Seeing that Wyrdith was still confused, Freydon sighed. “Tyrr has not meddled in a human war for eons, yet wars go on just the same. There are conquerors and there are the conquered, as there ever were, but now it is the humans who strike their own path. Likewise, Velos may still guide souls on the bridge to Verloren, but they have not impressed their will on who should die and when they shall pass for ages. And yet, death comes for all mortals regardless.” They shrugged. “We are the old gods, Wyrdith. The world has gone on without us. Mortals have gone on without us. They may invoke our names and leave their offerings and whisper their prayers, but it is up to them, ultimately, to devise their destiny.”
Seeing that Wyrdith’s expression had twisted into something hollow and sad, Freydon frowned. “Do not despair, my friend. There will be struggles. There will be tragedies. But humans can thrive better without our interference.”
“That is not what troubles me,” said Wyrdith.
“Then please unburden yourself to me.”
“That I cannot do. For you see, it is suddenly clear to me why it is always my name that is cursed when misfortune comes to good people, through no fault of their own. I see now that I am the only one who truly loves these mortals. But to them, I shall always be the trickster god with the unfair wheel—and, I fear, for that, they shall never love me back.”
Freydon placed a hand on Wyrdith’s shoulder. “You are more than fortune and fate.Youare the world’s historian. You are the keeper of stories and legends long forgotten. If the mortals cannot love you for your wheel, they will love you for that.” Freydon’s eyes gleamed. “For there is not a soul alive—even among the gods—who does not enjoy a good story.”
Wyrdith left Freydon feeling disconnected from both the world of the gods and the world of mortals, wondering if they did not belong to either. Yet, they could also see the wisdom in Freydon’s words. Humansdidlove a good story, and if that was all Wyrdith could offer to them, then that is what they would give.
The god of stories returned to the world of mortals. They continued to live among them for many years.
Always listening to tales well told.
Always gathering the legends and lore of the greater world.242
Always prepared to spin their own stories to any who would listen.
And sometimes—just sometimes—Wyrdith would look into the faces of their audience, cherubic children with rosy cheeks or old women with foggy eyes or young men weary from days in the fields, and the god would see love radiating back at them.
For a long time, that was enough.
Weeks after telling the tale of Wyrdith, Serilda still couldn’t stop thinking about it. All her life she’d had a complicated relationship with the godparent she’d never met. The god who had cursed her before she had even been born.
Despite all the trouble stories had brought her, she loved telling them. She couldn’t help it. The way star-crossed romances and unexpected villains wound themselves around her heart and made her feel like she was floating above the world as the story wrote itself. Made her feel like she was a part of something important, something eternal.
Never before had she wondered if the old god felt the same way. Did they also live for the rush of a perfectly executed resolution? Did they yearn for the reveal of a mystery, the unfolding of destiny, the troubled path of an impossible quest?
And did they ever wonder, like Serilda so often did, if their stories ultimately brought more harm than good? Stories might be an escape, but in the end, that’s all they were. In the end, reality always crashed back in.
She couldn’t help wondering where the god might be now. Had they eventually tired of mortals and gone the way of the other gods, taking on the life of a recluse? Or were they still wandering about the kingdoms, enthralling princes and peasants alike?
Serilda had never met a traveling bard, but her father told her that one246had come to town when he was a young man and spent three straight nights spinning an epic tale about a hero knight who crossed land and sea, battling monsters and warlocks, in order to rescue a princess who had been turned into a constellation of stars. Papa said that story was all anyone would talk about for weeks after. When the bard traveled on, the children of the village had cried.
Could it have been Wyrdith?
For some reason, the thought sent a happy flush along Serilda’s skin. After her birth, the people of Märchenfeld had grown wary of stories, out of fear of the cursed girl with the golden eyes. But she liked to think there had been a time when they, too, had gathered in the village square to hear a tale of enchantment.
It was just as Freydon had said.There is not a soul alive who does not enjoy a good story.
The days were long in Gravenstone, and at least these ongoing questions helped Serilda keep her mind from wandering to Gild, locked up somewhere, all alone, forced to spin day and night. Her insides had been tied in a constant knot as she dwelled on every horrible thing that might be happening to him. She imagined a flea-and rat-infested bed, and then wondered if he’d been allowed any sleep at all. She pictured his hands raw and bleeding from handling the straw. She could hear his sardonic voice, telling the Erlking what he could do with his spun gold, and Gild’s groans at the beating that would follow.
It was enough to make her sick with worry, especially when she was helpless to do anything for him. She yearned for a distraction.
The children had been kept busy at first, working beside the other ghosts to dust and shine and clear away the cobwebs. But once the work was done, they had to find new ways to entertain themselves in this dismal place. They invented board games and begged the castle’s musicians to teach them songs on the zither and mandolin. They spent hours crafting paper lanterns that they planned to fill with candles and hang from the boughs of the alder tree on the Mourning Moon, a tradition they’d cherished in Märchenfeld.247Hans was also helping Gerdrut make her first poesiealbum, filling a booklet of loosely bound pages with paintings and dried flowers, snippets of poetry and happy memories. Nickel had taken to drawing, and Anna was back to her old self—immutable and energetic and bounding off the walls when the boredom got to be too much. Meanwhile, Fricz was determined to learn how to cheat at bone dice.
All in all, they made the best of it, though the air in the castle felt oppressive in a peculiar, intangible way. There were secrets hidden in these walls. Mysteries in the flickering candlelight. Adalheid might have been haunted, but it was Gravenstone that filled Serilda with a lingering dread whenever she made her way through the unfamiliar halls.