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The Ever King: Chapter 46

The Songbird

Crowds gathered in the great hall. Celine and Larsson woke me after dawn. I’d been disappointed to wake alone, the king nowhere to be found. I’d been told to dress and follow them to the hall. My body ached in beautiful ways, and I wanted to crawl back into Erik’s bed and memorize every scar on his skin all over again.

At the entrance to the hall, Aleksi stood beside Tait. All hells, I was a distracted fool, and for a moment, forgot my cousin nearly lost his life searching for me.

A tear slid from the corner of my eye when I gave him a tight embrace. “I’m not being harmed,” were the first words I rambled out.

“I know that now. Bloodsinger and I spoke before the dawn.”

A prickle of heat rushed to my cheeks. After we’d . . . Erik went to my cousin. “Oh. I’m sure that was interesting.”

“That’s one word.” Aleksi pulled back, a soft smile on his face. “We will need to speak, Liv. Soon. I want to hear the story from your mouth.”

I gripped his arm and nodded. “I’ll tell you everything, and you must tell me of home, of my parents.”

Alek’s face fell. “I’ve never seen Uncle Valen as the beast they once called him, but I think I’ve seen glimpses now.”

My heart snapped. I couldn’t leave them like this, wondering if I was being brutalized every day. Now with Alek gone, we had to get word to them.

“I’ll speak with the king,” I whispered. “We can find a way to stop the fighting.”

Alek offered a smile, but I wasn’t certain he believed me.

Celine and Larsson joined us, I briefly introduced them to Alek. Skepticism lined Celine’s features, but she gave Alek a nod of hello. Larsson was more amiable and asked Alek questions about the journey through the Chasm, then called him Bloodsummoner, a way to show he accepted him into the Ever culture by the time we reached the center of the hall.

“I’ll be back, Livie.” Alek squeezed my arm. “The king has need of me.”

“Need of you, what—” But he was already gone.

I strained my neck and looked over the heads of the people when the heavy doors opened. Erik appeared, all in black, and atop his head was a gold circlet with hints of crimson. I’d never seen the king’s crown before. Made of sharp edges like jagged waves, it added a bit of vicious power to his appearance.

“Blood flows through the gold,” Celine said under her breath after I remarked on the beauty of it. “And a spell was cast over the crown, so only a true heir can wear it without burning the skin. Today he wants it known that he is the Ever King.”

“Why? What’s he doing?”

She didn’t need to respond. I saw for myself.

With the help of Tait and—hells—Alek, Erik dragged the greasy assassin and Snake Eyes into the hall. Ropes were slung around their throats; they were naked, bruised, and already bleeding.

Erik released them in the center of the crowd. People drifted away from the prisoners, forming a circle around them. Through the heads of his people, Erik found me. His eyes burned with violence, but the grin on his face said more. It said all the things our bodies spoke last night.

“It is one thing for a king to be attacked,” Erik said. “It is not the first time, nor do I think it will be the last.”

My stomach cinched. To have him brought so close to the Otherworld again was a new fear that ran rampant with all the possibilities.

I blew out a long breath. Erik was looking at me. He grinned, and my heart swelled with his voice. You are Livia Ferus, blood of warriors, body of a goddess, destroyer of the king’s cock . . .

I snorted a laugh, bit my teeth into my bottom lip, and looked away. Bastard.

Erik’s face shadowed when he faced his people again. “But to attack her.”

My heart stopped when Erik pointed at me, and every head seemed to swivel at once. Don’t bend, don’t falter. Erik was facing his people and demanding they look upon him as the king he’d always wanted to be. I was his. I needed to straighten my spine and be his.

“To try to rob us of the hope she has brought to the Ever,” Erik went on, voice dark and cruel. “That is a slight I cannot forgive with a quick death. It is made worse since these traitors refuse to give up who sent them.”

Murmurs scattered through the crowd. Erik went to Tait and took a bronze dagger from his hand. “I promised blood would spill at your feet,” he said to me, as though no one else watched. “I keep my promises.”

“The king values an enemy more than the Ever!” Snake Eyes shouted.

My fingertips went numb when a gasp filtered through the hall.

