The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 54

THE SONGBIRD

This seemed a bit mad. Clearing the Chasm, surely it was impossible.

“Improbable.” Narza had told us before the dawn. “There is a power in that barrier. Magic leaves remnants, as you know. It is matter unseen. If the elven has an affinity to absorb physical matter, then it is possible whatever ancient power fuels the Chasm can be removed.”

My thumbnail was lodged between my teeth. My mother’s arm was around my waist, and together we watched Erik, my father, Sander, and Narza stand beside Skadi waist deep in the sea.

Skadi was dressed in a thin chemise, her hair wild around her shoulders and face. She looked like a spirit of the tides. Still strung around her neck were the herbs holding her affinity in her blood.

Jonas was crouched by the water line, Aleksi beside him. They were muttering in harsh tones. Jonas was uneasy, doubtless from the neach-dai bond. Our folk hardly knew what to make of the new intensity of the rakish prince, and his unbidden devotion to the sea fae.

I suspected having Skadi so near to so many nobles and the king of the Ever, added some discomfort to Jonas and his new vow to protect. Much like Erik, I was certain my friend held little trust for Skadi. Then again, he’d only seen her in battle, attempting to slaughter us. He’d not known her before her magic had hardened her.

Despite his melancholy, a gaggle of courtiers from across the realms kept close, a hope that Jonas and Alek might turn to the comfort of their arms. Freydis, clothed in her finest gown, stared with a sort of dreamy look at Jonas when he stretched the muscles of his neck side to side.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

Fire red hair braided around a black circlet blocked the gazes of the ladies straining to get a glimpse at the princes. Malin, Jonas’s mother, looked my way, winked, and billowed out her fur-lined cloak to make her slender figure take up more of the line of sight to her son.

“I am not the only one who desires a certain kind of lover for their child,” my mother whispered, grinning at her fellow queen who utterly ignored the straining heads of the courtiers, trying to steal a glance over her shoulders.

“Malin thinks she’s protecting him, but Jonas is the one who will gladly resist love to his dying breath.”

My mother wrapped her arm around my waist. “You know, if this does not take, nothing will change, Livie. I will be here every other week when you come to visit me.”

I snorted. “Oh, is that the timeframe you’ve set?”

“No, I would prefer you take up here, but unfortunately, your father reminded me that your hjärta is a king with responsibilities and such nonsense. What is that look?”

“You called Erik my hjärta. Daj did once too.” A perfect harmony of my heart. An old, romantic belief of our folk.

“I would hope you’d accept nothing less.” My mother looked to the sea a little wistfully. “We sensed the connection, or at least the intrigue, between you and the Ever King at the end of the war. When I learned you’d been taken . . . I was broken, Livie. Never had I felt such pain.”

“But?”

“But there was a moment when my heart knew this was bound to happen. Like it had been a truth I’d chosen to forget. Don’t mistake me, I could do without the kidnapping, of course. But perhaps Erik needed to learn something from you too; that fire overpowered the sea king and burned his hatred.”

My mother snickered and squeezed my waist a little tighter.

“I have a confession,” I whispered.

“Oh, I love secret confessions.”

“When I saw Erik at the masquerade, there was an indescribable pull toward him. I was terrified when he took me, but I couldn’t shake that before he removed that mask, the draw to him was something else, something folk always searched for, yet few found. It, well, I think it chased away the fear; I think it helped me trust him much more swiftly than I would’ve otherwise.”

My mother considered the confession for a few moments. “Do you think the draw was the heartbond?”

“Even if it was,” I said, “the love never left. It is only stronger.”

“It is what I’ve always wanted for you,” she said, voice soft. “That you would find your fire and a love that will fan your flames, not douse them.”

A commotion in the tides drew us back to the sea. Narza urged Erik and the others to return to the shore. Discontent tugged at Erik’s brows when he came to my side.

“What’s happening?” I hooked my hand around his arm.

“The sea witches and your witch folk—”

“Elixists,” my mother corrected, grinning. “They would not appreciate being called a witch.”

“Whatever their title, the lot of them are warding the shore between us and the elven should she choose to attack instead of living in peace.”

I doubted Skadi would turn on an entire shore of magics. She hid beneath a stony exterior, but she cared for Eldirard. She wouldn’t risk his life, nor Natthaven, by attacking those who’d offered refuge.

“Do you think she’ll succeed?” My voice was heavy with a burden. I almost wished I hadn’t been told there was a possibility. Disappointment should it fail would be a dreary weight. “I told you, she tried to pull away her grandfather and wasn’t able to without fatiguing.”

Erik nodded. “But hadn’t she been battling before? And Arion was there. Wasn’t he fighting against her?”

True enough. Skadi had been weary.

“Tavish is aiding her,” Erik told me, pointing to the far side of the shore. Tavish was crouched at the end of a long dock, one palm hovered over the sea. “He’s been unthreading bits of the spell cast.”

“He believes it was cast by a sea witch?”

Erik nodded. “An intricate spell, but if it is unraveled, the hope is the remnants will be simpler for the elven to hide away in her damn mist abyss.”

The sound of a deep groan—like a horn blared through a ravine—echoed over the water. Ripples bloomed away from the dark skein that wove over the surface of the water. Below was the wall of thrashing tides.

Some folk backed away from the shoreline when another boom shocked new ripples and gentle waves across the streak of the barrier.

Skadi held out her arms. Like black petals blooming, skeins of misty ink peeled away from her body. It was unlike a shadow, more diaphanous and damp, like a true mist. Water bubbled around her waist. Darkness grew, thickening like sea spray during a monsoon and plunged into the sea.

On the dock, Tavish flattened onto his belly, cursing and holding his palms over the water. I dug my fingers into Erik’s arm, unable to look away, unable to move the longer Skadi’s magic dug at the Chasm walls.

Then, Tavish shouted, rising to his knees. “That was the final thread. It’s free, woman. Pull it back. Now! Before it resettles!”

Skadi closed her eyes. Another pulse of her iridescent darkness skittered over the surface of the water, diving through the shadowed surface line of the Chasm. Her arms trembled. She doubled over. A soft cry followed.

“It’s too much for her,” I said.

“A little more,” Erik replied, low and like he was in his own thoughts.

Skadi stumbled. The coils of mists gathered around her, thrashing and spinning. She cried out again, slowly bringing her palms to the center of her heart, as though she were encapsulating her darkness.

Another guttural echo moaned across the sea. Then, the misty billows shot out from her middle, a sunburst of darkness. In the next breath, they were gone. As was Skadi. She’d fallen back into the water. Jonas and Aleksi rushed to her, dragging her out of the surf. She slumped against Jonas’s shoulder, hardly able to walk to the shore.

My pulse had gone still, my blood cold. I still clung to Erik’s arm, like it was the only solid thing.

“Well? Did it work?” Thank the gods for Celine. She was not one to wait long in heady silence.

Erik did not give the command before Gavyn took the liberty to look. The bone lord faded into the sea. Gentle circles coated the top of my hand from Erik’s thumb. Much like me, the Ever King seemed unwilling to blink, to even breathe, while we waited.

Deep in the water, beyond the sandbars and rocky edges, Gavyn’s face broke the surface. He faced the shore, simply staring.

Then, “The Chasm is gone!”


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