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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 51

THE SONGBIRD

The hall was truly a sight.

A raised dais had been positioned at the far end. Blossoms and vines of berries draped the edges. To honor the earth fae queen, Alistair told me. Silver, ash, and blue banners draped over rafters and across windows of the hall. At the slightest breeze, they would billow and ripple, creating an illusion like the waves on the sea.

Lyres and pipes burst from the corners. Sea singers were skilled in their tunes, and under threat of death from the Ever King should they try to lure any of us with their songs.

I smoothed the front of my gown, rich red, like blood, and peered out the window.

The Ever Ship was on display in the harbor. From the sail rods, bodies of enemies were draped by limbs, throats, waists. An unspoken threat of what it meant to rise against the Ever King and Queen.

Gruesome, perhaps, but by now I was convinced half my heart had scabbed and hardened toward anyone who would dare level a threat against those I kept in the softer, gentler side.

Hesh had been stripped of his flesh by Sewell’s voice once his skin began to rot. Now his bones dangled from the main mast like totems. Larsson was not placed on the Ever Ship. In truth, I didn’t know what Erik had ordered with the fallen traitor.

Arms slid around my waist. I sighed and leaned into him.

“I miss your thoughts,” Erik whispered, his lips dusting over my throat.

Gods, how I missed our bond. I chose him, I would always choose him, heartbond or not. It was simply a comfort to have him burrowed into my heart, a constant presence.

“I was wondering what became of Larsson.”

Erik flinched, but promptly hid it beneath a sneer. “I saw to it he served a purpose and would not be welcomed in the Otherworld.”

There was a burden in my serpent, one that did not require a heartbond to sense. I turned into him and trapped his face in my palms. “We’ve not had a chance to truly speak about it, not in depth. I . . . I know what he did damned him, but he was your blood.”

“He was nothing.”

“Erik.” I kissed the corner of his mouth. “I see you, sometimes, like you are lost in thought whenever his name is mentioned.” Slowly, I encircled his waist, a grin on my face. “I don’t mind if you stumble, Ever King, so long as you let me be there to catch you.”

The red in Erik’s eyes darkened, but I recognized the moment he gave in. “I’ve no remorse for ridding the Ever of Larsson Bonekeeper.” Erik ground his teeth, hesitating. “But I hate that there are moments when my thoughts wander. When I start to hate him a little more because he never gave us a chance to be brothers. I hate that it even bothers me at all. I hate that because of my ignorance, you were harmed.”

I covered his cheek with my palm and pressed a kiss to his lips. “Scars heal, Erik. These scars I earned from cruel hands will heal. But I would not change our tale, Serpent. What Larsson did only proved there is no line, no sea, no sky I would not cross for you. There is nowhere I belong as much as by your side.”

Erik’s mouth turned up into a sly kind of grin. “So, no regrets, Songbird?”

“Never, Serpent.”

“Pardon, Highnesses.” Alistair approached, nose in the air. “But it is time to dress for the ceremony.”

Erik ghosted a kiss over the center of my palm and stepped back. “See you shortly, love.”

One of my brows arched, and the king laughed as he left.

“He’s planning something, isn’t he, Alistair?”

“I would not know, My Queen.”

“Liar.”

The old steward ruffled, but I’d since learned he blustered and fumbled to conceal his smirks and smiles. “Whether or not the king has a plan in his frightening head is of no matter. What is of a matter to me is insisting my queen dress. Now, let’s be off with you.”


“I don’t bleeding understand why I, once again, am forced into one of these gods-awful things.” Celine tugged at the satin neckline of the pale green bodice hugging her curves. It complimented her brown skin and bright eyes and looked rather regal with her silver woven hair draped in long waves over her shoulders.

Mira finished placing a beaded band in Celine’s hair, then stepped back to admire. “I think you are going to stop the entire bleeding room, Tidecaller.”

Celine swallowed, frowning, but like Alistair, I knew enough about Celine to know she did not easily give up her discontent.

“What’s troubling you?”

Celine caught my gaze in the standing mirror as I adjusted my bone necklace. She curled a lock of her hair around her finger. “Everyone knows about Daj. What if folk turn against him?”

“Celine.” I took hold of her hand. “What crime is Sewell truly guilty of committing?”

“Disobeying the Ever King.” She ticked them off her fingers. “Refusing an order from Lord Harald. Falsifying my death, his own. What if they oust Gavyn? Gods, what if they find out about Gavyn’s voice?”

Mira stroked Celine’s arm in reassurance, but spared me a glance, uncertain what to say. How could we understand? The threats against her family were foreign to us and nonsensical.

