We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

The Ever Queen: CHAPTER 8

THE SERPENT

The pain had ceased, but the sorrow remained. Heavy, unyielding, damn near torturous. Since the war, since those nights my songbird would come to read her tales to me, I’d been filled with her light, her beauty, her heart.

I’d been so lost in my own hate and anger, I’d never truly noticed it.

Now, it was as though my body were nothing but a shell. Without her, I was half a soul.

I stared down at my bare chest. The blood had ceased flowing, but the skin was split and irritated.

After I’d spluttered about the heartbond, after I’d mentioned Livia’s name, the earth fae went mad. I’d been half awake, but the earth bender himself demanded I be taken away. Stieg and the warriors took action.

They’d barked orders to be wary of my blood, but to settle me in some locked room, somewhere in the fort.

Tait had followed, explaining in hurried words anything he knew of heartbonds until the guards seized him again and separated us.

The heartbond connection was meant to be unbreakable. A knot gathered in my throat, sticky and hard. Meant to be unbreakable, yet it was broken. Gone. Lost. Nothing but a flicker of remembrance remained.

Memories were muddled, no mistake. Along the way, the pain had robbed me of my consciousness, but I was alert now.

Part of me wished I wasn’t.

This was not the reality in which I desired to live. To know Livia was still out there, to know something had happened to her to cause this, remained my sole purpose, remained the strongest draw to wake, to fight, to bring her home.

She had to be out there. She had to.

The anguish had cut me at the knees. Never before had I experienced such torment. For too many moments, I could barely walk, barely breathe. I’d damn near pleaded for the seas of the Otherworld to drag me away.

I peered into the foggy mirror hanging on the washroom wall. My hair stuck to my brow in sweaty waves. Dirt and grime tinted my cheeks, and bruises littered my arms and chest from the treatment from the prince and warriors.

I pressed my forehead against the cool glass.

Songbird.

There was a feeble tug in my heart, like whatever corpses of my bond remained yearned to find its mate.

My eyes squeezed shut, and an unfamiliar and mightily unwanted sting bit behind my eyes.

Gods, I would not bleeding shed a ridiculous tear in the halls of my enemies. How long had it been since I’d cried? My mother? During my torture? I was not even certain if I’d cried for my father’s death.

Hopelessness was crushing, and tears seemed the only step to take, but it would solve nothing. To crumble and break would not bring her back.

With the back of my hand, I rubbed the burn away, sniffed, and straightened to face the mirror.

“This means nothing,” I said to the emptiness, imagining Livia could hear every word. “Bond or not, you are mine, and gods, I’m yours, love.”

“Is that so?”

I froze, lifted my gaze, and peered into the glass.

“Queen.”

Livia’s mother stepped into the washroom, standing in the cold skeins of moonlight carving through a small window. Queen Elise fought beside her husband in the war; she was not a piece of glass in a glittering palace. The woman was a mortal who’d won a crown amidst the fae folk.

And she wasn’t alone.

Beside the queen was a woman with dark skin and silver spheres pierced in the dimples of her cheeks. A vague memory took shape; I’d seen her before. She’d been there on the shore when I’d been banished to the Ever. She’d stood beside the man who’d taken my blood to build the barriers against me.

The woman kept close to the door, a subtle smirk on her mouth when she caught my scrutiny.

Queen Elise clasped her hands in front of her slender body. Two fingertips were missing on one hand, but from my memories, they never hindered her grip on a blade.

The queen stared at the gash down my chest. “Nothing but violence has occupied my thoughts about the king of the Ever for so long, but to act on it now that you are returned, I do not think would bring me back to my girl.”

I stepped closer, frustration boiling to the surface. “The way I see it, the only one trying to get your daughter back is me.”

A slight curl tugged at her lip. “Such a strange feeling I have for you, Ever King. I want to cut out your tongue and feed it to you in pieces in one breath, then in the other I want . . . to embrace you for . . . for loving Livia the way she deserves to be loved.”

My pulse quickened in my skull, beating against the bone.

What was this game?

The queen cleared her throat, composing herself, and frowned at me again. “Aleksi tried to explain this . . . bond.” She gestured at my bloody chest.

The second woman snorted a laugh. “Valen didn’t take kindly to the idea of Liv’s heart being bound to this one.”

Elise smiled, but clearly tried to hide it, tried to be stern. “For some reason, my nephew is rather relentless in his defenses of you. He went on and told the great hall that you healed him when you could’ve let him fall to his injuries. He explained the troubles in your lands. Most of our folk want to keep you locked away until the remaining royals arrive.”

“Remaining royals?”

“You attacked our world, Bloodsinger,” Elise snapped. “We are made of bonded kingdoms. Your actions impact us all. Do you think the other kings and queens care nothing for Livia? I assure you, they love her like she is their own.”

“Kase wants Malin to make him forget how to breathe,” the second woman said, her smirk never leaving.

Was this all a damn jest to them? Did they not realize what was at stake?

“You not only took my child, a royal daughter,” Elise went on, “but your actions incited panic across the realms. The war ended not so long ago, Erik Bloodsinger. Civil disputes, fear, threats, all of it now lands on our heads because of you.”

“You speak of riots? Panic?” I pressed, all at once irritated that a piece of me actually cared what became of others. There wasn’t room to care about anyone but Livia.

Elise stepped next to me, close enough she could slip a blade through my gut, and I wouldn’t have time to shift out of the path. “Nothing we cannot peacefully handle, but our folk are not the concern. It is the sea fae emerging from the tides across the realms that is causing our Rave warriors to divide to protect every shore.”

“What?”

“They began to arrive several nights ago. It keeps us on guard, fighting our own civil unrest, and preparing for another war. Another reason every throne is convening to plan our moves.”

