The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 55

THE SERPENT

Earth fae took any reason to celebrate and feast. Again, we were gathered in the great hall, drinking, eating, and dancing to their strange rawhide drums and odd lutes. Most nights, I would choose to hole away with Livia, alone, far from other souls, but tonight even I found a bit of lightness in the room.

A stark line carved through the seas. Dark waters marking the barrier between the Ever and the earth realms. It remained, but as the elven said—the violence was gone.

Gavyn, Tait, and Aleksi offered to test the new barrier. Gavyn’s ship had been gone half the morning, and when they returned, there’d been a bit of awe written on their faces.

To the sea fae, the Chasm was not horridly uncomfortable, more like a fierce sea storm. But Alek returned to say it was like drifting from the frosts to summer waters. Dark and cold, until they reached the Ever Sea where light and warmth fed into the currents.

“Almost peaceful,” he said, speaking to everyone, but his eyes had been on his aunt. “Nothing more than diving into the sea.”

There was the matter of breathing. Elise would live the length of the fae through spells and magic, but she still had mortal lungs.

One of the earth witches—or Elixists—waved the worry away. “A simple charm you keep with you, Elise. That’s all it’ll take. I’ll have one within days.”

“Days?” Tavish crossed his ankle over his knee. “I’ll have one by sunset tomorrow.”

“Is that a challenge, spell caster?”

Tavish smirked. “That it is, Elixir.”

I’d few doubts the Night Folk queen, and any mortal in the earth realms, would have half a dozen ways to breathe through the journey by week’s end.

Livia leaned into me, smiling at the levity. Women, men, littles; they danced around each other. The earth bender laughed with Elise in the center of the room when Mira’s father and mother muttered something to them.

But beside them, Sander bowed at the waist to a sea witch, taking the woman’s hand in the dance. Gavyn had become the intrigue of more than one earth fae courtier and had danced with no less than four women thus far.

“Hearttalker.” Mira approached Tait two seats from us. “Time for you to dance. Perhaps smile a bit.”

“I would rather dry out on the land before dancing.”

“Gods, you’re the sourest man,” the princess said, striding away with more than one insult murmured over her shoulder.

“She’s not wrong, cousin,” I said through a drink of the honey-thick ale the earth fae drank. I’d never admit it to Alistair, but I almost preferred it to our sweet wines.

Tait huffed but didn’t disagree. My cousin was surly, but there were reasons and they were his to tell. His secrets to reveal.

“What is the matter with Jonas?” I whispered against Livia’s ear.

Her eyes kicked to the prince who sat amongst a few Rave who’d placed themselves around the elven. Her feat with the Chasm, though miraculous, seemed to add a bit more trepidation about the extent of her power.

It was subtle, but the elven was being watched. Closely. No mistake, she always would be.

Jonas did not look to the revelry but studied his drinking horn, lost in his own mind.

Worry grooved over Livia’s brow. “I don’t know. He simply says he has a great deal on his mind with all this.”

“Want Tait to read his heart?”

“No.” Livia sighed. “Jonas deserves his private thoughts. War upset him as a boy. It seems this one has done the same.”

“We can find a way to exchange the bond,” I offered. “It does not mean he’s a prisoner of the Ever—”

“I actually think he’s rather proud of it,” Livia hurried to say. “Alek said he’s been explaining it to the Rave and anyone who’ll listen, really. I think it is nearly losing Sander, nearly losing all of us, that’s troubling him. Give him time to work through what has happened.”

I kissed the tender place behind her ear, nodding. The prince could take his time, but much longer, and I’d forgo morality and have Tait dig through his heart, taking the lot of his secrets.

“Have you grown tired of this revel, love?”

Livia shuddered when my breath ghosted over her neck. “I think I have, Serpent.”

I rose, holding out my hand, and took us toward the back doors of the hall before anyone could pull us back.

Alas, Aleksi, irritating prince that he was, had other plans.

“Bloodsinger, you cannot avoid us any longer.”

Heat skittered over my skin. I closed my eyes and slowly turned. Gods, I’d known if Livia and I returned to her people, if they’d accepted me as her king, her lover, her chosen, I would undoubtedly face the man again.

We’d never spoken. Not really. The only time I’d been so close to Alek’s other father had been while he bled out, unconscious and stepping into the Otherworld.

Now, the bastard of a prince beamed at me like he knew exactly the disquiet he’d caused, while gesturing at the man at his side.

“Oh,” Livia let out a breath. “Uncle Tor. You’ve . . . have you ever spoken to the king?”

“No,” he said, never looking away from me. “The last time we were this close, I was bleeding out on the forest floor. Never had the chance.”

He was broader than his lover, with similarly dark hair, but darker eyes and a stronger chin. But buried in his eyes was the same spark of something like gratitude and affection when he looked at Aleksi.

“Don’t worry, Erik,” Aleksi said, “Daj likes to make idle chat about as much as you do.”

With a nudge to his father’s arm, the prince stepped back. I hissed when my songbird, my queen, abandoned me, a watery smile on her face. I wanted to sink into the damn soil.

“You saved my son,” Tor said. “And me.”

Without another word, he held out his arm. I hesitated, then clasped his forearm, unsteady and suspicious. Always suspicious. Some habits would die a slow death.

Torsten tipped his chin, then released my forearm. “Thank you. I think you’re an ass for taking my niece, but I will always stand with you for what you have done for my family.”

Silence built for a few breaths, then I bowed my own head in a bit of respect. “And I will always stand with them much the same.”

“Then welcome into House Ferus. Once you are in, they will never let you go.” He glanced to where his consort, the earth bender’s brother, spoke with Stieg and one of the queens, a wild sort of woman with golden braids, holding a bundled infant in her arms.

As promised, Livia’s uncle left it at that and strode away. With a tug to my hand, Livia grinned, pulling us out of the hall. She didn’t stop until we were at the edge of a dock.

“Swim with me, Serpent?”

Gods. Livia’s fingers unlaced the front of her bodice. She wriggled free of her gown and skirts until moonlight kissed the gentle slopes of her breasts, her curves.

No need to reply, I rid myself of my clothes and lifted the water to pull us into the tides. Colder than the Ever Sea, but nothing would ever match this peace—this woman in my arms, the sea, the beat of her heart against mine.

I kissed her, deep and thorough. Livia tugged at the roots of my hair, wrapping her smooth thighs around my waist. I groaned. The feel of her heat was a delirious sort of intoxication. It robbed me of thought, of breath. It overpowered my mind until I could see nothing but her.

Livia pulled away, stroking her fingertips down my cheek. “My uncle spoke true.”

“About what?” I licked water off the curve of her neck.

“You are of House Ferus as much as I am now of the Ever.” She trapped my face in her palms, tilting her head, and drawing her lips maddeningly close. “And I will never let you go. You are my heartbond. Far longer than a thousand turns.”

I grinned against her mouth. “They played, that serpent and songbird, from sunup to sundown.”

Livia beamed, tears on her lashes, as she finished the story, the tale she’d invented so long ago. “And lived happily ever after.”

I kissed her for that tale. I kissed her for this moment.

I kissed her for the thousand turns I planned to spend in her arms. I kissed her for all the moments that would come long after those turns were spent.


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