On the dark side of the veil—unknown to the people of Adalheid—they’d claimed an unoccupied room at the Wild Swan. The place had been busy with a constant stream of well-wishers coming to bestow gifts and unsolicited advice on the newly married couple.
Serilda, with Gild’s help, found that despite being on the other side of the veil, there were small things she could do to influence the mortal realm. Just as Gild, the poltergeist, had slammed doors and knocked over candelabras, with effort she could rattle chandeliers and riffle curtains and even, if she really set her mind to it, slide a plate of fruit tarts across the table.
Using these skills, she tried her best to communicate with Leyna. To let the child know that she was here, beside her, with her.
But it was no use. Her efforts led to nothing more than the occasional confused frown and a suspicious glance around the room, then Leyna going on as if nothing peculiar had happened.368
Which Serilda supposed might be normal for a girl who had grown up surrounded by tales of haunted castle and the wild hunt.
Then—finally, on the cold, drizzly morning of the Hunter’s Moon—they looked across the lake and saw that the castle gates were open.
Serilda wilted with relief. She’d been sure, after waiting nearly a month, that the gates would not open until nightfall, and then probably only to welcome the return of the hunters.
“Perfect,” she whispered. “The veil won’t fall for hours still.”
Gild had assured Serilda there were never any guards posted at the gatehouse or in the towers, as the dark ones, being the most terrifying creatures on this side of the veil, never had to worry about defending their castle against intruders. Still, they had both agreed that it would be wise to have a story to tell, in case they encountered any demons.
Serilda donned her red cloak and strapped the golden sword to her hip. Gild wrapped a scavenged rope around his wrists, handing the long end to her like a leash.
Together, they made their way over the bridge. Serilda kept her head high, her expression severe, almost eager to explain to any dark one who stopped them that she—their queen—had returned early from Gravenstone in order to return the poltergeist to his entrapment in Adalheid. His presence had been too bothersome, she would tell them, and the Erlking refused to tolerate his antics a moment longer.
If needed, she was prepared to deliver an entire list of the poltergeist’s offenses, from tying together the laces of the Erlking’s favorite boots to putting manure in the wine casks (two pranks Gild had gleefully insisted he’d really done), until whatever dark one got bored of listening and ushered them past.
And so Serilda could not help feeling disappointed when they made it all the way to the gatehouse and the only creatures to notice them were two nachtkrapp perched on the castle walls.
The courtyard, too, was empty. Serilda knew that all the ghosts had gone, and at least half of the dark ones. They’d expected the castle to be quieter369and emptier than usual, with the hunt not yet returned, but the oppressive silence gave her chills.
Even when Gild loudly cleared his throat, no one appeared to question them.
“Gild,” she whispered. “Can you … you know …poof?” She snapped her fingers.
His lips twitched. “Poof? Is that what you think I do?”
“You know what I mean.”
He peered up at the keep, where the stained-glass windows of the seven gods looked dreary and miserable behind the curtain of rain.
A few seconds passed before he shook his head. “It isn’t working. When Erlkönig revoked my curse and untethered me from this castle, it must have changed so I can’t move around like I used to.”
“No matter,” she said, starting to untie his ropes. “I’ll get Solvilde, you get Hulda, then we meet in the throne room to free your sister and release Tyrr.”
As soon as the ropes fell away, Gild surprised her by pulling her to him and pressing a kiss to her mouth. She met the kiss in force, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Be careful,” she whispered, breaking the kiss.
His expression softened. “Yoube careful. The legendary chicken-snake is not to be trifled with.”
“Oh! I almost forgot.” Serilda reached for the sword at her hip, but Gild placed his hand over hers.
“You take it.”
“But—you’re the one trained in combat.”
“I think you can handle yourself just fine,” he said, eyes glittering. “Besides, I’ll feel better if I know you aren’t unarmed.” Gild tossed the ropes over one shoulder. “Meet you in the throne room?”
“As soon as possible. Don’t do anythingtoofoolish.”
He winked at her. Then he was gone, darting around the side of the keep in the direction of the menagerie.