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The Ever Queen: PROLOGUE

THAT DAY

His ending wasn’t going to change.

In truth, the boy had always known this was how his story would go—such was the way of landing on the losing side of a war.

Gentle water lapped on the shore at the boy’s back. Warriors stood between him and home. Damp sand dug into the dirty trousers covering his bruised knees, but there was a bit of relief in the chill of the sea that allowed him to breathe again.

Nights spent cramped in the cruel stone walls of the cell were at an end. Now, he’d face his fate.

At his side, another boy awaited punishment much the same. A boy the young king was meant to hate. But the king could not entirely despise the other young sea fae. Another failure he ought to add to the list of ways he had yet to be the king his father would’ve wanted.

The second boy, battered and dirty, was the only one from home who’d remained.

Others from their realm had already fled in their garish ships of bone and soft wood, of black and blue sails. The moment the fighting ended, they faded beneath the violent tides.

The boy king feared the folk on the shore, feared the blades on their belts, the blood beneath their fingernails. But he still held a bit of power—pulses in their jaws, avoidance in their stances, the way they stared at the boy king like he might lash out in the next heartbeat. He feared them, but no mistake, the fae of the earth also feared the king of the sea.

As he listened to the punishment leveled against the second sea fae by kings and queens of enemy realms, the young king curled his bruised fingers around his new small charm. The girl had tried to make it more valuable than it was—silver was a grand term; the small swallow was more like soft tin.

Still, from the moment his little songbird sped away through the tall grass, the young king clung to her parting gift. Hate boiled like the poison in his blood, yet . . . he could not shake his thoughts of the little bird who’d told him grand tales in the darkest night.

One look. One final glance. He could steal one more from the girl before he was locked beneath the waves. Instead, when the boy raised his eyes, he was met with an enemy, war battered but deadly, and clad all in black.

The dark eyes of a fae king who could bend the bedrock took him in like the night drinking the sun. Perhaps the boy’s ending would not be banishment. Perhaps the earth bender king would stain the sand in poisonous blood without a thought.

“You did not challenge me, boy,” said the enemy king.

The challenge. The entire purpose for the sea king’s arrival to the earth realms. Like a fool, he’d shamed his kingdom. One soft moment of the heart, one healing song given to a dying enemy, and the boy forfeited his chance to reclaim the power he lost for his father all those turns ago.

“The opportunity was taken by other things,” was all the young king said.

Fear was there, but he wouldn’t show it. Weakness was not meant to live within Ever Kings. So, the boy lifted his chin, waiting for the blow of the same dark, deadly axe that had carved his father’s heart.

Unease slithered down his spine when the earth bender lowered to one knee, when he placed himself nose to nose with the boy.

Why would a victorious king descend to the same level as his defeated?

The earth bender king could snap the boy’s neck, yet he spoke the next words in a soft voice, almost kind.

“You could stay here. You’d be welcome amongst our folk and still lead your people if you wanted. There are kings and queens here to guide you.”

Stay? The father of his songbird, an enemy, a man he’d come to kill wanted him to . . . stay?

Swifter than a star falling in the night sky, the boy glimpsed over the enemy king’s shoulder. She stood beside her pale-as-frost mother. The girl was dressed in a pretty green gown, and a gold chain draped over dainty, dark curls. Different from the simple nightdresses hidden beneath her oversized fur cloaks she’d worn when she snuck out to his cell.

Sapphire eyes caught his, and the boy felt a shift. Something sturdy took hold somewhere deep in his chest, a feeling he’d never known before.

Stay. He could stay and hear more of her tales while . . . kings controlled him. That was all this was, another chance for a new version of Harald or Thorvald to shape him into a hand-crafted king of their liking.

With a curl to his lip, the boy turned back to the enemy.

“I know what the guidance of kings means, Earth Bender,” the boy said in a low snarl.

“I am not your uncle, boy. Nor am I your father.”

Gods, could he read minds? The boy held his breath, uncertain what moves to make when his enemy, a man who should slit the boy’s throat this moment, lowered his voice again.

He spoke even softer, even kinder, as though the earth king knew the secret and sensed the pull to the little bird standing beside her mother. As though the earth bender didn’t mind if a sea serpent befriended a songbird.

“Stay, Erik Bloodsinger,” he said. “There are folk here who would be better for it if you did.”

Once more, the boy looked to the girl. Better for it. Would she be better if he remained in her world? Doubtful. Still, the boy wanted to agree. Fiercer than anything, the boy wanted to forget the disdain of his father, forget the hatred, and remain with the little bird and her stories.

But hatred was a fickle thing. The blur of want and desire could be blotted out when loathing and fear held fast.

The boy chose his ending. He chose not to remain where songbirds sing their haunting songs. He vowed blood where the enemy offered peace. The boy saw to it the earth bender had no choice but to lock him away.

While the tides spilled over the head of the young Ever King, as violent currents swallowed him and dragged him home, he thought of her.

He thought of how one day he might find a way to finish the tale he began on the land of his enemies. He could rid her of the enemy king since, as he’d already come to realize, she wasn’t theirs.

She was always going to be his.


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