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The Ever King: Chapter 14

The Songbird

The crew watched me with a collision of curiosity and disdain as Celine led me toward the hatch. Conversation cut off, men smoking wooden pipes stopped to gawk; some hissed or studied me with a bit of disbelief.

“A lot of the men fought in the war,” Celine said, holding the hatch to the lower decks open. “Meaning they’ve faced that earth bender daj of yours, and you sort of look like him.”

I ought to be uneasy, but a second glance burned a new rush of pride in my veins. There was violence in their eyes, but when I saw it another way, there was fear. Sea fae feared my people, they feared my father.

I knew better than most the pain from the blood spilled during the war, but for the first time, memories of the gore didn’t send my heart racing or my head spinning. It curled my lip, it drew out a dark sense of pride that these people knew the brutality of my people.

Until Celine led me down the staircase and I was faced with the Ever King again.

Erik leaned against a post, arms folded over his strong body, a smirk on his scarred lip. The scars he insisted were put there by the people I loved.

My folk were brutal, to be sure, but I prayed their viciousness had not truly maimed an innocent. If it was true, then part of me could not entirely blame Bloodsinger or his wretched father for all that had happened.

“Sleep well, love?” His eyes roved over my figure, halting on his shirt. A flash of heat—or rage—filled his gaze.

“I slept horribly, thank you. I’m told I begin my servitude today.”

Erik chuckled. “The way you speak, it’s as if you cannot wait until I put a chain around your neck.”

“I never was one for patience.” Backed into a corner, unarmed, surrounded by endless seas, the only thing I seemed unable to do was cease talking. As though my tongue yearned to antagonize the man who held my damn life in his hands.

Bloodsinger didn’t seem ready to gut me for it, even looked amused. “When you sail on the Ever Ship, you’re given a duty, be it king or crew. We work as one, or we don’t live long. There are two positions open, and I thought you’d take to a galley hand with Sewell better than the other option.”

Bloodsinger shouldered his way through a door on loud hinges into a narrow cooking room. Near an odd iron box with a few pieces of hot charcoal placed inside, a man with a strong face and distant eyes spun around. He grinned, revealing white teeth but for the one made of gold in the front. “Little eel. Taste me cod?”

“Haven’t had the pleasure today.” Erik tugged me against his side. “Sewell, I’ve brought you company until we reach home, and—”

“Taste me cod, little eel?” His nose wrinkled, his teeth bared.

“Gods, I said not yet.”

Sewell’s eyes flashed, but he turned around, muttering about ungrateful eels, and wiping down the stove with a dirty towel. He’d yet to even look at me.

Bloodsinger nudged me forward. “Do as Sewell says, love.”

“I’m to be alone with him?”

“Frightened?”

“If you must know—” I paused to swallow and lowered my voice, “he doesn’t exactly seem pleased to have a companion. What was the other option?”

“Ah, one of the men reminded me of the honorable tradition of a shipwife.”

“A what?”

Bloodsinger’s grin widened until I caught sight of the sharp point of his canines. “The lady of the ship. It can be lonely on these longer voyages, Songbird.”

Bile burned my throat.

“I’m going to wager you choose to stay with Sewell, yes?”

“Yes. I choose Sewell over your damn bed.”

“I suppose there is always time to change your mind.” Bloodsinger stepped toward the door. “Sewell has sailed the Ever since the reign of Thorvald. He once knew his way around a sword better than any man I know until a rock smashed his head. Compliment his cooking, do as he says, and he’ll take to you fine. Don’t upset him; the crew values his feelings more than yours.”

In a moment of desperation, I snatched Erik’s hand. A faint glimmer of the strange spark I’d felt when Erik kissed me scorched through my palm. “Where are you going?”

“To the helm.” He brushed a knuckle over my cheekbone, an irritating grin on his face. To Sewell, he tacked on, “Keep her breathing.”

“Did ye try me cod, little eel?” Sewell asked.

The king was already gone.

The bastard left me without another bleeding word of . . . guidance, I supposed. How twisted my world had become when my heart reeled into a panic at the absence of Erik Bloodsinger.

The galley was a narrow space, but oddly tidy. Iron pots and pans hung over a chopping block. Clay bowls, wooden plates, horns for drinking, and tin cups were arranged in orderly crates.

I cared most about the array of blades hooked on the back wall. Pronged knives, ones that curved, a thick blade as wide as my palm. The Ever King could lick my damn ass if he thought I would stay unarmed a moment longer.

From the corner of my eye, I took note of the cook. A man who clearly once bore the weight of heavy blades. His shoulders were broad and powerful, but his eyes were soft against his brown skin. I couldn’t guess how ancient or young the man was, but his beard was untamed, a few bone beads decorated thin braids throughout.

He kept looking at me like I was an invader.

Hands behind my back, I crept toward the wall of knives. The man muttered a bit more about princely eels; I didn’t understand half of what he said, but with his back turned from me, I snatched a small straight blade knife from its hook.

“Little fox, that’s what she is. Thinks she be sly.” Sewell cackled and scrubbed a stain on the rim of the stove.

Damn. I clutched the knife behind my back, throat tight.

When the old man glanced over his shoulder, his eyes sparkled in something playful. “Tricky paws, little fox.”

He wiggled his fingers, cackling again until his lungs descended into a rough cough.

