Page 77

“The Mourning Moon?” said Serilda, allowing herself to be led back toward the entry hall, where she could hear their entourage carrying in supplies from the wagons. “But that’s two months away.”
“Your Grim?” said Manfred, appearing in the doorway.
The Erlking sighed. “The stables are by the west wall.”217
“No, my lord, we did find the stables. But we were wondering what you would like to be done with the unicorn.”
The Erlking’s eyes brightened. “Ah yes. It is fine in the cart for now, but make room for it in the stables. Have the carpenters and blacksmith construct a cage to hold it.”
“Yes, my lord. And the poltergeist?”
Serilda’s breath caught. Her body stiffened.
The Erlking shot her a sly look. “I had almost forgotten,” he said, though his tone suggested he had not forgotten anything. “Bring him here. He and I need to have a discussion.” His lips curled upward. “After that, he can stay in the dungeons.”
Chapter Twenty-Five
A servant came to light the fire in the massive hearth, but it did little to fight off the chill that had seeped into Serilda’s bones. She sat perched on the edge of a sofa, feeling the steady passing of time with every stilted breath. The Erlking was ignoring her. Since Manfred had left, there had been a stream of servants and dark ones coming in and out of the great hall, and the king barked orders at them as if he’d been rehearsing for this moment for the last three hundred years. Linens were to be washed and hung to dry, and all the beds made up by nightfall. They needed to take stock of the wine and ale and any supplies left behind in the pantry. The animals required tending, and the wagons and carriages had to be checked for loose wheels and broken axles before being put away. A full sweep of the castle was already underway, conducted by the hunters, to ensure no forest critters had taken sanctuary in the castle during their absence, and evidently there was a lot of debris in something called the lunar rotunda that the Erlking insisted they start clearing immediately.
Where the castle had felt ominously still when they’d first entered, now the halls bustled with activity.
Serilda waited. For the children. For Gild. Watching as the Erlking paced back and forth in front of the horrendous tapestry. Every time someone entered the room, she tensed, expecting it to be him. The prince. The poltergeist. Her Gild, who should not have been able to leave Adalheid any more than she could.219
But, as if the Erlking was determined to make her suffer, it was never him.
“Nothing so far, Your Darkness,” said a hunter, tapping a curved blade mindlessly against his shoulder. “Though it will take a few days to thoroughly search the castle.”
“Yes, fine,” said the Erlking with a wave of his fingers. “Alert me as soon as you find them.Anyof them.”
“Who are you looking for?” asked Serilda once the hunter had been dismissed. “I thought this castle was abandoned.”
The king sighed, as if her presence suddenly exhausted him. “There were servants left behind. Not ghosts, but monsters. They should be here.”
“It was three hundred years ago. Do monsters not die?”
“Some live far longer than that. Others breed, like any beast. This castle should not be empty.”
She shrugged. “Maybe they escaped.”
He snorted, as if such a suggestion were ludicrous, and merely repeated, “It should not be empty.”
“Well,” said Serilda, “it is not as though we are lacking for help.”
A grunt sounded from the hall, and at once, every nerve in Serilda’s body started humming.Gild.
She forced herself to remain tranquil as he was dragged through one of the arched doorways, even though it caused her physical pain to resist the urge to lurch from her chair and race toward him. He had gold chains around his neck and wrists and binding his ankles, but she could not tell at first whether he was hurt.
He wasn’t alone. Agathe held the chain of golden threads that connected to his wrists like a leash. Behind them, the five children crept in, hugging close to one another. Their eyes brightened when they spied Serilda and she waved them over. They instantly surged forward and crowded at her sides along the sofa.
Gild’s eyes, too, met hers, but he quickly shifted them away. He lifted his chin, doing his best to ignore the height difference as he glowered at the towering Erlking.220
Gild’s practiced smile emerged. That taunting glint in his eye. “I was just thinking I could use a vacation. Would have preferred a cottage by the sea, rather than some abandoned ruins in the middle of nowhere, but still nice to have a change of scenery. Did you do the decorating yourself?” His gaze fell on the tapestry. “You and I have very different tastes.”
“Well?” said the Erlking, ignoring Gild and focusing instead on Agathe.
“We found this in the tower after we captured him,” said the weapons master, avoiding Serilda’s eye as she opened a large satchel. “Along with a spinning wheel.”
The Erlking took the satchel and from it pulled out a handful of wound golden threads.