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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 23


Thick ropes wrapped Hesh’s corpse to the center mast. His chest was open, the breastbone missing, and a dagger nestled deep into his silent heart. He’d been stripped of his fine clothes, his eyes plucked out, his tongue pinned to his forehead, and the wound from Valen’s axe was left to weep onto the deck.

Tavish and his ship kept to the stern of the Ever Ship, awaiting any signal, any fleck of a spell. In the moonlight, I could make out the silhouette of Tavish sprawled out on the bowsprit, humming, drawing out any unknown spells on the Ever Sea.

Sander sat in front of the blade lord’s corpse, unbothered by the gore as he traced the markings on the symbols burned into the washed breastbone. The prince would scan the symbols, then flip through thick parchment pages of writings he’d smuggled from the earth fae fort.

The prince’s curiosity suited us quite well, and already he’d found old symbols that spoke of a fire on the moon. Stormbringer insisted it meant there would be a flash—some celestial signal—when we came close.

“How is it you know?” Sander asked.

“Home,” Stormbringer said. “My village took a great deal of stock in old languages and lore. Me mam raised me up reading symbols and runes and the ancient poems and sagas until she went to me pap in the Otherworld. I know symbols and translations.”

After several on the crew shouted and cursed Stormbringer for never letting on he had much of a brain, he settled by Sander, translating the breastbone.

“Do you have more?” I asked.

The Dark Isles were in our sights, the moon was high, and I was not missing an opportunity to catch sight of this damn warded isle.

Sander brushed a thumb over the bit of bone. “Stormbringer went to fetch some old sea witch lore from his supplies; he has an old book left to him from his grandmother.”

By the hells, I didn’t even know the man could read.

“There’s an incantation burned into the bone,” Sander went on, “and we’re missing one piece of it, we think.”

Strained voices rose over the deck near the hatch. Stormbringer, the man I needed at my side, halted at the top of the steps, his arms stacked with withered leather protecting old slips of parchment.

Pallid, damn near frightened, he stepped onto the deck like the laths might crack under his weight, eyeing the source of his disquiet. Sewell leaned against the foremast, arms folded over his chest, a scowl on his features. He looked nowhere but at Stormbringer.

“What is it?” I demanded.

Stormbringer took cautious steps in my direction. “Nothing, My King. It be nothing.”

“Lies on the tongue,” Sewell grumbled.

“Stormbringer,” I shouted. “Do you take issue with Lord Sewell, now that he has revealed his voice? I assure you, no matter your history on this ship, I have greater history with him. He will win out.”

“No.” Stormbringer licked the salty air off his lips. “No issue, My King.”

Celine stepped beside her father. “What’s gotten into you?”

Without a word, Sewell tugged Celine against his side—his first show of true affection to his daughter in front of the crew—and kept his glare trained on Stormbringer. “Eyes be misplaced, boy.”

“Gods, Sewell, I mean, Lord.” Stormbringer took another step for Sander. “I wasn’t lookin’, and I didn’t know. I would never . . . if I would’ve known, I’d not be talkin’ of such things.”

Now, Gavyn, a fresh horn of ale in hand, joined. “What’s all this? Is it time?”

“No, but if a damn disagreement takes from the moment, I will string you all up.” I was in no mood for more strife on deck. “Away with your bickering. Stormbringer, if you’ve done something to offend Sewell, be done with it.”

“I never meant no disrespect,” Stormbringer said. “I didn’t know she was yours . . .”

Gavyn perked at once. “Pray tell, did you unknowingly speak of my sister in front of my father?”

“Had a want for his own,” said Sewell.

“Wait.” Celine pushed away from Sewell’s hold. “You spoke to Stormbringer about me?”

“Weeks ago,” Stormbringer said, his voice cracking.

Sewell’s lip curled. “Thought he could take a taste of you—”

“I did not say that.”

Gavyn waved him off. “Means you spoke like you thought of her as something more than a crewmate. Like you wanted her.”

He wagged his brows at Celine, laughing when her skin deepened to a dark flush with embarrassment.

“That true, Finn?” Celine asked, voice soft.

At that, even I paused. No one used Stormbringer’s given name. He detested it, said it made him sound like he belonged with the merfolk.

Stormbringer looked down at the deck. “I meant no disrespect, Tidecaller. It’s just . . . we’ve . . . we’ve got our connection with the storms and all, but I says to Sewell it could be more. Least it seemed so. I thought I was speaking to our cook, not your damn pap.”

Celine glared at her father. “Oh, and what did Sewell have to say?”

“Nothin’,” Stormbringer said. “Told me to keep to my tides, and I took that as I ought not to be fraternizing with the lone lady aboard and left it at that.”

“Not the proper heart for my Thunderfish,” Sewell grumbled.

Gavyn gripped Sewell’s shoulders, giving them a slight shake. “Is anyone going to be worthy of your precious Thunderfish?”

I readied to snap again, shout, curse, demand they cease talking, until Valen’s deep chuckle brought me to my own unease.

“Sewell,” said the earth bender. “Father to father, if my daughter found such an upstanding man as . . . Stormbringer, is it?”

“Aye, Earth King.” Stormbringer grew paler, smaller as he slouched.

Valen propped an elbow on the rail, grinning. “Well, I’d take no issue—”

“Quiet the tongue, Wolf,” Sewell grumbled.

“Not so pleasant when it’s turned on you, is it?” Valen struck Sewell’s chest with the back of his hand.

Celine seemed ready to dissolve between the laths, Aleksi and Mira laughed as Gavyn kept trying to nudge Stormbringer nearer, and Sewell hissed at the man before stalking toward the hatch, leaving us with all the arrogance of a house lord.

