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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 35

THE SONGBIRD

Laughter rose from the corner of the great hall of the palace. Jonas and Aleksi kept taking turns relaying the theft of the House of Tides into the shell. Given the amount of time the earth princes were able to speak, Rorik must’ve been utterly enraptured in the tale, and more than once a bit of exaggeration slipped through.

Soon, my younger brother would be believing we practically fought a war on the shores of Joron’s isle.

I’d enjoyed every bleeding moment of the tide lord’s spluttering. A dark need to cut the man down bloomed through my heart, much like it had when I’d fought through the guards with Gavyn, much like it had when I bit into Larsson’s flesh. Suffering—I wanted suffering.

Erik did not shy from blood, but I was unaccustomed to the thirst for pain to throttle me from behind, like a crook, robbing me of the last pieces of gentility. Love could draw out the most brutal pieces of the heart. Hadn’t I told Erik that once? Each step to draw Larsson out proved them even more.

“All right.” Jonas shook the ensorcelled shell. “The sea witch is ready to guide you, Bloodsinger.”

Erik palmed the shell, the scar over his lip turned white when he pinched his mouth into a line. “What do we need to do?”

He lifted the shell to his ear, pausing as Narza responded. He rubbed the side of his leg, almost habitual now, and nodded. “Seems simple enough.”

Another pause.

“I’m not diminishing the risk. Yes, Tavish will remain and see it through.” Erik groaned. “Narza, let us return to hostility, this new fretting you keep doing is unsettling and unwelcome.”

I caught Celine’s gaze over the king’s shoulder. Together, we muffled grins. Erik Bloodsinger had lived a life apart, convinced there were few folk through the realms who cared whether he lived or died. Faces dotted the great hall of the palace, and each cared.

Even his father’s killer.

Daj would always say he stood here for my benefit and mine alone, but the trouble was I knew my father well. If my heart claimed Erik, Valen Ferus would always defend the pieces of my heart.

A few more moments, and Erik returned the shell to my father. “The connection is lost.”

“You understand the process?” Tavish shoved off a back wall, clutching a stone mortar.

“Yes. Murdock will need to draw my blood.”

A chaise was drawn into the hall, tables were placed, a dagger between them. Boneweaver Murdock rolled up the king’s tunic sleeve, revealing the nicks and puckered scars along Erik’s wrists and forearms.

Avaline, dressed in a thin robe, silver hair loose over her shoulders, entered the hall. “Gets rather heated, mind taking,” she explained. “Best not to have irritations like tight clothes and such.”

Her spine was straight, her body tense, but there was more color to her pale features after having been fussed over by a few lady’s maids once we’d arrived at the royal city.

Erik slipped off his tunic altogether, and his bare skin was painted in a rosy flush. No doubt, from unease and vitriol at being seen by so many eyes. I went to his side and took hold of his hand. Sweat beaded over my brow, and my breaths were rapid.

I held his stare, and a bit of worry flickered in the red. Had the heartbond still fluttered between us, he would know my insides had rotted and soured with disquiet. He’d know my skin was feverish with all that might go wrong. He would be whispering his salacious words through my heart to draw out a grin by the time Avaline lifted the dagger.

“Here is how it works.” Avaline spoke like a lullaby, gentle and light. “We fill each mortar with blood. Normally I would need a piece of both, but since you share the blood of Thorvald, it should connect us to the only other with the same blood.”

“Doesn’t Tait have the same?” Jonas muttered.

Avaline frowned and tilted her head. “A blood cousin on the side of a sire? I could likely connect the king, but his mind would not shine as vibrant. A brother’s blood is a closer match. It will draw us in swifter.”

“Stay out of my head.” Tait pinched one of his paper smokes between his teeth and inspected the tiny clock in his hand. “Time’s on our side. For now.”

Erik pulsed a few tight squeezes against my palm and laid back on the chaise. “Then let’s get to it. There are words to be had with my brother.”

“You’ll need to step aside,” Avaline whispered to me.

“I can’t be near him?” No. I couldn’t watch Erik slip into some endless dream, locked in Larsson’s mind. I needed to know he lived, breathed, and was still warm. Heat prickled along my scalp. I was mortified when my chin trembled, and sharp, thorny emotion tightened in the back of my throat.

Until Avaline patted my shoulder, awkward and more like a slap, as though the woman hardly knew how to comfort another soul. Being locked away most of her life, I doubted she did.

“Only for the bleeding.” She pointed to a place a mere three paces away. “Stand there. When the connection is made, I think out of anyone here, you will prove the most powerful anchor.” With a nervous look about the room, she added. “Not that the king does not care for all of you. I’m certain he does.”

“I think I would make a much greater anchor than Livie,” Aleksi insisted. “Bloodsinger and I are inseparable.”

Erik glared at my cousin, but this close, I could see the flicker of a smile on his lips. “Put your hands on me, and I will separate us swiftly.”

“Oh, it should be Valen,” Mira said, beaming a little wickedly. “It’ll frighten you right back, Ever King.”

I knew what they were doing. Happened when one had grown with others since infancy. They would know the tension mounting in my blood, the burn in my lungs. They’d know the endless flow of horrid outcomes rampaging through my mind.

They were unthreading some of the woven pressure in the room with smiles and jests, and I loved them for it. In truth, I thought Erik was more relaxed.

Avaline called for Murdock to handle the blood once Erik’s skin opened. I hugged my middle, silent and unmoving, as Joron’s daughter sliced Erik’s arm open on one side, then the other. Murdock pressed on the king’s flesh, draining the blood in big bursts until the bottom of each mortar was coated.

Tavish joined Avaline in front of one mortar. Together, the witches added herbs, and with a wave of their palms, both bowls of blood flashed in a black spark, filling the room in the harsh scent of iron and salt.

With a nod of thanks to Tavish, Avaline dipped her fingers into the mortars, coating both hands. “Rest, King Erik. Think of the one you wish to see.”

One lingering glance at me, then Erik closed his eyes, and Avaline began to sing.


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