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“I wondered whether you knew,” mused the Erlking. “How long have you known he was more than just a gold-spinner?”
Serilda bit the inside of her cheek. Should she lie? But what did it matter now? The Erlking knew all their secrets, everything she had worked so hard to keep from him.
No, that wasn’t true.
He still did not know that Gild was the father of her child. He still did not know about the magical bargain in which she’d promised him her firstborn.
“Not until the day I came to rescue the children,” she admitted.
“Ah yes. That day didn’t work out as you’d planned either, did it?” The Erlking laughed, as if he were recalling a pleasant memory. He went on, enjoying his captive audience as he started to pace. “I should have realized the truth of his abilities long ago. I knew that one of the royal children of Adalheid was Hulda-blessed, but I’d believed it to be the young princess. It is, in fact, why I had sought her out as a gift for my Perchta.” He shook his head and cut a look toward Gild. “Astounding that you could keep it a secret for so long. And yet, all it took was one pathetic mortal girl for you to become careless with such a gift.”
Gild had been silent for this exchange, his eyes glued to the carpet and a muscle twitching in his jaw. Serilda understood that to say anything would be to say too much. But she hated seeing him like this—trapped in golden chains—both of them realizing that the Erlking had been toying with them for weeks and they’d had no idea.
“And you,” said the king, turning his cruel smile back on Serilda. He stepped closer, studying her. She waited, determined to be brave—for the224children, if nothing else. “God-blessed, but not by Hulda,” he murmured quietly. “My bride, the storyteller. Always so quick with a lie on her tongue. You do not even know of the gift you possess, do you, my dear? Fortune and fate …” He said these last words with a lilt in his tone, as if singing a long-forgotten song. “Your eyes are not a spinning wheel, are they?”
“No,” she breathed. “They are not.”
“The wheel of fortune …” The Erlking cupped her face in his frosty hands. “Well? Are you feeling fortunate, godchild of Wyrdith?” He lowered his voice as he leaned his forehead against hers. “Because I am feelingveryfortunate. Here, I thought I would be forced to wait until your child was full-grown before I had another gold-spinner. I was prepared to be patient. To wait for one more Endless Moon … But now, you have given me another gold-spinner at my disposal, you wonderful mortal, you.” Tilting her head down, he pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Serilda shuddered and pulled away. “I have given you nothing,” she spat. “And you are a bigger fool than I if you think he will ever spin gold for you! Gild is not one of your ghosts, to be manipulated and controlled. You cannot force him to do this.”
“I can be very persuasive.”
“No,” said Gild, the word thick with hatred. “I can spin gold for my own gain when I wish to, but when someone else demands it, the magic won’t work. Not without a price.” Even bound in chains, he managed to stand tall, facing the Erlking not as a poltergeist, but as a royal prince. “And there is no bargain that would compel me to helpyou.”
The Erlking beamed. “On the contrary. I suspect it will be quite easy to reach an agreement. Perhaps I could pay you with kitchen utensils? You were so very fond of the soup ladle.”
Gild’s jaw twitched. “Tempting offer, but I think I’ll pass.”
“And I think you’ll reconsider,” said the Erlking. He slid his fingers down Serilda’s arm and took her hand into his, threading their fingers together. She shuddered. “Not so long ago,” the Erlking went on, “I believed these225hands to be touched by Hulda. Such a precious gift. But now I know … you don’t really need them, do you?”
Without warning, he grabbed Serilda’s thumb and yanked backward, snapping the bone.
Pain rushed through her. Sparks and stars flooded her vision and she started to crumple forward, but the Erlking embraced her, holding her aloft. Distantly, she heard the children crying. Gild roared, calling her name.
“There, there,” murmured the Erlking into her ear. “You will heal quickly, just like these sweet spirits. And for every day that goes by in which our god-blessed prince refuses to spin more gold, I shall break another finger, and another.” He shrugged. “For your sake, I hope he is not so stubborn that we will have to consider other bones as well.”
He released her. Serilda stumbled, trying her best to bite back her anguish, even as the children gathered around her.
“Do we have a deal, poltergeist?”
Chapter Twenty-Six
Serilda did heal quickly, somewhat to her chagrin. Within a few days, her bone had righted itself, just as Anna’s bones had after her fall into the arena. But Serilda could not be grateful. She had not seen Gild since that awful day in Gravenstone’s great hall, but she had to assume, so long as the Erlking wasn’t having her tortured, that Gild was behaving as the Erlking wanted. Which meant that somewhere in the dungeons beneath this spooky castle, he was spinning gold for the hunt.
All so the Erlking could capture a god and wish for the return of Perchta.
It made her sick to think about, so Serilda tried to push it from her mind. There were plenty other things to think about, anyway, as she attempted to settle into their strange new home.
She had been given a set of rooms in the northwest corner of the castle, right across the hall from the Erlking’s chambers. They were lavish, with burgundy drapes hung on a four-poster bed and a hearth that was so big Gerdrut could have lain down inside of it—which she did after Fricz dared it of her.
Fortunately, the Erlking gave her and the children a surprising amount of freedom. While he had falsely doted on Serilda in Adalheid, he seemed to have forgotten her entirely in Gravenstone, keeping up pretenses to their romance only by sharing their evening bread together. Even then, he hardly spoke to her.
A welcome change.227
He and the hunters were usually preoccupied now, either muttering to themselves in dimly lit parlors or studying enormous maps spread out in the dining hall. Discussing upcoming hunts, approaching full moons. She heard much talk of tree roots and brambles, rockslides and castle walls having caved in. She heard that the blacksmith had been ordered to make pickaxes and shovels and sickles that would cut through the thickest of brush. She saw servants pushing carts overflowing with broken stones and bundles of dead branches. She gathered that they were trying to repair some part of the castle sublevels that had caved in and been overtaken by the forest, but why the dark ones cared about having a few more cellars and storerooms when the castle was enormous as it was, she couldn’t fathom.