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Ribbons and Laces

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When Louisa Thorn was seventeen years old, she saw a star fall. She watched it from her bedroom window, turning her head and pressing her cheek against the cold glass to follow its path over the dark October sky until it disappeared behind the treetops. When she looked down into the glass globe her father had bought for her at the market many years before, she thought she could see the falling star reflected in it, amidst the speckles of light. She blinked, and it was gone, if it had ever been there. She went to bed then, and dreamt of ribbons and laces, of ships and faraway lands and of strange birds, but not of stars or the moon or of Faerie or Victoria Forester or of any of the things she might have dreamt of if she had known what was taking place while she slept.

At the breakfast table the next morning, Tristran's chair was empty. While that in itself was not an uncommon occurrence, for Tristran was often late to meals, the fact that the table wasn't set for him was rarer. Dunstan Thorn looked silent and concerned and Daisy Thorn was refusing to sit down, instead scrubbing the stove furiously, even though it was already shining. Louisa's questions went mostly unanswered. All she learnt was that her brother had left Wall for Faerie.

"I always knew it would come to this," Daisy said to her husband, with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face.

"I know," Dunstan said with a sigh and a gentle smile. "I had hoped it wouldn't."

"But why did he leave?" Louisa asked impatiently, but instead of answering her mother sent her off to buy rice and sugar for dinner, and even though Louisa knew there was at least half a pound of each in the cupboard, she obeyed.

When she entered Monday and Brown's there was a crowd by the counter, gathered around Victoria Forester and her mother. From the strands of half-whispered gossip Louisa could hear she soon grasped the gist of the story, that Tristran had gone to Faerie to fetch the fallen star for Victoria and that she had promised to marry him if he brought it back. It was such a foolish thing to do and yet so very typical of Tristran that Louisa couldn't bring herself to be either horrified or surprised but merely annoyed at her brother for causing such a fuss. She took a few steps forward, and Mr Brown behind the counter noticed her and his loud: "Good morning, Miss Thorn," caused everyone to fall silent. Victoria left her mother's side and came over to Louisa, taking her hands in her own and looked at her with pleading eyes.

"I could not dream he actually meant it," she said in a distressed voice. "I promise you that."

"How could anyone ever know what Tristran means to do?" Louisa said reasonably. "He'll be back within the week, with a torn coat, a lost shoe and a broken toe, and not a star in sight."

Laughter ran through the crowd at her words and Louisa squeezed Victoria's hands reassuringly and said more quietly:

"Don't fret, Victoria. I'm sure he didn't mean for you to worry. You'll see, he'll be back in a week."

But a week passed, and then another, and another, and Tristran did not come back. To her annoyance (and a little bit to her surprise), Louisa grew worried. One night she sat awake for hours, staring into her glass globe, willing it to reveal something, anything, about her brother. Not that she thought such a thing was possible, but it was from Faerie, after all, and with items like that you could never be certain. The speckles of light glittered and flashed as they had always done, but told her nothing.

"Stupid trinket," she muttered, and threw it to the floor, regretting it while it was still in the air. It didn't shatter, though, just fell to the floor with a dull thud and rolled over the floorboards until it came to rest underneath her bed. Even that vexed her, and she didn't retrieve it. She had trouble falling asleep in the early morning hours with the globe's warm glow spreading up the wall from beneath her bed.

"It is frightfully romantic, though," Lucy Pippin said one December morning in the orchard. She looked at no one as she said it, but at the bare branches of the trees reaching toward the sky. "For someone to fetch you a star."

"I think it's silly," Cecilia Hempstock declared, her breath a white cloud in the chilly winter air. "But Tristran has never been very sensible. I would never marry a man who set out on a fool's errand like that."

"Well, I don't see anyone offering to bring you a star, Cecilia," Louisa said tartly to her cousin, "so I don't think you'll have to worry much about that."

Lucy giggled, and even Victoria hid a smile behind her gloved hand as Cecilia glowered silently.

