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She frowned. “Of course I’m not Wyrdith.”
His lips tilted to one side, but there was an unusual sadness as he peered back at her. “I want us to understand each other. I understand why you lied to me. Just as I understand you are more than your lies.”
At these words, the strangest warmth flooded through Serilda, spreading out until it reached her fingers and toes.
You are more than your lies.
The Erlking tipped his chair toward hers. “In the same way that you are273not your god-gift … In the same way that you are not your mother or your father …Weare not the vices that created us.”
She held his gaze a long time, debating whether or not to say the words that rose to the surface. In the end, she couldn’t help it. “So,” she said slowly, “youhaven’tstabbed your arrows into the flesh of helpless mortals? And … youhaven’tmurdered children simply because they became inconvenient to you?” She shook her head. “Are you truly trying to convince me that you are not evil?”
She had not noticed that a wall between them had been opening up until it came crashing down once more. The Erlking slumped back in his chair and trailed his fingertip along the stem of his glass. “Forgive me for thinking you might understand.”
A throat cleared, drawing their attention past the table. Agathe stood before them, her head bowed. “Forgive the interruption, Your Grim. I was hoping I might steal our queen away for a quick moment?”
“Whatever for?” asked the Erlking.
Agathe fixed him with an open stare. “I betrayed her trust. I feel I owe her an apology.”
“Such a mortal sentiment. Fine.” He waved his hand toward her, then glanced at Serilda. “If you are interested in hearing it, that is.”
Serilda’s hands clawed into fists beneath the table. She wasn’t particularly interested, no. But then, it couldn’t be any worse thanthisconversation.
She pushed back her chair and stood. She did not look at Agathe as she made her way out of the room, but she could hear the soft thuds of the woman’s boots behind her.
Serilda stepped into a game parlor and crossed her arms over her chest.
“If he asks to know what we spoke of,” said Agathe, “I will have no choice but to tell him.”
“I know that,” said Serilda. “But it seems you gave us up quite willingly before.”
Agathe’s expression was not haunted or guilty, as Serilda might have expected. Instead, she appeared resolute. “Is he really the prince?”274
Serilda blinked. “What?”
“The poltergeist. Is he the prince of Adalheid?”
“Oh. Yes. He is.”
Agathe paced to a window that looked out over the courtyard. “What else do you know about the royal family?”
“I thought we were here so you could apologize for what you did.”
Agathe’s nostrils flared. “I am not yet decided if I am sorry or not.”
Serilda threw her arms into the air. “Right. Well. Thank you for rescuing me from a very awkward conversation with my lord husband, but if you’ll excuse—”
“Please,” Agathe said emphatically. “I remembernothing. Some of the servants, yes, but the king and queen? A prince? I cannot remember them at all. I would ask that you tell me who it was I failed when the dark ones came. I deserve to know.”
“Why? You can’t change what happened. You’re only torturing yourself.”
She shook her head. “How can one make amends if one does not know what wrongs were committed?”
Serilda groaned. “And this is all you care about? Not the fact that you tricked me? Or that Gild has now spun enough gold to capture every beast in the Aschen Wood? Or that you gave me hope—actual hope—that those sweet children might find peace?”
When Agathe spoke, her voice was faint. “I would see them given peace.Allthe spirits the hunt has collected. I wish peace for them all. That is why I betrayed you.”
Serilda flopped onto a settee. “You cannot really believe that he will free them, simply because you asked him to?”