“I didn’t know,” Stormbringer muttered. “How would I know he’s the Fleshripper? How would I know Tidecaller is his blood?”

“Be done with it,” I snapped. “Keep your eyes on the stars, you sods.”

Stormbringer cast a wary look at Celine, who’d already raced away, pretending to be preoccupied with a bit of rope, then he, at last, sat beside Prince Sander.

“Found this, Earth Prince.” He unfolded a large sheet of old parchment. “An old runic spell to reveal lost things, well its direct translation is hidden desires. Still, figured we desire to find what’s hidden, and it’s damn close to that symbol there.”

Stormbringer pointed to a long, angled rune at the edge of the breastbone.

“Agreed.” Sander nodded and faced the sea. “We’re matched with the sky. I think these—” His fingertip edged the opposite side of the bone. “Are stars. We’re aligned, right?”

Stormbringer took the bone, squinting, as he held it against the sky. “Aye. Nothing there be part of any incantation or lore. It’s a position—beneath the star king and his twelve ladies, King Erik.”

The star king, another constellation with the tale of a rather spoiled king who lived in a constant dance with twelve potential mates, swirling around. I glanced at the sky. The brilliance of the center star flickered, and the softer light of the dozen stars looped around him glimmered, like they called to us.

“Aye. It aligns.” Gods, this had to be it.

“All right.” Sander crouched to one knee. “If I’m understanding correctly, we need to begin the incantation, and it should begin to reveal any hidden things. That’s how I understand it, at least.”

The earth bender had joined us, stone faced, but disquiet revealed itself in the way he cracked one knuckle, then another, over and over again. Jonas, Aleksi, and Mira hung near the rails, watching, a bit of desperation in the tension on their faces.

I knew the feeling too damn well.

“Then do it.” My voice was rough and strained.

Sander nodded. “It’ll move quickly once we begin. Give us a moment to ensure we have the dialect correct, but be ready, Bloodsinger.”

I’d been ready. Since the instant I knew Livia had been taken, I’d been bleeding ready to hold her again.

Wind bit at my face—harsh and cold. I refocused on the horizon.

“Is this your first dealing with facing a traitor?”

I looked up, annoyed to be interrupted again, but it faded at the sight of Valen. The earth bender was replenished from tonics and, in truth, I thought he took a bit of delight at the sight of Hesh, like his suffering invigorated him.

“Of this depth? Yes. No one in all our histories has ever tried to usurp an Ever King. I am the first to bear such an honor.”

“You think it makes you less of a king?”

“I am not beloved, earth bender. I am seen as quite weak.”

Valen paused for a few breaths, then after a moment sighed with a touch of irritation. “Look, Bloodsinger. You are not the first king to be betrayed, nor will you be the last. It was a traitor’s actions that finally brought me to accept my own crown because he nearly got Livia’s mother killed. Then later, another traitor tried to sell Elise to our enemies. I never would’ve suspected him, and I thought myself quite weak for not seeing it.”

Was he . . . reassuring me?

“And—” I paused, adjusting the cutlass on my belt that had no need to be adjusted. “What did you do?”

“Slit the first’s throat.” Valen’s eyes darkened. “And the other, I tore out his lungs through his spine. No less than what you have done.”

Somewhere in my chest, a baffling sort of longing gripped me. It was a craving that wove its way through my skull down to my heart; a need to ask advice from a king who’d fought for his queen. A king who did not look at me and only measure me against the scars on my skin.

I wanted to ask a dozen things: how did he earn the respect of his people? How did he trust any of them? How did he speak to his people?

Stay, Erik Bloodsinger.

It felt like, for a moment, I could see what Valen Ferus meant when he’d told me to stay. When he insisted they did not want my crown, merely wanted to stand at the side of a boy king as he rose to the impossible challenge of ruling a kingdom after the destruction of war.

“You might find this shocking,” Valen said, a new calm to his tone. “But I am pleased with the blood on your hands today. I slaughtered men in the most painful ways I could think of for betraying my queen. Much like you have done . . . for yours. I know how much I love my wife, Erik.” Valen turned away, staring out at the sea, and shrugged. “Take that as you will.”

I was damn well going to take it as the earth bender’s admission he knew I’d overturn worlds for his bleeding daughter.

“Erik! It’s beginning. Look. Gods, it’s there!” Sander’s voice shattered the night.

The prince held up the bone, and like a bit of starlight burst overhead, a fleeting, vibrant blue flickered.

Skriva till a natt,” Stormbringer muttered. His voice, normally rough and dry, was smooth as a gentle tide. Clear, focused.

My fingers dug into the rough bone of one of the spikes protruding from the hull. I kept one leg propped on the rail, scanning the empty seas.


Another breath and the currents roughened, the ship swayed, a new air warmed my flesh rather than chilled the skin.

The ship rocked violently. I had to grip the rigging to avoid spilling over the edge. Overhead, the banner of our colors whipped and snapped, then pointed in the opposite direction.

“Wind’s changed,” Stormbringer whispered.

“Three hells.” Valen leaned over the rail. “Look.”

Straight ahead, a new curve of land broke the horizon. Land unknown, prominent cliffsides, torchlight, lanterns, all of it lighting a beach made of dark crystal stones, not the soft sands of the Ever.

In the distance, the sound of a bell rang out over the tides.

Shouts, beastly and wretched, rose from the crew. Blades raised with their voices, and a single ember spear fired in a blast of crimson and ash into the night.

Songbird! I shouted through my heart, desperate for her to hear me. Turn your eye to the sea, love. We found you!


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