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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 37

THE SERPENT

I paced in front of the cove, waiting for the boil of water to appear. My skin still drenched in sweat, my bones aching. I’d hardly oriented myself with the surroundings of the great hall before demanding a meet with a sea witch.

Livia stood close, eyeing me like I might tumble over and fade into the mind walk spell again.

“I’m fine, love,” I said, sharp and biting. With a deep breath through my nose, I paused, faced her, and used a knuckle to tilt her chin. “I’m all right. You pulled me back exactly as Avaline said you would.”

The fading sun added a touch of gold against her blue eyes, like the skies were freeing the fire she kept inside.

“I heard you.” Livia guided my palm to her heart. “Here.”

“Same. It’s how you brought me back.”

“What happened, Erik?” She worried her bottom lip between her teeth. “It was horrid.”

She’d clung to me the instant I woke, trembling, drawing her palms over my face, my arms. Celine told me with less tact that I’d thrashed like a dying eel and moaned like a mournful haunt on the wind.

“I’ll tell you everything, but first I need to speak to the Lady of witches. Maelstrom, where the hells is she?”

Maelstrom stood in the cove, water up to his knees, and stopped waving his palm over the sea’s surface. “Takes time to summon the connection, King Erik.”

“You know,” Tavish said, back against a thin spindle of a tree, “if this sod told you something about Lady Narza, I’d take it with a hefty dose of mistrust.”

I curled my lip, ignoring the others watching me with trepidation. The earth fae kept a distance, uncertain what had me in tangles, Celine, Gavyn, and Tait had seen enough of my anger to naturally stand aside until it faded.

A glow on the surface of the water pulled me to the edge. Like before, light rippled through the tides, warping Narza’s features, but she was there.

I wasted no time. “You knew Thorvald had another son.”

“Erik?” Narza leaned forward. “What’s happened?”

“Allow me to speak slower. You knew. Thorvald. Had. A bastard.”

“Erik,” Maelstrom warned.

I ignored him and peered over the glassy surface. “Tell me the truth, Narza. Did you aid my father in shielding Bonekeeper, his folk, and his mother from ever breaching the Ever?”

For a dozen heartbeats, she was silent. Almost frozen. Her voice was hollow when she spoke. “I don’t know.”

More than one gasp wisped at my back. Even Tavish wore a bit of distress on his features.

My chest cinched. “All this time, you could’ve told me. You’re just like him, keeping secrets, lies, like you wanted me to fail.”

“You don’t understand,” Narza snapped. “I-I say I don’t know because I cannot recall, only that I know there was something I did to aid the last Ever King. Many, many turns ago. Something was done to protect the Ever, but . . . it has been washed of my memories.”

“Washed of your memories.” I wanted to lash out, draw blood, anything before the rage building took over. “How convenient.”

“No, it is not,” Narza insisted. “Whatever I did brought consequences. No doubt, an agreement between myself and Thorvald was made that would rid me of memories of what I had done. But a sea witch voice always leaves remnants behind. To my bones, I always knew something was there that involved the Ever King; I simply could not recall it.”

“Erik,” Maelstrom whispered. “In binding agreements where blood is signed, much like the bond she made with the earth fae, it could’ve been a stipulation that Narza would need to ward her own memories against the spell.”

I narrowed my eyes at the cove. We didn’t have much time before the connection would fade. “You would agree to literally forgetting a spell?”

She hesitated. “To agree to such a thing, I would’ve needed to believe there was great risk involved should anyone but the king know.”

He feared me. Perhaps Larsson had been correct in assuming Thorvald would’ve done everything to keep his blood thieving out of the Ever.

“It has been like a memory I cannot draw from the shadows,” Narza said. “But the unknown, the feeling, is why I never trusted Thorvald fully. It is why I demanded the heartbond for Oline.”

“Explain.”

“I thought it would protect Oline from whatever secrets he kept in his past, whatever secrets I had aided in hiding. I never—” Narza released a rough breath. “I never imagined he would use her boy to break the bond for him. The heartbond was crafted to shield her, to shield you both, and he still found a way to destroy it.”

“You must cease blaming yourself,” Maelstrom said, soft and tender.

Through the ripples, Narza straightened. “Tell me what has brought this on. I am not lying to you, perhaps I should’ve told you there was something in my past I could not recall, but I swear to you, I did not think it would be connected to this. In truth, I have not thought of it since Thorvald died.”

