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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 12


I blinked. “Gav-Gavyn?”

Pallid and nearly diaphanous, like his flesh had yet to thicken on his bones, Gavyn Seeker filled the door frame. He moved swiftly and knelt at my side.

His mouth twisted into a snarl when he scanned the marks on my face, my arms. “Gods, I will kill him before the king gets a chance.”

I curled a hand around his wrist. “Is he here?”

Gavyn shook his head. “No. I went to search while the king went to the earth realms.”

“He went . . . to my folk?” Bleeding gods.

“I don’t know what is happening through the Chasm,” Gavyn admitted. “But I’ve been in contact with the House of Mists. The Lady of Witches herself went to aid the king.”

Hope lifted in my chest. Hesh stood against Erik. Joron of the House of Tides was unknown, but if he had Gavyn and Narza, then Erik would be evenly matched to Larsson. Then again, Larsson had control of a mythical elven isle, and there was a reason Skadi had feared it. There was something she knew, something else that threatened her and likely us.

“What has he done to you?” Gavyn’s teeth ground together as he inspected the open wound down my chest, bruises on my face.

I fought to keep my voice steady as I hurried through the removal of my heartbond, then the beating.

“What use could he have for the heartbond other than healing the darkening?”

“He made it seem like there was more to it, like it would help him gain the blood crown. He thought it would gain my compliance since I wouldn’t feel anything for the king any longer.”

Gavyn rested a hand on my knee. “Tell me true, Livia. Has it altered how you feel for the king?”

“It did.”

A wash of hurt crossed Gavyn’s face.

“You misunderstand me,” I whispered. “It has not changed how fiercely I love Erik Bloodsinger, but it has certainly changed the lines I would cross to reach him. Something has been altered inside me. Once I feared violence and bloodshed. Now I can think of nothing else but making them suffer. I think they’ve made me a monster, Gavyn.”

His palm cupped the side of my face. “No. They’ve made our queen their villain. And I cannot wait for them to realize their mistake.”

I scrubbed my face, forcing the unease to fade to the back of my thoughts. “Have you heard from the king at all? My father will try to kill him.”

“And he accepted that risk, Livia,” he said. “Erik knows no one will fight harder for you than your own people.”

“And you risked yourself searching for me. I am glad . . . I am glad Erik has your loyalty.”

“You think I do this only for Erik?” Gavyn rubbed the back of his neck as though his own nerves were taking hold. “I owe you. How could I not search for the woman who kept my father alive on the Ever Ship?”

“Your father?” Like another strike to my skull, his words pummeled against me. “Sewell?”

Bleeding hells, all those stolen glances between Celine and the cook made a great deal of sense. Her fierce worry when she’d found him injured in the galley, the way she’d cried, the tender touch to her cheek from Sewell’s fingers.

“Lord Sewell was once his name, but I’ve always called him Daj.” Gavyn smiled, almost shyly. “I know what you did not only for him, but for my sister. After she had her siren’s call torn out when our mother was killed, Cel fears others beyond Daj, Erik, and me. You did not need to embrace her, yet you did. You looked out for her.”

“She looked out for me too.” Gods, I missed them all. I blew out a long breath. “I am grateful he has the lot of you after . . . after losing Tait.”

“Losing him?” Gavyn snorted. “That sod couldn’t be brought down by a knife. Heartwalker’s alive.”

In relief, I let my head fall against the cool walls, allowing the tears to trickle from the corners of my eyes.

“Now, I must ask—where the hells are we?” Gavyn looked about the room, a pulse to his jaw. “I was at the shores in the House of Bones, then it was like an iron hook dug into my spine and dragged me here.”

The darkness. The mist. My heart stilled. It had to have something to do with Skadi.

With hands waving, I stammered and blustered through a tale of Skadi’s strange burst of darkness, how she’d seethed over the violence against me, how when Gavyn appeared it looked as though the same skeins of mist had dragged him through the washroom.

When I finished, Gavyn tilted his head. “You believe an elven woman brought me here?”

“It seems the only way. Shores are warded, but she can take through her ability,” I said. “I know little else other than this isle is called Natthaven, and it can fade should they desire it to. In truth, I don’t fully understand any of the magic here.”

“You truly think they’re elven folk?”

“They are like no fae I’ve met, Gavyn.”

He cursed. “And she said you cannot leave the isle?”

“I tried. She told me there is a spell keeping me near Larsson.”

“Dammit. We can’t stay here. If the woman is truly responsible for somehow finding me of all folk across the Ever, then perhaps she broke the wards. It must be a chance for you to escape.”

Hope, warm like the cloudless summer, burned in my chest. It was possible. Skadi had done something ferocious, no mistake. Perhaps it had shattered more than one ward on the isle.

Breathe. Focus.

I recounted everything I’d learned from Larsson—his magic that borrowed abilities, his involvement with the darkening, his sea witch lover. I told Gavyn of Hesh and how I believed the blade lord to be marked with some spell that welcomed him through the wards around the isle.

By the time I finished, Gavyn was pacing. He ran his hands through his thick, black hair, then sat on the edge of the bed. “My mother believed in elven folk. She always told me they still lived in the deep seas on their grand islands with mountains that reached high enough to the sky, the hall of the gods could be seen. Clearly, they’re powerful, and I’m unsettled that they stand on the side of Bonekeeper.”

