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Serilda pressed her lips together.
Gild wiped his palms nervously down his tunic.
“Nothing we can do about it tonight,” she said.
“Agreed,” said Gild. “We should focus on the important things. Not that this child …yourchild … isn’t important.”
“To the throne room, then?”
He nodded vigorously. “I’ll meet you there.”
He blinked out of sight, and Serilda was grateful to have a moment to catch her breath and recover from that painfully awkward exchange. Could she really survive until the winter solstice without telling him?
She shut her eyes. “Wyrdith help me.”
Chapter Seventeen
The throne room was ornate, with two rows of massive stone pillars on either side, each one carved with the body of a tatzelwurm slithering down from the ceiling. Gilt moldings and tapestries hung on the walls, and a row of windows facing the lake, with the mountains in the distance, let in a wash of sunlight during the day. At night, chandeliers with hundreds of candles cast a golden glow across the walls.
The space was grand, no doubt, but Gild had been right. There were no obvious places to hide a body. No cabinets, no wardrobes, no stone tombs conveniently left lying around.
“It’s so different on the other side of the veil,” said Serilda. “Imagine cobwebs and rats’ nests and the furniture toppled and broken—what remains of it, at least. Thorn bushes cover a lot of the ground. Windows are broken. But the thrones are unchanged … as if something is protecting them.” She approached the dais, where the two chairs stood, upholstered in cobalt blue, with tall backs and lion claw feet. “They still look exactly like this. Not even a speck of dust on them.”
Gild walked around the dais, studying the thrones from every angle. He stomped one foot against the stone floor. “I’m fairly certain the floor here is solid stone. But … underneath the dais? Who knows.”
They both moved to one side of the dais—a platform raised up on three steps and covered in a rug woven into a pattern of intricate gold knots.35Together, they crouched beside the platform and pressed their hands against the edge.
“On three,” said Gild. “One. Two. Three!”
They pushed.
And groaned.
And strained.
Serilda was moments from giving up when, finally, the platform shifted. Her foot slipped and Serilda smacked her knee on the stone floor, but there was no denying that the dais had moved a few inches.
Just enough to reveal what appeared to be the edge of a hole beneath.
She sucked in a breath.
Their eyes met, charged with renewed energy. They tried again. The dais moved easier this time, allowing them to push it back one inch after another.
They stopped when their feet reached the edge of the hole. From what they could see, it was nearly a perfect rectangle, the same size as the dais that had kept it hidden. The stones from the floor had been removed, and the bedrock dug out from below, leaving rough walls and a pit that was nearly four feet deep.
Serilda’s breath left her. She grasped Gild’s arm, both of them kneeling at the ledge.
Serilda had never seen so many bones. The pit was full of them. Femurs and hip bones and collections of tiny finger bones amid the bleached-white skulls. In contrast, the two bodies, which looked as though they were merely sleeping, stood out like crimson roses against a bank of snow.
They were perfectly preserved, and yet they had not been treated with any sort of care, these two bodies.
She recognized the prince, even though he had been tossed facedown into the pit. He wore a vibrant green cloak with gold embroidery, fine leather boots, and a tailored doublet. The cloak he wore was wound in and around some of the bones, and Serilda could picture the skin and flesh and151clothes of those beneath him slowly rotting away, while he was kept in this magic spell, untouched by time.
She could not quite think of the body lying there asGild.The way he was dressed so regally, yet so old-fashioned. A prince from three hundred years ago. And the way he was almost dead, when Gild had always struck her as so very alive.
Then there was the second body. A girl.