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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 11

THE SERPENT

“No need for blades to be drawn.” Maelstrom held out his hand when Celine unsheathed a dagger. “Are we not all after the same thing?”

“You tell me, Maelstrom,” I said. “Why has Lady Narza’s house taken hold of another?”

Hot rage knotted in my chest. If my own grandmother had betrayed me in my absence, I would do as promised and burn the Ever, only to start anew with new folk, new lords, new laws.

“We joined with the bone lord in a council.”

“And where is Lord Gavyn?”

Maelstrom shifted on his feet. “Gone. I’ll explain inside.”

Celine broke. Her voice trembled. “And how do we know you speak true? How do we know you’ve not harmed the lord of this house?”

“I’ve not, young miss,” said Maelstrom, sympathy swirling his eyes even more.

I held out a hand, urging Celine back. “Where is Narza? I wish to speak to her.”

“The Lady of Witches is not here either.” Maelstrom took a step closer. “After a curious meet with the bone lord, he told her where you went. She kept me here in her stead, and took to the winds, searching for you.”

“No light in the mists?” Sewell muttered, a clear strain to his voice.

“My man has a point,” I said. “If you are here, if Narza is gone, who guides the House of Mists?”

“For now, it is in the hands of trusted advisors. I will return now that you are back. My son was asked by the Lady of Witches, should you return first, that he join in your search with one of our ships and a small crew, My King.”

The front entrance opened, and a tall man dressed in a mist green tunic entered the room. His copper hair was tied off his neck and neatly tucked behind his pointed ears. He looked like a pleasure sailor who traveled gentle tides in the coves, never facing far seas with wind and storms.

Perhaps Tavish Spellbreaker preferred folk to underestimate him.

I did not know the man’s character, but I did know he was a fierce spell caster. One of the few who had a voice capable of sniffing out weaknesses in a witch’s curse. Not many spells could withstand Tavish should he wish to unravel it.

Tavish dipped his chin, a sly kind of smirk beneath the stubble. “My King.”

The man was a little over ten turns my senior, and highly valued in the House of Mists.

“He will aid you should you need, King Erik,” Maelstrom insisted.

There was respect in his tone, a gentleness that set my skin aflame with disquiet. Then again, I’d always been unsettled around the man. Maelstrom stood at the right hand of Lady Narza, one of her trusted few she welcomed within her inner circle.

No one truly knew Narza’s mate, only rumor and suspicion. I was never told anything about my mother’s father, but I’d often wondered over the turns if every time I looked at Maelstrom, I was looking at my grandfather.

Maelstrom took a step off to the side, beckoning us into the great hall of the manor. “Come. I will explain what I know.”

I sent Stormbringer to bring word to the Ever Crew to make their way through the inner markets of the square, eat, resupply, rest, bed folk, whatever they pleased while they waited. The royals, Tait, Celine, and Sewell remained at my side.

Without a word, I shoved past Maelstrom, ignoring Tavish and the few witches and sea folk from the House of Mists in the corridor. Their silk robes, coral pink and silver-blue hair, out of place amongst the muted colors and reserved expressions of the servants of the House of Bones.

Maelstrom took us into a large parlor room with a polished desk topped in neatly stacked parchment and fishbone quills. Kelp satin sofas were arranged over woven rugs, and overhead was a glass chandelier with fragrant wax candles, casting the room in the constant scent of morning sea mist—clean and cool.

Docile servants slipped in, leaving silver trays of sponge cakes, sweet wine, and a roasted fish rolled in savory herbs.

Alek was the first to snatch a handful of food, Jonas close behind. Mira rolled her eyes, complained at their wolfish manners, but subtly took a handful of cakes before retreating to a corner beside Celine and Tait.

Near the two women, three men gathered empty serving trays, readying to leave until one caught sight of the princess. One hand went to the pocket of his woolen trousers. I turned away until a few plucks of string transformed into a lovely sort of tune, gentle, sweet, the sort of music to listen to on a bright morning.

I thought nothing of it until Jonas’s voice broke out over the sound.

“Good hells, Mira. What are you doing?”

The princess’s eyes were glassy. Her fingertip teased the sharp point of Tait’s ear. My cousin was pale as a winter sky. He let out a hiss when Mira ran her palm down his chest.

“You’re not so horrid, are you, sea fae?” Good hells, she tried to nip at his ear.

Tait seemed ready to slit his own throat.

“Filib, cease your song!” Maelstrom’s booming voice rattled the chandelier overhead.

Bleeding gods, these damn sea singers.

Hardly noticeable to sea fae, the songs of the Ever were like a scratch in the backs of our heads. Sea singers did not have power over even the earth fae who favored women, but place those men or women with a siren, and they would bend much the same as the princess.

The sea singer dropped to his knees. “Forgive me,” he whimpered. “It’s just . . . been a great many turns since one could appreciate my tune.”

I crossed the room and gripped the sea singer by his thick, golden hair. “The earth fae are under my protection. Play for her again, and it will be your final song.”

“Yes, Highness.”

The moment I released his hair, the sea singer rushed from the room. Mira’s trance was fading, but Celine still had to peel her off Tait.

The princess narrowed her gaze. “What is it, sea fae? Too mighty for me? I saved you.”

“And now I am saving you. Call us square, woman.” Tait clenched his fists at his sides. Almost like he battled keeping his own distance.