A gentle hand curled around my arm. Livia stood beside me in the water. She said nothing; she didn’t need to, so long as she was there.

I hurried through Larsson’s confession, his belief Thorvald shunned his firstborn out of fear of his dark blood magic. I pressed about the strength of such wards, the crown, the edges of the kingdom, the elven mystery to sea folk, I pressed it all.

Narza held a hand over her mouth. “It’s . . . it’s possible, Erik. But a warding spell of such magnitude would cause a great strain.”

“You fevered near the Otherworld for months,” Maelstrom whispered. “Two turns before the Ever King came for Oline, remember?”

“It is so disorienting. I hardly recall even those months. It . . . it could be related.” Narza rubbed her brow but lifted weary eyes. “I am a fool, Grandson. I never wanted to bring you harm, but I have played so many roles in your suffering.”

“Then help us now,” I said, harsh as the sharpest wind. “By taking our bond and slaughtering his own mother, he insists all those blood wards are gone.”

“There are certain spells that unravel others, like a rope fraying,” Tavish said. “But to keep such wards frayed, it calls for death, blood, and sacrifice. I mean, it constantly calls for it. I’ve no doubt they were killing for turns, Erik, all to keep the blood wards from closing again.”

“It was the darkening,” I said. “An imprint of dark magic left behind as they slaughtered their way through the Ever.”

“How did it unravel?” Livia asked.

“Thorvald’s death.” I let out a sigh. “That was the first bend. Then after he killed his mother, the wards keeping him from the Ever broke. No one here knew of him, he could start anew, begin his schemes.”

“He would’ve told the truth to Fione.” Tait frowned. “She would be as bitter as Bonekeeper. Remember what you did as soon as we returned from the battle?”

I nodded. “Broke the mating agreement.”

“Larsson showed his face not long after, Erik. I’d give my damn voice and say that was when they stumbled upon each other.”

Dammit. It was like all I’d known, every breath I’d taken, was built from one deadly lie.

“He murdered his own mother.” Livia closed her eyes but raised a finger to me. “Don’t you dare.”

My lips were already half-parted. “What?”

“Don’t you dare insist you did the same. It is not the same.”

“Bonekeeper’s a lunatic,” Celine insisted. “Damn unfeeling wretch.”

“But to don the blood crown he needed one final thread to split from the protection against him.” I brushed a knuckle down Livia’s cheek. “The last piece of Thorvald’s power of the Ever, our heartbond. That was why it took so long for him to truly strike. He needed the Chasm to open as fiercely as me.”

“But it was our bond, not your father’s.”

“It originated with Thorvald,” Narza said glumly. “It was the same power that cast the wards against the crown. He would need it.”

Livia hugged her middle. “After I came to the Ever, I’m certain that’s when Larsson reached out to his elven kin. Skadi . . . she said Arion refused to act until a battle was certain, until Larsson was prepared to claim his throne. Once the elven were on his side—”

“He took you,” I said, tongue a lash.

Larsson, for all his scheming, all his plotting, would die for that act alone.

The mirror spell faded with Narza’s hurried assurances the House of Mists would always stand at my side, but a new unease built on the shore. As though no one truly knew what to think, what to say.

I strode out of the cove. “He’ll come for the crown soon. He believes his power with the elven will outmatch ours. We don’t have much time to build our plans.”

“Erik,” Livia whispered. “Not everyone who is there stands with him.”

“What we know is Larsson has dark magic, and the lot of it rests with his kin.” I pressed a palm to her cheek, stroking her warm skin with my thumb. “I’m not a hero, love. I’m not here to save them. I’m here to keep you breathing, damn the rest. There is no point in trying to get me to waste time thinking of possible ways for elven to live—I will only see you and your life. These are the darker pieces I warned you about.”

“I’m not afraid of your darkness, Serpent. I’m already consumed by it.” Livia kissed my fingertips. “But some will deserve a chance, if it is possible.”

Gods, the things I wanted to do to her. The way she looked at me, unbothered by the lengths I would go to keep her at my side.

A chance. I was not completely heartless. I’d offer a chance to see the woman who’d tried to fight for Livia safe, but if it meant harming my songbird in the process, I’d tell the earth bender to sink the lot of them into the abyss of the Ever Sea.


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