Not trusting the Erlking, she peered instead at Velos. “Are they … safe?”
Though the god wore a dismal expression, they nodded. “Erlkönig has released his claim. They are mine now.”
She wilted at his words. In that sudden, unexpected loss, there was also a swell of unspeakable happiness.
She had done it.
They were free.
Even at this moment, their spirits might be back in Märchenfeld, seeing their families once more. Come dawn, they would pass through the gate into Verloren. It was precisely what Serilda had been wishing for, fighting for.
She swiped away her tears and opened her fist. Gerdrut had given her the small golden ring. The child’s match to the same one Gild had, depicting his family’s royal seal.
With a loud sniff, she pressed it onto her pinkie finger.
“And now,” said Perchta, “I shall claim what is mine.”
Serilda’s head snapped up again. Everything was happening so quickly.
“Wait. My child. Please, let me say goodbye. Let me at least—at least feel …” She stumbled to her feet, hand outstretched, but she was too far from the coffin and the swollen belly that harbored her unborn child.
“I have waited long enough.” Perchta leaned over Serilda’s body, wrapped her fist around the arrow in the wrist, just beneath the fletching, and snapped the shaft in two, before yanking the arrow cleanly from her flesh.
Serilda felt a lurch in her chest, deep in the cavernous space where her heart should have been. Followed by a pain in her wrist—
The scar had opened up. Blood dripped down her hand. She clasped her palm over the wound. In the next moment, a swoon overtook her. A327dizziness that made her stumble back, barely catching herself before she collapsed. The chamber tilted to one side.
Then, a release.
She was a snowflake caught in a flurry. Seeking somewhere to land. Somewhere to belong.
Her attention fell on Velos’s lantern. An eternal flame, burning bright. It was a comfort. A promise. Warmth seeped into her, and all the world became that lantern light.
She took a step forward.
“Damn you, Erlkönig,” growled Velos. The god was furious, but not at her.
She took another step, drawn forward, rather than repelled by that anger.
“It was not her time, and that child does not belong to you.”
The Erlking responded, without remorse. “It was never Perchta’s time. You should be pleased to receive such generous compensation. Our business is done. Take your new prisoners and go.”
Velos shook their head. Though their expression was tormented, they nevertheless lifted the lantern toward Serilda. A gesture of welcome.
Serilda drifted closer. Ignoring the blood dripping from her wound, she held out her hand.
She hesitated. That voice. She knew it. She recognized the way the light inside her chest flickered at the sound.
A figure emerged from the shadows and threw themselves at the floor beside the coffin, snatching something off the ground. His hair copper in the dim light, his eyes wide and frantic when he looked up at her, gripping the broken end of the arrow that had once cursed her.
In his other hand, a golden sword.
“Gild?” she breathed, her hand dropping slightly.
Gild was here. How?