She frowned. “Guidingthem toward a peaceful afterlife is not the same askidnappingthem.”
He clicked his tongue. “You mortals love to cast us as villains, while Velos receives as much respect as any of those pompous deities. The god of death takes children still in the womb. They claim souls from plague, from childbirth, from starvation … How are they not a villain?”
“Perhaps it is because Velos treats us with respect. They do not cause the299deaths, necessarily … They are only there to claim our souls and lead us to Verloren once we leave the mortal realm. As we both know, souls left here are not happy. They don’t belong here.”
“You have too soft a heart, my queen.”
“I wouldn’t know. You took my heart so long ago, I’ve all but forgotten what it felt like.”
He peered at her from the corner of his eye, his lips tilting roguishly. “I would like to show you the gates.”
She stiffened. “To Verloren?”
“Yes. You were curious when we were in the rotunda before, I could tell. And on the Mourning Moon, they are a sight not to be missed.”
Serilda started to laugh. The king almost sounded as if he wished to show her something romantic. A rose garden, a sunset. But no. The Alder King wished to show her the gates of death.
“I would rather not,” she said. “I’m not deadyet.”
He reached toward her, running a finger along the scar on her wrist. She jerked away. “So long as you retain the curse,” he said, “you are immortal, too. You may never have cause to cross the bridge into Verloren.”
She cast him a withering look. “And here I thought you intended to murder me as soon as I gave birth. Should I be rejoicing that you have changed your mind?” She leaned closer. “Could it be you are growingfondof me?”
He tilted his head and seemed to actually consider the question. Then he let out a long, pained sigh. “No. You’re right. I will rid myself of you when you have served your usefulness.”
Serilda sat back, appalled that he would speak so blatantly.
“Which is all the more reason,” he went on, ignoring her reaction, “to enjoy our limited time together. It is the Mourning Moon. Perhaps you might see one of those loved ones you mentioned.”
She held his gaze, trying to determine if this was yet another cruel joke. Was he offering to take her to the gates, to show her … her father?300
Perhaps, even, her mother?
“No,” she breathed. “I don’t think I should.”
“Does death frighten you?”
“Not as much as it used to.” Then, a thought struck her, and she peered up at him again. “Does it frightenyou?”
He sat back, just a bit, as if he worried the question itself could taint his answer. “For the last time, love. I cannot die.”
She rolled her eyes. “You were trapped in Verloren for thousands of years. Aren’t you afraid that Velos could capture you again, as they captured Perchta?”
His expression darkened until it all but smoldered. “Once I free Perchta, Velos will never claim us again.” The words were tinged with his usual arrogance. That wicked twist to his mouth. Then, from nowhere—“I thought I told you to wear the cloak tonight.”
She shrugged. “It gets too warm by the fire. Besides, you never cared how I dressed before, other than that ridiculous leather armor at the wedding. Why should you start now?”
Ignoring her, the Erlking waved at her nearest attendant—Fricz. “Bring the queen her cloak.” He stood and took Serilda’s hand, tugging her to her feet. “Where we are going, she might be cold.”
Fricz ran off, leaving Serilda to frown at her husband. She thought of the howls she had heard, the whispers, the beckoning of her father’s voice. “I don’twantto see the gates.”
“Liar,” he said with a wink. “Just think what a great story it shall make.”
Serilda’s anger simmered. Largely because—damn him—he was right.
She squared her shoulders. “Fine. But if I see any opportunity to shove you into a pit you can’t crawl out of, believe me, I will be taking it.”