Page 30

In a sweeping gesture, he gathered her into his arms and carried her toward the castle keep. Serilda began to struggle, but then she remembered that Leyna was not the soul she needed to worry about. With a growl, she crossed her arms over her chest and allowed the king to show her off as he strolled through the revelry, many dark ones still dancing and enjoying the feast, many ghosts tirelessly refilling goblets of wine.
The wedding guests cheered and hurrahed as their king and queen passed, but the raucous cries were quick to die down as they slipped into the echoing corridors of the castle.85
As soon as they were out of danger of being seen, Serilda punched the Erlking in the nose.
He recoiled, though probably more from surprise than pain. Still, he made no effort to stop her as she swiveled out of his hold and landed in an awkward heap on the carpet. She skittered back to her feet, ridiculously pleased as the king pressed a finger to his nose. He was not bleeding, but then, they didn’t bleed, did they? Only … smoldered a bit.
“I can find my own way from here, thank you,” she said, adjusting her leather tunic.
“I had no intention of carrying you all the way. You needn’t have struck me.”
“Believe it or not, it was the highlight of my evening.”
“Oh, I do believe it,” he said, his eyes flashing. But—not with fury. If anything, he seemed amused.
Which made her anger only burn hotter. Serilda drew herself up until she was nearly nose to nose with him.
Well—nose to chest, as the case might be.
“You have made me your queen,” she said, enunciating each word. “I hope you weren’t wanting one of those meek, pathetic mortals you so despise, because a queen I intend to be.”
The Erlking held her gaze, frustratingly unreadable as his grin softened.
“No,” he finally said, with a hint of a purr. “A meek and pathetic mortal is not the queen I want. Rather unexpectedly, it would seem I have chosen well.” He tilted closer, his long hair sliding from his shoulder and brushing against her arm. “You must be a gift of fortune.”
Serilda stilled at the reference to Wyrdith, her patron god. She held his gaze, trying to not be afraid, even while her thoughts tumbled. The king had always believed that she was blessed by Hulda. So, what was he saying? What did he know? Or did his words mean anything at all?
The king’s grin brightened again, flashing sharp teeth. He pressed a single rose-petal kiss to her cheek, and every vein in Serilda’s body froze solid.86
She yanked herself away from him. “I would ask that you reserve such affection for the court.”
“As it pleases you … Your Majesty.”
With a furious shake of her head, Serilda stormed off down the hall, toward her own chambers. The Erlking’s haughty laughter followed her the entire way.
Chapter Eleven
More than a month had passed since Serilda had been crowned the Alder Queen. In that time, the Erlking had taken to parading her about like a prized pig at the harvest festival—as pleased to show her off now as he would be when it came time to slaughter her. The feasts continued, many lasting until the sun rose over the castle walls. Wine and ale flowed like rivers, music filled the castle halls, and the servants ran about tending to their masters as well as they could, but Serilda could tell they were all exhausted and annoyed with the ongoing revelries.
She was exhausted, too. Tired of smiling. Tired of the king’s ice-cold fingers trailing along her throat or her scarred wrist whenever they had an audience. Tired of lying, lying, always lying.
The one night that should have been a respite—the Golden Moon that had risen not long after the solstice—offered little reprieve. The hunters had wasted most of the night on an impromptu archery contest that had delayed them nearly until sunrise. By the time they’d finally left, Serilda and Gild had had a mere few hours to search for their bodies until the wild hunt returned. Their search had turned up nothing more than a handful of enormous spiders that had probably been haunting this castle for as long as Gild had.
But then, the very day after the Golden Moon, Serilda had the most brilliant idea. She and Gild had already been to a room where she knew the90Erlking was hiding something. That eerie place not far from the hall with the stained-glass gods, where drudes had attacked her both times she’d gotten too close.
There was an enchanted tapestry in that room, along with a cage hidden beneath a curtain of gossamer fabric. At least, when she’d first seen it, she’d believed it was a cage, but lately she had convinced herself that it might be something else entirely.
Like a coffin. Perhaps for keeping the body of a cursed prince?
There was only one way to find out, and now she was tapping her fingers impatiently against the brocade gown that weighed about as much as the king’s warhorse. This time, as the Thunder Moon approached, Serilda had tried to take matters into her own hands. She had spent the past couple of days ensuring that the hunters would have everything they needed as soon as the veil fell. She had worked with the blacksmith, the stable boy, and the head cook, confirming that blades were sharpened and horses were groomed and evening bread was served long before nightfall—but not so early that she risked the hunters taking in too much drink and becoming lazy and useless as the moon rose.
She had worked so hard to make sure that the wild hunt would depart the moment the veil fell, and her efforts had even earned her the approval of her lord husband, who had twice complimented her emerging interest in the hunt.