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Shimmer … sparkle …nothing.
There was a void, an opening, just a little farther along the ledge.
She climbed unsteadily to her feet, cringing as her ankle throbbed, but it wasn’t so bad that she couldn’t stumble forward. She made her way along the ledge until she came to the yawning mouth of a pitch-black cave.
Serilda stepped inside. The feather’s glow did little to push back the shadows, and she could just feel along the rocky walls, slick and damp.
She bumped into something. It fell with a crash and Serilda cried out, startled.
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” she murmured, dropping to her hands and knees and399feeling around for what had fallen. Her fingers landed on a slender beeswax candle. She felt around some more, eventually finding a carved stone candlestick and—finally—flint and steel.
Hope surged through her veins as she lit the wick. It crackled and sputtered, the damp air not wanting to let the flame take hold. Finally, the candle burned steady enough for Serilda to lift it up and take in her surroundings.
This opening to the cave held nothing more than the small table she had knocked over, a box of candles, and two lanterns.
But just beyond stood a heavy black drape hung across a narrowing of the cave. To keep out the cold and, perhaps, to keep in the light, if someone did not wish to be found.
Holding her breath, Serilda pulled back the curtain.
Chapter Forty-Seven
The cave was just as dark and cold on the other side of the curtain. Serilda found a candelabra and lit its seven candles, illuminating the cavern in a reassuring light.
The space was smaller than the home she had shared with Papa beside the gristmill. A desk on one wall held golden quills and parchment and jars of ink in red and indigo, scattered alongside blown-glass paperweights and enormous seashells, a marble sculpture of a winged woman, a necklace of large wooden beads, a pocket atlas that seemed to be falling apart at the spine, a baby’s cap knit from soft gray wool.
Behind the desk was a cot overflowing with fur blankets and thick quilts.
Along an opposite wall were rough-hewn bookshelves, their centers sloping from the weight of too many tomes. Some volumes were leather-bound with gilt-edged pages, others were little more than stacks of unkempt papers. There were bundles of yellowing scrolls. Journals and notebooks. She held the candle closer to the faded spines, reading the titles. Scholarly works on history appeared beside fables and fairy tales.
The walls were as eclectic as the shelves. An oil painting of a small cottage with a waterwheel hung beside a map of Ottelien. Two tapestries depicted animals of land and sea, while a series of charcoal sketches captured the same group of elderly fishermen throughout a day—preparing their nets, bringing home the day’s haul, relaxing beside a fire with pints of ale.401
Altogether, the space felt comfortable. Cozy, even.
But the air held a chill that seeped into Serilda’s core, and there was a musky smell that suggested the room had not been aired out in some time.
It felt lived in, but not recently.
Wyrdith was not here.
Serilda thought of the last story she had told to the children, in which Wyrdith had ventured out to live among mortals.
And she knew that nearly nineteen years ago, on the Endless Moon, Wyrdith had been near Märchenfeld, for her father had found the raptor wounded and hiding behind the mill.
Her hopes crumbled. The god of stories was not here. They had left the cliffs long ago.
There was only one consolation. At least this time, her tale would not lead the wild hunt straight into the path of another god.
She dragged a finger over the assorted oddities on the writing desk. She hadn’t realized until this moment how much she wanted to meet Wyrdith. The god who had blessed her. The god who had cursed her.
And what for? Her father had helped Wyrdith, and all he’d wished for in return was a healthy child. Why had she been given these wheeled eyes, this unfaithful tongue? Why had the god filled her head with stories—both true and false?
A piece of paper caught her eye, poking out from a stack of notes written in the tiniest, most meticulous handwriting. Serilda shifted the stacks aside and pulled out a small codex, hand-bound with black thread.
Hardworking Stiltskin and the Northern Prince.
She remembered this title from the collection of fairy tales Leyna had given her. Gild had liked this one, but she still hadn’t read it herself.
She remembered Leyna telling her about the book’s popularity in the library, having been written by some notable scholar from Verene. What had the introduction to the book said? Something about how the author had traveled the country, compiling folk stories that melded with local history …402