“I did not send them.”

Elise paused, glancing at the woman. Her companion’s grin fell, and she nodded at the Night Folk queen. “He speaks true.”

How she knew I wasn’t lying didn’t matter. I needed to be free of these walls and setting sail within the next chime, or I would poison the lot of them. As much as Livia loved her folk, they would not be the cause for me to not find my songbird again.

I flexed my fingers and lowered my voice. “Let me go, and I will see to it you have protections from the Ever King against any rogue sea fae. I will offer assurances to your folk that we are not here for war.”

“Again, I hardly know what to think of you,” Elise said.

“Forgive me, Queen, but I don’t do any of this for you. I came seeking help for her.”

Elise considered me for a long breath. “And why is that? Why heal my nephew when the Chasm broke him?” The queen paused. “Why would an enemy want to help my daughter breathe?”

I lowered my voice. “Why do you think, Queen Elise?”

Shorter than me by a head, still, when the Night Folk queen locked her gaze on mine, I fought the urge to cower like I’d been kicked. “Look me in the eye, Erik Bloodsinger, and tell me of my daughter.”

Instinct demanded I argue and fight, but there was a fierceness in the queen’s eyes, a brutality. She wanted to know my heart, she wanted to know if I would go to the depths of the hells the way she would for her girl.

“Your daughter—” I cleared the roughness from my throat and swiped my tongue over my drying lips. “Your daughter is my beacon. I will never regret taking her, for she is my home. I love her, Queen. There is no part of me that would choose anything over her. Let. Me. Go.”

A tear dripped from the corner of the queen’s eye. “I believe you.”

“You should,” the second woman said, voice rough. “He did not utter a single lie.”

“Why does your word matter?” I snapped, patience lost.

The woman’s lips curved. “I taste lies, Bloodsinger.”

A bit of stun robbed me of my words until it bled to the boil of frustration. “Then why in the hells am I still here? Let me go. I sought your warriors, I sought your aid, but I will go at it alone if all we will do is sit around planning. You do not know the ways of the Ever, the ways of this . . . bastard who took her from me. The longer we wait, the more power he can gain, the more he could . . . take from her.”

“Do you think I don’t realize that? Do you think all of us don’t realize that?” The docile, soft-spoken queen shattered, and the fiery warrior inside Livia’s mother was snapping free. “Do not for one moment think my thoughts have been anywhere but with my daughter these long weeks, Erik Bloodsinger. This is your doing, and we will do anything to retrieve her, but you cannot come here demanding we set sail within moments. There are protections that must be placed, strategies we must decide. You have caused this delay by taking her, by building mistrust, not us.”

“Then why are you here?”

Elise blinked, her eyes glassy and damp with angry tears. “To hear the truth, Ever King. You will need more than Aleksi to stand by your side. Junius”—she gestured at the lie taster—“and I will speak for you in the hopes it brings us to Livia swifter.”

The queen planned to stand with me? Against her own husband?

I’d hoped but never expected anyone—certainly not Livia’s mother—to believe me. After so long, being unable to leave, I’d begun to think they would never be content until my blood soaked their soil.

Elise turned for the door. “Food will be sent to you. Herbs for healing your wound if you require them. We will send for you when the others arrive.”

I let out a rough breath. “Queen, do not keep me here.”

“My word is not the only voice of power. You must face us all.” Elise’s pale eyes returned to the gash on my chest. “Aleksi called it a heartbond.”

My palm rubbed the wound. “Yes. Old magic of the Ever.”

“Why is it gone now?”

I didn’t truly know how to explain any of it. “I don’t know. It felt as though my heart was being torn from my body. When . . . when she was taken it dulled, but this?” Gods, I could hardly gather the words. “This feels different.”

“Yet you’re still desperate to find her.”

My brow furrowed. “It was not a bond that made me love her, Queen.”

Elise tucked a lock of her golden hair behind her strange, rounded ear. “You should know, Bloodsinger, loving my girl has likely saved your life. For now. I have a final question, and I hope you have enough respect for my position as Livia’s mother to speak the truth. I am not fae, clearly. Would I be a hinderance to my people, or a strength should I sail to your kingdom?”

Well, shit. “Queen, I have witnessed your skill on a battlefield. I’ve not forgotten that day you aided in my rescue, and—”

“You are stalling, Ever King.”

I rubbed the back of my neck. The scars beneath my palm prickled in disquiet. “The currents of the Chasm are fierce for even fae. But mortals drown, yes?”

Elise’s chin dropped. “Yes. They drown.”

“I fear the ferocity of the barrier and the time it takes to sail through. I do not know how you might fare, Queen.”

“Livia has a great deal of mortal in her blood. My husband’s mother is also mortal.”

The earth bender was half-fae? I wouldn’t have guessed it.

“I don’t have all the answers, but Livia was bonded to me when I took her, Queen,” I said with a touch of hesitation. “Unknowingly but bonded all the same. The Ever was already part of her and would not harm her.”

Silence was heady, but after a moment, Elise lifted her chin and unlatched the door. “Thank you. That is what I wanted to know. We will send for you soon.”

“Queen, don’t leave me here.”

The lie taster was already out the door, but Elise hesitated. “I might trust your words, but I will take no risks when it comes to retrieving my daughter, nor will my husband. Do not forget you made us your enemy.”

The queen abandoned the room, shoulders curled in a bit of defeat, and snapped the lock into place.

Alone, the cruel clutches of desperation throttled me from behind. I picked up a wooden chair in the corner of the room and threw it at the locked door, then slowly slid my back down the wall until I was on the floor.

I buried my face in my hands, breathless, furious, more broken than before.

Songbird. Nothing.

For the first time since tales were told to a lost boy in a prison cell, Livia Ferus felt utterly lost to me.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset