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The Ever King: Chapter 43

The Songbird

Betrayal stung deep in my bones. A molten blade to my heart. More so when Sewell was the one who added a touch of serenroot onto my tongue when I couldn’t seem to get my bearings.

Why was Alek here? He’d—gods—he’d looked as though a dozen blades had cut at him, then two dozen boots had stomped over his bones. Erik offered my cousin blood. Poisoned blood. Maybe in his mind, he thought he’d put Alek out of his misery, until he’d started to sing, more distinct than I had ever heard before. Smooth as satin, haunting as shadows, a sound that dug and clawed beneath the skin until it was etched into the bones.

More than the sea singer, Erik’s song hooked me by the heart and pulled me forward to anywhere Bloodsinger might be.

Then he banished me.

“Sewell.” I crossed the small study where they’d dragged me away. “Take me back. Now.”

The cook looked to Tait, who then looked down at the odd clock he kept in his pocket.

With a nod, Tait tucked the clock back into his trousers. “Danger’s gone.”

Celine took my hand with a bit of hesitation. “We had to take you away. You were straining his song.”

Questions and anger and fear, all of it tangled into silence instead. They led me through the corridor back to the chamber. I didn’t know what to ask first. When Erik sang, it healed, but could it heal such damage? Why was Alek here to begin with?

Gavyn had something to do with it. In my frenzy, I’d noticed the lord was bloodied and bandaged. I wanted to know everything. I couldn’t ask any of it.

The hot tang of blood still soaked the floorboards. Gavyn was absent, and all that was left were two men seated as far as possible from the other.

Erik’s sunset eyes were glazed, and he slumped onto his elbows over his knees. At the sight of me, his lips twitched like he might want to smile, but couldn’t find the strength.

“Livie.” Alek’s soft, broken rasp snapped relief through my heart. Upright, seated on the edge of the bed, he was still coated in blood, but breathing.

“Alek.” I rushed to him and flung my arms around his neck. “What . . . what are you doing here?” My hands padded over his shoulders, the bandages, the shreds of his Rave tunic. “What happened?”

He dropped his head to my shoulder and hugged my waist. “We’ve been trying to get through since you were taken. So many ships have been swallowed up, so many Rave lost. Your daj . . . he tried to bend a damn canyon through the sea. We couldn’t get through.”

I held his face in my hands. His gilded eyes that Jonas always told him looked like a goat’s were red with tears. “You swam through?”

He shook his head. “Rave watched the Chasm night after night. I took every bleeding shift, then it opened again. This fae materialized like he’d been sea mist, then shaped into a man. I didn’t hesitate, and—” Alek glanced at Erik. “I glamoured him.”

Alek’s magic was different than mine. Adopted from the bloodlines of Southern realms into the Night Folk clans, he held trickier magic than earth fury. Any beating heart within my cousin’s sights, if Alek wanted them in his command or grasp, he could summon them to his side as though he caught them in a snare.

“The instant I touched him he turned back into mist again,” Alek said, “but it dragged me through.”

Gavyn. I didn’t know what Celine’s brother could do with his voice, but he had to be the fae who’d turned to mist. He’d been sliced from the rage of the Chasm along with Alek.

“Did you send the House of Bones through the Chasm?” I turned over my shoulder.

Sewell stood beside Erik, forcing the king to finish a drink made of something that smelled of pine and salt. More color tinted his face, and his eyes were the familiar, intoxicating burn of red and gold. He rose without a wince.

“Yes. To avoid this, Songbird.” He gestured at Aleksi. “I wasn’t giving you back, and I didn’t want all your damn people killing themselves trying to get through for nothing.”

My heart battered my ribs. “I wonder why you care, Bloodsinger? Didn’t you want them all to die?”

“I don’t think you need to wonder, love.” Erik leaned casually against the wall, that irritating, perfect smirk on his lips. “You know why.”

I didn’t know if I wanted to slap the man or kiss him. Likely a little of both.

“Bloodsinger.” Alek stood, movements slow and achy, but he kept the straight stance of a Rave warrior and faced Erik. “Release my cousin. I’ll gladly take her place to repay the debt owed—”

“Do not speak another word,” Erik warned and shoved off the wall.

Alek didn’t listen and barreled on. “You saved my father; the penance owed should fall to my house, not Livia’s.”

My stomach plummeted to the soles of my feet. Erik trembled with a desperate kind of rage and gripped Alek’s tunic, slamming his back to the wall.

“Erik!” I gripped his arm, trying to pull him back, but froze when he spoke.

Face close to Alek, he hissed each word through gritted teeth. “Speak again and you damn us both.”

“You know there is a debt to be paid,” Alek said, voice low and dark.

“I cleared our debts that day.”

Alek scoffed weakly. “I will always be in your debt.”

“What are you talking about?” My fingernails dug deeper into Erik’s arm, but my attention was locked on my cousin.

Erik released Aleksi and backed away. “Nothing.”

“Don’t lie.” I snatched hold of the king’s wrist. “Curse me, hate me, but don’t lie to me.”

Erik glowered. I didn’t shrink beneath the heat of his stare. It was more proof of the secrets he kept.

“She should know.” Alek’s eyes darkened. “To explain to our people why I stayed.”

“You are not staying.” Erik jabbed his finger in Alek’s face. “And she is not leaving.”

“Let her go.” Aleksi was close to pleading. “Do whatever you want to me. Torture me, make me the whore, just stop hurting her. Let her be free.”

His eyes took in the bruises on my neck, my cheeks. Oh, the things he misunderstood.

