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The Ever King: Chapter 12

The Songbird

I’d anticipated the waves tossing us about, but it was more like a fierce wind. My hair whipped around my face; pressure collided around us at all sides. Bloodsinger’s muscles tightened in his shoulders, his arms. He wrenched the handles of his wheel to one side abruptly, and I had to throttle his neck to keep upright.

A good plan if I wanted to strangle the man, but the rumble of his laugh danced through my belly. He took pleasure in my fear.

I hated him a little more.

A muffled scream ripped from my chest when the ship tilted. By the hells, we were rolling, tipping, going to be plunged into the deepest parts of the Chasm. Was this his bleeding plan all along? Secure his crew to the deck, then let me go?

I never fell. My head knew we had tipped, yet my feet remained planted on the deck. I cracked my eyes, peering over Bloodsinger’s shoulder.

Not possible. The sea was clear as thin ice, and through ripples above us, soft, golden sunlight brightened the shadows.

Faster than we dived, the bow surged to the surface. I lost my breath when a cool gust of clean sea air replaced the murky pressure of the undercurrent. My footing slipped when the bow slammed back onto the sea, swaying the deck wildly for a few heartbeats.

One of Bloodsinger’s arms wrapped around my waist and hoisted me back upright. Locked in our horrid embrace, I was forced to press firmly against him for my fingers to swipe the brine from my eyes over his shoulders. I blinked against a sun that had not been there moments ago.

“By the gods,” I breathed out before I could stop myself.

Bloodsinger scoffed. “Welcome to the Ever.”

The Ever Kingdom.

We were on a new sea, one made of cerulean glass and distant cliffs, and coves, and fjords. The dark storm that surrounded the hull of the ship when it ventured to my side of the Chasm had faded. Now, the laths and boards and spikes of the deck glistened like polished onyx.

Overhead was a rising sun, pale and brilliant. Not gold, but soft ivory. To one side of the sea were distant shadows of land. The other way, the direction Bloodsinger led his ship, was nothing but open water.

The woman tilted her head back, absorbing the sun into her brown skin. “Do we make the call?”

Bloodsinger peered to the sea, tension in his jaw, but nodded. With a wink to me, the woman held out a vial. Bloodsinger didn’t shove me aside. He made his movements with me as a fixture around his body. The glint of light on his teeth brought me to pause. Much the same as he’d done when he faced Stieg, the king dragged his thumb across the sharp point of the canine tooth until a bead of blood rolled over the tip.

Poison blood. He had poisonous blood, and I was pressed to him like moss to a tree. I stiffened, drawing Erik’s gaze.

“No worries, love. Needs to mix with your blood before it boils your insides. Best not to swallow it, though.”

“Maybe I have a taste for blood.” Gods. Nerves had a way of drawing out nonsensical, ill-timed words.

Erik did the unexpected. He gawked at me for five breaths, the blood on his thumb dripping down the curve of his hand, then he laughed. Not forced, not cruel, a true laugh that rumbled through his chest into mine.

He was a fiend, a tyrant, and his smile should fill my head with hate and bitterness. I could not look away. The man had a dimple in his cheek when he smiled, and it did something to his eyes. They burned like fire in the brush, wild and free.

He was a wretch and hate for him burned with every pump of blood in my veins. The trouble was, hate was passionate and walked a fine line beside other passions—desire, lust, obsession.

When his laugh died off, Erik scraped his bloody thumb over the top of the woman’s vial. The swirl of red tangled with the shade of blue in the water like a whimsical dance.

“Wait.” Erik gripped the woman’s shoulders, and leaned toward her ear. He whispered something, too low I couldn’t make out the sound above a rough rasp.

The woman arched one brow. “What is all that?”

“Just see that the supplies are there.”

“Will Alistair even know what it is?”

Bloodsinger frowned. “That old fool knows everything from every realm. See that he has it waiting for our return.”

“Aye, My King.” She leaned over the rail of the ship, whispered words I couldn’t hear against the glass of the vial, then tossed it into the current below. A shudder dipped the ship and a ripple flowed over the surface of the sea. What did they do?

“Larsson,” Bloodsinger shouted. “Man the helm. I have a guest to see to.”

