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The Ever King: Chapter 42

The Serpent

“Erik.” Celine slapped my shoulder, voice rough. “Get up.”

If one more person woke me by striking me or prodding my gaping wounds, I would use their bones to strengthen the hull of my damn ship.

“Tidecaller, if—”

“Gavyn’s back.” Celine’s voice cracked. “You must hurry. Something’s happened.”

Livia sighed in her sleep, head against my chest. We’d remained outside near the water. I’d counted the constellations of the Ever until her soft breaths lulled me back into a dreamless sleep. My arm tingled in numbness from keeping it wrapped around her all night, but I’d hold the woman every night if it chased away the dark dreams.

Now, I was torn. Last I’d rushed off to leave her, she ended up pinned in the garden, and I added a new scar to my collection.

“I’ll stay with her,” Celine said, as if she could read my thoughts. “I swear to you, I won’t let anything happen to her. This . . . this involves her, too, and you’re running short on time.”

“Where is he?” I asked, gently easing away from Livia. Her face pinched, and she tucked her knees closer to her chest against the chill once my body was gone.

“In my bedchamber.”

Celine would never betray me. She’d lose too much if I were ousted as king. “I vowed she’d be safe,” I told Celine. “Do not break my promise.”

She gave me a nod, and for the first time I saw the tears in her eyes. Something had gone horribly wrong. I pressed a kiss to Livia’s forehead and hurried to the lower levels of the palace.

By the time I arrived, the ache in my side was hot and irritating. No doubt, the wound in my side wanted to split open and bleed out. I’d deal with Murdock’s complaints later. Celine’s chambers were spacious for one person, but with the bodies in the room, it was cramped.

“What the hells happened?” I held my side and hurried to the window. Gavyn was seated, sweat on his brow, teeth gritted, and face pale.

“I might . . . say the same to you.” He tried to grin, but it ended in a wince.

Gashes lined Gavyn’s bare shoulder, like he’d been slashed by a dozen knives, and Sewell was on his knees, splinting Gavyn’s crooked wrist. “Bad tides, little eel.”

“The Chasm did this?”

“Not exactly, it—godsdammit!” Gavyn glared at Sewell as the cook tightened the knot keeping the splint in place.

All Sewell did was give Gavyn’s cheek a hard pat, then Tait emerged from the washroom holding a basin and clean linens.

“Why is Tait here?” I glared at Gavyn. “Sharing our plans with everyone?”

“Good thing he did, or I wouldn’t have been waiting for him and he would’ve bled out,” Tait snapped.

“Always one for overexaggerating, Heartwalker.” Gavyn started to chuckle, but cursed when Sewell tapped his cheek again when he moved too much.

“Gavyn will heal,” Tait said, “but right now, we have bigger problems.”

Bleeding across Celine’s narrow mattress was another man. His breaths were shallow and broken. His skin was battered and covered in open gashes much like Gavyn’s shoulder.

“I made it through, but before I could shield the Chasm, or even deliver your claim on . . . on the woman,” Gavyn started, pausing every few words through his own pain. “He was there . . . like he was waiting for me. I tried to turn back, but . . . he held on and, you see what became of him. It crushed him.”

“Peeled you good and deep too. Lies on your tongue, boy.” Sewell narrowed his gaze at Gavyn and finished securing the splint on his wrist.

Gavyn blanched. “I didn’t lie. I was trying to take care, and was safe until I wasn’t! Can’t exactly fade into the tides completely with a damn leech on my back.”

I studied the bloodied face of the man. I knew him. The day the sea fae were banished from the earth fae realms, he’d been there. A boy like me, tucked between his battle-worn fathers, but he looked at me like he knew the truth. Like he knew the secret we all were keeping.

“He’s dying, Erik,” Tait said softly. “What are you going to do?”

My jaw pulsed. Do this, and he might find a way to take her from me. Perhaps she’d see him and realize there were ways to leave the Ever. I could let him die. Cut off her world for good. Keep her here always.

She wouldn’t know if I let him die.

But I would.

With a harsh sigh, I peeled back the bandage from my waist and dipped my fingers into the trickle of blood seeping through the herbs and thin stitching Murdock placed. When the tips were coated, I approached the bed. “Hold him still.”

Tait hesitated for a moment, but complied. He tipped back the fae’s head, exposing a wide gash on his throat, and I dragged my fingers through the blood.

The door crashed open.

“Tried to stop her!” Celine called over Livia’s shoulder.

Anger burned in my throat. “Then why didn’t you?”

My songbird filled the doorway, eyes wide with panic. “Aleksi!” She looked from my bloodied fingers to the man on the bed. “Erik, no, don’t do this. Please.”

“She said she felt you and took off!” Celine insisted.

Damn bonds. She knew I could heal, but it was as if my own unease and her panic had set her off in a frenzy.

“Hold her,” I shouted when Livia tried to rush at me.

“Bloodsinger.” She struggled against Celine’s grip. Tait went to aid her. Tears dropped on her cheeks when I swiped my bloodied fingers across her cousin’s throat.

Livia thrashed and screamed. “Erik, stop. Gods, stop!”

I held her glassy eyes, then leaned my face alongside his. Livia stopped the fight, eyes red, and watched in stun as I started to hum. Low, deep, haunting.

A sharp burn gathered in my chest as it always did with the healing. To poison with my blood was simple. To use it to heal was deeper, more challenging, as though it took bits of my own strength and gave it to the one stepping into the Otherworld.

With a wound in my side, the song was agonizing. Livia drew in a sharp breath when the tune strengthened. I closed my eyes, gripping the edge of the bed. Her cousin coughed. His chest heaved, and it was as if he were gasping for air.

“Stop! You’re killing him.”

“Hush,” Tait snapped and pulled her back. “Let it be.”

“Erik!”

I clenched my jaw, body trembling. “Take her out of here.”

Poison or healing, it wasn’t pleasant. I couldn’t lose the song, or he would die.

Livia’s face was bloodless when Tait pulled her back into the corridor. Even Sewell abandoned Gavyn’s side to help drag Livia away. She screamed and cursed and promised violent things that cut off when Celine closed the door.

I blew out a breath, painful fatigue taking hold. I lowered to my knees and placed my palms on the sides of her cousin’s face.

“You better live, you bastard. If you die and she despises me again, I will take back what I did for you during the war.” I closed my eyes and sang.


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