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The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 53

THE SERPENT

Longships greeted us on the opposing side of the Chasm. Sleek and narrow, filled with Rave and cheers once the hull of the Ever Ship, the blue sails of Gavyn’s ship, and the ashen canvas of Narza’s vessel broke through the earth fae seas.

Until the new vessel of the House of Blades was fashioned, Celine took to the Ever Ship as always.

With Sewell, Celine took charge of keeping watch on Skadi. I did not yet trust the woman to remain alone in the Ever. Eldirard had alliance treaties with his name and his granddaughter at our mercy. He was not a threat, but the woman—I did not understand her, and until I did, she was a threat.

Skadi had been rather indifferent about sailing through the Chasm. Then again, she was indifferent on most things. She slid the woolen hood from her cloak off her silver hair and took in the shoreline, not a flinch to her face.

When the scaled, crimson sails of the Ever Ship broke the surface, horns sounded and folk sprinted to the docks and beaches and into the shallows.

Since he’d stepped foot on my ship, I’d never seen the earth bender so alight with anticipation. I wouldn’t have been stunned if Valen Ferus tossed himself over the rails to swim ashore.

When he took to a rowboat, that was precisely what he did the instant pale hair came into sight.

Livia drew in a sharp breath, still on deck, watching as her mother gathered the skirt of her blue gown in one hand and flung herself into Valen’s arms before he fully emerged from the tides. He fell backward, holding his queen, devouring her, unbothered by the ever flow of waves splashing over their heads.

Livia swiped a tear off her cheek.

“Songbird?” I touched the small of her back.

“I once thought I’d never see them again.” A flash of guilt tightened in my chest, but faded when Livia hugged my waist. “No regrets, Bloodsinger. I am in my homelands, but my home is beneath the sea.”

I pressed a kiss to the side of her head, stomach tight when Tait called for us to join the boats ashore.

We’d intentionally stayed back, not wishing to intrude on reunions. There had been battles fought side by side, but tensions could still be felt, still be tasted, like soured pomes.

“Livia!” Elise Ferus screamed in the shallows once we were halfway to the shore.

Valen had Prince Rorik tossed over his shoulder, leaving his wife to claw through the tides. Like her father, Livia readied to leap over the rail. I held out a palm, calling back the currents, giving more solid ground for them to run.

Livia sobbed, calling out for her mother. Elise was slightly shorter, but she cradled Livia’s head to hers, trembling. Over and over again, the Night Folk queen would pull back, stroke her daughter’s tears, laughing through her own, then strangle her in another embrace.

“Ready for this?” Tait whispered.

“Not at all.”

I landed ankle deep in the tides. Tait was at my shoulder. Eventually, Celine stood at the other with Stormbringer, her father, and the elven princess. Behind us, sirens and singers, merfolk and witches, Narza, even Tavish, awaited an invitation to join the earth fae ashore.

Aleksi was caught between two men. I looked away at the sight of the man I’d once saved during the war. That was an interaction I’d make good effort to avoid. It wasn’t much better when I turned only to observe the twins greeting their folk.

Jonas and Sander were carved from their father, broad and tall, but I knew the blood-haired queen between them. A woman who’d carried a broken boy from his torture.

I’d avoid her too.

“Why is that one looking at me?” Tait mumbled.

True enough, as Mira’s mother held her daughter, a man, inked with a raven tattoo on the side of his neck, glared at my cousin. I could not tell if it was a look of bewilderment or disdain.

“Bloodsinger!” A pack of young fae, led by Prince Rorik, barreled at the line of sea fae.

Gods. Littles.

The prince, his dark eyes narrowed in determination, shoved a girl at his side. Her long, cinnamon braids flung about her cheeks before she stumbled face first into the water. Rorik snickered a little wickedly until he, too, tripped in front of me. I caught him under the arm.

“Prince.”

“Bloodsinger.” He spluttered, wiping saltwater out of his eyes. “Can I . . . can I steer the ship? Don’t let Alva, but can I?”

“I asked first!” The spindly girl had recovered, storming toward the prince, with more young fae at her back.

“Shut it, Alva!” Rorik snapped. “I’m gonna steer it first. Bloodsinger said.”

“Rorik.” Livia gripped her brother by the tunic, pulling him back, and took hold of my hand. “Leave the king alone.”

The boy groaned. “I just wanna steer the ship.”

My songbird looked to me, a glisten on her lashes. “You look uneasy, Serpent. Where is the aura of the masked man who stole me away?”

“I’m afraid he had a run in with your father’s axes and your mother’s threats.”

Livia tugged on my hand. “Come.”

Tait shook out his hands, saw to his pocket watch, then nodded. “No threat.”

“What did you think you’d see, Heartwalker?” Livia shook her head and led us toward the shore. “There is no danger here. Not anymore.”

