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“All right, so the Erlkingalmostcaught Wyrdith, but he didn’t.”
“No, but it shows he’s been hunting them for a long time, and as you say, it isn’t easy to catch a god. At first, he was using those black arrows. They have some sort of poison that can trap the gods. Force them into their beastly form and keep them … frozen, in a sense.”
“Perchta’s arrows,” said Gild. “Probably what made her such a great huntress. But if he had those, why did he need the gold chains?”
“He didn’t have enough. Two were being used to pacify Tyrr and Solvilde. I know he has at least one other. He used it to kill a ghost in front of me once. Let me think. The arrow we pulled out of the basilisk was probably the same one he used to trap the unicorn. And the one he used to kill that ghost could have been the same he used to kill Agathe.”
“Which Perchta probably picked up and chased us with.”
She nodded. “That’s just three black arrows. Not enough to capture seven gods. He needed something else.”
A shadow crossed over Gild’s features. “And spun gold does the trick. He’s been planning this from the beginning.”
“Between your gold and my stories telling him exactly where to find them, we’ve made it easy for him.”352
He cursed beneath his breath. “I’d thought it was bad enough when he was hunting mythical beasts, but … the old gods? And I’ve beenhelpinghim.”
“You’ve been protecting me,” said Serilda, squeezing his hand.
“And great job I’ve been doing of that,” he muttered, using the sword to beat back a thick patch of brambles.
Serilda sighed, but she knew there would be no persuading him not to feel guilty for his role in this. She felt responsible for it, too. If she hadn’t lied about spinning gold in the first place …
“Butwhy?” said Gild. “You only need one god to make a wish! Who would waste their time collecting all seven?”
“I don’t understand either. I’d been certain that he wanted to wish for the return of Perchta, but he found another way to bring her back, which means that was never what he wanted the gods for. But now that he has her and his court and his castle …”
A beat of silence passed over them. Neither had any answers.
What else could the Erlking want?
“Do you think he’ll come after us?” asked Gild. “Perchta might be on the other side of the veil, but it doesn’t sound like the hunt is. And you know how he hates to lose.”
“He would hate to loseyou, perhaps,” said Serilda. “But me … he got what he wanted from me. He has my body as a vessel for Perchta. He has my child …” Her voice wavered and she glanced at Gild, realizing that she could finally tell him the truth.
The unborn child held captive by those demons washischild, too. She no longer had to lie. The children were safe in Verloren. The Erlking had nothing more to hold over her.
But when she opened her mouth, the words caught in her throat. She hesitated.
“What?” said Gild, giving her a peculiar look. He stopped walking to face her. “You’re going to start crying. Serilda.” He cupped her shoulders in his hands. “I’m sorry. This has been all too much. But we’ll figure this out. Together. All right?”353
She smiled wanly. “Yes. Together.”
Since the night she’d met him, there had always been something keeping them apart. The veil. The Erlking. A dungeon.
For all the horrid things that had happened, this, at least, was a blessing. They were together. They could figure this out.
She could tell him the truth about their child. Shewouldtell him the truth.
But not yet. not when they were lost in an unforgiving forest that would just as soon kill them as shelter them.
“He won’t have to hunt you down,” she said slowly. “He’ll know that you still want to break your curse, and for that, you need to go to Adalheid. He’ll expect you to go back at some point. So it makes more sense for him to focus on hunting the gods.”
“God,” corrected Gild. “If you’re right, then there’s only one left.”
A chill swept down Serilda’s spine as she counted them in her head.