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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 47

THE SONGBIRD

In the corridors of the palace, guards trembled, blades fallen beside them. Blood stained the chins of some, others were coated in sweat, trembling.

What happened here?

To race through the halls of my captivity unhindered was disquieting, but I kept close to Alek. Occasionally, we’d both stumble, bracing against a wall, or clinging to a tapestry, when the earth shifted. After the feat of caging the ships with the seafloor, my father would fatigue soon.

By then, I wanted to be far from this isle.

Aleksi rounded the corner, shouldering through an arched door. My heart bottomed out. Mira crouched in front of Sander, her palms pressed against his middle. Blood. So much blood.

“Sander!” I dropped to his side.

He winced and shifted. There was a gilded knife rammed through his middle.

“Fine,” he said through his teeth.

“You’re not fine.” I brushed a palm over his feverish brow, brushing his dark waves from his eyes.

“Help Jo . . .” Sander squeezed his eyes, blowing a painful breath through his nose.

“Where is Jonas?” Aleksi snapped.

“There. He’s in there.” Mira waved frantically at an archway covered in black satin drapes.

Aleksi held a palm against Sander’s sweaty cheek, a silent plea to stay alive, then ran through the curtains.

Mira blinked through tears. Her fingers were coated in blood from holding the blade steady in Sander’s flesh. To remove it, we’d face him bleeding out, to keep it there much longer . . . time was running out.

“It worked,” Mira said, hurried. “The attack at the shore drew most blades to the sea. We found the door you told us about and slipped in without more than two guards in the way. I still had enough strength to cover us. Shadows. Simple, you know? Wouldn’t be seen.” Mira dragged a breath, shuddering down the length of her throat. “She . . . she moved so quickly. Like a wraith, and . . . and our blades, they were gone. Like they were made of nothing but mist.”

“She?” I looked to the draped doorway. Skadi. My fingers curled around the hilt of my dagger, anger, a touch of betrayal, in my veins. I rose without realizing.

“Livie.” Mira reached for me. “Don’t—”

She didn’t have time to finish her plea before the door in which Alek and I had come burst open. Tait sprinted in, at his back was Tavish, a wild sort of look in his eyes. A few sea fae and sea witches, but the black eyes in the midst of them were the ones I held.

My father, kohl smeared across his face, strode to me in five paces. He squeezed my arm in a bit of reassurance before dropping beside Sander.

“Come on, boy,” he whispered, a grin of a dozen things on his face—worry, pain, desperation.

Sander’s grin followed, weak with blood on his teeth. “Just tell . . . tell my maj I died saving . . . saving Jo from doing . . . something stupid.”

My daj hugged Sander’s head to his chest and pressed a kiss to his hair. “You’re not going anywhere. Your own father has been stabbed a time or two. House Eriksson doesn’t go from stab wounds.”

Sander’s smile faltered. He closed his eyes and with one hand clung to my father’s arm. Tears burned at the sight. No, Sander wasn’t my blood brother, but he’d grown up, played, slept, and spent winters and summers, in my realms as much as I’d done in his.

My daj was his in this moment.

Sea witches knelt beside Sander, humming sweet, lyrical melodies as they sprinkled the wound with herbs.

“We’re not boneweavers,” one witch whispered, pressing a palm to his heart. “But we might help.”

“Stay with him,” I said.

Livia,” my father warned.

I was already through the curtains.

A round room filled with iron sconces and tallow candles added a smoky smell, and underneath was a burst of incense—sage and clove—so savory my insides twisted, repulsed. A fine bed with satin coverlets as delicate as a silk weaver web was tucked near one curved wall. A man slept, silver hair over his shoulders, broad chest rising peacefully.

But battle waged at the foot of his bed.

“Skadi!” I screamed her name as the woman spun on her heel, aiming a knife at Jonas’s middle.

Blackened eyes, flushed skin, Jonas was locked in a delirious sort of rage. He cut his sword at Skadi. She held a palm over her head. The spray of dark mist surrounded Jonas’s blade. It was stolen from his hands, only to land five paces to the side in a clatter across the room.

Skadi fumbled. The flicker of starlight in her eyes darkened. She was breathless. Jonas lunged for his blade, reeling back against her, cursing her, cursing for his fallen brother. He thought Sander was gone, and the pain was carved into every line of his face.

Aleksi had dropped his sword and kept stepping toward Skadi, hands out, doubtless to summon her to him.

She hissed, and every time he came too near, she waved a hand, and Aleksi would fade into darkness. My cousin emerged, much like Jonas’s sword, mere paces away, gasping and groaning from the blow.

The princess panted, but lifted her knife, letting the blade hang weakly at her side. She looked to Jonas, whose fatigue was settling swiftly.

“Skadi, stop!”

Her eyes, empty, lost, found mine. “They can’t have him.”

“Who?” I looked to the sleeping man. “Who is he?”

“All that’s left.”

Tait rushed into the room, flustered, his watch in his palm. “Something’s coming. We must get to the ship.”

“Not without this one,” Jonas seethed, taking a step for Skadi. “She needs to pay.”

“Livia,” Tait said, eyes wide. “I think it’s Erik.”

My heart bottomed out.

Another glance at his watch, and Tait’s eyes burned as bright as fiery embers. Panicked, he looked over my shoulder and ran for me. Only then did I notice the heat at my back, the new glow in the room.

Arion stepped from a fiery sheen, damp and bloodied from the shore, the bright red of his hair stuck to mud and sweat on his brow. He took in the room. In truth, he appeared taken aback at the sight of us in the chamber.