Louisa had always enjoyed making fun of her brother, who could never keep up with her thoughts or words, but with Tristran gone everything was different, and she wouldn't let anyone make a fool of him. So when Henry Clarke, who was a few years older than her and whom she had barely spoken to before, scolded a group of younger children who were trying to imagine the most gruesome fates that Tristran could have met, she smiled gratefully and sincerely at him and was somewhat startled by the way he blushed when he returned her smile.

Weeks and months went by, and as winter turned to spring and the people of Wall started to prepare for the market, they forgot about young Tristran Thorn. The only ones left to worry about him were Louisa, her parents (who were still silent and strong), and Victoria Forester, who was more willing to talk. The two girls, who had always been friends, but never very close, became a familiar sight in Wall, arm in arm, with their heads close together and their cheeks rosy from their long walks. Victoria told Louisa about Mr Monday and his proposal and while Louisa assured her that no one could expect Victoria to wait for Tristran and to marry him, even if he did bring back the star, which she was certain he wouldn't, she was secretly pleased when Victoria insisted to keep her promise. If only because it kept her from marrying Mr Monday, who was after all five and forty years old and who had a remarkably unnatural smile.

When market day arrived and Tristran returned, Louisa barely had time to stop and breathe and take in everything that had happened, (that Tristran had, wonder of wonders, brought a star, that he had no intention of marrying Victoria Forester, and that Victoria Forester had every intention of marrying Mr Monday) before he stood in front of her to say farewell.

"I think it's most inconsiderate of you," she said, but without any real feeling behind the words. "I don't see how you can leave again."

Tristran smiled at her, and in that moment she finally recognised her brother, which was of some comfort.

"Sometimes you have to leave things behind to win your heart's desire," he said. "Wall is a small place, sister. Not everyone can find happiness here." Impulsively he embraced her and ignored her muffled protests as he lifted her off the floor. "Come visit me if you like."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Louisa said, and to her great dismay she could feel tears rising in her eyes. "What would I do in Faerie?"

"Everyone comes to Faerie!" Tristran said. "The minstrels and the lovers and the mad."

"Well, I am none of those," she said primly, and ran her hands over her dress to smooth the wrinkles when he finally let her go. "Though I can see quite clearly which category you belong to."

Tristran laughed. "You really have grown up to be pretty," he said and looked admiringly at her, tugging at a curl of her hair.

"Bah," she said, for lack of words, and blushed.

"Find your heart's desire, Louisa," he said then and Louisa, who had never dreamt of taking advice from her brother and who had no intention of starting to do so now, even if Tristran looked very handsome and grown-up and remarkably happy, scoffed at him.

"My heart's desire?" she asked and shook her head. "Really, Tristran, who put such thoughts in your head?"

He said nothing more, but smiled again, kissed her cheek and left.

"That's another Christmas you'll spoil, you know," she called after him, but he just laughed and waved in reply.

The marriage of Victoria Forester and Mr Monday was a bright and lovely affair, with just about each and every person of the village attending. The groom looked younger than ever and very much in love, and made a charming, if not terribly clever, speech of the rarity of two Mondays in the same week. And it was widely agreed that the bride, who had always been considered the most beautiful girl in Wall, had never looked prettier. Louisa, who was a bridesmaid ("I wouldn't dream of asking anyone else," Victoria had said and had embraced her in radiant joy) smiled and cheered with everyone else, but found it hard to hold on to her smile. She was unsettled and restless and a little bit sad. She told herself not to be silly. After all, Tristran had only been gone for a few days, and she couldn't possibly miss him already, and she had no other reason to be upset, had she?

