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The nachtkrapp cawed shrilly and dropped straight into the princess’s arms.
“Helgard!” cried the princess. “You’re all right!” She tenderly stroked the bird’s wings.
The bird cawed and pressed the top of its head affectionately against the princess’s palm.
Then, suddenly, the foliage of the nearby oak tree began to tremble. More creatures emerged, squawking and hissing.
The princess released a cry of delight as the creatures surrounded her. “Udo! Tilly! Wendelina! You’re here!” She set the nachtkrapp down on a tombstone and held out her arms to the nearest monster—a small, shaggy wood elf—then smoothed the fur of a feldgeist that would have looked like a plain orange cat if it weren’t for the crackles of lightning that occasionally flickered along its tail. “Oh—Pim! You’re hurt!” Erlen fell to her knees before a small drude with a broken wing. “Did this happen during the fight with the dark ones? You poor sausage. We’re going to have to rebreak the bone to reset it properly.”
The drude hissed and ducked away.
“I know, I know. We won’t do it now. We’ll need wrapping first, and something to use as a splint. But it will have to be done, and I expect you to be brave.”
“Erlen,” said Serilda, “how did they find you?”
“These are my subjects. We are connected by our very souls,” said Erlen. “They will always find me.”
Tyrr made a doubtful noise in their throat. “More likely, they were waiting in the woods, and they smelled her coming out of the castle.”
Erlen stuck her tongue out at them.390
“Which means the hunt will be able to find us pretty easily, too.” Serilda glanced up at the sky, where clouds had partially covered the full Hunter’s Moon. “They could be on their way to Adalheid now.”
“Or,” said Gild, “they’re on the hunt for Wyrdith.”
Serilda pressed her lips together. If Erlen was right, and it was inevitable that the Erlking would eventually capture all seven gods, then what was the point of trying to find Wyrdith first? It seemed the Erlking’s wicked plan couldn’t be stopped.
But there was still the matter of the wish. Of Wyrdith owing Serilda a favor, whether or not they knew it.
Herfate wasn’t sealed. She could still reclaim her body and her child. But she would have to find Wyrdith first.
“Wait,” said Serilda, tilting her head to one side. “Your tapestries. You said that the future in which the Erlking captures all seven gods is inevitable, but what about the future in which the Erlking and Perchta are sent back to Verloren?”
Erlen plopped down in the middle of the path, allowing the monsters to gather around her, not unlike how the five children had used to gather around Serilda when she told them tales. “I take it you didn’t spend much time studying that tapestry?”
Serilda grimaced. “I found it rather disturbing. So, no. I guess not.”
“Disturbing?” said the princess. “I always thought it was my best work. But if you had seen both depictions, then you would know that in certain lights it showed Erlkönig and Perchta in Verloren. In other lights … it showed them in Gravenstone. Not being tortured by monsters, but rather … being served and waited on.” She sighed glumly. “By humans.”
Serilda shut her eyes, discouraged.
“But that means there’s still hope,” said Gild, drawing her attention back to him. “Thereisa way to drive them back to the underworld. We just need to figure out how. Erlen, your tapestries don’t show you what causes one future to occur over another?”
She shook her head. “No. I just weave, and the future is what it is.”391
Gild scratched behind his ear, deep in thought. “What if you wove the future that we wanted. What if you made a tapestry that showed us beating the Erlking?”
Erlen scoffed. “It doesn’t work like that. I’ve tried a thousand times to weave the future Iwantonto the loom. To show my curse being broken. Myself being free of Gravenstone. To show the dark ones being buried under enormous piles of dragon dung. But it doesn’t work. The threads weave what they want to weave.”
“But the threads you use,” said Gild. “They’re just normal threads, aren’t they?”
Her expression turned suspicious. “Sure. Whatever we could find in the castle. My monsters dismantled a lot of bed linens for me.” She tenderly stroked the head of an alp at her side.
“Have you ever worked with spun gold before?”
Erlen’s fingers stilled. “You mean …yourgold?”
“Exactly. This might sound absurd, but … Hulda blessed us both with these gifts. What if … what if they’re intended to work together?” Gild went on before she could answer. “What if … if you were to weave a tapestry using spun gold? It’s supposed to be indestructible, so maybe that would make the future you weave with it indestructible, too? What if you could create an image that shows us how to win against the dark ones? We know it’s possible, right? We just need to knowhow.”