My free arm was pulled back. Rorik, a cunning look written on his face, yanked hard enough I bent at the waist.

“The ship?” he whispered. “You’re gonna let me, right?”

“We will sail. When we do, be ready to meet the wind.”

The boy’s lip curled, then he sped away, chasing the other littles in a race back to the shore. A shore lined in warriors, kings and queens, and few smiles.

Strange how much had changed when the earth bender stepped forward and I felt a bit of relief crack the pressure on my chest. Valen looked to me, then swept an arm toward the knolls that rolled in front of the fort.

“Sea fae, I am told we have a feast awaiting. You’re welcome at our table.”

Raised to be a brutal king, then left to my own devices at such a young age, it was not much of a shock that kingly behavior was not my instinct.

Neither was it Celine’s.

She shoved through the lines, nudging the Night Folk king as she went. “About time. My boots are soaked, and I’m rather starved, Earth Bender.”

Livia clung to my arm and led us after the new Lady of Blades.


The great hall was filled much the same as it had been when we’d stowed away, but with less venom and blades.

Cheers boomed, rattling the iron chandelier over the tables, and horns lifted when Valen and Elise first entered. The Night Folk king was promptly surrounded by his people. Hands clapped on forearms, backs, and shoulders.

I clung to Livia’s hand, feeling like a damn sod, afraid to release her until we were told to find seats at the tables scattered across the hall. I could’ve kissed her, deep and feral in front of all her folk, when Livia settled us beside the royals of her realms, but also next to Sewell, Tait, and the other sea fae nobles.

I did not want a line to divide us, but even still, I was grateful to be evenly matched.

Halfway through the meal of spiced roots, a gamey beast, and pickled herring, Mira’s father, the raven tattooed king, clapped the edge of the table and pointed at Tait. “That’s it. I remember why I know this fae. Banishment.”

By his side, Mira’s mother chuckled. “You’re just now recognizing him, Ari?”

The queen had hair long and thick like her daughter’s, only darker, and bore a few scars like mine that peeked from the neckline of her gown.

“Bleeding gods.” Tait blew out a long breath, flexing his fingers until several knuckles cracked.

Princess Mira seemed satisfied with Tait’s sudden loss of color to his face but looked at the raven king. “Daj, you know the cousin of the Ever King? I never heard you crossed paths before.”

“We’ve met.” The raven king drummed his fingers. “He’s the boy I personally banished back to the sea. Got much thicker in the arms. Boy was nothing but bones and a bit of flesh when last we met.”

“Wait, King Ari banished you, Heartwalker?” Aleksi’s eyes widened. “Ari, you’ve never said that, and you love a good boast.”

“That I do, Alek. Afraid it was a rather frantic time, and memory of my grandeur slipped my mind.” The king sneered and made a point to remove a serrated dagger made of bone and gold. “Isn’t that right, Harald’s son.”

“My name is Heartwalker,” Tait grumbled.

“Ari,” Mira’s mother said, a sigh in her voice. “No threatening.”

“Threatening? I am intimidating, which I will do to my heart’s content, especially when we have a damn lovely girl and there are princess snatchers about.”

“Daj.” Mira’s voice trembled, not from unease but from a muffled laugh. “They brought us back.”

Bloodsinger returned his snatched princess. How do I know Harald’s son would do the same?”

Tait blanched. “I’m not here to snatch anyone.”

“Why?” The raven king’s golden eyes narrowed as he leaned closer. “Something wrong with my girl, Harald’s son?”

“What? No.” Tait’s face burned in a wash of red. “I didn’t say that.”

“So, you would snatch her?”

“No,” Tait shifted on his seat, eyes wide. “Gods.”

In a bout of decent timing, the earth bender banged a horn against the table, drawing eyes down the table as he stood.

“It has been rather trying these last months. I cannot express my gratitude to you all for standing beside us in the search for Liv.” He smiled at his daughter, then studied his horn of ale. “If anyone would have said we’d be seated here with sea fae—the Ever King—without bloodshed, I might’ve thought you mad. But I’ve had the honor of fighting beside folk I thought were enemies, only to be shown their devotion, their bonds to their people. The same bonds that run through us. I am proud to sit with you all.”

Horns clacked on the tables across the hall, loud enough I could not hear anything else.

Later, while Livia was passed around the royals, I was cornered by the Night Folk queen.

“Bloodsinger.”

“Queen.” I dipped my chin.

Elise Ferus’s head reached my chin, but when she squared to me, I wanted to take a step back. Until her face softened. “You brought them back to me.”

“I vowed I would.”

“Valen told me everything. He is not easily impressed in battle, but he has admitted more than once that he does not know how you steadied blades on a rocking ship.”

I fought to remain insouciant but failed when a grin spread. “He aided in the killing blow.”

Elise seemed pleased to hear how her people fought. Not only Livia, but the other heirs. To the Night Folk queen, they were as much her children as Livia and Rorik. She asked of the battle but pressed more on the changes in the Ever Kingdom.

