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Serilda was surprised he did not try to deny his plans—but again, what would be the point? What could she do about it?
“If you should succeed, won’t she be jealous once she learns that you have taken a mortal wife?”
His brow pinched and Serilda realized he didn’t understand what she meant. Then his expression cleared and his face lit up in the candlelight.
“My Perchta,” he drawled. “Jealous. Ofyou?”
Serilda had never been more offended by so few words. She straightened her spine. “I am your wife, am I not?”
He barked a laugh. “You mortals care so much for your arbitrary titles. I find it rather quaint.”
This time, Serilda did not hide the roll of her eyes. “Yes, yes. We silly181mortals. How adorable we must be when viewed from a place of such superiority.”
“I find you rather refreshing.”
“So glad I could please you, my lord.”
The Erlking stopped smiling only long enough to take a sip of wine. “Now it isyouwho cannot possibly understand,” he said, idly swirling the goblet. “Everything I am belongs to the huntress. It has always been that way, and it will never change. I could never give of myself to another, for there is nothing to be given. So, no, Perchta will not be jealous. Rather, she will delight in the child I can give her, the only gift I couldn’t give to her before.”
“But you have given her children before, and she tired of them all. And what then? Are you going to murder my child, or abandon them in the woods?”
“You know the stories well.”
“Everyone knows those stories. Living so close to the Aschen Wood, they are some of the first stories we tell our children. A warning to stay away from you.”
The king shrugged. “I brought her children, but never a newborn. Perhaps her maternal affection needed to develop from infancy.”
Serilda clenched her knife tighter. “Nonsense. All children deserve to be loved. All children deserve a mother or a father who will care for them and protect them, unconditionally. Not someone to dote on them for a time, only to lose interest when parenthood no longer suits them. Those are not the actions of someone who wishes to be a mother. That is the opposite of a mother. That is someone who cares only for themselves.”
The Erlking’s gaze darkened with a warning, and though she hadmuchmore to say on the topic, Serilda forced her lips tight.
“I suppose we shall see,” he said quietly. “If all goes well.”
If all goes well.
If he did capture a god and wish for the return of Perchta. If he did give Serilda’s child to that monster.182
“What is the point of any of this?” she said. “You have what you want, so why bother with candles and flowers and”—she swung her knife over the table spread—“romance?”
“Is that what’s bothering you?”
She snorted. “I cannot begin to account for the many things that are bothering me.”
“Ah yes. Because you are a prisoner, cursed, trapped in a haunted castle, those beloved rodents you call children are dead, and so on and so forth. Forgive me for having forgotten your many complaints.” He sighed, sounding bored. “I merely thought it might be nice to enjoy a peaceful evening together. Husband and wife.”
“Jailer and captive.”
“Do not be defensive. It makes you sound human.”
“I am human. And my child will be, too, if you hadn’t realized that yet. They will have human emotions and needs. You want to know what to expect? Well, there it is. All the messy, illogical, ridiculous things that humans experience every day of our lives. Because we have hearts and souls—something you cannot fathom, no matter how much you think you know what love is.”
The king listened to her tirade, his haughty expression back, icy and hardened once again.
“Is that all?” he finally said.
She exhaled sharply through her nostrils. “No. That isnotall,” she snapped. But she quickly came back to herself, remembering the importance of this night. All that she and Gild had been working for. “But it grows late, my lord. You must get ready for the hunt. To catch yourself a new bärgeist or a … gryphon, or what have you.”
“Ah, so you’ve heard about our gryphon?”