My shoulders slumped. “It’s dangerous to be unarmed, you understand.”

“We work we rot,” he hummed, then spun around, eyes narrowed. “Did ye try me cod, little fox?”

I licked my lips. “Um, I . . . I haven’t, but I’m sure it’s delicious.”

Sewell blew out his lips. “Eels and foxes cut their losses.”

His words made little sense. I strode for the door, knife in hand, and gently pushed.

“Wouldn’t be sticking me nose in the dark. Strange tides be upon us.” Sewell clicked his tongue once, twice, then reached into a crate and dropped a handful of roots on the block. “The blade. Slice.”

He made a gesture of chopping and pointed to the blade I pretended he hadn’t seen me snatch off the wall.

Erik said Sewell was once formidable. I believed it. The man still seemed brisk, but also tender. I loosened my crushing grip on the knife and took a cautious step to the chopping block.

Sewell beamed as if I’d accomplished some grand feat, and once more, made the motion of slicing.

My mouth twitched, nearly grinning, and I took up one of the roots. The cook observed three strokes, then turned back to his charcoal box and added raw strips of fish to the heat, humming the shanty of the ship.

Slowly, unease lifted, and I fell into a dance with the man, as though it had always been this way. Sewell spoke in riddles, with occasional clarity, but there were words I could puzzle through. Shuffle meant he wanted me to move, muglet was a drinking horn or tin, and for the plates and spoon he’d interchange meat-eat or scoop.

I took it I was his fox. A fae from lands where foxes roamed. Eels and tidelings were his folk. Or so I assumed.

Sweat dripped over my brow by the time I’d helped Sewell ladle a watery fish soup into bowls. Three gruff crewmen, who said nothing to me and nodded to him, drifted in and out, taking the bowls to the crew. Through the thin walls, their laughter grew louder the more cherry rum they drank.

Sewell tapped my arm and held out a bowl. “Fill a fox’s belly before the eel calls.”

My eyes flicked to a wooden tray with a bit of hardtack and a covered bowl of stew. The king’s meal was not served alongside his crew.

In the presence of Bloodsinger, my stomach knotted too fiercely to even imagine eating. With Sewell, tension was gone, and my stomach writhed in protest for leaving it empty too long. I took the bowl greedily and slurped the salty broth, unbothered by the dribble on my chin.

“Thank you.” Muggy heat warmed the galley, and through our new waltz of preparing meals, I’d slid the sleeves of Bloodsinger’s shirt over my elbows to get a bit of cool air on the clammy skin. When I handed Sewell the bowl, his gaze locked on the rune on my arm.

The bowl clattered over the floorboards, and a small yelp slipped over my tongue when Sewell yanked me forward, holding my forearm close.

“No, no, no. Foxes take the tides.”

“Sewell.” My breath caught. “It’s . . . it’s just a scar.”

The man ignored me and rubbed a thumb over the lines of the rune. “Called you back home with him. Not the usual way of things, but strange seas toss us now. Don’t let them see.”

Sewell scrambled for the small charcoal box. He hissed and cursed under his breath when fading embers struck his skin as he scooped some of the soot from the corner. He rushed back to me and painted my rune in the soot.

“Sewell?” Every muscle tensed when the cook rolled my sleeve over the mark.

His eyes were like wet glass. “Don’t let them see, or they’ll take you from him. Might even take your eel like they took two little eels, but what could I do? Had to do it, little fox.”

“What did you do?” I whispered.

“Broke the way of things.” Desperation filled his gaze, and my heart snapped in two. The man wanted to tell me what was in his head, but his tongue simply wouldn’t allow it. “Like a fox among tides.”

“Are you saying I’ve broken the way things are because of this mark?”

He patted my cheek, nodding. “Reasons we can’t know, but be at ease, the heart of the young is not the same as the sire.”

Sewell closed his eyes. His jaw tightened. For a long moment he seemed to gather his words, knowing he was making little sense, but in the end, he merely spoke whatever words came. “Marks of eels—” Sewell patted my arm. “Heal it all.”

“Heal what?” My voice was hardly above a whisper.

“She called you back.”

I clung to his hands. “Who, Sewell? Tell me who?”

“The Ever.” His voice was clear, sharp. It was powerful.

It only lasted a moment before he hung his head, pleading in riddles. “Bring it back, little fox.” Sewell blinked and a tear dripped over his lashes. “Don’t let them take it away.”

Once more he patted my arm. I blinked through a blur of my own tears and forced a smile. “I understand, Sewell. I-I won’t let anyone see it. I’ll be careful.”

The man let out a heavy sigh. He pressed a kiss to my curled fingers, then smiled at me as he patted the top of my fist. Soon enough, Sewell was back to his humming and shanties. When Celine stepped into the room to take Bloodsinger’s food; she studied the cook for a few breaths. He glanced at her over his shoulder, gave her a smile she returned, then they both turned away as though they’d never paused to look at each other. Odd.

I kept scrubbing, tilting my face away to hide the true tension in my face. As Sewell dried a few bowls and restacked them in their crates, I rubbed my thumb over the rune scar.

The Chasm had called to me. There was more to this mark. I needed to understand it. If it was as powerful as Sewell thought, then I might’ve found the one way to survive.

Or the way to kill me faster.


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