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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 10

THE SERPENT

Once we were swallowed belowdecks and the water drained, lowering us to the floorboards, I limped to the helm. Aleksi and the others remained close.

“There are levels to this monstrosity,” Jonas muttered. “And it’s longer than I thought, but why couldn’t our ships make it through the Chasm?”

“Jo,” Sander said, laughing. “Look at the difference between this vessel and our longships. Numerous sails and levels—”

“Decks,” Aleksi said. “I’ve learned they call them decks.”

Jonas didn’t seem to be listening. He paused at the top of the hatch, one hand running along the rail. “Is this . . . bone?”

“Yes,” I grumbled. “Stay close until we find your places.”

“What does he mean places?” Mira whispered to Aleksi.

“Everyone has a place aboard the ship.”

“You’re a proper sea fae, Bloodsummoner,” Tait said, nudging Alek’s arm, and promptly ignored the narrowed gaze of the princess when he stepped too close.

“The king be aboard!” The roar of a crewman greeted me once I stepped onto the main deck.

The Ever Crew bustled about, pausing only to dip their chins when I limped past, making my way toward the helm.

Until we all were brought to a halt by a shrill, bitter voice. “Heartwalker. Bloodsummoner. You damn wretches.”

Blocking the steps leading to the helm, Celine Tidecaller stood as a furious barrier between us.

Her eyes burned in fear-lined rage. “No signal, no assurances for those you left behind. What am I to think about my king while we wait here? Now you show your faces, grinning like we ought to cheer you on?”

Celine stomped down the steps. Beneath the blue headscarf keeping her hair off her brow, the silver strands caught the light as she tossed it over her shoulders. Her fingers twisted the spike in her one fully formed ear, a twitch she often did when she wanted to claw at eyes.

She spared no glance my way, merely shoved past me as though I were a haunt aboard the ship, struck Aleksi in the shoulder, and attempted to slap Tait before he dodged.

“Dammit, Tidecaller, stop,” Tait hissed. “Did you think we were lounging about? They had me in irons.”

“I will have you in worse soon enough. And you, Bloodsummoner,” Celine reached into her tunic pocket and tossed a silver coin at Alek. “Here I was, imagining all the ways you betrayed us.”

“You’d think so lowly of me even after all our bonding in the Ever?”

“Yes! I’ve been thinking rather violent things against you.” Celine’s blazing eyes peeled off Alek and onto me. She clamped her lips tightly, a wrinkle to her nose. “It’s good to see you alive, King Erik.”

I dipped my chin. “Tidecaller. Quite through with your words?”

“Are you . . . were you harmed?”

“No.”

“Lies on the tongue, little eel.” Sewell stepped around Stormbringer near the mast and closed the space between us, inspecting the new scrapes and cuts on my lips and brows. “The bite of a wolf?”

“A few minor bites,” I told him and opened an arm toward the new royals aboard. “But I think we might be coming to a tentative truce.”

Sewell freed a slight groan. “More tricky foxes.”

“Earth fae?” Celine rolled her bottom lip between her teeth.

“Royal earth fae,” I shot back and turned away.

“You trust them, Alek?” Mira whispered, gripping the prince’s arm.

“With my life, Mir.”

What a strange sight, seamen from the Ever Ship marching aside earth fae royals. I shoved it away and clung to the tepid peace we’d found. Livia would need it.

“Make ready to dive,” I shouted. “Get us into the wind.”

No hesitation, the ship bustled with movement. Men shouted a ripple of commands down the deck. Sails snapped, dropping to full cover. Rigging was tied off and doors were sealed.

Celine, at last, allowed us to gather at the helm. I curled one palm around the handle, embracing the rumble of power in the connection of my ship.

“Hold tight,” I told the royals. “You will not like this part.”

Another flick of my hand, a burst of wind filled the sails, bulging them outward like great, blood-soaked clouds.

The seas licked at the hull as though each current were a reel, pulling us down. I breathed in a long draw of brine and salt and home, then faced the main deck.

“Hoist the banner!” I shouted. My men bustled about, grunting and yanking the rigs, until the banner of blades crossed behind a serpent’s skull snapped and whipped in the mounting wind.

“At the ready to swim, me boys!” shouted a hunched man with holes in the points of his ears from too many fights with jagged teeth. The crew roared and hissed their approval and met their positions on the deck.

I clasped the helm through a violent shudder that rolled through from bow to stern like a wave of the sea. We’re coming, Songbird.

Great heaves of thrashing waves and foam tugged the bow beneath the surface. With each level of tides devouring the deck came the haunting voices of the crew:

A man he’s not, we work we rot.

No sleep until it’s through.

A sailor’s grave is all we crave.

Icy sea swallowed me whole as they finished the final line.

We are the Ever King’s crew.