The crew laughed in such a way my blood chilled in my veins. Bloodsinger took hold of my arms and lifted them over his head. Once again, he had the scarf gripped and tugged me toward the stairs.

My breaths came sharp and desperate. No mistake, he’d slaughter me in front of his crew and send pieces of me back to my family, or he’d rape me, batter me, then do the first two things.

“You don’t need to do this,” I whispered.

“Ah, but I do.”

“Please.” Gods, I sounded pathetic, a fool to show how terrified I truly was. I clenched my teeth until they nearly cracked and straightened my bent spine. If I died, I would die with a blade in hand and a great deal of Bloodsinger’s deadly blood beneath my fingernails.

The crew moved aside for their king. I refused to meet any stares, refused to give them the satisfaction of my distress. His pace was swift, but he had a pronounced limp. The corner of my mouth twitched. I’d kicked him in the cart, and I took a bit of pleasure knowing it had done damage.

Beneath the deck with his wheel—or helm, as he called it—was an arched door. He shoved me inside a small chamber. Modest, with a narrow table covered in maps, and quills, and a cot. No quilts or furs, only a stretched piece of canvas tied with thick twine to heavy logs spiked into the floor.

Erik had to crouch to avoid striking his head on the doorframe. There he paused, and faced a few curious eyes of his crew. “Anyone enters without my say so, they lose their tongue.”

With that he slammed the door behind us. He removed the hat from his head and tossed it onto the cot.

I took a step away from him. Night Folk fae were not small in stature, but Bloodsinger was a force. Broad, formidable. The scars peeking out from his top brought a thousand questions I was certain would never be answered. Scarred and battered, still he moved like a man capable of lunging and striking without hesitation. A true serpent hiding in the surf.

I flinched when his hands went to the scarf. With an unexpected gentle touch, he unbound my wrists as he spoke. “Do you know why I took you, Songbird?”

“You lost the war and can’t accept it?”

He sighed and tossed the scarf aside. “I figured you were naïve, but I did not know you had no brains at all.”

The insult cut like a lash. I didn’t let it show. “Pity I can’t find a way to please you.”

The bloody, sunset shade of his eyes shifted to something like a fiery night. “I’m sure you’ll find a way. May I suggest watching your tongue around the one who controls how long you live?”

“Then you shall be disappointed.” I regretted the words straightaway.

Bloodsinger moved like a spark catching fire. His firm grip found my throat. I let out a breathless gasp when he touched the tip of his straight nose to mine. “Why fight me? You called to me.” He ripped my sleeve apart and traced the mark on my arm with his thumb. “This is no coincidence that I find my emblem imprinted on you. Like you belong to me.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. An accidental touch of—”

“Touch of what?” He grinned, the rough callus on the tip of his thumb traced the side of my throat. “Did you call to me through the Chasm? The only way I could sail through was if the wards were gone. I think you had something to do with it.” From under his tunic, Bloodsinger removed the silver swallow. “We’re bonded, you and I. From the moment you began your little tale.”

Acid burned in sick waves in my gut. “That was nothing but a foolish girl’s attempt to protect her folk. There is no magic to it, there is no bond. I feel nothing for you but hate.”

He shrugged one shoulder as if utterly unbothered. “Admittedly, I don’t understand how you have the rune, but it led me back to you. Face the truth, love, you fastened your own chain around your throat.”

I lifted my chin, heat flushed in my face. “I know you believe you must take vengeance on my family. I will not deny my father killed yours; we all know the story.”

“You know the story?” His voice rose to a near bellow. “The death of the Ever King is not some tale you read in your little books.”

“You despise us for the war, when it was your people who attacked first.”

“Only because your people slaughtered a king of the Ever.”

“Twenty turns ago, and only after Thorvald attacked one of our own.” Anger heated my blood. Thorvald had attacked an innocent woman, a cousin of mine, to be exact. I’d seen the scar left behind. Thorvald’s act of unprovoked violence spurred my father’s axe to find the sea king’s heart.

“I know well what my father did.” New shadows darkened Erik’s eyes. “I also know it was done after your folk spent weeks torturing his heir.”