“Here is what I know,” I told her, placing both hands on her shoulders. “I know that if your father is convicted of crimes, then so is the sitting Ever King. Do not forget, Celine, Erik was complicit in all this. He stands with you, the way you have always stood with him. So do I.”

“Oh, and the lot of us earth fae do,” Mira said, waving a hand like it should’ve been obvious. “I’d gladly toss a few more knives at anyone who’s stupid enough to attack you all because your daj didn’t kill his bleeding mate. I mean, really. Do these archaic sods of the Ever realize that without their women, there is no Ever? Who, I wonder, do they think births the next generation?”

“It is hard after living in shadows for so long to think I can enter a room and actually speak to them. Actually call them brother and father.” Celine took in her reflection, arching her back, spinning the skirt. “Still, I don’t know why I have to wear this horrid thing.”

A knock announced our escorts.

“Daj.” I took his rough hands. “You look like a warrior. Maj will be seething that she missed all this.”

My father opened his arms, pulling me close. Dressed in black, absent of his axes, and his dark hair braided off his face, he looked like the powerful king of my childhood.

With a soft kiss to my forehead, my father cupped my face in his rough palms. “I am at a loss of what to say, Livie, but I want you to know that you are my light, and I am so proud of you.”

“Earth Bender.” Celine groaned. “You’re going to make her eyes run.”

I blinked, dabbing at the corner of my eyes. “I’m fine. Ready?”

Sander came for Mira, Aleksi for Celine. Jonas kept a step behind us, hair damp and styled, a dark tunic with runes stitched along the hem, and a bit somber. Daj suspected he was anxious to return home. Despite his neach-dai bond to the Ever, Jonas, like the rest of us, missed our homeland, our other people.

Still, it was odd to see Sander as the boisterous twin and Jonas lost in thought.

Already, nightfall was upon us, and the palace was glittering in golden light and savory scents from banquet tables lining the edges of the great hall. Window panes were cracked, letting in the night air, thick with sea spray and honey blooms from the gardens.

My hair was tied in an intricate plait, and my gown swished around my ankles, a skirt of liquid silver. The doors groaned upon our arrival. Alistair smacked a wooden stick along the stone floor, announcing, “The Ever Queen.”

A cinch in my chest stilled my heart. Folk from every noble house spun to the doorway. Sirens with their dark eyes, Ever Crew with their newly trimmed beards and waist sashes, fae from far seas and near. Murmurs slowed, then as gentle as a calm wave, heads bowed, knees bent, and I wanted to flee.

Until sunset eyes caught mine from the dais.

Erik stood in front of our thrones. His black shirt as deep as the night, his hair free and wild around his face, and a subtle, devious grin painted over his lips. The grin I knew, if he could enter my private thoughts, he would be forcing out a flush from the most salacious of words.

He was my king. He was my safety. He was my home.

My father handed Erik my palm. For a moment the two former enemies held the gaze of the other. Then, my daj clasped forearms with the Ever King, a tilt to his head, a gleam to his dark eyes that spoke of acceptance, and the warning of a father to care for his daughter.

“Folk of the Ever,” Alistair called. “Rise for your king and queen.”

Seats in the hall skidded as folk rose. Mira remained close to Celine and took a place near Gavyn and Sewell. Steig stood beside my father and the three earth fae princes.

Tait kept close to the king. Heartwalker would likely always remain surly, but there was a new lightness in his stance. For turns he’d been aloof and estranged from his cousin. It was as though our battles, our victory had, at long last, allowed the cousins permission to be the brothers they once were.

I’d even caught Tait laughing outside our chamber doors as he spoke to Erik in the corridor.

Avaline was there, dressed in a gown as gold as the sunrise. Color stained her cheeks, and her eyes took in the palace walls with a bit of awe.

Joron had appeared in court, doubtless rather reluctantly, but he’d been promised to reunite with his daughter and so he did. To find her less than enthusiastic to return to her rooms in the House of Tides was not our trouble. Already, Erik demanded should the Lady Avaline wish to remain at court for a time, the palace gates would welcome her.

Narza and the House of Mists were grouped near the back in their deep shades of doublets and gowns and sea foam hair. The Lady of Witches kept close to Maelstrom. Tavish a step behind, Catriona and their three children gathered around them.

Alistair took his place in front of the crowd. “Folk of the Ever, never have we held a title of queen. Such a thing might once have been considered a great weakness, but Livia of House Ferus, of the folk in the earth realms, has proven how it is nothing short of a fierce strength.”

Erik squeezed my palm, studying the faces in the crowd as Alistair went on.

“When our folk should have been enemies, you healed our lands. You continue to heal them.”

I swallowed and dipped my chin. The darkening was far from healed. But already we’d met with leaders and high voices of the isles throughout the kingdom, determining which corners of the kingdom were in the fiercest need.