Her eyes glazed in a bit of longing. “I wish I could see it someday.”

The Chasm would always be a divide for Livia. She spoke of the Ever like her home, yet her mother would never witness her atop her throne, would never see her daughter seated as a queen in her own court over sea fae.

Elise, surprising me, rested a hand on my arm and squeezed. “I am glad you returned to us, too, Ever King. There are those here who are much better for it.”

The words Valen had spoken to me that day I’d been tossed into the sea rattled in my skull. Turns, war, hate, all of it had happened to bring us to this moment, to make the words truth. I nodded, silent as the queen returned to the crowd.

“That current divides your worlds?”

I startled. Skadi, shadowed by Tait, materialized from a doorway. She was dressed simply. Half her hair was pulled behind her head with a leather strip, and she wore an ashen gray dress that fit her terribly, two sizes too large. She was meant to be a princess, yet did not play the role.

“The elven speaks.” I turned away from her, content to watch my queen smile and laugh until her head fell back, exposing her throat I planned on licking and biting the moment we were alone.

“I speak when there are interesting enough words to say.” Skadi stepped beside me. “I overheard the mortal—”

“She is a queen, elven.”

“And I was going to call her the mortal queen.” For a moment, there was the slightest flicker of annoyance on the woman’s face.

Ah, she could feel.

“This current is too strong, yes? It keeps your queen’s mother out of your world.”

“Yes.” I thrummed in irritation, as though my old resentments toward the earth fae needed someone new to burden.

Trust was a fickle thing, and I’d not given it freely to her yet. Until then, she’d likely receive the sharper edges.

“I could take it away.”

I froze. “What did you say?”

“I could take the current away, leave a calm barrier between your kingdoms.”

“How can you take the Chasm?”

“Much the same as I took your bond.”

“I would not speak so flippantly about the bond you stole.”

The elven shrugged. “All I am saying is the act is the same without the pain. The boundary between realms will remain, but the violence that fractures your two worlds is powered by something Otherworldly. It was obvious when we sailed through.”

What fueled the crushing waters of the Chasm had never been taught to me, simply known to exist. Trade between sea and earth fae had been done before, but it was rare and used spells and summons to see it done.

Sea fae always went to the earth fae. Never—that I knew—had earth fae sailed to the Ever since the Chasm was shaped.

“A sea witch likely created the barrier,” I determined, more to myself than Skadi. If sea folk cast the violence, it would make a bit more sense why earth folk never came to us.

“Perhaps,” she said. “It matters little, but there is a power teeming within, and that is what I can take.”

“The boundary would remain,” I repeated.

“But the violence would be finished.”

No Chasm? A wall between worlds that had been in place for centuries.

“Explain your magic, elven.”

“Affinity,” she corrected. “Like Arion used flame or light to reach for and take objects, I do the same with darkness.”

“He walked through his.”

“A talent I do not possess.” Skadi tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Arion can walk through light, within reason. He cannot step long distances, nor can he go somewhere he has never been before. He must see it in his mind’s eye.”

Gods, I wished that bastard was dead. “Livia said you conjure things from these mists.”

“Not conjure. I take.” Skadi studied the rafters overhead. “When I summon my affinity, I could pull that drinking horn, for example”—she gestured to a far table—“into the mist until it reached my hand.”

That was how she’d robbed Sander of his blade.

“You can’t simply take a current like the Chasm and place it somewhere else.”

“No, the power within it would fade into the mist, die in a way. I can draw matter to me, or I can leave it within the darkness. It is the drearier side, or in your case—helpful.”

“Leave them where?”

“I don’t know exactly. Some say it is in the void of creation. I think the matter merely turns to dust. It is like closing a door. I can leave it open until whatever I summon steps through to me, or I can lock it away, out of sight.” Skadi tilted her head, an eerily vacant look on her face. “This is why my affinity is better off feared by you. Why it should never belong to a man like Arion.”

“Doesn’t seem any different than what Eldirard said.”

“He didn’t elaborate.” Skadi gave me an empty smile. “If I wanted, I can steal a life, the physical beat of a heart, the draw of breath in the lungs. I take it, then close it away behind the darkness, and there it goes to die. That is what I will do with whatever power lives in that Chasm of yours.”

Shit. “You kill with this mist?”

“I can. Just as you, simply in a different way.” Skadi shielded a yawn with the back of her hand. “I tire of this revelry. Would you permit your crew to lead me back to the ship to sleep?”

I wasn’t certain I even nodded before she turned away.

“Think on what I said, sea king. I can kill this Chasm, and you will give your queen her folk while keeping you.”

It wasn’t until Sander, Narza, and an Alver from the twins’ home realm confirmed there was merit to Skadi’s claims that it was determined on the morrow, we would kill the final wall between our people.


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