“Please,” gasped Serilda. “Please don’t take them from me.”
Velos stepped forward. “Their spirits have already passed on. There was nothing to tether the boy to the mortal realm, and I cannot break the bond between the boy and the child that was forged through the bargain you struck. The child is his, in death … as in life. I am sorry.”
“I won’t accept that! You brought back Perchta, why can’t you bring him back, too? There is a vessel here, right here.” She placed a hand on Gild’s chest. “So bring him back!”478
“A vessel, yes, but … in order to summon a spirit to the mortal realm, one must speak their true name.” Velos sighed. “I wish I could help you, after all you have done for us. But I cannot. Without a name, he will not even be able to pass through the gates on the Mourning Moon, as most spirits can. I am sorry. But he can never leave.”
Serilda gaped at Velos. At Wyrdith. At the gathered gods and the townsfolk, Erlen and the monsters, Leyna and her friends. No one could help her.
The horrible truth of the Erlking’s curse struck her in a way she’d never understood before. It wasn’t just about erasing Gild and his family from history. It wasn’t just about taking away his memories so he would never know who he had been or the love he’d had.
It was a cruelty that would last forever. Even if the prince did manage to untether himself from the castle, to become mortal, to eventually die and pass into the land of the lost … his spirit could never return. He would be in Verloren forever. Unremembered, unloved.
She gazed at Erlen, and realized that the curse would affect her in the same way. Three hundred years old, and still so young and fearless. Trapped in an unjust destiny, all for the Erlking’s vengeance.
“His name is Gild,” Serilda said weakly, returning her attention to Velos. “The prince of Adalheid. Vergoldetgeist—the Gilded Ghost. How many names do you need?”
Velos shook their head. “None of those are his true name.”
“But this isn’t fair. He was cursed. The Erlking stole his name! No one knows what it was … not even you!”
“That is true,” said Velos, “but the magic would answer if you spoke true.”
Serilda sagged. She studied Gild’s face, too pale beneath his wash of freckles. His hair and skin smeared in blood. Would she really never see his mischievous smile again? Never know that impish laugh or witness that particular glint in his eye when he was about to do something he knew she wouldn’t approve of?
“I love him,” she whispered. “And I never told him.”479
“I am sorry,” said Velos, “but there is nothing you can do. Let them be at peace now.”
She smoothed a lock of hair back from Gild’s brow, then peered into the face of her child. Who she had never had a chance to know. Who she hadn’t even given a name to.
The baby was tied to Gild. If she could save Gild, she could save them both.
But she couldn’t.
She didn’t know his true name.
“Hulda?” she said, her voice breaking. “You blessed him. You blessed his whole family. Surely, of anyone, you must know his name?”
But Hulda shook their head. “The Erlking’s curse was complete. The name was erased even from the memories of the gods.”
“But it can’t be gone. Something always lives on, doesn’t it? A legend, a myth … a truth, buried in the past.” She looked at Wyrdith. “That’s what you said. When all is forgotten by history, a good story can still live on, can live forever. Well, thisisa great story. A prince who fought against the dark ones and the great huntress, who bound himself to an unborn child, who saved a miller’s daughter, who … who …” She sobbed again. “Who was blessed by Hulda.”
As tears overtook her again, those words echoed in her thoughts.
Blessed by Hulda.
A gasp escaped her. Serilda went still. “A prince blessed by Hulda. A family who ruled over a prosperous land, who lived in a castle by a lake, in the northern lands, who …”
Her heart beat faster, becoming erratic. “‘Hardworking Stiltskin and the Northern Prince,’” she murmured. “The story was inspired by his ancestors. This was the kingdom they founded. That’s why Hulda was his patron deity, and the tatzelwurm their symbol, and”—she took in the ring on her finger—“the letterR. For Rumpel and …” Clutching her child in her arms, Serilda climbed to her feet. “Rumpelstiltskin,” she said. “The family name was Rumpelstiltskin.”480
She felt it then—that tug of magic. Wind whistling past her ears. The air sparking against her skin. The pressure, like her breath was being dragged from her lungs. A panicky moment in which she couldn’t breathe.
Then it was over, and she could see it in the eyes around her.
“I remember,” whispered Hulda. “I remember giving my blessing. And the redheaded boy, a precocious, troublemaking thing. I gave him the gift of spinning, because I hoped it would imbue him with a stronger work ethic. And the little girl … given the gift of weaving. I remember them both, and all their ancestors before.”
A startled, hopeful cry fell from Serilda as she faced Velos. “That’s it, then. Rumpelstiltskin! Now please—please—”