Page 22

Chapter Eight
Serilda did not wait for Gild. With the nachtkrapp’s cry still shrill in her ears, she turned and raced through the castle. She was on the opposite side of the keep from the courtyard, but she knew her way well enough that she figured she had a better chance of reaching the entry hall on foot rather than trying to transport herself there and risk getting lost in the undercroft instead.
Gild found her as she was darting through one of the king’s favorite halls, lined with the most horrific of tapestries. “There you are!” he cried. “I thought you were going to wait at that window!”
“What did he mean when he said we have a guest?” she panted. “Who would possibly come here on a solstice?”
“I don’t know,” he said, running to keep up with her. “Been mostly trying to find you, but I heard a ghost say something about a human girl.”
Human girl. Human girl.
No one she knew would dare come to this castle when the veil was down. Would they?
They reached the entry hall and Gild grabbed her elbow, stopping her in her tracks.
“Serilda, I’m sorry.”
She blinked. “For what?”
“About the prank. If he’s in a worse mood than usual because of it.”
Serilda glanced down at the carved wooden ladle gripped in his other63hand. “It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? But I must go be a queen now.”
He stepped back and dropped into a flourishing bow. “Of course, Your Luminance.”
Shaking her head, trying to still her racing thoughts, Serilda shoved open the castle doors and emerged into the warm night air.
Already the wedding guests were gathered near the gatehouse, the Erlking at their helm. Serilda heard the crank of the drawbridge as she went to stand beside her husband, pretending that nothing had been amiss. That she hadn’t been kidnapped from her wedding festivities and exchanged for a kitchen utensil.
The king cast her a sideways look. “Welcome back,” he drawled.
She pressed her lips into a thin smile. “What an exciting day it’s been. Did I hear we have company?”
The drawbridge lowered with a heavy clunk. Beyond lay the long stone bridge to Adalheid, the city that had come to feel a bit like a home in the months prior to Serilda’s curse. She felt an unexpected twinge of homesickness at seeing the half-timbered buildings along the lakeside, the plaster walls in cheerful colors illuminated by the moon.
Torches lit either side of the long bridge, casting their orange glow across the wooden planks, the cobblestones—and the small cloaked figure in the middle of the walk.
Serilda’s brow pinched. She took an uncertain step forward.
The figure stepped forward, too, and peeled back the cloak’s hood, revealing brown skin, round cheeks, and thick black hair tied into twin buns atop her head.
Leyna.The daughter of Adalheid’s mayor, and one of the first souls who had welcomed Serilda to their town, who had even helped her try to solve the mystery of the haunted castle.
“Is that a mortal child?” mused the Erlking.
Serilda swallowed. “I know her, my lord. She is—was—a friend, of sorts. But she should not be here …” She trailed off.64
Leyna should not be here. What was she thinking, coming to the castle on such a night? She should be back at the Wild Swan Inn, safely asleep in her bed.
“What luck, then,” said the Erlking. “Perhaps she has come to offer her congratulations.”
Serilda’s frown deepened. There was no way for Leyna or anyone in Adalheid to know of the wedding. She figured they would have assumed that she was dead now, as she had dis appeared into this castle nearly two months ago and not returned.
Straightening her spine, she stepped forward. “I will speak to her. See if there might be something that she—”
Serilda froze, more at the tension in the king’s tone than because of his command.