My retort dried like ash on my tongue. The scars on his neck, his lip, the ones clearly hidden beneath his shirt. Thorvald was killed before I was even born, ten turns before the great war. If what Erik said was true, then as a tiny child, he’d been tortured.

It couldn’t be true. The kings and queens, my family, they’d never do such a thing to a little.

“You’re lying,” I said through my teeth.

“What would be the point?”

Bloodsinger strode past me to a small cupboard. He reached inside and returned with a glass cruet filled with burgundy wine, then kicked out a wooden stool tucked beneath the table. The drink filled a smooth horn, dark and thick enough I considered it might be blood.

He licked his lips after a drink, drawing my gaze to the swipe of his tongue. How could a man be distasteful and desirable all at once?

“You want to think I am lying,” he went on, “because it means those who love you with such tenderness might be as monstrous as me.”

I slammed my open palm on the table. “You are a liar who seeks justice for a king who attacked my people unprovoked. Now, you continue the legacy. I hope you burn in the hells for it.”

“Believe what you will, but consider this—don’t you find it strange your cherished warrior knew me?”

“Stieg.” My heart jolted. “He called you by name.”

“Yes.” His mouth twisted into a snarl. “Who do you suppose guarded me during my first capture? The capture where my father rose through the Chasm to council with warring earth fae, only to be duped, and have his heir used in a desperate attempt to heal the dying.”

All gods.

Stieg was ferocious with a blade; he was Rorik’s idol. Adored by many. If he guarded a cell with a child, it would’ve been done at the word of . . . my father.

I shook my head. “No. What would be the point of taking a sea child? They wouldn’t do it.”

“Fae clans battled for turns before the great war between our worlds, Songbird. Don’t you know your history? The desperate will do anything to survive.” Erik tugged back the collar of his shirt. I winced. Across the side of his neck, tangled down his throat, across his shoulders, were white, raised scars. Some long, others short. Most formed over spots where the body bled most. His voice shifted to something cold. “Won’t they?”

Sick tossed in my belly. I closed my eyes.

“Look at me!” he shouted. I jolted and snapped my eyes open. Bloodsinger rose and pinched my chin between his thumb and finger. “You think your people are innocent, and I do not blame you. How could you know any different when all your life they have painted us as the villains?”

“They wouldn’t do the things you say.” I hated how my voice cracked.

Erik’s thumb brushed over my cheek. “Ah, love. You think your peace was won with gentle morals? We all have a darkness within us, and desperation to survive can reveal the cruelest pieces.”

Breathe. Focus. I wanted to crumble. I wanted to flee to my folk and demand to know the truth. I knew of the land wars that united the realms and led us to the war with the sea. I knew of the bloodlust and the pain every kingdom had suffered.

Was it possible they’d grown desperate enough to keep each other alive, that they leeched from an innocent?

Loath as I was to admit it, torturing a young sea prince, then killing his father, seemed reason aplenty for the sea to rise against the land for an even greater war.

But he was lying. He had to be. My mother and father would never condone the torture of a child. Unless—dread hardened in my veins—unless harm were to befall one of them. Bonds went deep among our people. My father could be brutal and beastly if my mother were ever threatened. She would do the same. No life stood before her family.

I didn’t pull away from his touch. I merely held his gaze. “No matter what I say, you believe your words, so what penance am I to pay, Bloodsinger?”

“For now, I’ll take pleasure in their suffering and desperation to reclaim you.” One corner of his lip curled. “I’ll sleep better knowing they are imagining all the horrors you must be enduring.”

“Horrors you plan to bestow soon enough, true?”’

“I’d hate to spoil the surprise.” Erik leaned into me, his mouth hovered over mine. “Let’s just say you’ve become my most prized possession.”

A thousand different ways he could use his blood to torture rattled through my skull. I jerked my chin from his hold and schooled my gaze on the floorboards.

Erik clicked his tongue. “I’ve upset you. I do hate when you’re upset.”

“You did not upset me.” I didn’t look at him. “You disappoint me.”

He went silent for a long pause. Long enough curiosity begged me to look. His lips were set, a slight furrow of bemusement between his brows. Horrid and beautiful all at once.

“Disappoint you? Strange response. How might I better meet your expectations as your captor?”

