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Song of Sorrows and Fate: Chapter 6

The Storyteller

If every kingdom were part of a living soul, Etta would be the heart that kept us vibrant, Klockglas in the East would be the brain that kept us scheming, and the fae isles of the South would be the blood that kept us living.

Raven Row would be the shit.

Roads made of mud, goat droppings, and a touch of vomit crisscrossed through tattered tenements and haggard taverns and hostels. A haze always hugged the buildings in a low mist as though the stench from unwashed skin and refuse was too putrid to rise to the clouds, so it remained.

I hardly noticed anymore. It wasn’t filth, it was home.

With a long draw of breath, I filled my lungs of the heavy essence of the Row. Behind me, dozens of boots squelched in the mud, blades scraped in leather sheaths, and murmurs of the thick stink drew a grin to the corner of my mouth.

I adjusted the wide brim hat over my wild braids and flicked my gaze to the blood heir. “Cuy, you don’t need to follow me. I know how much you resent me when I make you trudge through the Row.”

Cuyler’s full lips spread, flashing his white teeth. “I’m delighted to trudge, Cal.”

Lord Gorm would smack the back of his son’s skull if the blood lord ever heard his heir address me so casually. Hells, I appreciated it.

All my life, I’d been a street urchin. A fate worker who merely wanted to survive the snatchers who occasionally came to the Western shores to buy up witches. Now, I had a crown plopped atop my head, and the thought of anyone bowing, dressing, or adorning me in finery caused my stomach to roll in disquiet.

I understood my Shadow King’s aversion to titles completely.

“Storm’s coming.” Cuyler repeated, gesturing overhead. Dark billows of ruthless clouds shadowed the already dim streets. “Still want to go?”

“A little rain never hurt the Row.” Truth be told, rain caused some of the more pleasant scents to emerge once the grime was washed away.

I led the procession of blood fae down the road, occasionally drawing a few hazy glances from drunkards spilling out of Olaf’s game hall. Over the turns, Lord Gorm—possibly Ari—had casually sent no less than two units of blood fae watchers. At least forty guards meant to be at my personal disposal.

They’d merely become another spectacle in a kingdom filled with the lowliest of folk. Pleasant folk, but lowly. Raven Row, the whole of the West, was docile. Almost made up of wanderers. There wasn’t much aspiration in the people who walked these streets, at least nothing behind the next drop of ale or how much kopar coin they could win at the game tables.

A few were helpful. Sometimes.

Dock men had always provided Stefan with skiffs if we wanted to sail out to cleaner coves on the far edges of the kingdom.

The old seamstress who mended and patched old tunics better than any royal tailor I’d ever encountered, did it for a few fate prophecies or a bit of sweet bread if I could scrounge any up from the stingy bakers nearest to Hus Rose, the crumbling palace.

The old hags who thought they were goddesses by calling themselves the Norns were irritating, but they’d delivered a few missives for me here and there.

No. Never mind. They weren’t helpful. Their damn prophecies were what got me into this bleeding mess. They were supposed to help my Raven Queen find a way to wake Ari ten turns ago, and somehow I got pulled into a battle where my bleeding world unraveled.

Better to blame Forbi and her sisters than accept this was truly what fate had in mind.

Cuyler gave a few commands to his men, spreading them out across the city like a spilled inkwell. Most corners were always guarded by blood fae watchers.

If the Mad King and whatever eerie defenses he kept behind his overgrown gates had a care that foreign forces had entered his grimy realm, he never said. He never said anything. A few glimpses of candlelight in the windows, an occasional tune from a lyre or fife, were the only signs anyone occupied Hus Rose at all.

Low, iron gates with spikes on top surrounded the burial grounds. Markers with stacked river stones and pebbles from the sea were the last remnants of the souls sent to the Otherworld.

I paused at the entrance, hugging my middle. The rising blood moon added a touch of wicked eeriness to the overgrown land. One of the few places in the Row where gangly trees grew in a pathetic kind of grove.

When I was a tiny girl, I remembered the leaves being lush, the colors of the grass being rich and verdant, not brittle and yellowed. Folk were once more boisterous and brighter, with a touch of hope in their eyes.

Since the battle of the fae isles ten turns ago, it was as though Raven Row began dying a slow death.

“I’ll wait out here.” Cuyler tapped my elbow. He gave me a sympathetic smile before going to stand beside a wooden pillar carved in faded runes. “Take as long as you want.”

I dipped my chin, grateful for the solitude, and made my way to the back of the grounds. Overhead, branches stretched like bony fingers, reaching for me, ready to snatch me away. I swallowed and kept my focus ahead on the most recent altar of gray stones.

In the South, my Golden King erected a totem for my fallen parents, but also for Captain Annon.