Water thrashed in a frothy torrent when the jaws of the sea serpent on the bowsprit carved through the surface. Pale sunlight broke over the dark wood of the deck in a prism of warmth as the ship pointed toward the sky for long, drawn breaths. Another heartbeat and the keel slammed back onto the surface of the sea, swaying the ship in violent dips until it leveled again.

I drew in a long breath through my nose. The Ever.

Waves tossed the ship side to side, the sails whipped, and crew below shouted commands for the rigging and securing crates and casks.

From behind the helm came deep, guttural heaves of someone spilling their innards into the tides for the snapping jaws of silverfish to devour.

Tait finished licking the edge of his paper smoke. “You did well, Prince.”

As a reply, Sander vomited again. Jonas clapped his back a few times in reassurance, a little pallid in the face himself.

The twin royals were not the only discomfited earth fae.

On the main deck, Sewell kept barking at Aleksi and Mira to, “toss into the tides,” and Celine translated with a fierce, “Retch on the deck, you scrub it clean, you sods.”

I’d sailed beneath the tides as long as the royals could tolerate. We were near enough to my desired destination, through the haze on the horizon I could make out the towering cliffs with the endless falls of the House of Bones.

“Tidecaller, send word to Lord Bonerotter. Tell him the king demands a meet.”

Celine’s eyes went wide, but she dipped her chin. I did not know if Gavyn resided in his lands, or if he remained lost in the Ever, searching for Livia. He was the only other in the kingdom who knew of our predicament.

I needed something—some direction, some plan, some hope.

The Ever Crew understood we’d been betrayed. They knew my queen was taken, but they knew nothing of Gavyn’s involvement. To them, this would be a private meet between a house lord and their king, nothing more than new ale, new women, new respite.

Eyes closed, I tried to calm my mind, tried to reach her, desperate to hear the soothing tone of her voice. It never came.

“Are we . . . are we going under again?” Sander asked, a little breathless.

“No. We’re headed there.” I pointed toward the cliffs. “Gain your sea legs in the meantime. The lot of you can hardly stand upright.”

Sander glowered at me, but a grin played in the corner of his mouth when Tait shoved the prince’s arm and handed him a bit of hardtack.

“Eat. It helps.”

Sander took the cake, breaking it in two. “How would you know, sea fae?”

Tait shrugged. “It’s what our queen told me once.”

The mention of Livia was a harsh bite of pain across the chest. The longer we were parted, the more her very name was a blade, twisting deeper and deeper.

“Bloodsinger, I have questions.” Jonas stepped beside the helm. “Why, I’d like to know, am I not utterly drenched, when not moments ago the sea was digging into my brain?”

“Wouldn’t serve us well if we were always wet,” I said. “There are spells laced in every grain of wood, every thread of the sails, and every bone on this ship, for when we surface and dive again and again.”

Jonas inspected his damp tunic, a little bewildered. “No doubt Sander will tell you that is fascinating and will likely wish to read up on it, but I will not give you the satisfaction. It’s only mildly interesting.”

The man had beaten me, doubtless would’ve reveled in killing me, but, in this moment, I could see why Livia enjoyed his company.

He was tolerable.

“Is she really your queen?” Jonas asked, voice lower than before. Levity abandoned his features, only to be replaced with a furrow of disquiet. “You took vows? I’ll have you know every queen back home will be rather perturbed if you did. Especially my mother who has no daughters to help ready for vow ceremonies.”

My grip tightened on the handles. “Kings do not vow in the Ever, at least they never have. My word made her queen, but she is more.”

“More what, Bloodsinger? I want to understand you. How is it you come to our land, attack us, take her, then return with the same anger, same fire, only now it revolves solely around Livia?”

“Do you remember the war, Prince? The aftermath?”

“I’ll never forget it. I remember you.” He nodded toward Tait. “I even remember your cousin. Two boys, who looked so much like me, were all that remained of this great sea fae army.”

“I will never forget it either,” I said, voice rough. “I will never forget how an earth fae girl, the daughter of my father’s killer, came to my cell every night and tried to befriend me.”

“What are you talking about?”

I scoffed. “You think your little festival was the first night we ever met? You think it was happenstance I singled out the earth bender’s daughter?” I reached into my tunic and pinched the silver swallow charm between my fingers. “Think again, Prince.”

Jonas’s eyes darkened. “I’ve seen this. After the battle, we made totems and Livie bought this charm and made . . .” He lifted his eyes. “But she had nightmares of you returning. I thought she feared you.”

“Perhaps she did, in a way. The night she gave me this, I vowed I would return. At the time I thought it would be to kill the earth bender, but it all changed.”

“She never said her worries came because she bleeding knew you.”

“Now you know.” I paused for a few breaths. “My heart has been hers for turns, not weeks. It has been bonded to her since the war. That is what I mean when I say she is more than my queen. She is my every thought, my every breath, Prince.”

Jonas tilted his head back, gazing at the clear blue of the sky. Muscles tightened in his jaw. I could not read if he was furious or simply boggled. After a moment, he cleared his throat, nodding. “So, where is this place we are going, and how will it help us find Liv?”