The cruelness of his grin drove a spike through my chest.

I clasped my hands behind my back to hide the tremble in my fingers. “Call me foolish to even care, but I was kind to you as a child. Now you have twisted that kindness into something ugly.” I scoffed. “Perhaps it is not you who disappoints me. Perhaps it is disappointment in myself for ever thinking a creature like you could have a shred of a heart.”

My voice came out hushed, small even. A man like Bloodsinger was beyond feeling, yet I couldn’t stop. “Do your worst, Bloodsinger. The heart I once showed you as a stupid girl is gone away where you cannot touch it again.”

Erik pulled me against him. Chest to chest, hip to hip, his vicious eyes bounced back and forth between mine.

“You took pity on a boy because you knew I’d always be a threat. You wanted that threat tamed, so do not pretend you were kind out of the goodness of your heart. Kindness is not free, love. There is always something expected in return.”

I didn’t shrink under his scrutiny, and lifted my chin, our noses touching. “What sort of sad existence have you known to not understand genuine concern?”

“Save your pity and worry a bit more about your life.”

I yanked my arm out of his grip. He allowed it, but hot rage burned in his eyes. Somewhere, my words had lashed at him. I hoped he bled out from them.

I could not change what was done, but bringing Erik Bloodsinger back into our world was my fault. Whether my people were villains once mattered little in the now. I would pay the price to keep them safe, for I had brought the danger by believing there was something deeper in the heart of a villain.

Bloodsinger believed I’d visited him out of fear of what he would do. I’d never tell him the truth.

I’d been drawn to him, like the flow of the sea; even as a girl he’d sparked some twisted curiosity, some tug to see him. I should’ve resisted, the same way I should’ve had the strength to resist the pull to the sea now.

I flinched when his hand rose. The strike I expected never came. Bloodsinger slammed his palms against the wooden hull, forcing my back to the wall. This close, I could make out the blood pulsing in his throat; I could taste the sourness of his rage.

“Take your vengeance, Bloodsinger,” I said, voice rough. “Your mind is set, so do what you must, but I will never turn on them. I will never be your pawn to hurt them. I’ll slit my own throat first.”

He hesitated, then lifted the tips of his fingers to the heated ridge of my cheek. I turned my head away. The bastard only traced my jaw, almost like he was lost to the dark pits of his own thoughts.

When he spoke, his voice was cold, dead; it burrowed to my bones. “If only it were so simple, Songbird. You are the perfect, unexpected blade that will cut out the hearts of your folk. They’ll suffer. You’ll watch. Only when they’re on their knees, pleading, will I give them the death they crave.”

He was a lunatic. I didn’t fight the tears anymore and let them fall. Not tears of sadness. No, my people had slaughtered the Ever Folk before. They would again. If my death was a price for their continued safety and peace, I’d happily pay it. These were tears of disgust.

“I will never help you hurt anyone I love.”

“You’re mine to use as I wish.” He stepped back and opened his arms. “Face the truth. You belong to the Ever King.”

Bloodsinger turned for the door. My lips parted. He was . . . leaving me? A man tainted by evil such as him surely played with his food before he tore it to pieces.

The stun must’ve muddled my brain and had the question spilling off my tongue before he left the room. “What do you plan to do with me?”

He paused at the door, hand on the latch. “For now, let you sleep. I don’t want you stumbling on your feet like a fool. I hope you love your father as much as it seems. For you are about to stand in his place at the rack.”

“You’re the fool, Erik Bloodsinger,” I whispered. “You think it will only be my father who comes for me? You’ve begun a war with an entire world. They will tear you apart and pike your pieces along every border of every realm.”

“Well, take that thought and give yourself sweet dreams. For that is all they are—dreams.” He gestured to the small window overlooking the brilliant water. “Try to escape, and I give you to my crew to do with you whatever they please. Try to toss yourself into the Otherworld, I’ll keep you chained to me at all times. You understand? Now, sleep, scream, beg, I care little, but accept that you’re mine, and you always were.”

The moment he slipped through the door and locked it behind him, I slid down the door until I met the floor, face in my palms.

Alone, where no one could see my failure, I broke into sobs.


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