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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 18

THE SERPENT

Gavyn found a seat on the edge of my cot, spine curved like a scythe. He’d been offered a clean tunic and half-cut trousers but kept his feet bare. Rarely out of sorts, now his dark hair was curled and loose around his features, and more stubble than was typical darkened his brown skin. In his hands, he gripped a steaming tin with a concoction from Sewell that smelled of cloves and mint.

“How did you find us?” Tait asked.

Before Gavyn answered, Tavish raised three fingers. “Apologies, should I ask permission before casting beacon spells? Thought we should have a way to draw him back to us since he didn’t know you were wearing the tracker talisman.”

Gods, I made a note in my head to thank Maelstrom for sending his bleeding son.

“If I’m no longer needed,” Tavish went on, securing a leather hat atop his head, “I best be seeing to my own crew. I’ve a feeling we’ll need to be rested up for a battle soon enough.”

Another wink, another smirk, and he left us in my chambers.

“Tell me,” was all I needed to say before Gavyn dove into his tale.

Fione was the new, hopeful mate of Larsson. Truth be told, her involvement was no shock, I’d already suspected a sea witch stood on his side. There was one sea witch in the Ever who wanted me to pay for her mortification of being removed as the future mate of the king—Fione.

Hesh’s betrayal was solidified, though Celine took a bit of pleasure describing the carnage her brother had stumbled upon was done to Hesh’s second mate.

What I didn’t understand was how Larsson found his way to the strange isle he’d made into his fortress, and how I never realized he was my damn brother. Was I so desperate for acceptance I’d ignored signs of his disdain?

While others inquired of Gavyn’s journey, I searched my soul, my heart, any crevice of my insides where I might hear her voice.

Songbird, answer me.

I closed my eyes. A heady sense of dread stacked in my gut. The bond, the bright tether that kept my heart from descending into despair, was utterly dead.

“Where was she when you left her?” I said, opening my eyes and glaring at Gavyn.

“You say that like I had any other choice.”

“You did. Take her out of his hands.” I took a step closer. “That was what you were to do if you found her, instead you left her.”

Gavyn shot to his feet. “It wouldn’t let her go. Did you not hear me? There are spells keeping her there.”

I slammed a palm on the table, knocking aside an unlit candle and an old compass made of gold. “I did not ask for excuses. I asked for her, no matter the cost.”

“Bloodsinger.” Valen—to the stun of everyone—knocked my shoulder, drawing me away from attacking one of my only true friends. “Hear him out. He is our connection to Livia. Keep your head.”

Gavyn was forgiving. When I faced him again, his expression was sullen, not hateful. He dropped his chin, running his fingertips along the rim of the tin. “I tried to get back to her, Erik. I’d planned to shift with her at the sea, but the moment I stepped through the wards, the isle began to fade from me. Like a shield kept building until it was lost to me. I don’t know how long she can hide or fight them off should they find her.”

Ice flowed through my veins, growing more and more frigid and numb the longer Gavyn recited his tale of unwittingly discovering this fading isle. His tale aligned with Pesha’s. Not long after the House of Mists had arrived at his manor, Gavyn felt an unnatural pull to shift, as though his voice was acting of its own accord.

He’d retired outdoors—for air, as he put it—then, unbidden, he was forced into the tides until he spilled out of a washbasin and into Livia’s chamber.

“What sort of power can do that?” Celine coiled a lock of her hair around her finger, knee bouncing from where she sat near her brother.

“I am telling you,” Gavyn said, “there is something strange about this isle. Livia was told they’re elven folk.”

“Elven.” Sander shook his head. “There’s a great deal of debate over whether or not they are extinct.”

“These folk were different,” Gavyn said. “Then, this isle, I swear to the gods of the seas it called to me. It drew me there.”

“How did you both get free of the fortress?” I asked.

Gavyn described their escape through the strange palace built into a hillside, and how they’d slaughtered guards.

Part of me did not want to ask more. I didn’t want to imagine her chained, frightened, harmed. “What has Larsson done to her?”

Gavyn gave a wavering glimpse at Valen. Dammit. He feared the earth bender’s reaction.

“Tell me,” I demanded.

“Larsson and Fione used one of the women on this isle to remove your heartbond. I don’t know how it was done.”

I yanked the neckline of my tunic, revealing the gash over my chest. “I’m aware. Why? Did he claim it from her? Did he force her to bond to him?”

