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Serilda shook her head. “No. Not since … that first day. And you?”
“I’m fine. Great, in fact. Been spinning day and night, and I feel like my fingers are going to fall off, but look at all my new spoons.” He gestured to a pile of wooden spoons thrown haphazardly into a corner. “Who knew His Grump could be so generous?”
Serilda was so surprised to find herself laughing that she nearly started to weep. “It’s a fine collection.”
He shrugged, his expression darkening. “It satisfies the magic’s need to be paid, but somehow, I don’t think Hulda would be happy about it.”
“I’m just glad you’re all right. I’ve been so worried. Thank the gods.”
“You can thankme,” said a sharp voice.
Serilda spun around as the Erlking emerged from a shadowed alcove.
“I assure you, the gods have little to do with my mercy.”
Gild gave Serilda’s hand a quick squeeze before releasing her, but the Erlking still took note of the action. His expression was serene, though, as he flashed them an expectant smile.
“There you have it,” he said. “You wanted proof that she is not being harmed, and I have delivered it. Now, then. You have work to do, as do I. Manfred, take her away.”251
“Wait!” Serilda cried, grasping for Gild’s elbow.
The Erlking raised an irritated eyebrow at her.
“Five minutes,” she said. “Please, can we have five minutes?”
He scoffed. “Why would I allow that? Manfred.”
Manfred stepped forward, but Serilda pressed closer to Gild, who instinctively wrapped his arms around her.
“You will allow it, or I won’t spin anymore,” said Gild.
The Erlking laughed. “As you wish. Don’t spin anymore. I’ll enjoy breaking out my wife’s teeth with an old chisel. I’m sure I saw one lying around here somewhere.”
Pulling away from Gild, Serilda thundered closer to the king. “A word with you,” she growled, before storming off down the corridor.
The Erlking sauntered after her. “I am not in the habit of bowing to the demands of mortals.”
She spun back to face him. “Yet follow you did,” she snapped.
His eyes flashed, but she ignored the warning in them and stepped closer, until she had to crane her neck to meet his eye. “Do you think I won’t tell the whole court that you are not the father of this child?”
The warning morphed into a growing threat. “Careful, miller’s daughter. You know the consequences of going back on our bargain.”
“Yet I would do it, to spite you. What would the court think, when they realize the child you intend to raise as your heir is nothing but the child of a nobody farmer? Human down to their bones.”
The king’s eyes narrowed, calculating. “A nobody farmer?” he said coolly. “Here I had begun to wonder if that was only one more lie.”
His gaze flicked meaningfully toward Gild’s cell.
Serilda scoffed. “What an imagination you have.” She planted her hands on her hips. “I am only asking for five minutes to speak with him. To see that he is being well taken care of.Five minutes.” She tilted her head. “What are you afraid will happen?”
A muscle twitched in his jaw. He slowly inhaled through his nostrils.
252Without answer, he spun away and gestured toward Manfred. “I am needed in the rotunda,” he growled. “Give them five minutes, and not a second longer. And donotleave them alone.”
With one last warning look at Serilda, he swept from the corridors.
Though he tried to appear indifferent, Serilda could tell by the widening of Manfred’s good eye that he was impressed by her bargaining skills. And, likely, curious to know what, exactly, had been said.