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Serilda sighed. “Don’t be silly. I just really like it when they leave. Don’t you?”
The children couldn’t argue, but she could see that she hadn’t convinced them.
“Nothing to worry about,” she added, squeezing their shoulders as she slid past them. “There’s just been something I’ve wanted to look into is all. I’ll be back in our chambers in plenty of time to get ready for this …demonstrationthey’re putting on. Do you know what it is?”
“Not really,” said Hans, “but the dark ones seem all eager about it, which makes me very suspicious.”
“We’ll know soon enough,” said Serilda, glancing up at the sky. “Come, it’s late. Well … early, I suppose. Why don’t you get some rest until morning?”
Without waiting for their response, she hastened off into the keep.
A ghost was knocking cobwebs from the chandeliers in the entry, keeping her from slipping up the staircase that led to the second story. Instead, Serilda strode into the great hall and busied herself inspecting the tapestries until the servant had moved on. Once she was sure she would not be seen, Serilda darted into the stairwell that led up to the hall of gods, as she had taken to calling it. This corridor was the home of seven stained-glass94windows, each depicting one of the old gods. A faint glow from the Thunder Moon shone through the panes.
Serilda paused at the landing. The hall was empty.
Pressing her hands down the folds of her gown, she made her way along the corridor, eyeing the glass portraits. The last window depicted Wyrdith, god of stories and fortune. The god who had granted her father’s wish and cursed her with the wheel of fortune on her eyes.
She paused to study the figure, dressed in a yellow cloak trimmed in crimson and orange. A cascade of hair spilled nearly to their ankles—black in this light, but during the day, the glass had a deep amethyst tint. The god held a golden feather quill in one hand, a long scroll in the other. But rather than looking down at their work, the god was peering toward the sky with a somber, contemplative expression.
As if deciding someone’s fate.
Everyone’s fate.
It was odd to see this figure—this god—captured in a window that had been crafted hundreds of years ago, and imagine that they had such influence over Serilda’s life. Her penchant for storytelling, which had once brought her so much joy. Her habit of lying, which had landed her here in the Erlking’s castle. The neighbors’ superstitious whispers that followed her through childhood. So many misfortunes that may or may not have been her fault.
Yet here was Wyrdith, wearing old-fashioned robes and holding a quill so ridiculously long it could only have come from some mythic creature. Serilda did not think even the Erlking had a bird hung up on his walls that could have produced a feather like that.
It was a bit pretentious, actually.
“Why did you do it?” she murmured to the portrait. The god did not respond, but kept staring off into the distance, oblivious to the plight of their mortal godchild. “Why not just grant the wish, give my father a child? Why curse me at all? Why fill my mind with these stories?” She thought95of the tale she had told of the prince who had killed Perchta. A true story. Gild’s story. “Why are some of the stories coming true?”
“Communing with the gods now, are we?”
Serilda turned around to see Gild holding two slender golden swords. “So far, the conversation has been rather one-sided.”
Gild’s gaze drifted toward Hulda, who was pictured with a giant spinning wheel, strands of golden thread wrapped around the spindle. “Meddlesome beings, aren’t they? Throw about their curses and gifts and then … never heard from again.”
“Wyrdith could have loaned me that quill, at least.” Serilda gestured to the enormous feather. “Imagine the stories I could write if I had a feather twice as long as my arm.”
“Are you saying that a golden longsword isn’t your truest wish?” He lifted one of the swords. “Guess I’ll be keeping this, then.”
“One of those is for me?”
“I thought I’d feel more comfortable with this gods-awful idea if you at least had a weapon this time.”
He handed her one of the swords, and she was surprised at the giddiness that sparked inside her when she wrapped her hands around the engraved handle. It depicted a gilt tatzelwurm—the symbol of the royal family of Adalheid. Gild’s ancestors.
“Where did you get this?”
“The armory,” he said. “Where the good stuff is kept. But bear in mind that, while drudes are averse to gold, it’s still an ornamental sword. The blade isn’t very sharp, so keep that in mind if we run into trouble.”
“I suppose I’ll have to bludgeon the little beasts to death.” She tested a few different grips on the sword’s hilt until she found one that felt somewhat natural. Though it was not a large sword, it was heavier than she’d expected.
That was when she noticed the wooden kitchen ladle hanging from Gild’s belt. “What are you doing with that?”
He looked down and held the bowl of the spoon up toward the96candlelight. “What do you mean? I could bludgeon something with this as well as a sword.”
“Sure. You could also serve up a hearty bowl of stew.”