“But above it all, you have shown us how a queen will fight as valiantly as the king for our people.” Alistair puffed out his chest, gesturing toward a guard to step forward. A wooden box, edged in gold, was held out. “As the first Ever Queen, accept your crown from our king, your mate.”

Erik abandoned his throne and lifted the top of the box. There was no rule to this ceremony, but the confidence in his stride, the lift of his shoulders, Erik Bloodsinger made it seem as though crowning a queen was a thing that had always been done.

A few gasps fluttered through the hall when Erik carefully took to one knee at my feet. No doubt it would take a bit of time for folk of the Ever to grow accustomed to their king’s devotion to another.

I smiled, pleading with my damn tears to keep steady when Erik held out the box for me to see.

“I took the liberty of fashioning your crown, love,” he said, voice soft and secret, only meant for me.

“I knew you had a plan. Alistair lied for you.”

A huff came from the steward, but nothing more.

On a cushion of satin, a thin circlet was lined in filigree meant to look like wisps of ivy and leaves. Within the gold, much like the blood crown, a dash of crimson flowed as though alive.

“Erik,” I said, breathless. “It’s beautiful.”

“A true banner for your beauty, your strength, and your resilience. I want folk throughout the ages, I want every future Ever Queen, to always remember the first. You are my heart and my blood.”

I arched a brow. “Your blood makes the crown?”

Erik nodded, grinning, and stood. With tenderness he placed the crown atop my head.

“Folk of the Ever!” The steward’s voice was a bellow. Strange to hear from his soft condescension. “Do you accept Livia of House Ferus to stand with us as Livia . . .” Alistair let his words fade, a wicked kind of smirk on his face. “Earthmender, Queen of the Ever Kingdom.”

For a breath, a tenuous heartbeat, I was convinced no one would utter a sound. Then, the walls shook with applause and cries of, “Long life to the queen of kings.”

Earthmender. My lips parted when I shot my gaze to Erik. His mouth was set in a smirk, arrogant and wholly pleased with himself. Livia Earthmender. The name settled like scattered summer heat through my veins. I could not keep the smile from carving over my mouth.

Knees scraped over tiles, gowns rustled through netting and satin. Sea fae bent the knee, and one by one, my people joined. Stieg pounded a fist over his chest with a wink. Jonas and Sander elbowed each other as they raced to kneel first, and Mira clapped, rather un-regally, and let out a shriek of excitement before she adjusted her skirt to kneel next to Celine.

Tait took the place in front of us. He placed a hand over his heart and whispered, “To my queen.” And he knelt.

My father and Aleksi were the last to lower. Daj mouthed that he loved me. Aleksi rolled his eyes but fisted one hand over his chest. A prince, but always a Rave.

Erik returned my smile and drew his lips close to my ear. “I wear the blood crown, you wear the bones, love.”

My fingertips traced the edges of my crown, eyes startling wide. “Erik Bloodsinger, what did you do?”

The familiar darkness, the side I’d first seen of the boy trapped in that cell all those turns ago, shone through the glint of his eyes.

“I made a vow, in this very room, should anyone bring you harm, you wear them as a promise of what becomes of those who dare touch the Ever Queen. Peel back the gold, and you will have answers to what became of traitors.”

The bone crown. My fingertips stilled on the circlet atop my head. “Larsson?”

“And others. A sea witch I will never speak of again and a bit of a dead lord.” Erik’s face was stern, his jaw taut with passion. “Too far, love?”

I studied Erik, drank him in, the light and the shadows. I kissed him until I could draw in a breath again.

“No, Serpent,” I whispered against his lips. “To me, you will always be the most beautiful of monsters.”


Wine flowed, dancing couples paraded across the hall, and the moon was brighter than I’d seen before. There was peace here. I’d taken my turn with Alek, my father, and of course, Sewell. Even Gavyn had shoved through, insistent to dance with the queen.

Sander danced with Celine, then Avaline. He’d since grown rather engrossed in conversation with a few witches from the House of Mists, comparing their spell casts to the potions and elixirs used by folk from his realms.

Jonas, for the first time since the man could grow a single whisker on his chin, was not dancing or tangled in the arms of some woman. He was standing near my father and Stieg, but his gaze was wholly trained on the somber features of Skadi.

Palace guards had escorted Skadi to the coronation. If she was to live as a refugee in the Ever, I felt it right that she be doused in the society of sea folk.

She’d remained by the guards, nibbled at a bit of silverfish, and spoken to no one.

Jonas seemed ready to pounce should she take one misstep. Gods, I hoped the bond was not destroying his levity and the fire in his soul.

Time. Changes, shifts, new beginnings: it would all take time.

