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Gild’s hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. “What are you talking about? What did it show you?”
Erlen waved her arm, beckoning them to follow, and darted across the hall.447
“We don’t have time for this!” Gild said, even as he stormed after her.
But as soon as he stepped into the other room, he froze.
Serilda crept in close behind him, eyeing the tapestry on the enormous loom. The workmanship was as impeccable as Serilda expected from Erlen, the colors stunning and vibrant, now run through with the occasional fleck of golden thread.
But the depiction was horrific.
The tapestry showed Gild, kneeling and hunched over on the ground, a sword through his back.
It was so awful that, for a long time, Serilda could hardly breathe.
“I finished it this afternoon,” said Erlen. She sounded on the verge of tears. “I mean, this part of the tapestry was finished days ago, but I kept hoping … I had to believe there was more to it. And there is, obviously, but it isn’t what I hoped …”
“Please, explain it,” said Gild, his voice hoarse.
Erlen ran shaking fingers over the image. “Up here, we see the seven gods, in beast form,” she said, gesturing to the seven beasts Serilda had become so familiar with. “And here, you—dying—obviously. But over here, you see, the gods are free.” To the left and right of Gild’s form stood seven figures in colorful cloaks. Serilda recognized Wyrdith by the golden plume in their hand. “And here”—Erlen gestured half-heartedly to the bottom of the tapestry, where a series of shadowy figures had fallen into a broken gash in the ground—“the dark ones, in Verloren. I think … I don’t know!” Erlen stomped her feet, petulant. “I don’t know what to think! They aren’t always clear, the messages in the tapestries.”
“That isn’t true,” said Gild, sounding oddly distant as he took in this tragic image. “You were trying to weave a tapestry that would show us how to defeat the dark ones. So … maybe this is it.”
“No,” said Serilda. “Gild, you can’t think—”
“I don’t understand it fully,” he said, “or why or how, but maybe … maybe my death brings about their freedom. Look.” He pointed to the448golden chains, woven from golden thread, that bound the seven beasts. Down below, the chains lay broken at their feet.
“We are mortal now,” whispered Erlen. “If you die, it will be forever.”
“But why?” said Serilda. “Why would you have to die for this to happen?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. But Erlen used my threads in her weaving, and I do think that makes this future unchangeable. That was the whole point, wasn’t it?” He looked at his sister. “We free the gods, we defeat the dark ones. This is … this is a good thing. This is what we hoped for.”
“That you woulddie?” Serilda cried, at the same time Erlen yelled, “This isnotwhat we hoped for!”
Gild grimaced. “We don’t have time to debate this. If I have to die so the Erlking doesn’t get what he wants, I will. To protect you … both of you. And”—he gazed at Serilda, his eyes shining—“and our child. Our daughter.”
“No,” Serilda said. “Our daughter needs you. This can’t be the only way.”
“Promise me.” She grabbed his hands. “Promise me you won’t go into that castle. At least give me and the moss maidens a chance. Maybe we don’t need you. Maybe we can do this on our own.”
“But the tapestry—”
“Is wrong! It has to be wrong.” She gestured at Erlen. “She’s never woven anything with god-blessed gold before. We’re just guessing at everything! The future can’t predetermined. Isn’t that what you said?”
Erlen looked pained as she took in a shuddering breath. “When there are two possible futures, the tapestry shows them both. But this … here’s only one image here. This one.”
“No. This isn’t right. Your gift must work differently with the golden threads.”
“Yeah,” said Gild. “It makes the tapestry indestructible. Like we thought.”
“Let’s not argue over the king’s beard,” said Erlen. “The point is, if you go to the castle tonight, you’re going to die.”449
Serilda pressed her hands to either side of Gild’s face. “I can’t lose you, too.”
His expression shuttered. He gave a long sigh, then pulled her close and pressed his lips to hers, his fingers digging into the back of her cloak.