Those sailors did not know that the god they were praying to had stopped listening to prayers long ago. They did not know Solvilde was, even now, trapped in Adalheid Castle, powerless to help anyone.
Serilda groaned and bent her head. She had tried to climb back up to the top of the cliff. Her hands, still raw from the fall, were not strong enough to pull her upward. The columns of the cliff were too slick, too sheer. She was too weak.
What would happen if she fell?
The water was so far below, and she knew she would be thrown back against the rocks, sharp as teeth. It would hurt terribly. She could not even guess how much it would hurt.
But she would not die.
She was merely a soul, untethered to a human body.
A wandering spirit, the Erlking had called her.
What would happen if she jumped?
Would she be battered against the rocks, trapped in those cold waters until the end of time?
Could she swim toward the harbor cities in the west, searching for a place to come ashore?
Or—was there another way?
An easier way?
She reached for the thread at her throat and pulled out the broken arrow shaft. She twisted the arrow in her fingers. The feathers were silken black. The ash wood flexible but strong.
This was all that was keeping her here. All she had to do was release it. Drop it down into the water, and she would be free. Her spirit would float away, and in time, even without Velos’s lantern to guide her, she trusted that she would find her way to Verloren.
To her father.
To the children.
The Erlking would no longer be her problem to solve.
It was tempting. So very tempting. But every time she thought she could do it—just throw the arrow away and seal her fate—she thought of Gild. The way he looked at her, like she was the most amazing being to ever come from the mortal realm. The way he kissed her, like every touch was a gift. Like she was a treasure so much more valuable than gold.
And what they had created together … unwittingly, through some ironic twist of magic and fate. A baby.
If she did this, if she gave up, she would never meet her child. She would never have a chance to save them.
What sort of story would that be, my beautiful, strong-willed child?
Maybe her child would be all right, she reasoned. Maybe they would be stronger than Serilda, braver than her. Maybe they had to be the one to finish this story.421
“How much longer are you planning to stay down there?”
Serilda screamed and dropped the arrow. It fell, plummeting over the side of the cliff. She cried out again and stuck out her foot—barely catching the loop of thread on the toe of her boot.
Her phantom heart galloped against her chest as she carefully, with trembling fingers, took hold of the cord and pulled it back over her head, before finally looking up.
Two figures stood on the plateau above her, glowing golden beneath the rising sun. Each with tall, foxlike ears and small, fuzzy antlers and black doelike eyes.
Serilda squinted. “Parsley? Meadowsweet?”
She almost couldn’t believe it, but yes, it was them. The very moss maidens that Serilda had once hidden in her father’s root cellar. The moss maidens who had given her Gild’s ring and locket. “How did you … What are you doing here?”
“After waiting months for the wild hunt to emerge from Gravenstone,” said Parsley, hands on her hips, “we tracked them here. Saw them shoot down the wyvern. Sawyouclimb down this cliff, and the Erlking follow, and a big giant bird come back up with him. Figured you’d have come back up hours ago. What are you waiting for? Another wyvern to swoop in and carry you off?”