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The Ever King: Chapter 40

The Songbird

Larsson and Tait led him into the bedchamber while Bloodsinger flung curses and promises they’d all lose all manner of limbs and parts. Tait was not the king, but he was of the royal line, and with Erik wounded, he fell into his role with ease.

He kept his voice steady, offering direction and commands until Erik was positioned on the bed in a way the blade wouldn’t dig deeper.

Celine kept close to the garden door, an occasional twitch to her cheek. I stood a pace away and scrubbed my palms free of soil and blood in a basin near the window.

“What did Tait do to me?” I asked, voice low.

Celine shifted on her feet and kept her eyes forward. “Heartwalker. He read the desires of your heart.” She clasped her hands behind her back. “It is the only reason he trusts you enough to be here. Your truest desire must’ve been to help the king.”

I scrubbed my fingernails with more fervor. Tait could actually read the desire of my heart? My desire was Bloodsinger. All of him, every scar, every glimpse of his beautiful black heart, I wanted for myself.

I cast his cousin a narrowed look. Tait held my stare for a few breaths, as if trying to break through any lies, any tricks I might’ve played on his ability.

I didn’t look away as I sat on the bed and took Erik’s hand possessively. A challenge. A promise. After succumbing to the pull toward the king, I would like to see Tait Heartwalker tear me from him in this moment.

The king was pale, but his face was as stone—hard and unmoved. No doubt he hid a great deal of pain but would refuse to reveal it with such an audience. The sight of him tightened my chest, heat fluttering through my insides.

Once three wide baskets filled with vials, pouches, and dried roots were brought to the king’s room by three guards, Tait barked, “Everyone out.”

The guards abandoned the chamber at once. Larsson opened the door to the garden. “We’ll keep watch on those bastards.”

Celine followed outside as if she couldn’t escape fast enough.

“You realize if your blood can take on his ability, you might end up killing him?” Tait glared at me.

I let out a long breath. Was it worth the risk? Erik was fading. His blood seemed to flow endlessly. My hand touched his clammy skin. He curled his fingers weakly around mine, and the warm hum of power coated my skin. A connection I had with him alone.

“I need to try.” I kneeled over the bed, and rested a palm on Erik’s cheek until he blinked his glassy eyes open. “Erik, I think I need your voice. Will you try?”

He didn’t speak but dipped his chin in a nod.

I didn’t waste another moment and used one of Tait’s knives to slice my palm. One hand on Erik’s shoulder, I waited for the same connection that came when we worked together to heal the darkening took hold.

Then, slowly, I placed my bloodied palm against the wound on his side.

A few breaths and his body shuddered. “Gods.”

His face contorted in pain.

“Erik.” I grappled for him. “Sing. I need your voice. Sing, please.”

Tears fell from my cheeks onto his as a gentle, distant hum came from his throat. Soft, dark, beautifully haunting, Erik’s voice was a force I absorbed to the very marrow of my bones.

“Blood is slowing,” Tait said, a new enthusiasm in his voice. “Erik, keep awake. Keep going.”

The wound slowed the weeping of blood, but Erik let out a rough gasp and his head fell back. His breath was shallow.

“Dammit.” Tait reached for the baskets. “That’s all the help we’ll have. You say your earth magic can help, then do it.”

My hands trembled as I dug through the baskets of healing herbs. Every few breaths, I’d look at Erik. He wasn’t moving. He looked half in the Otherworld. A sigh of relief burned my throat when I found a small, leather-bound book with drawings and dosages based on height, male or female, grown or a child.

Seemed boneweavers did like to leave traces of common healing practices despite the ability to heal being embedded in their magic.

The trouble was, I did not understand the dosages. It was written in symbols and languages foreign to me.

“Tait.” I held out the book. “I can’t read this. See if you understand anything.”

He frowned, but snatched the book from me. “Murdock wrote his own symbols—probably a symbol for the herb—like his own damn codex. I can read the measurements.”

I nodded and removed several vials of powder, running them beneath my nose, drawing them into my lungs.

The burn of every scent sparked the heat of my magic, but it was difficult to focus on the properties with my fatigue. My mind seemed to wander. It questioned and second-guessed.

Royal blood on land, in most cases, birthed powerful fury. Jonas and Sander were horrifying when they truly struck with their nightmares. Mira’s magic could cast uncanny illusions. One might think they were trekking up a hillside, when really, they were falling headfirst over a cliff.

Fear of being monstrous as I’d been today had created a rift in my magic. I lacked trust in what I could do.

The slide of steel and leather drew my gaze from rummaging. My heart skipped as Tait held a knife over Erik.

“What are you—”

Tait sliced through the king’s tunic, cutting it away. Erik was silent, but adjusted enough for his cousin to ease the top off. Only once his skin was bare did Bloodsinger open his eyes to look at me.

In the brighter light of the room, I saw clearly the cruelty written on his skin.

Deep, jagged grooves were carved on all sides of his heart. Sideways, up and down, slanted gashes raised in puckered scars. His belly looked as though claws had scraped back and forth over his insides. Round scars in every divot of his ribs.

Blood still flowed down his side, his legs. Already the coverlets of his bed were soaked in it.

