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The Ever King: Chapter 31

The Songbird

Breathe. The heel of my hand pressed over my heart, as if to keep it from cracking through my chest. I closed my eyes and drew a long breath in my nose, then out through parted lips. Twice. Three times.

There was no time left to sit and wallow.

The ceiling of Erik’s room was high enough a single slip out the window would send me to the Otherworld. The door to the corridors was locked, but even if I escaped, where would I go?

No doubt, guards would send me straight back.

Trapped. I was trapped to the whims of Erik Bloodsinger. I turned about the sitting room once, soaking it all in. Satin draperies lined the windows, much the same as the corridor. It was clean and orderly, a few crossed blades decorated the walls. Darker than my chambers back home, but oddly normal

There had to be something here to learn more about Erik Bloodsinger.

The only way to outwit a mark is to study it. Every weakness, every strength, becomes a weapon. Lovers, vices, learn everything down to if they can piss straight or not. Victory lies in the brains, not the brawn.

The memory of Sander teaching me to be sly during a childish game of seek and find cracked through my heart. Sander may have been the studious twin, yet was truly the most devious. He took after Kase, the twins’ father. The king of the Eastern realms taught his sons well the intricate dance of outwitting an enemy, even one physically stronger.

I rummaged through a stack of parchment on the table. Maps, dull missives from noblemen, a few charcoal drawings of new vessels.

My blood chilled at the sound of footsteps in the corridor. Five, ten, twenty breaths, I stood still, waiting. When no one came, I drifted into Erik’s bedchamber, the place to find secrets of the Ever King. Then again, I doubted he would leave me unattended to rifle through his belongings if some grand secret was left here for me to find.

I dropped to my hands and knees to search beneath the bed first.

A thin layer of dust coated the threads of the rug. In the corners of the bed posts a few silky webs from weavers strung over the wood. Strange such a simple thing could bring a sense of familiarity.

We knew so little of the undersea realms. I’d expected it to be buried in the waves, or at the very least, cold and damp. To see sunlight, smell blossoms, choke on dust and gangly weaver webs, was oddly comforting.

Inside the wardrobe, I brushed my fingertips over Bloodsinger’s coats and tunics and jerkins. More than once, I paused and let the scent of leather and oak settle into my lungs. My body warmed and my pulse quickened.

All hells. Even his damn scent was appealing. Thoughts of forced bonds made a grand attempt to convince me it was beyond my control, but somewhere deep in my chest, heat stirred at the thought of Erik’s hands on my skin, his lips and tongue and teeth claiming me in the way he’d done at the Tower.

Liquid heat filled my lower belly. I let out a curse and tried to think of every horrid word he’d spoken, every show of violence, but even those reminded me of his intoxicating, beautiful black heart. It led me to wonder more on the secrets the Ever King kept deep inside the hardened thing in his chest.

Damn him. I let the soft fabric fall from my grasp and knelt, shoving aside boots to reach the back of the wardrobe.

Tucked away near the back was a woven basket with a thin paper tag on the top. My pulse quickened—the tag was labeled Songbird. I craned my neck to peek beyond the open wardrobe door to ensure I was still alone, then lifted the lid.

I’d readied myself to find severed tongues or a few shrunken sets of eyes, instead I froze, stunned to the bone.

“You bastard.” I bit the inside of my cheek as I touched the tips of each bristle, each corked vial filled with thin colors of dyes and paints. Watered down to a glaze. Paints not meant for parchment, but for glass.

Bloodsinger supplied his palace with window paints.

I covered my mouth with one palm and dug through the vials with the other. Typical colors of blues and reds and yellows were in place, but there were more. Gold with flecks of shimmer powders, stone dust gray, even a color like jade, but when the light struck the vial, it shimmered to rich violet.

How did he prepare this before we arrived? All I could think of was the moment Celine sent word somewhere through the tides. A mere morning after he’d taken me. Moments when he spoke as though he were readying to slit me from navel to nose.

He’d sent me window paints. A bit of home. A bit of comfort.

The same destructive turmoil clung to my heart. With each beat, it bled a little more for the loneliness, fear, and hate of a boy king who’d been tossed into a war and vengeance he’d likely been too young to truly comprehend.

