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She took his hands into hers, even though her palms were beginning to sweat.
“What?” Gild pressed. “Just tell me, whatever it is.”
She took in a long breath. “The child. My child. It’s … they’re … they’re yours. Your child.”
His frown deepened. “Because … of the deal we made? The gold, for your firstborn? Serilda, you can’t think that I—”
“Because you’re the father, Gild.” She gulped, and said it again, quieter now. “You’re the father.”
He stared at her, his lashes fluttering. “What are you talking about? The Erlking—”
“Never touched me. Not like that. He—” She grimaced, wishing this362conversation didn’t have to be tainted with the Erlking and the awful arrangement they’d had. “He found out that I was with child, and at first he wanted to”—she shuddered—“removeit. But then I convinced him that the child might grow up to be a gold-spinner. After that he demanded I marry him and pretend the child was his, so when Perchta came back he could give the child to her, and no one would question that the child was his, wastheirs. He said if I told anyone the truth, he would punish the children, and I couldn’t … I couldn’t let him hurt them anymore. I desperately wanted to tell you the truth, but I couldn’t.”
Gild pulled his hands away from her and pressed them back through his hair. “But there was only that one night. And … and I’m …” He gestured down to his body. His spirit body. “How …?”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand it, either, but there’s been no one else. The Erlking said that dark ones and mortals can have children. Maybe it works the same with spirits? I don’t know. But I do know the child is yours. Well, ours.”
He gaped at her a long moment. Then, without any warning, he collapsed down to the dock, sitting cross-legged with a deflatedwhump.“You could have told me to sit down first.”
Grimacing, she knelt beside him and placed a hand on his back. “I’m sorry.”
“Great gods, Serilda. Ababy.” He massaged his temple. “I’m going to be a father.”
To this, she dared not respond. She grimaced again, waiting.
“I mean, I would be lying if I hadn’t thought … hadn’t hoped … that maybe we would find a way to get your body back, and for you to have the child, and we’d be together and of course I would treat the child like my own … raise them like my own. If you wanted me to.” Wonder crept into his voice. “But … theyaremy own. I’ll be a father. I—”
He stopped abruptly. A second later, it came. The miserable groan as he pressed both hands to his face and cursed beneath his breath. “I would have been a father.”363
A silence fell over them, the lively music at odds with the thoughts plaguing them both.
Their child would never know them. Their child would have the Erlking and the huntress as father and mother.
Serilda struggled to imagine what that childhood would look like, but she knew it would not be filled with patience and compassion and love.
With a long exhale, Gild lowered his hands and met Serilda’s gaze. “Even though I believed the child was his, there was a part of me that felt responsible for it. And not just because of our deal. But because they wereyourchild … I already loved them. I wanted to be in their life. And now …”
Serilda sniffed. “What are we going to do?”
He stared at Serilda a long moment, contemplating. She saw the changes flashing through his eyes. Despair to hope to determination.
Without warning, he reached for Serilda and pulled her into his lap. She tumbled against him with a gasp and had barely caught her breath before he was kissing her. Arms cradling her, hands in her hair. Pouring a thousand promises into that touch.
He ended the kiss as quickly as he had started it. His cheeks were flushed beneath his freckles, his eyes flashing and resolute.
“We will find Wyrdith, and you will make your wish.” He pressed his forehead to hers, stroking his thumbs across Serilda’s cheeks. “Erlkönig has taken everything from us. I won’t let him take this, too.”
Chapter Forty-Three
They had hoped to sneak into Adalheid Castle weeks ago, long before they had to fear the return of the Erlking and his hunters. But every time they tried, they found the drawbridge was up. The castle gates were shut tight. Unless they intended to scale the massive walls using grappling hooks—an idea which Gild was keen to try but Serilda doubted she had the strength for—they would have to wait.
So wait they did.