“And I’m …,” he started slowly, “the prince of Adalheid.”
The princess’s keen eyes did not leave his. “Should Icurtsy?”
“No. No, no.” He cleared his throat. “Do you know whoyouare?”385
She stood taller, somehow making the oversize jerkin on top of her linen nightgown look almost respectable. “I am Erlenkönigin.”
Serilda let out a startled laugh. “The Alder Queen?”
The princess smiled slightly. “You may call me Erlen for short.”
“Erlen,” repeated Gild. “I like it.”
“I didn’t ask your opinion.”
His grin widened. “I likeyou.”
The girl scoffed. “And I thinkyouare a royal twit masquerading as a hero.”
Above them, Tyrr chuckled.
Gild cast them an affronted look and Tyrr schooled their face into stone again and made a show of scanning the graveyard for potential threats.
Sighing, Gild reached for the chain around his neck. Months ago he had returned the locket to his mortal body, and now he lifted the chain over his head. “All right. But before you were the queen of Gravenstone, you were the princess of Adalheid.” He opened the locket, revealing the girl’s portrait inside.
Erlen took it from him, inspecting the painting, tilting it one way and then the other. “When was this painted?”
“Before you were taken by the Erlking,” said Gild. “Before we were both cursed. My memories of my life before were stolen from me.”
“It’s a part of the curse placed on your family,” explained Serilda. “The Erlking erased the whole world’s memories of the royal family of Adalheid. Doyouhave any memories? From before you were in Gravenstone, I mean.”
The princess stared at the portrait. “Not many. I remember a castle. Gardens. Learning to weave …” She looked up. “Should I remember you?”
“No one does. Turns out, I’m awfully forgettable,” said Gild, trying to cover his sadness with a spark of humor.
No one laughed.
Gild cringed at himself, then reached forward to take the locket back from her. But she pulled back, hiding it in her fist. The gold ring on her finger glinted in the moonlight.386
“That ring,” said Gild. “It’s our family seal.”
Erlen tilted her hand, peering at the engraved symbol of the tatzelwurm wrapped around the capitalR. “I’ve had this ring since I can remember. Lost it once. Took it off when I was weaving because it kept getting caught on the loom. That was years ago.”
“Gerdrut found it in the hall with all the tapestries,” said Serilda. “Gild has a ring just like it.”
With a hard swallow, Gild held up his hand, showing his own royal seal.
Erlen’s eyes narrowed. “Princess of Adalheid?”
He nodded. “And … also … my sister.”
They stared at each other a long moment, Gild’s eyes full of worry and hope, and Erlen’s eyes full of … doubt, mostly.
But also a tinge of understanding.
Finally the girl tore her gaze away and dropped it back to the portrait. She snapped the locket shut. “This girl looks like a pretty clay doll. That isn’t me. Not anymore.”
She held the locket back for Gild, and he took it with a grin. “No. This girl never could have organized a bunch of monsters to set a trap for the Erlking.”