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A nachtkrapp landed on the windowsill and shook snowflakes off its bedraggled feathers. Serilda’s instinct was to launch herself forward, shove it back outside, and slam the window shut.
But Leyna cooed at the bird. “Welcome back, Helgard. Erlen is in the other room, working on her tapestry.”
Helgard seemed to stare at Leyna through its empty eye sockets. Then it cocked its head, and Serilda was sure, even if it could notseeher, it could sense her.
She stood. “Do you remember me?”
The bird fluffed its feathers, then hopped off the sill and flew into the hallway.
Gild stopped spinning to frown after the bird before glancing in Serilda’s direction, suspicious. “Did you hear something?”
Leyna stopped picking at the wool. “Was my mother calling me?”
Gild didn’t respond. After a moment, he shook his head and popped a cube of cheese into his mouth. “You know, being able to accept food in payment for spinning is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me. I love it here. I never want to leave.””435
Leyna giggled. “Cheese for gold? Any town in the world would take that deal.”
Erlen appeared in the doorway, Helgard perched on her shoulder, a troubled look on her face.
“What is it?” said Gild.
She stared at him, wide-eyed, chewing the inside of her cheek. She opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated and shut it again.
“What?” Gild pressed.
“Are you almost finished?” she asked.
“Just about.” Gild gestured to the last remaining bits of wool. “I should get another half dozen arrows or so out of this. We’ll be done by nightfall.”
Erlen nodded.
“How is the tapestry?” asked Leyna. “Can we see it yet?”
“No,” said Erlen, a little too sharply. Then she flushed and scrunched her shoulders up by her ears. “It isn’t done. But … it will be. By nightfall. I just thought I’d take a break. See how things are coming.”
“You look nervous,” said Gild.
Erlen’s expression darkened and she lifted her chin. “I am not nervous,” she snapped, before marching back out of the room.
Leyna and Gild exchanged looks.
“I thought she seemed nervous, too,” said Leyna.
“Very,” Gild and Serilda agreed—though no one heardher.
No matter—she had gathered the information she needed, and one of the moss maidens’ carrier pigeons would be waiting outside the inn to take word back to their camp. Serilda fished out the birch paper and charcoal the moss maidens had given her and took inventory of how many weapons were available.
When she was finished, she paused just long enough to bend over Gild and press a kiss to his cheek.
He jerked upward, and lifted a hand to his face. His eyes shifted around the room.436
Serilda laughed. “See you soon,” she whispered, and darted out the hallway and back down the stairs.
“Ah—good day, Lorraine!” she chirped, seeing the mayor behind the counter. “Lovely night to storm the castle, don’t you think?”
She was halfway across the room when the front door was suddenly thrown open with a loud crash.
Serilda froze, startled, as a gust of wind and snow flurried inside and a figure appeared, silhouetted in the gray afternoon.