mile up, sitting on a fluffy cumulus cloud, are Tristran and the star. Tristran’s hand is very badly burned from the fire but they are alive, realistically in a great deal of peril, but still alive. The star begrudgingly admits Tristran saved her life and she is now indebted to him, by the law of her people he is responsible for her and she him. They are stuck together. Tristran tries to start their relationship again and introduces himself. Reluctantly the star tells him her name, Yvaine.
The witch-queen now travels by Lord Primus’ coach and four. Inside the coach is the corpse of the unicorn which she reanimates by spitting her own blood into its mouth. Then she slits its throat and cuts off its head to create a pool of brackish blood through which she consults her sisters. The star is still in Faerie though they cannot locate her precisely. They know she is heading toward the Market at Wall. The eldest of the Lilim will head to Diggory’s Dyke as all who go to the Market pass through, and she shall wait for her there.
Standing on the cloud shouting and waving at no one, it seems to Tristran and Yvaine that they are well and truly stuck when someone calls down to them. A huge sky ship is floating above and the Captain invites them aboard. For several weeks they are the guests of Captain Johannes Alberic and the crew of the Perdita, a time Tristran remembers as some of his best. One of the crew, Meggot, gave him a salve to help heal his hand as well as Yvaine’s leg. She also shared her clothes and room with Yvaine. During their time, they repaid their hosts by helping to catch thunderbolts until one day they moored at a giant tree bustling with other sky ships and had to disembark. There were still several weeks' travel to Wall in which Tristran and Yvaine had many adventures but they grew tired and sore from the walking. One day Tristran helped to free a large multi-colored bird whose silver chain had tangled in a tree root. Its owner, an old woman, bashed Tristran over the head and shouted abuse in repayment. It’s not until Tristran and Yvaine meet her further along the road she is more cordial. She and Tristran strike a bargain. In repayment for his glass snowdrop the old woman gets rather manic about, she will provide room and lodging to Wall, she will cause no harm and they shall arrive at their destination in the same condition that they leave. Agreed! And she promptly turns Tristran into a dormouse. Yvaine has been entirely unacknowledged during this whole exchange, but remember, Ditchwater Sal was witch-cursed, so she doesn't even realize Yvaine is there. They travel for weeks like that, a caravan driven by an old witch-woman, a large exotic bird, a little dormouse and an unseen star.
At Diggory’s Dyke, a deep cut between two chalk hills, an old crone lives in a hut made of sticks. She stops all passersby before letting them proceed. She seems lonely. Lord Septimus watches her and plans her death for he knows she is the one who killed his brother. During the night he plants pine cones and paper into holes in the stick hut and sets them on fire and watches the blaze. The crone will either die in the inferno or by his club as she escapes. The inferno grows, forcing Lord Septimus back where a red snake bites his ankle. Quickly he loses feeling in his leg, then all over his body as he becomes paralyzed. Berating Lord Septimus for attacking a defenseless old woman, the crone picks up the snake that bit him and puts it back on her wrist where it transforms into a bracelet. Slowly, over hours, Lord Septimus’ body shuts down. He can’t speak, move or even blink, and eventually he joins his brothers.
Tristran and Yvaine make it to the Market at the Wall. There was a close call on the journey at Diggory’s Dyke, as Yvaine slept in the caravan, Ditchwater Sal came across the witch-queen again, but being cursed to not acknowledge the star, she spoke the truth when it was drawn from her that only she, her bird who is also a woman, a dormouse who is also a boy and her mule were travelling. Not exactly sure how to proceed now they are so close to their destination, Tristran says they shall visit his parents' house first for a nice cup of tea. Hand in hand, they head to the gap in the wall where they are promptly turned away by the guards. Slightly, actually a lot, put out by this, they walk back into the market. Tristran helps a woman set up her stall and in return, she feeds him and gives him some very strong wine which makes him pass out drunk in the grass patch behind the seller's stall. While Tristran snores, Ditchwater Sal's bird, currently in her human form, comes to speak to Yvaine. She introduces herself as the bird and warns Yvaine not to cross the gap in the wall or else she will turn into a rock. She also tells Yvaine to fulfil the obligation of the Topaz.
The next day, Tristran is woken by a badger with a message, a girl waits for him at the gap. Thinking it is Victoria, Tristran asks Yvaine to wait in the market for him. It isn’t Victoria but his sister who berates him for not saying goodbye and ruining Christmas, though he looks well and she missed him. Louisa takes him to the pub to meet someone. Victoria, at last! In what can only be a much rehearsed speech, Victoria says she feels guilty about Tristran running off, she really didn’t mean she wanted to marry him, in fact she wants to marry Mr. Monday, Tristran’s former boss at the store. Tristran disabuses Victoria of any notion that she is to blame and says as repayment for finding the star he wants her to marry Mr. Monday. As soon as possible. Tristran then returns to his family and spends several hours there. During this time, Tristran is informed of who his birth mother is.
Several hours later, Yvaine is waiting for Tristran and is bored. A beautiful young lady starts to converse with her, and it just so happens to be Victoria. When it seems that Victoria will be married within the week, Yvaine is ready to walk through the gap and become a dead thing until she is introduced to Victoria’s fiancé, Mr. Monday. Victoria is very happy they shall be married on a Friday as it means two Mondays will come together in the same week! Victoria wanders off and not long after, Tristran arrives. They realize their feelings for each other, expressed through cute nicknames like clodpoll, and finally they kiss. Meanwhile, the slave girl’s silver chain has broken, the terms of the spell have been met: she was “bound until the day that the moon lost her daughter, if it occurred in a week two Mondays come together.” The slave-girl is Lady Una, first born and only daughter of the eighty-first Lord of Stormhold.
While Tristran and Yvaine sit around a campfire, Lady Una comes over and introduces herself as Tristran’s mother. She tells Yvaine to give Tristran the topaz and declares her son to be the eighty-second Lord of Stormhold. They shall hire a huge and dramatic escort to take them back to Stormhold, there will be elephants! Hang on... this is all going a bit fast! Tristran doesn’t want to be a Lord and doesn’t want to travel so ostentatiously. Yvaine senses this would be a good moment to leave the newly reunited mother and son to discuss the matter and wanders off. She meets a wizened old woman, hunched and crooked, with blind milky blue eyes, rough skin and hair where there shouldn’t be hair. The old woman reminds Yvaine who she is, what she has done to her, her desire for her heart so as to be young and beautiful again, but there is no fight in her as she can no longer feel the star's heart. Yvaine tells her that she has given her heart away. The old woman is resigned, she shall return to her sisters, they will be cruel but there is no heart for her to bring back anymore. After she is gone, Tristran comes over to Yvaine, he has agreed with his mother to eventually return to Stormhold, but they shall make their own way, while Lady Una will return with all the pomp and ceremony she wants.
Lady Una returns to Stormhold with three elephants leading her precession. The celebrations, both official and unofficial, last over a month. She rules as Regent until her son, the eighty-second Lord returns. It took three years for Tristran and Yvaine to make it to Stormhold, but after spending a few days in a lovely inn and seeing how well Lady Una was ruling, they sent a note to her. “Have been unexpectedly detained by the world. Expect us when you see us.” Five years after this, they returned for good. Tristran was a good and wise leader but death comes to all, well most. His body is placed in the Halls of the Ancestors and Yvaine rules as Lady of Stormhold. She is celebrated and loved as a great monarch. At night, when duties permit, she can be found in the highest spire of Stormhold whose roof collapsed thousand of years before, looking up at the moon and the stars for hours on end.