Summer was unusually hot and windy that year. In the Seventh Magpie, the patrons tried to remember if there had ever been a season as dry and unnatural as this one, only to shake their heads and wipe their brows and proclaim it a bad omen for times to come. The winds came from the east, from beyond the wall, bringing scents of thyme and mint, and Louisa, who had lived all her life in Wall and never been bothered by the Faerie winds, grew more and more restless with each day. She argued with her mother, yelled at the unruly sheep, longed for Victoria who was in Brighton with her new husband, and after growing tired of Henry Clarke smiling at her every time she saw him, she let him kiss her in hope it would make things easier, which it didn't. At night she twisted and turned in bed, and dreamt of ribbons and laces, of ships and faraway lands, and of stars and the moon and Victoria and Faerie. When she woke up her head ached and her heart beat quickly in her chest, and she wished and prayed for the winds to change.

And the wind did change direction, but after the hot eastern winds came the winds from the north, bringing an early winter to Wall. The patrons of the Seventh Magpie were once again left to shake their heads and wonder what had happened to autumn and what all this could mean. The snow fell in the first days of October, and the miserable wet and cold weather left everyone coughing and sniffling for days at end. Mr Monday, who had always been slight and frail, coughed harder than anyone else.

"They say his lungs are in quite bad shape," Dunstan Thorn said to his wife at the breakfast table one morning in December, sighing and shaking his head sadly.

Two weeks later, just after Christmas, Mr Monday died quietly, without so much as a last cough, in his big house with his young wife in tears by his side.

"And them not even married a year," Daisy Thorn said to her husband at the dinner table, her cheeks still red after hurrying home to tell him the tragic tidings. Louisa sat between them, the food growing in her mouth until she could not breathe, and hastily excused herself from the table.

Some days later Louisa was sitting in the parlour of the Monday residence, not knowing what to say and so she stayed silent. The same did Victoria, who looked pale and sickly in her black mourning dress, and yet absolutely lovely in the grey winter light. Bridget Forester and Daisy Thorn talked enough for all of them. They talked of the weather, of how the snow had finally began to melt on Christmas Day of all days, and wasn't that a blessed sight, of Mrs Hempstock and that very nice young man Henry Clarke who had both been very ill, but were now thankfully better, of the new muslin that had come in to Monday and Brown's (which would always be called Monday and Brown's, Mr Brown had declared loudly before blowing his nose vigorously). When they finally ran out of words there was blessed silence for a few moments, until Bridget Forester looked at her daughter and sighed.

"If only there had been a child," she said to Daisy Thorn in a voice that was not quiet enough to keep it from either Louisa or Victoria.

Victoria sobbed, then, a tiny hiccup of great sorrow, and ran from the room. Louisa stared after her, biting down on her lip to keep from crying out.

Louisa had never been very fond of Mr Monday's great house, even though it was without a doubt an impressive sight. It had always seemed too cold and impersonal, and now more so than ever, as she was sitting alone with Victoria in the parlour.

"The thing is," Victoria said, "I did think I married Robert in part because of his house and his coach and his horses." She looked around the room, which was so big there was a slight echo to her voice, and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. "Only now I think I didn't at all."

"Oh," Louisa said, and tried to think of a single reason, other than marriage itself, to marry Henry Clarke, who was now fully recovered and had smiled and greeted her most warmly in the street that morning. "I'm so sorry, Victoria," she said, her voice filled with compassion, "but I don't know what to say."

"That's perfectly all right," Victoria said. "Neither do I."

She moved to pour them tea. Her fingers were pale and slender, and when she lifted the teapot they trembled and the lid clattered noisily against the pot. Louisa reached out and took the pot from her, calmly pouring steaming tea into the fine cups.

"I suppose," Victoria said with a sigh and a wry little smile, "that there is nothing one can say."
And so they drank their tea in comfortable silence.

When March came around, the meadows around Wall were finally starting to look green again, and joyful at the sight of tiny buds on the tree branches above them, and, too well aware of the light breeze from the east, Louisa kissed Henry Clarke in the orchard, because it seemed like a thing she ought to do.

"I think Henry Clarke intends to ask me to marry him," she told Victoria, as she watched her sort through ribbons, satin and silk, green and blue and brown and black.