“You can’t touch him!” This time, Skadi screamed at Arion. A first burst of any sort of emotion, aimed at her fellow elven.

Arion’s lip curled. “I am finished with games. Natthaven is mine, and you will comply and give me what I want.”

He didn’t make a move for Aleksi. Not me, not Tait. Arion sprinted for the bed and the sleeping man. Skadi, face like stone, spun away from Jonas’s approaching blade. She cried out when she fell onto the bed, her palms flattened. Mists wrapped around the man, ready to pull it away with her tricky magic, but Arion leveled a sword over the man’s throat.

He would slaughter the unknown elven before Skadi could muster the strength of her mist.

A voice, smooth as the finest cream, came from behind. Sweet as the tune was, it brought violence, not peace. Floorboards snapped and splintered under Arion’s boots. He cursed when he sunk to his knees, jagged wood slicing his shins and thighs.

From the walls, tapestries split at the seams, the threads coiling like woven snakes. The writhing threads curled around Arion’s throat, choking his breath as he struggled to break free.

I whirled around. Narza, eyes fiery as a sunrise after a storm, filled the chamber. Her hair was down and wild. Each movement drew out a strange wind, like an underwater attack. Power bled from her skin. Anger, hurt, fear, all of it emerged through her spells attacking Arion.

Skin on his face burned to a sickly sort of blue as the threads tightened. Arion’s eyes spun wildly. He cast a frantic, hateful look at Skadi who was on the brink of collapse. A simple, spitting word fell over his lips. “Mine.”

Before the serpentine tapestries finished him, Arion gathered his fiery light.

Aleksi cried out, wanting blood as much as the sea witch, but not even the Bloodsummoner was swift enough before Arion faded into the brilliance of his magic and was gone.

Skadi whimpered in exhaustion. She reached for her knife on the edge of the bed, but Jonas swatted it away. His palms trapped her skull from behind, and Skadi screamed. Jonas lowered to the ground with her as she wailed and fought against the waking nightmares he pulsed into her head.

Narza hurried to his side, one hand on his shoulder, and waved her palm over the elven’s face until Skadi went limp and silent.

“Jonas.” I braced his back when he sat back, breathless. “Sander, he’s still here. He’s with Daj. Go to him. He needs you.”

Jonas blinked once, twice, and the glossy black of his eyes returned to the brilliant green. He struggled to his feet but forced them to carry him back into the first chamber. Narza gently placed Skadi’s head on the floorboards and looked to me. “There is darkness here. Power we do not understand.”

“What happened to the guards, all the blood?” I asked frantically.

“Blood bonds,” Narza replied, breathless, wiping sweat off her brow. “Deep and festering, the kind that rob a soul of their agency. They were bound to serve the witch’s commands.”

Fione’s death freed them. My heart leapt. Skadi’s folk, they fought us without a choice. I looked to the sleeping woman. There was more to her reasons, her emptiness.

“I need to get to Erik.” I gestured at the bed, and Skadi’s unmoving form. “We’ll take them away where Larsson and Arion cannot reach them. But I must get to Erik.”

Narza nodded. “Maelstrom awaits you. Go. We’ve claimed the isle. Go, and tell him he has made the Ever proud.”

Emotion knotted in my throat, but I swallowed it down. I ran from the chamber.

“Livia!” My father called out to me. Sander was in the hands of the sea witches, sleeping, breathing, still with the blade in his flesh. Jonas cradled his brother’s head, mocking his features and insisting he was being rather dramatic, through a glimmer of tears.

He was alive.

We were alive.

For now.

“I’m going to find my king, Daj,” I shouted.

“Wait.” My father gripped my arm.

I pulled back. “I’m not leaving Erik.”

“Livia.” He tried again. “I know. I want you to wait, for I’m coming with you.”

A slow smile crept over my face. I said nothing, merely nodded and raced from the palace, my father close behind me.

As promised, Maelstrom and Tavish had the Shadow Wing ready to sail. Sirens, witches, and sea fae still dotted the shore of Natthaven, tending to the elven guards. Some seemed ill, still choking on blood and spittle. Others were bound and rendered helpless to the mercy of the Ever folk.

“To the king,” I shouted at Maelstrom.

“Aye.” He winked, taking hold of the helm, and diving the sharp bow beneath the tides.

I closed my eyes, bracing for the chill of the sea. The distance was not far, and with the speed of Ever ships, wind thrashed around my face soon enough as the Shadow Wing broke through the tides, resurfacing beside the Ever Ship.

Ropes and grappling hooks were falling into the thrashing water. Gavyn’s ship rocked as it broke free from Larsson’s. Booms and flashes of the ember spears punctured new holes into the sails and decks of the black laths on Larsson’s vessel.

From here, I could make out clashing blades, bodies lunging at bodies. Men falling over rails into the torrent.

Erik, where are you?

“Liv.” My father pointed over my shoulder, blinking against the spray of rain and sea. “There.”

Sea floor split the surface of the Ever Sea like fingers of a lover tangled in dark tresses. They formed a sort of violent cage around Larsson’s ship, rocking the vessel side to side. On one dip, the black sails shifted enough to catch sight of the quarterdeck.

“Erik.” His name fell over my lips like a gasp.

Jabs, strikes, swings, back and forth, I watched Erik and Larsson. The Ever King stumbled against the rail, and Larsson sliced his sword. Erik rolled out of the way. I shouted for Maelstrom to take us in.

Pulse a frenzy, I curled my fingers around the rigging, skin pulled so taut it went white, and swung across the waves until my feet struck the new deck of the elven vessel.


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