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The king’s jaw tensed. A moment passed, the air sparking with tension.
Finally, he cast a long, calculating look around the room, his gaze alighting on all the gathered ghosts, so many gripping the hands of loved ones and ancestors, newly returned for the Mourning Moon. Expressions full of a hope so intense it made Serilda ache.
A movement caught her eye and she glanced past the king, sure that in that moment she’d seen a shifting shadow, a shadowy figure moving along the walls. But now she saw only the gathered specters. The dim light playing tricks on her eyes.
With much theatricality, the king reached into his quiver and pulled317out an arrow, tipped in gold. Exactly like those he had used to tether Serilda’s and Gild’s souls to the dark side of the veil. He held it out in the palm of his hand.
All around Serilda, a web of near-translucent threads appeared, silver black and strung in every direction. Each one reaching into the chest of every ghost gathered in the chamber. From Manfred to the stable boy, every scullery maid and gardener and seamstress. The blacksmith, the carpenters, the pages, the cooks.
And five strings connecting Serilda’s own beloved attendants.
Hans, her serious and protective footman.
Nickel, her kind and attentive groom.
Fricz, her silly and stubborn messenger.
Anna, her bright and enthusiastic lady-in-waiting.
And Gerdrut, her earnest and imaginative chambermaid.
All connected with shimmering threads as delicate as spider webbing, each one attached to the king’s arrow.
All but one, Serilda realized. Agathe, the weapons master, who had betrayed Serilda and Gild in trade for this very bargain.
She was nowhere to be seen.
“I dissolve the binds that tether you…” he said, his words echoing through the chamber.“I release you from your servitude. I am no longer the keeper of your souls, but give you to Velos, god of death, so you might have eternal peace.”
Those darkly glistening threads began to disintegrate. Starting at the shaft of the arrow and continuing outward along every strand, they crumbled away, fading into the air. Only the five strings reserved for the children remained, solid and tethered to the arrow’s shaft.
Serilda followed one of the threads to Manfred and watched as the chisel that had been lodged in his eye socket for three hundred years evaporated into nothing. The gaping wound in his eye healed. The blood, the gore, gone—as if it had never happened.
And with that, the always-stoic Manfred began to cry.318
He was not alone. All around, wounds were healing. Blood and bruises vanishing.
“My children,” said Velos, with a new lightness in their tone. “You are free. Beneath the Mourning Moon, you may return to visit your families and descendants. As the sun rises, I shall guide you to Verloren, where you shall be granted peace.”
With these words, the souls of the dead began to fade away. Not only the long-imprisoned court of Adalheid, but also those who had come to greet them. The grandparents, the cousins … the king and queen.
Serilda wanted to call out to them. Wanted to tell them about their son. She wanted to ask iftheyremembered him, when no one else did.
But she did not have time. As the final strands connecting each of them to the cursed arrow vanished, so too did the ghosts. One by one, each spirit fading away.
Mist on the fields, struck by sunlight.
“Serilda …”
Sniffing, she looked at her father, and his expression twisted her insides.
“No,” she whispered. “Don’t leave. Please …”
“I do not belong here,” he murmured, glancing around at the underground chamber. “And neither do you.” He cupped her face in his hands. “Be brave, my girl. I know you will be. You were always braver than I was.”
“Papa …” She wrapped her arms around him, squeezing tight. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for everything. My stupid lies. Bringing the hunt to our door. What happened to you—”
“Hush. It’s all right.” He smoothed a hand along the back of her head. “You were always my greatest joy, you and that wild imagination of yours. So much like your mother.” He sighed, and there was a deep sadness beneath it. “I would not change you for all the time in the world.”