"I think so too," Victoria said, winding a black ribbon around her fingers and smiling at Louisa. "Your mother is quite certain of it."

"Oh," said Louisa, troubled, although she was not quite certain why. "I suppose she's happy at the prospect."

"Why shouldn't she be?" Victoria asked. "Why shouldn't you be? Henry Clarke is a very good man."

Louisa nodded, because Henry Clarke was a very good man, one of the best she knew. He wasn't rich, but few were in Wall, and he was kind and quite handsome, with a promising future. "Well, he hasn't asked me yet," she said with a little sigh, and there was a sense of relief in that thought.

Victoria sorted lavender from royal blue, and then her hands came to rest idly in her lap, and she looked at Louisa with an amused glint in her eyes.

"Will he slay you polar bears?" she asked.

"Polar bears?" Louisa said. "Why on earth would he slay me polar bears? Sometimes you say the strangest things."

"Oh, I do think any decent proposal should include an offering of the slaying of polar bears," Victoria said with a delightful tinkle of laughter, as if remembering a secret.

Louisa thought of Mr Monday and tried to imagine him offering to slay polar bears for Victoria, and failed. But after all, it wouldn't be the strangest thing a man had done to win Victoria's heart.

Victoria's laughter died out, but there was still a fond smile on her lips as she picked out an emerald green satin ribbon, winded it around her fingers and handed it to Louisa.

"There," she said. "It looks very pretty with your eyes."

It was a wet afternoon in April when Henry Clarke finally did ask Louisa Thorn to marry him. The heavy rain had stopped for breath for a moment, and they were sitting on the stile to one of her father's fields, side by side. As Louisa waited for him to find the right words, she looked down at her muddy boots and remembered another rainy April day when she was just six, and Tristran the same age. They had been out playing in the meadows, and had come into the kitchen, laughing, and wet and very dirty. Their mother had sighed as she saw them, and had put Tristran down on one chair and Louisa on another, and started to remove Tristran's shoes.

"Tristran, what have you been doing?" she'd exclaimed when she discovered the state of them.

"He stepped on a snail!" Louisa had informed her with a delighted shudder.

"Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, that's what little boys are made of," Daisy Thorn had said, ruffling Tristran's hair to soothe him when this information had seemed to alarm him.

"What are girls made of, then?" Louisa had asked, kicking her legs back and forth and munching on an apple.

"Sugar and spice and all things nice," Daisy had said, and had pulled off Louisa's wet shoes, sighing deeply when she saw the mud splattered on them. "Though I'm not so sure about that."

But Louisa had barely heard the last part as she made faces at her brother, who was sulking.

She smiled at the memory now, and something fell into place, but she did not have time to think of what, because Henry was talking to her.

"I don't have much, but..." he said, and continued in the same manner for quite some time. He wasn't looking at her, but straight ahead, gazing over the fields and the sheep and the water puddles. She looked down at his hand resting next to hers. It was big and callused and her thoughts went back to Victoria's slender hands, pouring tea and sorting ribbons, and she suddenly felt ill. She forced herself to listen to Henry, just as he said:

"... if maybe you would think about, I mean, if you would consider marrying me." He was silent after that, and so was she. Then she thought of Victoria again.

"Henry," she said, "Would you slay me polar bears?"

He blinked, bewildered. "There are no polar bears in Wall, Louisa," he said slowly.

"But if there were."

He thought carefully about it, and Louisa thought she could hear Victoria's distant laughter.

"I imagine the ice and snow would drive us from Wall long before the polar bears arrived," Henry said finally, and Louisa sighed. Then she took a deep breath and jumped down, ignoring the way the water splashed over her shoes, and stood in front of him, looking him straight in the eye.

"I am sorry, Henry," she said, "but I don't think I will marry you." She turned and walked away, and when the heavens opened again she started to run.

She didn't stop until she was outside Victoria Monday's great house. The maid looked quite aghast at the sight of her, soaking wet and the hem of her dress caked with mud, but took her to see Victoria with her face set in stern disapproval. Victoria stood up when Louisa entered the room and the book she had been reading fell to the floor. She left it there and hurried over to Louisa, quickly leading her to the fireplace.