With care, I took the basket from the wardrobe and placed it beneath one of the arched windows. An entire world existed beyond the panes, one I knew nothing about, yet I could not deny the desire to learn every peak to every cove.

“What are you doing?” Celine shoved her way into the chamber, a bunch of different fabrics in her arms. Behind her were three women, dressed all in blue, with their hair pulled back in tight knots, revealing the sharp points of their ears. Each woman carried something—linen cloths, a basket of dainty slippers, and a box with green sea pearl charms and silver hair chains.

Celine took note of the open wardrobe and basket of paints. “Ah, snooping. Good. He hoped you’d find them.”

The women behind Celine twittered to each other in hushed words and looked at me like I’d sprouted a second head.

“Why did he do this?” I held up a vial of gloss.

Celine tossed the fabric on the bed and gave me a knowing glare. “You said you liked to paint, I suppose. I don’t know, I wasn’t in the room with you, thank the gods. The king told me to add a note to old Alistair to have glass dyes made. We don’t have glass dyes here, so who knows if they’ll even work.”

My grip tightened around the vial and held it to my heart. Either I hated Erik Bloodsinger for all his games, or the heat in my chest was something else entirely.

“Same as on the ship, I’m tasked with making you presentable,” Celine went on. “All I’m saying is Hawke is the damn tailor for a purpose. The man knows more about bleeding attire than anyone in the royal province. But because of these—” She puffed up her breasts. “Here I am.”

“Or because the king trusts you.”

Celine snapped her fingers at me. “I like that better. We’ll keep that way of thinking.”

“I can dress myself,” I said.

“I should hope so. I’m not doing up your damn corset. I’m just here to assist. Whatever that means.”

She jerked her chin toward me, and the three women shuffled forward.

Until the next clock bell chimed, I was prodded and stripped, my hair was brushed and braided, then smoothed again when it didn’t sit right. More than once, I laughed. The three servants were flustered, and it was clear they’d never truly had a lady to dress in the palace.

By the end, I’d taken over my hair, leaving most of it down in waves half braided into an intricate knot Mira’s mother had taught me as a girl.

The stacks of fabric weren’t only for me. Celine took the liberty of dressing herself in the king’s room, and I hid my grin more than once as she’d muttered that it served him right to have her underthings strewn about since he kept demoting her to nursemaid for his captive.

When she emerged from the washroom, I didn’t hide the smile. “You look beautiful, Celine.”

Her mouth tugged into a grimace. “I’m not going. The crew’ll never let me live this down.”

“You’re going.” The iridescent skirt of the gown I’d been shoved inside rustled around my legs with each step across the room. It was a little big on the top, but a few pins kept it from spilling down my chest. “I always prepare for balls and feasts with my friend. She isn’t here, but I am, and you are, and we breasts must stick together.”

Her mouth parted and released a laugh that turned into a strange kind of chortle. “You’re odd, earth fae, but not wrong. Soon enough, you’ll learn that some of the upper nobles in the Ever see women as bodies meant for heirs, nothing else.”


“The House of Mists is where females hold the most power. Witches and sirens. The men have voices of the sea, to be sure, but not as powerful as the women. Even still, voices are often overruled or stripped away.” Celine smoothed the velvet of her full crimson skirt. “You see the claiming as a terrible thing, but in truth, to have the king’s protection is likely the only way you will survive. An enemy female in the Ever?”

Celine didn’t finish the thought, merely arched her brows and shook her head.

Voices in Erik’s ear told him to be a wretch toward the women of his realm? I couldn’t understand it. Queens had been fated to win the peace of my land, and they’d done it, kings by their sides, not at the lead.

The Ever King took a woman from her home. A cruel, vindictive act, yet he’d never put a hand on me. He’d never forced himself on me. Quite the opposite—he’d given me a sleeping drought when lust was unbearable and sent one of his boneweavers to tend to me. Erik had a woman on his crew, and not merely as a common crew member. Clearly, Celine was part of his inner circle.

I linked my arm through Celine’s elbow. “Shall we go then?”

“What are you doing?” As though my arm might reach out and strike, Celine waggled her fingers over the place we touched.

“Sticking together.”

Like the three servants, she looked at me as though I’d grown a second head, but one that she liked.


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