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And kiss him again.
And tell him the truth. About her and the Erlking. About her unborn child.
But that was too dangerous a path. She didn’t know for sure how Gild would react. If he would be happy or afraid or a mix of too many emotions to count. But she did know that if Gild was aware of the child, and that he was the father, he would never go along with this ruse. He would never pretend that the child belonged to the Erlking. And if the Erlking found out that Serilda had told Gild the truth … she could only imagine what he might do to the children that she was desperate to protect.
So she dragged in a sharp breath and looked toward the locked door, saying nothing.
Silence from the corridor outside, which made her wonder if perhaps she had managed to kill the final drude after all.
Returning her attention to Gild, she took in the blood streaked across his shirt. “You’re hurt,” she said, reaching toward the wounds. She paused, her fingers hovering above them. “Maybe I can find something to use as ban dages or—”
“I’ll be fine,” he said, a weary smile replacing the heartbreak on his face. “I heal fast. And look, Serilda. We did it. We’re in.” With a groan, he climbed to his feet, bracing himself against a wall. “Since we did risk our lives to get in here, maybe we should have a look around.”
Chapter Thirteen
Serilda approached the tapestry first, the one hung just inside the door’s alcove. It was destroyed, cut through by blades or talons, and hung in tatters. Despite its ruinous state, Serilda had always been curious about the tapestry, which had glowed on the mortal side of the veil, as if sustained by some unknown attachment. In a castle that was little more than crumbling ruins, it had remained vivid and whole, untouched by time.
But thanks to the drudes, she’d never had a chance to fully regard the haunting image. Holding her breath, she took hold of two of the largest scraps. She lifted them up, piecing together the destroyed image. Gild joined her and, without asking questions, held up the remaining loose shreds to fill in the gaps.
Together, they took in the scene. It was almost charming. A royal family standing in a garden. Lanterns hung from tree boughs all around them. A king, a queen, a prince, and a princess.
A lovely family portrait.
Except that the king and queen, bedecked in royal finery and bejeweled crowns—were dead. Skeletons, with dark hollow eyes in their skulls and white teeth locked in eternal grins. The queen’s bony fingers were wrapped around her daughter’s hand, holding fast.
The prince and princess, on the other hand, seemed very much alive.
With her golden curls, the girl was the mirror image of the child painted inside of Gild’s locket.106
“My sister,” Gild breathed, taking the locket from beneath his shirt collar and opening it to compare the two likenesses. Serilda thought she was a little younger in the locket’s painting, but it was the same girl, clear as dumpling broth. The same golden ringlets tumbling around her face. The same impish smile. Serilda wondered how she hadn’t noticed the similarities between her and Gild the first time she’d met him. It wasn’t on a surface level—the girl’s hair was blond and neatly styled, while his was cinnamon red and always a mess. Her eyes were vibrant blue; his brown and flecked with gold. They were both pale-skinned, but the princess did not have a fraction of the amount of freckles that Gild did.
But there was something more intrinsic that tied them together. Humor and jubilance and a spark of up-to-no-good.
Her attention returned to the prince. The one in the tapestry.
“Are you sure that’s me?” said Gild, sounding disappointed.
He grunted. “I look like a pompous asshat.”
She laughed. “Why? Because you’re properly dressed for once? Or because you actually combed your hair?”
He shot her an irritated look. “I’m wearing a ruff collar. Do you know how itchy those are?” He scratched his neck, as if it were strangling him even now.
“You were probably forced to pose for a portrait forhours, so the weaver had your likeness to work from,” she said. “You must have been miserable.”
He smiled wryly. “I imagine so.”
“On the mortal side of the veil,” said Serilda, “the tapestry isn’t destroyed like this. Almost like it’s been preserved by magic.” She traced her fingers along one of the rough edges. “Why do you think it’s ruined here?”
“Probably destroyed by those rotten drudes.” Gild glanced back toward the door. They were both tense, waiting for another attack. But there was only silence. “Or, I don’t know. Maybe the Erlking destroyed it. Didn’t want me seeing any portraits of my family.”107
“That would make sense,” Serilda mused.
Gild turned away. “Or maybe it’s just this creepy castle being creepy, as it likes to do. Come on. Our bodies could still be around here somewhere.”