I arched a brow, tensed, and ready to fight with more venom for my bond. “That’s all?”

“What more do you want me to say?” Jonas cocked his head. “Livie is like my sister, and all I’ve ever wanted for her is a man who will always fight for her, always love her. Didn’t expect it to be you, of course, but here we are. I do hope I get to rot some of these bastards who betrayed you. I can, you know. Rot their brains with nightmares.”

“What?” Celine’s voice cut in. “What did you say?”

Jonas flashed her a white smile. “That’s right, lovely. Nightmares can be quite corrosive.”

“Tidecaller,” I said. “Acquaint yourself with more earth fae—”

“Not a fae,” Jonas said, grinning at Celine. “Alver. Much better than common fae.”

It was entertaining watching a silver-tongued prince try to woo Celine Tidecaller, a woman who lived amongst the surliest of men, whose first attempts at embracing her femininity along with her brutality came from Livia.

She was not a woman who’d recognize the prince’s attempts to seduce.

“Prince Jonas,” I went on, gesturing at each royal, “his brother Sander, and the Princess Mira is down by Bloodsummoner.”

“What is your given name?” Jonas’s mouth curved in one corner when he faced Celine. “I’d love to know what to call you if ever we are alone together.”

“Aye,” she said. “I do love when men cry out my name as I gut them.”

Sander laughed and shoved his brother’s shoulder.

“Erik, I’ve heard nothing from Gavyn.” Celine’s voice was rife in burdens unspoken. “But the gates of the lord’s house are opening to us.”

Perhaps Gavyn could not respond. Perhaps he’d left word to welcome the Ever Ship. I sent Celine with orders for the ship to ready to let go the anchor and prepare to set to shore.

Mira and Sander tried to join, interested in how the crew worked on the numerous ropes and sails and duties securing such a large ship. Already, the princess seemed at ease near Sewell and Skulleater, explaining how earth fae longships took to rivers and used numerous oars on sea or freshwater.

The House of Bones was always bathed in soupy mists from the endless silver falls drenching the cliffs and ridges surrounding the main valley. Fewer forests, swamps, and trees than the House of Mists, but still damp with marshes and numerous streams.

Gavyn’s lands were flat with sandy soil, less suitable for crops that grew plentiful in the House of Blades and House of Tides, but the folk of Gavyn’s house were skilled in mining minerals, stones, and the precious gems of our coin. From the oily grass stalks in their flat meadows, parchment and thin paper were pressed. Leather for hats and belts and boots came from the mighty herds of kossa, a horned creature much like the fatted pigs of earth fae.

The House of Bones boasted a fearsome name with brutal voices, but the folk here were industrious, skills encouraged by their lord. Rather busy and curious himself, Gavyn encouraged his folk to better themselves, to think for themselves. Young as he was, he was a skilled leader.

Sewell kept his head down, the brim of his leather hat pulled low. How long had it been since he’d stepped foot in his own house? He took refuge in the royal city when we docked, and Gavyn always came to him there.

“All right, Tidecaller?” I whispered.

“Aye, My King.” Celine said the words but never dropped her stringent focus from the tall gabled rooftops of the lord’s house beyond the wooden gates.

She wouldn’t be recognized. Celine had been too young when her mother was executed and Sewell torn from power. In truth, I wasn’t certain I cared if she was recognized. I wanted them safe, no mistake, and there were sods in the Ever who would see Sewell as a traitor simply because Thorvald called him such, but I grew weary of bowing to such ideals.

We’d already toppled the society of the Ever by crowning a queen. Perhaps it was time to do the same for the most loyal of traitors in this boat.

Gavyn’s household was arranged near the shore, and already the wooden gates were opened to his courtyards. The manor was made of smooth pearl stone, and crushed shells glittered over the rooftop slats. Tall windows let in too much sunlight, and all around the house were fountains and speckled stones collected from all reaches of the Ever.

At the sight of the Ever Ship, at the sight of me, Gavyn’s outdoor staff dropped to one knee, chins dipped. Whispers followed us up the wide stone steps, some murmuring that some in our company did not look a great deal like sea fae.

The moment we reached the landing outside, two heavy blackwood doors groaned under their own weight and opened.

I held out an arm, halting those at my back. From the dim hall of Gavyn’s manor, a man dressed in a fine blue cloak and dark trousers emerged.

My eyes widened. “What are you doing here?”

The man bowed at the waist, so his frost-white hair fell over his sharp features. His eyes unnerved many, but I’d always found them rather curious. The gray was like a storm over the sea, so sharp, so deep, the color seemed to swirl around his pupils.

“King Erik, welcome.”

“Where is Lord Bonerotter, Maelstrom?” Something was not right.

Maelstrom straightened and approached. “Not here, My King. The House of Mists has claimed the House of Bones.”


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