“Earth fae.” Tait’s sharp voice brought me back to focus. “Tell me the names of the herbs you select, and I will see if I can find any hint of them in the codex.”

Nerves wanted to muddy my brain. I fought against the spin of the room, the tremble of my hands. The pain etched on Erik’s skin—my jaw tightened—proved he’d endured enough blood loss in one lifetime.

Focus. I straightened my shoulders. I was no healer, but I knew how to find the herbs that could.

“Give me one moment.” I opened the feverroot and placed a sliver of the black leaves on my tongue.

A sharp, earthy flavor sank into my tongue. When I drew my mind to a still, when I held tight to the risks facing the only man who could both keep me safe and kill me, all the uses for such an herb grew clearer.

Feverroot could be used as a simple seasoning to counteract sweetness, or as a blood thickener.

“Feverroot. It can help clot the blood.”

Tait flipped through pages of the mender’s book, a grimace on his face. He tilted his head to one side. “There is an old language symbol for head heat right here, but the direct translation is close to the word feverish.”

I dipped my chin and measured out the dosages for a man Erik’s size, and prayed we were right and didn’t poison the king.

One by one, I went through the vials. Most were odd names of plants we did not have at home. Fury connected to them, broke them apart, revealed in my mind what uses I might find in each plant. White oak bark for pain and swelling. Hells Mouth nettles for infection.

Some were useless to us. Things like an ache in the tooth, or blurred vision. I set aside only herbs that had uses for wound care. After I spouted off the properties, Tait would offer any thoughts about old translations.

Erik’s breaths grew shallower. Tait lifted his eyes off the page of the codex. “We’re out of time.”

Across the bed were measured powders and liquids. I shook out my hands and took up a damp towel from the washbasin and stood beside Tait’s shoulder.

“Be ready,” he snarled at me. “There will be a lot of blood.”

Some moments I could hardly tell if Tait cared about Erik, the way he sneered and snapped. But now his face was locked in fierce concentration. A bead of sweat dripped over his brow, and it seemed as if it might take a thousand men to peel him back from the king.

Without another word, Tait pulled out the blade.

“Damn you.” The king jolted upright.

Tait held him back down. “Now, woman!”

Fury burned in my veins. I couldn’t heal bodies through magic, true, but I could add potency to herbs, I could enhance their natural healing properties. “I need the feverroot.”

Tait took the measured powder with care and handed it to me. We began a strange dance of adding herbs, stopping the blood, then pressing the remedies in the wound. Tait would hold the press against Erik’s skin while I fought not to retch as I stuck my fingers around the wound, lining it with herb after herb.

His blood never seemed to cease flowing, and I didn’t know how Erik was still breathing.

My body was flushed, strands of hair stuck to my forehead by the time a ghastly looking mound of herbs was packed into the gash. Like a stone bandage. But the blood had stopped, and the king’s skin had a bit more color to it.

I slumped onto the bed, one hand absently falling to Bloodsinger’s leg. “I think . . . I think we might’ve done it.”

Tait appeared to be as pale as his cousin. Mutely, he gathered the herbs and filed them back into the basket. “That should hold for now. Go. You look like you’ve been vomited out of a sickly whale. I’ll watch him.”

“No.” I stood, body trembling, but I took a protective stance in front of the king.

Tait’s lips curled enough I could see the jagged points of his canines. “No?”

“Those men came to kill the king and take me for my magic. I’m not leaving him since I am the only person in this room who I know does not want him, or myself, dead.”

“You think I’d betray my cousin?”

“Oh, I think many things of you.” Again, an unnerving desire to defend Erik Bloodsinger took hold. I didn’t understand it, but felt a great deal like a rabid pup about to lash out and bite should anyone come too close. “You’re the next bloodline who can take the throne, right?”

Tait looked ready to finish the job of the assassins. “You don’t understand how our world works, earth fae. You don’t understand anything about me.”

“Nor do you know anything about me.” I placed a hand on the bed, positioning my body between Tait and Erik’s sleeping form. “There is a debt to be repaid here. Bloodsinger saved my life. Where I am from, that means I owe him. That means, I’m not leaving him with anyone I don’t trust. And I don’t trust you.”

For what seemed a thousand heartbeats we glared at each other. I prayed he couldn’t see how desperate my body was to collapse, how much blood I was losing from the gashes on my legs.

At long last, Tait scoffed, a wicked kind of grin on his face. He lifted the basket of herbs and backed toward the door. “All right, you desire to protect him, so do I. I’ll guard the outer doors. No one comes into his chambers without me knowing.”

“No one touches him without going through me.”

Tait chuckled darkly. “And what a fearsome thing you are.”

He could mock me all he wanted. I knew I looked as though the Chasm had spat me out; I knew the only reason he was truly leaving was he’d done his trick of reading my heart. It didn’t matter, I slumped on the bed in relief when Tait left with a final word that I was to inform the king if he woke that the assassins would be taken to the prisons beneath the palace.

My head spun as though locked in a fog. I checked the bandage on Erik’s waist once. My fingertips brushed the top of a thick, puckered scar on his hipbone that trailed beneath his trousers.

While he slept, Erik was softer, almost peaceful. I brushed a bit of his dark hair off his brow.

“Don’t die, Serpent,” I whispered. “I’m not finished with you.”


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