“We’ve always teased about sea singers,” Jonas said, “but I never thought they were so powerful.”

“Don’t underestimate them.” At this rate, I’d be claiming every damn royal the way I’d claimed Livia to keep their minds free from the songs of the sea.

“Happened to Livia too,” Celine said, grinning when Mira’s trance bled out in full, leaving the princess with her face flushed and buried in her palms. “Draws out the desire. She couldn’t keep her damn hands off the king.”

“I do not desire him,” Mira insisted, glaring at Tait, who’d gone to stand beside Aleksi.

Celine winked and popped one shoulder. “As you say, earth fae.”

“Enough. Tell me what you know, Maelstrom.” I took my place in a wide chair in front of Gavyn’s desk.

Maelstrom sat on the edge of the desktop, arms folded over his blue doublet. A powerful spell caster in his own right, but in this moment, he appeared like more of a king than me. “Are you well, My King?”

“That is not why we are here.”

“Forgive me, but you went to the earth fae, and we worried . . . the Lady of Witches was concerned.”

“Oh, the Night Folk king still wants his head,” Jonas insisted, tossing another slab of fish into his mouth and speaking around it. “We broke him out.”

Tavish claimed a chair beside the center window. He crossed an ankle over one knee, grinning. “Earth fae betrayed their folk?”

“We share similar motivations,” I said, eyes narrowed. “I’m not here to tell you a tale. Maelstrom, tell me why the bone lord is not here.”

“We were summoned. Lord Gavyn was searching but had not had any luck finding even a glimpse of the missing queen. He thought perhaps there was a spell, or something we could use. When Lady Narza heard where you’d gone, she left the bone lord to me, and set sail.”

“Narza went through the Chasm?”

“Last eve, before sunset.” Maelstrom ran a hand over the silver stubble of his jaw, worry carved in the lines on his face. “She sailed undersurface, swiftly. She is surely there by now.”

I wheeled around, facing Tait. “We have left her in a dangerous position.”

“Narza is not easily overcome,” Tavish muttered, but he faced the window, as though lost in his own thoughts.

“Where has Gavyn gone?”

“Before we could even find a proper spell to aid him, something . . . took him away. I don’t know how to explain,” Maelstrom said. “We were at the shore. He told me he’d planned to go to the Tower, to stalk traders, see if there were any rumors.”

“Wise thoughts,” Sewell said.

True enough. The Tower was always bustling with sea farers. If word of Livia were to be heard, it would be there.

“What is difficult to explain?” I asked.

“He was preparing to leave, in the way he does.” Maelstrom hesitated, notably uneasy to speak of Gavyn’s ability.

“You know?”

Sewell groaned—a shaky breath slid through his teeth—and he stared at his son’s empty desk.

“That he is a seeker? Aye. His voice is safe with us,” Maelstrom assured. “He’s a fine leader. I’d hate to thwart that. As I was saying, he was beginning to take to the sea when . . . darkness covered him. It took him.”

Celine whimpered. “What? What does that mean?”

“It had power,” Tavish said, dark and rough. “It was a force. I don’t know what it was, and I tried to unravel it, but it was gone too soon. Along with the bone lord.”

Gavyn was taken by a damn spell. This couldn’t be real. I stood and paced behind the desk.

“Larsson knows of him,” Celine whispered, admitting the thing we all feared.

“Shit.” I kicked the leg of Gavyn’s desk. All the while, Aleksi was murmuring to the other royals, explaining Gavyn’s role and ability. I blew out a rough breath. “All right. We’re now searching for Livia and Gavyn.”

“How long’s he gone?” Sewell’s voice was clear in words, but rough and broken in tone.

Maelstrom sighed. “Two nights.”

Dammit.

Aleksi paced, one thumb over the raven hilt of his warrior’s blade. Jonas tilted his head, listening as Sander whispered something I could not hear. Mira had an arm around Celine’s shoulders as though they were boon companions, as though the princess already knew of Celine’s connection to this house and the missing lord.

“We’re going to the Tower,” I said. “Gavyn had the right idea. If any rumors about missing queens and lords are to be had, we’ll find them at the Tower.” I turned on my heel, storming toward the door. “Many thanks, Maelstrom.”

“Wait.” Maelstrom tugged on a strap of leather that hung around his neck. On the end was a bit of silver marked in a rune for knowledge. “Take this.”

“What is it?”

“What I wish the queen or the bone lord had. It’ll allow us to find you should we need to, should we hear anything, or should you find your crew in trouble.”

I gave a tilt to my head and strung my neck with the leather. The clink of the silver touched the swallow against my chest.

“And Tavish is to accompany you.”

“You give up your son to aid me, Maelstrom?” My voice was lined with suspicion.

The man never looked away. “He insists on his own, King Erik.”

“Odd when you’ve had little to do with the House of Kings, don’t you think?”

Maelstrom’s lips twitched. “We have always stood with the House of Kings, since a boy king took the throne. We always will, Erik.”

For a moment, I studied the man, unspoken words and suspicions alive between us like a physical thing so thick it could be tasted. They did not stand with the House of Kings of Thorvald, but of his son.

Because Thorvald was not theirs, but me . . . I was. And there was no time to think on it now.

“I wait for no one,” I said over my shoulder. “If you wish to sail, Tavish, then gather your crew and follow our wind.”

Tavish hummed in agreement. “By your lead, King Erik.”


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