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“Actually, I had a thought earlier. Though it will probably amount to nothing.”
“More likely it will amount to something creepy and awful,” said Gild. “That seems to be where your thoughts typically go.”
She rolled her eyes. “What about the throne room?”
“What about it?”
“When I was speaking with Agathe today, she mentioned how she recalls being in the throne room during the massacre, and how she couldn’t leave, I think because she was protecting your mother and father.”
Gild fidgeted, as he always did when she brought up the family he couldn’t remember.
“And I realized how so much that happened that night revolved around this one part of the castle. Your paren—er, the king and queen were murdered there. The princess was …” She trailed off, remembering the awful vision of the child hanging from the rafters. She shook her head. “It’s where the Erlking lured you when you returned, and where he cursed you … and where he cursed me, for that matter. When you or I go beyond the walls of the castle, the curse brings us back to the throne room, every time. Now, this might be nothing, but … in the mortal realm, there’s something different about the throne room. Everything else in the whole castle is decrepit and marred by age, but the dais and the thrones … it’s like they’re trapped in time. Unchanged in hundreds of years, while everything crumbles around them. There’s some sort of magic there. What if …” She shrugged. “What if it has something to do with the curse?”
“Except … our bodies aren’t in the throne room,” said Gild. “We would have seen them. It isn’t like there are a lot of hiding places.”
“Aren’t there?”
He opened his mouth, but hesitated. He leaned back on his heels, considering. “The walls,” he murmured. “Or … possibly the floor?”
“Specifically,” said Serilda, “I think they could be under the thrones. I147wonder if maybe the magic needed to sustain our bodies is … somehow leaching up from the floor. And that’s what’s preserving them? I could be wrong. I have no idea how any of this works, I just—”
“No, no, it makes sense.” Gild smiled. “We should explore it, on the Straw Moon.”
She shook her head. “I’d like to go now. While the Erlking is busy dealing with the … that thing. That we woke up.”
“The legendary chicken-snake,” Gild said, without humor.
“I know it’s risky, but …” She trailed off. She wanted to say that they were running out of time. Months were going by too fast, and soon her child would be born and the Erlking would capture a god and wish for Perchta’s return. But she didn’t know how to bring up her pregnancy to Gild. She didn’t know what to say to him. So instead, she finished lamely, “It isn’t like anyone really goes in the throne room. I’ve never seen the Erlking there, aside from when he cursed me.”
Gild inhaled slowly. “It shouldn’t take long to check.”
She smiled at him gratefully, but it quickly fizzled. Serilda stood, wringing her hands. “Gild … about the announcement …”
“You don’t have to.”
She hesitated. “I don’t have to what?”
“Whatever it is you’re about to do. Explain or apologize or … just … talk about it, even. I mean … That didn’t come out right. If you want to talk about it, of course, we can. I want you to feel like you can talk to me. But only if you need to. You don’t owe me anything, I guess, is what I mean. I just …” He dragged a hand through his hair. “I just want to be here for you, Serilda. However you need me to be.”
She wished these words made her feel better, but they didn’t. If anything, his attempts to support her and care for her through all of this only made her feel worse.
“Thank you,” she breathed.
His brow drew together. “There is the, um, the matter of the …”
He didn’t finish, and Serilda didn’t know what he was talking about.148The matter of Serilda being in love with him? The matter of her husband being a murderous bastard? The matter of—
“The bargain,” said Gild. “The … deal that we made.”
Ah.That matter.
“I haven’t told him,” said Serilda.
“I figured as much.”
“I never thought … when we struck that deal …”
“Neither did I.”