“I will let it go,” she said, voice quivering. “I won’t try to stop you anymore. Please … just let me go in peace.”
“Pathetic mortal,” Perchta growled. She reached for the Erlking’s sword, but he lifted a hand, stopping her.473
Perchta drew back in surprise.
“It is a small request,” he said, “for the mortal whowasmy wife.”
“Thank you,” Serilda whispered. “Thank you.”
Then she pulled out—not one, but two broken arrows. The same shards of gold-tipped arrows that she had once pulled from the flesh of a prince and a princess who had been cursed to suffer in their haunted castles for all eternity. Identical to the arrow that had once cursed her.
With a fierce cry, Serilda drove the arrows into the dark ones’ wrists—one for the king and one for his huntress.
In the same moment, Meadowsweet lurched upward and snatched away the sword. Parsley grabbed the remaining daggers from Perchta’s belt.
“Those arrows now tether you to this castle!” Serilda shouted over the roar of falling stones and yawning earth. “Your spirits no longer belong to the confines of your immortal bodies, but will be forever trapped within these walls. From this day into eternity, your souls belong to Velos, god of death!”
As the words of the curse echoed off the castle walls, their spirits separated. Their bodies—the Erlking’s body,Serilda’sbody—split from their inhabiting souls and fell back onto the frozen cobblestones.
Perchta, looking again like the great huntress, with shocking white hair and skin tinged faintly blue. She screeched and lunged for Serilda.
But in the next moment, Serilda was no longer there. When she opened her eyes, she was on her back, staring up at a cloud-filled sky, a glow above where the moon refused to show its face.
She was in her body again.Herbody.
She was mortal.
And she hurt. Everywhere, she hurt. Her legs, her thighs, her womb. Serilda groaned, placing a hand to the base of her stomach. Her flesh felt distended and unfamiliar, her muscles weak. Perchta had given birth and immediately gone into battle, treating her mortal body like it was disposable. She’d had no time to rest, and Serilda felt like her flesh had been474stretched too long on a loom and was now left fragile and tired and sore, so incredibly sore.
Serilda rolled onto her side and tried to push herself up. If Perchta could be a warrior in this skin, then so could she. But before she could even grasp that this was real, and she was back in her body, and she was whole again—the ground split open beneath her. A jagged offshoot from the crevasse, burrowing across the courtyard toward the collapsed stables. Hounds were howling, Perchta was screaming, and suddenly—Serilda was falling.
She cried out, arms flailing, trying to find purchase, but there was only snow and ice and weakened stone, her legs kicking at nothing, a black emptiness reaching up to claim her.
Then hands on her arms.
Parsley on one side, Meadowsweet on the other. Their fingers crushingly tight as they hauled Serilda out of the abyss. They all fell into the snow.
Perchta and the Erlking ran for them.
“Get up! Get up!” Meadowsweet shouted, as they scrambled on the slippery stones. Serilda felt awkward in her body, with its soft belly and delicate limbs, like it was a dress that no longer fit her. But she made it to her feet. The Erlking and the huntress gave chase.
Long fingers clutched at the back of the cloak, but Serilda reached for the clasp and let it go. The Erlking stumbled back and she continued, racing for the gatehouse. The moss maidens ran ahead of her. Her feet felt leaden as they pounded against the boards of the drawbridge—until she slipped on the ice and fell.
Serilda screamed, instinctively rolling onto her back, preparing to fight.
Perchta had gathered up a handful of golden chains. She grinned at Serilda, pulling the chains taut, and Serilda could see the bloodthirsty vengeance in her eyes. She could imagine how the huntress would wrap those chains around her throat and pull tighter—tighter—
Perchta stepped over the threshold of the gatehouse, out from its shadows.
Serilda drew in a breath of icy-sharp air as the huntress reappeared, bewildered, back in the center of the courtyard.
Mere steps away from the crevasse.
The gatehouse gave one final groan. The wooden support beams splintered. The stones began to fall, crashing down across the drawbridge.