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He held his elbow toward her. “The festivities await.”
She eyed his arm, clad in a billowing black shirt. For a moment—the briefest of moments—she wanted to ask him about the vows. What had he meant by them? Had he meant them to be genuine, or were they merely a part of their farce?
Serilda shuddered. It was easier to pretend that his words of eternal devotion had not affected her in the slightest.
To admit otherwise would be insufferable.
And so, Serilda swallowed back her questions and tucked her fingers into the crook of her husband’s arm.
They walked toward the stairs that would take them down into the gardens beside the main courtyard, where there was to be music and dancing and feasting—not only on the animals from the ceremony, but on countless dishes the cooks had been preparing all week.
But they had just turned into the narrow stairwell when they came to an abrupt stop.
A piece of rolled-up parchment dangled eye level to the king, tied with a velvet bow and hung from the doorway with a piece of twine.
Serilda blinked. “Did you not see this when you arrived?”
“It was not here,” said the Erlking, snatching the parchment from the45air. He undid the bow and dropped it to the floor as he unrolled the note. Serilda peered around him to read.
To Erlkönig, Thou Lucky Lord of the Castle,
In honor of traditions most ancient, I see that it is my sacred duty to follow the customs laid out by generations before. Surely, as a man of honor and duty yourself, you understand the importance of maintaining such a valued ritual within the court of Adalheid.
Thus, as we are all in agreement, I am writing you this note as a symbol of goodwill.
Let it be known that our new illustrious queen—may she reign with wisdom and grace—shall not be harmed in the course of this night.
But neither shall she be yours, until a full ransom is paid.
Such ransom I shall convey when I declare that you, Your Grim, have well and truly suffered from the absence of such a charming mortal as you have managed to secure for your wife.
I hope you were not needing her?
Very truly yours,
The Poltergeist
“Poltergeist,” Serilda whispered, her lips barely forming the word.
With a snarl, the Erlking crumpled the note in his fist with such violence that Serilda jumped back from him, startled.
“What is that insolent wraith up to now?” he said, glaring around at the empty hall, his porcelain skin flushed a shade of amethyst. Though the Erlking knew Gild was the castle’s true prince and heir, he always pretended46that Gild was nothing more than a nuisance. Serilda assumed this was because the Erlking didn’t want her or the ghostly court or even Gild himself to figure out his true identity. He didn’t realize that Serilda had figured it out a while ago.
She glanced around, too, but Gild was nowhere to be seen. “What traditions?” she asked. “What rituals?”
“Nothing but nonsense,” said the Erlking. Nostrils flaring, he held a hand toward her. “Come.”
“I think not,” came a voice from behind them, followed by a rope being tossed around Serilda, cinching her arms to her sides.
She gasped and glanced over her shoulder to see Gild, grinning wickedly with the end of the rope in his hands. “What are you—”
“Until the ransom is declared and paid, your lovely bride is officially … kidnapped.”
The Erlking started to reach for one of the numerous weapons kept at his belt, but he was not fast enough.
Gild shoved Serilda toward the nearest window and pushed her up onto the windowsill. “Enjoy the party, Your Miserableness!” he shouted.
The lake glittered cerulean and gold before them—but they would crash upon the jagged rocks below the castle wall long before they hit the water.