“He’s not hurting me, Alek,” I whispered. “But one or both of you will tell me what you’re talking about.”

The door closed. Tait stood against it, hands in front of his body, but the others were gone. “No one can hear now.”

“I’m going to murder you,” Erik growled.

Tait simply shrugged.

Alek wheeled on me, barring Bloodsinger from us, and took hold of my shoulders. “I’ve never told you. No one even knows that I saw the truth. Daj—” he closed his eyes. “Tor, he was struck during a battle. A blade to the heart, Liv. He died.”

I shook my head. The horrors of my girlish mind when my fury had brought me a bloody death and the anguished pain of my Uncle Sol for the death of Tor flashed through my mind.

“Stop,” Erik said through gritted teeth. He stared at the floor, fists clenched.

Alek tightened his hold on my shoulders. “I saw it.”

“H-How?”

“You remember what it was like being cooped up in that fort, not knowing. I wanted to fight alongside my fathers. I wanted to be there, so I snuck out. I saw . . . I saw my daj on the ground, everyone huddled around his body.”

“He wasn’t dead; his heart still had a slight beat.” Erik made a move for Alek, but stopped when I held up a hand.

“Then he was a damn breath away from the Otherworld,” Alek snapped and turned back to me. “Bloodsinger was in a tree, speaking with Stieg, then I watched him use his blood to heal Daj. Bloodsinger brought him back like he’d never been wounded.”

My heart stopped. A fog clouded my mind, but I managed to school my gaze on Erik. He didn’t look away. He didn’t deny any of it. The Ever King hardened as he once did, as though any word from me might cut worse than the assassin’s blade.

“I told you I felt him die.” Perhaps my uncle hadn’t been in the Otherworld, but if my fury had felt his body fading, he’d been moments from death. My voice steadied. “Again, I wonder why you would heal an enemy. Not just any enemy—the people you told me tortured you.”

“That’s what you told her?” Alek scoffed. “Our folk didn’t torture him, Livia. They saved him and brought him to his father.”

My breath caught. It didn’t make sense. Why would he despise them if they were the ones who saved him?

It isn’t so simple. Erik’s voice filled my heart.

He looked nowhere but me. I blinked through a sting in my eyes. You let me hate them for you. You let me think horrid things of my own family.

“Stieg told me the truth after you were taken,” Alek went on. “I couldn’t grasp the random moves of the Ever King, so he explained the history.”

All I’ve had is hate, Songbird. Hate and drive to avenge the last Ever King. You hate long enough, you shadow the truth all to keep anything that makes you feel.

I studied him for a long pause. You have more than hate now.

“That’s why my daj was near enough to kill your father,” I said softly. “He was bringing you back. You told me yourself Thorvald lashed out after seeing the torture. But it wasn’t from my family, was it?” I pressed a hand to my head when my thoughts swam, when my pulse grew to a frenzy.

“I need you to breathe, Songbird.”

I snapped my gaze back to his. “They fought smaller wars before facing the sea. You were a captive of their enemies in our realms, weren’t you?”

It never made sense to me why Thorvald came to the shores so long ago and attacked a woman. The sea hadn’t been fighting my people—not yet at least—but it was the catalyst that caused a rift between our people. A step toward the final war.

“How do you know Stieg, Erik?”

He shook his head and turned his back on us, hands in his hair. Tait’s mouth tightened, but he dipped his chin, as if telling me to keep going, keep pressing.

“You saved my uncle.” I curled a lock of hair around my finger, pacing. “You tried to close the Chasm to keep my people from losing their lives by trying to cross through.”

“Don’t ask me more.”

“Why? Is the answer going to reveal you have a heart you’re so afraid of showing?

I’m not your broken hero, love.

I nodded, hardly recognizing the words were felt not heard. “You’re not my hero, Bloodsinger. You’re my beautiful monster.”

He flinched as though I’d struck him. Alek arched a brow and bounced his gaze back and forth between me and Erik.

“You saved my cousin when it does nothing to benefit you.”

“No one said I wouldn’t use this to my benefit.”

I folded my arms over my chest and stepped close enough our noses nearly touched. “How do you know Stieg, Erik?”

He frowned. “It doesn’t matter. None of this changes anything. We are still here, you are still mine, and there is still no peace between our people.”

I’d learned enough about the Ever King to recognize when he was pressed to reveal a heart beneath the hate, he lashed out.

In this moment, Erik was the man back on the ship throwing knives at crewmen.

Instead of turning away, I leaned into him. My palms slid up the sides of his arms. He stiffened. I raked my fingers through his hair at the back of his head and tilted his brow to mine.

“Everything has changed, Serpent.” I brought my lips close to his ear, so only he could hear. “You don’t need to hate for him anymore, Erik. You don’t need to please him; you’ve always pleased me.”

His hands gripped my waist. “I took you away. Hate me, Songbird, or you will be my undoing.”

“You took me,” I whispered. “I should hate you for it, but you showed me your darkness. Turns out I’d cross the skies—or seas, in our case—searching for your kind of darkness, Bloodsinger.”

He let out a sharp breath and closed his eyes.

I needed answers, but more than that, I needed him. “Come with me.”

Before he could grumble or protest, I took his hand and tugged him toward the door. Erik glanced back at Aleksi, whose brow furrowed in confusion. In the corridor, Sewell and Celine still stood guard at the door.

“Will you keep watch over my cousin for me?” I asked.

“More damn foxes.” Sewell sighed but patted my cheek. “Safe and sound.”

That was all I needed before I pulled the king toward the stairs leading to his chambers.


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