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She grew more anxious with each passing night. For weeks she had watched the moon wane into nothing, then slowly wax its way back to fullness. Every day, the ground rumbled beneath their feet, as if the earth was stirring far below them. Every day, new cracks appeared across the forest floor. Small fissures at first, but slowly growing wider, until there was a series of crevasses as wide as fists cutting through their camp. Always in the direction of Adalheid and the lake. The moss maidens seemed as concerned about the earth’s instability as they were about recovering Pusch-Grohla, but Serilda’s mind was often preoccupied with other concerns.
Somewhere in the world, Perchta’s belly was swelling more with every passing day.
The baby would be coming soon.
She tried to stay out of the way while the moss maidens crafted weapons and sent scouts to spy on Adalheid and the castle, where the Erlking and his court had once again taken up residence.430
Serilda had begged to go with them, if only so she could sit in a corner of the public house and watch over her friends from the shadows of the veil. They wouldn’t know she was there, but it would bring her so much comfort to see them.
To see Gild.
To know he was all right.
But the moss maidens refused. She was too clumsy, too brash, and they could not risk the dark ones seeing her.
At least they had brought word that Gild and Erlen were alive and were staying at the Wild Swan. It was all that anyone had been talking about in town, it seemed. Vergoldetgeist in their midst, toiling away on some secret project. The townsfolk, at Lorraine’s urging, had supplied a spinning wheel and a loom and were bringing in cartloads of everything from sheep’s wool to winter-wilted straw for the gold-spinner to work with.
Making gold and, Serilda hoped, crafting it into weapons and arrows like they’d talked about. Using it for Erlen’s tapestries, to secure a victorious future.
Serilda had asked if they couldn’t just take the weapons Gild was constructing and storm the castle, take the dark ones by surprise before the Endless Moon ever rose. But Meadowsweet had explained that so long as Gild was in the mortal realm, his spun gold could not be used against the dark ones until the veil fell.
No—they would have to wait.
Finally, the day of the Endless Moon arrived, bringing with it a powdery snow that fell dreamily from the sky, filling up the tracks left by scavenging deer and rabbits the night before.
Serilda’s hands were shaking as she affixed the clasp on her bloodred cloak. With fear and nerves, but also excitement to finally be doing431something. The solstice was here. They would save the gods and reclaim her body. They would defeat the dark ones.
Or they would fail. The veil would fall and the mortal world would never be the same again.
“I trust we do not need to remind you of your role in all this,” said Parsley, handing Serilda the small reed whistle that would summon the moss maidens when the time came.
“I know what I need to do,” she said. The whistle was attached to a strap that she slipped over her head, tucking it beside the broken arrow. “I know what’s at stake, as much as anyone.”
“Then go, and make sure no one sees you leaving the woods.”
“Of course.” The last thing Serilda wanted to do was to lead their enemy into the camp mere hours before they were set to invade Adalheid Castle. She expected and hoped the Erlking’s court would be busy preparing for the Endless Moon, and would not concern themselves with a pack of forest folk loitering about in the forest.
“We will be ready.”
Serilda bounced nervously on her toes. Once she had offered a friendly embrace to Parsley and Meadowsweet, after she had protected them from the wild hunt. She was tempted to extend her arms to them again now, after all they’d been through.
But Parsley’s look darkened, as if she could tell what Serilda was thinking. Prickly as ever.
Serilda shrank back. “Tonight, then.”
“Serilda?” said Meadowsweet.
Serilda faced her, hope rising in her chest.
With an exaggerated sigh, Meadowsweet held out her arms to Serilda.
Serilda beamed and accepted the hug.
“Don’t try to be clever,” said Meadowsweet. “Just follow the plan.”
“I will. I mean—I won’t. I mean—” Serilda stepped back and clapped a hand to her empty chest. “I’ll do my best.”432
“How promising,” muttered Parsley.