“What’s the matter?” said Hans. “Are you in pain? Should I fetch someone, or—”
“No,I’llfetch someone!” barked Fricz. “I’m the messenger!”
“That isn’t it,” said Serilda, trying to cover her anxiety for her baby with a laugh, which turned into a sniffle as tears pricked at her eyes. “It’s only … I love you all so very much.” Dropping to her knees, she pulled them toward her, careful to be gentle with Anna and her wounds. She ignored how her skin crawled at their touch and pressed her cheek against Gerdrut’s hair. “Never in the world has a queen been so fortunate in her attendants.”
A quiet descended on them, as Gerdrut snuggled her face into Serilda’s neck.
Until Fricz groaned loudly and complained, “I think the baby is making her emotional.”
Serilda grinned and pulled away, ruffling his hair.
Her laugh hiccupped.
“Gild!” cried Gerdrut, throwing herself into his arms. Of all the children, she had become especially fond of the poltergeist. “You missed so much excitement!”
“Yes,” said Gild, returning the embrace but not the smile. “I overheard some of the cooks talking about the bärgeist and the storm. And one of the queen’s attendants fell into the arena?”
“That was me,” said Anna, leaning on Nickel for support. “I’m all right. Not dead. Well … not deader.”
Gild flashed a distracted smile at her. “It must have been terrifying.”139
“Not so bad,” said Anna. “Agathe was there. She protected me from the bärgeist.”
“She’s the weapons master,” added Fricz. “We’d never met her before, but she sat with us in the stands, and when Anna fell, she jumped down and fought back the bear. It was fantastic!”
“Do you know her?” asked Serilda.
“A little, but not well,” said Gild. “She’s always been quiet, solitary. Wicked fast with a sword, though. I’ve seen her in practice, and training with the dark ones. Wouldn’t want to cross her, I know that much. I’m glad she was there, Anna.”
Serilda wanted to tell him that Agathe might have been the person who had trainedhimin weaponry, so long ago, but the look he was giving her made the words die out on her tongue.
Gild continued, “After the storm started I saw a bunch of hunters running toward”—his voice turned extra meaningful—“the, uh, the hall we were in? This morning?”
Her eyes widened. Was it possible that this vicious storm had something to do with the weird chicken-snake creature she and Gild had awoken? Was that what had made the Erlking so anxious?
“Also,” Gild added, denial etched onto his face, “I heard something about the queen’s announcement?”
He was waiting. Horrified, but also hopeful that he might be wrong. That perhaps he had misunderstood. She could see it written plainly on his face.
But in the end, she didn’t have to tell him. Gerdrut did it for her.
“We’re going to have a baby!” she cried, bouncing on her toes. “At least, Serilda is. But I’m going to help take care of it!”
“Ah,” said Gild, nodding stiffly. “I see. Congratulations.”
Serilda watched him carefully, wishing he would hold her gaze for longer than half a second. Then maybe he would see the truth that she could not speak aloud.
The child washis.
But he avoided her eye.140
How many times had she opened her mouth to tell him the truth, before he could hear the lie and be devastated by it? It might not have surprised him. He believed she’d been intimate with the king for weeks now. He believed that was the king’s entire aim in marrying her—to father a child with his mortal bride.
After today there would be no denying it. No pretending that she had not been in the Erlking’s bed.
But it wasn’t true, she wanted to scream. The Erlking didn’t evenhavea bed!