Serilda pushed herself up and lurched away. Parsley and Meadowsweet reached for her and they dashed over the wooden planks and onto the land bridge with its rows of shuddering torches.
A crowd waited on the shore. The townsfolk were gathered on the docks, watching, horrified. The moss maidens that had survived the battle, soaked from the icy lake water, clutched wool blankets to their shoulders. Serilda saw Leyna, gathered up in her mother’s arms, Frieda at their side. She saw the seven gods. She saw Wyrdith, her mother.
And on the ground—lying side by side—she saw Gild and their daughter.
Serilda staggered off the bridge and fell to her knees. Her strength drained away from her as if a plug had been pulled from the pit of her stomach. Her heart, an erratic, strangled heartbeat, was finally back. Thumping, thumping, thumping inside her chest.
She turned back in time to see the castle fall. The keep, the towers, the walls. Swallowed up not just by the gash in the earth, but by the entire lake. Water surged into the vacuum it created. A whirlpool churning, pulling the castle into its depths. Waves crashing against what remained of the bridge.
The castle collapsed down into Verloren, taking the Erlking and his huntress with it.
Serilda watched until the destruction was over and the lake water gradually returned to a calm, steady surface.
The castle was gone.
Serilda hunched forward, sobbing. She shut her eyes. Dug her fingers into the snow until she could no longer feel them. For a long time she didn’t move. Too afraid to face the reality that would tear her apart.
For a long time the wind whistled past her ears and no one spoke.
The story was over. She had won. And she had lost.
The wheel of fortune, mocking her again.
With a shudder, Serilda swiped a sleeve across her eyes and forced herself to turn around. To look at them. To see them.
Someone had thought to put a new blanket around her daughter, one that wasn’t covered in blood. But that wouldn’t bring color back to her lips and cheeks. That wouldn’t bring life back to her perfect little face.
Erlen was crouched at Gild’s side, her cadre of monsters spread around them, looking as mournful as any of the humans. Someone—perhaps Erlen—had untied the laces on Gild’s tunic and pressed a clean cloth around his wound to stop the bleeding, though Serilda knew it was useless.
He was gone.
They were both already gone.
Serilda crawled toward them, ignoring the aching tenderness of her body and the icy snow that soaked through her skirts. She took the infant into her arms, held her close to her chest. The body felt cold. Too cold. Too still.477
Dragging in a sorrowful breath, she looked up at the assembled gods. The seven old gods, who had stopped answering prayers a long time ago.
“I want to make a wish,” she declared, in a voice as strong as she could make it. “I wish for you to bring them back. Bring Gild and my child back!”
The gods watched her, and there was pain and sympathy in their faces, but no one stirred. No one moved to answer her.
It was Wyrdith who finally knelt in front of Serilda. Before they had spoken, Serilda could feel the regret. The refusal perched on their tongue.
“No!” Serilda yelled. “Don’t tell me you can’t do it! It’s still the Endless Moon! You have to do this!”
“My girl,” murmured Wyrdith, eyes shimmering. “The wish promised on the Endless Moon was already used by the Erlking. Destroying the veil took too much of our magic. We cannot grant another wish.”
Serilda screamed. A soul-searing scream that clawed at her insides. She bent over Gild, burying her face in his chest, holding their child between them. She screamed and screamed until those screams dissolved into agonized sobs.
Only then did she hear Wyrdith’s words, so faint she almost missed them.
“But … perhaps …,” started the god of lies, “there might be something that Velos can do.”
Hope surged through her. Serilda lifted her gaze again.
Velos’s expression darkened toward Wyrdith, and they gave a strict shake of their head.