“Why are we even discussing this? What does any of it matter?”
“Call it curiosity about the child as much as the father. I like to know what to expect.”
Serilda swallowed hard. She’d tried not to think too much about what traits her baby might have. Gild’s copper hair? His freckles? His incorrigible smile? Or would the child take after her—with cursed eyes, a penchant for lying, and a stubborn spirit that so often got her into trouble?
“You are wrong, you know.” The melancholy in the king’s voice startled her more than his words.
“About what?” she snapped, unwilling to release her anger so quickly.
The king chuckled. “Believe what you will. But I do know what it is to love, and what it feels like once that love is lost.”
The king’s statement hung in the air between them. It was the most vulnerable he’d ever been in Serilda’s presence, and to her annoyance, it drove all her fury out of her in one crystallizing breath.
His eyes slid toward hers, peering through lush black lashes. “But I am only a demon. That is what you call us in your tales, is it not?”
She shuddered, not daring to admit it, though he did not seem particularly hurt.
“Perhaps you do not believe that love between demons can be real.”
Her lips parted, but no words came out. She didn’t know what to believe. Everything she’d seen of the Alder King and his court had been cruelty and selfishness, nothing ever like love, as far as she could tell.
But she remembered the story of the Erlking and the huntress. Somehow she knew, if ever given the chance, he would realign the stars themselves to be reunited with her.
“You’re going to try to bring Perchta back,” she whispered.
The Erlking did not smile. Or frown. Or move. He stared at her, watching forsomething, though Serilda didn’t know what it was. Only when she shivered again did he blink and draw back. Neither realized that he’d begun to lean toward her, his elegant fingers on the tablecloth mere inches from Serilda’s.
Serilda shook her head, feeling like she’d been caught in a daze.180
“You believe,” said the Erlking, “I have the power to bring a spirit back from the clutches of Verloren?”
“I believe you will try.”
He didn’t deny it.
“I believe,” she went on, watching him carefully, though his expression gave nothing away, “you mean to capture one of the old gods during the Endless Moon. And when you have them, you will wish for the return of Perchta, and you will give my child to her.”
She held his gaze, waiting for the acknowledgment that she was right. She was rewarded by a sharpening of his eyes.
“You are clever,” he mused.
“Only observant,” she said. “Perchta was taken three hundred years ago. Have you been attempting to capture a god all this time?”
He shrugged. “Hasn’t everyone?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
He smirked. “They would, if they had the means.”
“The gold,” he agreed.
“But you don’t think you have enough.”
His jaw twitched. “I can be resourceful.”