"What are you doing out in this weather? You're soaked to the skin!" she exclaimed, and quickly untied Louisa's bonnet, removing it from her damp hair. "You'll catch your death like this!" Her hands stilled at those words, just for a few seconds, but then she was moving again, taking off Louisa's shawl and draping it over the back of a chair. Then she took Louisa's hands in hers, rubbing them briskly and breathing on them, warm puffs of air, while Louisa stood still, shivering. "If your mother could see you now she would be most upset."

"I fear my mother will have reason enough to be upset with me anyway," Louisa said, and Victoria looked at her with an interested gleam in her eyes.

"Did you refuse him, then?" she asked, although how she knew Louisa could not tell. But Victoria had refused more suitors than any other woman in Wall, and maybe she had developed a sense for it.

Louisa nodded, and didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

"I fear that if I want any polar bears slayed I shall have to do it myself," she said, and did laugh, but there were more tears than joy in her laughter.

"Oh, Louisa," Victoria said and embraced her, mindless of her wet dress and wet hair and cold cheeks. "I think you're very brave," she whispered in her ear, and then let her go. "I'm sure everything will be fine."

Louisa looked at her, at her red lips and dark grey eyes, at her cheeks, rosy from the warmth of the fire, and at her hair that burned like amber in the firelight. "Vicky," she said, although why she didn't know, because she'd never called Victoria that before, but in that look and that word one question was answered and a dozen others asked.

Victoria stepped back, looked away and went to fetch Louisa's shawl. "There," she said brightly. "I do believe it's dried a bit. You should be on your way home. I'm sure your mother will be quite worried about you."

"Yes," said Louisa, even though Daisy Thorn was not quick to worry. As she reached the door, Victoria called her name, and she turned around, only to find Victoria lost for words, shrugging helplessly.

Louisa smiled. "Don't worry," she said. "I'm sure everything will be fine."

It had stopped raining when she walked home, and the clouds had cleared. The moon was shining brightly, reflected in a thousand wet glittering cobblestones. The wind blew from the east, from Faerie, with a scent of cinnamon and cloves, and Louisa could feel the restlessness that had plagued her so during the summer stir in her again. Something had changed. She was not quite certain what, but she knew that she could never go back to before. She supposed she ought to feel fear or trepidation, or a sense of loss, but instead she felt excited and relieved, if a little bit scared.

She was quiet and thoughtful over the next few days, so quiet in fact that her mother stopped sighing about Henry Clarke and felt her forehead for a fever. Louisa had always assumed that the Tristran's daydreams and fondness of seeing shapes in clouds came from the heritage she did not share. (She hadn't been very old when she realised that she was too old and her brother too young for everything to be quite proper. But it took her longer to realise that what she'd thought was a family secret was a fact well known in Wall.) Now she found herself looking at her father over dinner, wondering what he was like when he was young, if the same restlessness lived in him, and if it still did. But she had no one to ask, and so she never found out.

Victoria was not at home when she called on her in the early morning, the first day of May, but Louisa found her sitting upon a branch of the oldest apple tree in the orchard, in a way probably not at all suitable for a young widow. There were apple blossoms in her hair and on her dress, white and pink, and Louisa thought she had never looked prettier.

"It's a year to the day since Tristran came back," Victoria said when Louisa had climbed up to sit beside her. "And it's a year to the week since I married Robert."

Louisa said nothing, just watched the apple blossoms above her and around her, falling like snow in the gentle eastern breeze.

"I met his star, you know," Victoria said. "I didn't realise it at first, of course, not until she asked me if I wasn't marrying Tristran Thorn. Her name was Yvaine."

"Yes," Louisa said, because although she never saw the star, Tristran told her about her before he left.

"She was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," Victoria said. She looked at Louisa with a self-deprecating smile. "I don't blame him for not wanting to marry me after meeting her."

