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Parsley was the first to turn away and head into the woods. “If we waste any more time out here, we’re all going to turn into wandering spirits.”
They had not gone much farther before they were met by six other moss maidens who had set up a small camp among the trees. They served Serilda a meal of not-particularly-satisfying nuts and dried fruits while Meadowsweet and Parsley told them all they had learned.
“Perchta,” growled one of the moss maidens, lip curling. “No forest creature will be safe with her return.”
“Oh—there is one more thing I forgot to mention,” said Serilda, fidgeting with the hem of her cloak, which was fast becoming as filthy and tattered as the reliable wool cloak she so missed. “Perchta is … not trapped on the dark side of the veil.”
They all frowned at her.
“But she is a demon,” said Meadowsweet.
“Yes,” said Serilda. “But—”
“But she is a demon inside a mortal body,” said Parsley, baring her teeth at Serilda as if that wereherfault.
Which was fair, all things considered.
One of the maidens spat at the ground. “The great huntress, unleashed in the mortal realm. Grandmother captured. Asyltal destroyed. What does this mean for the creatures of the forest?”
“Nothing good,” murmured Meadowsweet.425
“Wait,” said Serilda. “The veil is downnow.” She put a hand to her chest. “I am trapped on the dark side of the veil, but you’re not. How can you see me?”
Parsley cocked her head in an oddly deerlike manner. “Forest folk are magic. Just like the drudes and the nachtkrapp. The veil was never meant to be a boundary touswhen it was created, so we can slip in and out of the realms as it pleases us. We just don’t usually choose to be on the side with the dark ones.”
“Ah—I see,” said Serilda. “Thank you, then. For staying with me on this side of the veil. And for coming for me on the cliffs.”
“It isn’t charity,” said Parsley. “You have information about the Erlking and the hunt. Information that might help us rescue Pusch-Grohla.”
Serilda straightened her spine, surprised at the hope this stirred inside her. Taken by surprise in Asyltal, the moss maidens might not have been a match against the dark ones. But they were fierce allies all the same, and they were determined to free at least one of the gods.
It was more than she’d had this morning.
Serilda’s gaze fell on a longbow leaning against a tree trunk where one of the maidens was sitting, and the first stirrings of a plan came to her, unbidden.
“Golden arrows,” she whispered.
“What?” said Parsley.
“Golden arrows,” she repeated, eyes widening. “That’s how Gild defeated Perchta the first time. An arrow of god-blessed gold shot straight into her heart.” She looked around at their small group. “How many moss maidens are left? And how good are they at archery?”
Parsley shot her a look that was as cold as any the Erlking had ever given her.
“Only a mortal,” she said, “would ask such a stupid question.”
The Endless Moon
Chapter Fifty
Snow had been falling for more than a week.
The moss maidens had made a hastily constructed camp in the Aschen Wood, with camouflaged shelters that blended into the trees. It was comfortable enough, but Serilda longed for a fire in the hearth of the Wild Swan and a cup of mulled cider. She longed for heavy blankets and Gild’s arms around her.