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Serilda ran to keep up with him. “I hope you won’t mind that we had some of the servants place a few bouquets in your chambers. I wasn’t sure what you might like, so we went with snowdrops and white irises, for a muted color palette. But there are lots of other choices, as you can see, so if you’d prefer—”
The door crashed open so loud, Serilda jumped.
The Erlking did not enter, but stood glowering at the unicorn.
It had not moved from its resting place on the floor of the cage, but its eyes were now open and staring balefully at the king.
He spun around, glowering at Serilda. “Where is my arrow?”
Serilda lifted her chin. “What arrow?”
“The one that had paralyzed the unicorn,” he growled.
“Oh. That arrow. It was taken.”
He drew closer, using his impressive height to intimidate her. But that tactic had stopped working a long time ago. “By whom?”
“The monsters.”
Her voice did not falter. Her gaze was unwavering.
Suspicion pressed against his ire. “Explain.”
“The children and I were playing not long after the hunt departed, when we heard a noise inside this stable. We came to check, just in time to see an265alp pulling the arrow from the unicorn’s side. It ran past us, and a second later, a nachtkrapp flew down from the alder tree’s branches, grabbed the arrow, and took off, disappearing over the castle wall.” She pointed to an arbitrary place, where her made-up night raven had gone. “The alp flew after it, but they seemed to be working together.” She shrugged. “After that, the flowers began to grow.”
His jaw worked. A muscle twitched at the corner of his eye.
Serilda did not fidget.
Then the Erlking looked past her shoulder. “Whereis the arrow?”
She turned back and grimaced to see the five children standing there. She could see it in their faces—that moment of biting their tongues, trying so hard not be compelled by the Erlking’s magic to give him what he asked for.
But little Gerdrut gave in first. “Anna took it out of the unicorn!”
“I didn’t know what would happen. I just felt so bad for it!” added Anna.
“Then Anna gave it to Serilda,” admitted Nickel, looking crestfallen.
“And Serilda put it in her pocket,” said Fricz, looking angry.
The Erlking fixed his gaze on Hans, who only shrugged. “Your Grim.”
With a glower, the Erlking held out his palm to Serilda.
She heaved a sigh, took the arrow from her pocket, and gave it to him. He dropped it into his quiver and turned away, gesturing toward one of the hunters. “Have the metalworkers construct a harness for the unicorn. Luckily, we now have enough gold that we can spare some.”
“Must you?” asked Serilda. “The flowers aren’t harming anything.”
He snorted. “Flowers are only the beginning of that hag’s bothersome magic.”
Serilda was about to point out that this bothersome magic had revived the alder tree, when an earsplitting screech halted her tongue.
“What is that?”266
The king’s irritation quickly changed to a smug grin. “Our newest acquisition.”
The rest of the hunters finally appeared as the whisper of sunshine touched the alder tree’s boughs. The horses nickered and pawed at the ground, their eyes darting toward the beast in their midst, even as they attempted to shy away. The stable boy, for once, did not move forward to take the steeds from their riders, for he, along with all the rest of the court who had gathered to greet the hunters, stared with loose jaws at their prize.