I leaned against the wall, snickering into a horn of plum wine as Erik was dragged into a dance by Mira. She’d insisted something about undying friendship, to which the Ever King had a great many protests.

“You’ve had cakes aplenty.” A familiar voice drew me to the far end of the table. Tavish lifted a young fae girl into his arms, snatching a glazed cake from her sticky hands.

“Tavish,” I said. “You would deny her such a sweet thing?”

“Not at all, My Queen,” he said, speckling kisses along the girl’s cheeks until she giggled. “If you are willing to run the corridors with her at all the chimes tonight.”

Tavish placed his girl on the ground, ushering her to go play with her siblings who ran amok with a few other littles from the township.

“May I pose a question, Tavish?” I didn’t look at him.

“Of course.”

My pulse thudded in my skull. I took another drink. “Why did you and your parents never take Erik in when he was such a small boy?”

Tavish stared straight ahead, but I knew where he looked. Narza stood cautiously near Maelstrom, but their occasional touches, their close whispers, only made it clearer to me they were mates.

“So,” Tavish said, “he accepted the truth?”

“Erik has said nothing,” I admitted. “But he knows. He will ask or not ask as he pleases. It is me asking.”

Tavish squared to me. Buried in his slender, sharp features, I could almost see a resemblance to Erik.

“You ask because you resent us for it.”

“Shall I lie?”

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

“I don’t understand it,” I admitted. “It is what I told your mother. I do not understand how his blood could abandon him to the cruelty of Harald.”

“We had no choice,” Tavish said, voice low. “The moment a male heir was born, Thorvald showed who he truly was. Threats were made against my sister and the boy. The Ever King would allow only my mother into Erik’s life, but no males who might influence his heir.”

“And no one tried to stop it.”

“I am told the work was done before we knew it was done.”

“You’re told?”

“I was a boy of twelve when this happened, My Queen.” Tavish rubbed the back of his neck. “Not even Oline knew what Thorvald had done against her father and brother until it was too late.”

“You or Narza could not break these wards?”

“My voice had not matured, and my mother and father could not without risking treason. And likely risking me or my sister.” Tavish shook his head. “Thorvald imprisoned Oline, Livia. She was the mate but had no freedom once the king got what he wanted in an heir.”

“So, Erik never knew you existed?”

“It was as though my father and I were forgotten in the House of Kings. Across the Ever, really. Only the most inner folk in the House of Mists know my bloodline. To others, I am a noble, a powerful spell caster. Once Oline was gone, Thorvald and Harald used other witches and warded us away. I could not step foot in the royal city until now.”

“What changed?”

“The king had to welcome us. My mother is the Lady of Witches, so she was required at council. Her invitation was much swifter. But me, my father? With the bitterness Erik had been taught, the hatred he’d come to feel toward the House of Mists, why would he ever welcome us?” Tavish smiled, almost with a bit of surprise. “Until you.”

My throat tightened. “Now what will you do?”

“What I have always done. Stand by my sister’s son.” Tavish plucked a crystal flute of wine from the table. “Even if I was not welcome here, I have always stood by the young Ever King. I fought in the fae war. He might not have known, but I was there. Even waited in the tides until your folk released him, all to be certain he returned.”

“He thought it was only Tait who remained.”

“I know.” Tavish’s face curled in a bit of regret. “I did not know how to even approach the boy king, only that I made a promise when my sister died, that I would do all I could to keep him alive. I admit, I thought he would grow to be more like his father. But the king I see before me, I assure you, he is all his mother. And she was a gift to this kingdom, as are you.”

Tavish lifted my hand and pressed a kiss to the top.

“Does knowing all that help with the bitterness?”

“A little,” I said. “I hope you will be present in the royal city much more often. He is worth knowing, Tavish.”

“Aye, Queen Livia. I agree.” He took a step back. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, my mate is casting rather dangerous eyes in my direction. I must go help chain our offspring to the floor.”

I snorted and watched him go. When I faced the hall again, heated crimson eyes locked with mine.

“Mira released you,” I said, slipping my fingers through Erik’s once he was at my side.

“I fled, like a coward.”

I kissed the top of his shoulder. “It is not cowardly. She is a force that no man can truly tame.”

Erik took a sip from my horn. “What was all that about with Tavish?”

“Merely your queen being rather protective of her king.”

Erik tugged me against his chest, lips close. “Is that so?”

I sighed when he dipped his face, nose dragging along my throat. “Yes.” Hells, my voice was hardly more than a gasp.

“Songbird?”

“Serpent.”

“I’ve grown tired of this revel.”

My stomach backflipped. “Same.”

With a touch of fire in his eyes, the Ever King took my hand and led me from the hall, not pausing until his arms and legs were tangled around mine, and the new peace we’d claimed truly felt within reach.


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