Deep in my gut, there was a sharp jab, a noxious, barbed weed spooling around my insides, lining them in hatred for Larsson, for Fione. They played with lives like pawns of no consequence. They took and never gave.

“So, Larsson did all this?” Gavyn sauntered across the room and touched a thumb to the ridge of my cheekbone.

A shudder raced down my spine, thinking of how he’d touched me, how his mouth had been on my skin.

“He threatened to brand me, to claim me with his body and leave a mark for Erik to see if . . . if ever I get free of here.”

“Bastard.” Gavyn crouched in front of me. “Whatever he did, Livia, don’t you dare believe his words. I have known Erik Bloodsinger since boyhood, and never have I seen his soul so free than when he is with you. I never thought I would say it for my king. I did not think he truly knew how, but he loves you.”

“I know.” I swiped at another tear and straightened my spine. “Larsson did not get far. I, well, I bit part of his ear off, so he attacked me.”

The way Gavyn’s mouth dimpled, and he took my face in his hands. “If that is so, never tell my king, but I think you’ve made me fall in love with you too.”

I smirked and shoved him away, reveling, even for a moment, in a bit of light in the dreary.

Gavyn strode to the window, leaning against the edge to avoid catching the eye of any patrols outside the palace.

“There are guards, but I know the way to get outdoors,” I told him.

“I could slip from this room. My voice attracts me to water that is in the vicinity of my aim. I will aim for the corridors and see where it takes me.”

“Can’t you simply take me from this room? I thought you helped Sewell escape a cell once.”

Gavyn kept studying the door frame, as though planning a proper point of attack. “Erik left water in the cell, but I didn’t shift with my father. I laced the guards with a sleeping draught and stole their keys. To safely shift with someone, I will need a great deal of water; I need to get us to the sea. Safely is the word on which we should focus, Livia. Remember what a blunder it was to shift with your cousin.”

“The Chasm battered him, I thought.”

“Partly, but a poorly arranged shift with me added to it. It was as though my voice sliced him open. Then coupled with the Chasm’s violence, I’m still not certain how he survived. I’m going to see what’s out there, all right?” He tilted his head toward the door.

I clasped his hand. “Be cautious, Gavyn.”

Gavyn removed a small vial from a pouch on his belt. The glass was wrapped in thin twine and capped with a battered cork.

“What is that?”

“A toxin that rots the lungs when breathed too deeply. Works in moments.”

“You simply carry poison around?”

He clicked his tongue. “You didn’t think Erik had never taken advantage of my ability, did you? I work in secrets, and folk never know I’m near. I’ve developed a habit of making certain those who plotted against my king did not greet the sunrise.”

I ought to be horrified that Gavyn killed without a hint of remorse. Horror did not fill my chest. Instead it burned in gratitude, in a kinship with the bone lord. It put the torment of my soul at ease, knowing Erik had never truly been alone as a young king. Even if it had felt that way at times.

And he wasn’t alone now.

From the washroom, Gavyn scooped a handful of frigid water from a pail. With care, he let the droplets slide down the bedchamber door, then returned with more, splashing it along the floorboards until a trickle slid beneath the crack in the door to the other side.

Gavyn made quick work of delivering a knife and a second dagger from his belt.

“Is that enough water?”

“It’s plenty.” He rolled his shoulders back, letting out a long breath of air. “I’ll be back shortly. If I’m not, rise up and be their villain, Livia.”

I didn’t have time to say another word before Gavyn’s skin peeled away in glistening droplets. He faded into the puddle at the door. I spun the small knife Gavyn had left in one hand and clutched his dagger in the other.

It took moments, no more than a few breaths, before grunts, curses, and something heavy—like a body—collided with the door. Sick cracks drew out vivid images of snapping necks. Coughs, wet and thick, lent me to think Gavyn was shoving doses of his poison down the throats of the men guarding the door.

Then, silence.

Another breath, and the latch jostled. I pointed Gavyn’s dagger blade down. The knife, I pointed out from my chest.

The door opened, and Gavyn, blood splattered on his chin down to his hands, stood in the doorway, breaths heavy. The burn of sick boiled from my belly when he dropped a severed hand in a wet slap on the floorboards.

“All clear . . . My Queen.” Blood stained his teeth, but his eyes were alight with a dark thrill.

Behind the bone lord, four bodies were crumbled in gory heaps.

One man had veins, as dark as the bark on trees, splitting up his throat. Another looked much the same, but the foam spilling over his lips was tinged in pink. The two other guards died in pieces—one had swallowed a matching dagger Gavyn had left me, the amethyst hilt jutted out between his lips. The final guard, his horribly lovely features were frozen in a silent scream, and one arm ended in a bloody stump.

“Gods.” I took Gavyn’s blood-stained palm as he helped me step over one of the guards. “Did you need to cut off his hand?”

“Of course not.” Gavyn winked. “Better run, Livia. There were five guards.”’

“What!” Blood drained from my cheeks. “And you didn’t think to tell me someone was running off to warn Larsson?”

“Trust the king’s seeker, Livia. I’m well-versed in assassination.”

“Oh? And how is your record of escaping an elven isle that fades into the sea?”

The bastard tilted his head side to side, as if mulling over the question in earnest. “Well, I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”

Gavyn clung to my palm, racing us down the dark corridor toward a stone archway without a second glance at the brutality left in the doorway of the bedchamber.


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