The second assassin’s voice was rough and dry, but he followed with, “He was willing to sacrifice himself for the whore, willing to leave you defenseless.”

“The king is no king,” Snake Eyes shouted as the crowd slipped into a tense silence. “He vowed to slaughter our enemies, now he lets them live, brings them to our courts, all to have his bitch suck his cock.”

A few cries of surprise bounced off the walls and voices rose with more vitriol. Panic seized me from behind when more than a few heated glares locked on me, and Celine stepped forward like my own personal shield.

Damn the hells. If she was reaching for the blade, they were going to attack.

Until silence choked off the whispers when Erik shoved his way through the crowd, and in less than five strides had his arms around my waist. I cried out when he lifted me half over his shoulder and stormed to the front of the hall.

I didn’t have time to ask what he was doing before I was tossed back into a wide, wooden seat.

I blinked, pulse racing, and glanced at the finely carved wood under my palms. My lips parted. Erik’s shoulders heaved in rough breaths as he backed away, eyes burning.

He’d tossed me onto his throne.

He . . . made me his equal.

“Thorvald is dead,” Erik roared, wheeling on his people. “For twenty turns you have placed me in the shadow of my father’s crown, the same way you have blamed me for ten turns over the outcome of a war I never wanted. A war brought to the earth fae through my uncle.” He turned slowly, taking in every gaze. “I am Erik Bloodsinger, and I will no longer bow to the words and legacies of others.

I wear the crown of the Ever, sail the Ever Ship, bear the mark of this kingdom. I. Am. Your. King. And she—” He pointed behind him. “She is mine. She is the Ever Queen.”

My fingernails dug into the wood of his throne. I gaped at the faces looking up at me, confused, uncertain, some with glowers of suspicion. There were pieces of me that hated them for their mistreatment of the king and wanted to scream at them for their lack of trust.

Erik had done everything within his power to defend his kingdom. He’d given up a chance to be accepted among people who’d honor him, all to lead his resentful people through sorrows after a war.

“The first Ever Queen,” he said, a little breathless, and turned back to me. “If it is what she desires. I will not force you to stay, Songbird. The choice is yours.”

Emotion knotted in my throat. He was setting me free.

I scanned the faces, and found Celine. Her eyes were wide, her mouth open, but she grinned. Alek looked at me with a bit of stun much the same. I loved him, I loved everyone I left behind. I missed my family, my land, I missed lazy days with my friends. Even Rorik’s antics, I missed desperately.

I swallowed and found the king’s gaze again. But the way I would miss Erik Bloodsinger would destroy every thread of my heart. I’d wanted passion and mess and a love that caused a delirious kind of need.

I’d found it in my enemy.

“Crown or no crown,” I said softly. “I will always belong to you.”

Erik let out a sharp breath. His lips curved into a villainous grin.

“To attack the king is one thing,” he repeated, a new darkness to his tone. With the blade in hand, he went to Snake Eyes and gripped the rope around his neck, wrenching the man’s head back. Erik dragged his face alongside the assassin’s. “But to attack his queen will send you to the Otherworld in pieces.”

Erik rammed the dagger through Snake Eyes’s ribs, and the great hall filled with anguished cries.

I sat straighter on the throne, crossed one leg, and placed a hand on either armrest, watching. I didn’t look away as Erik slaughtered them—as promised—at my feet. He was wonderfully brutal. The king killed with a finesse I never knew I’d find captivating, but I couldn’t look away.

Erik poisoned them, then sang them back to health, only to poison them again. He took fingers, ears. He blinded each assassin, then when they had little life left inside, he rammed the dagger through the backs of their throats.

When he was finished, he was soaked in blood. Bone and flesh littered the great hall. People were silent, but after a long, drawn pause, one by one his court lowered to their knees.

Erik stood above them, sunset eyes on me.

I took in the carnage at my feet. Flecks of blood had stained the hem of my dress. Perhaps I should be afraid of the look in Bloodsinger’s eyes. Possessive, unhinged, and wild. I wasn’t. I was lost to him.

My mouth twisted into a small grin. You’re my beautiful monster.


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