On the first visit back to Raven Row, all my royals and thieves joined and helped create this small plot of land where Stefan, the brother of the storyteller, a damn fine player at the game halls, could be remembered as he was when we walked these shores together.

“I’m still a little angry at you,” I whispered, brushing my fingertips over the smooth stones. “But we’ve got work to do, so I’m going to let it go. For now.”

I sat back on my knees and looked over my shoulder before continuing, voice low. “I can’t write a story, Stef. Words dry up, or they don’t come at all. But I . . . I need you to help me find that voice you were so certain I’d find.

“Not for me. It’s for Lump. You owe him, you know, since he looked out for me in those cells. Lost as he was, he fought those Raven bastards more than once when they tried to slap me around.” I blinked through the burn of tears. “He’s looking out for me now that you’re gone.”

I followed a vein of crystals in one of the stones with my finger, gathering my thoughts. “I need your help because dreams . . . dreams like he’s having, they’re not the good kind.” My stomach flipped. “I’d know since I have wicked dreams much the same. Dreams of the past, but not my past. Other fate workers.”

Since the battle in the Southern Isles, my mind would drift through moments of the past, as though I were looking through the eyes of another; I would dream of moments where storytellers helped bring us to this moment.

After discovering my father’s broken court, it was simple to assume seidr spread throughout the shattered kingdoms.

I was grateful to those past storytellers, grateful for their words. They spoke to me, helped me strengthen my own tales.

When I was a captive in the North, I’d even found an old tale, like it had called to me, and twisted the story of a cursed beast to find a kind-hearted royal. Some whisper in the shadows of those grimy Ravenspire cells told me simple alterations to a handful of fated curses would begin a tale of hope and kind worlds.

“A whisper told me I could do it,” I told the stones. “In the cells with Lump, whispers told me I could change some words and write a new tale for my Cursed King and Kind Heart. Now, I’m dreaming of the storyteller who cursed the North. The one the Ice King slit to pieces. It’s so real, Stef.”

More unnerving was finding the written tales of the past storytellers amidst my dead father’s scrolls of heart songs.

Ari told me Valen’s curse, the same words I’d seen and twisted in the North, had been placed with a stack of other tales. Tales that drew the Nightrender toward a smuggler vowed with a lie taster. Tales where a memory thief found a glass ring. A tale of a raven finding the man who warmed her heart.

Why, then, was I dreaming of those tales?

Time runs short. Like the wind heard my thoughts, a new whisper carried over the burial grounds, lifting the hair on the back of my neck.

I whipped around, searching for the voice. Nothing but shadows and ghosts greeted me.

The familiar sensation of the presence of another spurred me to move swifter. From my jacket pocket, I removed a battered goose quill and a small vial of ink. In the other pocket was a tattered bit of parchment.

“I’m ready, Stef. Tell my daj I need his voice one more time. Just once more, to protect Lump and his family.”

To protect all my royals and thieves. Pressure gathered in my chest. I couldn’t lose any of them. I wouldn’t.

“I don’t know what’s coming,” I whispered to the night, “but it feels like it’s only a matter of time before it all falls apart again.”

I closed my eyes, waiting. I could see the desire of my heart—Sol, Tor, Alek, living long lives for a thousand turns—but the burn never came to my blood.

A distant melody hummed through my heart, a sound like satin. But it was like reaching through a block of thick ice; I couldn’t break through to claim it.

Take my song. It was always yours. Time runs short.

My heart went still in my chest. I tracked the trees again. “Daj?”

My father’s power was my inheritance to use until I was ready . . . for my own voice to take hold. It was what Stefan—Annon—had said in the final moments, when he’d told me I was ready to find my own strength.

Whatever power I had was failing me, and I needed my father’s seidr. Anything that was left in this soil, I needed it now.

I blew out a long breath and wrote a single word: safe.

My shoulders slumped. The fire in my blood when words of seidr flowed was empty, and all I could conjure was my own silent plea to the Norns that all my royals would be safe. I did not want to speak to any more burial rocks.

With care, I folded the parchment up and returned the quill and small ink vial to my pockets.

I sighed and leaned against one side of Stefan’s marker. “I wish I could ask you what it’s like in the hall of the gods. Did my daj meet you like he promised?”

He’d assured us all as he died, to greet his king in the great hall was his only desire. To fall for House Ode.

“Could’ve given up a few more secrets,” I said, voice rough. “If you care to know.”

The plot of land was silent. It was always silent.

“Stef,” I whispered. “Something is changing here, inside me. I’m . . . fading. It’s like I’m pulled somewhere else day after day.” I tilted my head to the red moon. “Death at crimson night. Here you thought you were the only one who’d get the honor of dying some fated death.”

I stepped back from the burial mound. “Truth is, Stef, I think it’s come again. But this time, it’s come for me.”


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