"I blame him for a lot of things," Louisa muttered quietly, but the wind caught her words and Victoria didn't hear them.

"In some ways you are very much like your brother," Victoria said, and her smile grew fonder.

Not long ago Louisa would have spluttered with indignation at the comparison, but now she found she didn't mind very much, and she knew it to be true.

"Yes," she said, and then, as she pressed the glass globe she had been holding tightly in her hand into Victoria's hand, "I'm leaving."

Victoria's smile faltered and she looked away but all she said was:

"Why?"

"To find my heart's desire," said Louisa and could not help but to smile a little, even though she knew that leaving Wall would never bring such a quest to an end. Because even when you've found your heart's desire, there is still an entire world left to discover.

Victoria opened her hand to look at the glass globe, and the apple blossoms were reflected in it, pink and green and white.

"I saw a star fall in it, once", Louisa said, and wanted to say: "There. I brought you a star, Victoria. Will you give me my heart's desire? Will you please come with me?" But there were questions she had no right to ask, and so she stayed silent and watched the apple blossoms in the glass.

"I couldn't leave," Victoria said anyway, as if she'd heard the unspoken question. "I have..."

"Nothing," Louisa wanted to say. "You have very little now and when I leave you will have nothing left." But that would have been cruel and selfish and untrue and so she said nothing, and climbed down from the tree. She waited until Victoria had climbed down as well, and then she looked at her, kissed her cheek and her lips and smiled.

"I would slay you polar bears, Victoria," she said, and found she could not bear to say goodbye. So she turned and left and didn't look back.

At home, she walked through the rooms of the farmhouse, running her hands over the walls one last time. She packed the few items she deemed necessary, and wrote her parents a letter, filled with explanations and reasons, none of which were completely true, and ended with an apology which was entirely honest and sincere. Finally she wrapped a green satin ribbon around her wrist, and tied it, like a wide emerald bracelet, and quietly closed the door behind her.

On her way she prepared a speech, but as she reached the opening in the wall the guards on duty were Henry Clarke, who couldn't look her in the eyes, and her young cousin Dave Hempstock, who was barely more than a boy. So all she did was to nod politely at both of them, and she walked through the gap, to the meadow on the other side before they had the chance to blink.

She had not expected it to be so easy, and suddenly she was overwhelmed by the strangeness of the situation. Her courage left her, little by little, but she forced herself to keep walking, up the hill toward the woods until she was well out of sight from the wall and from Wall. Then she sat right down in the long, soft grass and felt remarkably like crying. She thought of Tristran and wondered how he had done it, if he had been scared. "Most likely not," she said to herself and sniffled. "He's too ignorant to be scared." She looked around her, at the trees she did not recognise and listened to the birds whose songs she had not heard before. Then she took a few deep breaths, and rose, brushing the grass from her dress and nodding to herself. "Well, I can't stay here all day," she said, and prepared to start walking.

"The meadow looks very different," a voice said behind her. "Without the stalls and the people and the noise of market day."

Louisa spun around and held her breath as Victoria walked toward her, her hair gleaming in the sunlight.

"Well, we can't let the Thorns have all the adventures, now can we," Victoria said loftily, with a smile that was almost shy. She stopped right in front of Louisa and shrugged. "Well," she said again.

Louisa laughed, and stepped closer to kiss her thoroughly. When she drew back, they were both laughing and Victoria looked at her with soft eyes and blushing cheeks.

"Will you really slay me polar bears, then, Louisa Thorn?" she asked.

"With my bare hands," Louisa promised solemnly and honestly.

Victoria laughed, with tears in her laughter and in her grey eyes. "Well, then," she said and took Louisa's hand in hers, their fingers intertwining. "I can't possibly think of a better place to find them!" She looked around. "Which way?"

"Straight ahead," Louisa said, and so they left Wall behind them and continued on the path that they were already on. Because even when you've found your heart's desire, there's an entire world left to discover.