“I will be taking that child,” said Gild, nodding toward the baby crying in Perchta’s arms. “By the terms of a bargain struck with magic, in exchange for spinning straw into gold, Serilda’s firstborn child rightfully belongs to me.” He took another step forward. “I am here to claim her. Youwillgive her to me.”
Color flooded Perchta’s cheeks. She snarled and drew back. “In exchange for spinning straw into gold?” she said mockingly, then cast a hateful snarl at Serilda. “What sort of woman would strike such a bargain?”
Serilda wanted to claw out the huntress’s throat. “What sort of woman would sacrifice her baby for a god-wish?”
Perchta shook her head, as if the two were not at all comparable, then turned her attention back to Gild, eyes narrowing. “I will give you your castle back.”459
Gild’s brow twitched. “What?”
“Your castle. Returned to its full glory on the mortal side of the veil. It shall be yours. In exchange for the child.”
He blinked, speechless.
“It is your ancestral home, is it not?”
A breath of laughter escaped him. “I wouldn’t know. My ancestry was stolen from me.”
“Even better. Here, you can have something returned to you. All of this, for a child. More than fair.”
Gild snarled. “That child is worth more than all the castles and all the treasures and all the gold in the world.” He held out his arms. “Give her to me.”
Magic sparked between them. Serilda could feel it, a tug in the air, a magic bargain demanding to be fulfilled. She could see Perchta fighting against it. Clutching the baby tighter, trying to back away.
But the magic was too strong. The bargain had been struck and it was unbreakable. Serilda’s firstborn childdidbelong to Gild, and there was nothing Perchta could do about it.
With a furious hiss, she all but dropped the infant into Gild’s arms. He stumbled in surprise, before scooping the baby against his chest, cradling her head. The baby’s cries grew louder.
Gild looked shocked, as if he couldn’t quite believe it had worked.
Serilda could hardly believe it herself. Desperate hope fluttered inside her, met with tenuous, wary relief.
Gild took a step back. Then another. He swallowed. “Also, the mortal girl,” he said, tipping his chin toward a trembling Leyna. “She will come with me as well.”
The Erlking, who had been silent through this exchange, lifted a warning eyebrow. Perchta gnashed her teeth.
“You have no more need of a governess, do you?” added Gild.
Leyna did not wait for the dark ones to answer him. With a frightened squeak, she peeled herself from the snow and ran to Gild, hiding behind him as he took another nervous step away.460
A group of dark ones had clustered by the gate, hands on their weapons. Ready to stop Gild if their king demanded it.
Gild glanced at Serilda, and she could tell he was trying to retain his air of confidence, even if he wasn’t entirely sure what to do now that he’d actually gotten the child.
“Go, then,” spat Perchta. “You have what you came for. And we have a sacrifice to consider.”
Gild did not tear his gaze from Serilda. She knew what he was wondering—could he really leave without her?
Yes, of course. He had to.
“Go,” she pleaded. “Take care of her.”
Gripping their daughter, he took in the Erlking. The huntress. The villains who had taken so much from him.
Adjusting the swaddling blanket around the baby, Gild slowly turned away.
He had taken a mere two steps toward the gate when Perchta let out a roar. Quick as a snake, she reached for the sword that hung at the Erlking’s hip, pulled it from its scabbard, and drove it into Gild’s back.