“No. There was purpose behind it. Something about wards over the blood crown. But he also thought it might make her hate you, as though the only reason she loved you at all is due to the bond.” Gavyn held up his hands. “It failed, I assure you. Your queen is even more determined to find you.”

“Tell us what you’re not saying, Gavyn,” Tait said. “I feel it, your desire to keep something from the king and the earth bender.”

“You better tell us everything you know,” Valen answered in my place.

“Boy, speak truth,” Sewell told his son softly. “Kill the lies.”

“I’m not lying. I’m omitting.” Gavyn hesitated. “When I arrived, it was shortly after Larsson had . . . attacked her. She fought him off, but he’d wanted to . . . claim her, brand her body.”

The corners of my vision blackened. Each word blotted out the final pieces of light in my heart, leaving them filled only with hate, vengeance, and rage. Through a haze, I heard Valen’s rant, his spitting anger and demands that we get to his girl.

On this, the earth bender and I could not agree more.

Without a word, I turned from my chamber, ignoring the few calls of my name. As though lost in a dream, I drifted over the deck, down the hatch, to the back cell in the brig where Hesh’s assassin sat against the corner, his legs outstretched, ankles crossed.

I had the barred door unlocked in the next breath, my fist curled around his throat. “Tell me where she is!”

He spluttered.

I slammed his skull against the wall once, twice, a third time until blood dripped off the wood splinters.

“Erik!” Aleksi stepped into the cell.

“Get back, Bloodsummoner.” I dropped the assassin and tugged a knife from my belt to cut a gash over my wrist. “How many times can I poison you until you’re too corrupted for the gods to accept?”

Hesh’s crewman held up his hands, trembling. “Please.”

“We’re beyond pleading.” I stabbed the tip of the knife through his ribs, just enough to draw blood. “Don’t want you to lose too much; I want your head clear enough to feel every bit of this.”

“Let me live!” The man caught my wrist, my blood seeping through his fingers. “Let me live, and I swear I will tell you everything I know.”

Coward.

I pulled away, aware there were more observers beyond the cage now. With the hem of my tunic, I wiped some of my blood away on my wrist, a twisted grin on my face. “Agreed.”

The man let out a long breath and slowly rose from the floor. “You . . . you will never find the isle.”

“Piss poor answer.”

“No.” He held out his palms, a weak shield between us. “You will never find the isle without Lord Hesh. He has been marked by a spell that allows him entry through the wards. And I know . . . currently, Lord Hesh is not on the isle. He left it to send us to find you and make plans on how best to begin attacking the earth realms. He’s confident a new king will sit atop the throne soon and wishes to waste no time.”

The twins paled. Alek clenched one fist, his other hand on the hilt of his sword as Celine offered her version of comfort, which came out more like declarations of slitting throats in their name should anything happen to his fathers left behind.

Valen and Stieg had not ruffled. Stieg even wore a smug grin, like the notion was irritating more than frightening.

“What is this mark or key to the isle?” I spun the knife, a silent reminder of what would come of him should he lie.

“I-I’m not entirely certain, all I know is it was done by the sea witch, and it is permanent.”

I tired of this game, these complications keeping me from my songbird. “What more do you know?”

“Nothing.” He dropped to his knees. “I swear, My King. I’ve told you everything.”

“As I thought.” I swiped the knife over my palm and clapped my hand over his mouth. Foolishly, he opened his mouth to scream. His hot breath, the damp of his tongue brushed over the blood on my hand. I pulled away, allowing him to fall back, already his veins burned black as scorched wood.

“You promised,” he cried. “You vowed I could live.”

“I allowed you to live as promised.” I turned at the doorway of the cell. “It was you who failed to negotiate how long.”


Wind in the sails would take us to the House of Blades. But it was in the interim, during scheming and hating, that Sewell doused the king’s wine in sleeping herbs. Days since true sleep had taken hold, the bastard merely took my rest into his own hands.

I knew it within moments when I could not keep my damn eyes open as I strapped swords, knives, and daggers to sheaths on my thighs and belt, preparing to burn the House of Blades.

One moment I was standing, straight and sturdy, then the next I stumbled backward, half on the cot of the king’s chambers, half off. Sleep took me like death claiming breath from the lungs. I could not escape it, could not fight it.

I dreamed of Livia.

I never wanted to wake.


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