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But even in speaking this, there was a sadness in Wyrdith’s eyes, for they alone knew what must be sacrificed.
Wyrdith explained, and the gods, seeing that it was the only way, each willingly gave up a single thread of their own hallowed magic.
Wyrdith gave up their golden quill. Velos gave a tooth. Eostrig a horn and Hulda a serpent’s scale. Tyrr gave a gem, Solvilde an egg, and Freydon a claw.
Hulda took the seven gifts and used them to spin an unbreakable yarn. They spun for hours, and when the yarn was finished, Hulda took it and began to weave. Again, hours passed. It was nearing sunrise when finally the work was complete.
Using the magic of the gods, Hulda had woven a cloak that would cover the143world. A veil that was unbreakable and impenetrable, one that would forever trap the dark ones and keep them separate from the mortal realm.
As Hulda worked, the other gods grabbed hold of the edges of the veil and pulled it protectively around the whole earth.
But as the moon was descending toward the horizon, Perchta, the great huntress, saw what the gods intended to do. With moments to spare, she took her bow and an arrow from her quiver and aimed toward the sky.
She fired.
Though the veil was nearly complete, the arrow shot straight through the only remaining gap in the magical shroud and struck the full moon beyond. The moon began to bleed from its wound, and one single drop of moonlight fell onto the veil. Where it struck, Hulda found they could not complete that final stitch, forever leaving an opening in this otherwise perfect tapestry. An opening that would be visible only beneath a full moon and on nights when the sun and moon fight for dominance in the sky.
Determining that they had done all they could, and the veil, though imperfect, would nevertheless be enough to keep the dark ones from continuing their rampage through the mortal realm, the gods returned to their separate lands. Tyrr to the volcanoes of Lysreich. Solvilde to the coast of the Molnig Sea. Hulda to the foothills of the Rückgrat Mountains. Eostrig deep into the heart of the Aschen Wood. Freydon to the lush grasslands of Dostlen. Velos, to the shadowed caverns of Verloren. Wyrdith to the basalt cliffs at the northernmost edges of Tulvask.
There the gods lived in peace for some time, pleased when the veil held, for the dark ones could enact only so much harm on but one night of each moon cycle, and they felt they had succeeded in tempering this great threat.
Only Wyrdith understood the full extent of what they had each given up that night. It would be many years before the other gods understood that by giving of themselves to create the veil, their magic had been irreparably changed. In creating a prison for the dark ones, they were also entrapping themselves. Having given up a thread of magic, the gods found their abilities to change their physical forms now had a single limitation.
Forever after, on the nights of an Endless Moon, like the one beneath which144the veil had been created, the gods would no longer have dominion over themselves. Rather, they would be forced to take the forms of seven terrible beasts.
After that, it became possible to catch a god on that long, dark night. Possible to hunt them, to capture them … and to claim that elusive wish.
Ever since, whenever the full moon rises on the longest night of the year, the hellhounds can be heard sniffing and searching for their prey.
Seven gods made into seven extraordinary beasts.
It took four tales before the children fell asleep, so excited were they from the day’s events. Anna fell asleep last, after struggling to find a comfortable position to lie in, and grimacing every time one of the other children shifted beside her. Gild had eventually returned with an elixir from the castle apothecary, and Serilda doubted Anna would have gotten any sleep at all was it not for the herbs easing her pain.
“Your stories,” Gild whispered from the other side of the room, “arenotfor children.”
Serilda blinked at him. She hardly remembered the tales she told, when the entire time she’d been half-focused on Gild and his reactions and wondering if he was thinking about her child and believing it was the Erlking’s and what would she do if he asked her about it and how would she possibly maintain this lie until the Endless Moon?
So his statement caught her off guard.
“What do you mean?”
“Demons enslaving humans? Gods turning into beasts? And that one about the child being tricked into eating her grandmother’s teeth? What isthat?”
Serilda rubbed her palms into her eyes. “I hardly know what I was saying.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that you could just, you know … read them a story? I was flipping through this book earlier. There are some pretty good ones in here.” He picked up the book of fairy tales that Leyna had stolen from Frieda’s library. She’d been so distracted these past weeks with145thoughts of her baby and her curse and the five children and doing her best to play the part of the Alder Queen, she hadn’t been much in the mood for fairy stories that ended inhappily ever after.The farthest she’d gotten in the book was the opening page, a note to the reader about how the stories were collected by a contemporary scholar who had spent years traveling around Tulvask gathering and transcribing household tales that she believed to coincide with true historical events. Normally, it was the sort of thing that would have intrigued Serilda, but now she could only think about what a luxury it was for this scholar to travel about the country, listening to stories and writing them down and never fearing that one of those story’s villains might kidnap her and curse her and keep her trapped in a haunted castle.
“I really liked this one,” said Gild, flipping to a page with a woodblock print of a prince and a farm boy, their hands cupped together, holding a tree sapling between them. The title was written in flourishing calligraphy: “Hardworking Stiltskin and the Northern Prince.”
“It’s got a good moral,” Gild added. “For people who like that sort of thing.”
“Maybeyoucan read it to the children, then.”
“Maybe I will.” He shut the book and peered at her. “You look tired, Serilda. Maybe we should just—”
“No, I want to search for our bodies. I want to help you. Are the hunters still preoccupied?”
Gild scratched behind his ear. “Last I checked, yes. But, Serilda … I’ve probably gone over every inch of this castle a dozen times, at least, every inch that I know of. There’s a surprising number of storage rooms in the basement, and I’ve checked them all. Plus the chapels, the towers, the dungeons, every garderobe, which wasnotenjoyable. The studies, the tower attics … I even went to the bottom of the water well.” He shrugged. “Nothing. He wouldn’t have left our bodies somewhere anyone could just stumble onto them, least of all me. Wherever he’s hiding them, I don’t think it will be a place that I can easily pop in and out of, not if I don’t even know it exists. I’m not discounting the possibility of secret passageways or rooms,146but if that’s the case … short of tearing up the foundations … I don’t know where else to look.”